August 1st, 2018

Golden Lines from RWA 2018

I first learned about Golden Lines the summer I attended the UCI Summer Writing Institute. After a particularly dense morning lecture, we were told to extract the golden lines, the ideas that we could use to improve our writing. Every year after the RWA Conference, I like to share the Golden Lines I’ve highlighted from my workshop notes.

We’re lucky, because Jenny Hansen also attended the conference this year. She’s sharing her golden lines, too.

Jenny Hansen’s Golden Lines:

There were so many moments of grandeur at this year’s RWA conference. The people are always the highlight for me – there are some people I only see at this conference and it means the world to watch their faces as we talk. That being said, the workshops I was able to attend were wonderful.

Cindy Dees, the PRO Mentor of the Year, lit the PRO Retreat on fire when she said this: “The three reasons why most of the writers I mentor are unpublished are personal, emotional or psychological. It has nothing to do with their writing.” Note: PRO is the group for people who are unpublished but have finished manuscripts.

Alexandra Sokoloff‘s breakdown of 3-Act Structure: Act 1 – put the character up a tree, Act 2 – throw the rocks at them, Act 3 – resolve the problem. Easy-peasy, right?

Darcy Woods‘ amazing marketing tip: She picks her best lines from each chapter and finds a graphic to go with them. Looking at these keeps her head in the story and she has wonderful marketing graphics ready for when the book is finished.

Courtney Milan’s stellar tip: “As you get published, you want to have three public topics. Those areas are where you will find your readers.”

Kristan Higgins‘ workshop on Dialogue was full of amazing-ness!

  • “The purpose of dialogue is to reveal character through what we do and do not say.”
  • “Dialogue can be broken into four parts: Realism, Timing, Emotion and Content.”
  • Rule: “No gratuitous content. Save that for real life.”
  • “Dialogue is about give and take. Words need to be spoken, but they also need to be received.
  • “Enter a conversation as late as possible. End a conversation as early as you can. Make that last line stab the reader in the heart.”

Fae’s Golden Lines:

I was lucky to attend a couple of “pre-conference” activities. The first was a Margie Lawson Immersion class “on the mountain” with seven other amazing authors.

from Margie Lawson of Writers’ Academy:

  • “You have subconscious patterns you don’t know about. What about your characters?”

“Subtext. Subtext. Subtext.”

  • “Can you put a character’s thoughts into dialogue?”

Here’s an example from my science fiction WIP of a “before” and the “after” Margie’s talk about “Deep Editing Power.”

Before: O’s face showed her fury. In her line of fire, I looked around for something to shield me from her rage. If I lost her over those pictures, I’d never forgive myself.

After: O’s expression detonates, like a star going nova, and my heart implodes, a black hole sucking everything into its darkness.

The day before the conference started, I attended the Young Adult online chapter’s Day of Yarwa. Michael Hauge was the speaker. Since he wasn’t speaking at RWA2018, I feel fortunate to have been in the first group to hear his new material about The Heroine’s Three Journeys.

from Michael Hauge:

  • “A writer’s primary job is to make people feel by eliciting emotion.”
  • “Your characters must be in some state of conflict from the beginning. This creates empathy with the reader, so the reader can experience the story through the character.”
  • “Emotion grows out of conflict, not desire.”
  • “For a romance, you must ask and answer the question: Why are these the only two people in the world for each other? Why will no one else be ‘the right one’?”
  • “Each midpoint (turning point) is a ‘point of no return,’ which forces one character to fully commit to the other. Some objectives are fulfilled, others are not.”

from the RWA2018 conference workshops:

Cristin Harber:

“Everything you do (in your marketing, social media, newsletters, etc) should fit into your brand.”

Marc Dawson:

  • “A weekly podcast is a must.” It keeps you connected with your readers between books, allows readers to interact in the comments about their favorite characters, which books of yours they’ve read in a series, etc.
  • “Orange is a great color for marketing.”

