Saturday, April 14, 2018

Top Tips to Write More

 Don’t you find sometimes life gets in the way of writing? Perhaps you have guests due to arrive and you have to clear the spare bedroom. Or maybe that family holiday you booked way back, is now imminent when you are so close to completing your manuscript—or worse still, your publisher is waiting for your final review to be returned before going to print. I have experienced these “obstructions” and many more. But then we got a puppy and I understood what a real obstruction was.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Pepper to bits and am so glad she came to live with us last October. But, as many of you will know, raising a puppy is hard work and very time consuming. My writing was put on hold, together with most other things which were not dog related.
By January I was determined to start writing again. It was a struggle and I needed a push. When I came across 12 Top Tips by Sue Moorcroft of The Romantic Novelists Association, I found some inspiration. Sue has kindly agreed to let me share those tips with you.

# 1. Plan? Don’t Plan?
Don’t be afraid to try either. You never know what will work for you when you’re stuck.
# 2. Think of Your Page as a Stage
Your characters are the actors. Keep them interacting with each other and give them dialogue.
# 3. Struggling with a character?
Discuss her/him with a friend. Personality traits and motivation will often become clear.
# 4. Replace bland verbs with vivid verbs
Instead of walk use trudge, march, hurry etc. to capture your character’s mood.
# 5. I can’t write if…
Have faith in yourself that you can. It’s just that sometimes it’s easy and sometimes it’s hard.
# 6. Sagging middle to your story arc?
Prop it up with incidents, lies, secrets, accidents, a new character, deepening conflict, surprises or twists.
# 7. Setting can be a conflict in itself.
Has your character’s car broken down? Place her on a lonely moor in a snow storm. No phone signal. No one to help.
# 8. Keep your story going.
Give your characters goals, missions, and, above all, conflict. Make them resolve those conflicts themselves.
# 9. Dialogue isn’t just the words the characters say.
The words are just part of a scene that includes action, thoughts and a dash of description.
# 10. If you’ve edited your story so many times that you’re sick of it…
Change the font for the final read through. It wakes your brain up.
# 11. Understand which character holds the viewpoint.
See what they see, hear what they hear, know what they know and feel what they feel.
# 12. Enjoy your research.
Make your characters do things YOU fancy trying—a balloon flight, a dance class, a visit to a new country. Have fun!

I hope these tips might get you out of a hole, add sparkle to your writing, or simply be useful to remember. My thanks go to Sue.
I would add one more – when “life” gets in the way of your writing, step back and create a new schedule of when to write, and the word count you hope to achieve. Be realistic about the timeframe to complete your manuscript. Most of all?  Don’t stop writing, or you’ll lose more than just a bit of yourself.
Share any great tips with us here.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Table or Booth Book Selling

by Linda Thorne

I’ve sold from tables, booths, tents and a Barnes and Noble “meet the authors” event where a group of us shared a couple of tables. I’ve sat on panels at bookstores and writers’ conferences where the panelists move to signing tables after their session. I’m not much of sales person and some of my author friends encourage me to speak out more at these events.

Will I? From my consumer experience, it’s unlikely. At various times spanning most of my life, I've hung out at places where books were sold at manned tables or booths. I’ve always been interested, but I’ve also noticed my reluctance to approach when the author or authors are present.

Why? I’d like to look over the books without feeling pushed. And the “feeling pushed” comes from within me. If I find out someone is manning a booth who has not authored any of the inventory, I feel freedom to peruse, to buy or not to buy. No pressure. But how often is anyone other than one of the authors going to be selling the books?

Rare, but I’ve seen it happen. I did it a few times myself before I became published, manning the local Nashville Writer’s Meetup Group tent at the Southern Festival of Books. Of course, I had a free handout about my own work in progress to give to anyone who’d take it. When folks came by, I’d say something like, “I’m giving the authors of these books a break.” and thought they showed signs of relief. I’ll never be certain whether their relieved looks were real or just my interjection of what my feelings would be if in their shoes.
Books are expensive and open wallets aren’t rambling around the Nashville area waiting to make authors happy. And books take a while to read. Even those who can afford to buy often have an unread stockpile at home pressuring them with guilt.

