June 12th, 2017

The Art of Physical Surveillance

Piper Bayard 

One of the most commonly used tools in mystery, crime, and spy fiction is physical surveillance. However, it is an art that is not completely understood outside of law enforcement and espionage. As the partner of a 40+ year veteran field operative, I’d like to take you through a few of the basics.

The first step in physical surveillance is identifying a subject.

This often happens in conjunction with a crime or a tip, or the subject can be identified as the product of ongoing investigations. The NSA’s blanket electronic data mining of phone calls, social media, and financial transactions also turns up suspects. While the method identifying suspects can vary, one thing is constant – there must actually be a suspect for physical surveillance to occur. No organization, except possibly the Department of Homeland Security, has enough money and personnel to just hang out watching people and waiting for a crime to occur.

Once a subject is identified—we’ll call him Schmucky Putavich—the investigating body will monitor the subject’s activity through cell phone, email, credit card, banking transactions, and computers at work or at home.

If something is picked up from intercepted electronic transmissions that indicates a specific event will occur at a specific time, such as an exchange of cash or information, the law enforcement or espionage personnel—we’ll call them all “operatives” for the purpose of keeping it simple—will place Schmucky under physical surveillance for that specific event.

The next step is to make a surveillance plan, which can include personnel, vehicles, helicopters, etc.

Operatives need to know what assets they have, how many man hours they want to use, how many man hours are available, and, most importantly, their budget. Everything has to be funded. The higher priority Schmucky is, the more funding and resources the operatives will receive. The TV series The Wire does a great job exploring the conflict that can arise around this need for budget and resources.

Once a plan is in place, the team decides when and where to start the surveillance.

Keep in mind that the surveillance will most likely be in anticipation of a particular transaction. If Schmucky’s home address and work location are known, operatives can set up the surveillance ahead of time to follow him on a particular day, when they will try to observe and record whatever transaction it is they are expecting.

At the start of surveillance, the team will get a vehicle in place so that they’re ready to follow Schmucky.

For example, if they are following Schmucky to work, they will station a car at least two or three house lots away from the Schmucky’s home on the opposite side of the street. That’s because everywhere outside of Hollywood, Schmucky is going to notice total strangers staring at him from a vehicle at the end of his driveway, his neighbor’s driveway, or directly across the street.

The operative in the vehicle will avoid eye contact when Schmucky pulls out of his driveway and will wait until Schmucky goes at least 200 feet up the street before pulling out from the curb. If Schmucky is expected to head north, the operatives park south of his house. In Hollywood, operatives are often parked the wrong direction. In real life, operatives don’t let Schmucky drive past them because it’s too easy to be spotted.

If the team knows the route Schmucky will be taking, they will have multiple cars ready and waiting, and they will pass him off at turns. If Schmucky does not have a regular route, the team will have several cars behind him.

When Schmucky turns, the car at the front of the line will continue on through the intersection, and the car that is second in line will move up to first and follow around the turn. The operative in what was the first car will come around and get at the back of the line. This technique works best with four or more vehicles. Doing it with less than three is a bad idea.

Following someone on foot involves the same principles.

A lone operative can’t just be leaning against Schmucky’s front door in Manhattan and start following him the minute he walks outside. The operative would be so easy to spot that they might as well be wearing their “I’m a Fed” T-shirt. To effectively follow someone on foot, an operative must start from a distance and bring a team.

Again, if Schmucky’s route is known, people can be stationed to take over along the way. If it is not known, the team will work in the same way as a line of vehicles, with the person in front peeling off and coming around to the back of the line, either at a turn or at another juncture.

The team will likely ditch their electronics and communicate with physical signals because even headsets and ear pieces are often too obvious.

A signal might be taking off a hat or ducking into a café to indicate that the person behind should move up and take over. The last person in the line is called “Tail End Charlie.” That person can also jump into a car and go ahead of the others if need be.

Operatives tailing someone on foot must also be careful not to attract the notice of Schmucky’s security team.

Smart Schmuckys with adequate resources will have a security team behind them, watching out for anyone tailing them. That means that operatives can’t only focus on who’s in front of them. They have to be acutely aware of who is behind them, too. Otherwise, Schmucky’s henchman will either put a bullet in an operative’s head, snatch an operative off the street, or at a minimum alert Schmucky that he is being followed.

