guest blogs, publishing, Uncategorized

Going it without an agent? What you should consider before you sign on the dotted line.

Today, author and “recovering lawyer” Diane Capri is joining me on the blog to offer some advice for writers considering going it without an agent.

Much as I would love to think that it’s all cotton candy and roses out there, the writing biz, like any industry, does not work that way. Contracts are complex legal documents not to be taken lightly. The industry is changing, and it’s easier to find editors who are willing to accept unagented manuscripts. Many writers are now willing to go it without an agent, at least at first. Making the decision to publish without an agent means that the author will have to learn a new skill–or hire someone with expertise in publishing contracts.

Bottom line, we should understand the terms of the contract before we sign on the dotted line. Diane is lending us her legal expertise to point unagented authors in the right direction. Feel free to ask questions!

Q: As writers, we hear so many scary stories about authors who signed contracts without realizing what they were signing. It’s hard to tell what’s exaggerated urban myth and what’s an issue for genuine concern. For writers who go it without an agent, what should their main concerns be? Any red flags or big no-no’s?

A: There are many clauses in a publishing contract, and any writer who represents herself in negotiations should be aware of the most common ones. Copyright, royalties, advances, acceptance of manuscript, subsidiary rights, special sales, manuscript revisions, warranties, indemnification, termination of rights, options, and so on.  Pay particular attention to how unexpected events will be handled. What if the publisher goes out of business? When and under what circumstances can you retrieve your rights to this project and what must happen to get the rights back to you? A good primer is “Negotiating a Book Contract: A Guide for Authors, Agents and Lawyers” by Mark L. Levine.

Q: A publishing contract is a legal document–and a very complicated one. What are some resources for writers who want to learn more about the legalese of contracts? Are there any key terms we should know?

A: In addition to Mark L. Levine’s book, you might want to review “The Writer’s Legal Companion,” by Brad Bunnin and Peter Beren. Writers organizations such as Mystery Writers of America and Romance Writers of America and the Author’s Guild are also good resources for contract questions. You can find the answers to most common questions online, but beware of the source of information. Understand that the law varies and is very fact specific, meaning that changing even one small fact in a question can make a difference in the outcome.

Q: Do you recommend that first-timers (or even experienced authors) hire a lawyer to review their contracts? If so, how can writers find lawyers who specialize in publishing contracts? What should they expect to pay for these services?

A: The  easy answer is that I am a lawyer and I hire a lawyer to review my contracts. Realize that no one can anticipate everything and a fresh eye is often helpful. Unexpected stuff happens. All you can do is apply the best of your knowledge under the circumstances. Understand that the deal could go south and before you sign, always ask yourself what you’ll do if this deal does fall apart. Everyone needs a “plan B.”

If you have a reputable and knowledgeable agent, s/he should be able to negotiate your publishing contract. But it never hurts to hire aknowledgeable lawyer to advise you privately. Just be sure the lawyer you hire has current experience in publishing contracts from the type of publisher you’re considering because the business changes constantly.

Lawyers charge either a flat fee or an hourly fee. For a first publishing contract, a flat fee is probably the way to go. Prices vary based on location (everything costs more in New York than, say, Iowa), expertise (the more expert the lawyer, the more expensive she’ll be), and jurisdiction, among other things.

When navigating uncharted legal territory, generally it’s good to ask yourself whether the fee is worth paying under your specific circumstances. A $500 legal fee may not be the best idea for a royalty-only book deal with no advance. Only you can put a price on your project. No one knows the work and its value like the author herself.

About Diane:

Bestselling author Diane Capri is a recovering lawyer. She’s a snowbird who divides her time between Florida and Michigan. An active member of Mystery Writers of America, Author’s Guild, International Thriller Writers, and Sisters in Crime, she loves to hear from readers and is hard at work on her next novel. Diane’s books, including “Annabelle’s Attack” and “Carly’s Conspiracy,” are available wherever e-books are sold. See her Amazon author page for more info.

Connect with her online:

Website: http://DianeCapri.com
Twitter: http://twitter.com/@DianeCapri
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Diane-Capri/187483551314626

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contests and giveaways

Recommend your “Autumn Read” and enter for a chance to win an Amazon gift card

As I’ve said before on my blog, I am totally a summer child. Lounging by the pool, going to the beach, picnics, walks in the park, that’s definitely my scene. And winter in the mountains, even as far south as Virginia, can be pretty damn chilly. Winter—not so much.