Barbara Longley on Deep POV:

  • “Deep POV allows you to connect, reveal self, sharing a character’s backstory and personal growth, vulnerability and emotions.”
  • “Avoid ‘filter words’ which disconnect and distance the reader from your characters. Words like “she felt like,’ it was like,’ ‘with a ____,’ ‘such as_____.'” She suggested a google search for filter words, then search and delete them from your manuscript.
  • “Ditch the vague ‘it.'”

If you were in Denver, please share your favorite Golden Lines in the comments.

Thanks!

Next month I’ll post Part Three of my blog series on the 5 Conflict-making Choices Characters Can Make. We’ll explore consumption and comfort.

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ABOUT FAE

Fae 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, putting the finishing touches on P.R.I.S.M. Book Two.

P.R.I.S.M., a young adult science fiction romance story of survival, betrayal, resolve, deceit, lies, and love.

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

July 30th, 2018

Writing Through Life Catastrophe

Susan Donovan

Pages per day. Word count. Butt in chair. Drop-dead due dates. These are our mantras, the rhythm of the writing life. Whether we work for ourselves or New York publishing houses, we authors are ninjas when it comes to merciless goal setting and self-flagellation.

But what do we do if our lives slam to a halt? What happens to our writing when our worlds crash down around us? It’s probably going to happen in some form, someday, to all of us. Writers are human, and the human experience includes times of disaster, loss, illness, and grief. Do you know how catastrophe might impact your writing career? Would writing become the last thing on your mind?

I was forced to answer those questions for myself a few years ago. I was minding my own business when I stepped off the proverbial curb and was hit by a metaphorical bus. A sudden and unexplained infection nearly killed me, and after complete organ failure, three months in a shock-trauma unit, more than twenty surgeries, and the amputation of my left leg, I was sent home, a shadow of my former self. I didn’t know how to function in the world. I was depleted in every way a person could be depleted, and crippled with PTSD.  And…as if all that weren’t enough…doctors feared the high fever and loss of blood pressure in those first few days had left me with permanent brain damage.

So there I was – roadkill – under contract with St. Martin’s Press to finish a romantic comedy and a women’s fiction novel. Seeing as how I referred to my cell phone as the dishwasher and couldn’t figure out how to turn on my laptop, I soon realized I was well and truly f**cked.  I had to start from scratch. In my first few weeks home from the hospital I would challenge myself by putting pen to paper and drawing out some of the letters I remembered. Then I’d string letters together to make words. Eventually, I learned to type one word at a time on my laptop. Later, I could type a whole sentence. In time, I could type a paragraph or two.  I was driven by a fierce need to know if I was still a writer, if the blob of tapioca pudding now residing between my ears was the result of opiates, or permanent damage.  Against doctors’ orders, I weaned myself off all narcotic painkillers, and slowly, so very slowly, I began to come back to life.

I’ve learned many things about myself in the years since. I’ve learned how strong I am. How resilient. And I’ve learned that writing is my primary coping mechanism–it’s how I move through this life. Writing is my way of processing information, how I can put a name to my feelings.  Writing was the primary tool I used to unravel the tangled mess of grief, sorrow, and rage that my beautiful life had become. I didn’t go back to my contracted books right away, however. Instead, I wrote a blog about my ordeal, which helped me to heal and allowed me to see myself as a writer again. After that, I wrote a series of satirical dinosaur porn e-novellas, an exercise that proved my sense of humor had not been amputated along with my leg.

Before that first post-illness year ended, I’d written a proposal for a new romance/women’s fiction trilogy and went on to complete the novels and novellas. Only then did I pick up the romance and women’s fiction projects I’d been writing when the bus flattened me. It was difficult to read those stories. I wasn’t the same person who’d started writing them, and much ripping-up and starting-over ensued. St. Martin’s got those books four and five years late, respectively, but I fulfilled my contracts.

Charging ahead worked for me. It might not work for someone else. There are as many ways to deal with crisis as there are individual authors and types of crises, and each approach is legitimate. But, in general, I believe we have a few basic choices:

  • We can use writing to fully grasp what happened and how it affected us, and with a lot of help and effort, we can move beyond it.
  • We can delay getting back to our writing to focus on our urgent needs or the needs of loved ones.
  • We can decide to step away from writing for the foreseeable future, if that’s an option financially, to eliminate that stressor from our lives.
  • Or, we can begin writing again as soon as we are able –maybe even try something new – and tell a story that will remind us of who we are and what we’re made of.

