Sunday Coffee Reads | Apr 6

6 Apr

Welcome to Sunday Coffee Reads which, if you’re not familiar, is my occasional sharing of the most interesting thoughts and links to things I’ve come across on Twitter and marked as favourites to read later, later being Sunday morning when I’ve the first of many cups of coffee in hand…suncoffeepic

I’ve actually been out of the office (read: away from the desk in my living room) for the past week, as Andrea Summers was here and I took her on a very rainy trip around Ireland. Well, a few bits of it anyway. Highlights were breakfast with a view at the Lake Hotel in Killarney, the absolutely wonderful library at Trinity College, pulling pints (and bonus: drinking them) at the very impressive Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, and introducing Andrea to Downtown Abbey with the help of the newest love of my life: my Google Chromecast. As my cousin Aisling said, you’ll never know how you got nothing done without it. We also ran into a couple of very nice vintage typewriters…

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Anyway, onto this week’s tweets.

I experienced a moment of writing-related disappointment this week, but thanks to (a) a good sleep, (b) good coffee at the end of that sleep and (c) the level-headed advice of writerly friends, it was only a moment. Still, I’m so glad I came upon this blog post by Mark Edwards this week. If you need a pick-me-up, read it. (And gasp at the line about the non-deleted e-mail!)

Until next time…!

Writer/Blogger? You May Need a Contact Page Intervention

26 Mar

It may be news to you but for the last year and a half or so, I’ve been doing some freelance social media work for a publishing house, helping promote other authors’ books online. As my goal is essentially to connect readers with books I believe they’ll like, a lot of my time is spent trawling through the magical interweb looking for book blogs. They’re easy enough to find. But it’s not always easy to find what I need when I get there: a way to contact the blogger in private.

It’s a particularly bad day when the coffee machine is still brewing and the contact page of a book blogger who (a) professes to love the exact kind of book I have to offer her and (b) says on her ‘Review Policy’ or ‘About Me’ page that what she loves more than anything else in the world is getting free books says something like if you want to get in touch, I’m on Twitter @thisconversationwillbepublic…

Oh, how the RED RAGE DESCENDS.

I can’t get in contact with her on Twitter, and I won’t. I don’t want everyone to see me offering her a review copy, and sometimes upcoming releases have things tied to them, like promotional activity, for example, that I can tell the blogger but not the world (yet). You might be saying now well, why don’t I just tweet her asking for her e-mail address? Well first of all my Twitter account is for Catherine Ryan Howard, the self-publisher and blogger. Not the occasional publicity assistant. And Twitter is not interchangeable with e-mail or a contact form. It’s a public forum.

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But if I can’t get in contact with a book blogger, the worst thing that happens is that they miss out on a free book and I have to go looking for someone else to take their place.

But what if you’re a self-publisher and the person trying to get in contact with you is another blogger who wants to help you promote your book, or a journalist who wants to feature you in a newspaper or magazine, or a radio show producer who wants to interview you on air, or an agent who’s interesting in representing you or a publisher who’s interested in buying your print rights or an editor in Poland who wants to talk translation rights (delete as appropriate depending on your life’s goals)? Telling them that they can contact you on Twitter is just not acceptable. Telling them they can send you a message through Facebook is laughable. And who knows what kind of opportunities you might miss out on – small, medium and big – because you put too many hoops between your online home and a way to get in touch with you directly that doesn’t come with an audience.

I think you should do one of the following:

Continue reading

Sunday Coffee Reads | Mar 23

23 Mar

Welcome to Sunday Coffee Reads which, if you’re not familiar, is my occasional sharing of the most interesting thoughts and links to things I’ve come across on Twitter and marked as favourites to read later, later being Sunday morning when I’ve the first of many cups of coffee in hand…suncoffeepic

So, behold! This week’s tweets:

Also this week, while catching up on Hannibal, Crisis and Resurrection on Hulu, I came across a trailer for a movie called Authors Anonymous. Now of course there’s a risk that they’ve put all the good bits in the trailer, but the scenes they have stuck in there cut real close to the bone.

A writers’ group is all for supporting each other until one of them – the young, beautiful blonde one with breasts – someone manages to get a 6-figure deal for her first attempt, even though she struggles to name a published writer she likes. Meanwhile the eldest of the bunch proudly announces that he’s “inked a deal” with U R The Publisher, but he quickly goes from waving around their pamphlets to complaining that they’ve stuck a picture of a dog on the cover of his novel The Roaring Lion.

