“How to Become a Published Author”: Every authors reference to publication

how to become a published author

How to Become a Published Author: Idea to Publication by Mark Shaw is filled with information useful to authors in all stages of the publishing process. Although it’s aimed at aspiring authors trying to break into publishing, as a published author with an M.F.A., it gave me ideas and techniques to consider, as well. Shaw deals with the publication of fiction and poetry, as well as nonfiction. He touches on self-publishing as well as getting a foot in the door with traditional publishers, and offers a wealth of good reference materials.

Mark Shaw is a best selling nonfiction author, yet unschooled in the craft. He made his way into the traditional publishing world through the oldest method known to authors: good writing. And he practices what he preaches. Every book I’ve ever read by Mark Shaw has been well written, drawing readers in as his stories unravel in masterfully crafted ways which keep readers entranced to the end and make them think long after putting the book down. How to Become a Published Author is no exception, with the valuable information contained within presented in a clear and concise format that is easy to reference.

In this book Shaw walks us through the process for getting your books published, step-by-step. Sharing from his own experiences in traversing the pathways to publishing, using his own books and books of others as examples to illustrate his message, providing useful reference materials and links. This book covers practicle steps to becoming published from outlining in the pre-writing stage, all the way through to query letters and book proposals for those who aspire to be traditionally published. It offers marketing tips and advice useful to all authors, since promotion is a role which now falls on the shoulders of authors in many cases of both traditionally and independently published authors.

Much of Shaw’s advise could have come straight out of my M.F.A. in Creative Writing program, but he also offered suggestions for nonfiction publishing that wasn’t emphasized, or wasn’t offered through my program. It was helpful in getting me focused as I prepare to write memoir.

In How to Become a Published Author, Mark Shaw speaks from experience, delivering well founded advice on how to get your book published for authors in every stage of their writing careers. I give it five quills.

five-quills3

 

Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.


“Denial of Justice”‘: Another winner by Mark Shaw

Denial of Justice

 

I was given the privelage of reading Denial of Justice, by Mark Shaw, a probe into the mystery  surrounding the death of journalist and media icon Dorothy Kilgallen.  Shaw’s investigation started with The Reporter Who Knew Too Much, revealing the circumstances around the mysterious death of Dorothy Kilgallen, who was investigating the death of John F. Kennedy and the possibility of a cover up by those in high places, involving the assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald and the botched trial of his killer, Jack Ruby before her untimely death.

Shaw’s in-depth investigation of Kilgallen’s death following the release of that first book raises the possibility of a full blown cover-up which explodes in Denial of Justice, presenting facts revealing evidence that Kilgallen was murdered because of the evidence of conspiricy may not have been the only one whoshe had uncovered and was preparing to publish in her upcoming Random House book, and the cover-up surrounding it denying her the justice she was entitiled to. (You can see my review of The Reporter Who Knew Too Much here.)

While Denial of Justice recaps much of the information presented in The Reporter Who Knew Too Much concerning the Dorothy Kilgallen story, it goes into much more depth, laying bare the connections between her death and her investigations into the JFK and Oswald assassinations. Shaw presents strong evidence indicating that there was, indeed, a conspiracy revolving around the JFK assassination, and that Jack Ruby was used as a patsy in it’s orchestration, taking the fall in order to protect the powerful people behind it. It was a belief Kilgallen had been a major proponent of and didn’t hesitate to proclaim publicly in her newspaper column, The Voice of Broadway. Evidence indicates that Kilgallen held the evidence which would prove her conspiracy theory and reveal the powers behind it when she died. Shaw’s in-depth investigation uncovers facts that support this belief. In fact, he reveals a mountain of evidence that indicates Dorothy Kilgallen was murdered and point an accusing finger at the likely suspect. The cover-up of Dorothy Kilgallen’s murder is an extension of a much greater conspiracy, one that reaches all the way through time into the present day.Shaw’s straight forward journalistic approach to the telling of the facts makes the story unfold with smooth finness that keeps the pages turning. You may be shocked or surprised as he reveals evidence which indicates the powers operating in 1964 beyond the public eye and the hidden agendas they carried. Not one, but two lives wasted as tools to promote their unseen goals and a reporter who came too near to the truth may be pieces to puzzle that makes up what may be the biggest conspiracy in modern history. Shaw offers evidence which indicates who may have been behind it all, and the motivations for the taking of at least four deaths as sacrifice for keeping their secrets hidden.

Those who are supposed to be the guys aren’t always so good. Mark Shaw has expertly crafted the evidence into a story that changed my view of history and made me ponder what might have been, had events unfolded differently in 1964 and Dorothy Kilgallen lived to tell all that she knew. I give Denial of Justice five quills and kudos for a story well told.

five-quills3

 

Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.


A Discussion on Publishing Platforms

Ask the Authors (Round 2)

1375930515977128357Coloured question marks.svg.hi

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!

 

Like this post? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress.

 


Editing and Revision: Polishing Your Manuscript

Ask the Authors (Round 2)

1375930515977128357Coloured question marks.svg.hi

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.”

