The Story & I

The St

Sixteen weeks ago I was curled against the wall sobbing that there was no point being a writer anymore. I had to stop working on the Last Prophecy series and I wasn’t sure I could keep doing this. I wasn’t just tired, I was well and truly beyond weary. Exhausted.

Five years ago I met with a doctor who’d taken a series of blood tests. The original tests were supposed to have been done with my regular doctor, but the doctor suddenly wasn’t at the clinic anymore. So a stranger told me that I probably wouldn’t have children without IVF aid. Even that wasn’t a sure thing.

My life stopped.

I’d never had an overwhelming desire to have children, but when the option died, a part of me did too. I was torn apart, and I spent years being vaguely misplaced, only regaining what I’d lost inch at a time.

My husband was understanding, adoption had been something we’d discussed before.

But I felt useless. As though the complications of my womb were a manifestation of my personal failing. I didn’t have a job or career I loved, I became purposeless. My life lost all its meaning.

If my mother taught me any rule that was of value, it was this: what do I DO about it?

What I’d always wanted; to be an author.

The answer was the easiest one I’d ever made. I was yet to know how much harder it would to be do.

I’d never done much about my writing, I’d written two or three novels, each of them I knew wasn’t worth publishing. Writing had only ever been something I did when I was bored and had the itch to pen story to paper.

Now it became a necessity. If I wanted to have a purpose in life that wasn’t a family, I needed to do something about it now.

One afternoon I went online, and to a random website for a story prompt idea. I was going to write something new, fresh, different.

I ended up after half an hour of random generators with a story about airships and desert chases. I started writing a tale about a navigator in a fantasy world, with corrupt government officials, conspiracies and a haunting darkness. I was 30k words into it when I started to realise it wasn’t a standalone story.

Cut to a month later and I’d outlined a 21 book/novella series. All based on a poem I wrote. I knew immediately to start research into self-publishing, I didn’t even consider traditional. No publishing company wanted this monster of a project. But I wanted to write it, because it gave me the purpose that had been taken away.

I wrote the first novella, asked around a few friends for an editor and found Scott. He was open to editing my manuscript at a rate I could afford, and so I gave it to him.

Thus began a learning curve of writing and editing I wouldn’t forget. Scott was kind, helpful, and deeply intuitive about my work and how to phrase to a novice writer where to improve. Sometimes it was hard, things didn’t work, needed to be rewritten, but we worked at it together.

After a while I published The Hidden Monastery through Pronoun. I’d written the following novella, The Last Prophecy during Nanowrimo, and Pronoun offered winners a chance to self-publish through them.

Pronoun was a platform that took care of the self-publishing process for you, making it easy, simple and a service I happily would have paid for if I’d known they were going to shut down.

I published the other novella with them, the Last Prophecy, and then my first book, The Well of Youth, in October of 2017. It was my birthday, which also happened to be International Independent Author Day. I felt like I was finally making progress.

A month later I got the email stating Pronoun were closing down.

After years of work the world tilted. I wanted to give up. I was in a very bad place emotionally and physically, and I wouldn’t have gotten through it without the support of my husband.

I decided to keep going, mostly because I didn’t know what else to do with myself.

I kept applying myself to the craft of writing, Scott kept raising the bar of what he expected from me in his genteel way. I learned from reviews where my writing was falling down, and where it excelled.

I worked hard at it, isolated from the world by circumstances outside my control, but it was also self-imposed. I didn’t feel good enough around people who were building their careers and family, their very lives, whereas I may as well have been starting from scratch.

Over these years I watched as people became vaguely mocking of my “hobby”, mostly because I was self-published. As though it were merely an exercise in vanity. But it wasn’t a hobby to me, it was far more than that. I was determined to prove I wasn’t in this for a stint, or for attention. I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to write full time.

In anger I started a book that originally was to be sold quickly, and all of it went on hold when the plot flowed out of my hands into something greater, that would need more time and consideration. I couldn’t even let myself write a romance just to make money. It was selfish and vain, and I hated myself for it.

And so Queen of Spades went into the time consuming process of writing the entire trilogy, and even now is going through rewrites so it can be better. Just be a good story. That was what I wanted. To write good stories.

There were knocks to my goals, setbacks and delays, the worst of which was earlier this year, the whole drive I’d had to make myself an author went cold. I couldn’t afford to pay Scott while we were trying to buy a house. It wasn’t fair to keep Scott waiting, and I knew that the Last Prophecy was going to be put indefinitely on hold.

In a fit of freedom and rage I started another project.

An idea popped into my head, and I just ran with it. I had no goals, no expectations, it was just the story and me.

Along came a woman, fighting to escape a past she couldn’t control. She was out there to show others what mistakes not to make. She was intriguing and compelling. She was a coward, and I couldn’t stop writing her story.

Twenty-five days later it was done. I was exhausted but pleased with what I’d created. I sent it to my mother, who said it was the first thing I’d written she actually liked. With that cheering thought, I kept at it.

Using ProWritingAid, I went over and over it, eliminating mistakes, smoothing it out, reading it aloud to an empty room to get the tone and sentences right. Every word I fell more in love with it, I felt I’d created something real, something special. But all those years of failings made me hesitate, uncertain.

I gave it to a friend to read. Renee said, you should pitch this on Pitmad. I had two days to get ready for the event, and spent hours pulling together every inch of the savvy I’d built up over the last few years to get my synopsis and query letter ready, and to put together the most important thing; the pitches.

I put the tweets up on a timer, as an Australian its always out of hours for us, and went to bed.

I woke up and two agents liked the tweet.

I submitted the synopsis to both.

One came back with a full request.

I sent it, having been over the script a few more times in preparation for beta readers. I already had Violeta working on the cover, expecting to be rejected from the publishers I’d pitched to, but hoping I could self-publish this if they didn’t like it.

They did more than like it, they offered me a publishing contract within weeks of it being written.

I signed a publishing contract with Literary Wanderlust a few days ago.

This isn’t about my ability to tell stories. This is about my ability to work hard and consistently. To apply myself to the craft of my writing. Fear of failure is not a demon you beat once and move on, you confront it again and again, each time a newer twisted version of the exact same one you handily thrashed last time.

All the while it tells you to give up, and that there is no point.

But it can’t take away those years of work.

Nothing will tarnish the fact that I made it this far.

No one will be able to take away all that I’ve managed to accomplish.

What it took was hard work, the willingness to improve, and to keep going. For as long as it takes, that’s what I’ll do, and if you take away anything from this blog post, then I hope you don’t quit too.

 

Kindess Costs Nothing

 

Kindness

The Writing Community on Twitter has become the largest, fluffiest blanket of love and communication on Twitter. Ask any writer or creative and all sorts and they will assure you that the community on Twitter has made them a better writer.

With people posting success and losses, times of trial and celebration, there are any number of people to reach out to for help, encouragement and support.

But for such a bunch of talented people, my goodness are some of them completely feral.

Forgetting that there are accounts that are nothing but serial retweeters, follower hoarders, and pedophiles floating around, there are legitimate accounts where if you say the wrong thing to them, you may as well close your account.

With the surplus of people using Twitter as a means to communicate and find other writers, some accounts have gone from a few hundred followers to tens of thousands overnight. That’s good though, people should be posting content that’s engaging and encouraging.

What’s not is when things get messy.

You’ve got 280 characters to express an opinion and if you don’t hit your mark just right you can be torn to shreds.

Time and again I’ve witnessed the owner of a big account (one with LOTS of followers) not agree with something that’s been said by a smaller user on their feed, which is fine, we don’t all agree on a host of subjects. What’s not is then having those said thousands of followers absolutely destroy the offender, even if what they said wasn’t that aggressive to begin with.

What this then devolves down to is targeted harassment.

Not cool, Writing Community.

You know that, and if I asked you, most of you would put up your hand and say; yes, I’ve been bullied, and I’ve been bullied online too.

This blog post, I’m shouting out the #WritingCommunityMum, Emma Lombard, who loves to look after new twitter users, and even has great advice for older ones! (I still don’t know why I should put a dot before I @ someone…)

Emma’s newest blog of her Twitter Tips for Newbies series includes a detailed post on bullying, but we’ve come together to give you a few tips on how you can handle these situations;

 

  1. Should I really post that tweet/reply?

 

Emma: I avoid confrontational situations but even then, I sometimes hesitate when I’m about to send a reply, especially if it’s one that is laced with my own sense of humour. Not everyone will read into that humour, no matter how many emojis I add. I’ve caught a couple of tweets that could be misconstrued before I’ve sent them out, and a couple after the fact – in which case, I have chosen to delete my response and re-word it for clarification.

