Justice (Deck of Lies, #1)

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The Tower (Deck of Lies, #2)

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Death (Deck of Lies, #3)

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Judgment (Deck of Lies, #4)

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Hope's Rebellion

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Writing eBooks, Step by Step

This is my one hundredth post, so instead of doing a new Writing 101 lesson I'm going to re-do all of them...after a fashion. And since I've done so many Writing 101 posts in the past few months, there are a lot of them -- so we haven't got any time to waste.

(Almost) Every Step of Writing eBooks

 Once inspiration hits and you've got a great idea, get to work and create an outline. Start thinking about your main character, and all the other characters in the book, as you plan out the plot. Give your characters plausible-sounding names.

Research your plot and your setting to fill your book with realistic, coherent details.

Format your manuscript properly, and save yourself some trouble. Always set the justification, and make sure you know what you're doing if you start adding page numbers, headers and footers.

As you write, be particular about how you format your chapter breaks and scene breaks. Don't ever, ever use the tab button...unless you want to dance with the Devil.

 Be careful about the words you choose. Avoid the further/farther problem and the effect/affect war while you're working. Don't over-use words like that and very; don't ever use words like alot and forever.

Use care when writing potentially offensive and adult subject matter into your story, and be careful about how you use italics, bold and other in-text formatting.

Make use of online writing tools if you need help figuring out ages, naming characters or choosing a setting -- among other particulars. If you get writer's block, try some simple exercises to get around it.

Use vivid, descriptive writing to draw readers deeply into the story you're telling.

Don't forget about backing up your work while you're writing, and if the worst does happen attempt a bold rescue operation to save your book.

Write great dialogue to draw readers in, but make sure you're using proper quotation punctuation when you're doing it.

If you're going to use colons, ellipsis and semicolons in your book, make sure you're doing it the right way.

Speaking of punctuation, brush up on your comma usage. Lots of indies seem to have trouble with it. Learn how to use parentheses properly while you're at it.

Don't indiscriminately use brand names or celebrity names in your book. You have to do it safely to avoid legal issues and other problems you definitely don't want.

Be mindful of your tense and your point-of-view while you're writing the book; readers hate inconsistencies in these areas.

Pay attention to your length as you work on your manuscript, and when all is said and done give it a thorough editing to perfect the text.

If you're going to use a pen name, choose one that's spectacular. Once you've got one, it's time to make a book cover, or find someone who can, to complete your book.

Before you even think about publishing the book anywhere, be absolutely certain that you own the copyright.

Convert your book into an ebook to make it viewable on an ereader. Use ebook codes to make everything look perfect, and add all the little extras, like images, to make it pop.

Choose the right genre for your book, and appeal directly to your target audience.

Be competitive when pricing your books; don't make it harder on yourself than it already is. Create a sensational blurb for your book that will help it sell itself.

Find out how to get reviews, and drum up some attention for your book. Try not to get too upset by bad reviews; it's an opportunity to improve.

Once you get some reviews, pull a few good review quotes out of there for marketing purposes. Try promoting your work with a blog tour, and create a book trailer to get even more marketing power.

Put your book in print to appeal to a wider audience of readers.

And once you're done with all of that, come back here for new tips -- because I'll have another Writing 101 post to introduce tomorrow.

Explore Murder and Madness in The Tower

Yes, the sad truth is that Indie Author Month is coming to an end. I've truly enjoyed visiting Aside From Writing every day in May and discovering new, talented indie authors -- and I'm thrilled to say that today is my day! The month has been peppered with wonderful paranormal tales, heart-wrenching romances, chilling suspense and even fascinating historical novels, to name just a few. Now, it's going to end with a healthy dose of madness, courtesy of The Tower.

I'm participating in the event by giving away 5 copies of The Tower, so sign up if you want to win. In fact, there are several giveaways (including the main prize) which are still open. Scads of books are available, not just mine, so don't miss your chance to get some free goods.

Writing 101: Review Quotes

 Even the most celebrated and well-loved authors show off quotes from colleagues, reviewers and prestigious publications. For indie writers, review quotes are a valuable commodity. Many indies make it a habit to tweet review quotes to market their work, and some include them in their book blurbs and websites. I even put some of mine in one of my trailers. Movies, books, magazines, music -- lots of products are promoted with glowing, intriguing and enticing quotes from critics and supporters. But there is a certain finesse to choosing review quotes, and to displaying them, that some indies don't seem to possess. How do you use yours?

 On Review Quotes

I've been writing on the topic of reviews a lot lately, but only because they're an endless source of fascination. I also happened to see something a little strange recently, and can't help but to blog about it. Besides, it naturally follows that once you've learned how to get reviews, you're going to want to do something with them...so why not pull a few quotes out of there? 

Go ahead and try. It's easy enough for the likes of Stephen King, but indie authors face all sorts of problems. In reality, the traditionally-published authors probably have the same difficulties -- but let's face it, they usually have a wider pool of reviews from which to draw their quotes. Indies have to work with what they're given, but don't let a shallow well lead you down the primrose path of bad decisions. 

Acceptable Source Material

We all have the great honor of living in the Information Age, where just about everyone and everything is online. This means that indie writers have multiple sources from which they can pull their reviews. Or...do they? Don't be so anxious to grab marketable quotes that you cross the boundaries of common courtesy...or worse, copyright law. 
  • Blogs/online articles
If a blogger or online writer creates a review of your book on their site, however brief, you are absolutely allowed to use it any piece of it as a review quote, but only if you cite both the writer and the site where the quote originally appeared. The one who created the quote owns the copyright to it, either officially or unofficially, and without proper citation you could be accused of infringement and/or plagiarism. 
  • E-tailers 
 If someone reviews your work on Amazon, B&N, or any other site where your work is being sold, use the quotes! Again, cite the name of the reviewer (even if they are using some sort of alias) and on which site this quote appeared. 
  • Social media
Has someone reviewed your book on Goodreads, made a comment about it on Facebook or Tweeted about it? You can most certainly re-publish that quote, so long as you cite the user name and the social media site in question. 
  • Message boards
Now we're moving into the gray area. In most circumstances, you are probably safe using quotes about your book, or you as a writer, that have appeared on publish message boards. I emphasize public. However, even in this circumstance it's good form to directly ask the person who wrote the quote if you're at liberty to use it, unless they have previously stated that they are willing to have their words put on public display. You should absolutely ask the poster before you publish anything from a private message board, such as one that requires a username and password to view.
  • Email
Now things are getting even trickier. Electronic mail is not guaranteed to any sort of privacy, and most people who use it know that it's always subject to being viewed by a third party (there are way too many media stories about email accounts being hacked). It's not technically a safe form of communication, however in all polite societies there does exist a covenant of trust between parties who are corresponding even via email. I am not a lawyer, but in doing a (very brief and not at all thorough) cursory check on the subject, emails probably are not protected by copyright law unless they specifically contain material that has been copyrighted. Everyday correspondence obviously would not meet this criteria.

