How to Write Great Book Reviews

A Guest Post by Larry Froncek

anita rodgers mystery writer
Image courtesy of rawpixels.com

Every year, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of novels are published in each of your favorite genres. In an earlier era, a new novel may only have had to compete for your attention with other recently released books and time-honored classics on the store shelves; however, in today’s world of near-permanent availability and infinite digital shelf space, any newly released novel is essentially in competition with every other book that’s ever been released in its genre. Without word of mouth, it can be almost impossible for a new writer to cut through the noise and gain traction.

That’s why it’s so important for readers to write reviews and share them on sites like Amazon and Goodreads, as well as their reader groups and their social media accounts.

I recently surveyed our VIP reader list to find out what they consider to be the top things they look for in a review when considering a new novel. Here are their most common responses, in no particular order:

  • The author’s unique voice.
  • Couldn’t put the book down.
  • Didn’t see plot twists coming.
  • A new take on the genre.
  • Would read more by this author.
  • Already purchased the next book in the series.
  • Great world building.
  • Total sensory experience.
  • Vivid imagery.
  • Character growth.
  • The book reminds them of an author, book, movie, or TV show.
  • Can’t stop thinking about it.

On the other hand, there are the things readers don’t like to see in reviews:

  • Spoilers (revealing plots twists, whodunnit, etc).
  • A summary of the book.
  • Rudeness or snarkiness.
  • Penalizing a book because it’s not in a genre you normally read.
  • Short reviews like “I loved it!” are fine but sharing WHY you loved the book is more helpful to a potential reader.

What to do if the book didn’t work for you?

Sometimes we give a book a shot and it turns out to be outside of our wheelhouse. Maybe you normally enjoy epic fantasy but thought an urban fantasy sounded interesting, but then found you just didn’t enjoy the book. That’s fine. Just note that in your review. Something like, “I normally prefer epic fantasy and wanted to try this novel. It didn’t work for me, but I can see how urban fantasy fans would really enjoy this story because of X, Y, Z.”

Just remember that if you’re reviewing the book of an up-and-coming author, they will likely see your review. So just remember there’s another person on the other side of the screen who invested months, if not years, of their time to create that story.

What to do if you have criticism for the author that you think might help them?

First, write it down and sit on it for a day. If you still think it’s useful, contact the author privately via email or a form on their website.

Letting them know about a weird spelling error or formatting problem might be helpful but editorial advice is likely worthless. They’re not going to rewrite the book to suit your tastes. If the fantasy novel you just read didn’t have enough romance, that’s your preference, not theirs. Every novel isn’t for everyone.

Once you’ve written that great review, spread it around

The best thing you can do with your new great review is share it on social media, like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and GoodReads and tag the author. If you know their email, send them a link to the review. Not only does it give them a heads up that you reviewed their novel but if they’re smart, they will tag you on their list as someone they can approach to review their next novel.

Need some inspiration to help you write a great review?

Every day I post my favorite new review on the Voracious Readers Only Instagram account and Facebook group. If you want to see some great reviews that you can model your own after, that’s a fantastic place to start.

I hope this short article has given you a useful perspective on the purpose of book reviews and how to write them to best help readers and authors find one another. Perhaps I’ll be reading one of your reviews someday soon!

Larry Froncek is the owner of Voracious Readers Only, a service that connects avid readers with authors in the genres they most enjoy. Since September 2017, Voracious Readers Only has made over 95,000 reader-author connections. For more information about Larry and Voracious Readers, please visit the Voracious Readers Only Website.

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Self-Publishing on Amazon: 4 Crucial Tips for First-Time Authors

Guest Post by Savannah Cordova

 

Image courtesy of Unsplash

Self-publishing a book on Amazon is a big step for any author, but especially if you’ve never done it before. No matter how much research you’ve conducted or reassurance you’ve gotten from friends, putting your book up on Amazon is always an intimidating process — there are so many little details to remember, and therefore many little things that can go wrong.

Luckily, there are also concrete steps you can take to insure your self-published book as much as possible. And while no single measure will guarantee a successful launch on Amazon, doing all of these things will certainly maximize your chances! Here are four crucial tips for authors who decide to self-publish on Amazon, covering everything from uploading your files correctly to planning your marketing approach.

Tip #1: Polish and upload your manuscript effectively

Before you even think about putting your book on Amazon, you need to get your manuscript and cover in tiptop shape. Not only does this mean writing the best book you possibly can, but also hiring an editor or proofreader to sweep for inconsistencies and errors — not just proofing it yourself or asking a friend. Paying someone else to do the job, someone whose livelihood depends on their abilities, is a much safer bet than trusting inexperienced eyes.

You should also invest in a professional book cover design. Repeated tests have shown that a professional-looking book cover gets you way more clicks on Amazon, and you don’t want to lose up to 50% of potential buyers just because of your cover! So bite the bullet on the cost and get that gorgeous cover for your book.

