Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Misused Advice: No Prologues

B. C. Marine, CAO Authors 4 Authors Publishing
Every piece of advice that we talk about in this series has good intentions at its origin but has evolved into something either misused or inviolable. Because I believe in being honest about my biases, I must say that I do have some stakes in the prologue debate, having written a couple myself. However, before you dismiss this whole post, know that I am not going to argue that every story needs a prologue or that all prologues are valid. “All or nothing” tends to make poor writing advice for any side, so let’s take a deeper dive into what to do with this much-maligned chapter type.

Why All the Hate?

Oh, how some people hate prologues. Let them count all the ways. And they do, all the time. Check any writers’ forum or social media community on any given day, and you’re likely to find someone spouting their utter loathing for them. (If this is news to you at all, welcome, newbie! Enjoy your blissful ignorance of ceaseless writer debates while it lasts.) Honestly, as we’ve seen in submissions we receive at Authors 4 Authors Publishing, many of the complaints about prologues are generally valid. They can often be dry and boring or unnecessary.
Twice the Risk, Half the Reward
This is one of the biggest strikes against prologues, and there’s no getting around it: they force you to open your story twice. Authors spend a long time perfecting those opening lines because of the power of first impressions. You don’t have much time to hook your audience into reading the rest of your story. Used correctly, prologues are mini-stories that set the reader up for the main story, which means you’ll need openers for both. If you’re going to write a prologue, you’d better be prepared to work twice as hard on the beginning of your story.
Ain't Nobody Got Time For That
Yes, there are agents out there who claim they will pass on anything with a prologue. Some readers will proudly acknowledge that they always skip prologues and start with chapter one. As someone who immediately backtracks to the title page when I open an ebook to make sure I haven’t missed anything, I find the notion completely bizarre, but these people do exist.

The Ol’ Bait ’n’ Switch

Given the hatred many people have for prologues, one commonly-touted solution is to call yours chapter one. Many argue that nobody will notice the difference if you just change the name and that it will con those who are prejudiced against prologues to read yours. But if you are able to rename your chapter with nobody being the wiser, did you truly have a prologue to start with? Probably not. In which case, good for you, your life just got easier.
For someone with an actual prologue, changing the name won’t fool anyone, nor will it miraculously make the chapter more enjoyable. The real problem isn’t with the word “prologue”; it’s with how poorly written many are.

