When is Enough Enough?

As many of you no doubt have observed, we writers suffer from occasional bouts of impostor syndrome and feelings of inadequacy. Some of that is our artistic souls being sensitive; some of it is demands from the industry and ourselves; and some of it is competitiveness. We don’t need help from a major industry player to feel like we aren’t doing enough.

Yet, here comes BookBub a few weeks ago with what has to be their most asinine post yet. (Which is unusual for them; I’d say 95% of their blogs are great.)

How to Write 12 Books in 6 Months to Grow Sales & Populate a Backlist

Yes, you read that right: BookBub is pushing a post that advocates for writing 12 books in six months. That’s a book every two weeks, my dears. My reaction?

HOW THE HELL CAN ANYONE BE EXPECTED TO DO THIS? And maybe more importantly, WHY?

Ahem.

Let me count the way that this is a bad idea:

  1. Let’s put quality first to get it out of the way. Any book written at that speed will likely be crap. It takes even the speediest of writers several weeks to write and edit their books. THE INDIE BOOK MARKET DOES NOT NEED ANY MORE CRAP BOOKS. We have a hard enough time convincing people *cough* St. Louis County Library*cough* that our books are legitimate without people pumping out books like this.
  2. Related to above: that schedule gives you like zero time for editing. I have to break this one down into sub-points. A) One of the keys to good editing is being able to take time (even a day or two) away from your MS so you can approach it with fresh eyes. This schedule doesn’t allow that. B) I don’t even see how her beta readers (which she claims to have) have time to read the books. I give my betas at least two weeks to read my books, but that is the sum total of her ENTIRE production time for each book. C) Most writers do at least some editing themselves before their editor sees it, but again, where is there time for that? D) The author mentions in the comments that she has an editor, but I can’t imagine the pace the editor must have to work at to keep up this schedule, especially if he/she has other clients. It doesn’t strike me as very productive for either of them.
  3. Even my writer friends who are full-time authors think this is a ridiculous pace to set. (They told me so on FB.) So if they think this is untenable, how are people like me who have a full-time job expected to do this? Seems to me you are setting yourself up to fail.
  4. If this is what we’re pushing indies to, we are pushing burnout, pure and simple. I’ve gotten close a few times at my own pace; I can’t imagine how quickly I would implode if I tried to make this happen.  I am actually shocked that the article doesn’t have more negative comments on it asking “what the hell are you smoking and can I have some of your Limitless pills?” And I’m worried by the number of “OMG, this is so helpful” comments. These people will figure out pretty quickly that this new idol of theirs doesn’t have a sustainable or replicable model. I just hope they don’t make themselves sick or kill their confidence in the process.

I looked up the author and she has written over 70 books in multiple genres. Even Nora Roberts, with as fast as she writes, isn’t that prolific. It’s taken her 40 years to get to her 225 books. This woman, on the other hand, appears to be in her 40s. She must have been using this method for her whole career to hit a number like that. Granted, her books are about 125-250 pages long, which is probably about 50,000-70,000 words. That is on the short side – especially compared to what I write – but still respectable, especially in the romance genre.

Implications Beyond This Article
I think one of the reasons this hit me so hard is because I’m always trying to find ways to do more. I’m coming at this as someone who is already burning the candle at both ends. I mistakenly thought once I got through my year of publishing four books in seven months (they were already written while I was on submission with traditional publishers, so don’t get too excited) that I’d be able to settle down to 1-2 books a year, which is all I can manage with a full-time day job.

I’ve come to find through experience that pace isn’t enough if you want to keep your sales up, which is likely how this BookBub article came to be in the first place. So even though I plan to keep self-publishing, I decided to focus on books that I think I can get traditionally published, which hopefully will help boost sales of all my books. In order to do that, I’m currently working on three books: the last one in my indie Guinevere’s Tale trilogy, a biography, and a non-fiction book on feminism.  And I’m really pushing myself on the feminism book because it will tie into an upcoming event that’s likely to have LOTS of media publicity so I really want to get it done on time. I know what I have taken on and how insane it is, but I want to try it and am praying I don’t burn out before it gets done.

With all that weighing on me, this is about the last bit of advice I needed to see. It makes me feel like a failure, like I’m doing something wrong, like I’m not cut out for this author business. Luckily, I’ve been around long enough to know that isn’t true and that I should just ignore this and move on and keep doing things in the way that works for me.

But not everyone is at that point. They will see a New York Times bestselling author with a RITA award and three additional nominations under her belt and think this is the path to success. And they will try to emulate her and many will fail. Some will quit writing either because they couldn’t make this kind of method work, others because they never want to write again since they turned themselves off the whole thing by trying to do too much, too fast. And that is the last thing the writing world needs. I’m all for sharing your methods and giving advice, but within reason. And reason is the main thing lacking here.

What do you think about this method? If you think it is possible to do, please explain to me how. I genuinely want to know how to make this work. If could make it work and still produce quality books, I could rip through all 50 ideas (yep, I keep a list) I have in my head in only a few years.

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Critique Partners in Crime

If you’ve been in the publishing industry for any length of time, you’ll probably recognize the phrase critique partner. For those of you who haven’t, a critique partner (commonly abbreviate to CP) is an invaluable asset to any writer at any and every stage in their career. Usually another author or publishing professional, a CP offers up their time and expertise to critique your manuscript/story/poem/etc in exchange for your time and expertise in doing the same for them. While a CP can sometimes play the role of beta reader (an avid reader who reads your MS and tells you whether it is any good), ideally the relationship is deeper and broader.

giphy1I feel like I’m not explaining this well. Okay, how’s this? A CP is like an unholy (or maybe holy) alliance between a friend, a colleague, a work wife/husband, a therapist, a critic, and a cheerleader. Having and being a CP is messy. It’s complicated. And it is wildly, wildly important to a writer’s growth and success in this often isolating business of being an author.

This week, I experienced both ends of the CP relationship with two different CPs. First, I had the great pleasure of reading our very own Shauna’s forthcoming novel Blackbird (which will incidentally knock y’all’s socks off) and offering feedback. And second, I shared my very recently finished and terribly rough first draft of my Swan Lake retelling with a different CP. They were two very different experiences, but they both reminded me of just how important it is to not only have CPs, but to actually share work with them.

Not all CPs are created equal, but here are a few things I’d look out for when finding someone to share work with!

  1. Someone who isn’t afraid to be honest. It’s literally right there in the name: critique partner. Not white-lie-to-guard-your-ego partner. Not even pull-their-punches partner. You know that one friend who you always take shopping because she’ll actually tell you if those pants make your butt look big? Yeah, that’s what you need from a CP. Because if they can’t be honest in their criticism, it’s not going to push you to be better, or work harder, or be honest with yourself.

    One caveat: do draw the line at nasty. There’s no call to be unnecessarily harsh, that’s not useful to anyone either.

  2. giphy2Someone who will be your cheerleader. Does this seem counter-intuitive? It’s really not. Your CPs also need to love your work kind of unconditionally, regardless off whether it’s a flaming trash pile of a first draft or a polished to near-perfect-sheen soon-to-be published work of art. The ultimate goal of a CP relationship is making each other better–if someone hates your work, what’s the point?
  3. Someone who understands (if not shares) your genre, voice, aesthetic, etc. Similar to the above, it’s a waste of their time and yours if they don’t get what you’re trying to accomplish. Maybe you write fast-paced action thrillers and they write steamy romance. That can totally work (and might honestly give you a different perspective from a CP who writes in your genre) but if their only criticism is that there aren’t enough love scenes, you might want to reconsider.
  4. giphy3Someone who can brainstorm with you. Now, this is a big ask, and you might not find this in every CP you build a relationship with–and that’s okay! But a great CP isn’t just an editor, or even a beta reader, although it’s certainly useful if they have a decent grasp of grammar, sentence structure, and plot. Ideally, they’re also someone who you can bounce your hair-brained ideas off of, who won’t say “but,” but maybe “ooh, and–!” Someone who spitballs scenarios about your sequel not because they feel like they know better than you but because they’re just so invested in your characters. Someone who sees through the disordered jumble of your nonsense first drafts to the story you didn’t know you were trying to tell.

Now, if you’re read to find your OTCP (One (or several!) True Critique Partner), here are a few resources to set you on your way! (If you’re really at a loss, Twitter is a great place to start, as are writer blogs and genre-specific interest groups! You can never go wrong with NaNoWriMo either!)

Absolute Write

Critique Circle 

Critique.org

Scribophile

 

Behind the Scenes of Self Publishing–Paperback Edition

As you know, if you’ve been following along with my posts, I have a new release coming out on June 1st–less than a month away, EEEEEP!

Being self-published that means a few different things than it does for a traditionally published writer–including being able to try out a Friday release instead of the traditional Tuesday. And, as we’re all writers here, offering insight into the whole writing process, I thought I’d share a little bit of that with you guys.

The beginning is exactly the same. We all start with a spark of inspiration, then develop that into a story, then kill ourselves over the next 4 to 156 weeks trying to write the damn thing.

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Then we put the book away (or at least, we should). For me, I’ll set a book aside for between 1 to 6 weeks depending on how difficult the book was to write. Then I print it out and go over it for revisions/edits/plot holes/etc. Then I put those changes into the computer. It’s at this point I awkwardly ask betas/critique partners to read it for me.

And then you wait.

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Once I get it back from them I compare notes. Then it’s revision time again.

Then, on to the editor!

Some self-published writers will try to avoid this step because it is the most expensive step, but there’s a reason for that: editing is the most important thing you can do after you’ve written the book. You need an editor to rip that thing apart and fix it. I don’t care how awesome you are. I have a New York Times best selling author I used to love, but I could tell when she finally made it to the point where she could include a no-edit clause in her contracts. I don’t read her books anymore.

At this point, when the book is with my editor, I’ll start on the cover. Now, depending on the book, either I will do it myself, or I’ll hire a digital artist. I cannot stress this enough, if you are not savvy with digital art, don’t do this yourself. I will only do simple covers. If my cover is for something more magical or detailed, I hire someone experienced. And when I do it myself, I don’t just pick a stock photo and stick my title on it in a white bar in simple font. I edit and digitally paint/alter the photo to fit the mood of the book.

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An example of something I feel comfortable enough doing myself.
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And something I would have commissioned because holy crap, how do you even?

I pour over my title in fonts until I find the right one–just picking out the fonts can take me a few days–even if I’m having the cover commissioned, I like to pick out the fonts unless my artist has a better one in mind, which she often does. I go through photo sites for the cover for days until I find the one(s). I spend at least a week in my art program putting the cover together, usually mocking up three to choose from before I’m sure I’ve made something that fits the book and sells it. This takes a lot of time even without all the tricks my preferred cover artist does. Your cover is important. Even if you’re not going to do hard or paperbacks, the cover is still important. When someone is scrolling through the Zon or B&N or Kobo or wherever, the cover might make them stop and look at your book.

(If you’re on a tight budget, the two things I would recommend you spend your money on are an editor and a cover artist. And if you’d like to use mine, you can find my editor here and my cover artist here.)

Usually this is when I’ll set up pre-orders. Now that all the online retailers have finally allowed Self-Pubbers to set up pre-orders, we can finally get in on that action. Once I have the cover ready, I’ll write my book blurb and set it up the pre-order pages with temporary files for the manuscript (once you have the final draft, you come back and upload the final file before the publication date).

Now, once the book is edited and the ebooks are all taken care of, I’ll start on the paperback.

No, self-published writers don’t sell nearly as many physical books as traditionally published authors do. But I like to have the option. I just do paperback, mostly because I have so many titles, setting them up with hardback would be cost prohibitive for me. With Createspace I can get my paperback onto all the online retailers including libraries and BookBub.

And they have a guided, step-by-step process to help you get your book ready for publication.

You pick your book trim size and they give you a Word template to format the interior of your book. At this point, you want to make sure your line spacing, font size, page numbers, and chapter headings look good. Don’t forget your title page, your copyright page, your table of contents, dedication if you want, all before the first chapter page.

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Then, once you have that sorted, you can tell the site your dimensions (book size, paper color, page length) to get a cover template. This is the file you would send to your cover artist to ask them to expand your cover to a paperback cover. Or you use it yourself to make yours.

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Then, once CS approves it (or emails you and tells you you screwed up, fix it please and you do it all over again and again until you get it right), this is what it looks like.

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Another cover I did myself — I even took the photo on the back cover!

And you can see what the inside looks like too!

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You can either approve the digital proof or, and I highly recommend this, you order a proof copy to be printed and mailed to you so you can see if the printing is perfect or screwed up.

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See how the spine wrapped around to the front cover on the top one, but not on the bottom one.

But, once it’s all done, and all perfect, then you can step back and admire your beautiful books on a bookshelf.

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This isn’t for the impatient. I promise you. Yes, there are people who you can pay to go through all of this for you. You tell them what you want your book to look like and they’ll do all the formatting for you and just email you the files you need to upload to CS and be done with it. And if you have the budget for it, go for it. But if you don’t, with a little patience and practice, you can do this yourself, I promise.

What’s Cooking?


So my last couple of posts here have been heavy on the opinionating – here’s one and here’s the other – and while both of them were important to me, I don’t feel like I need to turn the world on its ear…today, anyway.

So if you were stopping by to catch up on the latest scandal, sorry!

It’s spring, you know? There are dogs to walk, and weeds to pull. And as always, there are WIPs to fiddle with. (WIP = work in progress.) In the interest of keeping things mellow, here’s a run-down of what I’ve got going…three things, maybe four…

Freshest in my mind is Haunts & Hoaxes 2, the second novella in an m/m romantic suspense series I’m working on with my writing partner Irene Preston. It’s a spin-off of our Hours of the Night series, but instead of vampires, this one’s more along the lines of Supernatural or maybe The X Files…but with naughty bits.

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Reluctant psychic meets skeptical ghost hunter. Shenanigans ensue…

You can grab Haunted (book 1) from Amazon for FREE if you’re a Kindle Unlimited subscriber. Otherwise bookmark the link and check in on 5/10 – 5/11, because it’ll be FREE for everyone then.

Another project is Benedictus, book 3 in the Hours of the Night series I write with Irene. This is technically our fourth book with these characters – we did a holiday novella, Bonfire, that’s #1.5 – and the plot is definitely thickening! We’re doing our best to tie up as many loose ends as we can, because we left the last book with a bit of a cliffhanger. Fun times!

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If you haven’t read Vespers, book 1 in the series, and you like funny/sexy/scary stories, you can download the first few chapters HERE for FREE from Instafreebie.

A couple other things….last month I participated in Camp NaNo, a mini version of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). I set a goal of 50 hours work and while I didn’t win, I had fun trying. I started with one project (deets in a minute) then switched midstream to the sequel to The Clockwork Monk.  Monk is a steam-lite novella available from Instafreebie. If you follow the link it’ll ask you to sign up for my mailing list, and I promise not to spam you if you do sign up!! I’ve been working on the Monk sequel for a couple years now, off and on, and am cautiously optimistic I’ll have it ready for beta readers by this summer.

I didn’t meet my 50 hours goal because I got bogged down with another project. I started April with this cool idea for a story set in 1962 Cuba. Here’s the elevator pitch…

On 10/17/62, President Kennedy is shown images of Russian nuclear missiles in Cuba. On 10/18, a CIA agent is shown pictures of a rogue spy who could set off a nuclear war. The agent is sent to Havana to eliminate that threat, but the spy’s a man he fell hard for years ago. 

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I even made myself a mock-cover for inspiration!

Every time I read that pitch, it makes me smile, because I know the story can work. I just need to do ponder it some more. To that end, I downloaded a couple James Bond audio books from the library. I’m driving several hours south for a day-job-related conference tomorrow, so I’m going to multi-task. Research while driving ftw!

So that’s what’s going on with me. I hope you’re all well and working hard on whatever moves you. Take care!!

Wait!

One more thing! Last week I enrolled Aqua Follies, my 1950s m/m romance, in Kindle Unlimited for the first time ever. If you KU, go HERE to grab a copy!!

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Questioning the Happily Ever After in Romance in 2018

Does romance always have to end this way?

I’ve only written one romance, Been Searching for You, but there is a romantic element to everything I write, so I do (sometimes reluctantly) identify as a romance author. The Romance Writers of America (RWA), of which I am a member, will hate me for saying this publicly, but I don’t buy the rule that they espouse that says in order to be a romance, a book has to have a happy ending (a happily ever after or HEA) or at least a happily for now (HFN). They classify anything else as a tragedy or at best a love story, not a romance. *eye roll*

I know I’m going to make a lot of romance writers and readers mad by saying this, but personally think the “romance must have an HEA/HFN” rule is crap created by the publishing industry to condition readers. Now, I love a happy ending as much as the next woman, but some of the greatest love stories ever told did not have a happy ending: Romeo and Juliet, Tristan and Isolde, just to name a few. (I know, I know, those are love stories not romances. Whatever.) In the romance industry documentary Love Between the Covers, author Eric Selinger points out that the 1920s and 1930s were when American publishing began to insist on happy endings in order to distinguish their books from the British version of romance. As I said, artificial.

Anyway, my larger interest in this has to do with a recent Huffington Post article that notes the rising trend of women choosing to remain single on TV. As the article asks:

So what happens when, for the first time in American history, you have a critical mass of unmarried women over the age of 30 who choose to or simply find themselves in a position to build family structures, financially stable careers and homes independently? Do the stories ― even the fictional ones ― we tell about these women expand along with their realities?”

According to the U.S. publishing industry, no. At least not yet.

Not only does this situation call the “traditional” definition of a romance into question, it may beg a bigger question about what the romance industry is saying to single women with this whole need for an HEA/HFA. As a single woman, I’ve felt the pressure inherent in that setup for a long time. (In fact, I wrote Been Searching for You as the happily ever after I haven’t actually experienced.) I’m 38 and have never been married. I haven’t really dated much. Romance books sometimes make me feel inferior because my love life is often non-existent and I’m not sure if I will ever get my own HEA. I honestly don’t have time for a HFA right now; I’m too busy building my career to devote proper time to a relationship. But as a romance author, I also know I’m required to give my characters an HEA or HFN if I want my book to qualify for a RITA (the American romance industry’s version of an Oscar). So I’m conflicted.

For example, I am going to (eventually) write a story in which my heroine, Violetta, is perfectly happy being single and is not letting it stop her from living a very fulfilling life. That is, until her ex, Miles, comes back into her life and she slowly realizes she has room in her life for someone else. Right now I don’t know if it will end in an HEA or HFN, but it will be one of the two. But given the article above, I’m wondering what message I’ll be sending to single women reading the book. I certainly don’t want to take a strong woman and turn her into someone inferior just because she falls in love. I’m hoping I’ll be able to show how Violetta and Miles compliment and strengthen one another and how the romance is a natural evolution for her, rather than her suddenly capitulating to societal demands. To once again quote the Huffington Post article,

Being single, even when you are satisfied with and excited by your life, does not preclude a desire for a romantic relationship that fits.”

Personally, I’d love to write a book where a strong heroine chooses to remain single. But if I do, it won’t qualify as a romance; women’s fiction, maybe. To me, the very fact that this distinction between genres exists is sad. I don’t get why the heroine can’t metaphorically be her own happily ever after. I know I am very happy and if my life were to end today (don’t get any ideas, Universe) I would consider this an HEA or at least an HFN ending, even though I am single. But according to RWA standards, my life story would be a tragedy – maybe a love story for a short period of time in my early 20s – not a romance.

Maybe in the future this will change. The romance industry in America is dealing with a lot right now, such as much bigger issues like racism and consent/harassment in the age of #MeToo, so I don’t expect things to change on this front right away. They may not ever. After all, several generations of women have been conditioned to expect happy endings from romance novels, even if that no longer accurately reflects life for all of us. But then again, they were also conditioned to believe (as an agent once told me) that romances could only be told in third-person POV with alternating chapters from the female/male POV. That is beginning to change, albeit slowly, with a number of successful first-person POV romance authors like Colleen Hoover, Jaime McGuire and Alice Clayton, so maybe this will, too.

Interestingly, the Romantic Novelists Association (of which I am also a member), which is based in Britain, does not have the HEA/HFA rule that RWA does and includes women’s fiction in its purview. So if American romance doesn’t change its definition, at least writers who feel like me will still have a home. (Or maybe I should just move to Britain. That’s never a bad idea!)

For what it’s worth, I have no desire to argue with writers/readers who feel that RWA’s definition is right. I respect that you feel that way. I just ask that you respect that I do not.

