Thursday, June 7, 2018

Introducing HIDDEN PIECES + a giveaway!

Hi lovelies :) I try to do focused promotion for all of my titles from three months before release to three months after release, so I'm about two weeks behind on HIDDEN PIECES. I figured I'd get the party started with a blog post about the book and an international giveaway :D

Here's the lowdown on the story if you haven't already seen it:

"A classic whodunit, masterfully played."
-ALA Booklist, starred review

Embry Woods has secrets. Small ones about her past. Bigger ones about her relationship with town hero Luke and her feelings for someone new. But the biggest secret she carries with her is about what happened that night at the Sea Cliff Inn. The fire. The homeless guy. Everyone thinks Embry is a hero, too, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Embry thinks she’ll have to take the secret to her grave, until she receives an anonymous note—someone else knows the truth. Next comes a series of threatening messages, asking Embry to make impossible choices, forcing her to put her loved ones at risk. Someone is playing a high stakes game where no one in Embry’s life is safe. And their last move ... is murder.

Readers of the ARC might want to check out my (non)review of the book on Goodreads for more information about what has changed from ARC to finished novel.

What I like best about HIDDEN PIECES:

One thing I like about all of my mysteries is that I work hard to create multiple plausible suspects and embed enough clues so that the eventual reveal feels authentic without making it easy to guess the culprit early on. I tweaked the ARC text just slightly to remove a couple of clues, so if you guessed whodunit from the ARC, know that things are a little more obscure in the final book. It's a hard balance to hit and there's no way to get it right for everyone. People read on such different levels that you can skim the reviews for any thriller title and see both "OMG I had no idea MIND = BLOWN!" and "Ugh. The killer was painfully obvious from page 5..." kind of reviews. But I did my best and I'm happy with the end result.

I also really like how developed the characters and subplots are in this book. School Library Journal called this "a character-driven mystery perfect for fans of Sarah Dessen" and at first I was like "Huh?" but the more I think about that description, the more I love it. If you keep reading below about the issues with infidelity, you might think the book focuses heavily on romance, but it doesn't. Still, romantic issues are present, as are issues with financial need, health problems, family dynamics, etc. Because honestly, most of us won't ever be embroiled in a murder or blackmail mystery, but if we are, it's not like all the rest of the stuff going on in our lives is just going to magically shut off so we can investigate a crime. Embry's main concerns are figuring out who's blackmailing her and protecting the people she loves, but she doesn't just ignore her dog, her after-school job, her worries about the future, her thoughts about her absentee father, etc.

Finally, I set this book in a fictional town called Three Rocks, which is based heavily on the real life town of Oceanside, Oregon. Oceanside is near and dear to me because it's beautiful and mysterious, but also because it happens to be where I met my agent (before she was my agent) and where I attended a writing workshop that really changed my life.

You can see these three rocks from almost anywhere in town.

Here's the road Embry is walking along at the start of the book.

I imagine the Sea Cliff Inn atop a cliff much like this one.

Mental health issues in the book:

I thought a lot about whether I needed to directly address Embry's mental health in this story. Early on there's a passage that states this:

I let Betsy tug me through the frozen grass and around to the back of the hotel. There’s a small clearing with a gardening shed off to the side. Beyond it there’s a sheer drop-off of about five hundred feet. I look out at the dark ocean for a few seconds, resisting its siren call.
I’ve thought about jumping from this cliff once or twice. The idea of the ocean swallowing me up is strangely comforting. Maybe a little too comforting.

As a mental healthcare professional, I would find that concerning, but I don't think Embry is actively suicidal or clinically depressed in this story. I used to throw around the words "I'm depressed" a lot when I was feeling down, but I try not to use that phrase anymore because I don't want to demean the struggles of people with actual clinical depression. A diagnosis of clinical depression requires symptoms that markedly affect a person's life (e.g. being unable to get out of bed, being unable to go to work, etc.), and that doesn't apply to Embry or me. 