But fall holds a special place in my heart. It seems to hold so much potential, so much inspiration, so much magic. It’s like the grand finale of the fireworks—you don’t necessarily want the fireworks to end, but that vibrant bursting of color is what it’s all about. Fall, for me, is the witching season. Magic is afoot. Stories are whispering in the scarlet and gold of the trees.

Maybe my love affair with autumn has something to do with the fact that it never sticks around very long. Always leaves you wanting more.

If I had a fireplace, I would spend my autumn evenings curled up in front of a roaring fire, drinking tea and reading a good book. Alas, apartment living does not allow such luxuries as fireplaces (not mine, anyway), but there are plenty cups of tea to be had.

And lots of good books. So, if you were to select books by season, which books belong to fall? I’ve culled together a few, and I’m looking for additions.

Good Autumn Reads:

  • Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
  • Yasmine Galenorn’s Witchling (Sisters of the Moon, book 1)
  • Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre
  • Bram Stoker’s Dracula (what? too predictable?)
  • Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird
  • Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic
  • Cate Tiernan’s Book of Shadows (Sweep, book 1)
  • L.J. Smith’s The Secret Circle trilogy

I would love, once I get through the backlog of ideas in my head, to write a good autumn, witchy story. Dark, vibrant, and lots of magic. And fireworks. Definitely fireworks.

I’m looking for good additions to my Autumn Reads list. So I’m making a deal. If you comment and tell me your Autumn Reads pick, I’ll enter your name in a drawing for a $10 Amazon gift card. Books from all genres are welcome.

Like a healthy competition? If you mention the contest and link to this post on your blog, you’ll be entered two more times. (If you post about the contest on your blog, please comment on this entry to let me know. Be sure to include a link back to your site in the comment.)

Rules:

Only relevant comments count (no spam). It’s a max of one entry per person per comment and two entries per person per blog link (i.e., a max of three total per person). When the clock strikes 12 midnight (EST) Oct. 8, this contest will turn back into a pumpkin. I will announce the winner on Monday, Oct. 10. That way, the lucky winner will get a chance to cozy up with a yummy read of his/her own choosing.

Happy autumn, and good luck!

editing, grammar, revising, writing

5 ways to eliminate –ly words from our writing

Among advice frequently bestowed upon writers is avoiding the adverb trap. Adverbs are those lovely little words—often ending in –ly—that modify a verb, adjective, or another adverb. They don’t always end in –ly, of course. That’s a very pretty sweater; really, it’s just too cute.

Life Preserver
Don’t leave your readers drowning in a sea of -ly words.

But –ly adverbs are especially tricky because they’re easy to use. We dress up our writing with them, and before we know it, our readers are drowning in a sea of adverbs. It’s easy to start pouring –ly words onto the page, especially in early drafts. The trick is to pluck enough of these words out as we revise so that the reader isn’t constantly being bombarded by adverbs.

As I was revising one of my WIPs, I stumbled across a couple pages in which –ly words were running amok. I began to notice the repetition, so I went through and circled every –ly word. Yep. Way too many.

After I’d weeded the scene of excess adverbs, I figured I would gather up a few of my tricks for reducing adverb usage.

1.)  Simply delete the –ly word. Perhaps it wasn’t adding anything to the sentence. When we delete it, does the meaning of the sentence change or become vague? If not, the simplest solution might be best: Do away with the word altogether. This is often the case when an adverb modifies an adjective. “He was absolutely irresistible,” could become, “He was irresistible.”

And –ly words aren’t the only adverbs to watch out for. Mark Twain once said of the adverb “very”: “Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very’; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.” In other words, if our character is very angry, why can’t he just be angry? Or, here’s another possibility:

2.)  Choose stronger adjectives. Maybe a stronger adjective is called for altogether. Maybe he isn’t very angry, he’s seething, raging, livid, or furious. Maybe we don’t just need to lose the adverb. Maybe we need a different adjective as well.