Like this post? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress.


“How I Sold 80,000 Books”: Advice Every Author Should Know

How I Sold 80,000 Books

How I Sold 80,000 Books: Book Marketing for Authors (Self Publishing Through Amazon and Other Retailers), by Alinka Rutkowska offers authors valuable marketing tips coming from the business end of writing. Coming from a marketing background, Rutkowska shares tips on the art of successful book marketing, which might be applied to increase book sales and push the author’s name up on the bestseller’s listings.

Although the advice in How I Sold 80,000 Books is aimed mostly toward nonfiction works, Rutkowska claims it can easily be applied to works of fiction, too. The book takes readers through the author’s step-by-step marketing system, which she uses to sell her own books. She shares her secrets for producing a quality product that sells, talks about the best outlets through which to offer your books, discusses how to put the best price on your books, and effective ways to promote your books. Although every step may not be applicable by every author, they are all good, solid book marketing advice.

The valuable book marketing advice contained within may be why this book was a Readers’ Favorite Book Award winner, and why every author should add How I Sold 80,000 Books to their must read list. I will use much of the advice received from this book and I give it five quills.

five-quills3

Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.


World Building: It’s all in the details

Ask the Authors (Round 2)

1375930515977128357Coloured question marks.svg.hi

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.

Like this post? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress.


Creating and Developing Character: Writing a Character Readers Will Relate To

Ask the Author (Round 2)

1375930515977128357Coloured question marks.svg.hi

Today’s topic on Ask the Authors is character development. We’ll talk about what makes a good character and and a bad villian, and how to create characters the reader will care about. Our author panel this week includes Tom Johnson, DeAnna Knippling, Cynthia Vespia, RA Winter, Dan Alatorre, Lilly Rayman, Jordan Elizabeth, Ashley Fontainne and Margareth Stewart. They may each have a different approach to developing their characters, and we might be able to glean some good insights from them.

You can have a great story, but if no one cares about the characters, it won’t matter. Characters must be unique, well rounded individuals who readers can relate to on some level, or they won’t even finish the book. Your characters carry the story, so it’s important that we portray in ways that will make readers interested in what happens with them, so that they will keep reading.

What makes a character interesting?

DeAnna Knippling

deannak Different people will find different characters interesting, by whatever standard they find other people interesting. Some people want to see everyday people in extraordinary situations. Some people want to see characters worth gossiping about, whose behavior is over the top or otherwise out of bounds (Gone Girl). Some people want to see characters doing what they wish they could do and having what they wish they could have. Most people want to see a mix. And it depends on the context of the story.  You wouldn’t want to see the unspeakably evil villain of a superhero comic move into a light romance, most of the time. “Interesting” is kind of a narrow window where a character meets eighty percent of the reader’s expectations, but still has a little bit of surprise to them.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy Layers. If a character is too perfect or one dimensional you lose me. There has to be some shades of gray in there. Some imperfections and flaws that are relatable to the reader.

RA Winter

RA Winter Flaws and dilemmas give a character depth and relatability. Quirks help too.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre Different characters are interesting for different reasons. The hero can be somebody who works hard and does things the right way even when it’s difficult. They have to overcome challenges that would have put a lesser person on the sideline. A funny character has to be funny. But what makes them interesting? Why do people want to continue to read about them?

Usually it’s because they demonstrate characteristics we want to emulate. We wish we were the funny person (and everybody enjoys a joke). We wish we were that hard-working. We wish we were that honest. We wish that if our parents died and we were forced to live with our mean uncle in a closet under the stairs, that we wouldn’t become bitter but would rise above it.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman A character with a history. One that’s not born just off the first page. When a character has a past, it shapes and moulds them into who the reader first meets. If there is trauma in their history, and they come through stronger then that can also make for an interesting character. A sense of humour can also engage the reader with a character. The most important element of an interesting character is one that is as large as life – there’s no point having a 2d character that the reader can’t relate to.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan The voice has to engage the reader.  If the voice falls flat, there’s nothing you can do to revive that character.

Ashley Fontainne

Ashley Fontainne Strengths, weaknesses and relatability to the reader.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil The character needs to be relatable to the reader.  They can be anything, but if the read can’t relate to them on some level, then the character seems flat.


We don’t want all the characters to carry the author’s perspective or to all sound like the author’s voice. If they did, it would get pretty boring because everyone would agree and there would be no conflict in our stories.

How do you give your characters unique perspective?