Sometimes, particularly in fiction, an operative will see Schmucky where they least expect him and need to keep an eye on him without help.

Often, such a fictional operative will duck into a doorway on a street and peek around the edge. In real life, this kind of stopping in a doorway to observe Schmucky puts the “dead” into “dead giveaway.” To avoid that dead factor, an operative must take their eyes off of Schmucky, go all the way inside a building, and only turn around once they are out of sight of the street. At that point, they can come back out and stop in the doorway under some other pretense than watching someone.

Imagine for a moment what it might be like when you’ve worked weeks, or even months or years, for a glimpse of Osama Jihadimaggot, and suddenly he’s there in front of you, walking down the street.

Finally, all of that Third World dysentery you’ve suffered while hunting him down is paying off. Your hands are practically around his neck, preventing his next thousand victims. You’ve alerted your team, and you’re tracking him back to his lair while they join you. You’re keeping up, and there’s no sign he’s noticed you, but then he stops in the street to check out a vendor’s melons. You have to find a way to stop, too, but that requires taking your eyes off of him to go all the way into a shop. He could be gone by the time you take that safety precaution. Maybe just this once…

That’s what it’s like for the operative in the field. It’s sheer agony for them to take their eyes off of the target for that instant, and more than one operative has succumbed to the urge to cut corners “just this once.” And more than one operative has died because of it.

But there is an upside to all of this caution about Schmucky’s trailing henchmen—besides the obvious of not getting killed, of course.

It gives operatives a chance to “clean up” any following entourage behind the target if they choose to do so. That involves either popping them off or snatching them up, depending on the circumstances—a rich, realistic opportunity for stories to unfold either way.

Bottom Line: Professional physical surveillance requires a team wherever possible, not just a lone operative, and that team will have resources according to the status of the subject. If an operative must conduct surveillance alone, they must be exceedingly cautious, and they will likely lose the subject or be spotted.

Do your characters work alone or in teams when they are following a subject? What issues have your characters encountered while tailing targets?

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Bayard and HolmesPiper Bayard is an author, a recovering attorney, and the managing editor of the Social In Worldwide network. Her writing partner, Jay Holmes, is an anonymous senior member of the intelligence community and a field veteran from the Cold War through the current Global War on Terror. Together, they are the bestselling authors of the international spy thriller, THE SPY BRIDE. You can find Piper at BayardandHolmes.com.

June 9th, 2017

The Legal Side of Writing for Anthologies

Susan Spann

Anthologies are a popular way for authors to gain publishing credits, build an audience, and cross-pollinate readership with other writers in a genre. Anthologies may be traditionally-published, author-published (i.e., self-published, either by the entire group or by the author who edits the larger work), or organized by a charity or writers’ group (like Mystery Writers of America, RWA, or a local or regional writing organization). Some anthologies have open submissions, while others consider contributions by invitation only, or only from members of the group that sponsors the anthology.

Properly managed and published, anthologies can offer writers many benefits, with only a few drawbacks. However, authors need to ensure–before submitting work or signing a contract–that the anthology in question is offering proper, industry-standard contractual terms and legal protections for the author and his or her work.

Let’s take a look at some of the common traps and pitfalls authors encounter when contributing to anthologies—and how to avoid them:

  1. Insist Upon a Professional, Written Contract.

In addition to establishing the terms under which the publisher can use the author’s work, a contract proves the anthology publisher understands the legalities of the publishing industry. Anthology contracts are often shorter than contracts for novel-length works, but they should still be professionally drafted (read: by a publishing lawyer) and address the legal issues relevant to anthology publishing.

Never allow your work to be published in any anthology that doesn’t have a professional, written contract.  

  1. Always Keep Sole Ownership of Copyright in Your Work.

Anthology publishers do NOT need, and should never request, copyright ownership of the contributed works. Anthology publishers only need a limited license to publish your story as part of the anthology.

If you transfer copyright ownership, you no longer own the story, which means you cannot use it or publish it anywhere else. That isn’t industry-standard, and no reputable anthology will require you to transfer copyright to the publisher in order to include your work.

