Ways for Writers to be More Ergonomic

Ways for Writers to be More Ergonomic, Guest post by Melissa Chan, creator of Literary Book Gifts.

Guest post by Melissa Chan, creator of Literary Book Gifts.

Ways for Writers to be More Ergonomic

Writing is a skill that mostly takes place in your mind. When I write, it’s more important to think about the ideas than the actual method of getting the words onto the paper. But however much you design, plan, and sketch out your ideas, these days you will eventually need to type them up on a computer.

I’ll give you just a few ways that I try too be more ergonomic while I write everyday. Hopefully it will give you some ideas to make your own writing a  little easier so you can focus on the most important thing, writing better for longer hours.

Monitor vs. laptop

Laptops are great for on-the-go. Coffee shops, meetings, and out-of-office coordination are all places and times for laptops. But when it really gets time to concentrate and work you will want to be looking at getting a monitor. If you look at the way you or other people sit with a laptop you can tell it doesn’t bode well for their neck, arms, and back. I know I’ve thought I would just send a couple of quick emails on my laptop and ended up surfing the web for an hour until my neck was sore.

Monitors might look like big electronic purchases, but in general they are not that expensive. A monitor such as this one will do just fine. Computers are so advanced these days that some monitors that look like nothing more than the screen actually have entire computers in them. These tend to cost a lot more and are not what is needed if you are just looking for a good cost-benefit ratio in terms of ergonomics alone. Most monitors will allow you to hook up and directly display the contents of your laptop on the bigger screen. This way you get both the benefits of a monitor and a laptop in one.

Ergonomic set up

Ergonomics extend far beyond getting a monitor. I’ve seen people exhibit very poor posture despite having a good monitor. The desk, chair, mouse and keyboard should all be taken into account when setting up your work station for long hours of writing. The desk tends to cost the most, so if it is a reasonable height and doesn’t move around too much when you type it is probably fine and doesn’t need to be replaced.

However, people vary a lot in height and stature. Investing in a good adjustable computer chair can make a big difference. Be on the lookout for one that has the general look an appearance of this one. All computer chairs tend to have adjustable height, some even have adjustable back and arms.

Make sure that your mouse and keyboard are also good as well. I find that keyboards tend to vary based on personal preference but for mouses I always like going for lightweight options. I’ve tried wireless mouses before in the past but because they have batteries they tend to be much heavier than ones with wires that you plug directly into the computer. This is ultimately for the best more me because I find them to be cheaper, less maintenance, and they avoid connectivity issues. This mouse is a great inexpensive and lightweight option.

I hope that these tips to make your set up more ergonomic have given you a few ideas. Do you try to be more ergonomic while you write? Let me know below in the comments.

Guest post by Melissa Chan, creator of Literary Book Gifts.  Ways for Writers to be More Ergonomic

Ways for Writers to be More Ergonomic, Guest post by Melissa Chan, creator of Literary Book Gifts.
Melissa Chan is the creator of Literary Book Gifts (https://literarybookgifts.com), gift shop for book lovers. She spends long hours designing and writing and tries to be as ergonomic as possible.
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The Meandering Path from Numbers to Words

The Meandering Path from Numbers to Words, Guest post by Alan Orloff, author of I Know Where You Sleep

Guest post by Alan Orloff, author of I Know Where You Sleep.

The Meandering Path from Numbers to Words

The Meandering Path from Numbers to Words, Guest post by Alan Orloff, author of I Know Where You Sleep
Some little kids, from the time they could hold a pencil in their hands, wrote stories. About dragons and fairies and cowboys and firefighters and astronauts. Great tales of adventure featuring heroes conquering villains in wildly imaginative ways.

Not me. I didn’t like to write. Too much work.

When I was in high school, I hated English class (much to the chagrin of my father, an ex-English teacher!). I didn’t read all the classic novels by the classic writers, mostly because I was never patient enough to try to understand all that old-timey English and run-on sentences (Faulkner, anyone?). Instead, I opted for the Cliffs Notes version, which I usually crammed into my brain the night before the exams (shh! Don’t tell my mother!). I couldn’t get through Melville or Joyce, but I loved Asimov and Heinlein, King and Koontz. I was a happy camper, as long as I could choose what I wanted to read (and didn’t have to analyze it in any fashion).

