Thursday, June 29, 2023

Dear O'Abby: Should I work with a professional editor?

Dear O'Abby,

As part of a contest prize, I've received a significant discount to work with a professional editor.  Even with the discount, it's still pretty expensive and before making this kind of investment, I was wondering if you had any advice.  Is working with a professional editor worthwhile?  What will I get out of the experience?

Do you have any advice?



Dear Unedited,

It's difficult to know how to answer this question without knowing where you are in your career and what your plans are for your book.  But I'll do my best!

If you're planning to self-publish, then 100% you should use a professional editor.

If you're looking to polish up an MS before querying agents, then it's not quite so cut and dried.  There is a lot you can do on your own and with a few well-selected critique partners and beta readers.  And given most agents are fairly editorial, once you get an agent you're likely to do at least a couple of rounds of revision with her before the book goes on submission.

If you've been querying and have not had any joy yet, maybe working with an editor will help bring your book to a place where it's strong enough to attract some interest.

Or maybe you're just not sure exactly what's not right about the book, but you know there is something wrong.  In that case, an editor could be really helpful.  I recently worked with a freelance editor for the first time on a book like this.  I really liked the last third of the book, but knew there was something not quite right with things before that.  The editor I worked with talked me through the issues she saw with the story and gave me some useful ideas of ways to fix them.  I found it a really useful process and something I'd never had from an editor at a publishing company.  It made me really excited to dive back into my MS!

That said, if you're not prepared to do the work, it's not going to be worth paying for an editor.  You need to be open to ripping your story apart and putting it back together again.  You also need to trust the editor and they are not all created equally.  Make sure whoever you choose to work with has a solid track record and if you can, get a recommendation from someone else who has worked with them.  

If you can, talk to the editor before you commit so you know how they like to work and if that's going to work for you.  If you're someone who likes to get feedback in writing and the editor prefers a conversation over Zoom, then maybe this isn't the best fit.  If you're paying for this, you need to make sure you're going to get out of it what you need.

Hope that helps!

X O'Abby

Monday, June 26, 2023

Week #26 – Animal Farm by George Orwell

Welcome to 2023!  On Mondays this year, let’s discuss and have fun with books. No I’m not writing book reviews. But this website is for writers, and writers like books right? So let’s have FUN with books!

Week #26 – Animal Farm by George Orwell, 1945

A political satire and allegory of communism, a group of farm animals rebel against their human farmer, hoping to create a society where the animals are equal, free, and happy. The rebellion is betrayed, and under the dictatorship of a pig named Napoleon the farm ends up worse than it was before.

The initial 7 commandments:
1.    Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy.
2.    Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend.
3.    No animal shall wear clothes.
4.    No animal shall sleep in a bed.
5.    No animal shall drink alcohol.
6.    No animal shall kill any other animal.
7.    All animals are equal. 

At the end, the remaining commandment:

"All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."

Initially, the book was banned in the Soviet Union [until its collapse], Cuba, and China.

Animal Farm was made into a movie in 1954, with all the animals voiced by a single actor

It was also made into a TV movie in 1999, with the animals voiced by some very prominent actors

George Orwell [Eric Arthur Blair], a socialist, was best known for:
Animal Farm published in 1945 [communism]
1984 published in 1949 [capitalism]

The adjective "Orwellian" describes control by propaganda, surveillance, misinformation, manipulation, and denial of truth. Several words and phrases from 1984 have entered the English language. "Thought Police" are those who suppress all dissenting opinion. "Big Brother" is a supreme dictator who watches everyone.

In "Politics and the English Language" (1946), Orwell wrote about the importance of precise and clear language. In that essay, Orwell provides six rules for writers:
1.    Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
2.    Never use a long word where a short one will do.
3.    If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
4.    Never use the passive where you can use the active.
5.    Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
6.    Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

George Orwell's birth place
 Have you read anything by George Orwell? Tell us in the comments!

Thursday, June 22, 2023

Dear O'Abby: How do you stay positive when all you're getting is rejection?

Dear O'Abby,

I've been querying agents and publishers off and on for over five years now.  I've written three novels in this period and so far, no bites.  I've had a few full requests, but none of them have come to anything.  I'm feeling quite discouraged, to be honest.  I know these people aren't rejecting me personally, but given the amount of time and effort and how much of myself spills over onto the pages of my books, it feels personal.

Do you have any tips on how to remain positive in the face of all this rejection?  I don't want to be a depressed, neurotic person, but sometimes it's really difficult not to feel this way.

Kind regards,


Dear Despondent,

I'm glad you recognise that a rejection for your book is not a rejection of you, personally.  And I know how hard it is not to take it that way, but good on you for trying!

I think getting used to rejection is the hardest thing about being a writer, except maybe the writing itself.  But every writer has to get used to it.  That doesn't mean you have to just shrug it off.  I think it's really helpful to take a moment to feel that hurt and disappointment.  Acknowledge it, but don't dwell on it.  If you give it too much space, it will take over and make it really difficult to keep going.

And don't read too much into each rejection.  Most of them are form letters, so everyone is getting the same thing.  If you obsess over whatever the agent says, you're never going to be able to move on.  If you are lucky enough to get some personalised feedback, believe what the agent says.  If she says your voice is strong, take that as a compliment and trust that she means it.  Don't make things harder for yourself by trying to read deeper meaning into whatever scrap of feedback you might get. That's just going to make you feel worse.

I know a lot of writers send queries out in batches and each time they get a rejection, they send out a new one.  Doing something proactive can help you deal with the rejection.  If you've done this several times and are still not getting any requests, maybe you need to re-work your query.  This can also help you get over the rejection as you're doing something creative(ish) that could make a difference.

And move on.  Write something new while you're querying.  Fall in love with a new set of characters and revel in making their lives hell.  Having something you're working on and excited about can take the sting out of rejection.  There's always that spark of hope that even if that one isn't getting requests, maybe this new one will be the ONE.

If you're finding it really hard, there's no reason you can't stop for a while.  If you find querying is really getting you down, stop for a while.  Do something else, something that really fills you up.  You can always go back to it when you are feeling more resillient.

Hope that helps.  Best of luck with the querying.

X O'Abby

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Children's Books Explorations: Concept Books

What is a Concept Book?

A type of picture book made to explain or introduce an idea or activity. This includes the alphabet, counting, colors, times, and shapes.

(Quote Source

The Concept Books I read: 

  1. Mouse Paint by Ellen Stoll Walsh
  2. I Feel! A book of Emotions by Juana Medina
  3. Mouse Magic by Ellen Stoll Walsh
  4. Let's Say Hi to Friends Who Fly! by Mo Willems
  5. What's Your Sound, Hound the Hound? by Mo Willems

What I learned: 

I have taken fine art courses at undergraduate programs, and I still struggle with the color wheel when it comes to tertiary colors. I was impressed by how Mouse Paint and Mouse Magic by Ellen Stoll Walsh introduced art concepts of colors. I even learned something! I'm rather sad that I did not read them as a child.

I Feel! A book of Emotions by Juana Medina showed a variety of emotions with facial expressions and colors. I thought the order of emotions was interesting. It was fascinating to see that there are several emotion wheels. I have certain emotions that I connect to specific colors, and I really like the shades used in the following wheel. Are there certain colors that you associate with emotions? Is anger only red? Is joy only yellow? 

The work of Mo Willems was musical and lyrical. I can imagine how much fun it would be to read with a child. Friends was a concept in both Let's Say Hi to Friends Who Fly! and What's Your Sound, Hound the Hound?. It was neat to see how the characters moved on the page and interacted with each other.

Do you have a favorite Concept Book? And what colors do you associate with emotions? Comment below.

Monday, June 19, 2023

Week #25 – A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Welcome to 2023!  On Mondays this year, let’s discuss and have fun with books. No I’m not writing book reviews. But this website is for writers, and writers like books right? So let’s have FUN with books!

