Final Segment: Follow-up Questions

Ask the Authors (Round 2)

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Well, we’ve come to the final segment of Ask the Authors (Round 2) and it’s time to wrap things up. Today, our author panel will delve further into many of the topics from the previous segments. I’m pleased to have participation from almost all of our original panel members for this final segment. Included are authors DeAnna Knippling, Jordan Elizabeth, Tom Johnson, Dan Alatorre, Cynthia Vespia, Margareth Stewart, RA Winter, Lilly Rayman, Art Rosch, Amy Cecil and Mark Shaw. We didn’t get any reader questions this round, so the questions here are all mine. And with that said, here we go.

Building in Conflict

For the most part, we like our characters. Of course we do. We created them, they are our children. We even create villains that we love to hate, but there’s always a very story must have conflict. Conflict makes the story interesting. We’ve talked about creating characters readers can relate to and this is where we use that to our advantage. There has to be something at stake in order for readers to want to know what happens next. If there is no possibility of something bad happening and we know it will all turn out okay, then there really is no point in finishing the story. So, even though we love our characters, at times we need bad things to happen to them.

How do you feel about killing off your darlings? What other ways do you find to add conflict to the story?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I sometimes feel embarrassed about how much crap I lay on my characters, but oh well 🙂

I think every scene should end up worse for the character in some substantial way than the one before.  It depends on the book, of course, but even a slow idyll should end with some level of train wreck by the end of the scene, even if the bad thing that happens is just a false sense of security setting up the characters to get hurt worse later.  I have four methods (so far):  1) the character tries to do something but fails.  2) the character tries, succeeds, and makes things worse.  3) the character’s efforts are interrupted by some other thing going wrong.  4) the character tries something…but you don’t get to find out how it comes out yet.

I write a fair amount of horror; one of my favorite techniques there is that a character tries to find out something, does, and totally regrets having left behind their blissful ignorance!

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan If I kill someone off, I usually bring them back as a ghost, haha.  Seriously, though, I don’t always use death as a way to build conflict.  I like to add emotional drama through something devastating, like a shattered dream, or by throwing the character into an unexpected situation.  Adding a new, but related, bad guy helps too.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture In Carnival of Death, the villain, Spider is back in town. She is a master of martial arts, but she had fought the Black Ghost in The Spider’s Web, and found him a superior fighter. This time she has help dealing with him while she goes after one of his aides, a Korean girl. Spider plans on beating the information out of the girl, but the Korean is a fighter and now one must die. The Korean has never had to kill before, while Spider has killed many with her martial arts. Will the young Korean be able to defeat this ninja in a battle to the death?

In the Spider’s Web, the Ninja had selected another aide, newspaperman George Freeman, an ex Army Ranger, tough and fearless, but she was beating him and was at the point of killing him when the Black Ghost arrived to challenge her. This time the Black Ghost was in a fight of his own, and could not reach his aide in time. The Korean girl is his electronic eyes and ears, not an active field agent, and must face this challenge alone.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre If the story needs for my character to die, sorry! Boom, gone. It’s that simple. What’s best for the story? Do that, no matter how painful.

But conflict can be done in lots of ways before we get to that. Just put little obstacles in the way of your character – any character – and his or her goal. We need to track a serial killer? Let’s use one of our detectives as bait. Then make him nervous because a few years back, his partner died in front of him, and instead of thinking about catching the killer, he’s thinking about when his partner died, while he’s supposed to be bait for THIS killer. Then a man approaches that he’s sure is the killer and he’s all nervous and ready to spring into action – and it’s a false alarm. Which nearly causes him to blow the sting. Which causes him to get yelled at. Now his new partner is nervous about working with him… ALL of which was added JUST to add conflict. There are lots of ways to increase conflict.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy If it’s necessary to the story I have no problem with it. But too many authors are trying to emulate George RR Martin and killing just to kill. First, build your character then, if there’s just cause, you kill them off to move the story.

What other ways do you find to add conflict to the story?

Depends on the story, depends on the characters. There’s alot of variables that go into answering that question. For instance, in my latest novel Karma I didn’t kill anyone, but there was a horrible accident that put someone in jeopardy.

Margareth Stewart

Margareth Stewart I don´t mind, my stories are full of conflict, and I write not to praise the anyone. Characters must do what they must do and feel what they feel, I follow that all the way through the path of writing the whole ploth, it does not matter if I like it, dislike or disagree with it. It is not the role of the writer to judge their characters. Full stop.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman In my Unexpected series, the first book begins with the fact that my main character’s mother, and her half-brother’s mother were both deceased. This was a situation that was already developed, so I never gave much to either of these women, who in fairness, had been defining influences on my main character and her brother during their childhood. I then made a choice, to write a prequel, a story that investigated both these women and their influences on my main characters father and his children. I found it very hard to write the demise of both these women, since I had connected to them as I looked into them during their life. Unfortunately, it was always their fate to end up dead, and there was little that I could do about it.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil I really don’t mind killing off a character. I worry more about the reaction I’ll get from my readers. I always have an antagonist and they work to supply conflict


Action Scenes

In segment six, we talked briefly about how to write an action scene clearly and keep action moving smoothly, especially when there’s a lot going on in the scene in the discussion on action scenes and pacing.

Can any you elaborate on how you keep the action flowing smoothly in a fight scene, specifically?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I break everything, both action scenes and otherwise, into beats.  In theater terms, a “beat” kind of translates down to the smallest possible conflict. (In a scene, there can be many different conflicts as the characters try different tactics to reach a goal.)  A beat is one clear step in attempting to achieve some goal.  Say a character is attempting to convince another character to sign up for a yoga class.  The character might try:
–Asking directly.
–Telling the other character they’re out of shape.
–Promising they’ll go with the other character.
–Lying to the character and saying they’re going to go shopping.
Each attempt during the conversation would be a beat.
Same thing goes for fight scenes.  The second character might realize that the first character tricked them into going to a yoga studio.  A battle begins!  The second character wants to escape the yoga studio.  They might:
–Point toward the hallway, saying “Look! Baby wolf!” while making a break for the door.
–Wrestling with the yoga teacher, who is blocking the door.
–Abruptly turning and trying to run toward the hallway.
–Rolling to their feet after being tripped by the first character.
Jordan Elizabeth
Jordan I picture what’s going on in my head and sometime sketch it out.  I like to keep my sentences crisp and short.  It keeps the pace moving and makes the action punchier.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Professional fighters learn to read their opponent’s strengths and weakness. Their full attention is on the moves, their minds evaluating, their eyes fully engaged on the person in front of them. Each is studying the other for a sign of weakness. Moves are like reflex action, lightning fast, with follow through automatic. There is no time to think about your next move, it has to come with mind-body coordination. And for this to happen they need to train and train until those reflexes are faster than their thought processes. The boxing tournament in my novel, Cold War Heroes has a number of good fight scenes.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre I hope so; I wrote a whole book called A Is For Action, to describe just that. Envision it, and lay it out in big chunks, then address each chunk for what it’s supposed to do. Then cut each chunk into littler chunks and address what they are supposed to do. Little by little it’ll come together, but it takes a lot more explanation than I can do here – which is why I needed a while book to explain it, but it’s inexpensive and will show you everything you need, common rookie mistakes like run-on sentences, and all the rest.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy Pacing, short sentence structure, mapping out the fight like you would any other scene, being aware of the POV you’re using, the setting, the weapons involved. I often block out the fight the same way a choreographer does for a movie.

Art Rosch

Art 2001 Samurai movies. I have immersed myself in Samurai movies for decades and that immersion has influenced everything I’ve written about combat and battle sequences. It doesn’t hurt to know martial arts. I don’t know anything about martial arts beyond the basics. In my fantasy novel, The Gods Of The Gift there is an extended combat sequence that encompasses every combination of fighting, from single to double to mutliple and then to mass formation fighting. I was inspired by a fight scene in the Samurai Trilogy (made in the 50s, see it!). A swordsman squares off against a master of a weapon called the Kusarigama. This device consists of a razor sharp sickle mounted on a staff. There is attached to the staff a heavy spiked ball attached to a twelve foot length of chain. The ball and chain are swung in overhead circles and used to trap an arm, a leg, a sword, thus allowing the weapon’s user to charge in and finish his opponent with the sickle. Nasty! Fascinating!

The Japanese and Chinese have arsenals of bizarre weapons. A bit of research into the Google archives will inspire some good ideas.

Then there’s the sensory impact of combat itself. Writing a fight scene involves all the senses. Feet moving, the sound of gravel spraying, the whine of metal on metal, the sweat and heightened perceptions of the fighters. Adrenaline. Terror and triumph. A good fight is seldom resolved in a single blow. In REALITY this often happens, but in fiction we need to have our heroes staring into the abyss of defeat, almost losing the fight, almost dying, then calling upon some last bit of strength to find a way to survive.

I read some accounts of medieval battles, taken from contemporary sources.  The descriptions of thousands of men charging and clashing have much in common.  I adapted that perception to describe a battle between large forces colliding in The Gods Of The Gift.  Here it is:

“The two masses of people came together with a groan of animal rage. There was a sound like the wrinkling of a giant metal plate. Garuvel was only aware of pushing and being pushed. His shoulder was dug into someone’s brittle shield, someone who was pushing at him as mightily as he pushed back. All around him, this pushing of two giant forces wavered this way and that, the front of the two masses of people snaked, bent, briefly ruptured, re-formed, pushed again. Garuvel could feel himself gaining ground as he pushed at the shield. His feet were digging trenches in the soil; soft wet earth oozed up around his ankles. He was able to take a single step forward and his opponent’s shield broke in two.  The face of a startled snarling Djoubiat appeared before him, and Garuvel used two fingers of his left hand to poke his enemy’s eyes out. He grabbed the man’s sword as it began to float away on the waves of the crowd. He tossed it to Jaramine, then got another sword for himself. Back to back, they let themselves be swept into the berserk trance of combat”.

I hope this helps. I’m barely on my first cup of coffee. I recommend that you locate The Samurai Trilogy directed by Hiroshi Inagaki and starring Tohiro Mifune. Great films.  Then, of course, there are the Kurosawa/Mifune collaborations. Enjoy!

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil When I’m writing a fight scene I usually close my eyes and picture the scene then type what I see with every detail. Once the scene is complete then I go back and polish it up



Editing and Revision

In the week seven segment on editing, DeAnna Knippling talked a little about the editing process from the editor’s side. Her comment was that you have to like the type of book you’re editing, so you can be a champion for the story. And like Dan Alatorre pointed out, our stories may not be for everyone and not everyone will like them. As long as some people do like our stories, that may be all that matters as far as building a platform and following, but when it comes to editors, you have to be sure they get our work and like our writing styles. So, my follow-up questions are:

What do you look for in an editor? How do you know when you find an editor who’s a good fit for you?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I tend to find editors online, so I tend to ask questions that are in line with the book I’m writing. If the editor can respond in the same tone, that’s a good sign. “Do you solemnly swear not to try to change the rash behavior of my Y.A. fantasy characters?” That kind of thing.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I look for an editor with experience, and one who isn’t afraid to say what they like and don’t like.  Some editors will read anything for the money, but not do a good job because it isn’t a genre he/she is passionate about.  I like the editors who tear my work apart while understanding the vision behind it.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture This is not always up to the author. When dealing with publishers you have to deal with their editors. When I was writing for NBI my publisher was a pulp fan, and knew what I was writing, so we hit it off great. Other publishers were not so cooperate. A number of them were romance and erotica editors, and were not fans of my writing style. They wanted sex and profanity, and I refused to give it to them. In one scene my hero and a bad guy are fighting in a room high above the street when they crash through a window and are about to fall, and my hero says, “Oh, hell!” My editor wanted something stronger, but I refused. Of course, my hero catches the window frame and doesn’t fall, but we argued about what he should have said, or not said. As the author, I thought I had the final say and that didn’t please the editor one bit. I also had an editor that automatically did a search and destroy for all “ly”s in the story and deleted them. That created more problems than it solved. When you find a good editor, keep them. There are some out there that won’t listen to you, the author.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre A good editor can edit anything, like it or not; I do it all the time. But it’s better if they like it. I mean, commas don’t appear or disappear based on if I like the story, but content will be handled differently. What do I look for? Someone who gets it. Gets the story, gets the jokes, gets what I’m going for. Someone who writes or has written, because a bad story with all the commas in the right places is still a bad story. A great story makes its own rules. I love it when an editor or beta reader is so engrossed in my story they forget to edit it. When the fit is right, you know it because they get the jokes BUT they are willing to chuck it all to help the story be the best it can be. We call it the Hemingway standard. They hold me to the highest standard possible and catch every microscopic issue, and I do the same for them. We might not get to Hemingway but by God we’re gonna try.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy At this point if I were to look for an editor I’d do my research on what they’ve edited in the past and get some recs from other authors.

RA Winter

RA Winter I was lucky enough to meet my editor, Karen Freeman, on Scribophile.com. She crit my story, then read everything I’ve written and had a lot of great insight. She knows my style and understands my prose.  I love an editor who does a full developmental edit, proofreading, grammar, and character development. Usually, she reads the first draft then waits until my edits and other crits are done before she comes back and rereads everything. As an editor, Karen Freeman goes above and beyond for me. I’m so glad that I have her!

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I look for an editor who is easy to work with, answers my questions on why they made editing decisions. At the same time, I like an editor who is prepared to ask me why I made the decision to write a sentence or a scene the way I did.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil I want (and have) an editor that will make me a better writer. Someone who will make me step out of my comfort zone and make me write more. Over the years I’ve learned so much from my two editors. They are awesome.


Publishing Platforms

Today, authors can create their own publishing house, putting out their work under their own imprint. I’ve been told that this is a relatively easy thing to do. Some of our panel members have done just that, so let’s ask them.

Can you share with us a little about what the process of creating your own imprint entails?

 DeAnna Knippling

deannak
–Deciding to do one.
–Coming up with a business name that nobody else is using.
–Researching what laws are applicable for your state on the secretary of state website for your state (usually).
–Doing that (usually just registering the name).
–Rah!

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture We created the FADING SHADOWS imprint in 1982, and published a hobby magazine until 2004, as well as genre magazines from 1995 to 2004. We did all the proofing, editing, setting up and printing for most of those years. Today, we still use the FADING SHADOWS imprint on my self-published books. However, we no longer do the printing. Thankfully, with POD technology anyone can be a publisher today, you just need the know-how of modern technology. In 1982 we were young and energetic. In 2019, we’re not so young and energetic, so can’t do it all like we once did. My wife is a good editor for my books. She catches the errors I miss. But she also knows that I write in the pulp style, 60 years in the past.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre Liken it to a winemaker. Are you going to grow your own grapes and make and sell the wine? Then if you are a bad farmer, you’ll get crappy wine, so you have to be an expert farmer AND expert wine maker AND expert marketer… most people aren’t experts at all that stuff and aren’t willing to become experts; many won’t be able to even if they knew what to do. There are a lot of moving parts. Essentially, if you mess up on any of those steps, you are toast. Now, having said that, even if you don’t manage to become an expert at everything, you’ll know enough to manage the people you hire and you’ll have respect for what they do.

What are the advantages of having your own imprint? Would you recommend authors do this?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I have multiple pen names, so I do it to keep things organized. If you didn’t have a pen name, and you didn’t plan to ever edit an anthology or something, then I can’t see a lot of material benefit. But as soon as you have multiple names involved, then I’d say you should go for it. It’s hard to claim that your writing business is “DeAnna Knippling, Author” for tax purposes if you’re in either case. BUT I am not a lawyer, so don’t take that as legal advice 🙂

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Yes, a lot of authors are using their own imprints today. And some have good editors.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre The advantage is, if there’s no market for an original work, it can still see the light of day and maybe find its audience.

Authors, especially those who chose the more traditional routes of publishing, have to be thick skinned. If we take them all personally, they can be devastating, perhaps even deterring an author from continuing the pursuit of their dream.

For those who have tried to publish traditionally or via small press, where your work must be submitted in hopes that someone else will deem it publishable, and how many rejections did you receive before acceptance? And how did you handle the rejections?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I’m still submitting to short story markets.  I submit all over the place for that. I think I submitted like fifty queries for novels, but I really wasn’t ready for novels back when I was doing that (I started out as a short story writer). When I started out, it got to me.  Then I heard Julie Kazimer talk about how many rejections she had, and I was like, “Right, I like her writing, and she still gets that many rejections, so whatever.” I made a goal to get 100 rejections my first year of serious submissions.  Got 125 🙂  I don’t track the number anymore, though.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I received well over one-hundred rejections on COGLING, and now it is my second best-seller. Readers send me emails raving about it. At first, rejection hit hard. I wanted to curl up in the corner and cry. It took a while for rejections to roll off my back. As long as I love what I wrote, then that’s all that matters.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture My first novel was submitted in 1970 to a dozen SF publishers, and I received a dozen rejection slips. One famous SF editor said he didn’t even know where the story took place. Well, he must not have even read it (LOL). But to be honest, I needed an editor. In fact, I also sent the story to what I thought was a publisher, but was an editing service. I was living in Riverside, California at the time, and two men came down from L.A., California to interview me. My book, they said, was something special, but they wanted to help me learn to write, and gave me several options, all of which would cost me money that I didn’t have. So I stuck the manuscript in a drawer where it stayed for three decades. In those thirty years I learned to write.

I have fulfilled my dream. Yeah, I read a lot, and see what the traditional authors are writing. Sometimes it’s disheartening to see what is being hailed as the best books on the market, and the size checks they are getting for what I consider junk, and seeing good independent writers having trouble selling copies of their books that are ten times better than those best sellers.

But I think about the writers-for-hire that turned out stories for publishers selling a million copies of each title, and the author only getting $1,500.00 for that book back then. When Stephen King was paid a million dollars for Carry, one of those writers-for-hire took a .45 and blew a hole through his computer. The writer-for-hire was bringing big bucks to the publisher for very low wages, and the publisher was paying King, McMurty, Clancy, and a few others the big bucks. The writers-for-hire didn’t think it was fair, and I still don’t think it is. I like martial arts, and I heard about a “best selling” series called The Ninja that has been receiving such great praise and a New York Best Seller, so I bought it. After fifty pages I threw it in the trash where it belonged.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre The movie Rocky won best picture back in 1976. It got turned down a LOT, but Stallone stuck with it and it won best picture. The lesson isn’t tenacity, although that’s part of it. The lesson is, the people in charge often don’t know what’s good. Tom Brady, possibly the best quarterback in the NFL’s history, was a 7th round draft pick. That means EVERY TEAM passed him over 6 times – and he’s the best to ever play the game. Steven Spielberg, the most popular and most successful movie maker in history was turned down by USC film school. The people in charge often don’t know what’s good. Lots of people turned down every successful author at some point, and rejection letters are going to come by the hundreds. Each “no” puts you closer to a “yes,” so expect 200 of them for each version of your book you are querying. If the publishers don’t want it, don’t be afraid to go indie.

Art Rosch

Art 2001 In business there’s an expression. It goes like this: If the product is good, it will sell. Of course, I’m crap at business. In 1980 I had a writing career in the palm of my hand.  I was a guest of honor at Playboy‘s Writer’s Award banquet. I sat between Alex Haley and Saul Bellow. My short story had won Playboy‘s annual award and I was whisked to New York City to hobnob with the literati. Agents and publishers were handing me their cards. I signed a two year contract with Scott Meredith Agency. I just had one little problem. My writing hadn’t yet matured. My books were earlier versions of themselves and I hadn’t mastered the finer points of story telling.  I had another twenty years to grow up and become a polished writer.

Now we, as writers, are struggling through an era in which books are common as pennies and it’s virtually impossible to gain traction. In 1980 the world’s population was half of today’s population. There was room to get noticed. Now, today, go to Twitter, Facebook. Drown in titles, covers, blurbs. Not all of these books are good. I’ve written six hundred query letters to agents. The reply? “Though you write very well, unfortunately your novel is not right for us at this time.”