And while I liked reading, I was always a numbers guy at heart. So in college, I majored in engineering and never had to take a creative writing course. Or read any fiction, either, for that matter. After graduation, the extent of my writing consisted of the occasional grocery list (not much of a plot, no characterization). I didn’t like engineering very much, so I went on to business school, where I wrote a lot of papers and reports and case studies, all dry as dust, full of clich├ęs, buzzwords, and jargon intended to confuse even the most dedicated readers.

No writing of fiction.

But a couple of decades later, something happened. I wish I could tell you what that something was, but I honestly don’t know. The upshot? I decided to try my hand at writing fiction! (Much to the surprise of my wife.)

It sounds like my convoluted transformative journey would make a good story. I wonder who I could get to write it?

Here are some things to consider if you’re considering making that leap to writing fiction:

Start slowly: Dip your feet into the water before taking the plunge. For me, that consisted of a “proof of concept” exercise. I wrote a number of short stories to see if I liked writing. I did, and I kept at it! Whatever you do, don’t quit your day job! (Not yet, anyway!)

Increase your knowledge: Read books on writing, take classes, participate in workshops to learn more about your (new) craft. I started by taking an Adult Ed class on creative writing. The instructor said that the story I wrote for class didn’t stink, and I interpreted that as encouragement. I took more and more workshops until—eventually—I was able to teach workshops at the same writer’s center where I was a student!

Get feedback: Try to find and/or develop some trusted readers. Getting feedback on your work keeps you from spinning your wheels and getting discouraged.

Get plugged into the local writing community: Networking with other writers proved invaluable for me. In addition to learning about potential markets for my writing, I got a lot of support; writing is a lonely endeavor and it’s nice to be able to commiserate—and celebrate—with others on the same journey.

The Meandering Path from Numbers to Words, Guest post by Alan Orloff, author of I Know Where You Sleep
Alan Orloff’s work has won the ITW Thriller Award and Derringer Award and been a finalist for the Agatha Award. His ninth novel, I KNOW WHERE YOU SLEEP will be released in February from Down & Out Books. www.alanorloff.com
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Low-Pay Writing

Low-Pay Writing: Guest post by James A. Haught, author of Blasphemy For Thinking People

Guest post by James A. Haught, author of Blasphemy For Thinking People.

Low-Pay Writing

Low-Pay Writing: Guest post by James A. Haught, author of Blasphemy For Thinking People
Moliere said:  “Writing is like prostitution.  First you do it for the love of it.  Then you do it for a few friends.  And finally you do it for money.”
Unfortunately, many of today’s writers can’t attain the level of a self-supporting hooker, because markets and communications have evolved into strange new territory.
A colossal Niagara of writing occurs in this astounding new Cyber Age.  The Internet now has two billion websites, and 500 million of them are blogs written on every conceivable topic.  Each day, millions of words flow.
But few of the authors earn a livable sum for their work.  Most do it just for the joy of offering their ideas to the world, while relying on other income.
As a retired newspaper editor, I’m a weekly blogger on three sites.  The Good Men Project and Canadian Atheist pay me nothing for reprinting my previously published essays.  Daylight Atheism at Patheos pays me two dollars per thousand readers of new or recycled skeptic tirades. 

Low-Pay Writing: Guest post by James A. Haught, author of Blasphemy For Thinking People
To mark Haught’s 65 years in news biz, Gazette artists created this rendition.

At D.A., I average near two thousand readers per posting.  So far, I’ve gotten two checks, one for $158, the other for $98.  I’m delighted with my hooker pay.
Right now, around 300 of my essays are in cyberspace at CounterPunch, Free Inquiry, Church & State, Secular Web, PeaceVoice, etc.  After I’m gone (I’m 87 now), I hope they remain online, giving me a bit of immortality.
Bottom line:  I’m quite happy to write seven days a week for almost no pay, just for kicks.  I can afford to do it, because I live on a fat newspaper pension and fat Social Security.
However, for younger writers trying to earn a living, the story is much bleaker.  An Authors Guild survey of 5,000 full-time and part-time writers found that their average 2017 earnings fell to a pathetic $6,080, far below the poverty line.
Apparently there are so many write-for-nothing authors like me that the market doesn’t need to shell out big money to get quality prose.
Looking back through history, there were plenty of writers who went hungry.  Edgar Allan Poe reportedly earned only a few hundred dollars from his immortal work.  But others cashed in.
When I was young, plenty of paying markets existed.  In its heyday, Penthouse paid me $4,000 and $3,000 for a couple of pieces.  But paper publications barely survive today, wrecked mostly because readers switched to cyberland, where nobody needs to pay for subscriptions – and advertising followed the readers.