Like dinosaur porn! Perhaps that was just me.

Have you had to recover from a life disaster (big or small)? Did writing help? Have any tips for us?

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ABOUT SUSAN:

Publishers Weekly calls SUSAN DONOVAN’s novels “the perfect blend of romance and women’s fiction.” A New York Times bestselling author and former journalist, she’s been nominated for two RITA Awards and received the 2003 Best Contemporary Romance award from RT Booklovers Magazine. Publishers Weekly calls her latest release, BREATHLESS, “a deeply satisfying, genre-crossing story sure to seduce fans of Regency and contemporary romance and women’s fiction.”  Susan is an author coach and developmental editor at the Adobe Cottage Writer’s Retreat in New Mexico. (And, yes, she writes satirical dino porn e-novellas under the pen name Pebbles Rocksoff.)

Visit Susan at:
facebook.com/susandonovanfanpage
www.susandonovan.com           www.adobecottageretreat.com

July 27th, 2018

First Page Critique

I chose this month’s first page to explain writing tight. I am a ‘spare writer’, meaning that I cut every unnecessary word, so the read is fast and easy. If a word doesn’t tell the reader something they don’t know in a compelling way, out it goes. I’m not saying that you have to cut as close to the bone as I, but I hope the following example convinces you to trim some unneeded adjectives and ‘filter words’ from your prose. They litter the read – they’re over the top – like the author saying, ‘I really, really mean this’. Your reader trusts that if you say it once, you mean it. 

I learn best by seeing transformations in examples, So let’s dig in.

Thank you, brave soul, for trusting me with your work. I hope you find this helpful.

Here’s the original:

Sane people don’t do these types of things. The words screamed loudly in my brain, yet they could not drown out the utterly irrational and ridiculous action I was about to take.
Freezing drizzle pelted my cheeks and slapped me back to reality. With the high winds whipping rapidly under and over the canvas canopy at the facility’s entrance, the black awning fringe forcefully ushered me in. A pounding chill went down the back of my coat, and I shivered uncontrollably as it made its way throughout my body. It was a well-timed irony that the bitter and icy November weather reflected the mood I had been in ever since reading the documents that were never meant for my eyes.
 
It was accidentally discovering that mind-numbing, career-ending information that sent me on my preemptive path to Deer Ridge Psychiatric Hospital. Plus, I needed a place to hide out for the time being while I thought about how best to halt my pending termination. And, to plot my revenge against David Wolfe, my duplicitous boss who has also been my friends with benefits lover for as many years as I have been with Ashford Industries.
 
I paused at the front door for a moment to try to tamp down my conflicting emotions over what I was about to do. I once again began to question my sanity. I did really need to be here, didn’t I? I’ve heard it been said that there is a little bit of craziness in all of us. I guess it was the appropriate time for my crazy to have emerged—a fortunate coincidence in a most unfortunate situation.
Fighting against the high winds to open the heavy, oversized ornate wooden door, I was within inches from entering when a strong gust opened the door for me, which quickly propelled me against the side of the building. A loud banging sound reverberated through the air as my entire backside knocked against the large glass window. Catching myself just in time on the window ledge, I narrowly escaped falling face down in the already dead Forsythia bushes in which I had landed. As I brushed the frozen leaves off my jacket, I stepped forward only to see that the high heel of my boot was caught onto a small branch. Balancing on one leg to try and untangle myself, I ended up face, hands, and knees soaked with slushy mud. It was then that I heard a rustling in the bushes. Looking over my shoulder a young woman hovered over me. She put her hand in mine to pull me up, and said with a smile, “You must be Ms. Barnett. We’ve been expecting you.”
 
My edits:

Black = original

Red = my thoughts/comments

Purple = text I added/altered

Sane people don’t do these types of things. The words screamed loudly in my brain, yet they could not drown out the utterly irrational and ridiculous action I was about to take. Three adjectives and two adverbs in the second sentence of the story are way too many. See how this says, ‘I really, really, mean it’? The first line is a thought. We know that because you used italics. So you don’t need ‘in my brain’ – that’s where thoughts happen. But even more, you’re telling us about something that hasn’t happened yet, which can be confusing to the reader, and keeps them at a distant POV. Show us that the action is ridiculous, instead of telling us it is.  I’d cut the entire second line. Trust your reader to get it!
 
  Freezing drizzle pelted my cheeks, slapping and slapped me back to reality. I like this sentence, but it raises a question; where has the character been that was away from reality? We’ve only had one thought, which takes a nanosecond to think, so unless you show us, or mention what she (I’m assuming it’s a she) has been doing – that she’s wet to the skin and shivering from standing out in the cold so long, the ‘back to reality’ doesn’t make a lot of sense to us – see what I mean?
 
With the high winds whipping rapidly under and over the canvas canopy at the facility’s entrance, the black awning fringe forcefully ushered me in. A pounding chill went down the back of my coat, and I shivered uncontrollably as it made its way throughout my body. It was a well-timed irony that the bitter and icy November weather reflected the mood I had been in ever since reading the documents that were never meant for my eyes.
 
I know it’s considered okay now to start a sentence with a preposition, but I’d only use it for impact. Since we’re so early in the read, it doesn’t help here. Your instincts are right; you needed to set the scene a bit, to show the reader where they are. But more compelling than just showing us the scene – show us what it means to your CHARACTER. Does she dread walking in? Why? As it is, we’re just seeing a ‘facility’ (as school? A government building? See how we don’t know?  Also, the paragraph is slowed with adverbs and unncessesay adjectives. We all know how that a shiver is uncontrollable, and how it works – you don’t need to explain. The ending is a perfect example of raising good questions in the reader’s mind that will lure them into the read to find out more. Well done!
 
Let me try to rewrite to illustrate what I mean. I know the details won’t be right – but see if this is more compelling – raising even more questions in the reader’s mind:
 
The black canopy over the entrance flapped in the fitful wind, the fringe beckoning me closer. A shiver rattled down my spine. I hadn’t been looking for a new career path, but that was before the seismic shift, when I read the documents never meant for my eyes.
 
It was accidentally discovering that mind-numbing, career-ending information that sent me on my preemptive path to Deer Ridge Psychiatric Hospital. Plus, I needed a place to hide out for the time being while I thought about how best to halt my pending termination. And, to plot my revenge against David Wolfe, my duplicitous boss who has also been my friends with benefits lover for as many years as I have been with Ashford Industries.
 
The above is all backstory, shoehorned in. You raised a question at the end of the last paragraph, then immediately answered it – see how that isn’t incentive for the reader to read on? Instead, I’d just drop another hint:
 
The Deer Ridge Psychiatric hospital loomed over me, more like a portent of doom than the beacon of my future. But David, my lover and boss at Ashford Industries, made staying impossible. I took the few steps to the front door.
 
I paused at the front door for a moment to try to tamp down my conflicting emotions over what I was about to do. I once again began to question my sanity. I did really need to be here, didn’t I? I’ve heard it been said that there is a little bit of craziness in all of us. I guess it was the appropriate time for my crazy to have emerged—a fortunate coincidence in a most unfortunate situation.
 
See how the above is all a repeat? Saying something twice doesn’t convince your reader you mean it; instead, they come away with the impression that you think they’re too dumb to get it! If you feel like you need to repeat, I’d make the case that it’s because you’re not happy with the paragraph where you said it the first time. Go back and fix that line, instead. Also, read the thought out loud. See how we don’t think in past tense? If you feel you need it, the correct line would be: I do need to be here, don’t I?
 
But I’d cut the entire paragraph – it slows the read, and doesn’t tell us anything new.
 
Fighting against the high winds to open the heavy, oversized ornate wooden door, I was within inches from entering when a strong gust opened the door for me, which quickly propelled me against the side of the building. A loud banging sound reverberated through the air as my entire backside knocked against the large glass window. Catching myself just in time on the window ledge, I narrowly escaped falling face down in the already dead Forsythia bushes in which I had landed. As I brushed the frozen leaves off my jacket, I stepped forward only to see that the high heel of my boot was caught onto a small branch. Balancing on one leg to try and untangle myself, I ended up face, hands, and knees soaked with slushy mud. It was then that I heard a rustling in the bushes. Looking over my shoulder a young woman hovered over me. She put her hand in mine to pull me up, and said with a smile, “You must be Ms. Barnett. We’ve been expecting you.”
 
You spent a long time explaining something that happened very fast. If something happens fast, to convey that to the reader, you need short, simple, staccato sentences. I’m still a bit unsure of the physicality of what happened. The wind pulled the door from her hand, and she falls (I’m not clear how or why), then you mention glass windows, which I hadn’t pictured there, because you didn’t mention them before. You say she narrowly escaped falling in the bushes where she landed….Did she fall in them, or not? See how this is conflicting? She’s looking over her shoulder at the rustling bushes, then you mention the woman, so we assume the woman was IN the bushes. Is she? 
 
To describe a scene well, I find it’s best to ‘act it out’ – I often find what works well in my mind, is impossible in reality. Try it – it might help with this.
 
This has the potential to be a riveting beginning – if you cut, cut, cut.  
 

What say you, WITS readers? Do you have a hard time ‘writing tight’?

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ABOUT LAURA:

Did you know that Laura does craft podcasts? They’re short, dorky fun, shot in different locations, and usually include a rant. You can check them out on her website: HERE

July 25th, 2018

Ways To Exercise Your What-If Muscle

What-if muscle

Most novels are written on the premise of “what if.” Our What-if muscles help us figure out what needs to come next in the story. Sometimes we’re lucky and we just know. More often (at least for me) we often have no clue what needs to happen next.

When I write non-fiction for awhile, my fiction “What-if” muscle gets seriously out of shape. Thankfully, other writers who know more than I do share their tools. 

Here are several ways to get unstuck if your What-if muscle is feeling flabby.

Change creative mediums

  • Make a collage for your book. Jennifer Crusie does this.
  • Different textures and different mediums can stimulate your brain to be creative. Debbie Macomber and Christie Ridgway knit (so do I!); Linda Lael Miller paints.
  • Choose a soundtrack for your book. Spotify, YouTube, Pandora and Amazon Music will all work.
  • Julia Cameron composes music.

Something that always helps is to brainstorm with different types of people. I recommend a writer friend, a non-writer friend, a newbie writer and someone who writes in a different genre. One of my favorite gals for brainstorming is Leanne Banks.  Below are some of her top tricks for getting “unstuck.”

Write an autobiography of your characters and ask them provocative questions like:

  • What are you most proud of?
  • What was your most embarrassing moment?
  • What is your biggest fear?
  • What did your parents teach you about sex?
  • What did they teach you about love?
  • What is your biggest shame?
  • What is your secret wish?

Brainstorming Techniques

Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird is a classic must-read for writers. Not only does she give you “permission to write crap,” she also gives stellar brainstorming advice such as:

  • “Keep a one inch picture frame on your desk to remind yourself that for each moment, you only have to write as much as you can see through a one-inch picture frame.”
  • In other words, when a whole project is overwhelming, break it into little pieces or as she says, “don’t try to eat the elephant in one sitting.”

Leanne Banks also offers these tips:

  • If you’re stuck, be random. (I love this!)
  • Brainstorm what everyone else would do, then do the opposite.
  • Reconsider what you did that got you into this corner and determine if a small change can get you out of it.

Leanne’s Creative “What-if” Techniques

  • Role-storming: How would you handle a problem if you were someone else?
  • Iconic figures: How would you approach it if you were an iconic figure from the past?
  • Brainwriting: Gather several people and give one person a piece of paper. Each person writes for 10 minutes, then passes the paper. Keep going until everyone has written on the page. Read the entire story out loud.
  • The old reliable List of 20 – You must write down twenty possibilities, as fast as you can think of them, no editing allowed. The only engraved rule is that you must write all twenty! It’s the “old reliable” because it works.