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture I once read a comic book I picked up and saw that the artist drew every face exactly the same, even the females resembled the males’ facial features. He just couldn’t give individuality to each of his characters. When I create characters, I want them to be completely different from each other. Maybe one limps. Another may laugh a lot. Another problem I found in a recent book I reviewed, where the main character is a female (written by a male), but she comes across as one of the boys. She needed to be more feminine to set her apart.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I try to give them strong opinions about things, a cohesive way of seeing the world that isn’t necessarily accurate, but that lets a reader see where they come from.  I write a lot of ordinary people in extraordinary situation characters, though, so I have to ground them in some kind of normal thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors.  I like finding out where the character’s point of view is inaccurate, though.  For example, I have one character who comes from a very wealthy background and who doesn’t know when she’s being cruel to her friends; another one doesn’t recognize that he’s going through PTSD.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy There’s those flaws again. We all have them in real life. Little idiosyncrasies that make us who we are. The best part of first developing a character is finding out what makes them tick. Their back story is what’s going to drive them to do certain things.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre My characters are usually very intelligent and witty. As a result, they are unique because they will interrupt each other and disagree with each other and resist each other, even if they are friends. That differentiates them and creates unique perspectives. In Double Blind I have two detectives that are good friends, Carly and Sergio, and Carly is getting a bad vibe about another character. Sergio convinces her that she’s over blowing it – but in fact, he’s wrong. In a scene where they talk about her intuition, he’s very sympathetic and understanding, but he explains it away, and he does it in a very friendly logical manner, thinking he is genuinely helping his friend. Then it turns out he was wrong and she almost gets killed as a result. So the characters care about each other, and they are smart and funny or whatever, but they are also human and make mistakes. Readers like that and want to see more of it.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman Having an idea of where my characters life has taken them. If I know the reasons behind what motivates each character, what has shaped them and moulded them into who they are, then I can bring that experience through in their perspective. Of course, the reader doesn’t necessarily know all the backstory that I do, and it’s not always needed for the reader to understand my character, so long as my character has a depth that makes them believable.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I try to base my characters after people I know.  Some characters take on a life of their own, but most of them do mirror real life.

Ashley Fontainne

Ashley Fontainne Each person sees events from their own limited perspective and react based upon their knowledge base.


In Blake Synder’s Save the Cat, he talks about making characters likeable by having them do something heroic to show readers how good they are; essentially by having them save the cat, because you just have to like someone who would rescue a little kitty, right?

How do you make your characters likeable?

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture My characters, male or female will not hesitate to put their life at risk to save another, whether a cat or man, woman or child. Jesus said to give your life to save someone else is the greatest thing you can do. I follow those words of wisdom in my writing.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I have a couple of tricks up my sleeve.  Whatever the character does that is maybe not so likable, I’ll put it in context so that someone else told them it was the right way to behave or someone’s doing even worse to the character.  I’ll have the character notice the unlikable things about themselves and laugh at themselves or admit that it’s not the greatest thing and they’re trying to change.  What makes you overlook someone’s flaws in person?  Humor, charisma, wittiness?  I like to present plusses and minuses to the character, which means I usually have to mitigate the minuses for the reader.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy I make them relatable. They don’t always have to be the hero. They can be the good friend or the sidekick. The hero may save the day begrudingly but if they’re pulling cats out of trees like Superman they get a little too vanilla and were back to them being perfect. You simply just have to write them with morality and they become likeable. However, in some of my novels I’ve been told by my readers they liked the badguy more than the hero. That’s where you take a step back and ask why that happened. My answer was exactly what I’m trying to explain here. The hero had too much saccharin…too sweet, too perfect. Give them flaws and a little bit of attitude, it’ll make all the difference.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre Likable characters come around by a certain methodology. If somebody is funny and they say funny things, but they are likable, it’s probably because the funny things they are saying aren’t hurting anybody’s feelings or they are taking a certain statement and twisting it so that it’s funny. We may like a hero because the hero usually has characteristics we went to emulate. Then, that likability transfers. If we like the main character and the main character likes the secondary character, then we as readers give the benefit of the doubt to the secondary character and we like them right away. It’s only if they say or do something that interrupts that goodwill that we begin to question it. And of course, if they are the bad guy, we obviously will have enough evidence over the course of time to thoroughly dislike them – as we should.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I give my characters traits that I like in the people around me. Strong independent characters, or meek and mild, they can both be equally likeable if you know they are fiercely loyal and the reader knows that they can be depended upon at all times.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I don’t try to make my characters likable!  I try to make them true.  The likability comes from realizing that everyone is human.  We make mistakes, but we try out best.

Ashley Fontainne

Ashley Fontainne Private thoughts or conversations with others regarding simple things each of us face every day.  One of my characters from my newest book, Fatal Agreements, rescues a kitten during a storm. Some of the moments between the pair, when the character is speaking to the cat allow the reader to get inside her private thoughts.

You have a literal save the cat scene in Fatal Agreements?

Ashley Fontainne The main character,  Samantha Chapman, saves a kitten during a storm, realizing it’s mother was the dead, dismembered cat she found on her back deck the day before, sensing the disgusting act was done by her former boyfriend.
The kitten is barely 4 weeks old, a tiny mite she names Wee Thing. I always have a pet in my books, usually based off my life.
The idea for Fatal Agreements is based off the building I work in and the kitten incident activity happened to me in the parking lot. I found a sickly kitty one day and took her home. I named her Wee Sing (inside family joke).

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil I try to give my characters depth… in one situation they may save the cat, but in another situation they may run it over.  Sometimes I don’t want a particular character likeable.  My heroes are sometimes not the good guys and so this is a very tough question to answer.

