Thursday, January 17, 2019

Dear O'Abby: How do I Format My Manuscript?

Dear O’Abby,

I’m about to start sending my manuscript out to agents, but I’m not sure how it should be formatted. And Google-fu has not been of much help... Some articles say 3 inch margins on the left, others say 1 inch on both sides, some say to start each chapter halfway down the page.  Is there a standard manuscript format I ought to be following to give my book the best chance at being picked up?



Dear Stumped,

Agents are looking for great stories and great voices and if you have those things, how you present your manuscript is secondary. That said, presenting your MS well shows the agent receiving it that you’re careful, professional and thorough. And first impressions really do count.

Some agents ask for manuscripts to be formatted a specific way and failing to do this shows you are not great at following directions. So before sending anything, check that the requesting agent doesn’t have a preference in how she receives the pages.

If not, here are a few very simple guidelines for making your MS look professional.
  • Keep your margins standard – usually around 1-inch
  • Use a standard font like Times New Roman and keep it no smaller than 12pt
  • Start each chapter on a new page
  • Indicate breaks within chapters using either **** or ####
  • Number your pages starting from the first page of actual text (your title page should not be numbered)
  • Put the name of the novel and your name in the footer
Title Page
Your title page should be a separate page, unnumbered, with the title in a large font. Your name or pen-name goes under this, and in either the upper or lower right corner, the wordcount for the MS (rounded to the nearest 1,000 words) and your contact details (address, phone number, email).

Good luck with your submissions!

XX O'Abby

Friday, January 11, 2019


It's that time again, everybody! Enter here for a chance to win a query critique by yours truly! Here's how to participate:

1. Comment on this post and at least one other post from this week by *SUNDAY 1/13 at 12 pm*.

2. Leave your email address in the comment or have it available on your Blogger profile. (Or else I can't find you!)

The winner will be announced in the comment section of this post on Sunday.

See this post for additional rules. Good luck!


Thursday, January 10, 2019

Dear O'Abby, Do I Really Need Critique Partners and Beta Readers?

Dear O'Abby,

I've just finished a novel and I've read that at this point I should be sending it to critique partners and beta readers for feedback.  I don't know anyone to do this, and I am a very thorough editor, so feel like the book is as polished as it's going to get.  Is this feedback period really crucial to making my book a success?  And if it is, where do I find these readers?



Dear Critical,

Personally I believe this is probably the most important step in getting your book ready.  As the author, you know everything about your story and your characters so are unlikely to see gaps in logic or places where information might be missing.  Getting fresh eyes on the book is crucial for you to find out if everything is working the way you intended it to.

Critique partners and beta readers also fulfill different purposes.  A critique partner might read the book chapter by chapter as you write it and offer feedback as you go.  Or they might read it when you have finished a first or second full draft.  Their notes will include grammar and syntax errors, punctuation and suggestions about plotting, pacing and character development.  Finding other writers to be critique partners is usually a good idea because they will understand these things and be able to offer the right kind of feedback at this stage.

Beta readers are readers who will read the full manuscript once you have completed the revisions your notes from critique partners threw up.  These readers won't give you the detailed notes your CPs did, but will be able to identify how the book reads as a whole.  They will let you know if they believe and empathize with the characters, if the plot is engaging and if they feel the pacing works.  They will also let you know if the book is an enjoyable read, and may be able to tell you other books they've read that are similar.

In terms of finding people to act as CPs and beta readers, there are numerous options.  Join a writing group, in person if there is one in your local area, or online if there isn't (there are some very active critique groups at  Engage with other writers via their social media and blogs.  Whatever stage in your writing career you are at, there will be other writers out there at the same stage and many will be willing do a MS exchange.  Engage with readers who talk about books online and ask them to beta for you.  You won't always get a yes, but a lot of people are excited to read new books before they are published and will jump on the chance.

Good luck with the book!