Yes, the person selling books from a table or booth is normally the author of at least one of them. If they are friends of mine, then I’m torn with buying from one and not the other. I still gut up and go to these places and when I do, I’ll buy from one and not the others. Although this is still awkward for me, it’s the reality of shopping books and they know it too. Sometimes I don't buy any.

If you’re not James Patterson or Lawrence Block, table or booth selling is a tough, slow way to sell your books. Is it worth it?

I think so. You’re marketing yourself and your work and there’s always the chance for something big to happen, and I’ve seen it happen right here in my town. An author friend of mine, was manning the Nashville Writer’s Meetup tent a few years ago at the Southern Festival of Books. A video editor who was at the festival scouting talent stopped by and asked my friend about his only book, his debut novel. The agent bought it and not long afterward, this author was signing an HBO TV movie option for $$$. That may have been the only book he sold, but I’m sure he was glad he showed up. That’s what authors do.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Cover Stories

Unless you're Stephen King, Dan Brown or JK Rowling where simple name recognition sells your books, the cover is your most important marketing tool. The cover holds the power to make that all-important first impression, to attract and induce a prospective buyer to take a closer look. How much control an author has over her cover depends on whether she is traditionally or independently published. I've been both (aka a hybrid author) and here's what I've learned.

1. If you're traditionally pubished, as I was for my first novel, the publisher has total control over the cover design. 
In many instances, the first time the author sees the cover is when it appears in stores. I first saw my cover online and was taken aback. There was nothing to indicate that the story was contemporary romance--just a woman sitting in what appeared to be some kind of concourse. Since important scenes in the story take place in airports, I assumed this was the publisher's rationalization for the cover...

It wasn't until many months later that I discovered the cover had been created for someone else's book. When the author withdrew her novel the cover was repurposed--and slapped on to my book. To say that I was startled by this revelation is putting it mildly. The first version of the cover had already been sent out to stores before the book was withdrawn...and it's still out there in places like FictionDB. Bizarre, huh...

2. When you publish independently, the cover hurdle is all yours. 
I published my second novel independently so I had total responsibility for the cover. I spent long hours searching stock image sites and finally found two images that I liked for the cover concept I had in mind. I did a (very) rough sketch and hired a highly-recommended cover artist (Kim Killion of Hot Damn Designs) to execute it. I thought the final product was beautiful, and perfect, and exactly what I had in mind. (Kim also has hundreds of stock images and pre-made book covers. I found all the images for my historical romance series on her site.)

3. If you have some basic design skills, you can make your own covers.
I generally don't recommend going this route, but I've done this for most of my short stories and novellas. I buy a stock image that won't need a lot of tweaking and upload it to one of the cover creator tools on publishing platforms such as Amazon's KDP or Pronoun (now defunct) where all I need to do is find an acceptable font and layout for the title, subtitle and author's name. I also did this for authors that I published in the past to keep costs down. Here's one I created for a short story for a client:

4. Cover artists work with stock images. If you're looking for someone to produce new and original art for your cover, you're opening the doors of hell.
I no longer publish other writers, but I do provide editing services and I collaborate on covers. A client wanted an original illustration for his new book, so he hired a graphic artist off of Fiverr who had done a cover for him before--from a stock image, of course. He explained to the artist that he was not going to work with a stock image this time but wanted an original illustration/drawing. The artist said he could do it.

The first red flag went up when Fiverr dude asked to be paid up front. I have NEVER had an artist ask for money before I approved a draft, and I've worked with several to date. The sequence goes like this: I approve a cover draft>>I pay artist>>artist sends me hi-res final images. The second red flag was when he asked to be paid outside of the Fiverr system so that he could avoid paying the commission on the sale. My client agreed to pay half up front and, predictably, disaster ensued.