However, that doesn't mean you should feel free to quote it in some sort of public forum. Some indie writers might be so hungry for useable quotes that anything and everything begins to look like fair game -- even emails from various literary agents and publishing houses. Lots of indies have previously submitted work to the more traditional book types, and some may have received encouraging and promising responses. Is it cool to use some of these responses as quotes for marketing purposes? 

That all depends. The short answer is...well, yes. Legally, it is probably okay to pull quotes from emails unless those mails are somehow protected by some sort of privacy agreement that's been implemented by the website itself. But the longer answer advises against it, unless certain conditions have first been met. If you get permission to use quotes from those emails from the person or persons who wrote them, then publish away. Hooray. 

If you haven't obtained that permission, then you probably shouldn't. Common decency and courtesy are really the only thing holding you back, but let that be enough. Email exchanges between two parties carry an implied privacy protection with them, and if you break that trust with a literary agent or email answerer at a publishing house you could be burning an important bridge. You could even make other agents and staffers shy away from corresponding or communicating with you in the future. If you want to use it, ask for permission. They might say no, but they might not. Remember to cite the source of your quote correctly if you do obtain permission to publish their words.

Acceptable Quotes

Once you're quite sure all of your sources for all of your quotes are on the level, you might still have trouble pulling something usable. The secret to great quotes is the ellipsis, otherwise known as ... . As some of my readers might know from a previous post, in non-fiction writing an ellipsis is used to show an omission of words. This means that you can eliminate poorly-spelled and weirdly-worded bits and pieces of reviews to get a quite salable quote, but you have to avoid overuse. Don't try to promote a quote that's completely butchered by your punctuation. If you can use one ellipsis, two at the outside, and create a great quote then go for it.

Don't forget that you can use brackets [for your quotes]. They're sort of a get-out-of-hell-free card when it comes to re-publishing a quote. Within the body of a quote, brackets are used to substitute words. Most often, they're used to replace proper nouns with pronouns, or vice versa, but other small changes may be made through them as well. They're a powerful tool, so again, don't over-use them. 

Don't re-publish profanity, unless you are specifically doing so on an age-controlled site with all the proper disclaimers and you are specifically targeting an older (and possibly not-so-conservative) group of readers. There are lots of format-friendly ways to delete an expletive to make a quote more family-friendly, but if you're going to let it fly then make sure you're only doing so in the proper venues. By the way, your Amazon page is not considered the proper venue for re-publishing a quote that contains profanity.

Quotes containing spoilers or too much summary information are to be avoided. Remember that you want to whet the palate, not shove a piece of chocolate cake down their throats. Your readers shouldn't even get a taste of your book from a review quote -- they should only get a deeply enticing whiff of its aroma.

Writing 101: How to Get Reviews

We already discussed writing reviews, and now it's time for a topic that might be even more important to indie writers: getting reviews. Be willing to devote time to it, because reviews will help you as a writer in multiple ways.

How to Get Reviews

I feel confident in saying all indie writers want to get reviews from readers. Good reviews can add a certain appeal to your book, and they make it plain to book shoppers that someone, someday, read your book and felt strongly enough about it to write a review. People want what other people like; that's just human nature. Having reviews can increase your sales and make your book look more interesting to readers. Now, all you've got to do is go out and get some. 
  • Publish your book. If you want to get reviews, it helps to publish your book in multiple places. If you're using Amazon's KDP Select program, you actually don't have this option -- but you can still list your book at Goodreads. A social media site devoted to book readers, Goodreads can be a wonderful source of reviews for your work. The more places you can list your book, the more people will find it -- and that means more reviews.
  • Find reviewers. I know, easier said than done. But once you know how to find reviewers, you'll always have the skill -- which is good, because you'll need it again and again. The indie writer's greatest resource is book blogs. Use your favorite search engine, and start seeking them out. There are lots of different ways to search. Look for blogs that cater to indie writers, blogs that cater to books within your genre, and blogs that discuss books and book reviews in general. Make a list of bookmarks for all the viable-looking blogs you find, and search their resource pages to find links to other book blogs. 
  • Ask properly. Once you find potential book reviewers, don't just flood them with free books and emails. Take the time to look around the blog and read some of the reviews. Look at the review policy to make sure your book meets all the right criteria. Then, and only then, write a brief email to the book reviewer. Introduce yourself and your book in one sentence or less. When asking for the review, tell the reviewer why you want them to review your work. Does it fit in with the other books on their blog? Do you like something about this reviewer's specific style? Be succinct. Close the email with the blurb for your book, your relevant links and any other brief information you would like to include. Do not send them a free book; wait for them to ask you if they are interested.
  • Promote it. If you're looking for reviews and reviewers, say so. Tweet about it, blog about it, announce it on Facebook. You can't possibly find every available reviewer through an Internet search, and you never know who's out there looking for new reading material.
  • Encourage it. Want readers to review your book? Tell them so. Include an "About the Author" at the end of your book, and invite readers to share their opinion of your work by reviewing it. Some readers simply don't think of giving reviews. Why can't you be the one to put the thought in their heads?
Trading Reviews

My own personal beliefs on reviews have evolved -- quickly, I might add. I have a lot of thoughts on review trades that others don't agree with, but to each their own. My opinion on the subject of trading reviews is this: don't do it. I'm going to tell you why. 

Indie writers are exactly like traditional writers in every single respect, without all the polish. Some indie writers are fantastic, with a strong command of editing skills, grammar and punctuation. But some indie writers are unbelievably bad at same. The moment you agree to a review trade with an indie that you don't know and never have read, you're more or less jumping off a cliff. Will you land on a pillowy-soft, fantastic book that cradles you gently in its pages...or into a pile of shite? 

You have no way of knowing, and therein lies the problem with review trades. Here's a review rule I live by: don't ever commit. No one should have to clench their jaw, screw their courage to the sticking place and force themselves to waste time reading a book they positively hate in every single way. I've been there, and it's not fun. You do a review trade, you commit, you open the door up for regret and eye-rolling that could last for days, even weeks. You can attempt to save yourself some pain by reading samples, working with only trusted indies and sticking to strict guidelines (I, for example, will not read your book if it isn't justified the right way. No more exceptions).

Paying for Reviews

Lots of writers have lots of strong opinions about paid reviews. One of the more well-known is Kirkus, who by my book charges exorbitant and astronomical rates for their reviews. But a Kirkus review does carry a certain cachet, and some indie authors may have plenty of money to spend. Every business and every brand name is expected to spend money on marketing, and no indie can ever get the whole thing done completely for free (because, at the very least, you'll have to pay for a copyright). So if you want to spend your money on reviews, spend it on reviews. It is, after all, your money.

Bad Reviews?

There are no bad reviews if you're an indie writer. First of all, no matter what the review says you should sit back and bask in the glow of your computer screen regardless of anything. Why? Because you just moved someone with your writing -- and isn't that what you wanted? You actually motivated someone to write down their thoughts, you got them thinking, and you wrote something they remembered long enough to sign onto a website, at least. In today's world, that's no small achievement. 

