Monday, September 30, 2013

My Editing Process

My editor recently returned my manuscript with her markups. She uses both Track Changes and Comments. I dread using the Track Changes option, but I’ve learned a few shortcuts, and I wrote about them a while back.

Looking at a 355 page manuscript full of markups and marginal notes is daunting. However, since I wrote the book one word, one scene, one chapter at a time, I tackle my edits the same way, but I prioritize the types of edits and deal with one category at a time.

First, I scroll through the manuscript taking care of all the obvious fixes. My editor will make changes in formatting—she might break a paragraph into two, or combine two into one. Sometimes she’ll add italics, or change a word. These are usually straightforward, and I accept almost all of them.

As I go down the comments, I’m not re-reading the manuscript, but simply hopping from one change to the next. I’ll look at the suggestion in context, but generally these are grammatical, so I don’t need to read more than a paragraph or two. When I come to a comment I’m not sure I agree with it, I simply skip it. I need to deal with the “brainless” ones first. And, this also gets me back into the book, since I’m 19 chapters into another one now.

Then, I’ll consider some of the comments that are suggestions to reword a sentence, or find a better word. Those, too, are usually handled quickly and easily. In this manuscript, she pointed out that she thought I used the word “one” a lot and told me I ought to see if I needed all of them. I did a Find (remembering to check the ‘whole words only’ box) and discovered I’d used the word “one” 377 times.

So, I went through the entire manuscript again, evaluating each instance. I noticed that I said “one of the…” in a lot of places where a simple “a” would suffice. No need to say, “he rested one of his hands on her shoulder” when “he rested a hand…” is clear enough. Readers know how many hands my characters have.  It also tightens the writing by getting rid of unnecessary prepositional phrases.

Then, I deal with questions. She’s asked whether two hours have actually passed in a scene, or whether it’s night or day. Have I mentioned what color that character’s eyes are before page 273?  Maybe I have, but if she’s forgotten, then a reader will probably have, too.

She’ll point out that I need better transitions in places.  Or that I need to show a little bit more about the setting, or characterization in a scene. Those require rewrites, and I save them for last, again prioritizing so I can do the ‘easy’ ones first.

Lastly, I take on the places where she thinks I’ve dropped threads. This is the content type of editing, and I think it’s the most important. Line editing might be tedious work, but it’s the content editing that makes the story hold together. Too many people say, “My wife edited my book, and she’s got a keen eye. I know  there are no typos.” But that’s proofreading, and unless that wife also can evaluate content, plot, and characterization, it’s not really editing.

And, after I finish the edits and rewrites, I'll print a hard copy one more time. It's amazing how much more you can see when you're reading on paper, not a computer. 

Terry Odell is the author of numerous romantic suspense novels, mystery novels, as well as contemporary romance short stories. Most of her books are available in both print and digital formats. She’s the author of the Blackthorne, Inc. series, steamy romantic suspense novels featuring a team of covert ops specialists, the Pine Hills Police series, set in a small Oregon town, and the Mapleton Mystery series, featuring a reluctant police chief in a small Colorado town. To see all her books, visit her website. You can also find her at her blog, Terry's Place, as well as follow her on Twitter, or visit her Facebook page.

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Power of Free with Polly Iyer

In January of 2012, after two years represented by an agent, I self-published three mystery/thrillers on Amazon’s KDP Select program. That month, I sold 38 books for a grand total of $82, one in the UK. Wow, I was an international seller. That meant 39 people besides friends and critique partners read my books.

Since then, I’ve sold many more. A few free days during the first part of the year garnered enough reviews for the promo sites to feature me, a key in selling. The biggest free promo site then and now is EReader News Today. In July, 2012, they featured Murder Déjà Vu, and that’s when everything changed. The book totaled 37,000 downloads and sold, with borrows, 1800 units. Mind Games got a bump because the first chapter is at the end of MDV.

In August, Hooked earned the reviews for an ENT feature. Results: 44,200 downloads, and it sold, are you ready, 3500 books/borrows. Murder Déjà vu continued selling with over 1100 copies sold. It was the best month ever. I mentally paid off debts and redesigned my kitchen.

But, nothing stays the same.

Everyone was catching on to the KDPS phenomenon. Not only were more free promo sites popping up, there were more free books.

September: 20,000 downloads of InSight, 790 sales.

I joined BookBub at the end of July, 2012, to receive announcements of their free thrillers and mysteries. New and looking for business, they cleverly targeted their audience. In, mid-October, selected my book Hooked for a free feature. Well, free is always good, right? Chalk up 37,500 downloads and 600 sales. BookBub was expensive to buy, so I passed. I had done as well with ENT. November, Mind Games about 16,000 downloads, 500 sales, but newly published Goddess of the Moon, the sequel, sold just as many.

Downloads and sales were decent until mid-June, 2013, when I gave in and bought my first BookBub ad for Murder Déjà vu. Mystery rate: $240. Not cheap. ENT also featured it, and the book racked up 56,500 downloads and 650 sales over a six-week period. The first chapter in the back of MDV, the newly published Threads, the only book NOT on KDPS, got a nice bounce too.

July saw Goddess of the Moon as a BookBub ad and ENT feature. It went from 44 sold to 725 by the end of August. Mind Games, the first in the series got a bounce, as did Murder Déjà Vu, the chapter at the end of Goddess. I bought a BookBub ad for InSight to run August 21st. This was not as successful. Though I had 48,700 downloads, by September 16th, I sold just under 300 copies.

There are many reasons for the trend downward: overexposure of my books, a market glutted with free books, big publishers discounting their authors’ older books, and readers who’ve stopped buying. Why should they pay money when with a little patience good books are free for the picking? With the exception of the UK, Canada, and Germany, foreign sales have almost stopped. Amazon’s expansion to other countries show free downloads not sales. It will be interesting to see how Hooked fares with BookBub, running now.

