Tag: AIW Press

Can You Judge a Book by Its Cover?

Can You Judge a Book by Its Cover?

Years after I first read Where are The Children, I purchased a hardback classic edition copy.

Okay, confession time. As much as I love my Kindle and the opportunity to carry an entire library in my purse, I often miss making visits to a brick and mortar bookstore. There is something to be said about perusing the aisles filled with dozens of books.

And way back before the days of Internet shopping, online reviews, and social media, readers often had to rely on word of mouth when selecting books. Reading the back cover or the first page of a book was a factor for me before deciding if I wanted to check out a book from the library or make a purchase. Especially if the author was unfamiliar. But before I opened the book, before I turned it over to read the back, I first looked at the front. If I found the cover to be appealing, then I would move to the next step.

I’m a big fan of mystery and suspense novels. I still recall the first time I saw a book by the now famous author, Mary Higgins Clark. I was at a bookstore (in the fiction section, no less) when I saw the spine of Where Are The Children. The title got my interest, so I pulled a copy from the shelf and looked at the cover. I saw a house located beside a body of water. Tall brown grass indicated to me the story likely took place in the autumn.  But the thing that intrigued me most was the single red mitten in the foreground.

After reading the back cover, which further piqued my interest, I walked to the register, bought the book, took it home and began to read. Years later, I’ve read dozens of Mary’s books and have to say she is probably the author who most inspired me to write mystery and suspense stories.

And it all began with a book cover.

A few years ago, a friend of mine loaned me a book that was written (and self-published) by someone she knew. I kept it around the house for a few weeks, but I never opened it to look inside. Why? The cover looked amateurish. The back was plain white. No author information. No blurb. Nothing. I can’t even remember the title of the book or what was on the front, but I do know it was no more appealing that the back side. The content may have been high-quality writing and an interesting topic, but the writer lost me by not having a good cover.

To be honest, I have read (or attempted to read) some books in which I liked the covers but not the story itself. No matter how pleasing a cover looks, if your content isn’t good, readers won’t continue to purchase your books. But having a professionally designed cover is a must. It’s worth spending a few dollars to hire someone who is an expert at what they are doing. In the long run, you’ll be glad you did.

 

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Four Steps to Writing a Substantive Book Review

Four Steps to Writing a Substantive Book Review

FeedbackIf you’re on a publisher’s site—like, for instance, this one 😉 —you likely know book reviews matter. Amazon determines your ranking and whether they’ll promote you in part by the number of reviews you have. Readers use them to determine if they want to buy your book. Promo sites like BookBub use them as criteria for acceptance.

Despite their importance, a perusal of Amazon book reviews shows many are virtually useless due to their lack of pertinent information.

Let’s consider these reviews:

  • Great book.
  • I loved it.
  • Not my cup of tea.

Yes, those are actually reviews I’ve found on Amazon. Not really much there to help me make a decision. How about you?

Today, I’m going to give you the four-step blueprint for writing a substantive and helpful book review. This does not mean the review is a five-star recommendation. Helpful reviews can point out flaws just as much as they can showcase quality. But whether you want to sing the book’s praises or express (polite) dissatisfaction, there are steps to follow—steps that will result in a thoughtful and honest assessment of the text.

  1. Introduction
    This is where the title, author, and genre are provided. But there’s more to it. Give the reader insight into your reason for reading the book to begin with. Did the cover appeal to you? Was it a compelling description? A recommendation from someone else? Did you happen to stumble across it when you browsed a favorite genre? Also, consider sharing your feelings here. Did the cover, blurb, or book itself coax fond memories or inspire any desires? Your opinion matters, and it could be the difference between someone reading the book or moving on to a different title.
  2. Summary
    The back-cover copy isn’t long enough to tell people what the book is about. Spend a paragraph or two analyzing the content of the story. Talk about plot, character, setting, and pacing. Give readers an opportunity to know what’s in the book, but don’t reveal any spoilers. That would ruin their experience and could cost the author a sale.
  3. Analysis
    RatingsThis section reveals whether the book followed through on its promise. Did the blurb promise an epic romance, an action-packed quest, a suspenseful mystery? Tell the reader—again, without writing any spoilers—whether it met, exceeded, or fell short of your expectations. And tell them why. This is not the section where you say whether you liked the book. This is about success. If you are someone who only enjoys happily-ever-after endings and the book you’re reviewing ends with death and destruction, you won’t like it. And that’s fine. But was the book successful? Was it well-written? It’s not fair for you to pan the story just because of your personal preferences. Well-crafted stories should be given high marks, regardless of your feelings. And the opposite is true for poorly-written work. It may give you your happy ending, but if the characters were one-dimensional and the work riddled with grammatical errors and cheesy plot devices, it doesn’t deserve five stars.
  4. Result
    This is where you say whether you liked the story. Reviewers often start here, but it should come last because this section is actually the least important part of a review. In fact, it can be left off entirely. If you choose to include this section, consider making a recommendation rather than a proclamation. Instead of “I loved this story,” or “This book wasn’t for me,” maybe you can just say, “Fans of [insert another author name here] will enjoy this book.” It’s much more diplomatic, and it takes the pressure off you to reveal your private thoughts.

Tips:

  • You may not be able to leave a unicorns-and-rainbows review, but you can be constructive in your comments. Always strive to remain objective and polite.
  • If you are an author, be cautious about leaving blatantly negative reviews. Yes, you are entitled to your opinion, but Amazon could consider your review to be a personal attack designed to denigrate a competitor. If that’s their determination, they may delete your books and your account from their site.
  • If you really can’t think of a single positive comment, consider the possibility that it’s your own biases and not the author’s work. Try to give the benefit of the doubt and critique analytically rather than emotionally.
  • Remember, Amazon is the big dog in the yard, but it’s not the only dog. Add your review to Goodreads, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo, etc. You don’t need to write new reviews for each site; just copy and paste the original. It may take you a few extra minutes, but it won’t take too much longer and you could be helping an author gain traction in an overly saturated market.

Did I forget anything? Do my steps vary from yours? Let’s talk about reviews in the comments below.

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First Draft or Stream of Consciousness?

First Draft or Stream of Consciousness?

It may be the first time you’re tackling a writing project or the thousandth time, but you’re not alone. We are all guilty of it at some point. “Stream of consciousness” writing. We sit down and start writing whatever comes to our minds first.

For a lot of authors, this is a great way to brainstorm or to get the beginnings of a scene or character outline mapped out. But for many who are just starting out, it’s difficult to tell the difference between the stream of consciousness writing that kick starts our creative juices and the “crappy first draft” (as many writers like to call their first cohesive draft of a project—if not an even more colorful name) that is the framework for a work-in-progress (WIP).

 

Identifying Stream of Consciousness Writing

One of the quickest ways to tell if your current WIP is in its first draft phase is to take a step back and read it. If it reads like a diary entry, going off on tangents and with ideas headed in all different directions, then your work-in-progress is actually just stream of consciousness writing. Many new authors mistake this as a first draft because it’s the first time they are getting their ideas down on paper. Unfortunately, writing is a little more complicated than that, and it requires a bit more leg work in its beginning stages.

 

Using Stream of Consciousness to Your Advantage

Something important to keep in mind, especially if you are a first time writer, is that stream of consciousness writing isn’t bad. It can be very useful, especially when you’re just trying to get words out onto the page. Any writer will tell you that some days, that’s a struggle! Some days, just writing a short, fifty-word exercise seems like a monumental achievement. And let’s face it, writer’s block is a real problem. Getting words down on the page can give you that small victory you need to keep plowing forward in your writing goals.

Another thing to keep in mind is that your stream of consciousness writing is not where your editing process should stop. While getting the words onto the page is important, it is still just the first step to envisioning your ideas. The first draft should always have some kind of structure and timeline to it, with a real framework to build off of. If you don’t have that, you’re still stuck in the stream.

 

Turning Stream of Consciousness into a First Draft

Experienced authors will tell you that even their first drafts have first drafts, and they aren’t joking. In order to reach the coveted “drafting” stage of writing, an author will go back over their brainstorming, research, and outlines with a fine-tooth comb looking for like concepts, timelines, and cohesion. Those stream of consciousness ideas that went off on random tangents or maybe that stemmed new concepts are reordered and organized into paragraphs and chapters that follow an ordered and structured chain of events. They become the framework for the first draft of a story.

 

Whether you’ve been writing for twenty years or twenty seconds, it can be easy to get caught up in the excitement of getting your ideas from your head into tangible words on the page. Keep in mind that while this is exciting, those words still have a long way to go before they are ready for the final edits.

Always remember to keep writing, keep editing, and keep reading. Eventually, you will become a pro at converting your stream of consciousness into a completed work in progress.

Top Ten Critique Tips

Top Ten Critique Tips

Top 10 Tips for Improving Your Fiction

Do you need help putting the finishing touches on your masterpiece?

Are you stuck on a chapter and need some advice?

All authors need a second set of eyes on their work. Someone that will give honest feedback and check for errors. If they ask for your help, they trust you and value your opinion. They are depending on your skills to make their story better.

Below are the top ten tips to providing a helpful critique.

Remember, if this isn’t your favorite type of story, let the author know. However, don’t be afraid to critique something if you’re not familiar with the genre. While reading, consider the target audience before making suggestions. An honest evaluation is critical for any author.

 

 

1. Begin by reading the piece.
Don’t make any corrections or judgments until you have read the complete work. This will give you a feel of the story and tone the author is using.
2. Write down your thoughts as a reader.
After you have finished the initial reading let the author know what you thought about his work. Tell her what worked for you and what you believe needs changing.
3. Suggest feedback on what could be changed including grammar and spelling.
If you don’t like the description, give an alternative. For example, “The ride was boring.” You think it would be better is the author used “The ride dragged on for ten hours and all you could see from the window were cornfields for miles.”
4. Give praise if you liked something but never criticize the author personally.
This is important for the author. If something made you smile, touched you in any way, or made you hate the villain, let the author know. This feedback will help the author make corrections to that work as well as in composing future writings. If you didn’t like something, don’t attack the author directly. Suggest an alternative. Let the author know that passage didn’t work and why, and then suggest an alternative.
5. Does the opening draw you in?
Most readers judge a book in the opening few pages. If the opening doesn’t grab you, most likely it won’t grab the reader. Let the author know why you didn’t like it. Give her a suggestion to make it better.
6. Does the story flow logically?
Tell the author if there are holes in the plot. For example; if you are in a hospital and want information on a non-relative patient, you wouldn’t be able to go ask the doctor or see the information regarding that patient in the computer. Also, you cannot know something just because you need it to advance the plot. The story needs to get there logically.
7. Is the setting detailed enough to ground the reader?
Give the reader subtle clues as to where you are. You can use nurses, doctors, and the operating room to set the scene in the hospital without saying you are in a hospital.
8. Are the characters well rounded or one note?
Give the reader information about the characters in casual conversation or in small amounts in narration. The reader doesn’t want to read an entire chapter describing what a character looks like and does for a living. And remember—even villains have some redeemable quality, so factor that into your descriptions.
9. Does the author switch point of view?
Did the author stray from the current character point of view to another point of view? Does she head hop? If you are telling a story from the man’s point of view, you cannot have a paragraph from the woman’s point of view.

For example:
Max spied the redhead sitting alone at the bar. She was tiny, had red hair, and a beautiful smile. Max hoped she would notice him.

At first, Fiona just played with her drink, stirring it with the tiny straw. Finally, she looked up and locked eyes with Max. Her heart pounded with excitement.

In this example, the POV character is Max. That means the second paragraph is out of POV (or there was head-hopping) because it’s not from Max’s perspective, but rather is from Fiona’s. This is distracting to readers and should be avoided.
10. Show. Don’t tell.
For example; he was angry.

This sentence tells us the man was angry. To show us the man was angry, try this instead:

John stomped across the room, tackled Ralph , and pinned him to the ground. While down, he repeatedly punched him, beating him until his face was unrecognizable.


The critique process is vital to producing a well-crafted novel. But remember, critiques are only suggestions by your critique partners and you don’t need to follow every suggestion. So find someone you trust and start a working critique relationship.

There you have it. The top ten tips to becoming a good critique partner. Do you have any other tips to add? Let’s talk about it.

 

Quick and Easy Editing Tips

Quick and Easy Editing Tips

Whether you are traditionally published or an Indie author, self-editing is an absolute must. While there is no substitute for hiring a professional editor, there are a few tips writers can do before submitting that manuscript to an editor, publisher, or even beta readers.

Look for “crutch” words

Every author tends to rely on what I call crutch words. These are different for every writer, but reading through your finished manuscript will enable you to become familiar with your own. As you review, look for repeated words or phrases. Some of my crutch words are well, perhaps, and so.

There is nothing wrong with any of these words, but I have a habit of starting sentences with well and so. “Well, I planned to go to town,” or “So, what’s the next step?” In both cases, I can eliminate the first word without changing the meaning of the sentence. If you find you overuse a word, but leaving it in some places is a must, then refer to a thesaurus for synonyms.

Look for “red flag” words or phrases

We’re all familiar with passive vs. active voice. Using active voice is always best. Words such as here, there, of, was, were, will be, to be, thought, felt, heard, saw, and smelled are often a key to the use of passive voice.

I’m not saying it’s always bad to use these words, but when you see one of them think of ways you can rephrase. Rearranging a sentence often results in changing from passive to active.

Look for “-ly” words

I’m not going to say never use an adverb, but it’s always better to use an active verb. Consider the following sentence. He walked slowly down the sidewalk. He sauntered down the sidewalk gives the reader a better visual image.

Look for “dead” and overused words

Words such as that, just, and very, if overused are known as dead words. Most of the time you can eliminate them and not change the meaning of your sentence. As an example, “This is the most fun that I’ve had in a long time.” Instead say, “This is the most fun I’ve had in a long time.”

I admit to having a hard time removing the word just. But when I say, “He just left,” what am I saying?  Five, ten, fifteen minutes? A better way might be, “He left about fifteen minutes ago.”

Of note, we often use the word just when speaking. Using it in dialogue is okay, but still use it sparingly.

Self-editing isn’t hard. The more you write, it becomes easier to spot the things I’ve mentioned here. This isn’t a comprehensive list of editing tips, but taking these few simple steps will make your manuscript much cleaner before you send it to an editor.

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10 Ways to Improve Your Fiction Writing

10 Ways to Improve Your Fiction Writing

Top 10 Tips for Improving Your FictionLooking for a down and dirty list for story writing improvement? Look no further.

Here the top ten ways to hone your fiction writing skills:

10. Dissect novels you enjoy.
Look through your favorite novels by other authors for techniques and tricks to improve your characterization, settings, plot, pacing, dialogue, and exposition.

9. Keep your eyes peeled for sources of stories.
Watch people in public settings, take note of funny family events, analyze television shows and films, consider news stories. Ideas are everywhere.

8. Conflict is key.
Don’t let your characters have it too easy for too long. Conflict makes fiction interesting.

7. Hone your characters’ voices.
Don’t let all of them sound the same. Every person thinks and feels things differently in real life. Characters are no different.

6. Follow a three-act structure.
There’s a reason that formula is so prevalent in plays, film, and fiction. It works. The hook and rising action take up the first quarter. The three conflicts and responses take up the second two quarters. And the last quarter deals with the climax and resolution.

5. Work with a theme.
Whether you outline or not (and I’m an advocate for outlining), a theme will help you focus your message.

4. Symbolism increases the potency of your message.
Imagery and symbols can add continuity to your message and strengthen it.

3. Start with a strong hook.
After your cover and your back cover copy, your opening is what will determine if people buy/finish reading your story. Don’t start with scenery descriptions or back story. Start where the story really begins—with change to the status quo.

2. Use secondary characters to your advantage.
Secondary characters can provide necessary comedic relief and help advance plot. They also add a complexity, richness, and authenticity to your storyworld.

1. Vary your sentence structure.
Short, choppy sentences indicate high-action and tension. Long, descriptive sentence denote exposition and a break in the action. Both are necessary. Besides, the variety makes for more interesting reading in addition to indicating the pace.


So, there you have it. The top ten things to keep in mind when you write fiction.

And for every point I wrote up there, I bet you can think of ten of your own that I didn’t include. Why not share some of your tips in the comments below?

Not Our First Rodeo

Not Our First Rodeo

UnshodActually, yes, it is our first rodeo. Well, it’s our first western, anyway. We marketed this with the tagline: Not Your Granddaddy’s Westerns. Why? Because, well, for starters, there are no rodeos in this anthology. (Well, there is a small rodeo scene in one of the stories, but it’s not your average cowboy tale.) Not many of the stories fit into the “Old West” fiction trope.

When you think of westerns, you probably think of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood. Tumbleweeds and prairies. Old saloons and brothels. Six-shooters and dynamite. White-hat sheriffs and black-hat outlaws.

That’s the old west. And that’s fine. It’s a tried and true genre; one enjoyed by multiple generations.

The official definition of a “western” though is a story that takes place west of the Mississippi River. And that leaves a lot up to interpretation.

In Unshod, we accepted a wide range of stories—modern and historical, romance and action, realistic and supernatural. We accepted them because they embraced the definition of “western” in the broadest sense of the term, while allowing authors the freedom to explore many facets of the genre and readers to immerse themselves in various types of stories.

Traditionalists might be scandalized by the thought of a modern western or a supernatural love story, but many readers loved the contemporary twist this anthology offers.

As warmer weather rolls around and rodeos ride into towns across the country, we invite you to check out Unshod. They’re not your granddaddy’s westerns, but they’re darn good.Unshod

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Proud to Announce a New Generation of Westerns

Proud to Announce a New Generation of Westerns

UnshodAIW Press is proud to announce the western of the 21st century. Nine talented authors seamlessly blend the enormity of the vast open prairie and imposing mountain ranges of the old west with the fresh perspectives of modern technologies and problems—and melds them into a new version of a western.

These stories are set west of the Mississippi, but don’t expect gunslingers and duels at High Noon. These stories are more sophisticated, more subtle, more thought-provoking.

Feel the pain of a young Japanese girl who comes home from an internment camp after World War II and learns it’s easier to go with the flow than to fight the current.

Struggle with an expectant mother on the cold winter prairie while she waits for her husband to come home from a hunting trip.

Journey with a young woman to the Four Corners as she tries to connect with her Navajo ancestors.

Try not to believe in the superstition of the blue moon—if one dies, three more will follow.

Know that one way or another, life will change inalterably that day.

Walk in the footsteps of an old cowpoke who thought he made the deal of a lifetime.

Suffer the torments of a young lady who wants desperately to marry but seems destined never to wed.

Walk the wild western paths and run from unimaginable dangers.

Choose between an unhappy life of luxury or a happy life of simplicity.

Nine female authors pen western tales that you’ll want to retell around a campfire. These aren’t your granddaddy’s westerns. They’re the next generation’s, and they’re darn good.

Unshod’s authors. Please give their sites a visit:

Jan Morrill
Pamela Foster
Staci Troilo
Joan Hall
P.C. Zick
Janna Hill
Michele Jones
Francis Guenette
Lorna Faith

You can download Unshod here:

Amazon | B&NiBooks | Kobo | Inktera | Scribd | 24 Symbols

Jenga—The Muse

Jenga—The Muse

Pamela Foster wears many hats, and whether she wants to claim “writer” as one of them, she not only wears it, she wears it with panache. Through personal experience, humor, and tough love, Pamela will discuss ways to move past the things that hold writers back in these series of posts titled, “Jenga—Knocking Over Writers’ Blocks.”

Shower Scene

showerTaking a shower frees my muse. Something about hot water unknotting muscles, limited visibility, and the sensual feel of soap on bare skin – creativity seeps in with the steam. This morning while lathering my hair with shampoo, I became a new character.

Yes, you read that correctly. I did not think of a new character. I became a new character.

Here’s how:

I have arrived lately at the realization that I have no way of understanding most of what goes on today. In particular, I am lost in the world that young people must navigate. I have young friends who struggle daily, hourly, with making enough money to feed and shelter themselves. What can I tell them to provide hope? I know half a dozen kids who have watched parents or lovers or brothers and sisters destroy themselves with drugs. What can I offer to heal wounds that go that deeply? I have a Facebook friend whose lover, her best friend in the world, was murdered by cops while walking home from his job late at night. Mistaken identity. What possible words can I offer this young woman when she cries out for help late in the night?

I am a writer, and yet I feel inadequate, too old, too out-of-touch to offer a single original thought on life. What possible thoughts can a sixty-five year-old woman offer that will make any difference at all?

Return with me to the shower scene.

Luxuriating in hot water, thankful to be standing relatively pain-free, I reached for the shampoo. A new bottle. Not my usual supermarket grab, but a bottle chosen at leisure on a day of respite, a day of walking on the beach followed by a stop at a boutique beauty store. In the steam and with my eyes partly closed, it took me a few seconds to figure out how to open the fancy new bottle. Turned out to be one of those twist and click deals. I squeezed a dollop into the palm of my hand. It looked, felt, smelled pretty much exactly like my usual bargain brand.

fancy blue bottleSo, I probably paid four times the amount of money for the same product I usually buy at the supermarket. Except this shampoo is in a fancy blue bottle made from recycled beer bottles and undoubtedly tested on soft little bunny rabbits and cute waddling duckies.

Right there, at that precise moment, I straightened up, allowed myself to follow the character who had just materialized in my shower. An older woman, clueless in the maze of today’s world, yet a woman who maintains her humor and love and desire to make a difference, a woman who yearns to leave the world a better place than she found it.

So, right now, some of you are saying, “But that’s you! That’s just you, not a new character.”

Well, of course, you’re right.

But you’re also wrong.

Certainly this character springs from my own frustration and desires, but while I am busy to the point of exhaustion most days with the demands and challenges of my own small life, this woman who came to me in the shower is ready and willing to take the time to explore new scenarios, new settings, she wants to explore a new story.

I’m going to follow her.


When writers’ block rears its ugly head, try a relaxing shower or bath. Immerse yourself in scented lather and let the water wash the stresses and the uncertainty away. Become someone else, become a new character, and when you’re relaxed—and dry—write that new story.

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