 

EJ: If I have even the smallest doubt about what I’m about to post it goes in the delete pile. If you can’t say something nice don’t say anything at all. Standing up for yourself shouldn’t be about tearing someone else down. Defending your statements should be about you and what you want to say, not about others and their flaws.

 

  1. Someone was rude:

 

Emma: Despite my very best efforts to be polite to people on line, I still had one snappy belligerent reply of “Whatever!” to one of my comments once. I was about to try and clarify what I had meant and that I had not intended it to come across as rude – and I was about to apologise too, when I stopped myself and realised that I wasn’t going to win that one. My mantra in these cases is no response at all. No explanation. No apology. No like. Just scroll on past and shake it off. How many of us post stuff that we know never gets seen because it is lost in the Twitterverse void without a single like. If you don’t reply to someone, there is no way for them to tell if you are ignoring the comment or if their comment was simply swallowed up, never to see the light of day.

 

EJ: Ignore it, leave it unliked. You don’t actually have to respond to those tweets you think are going to cause trouble. I’ve had the most random people walk into one of my threads and start shouting for attention. The best way to get rid of them is to not respond at all. Engaging these people validates your acknowledgement of what they are saying.

 

  1. They have a big account, but I don’t like what they are saying

 

Emma: When I was new to the #WritingCommunity (with all 36 of my followers!), I was in awe of the accounts with huge follower numbers! I marvelled at what they must have done to grow like that. As I became more experienced, I realised of course that there are so many ways to gain huge followings, and not all of them are healthy or good for the followers or the followees, like blind following without screening followers and allowing hundreds of bots to follow you. As I now find myself in the supremely fortunate position of having 13k followers, I have realised that having such traction and such a wide reach online actually comes with a weight of responsibility to speak and act appropriately even more than ever. Just because you followed someone with a large following, doesn’t mean you are obligated to stay following them if you see behaviour that makes you uncomfortable. You won’t necessarily be able to get that person to see reason – in fact, I’ve seen too many folks try and get burned in the process, so I don’t recommend it – but you do have the power to quietly remove that person from your feed.

 

EJ: This isn’t facebook, just because you went to high school with that twit who joke asked you to prom doesn’t mean you HAVE to be friends. Fuck that. Unfollow them, mute them, block them if you want. I have a few dozen accounts I’ve done this to, mostly because I’ve found whatever they are saying offensive which is more about their platform, and their message. This is your platform, you are choosing to spend time on it, spend it with people who validate you.

 

  1. I said something that was misconstrued and now I have a whole pack of people after me. What do I do?

EJ: If you did make a mistake, apologise, sincerely. Most people react well to it. Anyone who doesn’t accept and decides to verbally attack with name calling is someone you can and should block. Some of these people are treating the anonymity of social media as mask to cover their poor behaviour. Eleanor Roosevelt once said people don’t remember what you said or did, they remember how you feel. If you don’t feel good, hit that block button.

Emma: If what you said was well meant but was just misunderstood, the best way I’ve seen folks handle this is to give a quick apology for the misunderstanding and then move on, no longer engaging on the thread. It would be wise to mute the conversation so that you are not tempted to be drawn back into the conversation. When that mob mentality sets in, it is near impossible to try and get people to see reason when their blood is up. Depending on how ugly it gets, you might also see a truer reflection of some of the people you are following and this may be the decider for you to unfollow, soft block or hard block a bunch of people. It’s okay to do this in order to keep your feed full of the content and types of folks who you want to see. It’s all part of the continual job of Twitter housekeeping.

 

  1. My friend is being attacked online. Should I dive in to defend them?

 

EJ: Diving is a hasty word, it relies on not taking into consideration what’s going on, or things that fall outside that thread. I saw an agent and writer get into a massive fight, but because they kept retweeting the other’s response with a comment, it got very messy. I was asked via DM to block someone who was racist. In both instances I looked at or round the offending tweets, and decided for myself. If you have a good friend, and they are being attacked, it’s good to come and support them, but you are also making yourself a target. As long as you’re ready for that, and what else comes of it, then you can do it. But sometimes you can’t talk to these people and butting in can make it worse. So don’t dive in. Make a clear and level headed decision, and if you think you should come to their defence THEN cannon ball that shite.

 

Emma: I’ve seen this happen a couple of times to folks I know online. I personally never dive into the conversation publicly but I rather contact my friend privately via DM (direct message) to offer support. I check that they are okay and then gently suggest they disengage from the toxic conversation.

 

  1. This all sounds too hard and not worth it – I think I’m going to give up Twitter.

 

EJ: Twitter is a great platform, BUT ITS NOT FOR EVERYONE. It takes a lot of time, a lot of tweeting, and vigilance. You’re in a sea with a lot of other boats, some of them are friendly, others are not, no matter how nice you are. Some you’ll run into one by accident, other’s you’ll leave far behind. At the end of the day its still your vessel. How you use it is up to you. People take breaks from it all the time. Consider doing that if you feel harassed, and check in to keep it active but keep a pinned tweet saying your on a break. If you come back and its still not for you then dump it. At the end of the day its an app on a phone. It doesn’t define you as a writer.

 

Emma: The best way to navigate Twitter is to educate yourself about how it works and what functions you have at your disposal to mould your Twitter account into a place that makes you happy to come to. You can do this by searching online, or asking others in the #WritingCommunity for help to understand a particular aspect that is stumping you. Yes, EJ’s blog covers how to manage the nastier side of Twitter (which is actually super important to know) but there are also so many folks out there brimming with goodness and a desire to support and uplift other writers. Don’t be afraid to take control of your own Twitter feed – it all starts with who you decide to follow, or unfollow, in the case of when it goes wrong.

Happy Tweeting!

 

 

Ultimately, whatever you put ANY effort into, be it work, career, home, family, friends or a social media app, needs to be worth that time. If you don’t feel good, or are still uncertain, reach out for help. Its not the end of the world to mute or block someone. No one is calling you on your decisions, and if they do, remember that its your account, you can be an ass, or you can make genuine and life changing connections.

 

The #WritingCommunity has so much to offer, and it’s a shame to lose it for a few people who aren’t being kind. There are enough internal doubts and external negativity to what we writers do, that we don’t need the pressure of a stranger’s inflated ego making us feel bad. Kindness costs nothing, and if someone isn’t kind to you, don’t be afraid to remove them from your life.

The Dark Side of Self Publishing

 

 

The darker side of self publishing.png

 

Google Selfpublishing scams.

Because if you haven’t yet, and you are a self publisher you may have made a colossal mistake. I write this article not to identify the scams but to make it clear that its likely someone you know is using scams to increase their self-promotion.

There are a host of articles out there identify the tricks that some services use to lure self publishers into getting their name out there, at any cost.

Paid Reviews.

Promotional packages confirming best sellers.

Copying books, and republishing under new names.

Using KU read pages to push titles onto the Amazon bestseller list.

Writers buying their own books from bookstores to put themselves on the NYT bestseller list.

 

Dreadful isn’t it? The lengths that people will go to just to sell their work. But not you, right? Not me.

But these people exist in our community, and I was unpleasantly surprised when one of these people turned out to be someone I knew.

He worked hard.

He was always online.

I was happy for what I believed to be his genuine success.

I was wrong. He cheated.

 

For the sake of this blog post we’re going to call him John.

The article was about using racks of phones to download KU books and spin through them giving them a false sense of popularity and pushing John’s book to the top. It might have hit the radars sooner if he’d been in a key genre, but he wasn’t, it was a niche, a lucrative one but a niche nevertheless. Since they were pushing it to the bestseller listing the rest of the sales took care of themselves once he was at the top of his genre. People pay attention to those lists, not just the author so they can give themselves the hollow credit of calling themselves an Amazon bestseller.

But John’s “self-made success” lie got called out.

It came about on a facebook group that will go unmentioned. Someone wrote a blog post specifically about John and the service he’d used. Someone else in the facebook group then read the post and called out John in our facebook group. This was two years ago. I no longer have the any of the articles.

At the time the comment went online, the US was asleep. As an Australian I was not, and as Europe was waking up I watched this disaster of lies unfurl.