Margareth Stewart

Margareth Stewart That is so true – developing a strong character so the reader can look up to him or her is one trick of the many carried by writers. I would rather say it is a little more complicated than just saving the cat; the book needs to bring into life not only something heroic as saving a cat but something we-humans have always felt like doing, but had no courage to accomplish it. There should be a link between what the reader deep inside wants to do and what the main character does – this is the strong connection between reader-character. For instance, somebody who is not fond of cats might not enjoy as much that kind of reading as someone crazy about them, and who has got three or four at home. The last one will be into the scene on the verge of a second to save the cat together with the character. It is the same for other situations and books. In my novel Mademoiselle–Seine, the main character Louise is a successful businesswoman – CEO of her own marketing agency in NY. She is in her middle forties, and due to stress she has been having heart problems. in her business life, but on love, sex and emotions, she says she has only got bad luck. Her doctor recommends her to take a break, maybe a month vacation in a place away from the city. So anyone who works lots and feels this lack of passion in person life will go to France with her and find out pleasure with the lessons taught by Madame–Seine – a retired cabaret dancer. This “click” puts us-humans right into the fictional world; and out there, who knows… we can learn with them and change our lives as well?


In that same sense, you must create antagonists that are equally unlikeable, because the more terrible the villain is the harder we cheer when the hero overcomes them.

How do you create a villain that we can love to hate?

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Yes, the villain should be as evil as you can make him/her. We’ve tended to blur the vision is the past few decades, where heroes are not always good, and villains are not always bad. But if you want a great villain, give the readers a really evil person who just might kill that cat if your hero doesn’t act fast enough.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I write a lot of horror, so a lot of the time, my protagonist is the antagonist; the characters get into situations that they have created for themselves and have to subsequently overcome.  I build the character as likable, then show the cracks in the facade.  Nobody likes to be wrong; for some people, the worst thing they could ever have to do is change their minds.  That, all by itself, is a kind of horror.  A lot of ghost stories are about a character, or the descendants or relatives or employees of a character, who took advantage of someone else and won’t admit it. Only when someone admits that the ghost or the original victim of the ghost got a raw deal can the story be resolved.  In some ghost stories, nobody ever really, publicly admits that “mistakes were made”–and somebody winds up dead.

For other books, I write more traditional villains.  In that case, I try to write antagonists who are the heroes of their own stories.  Not just protagonists, but heroes.  They put themselves up on some kind of pedestal.  If only other people could see how great they are!  That’s a satisfying kind of person to see get knocked down.  There’s a German word, Backpfeifengesicht, that means, “face in need of fist”. I like to write smart, well-developed villians who have that kind of face.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy Villains are fun to write because you take off the gloves. They do what they want with no morals and plenty of malice. But I always say that the best villains have a purpose just as big as the hero’s is. Unless they’re a stark raving madman they need to see what they’re doing as the best route to take for a certain reason, not just because its in the plot. Its important to ask why any of your characters do what they do. A good example is in the Netflix series Daredevil. The infamous Kingpin (played beautifully by the amazing Vincent D’Onofrio) is on a mission to “clean-up” Hell’s Kitchen. He has some unscrupulous methods for doing that but in his mind doing dirty deeds is worth it if he can reach his goal of making the place he grew up that much better.

RA Winter

RA Winter I like my villains to play on emotions and the insecurities of characters.  But, there has to be a goal for each character, even the bad ones, and it has to be something attainable. A good villain brings out the hero in the MC by allowing the MC to overcome their own shortcomings.

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre If we like the hero because they possess characteristics we wish we had, then it stands to reason we’ll dislike the antagonist because the antagonist possesses characteristics we don’t like. We don’t like that we are sometimes similar to them and the way they behave. There are certain things that are kind of universal. Dropping the tray in the lunch room and having everybody stare at you and being embarrassed, everybody has been in a situation similar to that. By the same token, we recognize when somebody is being mean to us, or teasing us, or pretending to be nice so they can get what they want from us. And then that’s just for openers. Then if we see them kick the dog as they walk down the street, or as soon as someone’s out of earshot they talk bad about them, they reveal their true character. We hate meanness and duplicity. So you give all those characteristics to your bad guy, and reveal them slowly so we are gripping our fists and yelling at the page.

 

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman Giving them traits that you find distasteful in people around you. Arrogance can be borderline as a love or hate trait, depending on how that particular trait is balanced. For example, an arrogant hero would be loyal and have traits that make a reader love them despite their arrogance. In a villain, however, you would pair the arrogance with violence and narcissism, giving them many traits that the reader will find unlikeable.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I try to make my villains true to life too.  I love switching perspectives in a story so the reader gets a well-rounded view.  There are plenty of villains in real life.  While everyone does have a sense of good in them, that sense of good can be really small.

Ashley Fontainne

Ashley Fontainne I try to make my villains true to life too.  I love switching perspectives in a story so the reader gets a well-rounded view.  There are plenty of villains in real life.  While everyone does have a sense of good in them, that sense of good can be really small.

