It’s My Birthday, I’ll Blog If I Want To

Happy Imbolc/Candlemas/Groundhog Day, folks! And guess what? It also happens to be the anniversary of the day I, uh, drifted peacefully into this wide, weird, wonderful world! So I thought I’d take a few minutes away from stuffing my face full of cake and screaming my head off obsessively reading the news to share a little of what’s been going on with me!

giphy1Birthdays for me are always a time of reflection, and sometimes I get moody when I think of all the things I didn’t manage to do in the past calendar year. But today, I’d like to celebrate the things I have done. It’s been a pretty full year of working and writing and reading, but I’ve also managed to squeeze in some fun trips, pursue some health and fitness goals, and even carve out some headspace when necessary. (Recently, that’s been a lot.)

One of the highlights of my year was definitely a vacation to Scotland. The husband and I rented a rustic cottage on the Isle of Mull, way out in the Inner Hebrides, just across the bay from Iona, where Dark Age monks famously protected the Book of Kells from the Vikings. The landscape was absolutely stunning, with iron-dark tors draped in purple heather and grey fog. When the sun peeked from behind clouds the ocean sparkled blue as a sapphire. We hiked and rambled, visited a few distilleries, and ate our collective weight in shortbread. Leaving was like saying goodbye to an old friend you never knew you had, and we hope to visit again as soon as we can. *rustles around in the couch cushions for spare change*

16466223_10110227003544731_104815964_oOn the writing front, in early Autumn of last year I completed the millionth final draft of my latest YA fantasy novel, AMBER & DUSK. Set in a world where the sun never sets, a young woman with a mysterious bloodline wagers for a place at court, only to be tangled in a courtly web of cunning courtiers and predatory royals. Sylvie struggles to master her magical gift while dodging cruel pranks, vicious insults, and possible disgrace. And as beautiful as the palais seems, its mirrored hallways, winter gardens, and gilded marble are nothing more than a mirage to hide a brutal past and deadly secrets.

photofunkyMy agent loved it! …And we’ve been in query hell ever since. But it’s one of my favorite things I’ve ever written, and I really hope I’ll be able to share it with the world soon. If you’re curious to know more, I hope you’ll check out my Pinterest inspo board for a feel of the world’s aesthetic.

Since then, I’ve been working on a YA standalone romance that I’m tentatively billing as a Celtic fairytale retelling of Swan Lake. It’s pretty different from anything I’ve written before, with a moody vibe, a contemplative pace, and a very small cast. It’s been excruciating snail-like slow going these past few months, but I’m hoping to hit my stride again soon and crank out the first draft!

giphyAnd the rest is just little things! I’ve finished a few short stories, cobbled together from the odds and ends of books I never ended up writing. I’m hoping to shop them around soon. I’m contemplating a complete facelift of my main author website, Lyra Selene, but am utterly terrified since I can’t computer. If you or anyone you know is a regular programming whiz kid drop me a line…I’ll make you an offer you will probably refuse. And finally, I have some exciting–but still nascent–news I hope to share soon, so keep your eyes peeled and I promise to keep you posted…before my next birthday!

The Re-Release of Change of Heart

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Happy January! I hope you all survived the Holiday Hoedown and are ready for a brand new year. I will confess that I’m finding some of the elements of 2017 more exciting than others.

(*stifles political rant*)

Yeah, um, so okay. One thing I’m really looking forward to is the re-release of my novella Change of Heart. I wrote it last spring for an limited-run anthology, and now I’m self-publishing it on March 1st. So yeah, I’m excited!

I’ve had the cover art tucked away since early last summer, and as much as I wanted to show it to everyone, I also wanted to do a proper cover reveal. That happened yesterday on The Novel Approach. I showed it off there, and now I can show it off here! See?

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Ta da!!! Isn’t it pretty?

Since this is a re-release, there are readers out there who may already have Change of Heart on their kindles. The thing that’s different, though, is that they may also have had the chance to read Vespers, the m/m vampire story I co-wrote with Irene Preston. I wrote Change of Heart in the middle of editing Vespers, and a certain vampire basically walked right onto the page.

