Tag Archives: writer’s corner

Four Sins of a Newbie Writer

I’ve done a lot of beta-reading in my day, and I find that my critique points often align along the same sort of issues. I thought it might be helpful to type up a list for anyone who is just starting out writing–I know a lot of people are using their self-isolation time to start a new WIP for Camp NaNoWriMo, for example. 😉 As always with these sort of posts, I’m not claiming I’m some genius master writer, but I do firmly stand by this list.

Sin #1: Being Too Mysterious

It’s happened more than a couple times that my very first, page one comment on a manuscript is that the author is trying to be too mysterious in the first couple paragraphs. In the first few pages, it is courteous to readers to clearly introduce your MC’s name, age, and identity. When authors dangle tidbits of information and invite readers to piece the puzzle together, it makes readers work too hard, rather than being able to sit back and enjoy the story–and that often means readers will stop reading and pick up a different book. These slow, spoon-fed introductions always makes me think of some cheesy anime character intro where they make their grand entrance to the show in silhouette.

The man walked into the bar and sat down with a weary sigh. “What’ll it be?” asked the man behind the bar, his voice a low growl. Green eyes glinted. The monk laughed. This was going to be an interesting night.

Okay, so here is the information we aren’t privy to in the above paragraph (not taken from a beta manuscript, just a few lines I made up that are representative of many past beta reads). There are no names, and the only physicality we’re given could belong to either man… or the monk… or a third party observer! Also, who is the monk? Is it the guy who just came into the bar or somebody else? Just how many people are in this scene anyway???

And take a look at the oh-so-mysterious line “Green eyes glinted.” Short sentences of physicality have started to drive me absolutely bananas recently–I think I’ve seen too many of them in books by authors like Sarah J. Maas, and they just… aren’t working for me anymore. Authors normally throw them in to establish a lyrical, poetic, or moody feel, but they read as lazy writing to me at this point.

Most crucially in the above few lines, the POV feels shaky; most readers will make the assumption that we are in the head of the first man, not the bartender, but that is not necessarily the case. This leads into the next sin…

Sin #2: Head-Hopping

Head-hopping is when authors change POVs within a scene. Unless you are some master literary craftsman who understands how to do this, stick with one POV in each scene, lest your readers become disoriented.

Wow, thought Paul, she’s super hot. He couldn’t tear his eyes away from her.

Emma blushed, noticing his gaze. Hey, good-lookin’. What she wouldn’t do for a man in uniform.

Okay, before our two characters above start getting it on, we have to fix an enormous problem; first we’re in Paul’s head, then we’re suddenly hearing Emma’s thoughts. That’s going to give your readers serious whiplash, and it will introduce major confusion throughout the manuscript. If you are using 3rd POV, you can only have your POV character think and react to information that they know.

And to help ground your readers if you’re switching POV from chapter to chapter, always use the POV character’s name in the first sentence–and ideally, make their name the first word.

Sin #3: Noticeable Dialogue Tags

There are a scant few dialogue tags I use on the regular in my writing. Here they are:

  • said
  • asked

Of course I’ll throw in a “murmured,” “growled,” or “spat” every once in a while, but generally, “said” and “asked” will do me–and my favorite scenario is when I don’t have to use dialogue tags at all and just let the dialogue sit by itself. 🙂

Here’s some dialogue from my current WIP, with extra dialogue tags thrown in.

“I’m going to pop by the liquor store, then we’re having a night in at your place. Any booze requests?” she inquired.

I thought for a second. “Just rum for me,” I sighed. “But get yourself whatever you want.”

“You getting sick?” she asked me. She knew me too well.

“Bit of a sore throat,” I told her. “That’s all.”

Okay, so this snippet is a telephone conversation between the MC and her best friend. Notice how every line includes some sort of dialogue tag (“inquired,” “sighed,” “asked,” “told”). Most of these aren’t necessary. For example, a question mark indicates a question (duh), so generally speaking there is no need to use “asked” or “inquired.” Our MC is telling her best friend what she wants to get from the liquor store, so “told” is also repetitive. As for “sighed,” it adds a bit of color, but not enough to make it necessary here. Some people would keep it, but I’d personally get rid of it.

My rule of thumb is to nix any dialogue tag that is not pulling its weight. One little thing to note, though, is that dialogue tags can do a lot for a sentence in terms of rhythm; sometimes it’s nice to break up sentences with a “said/asked,” just to keep things flowing nicely. But don’t worry about that if you’re a beginning writer–just take a good, hard look at all your dialogue tags and ditch the ones that are useless.

This is the way I wrote the text originally:

“I’m going to pop by the liquor store, then we’re having a night in at your place. Any booze requests?”

I thought for a second. “Just rum for me. But get yourself whatever you want.”

“You getting sick?” She knew me too well.

“Bit of a sore throat. That’s all.”

I can understand that to some people the above might read a bit sparse–that’s a personal preference thing. My point is that many newbie writers employ dialogue tags for every bit of dialogue, and this can quickly bog down your characters’ conversations and annoy your readers.

Sin #4: Using Telling Words to Show

“Show, don’t tell”–we’ve all heard it, but it’s often tough for writers to understand what that means. I could write a whole ‘nother post about “show, don’t tell” (and when you actually should tell), but I’ll save that for a different time. What I really want to talk about here is when writers think they’re showing, but they’re not.

Here’s an example:

He heard a braying voice from the other room.


She saw sparks fly from the machine.

Notice how “he heard” and “she saw” introduce distance into the sentence? It filters all action through the character’s senses. If you have centered your readers in a POV, we understand intuitively that a braying voice is something the character is hearing and that sparks are something the character is seeing. In the above example, these sentences tell, rather than show.

So get your character out of the sentence and let the action flow, rather than telling us what’s going on. Here are the sentences fixed up:

A voice brayed from the other room. / There came a braying voice from the other room.

Sparks flew from the machine.

Notice how much more actioney the above sentences feel? That’s because we’re suddenly not limited by having everything focus on the MC. Yes, we should be in their head, but not to the point where every single sentence tugs us back to the character.

I really hope the above tips are useful if you’re a writer just starting out! However, my biggest recommendation for avoiding these sins and developing your fictional voice is to read good books by competent writers. I’m going to be frank here: there are a lot of authors out there who are extremely successful commercially–but they don’t necessarily have the strongest chops when it comes to narrative voice. You should make it your mission to read authors who are good at their craft and pay attention to what they’re doing, maybe by even typing one of their chapters into a Word document so that you’re forced to pay attention to their stylistic choices. Here are a few of my absolute favorite authors when it comes to narrative voice:

  • Charlaine Harris (read for character description and voicey 1st POV)
  • Derek Milman (read for dialogue and voicey 1st POV)
  • Eloisa James (read for dialogue and character dynamics)
    • On a quick note, James very occasionally head-hops, but she does it as a master writer should: with purposeful subtlety that hopefully won’t annoy the average reader.
  • Kristen Britain (read for her wide range of emotion and sentence simplicity)
  • Maureen Johnson (read for voicey 1st and 3rd POV)

Can you think of any other “writing sins”? Who are your favorite authors to read for their narrative voice? Leave a comment down below!

Writer’s Corner: Tech Tools of the Trade

This last year has been one big bookish whirl—after I finished putting final edits on my second book, I came to a pretty earth-shattering realization that I was wholly disillusioned with the publishing industry and didn’t want to pursue a trad publishing route after all. When I opted for the indie route, I knew there would be a big learning curve to starting what is essentially a small business. What I didn’t anticipate was how integral some websites would become to my workflow. This post definitely is not just for indie authors, but for anyone who is trying to make things happen in the digital space. I’ll do another post soon specifically about Instagram apps, as well as about the publishing industry companies I chose to partner with (aggregate distributors, etc.).


I adore Canva; it’s an easy and intuitive way to make professional and enticing graphics. There’s not many graphics on this website that didn’t go through Canva first, from my blog header to my logo to the cover of the Specter free short story. I adore that I can use it on my phone so that I can easily download and upload Instagram posts. Also, Canva provides a great printing service; it’s how I printed my business cards and some posters for Specter promo. The products shipped fast and the print quality is great.


Please don’t laugh at me—I use Befunky primarily for resizing graphics. I know, I know… there are way easier ways to do this, even within WordPress itself, but somehow I always have a hard time remembering how. Befunky just works with my wonky brain, for some reason, so it’s my dedicated resizer.


Linktree is what I use for that crucial one link you get for your Instagram bio. They make everything look professional, and it’s free. What else could a girl ask for?

Google Drive

This one kind of pains me, because at the core of it I hate Google. I think they’re creepy and power-hungry, so it pains me that I find Google Drive so damn useful. The easily accessible storage speaks for itself, and I love that Docs and Sheets are so intuitive and that I can invite other people to view documents and leave comments. Due to having to write on multiple devices, I can regrettably no longer easily draft with Scrivener, so Google Docs is what I’m currently using. I guess this is the one service on here that I’d like to replace, if simply because I don’t like to support Google as a company… maybe Reedsy or Office Online? I’ll have to look into it, but for the time being, there is no denying that Google Drive helps me get work done easily.


Pacemaker has been a recent discovery, again due to the fact that I’m drafting again and can’t use Scrivener and its word count features. For a word count tool, it is extremely customizable, and I love how it shows your progress on a chart.

Google Keep

Google Keep is another of those pesky Google apps that I use every single day with a tinge of regret. It’s meant for keeping lists, of course, but I’ve found myself using it in surprising ways—for example, to keep a list of my commonly used Instagram hashtags handy for pasting into each post. If you’re a person who likes lists, Keep is where it’s at.

3D Book Cover Creator

This tool totally saved me from having to manually cut out the white space from around a 3D cover rendering. It is so easy to use, and there are many different options to choose from in terms of paperback, hardback, phone, Kindle, etc. I have found that it is a little bit buggy at times (one time I went to download my cover, only to find that they’d sent me somebody else’s!), but I still always get the graphic I want with a little fiddling around.

What tools do you use for your blog or business? Leave your favorites down below!

My Beautiful Book or: How Formatting Unleashed My Inner Control Freak

Anyone who knows me as a writer knows that I am… picky. I write slowly because I like to finesse my language and edit as I go. (I know, not the way you’re supposed to do things, but whatever.) The words must be evocative. The sentences must have flow and rhythm. It means that despite all my writer friends being NaNoers, I’m always coming in last in the word wars—a perpetual loser’s fate that I’ve just learned to accept over time.

So because I’m a self-aware picky person, I knew that when it came to actually crafting my Word document into a final, physical product that that attitude would prevail. The purpose of this post isn’t to change my ways or confess some self-discovery. Really, I just want to set down in writing all the things I’ve done recently to make my manuscript into a PDF ready for print, both to give other indie authors a sense of a good order to do things and honestly to also remind myself what to do when I have to do this again a year or so down the line. FYI that there is a lot of typography and formatting mumbo jumbo in this post—too much for me to stop and define it all, but it is all very Google-able. Heads-up also that this is a very lengthy post.

Step 1: Look At Books

I read a lot. A lot a lot. Not as much as some of those Goodreads gods and goddesses who stack up hundreds of books in one year, perhaps, but definitely way more than the average person. You would think, therefore, that I know what books look like.

Wrong! There are so many little formatting details that take a manuscript from book-ish to actual book, and we readers often gloss over them. The very first thing I did at this stage of the game was to look at books that I wanted my book to look like (YA, paperback, paranormal/mystery/thriller). I paid attention to font choice, whether the text was justified, the layout of the front and back matter, the page number placement, the margin size (literally downloaded a ruler app so I could get to measuring in Starbucks), headers and footers, the use of imprint logos, etc.

Then I made myself a wish list:

  • 5.25″ x 8″ cover
  • Author logo on spine (99% of traditionally published books have an imprint logo on the spine, so I wanted a logo too)
  • First few words of each chapter in small caps in a different font
  • Cool chapter heading font
  • Line break ornament
  • Justified text
  • Hyphenation
  • Chapter starts don’t need to be on the right
  • Page numbers on outside bottom, starting on proper first page of book
  • Half title and full title graphic to echo the cover in the front matter
  • Appropriate-looking copyright page with necessary credits
  • Blurb or excerpt on back cover
  • Author website listed directly above barcode on the back cover
  • Author photo in back matter
  • Font changes where appropriate for style (text messages, articles)
  • Gray bubble text boxes to indicate text messages

Quite a lot, right? I’m sure there was more on my wish list, but this is just what I can remember off the top of my head.

Step 2: List Out Things to Buy

After some initial fumbling attempts at making my own cover and logo, I decided I’d rather pay some professionals to do this for me. PLEASE NOTE: I am not saying you need to spend oodles of money to have a great-looking book, but understand that this is my primary hobby and my money to spend.

Here was what I bought:

  • Logo, purchased on Fiverr for about $35
  • Professional author photo, $185
  • Cover, purchased on 99designs, $367. Understand that I knew I needed to buy a cover, but I didn’t buy it yet, due to needing to tell the designer the final page count.

There are typesetting services you can pay for, but I’m proficient enough at Word that I decided I could do all that myself. (Yes, Word. Some people use fancier programs, but I wanted to just make do with the beast that is Microsoft Office, since I know it well and didn’t want to buy a new program.) Which brings us on to the next step…

Step 3: Format and Typeset the Manuscript

I used many of the KDP guides to format the Word document, essentially following this webinar exactly to get the dimensions set properly. In terms of margins, I measured YA paperbacks that I felt looked good and modeled my margins after them. Then I put in placeholder pages for the front and back matter, adding in the content over time.

Here was my front matter order. I mirrored the content and order off of paperback YA books.

  1. Half title graphic without author name
  2. “Also by Author” page
  3. Full title graphic with author name and logo
  4. Copyright page with logo
  5. Dedication
  6. Blank page

And my back matter:

  1. Author’s Note
  2. Acknowledgments
  3. Ad for The Gold in the Dark, which I made myself in Canva. My wonderful author friend totally saved me here by telling me to not only have a black and white version of this, but also a color version to place at the back of the ebook.
  4. “About the Author” page

My one real disappointment in terms of the front and back matter is that KDP does not allow you to have anything printed on the inside cover, which many YA paperbacks do. If this were an option, I would absolutely have had something on the inside cover, likely a blurb in the front and the “About the Author” in the back. Oh well. 😦

Once I had my front matter in the document, this meant I could add in page numbers (starting on Chapter One first page). I used this function in Word to get them formatted properly.

Next I adjusted the paragraph and line formatting, making sure that there weren’t too few or too many lines of text on a full page. Given my margins and dimensions, twenty-nine lines per page seemed about right. I adjusted the paragraph indents (NOT using spaces or tabs!!!!) until they looked good visually. While I was doing all this, I made sure to zoom out from the document frequently to get a proper view.

Things were now looking pretty decent as far as I could tell. I began the long and thankless task of searching for fonts to use for my chapter headings, small caps chapter introductory words, text messages, etc. Some were already installed on Word, while others I found on Dafont and 1001 Fonts. I made sure that these fonts were able to be used in a commercial project, then marked down their designers in the copyright page. One thing to note here is that after a long and arduous search for a line break ornament, I found a stunning dingbats font that worked perfectly, so no need for messing around with vector files or anything like that. Hurrah!

At this point, text messages became the bane of my existence. There are many text message conversations in my book, and I had a lot of minute design goals for how I wanted them to look. Here was my vision:

  • Texts in a bubble (I used the rounded rectangle shape in Word)
  • A sans-serif font that looks like a text message (I used Arial Nova Light)
  • Text bubbles aligned either on the right or the left so that they looked like a conversation, flush with the margins
  • Two shades of gray to indicate both people in the conversation
  • The text margin inside the bubble aligned with the main text paragraph indent (man, what a mouthful)
  • Small, natural-looking line breaks in between paragraph and text messages
  • No hyphenation
  • No justification

If you have ever done any sort of precise work on Word, you’ll know that it’s not always easy to get pictures positioned exactly where you want them, especially when text is involved. In my experience, images sometimes jump around a little bit, and the anchor “feature” can just as easily become a nuisance. I did my best with the text messages at this point, with the understanding that, because I still had some other formatting to do, there would be a cascading effect with the text messages, so the text messages would have to be one of the very last things to fix. If necessary, I knew that I could make PDFs of the specific chapters with text messages once they were perfect, then smush everything together into one big Frankenstein PDF.

Next I decided to get super nitty-gritty. (As if we weren’t there already.) I went through the entire manuscript fixing widow and orphan words. It seems that there’s some difference of opinion about what constitutes a widow and orphan; my vague, personal definition was any lone word on a line ending a paragraph and any small line of text alone on a page ending a chapter. To fix these, I experimented with the font spacing in each instance, condensing or expanding the spacing by up to .2 points. This was laborious to the extreme; I think my husband watched four hours of The Punisher in the time it took me to go through the whole book. Oh well, such is the life of a control freak.

This is when it started to feel like things were drawing to a close typesetting-wise, so I decided to export the PDF and do a visual check. Oh joy, look at all the cascading text messages as a consequence of the widow and orphan fixes, exactly where I didn’t want them. I did some minor tweaking to get them in the right places again, then made some other minor changes: a few more widow/orphan fixes, adding in some missing italicization (for some reason, a lot of text in the document became de-italicized a little while back), etc. I also realized that the bottom text on some pages was lower than others, due to the various texts/font changes/ornaments/chapter headings present throughout the book. The difference was very slight, and I doubt many people would notice, but it was still present. Since this seemed like a difficult issue to fix, I opted to place my page numbers lower down on the page, so that the distance between the text and page number was larger. My hope was that doing so would make this issue less apparent, and I do think this fix worked pretty well.

Then it was time to export to PDF again for another visual check. (Lesson learned: it’s never not time for another visual check!) I found a few more minuscule issues, fixed those, visual check, and… we’re… DONE!

Step 4: Read the Book and Correct Errors

As I mentioned above, for whatever reason a little while ago some italicized words in my text became de-italicized—whole paragraphs of them, in some cases. So I wanted to do a final read through to check that I’d caught all the missing italics and look for anything else that needed fixing that my quick visual checks kept missing.

This was a good thing to do anyway, since it had been a couple months since I last read the book, so I was able to spot some other errors easier. (A couple missing words, two small continuity errors, etc.) Since I had already done the bulk of the formatting, I was very careful when correcting errors at this stage that I wasn’t causing any formatting issues by adding in text that was too short or too lengthy, etc.

Step 5: Order a Proof Copy

This was the point when everything fell apart. I ordered a proof copy from Amazon and held my breath for a day waiting for it to arrive. (Paid for rush shipping, of course—how could I not??) As soon as I cracked the book open, I knew things had to change. The font was too big, and the inner margin was a tad too close to the spine of the book. The book was readable, but I wanted to provide a reading experience that would be comfortable and not make anyone think about the formatting. I mean, that’s the whole point of this formatting journey, right? You want all your hard work to fade into the background, so that the physical layout of your book isn’t distracting from the reading experience.

So I brought the font size down, then brought in the inner margins by .25 inches. And because surely you’re aware by now, this had an enormous cascading effect on everything else I’d done thus far. The text messages were completely out of whack, and all the work I’d put in for the widows and orphans went down the drain in a second. I hunkered down and spent three days in formatting hell to fix everything, until I’d forgotten what the outside world looked like.

Then bought another proof. Then moped around the house on a Saturday for my package to arrive, having heart palpitations. (Kidding.) Then realized at 6:45 when I checked the app that the proof had been delivered an hour ago, but at the front of our apartment, not at our doorstep like usual.

Get the package. Rip it open. Open the book.

We good. Looks perfect. Final page count: 369.

You should have seen how happy I was when I went to go get a celebratory bottle of wine, blasting eighties music in my car all the way.

Step 6: Buy a Cover

Now I not only had a finished, glowing, beautiful PDF, but also the crucial page count. That meant I could at long last buy a cover, since knowing the page count enabled me to tell the cover designer how wide the spine of the book should be. I’d already been having a back and forth conversation with some artists about design details and expectations, so I went ahead and plunked down my money. I’m not going to go into huge details about the cover process, but will probably save that for a future post, since I think I learned some good things there that could be useful to other independent authors.


I could see some people reading this post and thinking I’m a crazy person. This is the point where I could say and maybe I am! for a cheap laugh. But honestly, I don’t think any of this is crazy. It took forever, but my honest belief is that these tiny details make an enormous difference in the way readers view your book. This may be just a hobby for me (I’ve definitely spent money and not made a dime thus far!) but I care about looking professional and putting out the absolute best book I can—and design is a big part of that.

So no apologies from me. Specter looks the best I can make it (cover reveal coming very, very soon!) and I’m glad I went through this grueling process. Thankfully, now that I’ve done it once, the next book won’t be as difficult. And hopefully this guide will be helpful to someone out there who is also looking to whip their manuscript into shape formatting-wise! ❤