Margareth Stewart

Margareth Stewart I created a great villain in Open/ Pierre’s journey after war. He was a contradictory old sir—owner of a second-hand bookshop. At the same time; he was a war-fanatic, perverse and authoritarian who undermines Pierre all the time. But, he speaks great truths – about men finding the meaning of life through war, that killing has always been a method of keeping population balance in the world and that peace is very artificial–men are born to war. Besides all that, he is always suspecting that Pierre might rob him and it is him who robs Pierre. It is a tricky situation just like in real-life situations which unfolhds when there is no more time for action. When Pierre finds out the truth, and how he was completely fooled by the owner, he’d do anything else as he goes back and take on revenge.


In order to act, characters need to be motivated by a goal, which they strive to meet, or to avoid unpleasant consequences. The motivation can be personal, being important to the character, such as loss of one’s life or harm to a loved one, or it can be external, such as avoiding the total destruction of the world.

How do you motivate your characters?

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Very good. In 1932 Lester Dent gave his character Doc Savage a motto to live by. I wish I could print it here, but basically Doc and his team would go anywhere to fight evil, and save the world from bad people. They lived by that motto. Doc never took a life, knowingly, though many foes he faced fell into their own traps at the end of the story. My characters have this same motivation as Doc Savage’s men. However, not all my heroes refuse to take lives. When they go up against the underworld, they fight gun against gun, and hoodlums die. In Carnival of Death a Ninja penetrates The Black Ghost’s Central Control and fights Hui Yo Chae in a death match.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak The way you see the world kind of drives the actions you take.  If you believe the world is out to get you, you might lash out at the world before it can.  Finding out new information, especially if it has an emotional impact, can make you change your actions suddenly.  Most people react to what they perceive about the world; they don’t necessarily see themselves as having motivations or even goals on a daily basis.  Why do laundry? What’s your motivation?  Tell me about your goals, when you wash dishes.  That kind of thing.  Some people are ambitious, which is nice, because the character is already acting assertively toward the world.  But not every character needs to start out with a goal.
A lot of time, I’ll set up the way the character sees the world and let the character react.  I used to struggle with this.  I’d try to force an essentially passive character to have goals, motivations, ambitions.  It was like trying to motivate Jell-O.  But give a character an opinion about the world, a past that still affects them, and a future that they either look forward to or dread or don’t really much care about, and I can provoke them into a reaction.  Arthur Dent from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy didn’t have a motivation or even a goal.  He just got dragged through the books by outside events (until he found his passion, making sandwiches).  That’s really how most of us live, ricocheting from one provocation from the universe to another.  It’s really only when we’ve reached a threshold we can’t tolerate that we decide to get proactive.  Sometimes that happens in backstory and a character comes across as driven; sometimes it happens on the page, and you get to see them change.
Dan Alatorre

Alatorre Alfred Hitchcock once said a good story is life with the boring bits taken out. So how you motivate your character is you distill their story and their characteristics a bit. You boil down their motivation to something that is large and crystalline in their eyes, and then you have them focus a lot of attention on it so that the reader knows it’s important and big. And then you put things in the way of them achieving that goal, and by seeing they are willing to go through huge lengths to get over those obstacles, it says that goal is really important to them. So we the reader start to buy into it. You put obstacles in their way and show how determined they are to still get to that goal. That how you motivate your characters and that’s how you show they are motivated.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman The motivation depends entirely on the plot line of the story. By knowing my characters as well as I do, I can ensure that regardless of what is happening at any point in a story or plot line, that my characters act according to who they are, being true to themselves and the characters around them. Most of the time that action or motivation comes from love. Love for their partner, family or the world/life as a whole. There’s little point, after all, being a romance writer, if love isn’t the deciding factor in all character motivations.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I come up with a plot first and the characters fall into place.  I pick characters who will strive to fulfill the object of the plot.  Normally I motivate the characters by putting a loved one in danger.  I also tend to put the main character in a perilous situation and they have to find their way to safety.

Ashley Fontainne

Ashley Fontainne Throwing a curve ball into their path, forcing them to figure out how to deal with an unexpected obstacle.  Sometimes they get it right and sometimes they don’t.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil My characters are motivate by love, family and loyalty.  When dealing with these three things, all differences can be cast aside and they can work together.


