Hooking the Reader

hook your readerWriters have always known how important it is to hook the reader right upfront. You only have to look at your own reading habits to understand that. Unless you have already bought books by an author and you know you’ll buy anything they write, this is typical behavior for someone trying to decide whether to buy a book:

1. You look at the cover. Yes, covers are important! If you’re in any doubt, pay a visit to Amazon and look at any category. Scan the book covers. Which ones hook your attention? Which ones don’t? Why do your eyes pause on some books, and not on others? On Amazon, many books are viewed as thumbnails. Cluttered covers and fancy fonts don’t work: the viewer can’t see them properly. Continue reading

Make Your Bad Guy Smarter

Make your bad guy smarterIn most stories, the good guys end up winning – and most readers like it that way. We have enough disappointments in real life: enough times when things don’t go our way, or when we feel as though we’re going to sink under the strain of just trying to cope. Every night, there are more news stories about sad or terrible or life-shattering events.

So when we read fiction, we like to escape. We like things to work out for the hero or heroine. We cheer them on through adversity, and we admire them when they dig deep for the strength to carry on.

We LOVE IT when they outsmart The Bad Guys.

But… we like it to be a real challenge. It’s not nearly so much fun cheering on the hero when it’s too easy. Continue reading

Emotional Punch -Try this New Thesaurus for Writers

The Emotion ThesaurusI was hunting for a good thesaurus on Kindle to download to my iPad for easy reference, when I stumbled across The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi.

Wow, what a find. The minute I saw “Emotion” I zoomed in, because this is exactly what I’m writing about in my latest addition to the Busy Writer books – emotional punch.

What’s romance all about? What can’t you leave out? That’s right: emotion. Editors have been saying forever that romance writers need to know how to add emotional depth to their stories. Continue reading

Heaven is Having Two Screens

Heaven is having two screensI honestly don’t know how I’d manage without having two screens. I usually operate with multiple windows open as I blog, write, create graphics, modify photos etc etc…. it drives me bonkers if I have to keep switching from one window to another. I much prefer to have them where I can see them. Often I’ll move smaller windows to the left-hand screen and have my ‘working window’ on the bigger screen in front of me.

I use the extra screen to open information for copying and pasting, or reference – e.g. Kindle app, PDFs for checklists or step by step; or to compare two versions of something. I’ll open a window that shows a website or blog and put it on the left-hand screen for quick reference if I’m writing about it. Or maybe I’ll open windows for different graphics programs. Continue reading

How to Add Value to Your Books

Add value to your booksThe 5th book in my series for writers, The Busy Writer’s Book of Checklists, has just gone live on Amazon Kindle. (I don’t think I’ll ever get over the excitement of having a new book out!)

This one took me a bit longer after I’d finished the final draft, because I had decided to add value by making the whole set of checklists (23 of them so far) available to purchasers as a printable set. We all know how handy it is to have a checklist at our elbow. While e-readers are wonderful for their portability and for quick reference, the real value of a checklist lies in being able to tick things off as you go.

So I carefully created proper checklists in Word, using tables, and converted every one of them into a PDF. Then I zipped them into two files (to reduce the file size) and make them ready for purchasers. All they have to do is forward their Amazon receipt to an email address in the book, and they can have their set of checklists.

I don’t know about you, but if I were a purchaser of something as everyday-useful as a set of checklists, I’d be really happy with that!

Now let me move on to Robin Adolphs, a talented author that I have had the privilege to know for many years. Robin sent me two of her new picture books, mentioning that she also had additional activities related to them on her website.

Well, guys, I was absolutely blown away! Not only were both picture books well written with bright, charming illustrations, but (a) they were available on Kindle as well, and (b) Robin’s website is a pleasure to visit. It looks happy and welcoming, and kids can go there and have fun with an on-screen jigsaw puzzle based on one of the pictures in the book. And what a bonanza for teachers, home-schooling mothers, or simply mothers who would love to download activities for their kids to go along with the story!

By adding value like this, Robin has laid a solid foundation for her books and her ongoing success as an author.

Go along to Robin’s website and take a look.

One final example of how authors of books for Kindle are now including  ‘extras’ that go beyond the confines of the actual book… A recent release targeting the Halloween market includes a useful resource section with links to free pumpkin carving patterns, videos on how to carve a pumpkin and a Monster Mash YouTube video, printable halloween certificates for winners of the games, Halloween fun trivia, jokes and more.

Go here to “Look Inside” the book:
Halloween Fun – Scary – Spooky Fun For The Entire Family


Now it’s your turn. How can you add value to your books/website? How can you attract more readers and more sales?

I have turned this into one of the weekly challenges over at the Writing Challenges website, for the week starting August 12. (However, you can do any of these challenges at any time!)

Why not go and join the challenge – and then tell me and everyone else who joins in what you have done to add value!

Stop Writing and Start Reading

Stop Writing and Start ReadingOkay, so you are pushed for time. Every spare minute that you have (and there are not many of them, I hear you say) is devoted to your work in progress. You’re either creating, or editing, or polishing, or researching… or promoting books that are already published.