Other great brainstorming articles and tools:

And finally, if you are having trouble with your book, there is one other impediment to consider: YOU.  Cindy Dees said something in a workshop I went to last week that stuck in the minds of everyone there: “The three reasons why most of the writers I mentor are unpublished are personal, emotional or psychological. It has nothing to do with their writing.”

Don’t let your own fears and angst keep you from your story. You have the talent to write an amazing book. I know it. I hope you know it too.

Are you ready to stagger over to your work in progress and bring forth brainstorming magnificence? What techniques help you when your “what-if” muscle needs a workout?

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About Jenny Hansen

By day, Jenny provides training and social media marketing for an accounting firm. By night she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction and short stories. After 18+ years as a corporate software trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.

When she’s not at her personal blog, More Cowbell, Jenny can be found on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, or here at Writers In The Storm.

July 23rd, 2018

Our Capacity for Brilliance

Kathryn Craft

Turning Whine Into Gold

In high school, I was the type of high achiever that had my teachers taking me under their wings. Turns out, that wasn’t always such a good thing.

My fifth-year Russian teacher, thinking I’d follow in his footsteps, challenged me to write a research paper on a Russian ballerina—in Russian. My biology teacher got permission for a small group of us budding doctors to watch two surgeries at Johns Hopkins Hospital (where my best friend fainted dead away). I loved math, and attacked my homework problems the second I got home each day. I’m sure my math teachers wouldn’t have been surprised at all if I’d become an engineer, although that was at a time when girls weren’t encouraged to think such things.

I benefitted from my teachers’ interest in ways I will never be able to fathom. But one thing they did was particularly damaging to a girl whose self-esteem was already wobbly: they whispered to my parents about my “potential.”

If you believe in the power of words, then know this: “potential” is a cruel mistress. Such talk set up a syndrome in which I was always comparing my performance to a future standard I had no clue how to define—and without fail, I found my performance lacking.

A person who strives to fulfill her potential can be a person who is never done preparing to live her life.

“Potential is a concept that can bind us to personal powerlessness,” wrote Marianne Williamson in her book, A Return to Love. That held true for me at the start of my writing journey. Wondering if I had the “potential for brilliance” made it all the harder to take those first, bumbling baby steps toward story without the handrails of an MFA or PhD to guide my steps.

How could it be, I wondered, that many successful novelists never even graduated from high school? My guess is, they didn’t waste time focusing on their potential. They just wrote.

Instead of potential, Williamson suggests we think of our “capacity for brilliance.” Capacity is available to us right now. Our memories, curiosity, imagination, and desire to learn can open the gates to unused brain space and open our hearts. As a novelist, I already have the capacity to be a Russian translator, a doctor, and an engineer—all in one story.

Instead of thinking, “I have the potential to be a novelist,” try telling yourself, “I already have the capacity of a novelist.”

By celebrating our capacity to write, we no longer need to worry about our potential—we’ll be accumulating the words that will line a path straight toward it. Extend your efforts into the fullness of your capacity. Show up powerfully on the page and apply the brilliance that exists within you, today. As Williamson says, “how will we ever get to tomorrow’s promise without making some sort of move today?”

The story that is growing within you is yours to tell.

We’re waiting.

Have you ever been paralyzed by worrying about your potential? What unlived lives are within your capacity, that you would like to manifest through your characters

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About Kathryn

Kathryn Craft  is the award-winning author of two novels from Sourcebooks, The Art of Falling and The Far End of Happy, and a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, specializing in storytelling structure and writing craft. Her chapter “A Drop of Imitation: Learn from the Masters” was included in the writing guide Author in Progress, from Writers Digest Books. Janice Gable Bashman’s interview with her, “How Structure Supports Meaning,” originally published in the 2017 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market, has been reprinted in The Complete Handbook of Novel Writingboth from Writer’s Digest Books.