One caveat: the contract may state that the publisher owns the collective work copyright on the anthology. This is different from owning copyright on the individual stories. Copyright in a collective work refers to the right to publish the anthology as a collection consisting of all of the stories within it. It’s a separate, lesser form of copyright that ensures no one else can reproduce and sell the anthology without the publisher’s permission.

If you don’t understand what your contract says about copyrights, consult an experienced agent or publishing lawyer before you sign.

  1. Know Where The Money Is Going.

 Sometimes, authors receive a royalty on anthology sales. In other cases, especially when anthologies are published by or on behalf of charities or writers’ groups, contributing writers don’t get paid and profits on anthology sales belong to the sponsoring organization or charity.

It isn’t “bad” or “wrong” to contribute your work to anthologies that don’t pay authors royalties. However, you should make sure your contract states, and you agree with, where the money is going before you agree to participate.

  1. Beware of Mandatory Purchases (& Fees).

Some anthologies require participating authors to purchase copies of the finished work or to pay a part of the anthology’s publishing and marketing costs. Legitimate publishers don’t require authors to purchase copies of finished works—and that goes for anthologies too. (Allowing purchases, or offering discounts to contributing authors, is totally different than mandating purchases or fees.)

As for costs: use business judgment. Author-published anthologies where the contributors share the costs and profits may or may not be a good idea, depending upon the contract terms. Always consult an agent or lawyer before you sign any contract that requires you to pay money out of pocket.

  1. Use Good Judgment.

Anthologies, like publishers, are not created equal. Some have stronger reputations (and sell more copies) than others do. Evaluate the contract terms, the publisher, and all other relevant deal points before you submit your work.

As an author, you have the right to license your work on any terms you consider fair, but educate yourself about the industry standards, too. That way, you’ll know when someone offers you excellent, fair, or less-than-appropriate terms. 

Have you licensed your work to an anthology? I’d love to hear about your experiences with anthology publishing, too!

About Susan

Susan Spann is a California transactional attorney whose practice focuses on publishing law and business, and is also the author of the Hiro Hattori (Shinobi) mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and Portuguese Jesuit Father Mateo. Her fourth novel, THE NINJA’S DAUGHTER, released from Seventh Street Books in August 2016. Susan was the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ 2015 Writer of the Year, and when not writing or practicing law, she raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium.

Find her online at http://www.SusanSpann.com, on Twitter (@SusanSpann), and on Facebook (/SusanSpannBooks).

June 7th, 2017

11 Writer Survival Tools

Lately life has treated me like it’s own personal punching bag. My friends have made a list of all the things that have gone wrong. There are more items than days that they’ve kept track, and we’re talking months. Those same friends call to check on my mental wellness, my physical health, my emotional well-being. Thank you all!

I’m by nature an optimistic person, but sometimes I have to sit back, take stock, and re-inventory my survival tools. I decided to share them with you. They are in no particular order.

1. Get the simple things right. 

Pay attention to one thing at a time. Your mind is working even when your hands are folding laundry. Fold that laundry correctly and put it away. I take my regular morning walk to clear my mind and get my steps in for the day. Routine is my friend, especially with the simple things, because when the “simple things” start going wrong, I know I’m in deep trouble.

2. Set realistic goals that break an unrealistic goal into smaller, achievable tasks. 

Why not celebrate five achievements rather than wait for that one big item on your list to be done? Don’t 

you celebrate when you’ve got enough of  your new book plotted  in your head, or you finally get to start writing it? I celebrate when I get to a scene I have been wanting to write—and when I finish a scene I didn’t want to write. I write long books; I can’t imagine not being able to reach benchmarks along the way. The same thing goes for “real life” tasks. If you are cleaning your garage out for the first time in five or more years, make goals that are reasonable, like I’m going to clean the laundry area before lunch. If your goal is too big, it appears insurmountable and it’s easy to give up.  I haven’t mastered this tool yet! Don’t let yourself become overwhelmed.

3. Work hard. 

These two words mean something different to everyone. Ask yourself, “What does it mean when I work hard?” Do you set that task as a priority and work at it until it’s complete? Do you spend a specific amount of time “working hard” every day? What is the difference between, “working” and “working hard”? When you answer this question for yourself, you may have the most important tool to taking your writing career to the next level.

4. You don’t know everything. Get others to work with you.  

Whether it’s critique partners, friends who know more about social media, hired professionals who design your book cover, or an agent who sells your books to an editor, develop a team of individuals who believe in you and are actively involved in your success. These people are great assets if (or when) you lose faith in yourself

5. No excuses. 

When you are a committed professional, there are no excuses. Your editor doesn’t want to hear how your children had the flu, or that  your car blew up. causing you to miss your deadline. All she knows is that her schedule is messed up, and it’s your fault. I used to wait until the last minute to finish everything. I thought I worked better under pressure. While that’s true in most cases, I discovered I wasn’t producing my best work. Now I work to finish a couple of weeks before a deadline so I can think about any changes that might improve the story and still have time to make them.

6. Don’t underestimate others. Empower those around you. 

This doesn’t mean farm out your writing tasks to others. But you can empower those close to you to become involved in your success in other ways. Maybe a friend loves to spend her mornings on Facebook. She can check yours for anything important and let you know, so you can write in the mornings instead of bouncing back and forth to check comments. You can teach someone who lives with you how to cook their favorite dinner. You’ll all be happy when you sit down to that meal—you had more writing time, someone contributed to your success, and there’s that yummy food on the table.

7. Be willing to fail. Then get back up. 

You only fail if you stay down. So, be that old blow-up punching-bag clown with the weighted base and when you get punched down, bounce back up. I know it’s not easy. See Numbers 2, 3, 4, and 6 above for help.

8. Embrace the repercussions of your actions. Learn from your mistakes.

It’s a sad but true fact that we learn more from our mistakes than our successes. I know it’s easy for me to say (and it’s taken years for me to get to this point!) but resolve not to make the same error. If an apology is required make it with grace. Sometimes I put a note on the edge of my computer screen (or the refrigerator door) to remind me to do—or not to do—something. That note stays in place until I have internalized its message. How do I know I’ve internalized it? When I start to take the same action, and the mantra on my note comes out of my mouth.

9. Don’t back down. Never quit. 

You have a gift. You have a story you want to share with the world. No one ever said being a writer is easy. Well, maybe those who aren’t writers think we eat bon-bons and play video games all day and our pages magically appear on the screen. You’ve received rejection letters. Take a look at Laura Drake’s rejection letter story here. In the past twelve months, on two separate occasions I seriously thought about quitting writing for publication. Then I thought about what that would feel like. I didn’t want to end up five or ten years down the road and wonder what would have happened if I’d kept trying. Don’t silence your voice when the path is strewn with rocks and thorns and cliffs and ragging rivers. You can do this. You are not alone.

10. Laugh when you want to cry. 

I’m not laughing at myself when I laugh instead of cry, although I have nothing against laughing at myself. Our brains are wired to reset themselves with laughter. Doctors have found that patients who laugh every day, heal faster. So if you’re going through a difficult spell, find things to laugh at. Animals and children are great at supplying us with genuine laughs.

11. Success requires sacrifices. Make them. 

I’m not asking you to give up everything you love. but if you have activities that become time sumps, you may want to re-think or put yourself on a tight schedule where they’re concerned. I didn’t think I watched that much television, but when I disconnected from my cable and gave my TV away a year ago, I knew that would free up at least a couple of hours every day. I’ve sacrificed talking with my friends about what’s been happening on our favorite shows. I can’t talk about the new shows from last year. But my first book is coming out this summer, and the second one won’t be far behind that. For me, it’s not so much about sacrifice as it is about defining my priorities and honoring them.

I didn’t list all the “take care of your physical body” items, but sleep, healthy food, and exercise are necessary to a well-functioning brain and a body that can take the stress of hours in front of a computer every day.

What are your writer survival tips?

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Fae RowenFae Rowen discovered the romance genre after years as a science fiction freak. Writing futuristics and medieval paranormals, she jokes  that she can live anywhere but the present. As a mathematician, she knows life’s a lot more fun when you get to define your world and its rules.

Punished, oh-no, that’s published as a co-author of a math textbook, she yearns to hear personal stories about finding love from those who read her books, rather than the horrors of calculus lessons gone wrong.  She is grateful for good friends who remind her to do the practical things in life like grocery shop, show up at the airport for a flight and pay bills.

