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My Real-life Amazon Ad-authortoolbox

My Real-life Amazon Ad-authortoolbox

Is an Amazon Ad really worth the cost? A real life look at using Amazon sponsored ads to sell self-published books

NaNoWriMo Plot Point Scrivener Template

NaNoWriMo Plot Point Scrivener Template

The Manuscript Shredder’s NaNoWriMo Plot Point Calendar is now a Scrivener Template

Monday Writing Roundup-August 20

Monday Writing Roundup-August 20

The second edition of the Monday Writing Roundup

5 links to writing articles I found useful last week.

Monday writing
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The Writing Cooperative

The writing Cooperative talks about why you should be citing stock photos

Monday Writing
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The Guardian

Book pirates get mad

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Chuck Wendig

Chuck Wendig reminds us that first drafts don’t have to be good



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James Alan Gardner

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Citing Photos in WordPress from Adobe Spark

Citing Photos in WordPress from Adobe Spark

Citing stock photos is a free way to support photographers. The quickest and easiest way to cite stock photos from Adobe Spark in your Wordpress posts

Monday Writing Roundup-August 13

Monday Writing Roundup-August 13

Monday Writing Roundup. Links to five writing/publishing articles from the previous week that I have found helpful.

Outlawed openings: can they work?-author toolbox

Outlawed openings: can they work?-author toolbox

Dreams, Flashbacks, and waking up

CAn you make an outlawed opening work?

Most writing advice blogs will tell you to never use dreams, flashbacks, or waking up to begin your story. Avoiding these outlawed openings are often the first piece of advice given out at “pages or pass” readings during any writer’s conference. There are posts all over Pinterest warning writers to stay away and with good reason. These types of openings are all too common and they almost always fail.


This week I received an email from a former client asking about opening her book with a “memory.” This is the advice I gave her:

The simple truth is that anything can be made into a compelling opening if done right. (The Hunger Games begins with Katniss waking up.) The difficultly is making these types of openings compelling.

If you believe this memory is the most effective means of introducing your story, then you have your answer. My best advice is to proceed with caution.

Tips for making your outlawed opening compelling:

Make sure you know the function the memory has in the story
The reason most “waking up” story beginnings fail is the lack of a defined purpose. The author choose to begin there because she didn’t know where else to begin. Novels need to start at the beginning of the story; therefore, the memory must have a clearly defined purpose for introducing it. In other words, why does the reader need to know this right now? By choosing to defy the convention of “starting the story with action,” then you need to be able to justify this choice. “Because I wanted it there,” doesn’t cut it.

That reason can’t be a backstory/world-building dump
No one cares about your elaborate world-building on page 1. No one cares about your character’s unrelated childhood tragedy. If you are putting a dream or memory sequence at the beginning of your story just to explain something to the reader, it will fail to engage her.

It must lay the foundation for the rest of the story.
That means that the rest of the book must be framed around /altered by whatever profound thing is revealed in the memory. By choosing to introduce your story with this memory, then it should affect everything that happens. To test this, try taking the memory away, if it changes how the reader will perceive what follows, then you know the information revealed is critical.

The voice in the opening dream/memory must match the rest of the book
The opening is the introduction, the foundation for the entire story. This sets up the expectation that everything after will match. If you break this convention, your will annoy your readers.

It cannot confuse the reader by causing an abrupt change in the narrative
The reader will assume that whatever happens in the opening sequence is the beginning of the real story. If you start with a dream, or a memory, the reader will feel duped and left to wonder if anything she just read is even pertinent to what follows. Readers do not like being tricked. Never begin your story with this intention. It isn’t clever. It’s an invitation to the reader to close** your book.

This memory needs to be the**, opening hook
It must either set up an important question or cause the reader to make an emotional connection with the character. Often these types of openings fail as a hook because they reveal the answer, rather than posing a question. The opening must create more questions than it answers. This leaves the reader wanting more. Trying for the emotional hook usually fails because slapping the reader with a sob story on page one comes across as a cheap ploy. Until the reader is invested in character, she won’t care about her ugly backstory. This is difficult to do in an opening. Readers want to connect with the character’s current situation, then they will want to learn about her backstory.

Final points:

Assuming your opening meets these criteria and you have decided to proceed, make this opening brief so the real story can begin right away.

Genre also makes a difference. You will get more license for philosophical openings in women’s fiction than in urban fantasy, but not always. Voice matters. If the voice is engaging, readers will forgive anything.

Find a book where you thought this technique worked, and study this example. Then, incorporate those same ideas into your opening.

And finally, make sure you get feedback from your beta readers. These openings are discouraged for good reason. Making them work requires advanced writing skills. You may think you have accomplished your goals, but a reader may disagree.

While most writing advice blogs will tell you to avoid these types of openings, nothing about writing is absolute. There will always be people who find a way to break the “rules” and these are the writers people remember.

Do you know a novel where a forbidden opening worked? Let me know in the comments

This article is part of the monthly Author Toolbox Blog hop

To continue hopping through other great blogs in the monthly #AuthorToolboxBlogHop or to join, click here.

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Your Novel This Month Release Day

Your Novel This Month Release Day

Your Novel, This Month is a beginner’s guide to NaNoWriMo, or writing a novel in a month (any month. It really doesn’t have to happen in November.)

Publishing Pitfalls IWSG

Publishing Pitfalls IWSG

August IWSG Today is a crazy busy day with the release of my book. Yes, it’s today!!!!! Here’s the link Ok, enough of that. The awesome co-hosts for the August 1 posting of the IWSG are Erika Beebe, Sandra Hoover,Susan Gourley, and Lee Lowery! August 1 question – What […]

Working with a Cover Designer

Working with a Cover Designer

What it’s really like to work with a Cover Designer

This week I am excited to talk with the author P.J. Friel on her experience working with professional cover artist Damonza for her debut paranormal romance A Twist of Wyrd.

Ms. Friel, who designs covers for other authors, felt qualified to create her own. This is the original cover:

A twist of wyrd
original cover

As you can see, it’s a decent cover. Certainly far above what many would finger as “amateur” work; nevertheless, the author decided it could use some revision.

TMS: So why did you feel the cover was not quite right?

P.J: I basically got cover envy from Tal. lol [The cover for his current novel A Time to Rise  was designed by Damonza] I really wanted a cover designed by Damonza, but the cost was outside my budget.

However, when I looked on his website, I noticed that he offered a cover evaluation service for free. You send him your cover and he looks it over and tells you what is wrong (and right) with it. So, I sent in my cover and he sent me back a pdf outlining his thoughts on my design.

[Here’s a breakdown of what is in the evaluation: Taken from the from P.J.’s evaluation:

This review considers your cover using 5 different components – tone, relevance, attraction, interest and legibility (TRAIL). Each of those sections is scored out of 10, to give your book a final score out of 50.

In each category, she received a detailed description of the ideal cover and where her cover was off the mark. At the end was a summary of suggestions for improvements.]

TMS: Can you tell me a bit about what you thought wasn’t working with the previous version and what suggestions surprised you?

P.J: I knew the text was weak. I was fairly happy with the image itself and he gave me decent marks on that.  Overall, I got a score of 23/50.  I got a 6/10 for tone. Tone is basically genre.

TMS: Ah. We talked about that. Yours was less gritty

P.J: Yes. For Relevance I scored 8/10…the cover matched the content of the book based on the blurb I sent him. (No Egyptian pyramids on my Norse mythology paranormal romance.)

My cover scored 3/10 for attraction. He didn’t feel that it was very eye catching for readers.

TMS: Really? I would disagree. I found it very eye catching

P.J: I did too…until I saw his.

TMS: *laughs

P.J: Interest score was 4/10. Interest is just how visually interesting the cover is. He mentioned her eye being interesting, but that was about it.

Legibility was a huge fail. I got 2/10. That’s my font choices and use of drop shadows and the bokeh behind “wyrd.”  He dinged me hard for all that and I deserved it.

TMS: Text is so hard. I find it’s the “tell” for amateur titles.

P.J: Totally is. And it’s my weak spot. After the scoring, he gave me recommendations on how to fix the cover and showed me several well done covers in my genre.

TMS: Holy crap. He does that for FREE?

P.J: Just the consulting. Not the improvements.

TMS: Right. Still, that’s pretty sweet

P.J: I was going to fix the cover myself, but then I saw where he also offered a service to update a cover instead of designing one from scratch. I asked for a quote and he came back with price I could afford, so I went for it. The difference he made in my cover was impressive. I think he could probably make just about any cover look better.

TMS: Did you have multiple revisions or was it one pass?

P.J: We only did one pass on mine. He sent me a mock up and I asked for one small change. He fixed that and then I was completely satisfied. He sent me an invoice via PayPal. I paid and received my final covers. He also answered my questions about what fonts he used on my title so I could purchase those same fonts to use with any marketing I do.

TMS: Sounds pretty painless

P.J: Completely painless and very quick, too. My experience was 100% positive. I couldn’t be happier.

TMS: Probably makes a difference going with someone with a solid reputation as opposed to hiring some random person off Fiverr

P.J: Absolutely. Damonza is a true professional, offering a valuable and very business savvy service. His free cover consulting led to me ultimately paying for his services and it created a win-win for both of us. If you or your readers are interested, the starting price for his cover improvements service is $95 and prices go up from there.

The link for the cover consulting is:

Cover Consulting

And here’s the link for his cover improvements service:

Cover Improvements

Here’s the final result for PJ’s cover:

A Twist of Wyrd
final cover

TMS: Wow. That’s awesome.

P.J: Thanks! I’m absolutely thrilled with it.

Thanks for sharing you experience, P.J. Best of luck with A Twist of Wyrd.

To celebrate her new cover, the book is being offered for free on Amazon until the July 29. Grab your copy today!

*this article was not sponsored by Damonza, we’re genuine fans.

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Using Enneagrams for Character arcs

Using Enneagrams for Character arcs

Using Enneagrams to map out your character arcs will create realistically flawed characters and make their transformations feel real.