I would describe Embry's mental state at the start of this book as "profoundly unhappy." Do I think she would benefit from talking to someone? Absolutely. Does Embry think she needs to talk to someone? Nope. She's one of the millions of people who think that because they're not actively planning to harm themselves or someone else that they don't need or deserve help. Also, because her family is low-income and her mom is already swamped with medical bills, I don't think Embry would ever ask to talk to a therapist, which is why I didn't write one into the novel. But if you're profoundly unhappy, don't be like Embry, okay? Reach out to a friend, family member, teacher, minister, doctor, etc. If you can't afford a therapist, one of these people will be able to help you find low cost/free services. You don't have to be teetering on the edge in order to benefit from talking to someone. All problems are easier to address at the mild to moderate stage. If you need a referral, try

Okay, let's talk cheating. Yes, this book has infidelity:

One of my biggest worries for this title is that YA readers won't want to read it after they find out there is cheating in the (backstory for this) book. I have been emotionally, financially, and professionally devastated by boyfriends (and one fiance) who cheated on me and I think cheating is always wrong. However, I don't think everyone who cheats is a terrible person. If you have a black/white view of human morality, consider reflecting on what it would feel like to be at your breaking point, where you literally don't know if you can keep going. Yes, some people cheat because they're selfish, cowardly, or cruel, but other people make bad decisions in the heat of the moment because they're struggling. For me, what determines the integrity of a person isn't that they never mess up, but the manner in which they conduct themselves afterward. Everyone makes mistakes, but not everyone takes responsibility and tries to make amends and actually learns from those mistakes. I pride myself on writing flawed characters who become better (but not perfect) people throughout their stories.

In HIDDEN PIECES, main character Embry Woods has abandonment issues. She's the product of an affair between a young working-class barista and a wealthy older man, and she learns early on that her father never wanted her and tried to bribe her mother into getting an abortion. When her mother refused to terminate her pregnancy, her father gave up the rights to her and moved out of town with his wife and two sons. She didn't hear from him for the first seventeen years of her life, but he's recently started sending her cards and letters, which she refuses to read.

Prior to the start of the novel (and seen in a flashback), Embry hooks up with her best friend's boyfriend, Holden. At this point, she is in an incredibly dark place--her ex-boyfriend has deployed to Afghanistan, her best friend is out of town for the summer, and her mom is in the hospital being treated for breast cancer. Embry is afraid her mom is going to die and leave her all alone. None of these things are excuses for what she does, but they are reasons. Holden admits to cheating and ends things with Julia immediately and encourages Embry to tell Julia that she's the girl he was with, but because Embry is afraid of losing both her mom and her best friend, it takes her a while to come clean. She knows that lying is wrong, even though Julia isn't upset about the breakup with Holden, and she beats herself up for being weak and a coward for the first half of the book. But eventually, while dealing with the mystery of who's blackmailing her and threatening the lives of the people she loves, Embry finds the strength to tell the truth and to accept the repercussions that come from hurting her best friend.

For me, as both reader and author, what I care about in a book with infidelity (or any act I don't want to encourage among my readers) is whether it's necessary for the storyline, how its portrayed, and how the aftermath is handled. Embry's choices not only feel true to her character, they also create a second angle for her to be blackmailed about and give additional motive to some of the book's suspects. Throughout the story, both Holden and Embry admit that what they did was wrong, and cheating is never glorified. Both characters eventually take responsibility for their actions and suffer consequences because of them.

 Golden Retriever Betsy is probably my fave character in the book ;)

Here's some background information about the writing process that I shared on Goodreads:

This story was hard for me to write because originally it was a very slick and streamlined plot-centered "OMG what if this happened??" idea, but the more I wrote, the more I realized that the driving force behind the mystery was more complex than I originally envisioned. Also, as much as I love to read a fast-paced, plot-driven thriller, when I write I feel compelled to dig deep into my characters, exploring how their histories, worldviews, social statuses, etc. affect the choices they make. So, HIDDEN PIECES isn't just a thriller about a girl with a secret who's being blackmailed by a stranger. It's also a book about friendship and family dynamics, an exploration of how socioeconomic status can weigh on almost every aspect of a person's life, and a story of self discovery. There's no doubt that Embry is flawed, but she grows and changes throughout the story. I enjoyed writing her journey. I hope you enjoy reading it.

