Jilly: Another Shiny New Cover

Another week, another seven days closer to the end of this pandemic, whenever that may be. I hope you’re safe and well.

And Happy Easter to everyone who’s celebrating today. Even though this is an Easter like no other, I hope you’re able to find the joy in it.

Here in England the weather has turned gorgeous, which makes it even harder to stay inside. I’m lucky that we have a small garden, and if I work at the table in the kitchen I can open the double doors and get a hit of birdsong and sunshine. It helps a lot.

I’m still waiting for the edit report on Daire’s novella, now officially called The Seeds of Exile, but I have a cover, and here it is. You might remember that I found a stock photo of a guy I thought was perfect for Daire—hair, face, expression—but who wasn’t a golden historical fantasy prince. I hoped my cover designers would be able to turn him into one, and I must say they surpassed my expectations.

What do you think? I hope you like it as much as I do.

I’d love to know what signals it gives you. Does it look like your kind of book? If you noticed that cover as you were browsing online, would you click on it to check out the blurb?

Thank you in advance for your comments, whatever they may be.

And huge thanks to the team at Deranged Doctor Design, who are a delight to deal with, not to mention brilliant creatively and technically. I feel very privileged to be working with them.

Jilly: Sibling Rivalry–A Snippet

I had a list of possible topics for today’s post, but somehow none of them felt right. Instead I decided to offer a micro-distraction from our current real-world grimdark.

The snippet below is from Daire’s upcoming novella. I should have more information to share soon, including a title and a cover. The excerpt is a little spoiler-y, but no more than you’ll get from the blurb in due course. If you’d rather wait a month or three for the finished article, look away now 😉 .

Prince Daire is crown prince and sole ruler of the wealthy city-state of Caldermor. Prince Warrick is his brother and heir. The exchange below comes in the aftermath of Warrick’s death-or-exile attempt to challenge Daire for the throne.

Sibling Rivalry

Warrick was right, blast and blight him. He’d clearly spent as much time as Daire worrying about the future.

Time to turn the tables. “What would you have done? If you’d defeated me yesterday?”

Warrick cleared his throat. He had the grace to look abashed.

“Besides putting me to the sword.” Daire brushed that off with a wave of his hand. “Would you have married?”

A curt nod.

“Who would you have chosen?” He managed a grin, and a drawl. “Which blue-blooded brood mare meets with your approval?”

Warrick’s eyes blazed. He took a step forward, fists clenched, before he got hold of himself. “She’s no brood mare. She’s beautiful. Intelligent. Principled. Calderran. She knows our history.”

Daire watched his brother warily. “Does this paragon have a name?” Continue reading

Jilly: The Big Step

It’s been months since I worked on a new story. I’d almost forgotten how it feels 😉

I had a solid draft of The Seeds of Power finished by summer last year. Then I spent the rest of 2019 dealing with edits, more edits, proofreading, formatting, and uploading the book. Not to mention setting up author accounts, claiming author pages, writing blurbs, bios, and all kinds of other indie publishing stuff.

It was interesting and oddly enjoyable, rather like my desk job back in the day. I was pleased with the final result, but it’s only now I’ve started working on the next Elan Intrigues story that I realize how much I’ve missed writing.

I’ve started a novella that links The Seeds of Power with the next full Elan Intrigues book. The point of view character is Prince Daire. He was the most important secondary character in The Seeds of Power, but he didn’t have a point of view in that book, so the reader never got an insight into his head.

Even though I had a pretty good understanding of Daire, it’s taken me most of the last month to find his voice. Now, finally, I’m getting there. Here’s the key to Daire: his family motto is The Price of Privilege is Duty, but his personal mantra is Whatever Happens, Smile.

It’s early days, and it’s only a novella, but I can’t overstate the thrill I get from feeling that I finally got inside Daire’s head. He’s a fictional character, but suddenly he’s become real to me. I care what happens to him. I’m excited to tell his story. I want to solve his problems. Don’t tell my husband, but I kind of love him 😉

I know it won’t last, but right now I want to write the next scene, and the one after that. I go to bed thinking about the story and wake up raring to write. It’s wonderful.

I said at the beginning of the year that my watchword for 2020 would be WALTZ, symbolizing my efforts to balance writing, publishing, and marketing. I realized this week that a waltz may comprise three steps, but they don’t have to be equally weighted. You can take one big, swooping creative step and then balance it with two smaller, stabilizing ones. I think that may be my kind of waltz.

It’s been a good week here in London. What gives you that excited, buzzy feeling?

Justine: Oh, How a Story Changes Over Time

Old typewriter with laptop, concept of old and newMy first novel, His Lady to Protect, is in the hands of my copy editor and will be available on Feb. 14th. It’s a book that has been SIX YEARS in the making.

I thought it would be fun to compare the first chapter of that book, back when it was loosely titled “1812 Trilogy Book 1,” to what it has become. I’m almost embarrassed to do this, for my first effort was SO POOR in so many ways (bonus points if you list them in the comments!), but at least now I (think I) know how to write a little better. (The original, 6 year-old chapter is first, followed by Chapter 1 of HLTP.)

Now, if you’ll please pardon me, I’m going to hide under the covers while you read.


1812 Trilogy Book 1 – Chapter 1

“Do whatever you have to, Susannah, but don’t Continue reading

Jilly: 2020 In A Word

It’s a new year, the beginning of a new decade, the perfect moment to take stock. In recent years I’ve chosen a watchword to epitomize my approach to the coming twelve months. I’ve decided to continue the practice for 2020.

I like the idea of a watchword. It’s less prescriptive than a set of resolutions. More like a theme. An idea that recurs and pervades.

My word for 2019 was CONCENTRATE, defined as:

  1. To focus all one’s efforts on a particular project or activity; and
  2. To distil something to its essence by removing or reducing any diluting agents.

For 1., my priority project was to indie publish The Seeds of Power. I made it (just). Yay!

For 2., my intent was to remind myself of the choices I’d have to make in preparing the book for publication—content edits, title, genre positioning, covers, blurbs, and so on. I wanted the book to be professional and marketable, but most of all I wanted it to be the clearest, strongest, most intense version of my voice and story vision that I could achieve. I think I got that too. Double yay for 2019!

After three whole weeks as a published author I have a pretty good idea of how I want to approach 2020. First and foremost, my priority is to keep writing. I want to write a second Elan Intrigues story, provisionally titled The Pulse of Princes, and then update Alexis’s book. Second, I need to prepare The Pulse of Princes for publication. At least I have a better idea what to expect this time, and I found some great professionals to work with. Third, I need to get to grips with marketing. That’s the last part of the indie author trifecta. It’s not my strong suit, and it’s the bit I didn’t really get to grips with in 2019.

So: my challenge for 2020 is Continue reading

Justine: Being Judicious When Reviewing Editor Comments

At the beginning of November, I received comments back from my developmental editor. This was the first time in six years of writing that I’d gotten far enough to 1) finish a book, and 2) submit it to an editor. When I got her comments–which included a letter with general recommendations as well as detailed line edits throughout the MS, plus a 1.5 hour Skype call–I sat back and processed everything she threw at me before making changes, and I’m glad I did.

But once I was done digesting, how did I figure out what to use and what to keep? I listened to my gut.

Just because an editor (or anyone) makes a suggestion, doesn’t mean you make the change. It doesn’t mean you ignore them, either. The rule of thumb I follow is this:

  • If one person makes a suggested change, I think about it, weigh the merits, and listen to my gut.
  • If one person + my gut makes a suggestion, I usually change it.
  • If 2+ people make the same suggestion, my gut is usually quick to follow suit, and I usually change it.

I say “usually” because sometimes (really…rarely) there’s a compelling reason for me not to. If that’s the case, I’ll brainstorm with my critique partners to see if there’s a way to make a different change that remedies the problem or issue they pointed out. In general, though, if more than one person (or my gut and someone else) suggest something or point out a problem, I try to fix it. Continue reading

Jilly–The 10,000-hour rule

Have you heard of the 10,000-hour rule?

In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell’s 2008 best-selling non-fiction book, he examines the factors that contribute to high levels of success. One idea that recurs throughout the book is the 10,000-hour rule.

In essence, he argues that the key to achieving a world-class expertise in any skill is mostly a matter of practicing in the correct way for a total of at least 10,000 hours.

Personally I think that to become world-class the person doing the practicing must also have a certain level of talent, and getting the right kind of expert help makes a huge difference, but I’m willing to believe that with consistent application the average person can reach a high skill level in many areas.

Told you that to tell you this: I just received my final formatted files for The Seeds of Power, and I’m expecting the paperback covers some time in the next day or two. Which means that after almost eight years of toil, sweat and tears in the writing trenches I should be in the position to publish my debut book before the end of the year, and I’m proud of the way it’s turned out. I honestly don’t think I could have done any better.

More on that next week, and no doubt the week after as well, but as I was contemplating just how long it’s taken me to get here–so much longer than I ever expected–it occurred to me to do a rough guesstimate of how many hours I’ve spent learning my craft. I plucked some numbers out of the air, and guess what? Six hours a day, for five days per week, for forty weeks per year, for eight years, makes 9,600 hours. Huh.

I’m not saying that means the book is good or that I’m a world-class writer, but I’m choosing to take it as a sign that I’ve earned my chops. That the time is right.

How about you? Have you learned a musical instrument, become a pastry chef, a calligrapher, or a dog whisperer? Or do you know somebody who mastered a skill? I know Elizabeth makes quilts, Michaeline plays the ukulele, and one of our commenters, Penny, is an artist. How long did it take you (or them) to become proficient?

Do you believe the 10,000-hour test is a good rule of thumb?