3.)  Choose stronger verbs. Perhaps no verb gets modified more than “said.” Are we echoing words like said, touched, smiled, walked, looked, etc.? If so, maybe we initially used an adverb for some variety. What if we try using a stronger verb that can convey the connotation without needing to be modified? Consider this dialogue tag: “… she said heatedly.” What if we replaced said with challenged, demanded, or argued? We’ve varied our word choice and eliminated the need for an adverb here.

4.)  Use concrete, creative description. Sometimes the solution is trickier, and what’s really needed is a reworking of the sentence to craft a more powerful sentence construct. Or, if we find too many adverbs peppering a scene, it might be that more concrete details are called for to let the reader into the scene.

For example, consider this passage: He pressed his hand lightly against her arm. She turned swiftly away. He sighed frustratedly. What if we just get creative here and expand the scene?

Instead we try: His touch might have been light, but it sent warmth radiating through her nonetheless. And that sensation confused the hell out of her. She put a little distance between them. He sighed, curling his fingers, no doubt frustrated with her mixed signals.

The revision beats the initial adverb-laden passage. In the first version, the adverbs are telling. In the second version, nouns and verbs do the bulk of the work.

5.)  Let it stand. Not every –ly word needs to be eliminated from our writing.  A well-used adverb here and there can be more powerful than ten poorly used ones. Consider these sentences from Gena Showalter’s The Darkest Secret:

“Finally, they were getting somewhere. And shockingly, there was thick, dewy foliage sprouting from the rocks. Nice, she thought, until…” (End excerpt, page 182. I don’t want to give it away.)

See? Adverbs aren’t evil, but they are easy to overuse.

The bottom line is that a scene should be strong enough to come alive on the page without adverbs to prop it up. Nouns and verbs should always do the heavy lifting. If they’re not, we need to step back and figure out what’s missing. Not enough description? Too much passive voice? Too many weak verbs or sentence constructs? Or are we worried that our characters aren’t coming through clearly enough? Sometimes overuse of adverbs is purely accidental. Other times, it might signify a broader issue with a scene. Maybe it isn’t where it needs to be yet.

What approach do you take to adverbs when editing? Do you have any tricks of your own you’d like to share?

dose of inspiration

Going confidently in the direction of your dreams (even if you must occasionally proceed in the dark)

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you’ve imagined.” –Henry David Thoreau

Thoreau ranks high on my list of inspirational people. His writings on anything from civil disobedience to simplicity to living close to nature always stir something in me.

I am and always have been a nature freak. I believe that trees have beautiful, old souls, and that when we work close to the earth, we can hear the magic that hums in its veins—that hums, too, in our veins. When I was a kid, I used to dream of having a small cabin in the woods, of waking to watch deer just footsteps from my door, of always living immersed in nature. While most kids were playing video games, I was identifying flora and fauna. (To be fair, I grew up on a farm with two brothers who hogged the Nintendo controllers and with no cable television.)

In my early 20s, I lived on a farm in the middle of nowhere for a year. I wrote most of my master’s thesis there, with the company of my cats, my beagle, and a nosy horse in need of a personality transplant. I now enjoy my life in town, which, fortunately, features plenty of green space and trees, lots of squirrels, and the occasional deer. (Oh, and lattes.) But Thoreau’s quotes continue to resonate in me, and they resonate in my work.

I was trying to explain paranormal romance to someone who’d never read the genre. On the fly, the best I could come up with was, “Think Charmed and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” He smiled in amusement and said, “I can’t picture you writing anything like Buffy.” He didn’t mean it as a diss. Buffy and Angel aren’t exactly what you’d expect from a soft-spoken, skinny five-foot-tall woman.

I don’t think my explanation helped the other person understand what I write and why I write. Thoreau also said, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” And there’s plenty of desperation in the world. Maybe by writing I’m trying to stave off a type of quiet desperation, unleashing my inner artist, feeding my soul. And I want to give the world some faith, something to believe in. Artists seek out the beauty in the world. Maybe we draw it out; maybe we cling to it. Or maybe we just find ways to let it shine through. I do know that writing makes me a better person, a deeper person, a more spiritual person.