Content Information:

I like to let people know upfront about the possible objectionable content in my books, because my mysteries tend to be a lot edgier than my contemporary novels. HIDDEN PIECES  has underage drinking (again, that isn't glorified and has consequences), sexual situations, about 20 F-bombs, and non-graphic violence. There is also mention of smoking marijuana, which is legal for people 21 or older in Oregon, but no active drug use on the page. The publisher is listing the novel for ages 12 and up, but if your school district or community is more conservative, you might want to recommend it for ages 14+.

Wanna win an ARC?

As usual, the Rafflecopter is chock-a-block with both easy, breezy entries and more labor intensive options to score more points. U.S. winner wins signed ARC. Int'l winner wins pre-order plus signed bookplate. You must be 13+ or have your parent/guardian's permission to enter.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Never win anything? Might as well pre-order a signed, personalized copy today ;)

I'll be signing these gorgeous hardcover books with a sexy red pen. If you want to get one signed (and/or personalized to you or someone you really like), you can order via Vintage Books in Vancouver, WA. U.S. only. Shipping charges will apply. Please note in special instructions that you would like the book signed, including telling me whether you would like personalization.

I will be doing a pre-order incentive as usual, so if you pre-order, hang onto your receipt so you can score awesome signed swag later this summer :)

Check out the first three chapters of the book here.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Free shipping for signed copies of my books!

Photo credit: Vintage Books

Hi peeps. I just wanted to let you know that if you've been wanting a signed copy of any of my recent books, Vintage Books in Vancouver, WA has you covered. [Use the direct links below.] And I totally understand that paying full price for a book is expensive, but those extra few dollars (or one or two dollars in the case of a paperback) go toward extremely important expenses, like better wages for workers, adequate staffing, and sponsoring author events. If you are fortunate enough to be able to afford the occasional full-price hardcover, consider buying from an independent bookstore now and then. It really is a great way to support the literary community, including bookstore cats!

The true manager and assistant manager of Vintage Books

I'm going to sweeten the pot for anyone who orders two or more of my signed books from Vintage Books before May 31, 2018. While supplies last, I will reimburse you for the media mail U.S. shipping costs. This is a promotion I am running on my own, so you'll need to pay Vintage Books for the shipping and then email me a copy/screen cap/picture of your receipt and I will reimburse you via PayPal, Square, or by sending a check if you prefer. This is not a money-making opportunity for me. In fact, if all of my signed books sold in the next month, I would pay out about $80 in shipping and make less than $8 in royalties. (Currently, only LIARS, INC. has sold enough copies to earn royalties.) Even if we count unpaid royalty credit, I would still "make" less than half of what I am willing to pay out.

Books. Are. Awesome.

So why am I doing this then? First, because I want my loyal readers to be able to get signed copies of my books. I know the cover price of a hardcover is cost-prohibitive to many, so I figure if someone is willing to pay extra for a signed copy, why not help out with the shipping fees while the books are readily available? Second, I want to do my part to help the literary community and to support the bookstores who have supported me. Paying for shipping these books means I might have to go without somewhere else, but I am more than happy to skip a few coffees or buy a couple less books a year (thank you, libraries!) so that a store employee can make a fair wage and author events can continue to be a thing. And third, as an author it obviously helps me professionally each time someone buys one of my books. Succeeding isn't just about making a lot of cash. It's about growing business relationships and cultivating a readership. I never had a signed book as a kid, and if paying for shipping means I can help put a signed book into the hands of someone who will really appreciate it, well, that's a win-win situation, and those are too far and few between these days :)


Ready for some signed books? Order via these direct links:

Are you an international reader or a U.S. reader who can't afford indie prices? I may not be able to sign your book, but if you own a finished copy of any of my titles and are willing to review that title in two places online (can be bookseller websites, library websites, book blogs, your Instagram, etc.), email me a picture of the book and links to two reviews and I will mail you a signed bookplate for that book. Reviews can be positive, negative, or neutral, but must be at least three sentences long. Offer good while supplies last.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Spring 2018 YA Scavenger Hunt

Hi hi! Once again it's time for the YA Scavenger Hunt!!! YASH gives you a chance to check out scads of fun bonus material and enter to win like a bajillion books. If you're new to the hunt, confused about how to play, or you get stuck somewhere, check this site for instructions on how to hunt. The hunt starts at noon Pacific (so 3:00 pm Eastern) on April 3rd and runs through noon Pacific on April 8th. My post will go up the night before, as usual, so that organizers have time to verify links, but if you start hunting early, keep in mind that some of the links might be inactive.

