Writers Helping Writers: Blurbs and Pitches - Summarizing Your Novel

One of the hardest parts of writing a book is coming up with a summary blurb for the back cover and a pitch to quickly and concisely tell what the story is about without giving away the entire plot. As a writer, summing up thousands and thousands of carefully constructed plot points and vivid characters into a 100 word blurb is the stuff of nightmares. It is not easy and it is not something that comes naturally.

My advice is to start big. Write out the summary of your novel as it stands. Don’t be worried about how long it is, just get it down on the page. When you are done, notice how long it is. Blurbs are typically 100 words or less (I know, right?).

Now that you have something to work with, your next challenge is to cut what you have on the page in half. How? Well, begin with removing these things:

·         Anything that is not relating to the main plot.

·         Any mention characters that are not pivotal to the main plot.

·         Any physical description beyond the general age and/or occupation of the main characters

·         Adjectives

·         Adverbs

·         Passive Voice

·         Unnecessary filler words

Keep going and strengthening your sentences to pare down that original description to the 100 words. I can tell you that the key is using active voice and eliminating unnecessary filler words. Brevity is the point here, so there’s no point in using long meandering sentences.

To add in another layer of difficulty, here are the things that you need to have in your blurb:

·         A convincing hook into the story

·         Timeframe of your story

·         Describe the genre without actually saying what kind of genre it is (use your genre’s key phrases or words.)

·         Don’t reveal the ending

·         Suspense

·         Enough of the plot to keep the reader’s attention

I know this is a lot, but if you spend some time with it, eventually, you will make it to the 100 word goal for the blurb.

Pitches, also known as elevator speeches, are even shorter. One or two sentences that wrap up the story and yet entice readers to take a look. For sanity’s sake, wait to do your elevator speech/ pitch until after you’ve completed your blurb. Then, take the most attention grabbing sentences and use those to formulate your pitch.

Example: “Angel’s Prophecy is about the son of two angels who shouldn’t exist. He’s destined to end the war between heaven and hell, but he has to find a weapon that was stolen from heaven first.”

I promise that if you take the time and have a little patience with it, you will create an amazing blurb and a truly intriguing pitch.

Revise, Rewrite, Revise Again!



Writers Helping Writers: Formatting Your Novel

All of the editing has been done, the feedback from your Beta Readers has been implemented, and even the cover art has been conceptualized and completed. Believe me when I say that you are almost done. The finished product will be well worth the months or even years that you’ve spent on it so far.

But now you are in the home stretch where you format the manuscript and finalize it for printing.

Now, I am not going to go step by step because there’s already a step by step formatting guide in our Writing Advice and Help. Please feel free to use that for formatting in conjunction with your chosen printer’s format requirements.

In this blog, what I am going to remind you of is that this is your novel. Ultimately, you get to decide how it should look and how it should feel. So, while we and probably a lot of other places give you a lot of how-to’s, be sure to make it your own.

Also, have patience. It is going to take several takes to get it all right. Expect quite a few versions the first time around, but don’t give up. Keep going until you are sure you have it just the way you want it.

You can do this!


Writers Helping Writers: Books Are Judged by Their Cover

Growing up, I was always told never to judge a book by its cover, meaning not to judge people by how they look. While that’s a great trait to have and a wonderful practice to do as you go through life, it is sadly not how the world really works, at least not here in contemporary America. How someone or something appears generates a judgement from us humans.

Example, an elderly lady (let’s call her Gloria), in a cardigan and modest flowered dress sits at a bus stop. She has carefully curled gray hair underneath a silk kerchief and spectacles perched on the bridge of her nose. She has a large carpet bag next to her. A typical initial reaction; someone’s grandma with her knitting is waiting for public transportation, right? Gloria is probably on her way to visit her friends at the nursing home.

Wrong. Gloria never had children and in that giant carpet bag she’s toting is her glock and extra rounds because she’s on her way to the indoor shooting range to practice her aim. Underneath her silk handkerchief are small headphones blasting her favorite Slayer album.