To Prologue Or Not to Prologue

A prologue shouldn’t exist for the sake of existing; it needs to have a purpose. Why does this particular scene or chapter need to be shown before the rest of the story? What separates it from everything else?
History of the World: Part I: Cliffnotes Edition: Narrated by Ben Stein
This is the hardest raison d’être to justify for a prologue. When you can, it’s better to weave exposition naturally throughout the story than to dump a chunk of information in front of the story. Doing that is what gives most prologues a bad name. How truly essential is the backstory from a thousand years ago to understanding the first chapter or two of your story? Is it at all possible that readers can learn some of it later? If exposition must be done in the prologue, it’s best if combined with one of the other purposes.
And Who Might You Be?
If this one scene is in a different POV from the rest of the book, that’s a good reason to set it apart. This is seen often in mystery or horror with a scene of a victim’s last moments, but it’s used in other genres too. For example, Fyr by Lisa Borne Graves opens with a prologue from the POV of Ruby, who is never seen again for the rest of the book. It’s essential because it brings the main characters where they need to be, and it wouldn’t make sense for any other character to explain it later because she acts alone.
The one problem with this type of prologue is that readers can identify too readily with the POV character, only to be disappointed when they realize the main character is someone else. In Fyr, this is avoided because Graves makes it clear from the outset that Ruby is doomed, and more of the focus is on her observations of one of the main characters than on herself. In a way, she hands off the story as much as she does the object she’s holding.
I’m Sorry, Are You From the Past?
No, exposition lovers, this isn’t the excuse to write about the history of your world. This is a scene from POV of your usual characters but with a larger-than-usual time jump before the main story. This was the type of prologue I used for A Seer’s Daughter. Though my characters are adults, it opens with a scene of them as children, which sets it apart. Yes, it gives backstory but by showing what happened at a specific event, not by giving a dry rundown of their personal history. In fact, every effort to write the story without the prologue resulted in the story coming to a screeching halt to either give a flashback right away or drop all the important information in a chunk of information that didn’t suit the character’s voice at all. Telling that particular piece of the story in order came out much more naturally.
Like with a different POV, a problem with this type of prologue is that readers may get too comfortable with where the story starts or dislike how the characters may change during the time skip. In my case, I didn’t want readers to get too used to them as children and have trouble investing in their love life as adults. 
It’s Been 84 Years…
Okay, fine. There is a place for history. Maybe you have a scene from a hundred years before the start of the main story in the POV character of someone’s great-grandparent. You’re going to end up with the combined issues of being in the past and in another POV, so you’d better make it worthwhile. Remember that the prologue is still a chapter in the novel, so it should read like a story, not like a history text. And if you’re setting this particular scene, why? It’s definitely separate enough to be a prologue, but what parts of the main story cannot be told without it? If it’s not essential, it might make an interesting expositional note somewhere, rather than being a full prologue. If it is essential, make sure your story is epic enough to justify it.
Time to Go Back to the Future
Some prologues are actually an event from later in the book or series, with the main story being about how they got to that point. It’s often used to create excitement and tension in the opening of a story that otherwise has a sleepy beginning. Some will argue that this is a cheat or lazy because it’s copying a later scene instead of making the story start somewhere more interesting. However, paranormal is a huge genre for this one for good reason. The point of these stories is often that something supernatural is lurking behind an idyllic and boring façade, which means that the story won’t make much sense if exciting things are happening from the start. In these books, the prologue is a promise to the reader that there really are paranormal happenings coming, even if the beginning feels like a more realistic genre.
It’s All True, I Swear
You may not even realize this last type is a prologue, but it is. Some books will have a fake letter, foreword, preface, or introduction. Maybe it warns the reader to put the book down, relying on reverse psychology to reel them in. Maybe it recounts how the book came into the writer’s possession or claims that the story is real. What makes these prologues rather than frame narratives is that they stay at the beginning instead of reappearing in the middle of the book. Occasionally, you’ll see a frame narrative with a prologue and epilogue only, though.

Conclusion

Prologues do have a purpose and can be done well, but they need to have a good reason to be there. If your story truly needs one, make it worth the readers’ while.

Have you ever heard writing advice that seemed odd? Let us know on Twitter or Facebook! Keep an eye out for next month’s Misused Writing Advice: Don’t Use “Be” Verbs.

And join us next week for an interview with author Lisa Bourgon, to talk about her upcoming novel, Ma’am Is a Four-Letter Word.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Editing Software

What’s the best option for you?
Rebecca Mikkelson, CBD Authors 4 Authors Publishing
As writers, we need a little help. We’re unfortunately not born with the knowlegde of all the grammar and writing rules out in the world, and that’s where editing software comes into play. For the sake of time—and my limited experience with a lot of them—I’m going to contain this post to only talking about three major options. 
Grammarly
I think most of us in the Writing Community have heard about this one, the good and the bad. I will admit, I do use Grammarly on a regular basis, and it’s my favorite out of the three, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its pitfalls. 
So how much does it cost?
That depends. There is a free add-on for the Chrome browser that’s great for checking your spelling and making sure you don’t send an email to your boss littered with spelling mistakes. If you want to go premium for yourself, it’ll cost you anywhere between $29.95, $19.98, or $11.66 a month, depending on if you sign up by month, quarterly, or yearly. Yearly is obviously the best deal, but that’s still a lot of money per year ($139.95) as you have to pay it upfront. 
There’s also an option for businesses in which you can have up to 149 members on your team, according to their website.
Grammarly is a great stepping stone for your writing journey, and once you learn the rules a little better, you’re not going to need it nearly as much, if at all for anything other than spelling mistakes—but that’s why there’s spellcheck (or as MS Word now calls it, Editor).
The good
One of the best things that I’ve found about Grammarly is that it’s super fast in its check in either the web browser or the add on for Microsoft Word. When I’m using it, I can get a full 140K manuscript checked for me in mere minutes. It’s very user friendly, and it’s mostly accurate. There are occasionally some weird corrections that Grammarly wants to make, like when a character in one of my client’s manuscripts, “…didn’t recognize anyone, and didn’t expect that she would,” it suggested that she “would die.” But those instances are usually funnier than they are annoying. 
Grammarly checks spelling, grammar, tone, and style. My favorite feature of Grammarly is its easy-to-understand explanation of their suggested corrections. This not only tells you why something is wrong, but gives examples of the correct ways to do it. This teaches you the rules of grammar and how to be a better writer.
One last benefit that I want to talk about that’s especially useful for us fantasy writers is that you can add your fantasy words to their dictionary so that you never misspell a unique name again.
The bad
There aren’t really a lot of downsides to Grammarly, but there are still a few. The first and biggest downside is that it’s expensive. Genuinely, the only reason that I renew my membership each year is because I’ve managed to find a 50% discount when it’s about to expire.
Another is once you’ve learned the rules of writing, it slowly starts to become superfluous because you’re not making the same mistakes over and over. 
Lastly, if you’re using the Microsoft Word add on, it regularly fails and doesn’t integrate well into the program. There have been many, many occasions where I’ve not been able to update the software because it can’t be found (even though it’s still clearly working on my Word document), or it will kick itself off of my document and have to be reinstalled, or I have to go through several steps to click a checkbox (I’d tell you where it is, but I’m technologically inept, and I would not be able to tell you where to find it if my life depended on it) to make sure that it works again.

Prowritingaid
This is one I heard about on and off and decided to give it a try because I had a discount. Plus, they had a very good money-back guarantee, which I was able to use without issue. It simply took an email to their customer service, and I had my refund within 24-hours.
Prowritingaid is definitely one that I would recommend getting the yearly subscription right off the bat with the intention of getting a refund if you don’t like it. Their monthly subscription is $20/month, the same as signing up for Grammarly quarterly, and their yearly subscription is $79, which comes to about $6.58/month.
Prowritingaid does a lot of the same things that Grammarly does, like checking your spelling, grammar, tone, and style, but I’ve found that it has a lot more downsides than it does up.
I’ll be honest, my review of Prowritingaid is going to be a lot shorter than the one for Grammarly; I made it only a week in before I asked for my refund because it just didn’t work for me.
The good
Since I last tried Prowritingaid, they’ve now started offering a free Chrome extension the same way Grammarly does. 
One of the biggest pluses that Prowriting aid has over Grammarly is that for $300, you get lifetime access to their software and all of their updates. This includes their resource library on writing and grammar, how to plan your novel, how to edit, etc. 
This is a really big deal for new authors and for such a low price. 
The bad
Prowritingaid is not very userfriendly. For those of you like me who are technologically inept, you need an easy-to-use and easy-to-figure out software, and that’s not going to be Prowritingaid.
The biggest downside I found to Prowritingaid is just how freaking slow it is. The same 140K manuscript that took only minutes with Grammarly took a full six hours for Prowritingaid to check with a single one of its features. Comparably, Grammarly checks tone, grammar, spelling, and style all in one go, while Prowritingaid checks these in individual passes. This is not very helpful, because if you accidentally switch between the functions, it takes forever to recheck the work.
This is as far as I got in using Prowritingaid before I gave up on using it. For my work, it wasn’t feasible to use as much as I use other writing software on a day to day basis.
Hemmingway Editor
I hadn’t heard much about Hemmingway Editor until I got involved in Authors 4 Authors Publishing and one of our Founders, B. C. Marine, told me about it.
Out of the three softwares that I’m talking about today, this one is by far the cheapest. It has two options, a free online version and an app you can download to your computer that is a one-time cost of $20.
This editing software will take a look at your sentence length and help you cut out the superfluous words, track your adverb usage, check the readability of your sentences, and help keep your work clear and concise by highlighting passive voice and (according to their website) dull words.
The good
With Hemmingway, everything is color-coded for your convenience. If you’re wanting to look at a specific aspect of your writing, like getting rid of your run-on sentences, Hemmingway will highlight your extra, extra long sentences in red. This makes it easy for quick spot checks for essays, emails, or short stories pasted directly into the website for a free check, or in your downloaded app. Like Grammarly, its checks are also incredibly fast in finding the above-mentioned issues within your work. 
The app is also really easy to interface with other programs on your computer. For instance, it’s very easy to import a full novel into the application from Microsoft Word to give yourself one last edit for the fifth time before you send your manuscript to an agent or a publisher. 
The bad
This application is truly a testament to its namesake—what it’s best used for is making sure your work is concise and to the point. This means that if you enjoy purple prose or being Tolkienesque, this application is not going to be for you in the slightest. 
Some of the downsides to this app include the fact that, unlike Grammarly or Prowritingaid, it doesn’t take a look at spelling, grammar, or style. If those are things that you’re wanting most out of your editing software because you might not know all the rules yet, this isn’t for you.
One last, and major downside of Hemmingway Editor, is that only the desktop application allows you to save any of your work. It’s not possible to do in the free online version, so if you need to take a couple of days to work on a piece, you’re going to have to pay $20 for the pleasure. 

