Sunday, January 31, 2016

Clamping Down on Errors in Published Books

As a self-published and traditionally published author, I spend a lot of time trying to find typos, spelling mistakes and grammatical errors in my work. Even after hiring a professional editor, it's a painstaking ordeal. The same is true when working with my publisher’s editorial team. Four of us will go over the book, yet a typo or two can still be found in the published product.

As a book reviewer, it’s pretty rare to find a book without a single typo, but the occasional typo doesn’t bother me as a reader. Unfortunately, it’s also incredibly common to find multiple typos, spelling inconsistencies, and grammatical errors in self-published books. It’s why I’m glad Amazon is implementing a new warning system on February 3 to would-be buyers. Frankly, I wish they did it long ago. Too many unhappy readers, including me, have wasted time and money on books filled with these types of errors.

Michael Kozlowski has written a short, useful blog about what authors need to know regarding the new warning system that flags books with lots of typos and/or formatting issues. Note that Amazon has been sending authors a list of misspelled words or poorly formatted books to correct for a while now, but this new warning upgrade will be public. Kozlowski also provides a link to show what it will look like, here.

As Kozlowski notes, authors inevitably have questions. For instance, what about the science fiction and fantasy authors who’ve created new words and languages? Well, the answer is that a lexicon can be implemented. You can read more about that in his blog.

How consumers and authors will respond to this remains to be seen. The point is that writers who haven’t paid enough attention to the editing and formatting of their books will have to do so now, or their sales will disappear.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

I Thought I was Over It

Last week, I cleared out the bottom drawer of my desk. It was jammed with file folders containing short story ideas from the days when I primarily wrote short fiction. I’d had trouble opening and closing the drawer for some time, so I just stopped looking at the files. I’d also read that one should keep everything, in case a gem of an idea would be needed some day. Maybe those writers hadn’t been at it long enough, but I have, and there clearly comes a time when one has to take stock and toss what is no longer useful. So, I went through each of the 20+ files and found only one idea worth keeping.

What astonished me about this exercise was the number of ideas I’d had, and the number of stories that were half finished. It’s a small miracle that I managed to not only complete but publish nearly sixty short stories, six novels and a novella. It was a long, hard haul to work on twelve drafts of that first book, Taxed to Death, and to learn to typeset it with Pagemaker, then do the same again with Fatal Encryption. But I did. Truthfully, I thought I’d mastered the art of finishing WIPS to the point of being publication ready, but I’m discovering, the hard way, that it’s still far easier said than done.

Over five years ago, I got the idea for my first urban fantasy, which will be quite different from anything I’ve ever written. Last year, I prepared a lot of notes and I felt ready to start writing, yet something kept stalling me. Based on a blog I read by James Clear, it turns out that this “something” is me.

Clear writes about the Akrasia Effect, which is why we don’t follow through on what we set out to do. (I recommend you read the whole piece)  In other words, it’s procrastination combined with the fact that human beings value immediate rewards rather than future ones. In fact, our brains prefer it, so we’ll do more immediate things to reward ourselves.

It sounds right, but for me, I think something else at play here, like the fear of messing up. Of spending huge amounts of time and energy going down a rabbit hole and realizing a) there is no way out, or b) I went down the wrong hole! Either way, facing the fear is a challenge. It doesn’t help that I have three major WIPS, two of which have an April 30th deadlines, on the go.

Clear’s blog outlines three strategies to help with procrastination. I’m definitely setting a date, time, and place to finally begin writing this fantasy. I won’t tell you when that it, but I will tell you once I’ve started.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

5 Reasons To Do @AprilAtoZ and 5 Reasons I'm Not -- Reblogged from Marian Allen, Author Lady

The April A to Z Blogging Challenge will be here before you know it. You can sign up for it at the April A to Z site. What's the challenge? To blog every day of April (except Sundays), beginning with a post inspired by the letter A and continuing through the month and the alphabet.

 5 Reasons To Do It
1. It's fun.
2. It's challenging.
3. You meet lots of nice people.
4. You discover lots of new-to-you blogs
5. You learn a lot, especially if you visit blogs outside your area of expertise.