I’m calling Change of Heart an Hours of the Night story, even though it’s NOT a contemporary and NOT a paranormal like Vespers & Bonfire. It *is* set in 1933 New Orleans, and it tells the story of Clara, a young woman who leaves the Oklahoma dust to find love in the French Quarter. Here, check out the blurb…

Preacher always said New Orleans was a den of sin, so of course Clarabelle had to see for herself…

A body reaps what they sow, and Clarabelle’s planted the seeds of trouble. The year is 1933, and not much else is growing in the Oklahoma dirt. Clarabelle’s gone and fallen in love with her best friend, so she figures it’s time to go out and see the world.

If she’s lucky, she’ll find the kind of girl who’ll kiss her back.

Clarabelle heads for New Orleans, and that’s where she meets Vaughn. Now, Vaughn’s as pretty as can be, but she’s hiding something. When she gets jumped by a pair of hoodlums, Clarabelle comes to her rescue and accidentally discovers her secret. She has to decide whether Vaughn is really the kind of girl for her, and though Clarabelle started out a dirt-farming Okie, Vaughn teaches her just what it means to be a lady.

~*~

Change of Heart is a story about secret identities – because the vampire’s not the only one – and about finding your true self. The romantic pairing is different than the other Hours of the Night stories, because instead of m/m, Change of Heart is f/trans-f. {f = female, and if I explain much more it’ll take away some of the surprise.}

I’ve put Change of Heart on sale for $0.99 from now through the first week of the release. If you’ve read Vespers, I think it’ll be fun for you to see Thaddeus Dupont before the Church really got ahold of him. And if you haven’t? Maybe you’ll want to after you read Clara’s story. Thanks so much!!

Preorder for $0.99!

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2017: Stuff To Get Excited About!

It’s the beginning of a new year, friends! And with a new year comes a whole bunch of new media to get excited about! For this post, I’m going to keep the positivity train rolling and run down some of the movies, television and books I’m looking forward to in 2017.

Television

We’re in a golden age of television right now. There’s so much content being released every year, and because so much of it is good, it’s hard to keep up. There are two new series debuting this year that I’m really excited about more than anything else:

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Legion

A TV series about Charles Xavier’s schizophrenic telepath son sounds like it could be pretty wild, right?  

Fox’s treatment of the X-Men properties has been a mixed bag over the years. X-Men 2, Days of Future Past, and Deadpool were all great movies. X-Men 3, Apocalypse, and Wolverine Origins were all rancid turds smeared over film reels. Needless to say I’m a little apprehensive about the prospect of them bring the X-Universe to TV.

That said, FX has been producing some really smart and dynamic TV over the last couple years, including an adaption of Fargo by Noah Hawley, who is also the series creator on Legion. I think bringing the oddball charm and humor of Fargo to one of the stranger corners of the X-Men Universe could produce remarkable television.

I’ll also watch Aubrey Plaza in pretty much anything. As an aside, if you haven’t watched Parks and Recreation yet, stop reading now and go watch it. This blog post will still be here when you get done.

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American Gods

I was late to the party on American Gods. I adore Neil Gaiman’s comics work, but hadn’t read any of his prose fiction until a few years ago. Shauna demanded I read American Gods and OMAG I couldn’t believe I had waited so long.

Now that story is coming to television and I’m thrilled.

There’s always pitfalls involved with adapting a book to film or television, especially one with the scope and style of American Gods. There’s a tone and tenor of this story that would be difficult to capture on film, a huge challenge to bring the vividness of the prose to life outside the reader’s mind.

Luckily, Bryan Fuller, one of TV’s most brilliant visual creators is helming this project. His work on Dead Like Me, Wonderfalls and Pushing Daisies were all inspiring, but his recent run on Hannibal was one of the most visually arresting pieces of television I’ve ever seen. If there’s anyone who can do Gaiman’s vision for these characters and world justice, it’s Fuller.

Movies

Pretty much every year from now until the End of Time we’re guaranteed a handful of superhero movies and a new Star Wars movie. 2016 brought us a really good superhero movie in Captain America: Civil War, a decent one in Doctor Strange and two dreadful ones in the form of Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad.

2017 will bring us one of the most important superhero movies ever and the next mainline Star Wars film and I am super excited for both.  

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Wonder Woman

This actually happening.

Finally.

If you told me 20 years ago fricking Ant-Man would have a solo movie before Wonder Woman I wouldn’t have believed it, even if you were bound by the Lasso of Truth. Well it’s 2017 and Ant-Man had his movie two years ago, but now it’s Wondy’s turn.

I’m really excited for this movie, just because it’s Wonder Woman, but I do have some major reservations. On the positive side, Gal Gadot looks fierce as hell in the costume, and yeah she doesn’t have a huge acting range, but I think she’ll be fine. Look cool and kick ass. The trailers look great so far (happy to see my boy Chris Pine) and Wonder Woman was the best part of the otherwise abysmal Batman v. Superman.

That said, the trailers for the aforementioned Batman v Superman were also great. So were the ones for Suicide Squad. And Man of Steel. Those movies ranged from middling to absolutely dreadful. I fear this will be the case for Wonder Woman – awesome trailers that show what could be a good movie – by the final product ends up butchered by a bad script and executive meddling.

I’m going to be optimistic. This will finally be the good DCEU movie. One of them has to be.

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Star Wars Episode VIII

The Force Awakens was everything I wanted in a new Star Wars.

Yeah, it was derivative of A New Hope, but it had everything that made me fall in love with Star Wars as a kid – great characters, a compelling villain, breathtaking action sequences, and quiet heartfelt moments. The nostalgia moments and callbacks were handled perfectly in Episode VII, whereas I thought they were a bit hamfisted in Rogue One.

Speaking of Rogue One – I didn’t love it (and you can hear me and Kristin talk about it on the last episode of our podcast). I was wary about the off-year Star Wars side stories between the mainline series, and Rogue One did little to satiate those fears.

I am, however, incredibly excited for Episode VIII. With director Rian Johnson at the helm – probably best know for 2012’s grim time travel flick Looper – I have a feeling this next episode will go the way of Empire Strikes Back. I foresee a darker tone, increasing danger for our heroes, more tragedy – but I’m also the Rey finding her way as a Jedi. Those Luke and Rey training sequences will be a-maz-ing!

I’m trying to keep the Hype Train in the station, but I know as soon as the first trailer drops, nothing’s going to hold it back.

Books

There’s a whole bunch of new books coming out this year that I’m sure are amazing, but I’ve got a ridiculous backlog, so this is the year I’m going to finally tackle my TBR pile! Well, a good portion of it at least. Here’s six of the books I’ve already picked out to start:

Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley

Updraft by Fran Wilde

The Fifth Season by N.K Jemisin

Every Mountain Made Low by Alex White

Counterpart by Haley Stone

The Providence of Fire by Brian Staveley

It’s a pretty eclectic mix of Science Fiction and Fantasy. I’d also like to read some nonfiction this year, I used to read books on politics and economics pretty regularly, but stopped a few years ago to focus on fiction.

That’s what I’m looking forward to in 2017, what about all of you?

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Holidays Are For Reading

christmasbooksI was always a voracious reader. As a kid, most of my free time was spent reading. Picture books, chapter books, horse magazines, fairy tales; pretty much anything I could get my grubby little hands on. But as I got older, school and friends and extracurricular activities started taking up more of my free time, and my reading time was more and more often confined to bedtime and weekends (heavens forbid). And that’s when I discovered the magical time known as the winter holidays.

Just think–two glorious weeks empty of schoolwork and extracurriculars! Friends off to visit relatives or tied up with family obligations. Shorter days. The winter break was, for me, a series of long, beautiful hours just asking to be filled up with reading. Plus, for Christmas I was guaranteed a pile of new and exciting books just waiting to be cracked open and devoured.

In middle school, my grandmother sent me Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone. I sat curled up on the sofa in front of a roaring fire for hours and hours and hours. I did not come up for air until I had read every wonderful word of that book, and when I finally dragged myself off the couch it was to insist that my mom drive me to the bookstore to buy the next two installments (The Goblet of Fire wouldn’t come out for two years yet.)

Even though I’m older and the winter holidays are no longer completely free of obligations, this time of year still provides a special opportunity to curl up and read. Some of my happiest memories involve Christmas lights, a cozy blanket, and a great book. No matter where in the world I am, or who I spend the holidays with, I can always count on ample opportunities to stick my nose firmly in my novel of choice  and keep it there until I choose.