This may not be everyone’s experience, but it’s mine. It was great while it lasted, but because of these changes, I’ve made long-range plans for my books. I will leave that for another blog post.

Polly Iyer is the author of six novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, and two books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games and Goddess of the Moon. A Massachusetts native, she makes her home in the beautiful Piedmont region of South Carolina. You can visit her website for more on Polly and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Free E-book Experiences with Jinx Schwartz

Thanks for hosting me today, Dani.

I'd like to share with you today my FREE day results over the past year, but first here's how I got there: Wrote some books, self-published them, got picked up by a small publishing house, then decided to go indie. Simple, huh? Not so much.

Back before Kindle Direct Publishing and Createspace, self-pubbing wasn't all that easy. Sure you ended up with a book to show off, but without good distribution and a publisher to help successfully hawk your wares (thus the split with my publisher) all you end up with is a closet full of books you lug around to book signings.

But then a miracle occurred: Kindle Direct Publishing Select, and with it a chance to get your books out there. Of course by now I had re-re-re-edited my books into what many consider a good read, so that helps. No matter how much you spend on publicity, or how much social media you ascribe to, if you don't have a well-written and edited book to offer your readers, they won't bang your drum... and that is what a writer needs: readers who love your books.

Yabbut, where do you find them? Enter (drum roll) BOOK BUB! Which brings us to the topic of the day: Do freebies work?

I know, your mother always said, "Why buy the cow when you can get the milk free?" Of course, we all know she wasn't talking about books, but you get the idea. Why, indeed, would anyone give away books? Because it works, that's why.

My last freebie, Just Add Water, first in my Hetta Coffey series (she's a sassy Texan with a snazzy yacht and she'd not afraid to use it!) was free on Amazon from August 16-18. But let me back up a year, when I first entered KDPS. During that time, I gave away approximately 60,000 books, and sold 6,000. My sales tanked over the winter when I was on my boat in Mexico without Internet (and if you don't think social media works to find new readers, quit using it for four months like I did and see what happens!).

In May I got back into marketing, and was slowly, and I do mean slowly, gaining ground, but it was the August Freebie that did the job.

August 15 Only 100 books sold for the month to date...pretty danged dismal

August 16 First Free Day, hit #1 on Amazon free list

Sold 280 other books, especially others in the series (there are five)

August 17 Still #1 Sold a bunch more books

August 18 Almost 50,000 free downloads. That means 50,000 new people now know my name!

August 22 Just Add Salt book 2 in the series hits the top 5000 in PAID on Amazon

August 29 1200 books sold since promo

Bottom line: I spent $240 on Book Bub, another $40 on other freebie promo sites, marketed the living daylights out of the freebie, and a month later my earnings are right at four thousand bucks since the promo. Not going to order a new boat on that kind of money, but what the heck. With my publisher I never sold that many books in a five-year period.

Will I do it again? You betcha. Matter of fact, my thriller, Troubled Sea is free from Sept 25-29, so grab a copy. Warning though, while Troubled Sea is about Hetta and Jenks, it is set in the future and not really part of the series. That's what happens when you write a stand-alone and then decided to back up in time and write a series based on WHEN HETTA MET JENKS.

Raised in the jungles of Haiti and Thailand, with returns to Texas in-between, Jinx Schwartz followed her father's steel-toed footsteps into the Construction and Engineering industry in hopes of building dams. Finding all the good rivers taken, she traveled the world defacing other landscapes with mega-projects in Alaska, Japan, New Zealand, Puerto Rico and Mexico.

Like the protagonist in her mystery series, Hetta Coffey, Jinx was a woman with a yacht—and she wasn't afraid to use it—when she met her husband, Mad Dog Schwartz. They opted to become cash-poor cruisers rather than continue chasing the rat, sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge, turned left, and headed for Mexico. They now divide their time between Arizona and Mexico's Sea of Cortez. Connect with Jinx at her website, Facebook, blog, and Twitter.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Sense of an Ending

At the conclusion of your exciting tale, most readers are rooting for a happily ever after ending. They want the bad guy punished, the good guy rewarded, and the lovers to be in love.

Sometimes that tidy ending just isn’t where the story should go. Should you change it to conform or end it the way you feel deep in your gut it should end? 

Some genres have specific expectations. A Romance should end happily. A Mystery should be solved. Beyond that, the resolution of your story can be a little more creative.

Every story has a central question. Will the protagonist succeed in his overall story goal?

There are multiple answers.

1) Yes. 

Dick succeeds and there is no gray area. The plot is tied up in a neat little bow and there are no unanswered questions. Dick feels good about it. This is an up ending. Readers love up endings.

2) No. 

Dick fails and feels bad about it. He fought tirelessly, but in the end couldn’t win. This is a down ending. Readers usually hate down endings.

3) Yes, but.

Dick succeeds at one thing but fails at another.

He succeeds but there are ramifications of his success that carry on into the future.

He succeeds but at a terrible cost he didn’t calculate. This is a form of up-down ending.

4) No, and further more. 

Dick not only fails, but he is further punished or must try again in a sequel.

Dick may have been going for the wrong goal and not only does he realize he is wrong, he must take on a new challenge to make it right.

Dick fails at his goal and we realize he was the bad guy all along.

5) Yes and No.

Dick thinks he has succeeded or failed in his goal but there is a twist ending and he finds the opposite is true. He can kill monster A only to find out the real monster is B. 

Dick may win the battle but cause a major war. 

Dick may succeed but hurt everyone affected.

Dick succeeds at his goal but during the final credit roll, he gets nailed by an oncoming bus. 

This is another type of up-down ending.

6) Maybe Yes/Maybe No.

The ending is left ambiguous. It is never made clear what really happened or how the story ends. The reader is left hanging. They may want to hang you. It is a risky artistic choice.

