Interview with nature author Susan J. Tweit

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My guest today is an author, nature lover and plant ecologist. Her books include memoirs, beautifully illustrated travel books, nature guides, and even children’s books, but they all have strong ties with nature. Her books reveal connections with nature and life that have not been pondered or may have been overlooked in our everyday lives. Her books have won the ForeWord Book of the Year, the Colorado Book Award, and she is a five time recipient of Colorado Author’s League Award. With a background in science and plant ecology, she expertly weaves her natural environment into her writings, illustrating how all things interact and connect. Let me introduce creative nonfiction author, Susan J. Tweit.

Kaye: You are a female author who champions the natural environment. Do you identify most as a feminist, a naturalist or an environmentalist?

Susan: All of the above. I grew up in a family of naturalists and scientists; restoring everyday nature is my way of leaving the world a better place. And I work in two fields where women are still second-class citizens in so many ways: science and writing. So am a feminist just be participating in those fields as a woman.

Kaye: On your website you claim that you taught yourself to write after you realized that you enjoyed the stories told by the data more than you did doing the research. How does one teach oneself to write?

Susan: I don’t know how other people teach themselves to write creatively, but for me, as a scientist trained to eschew personal opinions and emotions, and to be extremely parsimonious with descriptive adverbs and adjectives, I found my writing voice in reading the works of writers whose works I admire. I read Ann Zwinger and Terry Tempest Williams, Barry Lopez and Kim Stafford, Brenda Peterson and Linda Hogan, Leslie Marmon Silko and Denise Chávez, Robert Pyle and Gary Paul Nabhan, Sharman Apt Russell and Barbara Kingsolver, and so many others.

As I read, I thought about the mechanics of how each writer told their stories (whether fiction or essays), how they introduced subjects and characters, where they got personal and where they stepped back, how they described landscape and culture, how they used words and language… I tried out techniques and styles until I found my own voice, which has continued to evolve through twelve books and hundreds of essays, articles, and columns for newspapers and magazines.

Kaye: Connections are a common theme in many of your works. Can you talk a little about those?

Susan: As a plant ecologist, I am fascinated by the relationships and interrelationships that form community, whether the human community, or what I call “the community of the land,” the interwoven communities of species—from tiny microbes to gigantic redwood trees—that make life on Earth possible. Who loves who, who eats who, who sleeps with or pollinates who, who can’t stand who… All of those relationships weave the fabric of Life with a capital L. Without them we would not exist, and we have so much to learn about the connections that are vital to this planet. I just collaborated with science illustrator Samantha Peters on “Natural Partners,” a feature for WILDFLOWER Magazine on plants and the animals they rely on. It’s up on the internet here: https://www.wildflower.org/magazine/fauna/natural-partners (The print version took the cover of the magazine, and it’s really gorgeous!)

Kaye: Writing seems to be a way of life for you, and your love for nature is woven into almost everything you do. You have a background as a plant biologist and most of your books offer a perspective on nature and the environment, and you call your books love letters “to the earth and its living web of lives”. If you could convey one message to your readers, what would it be?

Susan: Get outside and get to know nature nearby. Learn even a handful of your neighbors in the world of plants and animals and you’ll never be bored. Nature is vital to our health and wellbeing—it’s the best antidote to stress I know of, the closest source of inspiration and renewal, and it doesn’t require a prescription or training. And it’s free!

Kaye: Besides writing and ecological restoration projects, what are your favorite things to do?

Susan: I’m an outdoors person, so I love taking long walks in the arroyo near my home, hiking with friends, and setting out on long road trips to see this amazing continent. At home, I tend a small garden of native wildflowers and other plants chosen to provide habitat for songbirds and pollinators, cook elaborate dinners for family and friends, and read. I’m an omnivorous reader, which leads into your next questions…

Kaye: You’ve written three memoirs about your life experiences. What makes an experience worthy to become a memoir?