Once you are absolutely, 110% sure that your manuscript and cover cannot be improved, you’re ready to prepare your files for Amazon. As you may already know, the Amazon Kindle Store uses MOBI files. This means that no matter what kind of file you upload, it will be converted to MOBI — which can have adverse effects on your formatting. So before you upload, ensure that your file is already a MOBI to prevent Amazon from converting it.

As for your book cover image, pretty much all you need is for it to be 1,000 pixels tall x 625 pixels wide, in the form of a TIFF or JPG. If one doesn’t work, try the other — the cover upload function can act up sometimes, so you may need to re-upload a couple of times.

Tip #2: Optimize your description and keywords

With your files safely uploaded and looking beautiful, you’re ready to write the description and set the Amazon keywords for your book! The more you can optimize these elements, the easier it will be for your readers to find you, and the more sales you’ll make. Annie’s already touched on how to write a great Amazon product description, but here are a few things you can do in terms of keywords specifically:

  • Try to get into your target reader’s head

It might sound obvious, but you’d be surprised how many authors go straight to using keyword tools rather than thinking about it from a human perspective. Simply imagine that you were a reader looking for a book like yours, type all the keywords you can think of into Amazon, and check which titles are ranking for each keyword. If they’re similar to your book and have decent rankings, you can bet that’s a strong keyword, and you should add it to your own details.

  • Focus on high-traffic, low-competition keywords

Of course, though you want to be using some of the same keywords as your competitors, you’ll benefit even more if you can find a few niche keywords with high traffic but low competition. If lots of people search for a certain term, but not too many books are actually a good match for that term, this could be your chance to fill a gap in the market!

  • Use Amazon’s ad system to your advantage

This is a tip for after you’ve put your book up on Amazon, but it’s just as effective (if not more so) than trying to optimize your keywords beforehand. Once you’ve made some sales, you can go into your KDP dashboard and “create an ad” — but instead of actually setting up Amazon ads, just check the suggested target keywords for the ad that you would make. Amazon will tell you exactly which words and phrases readers have been using to find your book, meaning you can go back into your description and re-optimize to capture even more readers.

Tip #3: Weigh your options with KDP Select

There’s been a lot of talk surrounding the various pros and cons of enrolling in KDP Select, the program that offers various promotional opportunities in exchange for Amazon digital exclusivity. As in, while enrolled in KDP Select (which lasts 90 days), you cannot sell your eBook anywhere other than Amazon — though you may distribute print copies if you wish.

The KDP Select program has several concrete benefits, including:

  1. Free and discounted price promotions, which help you get tons of downloads and gain visibility by ranking on two different types of lists (the free store and the paid store on Amazon).
  2. Having your book on Kindle Unlimited, which is basically Amazon’s “Netflix for books” that allows subscribers to pay $9.99 a month for unlimited ebooks. Authors take home a very small percentage of royalties from this (only about $0.0044 per page), but the massive exposure to millions of KU subscribers and subsequent rankings boost makes the actual payout more or less irrelevant.
  3. 70% royalties in extended territories such as Japan, India, Brazil, and Mexico, as long as your book is between $2.99 and $9.99 (though with non-select, you still get 70% royalties in most Anglophone territories).

Of course, the program has drawbacks as well. For example, KDP Select is great for reaching readers in the US and UK, where Amazon overwhelmingly dominates eBook distribution — but other countries like Canada and Australia have a much less autocratic ebook market, with companies like KOBO and Apple Books taking 20-30%. Though this is still less than Amazon’s share of the market in those countries, it’s enough to potentially hurt you if you go Amazon-exclusive for your book launch.

You should also steer clear of KDP Select if you’re trying to get onto bestseller lists other than Amazon’s. Not many people know this, but one of the prerequisites for lists in publications like The New York Times, Publishers Weekly, USA Today, etc. is that you sell your book on multiple retailers — i.e. Amazon exclusivity is a deal breaker.

The takeaway here is that only you, the author, can decide whether or not KDP is the right path. Carefully consider both sides, and whichever you choose, keep track of what works and what doesn’t so you can make an even more informed decision with your next book.

Tip #4: Prioritize getting reviews

Finally, once your book is up and selling on Amazon, you have one goal that should take precedence over all others: getting (legitimate!) five-star reviews. Naturally, five-star ratings in and of themselves are important, but you also want to have as many people as possible leaving written reviews on your book’s Amazon page.

Why? Because you have to anticipate poor reviews and have a buffer in place just in case. Nothing pokes holes in a buoyant Amazon ship like a burst of one-star ratings, and nothing sinks it like a one-star review, especially if it’s the only review on the page. The more glowing reviews you have, the less likely that a potential customer is going to see that one-star review and decide that your book isn’t worth their time.

To that end, maximize your reviews by asking everyone you know to leave one, publicizing your book through your email list, and utilizing promotional sites and services. Of course, you should never pay FOR a review, or even “review swap” with another author — if Amazon suspects anything fishy, they’ll come down on you hard.

But don’t worry: promoting your book in other ways should lead to plenty of organic reads and reviews. And while you can’t guarantee that everyone you ask will leave a review, the more work you put into this stage, the more reviews you’ll get out of it.

So there you have it: polish your book, optimize your keywords, calculate your odds with KDP Select, and focus on reviews. No matter what kind of book you’ve written, these tips should significantly contribute to your self-publishing success… and perhaps even equip you to make a name for yourself in the cutthroat world of Amazon.

Savannah Cordova is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects authors and publishers with the world’s best editors, designers, and marketers. She’s very interested in the self-publishing industry and where it’s headed. In her spare time, Savannah enjoys reading contemporary fiction and writing short stories.

New Release – A Dread So Deep

Book Cover Dread so Deep  Mystery Thriller Noir Crime Fiction

Today, I’m thrilled to be releasing a new stand-alone Domestic Thriller on Amazon. For today only the ebook will go for 99cents, so feel free to get it while it’s hot. The print version of the book will be available in the next couple of weeks.

Fans of the Scotti Fitzgerald Mysteries may be interested to know that this story is where Daniels and Davis were ‘born.’  Below is the blurb and the links.

The Line Between Love and Hate, is Murder

Christine Logan has learned to tread lightly around her domineering husband, Phillip. A man who uses his fists as much as words to express his anger. What little joy she has in her life comes from her volunteer job as a painting instructor at the Community Center and her visits with the artist aunt who raised her.

In the arms of her lover, Michael Shaw, Christine finds comfort and escape; for a few stolen moments at a time. Though, as much as she loves Michael, she knows she’ll never be free of Phillip and the hold he has over her.

Until she becomes pregnant.

When Phillip discovers her infidelity, he orders her to get rid of the child— underscoring his displeasure with fists and threats.

But rebellion awakens inside her. She wants this baby more than anything. How can she destroy the precious life growing within her?

Can she break free of Phillip’s iron fist of control? How far is she willing to go to gain her freedom? When love becomes hate, is murder necessary?

Fans of Body Heat and Sleeping with the Enemy, will love this fast-paced thriller of love, hate, betrayal, and murder.

Links:  U.S     UK    CAN   AU

PS: Up next will be another stand-lone novel domestic thriller, then another Lottie Stark book and another Scotti Fitzgerald book. Yup, I’m writing up a storm.

PSS: Also, I’m going to be getting back to blogging – I’ve been away too long and have missed it, so do stay tuned for at least a few laughs and the world according to Annie, as well as some guest posts and author spotlights, book and movie reviews.

Okay then, peace out. ❤

Indie Spotlight on Fantasy Author Patricia Bossano

Patricia Bossano’s Faerie Legacy Series blends fantasy with realism, inviting young adult and adult readers to explore the powerful magic within. Wander into Faerie and meet the heroines in the 200-year saga of a hybrid faery-human family. The ties that bind them, despite the conflict between two realms, will touch your heart. 
 

 

Candid Confession of an Indie Author

“Bet on yourself” and “Go after your dreams” are inspiring mantras one hears hundreds of times—I’ve certainly echoed them enough over the years, although I didn’t truly live by them, until 2016.

My name is Patricia Bossano and I’m an independent author of Fantasy novels. I recently completed the 3rd installment in my Faerie Legacy series, which has been 22 years in the making. You’ll probably think, boy, what a slow writer she is! but in my defense, between 1996, when I wrote the first draft of Book I, and 2017 when I launched Book III, I raised my two children, worked as a Spanish instructor, translator & interpreter, carved a career in International Sales Operations, got divorced, lost my father to cancer, relocated my mother from South America to California, and then . . . more distress.

I had just turned 50, I was on my way to financial recovery after my 23-year marriage ended, and I’d even started glimpsing a retirement plan when, in 2016, I lost my corporate job along with the stability it afforded me.

Feeling metaphysically cornered, I paused and took a panicked look at myself.

What first came to mind was my love of the written language, which began in the 4th grade, and had grown from scribbling journals to writing letters, short stories, and eventually two full length novels.

I saw my heart’s desire had been in a back burner while I focused on family and worked real jobs.

No regrets though, only the shiver of anticipation—Do I hurry up and find my next corporate job? Or, Do I dare bet on myself and go after my dreams?

Right on cue, the words of a seer came back to me from months before: Holding Book II of my series in his hands, without having read it, he said, “The Faery Realm is destroyed in this book!” which is true, and then he proceeded to explain; “The women in your family, on your mother’s side, were guardians of a forest (faeries) in ages past. The stories in your books are not fiction, they’re subconscious recollections from long ago.”

That was the nudge I needed. I became convinced that the time was ripe for elemental, female magic to make an entrance. I told myself it is never too late to believe!

I’m a hybrid faery, and I BELIEVE in faeries! There—I said it!

I took the proverbial leap of faith. I sold the only house I ever bought on my own, transplanted myself back to California, and went after my dream of becoming a full time starving artist—I mean, writer!

I persevere daily, even when it feels like I’m the only one who believes in me. I’m doing anything and everything to get my faeries in the universe’s radar.

My dream of sharing the magic of my stories with worldwide audiences is foremost on my mind, and it is buoyed by any triumph, however small, along the way.

Patricia Bossano is the award-winning author of the Faerie Legacy Series: Faery Sight, Cradle Gift and Nahia, and other tales. Patricia lives in Southern California with her family.  If you’d like to know more about Patricia you can visit her website and follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Indie Spotlight on Non-Fiction Author, David Kadavy

indie spotlight

You can feel it. You know you have something to offer the world. Something nobody else has. But how do you find the courage to make it real? You’ve heard the advice “just get started.” But it’s easier said than done. You don’t have the time, or you don’t feel like you’re ready. The Heart to Start will help you systematically break down resistance to start writing your book, and to find the momentum finish it. Buy it on Amazon, on Kindle, paperback, or Audible audiobook.

 

 

 

Your Book Launch Doesn’t Have to Kill You

As I reviewed my launch plan for my book, I could feel every muscle in my body tense up. It seemed there was no way I could pull this off. It didn’t help that Christmas was coming.

It would take several weeks for a Createspace proof to arrive at my home in Colombia. It would take two weeks for ACX to approve my audiobook to be sold on Audible and iBooks. It would take many hours to record and master the audio for the audiobook.

Then there was the marketing. As a podcast host myself, I knew that if I wanted to appear on podcasts during a given time-frame, I’d better be pitching up to six months in advance. And guest posts like this one also take time to coordinate and write.

It started to make sense why traditional publishers take a year just to prepare for a launch. There’s a lot of work to be done, and much of it still moves slowly.

How could I possibly do this all at once? It had been two years since I decided I was going to write another book. I pictured being at a family gathering for Christmas – now only a few months away – and sheepishly explaining once again that my new book still wasn’t finished.

I needed a book launch that wouldn’t kill me.

I got lucky with my first book. I wrote the right blog post on the right subject at the right time, and a book deal fell in my lap. My publisher took care of layout and cover design, and getting books into stores all over the world.

So, I was free to concentrate on my launch. It worked. My first book, Design for Hackers, debuted in the top twenty on Amazon.

But this time was different. I had spent almost two years trying to get a book deal. Sometimes I felt like a failure, but I eventually learned that self-publishing was more my style.

Many things are different about self-publishing, so maybe the launch is different, too. Maybe your self-published book launch doesn’t have to kill you.

There are reasons book launches are so do-or-die in traditional publishing:

  • Best-seller lists. They’re all about sales velocity. How many books can you sell in a small amount of time?
  • Human resources. It’s more efficient for publishing professionals to work on one launch at a time, rather than diluting efforts among all of their books.
  • Print runs. If a publisher has invested thousands of dollars on a first print run, they want to recoup that expense as quickly as possible.

My incentives as a self-publisher were different:

  • No best-seller lists. I wasn’t trying to publish a NYT best-seller (nor WSJ nor USA Today).
  • One-person human resources. I’m only one person. While I have all of the skills needed for self-publishing, I can only do one thing at a time.
  • No print run. I didn’t have to invest on a print run up-front. Kindle costs nothing, and Createspace is print-on-demand.

Plus, my morale was waning. I needed some motivation.

Then, I remembered my own advice from the very book I was publishing. In The Heart to Start, I talk about “the whip.” The idea that one piece of a project should build motivation for the next.

Instead of killing myself with my launch, I decided to do one piece at a time. Each piece would build momentum for the next piece.

  • First, I launched on Kindle.
  • Then, I recorded the audiobook.
  • Then, I launched Createspace. Reading the audiobook helped me catch any last-minute mistakes. I could easily fix them on Kindle before putting the content on Createspace.
  • Then, I launched the audiobook. It took several weeks for my audio editors to master the audio, and for ACX to approve it.

Each piece of the launch built momentum. Each piece of the launch allowed me to learn new things. As a nice side-bonus, each launch step gave me a new reason to email my readers and ask for reviews.

Two months after my book debuted, I’m still “launching it.” I’m learning new things every step of the way. I’m running AMS (Amazon) and Bookbub ads, I’m doing podcast interviews and guest posts.

  • Once my Kindle Unlimited term is up, I’ll go wide and publish on iBooks, Google Play, and Kobo.
  • The paperback is now available on Ingram, and I may see if I can try to get it on shelves at Barnes & Noble.
  • When everything is in place, I’ll start trying for a Bookbub promotion.

As self-publishers, we have so much to learn – and it is truly a never-ending learning experience. But we don’t have to let the vision of the “perfect” launch get in the way of getting our work out there. One step at a time does get you there.

I hope that sharing my approach to launching a book has given you ideas for your own book launch. And has helped to show you that your book launch doesn’t have to kill you.

 

David Kadavy is best-selling author of The Heart to Start, and Design for Hackers – which debuted on the top twenty on all of Amazon. He hosts the podcast Love Your Work , where he explores finding your unique path to success, and optimizing your creative output. You can follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

 

Indie Spotlight on Fantasy Author Jack Massa

True Magic is never an easy road.

For sixteen-year old Abigail Renshaw, the terrifying nightmares are not the worst part. When apparitions start leaking out of the nightmares into her waking life—Well, that’s a problem.

But Abby’s dealt with hallucinations before, and she’s nothing if not resilient. Following clues from the nightmares, she convinces her mother to let her visit Harmony Springs, the small town in Florida where Abby was born, and where her grandmother still lives.

There, Abby finds unexpected help from new friends: a compulsive teenage blogger named Molly Quick, and Molly’s older brother Ray-Ray (a guy Abby really starts to like). 

The not-so-good news? Abby’s apparitions might be real after all. And one of them wants to kill her. Ghosts of Bliss Bayou is available at Amazon

Story Craft: Presenting Backstory in Scenes

As fiction writers, we often hear the advice “Show, Don’t Tell.” But what exactly does that mean?

To me, it means to present your story with immediacy. Write it mainly in dramatic scenes, and focus each scene in a single character’s point of view.

But a rich story embodies a lot of information. If you try to convey all of it in scenes, you can easily find yourself writing lots of extraneous scenes, as well as using obviously contrived dialogue (“As we all know, Tom, the Druna are an ancient elvish race who live in Dampwood.”) This is a great way to ruin a story.

For this post, let’s define backstory as all the information from outside a scene that the reader needs to understand that scene. Skilled story-tellers use a number of techniques to present backstory within the structure of their scenes. Here are few that I’ve observed.

Tip 1: Create a scene in which the character can reflect

In real life, we all spend time thinking about our problems. Your characters can do the same: when out for a walk, waiting in line, riding a bus, whatever.

For example, in Chapter 1 of Ghosts of Bliss Bayou, our heroine Abby has woken up from a recurring nightmare. Worse, figures from the nightmare are now appearing in her waking life. To get a grip, Abby goes out for a run. During the run, she has a chance to reflect on her past:

With the route set, my brain flips into autopilot, and I can think about other stuff.

Like my hallucinations.

I’ve always been the sensitive, imaginative type. Hyperaware of other people’s feelings. Sometimes I can tell what they’re going to say before they say it. And I’ve always been prone to anxiety. But when I started to go through puberty, things got really bad. I was afraid all the time, and then I started to hear voices in my head. Scary voices, telling me I might as well just die, that I had no future, that I was cursed.

Just like my dad.

This goes on for several more paragraphs and gives the reader a chunk of backstory while keeping the immediacy of our protagonist confronting her very scary problem.

Tip 2: Let characters catch each other up

We’re all familiar with scenes where a character learns some backstory by hearing it from another character. You have to handle this carefully or it will seem contrived or ‘stagy.’

First, make sure your viewpoint character would realistically learn this information from the other character. (Tom really doesn’t know that the Druna live in Dampwood.) Secondly, present the dialogue in short chunks, not long speeches. Finally, make the disclosure part of an emotionally-engaging scene.

In this example, Abby has travelled to Florida to visit her grandmother and try to figure out where her nightmares are coming from. She’s just met Molly, and they’re talking over coffee about some recent weird happenings in the town.

Molly nods. “It’s not as far-fetched as it might sound. The history of Harmony Springs is full of paranormal stories.”

A wriggle of fear starts in my stomach. “You mean like apparitions and ghosts?”

“Sure. The families who founded the town were spiritualists. The Greenes, the Hollingsworths, the Aldens”—she gestures at me with an open hand—“the Renshaws.”

The wriggle turns into a cringe. “I didn’t know that.”

The scene goes on to reveal more of the town’s history and a supposed curse on Abby’s family. Notice that this exposition is rooted in the protagonist’s immediate and deep emotional concerns.

Tip 3: Add blocks of backstory near the start of the scene.

In this technique, you start a scene in the present, ideally with an emotional hook to engage the reader. Then after a few lines, you skip back to reveal the backstory. This is not really a flashback, just a bit of exposition that explains how we got here.

Midway through Ghosts of Bliss Bayou, Abby is scheduled to leave Harmony Springs. She has tried to convince her Mom to let her stay longer, but the reader doesn’t yet know the outcome. In the next scene, Abby meets Molly and tells her that, after a week up north, she’ll be coming back.

Molly grins. “Yippee! You must really like us.”

I grin back. “Yes!”

Mom took a lot of convincing. Granma and I both talked to her three times before she gave in. She finally had to admit how little time she’d actually have to spend with me in London, and I think she began to see how lonely I would have been. She did insist that I fly home this week so we could see each other, but that was something I wanted too.

Here, the tension of whether or not Abby will get to stay is resolved as part of a scene that emphasizes her growing friendship with Molly. A single paragraph of backstory does the trick.

What do you think?

Think about your favorite authors. How do they handle the presentation of backstory? Are there tips and tricks you can add to my list?

Jack Massa has studied writing and other forms of magic for many years. He has published fantasy, science fiction, poetry, and oodles of technical nonfiction.

In addition to the Abby Renshaw adventures, Jack’s current projects include The Glimnodd Cycle (epic fantasy featuring witches and ice-pirates; two novels published to date) and the Conjurer of Rhodes series (historical fantasy set in the ancient world; forthcoming).

Jack lives in Florida with his magical wife, wonderful son, and a pet orange tree named Grover. If you’d like to know more about Jack, you can visit his website, follow him on Facebook, and follow him on Twitter.

 

Indie Spotlight on Sci-Fi Military Suspense Author, William Alan Webb

Nick Angriff’s ultimate enemy finally takes the stage and the 7th Cavalry will never be the same.

Operation Overtime has come through its first winter in post-Collapse America in better shape than expected. Food is plentiful, the city of Prescott is healing, and there’s even a battalion of new recruits for the Marines. Everything seems to be going Angriff’s way, until people start trying to kill him again.

When the aggressive Chinese send an armored force to capture old America’s largest tank farm, Angriff can rally only desperate measures to stop them. But first he must crush the traitors both inside and outside of Operation Overtime.

Angriff must rely on others to do what he has always done for himself. As the body count mounts, he has to determine who he can trust and who wants him dead.

In the tradition of Standing The Final Watch and Standing In The Storm, traitors, assassins, and secrets explode in a rocket-powered roller coaster called Standing At The Edge.  You’ve been warned. (Standing At The Edge, The Last Brigade Book 3, continues the saga of Lt. General Nick Angriff and the 7th Cavalry, which began in Standing The Final Watch and continued in Standing In The Storm. Standing at the Edge is available for pre-order and officially releases on January 18, 2018)

The writing’s done, now what?

I majored in Creative Writing in college. You’d think that would give me insight into writing, right? I forked over all of that tuition money, sweated blood churning out stories for my classes to read, critiqued tons of bad fiction, much of it by my professors, then smiled and told them how awesome it was, even when it sucked.

That last part was mandatory if you wanted to pass.

I did everything I was supposed to do, graduated, and then got slapped in the face with the reality that everything I’d just learned was useless.

There are some great writing programs out there, but not the one I took. Instead of learning things like don’t edit until you finish or don’t think you can edit your own manuscript, I learned RULES. Not examples, mind you, just the rules.

For example, I was told show, don’t tell. Sounds pretty fundamental, doesn’t it? But what does it mean? I wasn’t taught that part. Or don’t use adverbs. What? Wait, aren’t they part of the language? Such questions earned me contemptuous glares. So I followed the rules and produced nothing significant, which led me to quit writing fiction for twenty five years. When I forgot the rules and just wrote, I produced a beast. I had written the first draft of a 164,000 word book! Yay, me!

Now what?

Every writer who has ever finished a manuscript faces the question of what comes next

Many authors suggest you now put the first draft away for a while, with the idea this will allow you distance to be more objective when you read it. And there’s merit in this approach for many, maybe most, but not for me. I dive right in.

I start with beta readers. A beta reader gives you objective and sometimes painful feedback on your work. They are almost never your mom, siblings, friends or cousins. You need the brutal truth, not “I really liked it.”

Beta readers are your single most valuable asset as a writer. Cultivate them, pamper them, worship them (not really). But most of all, listen to them. I send my beta readers the first draft, others wait until later. Whatever works.

After the beta reader feedback I’m ready to start polishing the manuscript. The first things are the author edits, starting with content. This is where you make sure everything is consistent, all of the storylines match up, names are the same, etc. Nothing will kill a reader’s willing suspension of disbelief faster than overlooked storyline errors. This is also where I do most of my rewrites. Once that’s done, the author does a timeline edit. (Some books don’t require this, but my military SF relies heavily on synchronicity so for me it’s mandatory.)

Next up is the line by line edit. Maybe some authors enjoy this. I don’t. I hate it. I hate it more than I hate liver. But it must be done and the worst part is that you don’t do it just once. You do it as many times as you can stand doing it. For me that’s usually twice. Now comes the first point where most authors make a huge mistake. They send the manuscript out or, worse, publish it.

And then they get to read review after review about the bad editing. So here’s what I wasn’t taught in college: a professional editor is a must, be it a freelance editor or one at a publisher. What’s more, not all of them are good at their jobs, so sometimes a writer has to search until they find one that fits their work. I know one writer whose first novel desperately needs a good edit from a pro, but he says that he can’t afford it. Truth is he can’t afford not to find the money.

Then comes the cover, which is probably the least understood part of the process. If you have a publisher like mine to design it for you, and they’re good at it, it can sell a lot of books for you. The cover of my first book did just that.

On the other hand, if you wing it you might not sell any books at all. The writer who told me he couldn’t afford an editor also made a huge mistake in his cover. It is a beautifully rendered pastel drawing that does not have the name of the book or the author’s name on it.

Yes, you read that right. What’s more, the thumbnail looks jumbled. There’s nothing to indicate to the reader what the book is about, or even who wrote it. This is something else they didn’t teach me in college…covers matter.

And not just the artwork itself, either. The layout matters, the fonts matter, the colors of the artwork matter. Everything matters, and it takes a pro to recognize when it’s right.

The biggest takeaway for the cover is that when you find an artist whose work sells your books, never let them out of your sight. Marry them if you have to.

If you’ve done all of this well, your book is ready for the most important people in the world, namely, your readers.

 

William Alan Webb (Bill) lives on four acres in West Tennessee with his wife of 40 years, Kathy, 8 dogs, 3 horses and a cat. To say they’re failed foster pet parents would be an understatement. When not writing fiction Bill writes military history, does the housekeeping (he considers dust bunnies more pets, but his wife doesn’t), burns a lot of food attempting to cook and mows the grass whenever it gets too high to see the house. Fortunately for him she thinks he’s cute.  If you’d  like to learn more about Bill you can visit his website, follow him on Facebook,  and follow him on Twitter.

 

Indie Spotlight on Fantasy Author Chris Pavesic

Escape from a world of darkness into a virtual realm filled with magic and limitless adventure.

When hydrologists inscribe the consciousness of a human mind onto a single drop of water, a Revelation sweeps the land. The wealthy race to upload their minds into self-contained virtual realities nicknamed Aquariums. In these containers people achieve every hope, dream, and desire. But governments wage war for control of the technology. Terrorist attacks cause massive destruction. The Aquariums fail. Inscribed human minds leech into the water cycle, wreaking havoc.

Street gangs rule the cities in the three years since the fall of civilization. Sixteen-year-old Cami and her younger sister Alby struggle to survive. Every drop of untreated water puts their lives in peril. Caught and imprisoned by soldiers who plan to sell them into slavery, Cami will do anything to escape and rescue her sister. Even if it means leaving the real word for a life in the realms, a new game-like reality created by the hydrologists for the chosen few.

But life in the realms isn’t as simple as it seems. Magic, combat, gear scores, quests, and dungeons are all puzzles to be solved as the sisters navigate their new surroundings. And they encounter more dangerous enemies than any they faced in the real world. Time to play the game. Starter Zone is available in print, e-book, and audio.

4 Tips to Start Your Writing Day

Sometimes getting started is the hardest part of writing. Here are a few tips that may make it easier for you to achieve your writing goals.

  1. Start the writing day with a treat. When I sit down to write, I try to have a full cup of coffee, tea, or sparkling water ready to go.  Generally I will drink the coffee black. I will add a splash of Key Lime juice to the tea or water.  (If you are only familiar with the taste of regular limes, try Key Lime. It’s a game changer in terms of flavor.)

Not only is it important to stay hydrated, but this is also a low calorie treat. Since writing is basically a sedentary activity, you won’t be burning a lot of calories at your desk. But it’s still important to choose a beverage that you enjoy.

I don’t like eating when I’m at my keyboard. (Too many crumbs!) I also find that the physical act of eating takes my attention away from my project. However, I can sip some of my favorite beverage and jump right back on track.

  1. Create a specific playlist for each project.For me, music is a way to slip into “writing mode.” I don’t always listen to music when I’m working, but when I’m writing fiction it helps my productivity. Music helps to evoke a mood. The type of music really depends upon the listener. Whatever music helps you feel sad, happy, frightened, tense, or euphoric can help you translate those feelings onto the page.

As a bonus tip—if you are writing a series, save a playlist starting with book one. When you begin writing the second book, listen to that playlist to help you get into the mood of the series. Then add or delete tracts as you progress with the new novel.

  1. Power down before you begin writing.Writing takes concentration. Modern devices—as helpful as they are—work at drawing our concentration away from our tasks. Those little “pings” from our smart phones or “message alerts” on our screens pull our attention away from the task at hand.

Set your phone to the “do not disturb” mode to filter out these distractions. You can program in important numbers (parents, spouse, children, etc.) into the “always alert” setting so that you have peace of mind. In addition, include the “alert if call twice” setting. The call might not be from a number that you have listed on your VIP list, but generally people will call more than once in an emergency.

  1. Read before you write.In order to distance yourself from your day-to-day activities, try reading for a few minutes before you begin writing. Immerse yourself in a fictional world. Stimulate your imagination with the written word.

When I do this, I make sure to that I am re-reading a book I enjoy. I never want to start a new book and get so wrapped up in the story that I spend the entire time reading! I also read a book from a different genre and point of view than my work-in-progress. I don’t want my own authorial voice to mix up with the author I’m reading.

So if I’m writing first person, present tense, YA dystopian fiction, like my novel Starter Zone, I will read a third person, past tense, Regency romance.  The styles are very different and there is little chance that the other author’s narrative voice will creep into my own writing. But the simple act of reading helps my creativity start to flow.

I hope these 4 tips help you along your own writing journey.

If you’d like to learn more about Chris, visit her blog A Writer’s Life where she talks about her writing and publications,  reading, cooking, gaming, gardening, health/beauty tips, and, of course, her obsession with coffee. Or follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

 

 

 

 

Free Holiday Story

I don’t know about you, but I love, love, love the holidays. Even though I’m in Sunny California, I still dream of  the white Christmases of my childhood. I remember as a little girl, I would sit at the window wrapped in my blanket, determined to stay awake until Santa arrived. Because of course, i wanted to see him with my own eyes. More often than not, I woke up Christmas morning with my face stuck to an ice cold window and a stiff neck. That darn Santa never did let me catch sight of him.

Another thing I love about the holidays is giving gifts. It’s so fun to see people’s faces light up in anticipation of what is in the brightly wrapped and ribboned package, isn’t it?

As my gift to you I wanted to give you a holiday story called, Sally & Gem.

You can download it at Noisetrade or Instafreebie

The story comes in PDF, Mobi, and ePub file formats. If you do not have a Kindle or eReader you can download kindle for pc, tablet, or phone here.

And an ePub can be read with Digital Editions as well as an eReader.

And a PDF can be read on your phone, pc, laptop, or tablet.

Please feel free to share this post and/or the download links to the story with friends or family. I love spreading holiday cheer.

Big love and Happy Happy Holidays.

Annie

Indie Spotlight on Paranormal Mystery Writer Casi McLean

Piper Taylor concedes she’ll never fall in love, until a treacherous storm spirals her into the arms of the handsome Nick Cramer. Unrelenting remorse over a past relationship haunts Nick, but he can’t deny the mysterious connection and hot desire Piper evokes.

The allure of a secret portal hidden beneath Atlanta’s Lake Lanier tempts him into seizing the opportunity to change his mistakes. But his time slip triggers consequences beyond his wildest dreams.

Can Piper avoid the international espionage and terrorism of 2001 New York, find Nick, and bring him home before he alters the fabric of time, or will the lovers drift forever Beyond The Mist 

 

How a ‘Wrinkle in Time’ Inspired my Writing Career

For as long as I remember, I’ve loved the idea of supernatural. Not blatant horror stories, vampires, sci-fi aliens, or other worldly fantasy, but the notion of “what if” that entices imagination into believing there’s more than what meets the eye.

My fourth grade teacher nudged the author within me when she read aloud Madeleine L’Engles, A Wrinkle In Time. The enchanting story opened the door to my future. I read every time travel story I could get my hands on and watched every time slip movie. The question niggled at me. If time travel was “a thing” how would the concept likely occur?

Years later, when I heard about the eerie lore attached to Atlanta’s Lake Sidney Lanier, a man-made lake located in the foothills of the North Georgia Mountains, the tales fascinated me. Plagued with mysterious disappearances, freak accidents, strange phenomenon, and ghostly occurrences, the lake became the perfect setting for my passion to bloom.

What if the construction created more than a lake? What if the excavation triggered a seismic shift, which when given enough energy, opened a portal to a different dimension…a rip in time connecting past to future? I loved the possibilities. I envisioned a town that time forgot and the history and creepy tales attached to the rural area that sleeps beneath Atlanta’s famous lake, became book one of my Lake Lanier Mysteries, Beneath The Lake.

Homes, churches and buildings still linger beneath the surface, abandoned by displaced families and businesses. The moonshiners of the 1940’s added built-in suspense and sparked the birth of NASCAR. Looper Speedway, a half-mile dirt track where bootleggers competed with their souped-up cars, bared its cement stands in a recent draught. And there’s a Lady of the Lake who haunts the ghost town. Some say she lures victims to her watery grave. The truth is, swimmers get trapped among the deadfall of sheered-off trees and town remains. Even expert divers get tangled beneath the murky surface, hence the lake’s unnerving label: Lanier never gives up its dead.

I moved to Lake Lanier last year and my home overlooks a beautiful cove. The glimmering lake is a solace for me. Taking walks on trails around lake, and talking to neighbors who have lived in the area for generations feeds my muse. There’s no telling how many tales Lake Lanier Mysteries will yield, but if this inspiration should ever dry up, my passion for a touch of supernatural will keep me submerged in fodder. For now, Between The Shadows, book three, flourishes as my current work in progress. This story slips back to 1865 Georgia at the end of the Civil War, where two more Reynolds Cove characters promise to lure you into their own romantic suspense. I hope you all will join us as Lake Lanier Mysteries continues.

I love venues where I can talk about the inspiration behind writing. Thank you so much for hosting me, Anita. And thanks for reading everyone.

BIO: Award winning author, Casi McLean, pens novels to stir the soul with romance, suspense, and a sprinkle of magic. Her writing crosses genres from ethereal, captivating shorts with eerie twist endings to believable time slips, mystical plots, and sensual romantic suspense. Her novel Beneath The Lake, is the 2016 winner of the Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence for BEST Romantic Suspense.  If you’d like to learn more about Cassi you can visit her website, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.