Low-Pay Writing: Guest post by James A. Haught, author of Blasphemy For Thinking People
Haught, right, with acquaintances.  White House photo, 1994

Many voices lament the collapse of writer pay.  Authors Guild President James Gleick said:
“When you impoverish a nation’s authors, you impoverish its readers.”
Vice President Richard Russo added:
“There was a time in America, not so very long ago, that dedicated, talented fiction and nonfiction writers who put in the time and learned the craft could make a living doing what they did best, while contributing enormously to American knowledge, culture and the arts.  That is no longer the case for most authors.”
Guild member T.J. Stiles said:
“Poverty is a form of censorship…. Limiting writing to the financially independent and the sinecured punishes authors based on their lack of wealth and income.”
Well, I don’t know any cure for the pay decline.  Society and technology evolve constantly.  Changes often inflict harm on people who previously were secure.
All I know is that the Internet teems with unpaid and low-paid authors, and compulsive writers like me are neck-deep in the new reality.

Low-Pay Writing: Guest post by James A. Haught, author of Blasphemy For Thinking People
James A. Haught
James A. Haught was born on Feb. 20, 1932, in a small West Virginia farm town that had no electricity or paved streets.  He graduated from a rural high school with 13 students in the senior class.  He came to Charleston , worked as a delivery boy, then became a teen-age apprentice printer at the Charleston Daily Mail in 1951.  Developing a yen to be a reporter, he volunteered to work without pay in the Daily Mail newsroom on his days off to learn the trade.  This arrangement continued several months, until The Charleston Gazette offered a full-time news job in 1953.  He has been at the Gazette ever since - except for a few months in 1959 when he was press aide to Sen. Robert Byrd.
During his six decades in newspaper life, he has been police reporter, religion columnist, feature writer and night city editor - then he was investigative reporter for 13 years, and his work led to several corruption convictions.  In 1983 he was named associate editor, and in 1992 he became editor.  In 2015, as The Gazette combined with the Daily Mail, he assumed the title of editor emeritus, but still writes personal columns.
Haught has won two dozen national newswriting awards, and is author of 12 books and 150 magazine essays.  About 60 of his columns have been distributed by national syndicates.  He also is a senior editor of Free Inquiry magazine, is a weekly blogger at Daylight Atheism, and was writer-in-residence for the United Coalition of Reason. He is listed in Who’s Who in America , Who’s Who in the World, Contemporary Authors and 2000 Outstanding Intellectuals of the 21st Century.  He has four children, 12 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.
His books include Holy Horrors (1990), Science in a Nanosecond (1990), “Holy Hatred” (1995), 2,000 Years of Disbelief (1996), Honest Doubt (2007), Amazon Moon (2007), Fascinating West Virginia (2008), Fading Faith (2010), Religion is Dying (2014), Hurrah for Liberals (2016), Blasphemy for Thinking People (2019, plus a 1992 art book featuring lovers depicted by master artists, to refute both bluenose censors and crude pornographers.
For years, he enjoyed hiking with Kanawha Trail Club, participating in a philosophy group, and taking grandchildren swimming off his old sailboat. He is a longtime member of Charleston ’s Unitarian Universalist Congregation.
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Creative Tips for the Left-Brainer

Creative Tips for the Left-Brainer by Carl Vonderau

This guest post is by Carl Vonderau, who is sharing his Creative Tips for the Left-Brainer.

Creative Tips for the Left-Brainer

Do people call you analytical and you know it’s not a compliment? When I reveal that I had a career in banking, I often see several words flash in a person’s eyes: boring, unimaginative, stodgy. Then I tell them I wrote a thriller about a banker who is the son of a serial killer. Is that surprise or fear on their faces? Most of us can be both creative and analytical. I move back and forth from one style of thought to the other, but they both—thankfully—intrude on one another.

Here are a few issues and tips. Because I’m a left-brainer, I’ve numbered them and used bullet points.

