Book: How to Work from Home and Make Money in 2017 Series: N/A
Author: Sam Kerns
Genres: non-fiction, home business
Synopsis (from Amazon book page): “Sam Kearns is a resource you can trust no matter what stage of your career you are in. I have purchased 3 of his books so far and I have not been disappointed.” Lene C
Are you tired of struggling just to get by with a paycheck that doesn’t quite stretch far enough? Or are you one of the millions of people who are out of work in an economy gone bad? Maybe you long to be your own boss so you can set your own schedule and choose the path your life will take.
Whatever it is that brought you to this page, you’re obviously looking for answers. The good news is you’ve come to the right place.
I’ve spent the past 20 years working for myself, and I would never dream of punching another clock or trudging to someone else’s office every day to collect a meager paycheck. That’s because I’ve discovered the secret: when you work for yourself, you’re happier, more productive, and you have unlimited earning potential.
After all, why would you want to work so hard to fund someone else’s dreams?
Working for myself has allowed me to live a lifestyle that many people can only dream about. I have the flexibility to create the life I want, take days off when I need to, and I decide how much money I make by choosing the hours I work
But don’t be fooled. Working from home at a home-based business isn’t easy. It takes hard work and dedication to build a successful business that makes money.
In my book, I’m pleased to offer you 13 proven, realistic ways to work from home and earn a great income. And I won’t just offer you a brief explanation of each method like some other books do.
In each chapter, I provide you with the information and facts you need to determine if that business is right for you.But I don’t stop there. I’ll also give you important links and resources, so if you decide you want to pursue one of the home-based business ideas listed in this book, you’ll have everything you need to begin.
So, the choice is yours. Will you wake up tomorrow morning and spend your day funding someone else’s dreams, or will you finally take the steps needed to claim your own success?
Why not start right now by buying How to Work From Home and Make Money? It’s one of the most important things you’ll do to begin the process of achieving your own dreams.
Notes of Interest: I should probably start this review by saying I don’t normally gobble up “get rich quick” type books. I am a natural skeptic when anyone tries to sell me something and was born saying the mantra, “If something sounds too good to be true it probably is.” I downloaded this book as an Amazon Prime free read, and I admit parts of the book that didn’t appeal to my interests got skimmed, rather than read. However, I paid close attention to the parts that did interest me and tried to keep an open mind.
My motive in downloading it could probably best be described as “covering all my bases” because I have already done my homework researching work-at-home options for my specialty skills. However, making money from working at home requires a completely different set of skills. So, that is where I’m open to new ideas from a variety of resources, even if it means dealing with some repeat information.
What could have made this book better for me:
There were a few technical errors and an overall vibe that I couldn’t shake. I think the technical errors stood out because this was a non-fiction book partially devoted to how to be a professional freelance writer and author. But then he turned around and talked about hiring writer underlings to ghostwrite for him. That left me with the impression that I don’t know if I’m reading this author’s work, or his underling’s work. Am I seeing his errors or his underling’s errors? The overall vibe for the book fell for me after that.
I get the “entrepreneurial spirit” and wanting to maximize profit. And ghostwriting is a legit job; a lot of people do it. But paying underlings to do jobs you don’t have time to fulfill, while paying them less than what was originally offered, to skim part of their profit, just made me angry. Maybe I’m interpreting it wrong, but creating a middle-management man is not what most freelancers have in mind … if they’re aware of it. Most freelancers work for themselves to escape that kind of thing. But it’s hard to earn a living as a freelance writer. They don’t get benefits or health insurance. They sometimes can’t count on a regular income. And the gig economy, by its unregulated nature, opens opportunities for some profit-minded people to exploit the hell out of others. Have you ever seen a doctor or auto mechanic do free work in exchange for free advertising? I think not. Yet writers, artists, and other freelancer/self-employed people often work long hours for little pay or get scammed into doing work for nothing. Whether you’re talking about freelance contractors working at home or overseas factories paying for cheap labor, “outsourcing” is just another word for “greedy” if the worker is not paid full wages.
So, the shark-tank philosophy behind that advice pushed all the wrong buttons for me. It triggered the skepticism that normally makes me avoid these kinds of books. And it confirmed my understanding that there are two kinds of entrepreneurs. There is the person who always wanted to own his own bakery, so he puts his heart and soul into his craft, store, employers, and everything he loves about what he’s doing. And then there is the person who wants quick, easy money and will do whatever it takes to get it, even if it means taking advantage of someone lower on the ladder. Business is a self-sufficient dream job to the first type. It is a game based on winner-takes-all strategies to the second. Both can be successful, but ethics of method usually have very different outcomes for hirelings.
Having said that, I will add that this book is not about how to take advantage of people lower on the ladder. Only the section on freelance writing hit that nerve for me. If you’re going to outsource your work, don’t do it to cheat your workers and maximize your own profits. They’re trying to earn a living just like you. If you want to write 10 books and don’t have time, so you want to hire 10 ghostwriters, fine. But don’t take 10 full-pay freelancing jobs off the board and hire 10 writers to do them at half-price.
What I liked about this book:
This is a neat little collection of the most popular, doable ideas for being your own boss and working at home. The book is divided into two sections for internet-based work and local-based work. And then each of those sections is further divided by job type. So, the first half will have information on jobs like freelance writing, on-line shops, and virtual assistance services. Then the second half will discuss jobs like pet sitting, cleaning services, or home-cooked goods delivery. In this respect, it’s a well-organized resource with basic “how-to” steps for set-up, initial expenses, what to expect in short-term and long-term maintenance, along with lots of links for further information.
Looking back over my highlights and bookmarks, I was surprised I took as many notes as I did. As I said, this isn’t the first time I’ve read about home-based business relevant to me, but I guess I was working on the premise it’s better to have duplicate information than to miss something helpful. I paid closer attention to the on-line based business sections because I’m an indie author who self-publishes. I run my own blog. I am available for freelance hire in writing, editing, and illustration services. And I have done English language tutoring in the past and am considering doing that again in the future. I’m studying marketing and updating my tech skills to aid in the quest of monetizing these services, but the book doesn’t cover things like that. It is strictly about generating ideas for home-based businesses. For example, instead of telling you how to write, it says you need to know how to write well or hire someone who can do it for you. Then you can figure out how to earn passive income from the product.
For the novel-writing section, the information sounded spot-on, but again, it’s not designed to teach how to write a novel or how to market it. It just shares what’s involved in production of a typical book. The information on blogs is something I’m actively digesting alongside my other research because I’m making plans to revise mine. For freelance services, I felt he was right to bring up the fact that ratio of time it takes to do a good job versus number of jobs you might take in order to pay your bills can lead to missed deadlines or jobs left unfinished. He does point out that self-sufficient income on freelancing alone is a challenge, especially for beginners, so I appreciate that he’s not making it sound like these means of generating income are effortless. I have not dug too deeply into language tutoring as an option, so I’m looking forward to checking out new resources in that part of the book. I had considered tutoring as a local option, but for some reason did not think of doing it on-line. That could make a big difference, since I prefer to work with ESL students.
If you are new to research on home-based business this is a good place to start reading. If you are well-versed on the subject, this book might still offer some new options you otherwise missed. Do NOT expect this book to help you make money without investment or effort. DO expect this book to serve as an idea generator that offers resources for turning ideas into action. You still must do the action. Nobody’s going to do it for you. And if someone works hard helping you achieve your goals, do the right thing and pay them well.
(Edit: Almost forgot to add that this book is updated annually, so I have seen that there is already a 2018 edition.)
Another year behind us; a new year ahead of us. I hope everyone has been enjoying whatever winter holidays most appeal to you, and that you’ve all had some well-spent time off enjoying food, fun, friends, and family, or just some much-needed peace and rest. 2017, for me, was a very tiring year. Honestly, it left me angry and exhausted far too much, mostly due to watching what was going on in the world around me and feeling frustrated beyond break-point to be able to do anything to change it. So, one of my intentions for 2018 is to stop focusing on what I can’t change and double-down efforts where I can make a difference.
Living in Japan, New Year’s Eve and the first week of the New Year were the most special time of the year — a time to revisit treasured traditions, time to reflect on what has passed, and time to set new challenges for ourselves in the coming year. This is true in most places around the world, I think, but New Year celebrations aren’t complete for me without scouring my house to start January with a clean space and a fresh spirit, cooking a big pot of ozouni with mochi, munching on gyoza, mikan, and other traditional and non-traditional favourite foods, enjoying a few rounds of kendama and hanetsuki, and listening to all of my Japanese music in a playlist long enough to rival NHK’s Kouhaku Uta Gassen. Lessons learned on impermanence speak loudest to me at this time of year, as well as lessons on resilience, letting go, and living in the present moment for most of my day-to-day life. So my “homecoming” of the holiday season always involves setting aside the first week of the New Year to go back in my mind to this atmosphere and these life lessons.
But this is usually accompanied by or followed by “Oshougatsu Boke” … a phrase that means “New Year’s Blur/Forgetfulness/Fog.” It describes that transition period between winding down at the end of the old year and returning to the everyday grind in the new year. We might be a little more forgetful, a little less mindful. Everyone looks like they just dragged themselves out of bed. And we are having to forego all the yummy leftovers to lose the 10 lbs. gained from the past month of indulgences. There might be a slight grouchiness about having to return to former routines. Or resolutions that challenge us might turn frustrating too quickly, leaving us disappointed. It’s a scattered time when we’re still writing last year’s date on everything well into the second week of January. Reality might have a surreal feel to it until we can return to “normal”.
This is where I am right now: Oshougatsu Boke. I have been spending the past few days mind mapping 2018 so that it does not turn out like 2017 … so that it turns out better because I intend to be more pro-active. … As part of these plans, I will be slowly revising this tired old web site. I have completely taken down my old blog now, and I will be rethinking this blog’s purpose, reorganizing its elements, and maybe even redesigning it. I don’t know exactly what kind of changes I’m going to implement yet: that’s the “boke” part of where my mind is at. But I definitely want to something new and fresh.
As a result of shifting my focus, my blog posts might not be as regular. My goal last year was to post once a week, and I accomplished that, for the most part. I will still try to post often this year. Maybe I can keep up the once-a-week schedule. But if not, it’s because I’m using my previous article-writing days to make more progress on the final books in the Elf Gate series, spending more time marketing my books, and revising this space to get more of what I want from it. I will still review the books on my reading table because I will never be able to resist discussing a good book. I will still discuss the craft of writing and related topics. I will still offer updates on my writing projects for readers. I may even add additional content. But I may have a less reliable schedule for doing these things to make time for reorganization and tasks for new goals.
Hopefully the holiday fog will fade by the end of the week. I’m sure I’m not the only bleary-eyed person out there struggling to focus on marketing when I’d rather be scarfing down some hot chocolate by the fireplace, lazily watching the snow fall. So, I want to wish everyone a happy, healthy, safe, peaceful 2018. And I hope everyone finds something they can be excited and pro-active about in the months ahead.
Book: The Sword of Shannara Trilogy (includes: The Sword of Shannara, The Elfstones of Shannara, and The Wishsong of Shannara)
Series: The Sword of Shannara Trilogy
Author: Terry Brooks
Genres: high fantasy, epic fantasy, adventure
Synopsis (from Amazon book page):
“Twenty-five years ago, New York Times bestselling author Terry Brooks wrote a novel that brought to life a dazzling world that would become one of the most popular fantasy epics of all time, beloved by millions of fans around the world. Ten more Shannara books would follow. Now, for the first time in one elegant collector’s edition hardcover, and featuring an introduction by the author, here are the first three novels of that classic series: The Sword of Shannara, The Elfstones of Shannara, and The Wishsong of Shannara—the beginning of a phenomenal epic of good and evil.
The Sword of Shannara
Long ago, the wars of the ancient Evil ruined the world. In peaceful Shady Vale, half-elfin Shea Ohmsford knows little of such troubles. But the supposedly dead Warlock Lord is plotting to destroy everything in his wake. The sole weapon against this Power of Darkness is the Sword of Shannara, which can be used only by a true heir of Shannara. On Shea, last of the bloodline, rests the hope of all the races.
The Elfstones of Shannara
The magical Ellcrys tree is dying, loosening the spell that bars the Demons from enacting vengeance upon the land. Now Wil Ohmsford must guard the Elven girl Amberle on a perilous quest as she carries one of the Ellcrys’ seeds to a mysterious place where it can be quickened into a powerful new force. But dark on their trail comes the Reaper, most fearsome of all Demons, aiming to crush their mission at any cost.
The Wishsong of Shannara
An ancient Evil is stirring to new life, sending its ghastly Mord Wraiths to destroy Mankind. To win through the vile growth that protects this dark force, the Druid Allanon needs Brin Ohmsford—for she alone holds the magic power of the wishsong. Reluctantly Brin joins the Druid on his dangerous journey. But a prophecy foretells doom, as Evil nurses its plans to trap the unsuspecting Brin into a fate far more horrible than death. Thus begins Terry Brooks’s thrilling Shannara epic, an unforgettable tale of adventure, magic, and myth.”
Notes of Interest:
I have never read any Terry Brooks books until now, but they have kind of always been on my “someday/TBR” list, so last year I bought The Sword of Shannara Trilogy. Over the course of the past year, I have read each of the books and just finished the last one as my last book for this year. I have decided to review all three books as a set this time, rather than reviewing them individually. This is partly to save time for me. But it’s also partly because I bought them together, and my feelings regarding all three books are the same. They are very similar in style and content, but where I noticed differences, I will point that out.
I decided to buy this trilogy after watching the Shannara Chronicles TV series — one of the few times that I’ve purchased a book after watching a visual media production. So, let me say here that they are very different. The TV series is based on the books, but it doesn’t follow them. The TV series is mostly based in the second book of the trilogy, The Elfstones of Shannara. The books are, of course, more intricately detailed with more content. But the TV series makes good use of the main content in its visual adaptation.
What could have made it better for me:
The one big fault I found with the series, particularly the first book of the trilogy, was telling more than showing. Brooks even mentioned this in the forward of book 2 or 3, admitting this was something that had to improve with time. I happen to be big on character interactions and backgrounds, so I really wish I had seen more showing than telling when it came to character interactions. As a result, the characters are developed with potential for standing out as unique personalities, but except for a few, most are more like archetypes for the hero quest. We are told about their actions more than we see their personalities drawn out by interacting with their travel companions. This makes for a good action-adventure story, but I, personally, need more character dialog and interaction to prevent stories from being “just” hero quests.
Also, my favourite aspect of this series, is underplayed: the setting of the world itself. These are high fantasy stories that take place on an earth where modern civilization as we know it has had a great war that spawned new races and reshaped the land itself. Some of those races (elves) are from the age of myth and magic, but have magic no more. Some of the races come from evolved forms of humanity. A few references are made to things like torches with no fire or earth magic in the form of a black powder. But the TV series makes better use of this concept for a post-modern earth, in my opinion. Again, I see so much potential, so it’s a little disappointing more wasn’t done with it. Without emphasizing fallen freeways, steel towers in ruins, or rusty cars in overgrown streets the books feel like an ordinary “Medieval/ Middle Earth” type fantasy setting full of dark forests, bleak mountain passes, and foggy swamps … which works well for any fantasy adventure story.
Lastly, book 1, The Sword of Shannara, was a bit confusing with the point of view for the narrative.
What I liked about it:
One of the characters that stood out to me the way I like characters to stand out was the dark druid Allanon. He appears in all three books as a mystic druid that raises more questions than he offers answers for. So though he doesn’t say or reveal much, the lack of background or intent from him suits his personality and purposes well. Another character that stood out to me was a minor character, Cogline. He’s a crazy old coot with a penchant for explosives, and if that doesn’t set him apart right there, his dialog will do it.
Brooks has a talent with describing scenery well. A lot of the word count is dedicated to setting the atmosphere of the settings, so you get a real feel for the changes of the seasons, the darkness of the abandoned keeps, the bleakness of the mountains, the horror of the monsters encountered, etc. The descriptions of the monsters as evil incarnate are particularly well done, so the challenge for each set of travelers is never underestimated.
The plots are fairly straight-forward, so pages turn quickly; but in each plot there is a price to pay for victories had. That’s not to offer spoilers, but to say Brook’s world is one in which magic itself is something rare and to be reckoned with. It does not come easily or freely to those capable of wielding it … which I think is a nice touch we don’t see very often in fantasy. In most fantasy worlds, magic is a given staple.
Which brings me back to my comments about the new earth setting. It reminds me a bit of The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, in which a modern civilization fell to ruins and humanity divided and evolved into different races of predators and prey, both of whom have lost important, forgotten knowledge about their past. I love these kinds of concepts because of the way they blend dystopian and paradisaical elements of a new civilization rising from the ashes of something that literally destroyed the world as we know it today. These survivors often must hunt down something of great value that we take for granted in present times because it’s so common we don’t see the value in it, but in the case of the Shannara series it is the attempt to reclaim magic from before the age of man while living in the ruins of the age of man. I am disappointed this setting wasn’t milked for everything it was worth, but it’s a brilliant concept that I adore.
I found very few errors in these books; technical distractions were not a problem. The plots are solid. The style is fluid and easy to follow. These are good, basic heroic fantasy genre books that offer the adventure quest, escapism into new lands, and battles between good and evil that high fantasy and epic fantasy tales are best known for.
If you like Tolkien-style, epic, high-fantasy quests, but have a hard time muddling through the old-fashioned wordiness of Tolkien’s overly detailed world building, Brooks might be more your style. The characters are solid, the quests are challenging, and the journey itself is a large part of each story. But the poems, song lyrics, fictional languages, and histories of whose fathers were fathers of fathers and so on is minimized. I’m glad I bought the trilogy because over the course of all three books, Allanon’s life is presented as more of an arc over three mortal lifetimes. It was also nice to see how previous generations affected the futures of those who left with the consequences of their actions. In this way, it builds the world history as you read and see it happening. I liked these books. They’re a good “classic” addition to my bookshelf.
I was going to write a book review today. Instead, I am posting a warning about a possible case of identity fraud and theft.
Yesterday, I was scammed by a freelancing employer. So, for now, I have removed my services page here, and I will be removing my services pages elsewhere on job sites, until further notice. I need time to make sure my accounts are safe before considering new clients, as well as to consider what additional steps I must take to protect myself when offering freelance services.
Therefore, if anyone is visiting this blog because they wish to verify whether I am a real person because they suspect they are being scammed, too … yes, I am a real person. But because I am a writer, I delight in exposing hypocrisy and lies. I can suffer a moment of public humiliation to say I was the victim of a scam if it means preventing someone else from falling for the same lies.
Let it be known that I am not hiring anyone for anything. If someone pretending to be me tells you otherwise, whether they gave you this link or you looked it up to verify if a real person owns that name or not, back out immediately. Don’t sign anything legally binding. Report it to the job site. I was able to get a refund for my job finding fee, and I found out that though the employer said he deleted his own account right after hiring me because he was charged unexpected hidden fees, it was actually the job site that deleted the employer’s account for violating terms and conditions policies.
Save all of your contact information and conversations with whoever is pretending to be me. (Google Hangouts can be saved as emails, FYI.) Then check your bank accounts and alert them to a possible fraud so they can watch for unusual activity. Be on the lookout for any suspicious activity in the near future regarding emails, tax refunds, job offers, credit cards, etc.
No place on the Internet is entirely safe these days, and job seekers are particularly vulnerable because of the give-and-take communications necessary for payment information and contract terms that are a natural part of seeking employment. In cases where no experience is required, new job seekers may think they’re getting a fair break from a patient benefactor, but the truth is without experience, new job seekers are targets.
If the employer wishes to speak off-site, shuts down his account right after hiring for a project, uses multiple identities because he doesn’t want to use his real name on a public platform, seems rushed to start right away, dismisses personal small talk, doesn’t bother to look at your submissions so you end up repeating information directly to him rather than him reading that information himself, or asks where or how you bank or to verify your street address twice, these are red flags. Beware of the employer who says you will not be required to do anything illegal. You don’t have to do anything illegal for them to do something illegal to you.
Recently, my mother has been clearing out her home to prepare for a move. In the near future I will have to do the same. Letting go of precious memories and treasured objects is both a blessing and a curse. It creates space, but parting with items which we’ve attached significance to sometimes hurts. Yet this is periodically part of life, regardless of whether we move frequently (as I have) or stay put at one address.
When my mother asked if there was anything I wanted to keep — I answered that since I would be downsizing soon, too, I couldn’t take big items or a lot of items. I said I wanted the family photos and maybe a few small items I have specific memories of … like the little, ceramic lamb she bought when she lived in Washington D.C.
A few weeks after this discussion, I received a package in the mail. It was the little lamb, but three of its legs had broken off. I shed a few tears upon seeing it because all I could think was, “Well, this is a metaphor for my life if ever there was one.”
The definition of metaphor (according to Google) is “a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable; a thing regarded as representative or symbolic of something else, especially something abstract.” I love metaphors in writing, and I see them all around me.
This little lamb was purchased by my mother when she worked for the FBI in Washington D.C. in the 1950’s. It was the first big job she had after graduating college. It was her first time living as a single woman in an apartment with her sister in a big city far away from home. And it was a time in her life when she actually smiled for photos. My mother has had a hard life in all the years I’ve known her, so my first impression as a teenager upon seeing those photos was a sense of wonder. Once upon a time, she seemed truly happy and confident. That was something I rarely saw in the woman I knew.
I first saw this little lamb on a shelf when I was about four years old and wanted to play with it. I became so attached that I asked to keep it in my bedroom, which was pink with green accents just like the roses on the lamb’s neck and legs. I put it beside one of the collectible dolls my babysitter gave to me: the one with the pink dress, which I named Mary. Get it? Mary had a little lamb, and now they stood on my shelf above my bed, looking like they totally belonged there, together.
In spite of the fact that the lamb was ceramic and old, and in spite of the fact that Mary was a collector’s item, I played with them. “Collector’s item” means nothing to a child, who only sees the raw materials for creativity. One day the lamb’s leg broke. I was upset and took it to my mother, thinking I would get in trouble for breaking something that belonged to her. But she glued it back on, and I carefully set the lamb back on my shelf. From then on, I had a new respect for it and learned the meaning of the word fragile.
Over the years, my family moved a lot. I kept that lamb with me, and it broke again. And again. … And again. A leg that had not broken before would break. The previously fixed legs would fall off. The lamb just wasn’t meant to take that kind of a beating. I was constantly gluing it back together and putting it back on the shelf. But I never considered throwing it away just because it was fragile.
For one thing, it wasn’t mine. Even though it was a useless knick-knack probably bought at a five-and-dime store for no reason other than to decorate a young woman’s apartment, the thought never entered my mind to get rid of it. After seeing the D.C. photos, I guess I saw the lamb as a metaphor for my mother’s life before she got married and had me — a time when she smiled, before life became difficult. How can you put a value on that?
When I went off to college and started my own life with my own family, I gave Mom back her lamb. I have no idea why I kept it as long as I did. I forgot about it after that. I have no idea what made me mention it when she asked what I wanted to keep. But for some reason, an image came to mind of that lamb on my bedroom shelf when I was four … before my life became difficult due to an abusive dad, too many moves alienating me from any sense of home or friends, extremist religious indoctrination, and multiple other factors that have led to a lifetime of depression and anxiety.
Receiving the lamb in the mail, with its three broken legs made me cry because at a time in my life when I’m far away from family, children are leaving the nest, and a pending divorce is creating unplanned, unwanted changes that will turn my life upside down, it symbolized how my heart felt. Will those legs NEVER stop breaking? Why does it have to be so damned fragile?
But, I studied the lamb closely once the tears passed. The old glue had turned yellow. Bits and pieces of the edges had broken off multiple times, which meant tiny pieces were now holding it together in some places. It was dusty. It was faded. It has taken too many years of abuse as it moved from home to home, never really having a home — never having a safe, permanent place where someone would love and protect it … never having a place where it truly belonged. This symbol of happier times, promising beginnings, and childhood play belonged in a dumpster. And yet … I set the pieces carefully on my counter and went to the store to look for more glue to once again put it back together.
I sanded off the old glue. I made sure the pieces still fit against each other. And then I set to work with the glue pen. I’m not sure why I keep fixing it. Maybe it’s habit. Maybe it’s because I wish I could fix things for my mother. Maybe it’s because I wish I could fix my own life as easily as gluing my legs back underneath myself.
They say what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger; I say what doesn’t kill us leaves too many people broken in too many pieces to stand alone ever again … not without help from someone who is capable of accepting and loving us because we are broken. Is this lamb more beautiful because of what it has been through? To me … yes. Its story gives it “character” … value and depth. The same is true of developing characters for fiction. The same is true among real people. We live in a society where people are disposable, and only a few rare souls with patience and compassion are capable of seeing a broken person’s worth, rather than thinking they belong in a dumpster.
A metaphor for my life, the lamb now sits on the shelf of my writing desk. Mary is gone, but the lamb is in the company of the ram I bought at a music box store in Otaru, Japan during the year of the goat/sheep/ram because that is my Chinese zodiac. It plays “When You Wish Upon a Star” … a song that reminds me not to lose sight of my childhood dreams and ambitions for working with publishing books and art. It sits between Koshka’s gargoyle kitty (for whom this blog, my publishing imprint, and new business are named) and my black faerie dragon on a vampire’s skull (which is an item that inspired a similar jade-dragon-and-vampire-skull statuette in my Elf Gate novel, The Dragonling).
Together this cluster of metaphors forms the book ends for my divorce literature, helping me hold everything together. Because life is not rosy. It is cold and cruel. And we are often left alone to put the pieces of our broken lives back together, because we have no choice but to try to stand once more. This lamb and I … we are fragile, but we are getting ready to move again. Because we are survivors.
As always, I’ll throw out the reminder that Scrivener is my software of choice for organizing and drafting novels. But my methods may be adaptable to other creative organization helpers, as well.
In this final segment, I’d like to cover publishing. I have never taken the traditional publishing route, so the only experience I have to offer here is self-publishing. But first things first … final edits.
When I felt there was nothing more I could for my book on my own or with the aid of beta readers, I hired an editor to help with final edits. Editors come in two varieties: content and line. They are different from proofreaders. Let me explain.
Content editors look at the content and context of the story overall and suggest ways to improve it. When I wrote my first book, I hired a content editor because the thing I was the most insecure about was whether or not it was a good story. Her feedback was invaluable overall, but in the end, since I am self-publishing, I had the final say on what to change and what not to change. She gave me tips on things like setting development, parts of the story that could be cut out, what didn’t work for her in terms of concepts, and advice on word count vs. story telling for fantasy novels. If I had any questions about plot holes or character development, I could consult her about that.
Line editors look at the script’s technical aspects. This includes proofreading for grammar and spelling, but they can also offer editorial advice in terms of what did or didn’t work for them, raise questions about clarity of wording or style, and suggest ways to make the script tighter and more efficient. I will admit I have never hired a line editor, due to my limited budget. But between my own expertise in English, the multiple eyes of the beta readers, and the content editor, most of the technical errors get squashed during the many revisions. What a line editor will not do is help you develop your setting, characters, or plot.
Finally, there are proofreaders. Proofreaders are not editors. They are not there to help you with the content or development of your story in any way. They are there to find your spelling and grammar errors, and that is it. It is not their job to give opinions on context, characters, style, word count, or suggest rewrites of any kind other than technical errors.
It’s important that you know what you are paying for when you choose professional revision services. And it’s important to remember that in self-publishing, the author has the final say. Always.
When I get the final feedback, revisions are usually quick because there is usually little left to correct. The book is now almost ready to publish.
The next thing I finalize is the cover art. I usually do my own because I used to be an art student. But there are loads of extremely talented artists for hire out there who would be happy to design a good cover for you. Pay them well! People really do judge a book by its cover.
The basics on cover art are simple. The thumbnail design needs to be distinct at a distance. The cover needs to look like the genre(s) it fits. It needs to be relevant to the topic of the story. And it needs to be as professional as possible.
I pushed the boundaries on the “thumbnail” rule with my own books, but that’s because I personally love detailed art. Plus, I wanted Aija and Trizryn represented either in part or whole because of the ambiguous relevance of the titles. They are both changelings. They are both fledglings. They are both having to confront some dark themes by book three. They are both heirs to the royal bloodline in book 4. And they are both in some way responsible for the saving dragons in book 5. … I knew the rule. I broke it anyway. Meh. I’m happy with my designs. But I can always change them later if I change my mind because I am in control of those decisions, rather than the publisher.
To get a feel for good cover art in any given genre, browse the top-selling books in that genre on-line or in a book store. Don’t copy ideas. But pay attention to what might grab the reader’s attention about the designs.
I usually start working on cover art somewhere around the third draft and give myself plenty of time to finish it before the final draft.
Keep in mind good art is not cheap and takes time. Also, remember the cover artist cannot read your mind. Provide as much reference as you can if you have specific ideas, and answer any project communications as soon as possible so they can get right back to work. The longer you delay communicating with your artist, the longer your finished cover will take to produce. Make sure the cover art is absolutely finished with the correct size recommendations for your chosen publication site before beginning the publication process.
Choosing a Publisher
I’ve already said I cannot offer advice on querying a traditional publisher. But I can offer a few thoughts on how to choose a venue for self-publishing.
Determine the size of the audience for your particular genre. Amazon’s self-publishing services have the most “reach” in terms of sheer numbers of readers. But that is also precisely why a lot of authors don’t want to publish through Amazon. They feel Amazon is monopolizing the market. And if authors feel that way, readers can feel that way, too.
I publish through Amazon AND Smashwords. Smashwords will distribute various formats including mobi to various sellers and libraries. So, people who prefer not to shop at Amazon can find my books through alternate distribution and formats. One thing to be careful of with this approach is exclusivity clauses. For example, if I sign on with Kindle Unlimited, I will have to unpublish from Smashwords because Kindle Unlimited requires exclusive rights. That means fewer formats, which might mean fewer readers reached.
Decide whether you wish to publish in digital or paper or both. The publisher you choose will determine options available. I have chosen to go with digital-only versions for now because I can more easily update the previous books as new books in the series are done. When the series is finished, I will pursue print versions. But for the sake of cost and time, digital is all I can afford right now.
Finally, choose a publisher that will return the royalties you wish to receive. Generally speaking, self-publishing royalties are higher than traditional, but you have to do all the marketing footwork yourself. (Actually, I’ve heard from people in traditional publishing that either way, you’re expected to handle your own marketing more often than not.) Print will be more expensive to produce than digital because of cost for paper and ink, and that price increase will be passed along to the consumer. The size of the book, therefore, will determine a large portion of that price. Otherwise, digital books can sell from .99 and up. My books are priced at $2.99 because 1) I am an indie author, so it’s unlikely people who have never heard of me will want to invest much more than that into something unfamiliar, but 2) my work is worth something. Dragonling took two years to write and some very, very long days and nights.
Pricing is a very controversial subject among authors and readers alike, but generally a book should not be given away as a freebie unless it is the first book in a series, or unless it is part of a special marketing event. Don’t be afraid to ask a fair price for time and effort spent crafting the product.
The actual process for publishing will depend on the chosen publisher. Amazon’s submission requirements are very different from Smashwords’ because Amazon seeks to streamline whereas Smashwords seeks to diversify. You can hire someone to do this for you if the process feels too overwhelming, but I have always done it myself.
When I’m finally ready to publish, the first thing I do is create the front and back matter, if I have not already done so. Front matter includes title page, copyright page, dedication, table of contents. On-line sellers usually preview a certain percent of the book, so you don’t want to clutter the front matter with a lot of extras. The table of contents is the most important part of the front matter because in digital readers it needs to be interactive and work correctly. Back matter generally contains any series information, author information, marketing information (like web pages or other books by the author), and extras like maps, appendices, and acknowledgments.
When everything passes one final inspection in Scrivener, I double-check my settings for exporting the files into Libre Office, then hit the collate button. Other than the index cards, collate is my favourite feature in Scrivener. I write scenes separately for ease of reference, but without collate, I used to have to copy and paste ALL of my scenes together in the end to form one long script. Now collate does that for me by taking all of my scene files and chapter folders and squishing them together into one script. I have a checklist to follow from here on out.
First, I make sure I export collated copies of the whole script for each publisher. For me, that means one is labeled for Amazon, and another is labeled for Smashwords. I also note the version of the story. I edit the copyright page to say “Amazon Digital Version” or “Smashwords Digital Version”. I add an updated copyright if I’m revising a previously published version. (I believe Smashwords now requires their name on the copyright page.)
The next thing I check is formatting. I will not go into detail here; it’s too complicated for this article. But generally, I check the book for strange spacings, margins and alignment, font styles and sizes, blank pages, too many pilcrows before or after chapter headings, etc. With Amazon Kindle, Word’s “Headings” can auto-generate an interactive table of contents. But for Smashwords, I have to program my own headings. That’s because Smashwords’ distribution engine, known as the meat grinder, needs specific simplicity to chop the script up and spit it back out in a variety of different formats. In general, the rule of thumb for digital publishing is the simpler the better. The more fancy the layout, the more likely it will have problems transferring between various file types and devices.
If the formatting check passes inspection, I sigh with relief/grab a snack to celebrate/dance around the room/squeeze my cat with unwanted hugs and kisses. If it doesn’t, formatting can be a nightmare to correct. … Just saying. Too many times I’ve had my italic and bold fonts completely stripped from the script while trying to fix something with formatting inconsistencies. Considering I use italics for a lot of telepathic dialog, foreign dialog, flashbacks, and emphasis … to lose ALL italics for the sake of a minor formatting correction is gut-wrenching. But as a last resort, there have been times when I had to nuke the entire script of all previous formatting and start over from “default”. This is why formatting is usually my most dreaded task of all.
Digital books require an interactive table of contents. For Amazon, this means highlighting each chapter heading as a “Heading” in Word, and then creating additional headings for front and back matter. For Smashwords, this means creating my own bookmarks for each heading, and then going back and creating hyperlinks for each bookmark. Tedious does not begin to describe this task when you’re talking about books with 30-50 chapters.
Finally, I check the front and back matter for any interactive links that need connecting to the web.
When all is said and done, I put the finished publisher-ready edit through a “homogenizer” like Calibre or Amazon’s Kindle Previewer to see how it looks in phone, tablet, and e-reader screens. I check the table of contents to make sure it works. I check other links to make sure they work. Then I do a quick skim to make sure there are no weird formatting issues I might have missed. If there are errors, those errors must be corrected; then the script goes through the homogenizer again to be sure the fixes worked.
All of this used to take a few days for Kindle and about a week or more for Smashwords. This year, however, I had to learn how to make my books functional with the newer Kindles, so it took 3 weeks. (sigh) … Hopefully, next time I can get it done faster, but this time I hit a lot of obstacles in the learning process and finally gave up on using Libre Office and switched to Word. My main problem was figuring out a way to put invisible headings on pages that didn’t have visible headings (like the dedication page) without the Kindle add-on nuking all of my previous formatting! Ugh! Live and learn. … For Smashwords, it took the usual week. (I cannot believe I actually preferred formatting for Smashwords this time around.)
The Home Stretch
The rest of the process is easy after that. You upload the script. The publisher skims it for errors and spits out anything it thinks should be double-checked before publication. It’s usually just spelling errors and uncommon words mistaken for spelling errors due to the setting being in a fantasy world.
I correct what should be corrected, check the ignore box on what I want to be ignored, and resubmit the revised script. The publisher will notify me when it is approved and ready for publication.
If I haven’t already done so, this is when I fill in the details for the book’s royalties, formats, genres, credits, availability, and ISBN code. I update my tax information and upload the cover. This is usually quick and painless stuff.
The final element is the copy writing and blurbs. Again, I do this myself, but the option is there to hire someone else if it’s not your thing. Copy writing is very different from creative composition. It summarizes the story using journalism methods and marketing language to encourage people to buy the book. So many authors might prefer someone else to do it. The blurb, in particular, has to be short, pithy, and enticing.
Copy writing is usually limited to three to five short paragraphs. This is what we usually see inside the book cover in print versions and in long descriptions on the page where the book is sold. The blurb further condenses those paragraphs into three to five sentences. And that is what you normally find on the back of the book cover in print versions and in short descriptions when using a search engine.
When all of that is done, all that’s left is to hit the publish button! The publisher notifies the author when the book is “live” so purchase links can be shared on web pages.
I usually give it about a week before considering the publication done, just in case something goes wrong and needs immediate fixing. (Marketing is a whole other topic for a different discussion.)
On a final note for this article series, I’d like to add that when I publish the newest volume in the series, I also update previous volumes. This is me taking advantage of digital format at no cost to reprint anything for both myself and my readers. This means I proofread each of the previous books one more time to catch any errors previously missed, cut down word count, or clarify minor edits, so the quality of each book is improved. It means I had to go through the mind-numbing process of reformatting each book all over again after updating front and back matter. It takes time to read, revise, and update four books that are over 100K words each, while also handling the initial publication of the fifth book in the series. But I do this because I want the books to be the best that they can be. There is always room for improvement, and I am committed to this series and to giving my readers the best that I can offer.
So, I hope you’ve enjoyed a little insight into the stages of how I create my novels, from beginning to end. At the very least, I hope I’ve offered some insight into the work involved in creating a novel and self-publishing. It’s not easy. It’s not quick. It’s not pretty. But for me, the end result is worth the effort. I write because I am a writer … because I love telling stories. If other people enjoy what I’ve written, that adds even more depth and meaning to what drives me. And I thank my readers from the bottom of my heart for sharing the journey with me. ❤
Book: The Woods Out Back
Series: Spearwielder’s Tale
Author: R.A. Salvatore
Genres: fantasy, adventure
Synopsis (from Amazon book page):
“The first in the Spearwielder fantasy adventure series–from the author of the New York Times bestseller The Legacy. In a magical spot in a forest, Gary falls asleep . . . and wakes up in a dangerous realm of elves and dwarves, witches and dragons. There he discovers he is the only one who can wear the armor of the land’s lost hero–and wield a magical spear.”
Notes of Interest:
I am a huge R.A. Salvatore fan via his Forgotten Realms books with Drizzt Do’Urden. But I never heard of this series until I came across it by accident. I was surprised to find it’s quite old: 1993. But it was on discount, so I decided to see what he would write outside of a familiar setting.
For me, this book brought up the controversial topic of author “brands”. A “brand” for an author or other creative professional is when fans come to expect something specific from the products offered. It’s controversial because marketing gurus say the best way to sell your work is by having a niche. A narrow scope of expertise tells the audience what it can expect from you, and niche fans are more likely to return. Case in point: I’ve read many of Salvatore’s D&D novels in the Forgotten Realms setting, so the reason I purchased this book was because I loved those books.
But creative professionals sometimes feel caged by “branding” their work because it limits their creative expression. The niche market becomes a trap, so that they can’t do anything else because experimental projects in different genres (or whatever) might not fit expectations of established fans.
Anne Rice became famous for writing about vampires. But she has also written about angels, Jesus, and (under a pen name) erotica. She is perhaps unique in that each of her niches has a wide following, depending on which books led that particular subset of readers to become fans. Somehow she manages to handle the broad scope of differing (often opposing) opinions well. But I for one will only ever be interested in her vampire books. I can’t really explain why. It’s not like I have anything against her writing other types of literature. I feel authors should be free to write about whatever they please. But from that spectrum, vampires are the only topic and style that suit me. So that is where my expectations, or reader bias, exists.
J.K. Rowling was a huge success with her Harry Potter series. But her other works have not measured up to the same success, not because the other books aren’t good, but because fans expect more of the same. The world of Harry Potter is Rowling’s brand.
So, this quickly became my dilemma with The Woods Out Back. When R.A. Salvatore is mentioned, the book that comes to mind is Homecoming. It’s one of my all-time favourites, therefore I have come to expect more like that from him. I tried not to let my expectations get in the way of my impressions while reading something completely different, but they intruded anyway. I couldn’t help it.
In the review that follows, I acknowledge my bias and will try to work around it as much as possible. Opinion pieces, which is what all reviews are, will always have a measure of bias shaping those opinions. In this case, I admit brand reared its ugly head, but I am 100% supportive of authors and artists having the freedom to explore different venues with their works. Moving away from a brand might not win over loyal readers from one subset to another, but doing something different can win a whole new subset of readers. And there’s no good reason why an author shouldn’t be allowed to do that, as long as they understand brand expectations can work against new, experimental projects.
What could have made it better for me:
The story starts off well enough with Gary, an average Joe at work in a modern setting, then turns into a portal story. I love portal stories. But because I was expecting characters like Drizzt Do’Urden to come to life in a D&D-type setting, the introduction of a leprechaun, complete with Irish accent and snarky attitude, felt … cartoonish. A more typical D&D-type elf showed up after that. So, of course, I loved him. But then there was a goblin who was a typical “grunt” laboring to please his queen in all the wrong ways. The evil queen dressed in black with her shape-shifting skills, spies, and minions made me think of Snow White’s wicked step-mother. And there was a dumb giant who had a vocabulary of “duh” in between dialog of a little more substance. In other words, what came to mind was every major stereotype for every fantasy archetype.
I do have a good sense of humor, so it’s not a matter of taking the story too seriously. But I think I was expecting a little more in terms of unique character development versus tongue-in-cheek placeholders for archetypes. For example, I loved the idea of a dragon named Robert! How could you not love a dragon with such a mundane moniker following in the footsteps of dragons with such legendary, exotic names like Smaug, Falcor, Draco, and Paarthurnax? But in the end, Robert was a typical, blustery dragon who hates to lose and hoards treasure. Robert had such potential to be something utterly unexpected, but even he was predictable. But it seems that was the goal for this tale: writing about magical creatures using the typical archetypes the way everyone expects them to be.
I think I could have found iconic mascots coming together for a tongue-in-cheek tale like this more enjoyable had I not been expecting the more individual depth and persona that is a given in settings like Forgotten Realms.
What I liked about it:
Since I am a fan of many kinds of fantasy, I don’t dismiss fantasy intended to be taken less seriously. Therefore, in spite of what I said above, seeing a blatantly stereotypical group pursuing a very typical quest actually turned out to be something different. The whole thing had a very tongue-in-cheek approach that made me think of Terry Pratchett’s books, but with more action/adventure and a more subtle humour. Salvatore is a master of writing fight scenes, so the writing itself was bold, vivid, and moved at a good pace through each chapter along the quest.
Gary—the average Joe protagonist—felt very real. His down-to-earth personality becomes spasmastic in a way most people could relate with after having been transported through a fairy portal … being funny, frustrated, frightened, and courageous in all the appropriate places. In my opinion, he was the best developed character of the bunch. And because he is new to magic and myth, his naivety is something I don’t usually get to see in Salvatore’s writings. That would be the major difference between a portal story and a story in which the characters are already expert swordsmen and mages; so it was interesting to see how he handled that difference, and he handled it well.
Technically, the book is a clean and easy read. The plot’s objective and action is straightforward and classic, rather than intentionally complicated with deep, controversial themes or gritty ambiguity. Because of that, it does not have a lot of the dark matter some of his other books do. So, it makes for a lighter read, too. I love both dark, deep literature and fun, light literature, depending on my mood. So, this balanced out the darker, more serious nature of the other book I’m currently reading. Variety is good.
If you are a fan of Salvatore’s more serious works, go into this one knowing it’s meant to poke fun at fantasy stereotypes. Don’t compare it to his D&D works if at all possible; it should be enjoyed as something completely different. I have not yet decided whether I will be purchasing the rest of the series. I enjoyed it enough that I might return to it. My expectations will be different for the second book after reading the first, so that should help. It’s a good book for anyone wanting a light read about a portal story or a classic hero’s quest.
November is National Novel Writing Month; and while I can’t participate because I really need to finish this series before considering any new projects, I’ve been sharing my method of novel writing. This fourth part of the series is on revising.
If you missed the previous articles, you can find them here:
And I’m throwing out yet another reminder that my writing software of choice is Scrivener, but these ideas might be adaptable to other writing software or means of organizing the writing process. What’s important is that new writers understand it IS a process. Writing well-developed stories, especially lengthy stories like novels or series, takes a lot of time and at least some amount of planning.
If you are participating in NaNoWriMo, you are probably currently doing one or all of those previous four steps, so the following article won’t be as relevant until the end of the month when your stories are finished. So I will share one always timely piece of advice: one method of creation should not be touted over another, not only because creativity works differently for different people, but also because both structure and freedom are essential to the creative process. If you are an “outliner”, you will still need bursts of inspiration and imagination to create an objective and flow. And if you are a “pantser” you will eventually need a structure and plan or your story will not make sense … or worse, it will never be finished.
So, as with most things, balance should be the method to the madness. Instead of beating yourself up because creativity isn’t working, take a break from the muse who is ignoring you and do some more planning. Likewise, if the plans aren’t working, try scrapping them and seeing where your muse flows on her own. It’s okay to go back and forth … many times … in all stages of development. It’s good and necessary to go back and forth!
Just had to throw that out there as something to keep in mind because I’m already seeing a lot of frustration from friends who are “behind” in their writing goals for this event. Both structure and freedom are necessary for creative composition. But only the writer knows the exact balance that works best for her.
The bulk of my writing process lies in revisions. I revise as I write — always. Flow is like a tic in my subconscious, so I automatically reword, delete, or add as I work. But I don’t go looking for edits to make (unless it’s something dreadfully important) until the second draft.
When I finish the first draft, I usually celebrate for a day (or a week, if near a holiday or in desperate need of a vacation). During that time, I don’t do anything further on that project. I might work on marketing or other publications business, but I allow myself to take at least one day away from the initial draft.
I’ve heard of people stuffing finished manuscripts in drawers for weeks or months before they look at it again. For me one day is all I can afford. What’s important is clearing your head enough to pick it up again with a beginner’s mind. You will never be able to view your own story as a new, unexplored thing the same way a beta reader can. But coming back to the project with a fresh perspective helps with noticing things you did not notice before.
During the revision process, because it takes so long, it’s important to make yourself stick to a regular writing schedule while balancing the work with physical activity and life happening around you. That may seem like an unnecessary thing to say, but trust me. I know my share of writers, myself included, that get glued to the chair and keyboard due to intense concentration during this period. And not eating, sleeping, exercising, or taking breaks to do fun things can stress you out and wear you down. I have pulled 16 and 17 hour days, through weekends and holidays, trying to finish this book ASAP, and it only worked against me, leaving me very tired and not doing a very good job at first-pass edits. So, do yourself a favor and take care of yourself during the revision process. Balance work with play when you can. Schedule it if you must. 🙂
When it is time to revise the first draft, everything I mentioned before about how I work in Scrivener comes into play: where to find the most immediate notes, where to find the research and previously published wiki, where to find the comments, the highlights, and the in-line annotations. The first thing I do is check for these mark-ups and hold them in my head (like a clipboard) while I reread their accompanying scene.
A lot of times, I can make those changes while reading. But sometimes I need to make more notes and come back to it later or move notes to other parts of the book where they are more relevant. As with previous steps (and the introductory advice), there is a balance to moving back and forth in revisions. Start at the beginning and progress forward, but expect to regress for reference checks and rewrites as you go along, too. Something you find in chapter 3 might need to be checked and revised against what you said in chapter 1, but you won’t know that until you were further along in your alpha reading. “One step forward, two steps back,” is how I handle everything after the first draft.
I also reread my collections files separately because they help me make sure subplots flow together as their own mini-stories. Small plots can easily be obscured and go astray — or worse, end up forgotten. There is nothing worse for the reader than a bunch of questions that have no answers because of a dropped plot thread. Collections can help make sure every issue raised is eventually resolved.
Edits to Consider
Some things to look for and consider when revising …
1. Point of View — Correct it now before it bites you in the bum. Pick one point of view and stick to it. This doesn’t mean you’re stuck seeing everything through the eyes of only one character, unless you choose to write in first person. I love getting into different characters’ heads! But make sure whatever pov you choose is intentional, and that there are notable cues to the reader when pov switches — a double-space, a change of scene, a change of chapter, etc.
When choosing a pov, opting for the character that is most vulnerable in that scene can often create the most tension (and therefore the most interest) and relativity with the reader. But it depends on the effect that you want. When visiting a new place in the fae realms, I often choose Aija’s perspective because her lack of familiarity is the closest pov to the reader. But I have also written Trizryn’s impressions of her first impressions just to offer a different perspective. He has been puzzled, amused, and impatient at her “newness”, whereas she is just gobsmacked like a kid in a candy store. So, it depends on what I want in terms of mood and tone.
2. Details — Now is the time to start thinking in terms of making that dark and stormy night a little less cliche. Now is the time to describe the pattern on the dishes. Now is the time to make the character sit in a particular way to express body language or mood. She can sniffle while speaking. He can brush the red hair out of his azure eyes. This is when I pay attention to refined elements that bring the story to life.
I rely on my five senses to do this. For each setting’s introduction, I consider what the characters might see: colour, form, light, shadows. Is it creepy and scattered with bones? Or is it comforting like the light of a campfire? What might they hear? Birds, bats, dogs, traffic, distant thunder, rain on the tent, someone snoring, a teakettle whistling … Scent is one of the most powerful memory triggers we have, so don’t neglect it in describing settings. Does the dungeon smell like musky mold? Like rusty iron or coppery-sweet blood? Home-cooked food could fill taverns. Smoke should be prevalent during dragon attacks and wars. What about that “lovely” dung smell of newly fertilized fields in spring that makes you roll up your car windows just when you were looking forward to some fresh air? For touch, think in terms of texture, temperature, or internalization of bodily sensations: warm wool, smooth porcelain, tingly fingertips thawing after being in the snow, slippery horse fur and a muddy ground during a cold rain, scratchy throats, gritty sand in teeth, nausea, etc. And for taste, name specific foods. Describe their scent and texture. Foods that aren’t of this world can be described as being like foods of this world. The five basic palates are bitter, salty, sweet, sour, savory; experiment with combinations just like a cook. And remember food isn’t the only thing we can taste. Perfume or smoke are often so strong we taste them as much as we smell them … and choke on them. Could you “taste” decay if surrounded by it? What about snowflakes? Ocean water?
Be specific more than vague. Slow down and get poetic. Be an artist and paint with words at this stage. Don’t get too flowery because ordinary words convey meaning best. But this is where you can and should be playing with prose.
3. Stage Acting and Props — Characters are actors performing on a stage only the author and the reader can envision. I took several drama and speech classes during my school years, and as an actor, one thing you never want is to end up on stage with nothing to do while speaking. Hands will start to fidget or body language in general will look awkward and unnatural. Empty-handed speakers often pace to naturally offset this emptiness because of the need to be doing something. So, directors usually give their actors stage directions and props.
While speaking, the character can move to the center left of the room. She can pick up a vase, but study it without interest. Then, she can set it down pensively, or throw it in anger. Pull out the action verbs, no matter how small. Use them more often than tag words. Use them in place of tag words wherever possible. It’s more interesting to know a character is cleaning a fish tank during a conversation, than to be told she said something. (And, really, readers can see dialog, so they already know she said something. Unless it’s for clarification or pacing, saying someone said something is often redundant.) Actions give the reader a more tangible character moving around within a more tangible, interactive setting. It also is an inadvertent way of giving us more information. Now we know her mind was elsewhere while handling that vase, or the vase upset her, or she was upset. We know that she owns fish and has a knowledge of how to care for them. These actions become pegs to hang personality traits on that further develop the character.
While I’m here, I’m going to say something about tag words. Tag words act like speech bubbles to let the reader know who is talking; they “tag” dialog onto a character and vice versa. Tag words help identify and clarify when different speakers are speaking in multiple-character dialog scenes.
Some writers and editors are of the opinion there is only one tag word ever: said. They feel everything else is pretentious or doesn’t make sense. Some writers get bored with the same old word and branch out: explained, propositioned, surmised, queried, cried, shouted, whispered, etc. BOTH of these perspectives are grammatically acceptable. They are differences of opinion on style, which is also acceptable, as long as there is agreement between the writer, editor, and publisher.
What is not acceptable is using actions in place of tag words. Tag words must be something that can be done with words. Try to “laugh” a sentence. It can’t be done. You can laugh before or after you speak, but laughter actually interrupts and cuts off speech. You can’t form speech with verbs of expression, like smiling, either.
A simple test can help with determining whether a verb makes a suitable tag word. Ask yourself, “Can I ‘sing’ words?” Yes. Sing can be a tag word. “Can I ‘express’ words?” Yes. “Can I ‘smile’ words?” No. Smiling is a physical action that has no ability to produce words. Your smile will be lost as soon as your lips change to form a word. The smile happens before or after the words, but it is not a manner of speech or sound creation in itself. Don’t smile or laugh words in dialog.
Some words could go either way: growling, hissing, and sighing are commonly used as tag words, though sometimes they shouldn’t be. An angry person could literally growl or hiss a word. Whispers can sometimes be considered hisses. And depending on what’s being said, it could literally be sighed with speech, but that only works for one or two words. It would have to be a very long sigh to accommodate an entire sentence, let alone a paragraph. People usually sigh before or after speaking. Sounds may or may not form words in speech. Try saying your dialog aloud in the manner of speech you tag onto it before deciding whether it’s logical.
Better yet, remove tag words when possible and give your characters plenty of body language and props, instead. Dialog flows more naturally when broken up with living, breathing, fidgety characters who bite their nails, pick at the corner of a piece of paper, avert their eyes, sneeze, cross their legs, or itch their ears because they’re allergic to the earrings they’re wearing. More action, more information, fewer tag words, logical tag words when necessary …
4. Pacing — This is two-fold. First, you don’t want to use more than one or two small paragraphs for descriptions. Descriptions a page or more in length permit the reader’s attention to wander. Introduce the person or setting or object, but then break it up and sprinkle a little more detail throughout the rest of the scene, so that the reader’s attention can absorb it in smaller bites.
Camera panning is a good allegory for visualizing and pacing descriptions. In my film literature class, we learned the attention span of the eye lasts about 5 seconds. That means the camera has 5 seconds to feed information to the viewer before the eye gets restless and attention wanes. For linguistic learners, reading is better at holding attention than visual mediums. (This may not be the case for visual, tactile, auditory, or other learning styles.) But it’s still not a good idea to keep one “camera angle” for an entire page. Pan the focus liberally around the scene in short sequences interspersed with dialog, action, and reflection, and attention will more likely be retained.
One note about fantasy and sci-fi literature here, though. There is a reason publishers give these genres more word count allowance than others. When a setting is too different from reality, we need more descriptions. Passages describing an elven village can and should be longer than passages describing a New York cafe. One of the reasons readers choose those genres is to imagine other worlds, so don’t be afraid to slow the pace and let the imagination linger a bit there. As my editor once told me, “Take some time to ‘live’ in your world, so you can share it with your readers.”
The other kind of pacing that matters is in the flow of the events. The pace or flow of the story is important to the overall presentation of the scene … and the entire book. For action scenes like fights or chases, words need to be short and full of power. For reflective scenes, words need to slow down and soften. There should be a balance between action and reflection. Too much action is exhausting and impersonal. Too much reflection becomes moody or turns into an information dump. Both can get tedious when they go on for too long without variety.
For this same reason break up lengthy dialog, lengthy fight scenes, and lengthy information scenes. Break up dialog and information with action. Break up action with opportunities for the characters to reflect and learn something from it. The Dragonling has a chapter in it that is nothing but Trizryn reading a letter from his mother. Sounds pretty boring, right? It could be. Hopefully it’s not because I broke it into “readable segments” to make it easier on the eye and the attention span. There are breaks where he shifts in his chair, mumbles to himself, or the reader is informed that he is shocked at what he reads. And there are double-space breaks between multiple paragraphs on the same topic to give the eye a rest from the heavy use of quotes and italics. I also wrote the letter in first person narrative, to make Ysmé’s experiences and thoughts feel more immediate to the reader. Preventing that part of the story from becoming a boring information dump was a challenge, but pacing it in different ways helped.
Combining different sentence structures and lengths is another good way to improve the pace of storytelling. Short sentences stand out more when used sparingly and paired with longer, more complex sentences. It’s okay to break the rules and have one-word sentences, or even one-word paragraphs. But remember their impact works best when used sparsely for important, shocking, rare events.
The story itself should unfold and flow evenly throughout the course of the book.
5. Research and Background Checks — Do this. I know it takes time and can get boring. But do this! It’s especially necessary when referencing something previously mentioned in the book or series. It could make a difference in whether your idea works or is full of holes.
6. Fill in All Blanks — If names, places, or other information was skipped over in the first draft, start filling in those gaps for the second draft as much as possible.
7. Edit — Now you can let your inner editor out of that trunk you locked her in while doing the pre-writing and writing steps!
After the initial draft, and for the rest of the revision process, you will need real, honest-to-God editing skills. Be picky. Correct spelling, grammar, formatting and anything else in the technical field of writing that might cause problems. Use your dictionary. Use your thesaurus. Don’t know the proper use of ellipses, look it up! Learn about typesetting for those pesky punctuation situations that your high school or college handbook never mentioned … like how to punctuate telepathy. Be familiar with the differences between style guides and formats, and if you intend to publish traditionally know what your editor and publisher prefer.
Check the beginning words of each paragraph. Avoid repetition there (and elsewhere). Don’t skimp on character names when multiple characters are present; the reader needs to know who is speaking or acting. But try to begin each paragraph with different parts of speech and different words. This is especially true if you are writing in first person, when every paragraph has the potential to start with “I”.
Finally, weed word count. I know I’m not one to talk about overshooting word count recommendations for traditional publishers. (Insert cheesy, guilty grin here.) But clipping unnecessary words is just part of the editing process. Don’t use four words when two will do. Check for redundancy: if someone is handling a wet fish while in water, most people would assume water makes fish wet. Handling the fish in water is sufficient. The word “that” can be removed 90% of the time without harming sentence structure or meaning. Use contractions if applicable; this isn’t a formal paper, although a character with formal speech “would not do it”.
Cut out entire sentences or paragraphs, if they repeat or offer nothing of substance to what’s happening. Where possible condense a previous action or information as a summary if it needs to be repeated. Cut out entire scenes or chapters if they do not serve the overall course of the story. Learn to recognize the difference between scenes that are random “fluff” and “fluff” that is important to character growth, relationship development, or upcoming plot material.
Some authors recommend that adverbs be removed without mercy. There are some adverbs in particular that are often wastes of space. The word “very” comes to mind, as an example. But I’m in the camp of loving word play, so I love adverbs. I think they add texture to verbs and adjectives, so I leave many adverbs in my text. I cut the ones that double-up or over-exaggerate. But especially in dialog, if my character is “very, VERY tired,” to say she is simply “tired” robs her of an impatient, whiny complaint. Do what works for the scene. Do what works for you. But be aware in general of what can be cut or reworded more efficiently.
Are We There Yet?
What I consider to be a true revision is going all the way through a work from beginning to end. The second draft doesn’t usually take as long as the first because organization, planning, and groundwork for the story is finished. When I finish my second draft, I do the same thing as when I finish the first. I take a day up to a week off to refresh my brain.
Then I begin this whole process all over again for the third draft/second revision. And the fourth draft. And the fifth draft, and so on.
Each time I revise the script, it takes less time to make one complete pass from beginning to end because there are fewer items that need correcting. I revise a minimum of 4 times before I share the script with beta readers.
Beta readers are important because they are the first set of eyes to see the story as something completely new. As I said before, it is impossible for the author to do this. No matter how proud you are of your finished script, beta readers are an absolute necessity to the revision process, in my opinion.
Beta readers don’t have to be English language experts or literary scholars, but they must as least represent the type of audience you are writing the books for. Don’t ask someone to beta your fantasy novel if they hate fantasy. They won’t like it due to bias, and therefore they cannot give you a fair review with constructive criticism.
Beta readers can be preliminary line editors finding spelling errors and missing words, or they can be preliminary content editors telling you which parts confused them or felt lacking. Listen — really listen — to what they have to say. I’ve found that 90% of the time my beta readers have very good instincts about what needs more work. Take all criticism constructively and with a grain of salt. You can’t please everyone all the time, buy your gut instinct combined with their feedback will help you find the best balance for revisions.
Beta reading takes 1-2 months, depending on the length of the book and the beta reader’s schedule. Do not rush them, especially if they are doing this for you free of charge. You will not get the feedback you need if you push, and they won’t be able to enjoy the story if you’re breathing down their necks asking what they think. If a reasonable time has passed, you may offer a gentle reminder that you are waiting for feedback. Meanwhile, it’s a good time to start drafting the next project.
When all feedback is in, I take each beta reader’s notes, one at a time, and meticulously hunt down their suggested corrections in my copy of the revised draft. If something suggested doesn’t work for me, I let it go. In the end, it’s my creation; I don’t have to do everything everyone suggests. But most of the time the corrections and suggestions are spot-on. I follow my instincts when doing post-beta revisions and try to choose what’s best for the story. The final objective is to make this version the best version of the story that it can possibly be.
I continue to revise until there’s not much left to tweak. The final draft will never be perfect. I could probably tweak it forever trying to perfect it, but as some point it’s just time to let go. It may take 7 drafts or more before I declare a book finished. The Dragonling took over two years to complete because about half-way through the second draft I found a very big, nasty plot hole. Quality is more important to me than a deadline, so I took whatever time was necessary to fix those holes throughout the entire book.
At the point where I tag each index card with the “Done” label and switch from my colour-coded methods for drafting to Scrivener’s default green chapter folders and blue scene files, I know it’s ready for compiling and formatting. More on that in the final article of this series. Meanwhile, I get to celebrate having made it this far before digging into the mind-numbing, stress-inducing process of publishing. 🙂
At long, long last … after 2 years of drafting and revisions, 2 months of waiting on beta reader feedback, and 1 month of formatting issues, I am pleased to finally announce that the fifth book in the Elf Gate series has been published! The Dragonling is now available in digital format at the following links! Woot!
I have completely reformatted the previous four books for the formatting options of the newest Kindle e-readers. And I have updated all previous books to include minor error corrections, minor formatting changes, and an update to the series information pages. Please update your older versions of each book you have purchased. This is one advantage digital publishing has over print! It should be a simple matter of removing the old copy from your device and downloading it again. I will be contacting Amazon to notify them of the changes so they can email readers. And at Smashwords, you will always have access to the older version, but should select the most recent one available.
(Edit: In looking up Amazon’s update contact information I see that they now only notify their readers of changes that make the book difficult to read. They do not notify reader when authors correct minor content, add new content, or add new marketing content. Therefore, dear readers, you will not be getting notices from Amazon. However, you should still be able to go into the tab that manages your Kindle account and download the updated version of previously published books.)
Q: Why digital format only?
A: Time. I am publishing all of these books against the clock amid other life events that have been patiently waiting for me to finish writing this series. Dragonling took twice as long as the other books to publish, due to various delays. So my primary goal is to FINISH THE SERIES before time runs out.
Q: I don’t have an e-reader.
A: Amazon has a free Kindle reader app, you can download and install. And Smashwords has a web reader version available for download, as well as formats like PDF.
Q: Will there ever be a print version?
A: I plan on doing a print version when the series is complete, but like the digital version, how soon I can accomplish that will depend on time allowance for writing.
Q: Can this book stand alone, or should I read the other books in the series first?
A: This book was not meant to be a standalone. Reading the other books in the series will help immensely with understanding what’s going on in this one. There are too many spoilers in this book for people who have never read the previous ones, and this book marks the beginning of the end for the main story arc of the series.
Q: I’ve read the previous books in the series. What can I expect from this one?
A: Just like the other books in the series, this one picks up where the last stopped. The main plot of this volume is about the protagonists protecting the only dragon they have in their camp, while the antagonists push everyone over the edge into a civil war between the dragons and elves. Readers will learn more specifics about Trizryn’s unique origins and the powerful, lost artifact his mother hoped to find through him. Aija continues to acclimate to living among the fae while seeking that ever-elusive gate that will take her back to the human world, and this time she finds an unlikely connection—another human. Reznetha’ir has to fortify the refugees in their new “camp” against two dragon factions at war after the true leader of the conspiracy is revealed. And Chizrae is harboring a very important secret about an obscure prophecy that could make or break the outcome of everything.
Q: I’ve never read the series. What is it about?
A: The Elf Gate series is epic, dark fantasy with elements of adventure, folklore, horror, action, romance, political intrigue, and comedy. It is a classic portal tale about a young English girl who is swept through an elf gate into the Other World of the fae.
These are not intended to be “Tolkienesque” elves. Nor are they intended to be stuck in dated fairy tales. These elves were referenced in the grim folklore of various human cultures, but have evolved into an industrial-steampunk/magical-technology society similar to that of humans … only differently.
This series is dark because it contains vampires, fantasy violence, strong language, and confronts controversial subjects like religion and politics. But it is not “A” horror book. It is epic because of its length and complex plot threads, but it is not necessarily “classic” fantasy. Good and evil are often ambiguous in these characters, yet this is not a gritty, Game of Thrones type of fantasy.
If you are looking for a light, quick read where good and evil are as easy to spot as the character’s fantasy race, these books might not be for you. However, if any of this sounds right up your alley, come along for the ride. 🙂
Q: What are the other books in the series?
Book 1, The Changeling
Book 2, The Fledgling
Book 3, The Darkling
Book 4, The Atheling
Book 5, The Dragonling
The Dragonling might be a bit slow showing on the author pages, but it IS available for purchase now! :3 I encourage readers to leave honest reviews so that other readers may decide whether these books sound like something they might enjoy. And I hope you enjoy The Dragonling as much as I enjoyed writing it!
And I’m throwing out a reminder that my writing software of choice is Scrivener, but these ideas might be adaptable to other writing software or means of organizing the writing process. What’s important is that new writers understand it IS a process. Writing well-developed stories takes time and some amount of planning.
In Scrivener, there is only one mode for writing composition: that is text mode or page mode. Because I put so much effort into organizing my time lines, index cards, and notes during the pre-writing stage, this part of the process should be so easy it almost writes itself. But that doesn’t mean the unexpected won’t happen along the way.
Since I usually “pants” the first few chapters of my story during the drafting process, I might need to review those scenes before attempting to pick up where I left off. I may do light editing as I go along if I notice something needs changing, especially if it has something to do with a change in important details, like suddenly realizing the character I have speaking isn’t available for that particular scene because he’s somewhere else at the moment. I can either assign his dialog to someone else and make those corrections now, remove his dialog and make a note to fix it later, or just make the note to fix it later. I can even rearrange things again if that’s what it takes to improve the flow of events. If something needs moving, it’s better to do it sooner than later. But I don’t go looking for problems to fix. Now is not the time to nit-pick misspellings or sentence structure. I’ll make time for that task during revisions.
When I have finished reading the beginning scenes I’ve already worked on, I open my first “To Do” index card to its text file and review my time line and notes gathered there to get an overview of what’s supposed to happen in the scene. In other words, I pay attention to my previous work before I attempt to build anything new on top of it. That’s the whole point of having done that previous work in the first place. Only when I have reviewed all the information the next scene needs will I turn those notes into sentences.
When I start writing scenes, I rely heavily on my imagination to provide major details. The setting should be described in order to set the mood and atmosphere for the characters. Character descriptions, especially for new characters, should be included in introductory scenes. I initiate dialog between characters as a means of “showing” rather than “telling” the story. And I might even throw in some character actions relevant to the dialog or plot events.
I usually also set up a calendar to chart how many days it will take for the characters to cover the chain of events. I do this by using the keywords tab and have a colour-coded chart for “Day 1”, “Day 2”, “Day 3”, and so on. This way, I can tell at a glance which events events happen at the same time, when Trizryn should be feeding (or how bad off he should be if he isn’t), or to be consistent in how long it takes to travel from one place to another. Any notes that pertain to time will now be added to the front of all index cards to be turned into scenes. I’ve seen J.K. Rowling use a cell chart for this. Some people use actual calendars to get the days of the week right, but however you choose to do it, keeping track of the time it takes for your events to unfold is a good practice for a story that takes place over a span of several days or longer.
At this point the text looks like a lot of he-said-she-said dialog with bits of physical stage actions while figuring out whether it’s the same day, next day, morning, or night. I don’t go into minor details or try to be poetic, unless something inspires my imagination to do so. If inspiration strikes, I go with the flow, but I don’t intentionally refine yet. There will be time for minor details, poetic passages, and further character acting during revisions.
Writing is a bit like meditation at this stage. I must be 100% present with the characters to get inside their heads and explore their thoughts, feelings, and responses to present actions and environments. To draw tangible feedback for the senses, I have to be able to virtually see, hear, taste, touch, and smell a different time, place, and set of events. I can’t afford to be distracted by technical matters because ideas come first. And this is where writing is the most fun, in my opinion. In spite of my plans, I don’t always know what’s going to happen next because I let my characters take the wheel. In that sense, it’s a bit of an adventure.
If unplanned events start going somewhere that doesn’t fit with the rest of the story, I can edit them out later. But for now I keep going, knowing that even if I don’t keep that part of the trip in this part of the story, it might be a good addition for some other place in the plot. I can always cut and paste it into some other scene’s notepad for later consideration during revisions.
Sometimes I’m not inspired at all to write the scene in front of me. But I don’t let myself waste time on writer’s block. I keep the focus on moving forward in several ways.
1. Let’s say I have to write a fight scene, but I’m just not feeling it at the moment. I can use Scrivener’s in-line annotation to insert “Fight scene between Ilisram and Trizryn,” right in the text. It will show up in bright red, so that there’s no way I can miss it during revision. Eventually I will have to come back and write that scene, but another day could make a world of difference in how the creative juices are flowing. I use this most often when I need a name for a character or place and am dry on ideas at the moment, so I leave “(Name ???)” as a bright red place holder, and then keep writing. But I also use it for annotating important concepts or changes for revisions.
2. Another way to skip an uninspired scene is to insert a comment. Scrivener’s comment tab works the same way as doc.x comment tabs. You highlight the item you’re having issues with, then make a separate note in the sidebar. The highlight remains, and the comment is saved for later reference during revisions. I use this when I have more to say about whatever I’m skipping over, but it’s more relevant to a particular line or item than the scene as a whole. If it’s something relevant to the scene as a whole, the note goes in the notepad.
3. If the information I’m writing about is complex, I can highlight text in colours to separate different topics. Then I can make a note in the notepad about what concerns me and come back to it during revision. Or if one topic is resolved in one scene, but another is resolved in a different place, my eye will easily be able to separate the topics for reference.
4. For big delays — for instance if I know I want to do something, but have not figured out how to do it yet — sometimes it’s easier to simply label the index card for that scene as “To Do,” rather than “First Draft,” and come back to the whole scene later. I know I need to figure out an end solution for the gates, but too much needs to happen between now and the final part of the story. So, if I haven’t nailed my ending exactly yet, that’s okay. I’m still working on the conditions that will lead to that ending, so I’ve got time to work on those scenes later. What matters is that I’m holding a place for them, and always have them in mind while painting the rest of the story around them.
5. If there’s any scene in particular I’m dying to write, I permit myself to jump ahead and explore it. I write until I run out of steam on inspiration, then return to following my little road map of plot events wherever I previously stopped. The only caution I have about doing this is that skipping ahead often means more reviews to get back to where I stopped. But in the end, extra review work is good for the story’s consistency. The more I have to re-read what I previously did, the more I can remember and recall later as a condition to keep in mind for other scenes.
6. And finally, if worse comes to worst, I can always stop trying to force the writing and go back to working on organization. Remember that encyclopedia of research notes I mentioned during drafting? That is in constant need of attention! So, if writing isn’t happening, for whatever reason, organizing is a way to continue working on the overall series or current project, even if no scene is being created at the moment. It’s all good. That internal wiki is the foundation for consistency in the series.
In West African folklore, the spirit who embodies wisdom, skill, and storytelling goes by the name Anansi. And Anansi often takes the form of a spider. Why? Because spiders are skilled weavers. They know exactly where to place important anchors, then go around and around, back and forth, weaving amazing designs with tiny silk threads. I often wear a nose stud in the shape of a spider, and when people ask me about it, I tell them it is to honor Anansi the story weaver because I am a writer.
Like spiders, I weave my stories, traveling in layers, sometimes in lines, sometimes in circles. Sometimes I start at the beginning and work forward. But sometimes writing backwards is the best way to figure out what kind of foreshadowing needs to be done ahead of an event. I don’t necessarily go backward writing scenes I skipped over, but going back to place notes in the notepads for scenes that need changes accomplishes the same thing. I may end up not writing that back-track scene until the second draft. What matters is the event has a place holder in the overall flow of events.
Just like with my plotting, my writing has a very back-and-forth rhythm to it. And I keep working this way until I reach the end of the book. I still don’t need the exact ending yet, but I need to end in the general vicinity of possibilities. I may go back into previous chapters for consistency checks, inserted notes, or inspiration, but I do not let myself fall into the trap of starting over. The goal is to make it through the first draft from beginning to end. Only when I have reached the end can I call it the first draft.
The First Draft
The first draft will have horrible flow, bad spelling and grammar, missing information and scenes, and still have notes all over it. It will be ugly and illegible to anyone but me. But it will be a mostly completed manuscript of the story from beginning to end. It will have the first layer of the plot thread for that volume in the series. All of the subplots will be holding space to be woven into the main threads. And the overall arc of the series will be pushed closer to resolution.
There is only one true editing element I perform when the first draft is being composed or done. While it is all one big collection of undivided scenes, I ask myself if there are any plot holes. Like arrangement, plot holes are better off being solved sooner than later. I can do this by making notes or inserting new index cards for new scenes. But when I have reached the end and am certain there are no plot holes, that is when I consider the first draft done.
Now I can go back and revise all those notes, comments, highlights, and inserts. Now I can put on my editor hat and poet shirt. Because multiple revisions will be required before I can hand it to anyone for a test reading. But I’ll discuss revisions in the next article.