This hunt I am proud to represent the  RED TEAM! I'm hosting HeatherMcKenzie!

Heather is promoting NOCTURNE, book 2 of the Nightmusic trilogy. Holy crap! How beautiful is that cover? :)

Here’s more about the book:

I am hunted.
A pawn in a vicious game.
The only way I can protect the ones I love... to disappear.

Finally free of her father, Kaya has the one thing that keeps her heart beating—Luke.

Blissfully content in his arms, everything seems perfect…until their world is shattered by a deadly invasion. When an old ally comes to the rescue, Kaya wants none of it. She is devastated to learn the identity of her attacker, and that she must do something truly heartbreaking if she wants to save the ones she loves. Sacrificing everything and sinking into bottomless sorrow, Kaya finds solace in an unlikely friend—one who shows her a different kind of love, and helps her discover an inner strength she never thought possible.

For her bonus content, Heather is sharing original music from her album 'Decoy.' If you’ve read her book SERENADE, you can picture Kaya and Luke slow dancing while you listen to the song ‘All I Need.’ The song ‘Anything Like This’ is about being grateful for the love you’ve found, marvelling how it has survived all the obstacles thrown before it – which is fitting for book two, NOCTURNE.

You can listen to more of Heather’s original music on her website, or on YouTube where you will also find live performance footage of her and her band covering cool tunes from artists such as Led Zeppelin and Lorde.

Here's more about Heather:

Heather McKenzie is the Canadian author of The Nightmusic Trilogy. Also a professional singer/songwriter with five albums to date, she told stories through music for years before falling in love with novel writing. Heather pulls from her extraordinary experiences as a musician to fuel her passion for creating Young Adult fiction.


One lucky red team winner will score a mega prize pack, including SERENADE (Book one of the Nightmusic Trilogy) from Heather and a copy of my eleventh novel (yes, 11 is the secret number for my post), HIDDEN PIECES.  But you guys know I love these secondary giveaways, so for this YASH I'm going to hook you up with a $25 gift card for Etsy, Society6, B&N, Best Buy, or Target. If none of those gift cards work for you, you can also select your choice of any book up to $25 in price from Book Depository or Wordery. To enter, just fill out the Rafflecopter below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Are you hungry for more exclusive content, epic secondary contests, and general YASH mayhem?!? Julie Reece is next for the red team.

As always, A HUGE THANK YOU to the organizers of the hunt for including me, and to all of the participants for taking the time to stop by our blogs and enter our contests. We couldn't do this without you. 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

2017 Reviewer Appreciation Giveaway

Hi guys :) Happy belated Halloween! You might be too old to trick-or-treat, but you're never too old to head down to the local grocery or drug store to pick up some delicious candy at bargain basement prices :D

This is another Reviewer Appreciation Contest that I'm running to encourage people who have read my books to review them, and to encourage people who might have access to my newer releases but haven't read them yet to give them a try.

One winner will receive a $50 gift card to Amazon, Etsy, or Society 6, or a 50-page manuscript critique. (For more about my critique experience, check out Manuscript Critique Services.) International winner can also choose from $50 in books from The Book Depository or Wordery. You don't have to buy a book to enter. You can review an ARC, or a borrowed/library book. There are also two options to enter w/o reviewing by tweeting/retweeting about the contest and my recent cover reveal. If you choose the critique, you must turn in your pages by April 30, 2018.

Wondering why I'm running a reviewer appreciation giveaway? Here are some reasons why reviews are crucial to authors (repeated from a previous contest):

1. There's the obvious way, where if a book has a lot of positive reviews, then a prospective reader might be more willing to take a chance on it. Positive reviews have the power to influence readers who are "on the fence."