How you decide to act on the initial assessment of a person or thing is between you and whatever higher power you believe in, but that immediate assumption based on appearance will always happen.

It’s the same for books. That’s why if you really want to sell your book, you have to not only take great care in what the content is, but also how it looks. That means putting a lot of thought into the cover. The front cover will be the thing that catches your reader’s eye. It has to give an idea of what your story is about in a single glance, which means there are some questions you need to ask yourself when you are getting ready to design your cover.

1.       What do other books in my genre have on their covers? Take a stroll down to your neighborhood library and check out the other books in your genre. Notice the similarities. Notice what is not on those covers. A lot of book genres will have similar looking covers to earmark what kind of story they are telling. Example: Shirtless men on the covers of romance novels. You don’t have to follow the path they are laying out, but it is a good idea to understand the boundaries of your genres cover art so that your sci-fi action adventure is not misinterpreted as a romance murder mystery.

2.       What would grab your attention in a book cover? As you are walking down the aisle of your library, when you see a particularly striking cover, stop and analyze why this one is grabbing your attention. What do you like about it? What don’t you like about it? What was that initial “Oh!” moment. Consider how you can depict that sort of concept with your own story in mind.  **Important** do not simply copy another person’s book cover concept. Make it your own. Incorporate your own tastes into it and make it relevant to your story.

3.       Consider who or how you will go about generating your cover. There are several options before you; you can make it yourself, you can get a pre-made one from the internet, you can pay an artist to commission one for you. They all have their ups and downs. Ultimately, you need to do what best fits your story and your budget. If you are collaborating with someone, it’s important to listen to the artist’s input on your cover. They have an amazing eye for design and remember, this cover art is their work too.

4.       Pay attention to the things that are on every book of all genres. I am talking about the title, the author tag, the bar code, the back cover blurb (more about this later), and how the spine is arranged. These elements need to be included in your print cover as well.

5.       Consider the size of your print book. Will it be a large tome or a small trade paperback size? This will also impact how much space you have for your graphics/ art.

These decisions and the research involved are daunting. However, it is vital if you want your book to be presentable. I promise that if you take your time with it and thoroughly think it through, your cover will be amazing.



Writers Helping Writers: You finished your first draft! Now what?

You did it! You actually finished your first draft! Congratulations! Welcome to the 3% of writers who actually DO finish that first draft! It was a long road to get here. There was the beginning where everything seemed to go well. Then you hit the middle where you got a bit bored. You had to push yourself through obvious plot holes you didn’t realize you had until you were upon them. Then there were the several plot twists that you weren’t planning for. The days where you didn’t even want to look at the story, days where you couldn’t even get to the story, characters not wanting to do what their told and yet not giving you anything else to go on. Finally, the end where you finally said “screw it, I’ll edit this into something decent later”. I understand. I have been there myself.

So, now that you have a first draft, you are ready to begin editing, right?


Here’s what you are going to do. Put the manuscript away. Hide it in a file on your laptop, bury the notebook in the bill drawer, and forget about it. Seriously. You need to put some distance between you and that work in progress STAT.

The reason for this is that you are still too close to the project. Editing a novel, especially your own, is a completely different mindset than writing. If you begin editing as soon as you are done writing, it will defeat the purpose, which is to break through all of those plot holes, clean up that shoddy prose, and flesh out that one scene you just didn’t want to right that one time. If you don’t allow yourself time and space from your magnificent work of art, you aren’t going to be able to see where you need to touch it up.

So, forget about your story for a while. Go do something else. Catch up on real life for a bit. Start a new story. Read some books. Just give yourself a month or two away from your work in progress. I promise, it is the best thing for it.

Trust me, it's better this way.


Writers Helping Writers: Plotting and Outlining

You can’t have a compelling story without a plot. People want to read about characters that embark on some sort of journey- be it internal or external. The most rudimentary plot consists of a definitive beginning, middle and end. There’s more to it than just those three phases, though. The beginning is home to the exposition and then flows upward into the rising action. At the end of the rising action is the climax or the middle of the story. Immediately after is the falling action. I should note here that there can be more than one climax in a plot. Some of the more celebrated stories have multiple rising and falling actions and multiple climaxes. After the final falling action, we arrive at the resolution and end of the story.