I've done the challenge for five years, and it's always been great.

So why am I not doing it this year?
1. I already blog every day (including Sundays).
2. There are over a thousand participants already signed up. I know in my head that I'm not expected to visit them all every day, but the guilt I feel anyway is unpleasant.
3. One can access the list of participants on the sign-up page, so I can still visit any blogs that intrigue me without feeling obligated.
4. I have my own blogging schedule, and, as much fun as the challenge is, I don't want to sideline what I want to do in order to accommodate a month-long challenge.
5. Which I'll do in May, if I do the Story-A-Day May challenge again!

I never claimed to be consistent.

But, if you're looking for a great bunch of fun and supportive people to encourage you to at least try to blog daily, you can't do better than to attempt the A to Z challenge.

Did I mention it's fun?

They start sign-ups January 25, 2016 for this year's challenge. Fun!

Marian Allen, Author Lady
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Introducing Guest Blogger, Lois Winston

It’s a treat to introduce award-winning, multi-published Lois Winston on this week’s blog. As you’ll see from her bio, Lois has a great deal of experience to share not only through her work as an author but as a literary agent.

USA Today bestselling and award-winning author Lois Winston writes mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, women’s fiction, children’s chapter books, and nonfiction under her own name and her Emma Carlyle pen name. Kirkus Reviews dubbed her critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” In addition, Lois is an award-winning craft and needlework designer who often draws much of her source material for both her characters and plots from her experiences in the crafts industry. Visit Lois/Emma at and Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog, Follow everyone on Tsu at, on Pinterest at, and onTwitter at Sign up for her newsletter at

Lois’s excerpt from her book offers some great insights to Dialogue and Narrative. Enjoy!

Being both a published author and a literary agent has given me a unique perspective on publishing. I know what it's like to be the writer whose only desire is to sell a novel, and I know what it's like to have to crush someone's hopes with a rejection letter. It wasn't until I started sending out those rejection letters that I began to have a better understanding of why so many writers receive them.

As it turns out, most manuscripts are rejected for one or more of ten basic reasons. Writers have control over some of these reasons but not all of them. Over the years I’ve given writing workshops and talks on this topic. Afterwards, many attendees often urged me to write a book on the subject, which I eventually did. Top Ten Reasons Your Novel is Rejected and How to Avoid Them shows writers how they can control more of their destiny by not falling prey to many of these reasons. The following is an excerpt from the book:

Dialogue and Narrative

Dialogue is one of two ways authors can show their stories. The other is active narrative (scenes where stuff happens.) Well-written dialogue, like well-written scenes, will do one of two things – either advance the plot and/or tell the reader something essential about the characters. Poorly written dialogue reads like filler and bores readers.

Although dialogue should sound natural and realistic, it needs to be written crisply. We all speak with lots of extraneous words and interjections. We constantly repeat ourselves. We uhm and uhr and stutter and stumble more often than not, unless we’re members of Toastmasters or championship debaters. Even though these things are natural and realistic in the real world, they have no place in dialogue. Good dialogue shouldn’t make the reader want to shout, “Let’s get on with it. Spit it out already!”

Dialogue should also be more than just chitchat. It should cut to the chase, not be filled with banal pleasantries.

Example of a poorly written dialogue scene:

“Whatcha want, gorgeous?” said a deep, gravely voice with a heavy Brooklyn accent. He sounded like Fran Drescher on steroids.

What I’d really like was two tickets to the ballet instead of two tickets to a pro-wrestling musical extravaganza. Dave really hated the ballet as much as I really hated pro-wrestling, but I couldn’t very well buy him something for his birthday that he didn’t like or want, could I? Although, somehow I couldn’t see him standing on line for even thirty seconds, let alone thirty minutes, to buy ballet tickets for my birthday. I ran my fingers through my mass of curly red hair and bit down on my lower lip as I wondered, did that mean I loved Dave more than he loved me?

“Hey, red, you like wanna stop like mooning over The Boulder’s tight ass and like tell me whatcha want?” continued the male counterpart of Fran Drescher in a loud, booming voice. I noticed several people turn toward the ticket counter. “Like I ain’t got all day, you know,” he continued, his voice getting even louder.

