Tag Archives: Douglas Owen

98 A Written View

The Following Will Shock You

This is for all creators who use Kindle Unlimited – don’t!

DougHeader-webBy Doug Owen

Okay, got that off my chest. I guess you’re wondering why I’m screaming that at the top of my lungs. Well, let’s go over what KU is, for those who don’t know.

KU, or Kindle Unlimited, allows readers to read as much as they want for a small monthly fee. Authors add their books to KU and, when a reader starts to read it, the author starts to get paid. On a 300 page book the payout is a maximum of $1.50 per book if it is read from start to finish. If the book is only 50% read, then they get $0.75. Nice system, and all you have to do is advertise your book.

Knowing the world we live in, there are people out there who’ve figured out how to scam the system. They get people to create multiple new KU accounts (free for the first month), download the book and either flip through it quickly or just skip to the end. So, for each individual scammer, the author has the ability to make $15. Do this enough and you could make a few bucks, but not until you have finished hiring a lot of people and losing those bucks.

So why is this bad?

Ask Pauline Creeden, author of the Chronicles of Steele. A while back, Pauline received a generic email saying her KDP account was closed due to a violation of the terms. Like most of us, Pauline sees a majority of her sales through Amazon in ebook format. She is a mid-range author, like many of us, and the closing of her KDP account cut off a large portion of income for her. It took a lot of emailing back and forth, and pain, but her account was reinstated.

Why did Amazon close her account?

Here is the email message she received:

We are reaching out to you because we have detected that borrows for your books are originating from systematically generated accounts. While we support the legitimate efforts of our publishers to promote their books, attempting to manipulate the Kindle platform and/or Kindle programs is not permitted. As a result of the irregular borrow activity, we have removed your books from the KDP store and are terminating your KDP account and your KDP Agreement effective immediately.


As part of the termination process, we will close your KDP account(s) and remove the books you have uploaded through KDP from the Kindle Store. We will issue a negative adjustment to any outstanding royalty payments. Additionally, as per our Terms and Conditions, you are not permitted to open new KDP accounts and will not receive future royalty payments from additional accounts created.

She’d received no advance warning, no information, nor anything to tell her there was a problem.

Basically, when you limit yourself to KDP and the KU program, it means you have the possibility of losing a lot. Pauline advertised this book like she did any other, but maybe the cover art (impressive when you look at it) enticed a number of people to join the KU program and grab her book. Maybe there was an influx of people who joined KU at that time and picked her book to read. We don’t know (and neither does Pauline). All she can tell you is it shocked her, and took a great deal of time to resolve.

Note – the payout for KU usually works out to $0.005/page.

Ingram Sucks!

Ouch! Really? Yes, they do, but that shouldn’t stop you from dealing with them indirectly. Here’s why. Warning, I may get a little racy on this one.

Ingram tells you when publishing through their Lightning Source, that book stores like to have the ability to return books that don’t sell. It means limited liability to them (really, no liability). They also tell you that bookstores like to make 40 percent of the sale as profit.

Okay, let’s look at the numbers. A book sells for $20, the bookstore gets $8 and you get $12, right? No. In order for the bookstore to get 40 percent you have to mark your payments at 55 percent (40% to the bookstore and 15 percent to Ingram as the distributor). So now you have only made 45 percent or $9. Then you have to remove the print cost of the book as well, say $4.55, leaving you with $4.45. Okay, I can see that.

Returns kill your income

Ingram, when handling returns, charges you for both the printing of the returned book and their distribution charge. So, you are out the actual distribution fee of the book, or $11. And to add insult to injury, they also charge a $2 fee for handling the return.

That’s not all. If you request for the books to be returned, not destroyed, they charge you $2 per book for delivery—is if you live in the United States. If you live in, say, Canada, they charge an extra $20 per book for the return.

Is your wallet crying yet? There’s more.

Depending on when the return is done, you could be out a lot of money before you see one dime of royalties.

Say it isn’t so, Doug. How could they do that?

Easy. You go to the bookstore and arrange a signing and you live in Canada. They LOVE your book and see you have lots of sales, so they order 200 books through Ingram to stock the shelves and make money. You show up, slogging through the snowstorm to end all snowstorms. The store is open and you wait, hoping to sign and sell at least 100 books. You advertised the sale to all the people following you on Facebook and Twitter. Many people said they would be there.

At the end of the day you’re dejected, and have sold only ten books. Okay, not bad, but horrible for royalties (use the prior financial information to show you made $44.50 from the sale).

Now, the manager at the bookstore shakes your hand and says, “Tough luck with the weather, right?”

You smile, nod, and collect all your things in order to brave the raging storm outside.

Unknown to you, the bookstore packs up all 190 remaining books and ships them back to Ingram that very day, shaking his head at another wannabe author, not realizing the storm caused the lack of sales.

Ingram receives the books back, and promptly checks to see you have return marked on them. They smile, package them up, and send them to you. Your royalty report shows the following:

Sales – $90

Print costs – $910.00

Total Royalties – ($820)

The signing now cost you a lot of money, and they hold that against you, deducting it from royalties owed.

Now, when you get your financial report at the end of the month you’ll see the return of the books, and a fee imposed called “Other”. In this case (we’ll call the author Bill), Bill gets his monthly Ingram statement that shows he owes $820 in royalties and an “Other” charge of $3990 ($2 per book return shipping charge and $20 per book return out of US). Bill closes his account and stops writing. What a shame.

Ingram mentioned two months ago that they are rewriting the ‘agreement’ to remove the charge, but everyone asks, “What agreement?” In fact, there is no actual formal agreement between Author/Publisher and Ingram Lightning Source. Figure that out. So how can they actually hold you to that charge? Well, if you are smart you’ll realize it is a charge from Ingram Distributing, not Lightning Source. You could always say you don’t have an agreement with them—only Lightning Source—and see how that works. Until Ingram gets their heads out of their proverbial ass, I’ll never deal directly with them again.

If you decide to do signings, ask the bookstore if you can supply the copies of the book for sale. Let them know that as a self-published author, it is important you control all returns. Tell them you’ll gladly take back all the books that don’t sell at no cost to them and smile. If you’re a small publisher, make sure your website explains this as well. They should know you accept returns on your terms. And never let Ingram destroy the books.