2. There's the inverse (converse?) where a negative review might prevent someone who wouldn't like the book from picking it up, which is also a good thing. Sometimes I’ll read a negative review that says “This book had too much swearing and underage drinking” or “I hated that this book had a love triangle.” Readers are totally justified in not liking those things. However, those things don’t bother me, so those reviews they don’t affect whether I’ll buy a book. Other reviews says stuff like “I hated that the heroine’s pet kitten died a brutal death.” When I read that, I’m less likely to pick up a book, and that’s actually a good thing for everyone involved. Maybe it means that I don’t buy a book I was thinking of buying, but I am much more likely to buy the author’s future books if I haven’t labeled her or him in my brain as a “Violent Kitten Death Author.” 

3. So-so reviews can also sell books. One of the three-star reviews I've seen for GATU was extremely well-written and complimentary--the reviewer's biggest criticism was that book was kind of long. (It is.) If a reader sees that and likes long books, that might be even more persuasive than a 5-star review. Also, everyone knows that not all 3-star reviews are the same. Some reviewers have their reader-meter set to LOVE and three stars means the book let them down. Other reviewers have a "no five star" policy since no books are perfect, and three stars might be a really good review from them.

4. Even one-star reviews can sell books. I will openly admit that when I see a book being obliterated with one-star reviews, my curiosity is piqued. Also, some one-star reviews are more "it's not for me" than "no one should ever read this." One of my Liars, Inc. one-star reviews says this: No matter how I didn't like the plot/decisions of the characters, I will say the writing was exceptional, and the book is a fast read. That's basically a blurbable quote from someone who "borderline-hated" the book.

5. Most book-buying websites also have algorithms that cause the more "popular" books to come up more frequently in site "If you like [Book] you might be interested in [Other Book]" features and targeted emails, etc. This placement can be tremendously helpful in getting the word out about a new book to targeted audiences--almost like free advertising. One way a book's "popularity" is measured is by number of reviews on the site.

6. Sometimes just the sheer numbers of reviews (say 60 on Amazon vs. 10) is enough to cause a potential buyer to click for more info. The only reason I ever clicked on Susan Ee's Angelfall is because it had a massive number of reviews, and I really enjoyed that book. Volume of reviews can influence casual browsers who might click on "People who bought [Book] also bought [Other Book]" links.

7. Reviews can provide helpful feedback to authors. I say "can provide" because a lot of authors don't read their reviews. Even for authors who do, it's often the case that if you read ten reviews, you'll find several different opinions on the same thing, none of which is more "right" than the others. But I find early reviews helpful to see if readers are interpreting the basic themes of my books in the ways I had hoped, and I know plenty of authors who have found reviews valuable from a critique standpoint.

  1. You must have read a book in order to review it.
  2. Reviews must be at least 50 words long. Reviews that you have posted in the past also count. No need to edit or update, unless you need more words.
  3. You can copy/paste the same review to different sites for multiple entries.
  4. You must fill out the Raffecopter below, providing links/identifying info to your reviews by November 30, 2017.
  5. This giveaway focuses on my 2017 releases (2 hardcover, 2 paperback) because those are the books I really need to be promoting right now. But if you have reviewed The Art of Lainey or Liars, Inc., know that I am grateful <3
If you want to enter but you don't generally leave reviews because you're not sure what to say or not comfortable sharing your prose publicly, consider just leaving a list of things you liked and/or didn't like about the book. That adds up to 50 words pretty quickly :)


The dangers of running a giveaway likes this include that people will plagiarize/write fake reviews to qualify or that people will think I am bribing readers for positive reviews. It's important to me that neither of these things happen. So:

1. If I think your review is fake or plagiarized (meaning that you copied someone else's review, not that you used quotes from the book--that's totally fine), I will disqualify you from consideration without notification.