Week #25 – A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, 2012

This is Fredrik Backman’s first novel. 

Set in Sweden

Ove is a cranky old man who recently lost his wife and believes he has nothing to live for except perhaps enforcing the neighborhood rules. He has strong principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. One November morning, a young couple with two daughters move in next door and accidentally run over Ove's mailbox, which is the beginning of change for the entire neighborhood.

The book was made into a Swedish movie in 2015

And a US movie set in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, A Man Called Otto, with Tom Hanks in 2022


Here is a comparison of the two movies

This isn’t the sort of book I usually read but I enjoyed it quite a bit. Have you read the book or seen either movie? Tell us in the comments!

Thursday, June 15, 2023

Dear O'Abby: Do I need to create an audiobook?

Dear O'Abby,

My first novel has recently been published and various people I know have asked me if it's going to be available as an audiobook.  I self-published and it never crossed my mind to create an audiobook, but now I'm wondering if I need to do this.

Any tips?

Best wishes,


Dear Inaudible,

Whether or not to create an audiobook is really up to you.  As a self-publisher, you're in charge of your book and you can decide which formats you want to make it available in.

But, audiobooks are increasingly popular and if you can make one without it breaking the bank, it is probably worth it because it's another revenue stream for you.  Some people only consume books as audio, and if you don't have it available, you're missing out on those readers as well as their money.  And there are a large number of readers who prefer audio because they can consume books while doing other things like exercising or cleaning the house.

Like ebooks, audiobooks are delivered digitally so, unlike hard copies, they never go out of print.  So you never risk disappointing a reader who has discovered your work and wants to read it in their preferred format.

So, I really see no downside to doing an audiobook, other than the production cost.  This is not something you want to do on your own with your phone.  Audiobooks need to be high quality and read by someone whose voice is clear and expressive and it may take time to do the whole book.  It is worth investing in professionals to get it right - both a voice talent and an engineer with a studio.  There will be upfront costs, but if your audiobook is of high quality, you will reap the benefits in the end.

Hope that helps!

X O'Abby

Monday, June 12, 2023

Week #24 – A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

Welcome to 2023!  On Mondays this year, let’s discuss and have fun with books. No I’m not writing book reviews. But this website is for writers, and writers like books right? So let’s have FUN with books!

Week #24 – A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, 1859

A Tale of Two Cities is a historical novel published in 1859 by Charles Dickens, set in London and Paris during the French Revolution. It tells the story of the French Doctor Manette, his 18-year imprisonment in the Bastille in Paris, and his release to live in London with his daughter Lucie. It is fiction, but generally historically accurate.

The opening and closing lines are some of the most famous literary lines

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,”

“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest I go to than I have ever known.”

It was made into a movie several times

The most recent movie was made in 1980

Batman: The Dark Knight Rises was based on this book

Charles Dickens’ 10 best novels, ranked



Have you read A Tale of Two Cities? Have you seen The Dark Knight Rises? Did you see the resemblance? Tell us in the comments!

Thursday, June 8, 2023

Dear O'Abby: My agent says my book is too quiet. What does that mean?

Dear O'Abby,

I just got feedback from my agent on my latest book and I'm really not sure how to take it.  She says she loves the characters and the premise, but feels like the book is too quiet to stand out in the current climate.  I'm really not sure what she means by this, so I'm hoping you might have some idea?  And how the heck do I make a book...  well, louder?

Kind regards,

Am I Whispering?

Dear Am I Whispering,

I've had that said about one of my books before too, and it's a really difficult one to decipher.  Especially if in your own head, the book is anything but quiet.

I think the definition of quiet has probably changed several times over the years, but the way I see it, a "quiet" book is one that can't be explained in a single, pithy sentence or title.  It's not high concept.  It probably isn't fantasy or sci-fi or a thriller.  It's probably a story about real people in the real world dealing with the kinds of things we deal with in everyday life.  