“Uhm, Nori?” said Reese, tapping her French manicured nails on the shoulder of my taupe colored Ralph Lauren linen cropped jacket, the one I’d bought on sale at Macy’s to match the pencil skirt I was wearing. “It’s your turn. You, er, want to tell the guy what you want, so we can like get out of here, maybe, and go get something to eat before our lunch hour is over?”

I hadn’t realized I’d made it to the front of the line and Mr. Fran Drescher was talking to me. How absolutely embarrassing! I felt the heat quickly creeping up my neck and into my cheeks as I slowly turned to look at him. He was as wide as Fran was thin. He must have weighed three hundred pounds. He wore a skin-tight sleeveless black T-shirt with the red “AWE” logo emblazoned across his massive barrel of a chest. Muscles bulged on top of muscles on arms that were completely covered in tattoos in every imaginable color of the rainbow from his thick wrists up to his bulging shoulders. He had the thickest neck I’d ever seen, a shaved head, and an enormous gold nose ring, large enough to easily fit on my wrist, hanging down from his nostrils to his chin. I wondered how he could eat with that large thing dangling over his mouth.

He slowly drummed his beefy fingers on the counter as he leaned across, casually leering at me, as he said in a very sarcastic voice, “Any day now, doll.”
Now, if the ticket seller is a pivotal character in the story, he needs to be mentioned in detail, but certainly there are better ways to do it. However, if this is the only time he appears in the plot (which it is,) he doesn’t need to be described in such detail. And that’s just the beginning of what’s wrong with this dialogue passage.

Tag lines (he said, etc.) should only be used when it would be confusing to the reader not to use them. If the dialogue is between two characters, tag lines are extraneous because it’s obvious who’s speaking. The dialogue alternates between the two characters. If there are more than two characters in the scene, the tag line can still often be eliminated by the use of narrative action.

Then there’s the body language, which is nothing but filler. Good writing will only have a character engaged in body movements that are important enough for the point of view character to remember later. For instance, if Nori only bites down on her lower lip when she’s trying to rationalize something to herself, then the lip biting is a tell. (Note: This is different from telling your story. A tell is an action or trait that gives insight into a character. It’s often used in mystery and suspense when ferreting out the bad guys.) Maybe Nori really knows Dave isn’t in love with her and has been trying to convince herself otherwise. But if the lip biting is merely a body gesture for the sake of a body gesture, it’s filler and doesn’t belong in the passage.

Adverbs in tag lines should be used as little as possible. Well-written dialogue should use verbs that are very descriptive to the action instead of relying on adverbs. That doesn’t mean you should never use adverbs. Just make sure there’s a good reason for using them. Otherwise, they become a crutch.

Finally, description for the sake of description has no place in a well-written manuscript, whether as part of a tag line, in dialogue, or in narrative. Describe only that which is important to what is happening to the characters in the scene. If the hero and heroine are running through the subway, screaming for help as they flee an ax-wielding serial killer, the heroine isn’t going to notice the overflowing trash can filled with empty Starbucks cups nor the way the hero’s sea green and turquoise paisley tie is flapping around his neck as they race for the exit.

Dialogue by its nature will speed up pacing. Internalization (inner thoughts, monologues) will slow pacing. There’s a place for both. Good writing will have a balance, and depending on the genre, might lean more toward one than the other. But keep in mind wherever possible, you should strive to show your stories, not tell them. Too much internalization will make editors’ and agents’ eyes glaze over and result in a swift rejection.

So let’s look at that same dialogue scene written as it appeared in the book:

“Whatcha want, gorgeous?”

Two tickets to the ballet? I smiled to myself. Dave hated the ballet as much as I hated pro-wrestling. Payback would come on my birthday.

“Hey, red, you wanna stop mooning over The Boulder’s tight ass and tell me whatcha want? I ain’t got all day.”

“Nori.” Reese nudged me out of my reverie.