Susan: Memoir is a way of distilling what our own lives and experiences have to offer others. What makes an experience worthy of memoir is partly whether we can find a way of telling the story that is compelling to others (that is, to a wider audience than our close friends and family!). It might be that we lived through a critical part of history, or our personal journey is exceptional in some way, or simply that we figure out how to relate our very ordinary story in a way that offers some universal wisdom about being human. Both of my published memoirs—Walking Nature Home; and Barren, Wild, and Worthless: Living in the Chihuahuan Desert—taught me about how to tell a story, how show the way we grow and change over time, and how to pick and choose telling detail. Each one presented different challenges, and the memoir I am working on now is challenging me in new ways. Telling my personal story may be my greatest learning experience as a writer!

Kaye: Would you tell us about your Write & Retreat Workshops?

Susan: They are an immersion in writing, in learning place and story, and in the inner work that is the source of our creativity. Each one includes hands-on writing and workshop time, as well as time to retreat and nurture our inner selves. Each one is set in some extraordinary place chosen to inspire us, with time spend exploring that place. I don’t have any W&R workshops planned this year, but next year I may offer one set near Yellowstone National Park, that place of wildness and wonders.

Kaye: You are a member of Story Circle NetworkWomen Writing the Westand Colorado Author’s League. How are these organizations beneficial to you as a writer?

Susan: I am also a member of Wyoming Writers. Belonging to at least one professional writing organization is critical to writing: they offer education, resources, and, most importantly. community. Writing is an inherently solitary activity: pulling words from deep within, honing them into stories, and then offering the work of our hearts to the world is perilous. Finding a community of fellow sufferers… uh, writers, is essential to maintaining our sanity, growing in the craft, and getting published.

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

Susan: Besides leaving behind a paycheck, benefits, and job security to chase words and stories? Hmm… It’s hard to choose just one. Kayaking with sea turtles in the Sea of Cortez off Baja California? Learning about how to blow up dams to restore a river and its salmon run? Dancing with a Native American community to celebrate the return of those salmon? Watching a grizzly bear mom teach her twin cubs how to dig and eat spring-beauty bulbs in a meadow in Yellowstone National Park? Walking alone through some of the wildest country in the Lower 48 states, carrying all I needed on my back to listen to myself? Tending my husband and the love of my life through his death from brain cancer and then figuring out how to write how to survive loss? Seeing monarch butterflies return to a restored patch of urban nature? I’ve been fortunate to experience miracles and wonders all along the way.

Kaye: What are you working on now? What can readers expect in the future from Susan J. Tweit?

Susan: I’m working on The Climate Victory Garden, a book about how gardens can help grow The Green New Deal and slow climate change. It’s another chapter in my life-long quest to leave this world in better shape than I found it by restoring nature nearby and our connection to the green and living world.

Many thanks to Susan for sharing with us today. You can learn more about Susan J.Tweit and her work by visiting the following links:

Amazon Author page: https://www.amazon.com/Susan-J.-Tweit/e/B000AQ53RY/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1547778739&sr=1-1

Website: http://susanjtweit.com/

Join us next Monday, when I’ll begin a new bi-monthly blog series, “His Name Was Michael”, which will chronicle the stages of writing a memoir as I work through them for my own memoir of the same name, telling the story of my son’s death and my own grief process. This first post will talk about the prewriting stage for memoir.

 

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“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.

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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.

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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)

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

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

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

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

Tom Johnson

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

Ashley Fontainne

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

Cynthia Vespia

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

Lilly Rayman

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

Jordan Elizabeth

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

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil Independently


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

Tom Johnson

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

Ashley Fontainne

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

Cynthia Vespia

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

Lilly Rayman

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

Jordan Elizabeth

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

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil I felt it gave me more control.


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

RA Winter

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

Mark Shaw

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

Tom Johnson

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

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy

Pros of indie: Freedom/Total Control

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

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

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

Lilly Rayman

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

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

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

Amy Cecil

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mark Shaw

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

Tom Johnson

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

Ashley Fontainne

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

Cynthia Vespia

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

Lilly Rayman

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

Jordan Elizabeth

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

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil Ebooks and print.


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

RA Winter

RA Winter Smashwords and Amazon.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Amazon and Lulu.

Ashley Fontainne

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

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy Amazon; Smashwords; BarnesandNoble.com

Lilly Rayman

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

Jordan Elizabeth

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

Amy Cecil

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

Margareth Stewart

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


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

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

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

Tom Johnson

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

Cynthia Vespia

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

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

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

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

Lilly Rayman

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

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

Amy Cecil

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

Margareth Stewart

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

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


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

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

Tom Johnson

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

Ashley Fontainne

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

Cynthia Vespia

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

Lilly Rayman

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

Jordan Elizabeth

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


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

Tom Johnson

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

Ashley Fontainne

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

Lilly Rayman

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

Jordan Elizabeth

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


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

Tom Johnson

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

Cynthia Vespia

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

Lilly Rayman

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

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

Jordan Elizabeth

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

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil A good marketing and promotional team.


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

Tom Johnson

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

Ashley Fontainne

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

Cynthia Vespia

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

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

Lilly Rayman

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

Jordan Elizabeth

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


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

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

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

 

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Editing and Revision: Polishing Your Manuscript

Ask the Authors (Round 2)

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

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

Tom Johnson

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

Lilly Rayman

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

Amy Cecil

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

Cynthia Vespia

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DeAnna Knippling

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

 

Jordan Elizabeth

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

Tom Johnson

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

Lilly Rayman

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

Amy Cecil

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

Cynthia Vespia

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


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

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

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

DeAnna Knippling

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

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan My publishers all handle the editing process.

Tom Johnson

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

Lilly Rayman

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

Amy Cecil

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

Cynthia Vespia

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

Margareth Stewart 

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

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

Tom Johnson

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

Lilly Rayman

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

Cynthia Vespia

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


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

Dan Alatorre

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

DeAnna Knippling

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

Tom Johnson

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

Lilly Rayman

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

Amy Cecil

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

Cynthia Vespia

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


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

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“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.

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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)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ashley Fontainne

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

RA Winter

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

Jordan Elizabeth

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

Tom Johnson

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

Cynthia Vespia

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

Amy Cecil

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


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

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

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

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

Ashley Fontainne

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

Jordan Elizabeth

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

Tom Johnson

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

Cynthia Vespia

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

Amy Cecil

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


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

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

Jordan Elizabeth

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

Tom Johnson

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

Cynthia Vespia

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

Amy Cecil

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


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

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

Lilly Rayman

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

Jordan Elizabeth

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

Tom Johnson

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

Cynthia Vespia

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


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

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

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

Tom Johnson

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

Cynthia Vespia

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


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

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

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

Tom Johnson

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

Cynthia Vespia

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

Amy Cecil

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


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

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

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

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture I build as I go

Cynthia Vespia

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

Amy Cecil

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


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

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

RA Winter

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

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Notes are very important.

Cynthia Vespia

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

Amy Cecil

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


Sensory Details

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

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

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

Jordan Elizabeth

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

Tom Johnson

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


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

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


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

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

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

He squeezed his finger.

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

The shot resounded across the land.

Jordan Elizabeth

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

Tom Johnson

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

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

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

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


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

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

Jordan Elizabeth

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


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

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

Jordan Elizabeth

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

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


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

Ashley Fontainne

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

Jordan Elizabeth

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

Tom Johnson

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


Effective Dialog

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

Tom Johnson

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

Cynthia Vespia

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

Amy Cecil

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


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

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

RA Winter

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

Jordan Elizabeth

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

Tom Johnson

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

Amy Cecil

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


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

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

Ashley Fontainne

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

RA Winter

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

Jordan Elizabeth

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

Tom Johnson

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

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

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

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