I’ve devoured a lot of books in my life, but some of my favorite and most memorable reading experiences have happened over the holidays. The first Harry Potter book. Crown Duel, by Sherwood Smith. The Glass Castle, by Jeanette Walls. Black Swan Green, by David Mitchell. I had my heart broken by The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green. One Christmas, I even burned through both The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss. And those are not short books. 

In short, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas for me without a healthy dose of binge-reading. So if you’ve been busy with gifts and cooking and entertaining, maybe take a minute (or hour) to sit down with that book you’ve been meaning to read. Or check out my list of Favorite Holiday Reads from a few years ago if your TBR (To-Be-Read) list is looking a little thin! You deserve it.

Do you love reading over the holiday season? Do any books feature in special holiday memories? Share your thoughts below!

*This post originally appeared at LyraSelene.com

10 Things I’ve Learned in My First Year as a Published Indie Author

Image purchased from Adobe Stock
Image purchased from Adobe Stock

When I originally picked this date for my post, I thought I would be writing something about making history with our first female president and a tie-in to my book Madame Presidentess, which is about Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to ever run for president in the US in 1872. 

Yeah, not so much.

The last thing we all need right now is another political diatribe (believe me, I’ve written many in my head in the last 24 hours). So, as they say on Monty Python “and now for something completely different…”

My one-year anniversary of being a published author is coming up on January 1. As with all other things, you learn as you go. Here are 10 things I’ve learned from experience this year.

  1. Set a realistic publication schedule. Don’t try to publish four books in seven months like I did. I am living proof that is possible, but you will wear yourself to your breaking point. I set that schedule because I didn’t know what I didn’t know – namely, that even if you indie publish like I did, all the rounds of editing and cover design and layout take a lot longer than you think they will – especially when you’re juggling them with a full-time job. My suggestion is one book every six months at the most. That way you’ll have time to take things slowly and carefully, as you should. That being said, releasing several books in a short time frame is great for marketing and sales because it gives people more things to read once they find one book they like.
  2. Have some kind of a marketing and production budget. I did not because I didn’t save before I decided to publish. I also had no idea how much things cost. You can do some/all of these things yourself, but I know my skills and what I have time for. There are also ways to save money on some of these (don’t sacrifice the editing or cover!), so your mileage may vary. Here’s a run down of approximate cost ranges:
    1. Editing = Can run you $1,000-$3,000+ depending on who you hire and how many rounds you do
    2. Cover design = $250-$500
    3. Layout = $1,000
    4. Audio books = varies by length of book and cost of talent but mine were $2,000-$3,00o each
    5. Printing/distribution = There will be a setup fee in IngramSpark (Createspace is free, but bookstores won’t order from them) and you have to pay for your own copies that you hand sell. You’re looking at around $50 for setup and $4-$6 per book you order depending on length.
    6. Marketing = This is totally up to you. I went overboard, but I’m glad I’ve tried just about everything. That just means it will take a while to earn that money back and pay off my credit cards. 🙂
  3. Audio books are worth the cost. Yes, they are expensive and time consuming, but they are also great passive income once they are done. I’ve sold more audio books than print and ebook combined. They are also a ton of fun to be involved in, and many sources say audio is the next big thing in books. As soon as I can afford to get Madame Presidentess made into audio, I’m going to, and it will be part of my publishing budget for every book I write.
  4. Your book will find it’s audience. No matter what you write, there are people out there who want to read it. You can help them find you by blogging even before you publish and by attending events related to what you write. And of course, through targeted marketing. Most writers are niche writers, so don’t be disappointed if you start out small. Indie publishing is not about the overnight success; it’s about the long tail career. You never know what may happen that will expose you to a wider audience over time.
  5. Marketing is hard. I say this as someone with 15 years of professional marketing experience and a master’s degree in public relations. Marketing a book is unlike any other kind of sales/PR/marketing you will ever do. And it is harder than ever to break through the noise, regardless of whether you are traditionally or indie published. But you have to try. I learned a lot through what didn’t work.
  6. Don’t drive yourself crazy over sales. There is more to life than your sales numbers. Yes, we all want to make the big bucks, but if you focus solely on that, especially as an indie, you will drive yourself mad. Some authors take the perspective of “if it doesn’t translate directly into sales, it isn’t worth doing.” I respect that mindset, but it isn’t mine. I started out writing because I have to, not for the money. So I look at how creatively fulfilled I am and how things are working from an exposure/branding/PR perspective in addition to sales.
  7. The writing community is incredibly supportive. I knew that already, but man will indies join together. This year I have experienced so much love from the community and little to no competitive ire. I even got the best support from a man who wrote about the same subject I did. I think a lot of the reason for this mindset is because we know what it’s like to go it on our own and we don’t have to worry about being dropped by a publisher/agent.
  8. You get better at everything as you go along. Whether it’s writing or marketing, you hone your skills with practice. Just keep going.
  9. Keep writing. The best type of marketing is another book. It gets your name back out there and draws attention to what you’ve already written. This is why it’s so important not to get caught up in too much marketing. We have to remember that our #1 job is to be writers.
  10. Take breaks when you need them. Says the girl who hasn’t taken one in four years. But this is how I know how important they are. If you don’t refill your creative well, you won’t have anything left to give. I’m taking at least the rest of this year off to do just that.