My husband and I just did one of our periodic “this life in review” sessions. One thing we both want immensely is to buy a house. I want a garden that’s not a couple of terracotta pots on our cramped balcony, and we both want a place we can make our own. Having our own washer and dryer that don’t require quarters and not having to listen to the neighbors playing indoor hockey (that’s what I assume they were doing) would be added perks. And as thoughts of houses and mortgage payments took root, a voice inside me questioned if I shouldn’t be dedicating more of my pursuits to a more solid career, something more secure.

But I don’t believe to do that would be to go confidently in the direction of my dreams. We will own that house we dream of, a place for our family to grow, for our animals to play and for us to tend a garden, to paint the walls any damn color we please (okay, I do that anyway, but I have to paint it all back to plain old white when I move). And we’ve found plenty of happiness, good memories, and magic here in this apartment. A house can certainly be a symbol, a milestone, but it’s one part of the journey.

Even if I consult my tarot deck from time to time, I can’t see into the future, determine what choices I’ll make, where my path will lead. Faith in ourselves, in our dreams, in our goals, in whatever higher powers we believe in, those things must carry us forward. We can’t ask for certainty.

We can build, step by step, choice by choice, and word by word, a life that we’ve imagined.

Namaste.

the writer's journey, writing process

On failure, discipline, and other life lessons from writing

A lot of what I’ve learned as a writer has helped me in my life outside of writing. It’s not just that writing and effective communication skills are valuable assets (which they are!), but that the trials and tribulations of building a writing career make us stronger, if only we’re willing to learn from them. I think two of the biggest things I’ve learned from my writing career so far are the ability to learn from failure and the importance of discipline, which is a combination of goal-setting, dedication, and follow-through.

Failure:

Whether it’s a rejection, a bad review, or simply acknowledging that a story or a scene isn’t working, we can turn failure into a means to achieve our goals. We can fight failure or blame it on others. We can say the market isn’t ready. We can say family constraints got in the way of our writing. Those things might be true. But the only thing we can control is ourselves, not the market, not the situation. When we do this, failure can become a learning experience. When we were kids, we fell when learning how to walk, and yet we learned anyway. Failure is harder for grownups, but still valuable.

I’m one of those stubborn optimists in life who’s always insisting that you have to risk failure to succeed. The most successful people in life are those who are willing to take professional risks. Now, they have to be calculated risks. You can’t just jump off a proverbial cliff to test if you can fly. You have to do research, learn the right skills, and put those skills to work. But ultimately, we will risk rejection, bad reviews, and even snarky comments, to put our writing to the test. It’s the only way to succeed. And then, when we fail, we reassess and try again, armed with the knowledge we’ve gained.

Discipline:

So many of us “creative types” are thinkers, and it’s easy to get stuck in our heads brainstorming and never put our fingers to the keyboard. Sometimes I take a walk and listen to the birds and admire the trees, and while it might be a vital part of my life or my writing process, it’s not going to get the book done. Unless you’re a published writer with an agent and editor and tight deadlines, no one is leaning over you telling you to get this done. Indie writers have their fellow writers, crit partners, and readers to hold them to deadlines. Especially in the beginning, when you’re setting your own deadlines, it’s easy to say, “I’ll get there when I get there.” No two writers will have the same process.

You can reach out to other writers on Twitter (hashtags like #amwriting, #amediting, #writegoal, #MyWANA, or #1k1hr) or blogs (A Round of Words in 80 Days, http://aroundofwordsin80days, or #ROW80) or participate in NaNoWriMo. Or you can build your own goals and stick to them. You have to find the process that works for you (even if it’s trial and error, and there’s failure involved along the way) and stick to it. If great ideas made great writers, there would be a lot more great books in the world. But the great idea has to be in the hands of someone dedicated enough to follow the story and polish it until the words sing.

We have to be willing to just breathe through the failures, which are a necessary part of success. In investing, the greater the potential yields of an investment, the higher the risk. And writing is a risky business. You have to be willing to weather the storms. And discipline, even if we have days where we totally blow our writing quota, helps us hone our craft and accomplish our goals. And both require us to just breathe through the process. As I continue my journey, I know there are plenty more lessons in store.

What life lesson has writing taught you?

revising, writing process

Working with characters during revision

An alternate title for this post was: Dealing with Zoe.

See, I love Zoe, the female lead in Made of Shadows. She’s intense, passionate, fiery, compassionate, and maybe a little nuts. Okay, a little might be understating. Zoe is a woman on the edge. The martial arts skills and motorcycle don’t help.

photo from stock.xchng

So when editing Zoe’s story, sometimes it’s hard to tone her down. I realize I need a little distance from MOS to see the places where Zoe’s zest is adding to the plot and when it’s just distracting. Like I said, I care about her. I want the reader to care about her, too, which means I’ll have to learn to love her a little less, so I can edit her story properly.

She’s an absolute contrast to Lithe, of Pierce My Heart, my other WIP. Lithe is a soft-spoken introvert. She’s also a tough-as-nails fae investigator, but her motto, if she had one, would be, “Grace under pressure.” Sometimes I’ve worried that Lithe’s voice isn’t strong enough. Unlike Zoe, I worry that there’s not enough of Lithe shining through in the story.

Thus, one of my primary focuses for the next few months is going to be character development.

Our characters need to be relatable and likable. If the reader doesn’t care about what happens to Zoe or Lithe, then why keep reading? We want our readers to love the characters as much as we do. And if we’ve stuck around long enough to tell their stories, chances are that we do love them.

What complicates the issue is that our characters need to be consistent. This doesn’t just mean that in chapter one our character (let’s call her Lucinda) is a diehard vegetarian and in the next chapter she’s woofing down filet mignon. Character consistency is about more than favorite foods and hair color–it’s about the psyches of our characters, who they are deep down and how that influences their actions.

If Lucinda is perennially mistrustful, we need to make sure she doesn’t just easily open up to other characters. (As in, “Oh, Rodrigo, you’re a really good kisser. Why don’t I tell you about my traumatic childhood?”) Every action needs to be consistent with who she is. It’s not just about what the author wants to happen or where the plot needs to go; it’s about what Lucinda would do next, or what she would do given the next progression in the story. So if she opens up to Rodrigo, there needs to be a damn good reason, and one that’s consistent with her character.

But Lucinda also needs to change, affected by the circumstances of the plot and her interactions with other characters. Lucinda on page 1 can’t solve the situation (say, defeat the bad guy). If she could, we wouldn’t be writing a novel about her. Something has to happen between page 1 and page 300 that allows her to emerge victorious (if that’s the plot). Lucinda needs to change.

The character arc needs to mesh with the plot arc. Maybe Lucinda learns to trust, and trusting allows her to let someone in who can help her defeat the bad guys. She changes from a loner to someone capable of teamwork and trust.

And that’s where I’m at right now: reading books and blogs about character development. I know my characters. I need to make sure the reader does as well, and that each action is believable and appropriate. I hit a turning point while writing MOS. I’d been stuck for a while, not knowing where the story should go next. I tried a new approach. I stepped back  and asked, “What would Blake do?” Ah, bingo. “And what would Zoe’s reaction be?” Ah, naturally. I let the characters drive the story, and the plot unfolded before me.

What about you? What are your stumbling blocks with character? Any advice for working with character during the revision stage?

writing updates

Summer writing wrap-up and fall writing plans

So, as I dot the i’s and cross the t’s on my syllabus for the fall semester, I realize that I’m entering a time when my writing hours will be in short supply. And since a few golden leaves are starting to tumble to the ground, and my mums are offering up their yellow blooms, I figured I’d offer a recap of the year so far.

So, this year, I have:

  • Written a 100K 2nd draft of Blake and Zoe’s story, MADE OF SHADOWS. Don’t worry. Following drafts will be shorter. I’m already finding places to cut, but I needed to get it all down and sort it out later. This fall I plan to start revisions—putting me at draft 3 sometime in 2012.
  • Joined the Twitterverse and attempted to master the art of the perfect tweet. I’m still learning, but hey, I can now use “RT” as a verb.
  • Started blogging on WordPress in addition to my LJ blog.
  • And… last week, I finally got out the last few scenes in PIERCE MY HEART, a novelette-length story about a golden arrow and a murder in the realm of the fae. Hoping to get a finished draft of that one out by next spring. (At present, it’s weighing in at about 12K words.)

And my goals for fall:

  • Blogging twice a week. I might have to cut that back to once, but I’m going to try.
  • Revising one chapter per week of MADE OF SHADOWS. We’ll see how that plays out. Some scenes will undoubtedly call for more time and more extensive revisions than others. I’ll be sending it to crit group a couple chapters at a time.
  • Revisions on PIERCE MY HEART are also under way.

