Jilly: Impressed and Inspired

This week I read the opening pages of a terrific story by a new-to-me author. Sadly I can’t offer you a recommendation because the pages were a contest entry. I don’t even know the author’s name yet, though I’ll be checking the contest website when the finalists are announced.

I try to judge at least one writing contest per year—mostly because in the past I’ve received super-useful feedback on my own entries, but also because I learn a lot. It typically takes me four to six hours per entry to read the pages, decide on the scores, and write the comments. Many entries are by writers still in the process of learning the basics, but I’ve never read one totally without merit. The challenge is to identify and acknowledge the writer’s strengths, isolate the areas that require work, and make constructive, actionable suggestions without rewriting. It’s hard to do well but even if the pages aren’t my cup of tea it never feels like a thankless task. Whether or not the entrant appreciates my efforts, I get valuable food for thought and most of my insights are applicable to my own writing.

This contest is the first time ever I finished an entry in under an hour. Almost immediately I started reading for pleasure. Then I sipped my coffee and mentally wrote the rest of the book. After that I got to work, which mainly required a heartfelt but most un-judge-like squee. And then I set to thinking about what had made my reading experience so good.

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Jeanne: More About Amazon Ads

Kindle UnlimitedI’ve been playing around with Amazon Ads since my first book, The Demon Always Wins, released a little over a year ago. Here’s what I’ve figured out/read about/had someone teach me so far. These ideas may not work for you, but maybe some will.

1)  How many keywords do I need?

More keywords mean more opportunities.

You can have up to 1000 keywords, but they need to be keywords that will generate clicks and those clicks need to convert to sales or KU reads. So don’t go for glitzy keywords that really don’t relate to your book. You need strong, relevant keywords.

2) How do I generate a list of strong, relevant keywords?

The best way to generate a strong keyword list is to purchase a subscription to something like KDP Rocket, which provides suggested keywords based on data the proprietors have scraped from Amazon’s sales data. As well as suggesting keywords, it will tell you how often a specific search term gets entered. Continue reading

Jilly: Tell Me More!

Do you like your romance novels to be tightly focused, or do you prefer a wider, more complete view of the main characters and their lives?

I read a book last weekend that was passed to me by a friend of a friend. It was a romance, by an author I hadn’t read before, in a subgenre I don’t normally read. I’ve been on a fantasy/urban fantasy/steampunk kick for the last few years, with excursions into historical, paranormal and suspense. This was a contemporary romance with dashes of suspense and adventure.

My friend has high standards, so I was confident the book would be well-written. It was, but I found it enjoyable and frustrating in equal measure. The heroine and the hero were engaging, complex characters. They both had strong personalities, interesting careers, strong goals and challenging backstories. The setting was exotic and spectacular. The conflict was a little iffy, but both characters faced tough external obstacles and had to overcome some level of internal conflict in order to earn their Happy Ever After.

Sounds good, right?

What drove me nuts Continue reading

Jeanne: How to Test Your Website Like a Professional Software Developer

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Image by Shahid Abdullah from Pixabay

A few weeks ago, Eight Lady Jilly debuted her new website. Because my previous life was in software development, before it went live I offered to create a test plan and test the site for her. Being British, she’s very polite, so she accepted.

It’s a beautiful site and was delivered in very good working order. Even so, there was some value in creating a test plan that laid out all the things she wanted the site to do and how each of those things gets triggered.

My own site, in contrast, was a little buggy when I got it, so my (very similar) test plan was very useful both in nailing down how I wanted the site to work and in communicating the problems with my developer. The plan allowed me to tell my developer both how I expected the site to work and how it was actually working, and it let me keep track of what had been fixed.  All of this cut down on the time required to get the site cleaned up and ready to go live.

Since some of our readers may have reason to want to build a website, I thought I’d share a bit of the the plan so you can see how to put one together. Continue reading

Jeanne: 5 Writing Tips from a Cranky Judge

crayon-colored-pencil-150994_640I recently judged in my chapter’s writing contest. My entries were really good–great premises, interesting characters, but writer did some things that pulled me out of the story:

1) If you have your character perform a complex physical action (like cupping his jaw while simultaneously pulling on his lower lip) do the action yourself, exactly as you’ve described it, in front of a mirror. Is it possible? Does it look the way you imagined it? If there’s any doubt at all, snag someone and have them read your text and then perform the action for you. Are you still happy with it? If not, rewrite until it works.

2) We’re constantly told “show, don’t tell” but be sure what you’re showing tells the reader what you intend. “A lick of fire curled through her belly” tells me she’s experiencing a strong emotion, but does the fire represent anger or lust? Make sure that’s clear from the context.

3) Gratuitous prepositions and adverbs. “She sank down to the floor.” You can’t sink up and even if that weren’t true, the floor is a dead giveaway. Trim those suckers!

4) Pronominal reference. I get that all the tutorials on close third POV tell you to minimize using character’s names, but if there are two men in the room and you just say “he,” make sure it’s crystal clear which “he” we’re talking about.

Also, by default, a personal pronoun references the last noun of the same gender. Example: “Marisa didn’t want Leah to go. She would be lonely without her sister.” I believe this means that Marisa would be lonely, but what it says, as written, is that Leah would be lonely because “She” references the last noun of the same gender–Leah.

5) If you’re going to define a new term that’s part of your world building, give us the term and then the definition, not the other way around. Don’t make us go hunting through three paragraphs trying to figure out what you’re defining. There’s a reason the dictionary is written the way it is.

Justine: Copy Editing Challenges You Can Easily Overcome: Apostrophes

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Cartoon by What the Duck.

Author by day, copy editor by night. That’s me. To keep myself occupied in the evenings (I’m not much for watching television) and to help pay for my book cover habit, I take copy editing jobs from select writers. In my former life, I had a ten-year career as a technical writer. Combine all of this experience and one starts to notice particular consistent misuses of various grammar guidelines (I don’t like the word “rules,” because there are some rules made to be broken).

Over the next several posts, I’m going to lay out a few basic guidelines, abuses, and misunderstandings of grammar in the hopes that you, fair writer, will learn them and will put them to good use. If you’re paying for copy editing, this will not only make your copy editor love you more (trust me, it will), but it will reduce the time it takes your copy editor to work through your manuscript.

Disclaimer: I use the Chicago Manual of Style as my “bible” for anything grammar- or copy editing-related. There are other style manuals which may offer differing views. Continue reading

Jilly: Craft Book Squee–Dreyer’s English

Last year I decided I wouldn’t buy any more writing craft books until I’d made better use of all the ones I already own and have at best cherry-picked my way through. A couple of months ago I broke my self-imposed rule, and I’m so glad I did.

Dreyer’s English is subtitled “An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style.” The author is the Copy Chief of Random House, so he should know a thing or two about cleaning up one’s prose. The wonder and the joy of it is that while some of his book is about The Right Way and The Wrong Way to write, as much again is about ignoring the so-called “rules” and making mindful, intelligent choices to optimize your story and amplify your own voice.

He had me at the introduction: Continue reading