Category Archives: writing novels

Writing, revising, selling your fiction books

GetCovers: Will Use Again

A Facebook acquaintence suggested I try GetCovers in my quest to see how a new cover affects sales of my two earlier horse mysteries, King of the Roses and Blood Lies. The price was astonishing, to say the least: $35 for the ebook and paperback package. Certainly worth a try!

GetCovers is part of the “Miblgroup family of brands,” which, my author friend wrote on FB, has a somewhat pricier line of covers, but one that is still highly affordable (starting at $100). It would be interesting to know how the services differ: for example, whether the extra expense gives you access to a different group of designers, perhaps with more experience. Anyone know?

I can report that the experience was positive. A major plus: they were fast. I received my first drafts within a week, and subsequent revisions arrived within a few days. The final cover for King of the Roses (below) was okay, well worth a try to see if it earns more clicks in my ad campaigns. After an off-base first submission (the persona of the woman was too cruel and scheming), I supplied the image of the woman; this is the same image as the one on the prior King of the Roses cover, though that designer did some tweaking to soften the woman’s stare a little.

The only indication I had that the designer was just possibly inexperienced occurred in the back-cover text. In the first paperback submission, the first short paragraph contained multiple hyphenations. I indicated that I’d rather not have hyphenations in this short text and suggested centering the blurb to remove them. In the next submission, the text had been centered, removing hyphenation from the top paragraph—but introducing it into the second! I suggested using strategic returns as necessary to force the breaks to appear between words rather than inside them. I believe the final version used spacing to achieve the necessary result.

Because the process was so quick, these corrections took only a single weekend.

In any case, I will go back to GetCovers for an experimental revision to my Blood Lies cover. At such a reasonable price, I can afford to give it a try.


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Kentucky Derby Season: A Derby Mystery with All the Sadness and Hope. . .

FREE till Sunday for Smashwords Read-an-eBook Sale!

“I used to think Dick Francis had no peer. Now I’m not so certain.”

The Maryland Horse

“The Derby is run in less time than it takes to describe it—but the description itself is one of the most exciting whodunit chapters you’re ever likely to come across.”

San Diego Magazine

And my readers on Amazon say:

“The author knows her life on the backside, and it is great to read a book using horses and the racetrack that is so very real to actual situations!
I thoroughly enjoyed this story and give it 5 STARS as a great read.”

“As someone who has trained and ridden race horses myself, I found this story to be riveting and all too accurate. The author gives a clear portrayal of the world of horse racing, of the pressures put on trainers, jockeys, and others who have access to the horses. I was glad to see the author portrayed the horses as living thinking beings with hearts and above all, honesty. The plot is complex as are the stories on the track, and I have no hesitation in recommending this work.”

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Reasonably Priced Covers?

Big word "book" in "letterpress."

For those interested in my experiences this time around in my self-publishing career, here’s a report on some options for reasonably priced covers. I submit this after having spent $600 for a cover I really didn’t like. I played around with designing my own cover for Three Strides Out, my new horse mystery, but was told by (possibly) qualified critics that my efforts didn’t “look professional.” Sigh.

I clicked on a coupon offer from WPBeginner for half off at 100Covers and submitted my book details. The basic price for an ebook cover is $100. For $200, you get both ebook and paperback cover.

The final 100Covers design met my needs; that the book is picking up more orders than my older titles may be due to the “new” factor, but it could also be that the cover is inviting. It definitely got WOW responses from friends and colleagues I tested it on.

I would give 100Covers 3.75 stars. The one-quarter star deduction reflects the number of tries to get the designer (whom I could not contact directly) to understand what seemed to me a pretty basic request: more horse, less woman. However, I suspect that any interaction with a designer requires multiple explanations of just what kind of focus the cover should have.

Books leading to a door in a brick wall

The other star reflects the fact that I wouldn’t recommend the site for anyone with a looming deadline. First contact from a “project manager” was prompt, and the first drafts arrived within two weeks, a reasonable amount of time. The cover proposals were pretty far from what I’d hoped to see, so I sent what I thought was a specific request for a refocus. I waited three weeks for the next drafts. This did seem to me to be an unusual amount of time for a project which felt as if it should have migrated to the top of the pile. The second set of drafts, oddly, did not respond at all to my feedback despite my having sent some iStock images that illustrated more of what I was hoping for. A firm re-emphasis on “more horse, less woman” led, I must say, to a very prompt third draft, which, with tweaks, is now my much-liked cover.

I have submitted my request for the paperback files; I will report on that process when it’s done.

Writing this, I now provisionally revise my rating to 4 out of 5 stars, with the delay in the middle of negotiations accounting for 0.75% of the star. Bottom line: I am thinking of asking for proposals for 100Covers revisions of my current covers for my other books. I’m on no deadline; I’d be curious to see if new covers perked up sales on those titles, and my experience was positive enough to go back for more.

pile of letters for writing

In the meantime, a Facebook friend recommended MIBLART and GetCovers, both of which are also extremely reasonable, especially GetCovers. MIBLART looks as if its focus is fantasy/sci-fi/paranormal, but my friend assures me the site can produce in a number of genres. I’m wondering if anyone reading this has experience with either of these, or has other recommendations. (I am not particularly interested in “ready-made” covers, though I know they work well for many writers.)

So please share!

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I’m feeling a little guilty. . . .

About my last title. Fact is, almost all the tech sites I’ve been “battling” with in one way or another respond promptly and thoroughly and patiently to cries for help. Draft2Digital came back within just a few hours with a fix for my main problem. I’ve had excellent support from MailerLite as well, and generous help from both Amazon and Smashwords. My “battle” was mainly with the template’s determination to do things its way, and I now know that about templates (similar experience with Amazon’s paperback-interior templates—finally went with the blank to get the right margins and less interference but still found simpler is better).

The only thing I can say about the support structure is that the online FAQs and databases almost never answer my specific questions, leading to my need to find the email screen where I can ask for the fixes I need.

So don’t hold my mistakes against any of the platforms I discuss. The learning curves are real, but the help is excellent so far.

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Long Time Gone

It’s hard to believe that it has been only two years since my last visit to this blog. Seems like eons since I abandoned Just Can’t Help Writing to do what I couldn’t help: write a new book and get it out into the world. I’m returning with some news about my latest learning curve–not how to publish an ebook (I already knew how to do that), but my experiences with editing as an indie and my struggles to learn how to market out in the wide book world.

I am not an expert. Not one of those wonderful gurus who can tell you how they have sold hundreds of books a day and YOU CAN TOO! I’m not mocking those gurus. I have learned a terrific amount from them already and will share their names with you. Rather, posts here will recount what’s happening to me as I experiment the way I suspect many indie writers do, and, I hope, collect responses and advice from writers who see how badly I’m messing up and know how they can help.

First task, as I guess anyone can see, is to UPDATE. Some books in new covers, some unpublished, and of course news of my latest, THREE STRIDES OUT: A HORSE SHOW NOVEL OF SUSPENSE (at Amazon and Smashwords) and my newly resituated author website, In addition, I hope to post some account of my adventures once a week and re-establish some old connections.

Let me hear how you are doing if you happen by.

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Friends Don’t Let Friends Fall for Publishing Scams: Look for These Tell-Tale Signs – by Anne R. Allen…

I often see social-media posts from people who want to know how to get their books published. How NOT to get “published,” as explained by Anne R. Allen in this vital post, is where they should start.

So, if you know folks who are working on a book but are new to publishing, send them this article. Now.

Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog

When those “dreams come true” are publishing scams…

Because I have a lot of articles out there on publishing scams, I get frequent messages from writers who fear they’ve been ensnared by a scammer.

I hear even more often from their friends. These friends or relatives see something iffy going on, but don’t want to be the Debbie Downer who brings unnecessary negativity into a hopeful writer’s life.

The friend usually has a reason for being suspicious. Whether the “dream project” is a dodgy anthology, an overpriced no-name contest, a vanity press masquerading as a real publisher, or a junk marketing scheme, a lot of people will have a feeling the project isn’t passing the smell test.

But if they don’t know much about the publishing industry themselves, they hesitate to rain on a newbie writer’s publishing-fantasy parade.

Their writer friend is happy for the first time in forever, floating…

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Three Grammar Rules You Can Ignore

silhouettes of runners breaking free of barriers
Three rules to leave behind

A common complaint I see in social media and reviews of indie books is that the grammatical slips that often litter these works distract from good stories. So yes, there are plenty of “rules,” guidelines, and conventions that writers really must adhere to if they want to be taken seriously by agents and editors, as well as many readers. Since many of these grammatical issues matter to clear writing, it’s not surprising that they get in the way of what the writer wants to say.

But there are some instructions that are regularly handed down as rules that don’t interfere with clear writing and that, in some cases, were never really “rules” anyway, not in the sense of something a writer should work hard to observe. In fact, struggling to follow some of them at all costs can turn perfectly straightforward sentences into gobbledygook.

Here are three you can let go of with no harm done.

Ending sentences with prepositions. Yes, you can!

book with butterflies taking flight from its pagesMy father used to tell me it was Winston Churchill who said, “That is something up with which I will not put.” Since then, I’ve seen that line inserted into the mouths of many different luminaries; regardless of who said it, the point is the same. Shoehorning the prepositions “up” and “with” into the middle of a sentence can throw the whole construction out of kilter.

This probably apocryphal example is interesting because “Put up with” is actually one of the English verbs in which the prepositions are actually part of the whole deal, so that some of the absurdity of “up with which” is that it separates essential parts of the verb phrase “put up with” from each other.

But even ordinary prepositions banished from the natural end point wreak havoc on the sentences they are meant to clean up. “What is that book about?” has to become “About what is that book?” And heaven forbid you try to restructure “Who did you go with?” The result, “With whom did you go?” now forces you to confront the difference between “who” and “whom” (which is actually a real distinction but another one you can ignore).

Splitting infinitives. Yes, you can!

Computer with wonderful applications exploding from itWay back in the annals of time, language mavens revered mostly by the small class of literati experienced an inferiority complex, believing that for English to grow up, it needed to become more like classical Latin. Well, in Latin and in most languages that are largely based on its rules, “infinitives” consist of one word. In English, which is not a Latin-based “romance” language but rather has roots in what we can most simply think of as Germanic, “infinitives” are created with the word “to” and the root form of the verb. Thus, in French, a romance language, “manger” means “to eat.” You’d have a hard time splitting “manger,” but “to eat” is a completely different animal. So feel free to say “To boldly go,” with the added perk of thus being able to use the same “meter,” iambic pentameter, that Shakespeare used.

Misusing “which” when you should have used “that.”

No one who’s not specifically on the lookout for this mistake will care.

Yes, this is a “rule” based on the difference between “restrictive (essential)” versus “nonrestrictive (nonessential)” clauses, a distinction you can check out here and here. But in fact, the very mavens who most vociferously shriek about this rule have been caught making this mistake even as they rant against it.

Soooo many books! Beautiful shelves and ladder.I do notice this mistake because I’m sensitive to the restrictive/nonrestrictive issue, which many people struggle to punctuate properly, often leaving me struggling to figure out where a nonrestrictive phrase ends and the main sentence resumes. But my point is that if your story is sweeping your readers along, this is the kind of mistake most of them will be swept right past. If you use whichever option sounds right in your sentence, you probably won’t spend your valuable creative energy thinking about the choice at all.

Bottom Line: If you have doubts about your command of “grammar,” or the correct kinds of usage that will make your writing clear and accessible, concentrate on punctuation, which above all is about clarity, and on verb forms, like the choice between “he had came home” and “he had come home,” a variation from the standard that will make it look as if you haven’t mastered your tools. Ignore even Microsoft Word if it tells you it’s not okay to write “Grammar is a skill I wish I was better at.”

Green smiley with a quizzical smile

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Writers Beware!

I didn’t know this! It’s worth checking your KDP publications to make sure your buyers are getting the edition you want them to have. Thanks to Chris the Story Reading Ape for sharing this.

Have We Had Help?

This is for all self-published writers, both new and old. I recently uploaded a corrected version of the text for my latest novella The Forgotten People to the original I had added and published on the 17th of March this year. Brilliant, I can now expect it to be posted to my books page on Amazon. Right? Wrong!

After communicating with the people at KDP, I realised that it was a case of wasted effort on my part. Why? Because they do not ‘update’ text on any book you’ve already published on KDP. Why not I hear you cry? Why not indeed! While they acknowledged that they could see I had done as I said when they took a look for themselves, it soon became blindingly obvious that while they are there to answer queries, that’s as far as they will go!

Instead, first you have to unpublish the original…

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A New Form of Book Piracy

A cautionary tale from Chris McMullen. My past experience with pirated books echoes his sense that for many of the sites claiming to carry unauthorized copies, tracking them down is a lifelong enterprise. But this looks like something you can spot on Amazon if it happens to you. Thanks, Chris!


Image licensed from Shutterstock.


Earlier this year, after publishing a new book, I visited Amazon to check it out. When I finished inspecting the Amazon detail page for my new book, I clicked the link by my author photo to visit my Author Central page. And, boy, was I surprised by what I found.

(A little background: Author Central now shows only my Kindle eBooks by default. Customers have to click the Paperback tab to find my paperback books.)

I noticed one of my better selling books near the top of the list. What stood out is that book is only available in paperback. (For good reason. With thousands of math problems, this particular workbook would not be ideal for Kindle.) Yet, there it was on the list of my Kindle eBooks.

At first thought, I had hoped that Amazon was finally starting to show all…

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6 ways to improve your novel right now – by Louise Harnby…

These smart tips from Louise Harnby on cleaning up your prose in late edits also work well when you’re looking for those last thousand or so words you need to cut. For example, every time you eliminate a dialogue tag like “said,” you generally cut at least two words. Same with cutting filters (and this is an excellent primer on what that term means). In my “Power-Cutting” posts, I’ve also noted how often the phrases “to me” or “for him” can be cut; they act a lot like Harnby’s “anatomy-based action[s].” For example:

“He offered the book to me” vs. “He offered the book” when “I” am standing right there and the obvious recipient of the book.

I found a whole short-story-full of those kinds of cuts!

I’m currently deep in edits of my “Horse Show Book,” tentatively titled Three Strides Out (more mystery and horses!!), and hope soon to be able to edit at the level Harnby’s discussing here. That’s always a great milestone.

Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog

Give your novel a sentence-level workout. Here are 6 common problems, and the solutions that will improve the flow of your fiction and make the prose pop.

Review your novel for 6 common problems. None involve major rewriting, just relatively gentle recasts that will improve your prose significantly, and make your reader’s experience more immersive.

1. Assess invasive adverbs
2. Remove redundant filter words
3. Take the spotlight off speech tags
4. Pick up dropped viewpoint
5. Trim anatomy-based action
6. Turn intention into action

Continue reading HERE

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