It’s a lot to keep straight. There are three basic types of styles when it comes handing the plot of the story.

1.       Plotter: This means completely outlining your plot. You know what happens in the beginning, the middle and the end before you even begin writing the story. This method is good for when you have complex and long story lines. Plotting every aspect is understanding how they all fit together. The down side, at least for fiction writers, is that sometimes your characters will throw you curve balls and completely throw off all of your carefully crafted plans.

2.       Pantser: This writer flies by the seat of their pants. There is no outline, just a vague idea of a plot and that’s all they need to sit down and start writing. The theory behind this is that the characters will tell you where the plot will go and what will happen as you write.  The bad thing about pantsing your way through the plot is that if you don’t know where you are going, it is much easier for your characters to take you down paths that have nothing to do with the current story. Also, it could take you much longer to get to the end of your tale.

3.       Plotser: This is a strange hybrid of both Plotters and Pantsers and can appear differently depending on the person. Someone may have a rough outline of one or two basic plot points that their characters need to hit and then wing the rest of it. Others may have incredible detail in their outline, but also leave options for their characters to choose which way to go.

The best part about all of this is that there is no wrong way to prepare for writing your story. You will find that some plots require some Plotting while others won’t work unless you Pants it. It is your tale, it is your voice and your style. If you take anything from this blog, please take this: make sure you know where your story is leading up to. It’s fine if you don’t have a perfect outline for every nuance, but have a general notion of what the end of the story looks like. Other than that, find what works best for you and what works best for the story you are writing.

Happy Writing!


Writers Helping Writers: Getting into your Characters

Characters are a critical part of your story. It doesn’t matter what genre you write in, characters propel the plot forward and are what your reader relate to the most. It’s important to understand them and their motivations. After all, a story is more or less describing a character’s actions and you can’t do that unless you know what they would do or you understand their thought process.

When I write a story, I can’t get started on it unless I know who I am working with. In creating my characters, I must first know their name. I have a big baby name book that I turn to in order to find the right one. Sometimes, based on the research I’ve done, I know a character will be of a certain culture or ethnicity. That will help narrow the name search.

As soon as the name is there, it sparks an idea in my head of what they look like. You know how people will sometimes say, “She doesn’t look like a Sarah.”? Well, it’s like that in my head. Names often carry distinct looks and even personalities. If the name isn’t helping to give you a clear picture of your character, turn back to your research. What ethnicity? What culture? Where do they live? What’s the time period?

Once there’s the basic form for a character (general personality, traits, age, etc.), start asking questions and write down what comes to you. What do they like to do on their down time? Are they picky eaters? Do they have a phobia? How do they handle stress? What’s their family background? Those internet personality quizzes are also a great tool in helping understand your character. Another way to build an understanding of your characters are D&D character sheets, complete with rolling a dice for personality trait levels.

Getting to know your characters and how they interact with each other is vital to your story telling. Remember to be realistic with them. Take any and all opportunity to observe people in different settings. You can even take a Sociology class at the local college to help understand how people interact with each other and to get genuine reactions for various things. The more real you can make your characters, the stronger the story.

Sometimes your characters will develop into a voice in your head. No, you are not crazy. This can be a great tool in understanding them and getting them on the page correctly. In my experience, they will DEFINITELY let you know if something isn’t them.

Lastly, keep a page or two in your story notebook dedicated to each character. Keep track of all the information they give you, it will come in handy when you start to write!



Writers Helping Writers: Research, Research, Research

Now that you’ve got your story idea, it’s time to really flesh it out with details. How do you do that? The answer is simple: RESEARCH! (Alternating yays and groans). This is the part of writing where your browser history may lead to the NSA or FBI keeping an open file on you. You are going to google some weird shit, I guarantee it.