That’s when I realized I had made my way to the head of the line, and the thick-necked guy with the nose ring and shaved head was speaking to me. (from Talk Gertie To Me by Lois Winston)

Buy Links:

Top Ten Reason Your Novel is Rejected

Talk Gertie To Me

Sunday, January 10, 2016

My Two Cents for Indie Authors

As someone who self-published her first book twenty years ago, I’ve seen a lot of changes in indie publishing. Last year, I conducted several presentations and workshops, where the same types of questions cropped up from writers interested in self-publishing. “How much does it cost? Will I make any money?” and so on. Needless to say, there’s plenty of advice everywhere, and I’ve given my share in the past. But I still see big mistakes being made.

First, let me refer to some terrific tips for indie authors by KristenPainter, who discusses the importance of staying focused, being willing to accept advice, and remaining patient, among other things. These are difficult, but necessary goals for any writer.

One of the questions I’ve also been asked is “Do I really need to promote?”. The answer is yes, but not as much as one would think, especially if you’ve only released one title. I recently read some great advice from well-known New York literary agent Donald Maass. Although his book, The Breakout Novelist, addresses writers who intend to be traditionally published, the advice applies to indie writers. He says to spend less time promoting one’s first book and more time writing the second and third. Writing an original, action-packed story that you’re passionate about is the best promotion you can do in the long run.

I want to share a couple of things that I’ve noticed while reviewing books. Please spend the money to hire a decent editor and cover designer. I’m still reading too many great premises that are ruined because of poor editing. None of us can spot every single error in our work, and I’m not just talking about typos, but inconsistencies, lack of logic and subplots that simply don’t work. We all need help with this stuff.

Here’s another tip. Too many indie author are brooding about Amazon rankings or why Kindle Unlimited readers aren’t reading past the first page of an author’s book. Is this the best way to spend your time? Are the numbers even accurate? A recent article in WritersWeekly presents a strong argument that Amazon’s sales numbers aren’t reliable. There are so many forums and groups on social networking sites with mixed messages and information that it’s so easy to become distracted, confused, and even depressed. The best fix is to keep writing, find a great critique group (or start your own), then polish that manuscript to the best of your ability. It’s exciting to read an author whose work improves with every novel. Why shouldn’t it be yours?

Sunday, January 03, 2016

Are the Predictions Making Your Head Spin Yet?

I like to keep up with news about the writing biz, but right now many articles and blogs are focusing on predictions for 2016. Truth be told, I don’t have any predictions and won’t even try. I’d rather let things unfold and see what happens. But I am curious to learn what others have to say. This week, I read only four viewpoints before my head started to spin. This one example will explain why.

Jane Friedman wrote a piece on issues to watch for in the coming year. They’re not quite predictions, but she is looking ahead. Among her five issues, is the subheading “Sorry, But Print Sales Aren’t Surging”, where she questions (as do others) a New York Times piece about ebook sales slipping and print being far from dead. She refers to stats to support her argument. The Times article also refers to stats to support its premise.

Then there’s a Digital Book World blogger who’s stepped boldly forward to offer ten predictions for the coming year. The first one on his list is “Continued Regrowth of Print Sales”. Do you feel that tingling in your head yet? Amazon is referred to in both blogs, although not at opposite ends of the spectrum. Digital Book World believes that Amazon will operate more quietly thanks to all the bad PR from highly public battles in 2015, but that they will continue to pursue an aggressive marketing plan. Friedman thinks they’ll continue to tinker with programs such as KDP and Kindle Unlimited. Aggressive planning and tinkering don’t mean the same thing, and my point is who really knows? They are after all only predictions, right? Maybe I shouldn’t take any of it too seriously.

Of course, it’s good to know what’s going on in the industry, but I’ve found over the years that it’s pretty tough to find across-the-board agreement on anything. When it comes right down to it, no one really knows everything that’s going on, what the coming trends will be, or which publishing choices will earn a writer a decent income. Varied viewpoints are inevitable and even necessary, but for new writers they can also be a confusing slippery slope. For 2016, how about we just set some writing goals and get down to work while the year unfolds in its own unique way.

Happy 2016 and wishing you that you’ll accomplish all of your goals!!