I asked him. “Did you do this?”

Of course the answer was no.

“How did this happen?”

“Someone is making things up…” At this juncture the conversation became garbled posts that made next to no sense. Mostly denial, but it was all so chaotic I couldn’t see clearly. I knew John.

I couldn’t believe the damage this would cause, it was catastrophic.

I contacted the facebook group’s administrator, I listened to John’s defence.

I wanted to believe, knew it wasn’t fair to think otherwise but then the article made too much sense to be ignored. I think I read it fifty times in the space of two hours.

It dug into the patterns of John’s success with an accuracy that was startling spot on. False accounts, fake reviews, but the worst of all was that the Amazon bestseller became meaningless to me because I knew now it could be bought. Even if John wasn’t guilty.

John never confessed, the outpouring against him created a slew of 1 star reviews and his reputation was charred. I wasn’t sure, but the implication was too strong to be ignored. His actions and mannerisms at the time spoke of guilt. He was someone I worked along side, helped promote, I’d been a mindless guppy for someone who was fucking the system.

 

 

It was tempting to give up writing. I didn’t.

I saw John the other day online. In a different group, but this time the other signs where there, ones I could now recognise. Bought Twitter followers, loads of five star reviews against new books that were the same garbage spilled out again. It was the wake up call I’d been missing for some time. One that reminded me I was in this for the writing, and that writing my books needed to be enough.

I wanted to believe John, but the fact of the matter was that I’d watched his success with disbelief for months. Because I’d been ignoring a truth for far too long.

There are a host of self-published books which do not have any redeeming features. Its why I review books honestly, why I’ve segregated my self-published reviews and my traditional ones.

I’d picked up one of John’s books and hadn’t been that impressed but figured it just wasn’t for me.

That was the last time I let a self-published book I couldn’t read simply “not be for me.”

I can and will read anything with a good hook and this book was garbage. Worse still, John had almost a dozen books just like it, all the same trash but someone was buying it.

After all, they’d been paid to. And now I can see John’s twitter account with the words “Amazon Bestselling Author.”

If you ever needed a reason to wonder why there are people out there who hate self-publishing then this is it.

Before someone offers you, for the right price, the success to an Amazon bestseller, ask yourself, for those fickle moments of fame that won’t be remembered, is it going to be worth fucking over every other author you’ve ever befriended? Because that’s what these scams do.

And it’s tempting to give up when you realise what lengths people will go to.

I didn’t give up.

You know what I did? I became a better writer, I wrote better stories. I review ceaselessly and with honesty for a damn reason!

I always have at least five indie books on my phone ready to read. I download trad books that pull my interest to keep my reading fresh.

The only way these people are found is if you review their books. So the next time you hesitate to give a bad review, remember this; it’s not just about giving the author clear feedback, sometimes it’s the only way these people get found out.

 

 

 

 

The Big Bad Betareader

 

 

It’s scary, I get it.

You’re asking someone who is potentially a stranger to put their grubby paws all over your creation. To dirty it’s walls with comments on the plot. Smear mud on character development. Wee on info dumps. Put a massive turd in that unforeseen plot hole.

And the way you think about a betareader and their feed back is wrong.

You’ve asked them to read it as they would a novel, but you’ve also given them a much harder task, to find the mistakes. To do so, they have to look for them, they have to assess and point out its flaws. It makes the process intimidating.

So you take it to someone you trust.

To be kind enough to say the right things, not be too cruel, not pick on your work or show you how much it needs more put into it.

Because you already feel like you’ve birthed this idea, a monumental effort that left you gasping with tears and laughter and probably too much wine. I’ve been there, many times.

But you aren’t helping yourself if you give it to someone who will be kinder to your darling.

Give it to a stranger.

The hard part is picking the right stranger.

A lot of different people will offer different levels, but here is how I tackle scripts given to me. It comes across as more of a developmental edit, however I feel this is what beta readers need to do, as getting an editor who will also cover development can be very tricky. I’ve read many stories that were well edited but didn’t appear to have had any developmental editing at all. This can really put a reader off, and it needs to be more openly addressed.

I always want the scripts in Word so I can add comments and read it with ease, and this is also why I only ever accept shorter sections of a body of work, I don’t want anyone to think I’m nicking ideas. Don’t give your full book to a random stranger, it shouldn’t need to be said, but for novices this can be a harsh lesson. People do steal books, they will take your general premise and run with it. Research your beta before you give them the script.

After I’ve added all my notes, I will email the word doc back to the writer, and give a short summary of what I thought, probably emphasizing key points that I talk about in my comments, but especially anything I believe needs a lot of focus.

This is what I feel a beta reader should do, but its more complicated than that because how you critique someone matters. For writers just starting out, and its their first script, the easiest way to hurt someone is to say something negative in an insensitive manner. It’s also hard to tell people their writing needs serious work.

The points below aren’t just for betareaders, they are for writers too, because more often than not they are the same, and you should understand what goes into a good beta read.

 

  1. Always point out the good stuff

 

Every story has something going for it. Every story I’ve ever read had that original spark. Whether it was clearly evident in well written prose or deeply hidden under layers of badly constructed sentences, it was still there. A lot of beta readers wont necessarily do this, they point out the books flaws, its what they were asked to do.

I point out bits I like because as a struggling writer there is nothing quite like hearing that someone liked a very specific thing.

This is a fundamental part of the beta reading process because you aren’t just complimenting the writer, you are building up their confidence. So when they get that great review they don’t doubt it.

We look at a lot of our reviews and either don’t believe good ones or get completely bummed about bad ones, and this is not the right attitude. You need to have confidence, but you also need to learn where you can improve. Accepting both is a long and hard lesson. Beta reading really helps with that.

Plus, when you’re dropping a lot of truth bombs that can get them down. A nice comment is like finding the cookies to cheer them on.

 

  1. Don’t be useless

 

Yes, I know it’s a lot of effort to read someone else’s work thoroughly, however if you’re going to tell them something is wrong don’t just say that you don’t like something. There is nothing more useless than getting a message from a beta stating: I didn’t like this.

Didn’t like what? What the character said? Did? Reacted? WHAT?!

Be specific.

This was a weird thing for the character to say.

Okay great, but why? What’s the reasoning? When I leave these sorts of comments, I try to phrase it as per the below;

I thought the characters reaction was odd, because earlier on he said X, and this isn’t in keeping with that kind of philosophy. Perhaps amend to say Y, or try having him not respond at all since he disagrees.

This has the dual purpose of pointing out errors, but also offering a reason, and subsequent solution. It also allows not only for the writer to examine that one instance, but also gain a better understand of their characters as people, rather than puppets pushing along the plot.

 

  1. You are not the Grammar Police, but you are an informant

 

YOU. ARE. NOT. THERE. TO. EDIT.

 

Unless the writer has specifically said, hey, can you check the editing for me, leave it alone. I know it might be tempting, and I might point out a couple of serious flaws, but after the first couple I let it slide. This isn’t just about you not being there to edit, its to save you time too.

If I’m working with a draft I may say something really obvious if I see a few really bad mistakes. For the most part I stick to the following section;

  • Repetition: similar/same words too close together
  • Info dumping: too much description
  • Terminology: for words that are actually other words ie. Their/they’re

There are other things you can do as time affords, but these are the ones I focus on because it interrupts the flow of the story, which is what I’m interested in. You could do more as a beta reader, but ultimately, if the editing is poor, its worth stating so at the end or in your summary.

 

  1. Never rip the script

 

This shouldn’t need to be said, but part of what prompted this post was a tearful tweet I saw about a so called friend who tore their story to shreds.

You goal here should be to point out flaws, absolutely, but in a constructive manner that helps, and getting frustrated at what you might see as an inferior piece of work is the last thing a writer needs to hear. They are asking for your help. They are trusting you with a sliver of their soul. Don’t be an ass.

There are gentler ways of suggesting to them that the script essentially needs to be rewritten and these are ultimately about overarching plot points.

I’m going to tear myself apart for your example today.

When my editor told me one of my novellas needed to have the ending completely rewritten, he phrased it roughly (and more simplified) like this;

 

This ending is part of different story, one that should come perhaps later in the series. The focus should be on character X, and why she’s doing Y. The ending doesn’t serve either of these purposes, and ends up becoming less about her journey and more about Z. I also believe this other character is not coming across as you intend, and his character needs fleshing out to convey your intention in these ways. It would also be great to reduce the amount of time the MC spends on thinking, and give her more interactions with the rest of the alphabet, as these side characters are rich and have a lot of potential.

 

Believe it or not, he was far more eloquent than this, and I knew as soon as he said it, that he was right, and I pretty much rewrote the entire book.

Remember you are trying to help the writer not make them quit writing.

 

 

Finally, this isn’t a point, and shouldn’t need to be said, but it is for the writers waiting on betareading.

If someone beta reads for you, it doesn’t matter if they told you things you didn’t want to hear, THANK THEM.

I’ve done a lot of beta reading over the last 3 years, and I am amazed at how often I barely get a thank you back, or any response at all.

This is gutting. I have spent hours I could have been using on my own work, and having someone not bothering to respond to that work is awful. You never ask what it costs the beta reader to help you instead of themselves, or worrying about damaging your relationship when they do give their honest feedback. Being truthful to people whose writing journey you care about is fucking hard.

You are NOT going to like everything that they say, and this is why I always advise writers to get a second opinion. A third, fourth, however many it takes to help sort it out and be the best story it can be.

If you are a writer querying agents you NEED their feedback. You need that honesty if you are going to improve, and if you are seeking a betareader you want to improve.

Remember that when they tell you something you didn’t want to hear.

They are there to help you.

from

The Elusive Review…

E.J. Dawson & Mrs Y...

 

 

You may as well admit it.

 

When it comes to wanting a review authors can be like Voldemort, stalking through the Forbidden Forest looking for the elusive unicorn, the magic number of fifty reviews to start spiking on Amazon’s algorithms. Its hard to get them, and there are a host of reasons why; you’re self pub, you just published, you didn’t have your marketing done quite right and if you need help with that please check out my other blog post.

 

But there are other ways than becoming a dark lord to actually get your reviews, and with my today is the lovely Mrs Y, who is appearing on my blog post today to talk about how you can get a review from her.

 

Reviews are important because they help get your book a lot of attention, especially when you can get a few of them, but its important to know some fundamental rules when it comes to reviews that Ive noticed a few authors aren’t clear on. These are rock solid, unbreakable rules. There are few of these when it comes to writing, but if you break these rules on Amazon you can get you whole account suspended or shut down;

 

  • DO NOT REVIEW SWAP: I don’t know how many times I have seen people do this. You do it often enough and you WILL be caught, I’ve seen it happen to people, they lost not only their reviews of other peoples books, but the reviews on THEIR books. They ended up taking their books offline.

 

  • DO NOT BUY “FAKE” REVIEWS: We’ll talk about where you can pay to get a paid & honest review from credible sources, but whatever you do, don’t go to fiverr and buy a fake review, those accounts get caught by Amazon all the time, and you risk the above.

 

  • Friends & Family: This one is especially tricky, because when you are just starting out it’s a good way to get a few reviews in, and they want to support you. The trouble is friends and family know you, they aren’t likely to review a product honestly (which may not be your experience but Amazon don’t care), and then the above applies.

 

Even if your book isn’t listed on Amazon (and for the purpose of marketing your book, it really should be), don’t forget that the other key place for reviews is Goodreads, and if you’re with current (ok, not so current now) events, you’ll know that Amazon own Goodreads now.

 

SO HOW THE HELL DO YOU GET A REVIEW?!?

 

There are a few different methods, but the most important thing to know before you even start asking is that if ANYONE reads your book, please don’t forget they did that. They took the time to read your words, hear your story, and write what they thought about it. Good or bad, they gave you their time. Time is valuable to nearly all of us, we don’t have a lot of it, and when we spend it on you, that’s time we don’t get on our own work, our own family, or our passions.

 

  1. Ask a Reviewer: I give you the FABULOUS Mrs Y!

 

There are people about the place like Mrs Y, who literally have Professional Reader in their job title. If you would like her to read your book, then there are a few different ways to go about it, which she’s given to me, and is accessible through her website.

 

Mrs Y is quite special, in that nearly all her reviews are kind, thoughtful, detailed and extremely helpful to budding authors.

 

She chooses her books based on her Kindle Unlimited subscription, and she uses it specifically to find Indie authors. Amazon then picks up her reading habits to offer more suggestions to her, meaning that its usually the same genre. To diversify, she also watches what’s trending in the Writing Community on Twitter and selects books that appeal.

 

She does not accept ARCs, stating that people used her critique in the place of professional critiques & editors, which is not only hurtful, its unprofessional.

 

Part of the reason reviewers like Mrs Y are so wonderful is that they will read your book end to end, properly, and state very thoroughly all the good parts, and the bad ones too, but more importantly their review is designed not just to help the author, but to give the reader a very clear idea what they are signing up for.

When Mrs Y does give a review, it isn’t just a few paragraphs, she pretty much writes an essay on the book, going into finite detail and allowing both the author and the reader to know clearly and her takeaways from the book. The detail of her reviews is an absolute pleasure and privilege to see, and her attention to the book is nothing short of flattering.

 

 

  1. E. J. Dawson Book Reviews

 

I select books based on whats on my Amazon page but I also offer competitions occasionally for reviews. I base my normal preferences by things I also see trending on Twitter.

 

My reviews are posted on my Amazon AU page which is a little irritating for the US (I am really sorry, I’ve tried to have this changed but since Amazon got to AU its impossible), Good reads, and my website here. I have two sub-headings to distinguish books I’ve read that are published by traditional publishers, and those I’ve read by Indie Authors.

 

I will normally base whether or not I buy a book on whether the “Look Inside” feature grabs me. I have to be reading until the end of the third page or have already decided to buy, in order to review it. I do not base my reviews on Indie works on editing (unless its poor), or covers or blurbs.

 

The reason why is that I understand having done this myself that its hard to get covers and blurbs exactly right, and shouldn’t take away a good story. However many readers will judge you for it, and if it is extremely poor no good review is going to help.

 

When I post my review I like to use a critique sandwich; good stuff, bad stuff, great stuff. Not all books are made equal, not all books appeal to every reader. In the event I can’t give a book more than three stars I will leave it, or if I can try to get in touch with the author. There has to be something fundamentally wrong with a book for me to rank it that low. My average ranking is three to four stars, as when I’m reviewing these books I am looking for the story, the characters, and the writers ability to keep me reading.

 

 

You can find lots of people online who have websites where they review books. The best way to speak to these people is to ask once, very politely, (and according to whatever their submission guidelines are), if they will read your book. They often have their own preferences, and can say no if your genre isn’t what they read. This isn’t a free for all, do your research and find out if they read your genre before you ask. If they accept then it’s a good sign, and you should be proud!

 

But then the hard part is that you MUST WALK AWAY. Leave the review in their hands, and be patient.

 

Nobody likes being forced to read a book, (do you remember high school?!), and it takes some people a while to read a book. Leave a reviewer alone once they have accepted your book. For me, asking me where my review is, is nothing short of the height of rudeness. I’ve had this done to me once. I did not review the book.

 

 

  1. Review Services

 

Ah, the other way to pay for reviews and have it be legitimate. This part is tricky, because its hard to find people and be sure that what they are offering still adheres the Amazon T&Cs. This is why we’ve put together a list of services that let you get reviews;

  1. NetGalley: This is an excellent way of getting early reviews of your book before it is published on Amazon. You do need to pay a monthly fee in order to list your book, which can become very pricey over time, but it allows NetGalley reviewers the chance to get a copy (free) and give an honest review. It’s excellent testing ground for your book, especially if you believe its everything it can be. The reviewers aren’t just judging your content, they judge the blurb & cover too.
  2. SPR Reviews: I signed up with them when I first started in 2014 and had an excellent experience. It takes a little time, & there is a fee (starts at $139), but this is a great way to get an honest review of your book, and put it on your Amazon listing to give readers an idea what to expect. They are kind and thoughtful reviewers, and if they run into any serious issues they’ll tell you.
  3. Book Sirens: List your book here for quite a small fee, but if the book garners a lot of attention you can expect that to go up. At a $10 listing fee, there is a $2 charge billed month for anyone who requests your books. They have a 75% review rate, and the reviews are posted on Amazon or Goodreads – you pick.
  4. Booktasters: Mrs Y recommends trying this site to get some reviews in as well, their packages start at $100,
  5. Twitter: You can find several authors willing to review books, but some of them also charge, or don’t necessarily offer reviews per se, as feedback on your book. Some of these include Mark (Proofreader & Reviewer) & Tory (Critique Editor). They will go over their own methods of how they give you feedback, and what’s involved. Not necessarily a review but if your book is falling down they might be a great place to get an idea of what could be wrong.