You’ve barely got time to scratch yourself… so who has time to read?

Let’s turn this on its head.

As a writer, can you afford NOT to read?

For many years, one of the ‘hats’ I have worn is that of a writing tutor. I’ve marked assignments; I’ve critiqued scenes, plots and characters; I’ve assessed aspects of technique and the effectiveness of synopses. With all those thousands of words streaming through my computer (and my head) every month, I can tell you that one thing stands out: writers who don’t read – or don’t read enough – don’t write as well as those who do. And while I’m prepared to concede that there MAY be one or two writers who don’t read and can still write well, I’m positive they’re a tiny, tiny minority.

There are several tell-tale signs that someone doesn’t read enough:

  1. Poor grammar and spelling or generally substandard use of language.
  2. A lack of understanding about layout (paragraphs, dialogue, chapters).
  3. Cliched plots and characters.

It’s particularly important to read widely in your chosen genre. Not only do you absorb the conventions of the genre painlessly (and I would assume, enjoyably) but you avoid over-done plots and characters. The currently popular genre of paranormal romance is a case in point. The writer who reads ‘only’ vampire novels or only one author is missing out on the rich variety of characters, worlds and situations in today’s paranormal romance or urban fantasy. Talented authors are always coming up with new worlds and amazing beings.

Ditto for thrillers and mysteries (for example, Jeff Lindsay’s Darkly Dreaming Dexter kicked off a series that became wildly popular and sparked a TV series featuring a serial killer as the main character).

Some Reasons to do More Reading (if you need a reason)

  1. Reading widely in your chosen genre can give you a rest from stalled plot and stimulate new ideas.
  2. Reading in other genres may inspire you to tackle a different readership.
  3. If you can’t get to your writing because you have to sit with a sick child or a relative with a chronic condition, read a book instead while you’re keeping them company. Read like a writer as well as for enjoyment; keep a notepad to jot down ideas for characters, snappy dialogue, intriguing settings etc.
  4. Read books that have garnered bad reviews as well as good reviews. (You don’t have to read the whole book if it’s bad. Just read enough to see what the author’s doing wrong. Is it plot? Style? Lack of emotional depth?)
  5. Reading books reminds you of what it’s like to be on the receiving end. You know what captures your attention; you know what keeps you turning pages. Apply this to your own work – and don’t inflict on YOUR readers any of the things you hate (like flowery description or ends that fizzle out).
  6. Take a note of what’s happening to books now that e-readers are gaining in popularity. Authors are taking advantage of new technology to do things that weren’t possible when books were all paper. For example, they’ll introduce a new character or a new series in a couple of short stories (up to 10,000 words) and price those stories at 99c so readers can get a sample. They’ll often then write a series in novella length (up to 30,000 words) rather than longer novels. There are lots of time-strapped people in today’s world (and commuters) who prefer the shorter length.

Busy Writer Series – Quick and Easy Guides for Authors

The Busy Writer SeriesThe last few months have been super-busy at my place – what with moving house and streamlining The Busy Writer series of books for Kindle, there hasn’t been much time to blog!

At last, however, I’m settling into a decent work pattern. And you know what is absolutely indispensable? MY CHECKLISTS. Honestly, I wouldn’t be half as productive without them.

One quick example: someone asked me a few days ago whether I would assess more than 3,500 words (because that’s the upper limit that I had on my Writing4Success Assessment Service rates pages).

Well, anything up to 10,000 words would be okay, I decided (I don’t do full manuscripts because I really drill down, and it’s far too time-consuming and thus VERY expensive for the author). I prefer scenes, chapters, and/or a synopsis/book outline. This is not only more practical for me; I’ve found that in the vast majority of cases it works better for the writer, as well. You learn a lot from a close-up look at one scene.

So… I had to create some more PayPal buttons for the website, to reflect the added options for assessments. Of course I wanted them to look the same as the buttons I’d already created.

I won’t bore you with the entire process, but in a nutshell I had to specify various landing pages for people using PayPal; create new buttons (which meant finding the template for the previous buttons) and store them in a place I’d remember. Plus other stuff.

Only thing is… I didn’t create a checklist for it last time. DARN IT! Why didn’t I????? If only I had, I would have sailed through this in half the time.

Well, I’ve made a checklist for the process now. And stored it with my other personalized checklists.

Why am I bringing this up? Because I’m busy finishing off The Busy Writer’s Book of Checklists, which not only provides writers with a whole bunch of useful checklists to start off with, but shows them (a) how to personalize them to get maximum use out of them, and (b) how to make their own checklists.

Keep an eye out for it… I’ll post again when it’s ready.

Meanwhile, to find out more about the series, you can visit this website for The Busy Writer series.

Secure Downloads Using PayPal and DLGuard

Secure your filesIf you’re going to sell products from your website, then you need to make the process as secure and reliable as possible for your customers, AND you need to ensure that your products are protected from unauthorised downloads.

