Wednesday, July 20, 2011

To review or not to review?

When I started out with self-publishing, I promised myself to review every book I buy and read, simply because I knew every authors yearns for reviews. Now, I came to the conclusion that it's better to not do it anymore. The point is, and I know I'll be making enemies by saying this, I've tried a few self-published books and soon switched on my editin- programme in my head, which is a bad sign, really. Of course, being an editor has somewhat destroyed the ability to just read and take in the story, I will admit that. A book must be really well-written, with well-developed characters, a complex story with no holes in them and logical.
If a book fails to fulfil that, I will stop reading and move on to the next. Others might not see those mistakes, but I do. Not saying I've written the perfect book, but moving away from me being an author, to me being a reader, I have high expectations and rightly so. I did have those beforehand and I have stopped reading traditionally published books in the past, but not that many.

My first impulse is to e-mail the author and tell him or her about my concerns, but then you have cases like the infamous author, who couldn't take criticism and hell broke loose. Further on, it's not my responsibility to give constructive criticism; I'm a reader, by buying the book and spending time with it, I've fulfilled what can be expected from me.

Back to me being an author again I feel a little bit in a pickle; if I give a negative review, I might be in danger of getting one in return, just for revenge, or when I give a positive review - despite my dislike of the book - I'd lie and I don't like lying.

In addition to that, pure readers check out the reviewers of a book and indie authors reviewing other indie authors is widely understood as cheating. People automatically assume it's a review exchange. I will also not tell an author anymore that I've bought his or her book, in case I don't like it, I can just walk away, silently, but if I really love a book, I'll be there to support it. And that's a promise.

Disclaimer: I'm an editor for plot and character development, also for dialogue attributes, not for grammar. Although I might correct the odd errors there, too. :-)

Saturday, July 16, 2011

On writing the first draft

I recently read a blog post from an author who sort of 'insisted' to write a draft in one go before editing it. First, I don't like being told what to do and second, that technique might work for her, but not for me. I've never really been like that, write like there's no tomorrow and edit when you've completed the book.
Even with No Wings Attached, which was my first novel, I wrote at night and edited the next day, then sent it to my friend who returned it with comments, so I could revise. I don't know any different and it works well for me. I still managed to have the 'first draft' ready after 2.5 months. Needless to say that my friend did a light edit and I had to learn a lot about writing, which I didn't know back then. It almost cost me the novel as I wanted to throw it into the Thames after the 10th round of editing. I cut out 40k, changed bits here and there, rewrote complete scenes, etc. I grew very tired of it.
Now, two years later, I still work the same way: I write, then edit the next day. The only difference is that I don't have my friend going through it chapter by chapter and that my writing is much tighter, so I end up with a pretty polished first draft. I also write slower, which means, I think about what I'm writing, I try to avoid repetition, he said, she said where it's clear who speaks, control my use of adverbs and make sure everything flows. That's my way of working on the first draft.
I'm 20k into the sequel and it already took me as long as the complete first book, but then, when I'm done in about two months, I need to go through it maybe two more times and it's ready for proofing. But 4 months writing and 1 months editing is much quicker than writing 2.5 months writing and 2 years of editing.

My advice for anyone out there is: do whatever suits you best. :-)

Make your book as good as possible

Writing is hard work. Did someone tell you it's easy? Well, that someone lied. Big time. The transformation from the very first draft to the actual book published is enormous, especially when you're just starting out with your first book. If you are lucky and happy to learn, it will get easier once you've been through the process of rewriting, editing, proofing, etc.

I've read a few self-published books that weren't ready by a long shot and I've stopped reading most of them. Not saying there aren't good self-published books out there, but it looks like I didn't find them yet. I'm self-published myself and I know how hard it is to go through the book over and over and over again until you're sick and tired of the book you once loved, but it's worth it. It's my reputation, my author's name out there and I want the book to be the best it can get. Though, I've learned that I've sold over 1000 copies of the short stories with words missing, stray words and typos I didn't see. I've sort of rushed to publish it, not doing another round of proofing. Luckily, a friend was kind enough to point them out and it's fixed now. He also found quite a few in my novel, even AFTER proofing twice. That said, I can live with typos and missing words, but I can't live with poor character development, continuously use wrong dialogue attributes, plot holes and illogical story lines. Those are things that drive me mad as a reader.

Now, how to avoid things like that, you wonder.

Well, first off, learn the craft. Talent is one thing, but you need the skills to actually enhance your talent. That's what beautiful writing is. See it as a paining with a perfect frame, it will accentuate the painting, if you have a shabby frame it will look odd, drawing your eyes to the ugly frame rather than the painting itself. It's the same with writing, a great story can be disturbed by bad use of grammar or dialogue attributes or plot holes.

I'll take the painting again: imagine you have a person in it and he has an arm where the ear should be, now wouldn't that irritate you? Same goes with writing, when you have plot holes, it disturbs the flow, lets you pause and drags you out of the story, you stop to think where that character came from, where it went and what purpose it might have when it doesn't add to the plot.

Learn as much about writing as you can, try to secure yourself some beta readers, those who are confident in giving feedback. Try not to ask family and friends, unless they know a thing or two about writing and are honest with you. Compare your dialogue with traditionally published books and correct yours. Google is your best friend when it comes to read about 'rules'. Depending on how self-critical you are, you might need three rounds or more of editing and beta-reading. (I went 16 times through my first novel.) Don't ask the ones you've had before, they're now biased. Fresh eyes is what you need.

Be patient, don't rush into it. When you put a book out which isn't ready, you're likely to lose potential readers for your second or third book.

Make your book as perfect as you can. The end customers, your readers, will thank you by not only recommending a book they enjoyed, but also with loyalty.

If you'd like to know more about the journey of my novel No Wings Attached, please read an interview with me here:

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Troubles with character description? Here are some tools.

Many first time authors have difficulties to describe their characters. Today, I'd like to get into the looks. Though many don't think a description is necessary, I love to give the reader an idea of what colour the hair, the eyes of my MCs are. How they dress and that all, if possible, quite detailed. What I read a lot in first time novels is a so called info dump: she was beautiful, had long black hair, blue eyes, had a slim figure and was tall. Though it isn't wrong, it's a rather boring list. It can be brought across wonderfully. And it doesn't have to be all in one go, it can be dropped whenever it's appropriate. You could have one character say to the other at the very end of the book," You know, I've never noticed you had such delicate hands, how come I missed that?"

Example 1: She was beautiful. 
He loved her fine features, the cheekbones, her fair skin -- if he wouldn't know better, he would think she's a model.
She's so beautiful, he thought, how will I ever plug up the courage to talk to her?
"Yeah, but you are beautiful, unlike me," she said.

Example 2: She had long black hair.
Without a further word, she briskly turned around, sending her long black hair flying through the air.
She watched herself in the mirror, all her life she'd worn her black her long, now it's time for a change.
He hunched over the painting, holding back his long black hair.
All she could see from the back was his long black hair.
She tied her long black hair into a pony tail and sighed.
"You will see," she said, blowing a lock of her long black hair out of the face. (Or flick it back.)

Example 3: He had blue eyes.
She couldn't stop staring into his amazing blue eyes.
How can someone have such blue eyes? she wondered.
"The blue of my eyes even changes according to my mood," he said.
"I wished I had your blue eyes instead of boring brown."

Example 4: She was slim and tall.
I wonder if she's a model, he thought, wouldn't be surprise with that figure.
"She must be a size 10," she said, throwing a jealous look at the girl, "and she's even taller than me on high heels."
He looked at her another time; she must be at least a foot taller than most of the girls here.
"That red dress really compliments your slim figure," he said.

Of course, my examples don't really work with every context, but often it's quite easy to incorporate some flow into the description. Her full lips parted in a smile, his blue eyes were wide as saucers, her slim figure suggested she's into sports, etc. Again, play around a bit ;-)

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Oi, indie author, can I have a word, please?

Okay, now that you're here I have a bone to pick with you. Take a seat and listen.

You see, I do love you and I do want to support you and I certainly don't mind to connect with you, or have fun on the forum, twitter or facebook with you, but, and you knew there's going to be a but, didn't you? Yes, there's a big but and I will soon shed some light over the but to make it look a bit more like a but. Well, what I want to say is that although I understand your need to promote your book, to shout it from the roof tops, through a megaphone, even amplified if needed, and I know that you're proud of it, and so glad it's available for others to order and read, to scribble notes, to dog-ear, to bend, to keep it for themselves or rave about it to others, yes, I'm sure you've considered all those options already, what I finally want to say is that I cannot and will not understand why you would come onto my threads where I plug my book, shout from roof tops, in hope it's going to be heard by readers, so that their interest is piqued and they feel like they want to click the link I've provided in order to read more, download a sample, perhaps the whole book, to read it, to enjoy it, to dog-ear it, to laugh, to cry, to recommend; I wonder why you would come onto my thread to tell me, proud like a child who did its first drawing, showing it to its mother, that you have 'liked' my book on amazon, which leaves me with the feeling I have to return a favour, which, quite frankly, I don't want to return, not out of cruelness, but out of principle, because, if I'm honest, to me, it sounds a little desperate, especially, and I mean this in all honesty, when you whack a hint as heavy as a concrete pole over my head, and by that I mean you (un)subtly let me know that you're going to check out my humble writings, which, as you will understand, I certainly very much appreciate, even be thankful for, if it wasn't for the fact that, whilst letting me know, you're leaving a big fat link to your own work, which, of course, you expect me to look at, on my thread to plug my book, to plug your own book, uninvited. You see, I find this rather off-putting and, by doing what you're doing, please see, I feel I need to make you aware of it, you will most likely achieve quite the contrary. I, for once, am against swap buying, as well as review exchange, plus, and that's the most important reason, I am, and I'm sure so are you, able to click on names on threads and when you, being just yourself, having a good conversation with me, on the forum, twitter or facebook and you write in a genre I like, you will most likely be surprised that suddenly, there will be a new review for your book, that is, if I like what I read.

That's all I had to say, you're now free to leave and write a thousand times: I will not plug my book on Stella's threads again.


Friday, July 8, 2011

How to inject emotions without looking like a beginner

A friend of mine recently forwarded a rejection letter he received for one of his books. The agent's reason was that the book lacked emotions, something I've been telling him for a while, but he didn't want to listen, so he learned the hard way.

I told him to get a huge syringe of emotions and inject it into the writing and scenes where needed. His answer was that he then would have to use adverbs a lot and he didn't want that. This got me thinking. Do writer really think that using adverbs are the only way to showcase emotions? Personally, I don't use them a lot and still manage to bring emotions across. Here are a few examples of how to change lazy writing (adverbs) into a more skillful one:

Example 1: "I wonder if you would go out for dinner with me?" he asked shyly. 
"I wonder if you would go out for dinner with me?" he looked down.
"I wonder if you would go out for dinner with me?" he asked, playing with his car key.
He shuffled with his feet, then mumbled, "I wonder if you would go out for dinner with me?"
"I wonder if you would go out for dinner with me." Is he blushing? she thought, how cute!

Example 2: "Did you even listen?" she asked, angrily.
There was no point in hiding her anger. "Did you even listen?"
"Did you even listen?" her voice was full of anger.
"Did you even listen?" her question mirrored her anger.
"Did you even listen?" Wow, he thought, she really is angry.

Example 3: "Hey, it's not my fault," he replied, defensively.
"Hey, it's not my fault," he replied, holding up his hands (in defence).
He listened for a moment, then crossed his arms in front of his chest. "Hey, it's not my fault."
He shook his head and shrugged. "Hey, it's not my fault."

Of course those are just some examples. Emotions can be displayed by a lot of things. If a MC is sad, then they can cry, tears build up, spill over, shy people look down, away, shuffle their feet, hide their hands, bite their lips, play with something in their hands, stammer, etc. Angry people make fists, shake them, their voices change, their facial expression changes, their temples pulsate, etc.

I'm in no way saying adverbs done have a place in writing, and some just can't be replaced, but there are always ways around it. Each time when you are about to write one, try to play with the sentence and with the scene, you will be surprised how many you can actually swap for a much better description.

If you have some more examples, please feel free to add.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

And no, it's not about angels

Just kidding!

If you're an indie author, exposure is everything. There are pretty brilliant and dedicated bloggers out there, who don't get tired promoting others. One of them is the wonderful, also published author, Catherine Chisnall, who has thrown some interview questions into my direction. About me, about my writing, about No Wings Attached, the charity and she even tickled some surprising facts out of me.
Please stop by her blog, take a look around and if you have time, you might want to read the interview with me :-)
I'm quite over the moon, No Wings Attached is doing all right. It's certainly a far cry from the success of Excuse me, where is the exit?, but it's getting there. I was a bit worried to throw the first book of the series out when the second isn't even finished yet, but I plan to publish the next one by October this year, readers have asked when it will come out, which makes me feeling all fussy again. My baby's loved :-)

On Melissa Kaplan's advice to challenge your iguana

Yes, this is another post about the green monster. While I'm sitting here to write this, he lies lazily on his bamboo shelf, where he has a good view over me. He really likes that. While I have covered all the other reflective surfaces, I left this one open, so he can also look outside the window. Iguanas get bored easily.

His aggression has become a little worse, I noticed mainly in the morning hours or just before he goes to sleep. During the day, he's rather relaxed as long as I don't come near. Looking him in the eye when I stand in front of the vivarium will be understood as me challenging him and he might jump to attack.

Which brings me to a website that is well known to most iguana owners. Unfortunately, many trust this advice too much and will probably learn their lesson the hard way: being attacked or even worse, severely bitten and end up in A&E (ER).

Melissa Kaplan advises to stand your ground with male aggressive iguanas or challenge them, by stomping your foot, climb onto something and shout at the animal, shaking your finger at them or even charge them first. That is not going to work! In fact this will make your iguana even more furious and he will attack. By that I mean, he will probably charge at you and sink his teeth into anything in his way, hand, leg, foot, shoe, towel, whatever available. And that's not enough, he will violently shake his head from left to right to definitely get a piece out of your body. Big aggressive iguanas in mating season are dangerous. They need to be treated with as much respect as possible and their owner has always to be on the lookout for signs of attack. Plus, they're incredibly bendy and fast.
I am one lucky girl to have a particularly aggressive exemplar. At six years old, he's big and strong and if I was to follow Melissa Kaplan's advice, I'd probably know each nurse and doctor by name in an A&E. She says she's carrying her iguana around for a bit. I have done it, just by putting him back into his vivarium, after taking him out in order to clean it, and he'd bend around so quickly, trying to bite into my face. Male iguanas don't care how big or loud you are, they will charge, no matter what. Brave little buggers.

I've been very lucky so far to not have suffered any major injuries handling aggressive iguanas. I had two in my career as an iguana carer (since '94). My current one, Zorro, presents aggressions on the high end of the scale and I would never let anyone near him. At this time of the year, which can last for a few months, I try to handle him as little as possible. Even if he's not in mating season, he's never really tame and I always have to watch what I'm doing, but he usually lets me touch or handle him as well as, sometimes, even give him a good head rub. But one wrong move or moment unattended and I end up with a very painful bite.

For those of you who are interested in keeping iguanas and are doing their 'homework' with an extensive research first, here are two websites that might be just what you're looking for:

Henry Lizardlover  He knows what he's doing, though I don't agree with those pictures he's taking and I also don't agree on the one video where he feeds his animals Swiss cheese. Iguanas should not be given any animal protein. But he has good advice on food, detailed information on behaviour and breeding issues, male and female.

Green Iguana Society  Another site that will answer questions about iguana behaviour, feeding, handling, etc.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Good news demand to be shared

I've received a few wonderful reviews and feedback for No Wings Attached. And that's not all; people have messaged me on twitter, contacted me on facebook or via e-mail, telling me how much they enjoyed the book. What surprises me the most is that a lot of men seem to really like it. They probably fancy the idea of wooing a women by making her wishes come true ;-)

Here's the newest review from

I read Stella's book last weekend and I enjoyed it. "No Wings Attached" is light-hearted and hopeful, but is not sappy. Although it doesn't get overly dramatic, it has enough tension to keep you moving through the reading at a nice clip.

Tom is sent to Celia as the result of a mistake he made as a wish consultant. He needs to make good the mistake and the sweet results of his making good is the plot of the book.

Celia and Tom read as real people and very believable. The author definitely has a handle on proper characterization of her H and h. You'll not want the book to end, I promise you.

I call "No Wings Attached" a good buy. You'll not regret the purchase. 

Here's one from Goodreads (by a man):

NO WINGS ATTACHED was fast paced and fun. Near the end, it had it's suspenseful moments, and a dramatic twist. I enjoyed getting both main characters first person points-of-view. 

No Wings Attached is available at the kindle store and smashwords. Please click on the picture to the right to read the first three chapters or find the links to all outlets.