 

While these services are helpful in getting reviews, they are going to give you an honest review. If your book doesn’t meet their standards they will tell you. They are not services to ensure you get “5 star reviews”, as stated before, this is against Amazon T&Cs. They will however be helpful and insightful reviews/feedback, and are a good way to judge how well your book is going to be received.

 

 

  1. ARC, Giveaways, Goodreads, & Free weekends

 

A great way to get reviews is to offer your book for free. Not permanently, but certainly there are methods to build up hype about your book release or your book in general, to help get reviews.

 

  1. ARC: Advance Reader Copy – this is the option for someone (usually a winner of a Twitter/FB competition) to get early access to your book. They can then review it on Goodreads (if they wish), and you can use their review to help market your book.
  2. Giveaways: You can offer copies of your books over public holiday weekends, celebrations, or even just randomly through your social media platform. Since a reader wins a book for free, it’s a great way to ask them (politely) when they receive it if they wouldn’t mind leaving a review when they are done.
  3. Goodreads: They have a special Goodreads giveaway you can organise directly through the site. I am hesitant to talk about it, they have only recently opened this up to “ebook only” authors who are predominately self published, and I’ve yet to hear good or negative feedback about the experience. Overall I have heard that it can be quite expensive to run a campaign.
  4. Free Weekends: This is simply listing your book for free for a promo weekend. It isn’t a great way to get reviews, but it does help promote your book and allow a lot of readers access to it, hopefully resulting in a review.

 

 

  1. How to Treat Reviewers

 

Be thankful.

 

Someone has just taken the time to read your book, and the least you can do is be polite about it. Bad authors get a reputation for being difficult, and will occasionally be named and shamed if their behavior is truly unacceptable. Most reviewers are too polite to do this, some are not. Some will leave a scathing review of your book, which only hurts everyone. Good authors are often a delight to review for, and will be more likely to be reviewed again & by others if they are a pleasure to engage.

 

Here’s some things you can do to encourage reviewers to read your book;

 

  1. Like the review on Goodreads/Amazon: it shows the reviewer you cared about what they think, but also their status as a reviewer goes up too.
  2. Send a thank you note once you receive a review: they’ve taken the time to write something poignant, especially in the case of Mrs Y, then the least you can do is take the time to say you appreciate them looking at it, perhaps open a dialogue as to a piece they love or a constructive criticism they gave you.
  3. Never be rude: They can delete their review. Some people will change it, and state specifically that you were rude to them, meaning other reviewers will not look at your work if that’s how you treat reviewers.
  4. DO NOT HARASS THEM: I can’t believe I need to reiterate this, and if you are getting bored, I’m sorry, but the LAST thing you do is ask someone if they’ve finished it. This applies to beta reading too. I’m a fast reader, I will devour a two inch thick book in an afternoon if I feel like it, and the story grabs me. Other people can only read for so long at any set time, and we are normally doing this during “relaxation” time which for many of us can be few and far between.

 

 

One of the hardest things isn’t actually editing or publishing or even just writing the damn thing.

 

Its getting reviews, and this is the longest part of the self publishing process. You can do nothing, and sit in anxiety while you wait for answers, as I have done in the past. But these days I like to think of it as giving people a gift, a sliver of my soul, wishing them well of it, and leaving them alone. If they come back to me then I’m flattered, and no matter what they say I listen.

 

You are going to get bad reviews. Not reviews that say: I didn’t get a chance to read it/this wasn’t delivered on time/shit book. These are unhelpful and should for the most part be ignored. The bad reviews I’m talking about is when people pick at flaws in your book. The best way to deal with these is remove yourself and your emotional involvement from the book. Are they saying something that rings true? Is there some nuance of the review that you didn’t even see as a mistake? All of these things are ways to improve upon your writing. Take the feedback and grow from it, don’t make the same mistakes next time.

 

And when you get those glorious good reviews, crack the damn champagne. Having a stranger love your book is the best blessing you can bestow upon any author. Whether its a glowing exploding five star review, or a modest four star with compliments and criticism. Someone has still read, liked, and even loved your books.

 

And isn’t that what you set out to do? Share your story, and don’t be afraid of a big bad review.

 

 

 

 

1 Book in 25 Days

I wrote a book in 25 days.

Lets cut straight to the facts as they are;

  • I don’t have kids
  • I live in a rural area
  • I have a short commute
  • I worked fucking hard at it

 

I love the book, I think it’s a great stand alone story and for me that’s a rarity.

It sprung into my head after I halted work on the Last Prophecy series because buying houses is expensive and the budget said no to editing. Hell the budget said no to my damn haircuts, but we negotiated over vodka. I gave up desserts for it as part of keto.

Scott, being the wonderful and supportive person he is, rightly pointed out it’s just a delay so those of you who’ve stuck with me this far, I’m sorry. I’m still writing the stories, but the release dates are totally out of my hands.

Instead I’ve done some beta recommended rewrites on Queen of Spades the last month, and this other idea I’ve titled Behind the Veil.

The book wouldn’t shut up. It wouldn’t go away. I sat down and wrote it with no idea what was going to happen. I don’t think it’s a steaming pile of garbage but the verdict is still out from the first beta reader.

So, how did I write it?

 

  1. Writers Block

 

When you don’t have an idea what happens next you need to think quickly and keep typing, keep writing, keep the momentum going. I’d start a chapter with a bang and finish it on a cliff-hanger of a comment which dragged me back into what happens next?

It kept the story moving briskly and my pace was very high. There was more to it than that but I’ve written articles on how I do this before.

 

  1. Sprints

 

Fellow writer Zack Riley runs a cosy little discord channel that allows me to do writing sprints. I normally run for an hour, and will do several hours all in a row with 15 to 30min breaks.

The sprints have a bot timer so you have a prompt to keep you on track. You start a sprint, add yourself & your word total, and go when the buzzer hits. There is no TIME to stop and think, you’ve got to write as many words as you can and you are only challenging yourself. It takes practice to do it on command, (I’ve been doing it for 5 years) but after a while you can just sit and work on the story.

When I started I’d be lucky to get a couple of hundred.

Now, on a bad session, I’ll get 1200 words or so. On a good one I’ll get 2.5k words.

 

  1. Outline

 

There wasn’t one. I just wrote Letitia’s story as hard as I possible could. I kept the story going as much as I could. Letitia may as well have been possessing me for how this story spilled out on its own.

I like to credit my imagination, but I read a lot of horror, I’d just never written it before, and it was exciting to be doing this for the first time.

You should have some idea of where it is going, just don’t be afraid if the story turns into something else, if its pressing you to write it, then its exciting, not just for you but hopefully the reader too! If its becoming boring and predictable to you, how is it going to feel to the reader? Try just letting yourself go, and sprints is a great way to do that.

 

  1. No breaks!

 

No capes, no breaks.

I would get up in the morning and write, I would write at lunch, I’d get home and write, and I’d write for as much as ten hours on a weekend. I felt invigorated and refreshed by the constant appeal of not knowing what was going to happen. The story that was whispering in my ear, kept me coming back, even dreaming about it. By the end of it I just wanted to go back and edit it because I was in love with it.

No games. No TV shows. Nothing but writing and reading breaks (with the odd Armello game with Zack).

It meant I watched a couple of movies with my husband. We live alone, and we’re far from friends, so my time was able to be utilized to write, and knowing it was important he was incredibly supportive and reminded me to eat.

 

  1. You can do this too

 

I am lucky in that I don’t have kids or other commitments that consume too much of my time. I live in a rural area I’m new to which means I don have many local friends.

But I work 40plus hours a week.

I have a dog that needs walking twice a day.

Hubby & I share the housework evenly. Sure he might have cooked more, but I do my part.

It was how I utilized my writing time. Rather than socialize on Twitter, I told people I was writing.

Rather than stuff around doing other things I focused solely on what time I sat down at my computer and how much writing I could put into that time. It wasn’t something I could do when I started five years ago.

All of this takes years to balance and even now I feel overwhelmed and overworked some days.

You can do this too, remember what time you sit down at a computer and ask yourself what do you want to get out of that time.

Do the writing sprints and get better with practice.

Take the story other places, let it guide you, learn to listen to it.

