Top 10 Writing/Publishing Posts of 2017

Since this is the beginning of the year, I thought I would recap some of my better posts from 2017. I already did my Top 10 Parenting Posts and my husband’s Top 10 Recipes. Today, I will look at posts on publishing, marketing or writing from 2017.


Pen Names: when you might want to consider one

Image result for Pen name

You want the character name to be memorable. Even more so, you want your name to be memorable. You want readers to be able to recommend your books to others.

I host authors every Friday, and I have seen some pretty hard to pronounce names and ones that I imagine are impossible to remember or spell correctly. How do you expect readers to recommend you? How are readers going to be able to search for your books on Amazon when they can’t figure out how to spell – much less pronounce – your name?

This is where a pseudonym or pen name comes into play. A pen name allows authors to select a catchy, memorable name. It allows them to switch genders or even nationalities, which depending upon the circumstances could mean more book sales. (Click here to read more.)

Getting book reviews

Last week, I wrote about whether book reviews were an important marketing strategy. As it turns out, a good, well-written book review can benefit your sales. When choosing between a book with numerous reviews and one with only a few or no reviews, many readers will pick the more “popular” choice.

So how do you go about getting those reviews? (Click here to find out.)

Tips for a well-written book description

Your book is done. You have your eye-catching cover and a great title. But your job is not over. It is time to write what is probably the most important words – the book description. (Find out what does and doesn’t go in a book description by clicking here.)

Choosing Categories and Keywords when publishing with Amazon

When you publish your book on Amazon (through Kindle Direct Publishing), you are allowed to pick two categories and seven keywords. Here are some tips to make those choices work for you and help increase the number of books you sell. (Click here to find out how to increase your exposure on Amazon.)


Outlining your Novel


One of my very first posts was about whether as an author you outline your novel before you write or do you just sent down and write. Basically are you a plotter (outliner) or a pantser (someone who flies by the seat of their pants).

I have never been one to plot out my whole novel in advance. I tend to have an idea what the novel is about and maybe some ideas for some scenes. As I begin to write, I generally plot out what will happen in the next scenes. Since this is a very loose outline, I am free to let the characters drive the story.

Now there are many benefits to have an outline of your novel before you begin. It helps to create a well-developed plot and there is less rewriting involved. If you write just whatever comes to mind, you will most likely have a lot of editing and pruning during subsequent drafts than if you had it planned out in advance. (Click here for outlining methods.)

He said, she said: 4 Tips on Using Dialogue Tags

For readers to know who is speaking, you need dialogue tags such as he said and she replied. And while they are necessary, you don’t need them every time someone speaks. (Check out the tips here.)

9 Questions to Consider When Choosing your Novel’s Setting


Last week, I gave a recap of some of my posts about writing various scenes in your novel. But before you can write a scene, you need to know where your story is set.

The setting is the location where the events of a scene take place. This could be Las Angeles, a farm in Iowa, the White House, on a space ship, on another world or any of a thousand different places. (To read more, click here.)

Using internal dialogue

One of the biggest advantages of writing a novel versus writing a movie or TV show script is that authors can use internal dialogue as a tool to tell the story.

Internal dialogue is what your character is thinking. It is not the same thing as narration, which is when the person telling the story (the narrator) talks directly to the reader. (Read more by clicking here.)

How many drafts does it take to complete a novel?

You have finally finished your first draft of your story. Now comes the real work. The cutting, the editing, the rewriting, the expanding to make your first work closer into a publishable novel.

So how many drafts does that take? (Find out here.)

Editing your novel with the help of a revision outline

Last week I wrote about the different drafts your story will go through on the way to becoming a novel. During those drafts, you need to strengthen the characters and plot as well as reduce wordiness or strengthen your writing.

To do this, I find it helps to have something to keep me on track and remind me of all the areas that I need to focus on. (To view my revision outline, click here.)

In August, I started a series on writing a novel. Many of the above topics will be (or already were) addressed. There are currently 21 posts in that series. Here is the last post. At the end of it is a list of all the other topics. 

Keeping things realistic in your novel

You are watching an action movie, and during the fight scene, the two sides shoot and shoot and shoot some more. And while you are engrossed in the action, somewhere in the back of your mind you are wondering “Shouldn’t they run out of bullets or at least need to reload?” (To read more or to see the other 20 topics in my writing series, click here. Next week, post number 22 in the series will be posted.)


Tips for a well-written book description

Your book is done. You have your eye-catching cover and a great title. But your job is not over. It is time to write what is probably the most important words – the book description.

The book description appears on the back cover of paperback or on the inside flap for hardback books. For selling online at places like Amazon and Barnes & Noble, the book description is located right under the list of available book formats.

No matter where it is located, this is the one thing all potential readers turn to when they are trying to decide if they want to buy your book. And that is why it is so important that you get your words just right. But first you need to know what a book description is not supposed to be and what it should be.

What it is not

Your book description is NOT a synopsis of the book. You should not be summarizing the plot. Readers don’t want to know too much or what would be the point of buying the book.

What it is

The description is an ad. In a few short sentences, you need to hook the reader. Your goal is to intrigue, entice and convince customers that they simply must know more.

It can be a time-consuming activity, but it is well worth the effort. If done correctly, a reader will purchase your book. If done wrong, nothing can save you (except a recommendation from the right source.)

Tips for Writing your Book Description

  • Great First Line – You need to grab readers with the first sentence. If the reader doesn’t go past this, it won’t matter how well-written the rest is. People are looking for a reason to move on to the next thing. Don’t give it to them. Make the first sentence something that entices them to read the rest of the description. Also remember that only the first few sentences show up on Amazon’s description. Readers must click ‘read more’ to read the rest so make the first lines count!


  • End with a Question – It often works well to end a description with a question or point of tension – something that will hook the reader on the character’s dilemma. “Will Alista’s visions be enough to save her?”
  • Keep it short – There is no word limit but you want to keep it sweet, short and focused. Aim for two to three paragraphs of around 150 to 200 words total. Basically, cover what is the book about and why the reader will be interested.
  • Write in Third Person, Present Tense – Even though your book is probably written in past tense, your book description will be written in present tense as if you are sitting face-to-face with the reader and telling them about the book. And even if your book is written in first person point of view, your description will be told from third person POV.
  • Focus on Main Character & their Goal – You need to be able to name and describe your main character in one sentence. You don’t need to include other secondary characters. Your focus should be on the main character’s goal. You don’t need to include any subplots.
  • Use Emotional Power Words – Your book description should evoke emotions. To convey those feelings, you need emotional power words such as devastated, torn, passion, terrifying, etc. (You can Google ‘Power Words’ for a list of hundreds of words.) Just be careful not to use too many.
  • To Compare or Not to Compare – I’ve seen advice to compare your books to other similar books and then I have seen the opposite advice. Some authors think it will help readers decide to buy the book while other authors feel it can make the book look inferior and that if you compare it to a book the reader hates, you could lose the sale. So the choice is yours.
  • Awards & Excerpts of Reviews – Whether you should mention any awards or accolades in your description brings the same dilemma as mentioning other books. Some authors are for it but unless it is an impressive, known award, it might be best to leave it out. Many readers simply won’t care. I know it won’t sway me to buy a book. The same holds true for including quotes from reviews. Unless it is a review from someone influential or impressive, you don’t need to include review quotes. If you do decide to add it then do so after the description.

If you would like to see a great breakdown of descriptions from The Hunger Games and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, click here.

Writing good book descriptions is challenging. One of the ways to get better is to read lots of book descriptions. Go to the top sellers in your genre and peruse those descriptions and learn from them. It takes practice but writing a well-written, compelling book description will lead to sales.

Tips on doing a better author interview

As a way for authors to promote themselves, many blogger (including myself) offer author interviews. This is a chance for your readers – or potential readers – to get to know more about you as an author and to learn more about your book.

But in the five years that I have been interviewing authors, I would say about 40% of them struggle with the interview. It isn’t that I make it hard. I email them a list of questions and let them choose which ones they want to answer. It is the answering of the questions where they run into trouble.

Here are some of the problems…


  • Offer TOO Much Information – This is where they go on and on while answering a question. I can say, “Tell me about yourself” and they give me their whole bio instead of providing a few interesting facts.

Tip: Keep answers to a few sentences. No one wants to read long paragraphs.

  • Offer TOO Little Information – Some authors go the other direction and give just one or two words answers. These answers give almost no insight into the author. I try not to have questions that can be answered with a yes or no. But instead of just saying “the library” is your favorite writing location expand on that and tell us why.