To Trunk, or Not To Trunk

Have you ever heard a writer refer to a “trunk book,” or even “trunking a book”? Although the exact definition seems to change depending on who you ask, the term usually describes a project an author has spent a good deal of time, effort, and often emotional energy on, only to decide–based on any number of reasons–that the book is no longer worth said effort and should be abandoned, for now or even for ever. A trunk book gathers dust (usually metaphorically, in the abyss of one’s hard drive rather than a physical trunk), out of sight and out of mind, hardly ever revisited and rarely revived.

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Now, don’t misunderstand me: a trunk book is not automatically a bad book. They certainly can be (one of mine is 100% a Very Bad Book) but they can also be genre books with a non-existent markets, or good books that didn’t survive querying or submission, or half-baked novels writers simply lost interest in partway through. In fact, I would even wager that most authors have at least one book they trunked and still think of fondly, perhaps dreaming of someday resurrecting it and giving it new life.

My current trunk book count is three (that’s not counting false starts or massive rewrites, which would push the number significantly higher). There is my very first completed novel, which I now know belongs hidden away in the dark and really doesn’t ever need to see the light of day under any circumstances. I actually still quite like my second book, a demon-hunting urban fantasy set in London, but sadly I trailed the market by about 2 years and no one wanted to touch it. The third–a paranormal science fiction (I just made up that genre) set in a city where dreams are forbidden–is very dear to me, especially since it got me into PitchWars and landed me my agent, but I’ve come to realize it would need an overhaul.

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Gods help me, I sold my fourth book. (Hashtag Amber & Dusk, go add it on Goodreads!)

And that catches us up to my current work-in-progress. The story is a loose, Celtic-inspired retelling of Swan Lake, told from the perspective of the “Black Swan.” This book has been difficult from the start, and has taken me waaayyyy longer than anything else I’ve ever written. I started it nearly a year and a half ago, as a distraction from the mind-curdling misery that is editor submission. (Let me tell you, the first few false starts were so angsty you’d think I was fifteen and listening to My Chemical Romance on repeat.) I passed my halfway mark last spring, but every word felt labored, every sentence a struggle. So when I got my revision letter for A&D, I was more than happy to put it aside until this fall.

At which point I opened it up and realized I needed to add a character and change the tense. (When am I going to learn to write in the appropriate tense from the start?) Oh, and no big deal, restructure everything.

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And now, after months of feeling blocked and struggling to get any words whatsoever, I’m finally close-ish to finishing. Like twenty thousand words until “The End.” Tops.

But…I’ll be honest. I’m this close to trunking this book. Even with that finish line in sight, I’ve been falling into the Orphean trap of looking backwards at the chapters I’ve already done. And I’ve completely lost perspective. One minute I’ll be marveling at a turn of phrase or good scene, and the next I’ll be absolutely certain the entire manuscript is a boring, self-indulgent, plot-less dumpster fire. At this point, the only thing preventing me from trunking this book is this irrational thought: “But I’ve never trunked a book I didn’t finish before.” 

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Truman Capote once remarked, on the topic of his last unfinished book he spent twenty years working on, “Either I’m going to kill it, or it’s going to kill me.” The unfinished draft of the novel was published posthumously.

So I guess what I’m saying is, maybe it’s time I trunk this book.

Do you have any trunk books gathering dust? When do you decide to abandon a project? Let me know in the comment section below!

 

Pre-Order Announcement!

A little while back I shared the cover reveal of my upcoming young adult novel, Blackbird. Well, I’m very happy to announce the publication day and the pre-order links (if you’re so inclined)!

Blackbird

What if YouTube warned of the end of the world? Would we even take it seriously? Or just assume it was some lame, internet hoax?

Maggie has her first college finals to prepare for; she doesn’t have time for pranks and conspiracy theories. But a super flu has broken out on campus and her dorm mate keeps coughing, threatening to get her sick before she can get through the tests and get home for Christmas.

More and more people are coming down with the super flu and the vaccines aren’t working for everyone and when one of her professors is dragged out of the classroom by cops and doctors, Maggie realizes she’s waited too long to leave campus.

Finals are the last thing she should be worrying about—she needs to get home, but can she make it in time?

Coming June 1, 2018!

Pre-order from your favorite retailer now:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Smashwords | Kobo | iBooks

Add it on Goodreads now!