 

 

 

At the end of this all I want you to take away is that you could do this.

You could write a book in 25 days.

Ask yourself how you are utilizing your time, and what you want to get out of it.

Learn how to do writing sprints and how to fly by the seat of your pants. Even if you plot, you really just have to know what you are writing next, sit down, and do it.

I had to give up on a part of my life that had never made me happier. The Last Prophecy series is my calling to write. But while its on hold, and while I can write like this, I know a two very important things;

I’ve never been poorer, & I’ve never been happier.

I’ll write my own stories, my own way, and every time I figure out a new way to do it I’ll share it with you.Choose to be happy.

Letters To Writers

For 2018 Nanowrimo, a writer friend of mine decided she was going to do something different for her project; she wrote letters. She picked people she loved, people she resented, people who hurt her and she wrote every single one a letter. And then with a private website and password, she invited the people who’s letters she had written if they wanted to read them. She also invited them to respond, if they’d like, no matter what she’d written.

I was a little unsurprised I had a letter.

We had roleplayed for years together, discussed many creative topics, but along the way there were other things too, and I had no idea what she had in store for me. I considered shortening these to a few key phrases and decided not to, because it would devalue the letter.

I would also like to ask that you read all the through, because at the end I’m going to ask something of you.

 

Dear Eleanor,

Where do I begin? You’ve been such a huge influence on my life that the task of summarising it all in a letter, while simultaneously giving each section the time and attention it deserves, is a little daunting. It doesn’t help that you’re a fellow author. Maybe that’s where I should start.
You are, without a doubt, the first woman I’ve ever known personally that I have looked up to. That might sound harsh given that my mother exists, but that relationship is what it is. I lover her, but I don’t admire her. I admire your writing ability, but more than that, I admire your storytelling ability. They sound related, and to an extent they are, but they’re also vastly different. I am proud to say that the tattoo running down your back is, in my opinion, an apt description. Writers put words on the page. Sometimes they do it for themselves, sometimes they do it at the behest of others, but overall that is all they are paid to do. Storytellers bring words to life. Whether written or spoken, storytellers use words to bring others into another world. Storytellers are empaths and hypnotists. They steal you away from your own world and put you in someone else’s head. You are all of that and more.
Your co-workers might have called you ‘Wikipedia’, but you know what? Fuck them. Not because they’re obviously jealous of the wealth of knowledge that incredible brain of yours can hold, but because you need that knowledge. Being called Wikipedia isn’t an insult, it’s an achievement. What use is an ignorant writer? None, to anybody. Wikipedia is the repository of human knowledge about our universe. Each page of each novel you write is another entry in yours. I’m more than simply astounded by your incredible wit and knowledge, I’m jealous. You seem to know such a variety of information about every subject, and you won’t stop using it to worm your way out of every damn situation I throw at you as a GM.
I knew from that start you’d be a nightmare player to deal with, and I was absolutely right. I looked at every problem, every conflict, from multiple angles before I let you loose on them. Yet you still managed to outsmart me every time. There was always some legal loophole you knew about, or a trick with casement windows. Your personal repository of information is more than impressive, it’s downright unfair. It’s the entire reason I keep meaning to read more of your books. I’m more than a little ashamed about the fact that I never get around to it. I must have read the first five chapters of Hidden Monastery four or five times now. Life just keeps getting in the way.
I might be shockingly terrible at keeping up with your books, but I think I might have finally figured out why. As incredible as it would be to read your stories, to go visit the world that exists only in the Last Prophecy series, why would I ever settle for reading? Why would I read someone else’s account, listen to their adventure, when I have been an active protagonist in your story and fought your villains head on? Why read about anything you can go visit yourself?
I might not have been all that successful at times, and I had an almost comical habit of getting kidnapped (I still blame you for that. I’ll get my revenge somehow, someday.) but I have never felt more awesome and powerful. It was like living the most coherent and clever lucid dream. I don’t know if I could ever replace that magic with the written word. Or, maybe I’m a selfish little shit who doesn’t devote nearly enough time to supporting her friend’s projects. Obviously, I like my version better.

You are, without a doubt, the older sibling I never had. Maybe it’s because you have sisters of your own, but you seem so adept at guiding me through life. I never had anyone like that growing up. I had my mum, of course, but she’s always had her own problems to deal with, whether it be her mental or physical health. I don’t blame her for not being available, but I do sometimes wish I’d had older friends around that I could have looked up to instead. Well, I guess better late than never.
In the past, I’ve been the ones my friends came to for advice. I don’t know why. Maybe back then I talked a lot less, made me seem like I was a good listener. I still am a good listener, I just don’t have as many people around who are comfortable about opening up. I’m glad I’ve had you around to open up to. I know, for the most part, it tends to be for writing advice, but even then you could have told me to bugger off and you never do. You’re always there to help, no matter what it is or how busy you are.
There’s one incident in particular I should probably call to your attention, because I think your advice and perspective was what finally woke me up to what was going on. A few years ago I talked to you about some of the problems Lauren was dealing with. One of our mutual friends was making her feel miserable, and after talking to you I realised he was also being abusive. I thought he was just a self-obsessed idiot who couldn’t see her point of view. It wasn’t until a year later that I realised the situation was so much worse. I obviously won’t go anymore into that because it’s Lauren’s business, but I would have stayed blind if it weren’t for you.
To carry on from that, my experience with Lauren’s situation, and the advice you gave me then, helped prepare me for my own. Another letter in this book tells that story. Which I suppose I’ll have to trust you to read because you’ve never judged be before now… (Who am I kidding? You’re going to smack me and call me an idiot… but then you’ll probably name an RPG villain after him and let me kill him, so it will be fine in the end.) Anyway, there’s not much point in repeating it here. What I will say, though, is that it’s incredible how difficult it is to perceive these things from the inside. It took distance and a whole lot of perspective to realise what that person was doing to me. I don’t think I’d ever have figured it out without the variety of examples you provided me with when I was talking to you over Skype that day. And without the self-confidence you’ve restored in me, I don’t know if I could have stood up to fight any of those battles.

More than just an incredible storyteller and advice-giver, though, you are my friend. I value that more than all of the rest combined. Those features are what make you an incredible example of a human being, an overachiever, someone the world should know about. They’re not why I love having you in my life so much. I haven’t even begun to cover your compassion, humour and vulnerability yet. Oh yes, we’re going through all of that still. I’ve got at least another five hundred words to wax lyrical about you. I’m not going to waste them.


I’ve talked a little about this already when I mentioned receiving advice from you, but I feel the topic does beg its own paragraph. On top of everything else, you are an astoundingly kind woman. I don’t think a lot of people realise it at first because they get too intimidated by your powerful personality. Anyone who does get close enough, however, can see the heart inside the oncoming storm. (Yes, I did just compare you to the Doctor. You are the only person I could ever find worthy of that comparison. I mean, come on… the knowledge of all these concepts completely alien to me, taking me on wild adventures, talking your way out of just about any problem but being more than willing to fight when it comes down to it? I just have one request. Don’t make me be Amy Pond.) Someone who can get as angry as you do about things could only do that by feeling an incredible amount of love.
You’ve demonstrated this quality to me countless times, so it’s not like anyone just needs to take my word for it. You took me, and especially Emily, under your wing right from the start. Like a mama lioness you were ready to defend us against the world if we needed it. We rarely did, or we let ourselves think we didn’t, but I want you to know the effort is always appreciated. So is telling us that, day or night, if we ever ended up stranded or in trouble we were to call you rather than suffer. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve had someone I could rely on like that.


And, of course, it wouldn’t be a true exploration of the wonders of your personality without your sense of humour. For someone so clever and confident you tell jokes like a cheeky schoolgirl who’s just realised the teacher isn’t looking. You laugh like you’re just happy to be part of the group. Sometimes it makes me wonder if you used to be just like me, and then through some incredible power of metamorphosis you managed to turn into a superhero.
Just like a good superhero, sometimes you really do seem invulnerable, beyond human. You do too good a job of holding yourself up, pretending everything is fine. Even through all the stress you’ve dealt with over the past few years, and the heartbreak of losing your father-in-law, you carry on like it’s nothing. Maybe it’s because I don’t see you often enough to see that side of you, or maybe it’s because only Lucas and your close family get to see it. Either way, to me you are invulnerable and immortal. Occasionally I read posts about you crying, or you tell me about it yourself, and it just seems impossible. Of course, I know you’re human. I’ve just talked about the incredible capacity of your heart. I guess I fall too easily into looking at you as someone incapable of showing weakness.

Next time you visit those of us you left behind on Earth when you ascended to godhood, I’m sure everything will be exactly the same as it once was. I have no doubt that we’ll pick up exactly where we left off the last time we spoke, discussing novel ideas, roleplaying plans, and the infuriating reality of being a woman in the modern world. I’ll enjoy teasing you about your overused turns of phrase (Get it? Turns!) and you can wind me up about that time when, supposedly, drunk me tried to lay claim on your husband. At least I know your relationship is secure enough that both of you can continue to wind me up about that. (I almost died the first time he came to give me a lift and said, “I’m here, honey.”)

It’s incredible how big an impact you have had on my life. I’m so fortunate to have you in it, eternally blessed by your friendship every day that it lasts. And I have no doubt that it will last many, many more. It would take a miraculous feat of stupidity for me to somehow lose your friendship, and I don’t think even I’m capable of pulling it off. So I guess we’re stuck with each other for the foreseeable future – me with your infuriating intelligence and you with my peculiar penchant for wanting to date your villains.

All my love,

Lorna

 

 

 

It was Christmas Day that I read this letter.

I was blown away. The day had actually been a very ordinary day for me, and this was by far one of the most wonderful gifts I have ever received. I sat staring at the screen, disbelief o the tip of my tongue. To add to it, another friend of mine came along and said to me that I’d been there during a very dark time, that I was incredibly kind, and that I had helped them a lot. He doesn’t normally say these things, not quite so eloquently, and in such detail, and I couldn’t believe how many years had passed and he hadn’t said a thing, but wanted to now.

I didn’t believe it. I was sitting there, unable to deny or escape the truth of what these two wonderful people where saying about me. I was crying, this can’t be true, this isn’t true. It threatened to shred away so many doubts, so I showed my husband, asking why I was sitting there on Christmas day blubbering like an idiot. He just said; well of course its true, they wrote it.

And it was only fair to respond in kind, to tell Lorna how important she was to me. To make sure my friend knew that he’d been there for me too. So I wrote letters back, especially to Lorna, and after I’d given it a lot of thought, I knew exactly what I wanted to say.

 

Dear Lorna Honey, (sorry, couldn’t be helped),

 

I was wordless. For weeks. I kept coming back to this and wondering over and over how was I ever to respond? You have beyond humbled me, and at first I thought I did not deserve such praise.

Reading through the letter again, I have a response for every paragraph, every sentence, every word.

I can’t not, so I’ll take you down a memory I don’t think you ever saw.

I started writing books as a little girl, and go figure it was Disney princesses with no prince, I loved Aurora and the Wicked Queen’s evilness (indicative much?). I read Enid Blyton and made my own Faraway Tree in my head. And in a very big way I have one very special woman to thank for that. I know your mother has had her challenges in life, and she’s not necessarily into the same things as you, but I was lucky in that regard.

My mother read aloud to us all the time. Nearly ever night. I can’t count the books she’s read to us, it’s a library full of them. Hundreds at the very least, Lord of the Rings twice, and I boast about that but it also doesn’t express how rich my childhood was with fiction. I devoured books, and when we moved to a big city I found Goosebumps and horror in my local library. When I hit my teens not even my father’s books where safe, and one bored afternoon I picked up Terry Pratchett because the covers were weird. I think I tore through them all in a matter of days. I read to Kill a Mocking Bird in one night at school, and the teacher had us open our books to start reading in class the next day and I put my hand up and said I’d already read it. She didn’t believe me, until I threatened to tell the ending to the class. She looked flustered, didn’t know what to do, to her it was just a book, but it wasn’t to me. All my classmates stared at me, and that’s when I knew I was different. Truly different. It was the first time I was okay with that, and I was already fifteen.

After that, my weird reading and writing quirks were made a mockery of by most of my year level, and it made me a much different person than the one you know now, for a very long time.

Yes, in some ways I think we were a lot alike, and I wish there was some sort of clock where I could reset time and have gone to school with you, because I like to think we could have been besties. Because all the while you were complimenting me in that letter, you talked about times that were so dark and hopeless for me. Running those games was one of the few things that grounded me, and I am SO very glad you two walked into my games. You talk about my confidence, and I have to tell you the first time I walked into game shack I hid behind Lucas. I’m not good at making new friends.

But when we all sat down together, that game just worked. It was by far one of the most magical roleplaying experiences, but come to think of it, most of the games we’re in weren’t just amazing because of me, and as the saying goes it takes two to tango.

I saw so much of myself in you at first, and then I realised how horrendously wrong that was. At your age I was alternatively shy, confrontive, aggressive, and superior with my knowledge. I didn’t know how else to be because I was always ostracised for being me.

Yet there you were, doing you, with far more kindness and compassion than I had at your age.

And I’ll tell you the biggest secret of all. I envy you.

I wish I’d made your choices, I wish I’d been braver, I wish I’d started this journey sooner, and not wasted all that time and energy on fruitless things that didn’t matter.

You are such a beautifully complex person that no Dr’s companion does you justice, you’ll be a doctor in your own right one day.

Because I’ve seen you plan, I’ve seen you set your sights on what you want, and I know that you’re going to make it. It might not feel like it, but you are doing all the right/write things. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist).

My experience might have overwhelmed you at first, but I’ve got a lot of years on you, and I suspect by the time you get here your knowledge will far outshine mine, but most importantly, your achievements.

So now to the hard part.

I didn’t read the other letters. I didn’t have to. I knew there was something going on you weren’t telling me. And I’m sorry I was wrapped up in other things and couldn’t be there for you. That is all.

I have always tried to answer yours and Emily’s questions carefully, and with the due consideration they deserved, knowing, or at least hoping, that you would make the right choices. I was never afraid for you because even if you made the wrong one, you would still get through it, because you are unbreakable. Bend perhaps, sway maybe, but I don’t believe you can ever be torn down.

You will never be judged by me for mistakes you have made or decisions you regret, because I have all those and more in spades. And you’ll keep making them, friends, family, lovers, there are a host of bad decisions out there waiting for you. You’ll make them in anger, and frustration, and perhaps regret. But this is the way it is. This is where my experience comes from. Kindness is not an innate talent one naturally takes unless you are already predisposed to be like that. Kindness, compassion, and support are learned because you have suffered, you’ve seen it, and you want it to stop.

You will never be able to fix every problem. Finish every story. Read every book.

Things will slip and slide, life will get in the way.

I have weakness as do you, but we have strengths too.

You are so very brave. I was so proud of you when you finished your degree. More than you will ever know. I thought to myself; she did what you always wanted to, what you should have done. I should have followed that little girl’s dreams of being a writer, and instead I believed I needed to get a degree to get a job.

And here you are, getting a degree in writing, conquering Nanowrimo ingeniously, working on your creatively talents with the relentless pursuit I can only admire, and envy.

You fight standards and expectations and forge your own, you are a warrior in your own right. You are a dancer with words and expression, a fire I want to see burn on until I am gone. You are the person I wanted to be, and so if anything you said about me rings true, know that I see it in you.

I hope one day a young woman, bright and intelligent, writes you a letter like that, so you understand what a profound difference you’ve made on my life.

Never give up on you, because you are so beautiful inside, and you have so much yet I hope to see.

With all the love in the world,

Nor

 

 

Afterwards I decided that I needed to do something more. I couldn’t just let these letters lie, I needed to spread Lorna’s message, about how much we admire and love other people and you never know when that’s going to tear down walls of lies inside a persons own mind, or give them the courage to keep going, or save their life.

So I’m asking you to do it. Write someone a letter, with all the words of a creator, a sorcerer over a cauldron concocting fairy tales and stories among the stars, write a letter to someone who needs your magic.

To another author you admire, a painter who you love, and it doesn’t matter if they are famous or not, a person you’ve met in real life or not. Write them a letter. Tell them what you meant to them. There is not enough love and caring in this world and if you can take the time to read this far then please, take the time to tell someone else how important they are to you. You will never ever know how desperately they need to hear it.

creativity is intelligence having fun.

Helping Writers

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Its come about thanks to a Twitter post that my Book Tour schedule is full for the rest of year, and my Author Interviews are also heavily booked, so I wanted to ask that if you are a writer with a website you help too.


So, where to start?