Tip: Write in complete sentences. And make your answer clear, concise and interesting (give us the reasons behind your decisions, if applicable).

  • Forget the Interview Purpose – The purpose of the interview is not only to promote your book but to promote your brand. And that is you! There is nothing wrong with being friendly, but you still need to come across as a professional. (see #4) This may be your first impression with a potential reader so make it a good one.

Tip: Remember readers are judging you and your books based on what you answer in your interview. You want to share some of the “mystic” of being an author with them.

  • Forget to be Professional – So everything you post on your own website or other websites, every communication you make should be a reflection of the best “you.” If you are an author, your communication needs to be clear and grammatically correct. This holds true with all forms of communication as a writer. (Check out my post on being professional in your e-mails.) Readers are going to assume that if there is poor grammar or writing in your interview that your book will be this way too.

Tip: Be professional in all forms of communication. This means complete sentences and correct spelling and grammar.

  • Answer questions that don’t apply – If you write non-fiction, you should skip questions about characters and black moments in your book. The same goes for the writers of memoirs. Since your story is based on real events, you probably don’t have a “favorite” character.

Tip: Read the interview instructions and only answer questions that appeal and apply to you.

If you want to check out a few good author interviews – check out Tracee Lydia Garner and Victoria Zak.

Author interviews are all about letting readers – and more importantly potential readers – get to know the person who wrote the book. As a writer, you need to know how to portray yourself and your book in the best light. Think about what you would be interested in knowing and share that information. Just remember to watch the length of your answer, use complete sentences and check your grammar.


So long, Hootsuite! Looking for social media replacement.

When I first became a self-published author, I read up on how to market your books. In the Internet age, you need a presence on social media. So I set up a Twitter account and an author Facebook page.

I also read about setting up a Hootsuite account to manage my Tweets and Facebook posts. Since I am always busy – writing, taking care of the kids or whatever – it seemed like a good way to maintain an online presence while getting work done.

Now while I only used it for Twitter, Hootsuite could handle all social media channels such as Facebook, Foursquare, LinkedIn, Tumblr and more. It allows you to schedule your updates in advance and to analyze their effectiveness though not all reports were included in the free version.

Every Saturday, I would schedule tweets about my latest release, my blog or things going on in my life. This worked out well. It was nice to plan my Tweets in advance when we went on vacation, or if I joined one of World Literary Café’s Tweet Teams.

I’ve done this for years until last week. When I went onto Hootsuite to promote a new release for a fellow author, I was notified that the free version of Hootsuite was now only limited to 20 tweets a week. Yikes! I do that many tweets in 2-3 days. All of a sudden, the free version won’t work for me.

I checked out the paid versions of Hootsuite thinking that I liked the program well enough to pay for the ability to Tweet more often. To move the professional version, it would be $19 per month. That is $228 a year to be able to schedule 500 messages a week.

That is more than I want to pay – especially when don’t know how much sending out Tweets helps drive people to my blog or buy my book. I don’t use any of the real-time analytics or other features you get with a paid account.

So, I have been looking at affordable alternatives to Hootsuite. The problem is that many programs I found were not affordable at $49 or more a month. Hmm….they are making Hootsuite’s price look better and better.

SocialPilot – Very similar to Hootsuite. On their free plan, you can do 10 posts a day, but you can only have 30 posts in your scheduling queue, which means I can’t do a week’s worth at a time like I do with Hootsuite. Their basic version is geared to bloggers. It is $10/month and allows 50 posts shared a day and 250 in the scheduling queue.

Buffer – This one covers Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Instagram and Google+. The free account only allows 10 scheduled posts. Their “Awesome” account offers 100 scheduled posts at a time for $10 per month.

TweetDeck – If you are only managing Twitter, Tweet Deck may be for you. And best of all it is free! With TweetDeek, you can schedule your posts, monitor timelines, manage multiple Twitter accounts and set alerts to keep up with other people’s Tweets.

For a list of other Hootsuite alternatives (many with higher monthly fees), click here.

For now, I think I will give Tweet Deck a try since it is free. After that, I may need to try one of the paid versions. Luckily, most offer a 7-day free trial. If you have a social media manager that you like, please let me know about it in the comments.