1.    You need more time to let your creative juices rise to the surface.
   Actually, the opposite can be true. Leonard Bernstein said, “To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan, and not quite enough time.” The trick is to get your internal editor out of the way by forcing your mind to hurry. Some people set up a timer and type like mad for a half hour or less. I write the first draft by hand, which makes me feel as if I’m trying to catch up to the story.

2. Should you solve a problem, find a problem for a solution, or look for a never-before-considered concept?
   Most of us believe we should begin with a problem and move toward the answer. But I know thriller writers who write the ending first then start from the beginning. Bank executives knew that their systems could perform most client operations without people. So what was the problem that solved? Working parents needed to bank after five o’clock.
   Sometimes creativity is just combining two or more ideas that haven’t been put together before. Apple Computer became the largest stock in the world by packaging existing technology into a unique computer and phone. Steve Jobs said, “Creativity is just connecting things.”

Creative Tips for the Left-Brainer by Carl Vonderau
3. How do you get outside of that stodgy, linear self?
   Change your routine. Start the day by reversing the way you eat breakfast.
   Take an idea and remove an essential part. New possibilities will bubble up. Removing a recording mechanism created the Walkman. 
   Think of your product as part of a story in someone’s life. How does it pivot them from disappointment to victory? Then figure out why and who else could be in that story.
   Give your mind a break and wash the dishes. A mindless task provides a slight space in which the idea you’re working on can resonate.
    Stop typing and ask, What if? What would happen if you changed an assumption? How about changing a conclusion? Then what if…

4. When do you let the critics go after you?
    When nurturing an idea, avoid premature evaluation (Hmm). Don’t talk to anyone at first. Your idea will be an easy target because it’s not thought out. Worst of all, you might cede your revolutionary concept to someone else’s more stodgy one.
    Get your idea down in a paragraph. Discuss it with one open-minded, not critical person. Some scientists believe that the most powerful discussion arises in pairs. Think: Watson and Crick.
Build it out. Then whittle and pare it down. Some of your brilliant insights just don’t belong. Mark Twin is credited with saying, “If I had more time, I would have made it shorter.”
    Go to that critical, nitpicking group you’ve avoided. Prepare to be humble. This is where you learn the places where your genius has missed the barn. Try to thank them.
    Embrace your failures. Get used to starting over. Paul Taylor revolutionized dance. At one performance a reviewer said, “Three girls, one named Twyla Tharp, appeared at Albert Hall last evening and threatened to do the same tonight.” Ouch!  
Issue 6. How about the problems that just won’t cooperate?
    Don’t fight them. Toni Morrison says that if you surrender to the wind you can ride it.
    Take a sideways approach and ask how the failure of a product or idea tells you about its strengths.
    Sleep on it. Even daydreaming works. It did for Einstein!
    Put your groundbreaking idea away for a week (or a month). Then: OMG, the solution is so obvious.
    Laugh. Go hang out with colleagues. Watch a sitcom. Listen to a politician. Laughing opens the mind to other connections.
    Get help from someone. Maybe that totally uninformed person who just joined the company, the one who has no choice but to consider the basics of what you’re proposing. The problem just might be more fundamental than you realized.
    Keep grinding. If you have the feeling you’re close but just can’t quite grasp it, continue struggling. Maybe work on it in a different venue.
    Follow the advice of the Simpsons. “You’ve tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is: Never try.” All right, you’re not like Homer, are you? Angela Lee Duckworth found something in all great achievers: grit. It allows you stay in a painful place while working hard to improve, again and again.

Issue 8. Executive Summary (We’re left-brainers so we have to have this.).
You’re not hopelessly uncreative, despite what your spouse tells you. In fact, you’re that rare combination of creative and analytical abilities.  