It’s out in the US now, apparently, but who knows when it’ll reach European shores. In the meantime, enjoy the trailer:

Until the next Sunday that doesn’t have a F1 grand prix…

The Blog Tour: What, Why and How I Write

17 Mar

This morning I am contributing a stop to The Blog Tour: What, Why and How I Write, this on-going blogging and writing thingy where each blogger answers four questions about their writing, tags three victims and runs away screaming, ‘You’re it!’

Normally I avoid such things because they have a tendency to get out of hand quickly (‘I just nominated for you for this award – now all you need to do is make a list of 53 bloggers you love and get each of them to nominate 87 other bloggers…’ etc. etc.) but Jason Arnopp (a) asked me before he tagged me and (b) keeps me mightily entertained with his tweets, so I felt that on this one – ONE – occasion, I’d take part.

jasonWho is Jason Arnopp, you say? Well follow him on Twitter and you’ll quickly find out. Or read this: Jason Arnopp is a British author and scriptwriter.  He wrote the 2011 Lionsgate US feature film Stormhouse, and BBC audiobooks Doctor Who: The Gemini Contagion and The Sarah Jane Adventures: Deadly Download.  More recently, he has written the terrifying Kindle books Beast In The Basement and A Sincere Warning About The Entity In Your Home.  He lives in Brighton with far too many movies on VHS. You can find him at INT. JASON ARNOPP’S MIND – DAY/NIGHT.

Now, onto the four questions…

1. What am I working on?

Argh, stumped at the first question! (Argh: angry, not pirate. Always feel a need to point that out.) I really don’t like putting stuff on the magical interweb about what I’m currently working on, just because I don’t like talking about what I’m working on in general. I don’t like it because you may have what you think is a great idea that you’re all excited about and you can see how it’s going to pan out and you’re excited to write it and then you tell someone about it and they make THE FACE, and THE FACE implies that this is a ridiculous idea and you’d be better off watching an episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians since writing this idea down is obviously such a waste of human time.

Let’s just say that my main project is a novel I hope someone else will publish, and that novel is a thriller, and I’m about a third of the way through a polished draft of it. I also have a very organized plot outline that I spent a joyful afternoon creating with mini Post-It notes and Sharpie pens:

plan

I also have another, much smaller project and I want to say even less about that’s destined for self-publication.

2. How does my work differ from others in the genre?

Hollywood, so the story goes, is always looking for ‘the same, but different’ and that’s how I feel about genres.

First of all, let me say that I am absolutely writing in a genre. I don’t like it when writers claim that their work doesn’t fit into any genre, or that they don’t recognize genres, or that they have written in a genre but because they don’t read it their book must be unique and special as they are unfamiliar with the perceived formulae that make titles in that genre tick. All that to me sounds very let-me-tilt-back-my-head-so-I-can-look-down-my-nose-at-you. Genre isn’t a dirty word and as I have been reading my genre – crime/thrillers – since I was far too young to be doing so and got stern looks as I tried to check adult books out on my children’s library card, I know what works and what doesn’t. I know the rules, I  know how to get away with breaking them. I know that these days it takes a very twisty road to keep the truth from the reader.

But I also know what’s been done to death (ha!), so I’m avoiding that. I have what I think is a new or at least different idea. I’m also writing first person in my own voice, which I think is quite different to the standard crime/thriller narrator. It also annoys me when I read thrillers that start with something big happening in a prologue, and then we skip ahead months or years to see how everyone’s doing after the fact – I want, for once, to be taking through the Something Big Happening, day by day, in the first part of the book. So I’m trying to do that.

3. Why do I write what I do?

Once upon a time I wrote a novel called Results Not Typical, that as some of you know was chick-lit meets corporate satire, Weight Watchers meets The Devil Wears Prada and self-publishing meets un-self-publishing when I decided that I wanted to keep my self-publishing brand to non-fiction only. This novel also got me a meeting with an editor at a major publishing house, where we discussed how I might take what was working about RNT and use it to write something broader that wasn’t quite so kooky, something that may have more commercial appeal. I thought that since all my books were light-hearted and fun – and maybe, once in a while, even funny – that that something should be women’s commercial fiction. I went away and wrote 10,000 words of a New Idea and we had another meeting. It wasn’t really working, so we brainstormed another idea and then I went home and wrote 10,000 words of that. Then we had another meeting, brainstormed another version of this idea and I went home and wrote a 30,000-word chapter by chapter outline of that.