Second of all, any advice you get from any reader is valuable. Take every single comment seriously, no matter how it stings, because this one reader could be thinking something similar to dozens of other readers. You want to know what all your readers think, but in lieu of hunting them through cyberspace you've got to rely on the ones who feel strongly enough to comment. If you see a negative comment, think of it as a challenge. Here's something you can improve upon in this book, or the next book, or tomorrow when you sit down to write a new chapter.

All About Jade

I have a new interview up today where I talk about why I write, what I've been doing lately and what I wish I could change about the Deck of Lies series. Find out what I'm reading right now, which book I love reading over and over and how I came up with the Deck of Lies.

Writing 101: eBook Codes

When you're trying to format a manuscript into an ebook, it's helpful to know some html. But there's no reason you should run right out and sign up for a programming class just to get your book out there. If you can use a few simple ebook codes, you can create a well-formatted story -- and nobody has to know that you don't really know what you're doing.

eBook Codes You Need to Know

You don't really have to learn a bunch of html to get your ebook together, because there's a limited number of codes that are actually relevant. Even if you're adding a bunch of different in-text formatting, pictures, links and other fun stuff, the ebook codes you need to use are pretty simple.
  • Links. Add links to your book using the <a> tag. Many authors include a link to their personal blogs or websites in the "About the Author" section of their books, which often appears at the end. My link will look like this: Visit <a href=jadevarden.blogspot.com>Jade's blog</a> to learn more. "Jade's blog" will serve as the text for the link. That's very important! Always include the text, and use the full url for the link code.
  • Formatting. Bold words will appear inside the <b> tag. For example: The headline read <b>Death!</b> in big, black letters. The <b> tag begins the bold, the </b> ends it. If you use an ebook code, you must always close it in this fashion. You may also use <strong> in place of <b>. Both codes are correct. Likewise, words in italics appear inside <i> tags. The <em> tag may also be used for italics.
  • Blank lines. Want to add a blank line of text? You may only be able to do it by using ebook codes, because when you convert a word processor document into .pdf or .html, those blank lines may disappear. Use the <br> code to create a line break. This is the only ebook code you won't need to close; there is no </br> code.
  • Paragraphs. All paragraphs should begin with a <p> tag, and end with a </p> tag. This will ensure that your formatting and indentations look correct in the ebook. The <p> tag automatically adds the proper indentation, and will keep your paragraphs at full justification (the only correct justification for books).
  • Center. But all text can't be justified all the time. Many authors like to center their chapter headings and book titles, and why shouldn't they? Just slap a <center> tag in front of the text you want to center, and end the center justification with </center>.
Basic ebook codes help you translate what you've written into something ereaders can understand, with no loss of formatting. But going through your html is very tedious, exacting work. Use an online ebook viewer took to check and double-check each page of your ebook several times, and tweak the html as needed to be sure your formatting is perfect. If you notice any problems in the book, there's a problem with the html. Find it, fix it, and make the book perfect.

Writing 101: Helpful Online Writing Tools

Shakespeare did it with quills and candles, Mark Twain did it on a typewriter, but today's authors don't even need paper to tell their stories. We live in a modern age, and the modern writer is more Internet presence than person. Our books are online, our photos are online, our words are online -- it's only natural that we get online to do the writing, too. Use online writing tools to help you get the job done, and maybe even make it a little easier. Paper's totally overrated, anyway.

Writing Tools Online 

Going online to research isn't always easy. It's hard to find reputable sources, and it takes a long time to seek out specific information. But the Internet isn't just a source of information for writers; it can actually help you get the job done. There are lots of writing tools online that will make it much easier for you to get from the first page to the last page of your book.
  • Names. In a previous post, I talked about about using certain Internet sites to find different character names -- which can be somewhat tedious. A Twitter friend shared his secret with me, and I love it: a fake name generator. Choose by gender, language and country to get a completely random, computer-generated name.
  • Age calculator. I'm horrifyingly bad at math, and I don't think I would ever get it right if I didn't use an age calculator. Just type in your character's birth date, and pick any additional date you like to find out how old that character will be on that day. There are tons of age calculators online, but I prefer this one from Cornell.  
  • Mapping. Google maps has proven invaluable to me. It's incredibly easy to use, and if you have any Google account (Blogger, YouTube, Gmail, etc.), you can create and save your own personalized map. I like to take my characters to real places, and when I send them off to new settings I like to know how long it's going to take them to get there. You can even use Google maps to get down to street level, and see with your own eyes what one of your settings looks like -- an amazingly powerful tool for any writer.
  •  Words. Don't ever knock the thesaurus. If you're like many writers, you can pull up a site and type in a word a lot faster than you can thumb through the pages of a printed book, sorting through a bunch of different words to find just one. Too much repetition of the same words will make any book boring, and no matter how creative you think you are there are always new words to learn. A quick check on the thesaurus can infinitely improve your writing.
Da Vinci used brushes. Michelangelo used clay. Every artist has tools they use to make their creations come alive. If yours are websites, it's only because you're an artist living in the modern world -- beautifully.

1-Star Reviews? We Should All Be So Lucky

A fair amount of indie writers are at least partially obsessed with the reviews they receive for their books...if indie writer forums are any indication, anyway. Many indies have felt the staggering heartbreak of a 1-star review, of a reader blatantly saying "I hated this," that ugly sting of rejection. No one is so self-assured that they can completely shrug off all judgment all the time, certainly no writer. To be a writer is to bleed on the page -- and when a reviewer knifes you in the back, it might cut deep.

But I happen to be a fan of 1-star reviews, and I'm trying to convert other indies to my twisted way of thinking. In the spirit of embracing all of your reviews -- good and bad -- I'd like to play a game.

What's Your Favorite Book?

What's your favorite book? It crops up in forums all the time, it's an easy topic of conversation, it's something that may change with the weeks for some readers. For me, it is (and undoubtedly will always be) Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. Arguably, some of my affection for this tome could stem from the fact that I adore everything about Clark Gable (who played Rhett Butler in the movie, which I saw before I ever watched the book). But I digress.

The point is, I think Gone With the Wind is just about perfect -- the true Great American Story that so many writers long to pen. And one day, I decided to go take a look at my favorite book's reviews.

Can you see the twist coming a mile away? That's right: Gone With the Wind has 1-star reviews -- and not just a few of them. Some people hate this book so passionately, they've called Mitchell names outright. I'm talking all caps, hate-riddled, strong language, bad reviews.

It's one of the most popular books of all time, it became one of the most popular movies of all time and it's still being sold all over the place to this day. But yeah, it's got 1-star reviews that could reduce many a writer to hysterical tears.

Now, go and look up the reviews for your favorite book, and play along. The next time you get a 1-star review, remind yourself that it means you've got something in common with Margaret Mitchell. It's what I'm going to do.

Look Inside the Deck of Lies

 Love to read? Read a new excerpt from Justice (Deck of Lies, #1) at Loves 2 Read, and meet one of the fan-favorite characters from the series.

Writing 101: What is a Blog Tour?