This is both the easiest and the hardest part. You just get started, you open your website and start posting. Six months ago I hadn’t started this, and now I’m fully booked. You’ve just got to knuckle down, send out a well tagged tweet, and wait and see.


Plus… you know… I’m a writer too, you could ask me… *ahem* Moving on…


There may be other ways to do this, but I just went to other people’s websites, worked out how I wanted to set it up on mine, and got the pages ready. I use WordPress, and I am not great at it but I’ve got mine trucking along. The more you use it, the more you learn and get better.


Start by setting up your pages for Book Tours, and Author Interviews. Feel free to explore mine and other author websites on how they’ve gone about this. I also have another sub-section for archived author interviews. Then I have a space specifically for Indie and Traditionally published book reviews, which also has an archive. The reason I have separated the two is because I don’t want to show I read just one type, I want to show I read widely, and not every book is perfect. I’ll go into how I post reviews, both good and bad.


Draw up a Google spreadsheet/Excel/preferred scheduler and work out how often do you want to post. Once a month? Once a week? I do mine twice a fortnight, because I work full time and it does take a bit of time to put it up. I’m getting faster the more I post, but a Book Tour post will take about 30mins, and an Author Interview about an hour. Sometimes its less but I’m slower because I’m careful.


I therefore have two lines, for two times of the month, and then the corresponding months at the top of the column. Yes, I’m drilling down into basics but not everyone is familiar or comfortable with excel/spreadsheets.


On a second tab I list the name, email address, links, a marker whether I’ve emailed them and whether I’ve received all the relevant information I need to make the post at the time. I then have a folder in my emails for correspondence for Book Tours & Author interviews as two separate folders to help me stay organised.


Once you have your schedule ready for both you can do the following;


  1. Book Tour


This is easy, put a post up on Twitter offering spots on your website. Take it as first in first served and close it off quickly once you are booked up.

I then put the twitter tag against its date in my schedule, grab the details off the person via a DM, and send them an email with all the info I need. This is a drafted email I copy and past to save on time. It asks for the following information;


  • Book Cover
  • Blurb
  • Book link to Amazon (or most commonly used publishing site)
  • An author pic and short bio


I usually have word restrictions to make sure people don’t go overboard, it also helps to say to people that most blurbs are about 150 words, (fantasy 180). If people’s blurbs are longer you can politely let them know that, some people just dont know. If you or anyone you know is struggling with a blurb, put out feelers in your community to ask for help, or come to me, I am always happy to help.


Once they’ve emailed you, mark it off on the spreadsheet, and make sure to post it on the date. You can go to my website or just Google search Book Tours to get an idea of what other sites are doing and how they are displaying this information.


  1. Author Interviews


This is pretty much the same as the above, I have a drafted letter and enter people as I book them on the spreadsheet. For the interview of course, there are questions too. Its good to have something less formal and more customizable as a first or final question. The others are then pretty standard about writing, but find your own way of asking questions. Think about what you want someone to ask of you in your writing.


Limiting the word count here is paramount. Some writers can waffle on for hours about absolutely nothing, including yours truly.


You can also check out mine and other author websites for how they manage interviews.


      3. Book Reviews


This is not a service I offer.


I will sometimes give away reviews, but its rare.


The reason being is that there are a lot of authors who go out woefully under prepared, and that’s on their manuscript alone. I feel that way about my first novella, and so will be pulling it down off Amazon in the coming weeks, and offering it for free on my website. Its not a bad story, but it’s a slow world and character build.


I write fiction that likes to amble along beside you, not come up and punch you in the face.


We all write differently, and we all read different styles, we are allowed to not like everything we write and read.


Therefore when you go to start reviewing, be prepared for negative reactions. Not everyone is going to like, appreciate, or want your feedback. I have been dragged down into petty arguments by people who didn’t like what I thought of their book.


So I buy the book on Amazon usually, sometimes Kobo, and I leave a review on my website, Goodreads, & Amazon/Kobo.


I always try to use the critique sandwich; good stuff, bad stuff, different good stuff. It’s a great format, but points out issues to the writer.


When I first started writing I needed that desperately, and still do to a large extent. Beta readers are usually people you know, and in turn will be kinder. Someone’s who paid for your book is going to be far less so. You don’t need to be cruel, but you also don’t have to shower praise over it.


This is why I leave reviews for both Traditional and Self published books, because I like to make the clear distinction I dont see them any differently. I’m here for the story. I will rarely pick on editing unless its truly dreadful, and a deterrent to the book. I also don’t usually post anything less than 3 stars, and my reasons for doing so are that its seems cruel not to find anything nice about the story. Most stories that make it to any form of publication have something redeemable about them. When I come across a book that I’d rate that low, I am usually very specific in my review as to why.


If you are going to offer reviews please be prepared to expect a backlash if you give a book a less than savoury review, especially when its badly articulated and lacking in itself. If you are going to upset an author its better to phrase it well, and kindly, so they take the advice on board and look to improve themselves, rather than be bitter and tear you down in return. Which has happened to me. It was vile and unpleasant and its why I’m stressing that you be careful when doing this.


Here is the other thing to be wary of ⸺ some authors will refuse anything other than five stars.


This is why I prefer the anonymity of picking and choosing what I will and wont review, it doesn’t give the author a choice. This is just my preference however, how you want to review is up to you, its your website, and your reviewing platforms.


The most important thing to remember is that you dont have to do all of this, or do it this way. Go out and explore, work out what you want to get out of this, and how you want to go about doing that. All I get is the warm glow that I’m helping, and added benefit of website traffic. But mostly the warm glow.


My aim as always been to help other writers, with whatever I can, as much as I can. Will you join me?


Write the Darkness Within

“I don’t know how you did it.”

 

The compliment came when I announced I’d completed my 2018 goal of writing six books. They didn’t know how I did it. Thinking back, neither do I.

 

I normally write a blog post at the end of the year about my accomplishments and hopes for New Year, like it was a wondrous learning experience. I save the post for New Years Eve, an achievement of great pride, to tally up that I at least had something to show, and would finish on a note of peace and hope.

 

Laying claim to six books sounds like I had an awesome year, it would have been a great post.

 

I did not have a good year. I didn’t want to write that post.

 

I had a very bad year that has been proceeded by several bad years and my writing suffered for it. I’d swing between writing something great, the editor has said no major changes to A Phantom Presence, which was a first for me. But for him to then say that To Chase a Prophecy was not Ok, I think I rewrote it twice.

 

And I didn’t get those books to him on time, or in the condition they *should* have been up in. Because of all the real world distractions that dragged me down, and left me feeling used, hopeless, and above all tired.

 

So how did I write those books? With sadness. With despair. With a wellspring of unquenchable rage that this was all I had in the world that mattered, and it mattered to few more than to me.

 

It consumed me.

 

It was my waking wrathful thoughts and my bitter night time regret.

 

I sat at the computer when I was hot, tired, dirty, mind blank, with nothing left except that that burning anger at the world and all the things in it that had gone wrong.

 

My work wasn’t a reflection of my mood. It was what drove the stories I intended to write.

 

I burned through words as I tried in vain to exhaust the endless anger within me. All it did was tally up a word count I wasn’t trying to prove to anyone, not even myself. I’d write over ten thousand words a day and shrug it off as thought it was nothing, because to me, it was just what I needed to do.

 

There is no other way to get word counts like this, and if I have gained anything from it, it’s the ability to sit down at a computer and write ten thousand words in a day. Day after day. I am not proud of that because when I was writing those words, all that mattered was the story, the all encompassing desire to write ceaselessly on.

 

So if you need advice on how to sit down and write six books in a year, if you need motivation pull you through that work in progress, I don’t have it. I wouldn’t wish this feeling on anyone.

 

Because underneath all that rage, all that wrath, all that energy I had nowhere else to direct, I found I was made of a one very simple component.

 

Determination.

 

Where I had failed at so many things, had so much taken away, this was mine.

 

No one could take it from me, no one could stop me, and no one could tell me I was wrong.

 

I lit up words, destroyed people, created endless streams of nonsense tangled in tales that were from waking nightmares and bitter memories. And I made it beautiful, but my own.

 

No one can tell you how to write.

 

No one has a magic wand on a best seller.

 

No one knows the story like you do, and no one can write it like you will.

 

Write from the darkness within, and you’ll find what you need. I know I did.

 

There is always something to be thankful for.

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