Getting book reviews

Last week, I wrote about whether book reviews were an important marketing strategy. As it turns out, a good, well-written book review can benefit your sales. When choosing between a book with numerous reviews and one with only a few or no reviews, many readers will pick the more “popular” choice.

So how do you go about getting those reviews?

1.) Ask for a review as part of the back matter of your book. It is simple to include “If you enjoyed this, please leave a review. Thanks!” to the end of your book. Amazon does a good job of asking readers to write a review before they exit the book on their Kindle.

2.) Join book reviewer groups on places such as Goodreads or Google+. Here you can find people who like to review books. Just make sure you follow any of the posted guidelines before you post looking for reviews.

3.) Contact book bloggers for reviews. When doing this, make sure they read your genre and be sure to follow any guidelines they provide. Beware that often the reviewer’s to-be-read list is long. You will also want to find out if they post only on their site or if they post on Amazon and other e-book retailers’ sites.

It sometimes helps to cultivate your relationship with reviewers before you ask for a review. This means get involved on their blog by asking and answering questions related to their posts. Think of these book bloggers as potential business partners.

4.) Approach top reviews on sites like Amazon. Often in their profile, it says if they review books and many provide an email address for author to contact them. Remember to be polite in your inquiry. You can also look for people who reviewed books similar to yours and contact them to see if they would like a free copy in exchange for a review.

5.) You can of course pay a company to find reviewers for you or to even review your book. It is one thing to pay a reviewer and quite another to pay for a positive or five-star review. And I think reviewers will not put as much credibility of a “bought” review. So this option should be used only if you have considered all the pros and cons.

6.) One of the best ways to get a lot of reviews is to giveaway many copies of your book. The more hands you get your book into, the more likely it will be read. An increase in the number of readers will hopefully increase your chance of reader reviews.

It is easy to offer a free copy. On Amazon, you can gift a copy of your book. On Smashwords, you can set up a Free Coupon, or you can use a site such as Instafreebie that allows you to send readers free copies of your e-book.

Reviews are obviously a benefit no matter when you received them, but if you can get reviews out BEFORE your book is released, it can only help the momentum of any book release promotions you do. This means you will need to start early to make sure the reviews coincide with your book release date

But no matter when you get a review, the important thing is to get reviews.

How important are book reviews?

As an independent author, I often hear about how important book reviews are. But is this the real make-it-or-break-it item for authors?

Years ago before the Internet, many readers bought their books from brick-and-mortar book stores. They would find a book with an interesting cover, read the back blurb, and if it sounded intriguing, they would buy it. Unless the story was already a best-seller, reviews were probably not even considered but a friend’s recommendation might have been. When deciding between two books, readers are probably far more likely to pick the one recommended by a friend.

But nowadays we have the Internet and a mass of independently published books. Whether right or wrong, some readers have a poor perception of those books. Perhaps they think because they were not traditionally published, they are not as good. Of course, that is not true. There are many reasons people decide to self-publish.

This is where reviews can come in handy. A good, well-written review can do wonders for your sales. But so can word of mouth recommendations. In 2011, Smashwords creator Mark Coker did a survey asking readers to select the biggest deciding factor in choosing a book to read.

Twenty-nine percent of respondents said they selected books based on recommendations from readers on forums, message boards and blogs. This implies that it isn’t so much reviews on a book-buying website but the reviews of peers elsewhere that influence the purchase of a book.

This makes sense as the trustworthiness of online book reviews have been called into question. Some authors pay for top reviews (though paying for a review is not always bad) or the reviews obviously sound like a friend or family member posted them. Sometimes online reviews on places like Amazon are thoroughly unhelpful to other readers as all you get is an “I liked it.” quote.

That is the problem with reviews found at online book retailers. They can be written by anyone, including someone who doesn’t read or like your genre or someone who has a beef about something totally unrelated to your book. But when these point-of-sale reviews are detailed and positive, they can reap rewards in the additional sales.

Whether the reviews are on a blog/forum or at the point of sale, these reviews are a form of social proof that readers liked your book. How much other readers value these reviews depends on their trust of that reviewer. Perhaps they will believe a fellow reader on a forum or book-viewing website more than someone on Amazon or Barnes & Noble. It is hard to predict.

And while I believe reviews do matter and help sell books, you need to remember that book reviews are only one small piece of the book marketing puzzle.

Not sure how to get book reviews? I’ll address that next week.