The publishing industry has changed, and some forecast an end to paper books in the not-so-distant future. Like everyone else, authors are now online -- and so is their publicity. When you get involved in self-publishing, it's likely you'll run into the phrase "blog tour" at some point. When you write and market your own books, the phrase could become pretty important to you.

The Old Way

Book stores still exist. They're going out of business all over the place, but they still exist. Traditional writers still go out on tour across the land, traveling from book store to book store to sell signed copies of their work. But it's started to become old-fashioned. Why should fans travel all the way to a book store when they can connect to their favorite writers on Twitter, Facebook and through their blogs? Self-published authors don't always have the resources, or the paper books, to go out on tour and market their work...so they've found a much more modern way of doing things.

The New Way

Self-published authors can't travel easily between book stores, but they can access a whole lot of book blogs. Blog Tours, like Book Tours, are a very effective marketing tool for writers who want to spread the word about their work. Instead of stopping at stores, indie authors "stop" at various blogs on different dates over a period of several weeks (10 to 20 blogs is normal, but a blog tour can be whatever the author makes it). Fans can "visit" the author at different blogs to find book excerpts, giveaway offers, interviews, reviews and other book-centric fun and games. Because the author and the various bloggers will be promoting the event, blog tours can reach a very wide audience of readers.

But things move quickly on the Internet, and even blog tours -- a relatively new online development -- are continuously evolving. Bloggers can arrange blog tours that are specific to their sites, rather than focusing around a single writer, as well. Bloggers may seek out several authors to feature on different days over several weeks, and feature a blog tour that's specific to that site. This gives bloggers the opportunity to fill their sites with fresh content while giving many indies the opportunity to promote their individual works.

Books are online, authors are online, fans are online, and blogs are just a natural fit. Because there are far more blogs out there than book stores, blog tours give self-published authors a chance to promote to a potentially massive network of readers. The best part of all? No travel expenses.

Exclusive Excerpt

 Visit There For You, a blog that celebrates the written word, to get a look at an exclusive excerpt from Justice (Deck of Lies, #1).

Writing 101: Using Italics, Bold and In-Text Formatting

Sometimes, writers need to make specific words stand out visually from all the rest. By themselves, words are a very powerful tool -- but it's easy for a single word or phrase to get lost in the surrounding sea of text that is a full-length book. But before you start using in-text trickery like italics, bold and underlining, figure out how to use it the right way.

In-Text Formatting

When you start venturing into those buttons on your word processor's toolbars, you're moving into tricky territory. There are extremely specific rules in writing, and anyone who's ever wrestled with grammar and punctuation knows that's true. Plenty of writers have thrown caution to the wind and introduced new ideas, strong language and vivid twists into their books -- but even the most out-of-the box authors stick to certain rules when it comes to sentence structure and word usage.

The rules of in-text formatting are pretty specific, and it's your job to observe them. You want to get creative? Do it with your story, not with your formatting. That said, it's time to find out when, exactly, it's acceptable to use certain in-text formatting in your work.


The most common in-text formatting you'll find in novels, italics are used only in specific circumstances.
  • Emphasis. If your characters want to stress a certain piece of dialogue or a certain thought, italics show that the word or words in particular need to be stressed. Example: Katie couldn't believe Rebecca actually brought up that memory from their past. 
  • Inner thoughts. Some writers use italics to show a character's direct inner thoughts -- the inner monologue we all hear in our heads from time to time. Example: She just stared at him, mouth agape. I can't believe he just said that, she thought to herself in the silence that followed his statement. 
  • Dreams, Memories. Italics may also be used for large chunks of text to visually separate a scene from the rest of the book. When a character is having a dream or experiencing a memory flashback, for example, it's very useful to use the italics to show that these events aren't occurring in that character's present-day reality. 
  • Foreign words. Some foreign words and phrases are so well-known, they are used even outside their own countries. The English language, in particular, is filled with foreign words and phrases that are common in popular speech. Tete-a-tete, savoir-faire, rendez-vous, nom de plume, cul de sac, the list goes on and on. Foreign words commonly creep in if you're writing about food -- particularly cuisine of the gourmet variety. Any time you use a foreign word or phrase, it should be in italics.
  • Titles. Italics are also used to denote titles, but it's tricky because they aren't used for all titles. Newspapers, water craft (like the Titanic), speeches, poems, movie titles and book titles should be italicized in books and short stories (this rule does not apply to articles, but we're not talking about articles and you'll find more information on that below). However, you do not use italics for song titles; these must be placed inside quotation marks. 

But italics look a little weak, don't they? They don't really emphasize the text, they just make it sort of pretty. If you want something to stand out strongly, you may get tempted to hit Crtl-B (that's the shortcut for bold text). Don't do it! Bold text very rarely has its place in books. In fact, there's only a few very specific instances that will allow you to use it at all. Avoid the temptation to use it to lend weight to other words; it'll only make you look like you have no idea what you're doing to traditional publishers and readers.
  • Chapter titles. You can use bold to emphasize your chapter titles. It's the most common form of presenting chapter titles, but some authors choose to leave the text plain. Whatever you do, don't use italics for your chapter titles unless you're emphasizing a specific word in the title itself for some reason. 
  • Internet articles. Bold rarely appears in books and really has no place within the body of your text, but if you are showing a snippet of a fictional online blog or Internet article, you may use bold for the title and subtitles within that text to show a difference between these types of articles and standard, printed newspaper articles. Newspaper article titles should be italicized.

 It's common to use the underlining option in day-to-day writing. Internet links, essay titles, book titles and other specific words are commonly underlined in school papers and newspaper articles. However, underlining really has no place in fiction book writing whatsoever. When you're writing a fiction book, even web addresses should appear in italics; they should not be underlined.

A Word on Using CAPS

 I've noticed that many writers use caps to denote screaming and shouting in their books. Sometimes, this can be very useful -- but I've seen it over-done a lot. Normal, everyday hollering should be put in italics. Only rarely -- very rarely -- should you use all caps to express something truly and utterly extreme. This does not apply if you are using an acronym (a word formed from the initials of a specific group, i.e. PETA stands for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals).

Text Messages and Email

Of course, all the well-established and long-standing rules of writing and in-text formatting go totally out the window if you're showing a text message or email in your book. You should absolutely write and format these in a way that looks real; text messages should read C U l8tr, for example, because that's the way people write them. Above all, you've got to be true to realism when you're writing -- even, and especially, when you're writing fiction. The exact plot, characters and scenes may be pulled from your vivid imagination, but great writing always keeps one foot in reality and realism because every reader needs to be able to relate to every story.

Writing 101: Backing Up and Rescuing Your Manuscript

Spend time on a computer regularly, and it's bound to happen to you: data loss. Power outages, viruses, various meltdowns, there are all sorts of reasons your computer might malfunction and cause you to lose something you'd rather keep. But when it happens to your manuscript, it's the deepest cut of all. Don't lose your work! There are ways to avoid the problem, and ways to fix it when you haven't been avoiding it arduously enough. 