For years, I have  made various products available from my websites, and recently I added a link to the Kindle Publishing Kit (for people who are interested in writing Kindle books). Payment was via PayPal, which has always been fine.

Then I got an email from a customer saying “Umm… I haven’t yet received the Kindle Publishing Kit… should I have it by now?”

My response: “You sure should have! You should have been returned to the download page as soon as you purchased.” I immediately sent the product by return mail, and put it down to a one-time glitch. Maybe, I thought, PayPal’s site was having problems.

Then it happened again: another email saying much the same thing. “Three days ago I ordered…”

Aaarggh!!! NOT GOOD. I wanted my customers to know that they could always rely on products available from my websites. OK. What was I going to do? I had already heard good things about DLGuard, so I checked out their site – and within hours had signed up.

Installation was a breeze (I followed the clear instructions provided, but help is available if you need it). I added the Kindle Publishing Kit, tested the ‘buy’ button – and it all worked perfectly. After the payment was made, there was a coloured button for customers to click to access their download… but best of all, customers ALSO get follow-up emails with details of the download link.Watch Full Movie Streaming Online and Download

Done! To me, this was a necessary expense to sell products securely from my site. I (and thousands of others) recommend it.


Verisimilitude: Description that Puts the Reader in the Scene

marqueesAs I read, I continually come across scenes in a book that make me sit up and take notice. I usually photocopy them for future reference… and this week, I thought I’d type them out for you and explain why I thought they worked so well.

These two excerpts both use description in a way that makes the reader feel as though they’re really there living the scene. I’ll give you the excerpt first, and then tell you why I think it worked so well.

Excerpt 1: from The Devil’s Edge by Stephen Booth.

The marquees and stands had been set up in the lower field, separated from the river by a line of trees. At the far end, the gymkhana arena lay in a natural hollow. As Cooper walked down the slope from the parking area, a brass band was playing a medley of James Bond themes. Goldfinger, From Russia with Love. The grass in the parking area had been mowed, but not removed, so the cuttings lay everywhere in deep swathes. They wrapped themselves around the tyres of the car, and covered everyone’s shoes. He found himself wading through heaps of wet grass all the way down to the show ring.

He stopped for a moment to watch a children’s entertainer in a sparkly blue jacket, who was talking to a dummy Afghan hound. The dog didn’t answer, except by whispering in his ear. What did you call a ventriloquism act where the dummy didn’t speak? He had no idea.

Cooper turned away. There were already too many people whispering to each other in this case. Why didn’t everyone say out loud what they thought? It would make life so much easier. His life, anyway.


The grass not being removed and sticking to shoes is a detail that makes us believe in the scene. Ditto for the medley of songs and the way he observes the layout of the area where the Riddings show is being held.

The children’s entertainer adds detail and his whispering to the dog makes Cooper think of the way everyone else is ‘whispering’ to each other… secrets which he finds frustrating in his efforts to solve the case. (The children’s entertainer also turns out to be significant in the story, so the segue from the entertainer whispering to the dog making Cooper think about people whispering could be a nice bit of sleight of hand by the author to draw our attention away from the entertainer.)

Excerpt 2: from Flash and Bones by Kathy Reichs (William Heinemann 2011)

‘Winge was enormous, perhaps six two, three hundred pounds, with thin brown hair tied into a pony at the nape of his neck. His khaki shirt was mottled with soil, its underarms darkened by large half-moons…’

‘…Slidell and I took a moment to observe our target. Winge’s face was tanned and creased from hours in the sun, making it hard to pinpoint age. His cap lay on the table, sweat-stained to the belly of the number 3 centered over its brim. A cross hung from a chain around his neck.

In addition to size, the man’s other striking feature was his stillness. Winge sat with fingers laced, eyes down, perfectly motionless.’


I liked the contrast of the man’s size with his stillness. Often, size is related to strength and power, and perhaps used as a threat.

The details provided ensure that we really ‘see’ this character. It’s easy to describe a very large man, but details about the shirt being ‘mottled with soil’ and having ‘large half-moons of sweat’ under the arms remind us that he is a manual worker, as does the sweat-stained cap ‘to the belly of the number 3’.

Nice job. Next time you are describing a character, think about what details you can include that reinforce other information in the scene about that person’s job/personality/socio-economic status and so on.


If You Want to Write Rhyming Stories for Children…

writing rhyming stories for childrenI recently made some comments on a rhyming picture book for kids for someone, and I directed him to an article on the Writing4Success site that I thought would help. And then I thought: actually, it would help anyone wanting to write a rhyming story… so I thought I’d give it a quick mention in my blog!

There are a surprising number of traps for the unwary when they try to write a picture book in rhyme. It’s not nearly as easy as non-writers think to get the rhythm right (and believe me, a good rhyming story is just as much about RHYTHM as it is about rhyme.).

The article was written by Gwenda Smyth, a freelance editor who’d been asked to edit a good many lacklustre rhyming stories… and she’s give some top advice here. You can see the article at: