Books Read and Recommended in 2017

I don’t typically set reading goals each year, since I have a strange pattern of reading. While writing my own books, I tend to stay in my own worlds. Between books, however, or when I need a break or a push of inspiration/motivation, I’ll end up racing through a dozen or so in a week. But I thought I’d share the books I read in 2017, with a few I highly recommend. Many of them got my brain cranking and in fact, kicked my butt back into gear for The Brighton Duology.

There are a few more on my list that were purchased, but I haven’t read yet. Honestly, I read the majority of these (probably 25) in the last couple of weeks of December. These are in no particular order, and I’ve made notes by a few that I fell head over heels with, particularly the most recent ones read that I can immediately recall the plot and people.

The Naturals Series by Jennifer Lynn Barnes:
–I LOVE this series, and it’s possibly one of my top 3 YA series of all time (like YA meets Criminal Minds). I’d previously devoured the first 3, so was thrilled when the final book, Bad Blood, released, followed by a short story spinoff, Twelve.

The Darkest Minds Trilogy by Alexandra Bracken:
The Darkest Minds
Never Fade
In the Afterlight
–Unbelievably good writing and characters, dark as hell plot (think X-men kids in concentration camps) and overall can’t stop thinking about it. She’s got a forever fan in me.

Legend Trilogy by Marie Lu:
–Really enjoyed this trilogy, even if I’m still grappling with the way it ended. Lu is a wonderful writer and I enjoyed learning her style. Dystopia, told from dual POV and really captures a war-torn country dealing with poverty, rebels, and more.

Heist Society Trilogy by Ally Carter:
Heist Society
Uncommon Criminals
Perfect Scoundrels
–I LOVED (all caps) this trilogy. Very YA meets thief/heist, and totally sucked me into the world and characters. I want these books to be made into movies because they’d be so much fun.

Conspiracy of Us Trilogy by Maggie Hall:
The Conspiracy of Us
Map of Fates
The Ends of the World
–Absolutely fantastic series that I highly recommend for adventure readers. Sort of YA meets Dan Brown, with plenty of secret societies, romance, great characters and a bit of treasure hunting.

The Testing Trilogy by Joelle Charbonneau:
The Testing
Independent Study (just started)

The Royals Trilogy by Erin Watt:
Paper Princess
Broken Prince
Twisted Palace
–This was a quick read, and is heavy romance; I’d argue about it being YA due to mature content; I can see why it’s popular, and it kept me in it enough to keep going, but wouldn’t recommend for younger readers.

Ravenspire by CJ Redwine:
The Shadow Queen
The Wish Granter
–I adore CJ, and her writing style is phenomenal. These books completely sucked me into a new world and I loved the twists on things we wouldn’t normally expect from the usual fairytales.

The Selection Series by Kiera Cass:
The Selection
The Elite
The One
The Heir
The Crown
–I was really surprised by how fast I read through these due to the major focus on romance, but I also enjoyed the world-building and characters. Plus, Cass is almost local for me, so I’m glad to support a successful author practically in my backyard!

Magnolia Steele Mystery Series by Denise Grover Swank:
Center Stage
Act Two
Call Back
Curtain Call
–Cannot recommend enough for murder mystery readers who also like to laugh out loud at quirky characters and witty dialogue. I adore Denise, and her work never disappoints.

Other books that are either standalones or parts of series I have not finished:

  • Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard
  • One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus
  • Origin: A Novel by Dan Brown
  • A Different Blue by Amy Harmon
  • Mister Romance (Masters of Love Book 1) by Leisa Rayven
  • Fairy, Texas by Margo Bond Collins
  • The Opposite of Wild (Clover Park, Book 1) by Kylie Gilmore
  • The Substitute: The Wedding Pact #1 by Denise Grover Swank
  • That Thing You Do (Whispering Bay Romance Book 1) by Maria Geraci
  • Moonstone Beach (Main Street Merchants Book 1) by Linda Seed
  • Love So Hot (The Lawson Brothers Book 1) by Marquita Valentine
  • Forever Mine (The Moreno Brothers) by Elizabeth Reyes

Nonfiction, mostly writing craft books:

  • On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft by Stephen King (all writers should read this one)
  • The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson (another good one to set your head straight in getting your ish together for you)
  • The Emotional Wound Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Psychological Trauma by Becca Puglisi and Angela Ackerman (always good to have on hand while writing)
  • The Negative Trait Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Flaws by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi (see above note)
  • Real Artists Don’t Starve: Timeless Strategies for Thriving in the New Creative Age by Jeff Goins (a very inspiring take on those who’ve walked the road before us and their struggles, which puts our own in perspective)
  • Why Does the Screenwriter Cross the Road?: And other screenwriting secrets by Joe Gilford
  • Write Naked: A Bestseller’s Secrets to Writing Romance & Navigating the Path to Success by Jennifer Probst and Christina Lauren
  • Save the Cat by Blake Snyder
  • Romancing the Beat: Story Structure for Romance Novels (How to Write Kissing Books Book 1) by Gwen Hayes

Next on the list:

  • Renegades by Marissa Meyer
  • Warcross by Marie Lu
  • And plenty more!!

Setting Writing Goals for 2018

It’s been a big year for me. The 5th and final book of the Donovan Circus Series, Torched, released in June, as did my short story prequel “The Two Ringmasters” (now available for ebook!). The Shattered Worlds anthology containing A Reaper Made hit the USA Today bestsellers list in August, earning me a coveted title to add to my covers and marketing, and I celebrated a 5-year anniversary milestone. I directed the 10th annual Roanoke Regional Writers Conference and 3rd Roanoke Author Invasion; attended UtopiaCon, Mysticon, RavenCon, and several other events both local and not; and even did some public speaking, including my first paid keynote gig to a statewide writers group.

I hit almost all of my writing goals for 2017. It took a lot of planning, especially with the anthology and all of its authors. It also took significant financing for covers, editing, and of course, marketing (beneath that wide list includes newsletters, advertising, contests, and more). Technically, I made more money in 2016, but I gave away a ton of books via KDP days (over 9,000), whereas I sold twice as many books in 2017 with zero KDP day giveaways. I consider this a win because the majority of the sales were at full price, and while I might not have made as much money, I’m clearly gaining readership thanks to new releases and my backlist.

It’s been a weird year for me. This is a bit nerve-wracking to admit so openly, but 2017 was also a bit of a struggle author-wise. Even with all those personal successes, I felt underwhelmed, as though I hadn’t done enough or should’ve worked harder. But what I noticed most was that I wasn’t the only one feeling down and out. Authors, many of whom have been around for years, are dropping like flies out of the publishing industry (or some going back to full-time jobs to sustain themselves or pulling back on the amount of releases in a single year, etc.). Between piracy, reader expectations, trolls, algorithm cheats, and low sales, it feels as though this battle, while constant, really took out a number of great writers. Or at the very least made us feel defeated. For many of us, it’s not fear that makes us give in, but rather the energy and finances it takes to fight it out.

And for me, coming off releasing the #HoA trilogy the year before took a lot out of me. I was tired, burned out. (All this on top of my full time job, including a promotion to Editor, and a part time consulting gig.) I had no energy for writing or even reading (though I watched a lot of TV). Two books a year seems to be my happy average; 3 about did me in, while 1 release didn’t feel like enough, not in this day and age where authors are publishing a dozen books a year (they must be wizards, I swear). Finishing up the Donovan Circus series meant whatever I created next had to be brand-new. Starting over felt…daunting. I’d spent so much time in the last two years marketing and promoting that it became the focus of my author career. And that’s great, because obviously that hard work got me to where I am now, but at the same time, it meant my focus went to the business parts rather than the writing – you know, the entire reason most authors get into this gig. For creatives, that stuff can deter your motivation (especially if what you’re doing isn’t working) and you risk losing sight of what made you start this whole thing in the first place.

I admit, while I never seriously considered quitting, I knew I had to find my passion for it again. Doing so meant withdrawing from a lot – the Facebook groups, the Twitter chats, the constant check-ins to make sure I didn’t miss something important, be it industry convo or drama. I figured, why not? I can pay my PA to promote in most of those groups anyway, and I found removing the Facebook app from my phone was one of the best things I did for my mental health all year. In short, when it came to writing more books, I had to fall back in love with the process.

I played with a few ideas on how to do that, including an attempt at a pen name and different genre (something that didn’t fail so much as fell to the wayside, and is not out of the question to continue). I picked at a few old story attempts, as well as new ones in different genres (murder mystery, for the record). But everything felt rushed to me, like I was forcing it to happen simply because I couldn’t focus. It didn’t feel right, and I knew readers would pick up on it if I tried.