But then two things happened. First of all, The Editor said something to me that changed everything. She said that while what I was writing was competent and funny and all that, it had no emotional heart – and as soon as she said it, I knew why. I didn’t want to write women’s commercial fiction! I don’t know why I even tried because it’s not my favorite thing to read. (Well, I do know. Because I thought it might get me published.) Of course my heart wasn’t in it.

The second thing was that an idea I’d had for a thriller that had been simmering away in my brain for a while came to the boil, and I thought to myself: once I finish with this chapter outline, I’m going to start writing that – for fun.

Um, what now?

Exsqueeze me?

Why was I writing anything that wasn’t fun?

So I ditched all notions of writing anything other than what I loved to read, and got working on my current project: my crime/thriller novel.

4. How does my writing process work?

I don’t think I’ve written enough books to have an actual process, so let me just briefly tell you about how I wrote a few specific ones.

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Mousetrapped. As it was based on real-life events I had an advantage right from the start: I knew what was going to happen. Hooray! While it was actually happening, I used to keep a diary of sorts in a MS Word document on my computer so I had that to refer to. I wrote a proposal and a couple of sample chapters, based on the best advice I’ve ever come across for writing a non-fiction proposal, which is in a (now out of print?) book called How To Get Published and Make a Lot of Money by Susan Page. (Ignore the name; it has brilliant non-fiction proposal advice.) An agent was interested so then I had to write the book itself, starting by sitting on the floor of my apartment in Orlando, cross-legged before a plastic crate that had my laptop perched on top of it with a no foam venti latte within reach. I wrote the first proper draft at home over the summer of 2008 when I’d returned from backpacking, on a laptop borrowed from my best friend because I’d broken my Dad’s and had abandoned my own antique in Florida to save on luggage. Then I wrote another with the copyeditor I hired when I decided to self-publish it. All in all it was quite straightforward: I just started at the beginning and wrote on through.

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Backpacked. This was hilarious because I left it until the very, very VERY last minute to even start on this book – which again, being non-fiction, was about stuff that had already happened so plot wasn’t an issue – and then wrote it in two caffeine-fuelled weeks.

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The Secret Crime/Thriller. The plot of this is a quite twisty and I just don’t understand when I read writers in interviews say that they write thrillers and they don’t know how it’s going to end until they get there. (I’m looking at you, Harlan Coben.) How would that even be possible? Instead I started with the truth: I started with what I knew had really happened, and then I asked myself how could I frame that, how could I introduce these events to the reader in a way that would throw them right off the scent right from the start? Then, as ever, I turned the white cover of my copy of Save the Cat by Blake Snyder yellow, constantly referring to it for plot architecture, eventually ending up with a plot that had three acts and a mid-point. I started writing, but it took a few 20,000 word treks through the beginning to get that right, and then I started writing a ‘discovery draft’ which would be unreadable to any other human but helped me figure out all the stuff that had to happen in between the bits I’d figured out already. Once that was done I locked down my plot in another outline (Sharpie time!) and started writing A Proper Draft, layering in complication as I went.

As for the logistics, since the beginning of this year I have (mostly) got into the habit of writing every day, aiming for 2,000 new words in a session. I write in the mornings so I can enjoy the rest of my day guilt-free and I’ve bought a coffee machine with a timer that I can pre-set before I go to bed and that, my friends, has made all the difference.

So, that’s that. The three victims—ah, writers, I’ve invited to take part in The Blog Tour next Monday (24th March) are:

5c2ff6ec2b280a22d17a2d.L._V352340503_SX200_Keris Stainton

Keris Stainton is the author of three UKYA novels – Della Says OMG!, Jessie Hearts NYC, Emma Hearts LA – and two NA novellas (under the pen name Esme Taylor). The first book in her Reel Friends series, Starring Kitty, is due out in June. She’s addicted to American TV, Twitter, and tea. She blogs here.

Pat_Photo_OriginalPat Fitzpatrick

Pat Fitzpatrick lives in Cork, Ireland. After 19 years working in the I.T. industry he decided to jump ship in 2008 and head for the lucrative world of writing. So don’t hire him as a life coach, investment advisor or anything to do with your career. His Sunday Independent newspaper columns plus TV and radio appearances have been entertaining Irish people through some tough times. He is now busy writing a series of novels about the weird place that was Ireland in the last 15 years. He blogs at How To Kidnap a Pop Star.

photo-1Jean Grainger

Jean Grainger is author of ‘The Tour’ and ‘So Much Owed’. She is a teacher and a former university lecturer. She lives in Cork, Ireland with her husband and four children. She loves writing historical fiction and correcting homework. (She’s joking about the homework). She blogs at JeanGrainger.com.

Stop by their blogs next week to read their answers. In the meantime:

To Do: A Social Media Spring Clean

9 Mar

Once upon a time I was at a writing-related event when Someone Very Important (To Me) who works for A Very Important Company (To Me) introduced herself and then said, ‘We were just reading one of your blog posts in the office the other day!’

I should’ve been elated. I should’ve been delighted that anyone, anywhere who I didn’t have direct contact with should take the time to turn their eyeballs towards this URL, let alone someone who I knew for a fact worked at a desk surrounded by piles of unsolicited manuscript submissions (who were all eyeing the piles of purchased manuscripts she was already working on with jealousy and suspicion). This woman didn’t have the time to read a Post-It note, yet she had devoted time to my little blog.

But instead, my stomach dropped. My palms began to sweat, and I drifted out of the conversation as my mind raced with anxious thoughts. What post? Was it one I read over before I published it? Did it have typos? What does my ‘About’ page currently say? Have I updated the ‘News’ page lately? Are the links working? WHAT DID THEY SEE?!?!?!?

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I’ve decided the theme of the images in this post will be ‘pictures I took of my computer showing my blog in various places.’ This one was the hot desk I rented for a while…

On a related note, it’s pretty annoying to get an e-mail from someone that reads ‘I was just on your website and the link to [insert something] doesn’t go anywhere. You might want to update that.’ Or ‘On your Amazon bio, it says that [insert something] will be out in October 2013. But on your blog, it says November. You might want to update that. Or, ‘In the back of [one of your books] it says that you have [insert something] but I’ve looked everywhere and you don’t. YOU MIGHT WANT TO UPDATE THAT.’

It annoys me on two levels. First: that someone has taken the time to alert me to what is obviously a tiny oversight, and that they think I have the time to be worrying about such things. Second: that I’ve overlooked it, and that I haven’t taken the time to make sure my entire online existence is as up to date as the trendiest of irony-loving Brooklyn hipsters.

It’s so easy to let online things slide. Mostly because you’re hardly looking at them. How often, for example, do you look at your own Amazon Author Profile? I almost NEVER do. (Listings? Yes. For new reviews, obviously, lest my soul needs some sand-papering. But not my Author Profile.) And the times I check or update my ‘About’ page are negligible, even though I’m on my blog and publishing new posts quite regularly.

But shouldn’t I always be ready for anyone to visit any part of my online existence? 

Obviously, yes. I should.

Except that, of course, I am not doing that. My online existence is a cobwebbed, outdated, messy… um, mess. My bios are different on every site. Some of them talk about plans that never happened, while others leave out the most important stuff that’s happened since. There’s no cohesiveness.

So this week I’m going to a major spring clean, and I invite you to join me and spring clean your social media existence too.

I’ve done a couple of items on the Spring Social Media Clean already:

#1: Scrubbed My Website

Take a look around: things are all new and shiny! Taking into account that I want my website to be simple (read: easily updatable) and that most people these days are looking at websites on a mobile device (read: no sidebars) I have:

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This one was in Nice, France. Ooh-la-la!

#2: The Great Unsubscribe

I’ve had my current e-mail address since early 2010, I online shop more than I real-world shop and I’m always suckered in to subscribing to newsletters and mailing lists and blog posts and all sorts. I get a lot of e-mails anyway, but add these subscriptions in and you get an inbox that’s groaning at the seams.