Sound familiar?

I don’t quit. I believe in my work. I believe in it so much that I can easily describe it as something like being in love. I’m in love with the things I write, and photograph, and music that I play. And so forth and so on.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil Only did this with my first book and only sent to three publishers. All three were rejected. That’s when I learned I could self publish.

During week 8 on publishing platforms, RA Winter gave the following advice for new authors, “Series make more money or at least have all of your books branded in the same genre.”

This sounds like good advice, but what does the multi-genre author do as far as branding goes? Do we have a separate brand for each genre, or can a single brand for your works encompass all the genres that you write?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I write under different genres, so I can’t really use the same marketing/branding for each genre.  What works for gothic horror novels doesn’t do so well for cyberpunk.  I feel like I have to start over every time–but that’s okay.  I’m happy with my choices from a writing perspective.  It’s just a pain to deal with from a marketing perspective.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I use the same brand for each of my books.  It works for steampunk because it is a gear, and it works for my fantasy novels because gears turning can symbolize the imagination working.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Well, I have to admit, my SF novels have done well, but so, too, have my pulp novels. I like writing in different genres. Westerns sell good, and I have a few in that category also. When I go to town people say, “Oh, he’s that science fiction writer.” That’s nice, but SF doesn’t sell in this town, and a science fiction writer is about as popular as sidewinder. I even told a teacher once that science fiction was a western. You just trade the cowboy’s six-shooter for a ray gun, his horse for a rocket ship, and Indians for red Martians. And some people here know I collect and write pulp, but they don’t know what pulp is. I was at the Post Office one day and a fellow was mailing a big package out. He recognized me and said, “I bet if you thought this box contained comic books you’d take it away from me.” Brand? I don’t know how good a Brand is. Me, I want to write whatever genre grabs me at the time. I’m tickled when someone calls me a children’s author.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre Lots of authors don’t do that and are very successful, but I suppose it makes life easier if you do it. The problem is, you might have a crappy series no one wants to read. Then what? You wasted years on a dead end. I write what I want to read. I write in a daring style. I can make you laugh or cry in every story, sometimes on the same page. When you start my story, I own you, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s a series or if each book is different. John Belushi never repeated himself; why should I? Genius has a way of being discovered of you are willing to put enough work into it. There are no shortcuts and no magic recipes.

There’s no one magic formula. Train your readers that whatever you deliver, it will rock their world. Books and movies are entertainment. The best directors don’t do the same movie over and over in a series because they want to challenge themselves to find another great thing and to keep pushing themselves.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy My work can, and has, fallen under different genres. I find it gets confusing to the reader especially in terms of branding and finding your niche audience. So now I try to incorporate a little bit of fantasy in every book I write be it urban, dark, or adventure so that my books stay under a similar umbrella.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil Still working on this.

If you have published independently, what challenges have you faced – in getting your books into brick and mortar bookstores, and libraries?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak Nobody likes or wants to work with Amazon/CreateSpace. That’s my biggest challenge in one. I need to expand away from them, but I haven’t reached that far yet.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture I’ve personally donated my books to the surrounding libraries, and some of my books have been on the shelves of Books A Million and Hastings in Wichita Falls, Texas, but that was in the past. I doubt seriously that any are still in the brick & mortar bookstores.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre Doing any of that requires time and effort. That same effort can get me more sales of eBooks, so I concentrate there. 90% of my marketing time or more is marketing eBooks. If I have time leftover, I’ll see if a library wants a copy or if a brick and mortar bookstore does. I went to an author event where the bookstore manager at the event derided me about bringing so many of my 25 titles. I sold a whopping 6 books that weekend with her. As I was packing up, she kinda laughed at the effort I made in bringing in 25 titles and only selling 6. I mentioned that I’d moved over 1000 eBooks that week. She shut up after that.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy They absolutely will not accept POD versions of your book.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil Marketing is my biggest challenge.


Building Your Author Platform

Have you ever used paid reviews?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak Nope. I don’t feel like it’s ethical, by which I mean “long-term smart.”

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I used one company once.  It cost a lot of money and promised at least 10 reviews.  I got 1.  After that, I never paid for another review company.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture No, but I have thought about it. Reviews are hard to get.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre No. I know some people say Kirkus and others like them are great; I don’t see the value. When I see a Kirkus review, I say: that person isn’t successful enough to get reviews without paying for them. I could be totally wrong about that, but that’s what I think. Spend that $500 or whatever on marketing and getting reviews from readers.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy No, there’s no point in it for me. I’d rather here what readers genuinely think rather than someone I paid off to give a glowing review. Besides, I’ve talked to a number of other authors and they’ve all said the amount of reviews you have really doesn’t mean that much in the long run.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman No. One I don’t believe you receive a genuine review if you pay for it.

Two. I believe they are unethical.

Three. I can’t afford to pay people to review my work.

Art Rosch

Art 2001 I probably have more fans than I realize. Unfortunately, I get very little feedback. A comment on one of my blogs, an appreciation of a book, a review…any kind of review…is a major event. I don’t pay for reviews. There are so many authors, so many reviews, it’s like spitting into a fast moving river. It’s here, then gone.

My novel, Confessions Of An Honest Man won Writer’s Digest Honorable Mention. There were almost four thousand submissions. WD wrote a glowing review of the book.  Without that review I’m not sure I would even believe the book exists. Without Kaye Lynn’s reviews of my work, I would feel like a ghost. I’ve sold less than a three hundred books. I can’t even give away my books. My memoir, The Road Has Eyes has eleven hundred free downloads. That’s four years worth of promotion. Am I disappointed? Yes. Am I surprised? A little.

In your mind, what are the pros and cons of paid reviews?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak A) They’re not really honest.  B) They’re trackable, so your distributor may bust you for them and punish you according to their terms of service. Goodbye review! And that’s generally a best-case scenario.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan The biggest con is what happened to me – no one reviews and you just wasted a lot of money.  I think the service I used cost $60.  $60 for one review (a one-sentence review at that) didn’t feel worth it.  I didn’t even know if the reviewer genuinely liked the book or felt compelled to give it 4 stars.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Paid reviews are probably not going to appear on Amazon or GoodReads, or anywhere else. If they weren’t bought on Amazon, the review won’t be published on Amazon.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre I guess the pros are you get a review. The cons are, that’s less money you have for marketing.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil No author should have to pay for a review.

How effective have you found interviews to be in bringing new followers?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I think the effectiveness of an interview depends on how open the author is willing to be.  If the author personally appeals to the audience, then an interview can be great.  But if the author is stiff and over-controlled, then people aren’t going to get a very good idea about whether they want to read your book.  I’ve both interviewed and been interviewed.  The interesting thing to me is that that type of post is more of a long-term investment than a short-term boost.  It’s like, people kind of hear about your book somehow, then they look up your name and the book title, and they end up searching for you on Google years after the book is published.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan Honestly, I haven’t seen a correlation.  No one has told me they read my book or started following me after reading an interview I did.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre I don’t think any one thing does a lot by itself, but doing a lot of interviews and a lot of other stuff gets the internet to find you better, and together it all helps. Basically, I do almost every interview I’m asked to do because I can use it on my social media to remind my followers that I’m out there and they should read my next book. That’s not the interviewer’s job. That’s my job in doing the interview.

Cynthia Vespia
colorheadshot - Copy Interviews have given me exposure to new people…not alot…but enough. Also, they’re fun to do.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil Not effective at all.

Has there been one interview you feel was most effective? If so, why do you think this interview was more effective than others?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak Unfortunately, I don’t know for sure! I feel like an audio interview with Bill Olver (of Big Pulp at the time) was the most effective, because I saw an upswing right after that, but I have no actual idea.

Here’s the interview:  http://www.podcasts.com/big-pulp-audio-435ce9688/episode/Big-Pulp-Audio-May-22-2016-31da

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan Interviews where I include a giveaway usually get the most comments.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre I had a great interview with Cathleen Townsend. It was a blast. I don’t know if it sold any books but I had fun doing it. I did a video interview of bestselling author Allison Maruska (The Fourth Descendant) and we laughed the entire time. We had a great time. Again, did those efforts sell books or did they show a different side of me to an audience? Mark Twain said, sell yourself, not your product.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy I was fortunate enough to be interviewed by the owner of COS Productions Sheila English alongside Heather Graham! That got me some attention for sure.

This question is for those of you who have blogs. As we all know, I use WordPress. I found Blogger to be too limiting, and I’ve been playing with WIX for the new WordCrafter site I’m building, but I’m having difficulty in setting it up the way I want and I’m considering creating a second WordPress site instead.

Which blogging platform do you use and what do you see as benefits and drawbacks of it?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I use WordPress.  The big benefit is that everybody uses it, so it’s easy to find templates and other goodies for it, and it works well enough.  The not-so-big benefit of it is that you have to modify the heck out of it before it feels like home, because it kind of looks like everyone else’s!

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I use BlogSpot for my blog, and it is okay, but a lot of tends to be finicky and doesn’t always do what I want.  I use Wix for my website, and that too can get finicky.  It doesn’t always look the way I want it to look.  Maybe its just me not using programs correctly!

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture I use Blogger, and have found it works well enough. I have half a dozen Blog Sites. Many Groups will not allow the posting of Blog Links for some reason, so I’ve been having a lot of trouble lately with getting the word out on new Blog entries.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre I use WordPress for one reason: it’s easiest for people reblog, comment, share, and follow. The end. I want sharing and reblogging and I want one click to make you a follower. WP does that. That’s all I need. I recommend them to everyone. It’s the fastest base from which to build a following at basically zero cost. That’s hard to beat.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy I’ve used Blogger and I currently use WIX. I know everyone swears by WordPress but I tried it and I didn’t like it at all. My websites are built on WIX and the blog has everything I need.


Marketing and Promotion

Last week we did a segment on marketing and promotion, yet we didn’t talk at all about book covers. This was a huge oversight on my part, because the covers of our books may be our single most valuable marketing tool. Some people buy books just because their interest is captured by the right cover, even if they’ve never seen one advertisement for the book or read one review. Finding, or creating the right cover can be tricky and different authors handle it in different ways.

Please tell us how you come by your covers: DIY or hired out or prefab?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I’ve done DIY design (from art that I licensed on stock art sites or directly from an author on DeviantArt in one case) and hired out two covers.  The ones I hired out for weren’t successful for me, possibly because I did those when I had a much weaker understanding of the market.  The artists produced what I asked for 🙂  A third custom cover is for an anthology that’s going to go out soon; I think that one will be a great help in selling the anthology.  But Jamie Ferguson (my co-editor) and I did a lot of research on what kind of cover we wanted, even before we commissioned the artist.  You can find out more about the anthology, Amazing Monster Taleshere.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan My covers are all made by the publishers.  I give them an overview on what I’m looking for in a cover and their cover artists go at it.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture I’ve hired several covers done for my books. Plus, I do some myself. I agree, the cover is the first thing readers see, and it better catch their eye. The second thing is the Blurb. Both have to attract and interest the reader. I recently saw this in effect, a writer has a very nice cover for his book, but the Blurb stinks, and I wasn’t surprised when he said he wasn’t selling any copies of his book.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre Most DIY book covers look home made. Authors should hire someone, and before they hire someone they should see what the top 25 of 50 books in their genre look like and ask to emulate that, then let the artist do their thing. Try to get a few (3-4) mockups and showcase them on Facebook. Even if you are brand new and have zero followers, for $10 you can put together a Facebook ad that will be shown to readers of that genre and let THEM choose the correct cover for you. The fans are never wrong, but I almost always am! Whatever cover I like never wins, and whatever cover the fans like always sells well. Another cool thing to know: after about 12-20 votes, you’ll have a clear winner, and if you get 100 more votes or 1000, the winner won’t change. Remember: you are probably not the target audience, so find them and let them choose. I and friends have spent as little as $50 to $100 for covers that became bestsellers. It doesn’t have to cost a lot to have a winner, but a loser costs a ton – because you have to overcome its crappiness by way of additional marketing expense.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy I make my own covers. Awhile back I had the rights to my Demon Hunter saga returned to me. At the time, the publisher had used stock photos that made them look like romance covers. When I got the rights back I had a very specific direction where I wanted to take the books for a relaunch. So I began dabbling in Photoshop and eventually I produced some stunning covers. Now I mostly do all my own unless I need specific art work drawn out.

RA Winter

RA Winter I use Kreativecovers and use Kayci Morgan exclusively. She’s wonderful. I can give her an idea and she runs with it. Here are my two favorite covers that she did. The first one, Twisted, you can immediately tell the genre. The second one, Demise, gives you a taste of what’s in the book. I’m so pleased to have her on my team.

 

Instead of asking what makes a great cover, a question that has been asked a thousand times before, with answers dependent on as many variables as there are books on the market, I’m going to ask you each to include the image of what you consider to be your best book cover and tell us what you think makes it a great cover.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I’m going to use one of the draft covers from the anthology that I mentioned before (this one isn’t final). The art is by Paul Roman Martinez, who is AMAZING. He also designed the logo for us. We started out with probably at least a dozen hours of research into what pulp magazine covers looked like, what we liked, and what we didn’t. Then we had to figure out how to communicate that to Paul 🙂 After a few missteps (totally on my part), Paul did a tentative sketch and, because we had done so much research, we knew it was a winner. We gave him the go-ahead to do the finished art. The logo was actually more trouble–it got to be too close to the existing design on another magazine, and had to be redone.
Best Cover - Knippling
There are a lot of details that go into cover design, and I don’t have the time to get into them here. But we talked a lot about both the content of what the art should be, although we did not actually tell Paul what to create, only what kind of thing we were looking for, and how we wanted that laid out so that there would be enough room for text later.
[Hey, if you have more questions on that, ask – I’m drawing a blank on what to say that isn’t a whole book on covers.]
Jordan Elizabeth
Jordan The most popular cover is TREASURE DARKLY. Readers at book signings gravitate to it without knowing anything about the book. I’ve heard people say they love how dark it looks or that it has a sexy girl.
Treasure Darkly
Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture I have a lot of great covers, but will pick NEW PULP HEROES as an example. This is a non-fiction book with essays on the New Pulp Heroes. It’s a book that every New Pulp writer, and every researcher should have. And the cover is pure pulp. The girl is in danger and the hero coming to rescue her. It’s perfect for the subject matter within the pages.

New Pulp Heroes

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre A great cover is what fans say is a great cover and you figure that out using the method I just described. Most authors can’t be objective enough to do that, though. They let their intentions cloud the process.

My best cover is Double Blind, a murder mystery. I look at it and I feel the intensity of the killer. Second is the new cover for The Navigators, same reason – intensity. They just look professional.0

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy I went through several variations of Demon Hunter Saga for the print book. What makes this a great cover? When I’m at conventions among the thousands of talented artists there this cover stands out in a crowd. When people see the book on my table they always stop to look at it. I’ve been told more than once how amazing the cover looks and I’m really very proud.

 

Demon_6x9DustJacket_Front_EN copy

 

Art Rosch

Art 2001 This may be my favorite cover.  I use my own photography and do all the design work.  I love this cover because it describes what’s in the book.  It’s loaded with narrative, mystery and incorporates one of the best design devices in the world, the “S” curve.  The eye is drawn down that oddly green road towards the RV.  There’s fog, stars and a homely thirty year old Winnebago. Who’s in that RV? Where are they going?  Where have they been?  This is a very cool book cover.

The Road Has Eyes

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil I would say my latest Ripper cover is the best. It is totally eye catching.

Ripper


Sometimes life just gets in the way of things. This round of Ask the Authors panel members have been great, but unfortunately Mark and Kym Todd had to drop out early on when Kym was injured while they were traveling. Art Rosch, as well, has been absent from several segments due to a series of unforseen circumstances starting with a tree falling on his home, being in the middle of all the California fires, and other issues which prevented him from participating in many of the previous segments. Fortunately, Art was able to join us for this last segment, enthusiastic about being back in the game. He wrote me a lovely piece discussing many of the things which we cover here and he also had this to say about social media book promotion and branding.

Art Rosch

Art 2001 Social media. Where else do you promote books? I’ve spent every day for the last five years on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Google Plus and half a dozen others that I can’t remember. I’m so sick of social media that I’ve tried another tack.

I published Confessions in paperback, ordered a box of fifty and started giving away copies. It may be a slow method of marketing but it gets the book read. People talk to me about the characters, they ask questions. That’s what I want: engagement with an audience. Whether my audience is ten people or ten thousand people, I want to hear from readers. If I had a ton of money I’d buy ads on Amazon and Facebook. I’ve heard they don’t work either.

All the conventional wisdom about branding is so much noise. I am my brand. The literature of Arthur Rosch. My platform is made from Popsicle sticks.


Just for Fun

Authors are just ordinary people in so many ways, no matter the level of success we’ve had. So if you will, share with my readers a little about things that make us real by answering at leeast one of the following questions.

What’s one thing most of your readers would never guess about you?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I often wear other colors than black?!?

Mark Shaw

MarkAtSFTS (1) That I was an awful student in high school, Purdue University (six years), IU law school (4 years not three) and never have taken a writing class in my life.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture I love coconut. Coconut pies, coconut cake, anything with coconut. I’m addicted to coconut like most people are with chocolate.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I’m terrified of people in costumes.  Think Minnie Mouse at Disney.  If I see a person in a costume, I’m running the other way.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy I used to do fitness competitions.

Margareth Stewart

Margareth Stewart I’m a shrink (lol). People guess all sorts of professions for me, never a shrink. Maybe, it’s because I´m very talkative and I’ve never done clinician activities.

RA Winter

RA Winter I have five, yes, five boys.  Now you know why I have such an odd sense of humor.

Art Rosch

Art 2001 They’d never guess that I’m a drug addict.

Listen to me: this is true. I’ve had a year in which I felt like committing suicide. I began to write suicide notes in my head and then I would stop myself. “You’re writing suicide notes in your head,” I told myself. “Stop it right now.” I had a spell of depression. I’m doing much better now. One of the things that kept me wanting to live was the existence of my books. I thought, “If I don’t fight for these, they’ll vanish. I’m obviously the only person who will fight for my books, so I’ve got to hang around.”

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil When I was worried about running out of a particular genre to read (because I was obsessed) my best friend said, “write your own.”  And I did!

Besides writing, what are your favorite things to do?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak Eat and wander around in scenic locations. And read, of course, although that probably goes without saying.

Mark Shaw

MarkAtSFTS (1) Sit in my Mini Cooper convertible by the beach, listen to the waves, and read a good mystery.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I love to read (obviously, haha), paint, and make jewelry.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy Workout, paint, relax.

Margareth Stewart

Margareth Stewart Sports & cooking, plus reading, traveling, and talking to people.

Art Rosch

Art 2001 Watch the stars at night, play drums and watch TV.

If writing suddenly made you rich and famous, what would you do?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak The normal stuff, like paying off debts and setting up college funds and traveling and buying a house up in the mountains 🙂  But I think I would be going to my library and finding out what they needed.

Mark Shaw 

MarkAtSFTS (1) Live in the south of France.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I would quit my day job to focus on my son and writing.  I hate sending him to daycare.  I love the daycare he goes to, but I want him home with me for adventures

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy Rich would be a load off, famous I don’t ever want. I would keep writing though, resting in the knowledge that at least now I knew people would be reading my books.

Margareth Stewart

Margareth Stewart I always think about that…I will do everything the same, maybe I´d buy some fancy chocolate and coffee. That´s all!

Art Rosch

Art 2001 I’d start a foundation promoting education in third world countries.

What is the one thing you hope to teach your children?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak That other people have valid internal lives of their own.  That’s the foundation of empathy–the rest of being an actual worthwhile human is all gravy 🙂

Mark Shaw

MarkAtSFTS (1) To listen better than I do and be more patient that I am.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan To be patient. Whenever I drive and someone ahead of me does something weird, I feel sorry for them. I think they made a mistake. I’ve been in the car with, say, my husband, and he’s furious at the other driver.