Creative Tips for the Left-Brainer by Carl Vonderau
Carl Vonderau grew up in Cleveland in a religious family that believed that God could heal all illness. He left that behind him when he went to college at Stanford and studied economics. Somehow, after dabbling in classical guitar, he ended up in banking. Carl lived and worked in Latin America, Canada, and North Africa, and conducted business in Spanish, French and Portuguese. He also secretly wrote crime novels. Now, a full-time author, he also helps non profit organizations. He and his wife reside in San Diego, where their two sons live close by. Check out more about him and his upcoming thriller, Murderabilia, at http://carlvonderau.com/.
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Five Things that Make me Want to Read a Query

Five Things that Make me Want to Read a Query. Guest post by Trident Media Group Literary Agent Mark Gottlieb

Guest post by Trident Media Group Literary Agent Mark Gottlieb

Five Things that Make me Want to Read a Query

One: The Hook

Having a strong sales pitch for a book can go a long way. We sometimes call this the elevator pitch. I like to work with authors that know how to speak about their book in a concise and interesting way. This is everyone's first impression of a book, so the hook should go right upfront in a query letter in order to draw the reader’s attention in. I like to think of it as the thesis line for a query letter. In a snapshot we should get a sense of what the book is about in movie tagline fashion. Here are a couple of examples of good hooks:

A dark secret born out of World War II lies at the heart of a Sicilian American family in this emotional and sweeping saga of guilt, revenge, and, ultimately, redemption.

They say she’s a murderess. She claims she’s innocent. But Lucy has been known to tell lies…

Two: Comparative/Competitive Titles

Sometimes it is easier to say that a book is “this meets that” than it is to go into a longer description. That’s where the comp title process can be helpful. Dreaming up a good comparative or competitive title can help place a manuscript in the minds of literary agents and book editors trying to figure out where a book might go on their list, or where it might go in a bookstore. This is also helpful to a publisher when they are trying to figure out how much to offer for a book. Publishers will run what is called a profit and loss statement or a “P&L” and the magic numbers they will plug into that sheet are usually the numbers on books they feel are similar. We as author and agent would much rather be the ones to give books with stronger numbers to publishers as comparisons! Bookstores will also eventually ask the book publisher for comps they feel are similar, so a writer that has a few comp titles assembled will be miles ahead in the book publishing process.

Three: The Book

Of course we need to know more about the book and what makes it exciting! I speak more about the urgency of a book's story in this interview. A couple of paragraphs should be devoted to some of the exciting plot details of a manuscript and perhaps speak to some of the development of the characters. Demonstrating some of the plot will be more important to commercial fiction, whereas literary fiction tends to be more concerned with character development. Careful not to spoil too much here the description! This is more so about enticing readers into wanting to know more and taking this opportunity to showcase one's writing abilities. It is helpful to model these paragraphs off of the descriptive copy used on the back of book covers and book product pages. That will lend a comfortable feel for how this information is presented, especially since a lot of strong query letters go on to become jacket copy on published books! That is why writing a knockout query letter is so important.

​Four: Author Bio 

In the last paragraph of the query letter we should see the author bio, along with some more ancillary information such as relevant writing experience and writing credentials. Writing experience can mean many different things. Sometimes this is a matter of having been published in literary magazines or literary journals. Other times this can mean publications online or in papers. Writing credentials can include things such as an MFA, PhD or even attendance at a prestigious writing workshop such as the Yale Writers Workshop, Iowa Writers Workshop, or Breadloaf. A writer should tell us a bit more about themselves too. Info such as how they came or writing, what has influenced them and perhaps where they live and what they do in their day-to-day. After all of that info it might be good to include a link to an author website or author social media pages.​

Five: Personalize the Address 

If an author wants to get the attention of a literary agent, we cannot forget this important point. When opening a letter, it is nice to see that a writer took their time to do their research to know who the literary agent is and what they are about. For how awkward would it be to send a query for a children's picture book to a literary agent that specializes in romance/women's fiction? This is a way to make the query letter attention-grabbing, since this is a writer's chance to make their letter unique to the receiver. For instance, a writer might consider visiting my Facebook​Twitter or LinkedIn pages to learn more about me and the types of books I have been working on and they can mention something they learned in the opening of the letter. It shows that the writer took some time, care and attention to detail.

Surprise: Bonus Content!

​In addition to the five points above, this item is something of a special surprise. A very lucky writer might approach the query letter with some pre-publication blurbs or endorsements in-hand. Having a quote from a bestselling or award-winning author can go a long way. Literary agents love to receive queries with blurbs since that helps make the query more attractive to book publishers. Some authors are only willing to provide endorsements after a manuscript finds a publisher, but others might make an exception. Some authors might provide a blurb based on a sample of the manuscript too. Keep in mind that it is about quality over quantity when receiving such endorsements. 

