Monday, January 27, 2020

Help for your TBR pile!

Books for soldiers & sailors 1918
We here at Operation Awesome want to help all our blog readers to ~drumroll~ restock your TBR [to be read] piles!  We know your piles are starting to dwindle*, and we want to ensure you have something to read.  Because let's be honest, the thought of having NOTHING to read is downright scary!

*In case you haven't guessed, this is HUMOR.  If you're like me, your TBR pile resides on the nightstand beside your bed, most of the floor space UNDER your bed, three bookcases along the wall in the hallway, about half of the trunk of your car, one-third of your briefcase, one desk drawer at work, a Kindle app on your iPhone, Overdrive on your iPad, and a folder of PDFs on your laptop computer.  And this doesn't count the library books you've checked out.


Internet Archive

Project Gutenberg

Smithsonian Libraries

Library of Congress

Two sites of compilations:

Teach Thought

Edu Choices

I'm currently reading Dogtripping by David Rosenfelt.  Next on my TBR list is So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo.

What's on your TBR list?  Tell us in the comments!

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Dear O'Abby: Help! I'm out of ideas!

Dear O'Abby,

Something has happened to me recently that has never happened before: I just can't come up with a story idea that excites me.

I have fragments of ideas and sketches of characters, but nothing that feels like it could sustain a whole novel.  

Do you have any ideas how I might be able to kickstart my creativity and come up with an idea for a new book?



Dear Blanking,

It's frustrating isn't it?  I know exactly how you feel.  Those ephemeral half-formed ideas that don't quite gel into something you can picture yourself spending a year or more working on.  Those ghostly characters that flit through your brain, half-formed, but with no real purpose.

I don't have any definitive, sure-to-work strategies for dealing with this lack of inspiration, but I can tell you about a few things that have worked for me when I've been drowning in a puddle of not-really-stories and not-quite-characters.

Firstly, if you have several different ideas, see if they could go together.  For example, when I wrote An Unstill Life, it started off as three very separate book ideas, one about a gay couple not being allowed to attend a school dance together, the second about a cancer sufferer not wanting to prolong her agony through doing more treatment when she knew it was futile, and the third about the way friendships change once people start coupling up.  None of these ideas was big enough or well formed enough to sustain a book on its own, and I wasn't sure who the characters really were in any of them.  It was only once I put all three stories together that the novel began to take shape in my mind.

Another thing I've done to try and spark something interesting is to use one of those really vague ideas you have - in my case, I wanted to write a story about a boy being physically and emotionally abused by his girlfriend - and use daily writing prompts to guide your character and story development.  If you Google "writing prompts" there are numerous sites that offer writing prompts and you can even subscribe to sites that send you one each day.  Just make sure you give yourself some rules around how you use the prompts or you'll find yourself sifting through them looking for something you can use, rather than allowing the prompts to force you to think outside your comfort zone.  I used a contest called The Writer's Cramp on because it's a site I belong to, and the competition side of it made it a little more fun to dash out those 1000 words each day.  I didn't write a perfect book using this method, but I certainly discovered some really interesting things out about my characters by forcing myself to write about them using the scenarios and situations the prompts threw at me.  I even ended up with a central character I hadn't ever expected to be in there.

Inspiration can come from other sources too.  Read the newspaper and you might find a tiny sidebar story about something that tickles your imagination.  Watch a documentary and you might discover something fascinating you've never heard of before.  Something that you could incorporate into your own story.  Sometimes it might be a location, other times, a character or story that just piques your imagination in a way that tosses up ideas you want to follow.  Read widely.  You might read something you thought you'd love because the story sounded like something you'd be really interested in, but the book fell flat for some reason.  Maybe you can figure out why you felt that way and write a book that explores a similar story in a more satisfying way.

Hopefully one of these suggestions will spark your imagination.  Stories can't always be forced into existence, but they can certainly be encouraged to grow.

X O'Abby.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Operation Awesome #20Questions in #2020 of #NewBook Debut Author Julie Holmes

Operation Awesome #20Questions in #2020 of #NewBook Debut Author posted by @JLenniDorner of @OpAwesome6

Murder in Plane Sight by Julie Holmes

1- Do you have a #NewYearsResolution you care to share?

I like to think of the new year as a fresh opportunity to work toward goals, rather than resolutions. My goals for 2020 include finishing the draft for the second Sierra Bauer mystery and editing it for submission to my agent, and completing a draft of my next project, a rural Minnesota mystery.

2- Would you please, in 160 characters or less, give a #WriteTip ?

Write what you know, but don’t show off. You want to be authentic but don’t bog readers down. Too much “technical” information will turn readers off.

3- What is the best piece of writing advice you've received?

Don’t stop studying the craft. Don’t stop practicing. Even professional athletes practice. If you want to be a writer, don’t give up. Persist. Keep learning, keep practicing, and you will become a better writer.

4- Would your mystery qualify to enter for The Staunch Book Prize?

Yes, my mystery would qualify, I believe. My main character survived an attack by her stalker ex-boyfriend, and regained control of her life. She is determined not to lose all the progress she’s made since the attack even when her past comes back to haunt her.

5- Would you share a picture with us of your book with the sky or a plane in the background?

Operation Awesome #20Questions in #2020 of #NewBook Debut Author Julie Holmes

6- How many Sierra Bauer Mystery books are you hoping to write?

I have completed the draft of the next book in the series, and I have the story idea for the third book. I’d like to write at least three books, but I have other series in mind I want to work on, including a police procedural series for which I have the first four books drafted.

7- What's your Twitter handle, and do you have two or three writer friends on there to shout-out to for #WriterWednesday ?

My Twitter handle is @julieholmes2k13 . I have a lot of writer friends on Twitter, but I’ll pick these three to shout out: @MaeClair1 , @dlfinnauthor , @stacitroilo

8- What’s one writing goal you hope to accomplish before you die?

I hope to be on the New York Bestseller List at least once (don’t we all hope for that? :D )

9- What most motivates you to read a new book?

I am a member of the Twin Cities chapter of Sisters in Crime, and I have met a lot of fellow authors. If I know the author, I would like to read at least one of their books. Unique and not run-of-the-mill protagonists with an interesting story and great cover (of course!) also inspire me to read a new book. To finish a book, I want to feel connected to the characters in some way. I want to be scared for them, root for them, and feel a sigh of relief for them when I reach the end of the book.

10- It's our tenth anniversary! How far has your writing come in the past ten years and where do you see your writing career ten years from now?

Happy Anniversary and congratulations! The past ten years of my writing life have been the best, I think, because I have found treasured mentors who guided me to improve my craft. Of those ten, the past seven years have been the best, because in the summer of 2012 I met my Writing Sisters. We are eight writers who have helped each other not only improve our writing, but have helped each other through real life difficulties. We have become sisters in all but blood.

11- What is your favorite book by someone else, what's the author's Twitter handle, and what do you love most about that book? #FridayReads book recommendation time!

Author name: Mae Clair @MaeClair1
Title: Hode’s Hill
Love because: Hode’s Hill is a series of three books; I’m reading the last one now: Eventide. I have to pick the whole series :D Love because: Mae does a fantastic job with dual timelines and rich characters.

12- What emotions do you hope your book will evoke for the reader?

I want my reader to feel the fear, the anxiety, the grief, and the confidence my main characters feel through the story. I want the reader to invest in the characters and really experience the story with them.

13- What kind of impact do you hope your book will have?

I hope my book will show readers that non-traditional protagonists are interesting and worth reading without falling into the usual stereotypes. I also hope my book assures people who may have been victims in the past do not have to become victims again. I think people like characters who, although they have tragedy in their past, learn to take control of their lives and aspire to keep that confidence in their strength.

14- What is the best writing tool, program, or reference book you've ever bought?

The best writing program, for me, that I ever bought is Scrivener. It fits the way I like to write without being outrageously expensive. I don’t use all of its capabilities, but I like what I do use. I also love OneNote, which is where I keep my story bibles. And a shout-out to Karen Wiesner and her book, First Draft in 30 Days.

15- In what ways are the main characters in your book diverse? #WeNeedDiverseBooks

I think the biggest way my book is diverse is the fact that my main character is a woman doing a man’s job, which doesn’t compare to truly diverse books. My favorite book(s) with diverse characters are the Detective by Day series by Kellye Garrett and the Pen Wilkenson series by Brian Lutterman.

16- Who is your favorite book review blogger?

I’ve been spending a lot of time working on my WIP, so less time roaming the internet. There are a lot of readers and many writers who post reviews. Two I follow are Kim at By Hook Or By Book ( and Debby Geis (

17- What was the deciding factor in your publication route?

The main reason I chose to go the traditional route is cost. Sure, self-publishing allows a writer to keep more of the profits from the book, but they also have to pay for professional editing, cover design, and they have to work to find all the channels, etc to get their books out into the world. By being traditionally published, I worked with an editor and a cover designer, plus traditional publishers, including small presses, have access to avenues like PW and LJ and distributors that self-published writers don’t.

18- Which author, past or present, do you feel most resembles your work?

That’s a tough question. I think my work has a similar flavor to writers such as Julie Kramer or Jess Lourey (Murder by Month series). Patricia Briggs’ main character, Mercy Thompson, is a non-traditional character like Sierra Bauer, but I’m not writing urban fantasy (yet 😉 )

19- Would you please ask our audience a question to answer in the comments?

Was there one thing, a person or event, that inspired you to become a writer? What was it?

20- Anything else you would care to share about your book and yourself?

Bio: Award-winning author Julie Holmes writes a variety of mysteries, from suspense with a touch of romance to police procedurals with a brush of extrasensory, with forays into fantasy and science fiction. A former aircraft mechanic for a commuter airline, she is now a technical writer for a software company. She is a member of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America.

Social Media:

FB: @JulieHolmesAuthor (
@julieholmes2k13 Website:


Headlights glared in the rearview mirror. Sierra Bauer slowed, but not enough. Her car slid around the turn onto the service drive that ran past the Range Airlines maintenance hangar on the western side of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport. She steered into the skid, regained control. Cursed the timing of the snow.

The idiot stuck to her backside like duct tape, too damn close even for Minneapolis drivers in these two inches of fresh January snow. Sierra considered hitting the brakes.

A deep rumble, and her tailgater passed her.

A pickup truck.

In the glow of her headlights, she identified the color.


Her breath caught.

An outline of a pale rectangle peeked from the layer of snow on the rear bumper.

Her heart stuttered. Raced.

It can’t be his truck. How would he know where I am?

Murder in Plane Sight by Julie Holmes

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

The Full-Time Worker and the Writer

After finishing my master’s degree and taking a year off to write, I have only just recently entered The Workforce - Amren's First Full-Time Job! And you know what? I have NO IDEA how people manage to fit in writing. If you're someone who somehow squeezes in a quick revision during lunch, or you write a new paragraph on the bus, kudos to you because I do not know how you do it. I have no idea how you compartmentalize well enough to shove aside the fact that Anna left this unsolvable problem by deleting her source code and just get into zen writer-mind. It seems nigh impossible.

I thought that starting a full-time job would be easier than grad school, since I wouldn’t have homework or group projects or research to do on my own time. I thought I'd be able to clock out at 5:00, leave my worries at the door, and saunter home to write a dozen pages. Instead, I get home and stare at my laptop, all of my creativity drained as if I'd poured it through a sieve. What I didn’t factor into this consideration was that, during grad school, I could go home during the day and make pizza dough or smash out a couple chapters. (Sometimes I could even cram a few paragraphs into the margins of my notes during class, if I was sneaky.) Working full-time is a whole other animal.

I've considered making time to write in the little moments here and there at work, but my job is too demanding to even allow me to think about what I'm going to work on after lunch. My brain is constantly "on," working out how long it'll take me to scan a dozen slides and whether I can figure out what's wrong with the lab computer while the scanner is running. At the end of the day, I constantly feel like my brain has turned to jello. And it is so frustrating. I've had my NaNoWriMo manuscript nagging at the back of my mind since the new year started, but I've barely had the energy to work on it. I have so many ideas in the tiny moments when I'm walking to lunch or running to the lab next door, but even just writing them down, they come off so boring, so clinical. It's as if work saps all the creativity from my body. It seems as though all I can do is hope that I'll eventually settle in, and all of this will be a distant memory.

How do you deal with work-writing balance? When do you find time to write? When you're feeling as if your creativity has drained away, how do you "reset?"

Monday, January 20, 2020

Questions to ask a literary agent on “the call”

Library reading nook 2018
Writers who want to be traditionally published are usually interested in being represented by a literary agent.  A literary agent can provide some major benefits to writers, including that the larger publishers [Big 5 – Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster] generally don't accept submissions directly from writers.  They only accept submissions from literary agents.

Last week we reviewed some questions to ask your critique partners and/or beta readers.  This week let's review some questions to ask if you have a literary agent interested in representing you.

First, congrats!  Getting “the call” from an agent means you've worked long and hard on your book and your query and maybe even a synopsis.  You've researched agents you believe would be a good fit for your book and your own personal style.  You've bitten your fingernails down to the quick with all the waiting and hoping.  And now you have an agent interested in talking to you!  Yay!

Now, here are some sample questions to ask:

Janet Reid - literary agent

Rachelle Gardner - literary agent

Jessica Faust - literary agent

Victoria Lee - author

And, here are some questions you might be asked.  Know your responses!

Maria Vicente - literary agent

Mary Kole - freelance editor, former literary agent

Finally, here's what one literary agency looks for in the writers they represent.

James McGowan - literary agent, BookEnds Literary Agency

Happy agent hunting!

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Dear O'Abby: How do I get the most out of my online publicity opportunities?

Dear O'Abby,

Thank you so much to Operation Awesome for featuring us in the Debut Author Spotlight. We’re so happy about it. Might you have any suggestions on how we can promote, share, etc., to get more exposure for the feature? 

New Authors

Dear New Authors,

When publishing the Debut Author Spotlights, Operation Awesome schedules a number of social media posts about the feature, each highlighting one of the questions asked in the interview or something interesting in one of the answers.  One of the best ways to promote an interview or review online is to share these social posts so a new circle of people see them or write new social posts linking to the interview.

If, in the interview, you mention other authors, book review bloggers or anyone else in the industry, you can tag them when you share or post and hopefully they will then share with their circles too.  

Using the most effective hashtags when sharing or posting is also a way to extend the reach of any publicity opportunity by making the post searchable for people looking for something specific.  For example, if, in your interview, you talk about diversity in your books, you may want to use a hashtag that indicates you're talking about diversity so people searching for diverse books will find it more easily.  There is a site that will help you find the best hashtags for your posts.

You can also mention your interview in other interviews if it's relevant.  If an interviewer asks something you have already answered in depth elsewhere, in your reply to that question, you can say something like "I actually already spoke at length about this very topic here" and link to the interview.

The most important thing to remember about social media is that it's social.  Your feed should not be just a constant litany of "read my book, read my book, read my book".  Share other writers' interviews too, if they are relevant or you find them fascinating.  Engage with other writers and readers on the platform by sharing their posts or commenting on them. Social media is about building a community and you don't build anything worthwhile by constantly spamming people with ads for your own work.

Another thing to think about is using images in your posts.  People scrolling through screes and screes of social posts are more likely to stop and look at something with an eye-catching image than a post which is just a bunch of text. 

This is by no means a comprehensive lesson on how best to utilize social media, but hopefully it will help you in making existing information about you and your book work harder for you.

X O'Abby

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Operation Awesome #20Questions in #2020 of #NewBook Debut Author Kari Veenstra

Operation Awesome #20Questions in #2020 of #NewBook Debut Author posted by @JLenniDorner of @OpAwesome6
Debut Author Kari Veenstra #NewBook The Rescuer
The Rescuer by Kari Veenstra

1- 1- Do you have a #NewYearsResolution you care to share?

My #NewYearsResolution for 2020 is to draft, write, and edit the sequel to my debut. I think this will be both a challenge for me and an excellent goal to work toward.

2- Would you please, in 160 characters or less, give a #WriteTip ?

Knowing how to write well and knowing how to tell a great story are two different things. Seek to improve at both, and your writing will blossom.

3- What is the best piece of writing advice you've received?

That you don’t have to write every day to be a great writer. There are great writers who do write every day, and there are great writers who don’t. You improve as a writer every time you sit down to write. The more you do it, the faster you improve, but don’t beat yourself up if you can’t or don’t put words on the page every single day.

4- Is your book similar to the Kevin Costner movie "The Guardian" and in what ways?

As far as character, plot, and setting, my book is completely different from The Guardian. However, I’ve heard there are anywhere from 1 to 3 to 7 basic stories in all the world, so if you compare the two works in that light, you will definitely find some definite similarities in regards to story and theme. The biggest similarity is sacrifice. Costner’s character in The Guardian is willing to sacrifice his hopes, dreams, relationships, and even his life to save others. In The Rescuer, Prok Zandin (the main character) is also willing to make these kinds of sacrifices and in doing so drives the entire plot.

5- Would you share a picture with us of your book near water or a liquid?

Debut Author Kari Veenstra - The Rescuer

6- You completed your 2019 Reading Challenge on Goodreads! How many books are on you challenging yourself to read in 2020?

In 2019 I pledged to read 40 books. I’m proud to say I read 45. This year, 45 is my pledge. I’m hoping to not only hit it, but exceed it by a couple. Whatever number I do read will be my goal for 2021.

7- What's your Twitter handle, and do you have two or three writer friends on there to shout-out to for #WriterWednesday ?

You can find me on Twitter @KariVeenstra_
In a round-about way, being on Twitter got me my publication deal. @StuartWhiteWM had a lot to do with it as did AM Dassu @a_reflective . And I’ve met so many wonderful writing friends thanks to @kristen_kieffer ’s #StorySocial chats.

8- What’s one writing goal you hope to accomplish before you die?

Hitting the New York Times Best Seller List is at the top of my writing bucket list.

9- What most motivates you to read a new book?

Cover, tag-lines, and back cover copy are probably the biggest reasons I pick up a book. If it looks interesting and sounds interesting, I’m hooked. I’m less likely to read based on word-of-mouth because I find that my tastes vary vastly from so many other readers.

10- It's our tenth anniversary! How far has your writing come in the past ten years and where do you see your writing career ten years from now?

My writing has improved by leaps and bounds in the last 10 years. I went from writing news articles and web copy to writing fiction. I used to be so self-conscious of my fiction that I did all my writing in secret and didn’t try to connect with other writers at all. Needless to say, that didn’t work out.

My own personal writing style has improved over the last decade as I’ve found and developed my writing voice. I’ve learned so much about writing craft and what makes a great story. I understand why some novels succeed and why others end up as a DNF.. I’ve also learned that Twitter is a great place to build real writing friendships.

In another 10 years, I would love to have my entire Krador Kronicles series published. I have a few other books in the works that I would love to write and get published as well. At least 5 published works over the next decade seems like a great goal to shoot for.

11- What is your favorite book by someone else, what's the author's Twitter handle, and what do you love most about that book? #FridayReads book recommendation time!

Author name: Eoin Colfer @EoinColfer
Title: Artemis Fowl
Love because: The story is just so good! I LOVE this book (and the whole series). The characters and the world sucked me in from page 1 and made me want to be a part of their world. I’ve had my very battered copy for nearly 20 years and have re-read it many times. In addition to being a fun and fantastic fantasy, this book is *the* book that made me want to become a writer.

12- What emotions do you hope your book will evoke for the reader?

In my book, the two core themes are friendship and sacrifice. I want readers to experience loyalty as deeply as my main character Prok Zandin does. I’d love for them to feel the same excitement, fear, exhilaration, and trepidation that he feels throughout the story.

13- What kind of impact do you hope your book will have?

I want my book to inspire my readers with the courage to make tough choices and the willingness to sacrificially give of themselves to help someone else.

14- What is the best writing tool, program, or reference book you've ever bought?

Story Genius by Lisa Cron taught me so much about writing and story. The tagline of that book is “How to use brain science to go beyond outlining and write a riveting novel … before you waste three years writing 327 pages that go nowhere.”

I’ve been working on The Rescuer for YEARS. I rewrote it several times, and while it did get better with each pass, I still wasn’t satisfied; I couldn’t put my finger on what was wrong. Then I read Story Genius and had a lightbulb moment. I completely re-worked the book AGAIN - but this time I did it the Story Genius way, and now I feel confident that I have a complete and compelling story that flows organically from start to finish.

15- #WeNeedDiverseBooks What's your favorite book with a diverse main character?

One of my favorite reads of 2019 was Front Desk by Kelly Yang. The story is so unique and poignant. It is a fantastic diverse book that gives a clear window into the lives of Chinese immigrants to America and some of the struggles they and their children faced.

16- Who is your favorite book review blogger?

I love Ana and Thea over at The Book Smugglers. Their reviews are easy and fun to read, and I always get good insight from their reviews.

17- What was the deciding factor in your publication route?

I always knew I wanted to be traditionally published. For me, it’s the validation of knowing that someone - a gatekeeper, if you will - liked my book enough to publish it. I also am really looking forward to seeing my book in major bookstores - that was definitely a factor in choosing my publication route.

18- Which author, past or present, do you feel most resembles your work?

My book is very similar to the Adventures Guild by Zack Loren Clark and Nick Eliopulos. It features four unique characters that comes together for an epic adventure and have to work together to reach a common goal.

19- Would you please ask our audience a question to answer in the comments?

I’m always interested in growing my TBR (To Be Read) list, so what is the best book you read last year or what book that you’re currently reading would you recommend for me to add to my list?

20- Anything else you would care to share about your book and yourself?

Debut Author Kari Veenstra
500 feet below the surface of a drowned planet, an underdog gambles his family’s future to help a missing friend. But the price may be more than he’s able to pay, and choice comes with permanent consequences. THE RESCUER, YA SFF - Coming Feb 21 from INtense Publications. Pre-Order here: The Rescuer
KARI VEENSTRA grew up climbing trees in the remote jungles of Papua New Guinea until the day she stuffed all her belongings in a suitcase and traveled to America for college. In the process of studying to become a crack defense attorney, Kari discovered writing was her true passion. This led to a journalism internship and a career in copywriting until Kari switched to writing fiction so she could spend more time with her family. Kari now lives in the deserts of El Paso, Texas, with her husband and two children, and is always on the lookout for a good tree to climb. To connect with Kari online, visit

Twitter: @KariVeenstra_

Facebook: @KariVeenstra.Author

The Rescuer by Kari Veenstra

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

On the Merits of Audiobooks

Oh, audiobooks. I used to have such a contentious relationship with them. Does listening to an audiobook really count as having read the book? Is it really the same? Are you a true fan if you haven’t read the book?

I mean, the answer to all of those is yes, but I was a real book snob as a teenager.

I’ve recently begun listening to a lot of audiobooks. Like many people, I’ve found my job to be…uh…kind of tedious sometimes (nobody tell my boss). I’m a research scientist, so a good deal of my day consists of following protocols that have become second nature by now, or working with spreadsheets, or otherwise carrying out lab maintenance and cleaning. I bought a cheap pair of Bluetooth headphones and started listening to music at work. But the thing is, I get tired of music eventually, and when I want to change songs, I have to take my lab gloves off and that’s a waste.

So, I switched to audiobooks. I finally set up my Overdrive account and got their app, Libby, for my phone. (The Bluetooth connectivity distance of my desktop computer is…not great.) I’m fortunate enough that my local library has an extensive eAudio collection, so I checked out the entire SHATTERED REALMS series by Cinda Williams Chima and went at it.

At first, it was kind of a weird transition. While music is kind of mindless in the background, I had to at least sort of listen to the books. But slowly, I got used to it, and I’ve been ramping up the playback speed as I get more accustomed to the reader’s pace. Since I switched to audiobooks in the middle of December, I’ve listened to FLAMECASTER, SHADOWCASTER, STORMCASTER, DEATHCASTER, LIKE A LOVE STORY, WITH THE FIRE ON HIGH, and I’m less than an hour away from finishing THE DOWNSTAIRS GIRL. I get to listen to a bunch of books that I’ve been meaning to read as “research” for my NaNoWriMo revisions, my supervisor gets my hard work, and everybody’s happy. Win win!

Do you listen to audiobooks at work? (Don’t worry, I won’t tell!) If so, what have been some of your favorites? And what’s on your to-listen shelf?

Monday, January 13, 2020

Questions to ask your critique partners and/or beta readers

Reading nook - 1905
We did not receive any submissions for First 100 Critique last week.  It appears y'all are a little burned out on the First 50/100 Critique idea, so we'll let it sit for awhile.  Don't worry, we'll resurrect it a little later this year.

According to the OA About page, “We blog regularly, sharing writing tips and hosting contests (like #queryfriday and #PassOrPages).”  So during this break from First 50/100, let's talk about some writing tips.  This week – Questions to ask your critique partners and/or beta readers.

First question – what's the difference between critique partners and beta readers?  A critique partner is a writer who reads your work and gives you feedback from a writer's perspective.  You will usually “pay” for this help by doing the same thing in return.  A beta reader is a reader, usually one who reads in your genre and is a member of your target audience, who gives you feedback based on a reader's perspective, not a writer's perspective.

The types of questions and feedback you want from each one can be different, but can also be the same.

I trolled the internet and found several good lists of questions you can consider asking your critique partners and/or beta readers.

Writer's Digest

Helping Writers Become Authors

Beta Reader IO

Jami Gold

The Write Life

The Kill Zone

When I read someone's first chapter, I usually comment on (1) was the first line/paragraph good for the category/genre, (2) did the first line/paragraph hook me, (3) did I like the MC, (4) was the dialogue authentic and believable, (5) was the action believable, (6) was it exciting and/or fun, (7) can I visualize the setting, (8) does the timeline make sense, (9) were there parts where I wanted to read more of the MC's thoughts [this one is common], and (10) would I want to read this all the way to the end.

I also tend to leave "stream of consciousness" comments.  If I have a thought while I'm reading, I make a comment so the writer knows what's going through my mind at that point in the story.

When someone reads your manuscript, what kinds of questions to you ask your readers?  And when you read for someone, what kinds of comments do you give?  Let us know in the comments!

Thursday, January 9, 2020

O'Abby's Vacation Flash Fiction Competition

O'Abby is on vacation this week here:

To keep you busy while she's away mountain biking, hiking, swimming and sunning herself, she challenges you to write a piece of flash fiction (no more than 500 words), inspired by this stunning view.

Post them in the comments, and when she's back next week, she'll pick a winner to receive a prize.

Have a fantastic week!

X O'Abby

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

2020 Writing Resolutions

It's a new year! A new decade! And, though some might say otherwise, it's not too late to decide on a new year's resolution.

I try to look at new year's resolutions more as guidelines than rules. Rather than saying, "I'm going to send 100 queries!" I tell myself "I'm going to work on my query more and get some feedback." Instead of pledging "I'm going to go to the gym every day!" I think "I'm going to be more active." This kind of thinking works for me - setting a broad goal that I can accomplish in any number of ways, instead of setting a very specific goal that requires one singular task.

For 2020, my goal is to revise the manuscript I wrote for NaNoWriMo last year, and really get the worldbuilding solid. If you haven't made a resolution yet, there are plenty of writing-focused topics that might be a good choice! Maybe you'd like to spend more time on writing, so you could resolve to write for 20 minutes a day or even just to spend more time thinking about your work. Maybe you'd like to focus on some specific goals, like finishing that one manuscript and meeting more fellow writers. Maybe your goal is to be less distracted when you're writing by using apps or timers. Whatever it is, if it gets you writing, it'll be a good one!

What's your resolution for 2020? Drop it in the comments below!

Monday, January 6, 2020

First 100 Words Critique

She writes with both hands!

Based on your input, you want more than 50 words and you want a broader category/genre.  This week we'll try the first 100 words of an ADULT HISTORICAL FANTASY.  We'll also open an entry period for ANY CATEGORY / GENRE YOU WANT TO SUBMIT.  You need to tell us what the category and genre is, so we can provide appropriate critique.

Here's the entry requirements.  If you want to enter, send us an email as follows:

Subject:  First 100 Critique – [name your category and genre]

The following 100 words are my own work and I give OA permission to post it on the OA blog for the life of the blog.

I commented on the entries posted on [date] and [date] as [your online ID].

My first 100 words:

[Copy/paste your first 100 words here.]

Send us your entry by Friday January 10, 2020.  We'll confirm receipt and let you know the date it will post on the blog.  Then, please invite your friends to read and critique.  The more the merrier!

If you don't receive a confirmation email by Sunday January 12, 2020, send us a DM on twitter and we'll figure it out.

We haven't chosen the category/genre for the first Pass or Pages yet, but if you want your first 250 to hook an agent, and you hope we choose YOUR category/genre, consider submitting your first 100 so you can get new eyes on your opening.

On to this week's entry!

Reminder:  Be nice, but be honest.  [Comments that are not polite/respectful will be deleted.]  What would YOU like to know if this was YOUR first 100 words?  Do you think it's a good opening line for the category/genre?  Does it have a hook?  Does it pull you into the story?  Do you want to read more?  Why or why not?  Be specific, so your critique helps the person who wrote the entry.

Adult, Historical Fantasy

Inside the Peach Orchard Inn, Lord Liu Jie expected to see ghosts. If the farmers knew that, they'd kill him.

They won’t if I don’t react. Besides, I don't see real ghosts. They're embarrassing hallucinations I want to see because two of them are my children.

Hallucinations or not, today will be difficult. Behind the bar, the yellow silk of an imperial call to war flickered in the lamplight.

Jie reread it.

"Yellow Turban rebels assault the people and threaten the capital. The Son of Heaven requires aid, as sons might come to their father.  All districts report."

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Dear O'Abby, Is 2020 really the beginning of the decade?

Dear O'Abby,

I find myself having arguments with people all the time about things I find perfectly obvious (like Sunday, not Monday being the first day of the week - look at a calendar, people) so I thought I'd ask you if you had a definitive answer to this one:  Is 2020 the beginning of the decade, or is 2021?

I know it's not a writing question, but enquiring minds must know...



Dear Decade-Confused,

I too have that Sunday/Monday argument with various family members on a regular basis, and while some calendars do start the week on the right day (Sunday), rather maddeningly, some start the week on a Monday.  Which just gives those damn Monday people more ammunition for their argument.

But I digress...

Voices of authority say that because there was no 'year zero' when the current era began more than 2,000 years ago, all decades, centuries and millenia begin with 'year 1'.  Which means that technically, the new decade won't begin until 2021.  It also means we all celebrated the turn of the century and the beginning of the new millennium a year early.  Boy, do I feel foolish now.

But the popular voice has, for many decades past, said that the new decade begins the day that third digit changes.  So the 1960s ended as soon as the clock ticked to midnight on 1 January 1970 rather than struggling along for another year to the point the 1970s actually began.

Over half the population believes the new decade begins in 2020, so despite this not being technically correct, I doubt that's going to stop anyone celebrating this week.  But you will know the truth, and you can confuse the hell out of everyone next year when you throw your welcome to the '20's party on the true and actual date, feeling intellectually superior to all your friends.

Happy New Year to you all!  I hope 2020 is a great year for you, first year of the new decade or not!

X O'Abby.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Operation Awesome #20Questions in #2020 of #NewBook Debut Authors Jim Kroepfl and Stephanie Kroepfl

Operation Awesome #20Questions in #2020 of #NewBook Debut Author posted by @JLenniDorner of @OpAwesome6

Merged by Jim Kroepfl and Stephanie Kroepfl

1- For you, what defines the difference between graffiti, street art, and murals?

The first big difference is that graffiti is illegal, while a mural is often commissioned, or at the least, the artist has approval to paint the mural. Even the small rural town of Granby, Colorado recently hired a number of artists to complete murals on a number of buildings in the town. Street art is more difficult to define in that it may have elements of both graffiti and murals. Some people say that street art is painted in daylight in view of the public, but Banksy is considered a street artist and he certainly does not create his art in view of the public. I think our feeling as to whether something is street art or graffiti has to do with the goal of the artist. Do they mean to create a piece of public art, or do they mean to just make a mark in the world through tagging or painting stylized words or pictures? Of course, the big question then becomes, who gets to decide what is art? Ultimately, that may be up to the person that owns the building and whether they want it gone or not.

2- Would you please, in 160 characters or less, give a #WriteTip ?

Create a gripping character who people can relate to or want to emulate, and put them in trouble. In other words, make the reader care!

3- What is the best piece of writing advice you've received?

The first reply we ever got from an agent was “The pacing seems off throughout.” That was it. Boy, we took it to heart. We spent months trying to understand pacing, since, at the time, we didn’t have a clue. Now, pacing is so important in our stories: how to make the story move, and yet, breathe. After twenty drafts, we will still cut entire chapters, just because they don’t have the right kind of pacing. The agent may have thought that was an off-the-cuff comment, but we have never forgotten it.

4- What lead to you two writing together?

We met when we were teenagers, and from our first conversation, we knew we would write together at some point. We had corporate careers in jobs that involved a lot of writing. At some point a few years ago, it became apparent that we were done working for other people, and the first thing we did was start writing fiction. It almost wasn’t a conscious decision, but something that happened because we knew it was inevitable, and it became a matter of “now or never.”

5- Would you share a picture with us of your book somewhere fun?

Here is one of us with a bull moose, which roam around our neighborhood at the edge of the Rocky Mountain Park all the time. The people around us (standing many, many yards back) thought we were crazy. Knowing how impertinent moose can be, they were probably right.

6- Would you two want your consciousnesses transferred into clone bodies after death, if that were an option?

We don’t think so. Life is precious, and we’re actually fascinated by what comes next. If John Lennon had been cloned, then wouldn’t he just be taking the place of who might be the next John Lennon? That being said, we really do think it’s going to happen, and probably sooner than we all think.

7- What's your Twitter handle, and do you have two or three writer friends on there to shout-out to for #WriterWednesday ?

@JoshuaDBelin (author of the Ecosystem series) @DallasWoodburn (author of the upcoming “The Best Week that Never Happened”) @paulaertker (author of the Crime Travelers series)

8- Do you have a favorite #bookstagram image or account/ profile?

To be honest, my favorite is the profile of Brandy Vallance, a historical romance writer: brandyvallanceauthor. She fills her profile with fascinating photos of historical buildings and interesting settings. I get the feeling that I know what story she is working on when I browse her Instagram page.

9- What most motivates you to read a new book?

Is the character and the situation gripping to the point that we can’t stop reading? I think more than anything that has to do with the main character having a real goal. They must be proactive in a challenging situation, and that has to happen right away. This is true for both heroes and villains. Artemis Fowl wants to take over the world, and the reader loves him for it.

10- It's our tenth anniversary! How far has your writing come in the past ten years and where do you see your writing career ten years from now?

We have come from wanting to write a novel, to writing one, to getting an agent (actually, quite a few), to getting the right publisher, and finally seeing our first book in print. These sound like career goals, but they were also writing goals. We were very conscious of how we had to develop our writing all along the way, and winning awards, getting short stories published and responding to criticism from agents and editors were so important in becoming better writers. In ten years, it would be wonderful if we had ten published novels and a well-developed career. In fact, it’s hard to imagine anything else when we think ten years ahead.

11- What is your favorite book by someone else, what's the author's Twitter handle, and what do you love most about that book? #FridayReads book recommendation time!

Author name: Neal Shusterman @NealShusterman
Title: Unwind
Love because: It’s a great YA science fiction book that explores a unique solution to the pro-life vs. pro-choice debate. The story is not preachy and doesn’t take sides; instead, it shows that every answer creates heartache. Plus, it’s a fast-paced adventure story with a rich cast of characters you care about.

12- What emotions do you hope your book will evoke for the reader?

We would love the reader to walk away with a better understanding that everybody is smart in their own way, and the best ideas often come from including people who don’t think like you. Life is far more interesting when we don’t only hang out with clones of ourselves.

13- What kind of impact do you hope your book will have?

“Merged” indirectly explores the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) vs STEAM (the addition of art) debate in education. We would love our book to be influential in increasing the Arts in school curriculums, and giving kids more access to explore music, art, and creative writing.

14- What is the best writing tool, program, or reference book you've ever bought?

The best writing tool we’ve discovered is a very basic plotting device. We have a large cork board hanging on the wall, and we pin on it different colored index cards. Each card represents a chapter/scene. This has allowed us to visually see plotting snags such as whether the three act structure is sized correctly, how many chapters each point-of-view character has, a sagging middle, where the dark moment lies in the story, and it helps us see what needs to be changed when we move around scenes.

15- In what ways are the main characters in your book diverse? #WeNeedDiverseBooks

One of the two protagonists in “Merged” is Orfyn, a mixed race sixteen-year-old boy who is raised by a nun in an orphanage. His skin color is not what causes him to be discriminated against, it’s the fact that he’s a street artist. But it’s his artistic ability that gives him the opportunity to change his life. Discrimination is not necessarily about the obvious.

16- Who is your favorite book review blogger?

Hannah, the Rainy Reader. It’s obvious that she takes the time to read the entire book. She always includes well thought out positive feedback and constructive criticism. Her input on our book has given us guidance on how to improve the sequel.

17- What was the deciding factor in your publication route?

We both have a marketing background, so we understood the difficulty in getting a wide distribution and reaching diverse audiences when self-publishing. This is our first published book, and it has always been our dream to experience all that the traditional route has to offer. “Merged” is traditionally published by Month9Books, a small publisher who specializes in YA and MG science fiction and fantasy.

18- Which author, past or present, do you feel most resembles your work?

We study John Green’s novels. We don’t presume that we’re as accomplished as him, but we try to follow his example in creating relatable characters with flaws, a story that includes smart humor, and to ask important questions that make the reader tackle their own assumptions about right and wrong.

19- Would you please ask our audience a question to answer in the comments?

So many people work for the money in jobs they’re not passionate about. If you didn’t have to worry about money, what is your dream job? Please remember your answer and don’t give up on it.

20- Anything else you would care to share about your book and yourself?

Our favorite type of science fiction is that which isn’t that far away from becoming a reality. We hope our readers have fun thinking about “what if.”

Merged by Jim Kroepfl and Stephanie Kroepfl

Monday, December 30, 2019

Please vote for 2020!

Looking forward to 2020!
From last week's post and several emails and twitter comments, we've received the following requests for Mondays in 2020:

Keep First 50 words
First 500 words
First 100 words
First page/250 words
Elevator pitch [25 words]
Broad/expanded genre in whatever is chosen

Amren did “First Page Impressions” in early 2019.  Nathaniel occasionally does “Query Friday.”  For both of these, one person who commented on that week's post is chosen by random drawing.  That person then emails their first page or query to OA and Amren or Nathaniel provides feedback.  Do you like the idea of private feedback from one of the OA members, or would you prefer that the selection be posted on the blog [for everyone to comment and learn from]?

We can also alternate.  For example, First 50 on the first Monday of the month and something else for other Mondays.

We want this blog to be helpful to YOU.  This means we need YOUR input and opinions on what YOU want to see.  Please let us know in the comments.

Thank you all for being awesome!

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Pass or Pages 2020 Dates!

Is there a particular genre and/or age category you'd like to see us host this year? Fill out the form below to let us know!

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Writing during the holidays

There were no questions for O'Abby this week, so I thought with the holiday period upon us, it might be useful to give a few tips around writing during the holidays.  I had meant to publish this last week, but just noticed it didn't actually publish...  Better late than never, eh?

The holiday season can be a very busy and stressful time.  It may mean traveling to visit family or having a houseful of guests.  If you're a writer, especially one on deadline, it can be hard to carve out time and space to get writing work done.

If it is at all possible, my advice would be to give yourself a break.  There is enough going on at this time of year without stressing about writing as well.  But if you are on a deadline and need to work during this time, you're going to need some strategies to deal with this.

If you are traveling to be with family, you may be able to use the travel time to write (not if you're driving though... that would be dangerous).  If not, bring your laptop or notebooks with you and once you arrive, suss out a quiet writing spot you can claim.  Make sure your family understands that your writing is important and that if you're working, you shouldn't be disturbed. Or even better, see if there is a coffee shop or library nearby you could work in so you're away from all the disruptions and mayhem.  It's amazing what you can get done with just an hour or two of uninterrupted, quiet. Grandparents can be godsends so make sure you use them if they're around.

If your home is the destination for out-of-town guests, you may need to juggle things even more.  You may need to get up early to squeeze your writing time in around all your other commitments.  But remember, it's only for a short time and if it's important, you will do it.  You may also be able to sneak away for an hour or two here and there if you have willing family members available to take care of kids etc.

The important thing is not to panic.  Maybe you will lose a few hours of working time you thought you might have.  Maybe you'll even lose a whole week.  It's okay.  You can make it up later, once the madness of the holidays is over (assuming your deadline isn't early January...  If it is, you really should have scheduled your time so you'd be 99% done before the holidays started.).  In the weeks after the holidays, figure out places you can steal time to write to make up for the time you lost.  Early mornings, lunch breaks, commuting time on public transport - all the places I suggested you use to write your NaNo projects.  You can get a lot done in very small scraps of time if you're determined.

Most of all, enjoy your holiday, however you celebrate it.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

J's Debut Author Spotlight Wrap-Up Is About #BookReviews

Unsplash image

The 2019 special question asked of debut authors:

Why do you think readers should write book reviews?

It's a chance to share your opinion with other like-minded readers, to help navigate the world of stories. There's nothing better than finding your next favorite adventure. If the reader is also an aspiring writer, then that's even more important! It grows the skill set to understand what works and doesn't work about another writer's story, and it also helps the author by spreading the word!
- Laura Gia West

I think readers should write book reviews because these review really mean a lot to the people whose writings are being read. Irrespective of the reviews whether they are good or bad, they open a scope of getting better for the best.
- Abhishek Behera

I think writing a review is an excellent way to show support to writers whose work you enjoy. Such a simple thing can make such a difference to writers, especially newer writers who are hoping people will take a chance on their work.
- Deborah A Stansil

because we are writing for them.
- Nidhi GS

It helps the writer improve, it helps the writer understand his/her good and bad points, additionally, it helps other readers to know about the book.
- Balaka Basu

It helps readers to become more aware of what they do and don't like in a story, as well as helping authors to potentially pinpoint issues in their own writing that they might want to improve on in the future.
- Rebekah Loper

How else are we going to find out which books will grab us by the hearts and eyeballs?
- Scott Wilson

Ideally, so they’ll have to really think about the books that they’re reading in some depth. At least, that’s why I write them.
-Gail Shepherd

I love book reviews, and I wrote some myself. I think book reviews are extremely important because that’s one way for authors to hear from readers, and see what resonated with them and what didn’t work. I read every single review about my book (on Goodreads, Instagram, blogs, etc) and I want to continue to do so. I want to see if I succeeded in stirring emotions in the readers. I want to know what annoyed them and what they truly hated. I want to be a better storyteller.
- Natasha Tynes

I didn’t understand the importance of reviews until I wrote a book. Yes, reviews help sell. Yes, reviews boost ratings and turn other people on to a novel. But as an author, I just want to know what people thought of my book! If they had a favorite character or if they especially hated the car in scene three. It boggles my mind that we can reach out to authors and let them know what we thought of the musings from their head. The world is a magnificent place.
- Chelsea Marie Ballard

Reviews are a great way to help your favourite authors gain more visibility, and also to introduce others to wonderful books they may not have heard of. I always read reviews on Goodreads before I buy a book to get an idea of whether I will like it or not. I’m not sure I’m brave enough to read reviews of my own work, though!
- Anstice Brown

Writing book reviews helps distil how you feel about a book. Why you like it or why you don’t. I find writing book reviews helps my own writing because when I don’t like something, I’m forced to ask myself why and to figure out a way to articulate what I feel is wrong. That thing is then on my radar, so when reading my own stuff critically, I might notice something I wouldn’t have earlier.
-Kate Larkindale

Reviews are so important! One, because what reader doesn't like to talk about books? And reviews are a great space for readers to share what they loved (or didn't) about a book. Also, reviews are SO helpful for authors. Sites like Amazon use review-based algorithms that impact where that book "sits" on their digital shelves, so the more reviews the better.
-Lillian Clark

The process of writing a review presents an opportunity for readers to reflect. What did the story mean to me? It expands the community of readers and provides for an exchange of ideas. Reviews keep writers honest. Good reviews encourage; meaningful critiques help the writer get better. And reviews sell books.
-Bo Kearns

Reviews help tremendously to exposure and to someone's decision to support/buy that author's work. Just like Yelp and restaurant reviews might help you decide where to go out Saturday night, the reviews on Amazon or Barnes& or other sites you can leave reviews will help other readers to get a feel for the book and decide if that's what they're looking for. Please leave me a review!!
-Danielle Ledezma

Reviews help spread the word about books, as do “shout outs” and shares on social media. There are so many books published every year, and each book is vying for attention. If you like a book, write a review or share some social media love to help spread the word.
- Sarah Scheerger

Three reasons.
1. It helps other readers with similar tastes know what they will and won’t like.
2. It helps sell books as it contributes towards promotional hype.
3. The nice reviews give us writers something to shout about - so if you’re a blogger you get an author-endorsed push too.
-N J Simmonds

Oh my gosh, book reviews are so incredibly important! They can help a reader decide whether they want to give a book a chance. Especially as a self-published author, word of mouth is one of the strongest tools we have. That being said, reviews need to be written in a useful way. If I read a review and it just says the book was amazing or the book was awful, that’s not useful. WHY was it good or awful? I want to know what specifically about it was good or bad. IT also potentially lets the author know what they can use to apply to future projects. Well-written reviews (whether positive or negative) are incredibly useful feedback.
-J. Lawson

There are two reasons. First of all, it helps authors! If you liked a book and think an author should keep writing, write a review. It doesn’t have to be a five-star review (even a one-star review can help!).
Readers should also review books so that other readers know what to expect. I used to read Goodreads reviews every single time I thought about picking up a book. Both the high praise reviews and the negative reviews told me something about the book and helped me decide whether the book was for me.
-Claire Bartlett

Book reviews help readers decide to buy a book and they help writers sell books. But don’t be mean. Every book is an author’s heart and soul. Keep that in mind.
-Sam Hawk

Because every time you read a book and don’t review it, an author looses a sliver of their soul :)
In all seriousness though, reviewing books is important for so many reasons. If you love a book, the best way you can thank an author is to review it. It drives visibility and sales which trickles down to then allowing the author another shot at their next book. If you hate a book and find it incredibly problematic, it’s well within your right to say so and maybe would help like minded people avoid reading something they wouldn’t enjoy.
That seems obvious though. Less obvious would be that it doesn’t matter what ‘level’ of your writing career you are on. Starting out, debut, 20 books under your belt, it’s the same for all: almost every single writer I know will go through phases where we question why we do this, etc. Negative thoughts can try to sneak in and tell you that everything you’ve ever written belongs in the trash. When you are feeling THAT down, look at your phone and have a review from someone who says your book changed their life—in a millisecond— your attitude is adjusted and your hope somehow renewed.
-L.D. Crichton

I think it helps other readers know if a book is a good fit for them. I also think the review process for each reader is very personal. Once this book is in your hands, it is ultimately your story too. It will inspire entirely different emotions in you than it did in me, or your friends, or your mom... No two people will have the same feelings about a book. Just like how I am one of two people who love the movie Waterworld.
Also, this is my first time being an author at the end of a book review from a stranger. I’ve been told by a few authors that I shouldn’t read the reviews, but I did in the first few weeks. Initially, there was this visceral gut-punch realization that it is out there in the world and real people are reading it and I can’t pull it back if there are things about it they don’t like. Its over, done, and free for everyone to form opinions about. Imagine spending years of your life working on this one creative project, building characters, molding their story and lives–basically living in that place with them–and then turning it over to the world without the ability to alter or change it anymore. It is utterly terrifying. I’ve learned a lot based off the reviews so far. Nothing will ever be perfect, but the few reviews I have read tell me what I’m doing really well and what I will work on in the next book.
-Kaytalin Platt

I think leaving reviews is the best way to do other readers a favor. Our internet culture too often seems to feeds off negativity. Writing a review for a book you enjoyed is like the literary equivalent of planting a tree. You are doing something good not just for the author but for the world—for other readers who might now also discover the book and love it as much you do.
-Stephanie Jimenez

This book publishing industry is falling. But I’ve heard more and more people would like to write than read. As such, someone should explain the joy of book reading. That’s the stimulus package for the industry. It’s the review, not the book, that would drive their appetite for the good books.
-Keita Nagano

Book reviews are the BEST way to help an author whose work you loved. Even a few short words of appreciation can be enough to bring a whole host of new readers to the story, and that's a pretty sure-fire way to guarantee you're going to get MORE stories from this author. Essentially, you're boosting awareness, whether it's with a full or short review, or even a 5 star rating on its own. You're becoming part of the story's story, and that's pretty badass if you ask me!
-Luke Dalton

Book reviews are incredibly helpful to authors. Most of us are on our own for marketing and honestly the best support we get is reviews from readers. If you appreciate an author’s work, leaving a review is a great way to support them. And, of course, it helps other readers figure out if the book is a fit as well. Gotta love a win win!
-Malayna Evans

If a reader enjoyed a book then reviewing it is really one of the best ways to thank the writer. It helps other readers to find the book and helps it to stand out in the marketplace.
-Jennifer Camiccia

Reviews are so crucial ; think of the last time you took a chance on an unknown author with 2 book reviews. Then think of the last time you impulse-bought a book because it had dozens (or hundreds) of reviews with a decent rating. Plus, in the end, getting more people to read the books you love just means more people to made headcanons and geek out with.
-Avery Ames

My favorite books have come from friends telling me about a book they think I would love, whether that’s over a cup of coffee or in a conversation on social media. It’s such a joy to be able to connect someone with a book they love and reviews help do that!
-Elizabeth Chiles Shelburne

To spread the good word! It may inspire someone else to pick up the book.
-Jordan Zucker

Because reviews are the only way to keep books alive—in today’s world where readers have more power and platform than ever before, they should exercise it to show the books they love to other readers.
-Damyanti Biswas

I think readers should write book reviews if they want to connect a little bit more with the story. Sometimes, I don’t know exactly how I feel about what I’ve read until I write it out. So, writing a review can be helpful for the reader to process what they’ve just read, but it’s also supremely helpful for other readers to get a sense of what they can expect when they get into a novel.
Personally, I don’t rely exclusively on book reviews to tell me if a story is good or not. Sometimes, I love a book that other people didn’t, or I just didn’t connect with a book that has starred reviews across the board.
-Kelly Coon

Book reviews are a great way to share your joy in a book (or air your concerns). They help readers find good books and help authors and others in the book industry understand more about their readers.
-K H Canobi

Readers should write reviews for other readers. It can help others find great books. Reviews should be honest but not mean—that’s true in life not just reviews!
-Lisa Moore Ramée

I think reviews, especially positive ones, help authors more than anyone realizes, in so many ways! Word of mouth is essential. Not everyone has the marketing budget of the big publishing houses. So if you love something, don’t keep it to yourself! We writers appreciate it more than you know!
-Liz Kerin

People should write reviews to create a culture of response to a work, providing links between readers who are looking for their next story dive. It takes a lot of kind, articulate responses to combat the generic, mean ones, but together we can create a community of readers who are truly invested in sharing their ideas about stories with each other. Whether a response is positive or negative, being able to frame it in a way that helps direct other readers is a gift to the reading community. Be honest. But be kind. Authors are human too.
-Jacqueline Firkins

I am a huge fan of readers (all readers—regardless of age) writing reviews. It’s probably the only way for authors to accurately gauge whether or not our work is connecting. That’s why I frequently have my middle school student write and share their reviews with peers.
-Ernesto Cisneros

What question would you like debut authors to answer in 2020?
Which debut author spotlight was your favorite this year?
Congratulations to Kim C who won the Rafflecopter giveaway.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

And Now, Something Completely Different: Being a Dungeon Master

About a year ago, I applied for several writing jobs at a video game company I really admired, whose stories and quests always managed to surprise me. Unfortunately, halfway through the final application process, my grandmother passed away, and I had to turn in an unfinished campaign because I was grieving. I didn't get the job, and it absolutely crushed me. Since then, it's been really hard to work up the...I'm not sure what the right word is, the interest, the oomph, the courage, to start game writing again. But I'm getting there. This Friday, I'm going to be the Dungeon Master for my first ever Dungeons and Dragons group, using a campaign I wrote myself!

If you're not familiar with DnD, it's a tabletop role-playing game where adventurers (the players) make their way through a campaign (a series of interactions, battles, and investigations) to achieve some specific objective (rescue the princess, retrieve the ancient artifact, defeat the dragon). There are pre-published campaigns, but I've decided to write my own (also known as a homebrew campaign). Nobody tell my partner, because he's one of my players, but they're going to get sucked into a pyramid scheme that's trying to bring about a dragon attack. It's good stuff.

Image result for dungeons and dragons
A little something like this
Game writing can be a fun way to interact with your own stories and see how other people interact with them as well. I always wanted more "choose your own adventure" books when I was a kid, so I love the idea of branching storylines. If worldbuilding is your thing, or if you're a chronic overwriter, game writing may be a fun thing for you to try! You can work within an existing world that already has rules and maps and bad guys, or you can create your own. You don't have to use DnD, either - there's Trail of Cthulhu, Night's Black Agents, Pathfinder, and so many more.

If you want to try game writing, or writing for branching storylines, there are a few good resources to check out. One is Twine, which is a free open-source tool for telling interactive, nonlinear stories. You can download it or use it online. It's pretty easy to use, and I actually had to use it for my game writing applications. Choose Your Story is a good place to get feedback on your work. And of course, you can always ask for feedback on Twitter, Reddit, and other writing communities (including this one!). So go forth and be adventurous :)