2. Any honest review of 50+ words qualifies you to win the prize. 5 stars. 1 star. A Goodreads review with no rating if that's how you roll. I probably won't even see your review(s) unless you're the contest winner and I have to click over to verify you, and even then you won't hurt my feelings if you didn't like the book, I swear :)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Got questions about the giveaway or about reviews? Put 'em in the comments.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The easiest giveaway ever

UPDATE: All books have been claimed so I ended the international portion of the contest too. Congrats to my winners :) For more chances to win, check out my You, a Friend, a Stranger giveaway (INT) where you can score $100 in prizes or my latest retweet giveaway on Twitter (US.) Both of those end on 9/30, but after that I'll be participating in YASH, so come back in early October for blog hop and giveaway madness :D


Hi peeps. So I basically sucked at staying off Twitter for September, but I did manage to stay almost completely off FB and Instagram, so there's that. And mostly Twitter pulled me in because I wanted to share info about the proposed healthcare legislation and keep up on info about people affected by the hurricanes and how to help.

Anyway, I've been planning this giveaway forever, but I got sick when I was going to post it as Free Books Friday last week so here it is as Free Books Wednesday Night ;)

Here's the deal. I released four traditionally published books so far this year if you count paperbacks, and I realized I have several ARCs and extra author copies hanging around. So I'm going to give some away. I'm too tired to set up a complex giveaway so it's going to be this simple: First, read the rules. Second, email me at pstokesbooks [at] gmail [dot] com and specify which ARC/book you want and if no one else beats you to it, it's yours. I am going to do one book for ages 13-19 and one book for ages 20+ for each title, just because I have readers who are teens and some who are older and I want to distribute the books to both groups. So, like this:

  1. A hardcover of GATU from Book Outlet--has black mark on bottom pages, anyone can claim
  2. A paperback of GATU--age 13-19 can claim
  3. A paperback of GATU--age 20+ can claim
  4. An ARC of TIHIH (w/ missing page inserted)--age 13-19 can claim
  5. An ARC of TIHIH (w/ missing page inserted)--age 20+ can claim
  6. An ARC of Vicarious--age 13-19 can claim
  7. An ARC of Vicarious--age 20+ can claim
  8. An ARC of Ferocious--age 13-19 can claim
  9. An ARC of Ferocious--age 20+ can claim

I will cross off the book when it has been claimed, resulting in what I hope will be few people who email to request a book that's already been claimed. If you do get beat by someone else or you miss out on this contest, join my mailing list if you want to be included in the next one, because I'm going to do this again sometime this year with newsletter subscribers.

THE RULES: (Some of them are more like guidelines, but whatevs)
  • This part of the giveaway is US only because it costs more to mail any of these books than it would cost to buy them in a foreign country. International people, see below.
  • If you have won a book from me in the past 90 days, please refrain from requesting a book from this giveaway. Sharing is caring, right?
  • I am hoping (but not "requiring") people who claim these books will read and review them, so don't claim a book if you have a 100+ TBR list just because you can't resist free stuff.
  • Don't claim a book just to turn around and sell it to someone else. My projected writing income for 2018 is currently less than $3000 and will remain at that level unless I manage to sell another book, something I have been trying to do since the beginning of the year. I am not giving these away because I am a super-rich writer-person, so I am asking you nicely not to exploit this giveaway for profit. My goal is to get the books to people who really want to read them, so if you know someone that fits that criteria, especially a teen, send them this link :)
  • Books will ship media mail. I am not responsible for lost mail.
  • I'm not going to promote this on Twitter or FB until 10/1 to give priority to anyone who reads my blog (Hi Mom ;D Just kidding, my mom doesn't even read my blog), but I'll end this by 10/5 if there are still books up for grabs.
  • Be sure to tell me which book and your age category when you email. You can give me a first choice and second choice, but each person can only have one book.
  • Again reviews are appreciated but not required. Here's a post that highlights some of the reasons why reviews matter, though note that the giveaway in that post is over.


You know I can't leave you guys out totally but I can only afford to offer you one finished copy of any of these books at the moment, so I'm making you an easy, breezy Rafflecopter. I'm not expecting more than a few entries here because I have regular international contest entrants and most of them have won a book from me in the past 90 days. Please observe the above rules, and fill out the Rafflecopter below. Good luck :)

Want more chances to win stuff? Why not enter my You, a Friend, a Stranger giveaway (INT) where you can score $100 in prizes or my latest retweet giveaway on Twitter (US.)

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Got questions? Put them in the comments :)