Writing from the Peak, PPW Blog

Producing a Novel – Part 12

Cover Design and Self Publishing

By Donna Schlachter

Cover Design

Research tells us we have less than five seconds to capture our reader’s attention, and that usually happens when they pick up our book based upon the cover. Which means that designing a great cover that fits readers’ expectations of your genre is key.

If you already have a contract with a traditional publisher, they will design the cover based on a Cover Questionnaire which you will complete, containing details on audience, genre, and story line. The designer will not read the book, so you must make certain to include any physical characteristics of your hero and heroine to be sure the designer gets the build, and the eye and hair color correct.

If you don’t have a contract yet, don’t waste your time designing a cover. A traditional publisher is unlikely to use it. However, continue reading, since this section will give you insight into how a designer will come up with the cover.

If you plan to self-publish, read on. Whether you plan to design your cover yourself or hire someone to do it for you, knowing the process will help.

First, here are some basics:
  • Our eye tends to scan in a Z pattern, beginning with the top left of the cover, to the top right, down the center to the lower left, then across to the lower right. Put important information in those key areas.
  • Choose fonts that are easy to read. It’s fine to mix and match fonts so that the keywords of the title are in one larger font, with the filler words in the same but a smaller font; the subtitle or title series in a smaller font; and the author name in a different font. Try not to use more than two fonts.
  • Imagine your perfect reader and design the cover to please them. You should already know this reader intimately, since you wrote the book for them and them alone.
Now, on to cover design specifics:
  1. Pick the best picture you can find. Don’t worry right now that it isn’t perfect. You can fix that later. Keep the genre in mind. I’ll talk more below about genre expectations.
  2. If you’re designing your own cover, buy the best software you can afford, or use a free online service, such as BookBrush or Canva. If you’re using a designer, or are publishing with a traditional publisher, they will handle most of the design process.
  3. Research books in your genre to see what the covers are like, the layout, the number of actors (usually no more than two unless the book is about a larger group such as a family). Study the fonts, the placement of title and author name, and the colors.
Genre expectations:
  • Romance: choose a script font, reminiscent of a love letter; choose colors that evoke romance, including blue, purple, red if passion is involved, turquoise and pink. Red and black are preferably used in erotica; for the image, typically the two lead love interests in either a close-contact pose (if the story is about a happily-ever) or in an oppositional pose; include elements from the story, for example, a wedding gown, cowboy boots, big city background or country setting background.
  • Cozy mystery: choose a font that emulates hand-penned font; choose coordinating colors that emulate paintings, or illustrations are popular right now; no dead bodies, blood, or half-clad characters for this genre; a scene from the book, the setting (town, rural areas); if there is a theme, such as cooking club, knitting or other craft, occupational, include an image related to that; blurred or frosted images; actor walking away from the camera or posed in the distance.
  • Thriller, Suspense, Mainstream Mystery: use a font that is bold and clean; choose colors that emulate the tone of the book such as black, red, green; often the images are dark, blurred; often the actor is in the top half and a background scene in the bottom; a cataclysmic scene from the book.
  • Fantasy: Choose an antique or gothic font; choose a vivid color palette; illustrations can focus on the main character’s special power, supernatural ability, or personal quirk; if magic is included, visualize it on the cover.
  • Mixed genre: incorporate colors and elements of both genres, with more from the primary genre. For example, if the genre is fantasy romance, choose an antique or gothic font for the title with script font for author name; include the lead characters but they could be separated by a fantasy element, such as a cauldron, if that’s in the story.

Should I Self-Publish?

Your book is written, polished, and edited, and you want to see your book on store bookshelves, but you don’t have a publisher. Do you spend time looking for one now? Or do you want to get this book out to the masses so you can move on with the next project?

Here are some questions you can ask—and answer:
  • Do you want to see your book in brick-and-mortar bookstores across the county? Most self-published books sell online as print or eBook, although it is possible to work through a book distributor.
  • Do you want to be on bestseller lists? You will need a traditional publisher’s media clout behind you, most likely. Not impossible with self-published, but it will take more work.
  • Is your reader niche large and general (but not too general) or is it specific and smaller? Traditional publishers are less likely to publish niche books that reach smaller audiences, so self-publishing is often the best route, particularly if you plan to reach your audience through in-person events, such as speaking.
  • How much work do you want to do? If you think writing the book and getting it ready for publication is difficult, marketing and promotion is about ten times worse for most authors. While the marketing budgets of many traditional publishers is relegated to their top-selling authors, they usually set aside a few dollars to promote your book. In self-publishing, you are your book’s best marketer.
  • How soon do you want to release your book? Traditional publishing generally takes 12 to 24 months from signing the contract to publication. If you have written a time-sensitive book, such as a political, medical, or social event, or perhaps one about the anniversary of a particular historical event, self-publishing is your best route. If you’ve written a book in a hot current genre, you might want to self-publish now to catch the wave of sales in that genre.
  • How much control do you want over your book? Cover design and distribution in a traditionally-published book rests almost entirely with the publisher. You retain more control when you self-publish, but you will do all the work.

The good news is that self-publishing doesn’t mean that’s the end of your traditional publishing opportunities. In fact, several decently selling self-published books tells a traditional publisher that you can complete a project and that you understand book marketing and promotion. Being a hybrid author—one who self-publishes and traditionally publishes—doesn’t mean you’re compromising. As you can see from the above questions, WHY we write a book is as important as WHAT we write.

Whichever path you choose, determine to follow it to its end. Keep working on the next project—always! And don’t try to cram your book into a publishing process because you need the validation of a traditional publisher or you don’t want to write the best book you can—readers need what you write. The myth that self-published books weren’t good enough for a traditional publisher simply isn’t true any longer—in most cases. So make your book the best it can be, then honestly consider your audience, your motivation, and your ability and resources.

Resources:

Fiction Book Cover Design: The Definitive Guide
3 Foolproof strategies for designing fiction book covers that work for any genre
Should You Self-Publish Your Book? 5 Essential Questions to Help You Decide
Should You Self-Publish or Traditionally Publish?

Editor’s Note: This is the final installment of Donna’s fantastic series, Producing a Novel. If you would like to read previous installments click on one of the links below:
Generating—and Testing—Ideas for Fiction and Non-Fiction Books – Part 1
Genre and Markets – Part 2
Building Believable Characters – Part 3
Character Sketches and Backstory – Part 4
Hooking Your Readers – Part 5
Character and Story Arc – Part 6
Outlining Your Book – Part 7
Overcoming the Muddle Middle – Part 8
Racing to the Finish – Part 9
Writing a Series – Part 10
Self-Editing – Part 11
Cover Design and Self-Publishing – Part 12


Donna Schlachter lives in Denver with husband Patrick. As a hybrid author, she writes historical suspense under her own name, and contemporary suspense under her alter ego of Leeann Betts, and has been published more than 30 times in novellas, full-length novels, and non-fiction books. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Writers on the Rock, Sisters In Crime, Pikes Peak Writers, and Christian Authors Network; facilitates a critique group; and teaches writing classes online and in person. Donna also ghostwrites, edits, and judges in writing contests. She loves history and research, and travels extensively for both. Donna is represented by Terrie Wolf of AKA Literary Management. You can find her at www.HiStoryThrutheAges.com

Anthologies – What, Why, How?

By: Kathie Scrimgeour

With PPW’s new anthology, FRESH STARTS, publishing today it seemed appropriate to talk a little about anthologies. Back in August I wrote a post, Submitting to an Anthology in 5 Easy Steps. Today I will answer a few questions you might be thinking about. What exactly is an Anthology? Why write for one? How do you find an anthology to submit to?

What is an Anthology?

Simply put, it is a book that brings together a series of short stories, poems, and/or essays written by different authors. Usually there is a theme that all the authors write to. For FRESH STARTS the theme is the same as the title, with the added theme statement:

After the fires are out, the smoke has cleared, the divorce is over, the widow has stopped wearing black, the sun has risen, the monsters are dead, the world is saved (or destroyed!), the storm has calmed, and the trouble is over…

…what do you do next?

We can’t promise only happy endings. Just that moment when you pick yourself up out of the wreckage and find the strength to begin anew.

Is an anthology the same as a collection? No. A collection is a book that the contents are written by the same author, whereas an anthology’s stories are by different authors.

Why submit to an Anthology?

Even if you’re a novelist, you should consider writing for an anthology. Creating a short story will help you tighten your writing. You will learn how to condense descriptions the size of the Sistine Chapel down to a masterpiece the size of a thumb tack. It will still make your reader’s heart flutter, but with fewer words.

Maybe you want to try out an idea you have for an epic novel, but you aren’t sure if the subject will keep your reader engaged (or keep you writing). Start with a short story and shop it around to see what response you get. If it falls flat, then you might reconsider writing a three-book project.

An anthology also gives you a way to test out a genre you have never written in before. Writing outside your normal genre may spark inspiration in unexpected ways.

One last reason to submit to an anthology is to expand your resume. For most writers, books take a long time to write, but a short story…? With practice it can be created in a short period of time. Each publication in an anthology is another notch on your writing resume.

How do you find an anthology to submit to?

Well, PPW just so happens to be one resource. Plans have already started for the next anthology which should publish in March of 2022. The theme and details are being worked on and you can check the website for up-to-date information.

In the meantime, there are several ways to discover anthologies that are accepting submissions. One, is a search on your favorite online outlet using the keyword, “anthology”. Make notes of the publishers that pop up and check out their websites for information.

Doing a search like that is a little arduous so you might consider opting for a subscription to a listing service such as DuoTrope or Submission Grinder.

I did a broad search on DuoTrope for “anthology” and here is a screen shot of the results:

As you can see, there are a lot of anthologies to submit to (173 to be exact). DuoTrope does have a free trial that you can take advantage of if you want to take it for a test run.

Submission Grinder is a little cumbersome to use. Searches here are limited to names, titles, fiction, and poetry. Here is a screen shot of the search I did under the fiction option which took me to a menu to drill down my search. Anthology was not an option.

But, the landing page does list the names of publishers and what they are looking for whether it’s flash fiction, short stories, poetry, or essays.

Even if you never submit to an anthology, you will gain writing skills. Find a fun theme then write to it. You never know, you may end up opening your mind to things you never dreamed of.


KJ Scrim, Profile Image

Kathie Scrimgeour writes under the pseudonym KJ Scrim. She is a graduate of the University of Colorado at Boulder. In addition to serving on the Board of Directors with PPW, she is also the Managing Editor of Writing from the Peak (PPW’s blog) and the Lead Coordinator of PPW’s first anthology, Fresh Starts. Her inspiration for blogging, flash fiction, short stories, and the long haul of novel writing comes from her many life experiences. You can follow her on her website, and on Facebook. When she’s not writing you can find her somewhere in Colorado walking, hiking, or rock climbing.  


P.S. Have you heard? PPW’s first anthology is here!
Fresh Starts is now on sale!

Now available on Amazon.
Pre-orders accepted on KOBOBarnes & Noble, and Apple Books (sales on these channels begin 4-9-21).

Clubhouse – Everything you need to know for now

By: Jenny Kate

Clubhouse is the hottest social media outlet on the internet right now.
But how familiar with it are you? Is it right for authors? What can the book industry get out of it?

Let’s dig in.

What is Clubhouse?

It’s the social media outlet all haters of live video have been waiting for!
It’s basically a conference call without video. Like having your own TedTalk with a bunch of people. You can listen in to any open room on the platform.
You don’t have to speak if you don’t want to. Or you can host your own room and have a conversation about a topic of interest.

Clubhouse is new

First, a little background. It’s only been around since the spring of 2020. So if you haven’t heard of it, don’t despair. It’s super new. And my guess is you had other things on your mind back then than worrying about a new social outlet. But there is nothing like it out there and I’m super excited about it.

Poll after poll shows people like to listen. Whether it’s to audiobooks, podcasts or the radio, listening while working out, driving, gardening, cleaning, working has shown to be extremely effective as a marketing tool.

How Clubhouse works

Right now it’s in beta and only on iOS so Android users have to wait until late 2021 at the earliest. Without an invitation from an existing user, you’re on the outside looking in. So, if you’re an iPhone user it is easy to create your account. Once you receive your invitation, just go through the steps. If you want to find out if any of your contacts are on Clubhouse, you can search via phone number. If you want to invite others, the platform gives you two invites. You’ll need to input their phone number and Clubhouse will send them a text. (Of course get their permission first). 

I got mine through a colleague who posted about it on Facebook.

A really great workaround came from Tiffany Lee Bymaster on Amy Porterfield’s Online Marketing Made Easy podcast where she suggested finding an old iPhone, connecting to wifi, download the app, get an invite and explore. It’s a great idea! I borrowed a friend’s old iPhone since we’re Samsung users.

What can authors get out of it?

For now, I see two ways authors can use Clubhouse.

  1. Authors can listen to great conversations for research. The exposure to experts and celebrities is unreal. Take advantage of that.
  2. Name recognition through speaking will be way easier than on other social outlets. You can add to conversations or host your own. Either way, participation will have a tremendous payoff down the road.

I think Clubhouse has really filled a hole in the social media market. So many people don’t do live video because it’s intimidating or just not fun. Speaking where no one can see you gives you a lot of freedom to connect without worrying about the extras (lighting, being camera ready, location, etc..).

This is one of the reasons I like podcasting over video. I can just talk to people without a lot of technical know-how and external prep. So for now, I’m doing a lot of listening and will continue to explore how this platform will be a game changer for authors.


Jenny Kate

Jenny Kate is the founder of Writer Nation, an online space dedicated to helping writers market their work. With 19 years communications experience, she regularly writes on social media, internet marketing and face-to-face publicity. You can find her on her WebsiteFacebook, and  Instagram


Cover, Fresh Starts

FRESH STARTS, Pikes Peak Writers first anthology will be released April 9th.
From more information, visit our webpage.

Surgery for Your Manuscript

By: Terry Odell

Whether you’re traditionally published, indie published, or working on getting published, you want to present the best possible reading experience. I edit as I go, with much appreciated feedback from critique partners, but even so, when I hit “The End,” it signals the beginning of the real editing process. It’s highly unlikely the manuscript is ready to turn in at this point.

A tip: You want to fool your brain, because you’ve been looking at the manuscript on screen for months. Print a hard copy. You’ll be amazed at how much more you “see.” Also, use a different font. If you’ve been working in a serif font, like TNR, use a non-serif font. In fact, this is a great place for Comic Sans. I also print it in two columns, which totally changes the line length, and the words line up differently. More glitches will be visible.

Start with Major Surgery

So, you have your manuscript ready to go. First: the major surgery. This is a read-through with one big question in mind: Does it advance the plot?

Often, the answer is no. I’m not a plotter, so my characters lead the way much of the time, and sometimes they insist on a scene that’s brilliantly written, but doesn’t help the story. Or a plot thread that turns out to be unnecessary.

Cut the threads, then, right? Or the scenes. Trouble is, threads don’t exist in nice, tidy packages. There are other things to watch out for. Did you foreshadow that scene or thread? Did you follow up? Make a reference, even in passing. Those have to go. Then, you have to go back and deal with transitions. Consider this phase reconstructive surgery.

It’s more than likely the scene before the one you cut led into it. That will have to be adjusted. Likewise the one after it. If you ended the scene with a page-turning cliff hanger, that cliffhanger now sends readers into an abyss with no bottom.

Same goes for any shorter bits you’ve cut. Watch what happens right before and right after, and smooth out the edges.

One tip for dealing with these spackling jobs is to note key words from your threads and search for them. It might be the name of the character, or some specific scene detail, like what they ate for dinner, or what they were wearing.

An example: After deleting a thread, there was a subsequent reference that included a trigger for a reaction from my hero, and I needed that reaction. But the conversation was no longer viable, and when I cut it, there went my trigger.

I went back quite a few chapters, and found another conversation that had shown a much milder reaction from my hero. By snipping it from that scene and including it, with the requisite modifications, I was able to salvage the trigger I needed, plus the reaction.

Don’t Leave any Instruments Behind

Once you’ve dealt with the big things, and have checked to be sure you didn’t leave any instruments or sponges in the body after performing the surgery, it’s time for minor surgery. Your story might be finished, but you need to deal with the inevitable excesses. Words that don’t add anything to the story. In fact, they might add distance, keeping a layer you don’t want between your readers and the characters. Or, there might be awkward bits.

How do you deal with these?

You probably have your list of crutch words and filler words. Words that are the written equivalent of throat-clearing, or the ums in spoken conversation. Word lets you search for those. However, there are the inevitable words or phrases I’m not aware of, and new ones crop up in every book. I use a program called SmartEdit, and highly recommend it. The cost is nominal (I get nothing from the company—I just like the product)—and I think there’s also a free version. This program does not check for grammar, which is hard to do for genre fiction anyway. Also, grammar is not a problem for me. The minor errors I make, my editor catches.

What kinds of things does a pass through the SmartEdit program flag?

  • An Adverb Usage list
  • Repeated Phrases list
  • Repeated Words List
  • Possible Misused Words List
  • Foreign Phrases List
  • Profanity/Swear Word List
  • A Sentence Length Graph
  • Dialogue Tags (this doesn’t work as I expected it to, so I don’t use it.)
  • Proper Nouns list (This is more of an “anything that begins with a capital letter” list, but it’s helpful in catching a name you thought you’d deleted, or two spellings of the same name. In my Mapleton books, there’s always at least one place where I spell my protagonist’s name Helper instead of Hepler.
  • Sentence Start List
  • Suspect Punctuation List.

Going through all of these is tedious, to be sure, but as you work through them, you’ll see places where your can tighten your writing, so there’s an extra bonus.

Microsurgery

At this point, I’m comfortable sending the manuscript to my editor, but there’s one last step. Microsurgery in the form of listening to the manuscript. I do this after I’m done dealing with my editor’s feedback, because it’s another tedious process, and I’d rather listen to the “finished” product. Like it or not, there will still be clunkers and minor typos.

There are those who suggest reading the manuscript aloud yourself, but your brain still knows what’s supposed to be there, and you’ll miss things. I use Word’s “Read Aloud” function (it comes with Office 365. If you don’t have that version, there’s “Read Selected Text” which does almost the same thing.) There have been a lot of improvements in the voices, but it’s still going to be a computer. The plus side is that a computer reads exactly what you’ve written. There are pronunciation issues, but I find those make sure I’m paying attention. You’ll hear ‘clunkers’ as well as actual mistakes.

Here are a couple of examples of errors nobody caught.

She drove the up the dirt lane. A beam of sunlight shone through a break in the gray winter sky, reflecting off a sprawling white two-story house, as if to say, This is your light in the darkness.

Did you catch the mistake?

Or, a potentially embarrassing one: A line was supposed to say “Come in here” but as written, it was “Come in her.” That made the extra listening step worth it!


Terry Odell, Author

Terry Odell is the author of over thirty novels, novellas, and short stories. She writes both mysteries and romantic suspense, but calls them all “Mysteries With Relationships.” Terry’s books have won awards including the Silver Falchion, the International Digital Awards, and the HOLT Medallion. A Los Angeles native, she moved to Florida for far too long, and is now enjoying life in the Colorado Rockies. Learn more on her website, or find her on Facebook page.


Cover, Fresh Starts

FRESH STARTS, Pikes Peak Writers first anthology will be released April 9th.
From more information, visit our webpage.

Producing a Novel – Part 11

Self-Editing

By Donna Schlachter

Okay, you’re getting close to the end of writing your book. You’ve checked the character arcs, the plot lines, sub-plots are all concluded, satisfying ending. Time to type THE END and send it off to your agent or one of the dozens of publishing houses languishing for want of your book, right?

Wrong!

Now it’s time to edit your book until the prose shines. Until you make your word count squeak because you’ve tightened the writing so much.

There are several ways to approach this stage, but I will suggest the steps I usually take, and I’ll toss in a couple of options for you, as well.

The Process

Regardless how much editing you might already have done while writing the book, the following steps are critical to the success of your book. Having already spent hundreds or thousands of hours getting the book written, you don’t want to skip any important steps. If you do them in the order laid out below, you won’t waste time because getting the steps out of order will duplicate the work.

  1. If you haven’t already, you should put as much of the book as possible through your critique group. Everybody should have a critique group. Online or in person, it doesn’t matter. And once you receive feedback, incorporate it appropriately. Each member of your group should have their own particular skills. A grammar queen, a sentence structure guru, a big picture boss, and a story expert should comprise the basis of your group. So for example, if your big picture boss says to put a comma here, but your grammar queen says no, listen to the one who knows the grammar and punctuation best.
  2. Use an online tool such as Grammarly or ProWriting Aid. Don’t use this tool instead of a critique group. Use it after the critique group. Listen to what the program tells you, but choose wisely. In particular, use the Grammar & Style, Echoes, and Overused Words functions. Check the readability and strive to get your book to fall into the parameters listed. For example, if the program says your Readability is difficult to read, check out the Stats to find out why. Or if the program says your Passive Index is 45, and the target is up to 25, listen to them.
  3. If you have beta readers, send it to them now. These could be folks you’re related to, or friends, or strangers who offer to read your book for free when you ask for help. If you have a launch team, this could be them. When they send you feedback, listen to them and incorporate their suggestions.
  4. Print your book out in the format in which it most likely will be published. If you expect it to be a 6X9, or a 5X7, or a mass market size like 4.75X7, set the margins and print the book. I know, it will be a lot of pages. Still a great investment. Then read the book as if you were a reader. Mark any changes you want to make in red. Move paragraphs around inside the document with arrows and notes. You will sometimes see things on the page when it’s printed this way that you wouldn’t see otherwise, such as if every paragraph on a page or in a scene begins with “she”. Then make your changes to your digital document.
  5. Print the book out again, this time with regular margins on regular paper, single spaced. Find a quiet spot, and read it out loud. No, mouthing the words doesn’t count. Out loud. Mark where you stumble over words, where there are echoes—when you use the same word more than once in a paragraph, such as vehicle, book, hospital, tree, gun. Look for places where you can change the wording to eliminate the echo, such as identifying the kind of tree, vehicle, or gun. Make those changes to the digital version.

Things to Watch For While You Edit

  1. Pet words. We all have them. I tend to overuse: just, nearly, managed, begin(ning), start(ing), try(ing)
  2. Overused phrases: be able to; be going to; barely managed to; in fact; goes without saying;
  3. Redundant phrases: shrugged his shoulders; nodded his head; sat down — cut the underlined words

Make sure you have:

  1. Lots of body language – switch out dialogue tags (he said, she pouted, he whispered, she hissed) with action.

For example:
“Where are you going?” he whispered. “And can I come along?”
A better way to say it:
“Where are you going?” He gripped my sleeve. “And can I come along?” 

We can see the desperation or the boldness in the clutching at the sleeve.

  1. Highlight tension between and within characters through internal dialogue, particularly when what the character is thinking is opposed to what they say.

For example:
Jane twirled around the living room. “Don’t you just love this dress?”
Orange always did make her look fat. Paul gritted his teeth. “Lovely.”

  1. Tension on every page. Doesn’t matter what kind: physical, mental, relational, spiritual, internal, external (like with the elements or nature). Doesn’t have to be life-threatening, but make it important enough for the reader to ask, “Ooh, what’s going to happen next?” Tension keeps the reader reading. You can identify weak areas by underlining tension in red then going back and looking for places where there is no red ink.
  2. Make sure every scene and chapter starts by anchoring the reader in the character’s Point of view, and the time and place. Avoid going backward in time in the story. Keep the story moving forward.
  3. End every scene and chapter with a question, a problem, a danger, or a twist. Something that makes the reader want to keep reading to find the answer, solution, rescue, or explanation.
  4. Foreshadow what’s happened in the past and how it affects the character, and also suggest how it will have an impact on choices the character will make when pushed into a corner or out on a limb. Do this as if you’re sprinkling cinnamon on your oatmeal, a little at a time.

What’s Next?

Depending on many factors, you might want to hire an editor for a final set of eyes on your work. If several of your critique group or beta readers mentioned the same issues, such as not liking your main character, not believing your premise, not understanding why a character did or didn’t choose a certain action, then you might choose to hire a developmental editor to look at the story as a whole and make suggestions about structure, premise, plot, or characters.

If you find yourself asking yourself questions as you work through the above process, like, “does a comma really go there?” or “how should I format this paragraph”, you might choose to hire a copy editor or a proofreader.

In reality, there are as many kinds of editors as there are problems with manuscripts, each with their own price tag and level of expertise attached. Ask your friends for recommendations, or your agent. Just remember: a reputable agent or publisher will never charge you to edit your work. NEVER.

If you have any questions, while I don’t pretend to know all the answers, feel free to email me at donna@historythrutheages.com

Looking forward to seeing your book in a bookstore soon!

Resources:
Below I’ve included several websites and resources you might also find helpful. Many of these articles have a plethora of other useful articles on writing, and some include free downloads, newsletters, and blogs you can follow:
How to Edit Your Own Work
How to edit a Book
The Ultimate Guide to Editing Your Manuscript
10 Self-Editing Tips
How to Self-Edit a Book With Specific Strategies for Success
Self-Editing Your Manuscript
Self-Editing Basics: 10 Simple Ways to Edit Your Own Book
Self-Editing Explained
Top 10 Golden Rules of Self-Editing
Mastering the 3 Stages of Manuscript Editing

Editor’s Note: This is the eleventh installment in Donna Schlachter’s fantastic series, Producing a Novel. If you would like to read more in this series click on the links below:
Generating—and Testing—Ideas for Fiction and Non-Fiction Books – Part 1
Genre and Markets – Part 2
Building Believable Characters – Part 3
Character Sketches and Backstory – Part 4
Hooking Your Readers – Part 5
Character and Story Arc – Part 6
Outlining Your Book – Part 7
Overcoming the Muddle Middle – Part 8
Racing to the Finish – Part 9
Writing a Series – Part 10
Self-Editing – Part 11
Cover Design and Self-Publishing – Part 12


Donna Schlachter

Donna Schlachter lives in Denver with husband Patrick. As a hybrid author, she writes historical suspense under her own name, and contemporary suspense under her alter ego of Leeann Betts, and has been published more than 30 times in novellas, full-length novels, and non-fiction books. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Writers on the Rock, Sisters In Crime, Pikes Peak Writers, and Christian Authors Network; facilitates a critique group; and teaches writing classes online and in person. Donna also ghostwrites, edits, and judges in writing contests. She loves history and research, and travels extensively for both. Donna is represented by Terrie Wolf of AKA Literary Management. You can find her at www.HiStoryThrutheAges.com

9 Newsletters for Writers

By: Jenny Kate

There are so many reader newsletters out there that it is hard to keep up with.

I know you keep asking yourself: where is the best place for my money?

Hopefully, this will help.

Book promotion newsletters or eblasts are basically an email readers opt into that tells them what new books are available in their favorite genres. Those emails are sometimes advertising sales or free books or just new releases. It just depends on what the newsletter offers.

There seem to be a gazillion newsletters out there that promote books for authors but the 9 below are probably the best. Authors have found great success with some of these and terrible success with others.

The best advice I’ve got is to try them out and see what works for you.

I didn’t include BookBub because it warrants its own blog post and you can find it here. 

1- Freebooksy

  • For free books only
  • 400,000+ readers across several genres
  • Thrillers and mystery genres have the most subscribers with romantic suspense close on their heels

2-  Bargain Booksy

  • A discounted ebook of at least 100 pages at $3.99 or below
  • No minimum review requirements for standard ads
  • At least 20 4-star reviews on Amazon for Deal of the Day features
  • 294,000 subscribers across several genres

3- NewInBooks

  • New books released in the past 120 days
  • At least 100 pages
  • Advertised across all Written Word Media Brands
  • 80,000 readers across several genres
  • Includes an author interview on their website

4- Red Feather Romance

  • Books with at least a 3.5-star rating on Amazon
  • Be more than 50 pages in length
  • 120,000 readers of steamy contemporary romance

5- Reading Stacks

  • Promotes Kindle Unlimited or audiobooks
  • Books with at least 20 reviews and an average 4-star rating

6- Ereader News Today (ENT)

 ENT started in 2010 and their goal is to advertise free or discounted books to readers. They don’t have nearly the reach as Bookbub with only about 200,000 subscribers, but exposure is exposure. Their deals are much cheaper than a Featured Deal on BookBub, so for that reason alone is worth considering. You might gain a few new readers with ENT. For approval, they recommend reviews and a high-quality book – professional book cover and edit. ENT has two options available to you.

 Book of the Day sponsorship

  • Posted to 475,000 Facebook fans
  • Emailed to 200,000 email subscribers
  • Most prevalent demographics of its fans are women between 35 and 55

Bargain or Free Book

  • Book must be at least 125 pages
  • Must be available on Amazon
  • Must be free or on sale

 7- Robin Reads

 Just like with ENT, Robin Reads is a newsletter for readers looking for a deal.  They have almost 200,000 subscribers as well.

  • The book must be free or $0.99.
  • Mystery is its largest subscriber list with over 130,000 readers.
  • Romance comes in at a super close second.
  • Things that will help you get listed: good reviews and a high-quality book with a professional cover and edit.

 8- The Fussy Librarian

  • Fussy Librarian produces two daily newsletters: the Most Bargain Ebook Newsletter and the Free Ebook Newsletter.
  • The Most Bargain list has 120,000 subscribers.
  • The Free Newsletter has 200,000 subscribers.
  • These prices are way cheaper than the others, but the lists are smaller.
  • For example, Contemporary Romance has about 80,000. Regardless that’s still 80,000 readers who like your genre.
  • If you advertise with the free newsletter, you’ll reach an additional 120,000 but they may or may not read your genre.

9- BookGorilla

This is another discounted newsletter service, but it has slightly more subscribers at 350,000.

  • Not surprisingly Mystery and Thriller are its top genres.
  • The outlet requires the book be less than $3.99, and according to the site, books in the $1.99 or less range do better.
  • It should also have more than five reviews on Kindle with an average 4-star rating.
  • You can pay for a Starred Title but it’s not a huge jump from what you’ll already receive.
  • BookGorilla reports 88% of its subscribers opt to receive 25 or more book recommendations a day.

 Keep watching the author groups to see which ones folks are having the best luck with. Always check out the site for their most up-to-date submission requirements and prices, but more importantly, look at their subscriber rates. Ask around to see how effective they are.

If you want to join us for the most up-to-date marketing and publishing advice and news, Writer Nation FB Group is open to all PPW members. You will find a great group of writers to help you with your writing, marketing and publishing.  Click here to join us! (Please remember to answer the security questions.)


Jennifer Lovett

Jenny Kate is the founder of Writer Nation, an online space dedicated to helping writers market their work. With 19 years communications experience, she regularly writes on social media, internet marketing and face-to-face publicity. You can find her on her WebsiteFacebook, and  Instagram

What’s in a Name?

Tips for Naming Characters

By: Terry Odell

Naming characters has always been a challenge for me. It seems my creativity comes to a screeching halt when I have to find a name for a character. One of my writing friends keeps a name bank, adding names she finds interesting while watching television. Maybe I should do that.

I tend to hit the Google Machine. “Male (or female) Names Starting with …” is a frequent search. Another thing to add to that search is the year that character was born. Name trends change with time. (I had a shocking realization when seeking a name for a character in a recent book, but I digress.)

Moving forward.

Pitfalls to avoid

You have names for your characters. But there are pitfalls to avoid so you don’t confuse your readers.

Names have to “match” the characters to some extent. For me, it’s a loose match. When I am stuck for names, and Google hasn’t given me anything I like, I go to my Facebook page and ask for suggestions. Some people ask me what the character’s background is. Honestly, our country is so much of a melting pot that names often don’t match one’s ethnicity, and it’s often a stereotype to try to give them “appropriate” names. I recall my daughter, when she was in school, asking if her friend Kiesha could come visit. What’s your first visual? Probably not the blue-eyed blonde who showed up. But if I want an ethnic name, I just add that to my Google search.

Another tip I picked up at a workshop was the reminder that the characters should sound like their parents named them, not you.

Keep each name unique.

Major warning: Names shouldn’t be too similar to other characters in the book. This mean no Jane and Jake, or Mick and Mack, or Michael and Michelle—and that includes nicknames. If everyone calls Michael Mike, and there’s another character named Norman, but Norman’s last name is MacDonald and everyone calls him Mac, then you’re setting things up for reader confusion. I recently read a book where the author had fixated on the letter B for character names, and these were major players, not bit parts. I don’t think I ever got them straight.

Many readers see the first few letters of a character’s name and connect it to whatever image they’ve created for that character. Your character might be named Anastasia, but the reader might be thinking “The blonde woman with the A name.”

Keep track of your characters names.

So, how do you keep track so you don’t confuse or frustrate your readers?

The late Jeremiah Healy prefaced one of his workshops—on a totally different subject—with a very vocal complaint about character names in books. He said, “How hard is it to take a sheet of paper, write the alphabet in two columns, and then put first names in one, last names in the other?”

Now that we’re using computers, instead of a sheet of paper, I use a simple Excel spreadsheet. When I name a character, I fill in a blank field in the appropriate line. This lets me see at a glance when I start to fixate on a letter. I hadn’t been to Healy’s workshop when I wrote What’s in a Name? but when rights reverted to me, I used the spreadsheet and was shocked at what I’d discovered. THREE characters named Hank? Okay, only two, but the third was Henry “but you can call me Hank.”

In addition to making minor revisions to the text, you can be sure I updated the character names. Here’s the “after” spreadsheet.

Unfamiliar names

Other considerations. Foreign names might be realistic, but what if a reader is unfamiliar with the name, or its pronunciation? One of my critique partners wrote a book with a family of Irish descent, and she’s calling one of the characters Siobhan. (If I were naming a character Siobhan, the first thing I’d do would be to set up an auto correct, because I’d probably spell it wrong more often than not.) But typing it right is the author’s problem, not the reader’s. Do you know how to pronounce Siobhan? (shi-VAWN) If the author tells you, when you see the word do you “hear it” or is it strictly a visual?

Pronunciation

On that note, in another book by a popular thriller author, there’s a character named Venice. The author makes a point the first time the character appears, that it’s pronounced Ven-EE-chay. Do I think of that as I read? Quite honestly, my brain says “it’s NOT Venice”, but I don’t run it through my head as Ven-EE-chay. If anything it slows me down a bit because I’ve got that ‘seeing’ versus ‘hearing’ thing going. I know what I’m seeing/hearing is “wrong”, but I don’t remember what the right pronunciation is.

What does it sound like?

And then, there’s a whole new set of problems. Audiobooks. When I started to put my books into audio, I had to focus on what things sound like as well as look like. In my book, What’s in a Name, the heroine’s ex-husband’s name is Seth. Her sister’s name is Bethany. They don’t look very similar on the page, but when spoken, I’m concerned that they’ll sound too much alike, especially if they’re in the same sentence. Or even paragraph. I don’t want my narrator stumbling (or calling them both Sethany).

I hope my simple tracking chart system might help some of you avoid problems with character names.


Terry Odell

Terry Odell is the author of over thirty novels, novellas, and short stories. She writes both mysteries and romantic suspense, but calls them all “Mysteries With Relationships.” Terry’s books have won awards including the Silver Falchion, the International Digital Awards, and the HOLT Medallion. A Los Angeles native, she moved to Florida for far too long, and is now enjoying life in the Colorado Rockies. Learn more on her website, or find her on Facebook page.






Further Reading:
What’s in a Name? By: Robin Windmar
By Any Other Name By: Darby Karchut

Can You Spare a Few Minutes?

By: Margena Holmes

When I decided to write this blog I thought, “How can I—a person who doesn’t manage her time very well—write this?” Well, like a true writer, I researched!