Which one you decide to use is entirely up to you, but this post will hopefully help you make an informed decision about which software is best for your needs. 

Join us next week for our latest installment in our Misused Advice series about never having a prologue. 

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Wednesday, May 13, 2020

When Should I edit?

Making sure you don’t get bogged down in edits
Rebecca Mikkelson, CBD Authors 4 Authors Publishing
It can be hard to decide when the best time to edit is—many of us are perfectionists who want it done right the first time. Or, if we’re being honest with ourselves, we’re scared to put bad words on the page, so we edit it to death. We’ve talked a little bit about how to edit already, but we haven’t talked about when to edit. So when is the best time to edit? Let’s find out.

Before

Wait, what? You can’t edit before! You’re right, you can’t. In this case, I mean before you’ve even finished the first chapter. 
Stop what you’re doing. Stop it. This. is. a. pit. You’ve entered the fire swamp and are going to drown in the lightningsand, and Westley isn’t going to be there to save you before your work in progress dies a slow and agonizing death. 
When you become so obsessed with making sure that every single word is perfect before you can move on, you’re never going to move on, because guess what? It’s never going to be absolutely perfect—ever. 
But before I move on to the next section, I want to leave you with a quote and a bit of advice:
“The first draft of anything is shit.” ― Ernest Hemingway
I regularly tell this quote to authors who are new to writing, and also that shit makes the best fertilizer; without those bad words on the page, you can’t make them into something better. Don’t let your fear of not doing things right the first time get in the way of finishing your story and leave you with regrets. 

During

So, despite what you might think from the section above, editing while you write is not a bad thing. It becomes a bad thing when you can’t go more than a few lines before obsessively going back to edit it again and again and again. 
There are a couple of different ways that you can edit during the writing process of a manuscript that can be very productive and help you come out with a clean rough draft. There are three that I would recommend if you’re determined to edit while you’re writing, and each one has a different recommendation of how much you should actually be doing during each one. I will say, though, that editing during the process also runs the risk of slowing down finishing your first draft. 
At the end of every chapter
If you’re wanting to edit after every single chapter, the most you should be looking for is making sure that everything is spelled correctly and your sentences flow smoothly. There’s a poetry to writing, and every sentence should flow into the next without feeling stilted. For example, you might have something like this in your manuscript:
 He stood. Then he sat. Then he got up and paced. 
They’re not very good sentences, and it can easily be turned into one. But another thing about it is it lacks any feeling; it’s very clinical and dry. When you’re going through your edits, you’ll ideally want to end up with something more like this: 
He stood before quickly changing his mind and sat down again. His knee bounced as he anxiously waited for news of his wife. He couldn’t take it anymore and jumped from his seat, pacing back and forth in the waiting room. 
Your reader needs to be able to feel what you’re seeing in your mind’s eye while you’re writing, and it might not happen the first time you write it down, which is okay. It’s more than okay—that’s why there are edits and rewrites, and then more edits. And then more edits.
Every few POV chapters
Let’s say that you have only two POV characters, and their timelines are happening in a linear story. You might have more, but that’s easy to adjust with how many chapters you’ll have to wait to edit.
As with after every chapter, you’ll be looking for spelling errors, making sure your sentences flow smoothly, but now you’re going to make sure that your timeline matches up. This is going to be things like time of day, what the weather is, and if Character B’s scenes actually come after Character A’s. 
At the end of each act
Unsurprisingly, editing once you’ve finished each act is going to include everything talked about in the above sections, but this one is a little different. When you’ve got a full act to edit, you can make sure that you’re hitting your plot points and pinch points at the right time, and that you’ve definitely introduced your conflict at the right moment. Especially with the first act, if you haven’t introduced your conflict by the end of it, you have made a major mistake, and it needs to be corrected before you get too far into the process. 
Ideally, this will keep your manuscript in a tidy order, and you won’t have to add in points that you then have to edit to make sure it flows seamlessly with your other work and that you don’t have to take away superfluous scenes that then create timeline issues that need to be edited out.

After

This, I’ve found is the most common way of editing. You wait until you’ve gotten everything out of your system, and then you take a break to clear your head and take a whack at editing. 
I don’t want to keep making this point to death, but what you’ll be looking for when you edit afterward is everything mentioned above: spelling, sentence structure, timeline, and plot structure. 
The beauty of editing after everything is finished, though, is that if something comes up in act three that you want to slowly sow the seeds for in act one and two, you can easily put those in now that you know it’s happening. 
But, let’s be honest here. You’re going to be editing the whole thing after you’re finished anyway, regardless of whether you wait to edit until the very end of the writing process or not. And it will be a couple of times, at that.  

My Recommendation

There really is no right or wrong way to edit—with the exception of editing everything so much you never move forward. For me, I tend to edit at the end of everything. I like to be able to see the full picture and know where the story is going and how it got there to make sure that even the beginning chapters point in that direction. 
But, no matter which process you choose, editing is going to happen several times until you feel like you’ve been edited out. 

Join us next week when we talk about editing software and apps. 

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Wednesday, May 6, 2020

New Authors: I'm Feeling Conflicted

Writing conflict in your story
Rebecca Mikkelson, CBD Authors 4 Authors Publishing
And me, B. C. Marine, CAO Authors 4 Authors Publishing!
A necessary factor to writing conflict in your work is making sure that you have your pacing down first because you need to hit certain points at certain times to keep your story compelling. This is where being a plotter has more benefits than being a pantser, because you can plan these points out in advance and work toward them. 
When should you introduce your conflict?
As mentioned in our blog post about plot, you need to introduce your conflict within the first act. Usually, this is when your main character or protagonist locks themselves into the story by making a goal or decision that pulls the rest of the characters toward the end goal. For a compelling conflict and story, I would highly recommend introducing your conflict at the very very latest by the end of chapter three. Ideally, it will be by the end of the first chapter.
Your main conflict, that is. To really hook readers, you should have a smaller conflict from the first— 
Excuse me, this is my blog post. What are you doing poking around in here, B. C.?
But conflict is so important! I can’t let you miss anything.
Ugh, fine. Just don’t interrupt me too much, okay?
I’ll try, but I can’t make any promises.
Who brings about your conflict?
B. C., apparently. 
But more seriously, in a character-driven plot, your conflict has to be driven by someone, so who is it going to be? It can be just about anyone in the cast who sets a conflict in motion. (If you want to learn about characters, you can take a look at this blog post from our new authors series, or from our character types series.) Depending on the character, it will change the tone of your conflict. For example, if your MC is a high school-aged girl who has to overcome her own insecurities, it can be an uplifting story of self-love and believing in your own abilities. If a bully in the school is deliberately and maliciously spreading harmful rumors about your MC, they now have a much larger problem to face than their own insecurities, and it will be more difficult to overcome.
Even family, friends, or lovers can create conflict when they have different relationship goals.
Or our meddling coworkers. I thought you weren’t interrupting? There isn’t much to add to this section, man. I did my homework!
Surprise! Conflict doesn’t have to be caused by a person
In event-driven plots, your conflict may perhaps be caused by someone’s actions, but it’s on a much larger scale. This would be something like a war that isn’t caused by one particular person as the examples above and happens well outside of the protagonist’s purview...usually. This is a particularly common conflict in historical fictions and fantasy novels. Another common conflict that comes in for fantasy novels, also sci-fi and dystopian, is a cataclysmic event that the characters have to survive. 
I approve. I have nothing to add here.
Really? Then did you have to say anything? Am I allowed to move on now, O Knower of Conflict?
Yes, yes, you may.
Making your conflict compelling
This might surprise you, but you need to have conflict in every single chapter of your book. Remember, your conflict doesn’t have to be a supersized event all the time. It could be personality clashes between mother and daughter (or even mother-in-law and daughter-in-law!), a disagreement between lovers, friends, family, or journey companions, or between boss and worker. There are so many ways to bring conflict into your story—it doesn’t even have to be with a person. Maybe your character needs to reach their friend or child in a storm before they get washed away, but trees are coming down left and right. The weather, an outside force, is now driving the conflict in the chapter. 
Give an example of micro conflicts at the chapter level. This is the area that a lot of authors struggle with and why things like travel scenes get a bad reputation. Superfluous sex scenes can do it too. For example, some of—
Hey! Who’s writing this blog post?
As I was saying, some of my romances could be erotica if I showed all the sex main couples are having, and while there are still a fair number of scenes in some stories, how much I choose to put on the page for each scene is about conflict. And those kinds of scenes don’t involve fighting or physical peril. In fact, even as they're the only two characters actually in the scenes, they aren't in conflict with each other but still struggle internally.
Anyway, it might feel overwhelming to hear that your conflict needs to be in every chapter, but conflict is what makes the story interesting, and a lack of it can easily make your reader put your book down. 
Ooh! Dialogue is a great tool for micro conflict too. 
B. C.! 
What? Straightforward conversations are boring, but if it veers away from where the protagonist wants it to go, even a friendly conversation will have conflict. Because, at its core, conflict is all about something or someone becoming an obstacle to the protagonist’s goals, no matter how small.
B. C., this is my blog post! Are you even listening to me? If you wanted to write about conflict, you should have taken it.
Believable conflict
There is a certain amount of suspended belief in the vast majority of genres, but how believable is your conflict? You have to match your conflict to the abilities of your characters. I’m not going to believe that a group of ten-year-olds are going to save the world with their technical know-how. They’re ten. But if you tell me a group of late teens to early twenties have to save the world with their technical know-how, I’d find it a lot easier to accept. 
Another aspect of believability is how much your characters struggle within your selected conflict. If, without any struggle at all, your character manages to succeed at every task, and your character still manages to be beloved by all, you run the risk of having created either a Mary Sue or a Marty Stu. Once those characters are created, it’s very easy for your readers to say, “Well, of course they did!” to something they’ve done right or well and not want to continue reading.
And staying in character is important too. I think we’ve all rolled our eyes at the perfect couple who suddenly hates each other in the sequel just for conflict’s sake.
For heaven’s sake, B. C.! Can I not get through a single section by myself?
How conflict changes your characters
This is a very important aspect within your story: character growth or regression. How does your conflict affect your characters? Does it make them dig their heels in more and not want to deal with the problems until they have to? Or do they step up, help the people around them, and become better versions of themselves? This could mean they become braver, they become more compassionate, they become better rulers, etc. etc. 
Ideally, your conflict will bring about character growth for your main character, and they’ll become a better person by the end of the story or more prepared to face the next big conflict in the next book.
Or perhaps it knocks them down a few rungs. Not every story has a positive character arc. 
I give up. There’s no point in fighting if you’re not even going to listen to me.
Sometimes the conflict beats them into regression. Sometimes the conflict wins.
Have you accurately portrayed how someone goes through a certain conflict?
There’s one last thing I want to talk about that doesn’t happen in every book. This is traumatic conflict, such as kidnapping, rape, or miscarriage. I will say that everyone reacts differently to these types of events, but it would be unusual for someone to have no reaction at all. This is partially where “write what you know” fails authors since there are plenty of resources out there that can guide authors into believable and accurate reactions to these types of situations. 
Wait—B. C. has nothing to say? Did she finally start listening to me?
B. C.?
…B. C.?
I guess so. Thanks for sticking it out on our new authors series; we hope that it’s been helpful for both those just starting on their writing journey and those that are a little further along. 
See, wasn’t this so much more fun with a little conflict?
What the f—
Join us next week when we start a two week series on editing! (And I promise not to interrupt Rebecca on that one…maybe.) 


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