I feel like given other subjects I could have covered today, this is a pretty generic post. But it’s honest. And this is all I have in me at the moment.

BTAF ’16 Panels

The Boston Teen Author Festival (BTAF) is a yearly event that celebrates YA fiction in the Boston area, aimed at connecting the Boston-area YA fanbase with the best authors in the industry. This is the second year I’ve attended, and for me, it’s a great opportunity to keep abreast of interesting ideas and trends in my industry, meet authors whom I’ve either only met online or who write books I admire, and come home with a bunch of book swag! (Because you can never have enough books, right? RIGHT?)

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Michael Buckley, Malinda Lo, Victoria Schwab

The first panel I attended was titled “Speculative Fiction Reflecting Our World,” and consisted of Victoria/V.E. Schwab, Malinda Lo, and Michael Buckley. First, the authors spoke about what drew them to speculative fiction. Schwab spoke about always wanting the world to be a little stranger than it was, and wanting to explore the notion that magic is just out of reach, accessible if only you knew how to reach behind the curtain. Lo noted the ability of fantastical elements in contemporary settings to allow for use of metaphor, which heightens the experience of the story. Buckley spoke about growing up as “basically one of those kids in Stranger Things” and loving the iconic battle between good and evil.

The authors then spoke about how speculative fiction, without being “supposed to” do anything, has the ability to reflect the real world through a fresh lens. Fantastical elements, whether they are science fiction or fantasy, challenge the reader to think about things they think they know in a different way. And while Schwab particularly noted that for her stories, escapism comes first, tragedies, pains, and issues, when presented in new worlds, take on new meaning. And while Lo pointed out that there are “no new ideas,” taking what’s been done in and presenting it in new ways offers a base of familiarity when including “alien” elements. Buckley wrapped up the discussion by saying that ultimately, speculative fiction is about being human, and these stories show you yourself in one way or another. Love, hate, war; all aspects of the human experience are reflected through a lens in speculative fiction.

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Roshani Chokshi, Zoraida Cordova, Daniel Jose Older

Later, I attended a panel entitled “Magic Beyond the Grave,” with panelists Roshani Chokshi, Zoraida Cordova, and Daniel Jose Older. The authors began by discussing the role of Death in teen fiction. Cordova noted how this common thread relates to young adults’ often complicated relationships with their ancestors and families, coupled with the burgeoning realization of their own mortality. Older spoke more specifically about how the presence of underworlds and death in his book took its power from the counter-narrative, specifically relating to his POC characters. For him, a traditional ghost story was too simplistic, and allowing his characters to embody a more complex relationship with the dead explored notions of power and ancestry in non-White narratives.

Chokshi then pointed out how reactions to and celebrations regarding death differ across the cultural spectrum. In Hindu belief, for example, death is a door to a new life, and the final release is an escape from the endless cycle of death and rebirth. For her, this opened up interesting avenues in her own fiction, as she explored notions of shadows, memories, and who we might have been before. She also spoke about how in so many underworld narratives, female characters are the closest to death and other aspects of the supernatural, and wanting to explore female power with regards to this; what if Persephone was not tricked, but had chosen to rule over the dead instead of living a mortal life with no power? Cordova expanded this point by mentioning that often, that which is forbidden to women in mythology, fiction, and even reality, is power, and denying it is a kind of internalized misogyny. Older agreed, saying that in his book, the patriarchy denies ancestral magic to women, thereby denying them links to both the supernatural and, via their ancestors, death itself.