X O'Abby

Friday, January 4, 2019


It's that time again, everybody! Enter here for a chance to win a query critique by yours truly! Here's how to participate:

1. Comment on this post and at least one other post from this week by *SUNDAY 1/6 at 12 pm*.

2. Leave your email address in the comment or have it available on your Blogger profile. (Or else I can't find you!)

The winner will be announced in the comment section of this post on Sunday.

See this post for additional rules. Good luck!


Thursday, January 3, 2019

Dear O'Abby: How Do I Create a Page Turner When My Story Is Quiet?

Dear O'Abby,

I'm writing a novel that I would call quiet.  There isn't a lot of external action, but the characters go through substantial change through the course of the book.  I was taught that every chapter needs to leave the reader with a reason to turn the page to the next one, but in a book where the conflict and the character journey are all driven internally, how do I create a cliff-hanger at the end of each chapter?



Dear Quiet-Writer,

Even a quiet novels without a large amount of external action can be filled with suspense.  The end of each chapter doesn't need to be a huge cliff-hanger like those old serials they showed at the movies where a hero would be left in an out-of-control railcar heading for a cliff and the end of an unfinished railway line at the end of that week's installment.  It just needs to end with something intriguing enough to make the reader want to continue reading.

Sometimes it helps to stop mid-scene.  Someone is about to say something that will be revelatory to your MC?  Don't let the scene continue until its conclusion, break it just before the speaker says whatever will change things for your MC and start a new chapter.

Other times you can finish the scene, but leave questions unanswered so the reader needs to read on to find them out.

I find it helpful sometimes to write without imposing chapter breaks when I'm drafting.  Just write the story all the way through, beginning to end.  When you're editing, find the places you feel are the most intriguing and put your chapter breaks in these places temporarily.  You may find they are far apart, or unevenly spaced which will also indicate you may need to edit for pacing and suspense. Sometimes this is as easy as moving a few scenes around to balance the tension, and other times it may require writing some new scenes to add more in places where things might have gone a little flat.

Even quiet books can be filled with suspense and tension.  People are unpredictable and often behave in unexpected or even irrational ways.  If you find the tension dropping at some point in your story, have a character do something unexpected.  The consequences of this single action can ripple through the entire book and add layers of suspense or tension for the other characters too.

Hope this helps.

X O'Abby

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Flash Fiction Friday #42 WINNER!

"I saw Mommy kissing Kra-a-mpus..."

Congratulations to Susan for winning this week's Flash Fiction Friday!

We encourage you to check out her humorous yet frightening tale of a smart-alecky little boy, his mother and the monster that haunts Christmas:

Thank you for participating and keep an eye out for the next Flash Fiction Friday!

Best Book Marketing Strategies from Debut Authors

In 2018, the Debut Authors were asked,

"What's the best book marketing strategy you've come across?"

Here's what they said:

In terms of my book, I’d have to say it was the ingenious decision of someone at Tor to attach tiny little keys to the WACR bookmarks. EVERYONE WANTS A TINY LITTLE KEY. People who would never otherwise notice those bookmarks just have to have one because of those keys. The moment when they realise that there are multiple different key designs is often rather beautiful.
In terms of all books, I’m tempted to say that Margaret Atwood’s THE HANDMAID’S TALE is being marketed stupendously well by reality. Otherwise, I’ve noticed that some of the best marketing comes from authors being themselves. My friend Debbie Ohi, who writes and illustrates picture books, is a fount of boundless creativity, which she pours out onto the Internet. People want to read her books because they know that when they do, they’ll get something as unexpected as one of her broken crayon drawings (in which she breaks a crayon and draws something emerging from the break) or her coffee-stain illustrations (in which an oddly shaped coffee stain provides the base shape of an imaginative drawing). Here she is finding the Grinch in a halved green pepper:

The best strategy will depend on your book and its target audience. Social media is an inexpensive method to get a massive global reach. On the flip side though, you’re competing with a lot of eyeballs and attention spans spread across a lot of other marketers doing the same.

If your novel deals with topical issues, then you have a much better chance of landing an interview with mainstream media as part of their coverage. That’s the route I’ll be taking in the new year. As powerful as social media is becoming, I still think people are more likely to make a purchase decision hearing about an author on mainstream media than they are through social media. It helps establish an extra trust factor.

Right now I'm really enjoying Instagram. I'm learning how to optimally share "stories" as well as how to post the most intriguing pictures. I am by no means a photographer, but I love trying to use lighting and design to put my book, and others, into a visually pleasing set-up.

Well, here's my two cents, and since my book isn't out yet, I can't really speak to its efficacy. One of my husband's favorite phrases is "Love the art in yourself and not yourself in the art" (pretty sure Constantin Stanislavski first said those words) and I think that sums up what little marketing philosophy I have. The truth is that I have no control over the market or how readers are going to respond to anything I write. The only thing I can do is write the best book of which I'm capable. So, I plan to write the next book and the next, developing my craft, and focusing on the art rather than myself in the art. In short, I'm just going to be the most genuine person I know how to be and write the best book I can write, and hope that leads to book sales in a roundabout way.

I learned that the author needs to contribute to the marketing process, even if s/he has a traditional publisher and a publicist. Authors don’t always get book tours, and it’s the nature of the beast for the publisher to sort of let you flutter to the ground after launch, as they have a publishing schedule with more new releases coming down the pike and you won’t always be the flavor of the month. I don’t know anything about marketing, but I care about my readers, and I care about connecting with them. I can tell when an author doesn’t care about me, but instead simply wants me to buy their book. It always feels a little forced and I don’t like that. I hope to always put my relationship with my readers before the sales of my book.

Live events. I have seen more growth in my email list, getting interviews, exposure, etc just from the few events I’ve experienced this year. I’ve networked with some amazing people and learned more from other authors than I feel I could online. It’s what pushed me into a movement of “Budgeting Social Media; Invest in Live Events”. Our readers are not behind a laptop, they’re out there working at Cracker Barrel, attending All-con, going to Book Festivals and asking questions at libraries. Don’t get me wrong. Social media is amazing for keeping in contact but it should never be used as a primary marketing tool. Reaching out and touching, even in email is worth more than just posting Amazon links on Facebook.

My publishers reached out to librarians; I reached out to parent and teacher bloggers, as well as child psychologists and those who do podcasts. One of the realities of publishing is that authors have to make themselves much more visible. We have to do our own homework to get interviews and articles published. This takes a lot of hours but is well worth it.

I have been so incredibly lucky to have a marketing team at Berkley that has worked overtime to get my little book on the radar. I'm not even sure how they work their magic but I've been so happy to have them on my team. I really do think that talking to as many people as possible about your book, in person, in media, on social media is the best way to spread the word. Opportunities like this to talk about my book are wonderful ways to get readers interested which leads to them reading it which hopefully leads to them recommending it to others which hopefully makes the cycle continue!

We’ve had a lot of success by engaging directly with fans, either on social media or at conventions and other events. Also, our publisher, 1984 Publishing, specializes in beautifully produced art books, and they turned Ghoulish into an event. For instance, they released two special 3D editions that came with branded 3D glasses and a limited edition 3D art print. (Both of those editions sold out!)

I believe social media has changed the landscape of book marketing. The best book marketing campaigns I have seen make aggressive and skillful use of Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

I’m still working on this.

Doing interviews about my latest release. It turns out that readers love to know more about the person behind the book.

I haven't found that yet. I'll let you know when I do though.

Infiltrate the White House, get the scoop, and then tell all? That wasn’t possible for this book, though. I think doing more of a pre-pub push to get preorders would be a good idea. I didn’t do that, but I think it makes sense.

I think word-of-mouth is very effective and I’ve always enjoyed book trailers, although I have no idea how well they work as a marketing strategy.

Most of my pre-orders came through people I connected with on Twitter.

I have got so much to learn about book marketing! I've found this to be one of the most challenging aspects of being an author, especially since I'm quite introverted and hate self-promotion. As a result, I don't think I've found a strategy that works yet, but I am experimenting with a few things. The most recent experiment is with Amazon ads. I don't plan on seriously advertising until I have at least three books in my series published and can leverage read-through from the first book. But I've been having fun playing around with marketing on Amazon in a limited way (less than five dollars invested) and have even sold a few books as a result.

I’m really enjoying focusing on Podcasts. They provide a great connection to very specific audiences.

I’m still figuring that out. My novel came out in June of 2018, and I just released another one on September 18. I’m still in the learning phase with marketing, but from what everyone has told me, generating content is the best thing you can do to improve your sales. Keep the books coming. Writing and publishing is a long game. Nothing happens quickly, so the key is to get yourself out there. Learn about marketing strategies and try different things.

Word of mouth is the best marketing strategy I know of. This includes using social media to get the word out there. Writing isn't a get rich quick business, and spreading the word by talking to random strangers, friends, family, doing interviews, and advertising on various social media sites, is the most affordable marketing tool. Once the money starts rolling in, other methods will help advance your progress.

The best book marketing strategy I’m finding is first actually writing a book and being super excited about the story. Everything stems from that excitement. After that, social media has been simply awesome to translate that excitement into sales. Then when parents are happy their kids love the novel, they’ll post about it, which encourages other kids to read it. So I would say anyway you can, promote your book via social media with excitement and true testimonies and you’ll find success.

I am still very new to the marketing aspect of this. I think I got very good exposure by doing give-aways on both blogs and Goodreads – whether that will translate into sales will have to be seen.

Bookstagramming rocks with its visual artistry evoking the book’s setting or the pleasure of reading. Contests—especially Rafflecopter-type ones whose prizes are the book plus a few cool, related items in exchange for a share+follow—often win me over because, seriously, I could always use a new [fill in the blank — who cares, it’s free AND new!].

Bookstore image from Unsplash

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Happy New Year! Now, About Those Resolutions...

Welcome to 2019! You made it!

Image result for celebration

2018 was...a crazy year. Now that it's over, and the new year has begun, a lot of us are probably making new year's resolutions that are writing-centered. Maybe you want to revise that novel you wrote during NaNoWriMo. Maybe you want to finally start writing that memoir. Maybe you've been wanting to read that book you bought three years ago and never got around to. Well, now's your chance!

Can't quite settle on a resolution? Here are some ideas to get you started:
  • Looking to write more?
    • Set a goal of how much you want to write, whether it's by number of words, pages, or hours - or manuscripts, if you're prolific!
    • Read more about writing craft.
    • Get rid of bad writing habits: being distracted by social media, not wanting to write because you're "writing badly," self-editing as you go. Identify what's holding you back and decide to make a change.
    • Make time for revision, whether it's your work or giving feedback on someone else's.
  • Looking to read more?
    • Get an e-reader - and use it.
    • Set a goal of how much you want to read, whether it's by number of books, pages, or hours. 
    • Make a list of the books you want to read this year. (Not sure what to read? Check out this Reddit post for a unique idea of filling out your list!)
  • Looking to become more engaged with the writing community?
    • Find writing groups on Twitter, Discord, Slack, and many other social media platforms - and be involved.
    • Find an in-person writing group in your community, or create one.
Jamie posted her new year's resolutions last year! Check these out if you're looking for more inspiration:
Remember, with craft-related resolutions, only you know your ability and your limitations. Make sure you're setting reasonable resolutions that work for you! Figure out whether you're a "set a lofty goal and be excited when you achieve it" person or a "set a moderate goal and be excited when you exceed it" person, and make your resolutions match. 

Let us know your resolutions, and have an amazing 2019!