A “hard” scientist who avoided writing classes like the plague, she now shares her brain with characters who demand that their stories be told.  Amazing, gifted critique partners keep her on the straight and narrow. Feedback from readers keeps her fingers on the keyboard.

Look for P.R.I.S.M., a science fiction story of survival, betrayal, deceit, lies, and love, this summer.

When she’s not hanging out at Writers in the Storm, you can visit Fae at http://faerowen.com  or www.facebook.com/fae.rowen.

June 5th, 2017

SHOULD You Create Your Own Book Cover?

June Stevens Westerfield

A few months ago the lovely Laura Drake emailed me and said “I’ve got this book coming up, what do you think of the cover I am designing for it?”

Ooh, tricky thing here. You see, if you ask me my opinion on something, I will give it. Even if it’s negative. Especially if it’s negative, if it is about something that matters. And to me, anything that has to do with selling one’s books matters. I will always use tact, but I’ll still be honest. And, so, I was. Luckily Laura still loves me. After giving my honest opinion, I offered to help her out with the design. Once it was all done, she asked me to do this post for you guys discussing that all important question: “Just because you CAN make your own book cover, should you?”

Before we get into the pros and cons of hiring a designer, let’s first talk about the purpose of a book cover. Is it to tell the whole story in one picture? Is it to depict a certain scene? Is it to give an accurate depiction of the main characters? The answer to all of the above is a loud and clear NO. 

The purpose of a book cover is to catch a reader’s attention. That’s it, plain and simple. The cover is the bait that brings the reader in to nibble on (read) the blurb, and then the blurb (back copy, description—whatever you want to call it) needs to be tasty enough to hook them so that they click that “buy” button. 

You want your cover to be interesting and professional, fit the genre, and most importantly, intrigue the reader so that they take a closer look. When they are scrolling through Amazon, or their social media feeds, you want your cover to jump out at them and say, “Come read my blurb, you might want to buy me.”

So the question is…can you create that? Designing a cover that catches the eye is much more than just slapping a title on a picture. It may not seem like it with some of the covers you see, but there was probably a great deal more done to that picture of the couple kissing than you think. 

But I don’t want to give you a long lecture on the aspects of design. Nor do I want to say “Oh, you should never ever do your own cover.” The purpose of this post is more to give you food for thought, and to help you make the decision of when you might need a cover artist.

So, let’s just go right into picking Laura’s cover apart. (I’m glad this was her idea, or I’d be feeling nervous right now.) First I want to show you the two covers side by side. 

As you can see, the one designed by Laura isn’t awful. It’s perfectly “adequate”. (This was a mockup before she purchased the stock image of the guy, which is why it is still watermarked.)

So, adequate yes. It does the job, it’s a book cover. But it could be so much better. When she showed it to me, I sincerely felt like it would not do her story justice. I’ve pointed out some of the problems I found in the cover.

To sum up:

  • The title was “okay.” But it was small, and the plain white just didn’t “pop” out and catch the attention. 
  • The colors in the background were muddy and dark, and the guy just kind of fades into them.
  • There are bits and pieces of the image background still stuck around the guy. Laura had no idea how to get them off. That is a sure sign that a cover wasn’t professionally done, and could put readers off.
  • There is a gun in the guys pocket. It has nothing to do with the story, but Laura had no idea how to get rid of it or hide it.

I talked to Laura a bit about the book, what she wanted in the cover. I took several different elements and blended them together to get the effect we wanted.  Here’s what went into the final cover:

First, she absolutely wanted that guy, so I took out his background, and cloned away the gun. Then we decided on a more colorful background (the story takes place on a ranch in the Texas desert). Then using two different fonts and a colorful gradient I made the title large enough to draw the eye.

What we came up with was a cover that catches the eye, is accurate for the genre (cowboy romance), and makes a reader take a closer look. Laura could not have done this on her own.

So how do you know when to do it yourself, and when to hire someone? 

Well, when you looked at the cover Laura designed, did you see the issues with it? Could you have fixed them on your own? Did you even KNOW they were issues? If you said no to any of these, you probably need a designer’s help.

Does that mean you can’t ever make your own cover? Of course it doesn’t. But keep in mind, even though a professionally designed cover is more expensive, it might be an expense worth paying. The key is to look at what you’ve created, and then go look at the top selling books in the genre. Be honest with yourself about your skills. Can your cover compare to those? Does it LOOK professional? Or does it look like someone used GIMP to throw it together? 

It’s hard to be honest with yourself about something like that, but trust me, you and your story are worth it. Because the whole goal here is to give the thing that matters most it’s best chance…and that’s your book. As much as we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, readers DO. And if you don’t have a decent cover, they may never make it to the goodness inside.

There’s so much more to talk about with covers, that I’ll be doing another post about it my next time on WITS. So, stay tuned. 

Do you make your own book covers and graphics? What tools do you use? What do you notice most about book covers?

Laura here – I can’t tell you how easy it was, working with June. Highly recommend ABE’s services. Oh! And Cowboy Karma is part of  The Anthology, When Things Got Hot in Texas, and is available for only a few days more at $.99!

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About June


June Stevens Westerfield is author of romantic fiction.  She has been in the publishing field one way or another for over decade. She has helped launch several small publishing houses, worked in acquisitions, editing, cover art, web design, as a blogger, radio host, and assisted many authors in their self-publishing journeys. Her particular expertise is in design and branding.

On a personal note, when not writing or working for ABE, she designs greeting cards.  She has a wonderful husband, a brilliant stepson, 6 fur-children, purple hair, and a chronically filthy house.

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About ABEFB_AVATAR-300x300

Author Branding Essentials is dedicated to offering comprehensive author centric branding and design services at competitive prices.  As an Author, your name is your brand. Building your Author Brand is key to success. Many agents encourage authors to begin building that brand long before they are published. At Author Branding Essentials we understand the unique criteria it takes to build an author brand, versus another type of business.  We can help you decide on the best options for your author brand and help you implement them. 

June 2nd, 2017

Summer Is Coming — Let’s Pimp and Promote!


Photo from Pixabay

Summer is coming up fast and here at Writers in the Storm we’re marking the occasion with a little “Pimp and Promote.” Of course, this always costs us some money, because we have to go out and buy lots of books. But there will be awesome “beach read” sales in next few weeks, so let’s go for it!

How does this work?

To quote the genie in Aladdin, “There are a few provisos, a couple of quid-pro-quos…”

  • Pimp out somebody else’s work – this can be a favorite author, blogger, post or book you’ve read, a wonderful teacher or just someone who had profound influence on you as a writer or a person. Please limit your comments to one work.
  • Promote one of your projects that you’re excited about – a hobby, a blog, a book, or a new direction your writing is taking you. You decide. Just tell us about it in the comments! (Please restrain your enthusiasm to just one of your WIPs.) The rest of us will jump in and “ooooh and ahh” at you, and likely promote your project even further because we’re just so darn excited today.

We’ll start things off by doing some P&P with the gals here at WITS…

Fae Rowen has been doing the final edits to launch her amazing books into the world. She’s sharing the lessons in posts like 8 Easy Ways for Your Characters To Show Love. You can visit her updated website here. There’s a wonderful short story about her stint in a convent.

Jenny Hansen does ghostwriting, WordPress sites, social media marketing and copywriting. Additionally, she’s readying her first finished novel for submission and training at an accounting firm. You can enjoy her silly fun at her personal blog, More Cowbell. Her most popular non-writing post is 10 Creative Ways to Express Your Inner F-Bomb.

Laura Drake’s latest story is part of an anthology with authors Christie Craig, Cynthia D’Alba, Katie Lane and Lori Wilde – When Things Got Hot In Texas. It’s available for pre-order for 99 cents, y’all! And the price goes up in a few days when it releases. We’re all ready to dive in when the book goes live on Monday.

Orly Konig’s first book, The Distance Home, hit bookshelves in May and is receiving stellar reviews. Her next book from Forge, The Merry-Go-Round, comes out next year.

See? Easy-peasy. Only one of us wrote this, but all of us are represented – that’s the spirit of P&P.

Don’t be shy — tell your pals! 

We are open for as many entries as you want, and you’re welcome to send anyone who reads great stuff our way. We want to hear about it! Be sure to peruse the comments. You might find a few things you like in the plethora of pimping that’s about to ensue.

Thanks again for making WITS one of the top writer’s blogs. We appreciate you!

~  Fae, Jenny, Laura and Orly