With all of the revisions, I don’t expect to have much time for new writing, though there are plenty of new stories jostling around, just waiting to be told. It’s sort of like the crowd waiting outside Best Buy at 3 a.m. on Black Friday. Every character just wants to get into the store to get their hands on a cheap DVD player. But my storytelling time, like Best Buy’s supply of discounted Black-Friday electronics deals, is limited.

Now I want to know what everyone else is working on this fall. New stories? Old ones? Revisions? Publications? Are you querying agents or writing synopses or outlines? Or, what are you reading? What are everyone’s fall goals? Do tell.

And now, for the first time ever…

THIS WEEK’S DASH OF AWESOME-SAUCE: Cool posts from around the web

Ilona Andrews: On Blurbs, Difficulty in Obtaining

A hilarious compilation of emails that reveals how NOT to go about requesting author blurbs for your next book.

India Drummond: Ordinary Angels Revealed

Follow India as she reveals her experiences in the world of small e-pubs, her foray into indie writing, and the cover for Ordinary Angels.

Kait Nolan: Why I’ll Never Unplug

Kait, on the role social media plays in fueling her writing career. And, in case you missed it, her YA novel Red is now available!

paranormal romance

Stop knockin’ the romance novel

So I just read this post by contemporary romance writer Jeannie Moon, which, of course, made me feel all twitchy. Why, tell me why, are people always knocking romance novels? Tell me how a romance novel is “not a real book.”

What makes a “real” book? Plot, character, description, tone? Because romance novels have all of those things. And have the people who say such things actually read a romance novel? (Or, if they have, do they just skip to the dirty parts? Tsk tsk tsk.)

I just realized I’m preaching to the choir. *steps away from pulpit*

I was already feeling mildly irate because, in a writers loop I belong to, a fellow writer said that her boss called her books “silly romance novels.” Silly? Romance novels are silly? They’re not real?

Oh, wait, excuse me while…

Sorry. I’m back.

Jeannie, who managed not to turn into the Incredible Hulk, raised some valid points to put her particular naysayer/book snob in her place:

“I set out to bury Harpy with the facts. Facts about romance’s incredible reach, profitability and the most basic of all: that if the genre were to become extinct, 1.3 billion dollars in book sales would be lost. It would decimate publishing and all those “real books” wouldn’t have anyplace to go. I talked about academic work being done at major universities studying the genre as literature and I talked about how it made people happy. And in the end, that’s all that mattered.”

So here’s my piece. Why do I think romance novels are most certainly REAL books, and not at all SILLY? Because…

Books change us; all art does. Books help us understand the human experience. The last time I checked, romance, yummy parts included, is a vital part of that experience. And we’re never more alive than when we’re in love.

I could go on. And on. And on. But I think I’ve said enough.

And this whole thing has inspired me to blog about why I chose to write romance novels. But that’s a separate post for another day.

Why do you love romance novels? Why do you think people feel this way? And how can we help them see the light? Or, if you’re a hater, why?

the writer's journey, writing

FYI: CPM closing its doors

Just as an FYI to writers, the Crit Partner Match site will be closing its doors on Aug. 15. Site creator Kait Nolan posted on the site:

I do hope some of you found it useful and that you DID locate a crit partner in all of this. For those of you still looking, I would point you to Absolute Write (www.absolutewrite.com), which is a large and vibrant writer’s community that has a much larger pool and a greater purpose, as well as a specialized sub forum devoted to crit partners and writing buddies. I think you might have better luck there. Best of luck. You have until August 15th to remove any material/posts or whatever from the site before I delete it. CM Clark is starting a new board Crit Partners http://critpartners.proboards.com/ if you’re looking for an alternative. –Kait

Personally, I don’t think we can have too many places to meet up with one another. My thanks go out to Kait for facilitating the site!

Update: About 5 minutes after I published this post, I received a follow-up email in my inbox. Just thought I’d share. 🙂

The fabulous CM Clark is setting up a board for Crit Partners http://critpartners.proboards.com/ as an alternative to CPM. Check it out if you’re still partnerless!
Kait