Characters change and grow through the adversaries that they face and the obstacles they overcome. Give us an example of this in your own writing.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Jimmy Malone, The Black Ghost was just a boy when he put on the cape and hood. He grows stronger and more motivated in each succeeding story, and brings aides/agents in to assist him in his fight against the underworld. But he tries to never put his agents in harms way, always attempting to understand the foes next move before he acts. Always anticipating the move on a chessboard, so he doesn’t fail.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak My favorite ones are the ones where characters have to face their own past attitudes. I hate to give examples, because having to face down someone you used to be–or someone you could have been, or who you fight not to become–makes for a really excellent plot twist.  Oh, you thought you were fighting literal demons?  The demons were the easy part!
The flip side, where the characters resist facing themselves and try to treat their adversaries and obstacles as purely external, is also fun to write. I have one character, Frank Mallory from my series Company Justice, who is probably the best character at resisting change that I’ve ever written. I’m working on book 3 and he’s still like, “I refuse to change, despite everything that has happened to me.” It’s not that he’s a bad person or that he does bad things. But he’s been through so much trauma that he really needs to take a break and stop pushing himself, and he won’t. I really wonder what will happen when he does admit that’s he can’t function anymore.
Cynthia Vespia
colorheadshot - Copy Adversaries come in many forms, not just another person. In my last novel Karma (Book 1 in the Silke Butters Superhero Series) my main character Silke is initially faced with the obstacle that her father has died suddenly. This sets an immediate tone right out of the blocks. From there she is faced with the challenge of her developing superpowers that, up until this point, she knew nothing about. Throughout the novel my supporting characters, and even my villain, all have their own obstacles and challenges to get through. It makes a meatier plot when you throw in several swerves and keep you characters dancing.
RA Winter
RA Winter In RedHorse, the second in the Spirit Key series, Jack RedHorse is hurt in Afghanistan and loses an arm. Rehabilitation doesn’t come easy. He has to learn to love himself before he can give his love to someone else. Compounding the situation is the spirits of the ancients who talk to him constantly. RedHorse is bombarded with self-doubt and has to learn to trust himself or seek help from others.
Dan Alatorre

Alatorre In The Navigators, I had a group of post-graduate college students who were kind of pampered. And after they discover a time machine and all the bad things it does to them, they grow up. One in particular was a girl who, at the beginning, everybody would think she was just there to round out the bench. No, she ends up having to overcome many obstacles and she ends up being the lead character, because she didn’t run away when the opportunity to run away appeared. She hung in there. So by the end of story, she’s realized she’s gonna start making her own decision, that she’ll start being in charge for myself. She went from a good person who cared about others but was a little spoiled and naïve, to somebody who was still a good natured and cared about others but who is deciding to be an adult. Before, she was floating along and letting others make her life decisions; now she decided she’s going to be an adult.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman One of my characters from my Unexpected series, Quintessa, came from a wolf pack, where her alpha is a mean hate-filled character, and all the unmated she-wolves are basically treated like slaves, domestically and sexually. Quintessa meets her soulmate from another pack and she discovers that there is a different way to live, and that relationships between male wolves and she-wolves can be on a far more equal footing. Now of course, this doesn’t happen overnight, and we see Quintessa’s character grow and change over the series until she comes into her own after a long period of training with another character and learning how to love with her mate. There are other characters from the same pack that undertake a similar transformation, again over a period of time, slowly growing and changing until they all blossom into amazing characters that the reader is invested in.


What tools do you use to help readers get to know your characters?

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Most of my characters are married or family men and women, and I want the readers to think of them as their families also. I look for families in all walks of life. The mother might say something your mother would say, or the father.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak Wordcount.  I don’t throw readers straight into action anymore.   I build an actual POV before I break out the monsters.
Cynthia Vespia
colorheadshot - Copy This is where POV, interaction with other characters, and how they face their obstacles comes into play. I give each of my characters distinct personalities so I know them to their core. This way when it comes time for them to react to something, each of them will react a different way based on their beliefs, morals, attitudes, etc.
Dan Alatorre

Alatorre Dialogue. You can take pages to show somebody demonstrating lots of good actions, or you can have two characters have a chat while they’re doing something else and inadvertently reveal it. A lighthearted conversation can suddenly drop in something really deep, as can two characters having an argument or a romantic moment. I tend to use dialogue to help the reader get to know my characters because it’s easier to see somebody being smart in dialogue than it is to see them being smart by doing something.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I guess the same tools we use to get to know people in real life. My characters talk to each other, they get to know each other by sharing snippets of their life with each other. Sometimes it might not be dialogue that the reader see’s that introduces elements of my characters, but rather their actions, or the clothes they wear, that give away who the character is, for example my main character in An Unexpected Bonding, Livvie, is sat in a bar wearing a pair of dusty jeans, and a worn plaid shirt with a tear from a barb-wire snag. She’s shown as not being bothered by her appearance, being comfortable in her own skin from the simple fact she went for a drink in her work clothes, including her spurs.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I sneak in hints about past trauma.  Most of my characters have troubled pasts, but it can be difficult not to start info-dumping.  Its a fine balance of information versus too much information.

Ashley Fontainne

Ashley Fontainne Memories,  conversations with other characters about the past, and sometimes dreams.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil Teasers featuring quotes from the book, Q&A sessions in my reader group and character takeovers.

Amy, I think this is a great idea.

Can you explain more about how you use promotional tools to let readers know about the story?

Amy Cecil Sure… we’ll I think the whole quote and teaser thing is pretty self-explanatory so I’ll just go into the Q&A and character TO’s.

For the Q&A- First I give my readers a brief bio about the character with a google form where they can submit questions. I don’t always get a lot of submissions so i always make sure I have at least five questions as back up. Then I present it a couple of ways. Sometimes in one post as if I’m interviewing the character or each question as it’s own post with responses. Just depends on my mood, which I call a Character Takeover.

How do you give each of your characters a distinctive voice?

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture I think through their background. Using The Black Ghost again: George Freeman is a newspaper reporter, but he is also a retired Army Ranger, and still keeps his hair cut short, and uses Army life as a conversation starter; Paula Marsh owns a small boutique; Lamont Rogers is a professor with a lab and does scientific studies; Hui Yo Chae is of Korean descent, master of taekwondo and electronics, and monitors Central Control, The Black Ghost’s network of computers and telephone communications. None are alike. Believe me, George Freeman can tell you how to prepare desert snakes and scorpions for a tasty meal.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I step into their shoes, their history, their opinions, how they see the world.  I don’t know that my characters really do have distinctive voices.  I mean, they’re all filtered through me, so I feel like there are some pretty glaring similarities.  But I try to care about what they care about, at that moment, and I hope that keeps them reasonably distinct.  A character who is trying to hide the fact that they’re consumed by a desire for revenge, even if that revenge will be served cold, should sound different than the person who angered them in the first place, just because of what’s going on in their lives.  Or at least that’s what I hope!
Cynthia Vespia
colorheadshot - Copy I draw from real people to develop my characters so they are fully fleshed out before I even begin. I know who they are, what they want, and how they react to certain stimuli. Their character makeup tells me what their voice is. And the more multi-faceted they are the better.
RA Winter
RA Winter This may sound odd, but I have a playlist for each MC. When I’m writing their scenes, I listen to their music.  This brings me closer to the character and my writing changes for each unique voice.  I have everything from classical, rock, rap, and country music on my playlists depending on the mood I want the MC to have for each scene.
Dan Alatorre

Alatorre Giving each character is distinctive voice is really fun. One of the highest compliments I can pay to a writer is to say we know which character is speaking even if you don’t identify them to us, because you had made them all so distinctive and unique. Without writing cliché characters, what you do is you make somebody not neutral. Think about the seven dwarves. I’m sure they were all good workers and I’m sure they were all good managers and I’m sure they were all good friends, but give each one a nickname then make sure that Sleepy yawns a lot and that Dopey acts silly. Grumpy might act silly on occasion, too, but Grumpy always needs to let you know how grumpy he is. So you start out with that core, and then you add some other elements to the core so that they’re not two dimensional cardboard characters. They need to be distinct, so they have to always come from their core. Don’t make them two-dimensional, but make sure their core shows in everything they do. When I was reading Game of Thrones, Circe’s bitterness and ugliness and venom came through every time she opened her mouth – but because her scenes were spread over a 1000 page book, it wasn’t overwhelming. The right amount of salt for the soup. If you took all her scenes and put them one after another, it would’ve been too much and she’d have been cartoonish. Blend them into the proper scenes at the proper time for it not to be overkill. Balancing that is fun, and it’s really fun to see somebody else do it as well.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman Knowing who each character is, and understanding their traits helps to create a distinctive voice for each character.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan I base my characters off of real life.  Everyone is a unique person to me, and therefore they grow their own voices.

Ashley Fontainne

Ashley Fontainne I do my best to delve into each one, good and bad, and allow their essence to flow from my mind to the keyboard.


Which of your characters was the most fun to write? Why?
DeAnna Knippling
deannak Generally any main character in a novel is going to be at least my temporary favorite to write, because I get to know them so well, and they have the room to act like complete brats.  But I’m going to say that anytime I get to write Alice, that’s the best.
(Note: DeAnna’s Alice takes you on a trip to a steampunk Wonderland in great Carrol-esque fashion in her book Clockwork Alice. You can see my review of it here.)
Dan Alatorre
Alatorre Hmm… That’s a tough question because my answer probably will be a little opposite of what you would think. My main character is almost never the most fun character to write. His or her task is to carry the story.
Sergio in my new murder mystery Double Blind is the main character, and he was a lot of fun to write, but usually it’s the secondary characters that are most fun. Father Frank in An Angel On Her Shoulder, Sam in Poggibonsi. I love writing comedy, so I love when I bring in somebody who is a little goofy or quirky or who gums up the works unintentionally.
They are fun to write because they say the witty and funny things we all wish we could say, and they do some of the things we all wish we could do, but they almost always create additional hurdles for the main character to get over – in a fun way. We like them.
Lilly Rayman

L Rayman Lady Jacqueline, Duchess of Wolvarden from Red Wolf was the most fun for me to write. She is a very strong and independent character, but you also see a softness to her and moments of weakness that makes her human. She also has an innocence that tempers the strength of her character giving her a femineity that her aggressive nature would otherwise dominate.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil Ripper – do I really need to answer that? (LOL)  Everyone knows that Jack the Ripper was never caught, nobody knew who he was or what happened to him.  Nobody knows why he murdered.  Getting into his head and making him the Ripper that I wanted was empowering. He took me down the streets of Whitechapel.  He was my guide into his world.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan Amethyst Treasure! She is outrageous. Nothing was too much for her. She had me laughing so many times. I started off thinking she would be a typical rich girl, but as I wrote, she developed into something much more than that. (TREASURE DARKLY)


Which of your antagonists is your favorite? Why?
DeAnna Knippling
deannak The Queen of Fairies from the Fairy’s Tale books.  She’s not evil or bad or even uncaring; she’s just not human, and she’s trying to save her people, and humanity’s just kind of in the way.  We’re like evil Guinea pigs to her.
Dan Alatorre
 Alatorre Similarly, a really good antagonist has to have every single reader cringing and gripping their fists and wishing they could punch the book in the nose.
You just have to think of the absolute worst thing this person could do, and then you have to do it. Maybe that’s embarrassing the main character, maybe it’s teasing them, maybe it’s ridiculing them, maybe it’s – well, it’s almost always getting in the way of them achieving their goal, but a lot of times when the villain really enjoys what they are doing, and doing it with a cruel and sadistic enjoyment, readers hate that person. And that’s what you want. You want them to hate your bad guy.
Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I don’t have a favourite antagonist. I can’t help but hate each one I’ve written. None of them have any redeeming traits to allow a reader (or the writer!) to feel any connection to them. You find yourself cheering for everything they get in the end.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan Elizabeth Clifford (ESCAPE FROM WITCHWOOD HOLLOW). She’s the bad guy – hurting people, ruining families, killing. However, there’s a dark past to her and she’s really just an injured young woman. It was fun writing about her from the POVs of her victims and from her. She’s more than just a bad guy.


Nonfiction authors don’t create characters, they portray people, but it’s still a matter of bringing out qualities that they need the reader to see. When well done, the reader sees a well rounded person, with both positive and negative qualities of personality. Nonfiction author Mark Shaw is very talented in giving readers a glimpse inside his character’s, who happen to be true life people, heads in a manner that makes readers sit up and take notice. So let’s ask him to help us examine the differences.
When writing nonfiction, the author doesn’t create the characters, but instead must figure out how to portray traits that exist in real life characters.
Do you feel this is limiting for you as a writer, or does it make character portrayals easier for you?
Mark Shaw
MarkAtSFTS (1) Since I strive to portray the subjects I write about through their own words and through primary sources who knew them, there is no limitation at all. Writers who speculate too much are the cause of many distortions of the subject’s portrayal, a common occurrence on the internet.
What draws you to a subject which compels you to tell their story? 
Mark Shaw
MarkAtSFTS (1) Stories about fascinating people seem to find me especially when they have to do with themes such as women’s rights, courage and justice. With Dorothy Kilgallen, I also was intrigued with the fact that this remarkable journalist was forgotten, erased from history and I knew I have to do something about that. Words are the writer’s weapons for change, words that make readers stop and think about important issues, that is why we write.
What kinds of things do you do to get inside someone’s head so you can tell their story, since your subjects are not available to give a firsthand account? 
MarkAtSFTS (1) I very rarely ever, if ever, use information that is not firsthand, that is not from primary sources. And if I do use material that is not a firsthand account, I find confirming evidence from another credible source. I do not speculate.
What tools do you use to reveal the characteristics of your subjects to your readers? 
MarkAtSFTS (1) Interviews with those who are eyewitnesses to accounts about my subjects.
How do you give your subjects a distinctive voice?
MarkAtSFTS (1) By using their voice, for instance, with Dorothy, her newspaper columns, articles, etc. that she wrote as well as articles about her where she is quoted.

In real life, even the best, most saintly people have flaws which may make them unlikeable.

How do you balance the traits of your subjects to make them relatable to readers? Do you gloss over their negative aspects and emphasize the positive? Or?

MarkAtSFTS (1) No, I write a balanced portrayal of my subjects, good, bad and ugly. For instance, in The Reporter Who Knew Too Much and the upcoming Denial of Justice, I point out Dorothy having had two affairs, one of which resulted in the birth of her youngest son, Kerry.


So it seems that interesting characters are full of surprises, and kind of quirky aith an engaging voice and intriguing history. They are not two demensional, but well rounded with many layers and they are flawed or imperfect in some way.

In nonfiction, you start by choosing a compelling subject for your story, but still the characters must be balanced and true to life. This is accomplished through thorough research and interviews to capture their voice.

Characters which catch the reader’s interest may emulate qualities we would like to have ourselves, but above all else a characters must be relatable for the reader in some way. They have a distinctive voice Readers must be able to like and relate to our characters and they must be able to hate our villians in order for the story to work. 

There also must be conflicts for the character to face. The hero’s goodness must be balanced out by the evilness of the villians. The greater inner fears they must face and the bigger the external obstacles he must overcome, the better the hero.

I want to thank our panel members for sharing from their own works and offering us their insights. I invite you all to join us here on Ask the Authors next week, when our author panel will discuss world building, sensory details and effective dialog. 

Like this post? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress.