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What You Wished For - A Writer's Journey

Read Book Reviews and Updates on My Latest Titles

My Blog

Don’t rush to publish. As an author, you hear it all the time. Except when you have a story you feel bound to tell, it’s hard—if not downright impossible—to heed such good advice, especially when your enthusiasm is running rampant. But it’s a truism that bears repeating: don’t rush to publish.

However, it is often a bit of advice that is best learned from experience. Because, of course, experience is a lesson easier to incorporate and appreciate than something learned through instruction or vicariously.

Another prime example of writing advice often neglected is know your audience. It’s also a valuable experiential lesson. Both truisms I am alternately ashamed and proud to say, I learned the hard way—through experience. Still, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

My debut novel, “At the End of the Rainbow,” was a carefully considered publication. It is the first of the “Will-o’-the-Wisp Stories.” There were copy editors, line editors and cover artists. It was all very professional and thoughtful, as were the recommendations that were made by them each.

One recommendation was to tighten up the prose. Only I wanted the story to have a more lyrical feel. This way it would read as a more contemporary retelling of a fairytale instead of a pithy story about a man, a woman, a murder (or two) and a kingdom in peril—all at the end of the proverbial rainbow.

In retrospect, though, had I not been so keen to tell the story, I probably would have made the format a little less lyrical and repetitive but not too much, because changing the lyrical quality and the reiteration would have changed the magical, Celtic oral storytelling tone and indeed, the intent of the tale. Suffice it to say, post-publication, I understood exactly what the editors were saying and why. After all, they were the professionals, not me.

The first impression readers have of your story is the only chance you have to make one. It’s not a thing to be squandered away lightly with one too many “he said, she said” moments. But it was my story to tell and I told it. Happily. Just as happily, I told the next story in the series, called “What You Wished For.”

“What You Wished For” was a much more compact story in format. But in my rush to get the second book to market, I didn’t use professional editors and there was the occasional after-market typo. Typos are always easier to find after publication, take my word for it. They are just as easy to spot if you just take your time during the pre-publication process. Hence the original advice, don’t rush to publish.

The take home point here, though, is write the story. You have to start somewhere, right? Writing is usually the easy part. But then comes editing. Edit. Then edit again. Wait a few weeks, edit a third time. After that, you can send your story for formatting. But this is the don’t rush to publish part: once your manuscript comes back formatted, don’t automatically hit that publish button.

Take a breather. Order an author copy or copies for advanced reader review. Catch those typos and continuity errors before you publish with a final edit (or maybe just one more), because time and distance is a wonderful thing when editing. Just saying, that’s what experience taught me.

Aside from that, I think you’ll find “At the End of the Rainbow” and “What You Wished For” engaging and inclusive reads. “These Are for Tears,” and “The Magpie’s Brood” are the next books coming in the series. These are stories that allow for and even encourage introspection and interpretation of personal motivators, events and the presence—or absence—of magic, fate and the sins of the past. Make these stories yours. By that, I mean make the stories applicable to what you might do in those same situations regardless of a sprinkling of magic here and there as embedded within the folklore of my family.

In other words, each story in the Wisp Stories (edited or not) simply asks that you believe. Just believe. And, oh yeah—be careful what you wish for. You might just have to write about it in a blog or something.

Do You Get Your Money’s Worth at Writers Conferences?

Writers conferences. Are they worth it? Many of them cost upwards of $150 and I suppose, for the longest time, that’s what kept me from attending one. But several authors or other book friends had recommended going. Repeatedly.

“You’ll have fun,” they said. “You’ll meet people and learn things! Go! Do it!”

Who was I to argue? These were people I admired. People who knew way more about writing, publishing and marketing than I did. So, I relented. I got out my credit card, dusted it off and registered for the Eastern Shore Writers Association “Bay to Ocean Writers Conference 2020” (BTO) held at Chesapeake College in Wye Mills, Maryland on March 7th.

That was at the beginning of the coronavirus spread. Attending a brick and mortar conference today would be inadvisable and impossible—for good reason. Our shared community mantra is now to wash your hands, look after each other, practice social distancing to lessen the possibility of surge capacity and most importantly, be kind to each other…but back to writers conferences, which you can still attend remotely.

I learned three things before I even walked in the door.

These events sell out quickly. Take advantage of the early bird registration option; it guarantees a seat and you save a fair amount off the regular registration price.

Registration often includes the price of annual membership to the sponsoring writers association. Nice!

The cost of attending is a tax deduction. Yay! Keep all your receipts.

This doesn’t include what I learned from the website. It provided a conference overview and a lot of session options. Most writers conferences are similarly structured. They offer writer tracks for all levels of knowledge and experience such as in poetry, fiction and non-fiction, and marketing, editing and publishing.

Generally, you’re asked to pre-select three or four preferred sessions for planning requirements. The selections don’t necessarily have to be in a single track. In fact, you’re encouraged to spread your wings and attend at least one session outside your comfort level.

If I had one regret, that would have been it – I should have attended something other than marketing and publishing. Not because the sessions weren’t beneficial. Because they were. But because learning something different is always good.

The writers association web page and conference overview also provide other valuable information beforehand. You can read up on the writers association provenance, the accomplishments of its members and the association usually allows you to link your books or other published works (poetry, flash fiction, short stories, anthologies and the like) to the site.

Plus, there are often other benefits associated with membership. These will vary but might include discounts on formatting and editing services, or special publication opportunities.

Then, there is the networking and I still hadn’t stepped foot into a classroom. Networking can be a bit scary, especially if you’re an introvert. Eek! But everyone was nice. Helpful, even. And they all had business cards. Helpful hint: take your own business cards. Your card doesn’t have to be expensive.

There are plenty of templates for home printer use. Only make sure you use card stock, something easy to read and that all the information on it is current and correct. Take my word, you don’t want to find out later that the Facebook link you provided is not yours but some chick with the same name (don’t ask).

If you have branded swag, you can bring that too. Don’t worry if you don’t have any goodies though because, truthfully, all you need is the business cards—and you should pass them out like candy.

The sessions? These will obviously be different depending on where you attend, whether it’s a one- or two-day conference, and the caliber of the presenters. For BTO, there were five tracks: Beginners Fiction; Advanced Fiction; Poetry; Editing, Publishing and Marketing, and Craft and Non-Fiction. Each track was approximately an hour, or 45 minutes of “lecture” and 15 minutes of “questions.”

A lot, I mean, a lot of material was covered. Let me give you some examples. I exclusively attended the Editing, Publishing and Marketing track so I’m not too conversant on some of the material.

Beginners Fiction covered such topics as improving writing skills, the types of dialogue and how to use them effectively, how characterization helps an actor find motivation for a role, streamlining your work, and what plot points are.

Advanced Fiction covered such topics as writing flash fiction, how to write from the perspective of the opposite sex, the psychology of writing a hook, writing in novel formats, writing short and long-form fiction.

Poetry covered such topics as point of view, constructing a sonnet, revising your work, concision and composition, and introduction to pi-ku.

Craft and Non-Fiction covered such topics as building and borrowing story structures, using emotion in your writing to combat injustice, writing a family memoir, using historical location and context, and playwrighting.

Editing, Marketing and Publishing covered such topics as how to get published in a magazine or journal, publishing options, first impressions and editing, career survival, and building a marketing strategy.

Wow! First, let me say I had no idea what concision was, or pi-ku (but contextually, it was easy to figure), and streamlining or combating social injustice would have been way cool to learn more about but I got every penny of what I paid for in the Editing, Marketing and Publishing track.

The getting published in a magazine or journal session was primarily for poets but it was easily applicable to flash fiction, essays and short stories. I learned how to research who is accepting submissions, which honestly was no different from subbing a novel to a traditional publisher, but the speaker was kind enough to share stories about rejection letters and resilience, and that was pretty funny.

Publishing options was a fascinating session. The speaker talked about traditional vs. indie publishing and the pros and cons of each. He spoke extensively on small to medium-sized publishers and what they can offer, but also what they expect of you in the marketing process because it’s more of a collaboration than working with the Big Five. He also talked about the proper and professional way to sub a novel.

Professional editing was an eye-opener session. There was a goodly amount of information about how you can be taken advantage of by what are, essentially, vanity publishers. These are publishers who

charge thousands of dollars for editing services that should cost only a tenth of that. The speakers offered advice on how to vet an editor and the differences between line editing, content editing and continuity editing.

By far, the two best for my money sessions were career survival, and then building a marketing strategy, both of which started with the premise of why are you getting published since that determines which path to take on your writing journey.

To use a bit of concision, suffice it to say that diversification is your friend. Having a backlist of stories is a marketing ploy to become familiar with as soon as possible, as is tying some other product to your “brand” and stories.

Did I mention you also get breakfast, snacks and lunch, a keynote speaker, handouts, free and sincere advice, and new friends? Therefore, if I divide the five-hour sessions and add in the keynote speaker’s address and meals and the writers association membership fee, I made out like a bandit. Really. When we have a better handle on the coronavirus, or you can attend a writers conference remotely, do it!

You’ll have fun. You’ll meet people and learn things.

I did.

Special thanks to BTO 2020, and the speakers who made it memorable for me: Tara A. Elliott, Austin Camacho, Michele Chynoweth, Judy Reveal, Robert Bindinotto, and Ariele Sieling.”Part of that commitment is research and learning from your mistakes. Finding a mentor can be useful. Mentors often help avoid costly mistakes. Having said this, I learned more from my mistakes and the more costly, the better the lesson.

What Have I Done?

OMG! What have I done? I ask myself that a lot—more so since I’ve become a writer—because really, what did I just do? Its corollary, of course, is what were you thinking. Writing a book, jeez. Are you a glutton for punishment?

To be honest, all I’d done was something I’d always wanted to do: write professionally. It’s not as daunting a task as you might think but it does require you make a commitment to getting it done.

Here are my top ten mistakes and what I learned from them (and scurrying to correct):

Whatever you write, write to your audience. This is true whether you write tech manuals, interviews, fiction, non-fiction, poetry or plays, etc. Sometimes this means you will need to limit your narrative focus or ruthlessly edit content. The caveat here is you need to understand why you write. Is it to tell a story or to make money? Because writing for profit makes understanding your audience and the market crucial.

Research your stories and fact check. Even if you are world building, some things just aren’t physically possible. And heaven forbid you write something scientifically flawed. Believe me, there is nothing that will honk a reader off more than getting science, historical facts, familiar locations, and events which you referenced wrong. Obviously, this doesn’t apply to faeries, aliens, shifters and the like. We may have been told they don’t exist, but we know they do—especially in paranormal romance and urban fiction.

Write from experience and observation when you can. Its corollary is write what you know. Writing with experiential voice or understanding of the human condition is always more believable. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing about something foreign to you. Get in touch with the sensation or emotion of the thing to evoke the appropriate mood and response.

Make friends. Making friends expands your knowledge base. It allows you to covertly study characters, their weird motivations and to write about their lives in a thinly veiled attempt to hide the fact your friends might be vampires, shifters or the occasional serial killer. Besides, friends make interesting beta readers and accomplices (when needed).

Create a social presence. Do it before you publish. Give people a chance to get to know you before you jump into the soft sell or hard marketing of your books. But it’s never too late to do it. Just make sure you have a presence on at least one platform – more if you can manage it.

Brand yourself. This is really important. Get a logo or theme. Do something quirky so people will remember you. Wear a trademark color or bit of jewelry and accessory for all your pictures and appearances. Adopt an affectation (actually, don’t do that—just be yourself). Keep your book covers in similar design themes and font style. Definitely get a tag line. You want to create a brand that is easily identifiable.

Get an editor. OMG. Just get an editor. They make a difference. Indie or traditional, it doesn’t matter. Talk to them, get a contract and don’t use a vanity publisher. Editing is essentially a built-

in service if you go the traditional or small publishing house route but make sure it’s someone you can work with. Editors are your best friends. Trust me on this.

Link your books. Linking your books is free advertising. So is a backlist. Backlists are where it’s at—all my romance readers out there, stop tittering. A backlist is the number of books available in your catalog: novels, short stories, anthologies, whatever. You want them easily discovered when readers click on your name, site, media, etc.

Budget your time. Remember you have a life. Keep balance in it or you will quickly find yourself overwhelmed, exhausted, staring at a blank page and neglecting those you love. Don’t do that. Find a system of time management that works for you and don’t be afraid to revise it when necessary.

Do what you love. You’d think that was self-explanatory. It’s not. If you find you don’t love what you’re doing, stop. Take a break, at least. Writing shouldn’t be a chore. Editing might be, but not writing.

Bottomline, go out there and do something you’ve always wanted. It doesn’t have to be writing. It can be gardening, learning to make eclairs, dancing naked under the moonlit sky. Whatever. Don’t put it off until “there’s time” or you will regret it. 

Five-Star Review Systems

What do indie mystery, fantasy and romance book reviewers do? Well, we spend a lot of time talking about books that make us wonder, cry or swoon--or cry and swoon at the same time. We talk about Babylon 5, and the Star Trek canon, a lot. I mean, who doesn’t like the Vulcan philosophy of Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations, right? But what we really do a lot, is read. Reading is our thing.

It doesn’t matter what the genre is we're reviewing although I tend to gravitate to paranormal romance. Why? Because we’re all, at heart, starry-eyed dreamers, of course. We believe the real world might be fraught with danger or monsters or injustice and bias except at the end of a good book, we not only survive but triumph, and fall in love…

Sometimes, though, we need a good murder mystery, heist caper, alien invasion, biography, horror story or maybe some iambic pentameter. We ask you to submit your work for review. If you do, don’t worry, we’ll treat you with care because we understand you’ve put your blood, sweat and tears into it.

If we can’t connect with your work, we’ll usually ask another reviewer to take a look but we will always give you an honest review—one that reflects not only industry standards (punctuation, grammar, structure) and also our personal preferences.

We use a five-star system to review books,focusing on characters, plot and subplot, writing style and cover artwork.

What do those stars mean?

* A one-star rating is a book that doesn’t meet industry standards. There are numerous writing errors, continuity errors, undeveloped characters, and formatting concerns. The reviewer would not recommend this book to others but hopes you will continue to work at the craft and improve.

** A two-star rating is a book that meets minimum industry standards and is unlikely to be recommended to others. You might look at the author’s back list to see if you can find something interesting, though.

*** A three-star rating is a book that meets industry standards. It is recommended to others. The books are enjoyable. You might recognize the author’s name when you see it again and are looking with interest for their projects.

**** A four-star rating exceeds the industry standards. It is highly recommended to others. Not only are the books enjoyable but engaging too. You are probably following the author.

***** A five-star rating far exceeds the industry standards. It is highly recommended to others. Besides being enjoyable and engaging, it is memorable. The story resonates with the reviewer. As a result, you can’t wait for the writer’s next book!

There is another infrequently used category – DNF or Did Not Finish. These are books that were difficult to follow. Most of us, because we love books, will stick with a book for the first three to five chapters, or skip ahead to random pages to determine if the book is just a slow starter. If not, we ask for a second opinion from another reviewer.

Sometimes a DNF is because it’s the wrong book at the wrong time, it’s a trope you don’t like, or it has triggers that make it unreadable.

Putting your work out there and making yourself vulnerable to criticism is probably the most challenging part of writing. But there are more pros than cons to submitting your work for review. Reviews given through a trusted source, one that uses industry standards as its guide, make the process easier.

Non-professional reader reviews can be a bit more fickle as reviews on Amazon, Goodreads and other platforms will prove. I won’t tell you that a “poor” review regardless of whether it comes from a professional or amateur reviewer doesn’t sting. It does.

However, platform reviews are free publicity. Good or bad, they count toward the system algorithm. This has the benefit of boosting your presence for free on the platform once you meet their boost threshold.

And you can usually hide unfavorable reviews on a platform or, if the review is placed by someone with a grudge—they can be removed by the platform administrators. I have an author friend who, once a year, takes all his “bad reviews” and posts them for their entertainment value, which I think is very clever. Funny too.

The important thing to remember though, is just because I like your book doesn’t mean anyone else will. But its corollary is also true—just because I didn’t like it, doesn’t mean others won’t love it.

Your book has an audience and we’ll try to help you find it. Because the only thing we like more than reading, is getting to know the authors in their infinite diversity and infinite combinations.