If you don’t know where to start your research, think about your story idea and type into your trusty browser one detail that you know about your story. For instance, do you know where your story takes place? How old the main character is? What time period does it take place in? Does it involve animals? Really, any detail will do to send you down the rabbit hole that is researching a novel.

Remember it’s important to keep notes on what you are researching. I recommend keeping a notebook for the story so you can write down the bits that jump out to you. Some of the information will make it into the story, but a lot of it won’t and that’s alright. That excess knowledge will still be incredibly useful as you write.

What you discover can also cause your story idea to grow and expand. Research will provide locations, time periods, clothing details, mannerisms, how-to’s, descriptions, you name it to fill in the blank spots that aren’t readily apparent.

The best part about research is that it often will bring about more story ideas. That is why it’s crucial to keep learning new things.

Research for a story is almost never done. Even when you think you have all the details you can possibly wring out the internet, when you start writing, more things will come up- like is the trajectory of a cannon ball hampered by rain? Or how much blood can be drained from someone before actually killing them? Research is the whole reason I know how much gasoline it would take to cremate a 160 pound body. See? NSA and FBI material.

Keep researching!


Lessons from Nanowrimo 2017

I have survived Nanowrimo this year, more or less intact. This is an annual exercise for me and my friends. We use the motivation that Nano provides to get out the first drafts of many of our novels. We use it to finish up works that we need to just buckle down and write. It’s not just for November, either. There are year round resources and information you can access with Nano, not to mention their Camp Wrimo and meet ups. I highly encourage you to check it out if you are the writing type.

This year, my Nano project was my grandfather’s story; Fair to Middling; a very difficult topic since my grandfather passed two years ago around Thanksgiving. I’ve got videos and letters and a whole assortment of notes that I’ve been combing through. Not to mention the memories.

I want to say that everything for this Nanowrimo went perfectly. I want to say that I sat down, had butt in chair time and pounded out 1,667 words every day.

Life doesn’t happen like that.

Instead, there was an incessant buzz of adult responsibilities that distracted me from my writing. I was sick for a good week or so. We had conventions and book signings. A major recall happened on my car and there’s been a constant upheaval with our transportation. My day job has been keeping me later and later. Family has been pulling at my sleeve. The upcoming holidays and all the worry that comes along with it. The constant nagging that I still had to do things before I could write. Getting over that feeling is the hardest thing. After that, you have to convince yourself that the words you are diligently putting on the page do, in fact, make sense when strung together in a sentence. You have to ignore the little doubts crowding your head and trust that what you are writing is not complete and utter crap.

This year, I did make my word count, but only just. It was a hard-fought win. There’s still a little bit more to go in the story, but it shouldn’t take me that long before I can start editing.

All of this rambling is to make a certain point: Life will get in the way of your dreams. It will distract you, it will do its best to disillusion you, and it will try to legitimize the doubts that you aren’t good enough.

Your job is not to let it. Your job is to fight for your dreams and to achieve your goals.

It’s the only way you won’t live full of regret.

Keep fighting for what you want. Make a life on your terms, not everyone else’s.

Publishing A Book AKA: Emotional Rollercoaster From Hell

Azra kindly let me take over the blog this week (don’t worry. He’ll be back next Tuesday). I’m in the final stages of publishing Legend of the Strega and, let me tell you, I am so ready for it to be done. At this point, I am just tired of waiting. I’m not a particularly patient person and this part of the process always has me on edge.

If you’ve ever published a book, you understand.

For those of you who haven’t, let me take you through the steps that has been this book and you can get a glimpse of what indie authors all over the world have to deal with.

1.       Write the story. This is the biggest part of writing. You HAVE to write! If you finish a first draft, you statistically closer to publishing the book. So many people give up on this very important first step. Legend of the Strega took about 2 years of me fiddling with it before it was ready for someone else to read.

Time: 2 years

2.       Editing your story. I am SUPER lucky in that I have amazing friends who aren’t scared to tell me what they really think. When I think my story is ready for public consumption, I send it to them first. They. Rip. It. Apart. Which is great because I know every criticism they have will only make the piece better. It takes me some time not to be salty about it (average is 3 days), but in the end, I know it is for the best. For Legend of the Strega, this process took a little over a year. This is because they had other obligations and timing was off. I also record the story in audio form for my husband to listen to. He is another one who gives me the hard line criticism that’s bound to make me not want to look at him. Again. In the end, it just makes the story better.

Time: 1 year

3.       Once all of the edits have been put in, it’s time for beta reader feedback. These people are amazing. They represent your general audience and read your story in order to tell you what they think as a reader. They are the ones that can tell you if that joke on page 54 is actually funny. For an author just starting out, these people are hard to find. Sometimes you have to bamboozle them into reading your story (sorry, Brad). Legend of the Strega was lucky to have someone really want to read it; a good friend of mine who already had a TON going on, but decided to help me out anyway. This process took about two months.

Time: 2 months

4.       Line Editing. It’s a good idea to have someone who knows grammar and sentence structure better than you look over the words you’ve committed to paper. A good line editor can make or break a book. For Legend of the Strega, my line editor (LOVE HER!) gave me a window of 15 days all through which I bit my nails in anticipation. Was it horrible? How many edits did she have to make? Why is it taking so long if I know how to write? Wait. Maybe I don’t know how to write. I can’t start all over! I have to get this project done! What if I have too many commas and she thinks I’m a jerk now? GAH!

Time: 15 days

5.       Now, your line edits are in and you’ve deleted all of the excess commas and adverbs. It’s time to format your word document into something resembling a physical book. If you don’t know what you are doing, be prepared to spend a LOT of time on Google figuring out how to eliminate widows and orphans. Also, pagination, embedding fonts, page breaks vs section breaks, alternating headers, adjusting the margins for the gutter, converting to the right kind of PDF, and if you have pictures, making them happen. This is one of the most frustrating parts to the process. You are tempted to just settle for what is fine. Don’t. Summon up the patience to make it exactly what you want. It will be worth it. I’ve spent the last weekend doing this for Legend of the Strega.

Time: 2 days

6.       Cover Art and ISBNs. The size of your cover art depends on the size of the interior. Most places will help with a template. I get my art locally. Depending on their timeframe, you are looking at a month to three or so. Luckily, my artist kicks ass and had my cover art and title logo done months ago. All I had to do was send him the template and he formatted it for me. ISBN- I bought mine through Bowker. It is fairly simple to generate a barcode from their website. I sent that on over to my artist and he made it all come together beautifully. The art process took about three month’s total, even though I did the initial art part while Legend of the Strega was being edited.

Time: 3 months

7.       Submitting your interior and cover files into the distributor. Each distributor is different. Mine is fairly simple. They have a style guide and will let you know if your files are messed up. The thing is that the process takes 2-3 business days. This is the part I am at. Waiting for the system to send me an e-proof. I’m so ready to be done! There’s just a couple more steps though.

Time: 3 days

8.       Getting your e-proof and ordering your print proof. Once the system sends you the e-proof, go over it with a fine tooth comb. Seriously. Make sure everything looks good, no pages are missing, etc. If there are things wrong, you have to go back to formatting and converting to PDF. Not. Fun. However, if it is right then you can order your print proof! I really recommend this step. Ordering the print proof is a good idea to have it in your hands so you can see things that are not visible on the computer screen. Like, are your gutters too wide? Did something cut off mid-sentence? Is your cover art the right color? When you get your proof, give yourself at least two days to go over it. Take your time and make sure it’s right.

Time: 4 days

9.       If all goes well, then you are ready to order your first print run (YAY!!!) and wait for the shipping (#$%*@!). Depending on how much you want to spend, shipping can take anywhere from 2 weeks to 6 weeks. The good news is that after that, you are done waiting and you can get out there and make the world read it!

Time: 6 weeks

Total time for Legend of the Strega:  3 years, 7 months, and 6 days.

It’s worth it.