Follow Doug at: http://daowen.ca


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95 A Written View


Setting Your Hook

By Douglas Owen

What do you think is the best phrase a writer can ever hear someone say about their book? No, not that it needs to be on the bestsellers list, but you are close. The best phrase a writer can ever hear is, “I could not put your book down!”

Think about it. As a writer, your main purpose is to entertain. In order to entertain, you have to give someone a reason to read your story. Once they start, you have to keep them reading. How do you do that? You leave hooks that will draw them into the story, get them vested in it, and give them just enough information to make them want to read more. Whether it is historical fiction or sci-fi, there needs to be something in the narrative that will pull the reader into wanting to finish the story. 

So, when you hear someone tell you they couldn’t put down the book, you must have done your job properly. I heard it several times with some of my writing, and encourage all the authors I talk with to do the same: put hooks in the story right from the start.

Noah Lukeman, writer of The First Five Pages, tells his readers that the book is mistitled. It should have been The First Five Words— Et Al, meaning it is all in the first five. Five words, five sentences, five paragraphs. You have to have hooks to keep your reader reading.

Using this type of approach will make you hear those words more than you do now. So always hook the reader right away with something. If you don’t, it could cause them to set down the work and move on. But when you hear those words from a reader, they ring magic in your ears.

How to Do It 

How you hook them will determine how long you can play out the fight. Don’t net them right away and allow them to flop in the boat through reams of narrative filling in back story. Let them run out some line and pull it in a bit. Give a little and take a little. Throw more chum into the water. 

Think about a book you started to read and just did not put down until you finished it. Now, how did they start it out? Was there a huge line of narrative describing the surroundings with little character development?

Let’s look at a controversial (at the time of its writing) novel by Robert A Heinlein, one of the masters of sci-fi. Starship Troopers hit bookstores in 1959 and became a study of what mankind would do if faced with an unconquerable foe. It starts off with the main character, Juan Rico, taking part in a raid on a planet. Action. Boom! Zap! Blam! Right away, he throws us into action. Small tidbits of information are fed through slams of action. Heinlein does not let up, even in the flashbacks. People are put into impossible situations, are killed or survive, and through all this, he shows how this one trooper takes on the impossible, and somehow lives.

Even if you are not a fan of sci-fi, you could still enjoy the read. To this day, the work stands the test of time. They have made movies of the work and many, even today, argue about it. He hit into a controversial subject that was suddenly the theme of his work: If you don’t fight for your country, why the hell should you be allowed to control policy for it?

But without getting into the theme, plot and breakdown of the message, we need to look at how he captures the reader’s attention. The main way is through action. It is non-stop, interspersed with narrative information to keep the reader informed of the world and what is happening.

Heinlein hooks us from start to finish in this novel, and you need to do the same in order to sell a lot of books. 

Get Ready, Get Set, Go! 

Most readers have a short attention span. They don’t want to spend the first 50 pages trying to get into your book. You have to set something up and go forward from there. Little traps, barbs, hooks, and insights. Some things that readers don’t want to see are: 

  • Dialogue
  • Descriptions
  • Irrelevant Information
  • Too Many Characters!


I’m not saying to stop using dialogue, but remember that dialogue should not be used as the first sentence of a novel. And I would caution against starting a chapter with dialogue as well. Usually, you’ll want to set up your world in the first couple of paragraphs. Paint that picture the reader needs in order to start the draw. It could be the look of a bullet flying out of a gun or how the orc in front of the fighter drooled rivers of saliva. Just make sure you set up who will be the characters in the scene.


I know I just said to use descriptions, but don’t overdo it. Spend just enough time describing something for the reader to get that mental picture. Why would you spend a page describing the way a raindrop falls from the flower petal? Two sentences for something like that would be sufficient, if not overkill. Don’t describe something that will play no relevance in the story. Remember the old adage: if you describe the gun over the fireplace then someone must be shot by it before the end of the chapter.

Irrelevant Information 

This is something many writers provide. Why would I need to know the history of a character who dies right after they are introduced? One writer spent a page, 360 words, describing the character’s checkered past before they were hung. And that was done at the start of the chapter when the character was introduced. There was a whole episode of backstory that was just page filler. Do I really need to know the convict they just hung came from a broken home where the father left him at two years old? No, I don’t. They are not a main character so just let them hang. 

Too Many Characters 

There is a good rule to follow in writing: Don’t introduce more than five named characters per scene. I actually think it is better to not name five in a scene and, if the scene changes, you can introduce more if needed. Think of it this way, how much of the following can you actually follow: 

Jason stared at Gail, wondering if Fred was there to ask her out or if the young man wanted to see his younger sister, Maddie. Jason knew his father, Zak, really wanted to talk to the young man and his father, Mike. But after a long time at the party where they met July, Paul, Francis, Sarah, Peter and Dave, there was a need to see the mayor, Adam.

Okay, without looking above, who was Fred there to see? If your answer was Gail, and you didn’t have to go back to the start of the paragraph to check, then good for you. Most would not remember.

The Plan 

So, you now know what not to do. How can a writer put hooks in their work in order to make the reader want to continue reading? The answer is simple, so please don’t slap a fish across your face when you read it. You want to make them wonder, pivot, become interested, be intrigued, find the unusual, and be compelled.

Make Your Readers Wonder 

Ever start reading something that makes you start to ask questions? That is the wonder hook. A question that you imply to the reader in order to make them wonder about the answer. They keep reading, looking for the answer. It will burn in their mind, cause them to drink copious amounts of coffee in order to stay up late reading, and generally drive them insane—especially if you don’t answer that question. The reader will then talk to others, who will have to buy your book to know what they are talking about, and thus you have a never ending circle of purchases to feed your royalties. 

Here are some of those wonder points: 

  • “Those old cows knew trouble was coming before we did.” —Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Novelby Jeannette Walls 
  • “A secret’s worth depends on the people from whom it must be kept.” —The Shadow of the Windby Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Starting At a Pivotal Moment 

If you start your work at a pivotal moment in the story, then you have started a hook. Your reader is more likely to be pulled into the story, because something important is happening, and they want to know the outcome. It will raise their desire to know what happens next.

  • “It was dark where she was crouched, but the little girl did as she’d been told.” —The Forgotten Gardenby Kate Morton 
  • “Christine screamed as another contraction racked her already tired body.” —A Spear In Flightby Douglas Owen 

Interesting Pictures 

Descriptions are your best ally when encouraging a reader to keep reading. Painting a vivid picture in their mind is often a lost art in most of today’s self-published writers, so learn it well.