Margareth Stewart

Margareth Stewart I guess I´ve already done that and that is authenticity. There is nothing like being ourselves and moving forward!

Art Rosch

Art 2001 I hope to teach my grandchildren how to think correctly and to revere life.

How would you describe yourself in three words?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak Please send cheese.

Mark Shaw

MarkAtSFTS (1) The most blessed man on the face of the earth (Sorry for length)

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I just asked my toddler and he said, “Ew, ew, ew.”  I guess I’m yucky!

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy I’m a warrior.

Margareth Stewart

Margareth Stewart Cheerful, busy, project-driven.

Art Rosch

Art 2001 Deep, very deep.

What’s the best piece of advice you were ever given or offered?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak It wasn’t phrased this way, but:  “Make someone else make you fail.”

Afraid of what might happen if you send out a book before it’s ready?  Afraid of going straight to an editor and skipping the agent?  Terrified of indie publishing?  What’s the worst that could happen?  You could be ignored.  Oh well.

Mark Shaw

MarkAtSFTS (1) Never give up trying anything new

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan  Its okay to take a rest.  People need to recharge their inner batteries too.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre This is one that everyone can learn to do, and it will help most of the writers out there. Write as if a disinterested 3rd party picking it up had no reference point for what you’d written. You must bring them from point A to B to C. Most writers will use that as an excuse to over write in so much detail the story become unreadable, so here’s this, too: 1. Get to the good stuff as fast as you can. 2. Most writers are too afraid to really bare their soul on the page, so their work isn’t as intense and immersing as it could be.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy So many because I’m always learning. My best advice is from myself as I’ve learned that life is short and not to waste time.

Margareth Stewart

Margareth Stewart Go for it!

Art Rosch

Art 2001 You can’t heal yourself alone. Ask for help.

What makes you laugh or cry?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak Everything.  One of the reasons my spouse was interested in me was he kept hearing me belly laugh to myself in a college computer lab.

Mark Shaw

MarkAtSFTS (1) When I hear of injustice, of people being denied their rights.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan Tickling makes me laugh. I cry when I see costumed characters.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy Cute animals do both!

Margareth Stewart

Margareth Stewart I laugh and cry very easily, but what really hits me are those unique and anonymous experience that never happen twice, like hugging a homeless guy in the street, finding a pencil in the middle of a supermarket when I just needed to take a note in pencil.

Art Rosch

Art 2001 Dogs.

What is your favorite food? Color? Song?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak Cheese, green, and I haven’t picked one yet because mostly people want to know my favorite book.

Mark Shaw

MarkAtSFTS (1) Macaroni and Cheese, Purple, Imagine

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan My favorite food right now is cheese, haha.  I love the color black, with blue as a close second.  My favorite song is a mashup of Light ’em Up and Radioactive.  It makes the perfect theme song for the Treasure Chronicles.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy Pizza, Black, Right now I like “Get Up” from Shinedown

Margareth Stewart

Margareth Stewart Food is my homemade pasta, of course!!! Color = all of them. Song: Ella Fitzgerald “Bewitched…”.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman

Favourite food – Steak – particularly Scotch fillet.

Favourite Colour – Red and Black

Favourite Song – American Pie by Don Maclean

Art Rosch

Art 2001 Cheerios.  Blue.  Lonnie’s Lament by John Coltrane and You Want It Darker by Leonard Cohen.

In a future where you no longer write, what would you do instead?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak[Glares at interviewer.]

Mark Shaw

MarkAtSFTS (1) Surf.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I would teach. I’m currently a teacher; its what I’ve always wanted to do, other than write.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy That future doesn’t exist, I would always write. However, if you’re asking what I would do instead…I wanted to be an animator for Disney.

Margareth Stewart

Margareth Stewart Audio books (lol).

Art Rosch

Art 2001 Sit in an urn on the fireplace.

See. Ordinary people. Nothing unique or odd about authors. We’re perfectly normal. Hehehe!


Thank you all for joining us for Round 2 of Ask the Authors. Thanks to our author panel members for sticking with it and putting up with all my probing questions and reminders and fitting AtA into their busy lives for the last twelve weeks. They’re a great bunch of authors and I can’t thank them enough for sharing here.

This has been a great blog series and I think we put out a lot of useful information. I’m thinking of doing a Round 3 sometime next summer. If you enjoyed this series and would like to see more, please let me know in the comments.  Mention which panel members you enjoyed and why, to show appreciation for their efforts.

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A Discussion on Publishing Platforms

Ask the Authors (Round 2)

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The internet changed the ways in which we communicate with one another and opened up many avenues to publishing for unknown authors with rapid speed. And the publishing industry is continuing to transform on a daily basis, with many publishing platforms offering more and more publishing options for authors. But how do we keep up with this rapidly changing industry? How do we know which publishing platforms are right for us? And which route is the best one for individual authors?

Today on Ask the Authors, our author panel is discussing publishing options and the various publishing platforms available. Our panel members this week include DeAnna Knippling, RA Winter, Mark Shaw, Tom Johnson, Ashley Fontainne, Cynthia Vespia, Lilly Rayman, Jordan Elizabeth, Amy Cecil, and Margareth Stewart. Let’s thank them for their willingness to share and see what we can learn from their experiences.

Are you published independently, traditionally, by small press or some combination?

DeAnna Knippling
deannak I am an indie with one small press title under my name and several under ghostwritten names.
RA Winter
RA Winter I’m published by a large publisher but it’s for my genealogy books under my married name.  For my fiction works I’ve chosen independent.
Mark Shaw
MarkAtSFTS (1) Traditionally as always.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture By small and large press, plus now mostly self-published.

Ashley Fontainne

Ashley Fontainne Combination. All of my titles are independently published except one with HarperCollinsUK.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy I’m currently focusing on indie publishing.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I’m independently published; however, I do work with an independent publishing company for some anthology stories.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I’m published by four small presses – Curiosity Quills, CHBB, Clean Reads, and Ellysian.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil Independently


What factors influenced your decision to publish via the route you chose?
DeAnna Knippling
deannak I got jealous of a writer I knew who was going indie, honestly. I felt like I was spinning my wheels with traditional publishing. I had just gotten a letter back from a publisher going, “Great book, but we need you to completely rewrite it and change the focus from one character to this other guy.” I couldn’t do it.  I had researched the market for this book and written something that I wouldn’t have otherwise written to see if I could get a foot in the door. (I know now that that’s a bad idea; you can get stuck writing books you hate that way.) And then, after I had jumped through those hoops, they wanted something else, but they weren’t going to pay me for it until after I’d already written it, and even then who knew if they would buy the thing. I just couldn’t force myself to jump through that hoop again. So I let it go, started writing what I wanted to write, and went indie.
I’m not saying that it’s the best thing ever or that I would never change my mind. It’s just that I had to go with the choices that let me stay in love with writing.
RA Winter
RA Winter When I signed to a publisher I didn’t read the small print. Ok, I didn’t see the decimal. I get a very small pittance for each book I sell and the amount hasn’t gone up in about twelve years even though my non-fiction books sell for ten dollars more than when they were first published.
Mark Shaw
MarkAtSFTS (1) Same publisher as The Reporter Who Knew Too Much, Post Hill Press with distribution by Simon&Schuster.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture I’ve only remained with one publisher through the years, all the rest of my books are being self-published. Personally, I am not a conformist. I go my own way, and write what I want, not what publishers want me to write, and that’s the main reason I self publish today. The publisher I have kept allows me to write what I want, and royalties are good. They have my print editions while I have the rights to my eBook editions.

Ashley Fontainne

Ashley Fontainne It was quite an honor to have a novel picked up by such a prestigious publishing house and something I will never forget. However, I do enjoy the independent route since it allows me more creative freedom and control. I love the entire artistic process from crafting the story to designing the cover and preparing the interior files.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy I was previously published by small press houses and I found they didn’t do much more for me than I could do for myself. I may revisit traditional publishing in the future.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman Impatience, lol. I wanted to share my first novel, and I didn’t want to wait for finding a traditional publisher. I like the control I have over my own work, and the flexibility I have to meet my own deadlines and move them as I need to by publishing for myself.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I don’t want to knock self-publishing, and in many ways I envy self-published authors for the freedom they have, but my dream was always to be published by a publisher.  Self-publishing just doesn’t feel right to me, but I know it works for many people.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil I felt it gave me more control.


What do you see as the pros and cons of independent/traditional publishing?
DeAnna Knippling
deannak
Indie Publishing:
  • You get to decide all the things.
  • You have to decide all the things.
  • You’re less likely to get into bookstores and libraries.
Traditional Big Publishing:
  • Sanity checks.
  • Questionable people performing your sanity checks.
  • If you’re not already a bestseller, they aren’t going to do a lot for promoting your book, as far as I can tell.  They open a lot of doors, but they aren’t going to escort you through them.
I think small press publishing needs its own category:
  • DO YOUR RESEARCH.
  • The worst horror stories I hear are actually from the small press category.
  • Some will do you better than a big, traditional publisher; some will run off with your money and your rights!

RA Winter

RA Winter  Traditional publishers take a large bite out of your profits. On the plus side, if you sign with a big house, they do the marketing for you and can get your books into stores easily.

Mark Shaw

MarkAtSFTS (1) Traditional much better with promotion and distribution depending on publisher. Traditional self-publishing can make sense tougher way to go.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Naturally, you have more control over your material with independent publishers because you can fight for your control. Traditional publishers will take the control away from you. Many of my friends have gone the independent route, while some keep both.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy

Pros of indie: Freedom/Total Control

Cons of indie: You basically have to be marketing 24/7

Pros of traditional: A fraction of the load is taken off of your shoulders

Cons of traditional: It’s very hard to get past the gatekeepers and alot of them aren’t willing to take a risk on a new voice.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I guess I’ve already answered the main pro of being an independently published author, I can set my own deadlines and I have full control over my own works and can make my own choices.

I think a traditional publisher most likely offers authors the benefit of their experience and can help a new author to navigate the ins and outs of publishing.

The independent community, however, is a fantastic place, and if you get involved in writer groups, and interact with other authors, they can all help you and provide you with advice. I have a great network of other independent authors, editors and publishers around me, and they all help me when I need advice.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil Well, definitely as an independent I can publish what I want when I want. No deadlines except those I set for myself.  I think the only downfall to that is marketing and promotion. A traditional publisher would have the resources available to offer a good marketing program


I’ve been a reader all of my life. I used to read by flashlight with my covers over my head on school nights, so my mom wouldn’t know I was up past my bedtime. Those were the days when a book was a book with a front and back cover and actual pages in between.

Today, there are many forms of reading. Although I still love the feel of a print book in my hands, I must admit that my Kindle Fire has made digital books convenient, and I now read books more in digital format than I ever did in print. Now days you can even read a digital book on your phone, I think. Also, the audio book is fast becoming popular, which I can see the advantages of because I have a long commute which takes up valuable time which could be spent in what I consider to be more productive endeavors. For me, audio books might be a valuable multi-tasking device.

As an author, it only makes sense to publish my work in as many different formats as I can manage, because different readers have different reading method preferences. I was thankful that my publisher put out Delilah in both digital and print formats, and they were looking at audio, but had trouble finding the right narrator. If I had published independently, I think I would consider doing my own narration. I recently had some experience in making audio readings that turned out quite well, but it isn’t my decision, since I agreed in my contract to leave those things in the publisher’s hands. 

Those are my thoughts on the matter, but let’s see what our panel members have to say.

Which formats are your books available in? (i.e. ebook/print/audio) Which file formats for eBooks do you provide?

DeAnna Knippling
deannak I’m in ebook and print. I’m going to test out an audio version next year (goals!). I have .epub, .mobi/Kindle, and PDF files for my ebooks.
RA Winter

RA Winter So for I use Kindle and print. I’ll be going wide soon.

Mark Shaw

MarkAtSFTS (1) New book Denial of Justice, hardcover, ebook, audiobook, large print.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Most of my books are both in print and eBooks.

Ashley Fontainne

Ashley Fontainne Print, ebook and audio. I prepare both epub and mobi versions of my books to file electronically across several platforms.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy I currently have both print and ebooks available with eyes on doing audio in the near future. It’s always best to have all your bases covered.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman My books are all available in eBook, and my larger works, are also available in print. I use Instafreebie to help distribute outside of sales platforms for the purposes of giveaways or ARCs.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan All of my books, save one, are available in print and ebook. The other is only available in ebook as of right now.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil Ebooks and print.


Which publishing platforms have you used? (i.e. Amazon, Book Baby, Smashwords, Lulu, D2D, etc…)
DeAnna Knippling
deannak Let’s see…
Ebook
  • Amazon/Kindle Direct Publishing (initially).
  • Smashwords (initially).
  • Nook Press (initially).  This turned into B&N Press.
  • Kobo (added after the first three).
  • Draft2Digital (added after Kobo).  I initially added this only so I could get into iBooks, because I don’t have an Apple computer for direct uploads.
  • Stopped using B&N Press due to site issues (they were down and they were always slow), moved B&N access to D2D for convenience.
  • Moved all Smashwords channels available on D2D to D2D, because Smashwords payments are slower and I like the D2D interface better.
  • In process of moving titles from direct Kobo access to D2D, because I’m not making as many Kobo sales and it’s One More Thing that I don’t want to deal with for release prep.
I have a few titles in KDP Select to see how they’ll sell. I have one that’s doing really well, so I’ll probably leave that one alone.
Print
  • Initially used Lulu for print.
  • Moved to CreateSpace for better sales.
  • Now CreateSpace has folded into Kindle Direct Publishing.
  • I want to add IngramSpark soon, so I can get better distribution.  I can’t blame bookstores at all for not wanting to order from CreateSpace.  CS doesn’t take returns, and even if they did, Amazon has been hell on bookstores for a variety of reasons.

RA Winter

RA Winter Smashwords and Amazon.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Amazon and Lulu.

Ashley Fontainne

Ashley Fontainne Amazon, D2D and ACX. I have used Ingram for a few titles but found their website too frustrating to navigate.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy Amazon; Smashwords; BarnesandNoble.com

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I have used Amazon for my eBook distributions, and for my print books, I use Ingram Spark. I also use Smashwords for wide eBook distribution of my permafree – Smashwords makes it easy to set books available for free.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan  The majority of my works are on Amazon. I also have paperbacks on Barnes and Noble.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil Mainly Amazon. I did try B&N, Kobo and iTunes for a while and it was a waste of time.

Margareth Stewart

Margareth Stewart I have used Lulu and Smashwords and they work perfect for me. I have had a wonderful experience with Lulu.com. This is the fourth time I am publishing an Anthology with them and both the Ebook and printed versions have great quality. The platform is easy to navigate and they offer free download template for book editing. Besides, they ship worldwide and we can choose from different mailing options. On top of all that, I can share the Ebook version for free and that has been just what I needed for the Anthologies. As they are collaborative editions, they are free for download and only the paper version is paid for. If you wish to take a look at the anthologies, they gather contributions from over forty international authors; some of them also bring photos and art, and they go yearly now. The titles are: Whitmanthology, Womenthology, The Pain that Unites us all, and The Brave and the Afraid. I am taking the lead with this project which started back in 2015 during a MOOC Writing Course from Iowa University, and more than glad with Lulu.com for making it happen at no cost.


Amazon is everywhere these days and many authors publish through them exclusively, like Amy Cecil. In fact, if you sign up for KDP Select, you agree not to use any other outlets for your book. Although this does give you access to Kindle Unlimited, where you get paid each time someone flips through your book, and makes you eligible for free and discounted promotions, it makes more sense to me to publish widely across as many platforms as possible. So, let’s see how our author panel members view the different platforms.

What are the pros and cons that you see for each platform you have used?

DeAnna Knippling
deannak Amazon is the eight-hundred-pound gorilla; you have to deal with them one way or another, I think. But other than that, I was very fond of Kobo when they first started up, but am less so now–they seem like they’ve lost a lot of what made them extra friendly to authors. I’m really liking D2D right now. You can tell they’re playing with new ideas to benefit their authors, and they will handle a lot of persnickety formatting things for you, if you like.
RA Winter
RA Winter I like KDP. I think it is a great avenue for an unknown author, but it can be limiting. I would have gone wide earlier, but where do you market for wide?  Marketing for just Amazon is time-consuming.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Kindle is the easiest format to use. I find print editions difficult to work, no matter which company you go with.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy One major con I’m running into is that they don’t support each other’s formatting. So if you’re trying to upload to different sources you have to reformat your manuscript to publish which takes up alot of time.

I like Smashwords ability to run sales whenever I want to.

Amazon is obviously the publishing giant so you gain the most exposure there.

Because Barnes and Noble is one of the last book stores standing I really like having my work featured there.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman Amazon is the largest available platform, but they also are a tricky platform to navigate when their algorithms change on a regular basis.

Ingram Spark is fantastic for getting the widest possible reach for paperbacks and ebooks, their only downfall is the need to purchase your own ISBN numbers. They do have a set up fee, but they often have a free set-up code, and if you ask around in writer groups, someone often has a code that’s valid for a year.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil  I really wasn’t with the others long enough to form an opinion on this. My books sell on Amazon, they didn’t on the other platforms.

Margareth Stewart

Margareth Stewart I chose not to publish at Amazon, and I am comfortable in going absolutely against the tide. I wanted to have a high quality book, and I wanted it to go under the whole process of being accepted by a publisher—even if it is a small independent publisher, it had to undergo submission process, be edited and accepted by a publisher. Contrary to what most writers may think, I thought it was superb for my personal growth as a writer. For being away from Amazon, most readers and even writers who are readers are not willing to adventure themselves into an outside publisher, fill in a new payment file and have their Ebooks uploaded. “Oh, it is not in Amazon! Sorry, but I am not reading it, why don´t you upload it yourself?”, “Because I have signed a contract, and I am happy about it”.

Amazon is by far the easiest path to being published, and the most polluted as well – if I may say so. There is too much of everything in there! Basically, I am so much grateful to all my readers because they were really looking forward to reading my novel, and too all the efforts towards it. I may change my mind in the future, but I am quite sure the next two novels will go with publishers somehow. In the vast and competitive universe of getting published, do as you will; but quoting Marshall McLuhan: do not forget that “the media is the message”.


Even with traditional publishing, these days the tasks of marketing and promotion fall mostly on the author, and if you publish independently, it all falls on you. Advertising can get expensive, but inexpensive or even free advertising is out there if you look. Let’s ask our panel members how they handle these tasks and find out what has been effective for them.

Do you use paid advertising or just what you can do for free?
DeAnna Knippling
deannak I’m using Amazon Advertising (paid), Book Gorilla (paid), and a paid newsletter subscription service. I plan to add a few more things. I also do a ton of free stuff, mostly on social media and my website.
RA Winter
RA Winter  You really need a series to advertise and the more books the better. I have used paid ads, but with a small catalog, it just isn’t worth it. Plus, my books are priced low for everyone. For Twisted, I only charge .99cents. I get .35 cents for each book sold, that doesn’t leave any money for ads.
Mark Shaw
MarkAtSFTS (1) Publisher promotion.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture All free areas. I’m suspicious of most of the outfits offering advertising services. I had a friend use one service that cost her a thousand dollars, and she basically got nothing for her money. And I’m the one who directed her to the service.

Ashley Fontainne

Ashley Fontainne I have used BookBub and a few other paid sites before and they do generate amazing results. Unfortunately, the costs to advertise with the major marketing sites are outrageous so I try to only submit a title once per year.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy I paid for a few ads, tours, promos, etc. but it really didn’t do much for sales or exposure.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I run off the smell of an oily grease rag when it comes to a budget, so, that means I advertise with free wherever I can. Occasionally I spot an offer for a more affordable paid advertising, but in all honesty I haven’t seen much benefit at this stage to any advertising – so maybe I need to review what I do, and review how I should advertise.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I do a mixture of both. I’m trying to not use money from my day job anymore (which isn’t working well) and just use royalties to fund ads.