The sketches were horrendous, and it became obvious that the artist could not draw. I know 8-year-olds who would have done a better job. My client gave the artist many chances to present something we could actually use, but the sketches just kept getting worse. Even the title fonts were atrocious, despite the fact that we sent the artist samples of the sort of font we wanted. Eventually my client had to fire the artist, who, of course, did not refund his money.

Then, without discussing it with me, the client hired someone who had never made a cover before. NEVER do that. NEVER. Did you get that? Not. Ever. This guy took us on an unbelievable, month-long ride before finally producing something we could use. He got things wrong that I did not think it was possible for anyone to get wrong. He disregarded instructions, sending PNG files instead of JPEG files for the e-book. He got the sizes wrong. He got the DPI (resolution) wrong. He got the RPG color profile wrong on the JPEG, using a CMYK format that is used for print, not digital images. He got the specs for the PDF cover for print wrong about 5 times. He sent the spine for the print book separately from the front and back. He neglected to leave margins around the back blurb on the print cover, or a space between the header and the body of text. All of this despite being given clear instructions, links to further explanations, and examples of previous projects. And just like the first 'artist', he could not create acceptable art from scratch despite his protestations, so my client had to finally give in and provide him with stock images.

When we finally got images we thought we could use, CreateSpace rejected the PDF for the print version, and Draft2Digital rejected the JPEG cover. I've published 50-plus titles, my own books and on behalf of clients, and I'd never had D2D reject a cover before. I hit Google to figure out what D2D meant by RPG and CMYK color profiles, then it was back to the drawing board.

So what's the takeaway from my experiences?
1. Be prepared to have zero input on your covers if you're traditionally published.
2. Understand that you have total control over your covers as an indie author/publisher.
3. You can design your own covers if you have basic design skills and can work with the cover creator software that's provided free by some platforms
4. Self-made covers tend to look self-made, however, so it's always best to hire an experienced cover artist.
5. If you use services like Fiverr, play by the rules. Do not pay for artwork until you approve the work, and do not make payments or deals outside of the system provided. The system is your protection.
6. Do not ask someone who has never designed covers for e-books and print to make your covers. Capiche?

Do you have interesting cover stories of your own? Please share them in the comments.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

More Talk About Swag

            Beginning in April, I’m going to need some author swag. (I wrote a post about swag last July—read it here—and since I’m always thinking about it, I’m writing another one)

            Here’s the thing about swag: have you ever bought a book because of the stuff the author gave away with it? Do you even remember most of the swag you’ve been given?

            My husband’s theory on swag is as follows: “I don’t know why you bother. No one buys books because the author gives away pens or bookmarks or anything else. They buy books based on word-of-mouth if they don’t already know the author.”

I’m paraphrasing (except for the first sentence, which is a direct quote).

He makes a good point, but there’s more to the argument than just getting people to buy books. There’s the name recognition factor, which has to be worth something, right?


A lot of the swag I pick up is at conferences. The piles of postcards, business cards, bookmarks, pens (see aforementioned July post—I cancelled my pen order), flyers, etc. seems endless, and there’s something to be said for an author who can think outside the box and give away something that stands out. One especially memorable giveaway was a seed packet printed with the author’s book cover. The main character is an organic farmer, so that swag makes perfect sense and I won’t forget that author’s name (Wendy Tyson, by the way).

Last year I gave away little packets of Scottish shortbread attached to postcards for Highland Peril, my book set in the Scottish Highlands (see aforementioned July post for some lovely photos). I’d like to think that was a great idea, but I’m basing my opinion on my obsessive love of shortbread.

At Christmastime I gave away handmade gift tags as swag. They were stamped, inked, sparkled, buttoned, and beribboned, and I thought (and still think) they were perfect. I was promoting a Christmas novel, so the giveaway had to have a Christmas theme, too.