  • “Last night I dreamt I went toManderley ” —Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier 
  • “She stands up in the garden where she has been working and looks into the distance.” —The English Patientby Michael Ondaatje

Intriguing Character 

Introduce someone intriguing right away. The possibility of learning more about them will drive the reader to keep going until their curiosity is satisfied.

  • “I was born twice: first as a baby girl on a remarkablysmogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.” —Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides 

The Unusual Situation 

Take something out of the ordinary and place your characters there. By starting a novel out this way, it brings the curiosity out in the reader. They will continue to read in order to find out why they are in such a bizarre location or instance.

  • “They had flown from England to Minneapolis to look at a toilet.” —Juliet, Nakedby Nick Hornby 
  • “Last night, I dreamt that I chopped Andrew up into a hundred little pieces, like aBenihana chef, and ate them, one by one.” —The Opposite of Love by Julie Buxbaum

A Compelling Narrative Voice 

Have you ever started reading a book and found yourself identifying with the main character? That is the compelling narrative voice we are speaking of. Usually in the first person, it allows the reader to immediately understand what is happening to the person and why, or convey the confusion they are feeling. 

  • “I am ninety. Or ninety-three. One or the other.” —Water for Elephantsby Sara Gruen
  • “As I begin to tell this, it is the golden month of September in southwestern Ontario.” —No Great Mischiefby Alistair MacLeod

Wrap It Up 

Always keep your reader in mind when you write. Understand what they will want to get out of your work and dole it out in little chunks of discovery. It will make the reader want to keep going, and add so much joy to their experience as the end of the writing approaches. The second best thing you could hear is “I loved the book from start to finish. Didn’t want it to end, but was satisfied when it did.” 

Doug’s Website: http://daowen.ca/

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94 A Written View

DougHeader-webUltimate Story Plot Creation!

By Douglas Owen

Who hasn’t struggled with creating a plot? Heck, even I don’t put my hand up for that one. Writers agonize over plot creation all the time. Some look everywhere for inspiration, while others purchase software that generates ideas at the push of a button. They shell out hundreds, only to get generic outlines already patented by Hollywood, thinking their book will be picked up for the next blockbuster.

The hell with it, I say. If a plotting system is so complex that there is a need for a computer guru to run it, then it is not worth the electrons used to store it in memory.

Okay, there is only one real plot out there that works, and then there are the derivatives of said plot. Here it is. Are you ready?

Boy meets girl Boy loses girl Boy is reunited with girl (or not).

Honestly, think of all the stories you’ve read and tell me I’m lying.

Okay, there are derivatives of the plot, like:

Boy finds ring Boy loses ring Boy is reunited with ring (or not).

Sound familiar? It’s Lord of the Rings. Get off your high horse, Saruman.

Okay, so boy represents a character and ring the girl or object of desire.

Want a story that is longer? Just repeat the pattern and add in more characters. Take the above example of Lord of the Rings. Aragorn wanted the elven maiden Arwen, so there is a sub-plot hidden there. He also secretly wants the crown, and the narrative shows that as an underlying desire.

Within the story is the on-again off-again plot of Frodo and the ring, but the main part thrust is Gollum who found the ring, lost the ring, then did get it back just as he died.

Not convinced yet?

Boromir plays a part in the first book and his plot line comes to the fore as he finds Frodo, loses him, finds him again and loses his life protecting him. Same plot as the initial with a little twist.

This plot outline fits all the characters, including Sam.

Adding More

You don’t want the reader to see the exact same plot throughout the novel or they’ll wonder why they are reading such drivel. The fix is easy enough. Give the object they desire an illustrative significance.

Illustrative means two or more things at the same time. The imperative of Sex means not only the survival of the species, but also, one’s own immortality.

Bang! More meat on the bone now.

Want a book packed with the illustrative? Moby Dick. Ahab represents Mankind, the whale, Christ. Ahab is the soldier who spears Christ and the destruction of Ahab’s ship is the ruin of Mankind deprived of Christ.

Let’s go back to The Lord of the Rings. The ring represents evil, Frodo, the struggle of Mankind against evil, Gollum, the id of man wanting everything, and the other characters represent the good and bad in us all. Each has their own little mini-plot for what they do.

Emotion and the Story

A story would be really boring if there were no emotion. Emotion is what drives the characters and makes the yarn believable.

Emotion is generated by conflict, either the start of it or the end. The good news is that we already have conflict in our plot: boy loses girl. What could be more emotional than that (or more wracked with such conflict)?

We just have to get our characters to show their responses to the conflict. They’ll do it in a particular order, if they’re human:

* First they feel it—His heart thundered in his chest at the loss of her.

* Then they think about it—In desperation, he planned to find her.

* Last they take action—The journey started, and with a pack slung over his shoulder, he took the first step.

With emotion, it is best to keep it simple: love, hate, anger, remorse

Slow It Down!

You cannot maintain the rollercoaster of emotion throughout the story. Take a little breather and put in something a little slower, so your reader can recoup.

Some call them comfort breaks, while others call them reminiscences. Call them what you will, just make sure you have them in the story or your reader will feel like they are on a treadmill of unending exercise. Seen The Biggest Loser? There is a reason they don’t keep those people running and jumping all day long. You need to relax those muscles and let them heal. Same goes for the mind. Let the reader relax a little and recoup from that marathon of emotion you just slapped them with.

Be poetic, summarize, or just reminisce about what happened. Remember, you need to keep the reader interested and not tired after reading.

Here is an example of how to do it:

King Lear

* Lear reviews his kingdom, the Object of his Desire, and decides there is no longer a desire

* Lear gives the kingdom away to his nasty daughters

* Lear loses his kingdom, but is reunited with it. He thus gains the ultimate Object of Desire, insight, and his soul (or does he?).

Yes, a lot of distractions happen with the mixing of sub-plots, causing the story of King Lear to be complex and emotional. It draws on the same basic idea of found, lost, found again.

Look forward to the future of your writing. How many stories you have dreamed of or plotted, and discovered the underlying reason for the character’s motives? Do they fit the basic of a great story? Find, lose, find?