 Saving Your Book

I'm a little on the obsessive side when it comes to saving my work, because I've agonized through more than one crash in the past. But I've learned others aren't quite so psychotic about hitting the "save" button repeatedly. In fact, the computer makes it pretty easy to get lazy. Any word processing program worth its hard drive space will have an auto-save feature that automatically saves your progress, pretty much every time you pause. Even online programs, like blogger and gmail, have this auto-save feature. It's all too easy to watch drafts of your book automatically save themselves.

It's all too easy to grow complacent. But the first time you lose an entire manuscript, an important chapter or even a pivotal scene, you'll start to step over to this side of save-craziness. Don't learn the lesson the hard way. Before you ever worry about backing up your book, make sure you're saving it in the first place. When you pause to think or stop to go get a drink, hit the "save" button. If moving the mouse is too much trouble, you can simply hit Crtl-S on the keyboard (PC users) and save the work that way.

It never hurts to save the book in two different files on the hard drive. After you're done working for the day and everything is nicely saved, go up to the File menu and hit "save as" to store a second copy in an entirely new folder. You're doing this for an important reason: viruses and other corruption. A file you're working on constantly is more likely to fall prey to an unsavory program or problem, and your extra file may be spared from whatever is compromising your system.

Backing Up Your Book

No matter how up-to-date or fancy your computer, it's always susceptible to problems.  All it takes to wipe out a hard drive is a single flash of lightning, and I know because I've been there (here's a free tip: turn your wired machines off during electrical storms). That's why you should back up your book, and all related files you want to keep, every single time you work on it. 

Get into the habit of slapping a flash drive or backup drive into place at the end of every day, when you're ready to shut down the computer. Just copy the files from your hard drive onto your backup drive. It will only take a few moments to complete the entire process. USB flash drives are very inexpensive, and as a matter of fact you can write the cost off on your taxes (because they are a self-employed expense, are they not?). Save the receipt in order to write off the cost. 

Recovering Your Book

Of course, it's not always easy to remember to back up work -- and it's not always easy to make time to do so. When you fail to back up your book, that is the moment when you will lose it, invariably. So if for some reason you find that you can no longer locate your book on your hard drive, and your backup files don't have the new progress you've made, you're going to have to try to recover your work. 

Sarah Marcus wrote a very detailed posted explaining the data recovery process for writers. You may have to access your word processing program's file folders in order to look for temp saved files if your computer is still functioning. Microsoft users can also use the program's Application Recovery tool to look for recently-opened files on the system. You should also check the program's temp files to see if one of them is your book, recently auto-saved to the system. 

But that's pretty much a best-case scenario in data recovery. If you believe your book might be lost due to a huge computer failure, it's most likely because of a serious problem that prevents the computer from functioning normally. 

First, get a new hard drive and install it in the computer with necessary operating system software. Next, re-connect the damaged drive and set it as a slave to the new, non-corrupt hard drive. This will allow you to access any remaining data on the damaged drive that you want to restore. It should go without saying that if you have no idea what I'm talking about here, solicit some sort of help from someone in-the-know when it comes to computer technical issues. If help is out of reach, you can always look for software programs such as GetItBack to aid you in the data recovery process. 

If all else fails, look for professional help before you give up on your book for ever. Paying for data recovery can be costly, but the time you've already put into your book is also valuable. Try to save yourself all of these headaches by backing up your work every single day, and none of it will become an issue.

Stop to See Me on Your Blog Tour

Dawn Smith Books, a blog dedicated to writers and writing, has kindly named me as their official blog tour stop for the week! Visit the site to get all the details on the first two books in the Deck of Lies Series, Justice and The Tower. You'll find the blurbs, the reviews, the trailers and more.

Writing 101: Is It Further, or Farther?

The English language doesn't always make a whole lot of sense. The word "subtle" has an inexplicable b in the middle of it, "knife" is spelled with a k...and a single letter can totally change the meaning of a word. So when you're writing, are you getting farther along in your book -- or are you getting further along in your work? Maybe you're doing both, and either way you'd better know the difference.

Farther vs. Further

It's an epic word battle, and one I personally struggle with every single time. No matter what I'm writing, the minute I want to use further or farther, I'm forced to stop what I'm doing and look up the differences between them. It's just one little vowel, but it makes a big difference if you end up using the wrong one. In fact, it changes what you're writing entirely.

Writing 101: Writing Reviews

In the indie community, writing reviews isn't a courtesy -- it's pretty much expected. Indies know how hard it is for other indies to get reviews (or readers at all), and there are lots of different groups, review swaps and deals happening all over the indie book community at any given time. Because of the helpful spirit, the tit-for-tat review deals and the strong desire among indies to get more and more reviews, writing reviews is something a great many indie writers have to face. So if you're going to do it, make sure you know what the hell you're doing. How much do you know about writing reviews?

 Reading, Writing

Many writers are also readers, because to practice the craft you've got to love it. Reading someone else's work is the only thing that keeps me sane at times...and other times, it's enough to drive me insane. That's because reading within the indie community isn't the same as dipping into the mainstream fiction pool. There are a lot of undiscovered gems to be found in the indie book community, but there are a lot of duds, too.

When one of those duds happens to be a book that you're committed to reviewing, things can get a little dicey. What if your review is part of a swap arrangement, and contingent upon getting a review for your own book? What if your review is for a friend's book? What if you've got to review it, and the book sucks?


It's enough to make anyone panic, but you don't have to. If you have a formula to follow and a certain set of reviewer morals to stick with, you will never go wrong. You may get sassed by an indie writer or two, but you won't be wrong -- and at the end of the review, you can smile to yourself and know you've done the right thing.

  • Read the book. 
If you're committed to doing the review, you've got to finish it no matter how bad it is. And we've all been there. At some point, every voracious reader has pushed themselves to finish a book they didn't really want to finish. It's like exercising, or cleaning the house -- just get it done, and then it's done. But while you're reading, make sure you look for any and all strong points the author has displayed. This can be a real challenge, but if you read hard enough you're sure to find something likable in the work -- strong imagery, creative plot lines, interesting characters, setting. You may even find merit in an author's research skills alone. The worse a book is, the harder you have to look to find something redeeming. Trust me, you'll need it later.
  • Decide objectively. 
Once you've gotten all the way to "The End," sit back and be objective. Forget about the fact that you've got to write a review for your blog, or Amazon, or wherever. Forget about the indie author behind the book you've just read. Think like a reader, be honest with yourself, and ask yourself how high you would honestly rate this book if no one else ever has to know. You can hardly tell other people what you think about a book if you haven't got it sorted in your own mind. 
  • Review. 
You cannot, under any circumstances (swap or no swap) write a false review publicly for any book for any reason -- not even if you do it under a fictitious name that has nothing to do with your pen name -- and I'm going to tell you why: integrity. Even if you are writing those reviews under a false name, the person you're review-swapping with knows who you are. Other indies and other readers could easily begin to recognize the review name you use, and they're going to peg you for a liar the first time they read a book with very few redeeming qualities that you've rated at 4 or 5 stars. And what happens then?

Then, they sure as heck won't want to read the book you've written. If you're posting false or overly embellished reviews on your blog, the more discerning readers aren't going to be interested in any other post on your blog. 

What I'm taking a long time to write is that you've got to be honest -- both for your sake and for the sake of the author you are reviewing. Negative feedback is infinitely more helpful than positive reinforcement in the writing world. No writer can ever improve without knowing where they are weak, and a brave reviewer with an unvarnished, honest opinion is an incredibly powerful and useful motivational tool. I talked at length about the merits to be found in bad reviews in a previous post, and I'll stand by my opinions. 

But at the same time, there's a right way and a wrong way to offer criticism to an indie writer. If you know that you have many negative things to say about a book, and you honestly can't give it a four-star or five-star rating, the kindest course of action is to contact the author and tell them that. 

Was the work lacking in description? Did you feel that you had no idea who the characters were? Was the book filled with inaccuracies and/or errors? It should be very easy for you to explain flaws like these to the author gently. Remember how hard you looked for strengths in the book? Mention those first! Always preface negative comments by telling the author what you did like about the book. It is also a kindness to offer not to post any reviews of the book publicly, but if you do go forward with the review always stress those strong points in the writer's work and always keep the review honest -- honest, but not necessarily harsh. As a reviewer, your biggest asset is the kind euphemism and a diplomatic attitude. Remember how hard it is to write a book, how boring it is to edit, and keep your comments as kind as you can. 

Writing a Review

When you go to write a review, it pays to be succinct. It's not always easy to know how to start, what to say and how to finish a review. You can always come up with your own formula and review style, but you can always borrow mine, too, if you need it: 
  • How'd you get the book? Many reviewers like to mention how they found the book, by way of introducing it and the review. It's a good place to start, especially if you don't know where to start in a review. 
  • What's it about? Is the book a romance, a mystery, a thriller? Give the readers a few basic lines about the book in general, so they have a context for all your comments. 
  • What'd you think? Now's the time to mention the good and the bad, the things you liked and didn't like. What stuck out the most to you? Write the review the way you'd tell it to a friend. Be casual, be approachable, and use plain, forthright language that I can understand. 
  • No spoilers! Don't spoil a book for another reader, or make an author grimace with pain at your words. Always re-read your review to make sure you're not giving away the book's ending or any surprise plot twists. You can always touch on these elements of a story without giving too much away (example: "The twist in the middle with Girl's backpack caught me completely off guard;" "When everything came together at the end, I felt very satisfied"). 
  • In summation. Close the review neatly by re-stating your overall opinion of the work ("I loved it!" "I enjoyed the plot, but the characters could use a little more development;" "I enjoyed it despite all the errors") and, if applicable, stating who you'd recommend the book to and/or if you will be reading more from this author. Remember to keep your comments constructive, kind and honest. 
Reviews should be written in the first person and in a casual tone, but you should also conduct yourself professionally with every single review you write. If you plan to do a lot of reviewing, you will begin to gain a reputation. Make sure it's a good one. Yes, some indie authors will take exception to your opinions of their work, but you will find that most of them are open to comments and criticism and truly want to improve upon their craft. Once readers know that you are an honest and thoughtful reviewer, you will attract more authors with open minds who truly want to improve.

Book 3 Sneak Peek!

Yes, the rumors are true: I've finished the first draft of Death, Book 3 in the Deck of Lies series. I still have some serious editing to do, but a few very brief passages are suitable for public viewing and I'm going to share one of them!

(image from the official trailer, yet to be released)

Excerpt from Chapter ?

    I was striding across the grass with a smile frozen onto my lips. I was wearing a bit less eye makeup, and my mascara had been re-applied with a shaking hand, but no one looked at me oddly as I moved toward the milling party guests -- so I guess I did a good enough job of repairing my appearance.
    Things were in full swing, now. All of the Japanese lanterns were lit, their colorful shades creating a haze of light that made it difficult to see the stars above. Voices were louder now that the beautifully-garbed people had been here long enough to enjoy more than one of the complimentary drinks that were being doled out by the truckload. There were a dozen or so servers milling among the glittering guests with bubbling glasses of champagne, and the bartenders were in a frenzy of activity to lubricate the crowd gathered near the dance floor.
    Carsyn was laughing with a group of her friends from Sloane Academy, the school we both attended. I stepped past a portrait of myself to reach the raised dance floor, built just that day to accommodate the guests. Everywhere I looked, I saw pink. Special rose-colored lights were aimed at the ice sculptures that dotted the buffet tales, which were all decorated with clear pink decorations that looked like diamonds. Each one of the round tables held a display of pink tea roses and more of those silly diamonds. I’d wanted red, but Violet thought the color was too violent.
    What a joke.
    I went straight to the nearest server, the smile firmly in place, nodding to the few people who greeted me as I passed. The party was supposed to be in my honor, to re-introduce me to the von Shelton’s friends. I was meeting all the “important people” in and around our community of Silverwood, California. I didn’t trust myself to speak, so I only nodded a thanks to the server when I plucked a frothy glass from his tray.
    I’d barely brought it to my lips when I heard the voice at my right side. “Are you old enough to be drinking, young lady?”
    I sputtered and nearly spit the first sip back into my glass, but I tossed the contents down my throat instead. It was a little too much; I nearly choked when the bubbles began to tickle my nose and mouth. I smeared my lipstick when I rubbed the back of my hand across my mouth, but I didn’t care. “Owen.”
    “Sorry. Didn’t mean to surprise you.” He had an odd sort of expression on his face, as if he wanted to smile but wasn’t quite sure if he should.
    “No, it’s okay,” I answered, and I was still trying to keep that idiotic smile plastered to my face. “I’m glad you came.”

If you've read Justice or The Tower, you'll recognize all these names. The excerpt above is taken from a scene between Owen and Rain. Will there be a confrontation? What's the deal with this party? You'll find out in Death, which is the longest book in the series to date. And I promise, Tower fans, the scene you've been waiting for takes place very, very early in the book so the wait is almost over!

My Other Job is Fashion Writer

If you've read any books in the Deck of Lies series, you've probably noticed that I'm into fashion. I label-drop constantly, and I've tried to create a distinct style for Rain and many of her supporting characters (I've even blogged about those styles). But I don't get to write about fashion in my books as much as I'd like, so I've started writing for VAR magazine to get my fashion fix. 

I write about vintage fashions and current vintage trends in Issue 1 of VAR, which was just released this month. VAR is packed with fashion-centric photos and articles. It's based in New York, and even though I'm not I'll be contributing articles on a freelance basis to the magazine from time to time (when I'm not writing about murder plots and family intrigue). You have to buy the issue to see it all, but various snippets and articles will be available on the VAR site soon. Issue 1 features Alysha Nett, Bai Ling, Bernadette Macias, Dave Navarro, Davey Havok, Jenny Mollen, Miles Devin, Olga Maliouk and me! ...Plus many other very talented writers, photographers and personalities, of course.