Five Things that Make me Want to Read a Query. Guest post by Trident Media Group Literary Agent Mark Gottlieb
Mark Gottlieb
Mark Gottlieb is a prominent literary agent working at book publishing’s leading literary agency Trident Media Group in New York City. He has ranked highly among literary agents across the industry for overall number of deals and other individual categories. While at Trident Media Group, Mark Gottlieb has represented New York Times bestselling authors as well as major award-winning authors. He has optioned and sold numerous books to production companies and studios for film and TV adaptation. Mark Gottlieb greatly enjoys working with authors to help manage and grow their careers with the resources available at Trident Media Group. In addition to having worked at the company’s Foreign Rights Department, he also ran the company’s Audiobook Department. Utilizing his drive and intuition for discovering talented writers, he is currently expanding his client list of authors. As a literary agent he looks forward to bringing authors to the largest possible audience.
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How To Get The Most Out Of A Book Fair

How To Get The Most Out Of A Book Fair, Guest post by Dan Brotzel, co-author of Kitten on a Fatberg.

Guest post by Dan Brotzel, co-author of Kitten on a Fatberg.

How to get the most out of a book fair

How To Get The Most Out Of A Book Fair, Guest post by Dan Brotzel, co-author of Kitten on a Fatberg.
Book fairs can be daunting – especially the big, international ones like London and Frankfurt. They are meeting points for thousands of publishing professionals – agents, publishers, booksellers, distributors, licensers and buyers and sellers of rights – and a lot of what they do can seem somewhat remote and arcane to the average author. Having said that, in the twenty odd years that I’ve been going to book fairs, I’ve noticed they’ve become a lot more author-friendly. These days, they can be great places for authors to keep abreast of publishing trends, as well as to meet other authors and network. Here are a few tips on what to do when attending your next book fair.

Come prepared
The last thing you want is to turn up at the fair and wander around aimlessly for hours trying to work out (a) where you are, and (b) who to talk to. Before you arrive, take the time to study the fair’s website. Decide which conferences and seminars are relevant to you and find out where and when are they happening. It’s a good idea to book ahead for the popular ones. Also look at who is exhibiting. The book fair app will contain a map of the hall so you can familiarise yourself with the layout and locate the stands of any publishers of interest. The London Book Fair (LBF) now has an author club, with its own newsletter, discounts for author events at the fair, and a chance to get your book into the hands of agents and publishers.

Listen and learn
Book fairs often host fascinating talks by authors in which they talk about their journey to publishing success, be it through conventional means (getting an agent and then a publisher) or by self-publishing. There are seminars in which industry experts offer authors advice on how to get their work published, as well as panel discussions about trends in the publishing industry. A recent innovation at LBF is ‘The Write Stuff’, a Dragon’s Den-style event in which authors pitch their books to a panel of literary agents in front of an audience, bidding to win a follow-up meeting with an agent.

Take advantage
Book fairs are great places to meet publishers, editors and agents, so don’t be shy about going up to them and introducing yourself. Remember though that most of the people on the stands are rights sellers meeting with other publishers, so they won’t have a lot of time for authors. Occasionally you may be lucky and meet an editor on a stand, but this is unusual. The best time to meet publishing professionals is by booking an agent one-to-one meeting (available at LBF) or at networking drinks after the fair has closed.

Finally, remember that book fairs aren’t all about hard work. They are also great places to socialise and share your successes and woes with fellow authors. Don’t wear yourself out by trying to do too much. Plan ahead and try to be disciplined about what you do and see. At the same time, always expect the unexpected: book fairs are brilliant places for serendipitous meetings, usually in the coffee queues. One final tip: book fairs take place in enormous exhibition halls and entail an awful lot of walking, so wear comfortable shoes!

How To Get The Most Out Of A Book Fair, Guest post by Dan Brotzel, co-author of Kitten on a Fatberg.
Dan Brotzel
Dan Brotzel (@brotzel_fiction) and Alex Woolf are co-authors of a collection of a new comic novel, Kitten on a Fatberg (Unbound). To pre-order Kitten on a Fatberg for a 10% discount, quote KITTEN10  

How To Get The Most Out Of A Book Fair, Guest post by Dan Brotzel, co-author of Kitten on a Fatberg.
Alex Woolf 

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