Writing—any kind of writing—takes up a lot of time with planning, writing, or editing. Some people have oodles of time to get their writing done, while others have to eke it out in small increments each day in between jobs, school, kids, exercise, or whatever else is going on in their lives. A lot of these authors are pretty prolific, too.

What do other authors do?

Since I’m one of those writers who gets distracted at the drop of a…squirrel! Oh, sorry…I asked other authors how they managed to find time to write with their busy schedules.

Jeannie Fredrick, author of Abruptly Alone, found twenty minutes here and there to work on her book. She was patient and determined and even though it took her four years, she got it written.

Leslie Heath, author of the Nivaka Chronicles series and other fantasy books, was a busy ER nurse when she wrote most of her books. She told me she reserves an hour each day and made that time sacred—no interruptions.

When I sit down to write, if everyone is home, I put up a sign by my desk so I’m not disturbed. I’ve done that since my kids were little, and now with a grandson, he understands that when Grandma’s sign is up, I’m not to be disturbed (though I will accept quiet hugs).

Ooh, shiny!

If you have trouble staying focused, the Pomodoro Technique might work for you for managing your writing time. What is that? The Pomodoro Technique is where you break up writing time by setting a timer for 25 minutes. At the end of that time, you take a five minute break. After 4 Pomodoros, you take a longer 15-30 minute break. This is especially helpful if you tend to lose your focus after only a few minutes. This method could work for any project or chore you have to do.

Time Suckage

Social media is a big time suck. One can spend hours just scrolling through looking at all the cat and Bernie Sanders memes. If you’re like me, you have a few writers groups you participate in, so banning yourself from social media isn’t an option. One thing I learned recently from Inkers Mini Con was to track all your time for one week, writing down everything you do in one day for the week, no matter how small. You’d be surprised how much time is wasted on social media and other non-essential activities.

Plan Your Day

Another way to stay on track is to plan out your day, either on paper or on your phone with a to-do list. As you complete a task, check it off. Treat your writing time as you would everything else on your list. Just because it’s “writing time” doesn’t mean it’s any less important than doing the laundry. As with other appointments, put your writing time in your planner.

If you’re having trouble finding time to get your writing in, distraction-free, hopefully one of these methods will help you squeeze in that sacred writing time and you’ll have your novel written in no time!


photo of margin holmes

Margena Adams Holmes has been writing ever since she can remember, writing her first poem in 1st grade. At her day job, when she’s not kicking young kids out of R-rated movies, she’s sweeping up spilled popcorn from the hallways and aisles (she’s not your mother, though, so please take your trash out). Her days off consist of writing science fiction, short stories, and more movie theater shenanigans. Reading is a close second to writing, and she normally has her nose buried in a book. Her publications are available through her author page. Contact Margena via email: jedi_anegram@hotmail.com.

Resist the Urge to Explain

By: Terry Odell

When I began writing, my crit partners would often return my pages with passages labeled R.U.E: Resist the Urge to Explain. I think it’s a common “beginner’s” mistake and I thought it might be worth a mention.

Anyone who’s undertaken writing has heard “Show, Don’t Tell”—probably more times than they’ve wanted. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, because often telling is more efficient than showing, and done well, gets the point across. But too much telling, especially when it comes across as author intrusion can put the brakes on the pace of your story, and can do exactly the opposite of what the author intended.

For example, “Mary laughed so hard, she was afraid she’d pulled a stomach muscle. Susie had just told the funniest joke Mary had ever heard.” The second sentence isn’t needed; it’s explaining something the reader would be able to figure out in context.

The goal of any fiction writer is to get readers to care about the characters. We want there to be an emotional connection, so we often tell our readers exactly what the character is feeling. However, saying “Mary was depressed” doesn’t pull the reader in as effectively as showing Mary’s actions. Did she stay in bed until noon? Eat a box of chocolates? Not eat anything at all? How did being depressed affect Mary’s actions? That’s what you need to show.

Another pitfall—telling something, then going on to show it. Let’s say you’re beginning to understand the “show don’t tell” and you do put the action on the page. For the sake of example, a simplistic passage might be written as follows:

After Bill canceled their date, claiming his aunt was sick, Mary was depressed. She took one bite of chocolate cake, then pushed the plate away.

The second sentence shows what the first tells. If you find this in your writing, use your delete key on that first sentence. A better approach:

Mary had been looking forward to her date with Bill for weeks, and he’d cancelled, giving some excuse about a sick aunt. She moved the chocolate cake around the plate with her fork, then pushed it away.

The reader gets the information, and can see that Mary’s depressed without having to be told. You can use the same to show other emotions. Maybe Mary was angry, not depressed, after Bill canceled. Maybe she throws the whole cake against the wall.

What about this?

Mary’s feet felt like lead. She couldn’t run fast enough to escape the man chasing behind her.

Cut the first sentence. You don’t need both. What about: Mary ran, but her feet refused to move fast enough to escape the man chasing her. Or, Mary’s feet moved as though encased in lead shoes.

Sometimes, we tell the reader too much.

Mary twirled up two strands of spaghetti and waited for the excess sauce to drip onto her plate. Leaning forward, she manipulated the fork into her mouth, then wiped her mouth with her napkin. She was a very careful eater because she hated getting stains on her clothes.

Don’t insult your reader with the last sentence. No need to explain. We can see for ourselves Mary is a meticulous eater.

Another common place writers need to Resist the Urge to Explain is in dialogue. Too often, we tack on tags or beats that tell the reader what the dialogue has already shown. Are you adding adverbs to your dialogue tags?

“I’m sorry,” Tom said apologetically.

Those adverbs are usually signals that you’re telling something the dialogue should be showing. They’re propping up your dialogue, and if it needs propping, it wasn’t strong enough to begin with. All that ‘scaffolding’ merely calls attention to the weak structure beneath.

Will your reader notice these differences? Probably not, but they might not enjoy the read even if they can’t explain why. However, agents and editors are tuned into them, and if you’re submitting, you don’t want to send up any red flags.

Check your manuscript for ‘emotion’ words, especially if they’re preceded by “was” or “felt.” Are you describing your character’s feelings? Don’t tell us how your character feels. Show us.

Check your dialogue tags and beats. Are they consistent with the words being spoken? If so, you don’t need them. If not, your readers will be confused, trying to reconcile dialogue with the action.


Terry Odell

Terry Odell is the author of over thirty novels, novellas, and short stories. She writes both mysteries and romantic suspense, but calls them all “Mysteries With Relationships.” Terry’s books have won awards including the Silver Falchion, the International Digital Awards, and the HOLT Medallion. A Los Angeles native, she moved to Florida for far too long, and is now enjoying life in the Colorado Rockies. Learn more on her website, or find her on Facebook page.

Producing a Novel – Part 10

Writing a Series

By Donna Schlachter

As with all of the posts in this series, the information below is only a summary of how to write a series. As with all good books, most of the work comes at the beginning. In the case of penning an ongoing series, that beginning point is the first novel, and preferably before you write it.

However, that aside, my alter ego, Leeann Betts, just concluded a 12-book mystery series, and when she sat down to write, she had no idea (a) if she’d even finish one book, let alone a series, and (b) she didn’t know it would be a series until she wrote The End, realized she loved her characters and didn’t want to say good-bye, so resolved to write at least two more and see where that led.

So, despite what I say below, you can write the first book and not know you want it to be a series. However, before you publish or submit said book, read this article and make sure you’re ready for the next, because there are tough questions you should answer before you begin.

Ask Yourself…

  1. Is my genre suited to a series? The best genres are fantasy, sci-fi, crime/mystery, historical fiction, and children’s/young adult. Otherwise, a standalone is probably your best bet.
  2. Is my plot suited to a series? Plots told from multiple points of view that weave together are best, as are stories that happen over a longer period of time. If there is room for extensive character development, world building, and multiple subplots, your story could be a candidate for a series.
  3. Are my characters suited for a series? Again, characters who need to grow and change do this best over a long period of time. Also, if you have a huge cast of characters in mind, planning to introduce them one book at the time might avoid reader confusion.
  4. Can I commit to writing a series? Once you start, readers will expect at least one book every year, with two books being better, and three or four better yet. Readers of a series don’t want to wait two years for the next installment. They’ll go on to something else and forget about you in the meantime.
  5. How many books do I need in order to tell my story? That depends on the genre, the cast of characters, subplots, and your character arc. Please don’t try to drag a three-volume series out into seven or ten just to increase sales. Readers are not stupid. They’ll see right through you and quit reading.

Tips for Success

Once you’ve answered these questions, the following are a few pointers on making sure your series has a good chance of succeeding:

  1. Writing a series is different than writing multiple books with unique characters in each. It requires planning from the get-go. You need to have a story too big (not necessarily the same as too long) for just one book. Longer-term or series-wide developments such as character growth needs to be present. Generally in a series, there is some amount of time between the happenings of each book, ranging from a few weeks to several months to years.
  2. Make sure your central conflict is enough to sustain readers’ interest. In crime or mystery, the sleuth’s expertise or involvement is often enough, while in other genres, an ongoing battle with the villain, an ongoing character arc, or a generational saga can keep readers coming back.
  3. Create a world that readers want to come back to. Make it rich in imaginative detail without boring the reader; make it distinct yet familiar; and give each setting its own character.
  4. Some would advise outlining your series in advance. That would be helpful for pretty much all genres except crime/mystery, where a notion of what that particular book is about should keep you going.
  5. Establish the central characters early in the story but don’t reveal their entire backstory. Let the reader see the wounds that the protagonist overcomes, one at a time, and reveal the source of the wound in that book.
  6. Introduce new characters in each book to keep the series moving. Consider changing out the setting to afford that opportunity, if needed. Put your central characters in new or unexpected settings to force them to act and react.
  7. Stretch out each character’s developmental arc, healing wounds slowly. Give them faults they struggle to overcome, show how their environment impacts and changes them, and keep a list of how they change from book to book so you don’t repeat any.
  8. Each book in your series should have its own strong central event, just as a standalone would, the catalyst for the protagonist embarking on this journey.
  9. Make sure your middle books in the series are strong and exciting, or else readers will give up on you.
  10. Tie the series together with a compelling series name and tie the titles together in some way, such as a pattern of words or numbers. Think Sue Grafton’s ABC murders, A is for Alibi, B is for Burglar, and so on. Or Lillian Jackson Braun’s The Cat Who. . .  series.

Writing a series can be a very rewarding endeavor, but at some point, it must end. The final installment should wrap up all the plot lines of this book, as well as any outstanding plot lines remaining from previous books. The character arc should be completed for all major characters, and the conclusion should be satisfying yet hopeful that these characters have a happily ever after ahead of them.

****

Resources:
Ultimate guide: How to Write a Series
How to Write a Book Series – 10 Tips for Writing Smash Hits
How to Write a Series: 8 Novice Mistakes to Avoid

Did you miss any installments of this series?
Generating—and Testing—Ideas for Fiction and Non-Fiction Books – Part 1
Genre and Markets – Part 2
Building Believable Characters – Part 3
Character Sketches and Backstory – Part 4
Hooking Your Readers – Part 5
Character and Story Arc – Part 6
Outlining Your Book – Part 7
Overcoming the Muddle Middle – Part 8
Racing to the Finish – Part 9
Writing a Series – Part 10
Self-Editing – Part 11
Cover Design and Self-Publishing – Part 12


Donna Schlachter lives in Denver with husband Patrick. As a hybrid author, she writes historical suspense under her own name, and contemporary suspense under her alter ego of Leeann Betts, and has been published more than 30 times in novellas, full-length novels, and non-fiction books. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Writers on the Rock, Sisters In Crime, Pikes Peak Writers, and Christian Authors Network; facilitates a critique group; and teaches writing classes online and in person. Donna also ghostwrites, edits, and judges in writing contests. She loves history and research, and travels extensively for both. Donna is represented by Terrie Wolf of AKA Literary Management. You can find her at www.HiStoryThrutheAges.com