SEVEN BLOGGERS, SEVEN STORIES, ALL FOR CHARITY
I’ve sat in front of my keyboard for the longest period of time in my writing career, trying to think of the first line of this post. Writer’s block never happens to me. It’s weird.
When I write a book, first lines are crucial. They always jump out at me almost immediately and virtually write themselves. It’s the first thing the reader will see before they invest in the story. It needs to evoke an immediate response and capture the reader’s attention–throw them off guard or create a question that they NEED an answer to.
Admittedly, I don’t usually write book reviews. I’m pretty honest in my opinions (ask three of them I beta read for), and as an author I just don’t engage in anything that might bring me a bad dose of karma. I sometimes read reviews (because I have pretty thick skin and some critical reviews contain information that helps me get better), but I don’t engage on that platform and don’t comment on retail platforms. Once the work is out there, it’s out there and open to criticism. I get to work on the next project.
This, however, is a special circumstance. I don’t know if I can explain anywhere near as eloquently as Helena did in her foreword with regards to how much book bloggers mean to the indie author community, especially in the romance/erotica genres. She killed it and I agree with every word she wrote.
I’ve still yet to think up a first line that does this review justice, or can adequately set the tone for expressing my thanks to these book bloggers who have now added the title of “author” to their book world resumes. I probably never will think of a line that I deem worthy, and I’m strangely okay with that. Book bloggers are everything, and they’ve given me a precious gift that I cherish very much. The gift of my dream job. You probably think it’s being an author. It’s not. It’s being a stay-at-home dad. Job numero uno, and my favorite thing in the world. The author gig is the icing on the cake. Yes, I am eternally grateful for book bloggers, and the ones who penned these stories are very special to me.
So, I’m writing a book review. Here goes nothing:
Nope, not done gushing yet. You have to put up with more. Let me tell you more about why they are so special.
This may be a lengthy post, so buckle your seat belt. While my writing style is minimalist in my books, my words here will be anything but that when heaping praise on the people who are instrumental to my success. They’re close personal friends and colleagues.
Book bloggers are the backbone of the indie writing world. I don’t say that as a cliche to mean they are pretty important, or nice, or semi-helpful. I mean they ARE the spinal cord of the romance/erotica world. Many publishers and authors have tried to analyze this phenomena, myself included. I’m a numbers geek at heart. But you can’t quantify the intangibles. They are like Derek Jeter in the World Series. They LOVE to read. They LOVE to share and discuss their favorite books. They LOVE their authors, and do whatever they can to support them and help them find success. They LOVE angst and feels and humor and happily ever afters and ugly cries (well, some of them, lol). They LOVE cliffhangers too! They’ll message you and let you know just how much they LOVE them! Trust me, I know. The messages usually come at three in the morning with a healthy side of profanity.
They argue over book boyfriends and who read who first. They live and breathe the worlds we create. The promotional power behind book bloggers can’t be manipulated or altered to provide an advantage. It can’t be streamlined or figured out with an algorithm. You can’t calculate a return on investment or represent it with an equation or formula. Their value is a force to be reckoned with because it is real and organic. It’s why so many authors and publishers fail at harnessing the influence book bloggers hold over public opinion. They look at the number of likes or followers or website traffic or Alexa ranking or engagement rate or reach, then form a strategy and try to figure out how to forecast and monetize something that can’t be exploited in that manner, because it’s manifested out of love and passion, not dollars and cents or ones and zeroes.
You can’t treat a blog with 50,000 followers different than a blog with 300 followers. Where a publisher or business analyst may see only 300 potential customers, what they can’t see is the owner of that blog messaging everyone they know, and shoving a great book down the throats of their friends saying, “YOU MUST READ THIS! I HAVE TO TALK ABOUT IT WITH YOU! I WILL BUY IT FOR YOU! JUST READ, NOW!” They can’t see that owner at lunch with her friends gushing over how much she loves books, and all the amazing new books she’s read. The blog with all the followers might just post a blurb and buy links with “HOT NEW RELEASE” stamped above it and then move on to the next book. It might garner a couple of short term sales, or KU borrows that earns an author a small royalty. But the book might sit on their kindle forever. They may reach a few people, while the smaller blog is churning out fans one at a time. But you know what, they will most likely be converted to loyal fans who stick with you until the end. Fans who mail your kids Christmas presents and drive for hours to meet you at an event. Fans who chomp at the bit to share anything you write with more people. It compounds.
I’m not saying that this is always the case in the book world. It’s hypothetical. I know plenty of blog owners with huge followings that are just like the smaller blogs in their approach and interaction. What I’m saying is that all of these blogs, big and small, form a tight-knit collective that is truly special and pure. There is nothing else like it.
It’s so rare that it is actually being studied by sociologists because it is an anomaly–a phenomenon or enigma–that is yet to be explained. I know this for a fact because I’ve been interviewed by people writing a book on this very topic. Very educated “people scientists” (as I call them) with impressive credentials and it’s no surprise to me, because it IS interesting and authentic and new and not the norm. It’s a fascinating dynamic, the blogger community, and I have been fortunate enough to benefit from and participate in this amazing ecosystem, even as a male in a predominately female industry.
If you’re thinking about starting a book blog or getting involved, you’d be hard-pressed to find better of examples than the seven who wrote these books.
With all of that being said, when a few of the participating bloggers in this anthology told me about their idea I thought it was absolutely brilliant, for many reasons. It’s to benefit charity. That sold me right off the bat. I also thought to myself, this will be an incredible experience for these ladies. They will get to produce their own book. They’ll go through all the steps that an indie author goes through and see the amount of behind-the-scenes work that goes into producing a book–the anxiety, the tears, the blood, the exhaustion, the self-doubt, the cursing of characters, the stress of editing, revising, choosing covers, writing blurbs, ad copy, formatting, coordinating a release, promotion. It would give them something to share and call their own. Their stories would be out in the world, being read by people across the globe. It would give them more insight when they are working in a blogger capacity and let them better understand the road a book travels to bring it to market.
As I thought about all they’d go through when they embarked on this, and in all honesty I snickered a little, because I knew they were in for a bumpy, but ultimately enjoyable ride, I tried to think of ways that I could learn from it too. They were stepping outside of their shells. What could I do? What could make me better as an author that I could take away from this?
So, I decided I wanted to do what they were doing. I wanted to learn what a book blogger goes through–signing up for an ARC and release blitz, having a deadline, juggling pr company emails, reading a book with a blogger mindset, knowing I had to review their hard work, etc. They would be the authors and I would be the blogger. We’d all learn and grow, and it’d help promote their stories. It felt like a win/win.
It was the least I could do for them, considering all they’ve done for me, and it would be a great learning experience. And it has been eye opening. Case in point, it’s release day and I’m just now typing my review. I’m already a slacker and it’s my first book review as a romance blogger, LOL. I don’t know that I’m cut out for this line of work. I can’t possibly imagine being on time with ARC number 100 if I can’t even get it done on ARC 1. Blogging about books is hard work and extremely time consuming. I respect them even more after the fact.
But, I’m going to give it a go. I made a promise and this is something I feel very passionate about. So like I do with my books, I’m going to give you my best work on my debut review as a book blogger.
And now that I’ve bloviated for far too long, let’s get down to business. I have a reputation to uphold over here at the Sultan of Smut Book Blog. I realize it’s my first review and I need to earn your trust so that you’ll listen to my recommendations. Here is my take on this anthology:
SMUTTILY EVER AFTER
SEVEN BOOK BLOGGERS, SEVEN STORIES
RELEASE DATE: November 29, 2016
RETAIL SITES: Amazon and eligible for Kindle Unlimited
GENRES: Romance, Erotica, Sports, Romcom, BDSM, Billionaire, Alpha, Contemporary, New Adult, Military
Yes, I’m sure I look like a five star whore, but it’s subjective and I’ll dole out the five stars however I feel necessary. If you don’t like it, you can kiss… Whoa! I’m probably supposed to be nice when I do this, right? Mah bad. Be humble. Done. Already learned something.
Joking aside, this was about as solid of a debut as you can get. Each author delivered on this anthology. Were there things I would’ve changed? Reading as an author or editor, yes. Were these stories genius literary masterpieces? No. Neither are my books. Neither are many of the books on the bestseller lists. Were there any amateurish or rookie writing mistakes? A few, but seriously, very few. I found that to be incredible. The editing was fantastic. I don’t know that I spotted a single typo. There were a few awk sentences here and there, but FFS it’s 227 pages. Did any of these issues distract from the stories? No. Did I enjoy every story? Absolutely.
I read for entertainment. These stories entertained me. That IS the goal that many seasoned authors forget. You can nail themes, and word choices, and have all this in depth, under the surface meaning, and twists and turns. But, if it’s not fun to read, who gives a shit really? If the characters are normal or boring or unlikable for no reason other than to be unlikable–then what does that other stuff matter? Nobody wants to read 300 pages of pedantic, purple, over-the-top prose that does nothing more than puff up an author’s ego because they worked the word “pedantic” into a sentence. (I totally worked it into my review, all of you saw it up there, right? Fucking twice! <fist pump>)
All of that is lost if you don’t accomplish the basic, number one goal: entertaining your audience. These stories all entertained, and it was refreshing.
If I hadn’t known these were bloggers writing debut stories, I wouldn’t have guessed it. No way. I’d probably be searching my ass off on Amazon to find more titles from some of them.
I was a little bit worried before I read the anthology. Just being honest. I knew I’d be truthful and objective if I wrote a review and the idea to do this popped off my keyboard before I’d thought it through all the way. Then I was just like, “Shit, what if it sucks? What will I do? These are my friends. What if I have to message someone and tell them I didn’t enjoy their story? They worked so hard. It might crush them. It might discourage them from pursuing their passion. Could I do that? Could I fake it and risk my reputation if I give them a rating I don’t believe in? People may buy this book, trusting my words. They may already be a fan of mine. How would that look? Could I maybe lose a fan of my own? This is how you support your family, dumb ass. You and your fucking ideas, Sloane. I swear to God if you ever think something through before you put it in motion pigs will fly out of your ass and a unicorn will shit Skittles.” So yeah, I got a little queasy and shook my head at myself in the mirror for a minute or ten, not gonna lie.
But you know what? I appreciated that and embraced it. Why? Because I wanted to KNOW what it was like to be a book blogger, and I bet every single book blogger out there has faced that dilemma when they’ve accepted an ARC in exchange for a review. I’m sure they don’t enjoy every single book that comes their way. If it wasn’t good, I’d have to sack up and figure it out like they do. Fortunately, I loved the stories. It was a great experience. And luck rewarded me, because these stories most definitely did not suck, and I breathed a huge sigh of relief.
I smiled through all of these stories. Not just because they were great reads, but because I knew how good they were. I was happy for my friends. I knew that the seven of them, for the last month, most likely sat in their homes, in different places all over the globe, and chewed on their fingernails and obsessed over details and what people would think.
I knew they were probably having the conversations in their heads that I do before every release. “Cheese and fucking rice, what have I done? This is going out into the world for anyone to read. Oh my God, it’s trash. It’s horrible. It’s no good. I’m going to let people down. So many people helped put this thing together, and lkjdflsfjkdslkjds I not only shit the bed, I rolled around in it and then strutted the runway. What the hell was I thinking? <rocks back and forth in the corner> Oh my tits, Helena Hunting will probably share this on her Facebook page. What if she reads my story? <faints>”
I smiled, because it’s the same as any great story. Conflict drives the plot. The uneasiness, the worry, the stress, the vulnerability, the insecurity, the chinks in the armor: these are ingredients that make for a righteous payoff, and I knew the payoff would be coming soon for my friends, and THAT made me smile from ear-to-ear. When you’re happy and comfortable and good things happen, it’s like, “Oh, hey cool.” But when you’re beaten, tired, worn, unsure where to go–exposed–well, when good things pull you out of it you want to kiss the ground and thank the heavens.
So, to my friends, I want to congratulate you on your accomplishment. Your hard work paid off. Grab some booze and enjoy the ride.
Now, without further ado, let’s dive in individually. The shit’s about to get real, so hold on to your nips:
CALCULATED BY MONIQUE PEARSON
I loved the shit out of this story! Why, you ask? Why don’t you just wait and let me fecking tell you, okay?
I related to this story. Not the romance in it, of course, (i never hooked up with anyone in the corporate world because, hello, married!) but the background or sub plot. I came to the book world from a corporate setting. I worked for a multi-billion dollar corporation, and was responsible for a good half a billion dollars or more every year (scary AF, right? LOL). I was in meetings with the CFO and saw him daily. I wore nice clothes. I used buzz words. The whole nine yards.
I have a lot of experience in this environment and I thought Monique nailed it, and I’m highly critical of details. Strong heroines are kinda my jam, and I’d expected this to be another billionaire trope with a rich guy and a virgin girl and he sweeps her away, blah blah. There’s nothing wrong with that trope, it’s a good one. People like it. But it can get boring in a hurry if you don’t make it your own. I like risk takers. Monique Pearson is a risk taker.
She also knows her shit. If I were a betting man I’d bet she works in a business setting like this. Otherwise, she did a shit ton of research. I get easily bogged down in details when I read. I don’t read a lot of sports roms (primarily baseball and football) because of it. If the details are wrong, I can’t move past it. It can have a kick ass romance, but if the author says “hit a touchdown” I’ll lose my shit. If the author markets it as a baseball romance, and there’s one baseball sentence in the whole book that basically says, “He’s a baseball player,” and that’s it, I’ll lose my shit. Same with business speak. Monique went into accounting in the narrative and I started to get a little anxiety going on. I was a tax accountant and senior analyst for ten years.
And guess what? She nailed it. The details were on point. Whew!
It was also a very interesting arrangement of the characters and roles.
Instead of the usual formula for the couple (male alpha business tycoon, ordinary-looking, virgin heroine) we get Nora. I liked Nora a lot. <waggles eyebrows> She’s the workaholic type, has something to prove, rolls up her sleeves. She’s a workhorse, and she’s impressive. She’s a cynic, but it doesn’t crush her resolve. She exuded powerful feminism, but did it with actions instead of words, which was a nice surprise. She knows men dominate the corporate world and women aren’t treated equally. (totally true) But she’s all out of fucks to give, and works her ass off, and pretty much takes her position at the company. She didn’t sit around and lament how she was passed up because of her gender, she paved the way and set an example. In the process, it made her guarded. That felt very natural to me and built a strong character. Nora struts in armed with grit and evidence that backs up why she deserves to be the boss. There’s something very sexy about a woman in her mid-thirties who has fought that fight and came out the victor, and gets to boss the mens around. Meow!
Her PA Rosey was an added bonus. I love a good side character and Rosey delivered. Quirky, pregnant, organized in her own way. Her character was portrayed brilliantly.
Then came the big surprise. Rosey’s replacement while on maternity leave. An alpha who teeters just on the hot side of the stalker/alpha diagonal, which is the bullseye. Beautiful set up for tension and conflict. I won’t give any more away, but well done.
This was a smokin’ hot read with a solid plot that flipped every usual gender role on its stomach, pulled its hair, and drove it home. I loved it hardcore!
ROLLING ON A RIVER BY R.S. OWL
You might scream nepotism or some shit here, but you can just gtfo with that nonsense. (be humble, sloane. we’ve been over this.) Yeah, my PA wrote this story. She’s been a blogger/fan/friend for a long time. Yeah, I had the pleasure of beta reading it. No, I’m not partial. This story was just flat out fecking Fun with a capital F.
Channeling my inner owl, it was the shiznitterific fiznucking bizomb! (i probably totally ruined that, but i gave it my all)
Had I ever read about roller hockey? No. I kinda want to go watch now though. Especially if it’s all about some girl on girl flirting in tight shorts and shizz. Don’t shatter my reality if this isn’t actually the case. Just let me have it, okay? <stares>
This story was hot. I loved the setting and scenes, the hockey action. Yeah, I know I’m a dude, so it’s only natural that I appreciate a well-written sports scene. It’s hard to do, and personally, I think it should be a requirement in sports romances. Anddd I’m off in left field again. Gotta rein it in.
This one is the sports romcom of the group, and it was done very well with a unique setting, and steamy romance. The comedy fit the story well, and the characters came to life and popped off the page. I wanted to hang out with them and know them better.
Solid story with great writing. Yes, I sniffed out the ending, but only because I know Mrs Owl very well. It was cute and fun. A story that leaves you smiling throughout. My favorite thing was probably the dialogue. Very witty banter. Go read it!
LOVE AND WAR BY BEAUTE DE LIVRES
I think of all the stories in the group, I mean, I’m not playing favorites or anything, but this one just really jumped out and grabbed me. The writing was absolutely brilliant. I love a good twist, and it’s hard as all hell to pull off in a novel, let alone a short novella or short story.
The writing was gorgeous. If I’d picked this up on a shelf somewhere I’d have thought the author was a seasoned veteran who’d been honing her craft for years. I’m not sure how to really describe this one because it was the kind of story that doesn’t really fit a particular genre. Maybe contemporary rom. That’s not a bad thing either. Many times it means the author had a story in their head and just wrote the shit. They stayed true to it. It wasn’t written for a genre, or for sales, or for a specific demographic. It was written because the characters had something to say, and wouldn’t shut up until their story was scribbled on the figurative paper.
It was fantastic. A married couple with troubled pasts, trying to rekindle their flame after years of monotony. Such a relatable concept to so many. It happens to the strongest relationships. People change, they veer in different directions, want different things, or they’re just so damned tired from work or from kids or from life, that they just zone out when they get home. People drift sometimes, and it’s a beautiful thing when they’re able to right the ship.
This story took me on a journey through that in an unconventional manner, with fantastic writing and an interesting premise. I loved everything about it. Sharp light and dark contrasts. Very erotic.
Yes, I beta read this one too. I’m telling you though, this story is amazing. Go read it and then tell me I’m wrong. I dare you.
FALLING INTO YOU BY MILA GRAYSON
I beta read this story as well. Just trying to give full disclosure. Mila nailed this. It was also a romcom, but very sweet and sincere, cute and funny. I loved it, and it had me hooked from page one. I’ve read similar plots and storylines before, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It wasn’t here. There’s a reason that these tropes work, and it’s because people love them. If you can put your own unique spin on a classic, it’s a recipe for success. Mila did just that.
Two people, chance encounter. Flustered in the moment. Don’t exchange contact info. Think they’ve lost out on what could have been “the one”.
I loved how this incorporated the Craigslist missed connection thingie. I thought it was a cute, modern spin. This is the story with the hero you swoon over, in the sweet way. He’s attentive, kind, loves his friends, successful, and has that possessive alpha in the bedroom trait wired up in his genetic code.
The distance between them brings them even closer. It builds the tension. I love when two characters just know it’s right, and they’re also aware that everyone is going to think they’re insane. But they don’t give AF, because lurvvvv. They trust one another, and it’s enough for them. As long as they have them, they know they’ll be fine. Yep, this one has that.
Is it instalove? Yes, of course. It’s almost impossible to write a romance novella without instaloving it up. More importantly, is the insta done well in a believable manner? Yep. Damn sho is. This is the one you get if you like safe with all the feels and swoons and some good chuckles. It’s a story that when you finish you just sit there and smile. Does anyone else do that? If not, just kidding. (I totally grinned after I finished it)
Read it! I command this of you!
UNEXPECTED BY SOPHIA MARIE
This little gem took me by surprise. I’m a sucker for single parent stories. Being a parent is my number one job, and I take it super serious. The struggles with putting your kid(s) first and foremost in the world is real and very very relatable.
At first I thought, man, this is getting pretty heavy for a book this length. But it really worked well. I didn’t feel cheated like I feared I might when too much angst is crammed in, or the back stories for the characters are just over-the-top brutal. Could there have been better payoffs on some of the super emotional plot points? Yeah, maybe. Idk. I’d have to sit down with my editor hat on and read it a few more times. Did Sophia still capitalize on them and sock me in the feels? Yes.
Emotional reads, while amazing, are incredibly difficult to write well. The only explanation I can come up with that fits, is that Sophia is a natural. If she keeps writing these and working at it, she will be bamf, and you will bow at her feet and beg her for more words.
I mean, you take two people with tragic pasts, left to fend for themselves with the kiddos–those are sturdy, high walls to break down. When they are attracted to each other and give in to their desires, that’s the money load, and Sophia made it rain hunnids. Great characters, great plot, dad crushing on Asher a little. I love stories with amazing dads in them. Go read it!
WILDEST DREAMS BY KAY SU
I was really looking forward to reading this story. I’ve known Kay Su since way back when I first started releasing books in these genres, and I got pretty involved with Goodreads and met a ton of cool book world peeps in the SHH group. Bottom line, I’ve known her long enough to know that whatever was in her head, I wanted to fucking read it, LOL.
Now Kay Su, my ninja assassin super stalker friend from afar… I did have one beef with your story. I was expecting some killing or torture. (inside jokes, just deal, okay?) But no, seriously, this book was just–her. It was her voice. Many authors spend years trying to find their voice. This was Kay Su, from page one. I could’ve had someone hand it to me and say, “Hey, Kay wrote a book with six other bloggers, this is one of the stories, who do you think wrote it?” One paragraph in, I’d have known. That’s rare, you guys. Few people write with a voice that recognizable. Stephen King and Hugh Howey come to mind.
This story was just, it was really really good. Unique, fresh, intriguing–it was BDSM, which I expected. I don’t read a lot of BDSM, so I can’t critique on the authenticity of those elements. I’ve never lived that lifestyle nor studied or researched much on it. It had dom/sub desires, and I thought the menage aspect made it that much more enticing and interesting. The characters were fleshed out.
Just give this one a go. I promise you’ll love it.
LOVE FOR US BY SOPHIA STERLING
I floved this story. Very unique spin with original characters.
Okay, here’s what I loved most–okay, wait, question… I seem to like asking rhetorical questions in my reviews, <shrug>. Everyone loves a cynic, am I right? I just adore characters that have been treated like shit, screwed over, basically caught all the bad luck the world has to throw at them. Well, I love those characters when they’re finally able to overcome.
This one had some BDSM too, I think. I don’t know the definitions that well, but it had dom/sub lingo, so I’m just throwing it out there and hoping it’s correct. But anyway, the heroine is a sub by nature, hidden under her layers. But, she’s been fucked over so many times in life, she takes charge. Even as far as to act as a femdom in her spare time. She’s smart, but guys only stare at her tits and ass. They value her for her body. So she uses her body to get things. Because, fuck it. Why not if it works? She has the “Screw the world. It’s not going to change. Bad luck always comes my way. I’m going to use what I have to my advantage.” mentality. That can be related to. It’s a very common occurrence in the world. Some people just get the shitty end of the stick.
I loved the walls she’d put up, but deep down inside she really wanted someone to take control, sweep her off her feet. She wanted to kiss the prince and live the fairy tale. She’d just been jaded by years of meeting the wrong guys, bad timing, etc. That’s a complex character and it’s hard to pull off in a work this short, and no doubt by a debut author. Sophia nailed it though.
Go read it! You’ll love it!
So, what to take from all of this? Well, I don’t know if it was helpful or not, but I have loved every second of this experience. Words can’t express how amazing these bloggers are and what they do every day. I was blown away by these stories and the fact they came from first-time authors. If I’m being completely honest, I expected the usual that comes with many debuts: recycled cookie cutter plots, grammar errors, content and style issues, continuity, showing vs telling, tense problems, POV issues. Those are usual mistakes that a rookie author makes and doesn’t know any better unless they’ve been formally educated or lived in the trenches and worked their asses off to learn.
I have to believe that these authors took this very seriously, and worked extremely hard to perfect their manuscripts. I’m sure it was an incredible experience, but I also know that they are probably still sweating bullets, and biting their nails when they have no reason to do such a thing. Hold your heads up proud, ladies. Seriously, stand there and bask in the praise you’ve received or are going to receive from everyone. Because these stories were unique, powerful, and the exact type of books that you hype and scream about to everyone else. I am so damn proud of you. Not only are you raising money for a good cause, you set out to achieve something. You achieved it and more. These are stories (i’m shaking my kindle in the air right now for emphasis, but you can’t see it. it’s happening though.) to brag about. It’s an accomplishment to cherish.
Not only are you friends and colleagues in the indie community, now you belong to the author circle as well, and I’ll be damned if I’m not giddy and honored as all hell to stand next to you.
Welcome to the club!
Chief Smut Extraordinaire
Sultan of Smut Book Blog
Sloane Howell lives in the Midwest United States and writes hot romance stories. A former college baseball player turned author, when not reading or writing, he enjoys hanging out with his family, watching sports, traveling, and engaging his readers on social media. You can almost always catch him goofing off on Facebook or Twitter, and trying to convince Mrs. Howell that it is “work.”
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