So every day for a week I spent ten or fifteen minutes unsubscribing to anything that came in that I wasn’t interested in anymore. It was boring and time-consuming, but my inbox instantly improved. After a week I had sent 50—50!—subscriptions packing, many of which I couldn’t even remember signing up for.

#3: The To Do List

This week I plan to finish the job. I will:

Check/update my bios on:

  • Twitter
  • My public Facebook pages
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn
  • Amazon Author Pages
  • Goodreads.

Check/update my books, as in:

  • The product descriptions for all my books that are for sale on Amazon
  • The front and end matter in all my e-book and POD interior files, re-upload if necessary
  • Make sure they’re for sale wherever they can be, fix issues and upload if necessary.

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And this is what my little desk nook looked like when I first moved in. It looks WAY messier now.

Miscellaneous:

  • Go through my Posts: Drafts list—I make a new post to jot down ideas I have, but there’s 114 of them I’ve never come back to. Time for a clear out, me thinks…
  • Go through Feedly (my Google Reader replacement[earlier I mistakenly typed ‘Feedler’. To do: check more thoroughly for typos!) and unsubscribe to any blogs I’m not interested in any more and add any new and exciting ones I’ve come across
  • Go through the Reading List on my browser (a kind of bookmarks thing) and either read, file or delete each link
  • As I haven’t answered any e-mails in, like, a month or so, power through my inbox until everything is read
  • Google myself to see if there’s any online stuff I’ve forgotten about.

So, who’s with me?

And if you’re already up to date, what’s your system for staying that way? Let me know in the comments below…

(The Return of) Sunday Coffee Reads | March 2

2 Mar

*knock knock*

Hello? Real World? Are you still there? I want to come back now…

Lovely blog readers, you may have noticed I’ve been uncharacteristically quiet on the old blogging front since the start of the New Year. That’s because the one thing I swore I would do in 2014 is get into the habit of writing every day, and I’m glad to say that my dastardly plan has worked.

The problem is it worked a little too well and the thought of doing the things that used to be my go-to procrastination fodder (i.e. blogging, tweeting, ignoring BuzzFeed ‘Which [INSERT NAME OF MOVIE/TV SHOW/NOVEL] Character Are You? quizzes on Facebook) started making me want to indulge in some old-timey procrastination (i.e. staring out the window) instead of doing them.

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I know: it was a confusing time. But now that I’ve set a limit on the words I’m ‘allowed’ to write down a day, it’s time to get back to wasting my time* in the most enjoyable way: blogging!

I’m starting with the return of Sunday Coffee Reads which, if you’re not familiar, is my once-weekly sharing of the most interesting thoughts and links to things I’ve come across on Twitter and marked as favourites to read later, later being Sunday morning when I’ve the first of many cups of coffee in my hands. (I mean, in one hand. Because my phone is in the other. You know what I mean.) Look, I’ve even made a fancy new graphic and everything.

And there may even be a new blog post from me this week.

(Maybe. Baby steps and all that jazz. Plus I still haven’t finished House of Cards. TELL ME NOTHING.)

So, behold! This week’s tweets:

This week’s Give Me A Break corner is reserved for that last link, to an article from the Guardian (above). It whinges and moans about how some writers are making less money than they ever did since the digital publishing revolution dawned. My thoughts:  (i) no writer is entitled to be financially compensated for the hours they spend writing—writers are only entitled to be compensated if/when a reader chooses to consume what’s been produced, (ii) I love how no one ever says, ‘Shame I didn’t write a book that the majority of readers wanted to read…’ and (iii) I look around at my writing buddies, both self and traditionally published or a mixture of the two, and we’re ALL generating income from our writing in ways that wouldn’t have been possible for us five years ago. I personally think this is a good thing. I have sympathy for people who wish the game could revert to when it was played by rules they were familiar with, but I also think that to survive in any situation, you need to be prepared to change and adapt. What are yours? Let me know in the comments below…

And a bonus tweet, for the day that’s in it:

Obviously I had to make a prototype.

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It went well.

*SLURP*

*Not really. Doing something fun is never a waste of time, especially when you can do it make-up-free and in your PJs. Yay for blogging!