And that, I think, was the best swag I’ve given out. It was themed, fun, and—best of all—handmade. I wrote my website URL in tiny letters on the back of each tag so that people could locate the brilliant artist who created it.

So I think I’m sticking with handmade swag for my upcoming appearances. I haven’t decided yet what I’ll make; maybe I’ll do more gift tags, maybe bookmarks, maybe something completely different. Sure, it takes a little longer, but I’m amazed at how much fun I have making things to give away. And it’s cheaper to make my own swag, too, which is always good. And finally, I can tailor the swag to individual events. I hope people find my handmade giveaways memorable.

What do you think? Any ideas for handmade swag? Do you have giveaways when you make an appearance at a conference or other author event? What kinds of giveaways do you prefer?

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Short stories: How to satisfy the reader who wants “more”

Recently I had a conversation with a well-read young couple. Like me, they enjoyed mysteries, the classics, and literary fiction. When they asked me what I was working on, I said I was finishing my third novel and planned to focus on short stories for a while.

"Really?" The man looked doubtful. "I know that writers like writing short stories, but do readers like reading them?"

“What do you think about short stories?” I had a pretty good idea what they thought. Still I asked.

“They’re too, well, short.”

The woman added, “Just when I’m getting into the characters, the story ends.”

Is their reaction a common one? I expected that it was. I’ve heard that the popularity of the ebook has made short stories attractive to readers. I didn’t do extensive research, but a quick Google search told me that readers, while they did read short stories, preferred a novel. As for ebooks, I hear different stats on them as well. But that’s a subject for another post.  

I didn’t think to ask my young couple how they would feel about a story collection. I just finished Shooting Hollywood: The Diana Poole Stories by Melodie Johnson Howe. These mysteries are not only beautifully written, but they all feature Diana Poole, an actress/amateur sleuth, as well as other recurring characters. So if you take a liking to Diana, you’ll find her in the next story. And the next. Perfect for the reader who wants continuity and character growth. If you really like Diana, she's also the sleuth in the author's novels. Isn't the cover for Shooting Hollywood exceptional?

Some authors feature different characters in each story in their collections. One example is Maile Meloy’s Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It. In Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge, the title character appears in each interrelated story. When I turned the last page I felt like I had read a novel. Then there's Art Taylor's On the Road with Del and Louise: A Novel in Stories.    

Other authors with published collections include Marcia Muller, Bill Pronzini, Katherine Mansfield, and Gayle Bartos-Pool. There are hundreds more.

And so I have a collection on my TBW (to be written) list. The stories will definitely include the same main character—maybe Hazel Rose, but … maybe not—with different story lines. I will allow for character growth from story to story. I will keep the reader who wants “more” in mind.  

I’ve posted about short stories before, here on Novelspaces, and on Will Kill for a Story. 

Last year at Malice Domestic I was part of a panel on short stories with Leone Ciporin, Teresa Inge, Alan Orloff, K.M. Rockwood, and Mo Walsh. I get to do it again next month, this time with Michael Bracken, Eleanor Cawood Jones, Rosemary Shomaker, and Mary Sutton. James Lincoln Warren will moderate. I’m so excited!  

What do you think about writing short stories? What do your readers think?

Maggie King is the author of the Hazel Rose Book Group mysteries, including Murder at the Book Group and Murder at the Moonshine Inn. She has contributed stories to the Virginia is for Mysteries anthologies and to the 50 Shades of Cabernet anthology. She lives in Richmond, Virginia with her husband and two overly-indulged cats.

Instagram: authormaggieking

Amazon author page:

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Beta Readers

Don’t you just love that wonderful feeling of finishing your manuscript? The characters have been living with you for months. You thought you’d never get that scene right. You changed the build up to the ending, yet again. Then suddenly it all falls into place and your journey is ended.

Well, actually, it’s just starting. You love your story. But will anyone else? Is it really as good as you hoped, as you aimed for? Perhaps no one will love the hero. What if readers feel antagonistic toward the heroine? Did you overlook any loose ends?

Whilst your own final read through can allay some of your concerns, there is nothing like having a fresh pair of eyes to reassure, or help, you. And that’s where a beta reader can be invaluable.

Beta readers are generally non-professional readers who will read a manuscript following initial completion and prior to publication. They may comment on grammatical errors, anomalies in the plot, a way to improve the story, or any combination of some or all of these issues. They are that fresh pair of eyes.

I think a lot of authors use betas, and I find them invaluable. But they’re not for everyone. When I approached an author friend to see if she used them, she said, “Definitely not.” She didn’t want different opinions on her work and was happy to work only with her editor. So it’s personal preference. That said, whether you chose to use betas or not, I strongly advocate any writer to have their work independently edited, even if you intend to self-publish. It will add polish to your manuscript, and it’s amazing what a good editor will find, no matter how well you think you have written your story.

But back to betas. There are pros and cons to using them and there needs to be the inevitable caveats. So here are my thoughts and recommendations.

1. Ask a friend or family member.
We all know the disadvantage of asking someone you know to provide feedback on your book. The chances are they will not tell you that they hate it, or that they think it’s badly written. But they will no doubt give encouragement and if you are at the early stages of your writing adventure, that is no bad thing. It’s great. Plus they are easier to find, in general.

2. Ask someone from a reading group.
They will have a love of books, and  an experience of an array of writing styles, plots and characterisations. They will also be accustomed to hearing differing views. This could be your own opinion if you don’t agree with everything they say. Remember this is your story—you own it. But also remember the beta reader is being kind enough to read your manuscript. It takes time and time is precious.

3. Make sure it’s someone who likes the genre you write under.
I see little point in asking someone who is an avid crime reader to read a medieval romance. It may not be a pleasant experience for anyone.

4. Ask someone from a writing group.
This is particularly useful if you feel you need help with grammar or flow of the story. These people should be able to spot errors and suggest ways to improve a certain narrative if necessary. But a note of caution. These people can also be too critical. Many may never have finished their own manuscript for that reason. You are writing a story, not an essay.

5.  Create a private group on your Facebook page.
As you create an identity for yourself as an author, it is always good to have a Facebook “business” page, in addition to your personal page. Readers will “like” you page and hopefully join in any discussions generated. This will have its own challenges but that discussion is for another day… Back to beta readers. Try inviting people to join a private group to beta read your drafts. This is something I am considering, the aim being to reach a mix of people including some you don’t know, but knowing that they enjoy your genre. If you take this option up, let me know how you get on and we can exchange notes J

6. Consider members of other Facebook groups who do reviews.
I have included this category as it is a possibility that some readers, who normally read published books and submit reviews, may like to be a beta reader. I personally only put up my published book for review in these groups, but I guess it’s an option.

7. Ask a book blogger
I believe many would be happy to act as beta readers. These guys read books like we breathe air and you should get some great feedback. It may not always be what you want to hear, but if you choose to take their advice it could improve your writing.

8. Followers of a fanzine
These are publications produced by enthusiasts. So for example, if your story has some bearing to Star Trek, join their fanzine and connect with members who could become your beta reader. Fifty Shades started in a Twilight fanzine.

9. Consider any schemes run in organisations where you are a member.
I am a member of the Romantic Novelists Association in the UK and they run a New Writers Scheme (NWS). There is a fee for this and it goes much further than beta reading, with events and critique of your manuscript by an assigned reader. However it is only for first time writers. Once you’ve published a book it’s time to move on.

And now I guess it’s time for me to move on and wrap up. Remember, a beta reader is more than a reviewer. They should want to help you make your book even better. Of course, at the end of the day it is your book. You should be keen to accept any recommendations, or not be afraid to stick your own convictions if you choose to. In any event always remember to thank the readers, maybe gift them a copy of the final version of your book. After all, they have gifted you their time to read, make notes, and feedback to you.

Good luck with your writing and your route to final publication.