Last December, my brother shared a science article that provided a bit of story inspiration. My BFF encouraged me to follow the idea and soon I plucked away at chapters, not for the sake of releasing it, but just because I enjoyed it. It was a completely different genre (still YA, but a dystopia), with characters and setting completely unlike any I’d ever written before. I took my time in plotting; I didn’t even force names onto characters yet, instead subbing in “[Protagonist]” and “[Girlfriend]” so that I could simply focus on the writing, rather than the tiny details (something I usually create beforehand, thus tamping down the writing until it’s sketched out). I put zero pressure on myself, which ended up being the best thing I could’ve done because every time I worked on it, I felt motivated and excited rather than stressed out. When the story twisted in a new direction, I didn’t force it back into the outline; I went with it, eventually pretty damn pleased about how it unfolded. I didn’t worry about deadlines or reader expectations because there were none, and I allowed myself to test different writing flows to see what I could do. That was it; I fell back in love with the process.

Maybe six months later (in between writing Torched, DC #5), I had a new book. A whole, completed novel clocking in around 93,000 words. I handed it to my editor and a couple beta readers, wanting their take before committing to any actual release plans. While I waited, I started the sequel; my editor and betas soon demanded the next book, offering me a bit of relief and confidence in this so-unlike-me story (though don’t get me wrong, I’m still totally anxiety-ridden over releasing it!). The completed covers and Facebook banner, created by Molly Phipps of We Got You Covered Book Design, will be shared soon (I deserve a cookie or something, because sitting on these for the last couple months has been excruciating for an impatient person like myself; on the other hand, turns out nothing motivates me to write more than seeing the damn cover everyday, reminding me to get it done). With the sequel so close to being finished, that means I’ve got plenty of time for my marketing plans for the duology, plus the entire year ahead to plan for 2019. I’ve got wiggle room for another short story or two if I want, and/or I can plan that pen name out for real. It felt like this year dragged on into about five, but I feel pretty confident in saying I got my author mojo back, at least for the time being. That being said, I think I’ll end this excessive monologue here and share my 2018 plans.

My 2018 Goals:

  • Release the Brighton Duology (The Blood King in Spring; The Golden City in Fall)
  • Continue with local cons/events/signings
    • Roanoke Regional Writers Conference in January (Director)
    • Mysticon in February (Guest Author)
    • Roanoke Author Invasion in April (Director)
  • Write another Donovan Circus short story (because man, that was just fun and keeps me in my beloved circus world)
  • Test out that pen name with shorter ebooks that fit within market (possibly with 2019 plan)
  • Work on the standalone books for 2019 (1 gifted spy, 1 murder mystery)
  • Double my 2017 sales (currently at just over 5,000 sales for the year across all platforms; this is triple the 2016 number, so I’d love to see 10,000 in 2018)
  • Hit USA Today list again, preferably under just my name (not a boxed set)

So, let’s have it then – your 2018 writing goals. What’s on your list?

The Two Ringmasters Rerelease

I’m excited to announce the rerelease of The Two Ringmasters, which originally appeared in The Peculiar Lives of Circus Freaks anthology. It will be available in ebook form only, for Kindle, Nook, iBooks  and/or Kobo readers.

The Two Ringmasters is actually a Donovan Circus short story and prequel. Readers will follow a few days in the life of Sheffield Donovan, years before Lucy Sullivan shows up on his doorstep. DC fans will spot a few easter eggs, as well as learn about his travels to the Kipling Carnival, where he helps train the new ringmaster taking over. The only problem is, the new ringmaster doesn’t want the position thanks to a secret he’s hiding…
(Scroll down for special excerpt.)

Coming January 2018.

When tragedy puts circus owner Sheffield Donovan on the road, he pays a visit to the struggling Kipling Carnival and their mysterious new ringmaster. Sheffield means to be of help, but as tensions rise between the two ringmasters and anxious troupe members, he realizes he may have put himself in a precarious situation. Sheffield has plenty of his own dark secrets, but so does everyone else – and if Sheffield Donovan isn’t careful, he might not make it back home to his own circus.

Cover by Indie-Spired Design.




Excerpt from The Two Ringmasters:

Sheffield Donovan was tired, weary right down to his bones. It wasn’t because of the jam-packed circus season or the small road trip he was on to an old friend’s carnival. In fact, he welcomed the brief change, the newness that came with unfamiliar grounds and staff. As Donovan Circus ringmaster and owner, Sheffield needed it, perhaps more than he realized. Calloused hands on the worn wheel and a cigarette between his lips, Sheffield contemplated the last two weeks with concern.

Boston had been a rewarding tour stop, complete with a new Firestarter who was sure to be a crowd favorite. Nikolas, Sheffield’s favorite protégé, was also a Firestarter, and he was eager to gain a gifted brother on the road. Sheffield had immediately noticed how well they balanced each other, their instant camaraderie something to appreciate. Their show would surely be some insane feat with fire and motorcycles, if Nik had any say. The new guy, Keegan Larson, didn’t appear to have any problems with adrenaline. He’d fit in well. 

No, Sheffield was tired of losing friends. Of the constant battle to maintain his status, of the fight it took to keep his circus family out of debt and out of any humans’ spotlights. He’d had a brother on the road once, a soulmate of sorts, if one could be found in a best friend. His brother had passed, thankfully of natural causes, but too soon and too far away from the people he called his family.

Hitting the USA Today Bestseller List

If you bought, reviewed or shared Shattered Worlds, the boxed set containing A REAPER MADE, I owe you a huge thank you. Why? Because the boxed set officially made the USA TODAY BESTSELLER LIST!!!

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I’m over the moon. To be honest, when I joined this set, I had no idea what I was in for when it came to the work. It was more than I expected, in a good way, and it was a hell of a learning experience. I worked with 22 incredible authors, many of whom have their own amazing fanbase.

Inside Shattered Worlds, you’ll find amazing stories by seriously talented writers. My book, A REAPER MADE, is part of the set. I chose this book because it’s a solid story within the YA/NA fantasy genre, it receives great reviews, and it’s a standalone that wouldn’t leave any new readers hanging. But it’s a low seller, so it made total sense to take it off my platforms and include it in the set.

When I signed up to be part of it, I had no idea if we’d make our goal of hitting “The List.” For me, it was all about the learning experience, the exposure, and working with great authors who are hard-working and persistent in their goals. I know there are some people who rag on boxed sets, but trust me, there is no “gifting hundreds of copies” or cheating ranking systems, at least with our group. It was a great experience. I learned a lot from our marketing campaigns, which included everything from Facebook group posts and parties to online advertising, newsletters, giveaways of other books and swag, and more. It’s unbelievable, truly, how much work goes into this kind of thing, and I can absolutely attest that it’s not simply giving our free books or sending up prayers for things to come together. All of us worked our asses off to hit our goal.

Release week was crazy with promo and a lot of finger-crossing. We sold over 7,000 copies across multiple platforms. We sat on pins and needles. But then, on Wednesday afternoon, I got word that after months of preparation, after the insane release week of pushing sales and Facebook parties and Twitter chats, that we earned that treasured reward: we hit #107 (out of 150) on the USA Today Bestsellers list.

For someone who kept low expectations in case we didn’t hit the goal, I nearly fell out of my chair. I even got emotional at seeing the screenshots, of my name on that list. I honestly didn’t expect for it to hit me that hard, but knowing we’d accomplished this goal we set out for nearly a year ago was so satisfying, so rewarding that I couldn’t help but get a little choked up. We’re indies in a traditional publishing world when it comes to this kind of list, and the fact that we made it speaks volumes about the authors as well as the readers and their incredible support. I owe many thank you’s and virtual hugs, and I’m forever grateful to those who helped out in some way.

So, what happens now? Well, I keep writing. Oh, did you think I was off to buy my private island? Not so much. “USA Today Bestselling Author Liz Long” is a mighty fine title to add to covers or marketing materials, but I don’t expect to suddenly get an influx of sales or agents knocking down my door. This doesn’t skyrocket me to the “Next Level” but it’s a great addition to my bio and resume, including query letters. I take this experience and continue to grow, and jump at other opportunities that may cross my path. The work doesn’t stop because you hit your goal. It’s time for another, bigger goal!

Thanks to all who read the blog post promos, shared our things, preordered/bought copies and in general, helped us with this accomplishment. I’m so proud of the hard work we put into it and appreciate the outpouring of help that comes with the process!