And because we're dealing in reality, the stakes may feel lower. A book that deals with the traumatic ending of a lifelong friendship due to a betrayal can be filled with drama and conflict, but because the actions of the protagonist only affect their own life and the lives of a few people around them, the stakes aren't as high as in a fantasy novel where the protagonist's actions save the world or their own small piece of it.

To a reader though, especially in YA where emotions are so heightened and everything can feel life or death, even books that could be considered quiet because they deal with something small like a friendship, or romance can resonate loudly with readers.  .  

Don't rush in and add some huge drama (car wreck, cancer, house fire, natural disaster) in the hope that will fix the problem.  It will probably just feel jarring in the context of the story you've written.  Look closely at your book with a truly critical eye.  If every difficult or challenging situation your characters face is resolved relatively quickly and easily, the story will lack tension and this could be why your agent is calling it quiet.  

My advice would be to talk to your agent about it before you do anything more.  She's your partner in this, and she used the word, so she must have an idea about what's missing.  Once you've identified the problem, it'll be far easier to fix than trying to figure it out on your own and possibly ripping your book to shreds in the process without any tangible results.

Hope that helps!

X O'Abby

Monday, June 5, 2023

Week #23 – The Shining by Stephen King

Welcome to 2023!  On Mondays this year, let’s discuss and have fun with books. No I’m not writing book reviews. But this website is for writers, and writers like books right? So let’s have FUN with books!

Week #23 – The Shining by Stephen King, 1977

Jack Torrance, a struggling writer and recovering alcoholic, accepts a position as the winter caretaker of the Overlook Hotel in the Colorado Rockies. His wife Wendy and 5yo son Danny accompany him. Danny possesses "the shining", psychic abilities that allow him to see the hotel's horrific true nature. A winter storm leaves the family snowbound, and the supernatural forces affect Jack's sanity.

The Shining is considered by many to be Stephen King’s best book

It is widely considered to be the second-scariest of King’s works, after Pet Sematary

He has written other novels under the name Richard Bachman. The Shining is his third novel under the name Stephen King

The Shining was made into a movie in 1980

The Overlook Hotel was based on the Stanley Hotel from Estes Park Colorado.

Stephen King books are WAY too scary for me! Have you read any? Tell us in the comments!

Thursday, June 1, 2023

Dear O'Abby: How should I address an agent in my query?

Dear O'Abby,

I know this is super basic, but I can't seem to find any conclusive answer anywhere, so I'm hoping you can help.  I'm about to start querying, and I'm not sure how I should be addressing the agents I write to.

I mean, I know I should use their name, but do I write to "Ms" or "Mr" or do I use their first name?  I guess I'm kind of old school in that my mother taught me never to use a stranger's first name unless invited to do so, but maybe it's okay these days?

Is there any advice you can give?



Dear Salutations,

My rule of thumb is to always address agents (or anyone else you've having first-time business communications with) the way you'd like to be addressed.  Personally, I'm happy for people to use my first name.  It's in my email address, so they should be able to spell it correctly, and it's my name.  There's much less chance of someone getting that wrong than if they try to address me using an honorific.  Whenever anyone calls me Mrs. I look around for my mother!

You don't want to get this wrong and address an agent as Mr. when they're a Ms. or worse, a Dr.  So unless you're 100% sure which honorific they prefer, I wouldn't use one. 

Basically you just want to get the name right.  There's nothing worse than copying and pasting a query you've just sent to someone else and forgetting to change the name in the greeting.  It's pretty difficult to explain that Esmerelda was a typo and you were actually trying to type Abby...  And check the spelling too.  Some people get really offended if you don't spell their name right.

As long as you make some effort, you should be fine.  Don't address the agent as Dear Sir/Madam or To Whom it May Concern or Dear Agent  - you should at least take the time to find out their name before you query them.

You just need to show that you've made an effort.  And at the end of the day, it's basic courtesy and if you just think about the way you want to be spoken to and us the same language, you'll be fine.

Best of luck with the querying.

X O'Abby