Writing 101: Pricing Your Books

You were careful to choose great words for your book. You sweated it out through the editing process. You went through the formatting line by line to make certain every page is perfect. If you don't price your books the right way, you're going to watch that hard work go to waste. If you want readers, you've got to take a hard look at your book pricing.

How Much is Your Writing Worth?

A lot of factors are at play when writers are pricing their books. For any given book, whether it's a short story of a full-length novel, every page represents hours of work in formatting, writing, editing and reading. If authors charged by the hour, every book would cost hundred of dollars.

But that's not really feasible for the readers, is it? As a writer, you're expected to love your book. You've poured soul into it; sweat, blood, tears, heartache. And, if you're like many writers, you probably want to do nothing but write full-time. It's easy to get lost in the math. Charge five bucks, sell a million copies -- just imagine those numbers for a little while. Your book is a huge piece of your life, your heart and your skill. And you've got to forget all that. The price of your book isn't a reflection of your skill or how much you put into your work. It's a reflection of the market. 

Writing 101: Be Very Wary of Using Very

 How many times does the word very appear in your book? You really ought to find out, because really, the word is very, very unnecessary. In fact, some writers have made it a point never to use the word at all.

Very in Literature

"Substitute 'damn' every time you're inclined to write 'very'; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be." This was Mark Twain's opinion of very...and most anyone will agree that Twain was, and remains, a very successful writer. Very hasn't got much of a place in literature because it is a very empty word. 

Most of the time, the word very has very little meaning when it's used in writing. It's a word that exists almost solely for emphasis alone, except for when it's used in a very specific circumstance. Very can also denote something precise or exact (those were her very words), but most of the time it's used as a word of emphasis rather than as a synonym for exactness. 

And if the best you can come up with to emphasize a point is using the word very a bunch, you've got deeper problems than this one word.

Very Good Writing

Sometimes, a writer has to infuse a description or dialogue with a little drama -- and that's where very comes in very handy. But it's a plain word, it's an over-used word, and you can do better. Very isn't the only word in the English language that's used to emphasize a point. Replace occurrences of very in your book with much prettier words like profoundly, extremely, greatly and a bunch of other adverbs that sound way better. Replacing ho-hum, ugly words like very with something better -- or getting rid of them entirely -- will make your writing flow better and read more smoothly and professionally to your readers...and isn't that a very good reason for avoiding it?

Writing 101: Offensive and Adult Subject Matter

Have you ever been to a book burning? To this day, people still protest against some of the material in Mark Twain's books. Schools around the world ban Catcher in the Rye, written way back in 1951. When you're writing from the heart, and writing something that's going to resonate, creating a real world using nothing but your words, you might end up stepping on a few toes. Offensive and adult subject matter might creep in, and sometimes touchy subjects have to be included in a work to create the powerful effect the author wants. But when you start stepping on toes, you've got to be prepared to get kicked right in the pants.

Let's Write About Sex

Dare you to sit through just one hour of television without finding some reference to sex, either overt or well-hidden. It's in the beer commercials where the women run around braless, it's in the dating commercials where the two mildly attractive people lock eyes and stare suggestively at each other. It's even in the sitcoms, when sex becomes a joke (because everything's a joke). It's even in the car commercials. It's everywhere, because sex sells. And if you've ever walked through the book aisle of a grocery store, you know good and well it sells books, too. Even one of the Twilight books (and movies) had a sex scene, and those are primarily marketed to teenagers.

Sex is, quite frankly, part of living. Everyone who is alive would never have been so without sex. Whether you're writing a romance, love story, comedy or tragedy, sex might happen. It's definitely going to happen in some cases, and it's your job as a writer to figure out exactly how you need to handle it.

There's a thin line between writing erotica and writing romance novels. Both kinds of books have sex scenes, but one is much more explicit than the other (can you guess which?). Erotica novels are built around sex and sexual encounters; by contrast, romance novels focus on love (with sex sprinkled in). It's confusing, because you can write very sexy, very erotic scenes into a romance novel and still not be writing erotica. Romance writer Jennie Bryant summed it up succinctly in her blog, where she wrote that the sex in romance novels is built around feelings, with mild euphemisms used to describe the action (you'll find pleasant-sounding words for the male anatomy, like "member," and sweet words for the female's, like "mound"). In erotica, the sex is far more graphic and vivid -- and much more present throughout the book. The words and descriptions are more in-your-face, and the sex is present throughout. If you are writing a romance or an erotica novel, always stick to the basic rules.

Why? Because you don't want to alienate your readers. Many women are drawn to romance novels because they want all that gooey love junk, and explicit sex scenes more akin to erotica novels will feel, to them, like a bit of a betrayal.

Sex might happen even if you aren't writing within the safe confines of a sex-specific genre, however. If it can happen in Twilight, it can happen anywhere. Love and sex are often present in many books, from mysteries to teen fiction, because (once again) it's a basic part of life. But sex scenes in these off-genre novels shouldn't read anything at all like sex in romance novels. Forget all the stuff you learned about vivid imagery and descriptive writing. Be vague while still getting the point across. It's tempting, and sort of easy, to spice up any novel with a thrilling sex scene -- but a sex scene can still be good without giving readers a full blow-by-blow. If your readers don't expect it, they may not like it...and that's when you start moving into offensive territory. Once you've been branded with that label and started to piss off your readers, you might find yourself getting burned by the flames. Take a gentle hand when writing sex scenes into off-genre novels, and avoid alienating your readers.

Other Offensive Material

Religion. Politics. Racism. Even if you aren't writing about sex, there are plenty of land mines to navigate. Faith, political convictions and certain belief systems are part of the world, and they may become part of your story. Writing a passionately political character can be very exciting, and creating a villain with racist tendencies is a good way to illustrate some of the uglier aspects of human nature.

But it's dangerous. You could easily upset religious groups, parental groups, activists -- you could even piss PETA off if you've got a character who lives inside fur and leather goods. For realism's sake, and for the sake of the story you need to tell, you can't always skip the offensive parts of life. It's out there, and it may be a very necessary part of your story.

If you're going to include anything offensive or potentially incendiary, you've got to write carefully. Many writers find a way to introduce this subject matter and skirt the line of decency without actually crossing it. There are many literary tricks you can try to help balance out your work. If one character is an extremist, for example, you might create an additional character to serve as a counterpoint -- someone to introduce the opposite point of view. You've got to be sensitive to all sides when you're dancing around a potentially offensive subject; often, writers will have offensive characters come to ill ends in their books to include a moral lesson or commentary on their behavior. Be careful about how you use racial slurs and other offensive material in your writing. It can be effective, but at times it can be too effective for getting your readers fired up and passionate. If there's something in your work that gives you pause, test the story out on a beta reader or two before you release it to the public. A second opinion can provide valuable insight and help you more safely steer through the waters of offensive writing.