Down the Rabbit Hole

Not really, but look at another great story that recently hit the screen: The Martian, by Andy Weir.

Stop! I hear that. What do you mean it matches the basic outline? There was no girl!

Yes, but think about it. Comrades lost and found again. He started with a group of astronauts, lost them (they left him behind), and found them again. Through the movie (and book) he found stuff (potatoes), lost them, and found them again (yes, read the book and you’ll understand what I mean by that). The whole novel centers on losing and finding. NASA lost him, found him, lost him, found him. Read it, don’t watch the movie, and you’ll see what I mean.

Need another one?

The old Total Recall: He lost his memory and then found it. He had to have it before to lose it. Also, he had love, lost it, and found it again.

So, any questions?

Doug’s Website: http://daowen.ca/

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93 Table of Contents

ALSO IN THE ISSUE: 3 great Sneak Peek features you can only see in the actual PDF, Sepulchre #1, Bang Bang Lucita #1, and Shaman’s Destiny #1…ALSO – a listing of most recent additions to our Marketplace.


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93 A Written View

DougHeader-webReader Appeal

By Doug Owen

What makes a story have instant reader appeal? Is it the author’s name? Could there be some secret message buried in the artwork that might cause a normal person to pick it up? Is there some secret formula used to put the correct words together to form that special message somewhere?

Instant reader appeal is one of the greatest literary secrets out there.

Never mind the first line in your story. Hell, it could be something that rages off the page, leaving an “I gotta read this!” feeling in the person browsing the bookshelf. What more could there be?

When you wander through a book store, check out what people actually take off the shelf. Most pull out a book that only has the binding showing. So it has to be either the title or the author that gets them. It couldn’t be the publisher; no, people don’t even recognize half of the logos out there. What caused them to pick that book over the even better one below it?

Look at the cover design. Yes, I know everyone has grown up with the adage not to judge a book by its cover (cliché, by the way). Everyone does. One of my first books garnered a spot in “Terrible Book Covers” because of that. When I saw it, the cover was instantly changed. Another couple of hundred down the tubes.

So, what is it that grabs the reader? Good artwork? Original designs? Maybe the font told them?

Oh, what’s that you said? You’re not in it for the money? Sure. I bet you don’t need to eat. Everyone is in it to make a splash, get their name out and put a few shekels in their pocket. If not, why write? Unless you’re independently wealthy and can afford to just sit back and watch interest do its work.

And imagine the effect an author’s name has on how it sells. The name splashed across the top ¼ of the cover while the title is just a little splash underneath. Does that tell us how recognition drives sales?

But most of us don’t have that godhood draped about our shoulders. We belong to the real world, where the mention of our name usually gets, “Who?” We are not a mainstay on the list of literary giants. Does that mean a catchy title and cover design is our only way to salvation, if not publication?

Consider the amount of time you spent on your manuscript. The tears, cried into your pillow because the words would not come out. About the endless trips to the bottle just to get the courage to write that first line. How you hid in the closet so your better half would not see you. Imagine if you composed the cover as well. All the images would come directly from you, not some haphazard artist halfway around the world. No stock photos for you!

Oh ye of little faith.

There is help. It is a simple template that can make your book stand out. And we have the romance sector that pumps out novel after novel to thank for that simple formula.

Stand back now. We are about to reveal the simple, yet effective, way to make sure your novel sells (or, at least, gets picked up to look at. We are not, of course, fixing the writing, just helping get it picked up).

The torso of an impossibly toned man and the overflowing bosoms of a beautiful woman are coupled with some generic title tilled with care through a title generating machine kept out back. Titles like Summer’s Found Passion or Love’s Destiny. Just look in the airport lounges and you’ll see what I mean. And the two people on the cover don’t even have to look the same!

Flip this to my favorite genre, Sci-Fi, and see what is on the cover. Robert Heinlein gave into the publisher when he wrote the amazing novel, Friday, and let them put a large-breasted woman front and center with the zipper on the front of her suit pulled down to her navel.  Spider Robinson’s Stardance, with a woman in a skin-tight space suit, is another one.

Want to get the women involved in buying your books? Take a walk through GoodReads and see the covers of the books they rate the best. I just did this for giggles while writing the article and 90 per cent of the books that have models showing some type of skin on the cover are rated at five stars, only 10 per cent at four stars or fewer. But that same person rates a book with no model on the cover at three stars. Maybe it was the writing, but when you see the pattern, what you need to do to generate interest becomes very straightforward.

But what about titles?

Just for giggles, here are some very… interesting titles:

Castration: The Advantages and the Disadvantages by Victor T. Cheney
Games You Can Play with Your Pussy and Lots of Other Stuff Cat Owners Should Know by Ira Alterman
Still Stripping After 25 Years  by Eleanor Burns
Eating People is Wrong by Malcolm Bradbury
The Missionary Position—Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice by Christopher Hitchens
Reusing Old Graves by Douglas Davies
How to Succeed in Business Without a Penis by Karen Salmansohn
The Pocketbook of Boners by Dr. Seuss
Images You Should Not Masturbate To by Graham Jonson
A Passion for Donkeys by Dr. Elisabeth D. Svendsen
Everyone Poops by Taro Gomi
Pooh Gets Stuck by Isabel Gaines
The Best Dad is a Good Lover by Dr. Charlie Shedd
Scouts in Bondage by Geoffrey Prout

Some of these… Well, you’ll have to see the covers to understand. But they are just a few of the titles that do not come over well.

Most of the time, you want your title to reflect what the story is about. So when you come across Jaws you can sort of understand what the novel is about just by the title.  All Quiet on the Western Front tells you something about the content of the novel, and so does War and Peace. You don’t have to turn a page to understand what the main content of those books will be.

But there are some that are not really that revealing, like Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange, or John Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, or Alex Revell’s A Fall of Eagles (But the cover art explains it all).


Your reader is a visual creature. They look at the cover, they read the title and back page, glance through a few pages and, if you are lucky, they read it. And while an established author can get away with a black cover with lettering (The Road by Cormac McCarthy—over 472,000 ratings on GoodReads and counting), you cannot afford to be so standoffish to your audience. Put a lot of thought behind your cover. Shelf Appeal is everything, because most people DO judge a book by its cover.

When I was young (yes, they had printed books back then, as well), I would pick up a book and look at the cover, deciding if I wanted to even think about glancing at the back. The look of a cover can appeal to a reader or dissuade one from even picking up your book.

Image and typography have a lot to say. They need to capture the heart of the reader, intrigue them, and captivate their imagination. Once the prospective reader picks up the book, the writing must do the rest. But getting the book picked up is the one thing you have to work on, and that is where these things come into play.

It takes me a while to decide what type of cover I want for my book. My YA series almost died because of a bad cover choice, but the new one (the design of which I follow throughout the series) has been a hit. Now, as a publisher, I hear authors describe covers to me and just nod. Having read their books and knowing the industry it is very important that not only that the author’s vision gets laid out, but that the marketing guys and artists take the time to tell me what it really needs. Heck, one author hated the cover so much that he almost decided to take the work to another publisher until I showed him some test market research.

A Checklist

We all try to have our novel outshine the novel next to it. So, here is how you do it:

  • The title you thought of first, after writing your novel, is probably the best
  • Make the title relevant to the story, or at least intriguing
  • KISS—Keep It Short and Simple, so people remember it
  • Shelf Appeal is GOD—how does it stand out?
  • Who will read the book? The cover should be targeting them
  • Make the title easy to read (font choices). That does not mean boring

So, think of this after you have written your masterpiece and remember: they judge a book by it’s cover.



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90 Cameron Miller Interview

IM90-miller2An interview with Cameron Miller

By Doug Owen

Cameron Miller is a gentle giant whose outlook on life has taken him on a wonderful journey. I can say my life is enriched by the simple communications I’ve had with this man. Instead of telling you, let’s look through the steam to catch a small glimpse of what powers this highly-caring and giving individual.

IM: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

CM: I grew up at the edge of a college campus in a rustbelt city in Indiana, the American heartland, squeezed between progressive and conservative ideas and values, in a family that cherished education, reading, and history. All of that propelled me forward as I left home, majoring in philosophy at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York. After graduation, I spent time doing odd jobs in Boston, and then working as a therapy aid in a mental health unit back in Saratoga. On suicide watch with an adolescent patient one evening, I realized if I were a minister instead of a therapist—which was the direction I had been thinking about—that instead of knowing that kid in my office one hour a week, I would likely know his whole family and see them in a variety of social contexts. It motivated me to explore seminary— although I entered The Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts with great hesitation and the expectation it wouldn’t turn out well. But more than three decades later, after serving congregations in Indiana, Ohio, New York, and Vermont, it has turned out very well.

In 2013, I left fulltime parish ministry to spend time writing about what I have learned and finding creative ways to share it. While writing novels and poetry, I also published a website devoted to what I call “religion-less Christianity,” and it seems to have struck a chord with a lot of people around the world.

IM: Why did you start writing?

IM90-miller1CM: Some people hear music in their head and they compose songs. I have stories in my head and they want to get out. I am a preacher by training (although my colleagues prefer the more refined title of “reverend”) and I would catch myself writing sermons in such a way that I could tell a story. I decided it would be good to find another outlet.

IM: When did you start writing?

CM: I had a sabbatical about twenty years ago and decided to write a book. I found a little office not too far from my house that I could bike to, and planned to write each morning until about noon. It was as if I fell into a magic spell and never wanted to come out. Mid-day would arrive and the next thing I knew, it was four or five in the afternoon. It turned out to be a pretty awful book, but the experience planted a niggling little whisper in my brain: “Are you a preacher that writes or a writer that preaches?”

IM: What was your original book called? What was it about?

CM: The Hunger that Nourishes. I still like that title a lot and in some ways, The Steam Room Diaries ventures into the same subject area as that first effort, only with fiction and through stories. It was about learning from our dark angels and the wisdom resident in our woundedness.

IM: What do you usually write?

CM: I’ve probably written three thousand sermons. I write them out because, if I didn’t use a text, there is no telling what would come out of my mouth—honest, that would be a high-risk proposition. In addition to drawing on stories, I use poetry and am a lover of contemporary poetry. In the last couple of years, I have been writing poetry for publication as well, with six poems published this year.

IM: The Steam Room Diaries: how did you come to write this novel?

IM90-miller3CM: You would not believe the intimate stories I have heard from perfect strangers. I don’t know what it is about my demeanor, but people just start talking to me, and often unsolicited. I decided to write about some of those stories when suddenly, unintentionally, what I was writing wanted to be fiction. Literally, I found myself writing a novel in spite of myself and grudgingly ‘let go’ to see what would happen. I had never written fiction before and hadn’t planned to, but Steam Room insisted on a life of its own.

IM: What was your inspiration?

CM: Imagine if you had a friend who had wrestled with all the personal struggles you keep secret, and was willing to tell you what he or she learned from them? Steam Room Diaries is full of stories that give the reader a new lens to suddenly see the corners of their life in a whole new light—and that was my hope all along.

IM: Is there any truth to the stories?

CM: Who said, “I don’t know if it really happened or not, but I do know it is true”? What I would say is every story in Steam Room Diaries is true, even if it didn’t actually happen and even though the characters are purely fictional.

IM: Will you be writing another book soon?

CM: I’m deep into it right now, and again, the doggone thing has taken off and is leading me by the nose. I’m curious to see where it is taking me.

IM: What advice would you give to a younger you who was thinking about writing?

IM90-miller4CM: Do it earlier, write every day, and keep writing. Even if it is only for half an hour, find a way to carve out time and make it happen. I wish I had taken a more traditional route to writing, like getting an MFA and participating in summer workshops, etc.

IM: Any regrets about your first publication?

CM: Not yet! Oh, well, maybe that I hadn’t done this fifteen years ago and already written several more.

IM: Tell us how you felt when the work was accepted for publication.



CM: Absolutely giddy. You know what the process is like, sending out your baby to strangers and never hearing back from some and stacking up the rejections from others. Although I received a number of positive responses from publishers who took the time to give me feedback and affirm the MSS even though not for their collection, it was still an arduous and gruelling process. Everything writers say about it is true.

IM: What has been the best and worst part of the publishing experience?

CM: So far, the worst is the search for a publisher, It is such a lonely and uncertain process after the utter privilege and joy of having time to write a novel. Even the editing—which is not my idea of a good time—was at least interesting and a valuable learning for my current writing projects. I think the best part has been the real excitement of people who have known me professionally and personally, and their desire to read it.


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90 Written View – Let’s Fake It

DougHeader-webA Written View: Let’s Fake It!

By Doug Owen

Let’s be honest, a story is just a collection of words arranged in a way meant to entertain. And if you think any of the sci-fi or fantasy authors really know how to fly a space ship or weave magic, then they sure have you fooled.

Like a stage production or movie, a book is make-believe. But how do we really make people believe that we:

A: Have a fantastic tale that makes them believe a boy can fly

B: Have the knowledge to actually write about the science that is being used in our story

It’s called faking it, and women have been doing this to most men all their lives.

Okay, stop the booing on that line. Guys, hands up if a woman actually told you she faked it on you. Yes, get your hands higher than that, about the same height as I have mine.

On with the article. The actual act of storytelling is all about selling something to someone that you may not have a lot of knowledge about. It could be physics, sailing, horseback riding, bungee jumping, or any number of acts that you, yourself, have not experienced. You need to sell it. The reader must be able to relate it to their own experience.

A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe, published in March of 1722, described in detail the places and events—including the official statistics—of the plague. Generations of readers considered it to be so accurate that it was believed to be an eye-witness account of the event. It was completely fictional. It was written over 50 years after the 1665 plague had run its course.

Daniel Defoe is the first known creator of “Faction”: a fake recounting of plausible events, woven together around real events, and made believable by its realism.

Engaging the Reader

This works because we have tricked the reader into believing just a little bit of our lie. Once they believe that small piece of logic, they tend to swallow the rest of the story, until they have the big whopper in their mouth.

In Pentecost, Joanna Penn refers to Turf Tavern as the haunt of Inspector Morse. If you know of this Oxford tavern, you’ll recognize the reference, and thus, trust the rest of the story. The “low beams… walls leached with the smell of stale tobacco…” You stand there and hear the words of the story and say, “She stood here, just like I am now. Her story is real.”

An Author and Strategy

Realism is done by picking a location that you know intimately. Of course, when it is a strange planet across the universe, it’s hard. But think of this: draw a picture. Take out some paper and lay down the outline of a civilization. Make it real in your mind.

One thing to keep in mind is that Google is your friend. We can fake a lot of knowledge with Google Maps, Google Earth, and a Google search. Can’t draw that landscape? Search for a picture. Someone may have a picture that fits your vision. Use it to stimulate the words and eureka! There is the description that you were looking for. Remember to use more than sight descriptions. A description is so much more detailed when sound, smell and even taste is incorporated into the words.

Visit to Make it Real

So, some good news: if you travel to an exotic place to get a good feel of the location for a novel, you may be able to write it off as a business expense. That trip to Hawaii? Deductible, as long as something in your novel takes place there. The little cruise to the Arctic? Written off because you needed to see icebergs for that dystopia you wrote. It is best that you talk to your accountant about that. Just remember that it only works on traveling, not going to the bar around the corner.

The collection of stories in Haunted Hamilton take place all over that city. The names of locations are used, and that lends credibility to the stories.

Now, work in something that even the residents are either not sure of, or would not really know, but can verify quickly. This will really blow the board for you. Your novel will gain credibility. People will start reading it and going to the places cited in the work. This could be a very good thing, especially if you live close to the area and can leave a few Easter Eggs for people to find. They will then start talking about the novel and then there will be no end.

This trick can also be played with events.

Interweaving your fiction with factual events will encourage the reader to really become cemented in your story. When someone reads something that actually happened in a fictional novel, they realize that the author has taken the time to not only research, but pull real events into their work. This will gain you fans.

Do We Dare?

Just about every novel has that disclaimer: “This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.” If you use a real event, then it is not fiction, right? But you are using it fictitiously. Heck, if your main character watches the gassing of 1,000 Jews in Germany, then yes, the event is being used fictitiously, through your characters eyes.

Is your story taking place in a real location—like on Earth? Then it would be absurd to not use real locations, landmarks, or even businesses like hotels and restaurants. (Quick note: I am not a lawyer, so if you do use something and want to cite this article, be warned. You should look this up yourself before using something). The names of these places are in the public domain.

What we cannot do in safety is name the proprietors, or imply they have given people food poisoning (unless it is something proven in a court of law—and even then, it would be sticky), without their permission.

But I need to Use it!

So, you want to show a massacre at Jon’s Pub and Grill House. Then protect yourself. Contact them and get a signed disclaimer and you’ll then have a measure of protection. But remember: don’t take my advice on this as a law expert. Get your own lawyer and ask them what you can and cannot do.

When asking for permission to use their location, make sure you send them the exact wording as it will appear. If you don’t, they could have legal recourse to come after you. Make sure you keep good faith and send them a copy of the book. You never know what will happen. Some people will trumpet that their location is in print, while others may just leave it on the shelf. Either way, they will be grateful and be more willing to agree to let you run their location through another novel.


Stop looking at the jar; nothing is tinkling in it. Here are some tips if you are using real locations or events.

1. Be accurate with all your small details, or a pedant will shoot you down and smile while doing it. Then people on GoodReads will pick up the call and hammer it against you.

2. If there is something that sounds absurd, but is true, make sure you include it. This will make others sing your writing praises in reviews and buy subsequent stories you wrote or write.

Think about it. Have you ever been hooked by a novel because the setting is so believable? If so, why not use the same trick?


Doug’s Indyfest Staff Entry

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A Written View – Creating Your Author Platform

By Doug Owen

Self-Publishing has been around for a long time, but never to the extent it is today. CreateSpace, Kindle, Kobo, and now Blurb are pushing for your business. When you look at all of the avenues available and what they say you must do to promote your own work, it is staggering.

The biggest ‘Must do’ out there is an Author Platform. This usually helps you sell your book(s) to the public. Many lists can be found on the net for your author platform. All appear long enough to boggle any new writer. How do you navigate them? What are the pitfalls if you don’t do one of the steps? That is something to look at closely.

So never fear: here is how you should build your platform and start selling books. (Note: this applies to self-published, indy-published and traditionally-published works.)

  1. Website! If you don’t have a website yet, get one. Make it stand out with your name. For example, I use DAOWEN.CA. It is my name. It is recognizable. It is set with a .CA extension in order to designate my location (Canada). This is important. Don’t use [name].wordpress.org for your blog; it screams, ‘Don’t take me seriously’.
  2. Social Media. Facebook, Google+, Tumbler, and so many more. Each will allow you to have a ‘Page’ for yourself. Don’t worry, it doesn’t need to be the same as your personal page. Make it good with graphics and pictures. You’ll be pushing to it from your website. You fill in your blog post, and the program used to display your website will post forward to the sites for you. Takes away so many steps.
  3. Who’s your audience? Figure it out. Teenage girls or adult men? Narrow down the field and make sure you make blog posts for them. If you target teenage boys, you’re not going to talk about makeup in your blog.
  4. Budget. Figure it out. You need to know how much to spend or determine the max you can spend. If you don’t know, it is a gamble.
  5. Marketing. You need to have a definite plan in place. Marketing is what will get people to see that you wrote a book. Anything else is just a crap shoot. This step covers how you market, what themes you use, and so forth. Marketing is enormous when it comes to advertising.
  6. Your author story. You need to tell people who you are and why you write what you do. An author story will connect audiences to you, make them understand where you are coming from, and maybe, if luck holds out, make people want to purchase the books.
  7. Notification lists. Your social media generally handles this, but for those potential buyers who don’t have such, a notification list is important. Try newsletters, combining your words with links that show how to buy your work; those are always good.
  8. Easy to buy. Many do it. They create a link to the ‘buy’ page that spans three lines in their posting. Use TinyURL or something similar to link to the actual ‘buy’ page for your book, whether it is the publisher’s page or your own site. Don’t make it hard to find or read, or decrease the font size. Make it so they will click on the link.
  9. Link your book. Do you write articles? If so, put links in them referring readers to your book and website. Don’t forget the social media links that will sell your book as well. Every little bit helps.
  10. Schedule. Don’t just post whenever something comes to mind. Post your information at certain times of the day. Check your media to see when people are actually viewing your site and time your posts accordingly.
  11. Promote for free! Yes, there are places you can promote your book and people will look at it. There will be a list of sites following this article. I’ll post it on my website for you to look at.
  12. Goodreads. Though I’ve never had any success with them, a Goodreads give-away is another avenue to get your name out there. Get your author profile and claim your book.
  13. Time your release. Make sure it matches something special that is coming up. Be it a vacation or an anniversary, just make sure it matters.
  14. Create a ‘Must Read’ guide at the end of your book. Advertise your other books (if you have any) or promote other authors. Make sure you are exchanging such with them and they’re doing the same.
  15. Photo. Get a good, high resolution photo of yourself for the book and pages. Make sure you smile in it.
  16. Press releases. Get those going. Nothing says ‘professional’ like a good press release.
  17. Guest posts. One of the greatest ways to get your name out there is to guest post on other blogs. There are several of them and they are all looking for people to post.
  18. Pre-release reviews. Yes, it is nice to get someone to read your book, but how will others know how that person enjoyed it? Get reviews fast. This can happen with give-aways and other promotional releases. Hunt for them and ask those who read the book to help boost your sales, for if they like what you wrote, there is a good chance they would like you to write more.
  19. Cool bookmarks. Yes, it is old school, but very effective. Make sure you print out a bunch of them for people to have. If they see your book and website printed on it, they are more likely to check you out and possibly buy from you.
  20. Be nice. Reach out a hand and shake it with the public. Most people will buy a book from an author who is genuine and smiles. Talk to them about the book, but don’t give too much away. Would you buy a book from someone who just dismisses you when they see you?
  21. Tempt your readers. Insert sample chapters from the next book in a series. Put it at the end of your current book or include something when they buy the first. It will spike their interest, and possibly generate more sales.
  22. Categories are your friends. Make sure you place your book in the right area of Amazon, Google, Kobo and all the other retailers you list with. An incorrectly-categorized book will not sell, for no one wants to read science fiction when they are looking for memoirs.
  23. Write series. Not every story can have a second or third book, but some can. Take the time to carry on the story of a hero or their sidekick. The possibilities are endless when you can push out three or four books on the never-ending adventures of the characters people love to read about.
  24. Advertise back. At the end of your book, make sure you list the titles of books that you have previously published. The chances are if they like your writing, the reader will want to seek out other books that you wrote, so help them find those books.
  25. Promo kits. Graphics, images, links, and excerpts are great when trying to sell what you have. Make sure they are on other blog sites, as well as Facebook and Twitter.
  26. Podcast tours. Yes, the podcast is a great way to get yourself noticed. Take the time to connect with someone and have an interview done online. You will be surprised at how many people will seek out your writing if they like what they hear.
  27. Networking events, expos, and conferences. Make sure you write a proposal to present at an event. Gain connections and increase your credibility. This will develop networks and possibly influence others to buy your books.
  28. Email signatures. Every email you send out is a call to buy your book. Others will see a link to your blog and click it out of curiosity. Once they are there, you have them.
  29. Workshops. Non-fiction writers can teach others about what they have in their books. This is a good way to generate sales. Just think of all those survivalists who teach others how to do what they do. Every one of them has a book to sell, and most people who attend their events will buy that book.
  30. Redesign your book cover. If you find the book cover is not attracting attention, then redesign it so it does.
  31. Launch strategy. A book launch requires a lot more prep and strategy than just a few posts on Facebook and a couple of tweets. Plan your launch and get a plan put in motion. Don’t just rely on word of mouth; get to it with your author platform.
  32. Affiliates make money. Sign up for an affiliate program with other book sellers. Get a plan, offer a commission. Make sure they work for you and you work for them.
  33. Contact. Add a way for people to contact you at the end of your book. It could be as simple as your website, and it can have a ‘contact me’ page on it, or a link to your social media page.
  34. Write like it is your business. Your website and social media pages are your outward-looking face to those who will never meet you. Make sure they are professional and don’t portray you as a hobbyist or wannabe. You are committed to selling your book; make it look like that. You are a writer; make it professional.
  35. Urgency. Use time-limited coupons, giveaways, and other contests to get people interested. Do this on your website and use social media to point to it. The more clicks you get, the better off you are.
  36. Use local merchants. Get a number of copies of your book and ask local stores to carry it on consignment. Make sure they can capture 40 percent of the sales for their profit, and you have more books out there for the public to read. This generates a relationship with a retailer who can be your best friend.
  37. Become an expert. Make sure you tie your books in with something that you know. You are an expert of something and if it’s in your book in some way, it’s a jumping off point. Use it. Exploit it.
  38. Fiverr. Yes, it is cheap, but there are sellers out there who will submit your book to many free websites and push your press releases to the world. Use them.
  39. Connect with readers. Yes, online is great, but in your face is better. It is easy for someone to ignore an email, but when you are there talking to them, it is magical. Make sure you put forth a good face.
  40. Skype a book read. This is easy. Arrange for someone to record your thoughts and read excerpts from your book. Sometimes, all it takes is a few lines to perk someone’s interest.
  41. Vacations that work. Going somewhere? Take your books with you. Sometimes all it takes is someone asking you what you do. You’re a writer? Yes. Have a book ready, for they may find it interesting enough to buy a copy. When that happens, others may ask them where they got it. That person will point to you. Who doesn’t want their book signed by the author?
  42. Promote others. Get friendly with writers in your genre. Promote them and they will promote you. This is an easy way to make money and friends who will praise your work.
  43. Advertise. Facebook ads are not as expensive as you think. Google ads can boost just about anyone. There are so many ways to advertise, it is not funny.
  44. Free is bad. But sometimes, a free giveaway will generate sales later on, especially if you wrote a series.
  45. Bundles sell. Take it from your telecommunications or cable supplier. Bundle your books with a small discount and people will by two, instead of just the one.
  46. Fans are great. Talk to your fans about spreading the news of your books. Get them to talk to others about the great author they just purchased a book from.

These are the top 46 things you can do to get your work out there. How many are you doing?



Learn more about: Doug Owen

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Words and Music: A Talk with S.A. Baker

By Douglas Owen

Winterbourne1S.A. Baker: once a rocker, now a competitive bagpiper and writer. He makes his home in Ayr, Ontario with his wife and children. Besides working in a nursing home, S.A. hides in the closet to write, hoping no one opens the door. Between work, bagpiping and his family, he tries to sneak away to put pen to paper whenever he can. He submitted his baby, Winterbourne, to independent publisher Science Fiction and Fantasy Publications and prayed for a response.

IM: Tell us a little about yourself.

SAB: I am a 46-year-old recovering professional musician who is trying to pull bodies out of a sausage grinder without going crazy, period. Oh, wait. That’s Hawkeye from M.A.S.H. I like hats and sometimes wish I had more than one head. I spend an inordinate amount of time inside my own head and the worlds I’ve created there, which seems to finally be coming to some kind of fruition.

IM: You spent a decade as a professional touring musician. What instrument did you play and what type of music?

SAB: I played upright bass in The Frantic Flattops, a rockabilly/psychobilly band from Rochester, NY for six and a half years, and then switched to electric bass and started a kind of all-star band called Bee Eater—a kind of Black Sabbath meets the Ramones meets the Who with a girl singer—which turned into a gigantic song writing outlet for me.

IM: What made you start writing?

Winterbourne2SAB: I always wrote, even if it was just inside my head… in fact, it was mostly inside my head. I remember winning a writing contest in grade school and winning a copy of a book of Canadian ghost stories. I felt like I had won the Pulitzer Prize. When the band was on tour, I would write freelance travel pieces for a now-defunct local rock rag that were very Hunter Thompsonesque, where I would put myself in a given situation and wait for the madness of everyday living to take hold and then write about it. I would read them to the other two in the band before I sent them in. If I got big laughs, I’d send them straight away. If the laughter was scattered, I’d dial up the lunacy around us, wait for something else bizarre to happen, and then rewrite it. I went through a very long stretch of self-doubt, when I didn’t feel I was writing anything worth reading, so I began to write less and less, and I eventually forgot how much fun it was to write because I liked to do it. I eventually found my way back through NaNoWriMo. (Shameless plug)

IM: How did you come up with the concept of your novel?

SAB: I work the nightshift in a nursing home. Death is an ever-present entity, constantly lurking in the shadows and waiting, always waiting for the next name on the list. I think it just sort of wormed its way into my subconscious, given my surroundings and near chronic sleep deprivation. I do, however, have a fairly skewed and black way of looking at the world, so it was only natural that it ended up the way it did.

IM: How did you think of the title?

SAB: Initially, I was trying to write some gigantic Lord of the Rings type fantasy book about someone or something imbued with the powers of winter, hence Winterbourne. The story idea, mercifully, didn’t last long, but I liked the title, so I kept it.

IM: Is there a real town called Winterbourne?

SAB: There is! I found it last year, quite by accident, outside of Fergus, Ontario.

IM: What did you do when you found Winterbourne?

SAB: I pulled my car over and got out to look around. I may have even slapped myself to make sure it wasn’t a hallucination.

IM: What do your family and friends think about the publication of your novel?

Winterbourne3SAB: In a way, they’re almost more excited about it than I am. It all still seems a little surreal to me.

IM: Tell us about your writing process.

SAB: I tend to always be writing, thinking about either what I am currently working on or the next one. When I do finally begin, I usually write the first draft in longhand and begin to edit on the fly, as I type it into my laptop. I usually take six weeks between first draft and second, but then, I edit and rewrite until the story is told.

IM: So, you can tell stories. What is your next step now that Winterbourne is being published?

SAB: I always enjoyed stories that revolved around a single thing. In my case, it is the town of Winterbourne. That is the constant and there are many stories that live in the crumbling buildings and shadow-covered alleys. I’m working on the second draft of the next book and thinking seriously about the third.

IM: What is the hardest part about being published?

SAB: I don’t know that there is a hard part. Maybe being expected to write more books? How horrid that a writer should write more books.

IM: Did you have to do much editing after being accepted for publishing? Tell us about the process.

SAB: More editing than I figured I would have to do, yes. The editor of Science Fiction and Fantasy Publications would send me several chapters at a time, with the edits and suggestions highlighted. I would edit and send them back and we would keep going back and forth like that until it was all finished and everyone was satisfied it was the best it could be.

IM: What did you learn while going through the editing process?

SAB: That I really, REALLY like pronouns.

IM: If you were to say anything to an aspiring writer, what would it be?

SAB: Always be writing and always be reading. I love TV and I love my computer, but they’ll steal the soul of your book faster than you can possibly imagine. Don’t listen to the whys in your life, listen to the why nots.




Learn more about our interviewer at: Douglas Owen

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