What I’m Reading: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

Book Review: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

Before I picked up this book, I read a few contradictory reviews and wasn’t sure that I would read it. There were plenty of diverging opinions about whether or not the world really needed this book. In the end, I decided that as I had really enjoyed reading the Hunger Games Trilogy, I wanted to read another book set in the world of Panam. And in this dystopian time of Covid and other things, I could use a good dystopian novel.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is President Snow’s story, but it is also the story of the Hunger Games. I didn’t like the book as much as I enjoyed Katniss’s story for one primary reason: I love Katniss, I do not love President Snow.

That said, it can be a very interesting perspective to read a book about someone you don’t like. Often, when we read, we want to be the hero, we want to feel what they’re feeling, do what they’re doing, become our hero. Reading an anti-hero novel is more like a love to hate. I don’t think I would have enjoyed this book at all if I didn’t know that years later Katniss would come along and crush Snow under her iron hope, but because I did know that, I could stay with the story to the end.

Have you read The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes yet? What did you think?

If you haven’t read it, but did enjoy the Hunger Games, you may want to check out this prequel, however, I will say that it might not be for everyone.

4/5 Stars.

JEH

How to Write 261,000 Words in a Year: Update #2

My progress over the past couple of weeks has been spotty but great! I’m pushing to get a draft done, and I write best when I keep a draft flowing continuously for as long as possible, without taking breaks for side projects or rewriting. This is my novel writing process, it might not be everyone’s, but it works for me.

I think my process comes from over ten years of doing NaNoWriMo. Of course, it’s now October, which already has me in NaNo plotting mode, but there is a lot I need to get off my plate first (more on that later). Because NaNo requires writing a complete first draft in the month of November (or 50,000 words, which may or may not be a complete draft), I’ve trained myself to push through and write a story from start to finish in around 30 days.

With my current work in progress, I’ve been working on it slowly for a longer amount of time, but lately I’ve begun to felt the need to push through, which means I’ve had some bigger days. Here’s where I’m currently at:

I’m almost double where I need to be if I were sticking to my minimum of 1,000 words every workday for a year! This is exciting for a few reasons: 1) if I keep this up, I will be able to write more than 261,000 words in a year, and 2) if I need a break, I can afford to take one.

Currently, I am planning on taking a breather before NaNoWriMo. You can see that while I had three really productive days this week, I’ve really slowed down. This tends to mean I’m reach a bit of a burnout when it comes to sitting in my desk typing away.

Here in Canada, this weekend is Thanksgiving, so I’m also thinking there will be a lot of break time this weekend, though I’m hoping to keep the flow going by writing a few words here and there.

I’ll let you know how I’m progressing in another week or two. Until then, have a great Thanksgiving weekend!

JEH

Did An Amazon Pre-Order Work for Me? No

The other week I put the final book of Artifacts of Avalum on sale on Amazon Pre-Order. This was the first time I’d ever tried an Amazon Pre-Order, as the changing of the rules made it easier and more convenient, since I didn’t have to 100% ready, uploaded manuscript prior to beginning the pre-order period. This I like. But did a pre-order period do anything for me? Did it magically boost my sales or make my book more find-able?

The short answer: No.

But, the long answer is more like: I did absolutely no pre-marketing for this book, and if you know self-publishing at all, you know that just because you hit the publish button that doesn’t mean your book is suddenly find-able. It only means that your book has suddenly appeared on the shelves of 15M+ books on the virtual Amazon store.

So market people, market! (Oh, by the way, did you know that all three books of the Artifacts of Avalum series are now available for purchase at all major ebook retailers!?!? And they are all on sale for $0.99!! Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, Nook)

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Lol. So would I do a pre-order period again? Maybe. Possibly. IF I was ready to kick up my marketing at the same time. But getting a book ready for publication is enough work, let alone developing the marketing plan. So Maybe. Depending on the book.

Have you ever bought a book pre-order? I don’t think I ever have. But if you have, I would love to know.

JEH

A Map of Avalum: Artifacts of Avalum Trilogy

Part of creating fictional words—especially fantasy worlds—often includes making a map. I drew this map of Avalum by hand while writing The Torc, and then elaborated on the map while writing The Circlet. World building can be the most exciting part of writing fantasy. In a way, it’s like playing Creator. How do you shape your world?

I was planning to including this map in The Circlet (I felt it wasn’t really needed yet in The Torc), but I forgot. So I’m going to post it here before I publish The Chain in the next week. A bit of pre-publication bonus material!

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You can see that I’ve included a number key and legend that describe the important locations in Avalum. Without this key, even I would be lost because it’s so hard to hold all the little details in my head. I find the big stuff often sticks, but the small details are easy to misplace. I wouldn’t want to end up putting a portal in the wrong location, or moving it from the south side of the mountains to the north. When writing any kind of fantasy— low fantasy, high fantasy, or epic—I find a map is a great addition and source or visual information. Plus it’s also fun to draw.

What do you think? Have you ever drawn a map for one of your books?

JEH

New Writing Goals!

Today I’m happy to announce that I’ve finally found the time to share with you my new writing goals for the next 12 months. This goal really began at the beginning of July, and so far I’m struggling to meet it, but I am getting more work done.

So what is the goal?

My new goal is to write 500 words a day.

This is much less than the goal I had back in 2017/2018, where I aimed to write 1,000 words a day and actually managed to make that word count by the end of the year! I’m very glad I did that, writing 1,000 words a day for a year taught me so many things! One of those being that with a day job, trying to write 1,000 words a day and keep up with editing and rewriting and self-publishing and submitting was nearly impossible. But I still did it! So this time I’ve decided to pull it back a bit and aim for that first 500. Except for the month of Nano where I will triple that every day. Below you can see a shot of my tracker for the first few weeks. As you can see, it’s been a challenge to meet that every day. I even forgot about my goal for a day. Two days. A few other days here and there, but slowly the goal is beginning to become a habit and stick in my mind. And that is a large part of why I set these goals, because being a writer with a day job is not easy. It is hard to find time to write, it is hard to remember to write, and it is hard to set goals that are realistic. This helps.

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I’ll try to update once a month so you can see how I’m doing. If you want, feel free to set your own goal and work along with me for the next year. Writing is always nice with company.

Wish me luck!

JEH