Which platforms have you found to be most beneficial?
DeAnna Knippling
deannak It’s not so much a platform as an attitude: don’t let the water fall out of the bucket. Your efforts should coordinate with each other. The most important thing you can do is have good work published, with good covers, and good book descriptions. Second most important is a good website! You’re putting in all this effort into networking and promoting, but if your book sucks, it doesn’t matter how many people buy it–you’re going to have to start all over again with every book. If you have good books, then with every sale you make, you’re far more likely to acquire a fan.
Don’t promote your books. Earn your fans, and don’t lose them by doing something completely brainless. I have done many brainless things…like putting the wrong link to my newsletter in the back of about a dozen ebooks. I could go on.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture My Kindle books have always made good sales, much better than my hardbacks and paperbacks, so I doubt very seriously that I will ever go back to print, except for small runs for book signings.

Ashley Fontainne

Ashley Fontainne BookBub, hands down. If you want to reach a large group of readers in your specific genre, BookBub is the best tool. Readers sign up for daily emails for discounted books in genres they enjoy reading, so when you run a campaign with them,  your target audience receives an email about your book with purchase links.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman The Kindle Book Review seems to be a popular site, and I have just invested in a paid spot on their website for December, so, I’ll be watching to see what happens to my sales in December.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan Facebook ads have been a dud so far. Robin Reads has been the most profitable. (I could include a list, by my computer crashed and I lost the spreadsheet with my list of ad sites! Argh.)


The rise of digital publishing opened the door for a slew of small independent presses to emerge. But not all small presses are equal, and you have to beware of publishers who won’t give authors a fair shake or worse yet, don’t deliver at all. As with editors, we want to find one that is a good fit for both the author and their works.
What should an author look for when seeking out a publisher for their book?
DeAnna Knippling
deannak Check to see what other authors think about that press. Look on the Preditors and Editors website, at a minimum. Then look at the covers. If a small press had crappy covers, they will suck all across the board. And when you’re thinking about signing a contract, go over it with a fine-toothed comb. Small press contracts can be bonkers, and often all you have to do to make sure they don’t take movie rights (!) is say, “Remove the line about the movie rights.”
RA Winter
RA Winter Look at the other authors’ ranks, that will tell you how much they market for you which is what most authors are looking for in a publisher.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture If you’re looking for a publisher, read the contract and make sure it fits your plans. If you’re looking for a printing service, check pricing from a variety of presses. And check them out.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy If they ask you for money up front…RUN AWAY! You should never have to pay for publishing services out of pocket. Other than that look at their current client list and do a search online before signing anything. Absolute Write forums have alot of info on small presses.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman How much money are they asking for and can they detail how they will be spending your money if you pay them to publish your work. You really should only be paying for editing, cover art and possibly some marketing.

Do they ask for you to submit your work or a sample of your work before they publish you? I have seen some new authors wanting to publish, but they need a little advice on how they can improve their craft, so they can publish a better story than what they originally have. I think a small independent press should be wanting to help develop an author that approaches them. Make their work stronger and shine like a bright star in a universe filled with stars.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan See if you feel a connection. Talk to other authors in a safe, candid way. Read reviews online. Sure, some people want to watch the world burn, but if the majority of authors warn you to stay away, take heed. There might be some credence there.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil A good marketing and promotional team.


Any publishing advice for new authors?
DeAnna Knippling
deannak Before you sign any contract, do some freaking research on what should and should not be in them! Read the Copyright Handbook, published by Nolo Press. Learn about the business side. Those three things apply for both indie and traditionally published authors. And I always tell people to assume that your wonderful publisher/editor/agent is going to die of a heart attack soon and that your contract will be taken over by a scumbag lawyer for an heir. Assume you’re going to get screwed. But also assume that your book will turn into a million-dollar bestseller, too, and make sure you’re not groveling for peanuts. When it comes to business, get some professional advice before you sign anything. And don’t rip off your freaking cover artists!!!
RA Winter
RA Winter Publish then publish some more. Series make more money or at least have all of your books branded in the same genre. A larger portfolio is easier to market and creates loyal fans. Edit, hire someone even though it is expensive and do crit swaps of your work. Join groups before your work is out to see how other authors are making it then formulate your marketing plan. Also, I read once that most writers don’t make money until their eighth book is out, so write some more.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture For first time authors, I would highly suggest you go with a small press publisher to get your feet wet. But make sure they are publishing in your genre. I’ve been bitten at least three times by publishers interested in my manuscripts. They wanted SF and I obliged, only to see them all decide (after they had my contract) that they wanted to go erotica for the money. They had my books for three years and would not let them go; yet all they advertised was the erotica, so my books didn’t sell well. Traditional publishers may require an agent, or may hold your manuscript over a year before responding, and then you may be rejected. Get your book published so you won’t mind the long wait next time if you decide to go traditional. Agents are hard to get. Let’s face it they want the next Tom Clancy or Steven King. They’re not looking for untried writers. I’ve used two agents during my writing career, and neither did anything for me. You might find a good one, but the chances are slim. Good luck whatever you do.

Ashley Fontainne

Ashley Fontainne Grow thick skin. You’ll need it. 😊

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy If you’re going traditional, do your research on agents and publishing houses. Find out what they represent, write a killer pitch, and stay consistent. Don’t give up after a few rejections. Traditional publishing takes time.

If you’re going independent, treat it as a business. Hire a cover designer, an editor, and set up a website and social media channels where you can connect with readers.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman Ask for the feedback of someone already in the industry. See what they have to say about the strength of your story, your craft. Be open to the feedback and listen to the constructive information you are given. Use an editor, a proof reader. Get the most professional looking cover you can for your budget. Get your head around keywords, and blurb writing. Set up a newsletter, social media pages and have a presence online. Interact with your potential new readers, be seen – after all you want to be found.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan Please don’t give up. Rejection letters can cut deep. The authors who keep trying are the ones who succeed. Also, if you are going to self-publish, make sure to hire an editor! A family member might be able to notice typos, but an editor for your genre will be able to help you shape characters, setting, and plot.


While traditional publishers may help authors out with things like editing, book covers, and marketing and promotion, they also take a bigger piece of the pie for their efforts. Also, it seems to me that the rise in independent publishing has shown them that authors are capable of advertising their books effectively, so they are offering less help on promotional fronts than in days past, and traditionally published and small press authors are expected to do more of this today. Small presses may offer a bigger share of royalties, but it varies greatly as to how much publishing support each one offers. While independent authors taking control of their own publishing processes, they also must take responsibility for turning out a quality book from start to finish by either hiring work out or juggling all the author hats required themselves.

I think many authors are scrambling to keep up with advances in digital media which enable us to bring our writing to more and bigger audiences through the different formats. While it makes sense to offer our work in as many formats as possible, many of us are still in the learning curve as far as how to go about it. Audio books are becoming increasingly popular, but this is still relatively new territory for many. The good news is there are also increasingly more publishing platforms available to help us explore our options, if we choose to publish independently.

That wraps up our discussion on publishing platforms and as always, I want to thank our author panel for their willingness to share. Be such a catch next Monday’s segment, when our panel will be discussing author platforms: what they are, why we need them and how to build them. See you then!

 

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Interview with author Alexandra Forry

Alexandra Forry

I have the pleasure today of interviewing romance author Alexandra Forry, whose latest novelette, Deepest Elements is scheduled for release on November 17. Alexandra is a lovely young author who writes her stories in spite of being afflicted with cerebral palsy. She’s agreed to share with us today a glimpse into her life and a little about her books. Please help me welcome Alexandra Forry.

Kaye: You have written in multiple genres and formats, but you are primarily a romance author. Why romance?

Alexandra: I’m hopelessly romantic, from way back. I loved a good romance that ends not happy with the man rides off in the sunset with his soul mate. I love forbidden romance the most. I write real-to-life romance because I think people can relate to it more than a fairytale romance. There is sometime about witting romance that fulfills my soul like I meant to be a romance author. If you get what I mean. Thank for asking this question, it really makes me think. No one has asked me this before you, Kaye.

Kaye: On October 12, 2014, you promoted your work at a ladies tea at Louisa Voisine’s Showroom in Las Vegas NV. How did you manage to get an invite for this opportunity? Do you feel it was successful? In what ways?

Alexandra: That was the best promoting event I’ve been to and it was very successful in every way. I met Ms. Senior United States of 2018, while I was there. I was purely a fairytale afternoon!!!

Louisa Voisine Millinery is a award winning famous Hat and Fashion Designer. Her designs are like a work of art. Louisa’s hat’s are Kentucky Derby Winning Design, Emmy Awards featured designer Pre-Emmy Event. I encourage you to check her website out!!! I had the honor to meet Louisa at Mob-Con back in 2014 and became good friends.

Mob-Con was a 3-day event Meet Real Mobsters and the Lawmen who put ’em away, with speakers and the authors like myself selling their books. Not to add, it’s not every day you get to see Mobsters, FBI, CIA news reporters and true crime authors in one ballroom talking about the good old days, acting like old friends.

Sorry to get off track. Louisa was there selling her hat’s at Mob-con and we got to talking a bit. After Mob-Con I got a Facebook message from her inviting me to sell all of my books at her high tea. Also, she’d give me two invites so I could bring whomever I wanted. I chose to take my dear and beloved Grandma. We always wanted to get all dressed up and go to a high tea. I shall never forget that tea because it really was truly made one of my grandma’s dreams come true.

Kaye: What writing groups are do you hold membership in? Would you recommend that other authors join similar writing organizations? Why or why not? What are the benefits for you?

Alexandra: I’ve got to tell you the truth. I need to re-join RWA. A few years I got out of the whole writing scène because of personal reasons but now I am back. A fellow author and friend told me this when I was first starting out he told me to join real writing groups to be taken seriously and make contact and friends. He was right. Now I’m apart of a top Authors Dinner Group in Washington, D. C. They help me out hugely. In the writer’s business, it’s whom you know. I got damn lucky at age 23!

Kaye: What can you tell us about your children’s books?

Alexandra: The Troop 740 books were based on my own Girl Scouts experience. In fact, I had a tycoon Girl Scout leader, let’s call him LL, when I lived in Portland Oregon. LL rented out a major radio station for us be on the radio, and once rented out a delta airlines aircraft for us to view what first class and the airplane cockpit look like. LL even flew in fresh flowers from Hawaii for us to learn about. I want to make my book’s leader a man, but in today’s age I didn’t want to take a gamble on it, so the leader is a woman. I hope to go on more adventure’s with Troop 470, someday! 😉

Kaye: In spite of many obstacles which life has placed in your path, you have overcome them and reached for your dream of being an author. The Omerta Affair was your debut novel. How did it feel when that book was published and you could finally say, “I made it! I’m a published author?

Alexandra: Oh hell YES!!!, I was jumping with over joy, tears of joy. It was a super amazing, wonderful feeling “I really did, I’m a published author.” It’s all began on my 22 birthday, I went to the newly open Mob Museum and to my shock, Frank Cuttolla was there signing his book. I meet him and told him that I want to be a Mafia-Romance and he told me that if I need help just let him know. I said okay thinking he has better things to do than helping me a young CP girl at the time. I found him on Facebook weeks later and we began to talk, he always inviting me to this and that. I base my fist book “Omerta Affair” off on Tony Spilotro’s reign as The Las Vegas Mafia Boss, in the 1970s. He had it all, running the Crime underworld. He could have any woman he wanted in Las Vegas, instead, he became romantically Geri Rosenthal. At first, it was a Casino’s FanFic to the 1995 move, that I was witting and putting online for free, but my family and friend told me it was way too good to be a FanFic. After I was done with my book Frank hooked me up with some people and that how my book came to be. Now he’s Uncle Frank to me. ❤

Kaye: One of the obstacles you’ve had to overcome is Cerebral Palsy, and you haven’t let it stop you from doing what you love. Have you given any of your characters disabilities to overcome?

Alexandra: YES! I really hope to write a romance that the leading woman has CP and falls in love. It makes me mad that there no disabilities romance books. Like we are still people with romantic feelings. People beg me to write my life story, I tried and give all my might, but I stopped writing it because I was up to a painful point in my life that I don’t care to remember. Sorry it’s the way I feel. Who knows maybe someday I will finish it.

Kaye: What challenges does cerebral palsy pose for you as a writer specifically?

Alexandra: I use up 3 to 5 times the amount of energy that people use without
Cerebral Palsy. My muscle spasms sometimes act up and slow down my typing.
Other than that, it doesn’t present any challenges to my thinking process
about my storytelling. I have CP but CP dose NOT have me! 🙂

Kaye: Timeless Omerta: With Beauty Comes Danger is the follow-up for that first book. It’s kind of a sequel, but not, and it launched you into the world of romance authors. Can you talk a little about the differences in the two books?

Alexandra: TIMELESS OMERTA Is a lighter version of Omerta Affair. After Omerta Affair came out for sale, a few months went by, I began to wonder what if I took out the harsh, colorful language making the story’s main love scene more romantic. With that idea, why not rename it something that a woman would really want to pick up to read when they saw it. I’ve re-titled it TIMELESS OMERTA. Making it more for women.

Kaye: Why did you choose to write Pit Boss: A Screenplay as a screenplay, rather than a novel? Why did you feel it was a better fit for the screenplay format? Do you have other screenwriting experience?

Alexandra: Pit Boss: A Screenplay was the very first writing piece that I’ve completed. Back in July 2011, my birth father passes away from stage 4 cancer. He didn’t catch it before it was way too late. I was very devastated by his fast death.

I bought a book and a screenwriting program on how to write a screenplay because I needed something that I never done before to take my mind off of my father’s death. I’ve locked myself in my room (in a way) for a month to learn and wrote “Pit Boss”

In 2016, I felt that I wanted to publish it, even if I didn’t make a penny for it. Just to showcase my work. Then with help with a ghostwriter, I turned the Pit book into a novel.

Kaye: Besides writing, what are your favorite things to do?

Alexandra: Every night, I love to sit down and relax in my chair (my comfort zone) watching a movie with my dad. That’s is my favorite part of the day> I love coloring, I have a lot of adult coloring books. 😉 I enjoy listing to audiobooks. walking outside, having a blast with my group of friends here in Williamsburg.

Kaye: What time of day do you prefer to do your writing? Why?

Alexandra: I don’t have a time that I prefer to write. When I start writing, I can go until I am wiped out. LOL 😉

Kaye: What is the biggest challenge of being a writer for you?

Alexandra: My spelling and grammar for sure. Being slow at typing, I can’t type 1,000 words a day, I wish. The biggest thing is that I get writers’ block or I lose interest in my writing and stop. I need to find a way to fix that.

Kaye: What is the one thing in your writing career that is the most unusual or unique thing you’ve done so far?

Alexandra: Okay, so one of my friends once dared me to write a very XXX romantic, erotic, sex scene! Let’s just say that I blew him out the water when he read it. Ha, ha, ha!

Deepest Elements1

Kaye: Your book, Deepest Elements is scheduled for release on November 17. Can you tell us a little about it?

Alexandra: To my astonishment, all of the Beta and Test reads really love it! Saying that Deepest Elements is worth your time. Truth be told, I haven’t felt this way about one of my books coming out since Omerta Affair. I had this book idea tucked away in my mind since I was a teenager in high school!!! Have to tell you, that this book will be a kick off for a big series set, to be called Deepest Elements Series!

Here’s a brief synopsis:

My worst fear was those woods; my greatest fear had once been him.

She was an innocent, heading for her illustrious private boarding school in the best tradition of the grandmother who raised her, and with the blessing of the father who adored her. Forsaken by her mother soon after birth, she had made lifelong friends in a protective, privileged,Portland society.

Arriving in Radcliffe Heights, Rhode Island, freshman Peony “Poppy” Calloway admired the picturesque small town. But deep in the shadows of the woods near Blue Bell Boarding School, and along its hallowed halls, lurked illicit sex, murder, and harrowing danger.

Seduced by Jordon Dashwood, the handsome, blue-eyed, white blonde Headmaster, Poppy enters a world of love, ecstasy, heartbreak, betrayal, and death.

“Deepest Elements” is by the well-known author of “Wildflower,” Alexandra Forry.

Thank you so much for reading my in-depth interview. Also, thank you so very much, Kaye, for having me on your wonderful blog Today! Best wishes, Alexandra!

I want to thank you Alexandra, for sharing with us today. It’s been a pleasure learning abouot your books and the challenges you face in creating them.

Readers can learn more about Alexandra and her books here:

Facebook Author page: https://www.facebook.com/cpgalauthor/?hc_location=group

Amazon Author page: https://www.amazon.com/Alexandra-Forry/e/B00JBGRIKO/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1540486609&sr=8-1&fbclid=IwAR3pSojbhA9lhk_0UHBQtIKidymGevYFAA_7orO8hBlEPWgJZktqtsBJxRA

Website: https://cerebralpalsygal.wixsite.com/cpgalauthor?fbclid=IwAR0UydGRJ1Enl7EjU-EztQ4Nyjp0nKMrrWDdUlGOlE7Ysj9ZbP9UFl6vjIo

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/alexandra-forry-6a0bb192/https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7191842.Alexandra_Forry

Don’t forget, Deepest Elements is scheduled for release on November 17, so be sure and grab your copy.

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Editing and Revision: Polishing Your Manuscript

Ask the Authors (Round 2)

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We all want our writing to be the best that it can be. Our stories are our creations, our children, and as good parents and creators, we want them to be as close to perfect as possible. And so we toil over it endlessly, trying to find just the right words to make our stories shine and stand out.
Our Ask the Authors panel will be discussing just that this week, the editing process and why it’s necessary, and whether the expense of hiring a professional editor is worth the money. Our panel members this week include: Mark Shaw, RA Winter, Dan Alatorre, DeAnna Knippling, Jordan Elizabeth, Tom Johnson, Lilly Rayman, Amy Cecil, Cynthia Vespia and Margareth Stewart. Let’s find out how they handle the tasks of editing and revision.

I know by the time my book reaches the editing and revision stage, I’m often so tired of looking at it, that the thought of going over it once more, or even a few more times makes me say, “Ugh!” But, if I set the manuscript aside for a while and then try an tackle it again, in the end, I always come out with a better story than I would have had had I not taken the time to edit and revise.
How do you feel about the editing and revision process? Do you love it or loath it?
Mark Shaw
MarkAtSFTS (1) Not crazy about it but necessary. All writers are re-writers, that’s part of the job. With Denial of Justice, probably at least 300 drafts, at least.
RA Winter
RA Winter Hate editing and revisions but they always pay out in the end.  I usually have a vision and my process is very weird.  I write a piece that is long-winded, combine, cut, cut, smash, then keep the best parts. I overwrite my first draft knowing that it will need a heavy hand.
Dan Alatorre
Alatorre I used to hate it because it’s tedious and boring, but now I see it as a way to improve. I have pretty tight stories that move quickly, so there’s less trimming necessary, and I’ve learned to trust my partners. When they say I need to cut a scene or even a chapter, I hesitate but I cut it.
DeAnna Knippling
deannak It depends?  I often end up getting into discussions with my ghostwriting clients about the edits they request.  I try to champion the reader when I get edits back from an editor–will this benefit the reader? Or will it cause logical issues, plot holes, and strange jumps in emotion?  I don’t stress too much about the line edits I get; comma ci, comma ca.  Of course I dislike the edits that require massive changes, but sometimes they’re just necessary.
Jordan Elizabeth
Jordan I love the opportunity to make the story better.  I always take into consideration what my critique partners and editors say.  Sometimes I feel a bit wounded at first, but I set the feedback aside, wait a day, and look again.  I’m better able to address the issues when I have a clear head.  The thing I loathe most about the process is changing something to fit an editor’s needs, and then having the editor want something different after the rewrite.  So long as its all good in the end, I’m happy.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture It’s a necessary evil. Believe me, left on my own I can make mistakes. And I never see them because I see what I think I wrote, not what is actually there. Editing and revision is a must in my opinion.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman Meh! LOL. Depends on how much I enjoy the story and how much time I have spent on it. Some stories I just absolutely love, and don’t mind going over it again and again, improving it, making it better. Others I just want out of my hands ASAP. Lol.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil It really doesn’t bother me at all. My editor does the hard part.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy It’s a necessary evil but it’s not my favorite part of the process.


What roles do alpha readers, beta readers, critique partners, editors, or proofreaders play in your editing and revision process? 
Mark Shaw
MarkAtSFTS (1) Publisher provides editor and proofreader when book reaches that stage.
RA Winter
RA Winter I do each step above.  Alpha readers are key for me.  I have a tendency to let my humor take over and sometimes (read often) it’s just too much.  Alpha readers pull me back and give me a ‘what’s working and geez, RA, cut the humor’.  Critique partners are my first line of attack.  They concentrate on each chapter and give reader reaction, plot development, and interest.  Moving forward, next is the beta readers. Sometimes, if a beta read doesn’t give me the required feedback that I want, I’ll submit my piece for re-crits of certain chapters.  I have an editor/proofreader that I found and you can’t have her, well, you can, but I love my editor. She’s the best at catching every little grammar mistake but allowing me to keep my voice.  I rely on my editor and take her advice in all things.
Dan Alatorre

Alatorre Huge, each of them. My process is: I create an outline then write chapters and send them to my critique partners, getting daily feedback while I continue to write the rest of the story. Then I incorporate their suggestions, then send that revised MS to another CP who acts as editor. Then after any additional changes, the MS goes to betas, typos and other minor errors get fixed, and then it gets released.

alpha readers – my critique partners are pretty much my alpha readers and editors, as explained below

beta readers – this step is huge. My stories get read by a group of betas (post CPs and post editing) to see if the story is tight and to spot typos or errors. Each will see something the others didn’t, too. I love my betas.

critique partners – I used to be in a free online critique group, which I joined because I was told helping others would sharpen my own skills. It worked. After a few years, I quit that group and started my own (on a pay basis), and I began editing for others for a fee, but I still have a few key people from those days that I rely heavily on. They are basically my sole CPs and editor(s) now.

editors – I reciprocate editing with two other bestselling authors, so we hold each other to high standards. Using them is what makes my stories so good.

proofreaders – I use my beta readers as proofreaders. It’s like crowdsourcing, and they are good at it.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak When I first started out, I tended toward asking everyone’s opinion and trying to take what they said as gospel.  I also spent a lot of time explaining to everyone why their opinions were wrong!  Hah!  I’ve seen that with a lot of newer writers, too, so I guess it’s just part of the process.  Now I tend more toward getting fewer opinions–a good editor is worth their weight in gold, obviously, but a bad editor can drain your will to live.

 

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan After finishing a novel, I send it to my critique partners.  Once I’ve addressed their comments, I send it to my publisher.  My publisher then sends the book through an editor for 2 edits, and then a final proofreader.  I hate it when a typo or two still slip through!

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Now that I am self-publishing, my manuscripts are gone over by my wife. She goes over my manuscript before it goes anywhere, and she is good about catching wrong words, misspellings, and bad grammar.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I have a critique partner who helps me with my second edit stage, and editor on hand that I ask for all those pesky little grammar rules and to make sure I get things right, and then I slip through my own manuscript and apply them. My shorter stories that I write for anthologies I send to my editor, and I use the feedback on my editorial mistakes and learn from them, doing my best to avoid them in my larger manuscripts.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil Once I’m finished writing I send my manuscript to my beta readers before anybody else. They provide me with their suggested changes and most of the time I go with their suggestions. Once that is done, then it is off to the editor for two rounds of editing.  Once the editing process is done then it goes to my arc readers. And then it’s published.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy I generally use a professional editor for grammar, mechanics, and to ensure the story flows.


Editing can be expensive and many authors today cannot afford to hire an editor. Some authors do their own editing to cut corners, although that can be a little like a doctor treating himself or a lawyer representing herself in court – we become blind to our own words and see them we intended them to be, overlooking many errors. Another set of eyes can be critical. Some authors join critique groups or writing groups and find their beta readers there. And traditionally and small press published authors likely have editors provided for them by their publisher.
How do you handle editing? Do you hire someone? Trade off with someone? DIY? Have a publisher who handles it?
Mark Shaw
MarkAtSFTS (1) A writer should never do a final edit before publication; money well spent to hire someone to take an objective look.
Dan Alatorre

Alatorre I use a combination. If I let my MS rest, I can catch a lot of mistakes. Between the CPs, the betas, and a final edit (I trade editing with two other bestselling authors), my MS is good to go. I do this for these reasons: 1. editing is expensive, but most stories need better pace more than they need commas in the right place, and few editors do as good a job at pace than I do/my CPs do;  2. Money spent on editing – often $750 – $1500 – would be better spent on marketing; and 3. My team does a good job, but I’ve read plenty of professionally edited manuscripts that (A) have errors and (B) don’t have errors but the story is boring because the pace sucks.

Write a gripping, fast-paced story with interesting characters readers care about, and you can have missing commas. Most editors fix the commas but most writers need the story fixed. MS Word will alert you to a lot of mistakes if you let it, and there is a lot of free online software you can use if you are worried about passive tense nonsense. If you use an editor, deliver them as clean a MS as you can by using the steps I’ve discussed first. It’ll save you money.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I’ve done pretty much every option at some point or other.  My current preference is for advanced readers and a proofreader for novel-length work.  Short stories tend to get a little more fast and loose due to deadlines.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan My publishers all handle the editing process.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Before I started self-publishing my books, publishers supplied editors to go over my manuscripts. Now I do it myself, but with my wife’s help.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman As a self-published author on the smell of an oily rag budget a 130K word manuscript can be very pricey to have edited. My critique partner is a wonderful help in the editing and proofing of the monster sized stories, and I use my editorial feedback from my shorter, professionally edited ones to try and avoid my errors. Like I said, I see them as learning experiences and use them to improve. But I ALWAYS have another set of eyes go across my manuscripts to check for final proofing before I hit publish.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil I hire someone to do my editing, I don’t trust myself, and I think other authors are way too critical and read more into content and they do actual editing. Although my editor helps me with content he is less biased than another author would be.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy I’ve worked with in-house editors at the publishing house; I’ve done it myself; and I’ve hired a freelancer. Of the 3 I preferred the in-house editor. I believe it was because she was on a retainer so she gave my work more attention than the freelancer who seemed to rush through it. I’m not saying all freelance editors are that way but you get what you pay for indeed. As for doing it yourself, I have done that to cut corners and it always comes back to bite me. Inevitably a reader will find a mistake.

Margareth Stewart 

Margareth Stewart I do everything. First, I edit it on myself. Then, I apply some online media resources, like “Prowritingaid” for instance. When I can´t find any mistakes, but I know they are there, I send it to a professional editor for line editing and proofreading. While doing this, I test some excerpts of the book in writing groups so I can receive feed-back on plot, voice, and narrative. When I get it back, I start my submissions to publishers. When it is accepted by a publisher, it will be edited again. On top of all that, I have no mercy while editing, I cut and cut repeatedly until it is the core essential words within the book. My motto is “if there is an idea that has been said in a hundred words that can be said in ten; use ten.” I am very satisfied with it, I may not have a long book, but I have everything that is needed for an enjoyable reading!

Have you ever received edits which you felt showed that the editor didn’t get what you were doing at all? 
Mark Shaw
MarkAtSFTS (1) The Reporter Who Knew Too Much became a bestseller but the editor who first looked at it said it was disjointed, too much repetition, didn’t make sense in places, nasty, nasty. Publisher let me ignore those comments and published the book I wanted to write.
Dan Alatorre
Alatorre Nope. If I did, I wouldn’t worry about it. My stories are strong, and they aren’t meant for everyone.
DeAnna Knippling
deannak Yes, lots, but mostly from ghostwriting clients who want a certain type of book but didn’t explain that ahead of time, or who don’t know the genre all that well but think that it’ll turn a profit.  And some clients are frustrated that you didn’t write the book exactly as they envisioned.  But mostly edits that I receive from clients are very good.
Jordan Elizabeth
Jordan It did happen once, and I brought it up with the publisher.  They assigned me to a different editor and we clicked instantly.  She understood the story and had a keen eye for details.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Yes, I write in the old style, the way authors wrote for the pulp magazines, and more was allowed back then. Adjectives, adverbs, verbs, and colorful phrases. Editors want to eliminate a lot of extra words, but writing for the pulps paid a cent a word, and authors had to get as many words in as they could to make enough for a good paycheck. That’s not how we’re paid today, for the most part. Although I recently submitted a story that pays three cents a word, we don’t really need all the extra words. But I’m writing stories that would have fit in the pulp magazines of the 1930s & ‘40s, and I want my stories to have the same sound. Editors can’t understand that.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I’ve had edits from an editor for an anthology that showed that they didn’t know what they were doing. Some people ‘think’ they know, but really they don’t. I think it’s important to get a sample edit done from an editor to see their work before you hire someone. My first book, I had three different sample edits done and quotes for the editing – one guy almost completely re-wrote my sample with all of his editing and totally missed the point entirely suggesting name changes to make characters easier for the reader to remember – I don’t think he grasped if I changed the names of my Egyptian gods, they wouldn’t be recognised as my Egyptian gods.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy Yes. I had an editor work on two different manuscripts and on the first one it was a more in-depth edit. When it came to the second manuscript they seemed to have hurried through it. I wasn’t happy with that at all.


Have you ever received edits that made you think the editor was totally off, only to find as you began to work through them, that they were actually spot on?

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre Sort of. My very first editor was trying to help me but I was too defensive about the story. I learned to not be defensive, and things got a lot better.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak Isn’t that how edits just go?  Like, when you first receive your edits, you go, “CAN’T THEY SEE THE VISION IN MY HEAD?!?”  No matter how good the edits are, your first reaction is to reject them!  Good editors still elicit this reaction from me; I just don’t say anything about it until later, when we can both look back and laugh.
I’d like to add a note:
I also do edits, so I’ve been on both sides of the table.  Most of the time, authors are very accommodating about edits, especially when it’s a question of getting their name in print!  But there’s something I’d like to note:  a lot of time when I’m working with an intermediate writer on a developmental level, I’ll have to stop and…unfix what a previous editor or critique group has broken.  I think a lot of writers have an almost pathological fear that their writing isn’t good enough, so they edit it to death, and let other people’s comments control what they choose to do with their work.  One of the reasons that I’ve pulled back from getting so much feedback (as a writer) is that I’ve seen too many clients (as an editor) who have brutalized their fiction in the name of achieving “perfection” at the cost of “good enough.”  A lot of the time, I’ll go, “You let a bunch of people comment on this, and I can tell; please send me a previous draft.”  If the previous draft ends up being better, which it often does, then I’ll have them work from that.
Here’s what constitutes “good enough”:
  • The reader can understand what’s going on.
  • The reader forms clear opinions about the characters.
  • The reader had a clear feeling about the ending.
The rest is all gravy, and of course you have to make sure your test readers actually like the kind of thing that you write before taking their opinions into account.  Another thing to remember is that an editor is essentially a super-qualified reader.  Your editor has to love the kind of thing that you write and in particular want to stand up as an advocate for your story in a positive way, or it’s going to be a train wreck!  You need a champion, not a book reviewer 🙂
Jordan Elizabeth
Jordan It has happened a time or two.  Many of my stories, like GOAT CHILDREN, are personal, based off real events, and to have an editor say something is unrealistic (even though it really happened) or to change around major points can be tough to hear.  I did utilize all of the feedback, waited a few weeks, and reread the story.  Changing those points did make it stronger, and the story wasn’t a memoir so it didn’t feel too dishonest.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture That’s hard to say. Yes, the editor is qualified to make those changes in the modern style, but are they destroying what I am doing by making me follow modern writing, instead an eighty-year-old style I’m trying to imitate? There’s no easy answer here.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman My favourite editor, the one who puts up with me asking for clarification of grammar rules. At first I was confused with some of her suggestions, and then when I queried her on them – yes, you can challenge your editor and ask them to clarify – and she explained WHY something was as it was, I nodded my head, filed the information away and worked to keep that new lesson learned first and forefront in my mind as I move forward with my new works.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil No, my editors help me think outside the box at times and two right in areas that are far out of my comfort zone.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy For the most part the editors I’ve worked with did have some good feedback. But its the readers who have given me the most food for thought. For instance, my last book Karma has some well developed antagonists that seemed to take over the story. It told me 2 things. (1) I need to punch up my hero characters and (2) The antagonist needs a story of their own!


What I take away from all this is that having a publisher to take care of tasks such as editing, so the author doesn’t have to worry about it is great, although it doesn’t offer much choice as to who you work with, and then your faced with deciding if their suggestions hit the mark or not. For independently published authors, it seems that if you can afford an editor, it’s probably well worth the money, but on a tight budget just being sure that more than your own eyes comb the manuscript, whether in the form of critique partners, alpha or beta readers, or exchanging edits with your fellow authors. (No, your mother/spouse/children do not count. We’re talking about a trained set of eyes, not someone who is expected to say they love it whether they do or not.) Just be sure that whoever reads and comments on your manuscript, they are a good fit for your work. And remember an addage my M.F.A. instructor, Russell Davis, pounded into his students heads. “Don’t take it personal. Their criticism is not about you, it’s all about the work.”

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World Building: It’s all in the details

Ask the Authors (Round 2)

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The world your story is is set in controls the possibilities for the characters and events in your story. This is more obvious in science fiction or fantasy perhaps, where magic or advanced technologies are the norm and are to be expected, but there is world building involved in others genres as well. every story has rules which may limit what can and can’t happen. And in every story, it is the author who creates the world and determines the rules, and it is the author’s job to clue readers in to what that world is like and what those rules are.

This may be easier with stories set in a reality that reflects the world we live in and are familiar with, because then readers may know most of the world, but it is still the author’s job to paint a picture with his or her words in order to allow reader’s a clear vision of their world. You would think in nonfiction this world we are familiar with, but it may be a setting we haven’t been to, or it might be from past times which are unfamiliar, so nonfiction authors must find ways to convey their story world clearly, too.

How exactly we, as authors, go about that may vary, but it is a task we are all faced with. Readers are allowed a glimpse into the story world through the details provided, including sensory details that make an unfamiliar world seem more real and help familiar worlds to ring more true. Dialog between characters is another tool that helps readers to buy in to the story and emerse themselves in the story world, but it’s one that may be difficult to get right.

Today, our Ask the Authors panel members will be discussing how they build and portray their story worlds, real or imagined. Our panel members this week include DeAnna Knippling, Lilly Rayman, Mark Shaw, Ashley Fontainne, RA Winter, Jordan Elizabeth, Tom Johnson, Cynthia Vespia and Amy Cecil. Let’s find out what works for them and what doesn’t.

Do you prefer to set your stories in the real world or one which you’ve created?

DeAnna Knippling
deannak I am generally terrible at creating entirely separate worlds, although I’ve had some really helpful tips lately, and I have a book planned pending more research into 18th-century Russia.  I’m much better at taking the real world, adding some odd element, and extrapolating from there.
Lilly Rayman

L Rayman My main series – The Unexpected Trilogy is set in the real world, yet with paranormal characters. Yet I have a work in progress that is set in a world that I have created.

Ashley Fontainne

Ashley Fontainne Real world. Sometimes that requires an extensive amount of research yet using realistic settings gives the story a relatable connection to the readers.

RA Winter

RA Winter I love to write magical realism.  Taking the real world and bringing in those little details that take your breath away just gives me the chills as I write.  In my older series, I  brought in a realm we can’t see or touch but know are there.  The spirits who surround my MC’s with love or nefarious tendencies were fun to write. In my new series, I take the reader to the underworld and Olympus to meet the Greek gods.  I’ve read Dante’s Inferno, the Illiad, the Odyssey and I’ve read some Plato. They don’t all agree on the details so I rework characters for my own purpose.  You just have to stay consistent with your details.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I prefer worlds I’ve created.  There is more freedom to allow the story to take you where it will.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture One that I have created, but I want my world based on reality to some degree. Okay, SF really has no holds barred when we use telepathy, teleportation, time travel, and FTL because those have not been accomplished yet, and probably never will. But if I set my story in the 25th century I’m not going to have cell phones and iPads, either. Our technology will be far past those devices by then, and I get riled when I read a futuristic novel set a million years in the future and the main character pulls out a cell phone or iPad! Please, try to come up with something fresh.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy The real world is easier to write about, especially if I’ve actually been to the location. But creating worlds is half the fun. So I like to do both. Real world with fictional locations. For instance, in my novel Lucky Sevens it takes place in Las Vegas where I really grew up but the majority of the story is set within the fictional hotel/casino Saints & Sinners which I created specifically for the book.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil I use a little of both.  I take real places, real locations and set my story there, adding to them to fit into the story.


In fiction, even this world we live in becomes a physical backdrop for your story. Whether created from this reality or from your author’s mind, we must still help readers to visualize our story world.
How do you paint a picture for the reader so they can visualize your character’s physical environment?
DeAnna Knippling
 A lot of opinionated sense detail from my POV characters. They don’t just see a library full of books, they’re like, “Shame about the old Victorian haunted house’s library, with its thousands of stinking, mold-spotted, water-logged, mouse-eaten tomes.”
Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I drop small elements of the physical backdrop into the prose of my story, it’s another element of avoiding information overload or boring word filling. When the backdrop becomes a part of the story in a descriptive sense, it helps you avoid boring the reader, allowing them to paint the picture in their mind’s eye as to the backdrop. Here’s an example from one of my current works in progress – this is the opening sentences of the story “Miracle In The Dust” and Australian setting:

The track stretched out before them, disappearing into the horizon like a red thread cutting through the scrub that undulated either side of the dirt road. Travis sighed at the bull-dust cloud that bloomed behind their horse truck in the side-mirror. It had been a dry winter, and it was shaping up to be a long hot dry summer.

Hopefully the reader can see what I can see, an arid landscape of red dust across the Australian outback with scrubby bushes that dot the rolling plains of a large stretch of land, and a bumpy dirt road.

Ashley Fontainne

Ashley Fontainne One of my favorite techniques is to just close my eyes and let my imagination immerse me inside the story, taking in all the smells, sounds, visuals and emotional responses of the characters in a particular scene.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I like to drop in descriptions here and there.  I try not to overwhelm the reader with thick paragraphs.  I’ve found it flows more smoothly if I add tidbits as the story progresses

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Hopefully, we will always have forests, oceans, and mountains. We can just give them different names and locations. The same for cities. Maybe moving sidewalks, dining tables in restaurants that float above the floor. Music that enchants instead of rocks. There is so much the author can do to build his world.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy That’s part of being a good writer. Its your job to take the image you see in your mind and paint it on the page with your verbiage so that the reader sees the same picture. It’s like coloring a picture. I used to really like to do the central image in the coloring books when I was little and I often left the background unfinished. But when I took the time to color in the rest of the picture it made it pop so much better. It was alot more visual.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil With using a real location to start with, I have real locations that I can work with to make my descriptions.  For example, in one of my books, it’s set in a town in Pennsylvania called Edinboro.  This town has a small resort community around a lake.  The house are not relatively large, but my main character has a mansion on this lake.  I found pictures on the internet of the house I was looking for and described the house from those pictures.


When creating fictional worlds, anything is possible, but only if you, the author make it so. The author controls what is and isn’t possible in their fictional world, and it is our job to clue the readers into these things.
How do you portray the rules of the world, beliefs and preferences of characters?
DeAnna Knippling
deannak Ah! The rules!  A lot of writers give me the “are you insane?” look when I tell them that they have to set out the story’s rules at the beginning of a story.  I’ve done this multiple ways, including literally writing out the rules.  A good, practical, low-key way to set out the rules is to tell the reader the POV character’s goals and expectations, noting the rules as things to be wary of as they attempt to achieve their goals.  “I knew I had to overcome the wizard, but the way my magic didn’t work from sunset to dawn was going to be a problem.”  Another way is to tuck the rules into the description of the setting.  “The gas lamps flickered and the heavy fog erased everything more than a hundred feet away.  Mocking voices called out, ‘Two shillings for a love-potion, only lasts until dawn! Two more shillings for a girl to stare at while you drink it!'”  There’s your magic system, embedded right into the world as part of the setting.
Understanding the world helps readers to buy into the story, allowing them to suspend disbelief and immerse themselves in the story. The events in the story don’t have to be possible in real life, but they do have to be possible in the world of the story in order to be believable. Have you ever had a reader catch an inconsistency in your story because a character did something that violated the rules of the world which you created?
My errors tend to be of a different nature!  I almost always forget that readers bring assumptions to stories, especially ones based on Earthly settings, and that if I’m not going to use that assumption, I’m going to have to stress that I’m not using it.  I had an orphan chimneysweep in a Victorian story who was a teenager, and a reader was upset that they weren’t, like, six.  Because Victorian orphan chimneysweeps should be six.
Lilly Rayman

L Rayman In my only experience of world building I actually have an overlapping of the real world with my new world, via magic allowing for the main character to hop through the realms. The information that a reader needs about what my world and how it operates is provided in conversation when the main character first learns about the extra realm, and then when she finds herself in the new realm and has a conversation with a resident of the new realm who explains in conversation about the realm. Of course, this dialogue is broken up with some action and movement between the characters so that it doesn’t become an overload of static dialogue.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan Again, I add in little bits.  The hardest thing can be keeping true to your rules and not bending them as the story continues.  I keep a notebook next to me of rules and beliefs to make sure I stick to them throughout.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Usually this has something to do with the plot. A world of telepaths, and the necessary laws that might govern invading someone else’s mind. Or a world where one race has this ability and another doesn’t. This could cause conflicts between races.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy I set those rules in my initial outline of the story and then I may or may not follow them depending on the direction the story is going in. I’m a big believer in breaking rules but not without a good reason.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil I normally go with what’s acceptable in that time period.  I write historical and contemporary, so I usually don’t veer away from the beliefs and preferences of that time.


Understanding the world helps readers to buy into the story, allowing them to suspend disbelief and immerse themselves in the story. The events in the story don’t have to be possible in real life, but they do have to be possible in the world of the story in order to be believable.

Have you ever had a reader catch an inconsistency in your story because a character did something that violated the rules of the world which you created?

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman No, I haven’t had anyone complain about anything that has happened in any of my stories. So far, all my published stories are built in this world with the supernatural being an element of the story, but I always try not to get too crazy with what my characters can or cannot do, to provide that element of “this could really happen!”

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan It has happened once or twice.  I’ve wanted to hug the reader.  “Thank you for catching that!  I’m going to make a note for the next release.  Also – why aren’t you my critique partner?!”

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture In my novel, Three Go Back, the mode of transportation is teleportation machines. Fossil fuel vehicles have long been replaced by these machines, and there is no longer need for fossil fuel. However, one of my characters is an old man, a professor of astronomy, who maintains a small jet. I left myself open with this, but no one seemed to question it. If fossil fuels are no longer needed, how does the professor keep fuel for his jet? I would have questioned it in someone else’s novel (LOL).

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy No, I’m very good at keeping my characters in check. I’ve had readers point out some elements that didn’t fit in some of my earlier work. For instance, I wrote about stainless steel in a historical and they noted it would not have been invented yet in the time period I was writing about. We all make mistakes. I’ve read alot of very well known authors who don’t remain consistent to the story or their characters and it becomes a let down. I try my best not to do that because it can ruin the story.


Some authors draw maps of the fictional worlds they create to help readers follow the events of the story.
Have you ever used this technique? What other techniques have you used to help readers visualize your world?
DeAnna Knippling
deannak Ech, as I’ve said, I’m terrible at creating other worlds, so I don’t usually need to draw maps–although I do tend to use a lot of map research, so I can keep things clear for myself.
Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I haven’t drawn any maps since I played at writing when I was 14 years old, and that was more for my own use to remember where my world was based. In my writing now, as a published author, I try to use descriptive prose to help the reader to visualise backdrop, whether it be here on earth or in a world of my own creation.

Ashley Fontainne
Ashley Fontainne I have not, yet think it is a magnificent idea!
Jordan Elizabeth
Jordan I did have official maps for my original stories, but the publisher chose not to use them.  Now I just use a notebook and sketch a layout.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture I’ve never drawn a map of my worlds, but they would have probably helped in many cases. Usually the setting is a jungle or desert, and the characters must avoid a volcano or keep from getting lost in a desert. But would a map really help. Perhaps they can merely guide themselves by reading the stars and travelling north or south, east or west. However, when authors include a map, I do refer to it when following the adventure.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy I drew a map once for a fantasy I was working on but I never actually used it. I use description to set the table of the scene and trust that my readers can visualize it from the cues I am giving them.


One of the questions in part 1 had to do with creating setting for places we’ve never been, which of course, encompasses all science fiction or fantasy worlds, as well as most speculative fiction worlds. Some panel members said they do a lot of online research of real settings they’ve never been to, but how many of you have explored real places which are similar to your fictional world, experiencing the sensory details in order to write them down?
Anyone explore physical locations in the flesh in order to get the details right when writing about a real location?
DeAnna Knippling
deannak When I can do this, I love it, but I can’t often afford to do so.  I’ll sometimes write stories set somewhere I’ve gone or planned to go, just because I can get deeper into the location.
Lilly Rayman

L Rayman My Australiana setting is based off personal experience. My husband and I have travelled through Outback Queensland, and I intimately know the smell of the dry earth, or the smell of burning sap of a Eucalyptus gum tree in the scorching temperatures of Australia. And there is nothing more beautiful than the smell of rain hitting the dirt after an extended long period of dry. Having that sensory understanding helps an author to provide a detailed description that can pull the reader into the story for themselves. For other stories where the setting isn’t a location I have experienced, I scroll through the internet, researching the flora and fauna, going through images to get an idea of where my story is set.

Ashley Fontainne
Ashley Fontainne Once. When researching the real life mystery of the disappearance of famed Arkansas attorney Maude Crawford for Blood Loss, I went to her home in Camden, Arkansas, along with my mother (and co-author). The current owners of the home graciously allowed us to tour the residence and even take pictures. It was an amazing experience and allowed us to convey minute, specific details in the story we otherwise would have to invent.
RA Winter
RA Winter For locations, I use google maps while on the treadmill.  It’s a wonderful resource, as if the internet.  I’ve lived in five different countries, visited many others and have lived all over the US.  If I’m writing about someplace I’ve never been, I’ll ask people who’ve been there to read over my work before I publish it.  In one series, I wrote about a fictional city in Kansas.  It was a farm, which I grew up on one of those, so it was easy putting it in another state that I thought was beautiful driving through.
Jordan Elizabeth
Jordan Unfortunately, no, but I love to travel.  I haven’t done much traveling since my son was born.  I’m hoping to start back up in a few years.  I love to write about places I’ve been to.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture I’ve been all over the world so can usually describe the places I’ve been in good detail – at least during the period I was there. And I can tell when an author has never been where s/he is writing about. Encyclopedias and postcards give you the colorful aspects of a foreign locale, but if you don’t know the culture or customs you’ll get it all wrong. During the pulp era authors usually wrote about areas they had travelled – China, Japan, Europe, etc. But the men’s adventure writers of the 1970s and later seldom left their home town, and were writing about Africa, Turkey, and Cairo, as well as other foreign lands with no real knowledge of the places, and most of it was terrible. But publishers were publishing, and readers were eating it up. How many western writers have actually rode a horse? Or could saddle a horse if necessary? Writing about a location is the same thing, you need to know what you’re writing about. Someone once said that if you read about a mesa in Louis L’Amour’s novel, you can go there and find it.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy I don’t have the liberty to go traveling about like some of the big name authors do. But if I could I would because it lends more realism to the story if you know the secrets of a place because you’ve actually been there, not just from reading about it or seeing pictures and video. For instance I remember every bit of trips to Hawaii and Italy so I may set some future novels in these locales.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil Yes, absolutely.  I would have to say that the majority of my books are set in locations that I have been to.


Do you plan out your world or build as you go and see what happens?
DeAnna Knippling
deannak See what happens, with a stack of books and maps at my side!
Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I generally find that my world builds for me as I write.

Jordan Elizabeth
Jordan I have a general idea, but I build as I go. The story takes me where it takes me.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture I build as I go

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy I write as I go. Particularly when I’m writing an adventure fantasy piece I just move the story along to where it needs to go and then clean it up later in editing. The only time I really kept track of locations in my world was writing the sequels to Demon Hunter titled Demon Huntress. Because I was revisiting this world I already created I wanted to have my characters revisit places that I had written about in great detail during the original trilogy. That meant going back in to my previous work and finding out all I needed to know about these places.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil Build as I go, with the actual place as a start.


What tools or methods do you use to keep track of all the details of your world?
DeAnna Knippling
deannak I have a details sheet with names, dates, and locations.  I keep it pretty simple.
Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I read back through what I need to. I’m terrible at keeping notes, I lose anything I do make, so it’s easier to simply read back if I need to confirm a minor detail.

RA Winter

RA Winter I keep a series bible.  Every character’s physical, mental, plot bits, etc are kept tucked safely inside.  I also use it for descriptions and will keep house plans, pictures of objects, models and the descriptions I’ve used.  It’s essential in any story for keeping your facts straight.
Jordan Elizabeth
Jordan I have a notebook full of information.  I used to create a PowerPoint for each story because I am obsessed with using PowerPoint.  That meant a lot of slides to click through.  A notebook is easier…but less fun.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Notes are very important.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy I don’t do anything special to keep track. If I need to know what I said about a place before I just go back into the novel and reread what I wrote already.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil All those are kept in my story boards, where I outline the story by chapter.  Locations are put in there so that everything stays consistent.


Sensory Details

How do you pick the right sensory details for your story?
DeAnna Knippling
deannak I slip into character.  Almost every character can see things, but different people have different experiences of how their senses interact with the world.  I have a musician character who hears things more than I do.  I have a character with synaethesia who tastes colors and auras.  Some characters are texture characters, they feel things with their hands.  Others do a lot of smell.
Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I just want to say before I start answering, that I found these sensory questions the hardest to answer. For me, this sort of detail comes instinctively to me, and to answer these questions I had to think very hard about what I actually do in my writing to provide the answers to these questions.

I always ask myself what the main aim of the story is. The whole feel I want from the story influences which sensory details that I would concentrate on. Referencing back to my Australiana story Miracle In The Dust, the weather in itself is a main driving force behind some of the story. The sensory details I concentrate on is not only the weather itself, but the effects of the weather on the landscape. There needs to be a sense of desperation to the beginning of the story that allows for the miracle that I have planned to shine through.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I think about somewhere I’ve been in real life that is similar.  What did I smell?  Could I taste the air?  What did I feel?

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Knowledge helps. Imaginations also helps. Knowing which way water flows from the Great Lakes if your story is set in that area. What is the best fish to eat in Canada. Hint, they don’t eat mud cat.


What kind of sight details might be important in a story?
DeAnna Knippling
deannak Ones that are almost painfully specific, rather than generalized.  You can’t write every visual detail, but the ones you pick should lean toward the specific.  A shirt isn’t “red,” it’s “fire-engine red.”  A tree isn’t a “tree,” it’s a “contentedly conical Douglas fir.”
Lilly Rayman

L Rayman Again, anything that helps to emphasis the main goal of the story, details that help building the right tension or feeling that will only improve the story and help to immerse the reader into the story. Moving back to my earlier answer where I shared with you the opening lines of Miracle In The Dust, and I referenced the cloud of bull-dust that billowed behind the truck. It’s a visual element that anyone who lives in outback or regional Australia takes for granted as being an every day element of life, yet it’s an integral visual element that helps me create depth into my story.


What methods do you use to add sound details to your stories?
DeAnna Knippling
deannak I have the sound occur and make sure characters react to it.  That whole thing where you read, “Susan heard the sound of a pin drop” is for the birds.  “A pin dropped on the wood floor, bouncing several times.  Susan flinched, pulling up her feet” is much better.  Likewise any other sense.
Lilly Rayman

L Rayman Descriptive words. Adding the sound in as a tension builder or a climax to a scene, for example when there is a gun shot is it a short sharp crack in a bar, or a long drawn out echo across the land. Here is an example of how I used sound within my writing in An Unexpected Bonding:

Rance watched in disbelief as the young man turned and watched the approach of the wolf. He must be stunned to stand there as the wolf launched in the air.

He squeezed his finger.

CRACK-K-K-k-k-k-k-k.

The shot resounded across the land.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I try not to write out the sounds.  That seems too much like a comic book to me.  (I love comic books, by the way, but its not the feel I want for my novels.)

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Let me show you instead: From Pangaea: Eden’s Planet:

The outer wave struck the giant ship with incredible force.
Suddenly, they could see nothing but ebony blackness in the view screen, and then the ship began to shake and vibrate violently as waves of immense energy tossed the Galileo Two from side to side like a small boat in a hurricane. The controls fought them, and the machinery whined like a screaming Banshee on a dark, moonless night. Warning lights flickered, dimmed, went out, came back on with a flash, and then repeated the sequence like a floundering fish out of water.

Someone screamed, but it was impossible to tell whether it had been a man or a woman. The safety harnesses held everyone safely in their seats, but a few loose objects had been lying near some of the computers, and these went flying through the small cabin, colliding with seats, computer panels, and sometimes—an unprotected hand or head.

Lightning bolts of pure energy sparked and crisscrossed the tornado-like funnel in a spider-web of violent beauty, at the far end appeared to be a gaping monster’s mouth. But the plasma would not let them go, tossing them around like the prey of some monstrous space creature.


In what ways have you incorporated touch details into your writing?
DeAnna Knippling
deannak At first I had characters look at textures and note them, or touch things, but lately I’ve been adding elements that the character really has a reaction to, like the feeling that it’s cold and one’s sweater isn’t warm enough, or the touch of a spiderwebs that you’ve brushed off but can’t stop checking to make sure.  Someone who has to clean a milkshake off a barnwood door is going to have a distinct opinion about the texture!
Lilly Rayman

L Rayman As a romance writer touch is such an important factor in creating a sensory moment for the readers to feel as if they are as intimately a part of the scene themselves.
Touch isn’t just about a intimate moment, but something as simple as providing more descriptive imagery for a wolf, such as when a character sinks their fingers into the soft thickness of the wolf’s neck.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I enjoy describing the ground or clothes.  Usually I’m describing the ground because the character just fell!  I tend to abuse my characters.


How do you factor in taste and smell details?
DeAnna Knippling
deannak My characters are always eating something, for one, maybe because I’m often at the computer writing and wondering when it’s time for lunch. Sometimes I have to have them smell things with a strong taste associated with them, like “chocolate chip cookies.”  Smell is easier.  I always wonder how people can write without it; people have such emotional reactions to smell that smell is almost a writer shortcut that you can abuse at will.  You don’t even have to be specific with smell details.  All you have to do is say, “the smell of sewage” and people the world over will be like, “Got it.”
Lilly Rayman

L Rayman Where ever it has an impact on the depth of the story, such as during a meal, providing a description that is “mouth-watering” and makes the reader want to actually be eating that meal as well. Of course, taste and smell doesn’t have to be pleasant. If you think about a thriller or a murder mystery story, discovering a crime scene can be filled with smells that are so offensive they end up having a taste element as well.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I write about smell a lot, but taste not so much.  I’m going to make a note here to work on that.

I love adding in scents.  You don’t get a lot of that in stories.  Even if the reader can’t actually smell it (because its a paper book or e-reader), they can remember what a flower smells like…or a field after a rain storm.


Many of your readers have been to or even lived in locations where your stories are set, so they are able to relate when you get the details right, but if you get something wrong, it’s almost guaranteed that somebody will catch it and let you know about it.
Have you ever had a reader tell you that you missed the mark with a certain detail?
DeAnna Knippling
deannak Not yet!  Fingers crossed.
Lilly Rayman
L Rayman Nope, I haven’t. I’ve been fairly lucky that I have been able to create stories the evoke memories of being there for readers that do have experience of my locations.

Ashley Fontainne

Ashley Fontainne One reviewer mentioned no one from California would ever refer to the state as “Cali” as one of the characters in Blood Ties did, which I found humorous. I grew up in Orange County, as did my mother, and we still have relatives there who use the expression. Another reviewer gave low marks for Whispered Pain because the story takes place in Arkansas, in the winter, during a freak snow storm. The person actually wrote they “researched weather patterns” online and it “never snows in Arkansas” which still makes me laugh. I have lived in Arkansas for over thirty years and experienced many snow and ice storms. I am sure the folks working for insurance companies processing thousands upon thousands of storm damage claims would agree with me!

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan Yes!  They usually do it nicely, but I have had some people rip me to shreds over the setting of COGLING.  The setting is a fantasy kingdom.  The main character is living in a dusty, dirty city, and she must travel through the woods into the swamp to save her brother.  I’ve had people send me the rudest emails about how I missed the mark on describing London or England in general.  Um, it isn’t London or England.  I’m not sure why I get so much hate mail about that because I clearly state the names of the city and country in the text.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture No, but I do it all the time, so get it right and you won’t hear from me.


Effective Dialog

Dialog tags can be helpful in identifying who is speaking in the story. Good dialog tags should be almost invisible, so the reader brushes right over them, but still knows who is talking.
Do you prefer to use dialog tags, or do you find them a hindrance? If you don’t use dialog tags, how do you let the reader know who the speaker is?
DeAnna Knippling
deannak I use dialog tags.  I’ll use a more distinct dialog tag when I want to bring the reader’s attention to something–usually when the character is lying or there some other subtext but that’s really rare; I’ll usually handle it in the dialog itself.  Generally I stick with the “he said” pattern.  I would like to note that putting a dialog tag at the end of a sentence if the reader will really not be clear on who is speaking is lame.  Put it at the beginning.  The reader should have zero words of going, “But who is talking?!?” in a normal scene.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture If your characterization is good, you don’t need a lot of dialog tags. But when you have four or five people speaking, you’d best use tags.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy That’s tricky. I hate alot of “he said” and “she said” type of stuff. Writing dialogue is one of my strongest attributes as a writer so I just let it flow naturally using tags if I find I need to.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil I use too many dialog tags and have diligently working to replace them with an action.


Do you feel that dialog tags beyond the basic ones like ‘said’ and ‘asked’ can be distracting and draw away from the story?
DeAnna Knippling
deannak “Which is sometimes exactly what you want,” the dowager countess snapped.  “Some stories ought to be drawn away from, they are so terribly written.”
Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I tried to avoid the basic he said / she said dialogue tags. I do like to use some sort of description to identify the speaker, even if it is as simple as an action that someone does as they speak. It makes for a scene that moves along without being static and identifies the speaker.

RA Winter

RA Winter Action tags work well and serve a dual purpose of bringing the action closer to the reader.  A write just has to be careful that the action tag dedicated to the person speaking.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I use some dialogue tags.  I like to describe what’s going on instead.  Its a great opportunity to add in a smell or texture, or something the speaker is seeing.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture I’ve only known a few authors who are good with dialog. The rest of us struggle with it, and I don’t think tags that go beyond “said” and “asked” are all that distracting.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil I do. That is why I try to avoid them.


Dialog should be believable, in that it is realistic of something that not only a real person might say, but something that your character would say. I’ve found though, that if you use a piece of dialog that occurred in real life, many feel it is not realistic.
How do you write believable dialog which reads smoothly?
DeAnna Knippling
deannak The same way you write an accent:  accurately like 20% of the time, suggestive of accuracy rather than actually, um, like, accurate.  But I’d like to note that the process of learning to write believable dialog generally starts with sitting down at a coffee shop and writing down what people actually say.  Writers tend to start out with a problem of forcing characters to say useful things in a direct fashion that sounds stilted.  In real life, people talk around what they want and feel and replace it with small talk.  High fantasy writers and hard sci-fi writers are the worst!  I’ve judged some contests, and I’m always coming across writers who have Big Things to Say and who can’t handle the polite nothings that are required in order to get to the point of communicating.  I want to see a high fantasy novel where the heroes talk to the villagers about the weather and they come away knowing that that Evil Sorcerer has been there because the wheat looks scraggly from all the damp.  Or a sci-fi epic where people are like, “So how about them Bears?”  Of course in the future people will still follow professional sports, duh.
Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I try to write dialogue as I would speak, and ensure that all speech is contracted, meaning people doing in real life don’t say “do not” they say “don’t”. I also try and write appropriate slang into my dialogue for the characters background.

Ashley Fontainne

Ashley Fontainne As I mentioned before, when I am in full writing mode, I try to close my eyes and watch the story unfold as though viewing a movie. From there, I write what I see, which includes the dialog between the characters.

RA Winter

RA Winter Cut anything that isn’t necessary, it slows down the reader.  Don’t do the phone conversation of “Hello?”  “Hi, is so-and-so there?”  “Who’s calling please?”  “Oh, it’s Mr. Jones.”  Why?  Don’t.  It’s boring.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I repeat it out loud to myself.  If it sounds good, I leave it.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Again, I’ve only known a few writers that could write good dialog, Warren Murphy and Dan Cushman. The rest o us struggle.

Cynthia Vespia
colorheadshot - Copy I disagree. As a writer I spend alot of time listening to people talk and I pick up subtle nuances that stick with me so when I go to write I deliver a more realistic aspect to a character because of those bits and pieces. When it gets forced is when you start trying to write in accents. I say just mention that someone has a specific accent and write the dialogue as you would for anyone else. Alot of choppy words will just get confusing. I know it worked in alot of classic novels but hey…I’m not in that caliber yet!
Amy Cecil
Amy Cecil I act out the dialog as I’m writing it.

Nonfiction
You write about real people and places. How do you assure that the cultural and physical settings are true to the story? 
Mark Shaw
MarkAtSFTS (1) Don’t mess with that much. More interested in primary source information about my main subject and those who make the story compelling.
Do you ever actually visit the places you write about?
Mark Shaw
MarkAtSFTS (1) Yes, for both The Reporter Who Knew Too Much and the upcoming Denial of Justice, I visited New York City. Actually went to locations where Dorothy Kilgallen frequented including my sitting next to the table at P. J. Clarke’s where she sat on the last night of her life.
Much of the writing you do is about people and places of the past.
When writing about historical places, how do you find and work in the details to make it authentic?
Mark Shaw
MarkAtSFTS (1) Use only primary sources but again, the subject is the story, not so much the historical places.
As you can see, there are many approaches to drawing readers into our worlds, whether real or imagined. At times the approach may depend on what genre we are writing in. Certainly, my approach to creating and portraying Delilah, which is a western and required historical research for accuracy and visiting certain locations to get the details right, is quite different from my approach in portraying my science fantasy world for my Playground for the Gods series, which explored myths and legends of old using landscapes mostly created in my head. But even when writing about real places, such as in nonfiction, the author must find ways to draw readers into the story, and add those special touches which bring the setting to life is one way to do that. This information can be conveyed by using dialog between characters to help readers learn what we need them to know, or through sensory details that make the setting seem more real.
I want to thank our author panel members for sharing their ideas and techniques with us. I hope you’ll pick and choose the ideas that work for you. And I hope you’ll join us next Monday, when our author panel will discuss writing action scenes and pacing.

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Setting the Tone with Point of View, Tense, Narrative Distance and Voice

Ask the Authors (Round 2)

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Every story has a distinct tone. Some are light hearted, while others are grim, while still others are sad and heartbreaking. The tone of the story is created by a combination of elements: point of view, tense, narrative distance and voice. Today our Ask the Authors panel discusses how they use those elements to create the tone needed for each particular story. On our panel today, Dan Alatorre, DeAnna Knippling, RA Winter, Mark & Kym Todd, Tom Johnson, Jordan Elizabeth, Margareth Stewart, Mark Shaw, Cynthia Vespia, Lilly Rayman, and Amy Cecil. 

Tone is what determines the mood of the story. Is it a humorous story with a light, playful tone? Or are you aiming to create a dark story, with scary elements? Or perhaps a sense of mystery? The tone of the story doesn’t just occur on the page. It must be crafted with precision just like all the other elements of story, and the choices the author makes will determine if they are sucessful in achieving the desired tone, and if it is effective for the story.


Who is telling the story? There are basically four different points of view the story can be told from: first person (I), second person (you), third person limited (narrator with access to a single character’s view), or third person omnicient (narrator with access to the thoughts of multiple characters). 

Do you have a preference between first person, second person, third person limited and third person omniscient, or does it just depend on the story you are telling? What do you see as the advantages or disadvantages of each?

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre I prefer writing in first person because it forces you to pay attention as a storyteller. You don’t know what’s going on in a room you aren’t in. I also enjoy third person limited, because it’s fun to be different people instead of “I“ all the time. The big advantage is, they make you be disciplined. You’re much less likely to do head hopping in first person.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy I’ve dabbled in first person but I prefer third person, especially since I like telling multi-viewpoint stories. This way I can get in the heads of each character rather than one single character mindset as you do in first person.

Mark & Kym Todd

Todds - Copy We have a definite preference for third-person limited POV. We like the distance it gives us (and readers) from the story and the opportunities for weaving in dramatic irony. We never use first-person because it’s too intimate for the kind of stories we tell – plus it makes it harder to surprise readers without resorting to what feels to us like storytelling gimmickry.

RA Winter

RA Winter  I always write in third person limited with a deep point of view.  It brings out each character’s quirks, reactions, fears etc adding depth to the story. As far as third-person omniscient, I don’t like the distance from the characters and it’s very hard to pull off properly.  First person point of view isn’t something I read for pleasure, so I’d never try to write in that niche.  I know that it is the ‘in’ way of writing, but for some reason it grates on my nerves.  I’ve noticed that the setting, descriptions, etc, usually lack in first-person stories and other characters aren’t as developed as they could be.  I’ve only written in the second person once as a writing prompt with a crit circle.  It was too hard to get into and not for me.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak If you’re going to lie to your audience or have an unreliable narrator, do it in first person.  I write in all three.  The second-person stories kind of require some kind of hypnotic element to them, one that you want the reader to be hyper aware of.  “I’m mind controlling you, see?  Mind controllling!”  Third person stories are for when you just want the reader to sink into the narrative with as much trust of the narrator as possible.  It’s one of those things where the way you write the story should reflect the content of your story.  The contents of my stories sometimes lead me into weird POVs.  I do like books where mixed POVs are used, too–try to imagine The Fifth Season without the POVs!

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture I prefer third person omniscient, that’s how I learned to write, and it has stuck with me throughout my writing career. I don’t find myself limited in scope.

Margareth Stewart

Margareth Stewart The easiest way to write is in the third person. The first person may get boring although I used that in a self-help book-guide I wrote while trying to avoid by all costs sounding egocentric. I also did some experimental writing on the second person. I tested it and it worked fine. It is a critical piece in which a subconscious voice dialogues with the main character while pointing out how she does not change her life, and keeps repeating the same mistakes. The narrative is dense in this short story called “Acid: a view from below”. I publish it for free at facebook.com/AuthorMargarethStewart. The main character is silent all the time, and the reason I used this technique was to lead people reading it to change their own. The silence holds the potential for change. My novels are all in the third person as that is the safest path. Nobody feels intimidated or bored with them and I recommend it for long novels and first-time authors.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan It all depends on the story I’m writing.  I usually stick with third person because I can explain more about what’s going on, but sometimes it just has to be told in first person.  The main character wants to tell it her way.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman Depending on what I want to convey with my story, depends on whether I write in the first person, or whether I write in a third person omniscient point of view.
My Unexpected series is written in 3rd Omni – with a couple of 1st person mini scenes to add a little intrigue to what is actually happening as that character is an unknown entity at that point of the story.

I have other works in progress, or in anthologies that are written in 1st person, simply because I needed to have a more in-depth thought process for the character that I follow, for example “A Reluctant Roxana: An Unexpected Short Story – Dare to Shine: Anthology” – The anthology was to raise funds for the Sophie Lancaster Foundation – a young woman who was killed for looking different in the way she choose to dress. I wanted my character, Roxana, to have some deep internalising about how important it is to be who you are and comfortable in yourself. I felt a 1st person point of view allowed for that kind of in-depth writing, something that a 3rd person would be hard to pull off.

3rd person omniscient is a great style for a lot of character and action that would get too complicated for a 1st person to follow.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil I used to write in third person, past tense, but now I prefer first person present tense.  I really don’t see any advantages other than I find it easier to write.

Have you ever written a story in one POV and then later rewritten it in a different POV to see if it worked better? Did it? Why or why not?

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre I started one story in one point of view and then rewrote it to change the point of view. I did it because I needed to be able to be multiple characters in the story, and I thought that worked best in third limited versus first. And it worked out really well because the story was a big hit.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy Actually yes, twice. I started my Demon Hunter series in third person then decided to switch and tell it from a 1st person perspective because I wanted it to be Costa (my main character) telling his own story. When I started writing Lucky Sevens the opposite happened. I began with Luca “Lucky” Luchazi telling his story in 1st person and decided it didn’t work. So halfway through I switched to 3rd person and added in a multi-viewpoint approach. I don’t think I’ll ever go back to 1st person as its not as fun for me to write in.

Mark & Kym Todd

Todds - Copy Sure. And it’s why we answered the above question like we did! We think we lived-and-learned from the experience.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak If I have, it’s been long ago that I don’t remember.  I’ve tried two different 3rd person tight POVs before, but not lately.  I tend to have pretty specific reasons why I pick a character and a voice before I sit down to write.
Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture No, never, I stay with the form I’ve used from the start.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I haven’t done that yet, but I have taken a story told entirely from one POV and added in another chracter’s POV.  It made the story feel more well-rounded.

Most fiction is written in third person, allowing the author to define who their narrator is, and whether they are omniscient, having access to the thoughts and actions of all or at least several of the characters, or have access to the thoughts and ideas of one specific character. In the first person, the protagonist becomes the narrator and the story is told from a single point of view. The most prevalent example of this that comes to my mind is Hunger Games, and even though well done, there were places where the first person felt awkward.

Do you prefer to write in first or third person? Why? Or does it just depend on the story? How do you decide what POV to use?

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre Readers want to climb into your story and get lost in the fantasy. They don’t necessarily want to be the main character. That’s why third person is so appealing. However, certain types of stories lend themselves very well the first person. Humor, for example. Or when the author is intentionally messing with you. Ishmael was not the main character of Moby Dick; he was the narrator. He was a small player. I used that device in my book The Navigators to great effect; as you go along, you’re thinking the narrator is just a nice, quiet guy and all of a sudden you get surprise after surprise because he’s being surprised – and he pulls a few surprises. That makes it fun for me and the reader. Other books like Poggibonsi are written in first person because I wanted “you“ to be all these things and find yourself halfway through kind of rooting for the bad guy and then put yourself back out of it.

But I don’t like first person present tense. I do this, I do that. Can’t stand it. I like first person past tense: I went here, I went there – as if you’re sitting down at lunch or over a cocktail with somebody who is telling you their story. They are saying, then I did this, then I did that. First person present? I run, I jump – no thanks. I have read several books that are written that way and the first few chapters are almost impossible for me to get through. It’s like nails on a chalkboard to me.

RA Winter

RA Winter My first draft is usually in present tense as I work my way through the story but I change it to past tense.  Present tense for me just doesn’t work and the voice becomes passive. I’ve also notice that while trying to write in the present tense that I will automatically switch tenses and that leads to reader confusion.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak Depends on the story.  I like to mislead the reader, but I also like to be fair about it.  If you see me writing in the first person, you are 95% guaranteed an unreliable narrator.  I’d say that’s 100% for second person, and maybe 50% for third.  The third person narrators tend to be less unreliable, too.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Third person, always. I agree, first person can feel awkward at times, and I prefer to broaden the view, so to speak.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan While I’m brainstorming, I try out different ideas in my head.  One or the other will always stick, and the story starts playing out.  I’ll hear it in third person or first, and I just go with it.  I’ve only had to switch once.  GOAT CHILDREN was originally third person and my original editor had me change it to first person.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I use both first and third, depending entirely on what I am trying to get across to the reader.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil Basically the answer to this is noted in all the questions above.  I prefer first person, because it is easier, but in some stories, I’m required to write differently because of the story or the particular character.

Seldom do you `see anything written in the second person, because it’s hard to do. This technique decreases the narrative distance between the reader and the character, because the reader is placed within the story in a way. Essentially the reader becomes the character, using ‘you’ instead of ‘I’ or ‘her’ or ‘him’. I tried it once, and it’s a very difficult thing to do well. It usually comes off feeling rather awkward.

Have you ever tried to write anything in second person? What did you find most challenging about it?

Dan Alatorre 

Alatorre I don’t mind writing things in second person, because it’s like anything else; you have to practice it for it not to be awkward. If you don’t like it or you’re not practiced at it, it will be awkward to write and therefore it will be awkward to read. If you work at it, it can be very smooth, and a very satisfying reading experience. I don’t prefer it, because I think the types of stories I tell work best in other deliveries.

Mark & Kym Todd

Todds - Copy French authors pretty well worked second-person POV to death in the 50s and 60s, and there’s not much unturned earth left in this POV, so far as we’re concerned, within traditional narratives. So we’re content to let video games and choose-your-own-adventure stories keep this technique.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I feel like using second person increases, rather than decreases, the narrative distance. It’s begging the reader to scream, “Don’t tell me what to do!!!” I write a number of stories in the second person. What you have to do is give the reader a story that they’re feeling especially cynical about, something that they want to react to in a negative manner. If you write a story from a bad guy’s point of view as they justify themselves, then a second-person narrator can sometimes be very effective. Another technique is to address the story to a universal “you,” an impersonal “you” that the reader won’t take personally at all, much as in this paragraph that you read just now.

Also? If you’re going to write a choose-your-own-adventure type book, you have to do you. I love Ryan North’s To Be or Not To Be and Romeo And/Or Juliet.

A story can be told from a singular perspective in the first person or with a limited narrator, or it can be told through the eyes of multiple characters, with an omnicient narrator. Each has benefits and drawbacks. Multiple points of view offer the author more options as to how much to reveal to readers and open up opportunities for subplots to be played out more fully, whereas a single point of view can create a more focused story. Multiple POVs may be necessary when the reader needs information that the protagonist isn’t privy to. (Super hero comic books use this technique to increase tension, by making readers privy to the perils the victim to be saved faces if the hero is not sucessful.)

Do you prefer single or multiple POVs? Why?

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre If you can have multiple, have multiple; it’s more fun. I prefer multiple POVs as far as what I write because it gives you the ability to get a scene to a very dramatic point and then jump away to a different story or a different person, in a different place. And then you build that story segment up to high point of drama and then jump back to the other story. If you do it right, people can’t stop turning the pages because they have to find out what’s going on with the other stories.

Mark & Kym Todd

Todds - Copy We love third-person limited shifting. It’s our POV device of choice and probably why we usually write for ensemble casts. Little Greed Men uses 3p-limited-shifting in spades and by the story’s close, the characters each think they have the story figured out whereas only the reader knows what really happened – maybe.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak Depends on the story.  I tend to revolve around a single POV, because I find sagas and epics to be kind of frustrating to read at times.  But I don’t worry too much about popping over to check in with another character now and then.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Single. Though I have used multiple POVs before, when I wanted my readers to see what was going on in both camps.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I love multiple POVs.  The story opens up in a new way when you explore other thoughts and feeling, and see the world through different eyes.  Plus, its fun to play around with split personalities! I realy have to force myself to write in first person if a story calls for that voice.

L Rayman It depends on the story I’m writing. If I’m writing in 1st person, I keep my story to one POV. When I’m writing in 3rd person omniscient, there tends to be multiple POV.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil It really depends on the story.  Some of my books are multiple POVs and some are single.  It just depends on the story I am telling what fits best.

When using multiple POVs, does each character get equal page time? Do you switch POVs within chapters, or on the chapter break?

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre Equal page time? No. Not a chance. You have stars and you have bit players. The stars get the limelight and the majority of the pages. Everybody else only gets as much as is absolutely required.

I will switch point of view within the chapter, at a chapter break, however often as needed. I’d do it midsentence if I could.

Mark & Kym Todd

Todds - Copy We use additional page time with a given character as the way to signal to readers who our protagonist(s) is (are). But we also sometimes give extra page time to an antagonist – either to make characters hate them or else to make readers like them despite what the antagonist does. And we stand by the dictum that an antagonist is simply a character who opposes the intent of the protagonist. We never paint characters into villains for our stories – too simplistic for us.

As for POV shifts, we often change scenes to switch POVs within a chapter. It largely depends on whether or not it serves the story arc. Also, we love switching POV scenes with mini-cliffhangers. (We do it to keep readers from being able to go to bed.)

DeAnna Knippling

deannak NNNNNNNOOOOOOOOO. The main character or the main narrator gets the most page time, period. Then again, I have to admit that I don’t write a lot of romance–that’s a situation where often (not always) the two main love interests get approximately equal page time. I’m fine reading that. But I generally loathe the “rotating POVs of calculated fairness” book structure. That one thing that I’ve been in suspense to read for the last four chapters? I no longer care. Book, meet wall on other side of the room.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Always in scene breaks, not necessarily chapter breaks, though. We must have a clear break in the scene if we switch POVs.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan It depends on the progress of the story.  I never decide when the POV will switch.  As I’m writing, the other character sneaks up on me, demanding his/her turn.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman Depends on the story and its flow. I try to keep to individual chapters where I can. Usually though, its my characters that dictate to me their story and how it should go.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil Not always.  I usually switch POVs at the beginning of a chapter, but in some instances, its important to add the alternate POV within the same paragraph.

One of my pet peeves is head hopping, switching back and forth from one character’s head to another without clear indication to the reader.

How do you indicate to readers that a switch in POV has occurred?

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre I don’t think I mind head hopping as much as a lot of other people. That’s kind of like people who drink beer AND wine versus people who ONLY drink wine (and then the people who can only drink robust read deep with lots of tannins… ) Head hopping is usually a writer making a mistake. It often lessens the reading enjoyment for the reader. If you’re not writing for an audience, then it doesn’t matter, but if you have an audience that’s going to pay money for the show, they need to get their money’s worth. Most of them won’t feel they did if you head hop. Of those who don’t mind, I think they won’t feel the story is as good as it could’ve been, even if they can’t articulate why.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy Oh boy head hopping really bothers me too! I try never to do that and the way I make sure is to start a new chapter whenever I want to switch a character, or at least put in an obvious break in the current chapter so you know it’s a different character POV.

Mark & Kym Todd

Todds - Copy We agree with you, Kaye. We hate head-hoppers. We feel like it’s a cop-out and the resort for lack of craft control. To shift POV we use the time-honored convention that ellipses mean one or more of three things: change of POV, change of place, or change of time. Most readers intuit this just fine, and we’ve never had complaints from fans.

RA Winter

RA Winter Most of the time I change chapters for different POV’s.  However, if the scene isn’t finished and there is another character who could add a different depth, stakes, or a call to action for a character, I use a scene break symbol, a *** in the middle of the page.
DeAnna Knippling
deannak I don’t do it often, but sometimes that’s just how it has to go.  I pull back on the POV depth on character one, so you might be inside their head or outside of the their head, then switch over to the second character’s POV, again at a very light depth.  I only add a personal, internal POV to the second character if I have to, too.
Nettie felt that she would never be able to understand her cousin Matthew.  She flipped several pages as the candlelight flickered.
Matthew walked around the outside of the room.  To see him, you would never know that he was suffering.  A black despair always fell over him at this time of year, at the memory of his wife.
Nettie said, “Would you like me to read to you?”
“Yes, please.  What are you reading?”
She paged back to the beginning of the story, considering whether the story was an appropriate one for the moment, or not.
–Like that.  We hopped from Nettie to Matthew and back again.  Neither POV is all that rich with observation, but sometimes you have to at least suggest what’s going on in the other character’s head so the reader doesn’t misinterpret the subtext.  But I’m still new enough at being able to do it that I just about have a panic attack every time I have to try to pull it off.
Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture I won’t ever jump from head to head with POVs. It might work in comic books, though.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I break up the screen, making it clear that the previous scene is over, or I start a new chapter.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman As an omniscient writer, it can be hard to strike the right balance between an omniscient pov and a head hopper. My chapters might follow one particular character for the duration of that chapter, with a touch of another character’s perspective, but, I’ve never had any complaints, and a really good editor is a god-send to pull up any head hopping moments. I try to provide clear indication within the first sentence or two as to which character is the main lead for that chapter.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil I use a heading with their name on it.

 

How close are we to the story? Do you want your reader to feel as if they are at a distance, watching the story unfold or do you want them to be right up in the action. Each approach has a different effect. You must be careful not to distance readers so much that they loose interest, yet there are times, such as when your character needs to remain unaware of certain aspects of the story, when you may not want them to be right in the thick of things. This can be manipulated through the narrator, using past or present tense, or through voice.

How much narrative distance do you like to give for your readers?

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre I don’t know what that is, so I’m gonna say none. * Looks it up. * If it means what I think it means, how much space you allow between your reader and your story, the answer remains the same. None. I want them immersed up to their eyeballs, unable to stop reading, unable to put the book down, and their hearts broken when they have to close the book and after the ending and leave these people they have come to love. If a character gets cut, I want the reader to bleed. I want the reader so close, they feel the killer’s breath on their neck.

RA Winter

RA Winter I start each chapter with setting the scene to orientate the reader. This is done by a more distant narrative, but as soon as possible I draw readers into the character by delving deeper inside the scene and the motivations behind the actions. I want the reader to be inside the story, know where they are in time and place, what’s going on, the motivation, the stakes, the hidden agendas. Each character’s action should be clear and logical with the scene painted in- to add depth to the story. A deeper POV has the pull to bring a story to life.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I try to suck the reader in as much as possible.  Even if they aren’t exactly like the narrator, I want them to feel the same emotions and sensations, and hopefully identify some part of themselves in the main character.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman Whatever is required for the story as it flows along.

I recently read Webs of Perception, by Darlene Quinn, (you can read my review this Friday, October 19). Darlene used the first person POV for her main character, but used third person for the multple POVs used in her story. The character had amnesia, so in a way, it was what made the story work, but I had never seen this done before and found it an interesting technique.

When using multiple POVs, have you ever used multiple narrator’s voices in the same story? Was it difficult to make that work? Why?

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre Sure. I did this in The Navigators. It was first person as the narrator, but whenever the narrator wasn’t present in a scene, it was third person limited. It works fine. I think one or two reviews mentioned it, but they didn’t ask for a refund so I guess it wasn’t that bad.

Mark & Kym Todd

Todds - Copy It can be a useful exercise, we suppose. But we find this sort of POV slight-of-hand a bit gimmicky. By its very nature, first-person is the most intimate but also the trickiest since readers have to learn to trust the author when getting so close to a character. And switching POV modes feels heavy-handed, more flash than substance in most instances. Our stories are already as complicated as we want them to be.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak Eh, I’ve seen it done and I’m fine reading it, but when I do that kind of thing, it’s a prologue in third and the rest of the book in first.  The prologue sets up the crime for the rest of the book, and then the rest of the book is the investigation by the (unreliable narrator) detective.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Third person throughout the story, I never change this format.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I haven’t done that exactly, but PATH TO OLD TALBOT  is written in first and third person for the same main character.  When Charity is adventuring in Old Talbot, the story is in third person.  She’s detached from the emotional trauma of real life and just living in the moment.  When she’s in the present dealing with her father, the story is told in first person, showing all of her hurt.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman Only on occasion has I slipped a scene or two in for characters POV in first person when the rest of the story has been written in third person. This has been a deliberate choice when planting in certain little plot bunnies to tease at the reader until it all comes together at the end.

We are taught to use an active voice, leaving passive ‘to be’ verbs like ‘were’ or ‘had been’ by the wayside. It’s difficult to write in an active voice when the story is in the past tense yet, using the Hunger Games example, being first person, present tense may have been the reason it was awkward at times. (I think first person, past tense may be a little easier.)

Do you prefer to write in past or present tense? Why?

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre  I prefer to write in past tense only because the vocabulary is much more limited in present tense. When you start thinking about your verb usage, there’s about 10 times as many when you use past tense – and people are more used to telling things that way, therefore they are more used to hearing things that way. But it’s all personal preference. If your story kicks butt in first person present tense, then stick with it.

As far as active or passive, I really don’t worry about it too much. There’s so much going on in my story, and the characters are so lively and the dialogue is so engaging, I could probably use all the passive verbs I want and nobody would care. The simple fact is, words are like paint strokes on a painting, and you dip into whichever one is going to suit your purpose best for that section.

Once you know how to write an engaging story, you get to choose which types of words you need to deliver it best. When you were learning to drive a car, it was all you could do to keep the car on the road. Now you drive with one knee while you’re eating a cheeseburger and talking on the cell phone. You don’t even think about it. That comes with practice. Hone your craft. And there’s something else I notice a lot, which is: the really great storytellers don’t pay that much attention to the rules because they’re telling great stories. A great story hides a lot of sins.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy I prefer present. To me it feels more active, like the story is unfolding right now in front of the reader.

Mark & Kym Todd

Todds - Copy Almost exclusively in past tense. We use dramatic present very sparingly and only when we want a sense of suspenseful immediacy for a short burst.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I hate present tense for fiction.  I find it comes across as breathless and melodramatic, especially in YA fiction.  That being said, if a story needs a breathless tone of voice, I’ll use present.  I’ll complain about it to myself the entire time.  Why, subconscious, why?!?

Margareth Stewart

Margareth Stewart I prefer to write in the past tense, but I use lots of dialogue and that is all in the present. Writing in active voice is also a great choice as it makes narratives direct and straightforward. Thus, the writing narrative is kept clean and clear avoiding redundancy and lack of objectiveness. We should use words as precious things and avoid using them merely to fill in the blank space or getting into details that make no difference to the story. So, my tip is: “write as you were opening fields in the jungle with your words, cut, chop and do not get stuck if things are not perfect, move forward and take the reader with you – on top of all that – enjoy the journey.”

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I prefer past tense.  It flows better for me.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I tend to write in the past tense when in 3rd person POV, this feels more comforatble to me. Yet I slip into present tense when writing in the 1st person. Although, I have written 1st person in past tense as well.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil Present tense.  I find it easier.

How do you avoid the use passive voice in your writing? Or do you?

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre I write such awesome stuff, nobody’d notice if I used a passive verb. They might even be grateful I let them catch their breath.

Seriously, I don’t worry about “avoiding” using the passive voice, because I’ve just realized that most people don’t write stories that are engaging enough, so the passive voice weighs the story down. If the story is engaging and the characters are lively and the dialogue is witty, some passive voice here and there isn’t going to hurt anything. I don’t worry about using it. I don’t use it much, but I wouldn’t worry about using it at all. If a reader sees it and notices – not an editor, but a regular reader – then your story sucks anyway. Write great stories and you can do whatever you want – and nobody will care. Here’s a great example. Star Wars didn’t win best picture. Critics said it was a space cowboy movie. But it changed our whole culture. A great story makes its own rules.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy Editing…lol.

Mark & Kym Todd

Todds - Copy Simple, we never use it. Passive only has two functions – 1) when you don’t know who the subject is (e.g., the initial JFK headline “The President has been shot” and no one knew at the time the name of the assassin), but in fiction, we know such info already and can control such revelations in other ways; and 2) when you don’t want to reveal who the subject is. In the latter case, we always construct other storytelling strategies to avoid revealing identity.

RA Winter

RA Winter Crit cycles.  My writing undergoes numerous drafts.   There are between seven and eight critters who comb over my writing at every stage and thankfully they stay with me until the end.  My editor helps with the development of my story and is a  huge help at with every draft, I don’t know what I’d do without her expertise and input.  Each crit brings another depth to the story and every draft focuses on one aspect including passive voice.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I don’t.  The use of passive voice in writing is often a necessary element.  Breaking rules is something that writers get to do when it provides a specific benefit to the reader.  I spent a lot more time breaking long, convoluted sentences into smaller parts so they’re more readable.  That’s my sin.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Oh, passive voice is easy. When I went to school we learned all about verbs and adverbs, and how to use them, past tense and future tense, etc. That’s what learning was all about. Only now do we find out that passive voice and “ly”s are not wanted. I’ve got an idea our language is even changing as I write this. Soon we may be replacing “you” with “u” and other single letters replacing words. Who knows what writing will be like in thirty years – or fifty, or a hundred years from now? I’m reminded of writers in the 1930s and ‘40s that wrote for a penny a word, and had to fill their stories with adjectives and verbs to make a living. It was called purple prose back then, and if you could sneak a “had been” in there for an extra two cents, you did it. Cowboys didn’t just turn and draw their revolver; they turned quickly and drew their six-shooter lightning fast. Anyway, it was all about words, and how many you could get in a sentence.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan Spell check finds a lot of it!  I always send my stories by multiple critique partners to make sure nothing slips by.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I guess plenty of re-reads and editing rounds to make sure the passive voice is weeded out if it does make an appearance!

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil I rely on my editor to fix that.


Writing fiction and nonfiction have many similarities, but in the case of nonfiction, true life stories, such as those that author and panel member Mark Shaw writes, the story determines the tone, so the above questions don’t really apply. Yet each of Mark’s works carry a distinctive voice and tone. So, I asked Mark how he decides which elements of voice to use and what tone to take in his story telling.

In the nofiction that you write, you tell the stories of others. In The Reporter Who Knew Too Much, you took a third person investigative approach, in Courage in the Face of Evil, you took a different approach, telling the story from Vera’s POV, and in Beneath the Mask of Holiness, you told the story in third person as a narrator. In each of these cases your story telling skill was spot on. If told in a different way, it wouldn’t have been the same story. How do you choose the right voice in which to tell your stories? 

Mark Shaw

MarkAtSFTS (1) Regarding “voice” and the storytelling method utilized, three of my books illustrated different methods of doing so. In Beneath the Mask of Holiness: Thomas Merton and the Forbidden Love Affair that Set Him Free, I chose to be the narrator, the guide to telling the story of how late in life the famous monk finally found true love through an affair with a student nurse half his age. While doing so, however, I wove into the story excerpts from his diary so that his “voice” was apparent to the reader as he expressed strong emotions about the love affair and what it meant to him, most important of course.
In Courage in the Face of Evil, based on a true story as captured from a Holocaust diary, I told the story through the main character Vera’s voice since I wanted readers to learn of the horrors of the Holocaust with a firsthand account as she wrote it in the diary. This also permitted the inspirational aspect of the story to come forward, the part where she trusts a German prison guard whom she hated to help her save the life of a little Russian girl who would have been killed otherwise. Vera’s own words indicate her courage and permit the reader to become emotionally involved in the book start to finish.
In both The Reporter Who Knew Too Much about Dorothy Kilgallen and the upcoming follow-up book, Denial of Justice (Nov. 20), I tell the story as the narrator, but weave in as much of Dorothy’s own words in her columns and what she said to others about how she was investigating the JFK assassination. Using as many images of Dorothy and never-before-exposed government documents, I enhance the story and provide the reader with the path Dorothy took to learn the truth just as prosecutor would do for a jury. Once again, though, the key to TRWKTM becoming a bestseller with hopes Denial of Justice will just as successful, is that the story touches reader’s emotions by their bonding with the famous reporter who did not receive justice when she mysteriously died in 1965. Many readers have told me they grew to respect and love Dorothy, emotions on their end that warm my heart.

It seems the story itself, determines the number of POVs used, and what tense it is told in, and sometimes a change in POV can make a world of difference as to how the story comes comes out and what tone is set. Finding the right tone can be the difference between a really great story and a mediocre one. Although fiction is different from nonfiction in many ways, you can see from Mark Shaw’s answers on nonfiction how important finding the right view point and voice is to the story.
Most of our panel members avoid headhopping, although a few find it useful at times and make a purposeful effort to do it well, when they do use it. Also, in most cases, narrative distance is close and personal, drawing the reader right into the thick of the story. Although I felt second person might distance the reader, DeAnna Knippling feels it brings them in closer, decreasing their narrative distance from the story. I suppose it might depend on how well it is done.
Most of our panel members give much credit to editors, critique partners and beta readers to help weed out passive voice and accidental head hops. I think it really helps to get additional sets of eyes on our work. One technique that I have used that works very well to find these errors as well as others, and helps you to know if the tone is that desired is reading your story aloud. This helps in knowing if the flow is smooth as well. You don’t even have to have someone to read to, although you can and then you have an additional opinion, but I’ve read it aloud to myself or even to my dog. (He’s a good listener, but he doesn’t give a lot of feedback. Lol.)
That’s it for this week. I hope you all will join us next Monday, when our panel members will discuss character development. 

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Interview with multi-genre author Brenda Mohammed

Brenda Mohammed Portfolio

I have the pleasure of interviewing independent author Brenda Mohammed today. She is not only a multi-genre author, but a multi-award winning author, who seems to dabble in a bit of everything. She comes from a background in finance, but became an author when she wrote a memoir about her battle with ovarian cancer. Since then, she’s written several other memoirs, as well as a science fiction series, a horror novel and a crime novel, as well as a wonderful self-help book for aspiring authors. She has done so much, and made so many travels, and I’m thrilled to have her share all that with us here, on Writing to be Read. Please give a warm welcome to Brenda Mohammed.

Kaye: When did you know you wanted to be an author?

 Brenda: I never planned to be an author. I was a successful Bank Manager for many years. After I retired from the Bank at an early age, I became an Insurance Professional. I loved working in Finance and helping many people achieve their financial goals. In 2005 I was stricken with ovarian cancer. My doctor in Trinidad told me that she could not help me, and no other doctor in Trinidad at that time was qualified to do so. I sought treatment in Miami and gained a new lease on life. In 2013 I wrote a book about my cancer ordeal and recovery, I am Cancer Free. That was my first book and I have never stopped writing after that. To date I have written nineteen books.

Kaye: You’ve written 6 memoirs, 2 children’s books, a science fiction series, a crime novel, and a nonfiction book on writing. What’s the secret to tackling so many different genres?

Brenda: There really is no secret to writing in multiple genres. I have always loved a challenge and constantly seek out new opportunities. I write whatever I feel passionate about.

Kaye: You have written books in multiple genres: science fiction, memoir, self-help, etc… What are some of the differences you run into in writing different genres?

Brenda: When I am writing science fiction I maintain my focus on science fiction, and similarly with the other genres. The secret is to stay focused on the plot or the subject to achieve the end result. However, the problem I faced was in promoting my books.

I discovered a way around that and made Facebook Author pages for each genre. I have seven Facebook author pages. I also joined several Facebook groups that specialise in genres in which I write, to promote my books.

Kaye: Which genre is your favorite to write in? Why?

Brenda: I really enjoyed writing my science fiction series because it took me to another world for a while. When I wrote it I found myself becoming the hero or heroine and doing impossible things.

Kaye: You won a Readers’ Favorite Award in the 2018 International Book Awards for both your YA science fiction series Zeeka Chronicles,and your memoir I Am Cancer Free. What, if anything do these two books have in common besides both being Reader’s Favorite Book Award recipients? What makes them award winning books?

 Brenda: Strange. I think I just answered that question above. The books have nothing in common yet there is a common thread. One is a futuristic thriller and the other is a survival story. As I said above when writing science fiction. i.e. Zeeka Chronicles,  I found myself becoming the hero or heroine.  In I am Cancer Free I am the heroine.

Seriously though, I quote from Readers Favorite: “Contest entries are judged all year long and are given a rating score based on key literary elements. The judges simply read the book and score it based on its merits.”

 Kaye: Those are not the only award winning books you’ve written. Two other memoirs, My Life as a Banker received a second place award in memoirs in the Metamorph Publishing’s Summer Indie Book Awards in 2016 and Your Time is Now received IHIBRP 5 Star Recommended Read Award Badge. What can you tell us about those two books?

 Brenda: My Life as a Banker is a memoir about my life in Banking. Banking was my first love. I always wanted to work in a bank. I love serving and helping people and seeing them prosper. Banking gave me the opportunity to do so and especially when I climbed the ranks to Commercial Area Credit Manager and was able to help business people with startups and expansion. Banking allowed me to play my part in building the economy of my native country, Trinidad.

Your Time is Now is intended to help people understand their own lives and to realize that we are all here on earth for a purpose.

The reviews for both these books speak a lot for them.

Kaye: What is it like to receive notification that your book is the recipient of a prestigious award?

Brenda: I have won many awards before in both Banking and Insurance.in my home country

However, as this was an International Award it was a most joyous feeling to tell my friends and family that I won two prestigious awards with Readers Favorite International and will be attending the Awards Ceremony in Miami. In November.

Kaye: What’s something most readers would never guess about you?

Brenda: I dabble in art, poetry, and graphics in my spare time. Some of my art work hang on the walls of my home.

 Kaye: What time of day do you prefer to do your writing? Why?

Brenda: I prefer to write in the still of the night. When everyone is asleep I find peace to think and write.

 Kaye: What is the biggest challenge of being a writer?

Brenda: Only a few days ago I penned this poem about writing:

Writing takes me into a fantasy world.

Sometimes I find myself in a black hole.

I edit and fight to come out of it

But not before I get into a fit.

 

My books have gathered great reviews

Won awards and made the news.

Is it worth it, I sometimes ask?

Writing a book is a great task.

 

A writer’s life is a rather lonely one.

All day behind a computer is no fun.

An author must make the time

Read others’ books and go out and lime.

 

Do not sit at your computer all day.

Join the family in travel and play

Love of a family is life’s greatest gift

When you need to relax they give you a lift.

 Kaye: Is there anything unique or unusual about your writing process?

Brenda: Before writing a story I write an outline of the entire plot in a couple of pages. I then use that to build my story. It sounds simple, but it is not.

How to Write for Success

Kaye: Your book on writing is titled How to Write for Success: Best Writing Advice I Received. Can you briefly share what the best writing advice you ever received really was? What is the main message of this book?

 Brenda: The Best Writing Advice I Received was “Keep the Reader in mind when writing. In other words write for the reader and your books will sell.”

To answer the second part of the question I will quote one of the five-star reviews. The one from Readers Favorite is too long so I will share this one from an Amazon Reviewer:

“Having read a couple of Mohammed’s books, I knew I wouldn’t be disappointed in this self-help book, and I was not. The book covers not only the gamut on the art of writing, but the formulation of an idea for a book, to proofreading, and eventual marketing of his/her book. This is an excellent book for anyone who finds him/herself contemplating becoming a writer. With Mohammed’s book in hand, there should be little, if any, room for error. I highly recommend.”

Kaye: You like to travel. Do the places you travel end up in your books?

Brenda: Yes they do and they did. I wrote Travel Memoirs with Pictures: Exploring the world. It is an illustrated picture book filled with reflections of my travels around the world.

Travel Memoirs New

In this pictorial travel book of my priceless memories, I describe places visited and the wonderful times I and my family had in our tourist trips. The book is great to read while on a vacation or for some travel inspiration.

I want to thank Brenda Mohammed for joining us here today and sharing a little about her lovely books. You can learn more about Brenda and her books on Amazon at: http://Author.to/BCM786. I love how she turned her own life experiences into books to be shared by all.

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