Quick Tips To Help You Tighten Up Your Writing

21 Feb

Over the last few weeks, trusted blogging, self-publishing and writing friends of mine have kept you entertained with guest posts while I forgo watching the rest of House of Cards in order to finish The Damn Novel. We’ve had Pat Fitzpatrick’s 3 Things I Wish I Knew Before Self-Publishing My Novel, Dan Holloway’s Self-Publish Your Way and Jean Grainger’s Self-Publishing: The Professionals Effect, all of which you clearly enjoyed and found useful judging by the fact that they were shared and retweeted more times than the average post from me. (We’ll talk about that later, okay? Hmph.) Today our final guest post is one that comes at a crucial time for me and which I’m sure will be of use to you too: C.S. Lakin’s quick tips to help you tighten up your writing. Enjoy! I’m off to annihilate all mentions of the passive voice…

“Writers often think about tightening their writing. Just what does that mean? And how is it done? Is there a way that writers can tighten writing without losing their voice or compromising their writing style?

Like sneaky calories, many unwanted words and phrases find their way into our writing unnoticed and bog it down. The goal should be to write in a concise fashion so that our meaning is clearly understood. It’s not all that tricky to do. And don’t worry—this can be done without adversely cramping a writer’s style.

Say What front cover

That’s not to say these tips are a cure-all for major flaws in a story, article, or book. But similar to the get-in-shape-fast programs, here are some simple things writers can do to tighten sentences, shed unwanted words, and tone and shape the whole “body” of work.

  1. Eliminate fatty words from your “diet.” Make a list of your weasel words. Those are the words you throw in out of habit. Often they are pesky adverbs like very and just. Or phrases like began to or started to. Grab a random page of your document and see if you can eliminate at least one or two words from every sentence. It may not be possible, but it’s a good exercise. If the word doesn’t add importance to a sentence, it should go. Then attack the rest of your novel.
  2. Reword passive voice where possible. Whether referring to general passive (“The food was eaten by me” instead of “I ate the food”) or present progressive passive (“The food is being served” instead of “the waiters served the food”), most of the time a sentence will be stronger if the passive voice is avoided. An easy way to seek and destroy unwanted passive construction is do a “Find” for ing, was, is, it was, and there was, to name a few.
  3. Avoid circumlocution. I just love that word, so I have to use it. Don’t use two words when one will do. Don’t use four when three will do. If two adjectives are similar, pick the best one and toss the other.
  4. Ditch the extraneous speaker and narrative tags. If you are writing fiction or narrative nonfiction, you may have dialog in your piece. Be aware that if the reader knows who is speaking, you don’t need to tell them over and over—especially in a scene with only two characters. And remove all those flowery verbs that stick out, such as quizzed, extrapolated, exclaimed, and interjected. Just use said and asked, and maybe an occasional replied or answered. Really. Less is more . . . effective.
  5. Search and destroy repetition. We tend to repeat words, phrases, or ideas in the same paragraph. Sometimes that’s a good thing to do, to drive home a point, perhaps in summary at the end of a section or subheading. But writers often try to say the same thing in a different way, and instead of adding new material they are essentially rehashing what they’ve already said. One great way to catch those repetitive words is to hear your piece read aloud using a  software program like Natural Reader.
  6. And a word about backstory . . . Yes, the dreaded backstory, which novelists have been told to shun in the first chapters of a novel. But really, do you need it? Take a look at all the places you have backstory and boil down just a few lines of the most important information you feel the reader must know to “get” the story. Then see if you can have a character either think or say these things instead of going into lengthy narrative. Look for any passage that feels like author intrusion or an info dump and find another way to impart the information.

If you’re the kind of writer that needs to “add weight” to your skimpy book, you have a different challenge, and the problem won’t be solved by ignoring all the above tips. Remember, it’s the unwanted fat you want to eliminate. Be sure what you add to a skimpy novel is muscle, not fat. And for the rest of us who overwrite, be reassured that by implementing these easy tips, you can help trim those unwanted “pounds” from your pages and tighten your writing.”

Pro photo for book coverAbout our special guest star: C. S. Lakin is a multipublished novelist and writing coach. She works full-time as a copyeditor and critiques about two hundred manuscripts a year. She teaches writing workshops and gives instruction on her award-winning blog Live Write Thrive. Her new book—Say What? The Fiction Writer’s Handy Guide to Grammar, Punctuation, and Word Usage—is designed to help writers get a painless grasp on grammar. You can buy it in print here or as an ebook here. Connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.

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