Whichever ending you choose, your story architecture must support it. The ending must grow organically from the actions and decisions leading up to it. You don’t have to make everyone happy. You just have to leave everyone satisfied.

Diana Hurwitz is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

An Interview with Children’s Writer Amanda Litz

Interviewed by Linda Lane

Amanda Litz has had a passion for storytelling for as long as she can remember. Being one of four children and having four children of her own, she knows how hard it can be for kids to find their place in the family and the world. For her, it is a dream come true to write and publish her own children’s books.

Have you always been an avid reader, Amanda?

I read whenever I get a chance between the kids, the dog, my husband, and work. However, I didn't like to read as a child, and I was 14 before I really started to enjoy reading books.

When did you begin writing?

I wrote my first book, The Traveler's Trunk: Pirate’s Treasure, in 2008 (published in 2009).

Why did you choose to write children’s books?

It’s more like children’s books chose me. The first book I wrote was based on a bedtime story I used to tell my kids. They begged me to write it down for years, so I finally did.

Do you have a goal when writing your books?

I like to think my books are both educational and fun. I try to encourage broad life lessons in my writing — acceptance of differences, autonomy, self-confidence, and teamwork. Also, my early reader series Sam and Pam Can and You Can Too! shows kids things they can do.

Have you ever created supplemental material to accompany your books?

I have a coloring and activity book that goes with my Pirate's Treasure chapter book. It doesn't help kids to read so much as it helps them to think about what they read with word searches, word scrambles, cross-word puzzles, and more.

Do you illustrate your books?

Illustrating is not a talent of mine.

How do you choose an illustrator?

I have used 3 illustrators so far. My basic criteria now is someone local who is willing to do events that support our books. I also check style. It’s important that the author and illustrator have the same vision for the book they are creating.

Are your books professionally edited?

Yes. I think it is important to get another set of eyes and perspective on my stories to give them the best chance for success. Beyond the basics of grammar and punctuation, editors help to fill in gaps in logic and story line.

Why did you choose to self-publish?

I am not a fan of the term "self-publish." I prefer the term "artisanal publishing" which “features writers who love their craft and who control every aspect of the process from beginning to end" as described by Guy Kawasaki in his book APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur. I did the research and chose the path of artisanal publishing because it was the best fit for me. In 2009 I created my publishing company, Traveler's Trunk Publishing.

Do you have any words of wisdom for those who would like to write and market children’s books?

Beyond writing, I do things to get more books in the hands of kids and get them interested in reading and writing. I do school visits, where we talk about what it is like to be an author and illustrator and do activities related to my books. I have story time and have started story writing programs to do at libraries.

I recently finished my “100 Libraries in 100 Days” crowd-funding campaign, where individuals would buy my books and choose which library (anywhere in the country) they would like to donate them to in exchange for a perk such as a print from my Sam and Pam series or an autographed book or bookmark. At the end of the campaign, we sent out 156 books to 34 libraries in 13 states.

Our next project is called “Raising Spirits with Reading.” Our goal is to raise enough funds to provide an autographed book for every child in Helen Devos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and have the authors come and read to the children and hand out the books. The date for this event is set for Saturday, November 30th. Anyone who would like to contribute to this event can donate at Raising Spirits with Reading.

Amanda Litz
, founder of Traveler's Trunk, author of The Traveler’s Trunk Series, The Great Gumshoe, and Sam and Pam series, and owner of Traveler’s Trunk Publishing, is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. She lives with her husband and four children near Grand Rapids, Michigan. You can learn more about Amanda and her books at

Monday, September 23, 2013

Grab Your Reader With the Five Senses

In any writing—non-fiction as well as fiction—try to use all five senses in telling your story. It will help to put your reader right THERE.

Those five senses are:
• Sight
• Sound
• Smell
• Taste
• Touch

Sight is probably the easiest and most commonly used of the senses. And it is great to use colors and word pictures to make us “see” a scene. Use specifics: instead of saying “colorful flowers,” use “the delphinium’s bursts of magenta and blue” OR “the show-stopping red hollyhock blossoms.”

But close your eyes and try to describe the scene with one or more of your other senses.

Smell is perhaps the strongest sense of them all and certainly evokes the deepest memories and feelings. “My first boyfriend smelled like sawdust and Necco wafers.” Or “the potent brew of flowers, cigarettes and something musty I couldn’t identify.”

Sound: How can you put the reader into this scene? Birds chirping, flowing water in a creek, the rustle of wind in the trees. What picture does this phrase evoke: “a voice like 35-year-old scotch.”

Touch: “chalk dust slick on his fingers.” Touch can also add texture to the scene with the tiny mention of a character being scratched by a bush, touching the fragile petal of a flower, caressing a silk party dress. Mood can be intensified by the choices you make.

Taste: a metallic taste in a character’s mouth might signify fear or it might give the reader a clue about something in the plot. Memories flood back with the description of fresh-baked bread, or hot cocoa on a cold night.

When I wrote about a rodeo in my book, the reader wants to know, not only what you see at this event—the crowd, the cowboys, the horses, bulls, etc., but they want to hear the cattle bawling, the horses whinnying and snorting, the cowboys yelling, the crowd cheering. The reader wants to smell the dust, the manure, the sweat, the tobacco, the leather. He/she wants to feel the nerves and the fear before the cowgirl rides, the thousand pounds of muscle and bone beneath her, the jolt of every jump, the hard leather of the saddle, etc. The reader wants to know, how does fear or nervousness taste? How does victory or failure taste? What do dust, sweat, all the smells in the air taste like?

I’ve heard the advice to use all five senses in every scene. That probably isn't practical, but including more than sight is a way to connect your reader to your story.

As an exercise, imagine that you've walked into any of the following places. Write a paragraph, a page incorporating all the senses about you what you find: Your grandmother's house, an emergency room in the hospital, the trailhead into a dense forest, the classroom on your first day of school. See if you can evoke a particular mood, such as sorrow, anger, disappointment, fear, or anticipation.

How do you use the senses in your writing?

A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in North-central Arizona. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, is based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, won the national WILLA Award. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing, and is a member of Northwest Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing and edits, blogs, and is working on the next books in her “Dare to Dream” series.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Profiling Your Villain

When you’re writing the first draft of your Fantasy novel, it’s perfectly acceptable to characterize your primary villain simply as a Nasty Piece of Work. In the next draft, however, when you’re trying to iron out all the wrinkles in the story, you may find it useful to delve into your villain’s personal background. If (as is often the case) the villain is the primum mobile of the plot, you owe it to yourself to explore what makes him1 tick.

He Has Arrived by DoodleDeMoon, Flickr

It may be helpful to bear in mind there was a time when your villain was potentially an Everyman. To discover what he was like at this stage of his existence, start with what your villain is like NOW and work backward until you arrive at the moment where, confronted by a crucial moral choice, this otherwise “ordinary” individual crossed a line and embarked on a path of no return. This reconstruction impels you to look your villain as a fully rounded character, and this knowledge can help you fortify the causal underpinnings of the plot.

Here I’d like to pick up on a comment Linda Lane made in response to my earlier article on Monsters. She offered the valuable insight that a memorable villain needs some trace element of vulnerability to humanize him. For instance, he might be haunted by the memory of some personal catastrophe which has poisoned his existence. Alternatively, he might still harbor somewhere in his benighted soul a single redeeming flicker of integrity which restrains him from committing certain acts of atrocity.

This premise works well in Fantasy fiction, not only because it renders the villain more believable, because also injects an element of mystery into the story: when Villain X has personally slaughtered everybody in a peasant village, why does he spare one infant girl? Learning the secret behind the anomaly may give the hero a weapon he can use to bring the villain to his knees in their next encounter.

My own favorite kind of Fantasy villain, however, is the one who (to quote a comment by Terry Odell) believes he’s the hero of his own story. This warped hero’s sense of purpose is often shaped by his vocation. For instance, maybe he’s a court genealogist who’s uncovered evidence suggesting that the current Empress was fathered by a non-human. Or maybe (as in the case of one my own Fantasy villains) he’s a clerical exorcist who yields to the temptation to use the demons he’s mastered to promote a political agenda.2

This kind of villain starts out with high ideals, but the goal he is seeking to achieve is undermined by the means he adopts to attain it. We see a tragic and terrible irony at work, as we watch him succumb by degrees to the insidious forces of compromise until he becomes the thing he hates.

At the end of the day, all Fantasy fiction is rooted in history. Be conscious of the fact and make it work for you.


1 Once again, to avoid padding out this article by doubling up on the pronouns, I’m going to treat the masculine forms as generic.

2 The book is Caledon of the Mists (Ace Warner, 1994). The character alluded to here is named Jedrith.

Debby Harris is an independent editor living in Scotland. Please visit her website for more information about her editing services and fees.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Playing the Review Game

Reviews. Ten people can read the same book and you can have 10 different opinions. (This happens all the time at my book club.) Writers obsess about the 'bad' ones, and rejoice in the good ones. Is it worth caring? To a degree, yes. Why?

Reviews—whether positive or not-so-great—get your book noticed. Amazon's algorithms start picking up books that have around 40 reviews (and here, it's simply quantity, not quality). Other promotional opportunities are open only to books that have a minimum number of 4 or 5 star reviews. That number is often 20 or more. It becomes a Catch 22. You can't get promoted to garner the reviews until you have the reviews. So, how do you get them?

In my indie books, I include a short paragraph after "the end" telling readers that if they enjoyed the book, a short review would be appreciated. Does it work? Maybe. It's impossible to know whether people would have left a review anyway, or if that request gave the nudge they needed to take the time to post something. I also know authors who will give away a second book if the reader writes a review of the first. There's also NetGalley, where people can choose books to review. But to get a book listed there requires a substantial monetary investment from the author or publisher.

I discovered a site called Story Cartel that claimed to be a way to encourage readers to leave reviews. There's no up front money, but their enticement to readers is, in exchange for a free download of the book, they get entered into a drawing for one of 3 $10 Amazon gift certificates, so there is an investment on the part of the author.

I decided to give this a shot to see whether I could get some more reviews for books that weren't doing so well on the "number of reviews" front. You provide the files to the company, so again, there's no outlay of money.

The first book had 50 downloads. Not bad. How many reviews? According to the company, there were 2, although they only report those who actually enter the contest, and I think I found 4 I could attribute to that site. Not a particularly good return on investment, but I believe in second chances, so I uploaded another book and tried a little more promotion. This one did much better, but again, the percentage of people who actually post a review is fairly low. In fact, the site recently updated its information to authors, indicating that the reviews tend to run at under 10% of the downloads.

It's kind of a "you can give a person a book, but you can't require they review it," situation, and as with everywhere else, there are a lot of people who see the word "free" and that's all they care about.

There is one aspect of this site that bothers me. On the author information page, they tell authors that they will receive email addresses from everyone who downloads the book. For me, increasing my newsletter mailing list was as much, if not more, of a perk than reviews. However—and this is where I disagree with them—they provide this information to people downloading books only if they dig through the privacy notice, and even then, it's not clear that authors can use the emails for mailing lists. I suggested—more than once—that they put this up front on the download page to let everyone know that their email address becomes fair game for newsletters.

One author colleague came up with what I consider an excellent workaround. She sent a special newsletter to everyone who'd downloaded her book, welcoming them and telling them why they had received the newsletter—and, of course, giving them the obligatory opportunity to opt out.

What's your take on reviews? Do you leave them for books you've read? Better yet—will you start doing it more often after reading this post? If you'd like a shot at one of my books, Finding Sarah is on sale for 99 cents at Amazon and Barnes & Noble through Sept. 15th.  Honest reviews welcome!

*Note: I'm at the Bouchercon conference, with very limited access to the Internet, so I might be slow responding to comments. Please don't let that stop you.

Terry Odell is the author of numerous romantic suspense novels, mystery novels, as well as contemporary romance short stories. Most of her books are available in both print and digital formats. She’s the author of the Blackthorne, Inc. series, steamy romantic suspense novels featuring a team of covert ops specialists, the Pine Hills Police series, set in a small Oregon town, and the Mapleton Mystery series, featuring a reluctant police chief in a small Colorado town. To see all her books, visit her website. You can also find her at her blog, Terry's Place, as well as follow her on Twitter, or visit her Facebook page.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Put Your Readers in the Mood

Blue Parasol
Image courtesy of stock.xchng
Hello, dearies! Your Style Maven is feeling especially pleased today; there was just enough rain to call for unfurling the lovely new umbrella, but not enough to cause the dreaded frizzies.

Balance in all things, you know.

Let’s look at moods today, shall we? While writing can be dark and serious or light and humorous, the word mood (or mode, in some cases) means something entirely different in the Chicago Manual of Style. Rather than feelings, a mood here refers to verbs expressing action.

First up, we have the indicative mood. The most common, this is quite simply a verb telling it like it is. These are the shoes that I bought today. In addition to stating a fact, the indicative mood can also ask a question. Are they available in leopard print?

Next, there’s everyone’s favorite, the imperative mood. Verbs disguised as divas, if you will. Don’t even think about wearing that shirt with that skirt. In addition to commands, an imperative mood can include requests (Bring me my brown pants!) or permission. Come in and see my walk-in closet.

The third mood is the subjunctive mood. This covers quite a lot of ground, and involves abstract and hypothetical concepts. If I were you, I wouldn't wear the purple and orange checked blouse. The subjunctive mood can also be used to convey demands (Her stylist insisted on that bob cut.) or wishes. If only I’d gone for the two-inch heel!

And there you have it. A mood for all occasions, and a handy cover-up excuse. “I’m not being bossy, I’m practicing my imperatives!” Well, I must dash. Leave a note describing your favorite mood, and remember: a well-turned phrase is always in style!

Photo courtesy of Darrick Bartholomew

Taking a cue from the local squirrels, the Style Maven is preparing for fall by stocking up on tasty treats and fuzzy sweaters. She spends quite a lot of her free time wondering where to put the newest shipment of books.

Monday, September 16, 2013

A Real Writer

A friend once emailed me with a question about writing. She felt overwhelmed because suddenly she had too many story ideas and didn’t know which ones to write first.  Does this happen to me, she asked, explaining that she asked me because I was a “real writer.” She’s not sure she warrants that title yet, because if she did, maybe she’d know which story should be next.

My answer to “does this happen to me?” was a resounding “yes.” Currently I have nine books in the idea stage that I want to get to – someday. Some of them are more fleshed out than others. Some I know will never actually get written, because I have a limited time to walk the earth, and more stories and book ideas keep popping in and shoving older ideas out of line. The thing about creativity is that once you open the gate to your creative self, ideas will pour through like surf-boarders riding rushing waves. 

This is a good thing, and many of those ideas are transformational and wonderful. Some of them are bland and stupid, of course, and they pour through your gate too. But you can’t do them all, so it takes practice at discernment to know which you should work on and which you should stick on a shelf somewhere. (Notice I did not say to discard them – sometimes what looks like a stupid idea will transform itself into brilliant when the time is right.) 

I have another friend (a “real writer”, by the way) who once told me her “egg chain” metaphor. Think of yourself as a hen. Your body is continually making eggs inside your egg cavity.  But you can only lay one egg at a time.  If you tried to lay all of them at once you would break your poor little laying mechanism. (Sounds really painful.)  But if you don’t lay any of your eggs, pushing hard to get them out in the world one by one, all your eggs will rot inside you. And that would be icky.

The thing about eggs, though, is that they are not the end point. The end point is a feathery little chick.  So you can lay a clutch of eggs, but you still have to nurture them by warming them, then when they hatch you have to show them how to forage for food, and only then can you let them go.  It’s a big undertaking, to be a hen writer. You will be laying some eggs, sitting on others, and polishing others into chickens once they hatch.  It’s also sad sometimes to be a hen, because not all of your eggs will hatch, and of the ones that do, not all will live through chickdom, and of those who grow up, some of them will get eaten in the prime of their youth.

All this rambling stuff about surf-boarders and gates and hens and eggs means that I don’t know how many is too many.  Sometimes you focus and make sure your egg hatches, sometimes you show a whole brood of chicks how to scratch up their dinner, and sometimes you just brood over your clutch.  I do know that you are a real writer, whether you have already written a book or short story, or are just working on them.

I am glad my friend thinks of me as a “real writer.” Sometimes I forget and have doubts too.
I think that’s part of being real.

Kim Pearson is an author, ghostwriter, and owner of Primary Sources, a writing service that helps others become authors of professional and compelling books and articles. She has authored 6 books of her own, and ghostwritten more than 40 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit

Friday, September 13, 2013

Back in the Saddle Again

Aka Back in the Computer Chair Again

Western Saddle by ScotSXC

Summer vacations are over (I say as look out on the Gulf of Mexico from a south Florida beach), the kids have gone back to school, and it’s time to get back to that unfinished book (not to imply that summertime activities aren’t work — they’re just different work).

Okay, maybe your summer didn’t go quite that way. Still, the season’s changed routine often plays havoc with a writer’s schedule — especially if that writer has children at home or grandchildren who come to visit, to say nothing of also holding down a part-time or fulltime job. For those of us who exchanged the rigors of daily writing for fun in the sun (or some variation thereof), we may find our neglected manuscripts crying out for attention. So this isn’t a complaint about disrupted writing times, but rather a discussion of how to get back in the groove.

One of the best places to start is a total reread of the manuscript. It’s amazing how many details of our own stories we forget when we’ve been AWOL for even a short time. We will likely find a surprising number of errors and shortcomings to fix that will pull us back into the writing mode and spearhead a surge of enthusiasm for our project. Unfortunately, this will not come without pitfalls. Life gets in the way. Kids need a ride to soccer practice. Preschoolers catch chickenpox from older siblings. Extracurricular activities require transportation to and from, and the list goes on.

Another good way to return to the zone involves reading someone else’s book. For me, that’s a surefire kick in the writing backside. All I have to do is start the first chapter of a favorite author’s book, and my fingers itch to get back on the keyboard and pound out my own story.

Yet a third method invokes both sight and sound, as in a great movie like Letters to Juliet. (Yes, I’m a pushover for a sweet love story, especially when it involves those of us on the downside of middle age.)

What inspires you to knuckle down when you’ve been out of the groove for a while? Do you have a little trick or two that put you back on track? If so, please share it with us.

Linda Lane writes, edits, and mentors writers who want to learn to write effectively and well. Visit her and her editing team at

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Using MetaTags

If you want readers to find your self-published work, you need to know about Metadata.

Wondering what metadata is? It’s keywords that drive searches. When someone is searching for your book, say on Google, they enter phrases or words. It could be your name or book title, but it could also be something like “sci-fi historical romance.” If you know your audience, you can determine what your meta tagwords are.

Carla King, the author of an article, “A Self-Publisher’s Guide to Metadata for Books,” takes you through providing the metadata for your book. The article, though written three years ago, is still relevant. She covers these topics:
Identifying Your Keywords
Provide Metadata for Your Book on Bowker
Metadata in Documents and Other Media
Metadata on Reseller Sites
Metadata on Social Media Sites
The Future of Metadata

It’s a very interesting article – worth reading and saving for future reference. Using metadata points readers to your book.

How many of you use metadata? Did you know you can create metadata for your Facebook “like” page? Did you know when you upload your book in Kindle format to Amazon, you have an opportunity to create metadata that point to your book? Did you know that every Word document contains metadata?

Helen Ginger
is an author, blogger, and the Coordinator of Story Circle Network's Editorial Services and writing coach. She teaches public speaking as well as writing and marketing workshops. You can follow Helen on Twitter or connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn. Helen is the author of 3 books in TSTC Publishing’s TechCareers series, Angel Sometimes, and two of her short stories can be found in the anthology, The Corner Cafe. Her next book, Dismembering the Past, is due out in 2013.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Sandwiching the Layers Part 2

We have developed forty conflict ideas and layered the first half of the story. Let’s finish the process. We left off at turning point 2. Now the hero must come up with the correct solution to the problem, the one he resisted at first: blow the meteor up.

Internal Conflict 6: Dick finds Sally packing her bags.

     Dick says, "Don’t leave. I love you. I’ve always loved you." 

     She replies, "Then why are you ruining things?" 
     Should he tell? Is it better for her to know or not know that their days are numbered?

Antagonist 7: Dick confronts Ted. 

     "You had something to do with this."

     "You’ll never prove it and in a few days it won’t matter anyway."

External 7: They are back to the drawing board - all seems lost. They enter countdown mode. 

Internal Conflict 7: Sally tells Dick that she received a call from Ted and that he said there was no reason for Dick to stay at work. That he is lying to her.

External 8: Dick comes up with a final plan. It is do or die. They will nuke the meteor. 

Antagonist 8: Ted must find a way to make certain the shuttle doesn’t take off.

Interpersonal Conflict 7: Captain Curtis appeals to his crew. Is anyone willing to go? Captain Curtis decides to go himself.

Internal Conflict 8: Dick tells Sally the truth.


External 9: They rev up the shuttle loaded with a lethal payload to intercept the meteor and, despite last minute glitches, the shuttle takes off on a suicide mission.

Antagonist 9: Ted’s attempts to prevent take-off fail.

Interpersonal Conflict 8: Ted and Jane have a show down. Jane can’t believe Ted is so evil.

Internal Conflict 9: Dick and Sally spend the evening together, knowing it may be their last.

Interpersonal Conflict 9: Bob rats on Ted.

Interpersonal Conflict 10: Jane and Bob celebrate when the shuttle succeeds. 

Antagonist 10: Ted is led off in handcuffs.


External 10: Their plan succeeds and everyone lives, except the crew of the shuttle.

Interpersonal Conflict 11: General Smith tells Dick to stay. He is too valuable an asset to retire.

Internal Conflict 10: Dick and Sally leave for the airport to go on their vacation.

The End

Now that we have a basic outline of the plot progression, we can begin our first draft. If massive changes are made along the way, it doesn’t hurt to repeat this exercise at the end. Make a list of each scene and the conflict it addresses. Does it still flow in a logical cause and effect order?

For more information on how to flesh out your conflict outline, check out Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict.

For other posts in this series, check out:

Diana Hurwitz is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Cartooning the Journey of Writing with Bitstrips

One of my favorite apps in Facebook has also become one in which I get to poke fun at some of the angst involved in the writing journey: Bitstrips. For those not on Facebook, Bitstrips also has a Website.

Bitstrips allows you to create an avatar of yourself and then place that avatar in comic strips, either alone or with friends. You can decide on the look of your avatar, from hair and smile to clothes and shoes, and you can select from a variety of situations to place your avatar.

Here I am as an avatar.

Initially, most of my strips were about life experiences and events, but then I began to poke fun at my journey as a writer, bringing along my friend and fellow writer, Makasha Dorsey. Most of the strips now focus on "accountability": Makasha checking on me and my writing (or lack thereof) and vice versa.

The strips are meant for fun, and they often receive great comments and notice from fellow writers. For me, the strips keep me writing (in some form), allow me to poke fun at the sometimes not so fun parts of the writing journey, and keep writing in the forefront of my mind.

Check out a few that I've created through the Facebook app; the lovely Makasha joins me in most of the ones below.


Shonell just found the greatest app ever: Whack-A-Writer.



Time for Makasha and Shonell to cook.


Shonell conducts a thorough Web search on the elusive writing mojo.


Shon Bacon is an author, doctoral candidate, editor, and educator. She has published both academically and creatively while also interviewing women writers on her popular blog, ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. She's the author of mysteries, Death at the Double Inkwell and its sequel, Into the Web, the short story "I Wanna Get Off Here" (in the short story collection, The Corner Cafe), and the romantic dramedy novella, Saying No to the Big O. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her Website, and you can get information about her editorial services at CLG Entertainment. Currently, Shon is busy pursuing her Ph.D. in Technical Communication and Rhetoric at Texas Tech University ... and trying to find the time to WRITE.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Top Three PR Moves Authors Should Make

This month, I'm giving the blog floor to friend, author, and public relations and business development consultant, Makasha Dorsey.

Makasha Dorsey, managing partner of the Dorsey Group, is a public relations and business development consultant with more than 15 years experience in implementing communications strategies. With a keen talent for relationship building, Makasha creates alliances with thought leaders to get her clients the exposure they need.

As a former Atlanta-based, public relations executive, Makasha wrote copy for various entertainment websites and worked on projects for LaFace Records, Coca-Cola, New York Life Insurance, and DARP Studios. Dorsey has cultivated relationships in collegiate sports, the publishing industry (books, music and film), information technology, and various media outlets. Her client roster includes award-winning singers, musicians, and producers, highly sought after public speakers and writers.


I went to Makasha about a week or so ago and posed the following question: "What are the top three PR moves, in your opinion, that authors should make to get their book noticed... and hopefully BOUGHT by readers?"

Makasha provided an excellent response that has great advice for writers.

#1 - Start with a Blank Page
Why a blank page? If you are writing for the public, then that is your audience. Every word on the pages of your book should benefit the reader in the form of entertainment, education, motivation, etc. The benefit to your reader should be a quality product, your book. If your book is good—from story to cover to suggested book club questions—then you’ve done your duty to give the reader a return on their investment.

Starting with a blank page gives you an opportunity to create a product instead of just another book. Know who you’re writing for, what they’re reading, and what motivates them to buy books. Large companies call this product development. Your audience should always be present in your mind along with your characters.

When you write a good, marketable book, it is easier to promote and garner sales. Your readers become your promoters as they recommend your book because you took the time, before one word was written, to write for them. So, it starts with a blank page.

#2 - Go to Your Readers, You are Not the Queen
So many authors set up a website and a few social network profiles and think that is what moves books. It’s not. Engaging with the public sells books. Yes, you can do this online, but relationships beget relationships.

Go to your local bookstores, book clubs, and libraries so that you become human to potential readers. Offer a workshop or chat about the subject matter in your book. You wrote about it so you must be an expert, right? Appearances will help you sell books.

Follow the local news to see if your story ties in to current events. Is your book about a war in Syria? A coming of age story about a child star who goes overboard in her quest to prove that she is a grown woman? Or, is it about an architect who designs a building that turns out to be dangerous for the local ecosystem? At some point, all of these events happened, and if your story is related, then pitch the local media so you can get in front of your readers.

#3 - Use Your Resources
Time. Talent. Money. Car. Possessions. Anything you own, or even partially own, should be used to promote your book. Spend 20 minutes a day on your social media plan. Take bookmarks and postcards with you to the doctor’s office, restaurants, and post office to give to potential readers. Use that latte money for the week on an advertisement or two. If you’ve got cute kids, have them peddle a book or two.

In other words, you have to spend money to sell books.


You can learn more about Makasha and all she does by visiting her Website,, Twitter [@makasha and @DGPRwire], and Facebook.

Makasha’s personal essay, "Diary of an Aspie Mom" is included in ReShonda Tate Billingsley’s The Motherhood Diaries, published by Strebor Books. Click the cover to learn more!


Shon Bacon is an author, doctoral candidate, editor, and educator. She has published both academically and creatively while also interviewing women writers on her popular blog, ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. She's the author of mysteries, Death at the Double Inkwell and its sequel, Into the Web, the short story "I Wanna Get Off Here" (in the short story collection, The Corner Cafe), and the romantic dramedy novella, Saying No to the Big O. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her Website, and you can get information about her editorial services at CLG Entertainment. Currently, Shon is busy pursuing her Ph.D. in Technical Communication and Rhetoric at Texas Tech University ... and trying to find the time to WRITE.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Countdown to a Book 12: A Question of Book Trailers

One side effect of having a long countdown to release is the leisure to obsess about certain aspects of the book business. One thing I debated about long and hard was whether to make a book trailer.

My first thought was an enthusiastic yes. I’d not only have a book, but a mini-movie! I became a trailer fanatic, watching still pictures float past while excerpts were read off-screen. Lines from the book materialized on screen while music played. Actors played out scenes, bits were animated, characters drawn. I started to envision the dancer in my novel moving in a way that caused a blur—

Wait. If I wanted to use a visual, why a blur? That’s when I realized I didn’t want a real woman in my book trailer. Because my novel is on the theme of body image, I had skirted physical description of my protagonist. I wanted my readers to fill in that blank with an image that worked for them.

With filming a real dancer off the table, my first thought was to make the trailer myself. I’ve known others who taught themselves how to make a book trailer, so I figured I could, too. I attended a conference session to learn how.

I was immediately cowed by the need to think visually—to storyboard, sync music with action, edit. When the teacher warned us we’d discard our first eight attempts, as we had our early stories, I recognized the steep learning curve I faced: the same effort it took me to write a novel worthy of publication. Why would I want an inferior product to represent the novel I’d labored so long on?

Conclusion: I’d have to hire someone.

After looking around, I found people who could create a rudimentary book trailer for a couple hundred dollars or a slick production for a couple thousand, and everywhere in between.

Hmm. For the ease of the math, let’s say my royalty on each trade paperback sold is one dollar. Even if I invested in the rudimentary trailer, it would have to inspire 300 sales to earn its worth. 

Hmm, again.

That’s when I realized that I had never in my life based a book purchasing decision on a book trailer. I’m your typical cover/back jacket/read a sample kind of buyer. So I conducted an informal survey among non-writers—women who attend book groups and read the same kind of accessible literary fiction I do. Each of them answered the same way: “What’s a book trailer?”

What I decided 
There’s another kind of video content that can support a novel, and that’s an author interview. It still pitches the book, still raises the questions, yet is more informal and talk-show chatty. It felt more like me. That’s what I decided to do. [BRP note: Kathryn's interview video for The Art of Falling is no longer available, but her book trailer for her next book, The Far End of Happy, can be viewed at the end of this article instead.]

I ended up relying on the expertise of others after all. Many thanks to my producer, Ray Lowengard, whose endless patience was a godsend as I fumbled my way through numerous takes. At the age of sixteen, Ray has a knowledge base born of passion-led homeschooling and access to great equipment and software that he actually knows how to use. Ada Lowengard, fourteen, tapped her background in acting to coach me to "act" conversationally. Ray and Ada are my nephew and niece. Their excitement and interest in this project, for which they sacrificed a day of vacation, made it a lot of fun.

Next: Countdown to a Book 13: Memoir, or a Novel Based on True Events?

Just catching up? Search results for this series can be found here:
Countdown to a Book

So how about you: Have you ever purchased a book based on its trailer? Or if you’ve made your own trailer, how did it go? 

Kathryn Craft is a developmental editor at, an independent manuscript evaluation and line editing service. Her women's fiction and memoir are represented by Katie Shea at the Donald Maass Literary Agency. Her monthly series, "Countdown to a Book," details the traditional publication of her debut novel, The Art of Falling, by Sourcebooks in January 2014. Connect with Kathryn at her Facebook Author Page and Twitter.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Sandwiching the Layers Part 1

We have come up with ten basic ideas for all four layers of conflict. You may find you need to add more scenes to fill in the gaps in the story. You may change your mind about elements of the plot. The point is to have a series of prompts that keeps you working through your rough draft.

You can tweak and enrich the draft during the revision layers. Things will come to you as you write that you didn’t think of before. Your characters will come alive and may change the trajectory of your story. That’s expected. What’s important is to avoid getting stuck in the muddy middle.

Let’s layer the forty scene ideas we've developed in the most logical order.

Internal Conflict 1: Dick and Sally make plans to go on a long-awaited vacation. He gets a call.

External Conflict 1: Dick learns a meteor will strike. 

Antagonist Conflict 1: Ted learns there is a meteor headed toward earth. Finally, the world can be destroyed and he doesn’t have to lift a finger. All he has to do is sit back and watch the show.

Interpersonal Conflict 1: Jane meets with Ted to declare her feelings before it is too late. He manipulates her into helping him without telling her the real reason.

Internal Conflict 2: Dick informs Sally that he isn’t retiring after all. He can’t tell her why.

Antagonist Conflict 2: Dick has come up with a plan. Ted vows to make sure it doesn’t work.

Interpersonal Conflict 2: Jane meets with Dick and gives him erroneous data.

External Conflict 2: Dick thinks of a way to stop the meteor while it is still far away. He will nudge it with a satellite. 

Interpersonal Conflict 3: General Smith argues that his satellite is too important to be used to adjust the meteor’s trajectory. It could cause more harm than good. They should blow it up.

Internal Conflict 3: Dick and Sally fight about the vacation. Looks like we have to cancel it.

Antagonist Conflict 3: Ted is denied access to the equipment. He has something on one of the ground crew, Bob, and uses that pressure to convince him to tamper with it.
     "But we’ll all die."
     "Do you want to die now or later?"

Interpersonal Conflict 4: Bob tries to tinker with the satellite, but almost gets caught by Jane.

Antagonist Conflict 4: Ted confronts Dick. "Why are you trying to stop the inevitable?"

Interpersonal Conflict 5: General Smith relents and allows the satellite to be used.

External Conflict 3: The satellite crashes into the meteor, but doesn’t change the trajectory.

Turning Point One

Internal Conflict 4: Sally gives Dick an ultimatum. 
     "I’m tired of waiting. It’s me or the job." 
      Dick replies, "If I don’t do this there won’t be any me or you."
     "What do you mean?"
     "I can’t tell you."

External Conflict 4: Dick comes up with plan to divert the meteor with a laser beam.

Antagonist Conflict 5: Dick has come up with a new plan. So Ted must get Bob to tamper with the laser beam.

External 5: They can’t get the beam close enough from the ground.

Antagonist Conflict 6: Ted calls Sally and tells her Dick and Jane are having an affair.

Internal Conflict 5: Sally accuses Dick of having an affair with Jane at work. Dick is called away.

Interpersonal Conflict 6: Captain Curtis balks at sending the laser to the space station.

External Conflict 6: They send the laser to the space station. The equipment breaks off and is lost in space.

Turning Point 2

Next time, we will complete our layering process.

For previous posts on this topic, check out:

Diana Hurwitz is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.