The authors wrapped up the session speaking about their writing processes. While Cordova is a die-hard outliner, and relies on lots of planning to keep her on track, Chokshi  stressed the importance of flow; “remember the Orpheus myth, and never look back.” Older emphasized that regardless of your process, you should honor your work, trust yourself, LOVE your writing, and give yourself permission to create art.

Overall, the festival was another great experience and I came away with a lot to think about regarding the stories I want to tell! Have you been to any great panels recently? Let me know in the comments!

My Newest Addiction

You know what I just did?

I just hit ‘refresh’ on my kdp page. That acronym stands for Kindle Direct Publishing, and it’s one of the sites my co-writer Irene Preston and I used to self-publish our newest release, Vespers. And you know what?

That page is POWER!

It gives us instantaneous feedback, both on the number of units sold (like, how many since midnight last night, for example) and how much we’ve earned in royalties. None of this “dropping your book in a black hole” thing, like when you’re working with a publisher. A couple of the Spellbound Scribes – Shauna and Nicole, in particular – have some (or lots of) experience with self-publishing, but this if my first rodeo.

And I really, really like it.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some very good things about working with a publisher. There’s less cash outlay, and most of them have a much bigger promotional reach. That said, Irene and I are doing okay with our promotional efforts so far, and while we won’t be making the USA Today bestseller list, we’re pretty happy with the sales we’re getting. (We’re also working our butts off, and we have been for the last few months. Please don’t think self-publishing is some kind of point-and-shoot game.)

The thing is, when you sign a contract with a publisher and your book is released, the only way you can tell how it’s selling is by watching the Amazon sales rank. There are a few services – novelrank.com is one I’ve used – that can give you a ball-park figure for how many books you’ve sold, but I haven’t found them to be particularly accurate. If there are better ways of making a guestimate, I haven’t found them, and the thing about kdp is, it’s easy. Just, you know, hit refresh.

See? I sold a book while I was typing that last paragraph.

The other thing is, most publishers only pay royalties every three to six months, so having a snapshot that updates with every sale is very reassuring. Yes, we’re selling books, and yes, we’re earning back the money we spent on editor, cover art, and promo. It’s all right there on the kdp page.

I’m not going to give up on submitting books to publishers, because there are definite benefits. Ideally, though, I want to build a career doing a combination of traditional and self-publishing. Now if you’ll excuse me, I gotta go hit ‘refresh’…

(lol!)

 

And since I brought it up, here’s some more info about Vespers...

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Blurb

Thaddeus Dupont has had over eighty years to forget…

The vampire spends his nights chanting the Liturgy of the Hours and ruthlessly disciplines those unnatural urges he’s vowed never again to indulge. He is at the command of the White Monks, who summon him at will to destroy demons. In return, the monks provide for his sustenance and promise the return of his immortal soul.

Sarasija Mishra’s most compelling job qualification might be his type O blood…

The 22-year-old college grad just moved across the country to work for some recluse he can’t even find on the internet. Sounds sketchy, but the salary is awesome and he can’t afford to be picky.  On arrival he discovers a few details his contract neglected to mention, like the alligator-infested swamp, the demon attacks, and the nature of his employer’s “special diet”. A smart guy would leave, but after one look into Dupont’s mesmerizing eyes, Sarasija can’t seem to walk away. Too bad his boss expected “Sara” to be a girl.

Falling in love is hard at any age…

The vampire can’t fight his hungers forever, especially since Sara’s brought him light, laughter and a very masculine heat. After yielding to temptation, Thaddeus must make a choice.  Killing demons may save his soul, but keeping the faith will cost him his heart.

Vespers is a complete novel with no cliffhanger. It can be enjoyed as a standalone or read as the first book in the Hours of the Night series.

 

You can pick up a copy here…

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And if you’re really inspired, check out THIS LINK for reviews and guest blog posts.

Thanks!