Writing 101: Why You Need to Know HTML

Being a wordsmith is just plain hard. Writers have to face daily challenges like the affect/effect conundrum, the dreaded compliment/complement crisis and the altogether horrifying further/farther battlefield. Tackle all that and you've still got to think about dangling prepositions, misplaced modifiers and whether or not a semicolon is viable punctuation (for the record, I'm a firm believer that it is). But if you think knowing words is hard, just try learning HTML. Because you're going to have to, you know -- it goes hand-in-hand with being an indie author.

It's Raining Internet Code

Internet language is everywhere, though we rarely see it. HTML is the invisible force that drives every Tweet, every blog, every singly little thing on Facebook. It's also behind every ebook, and that's why it's relevant to you. You can't simply take your manuscript, convert it into an ebook and call it a day. Why? Because of HTML. Don't know it? You're going to have to learn.

You may not realize it, but you've been writing with HTML the whole you've been writing your book. It's invisible, but this code drives every word processing document you've ever created, too. And when you convert that document into something an eReader can use, you're playing with fiery Internet code. Try not to get burned.

No matter what conversion software you use, you're going to have to open up your ebook's HTML file and have a look. And you're probably going to have to remove a bunch of junk code from it, and add new code to it, and generally check the whole bloody thing line-by-line. It's a hassle, sure, but remember that your readers are going to be looking at it line-by-line so it's really the least you can do. Depending on how much formatting you actually have in your book, you might have a lot of crap to clean up. Every time you put a word in italics, or bold, or change the font you're creating all sorts of different HTML code -- so you'd better figure out what all that junk means.

Blank lines not showing up? Page breaks not appearing? It's not necessarily something you've done incorrectly in your document -- it's a problem with the HTML code itself. That's why you've got to use conversion software that allows you to play with that code (personally, I use Mobipocket Creator). Get to know basic HTML codes used in ebooks to get the look you want. You'll probably have to add your own blank lines (<br>) and add your own page breaks (<mbp:pagebreak />), depending on the program you're using. Once you know what to look for, it's easy enough to see the story instead of focusing on how strange the HTML looks. Without HTML, you can't add a Table of Contents, images or any of those fancy little extras that help ebooks stand out.

And if you don't take the time to figure it out, you've got a great chance of ending up with funny-looking formatting once the ebook conversion process is complete. Readers want perfection, and they deserve perfection. Don't deliver it, and they'll have an excuse not to tell others about how much they liked your book. 

On the Other Hand...

 I do know a shortcut if you'd like to skip all that HTML editing. Writers have to find little ways to save time. If you publish your book through Smashwords, they'll cleanly convert your book through their processing -- but you've got to make sure the document you submit adheres to their strict style standards. If you can beat the Smashwords autovetting system, you'll probably end up with a great-looking ebook. Be sure to select the option that converts your book in Kindle-friendly and Nook-friendly file formats. Then, you can simply download these versions and upload them to the bookselling sites of your choice. Because many authors use Amazon KDP, this isn't an option for everybody -- but it is a pretty sweet shortcut if you want to bypass all that Internet code.

An Interview with Jade

Where did I come up with the idea for the Deck of Lies series? Who in my real life inspired an important character in Rain's life? And which one of my characters would I bring to life if I could? I answer all of these questions and more in my latest interview, conducted by Books Books & More Books.

But if you skip all my answers, you'll get to the really interesting part: I'm giving away books! Sign up to win a free copy of Justice, and try to find the truth in the Deck of Lies.

Writing 101: Affect and Effect

It happens to the best of us, and no matter how we try to avoid them they still have a way of sneaking up on us. They're called homonyms, and they are the scourge of the English language. But if you think you can get through an entire book without getting wrapped up in them, you're wrong. Today, we're going to discuss a dastardly pair that's sure to strike even the most brilliant grammarians: affect and effect. Yes, they are evil. But don't worry; I know how to defeat them.

Affect vs. Effect

If you use the word effect improperly, it's definitely going to affect your work. To be honest, there are plenty of readers who plain won't notice the difference...but there are those who will. In the interest of perfection (isn't that what we're all chasing?), it's important to know exactly why affect and effect are totally different words, even though only one vowel separates them.

I'm willing to come clean: I still have to look up the difference between these two words all the time. It's easy to forget why they're different, and to put the wrong one in place of the other. But I stop, and I go look them up anytime I feel even a little unsure of myself -- and sometimes even when I don't. Once you get on a writing roll, it's really hard to stop suddenly to pull out the dictionary. It can totally take you out of the zone and disrupt your flow.

The thing is, your readers are going to feel the same way if they suddenly stumble across the wrong word. So always take the time to stop, look it up, and double-check your words.

Affect describes something that is happening to something else. Her judgment was newly affected by his most recent betrayal. The affect is happening to her judgement.

Effect, on the other hand, describes a result. His most recent betrayal had a negative effect on her judgment. 

Affect may also be used in a slightly different way. Have you heard of someone affecting an accent? It's a fancy way of saying they're faking it. Someone may use an affectation to convey something about themselves, usually false. In this usage of the word, they're trying to affect others by giving them some sort of impression. 

It gets confusing, because the meaning of the words are similar. Try remembrance tricks to help you distinguish between the two of them. For example, I like to remember sound effects scare squirrels. It's a funny little phrase. Flip it around, and you get the other meaning of the words. Scared squirrels affect sound. The first phrase means, basically, loud noises are frightening to those nut-loving rodents. The second phrase means they make a noise when they're frightened.

Or if you something a little simpler, try substituting the two words for their meanings. When you see affect, replace it with happens to (or happened to, as the case may be) and see if the sentence still makes since. Replace effect with result or results. If you feel like you're reading gibberish, maybe you're using one for the other where you shouldn't be. 

Find your own way to remember the difference between affect and effect, or keep a grammar cheat sheet handy. Even great writers can get confused and hung up on words like this terrible, warring pair, so if you find yourself looking it up frequently don't think it's a reflection on your writing skills -- if anything, it's a reflection that you're a hard worker who cares about what you're writing. Looking up the meanings and figuring out the homonyms is never, ever a waste of time.

Writing 101: It's Raining Thats

There's a word that many writer overuse, and that's that. Every time that they should be using who to describe a human, I find that they're using that instead. Instead of which, we get that -- and that's a real problem that needs fixing.

That Which Makes Us Look Bad

Make a copy of your book document, and store it in a different file. Now, access the "Find and Replace" function and replace every single occurrence of the word that with * instead. Now, read your book in that new file. If you're like many indie writers, you'll find that most of the times you use the word that, it's totally unnecessary.

Not just unnecessary -- it makes your book clunky and in some cases comes across as very poor writing. You'll notice that I've stressed every single occurrence of the word that in this post, and you'll also notice that I've added many unnecessary uses of the word. But I find that I'm full of examples today, so here's more:

"I didn't know that Ella used to date Mark!" Claire exclaimed, wide-eyed, an expression that made her look a little comical. 
Krista nodded. "The boy that wears the red hat told me," she twirled her fingers around the necklace that her father gave her (that she'd never liked) as she answered.

How many of the thats in that example can I eliminate? If you answered all of them, you're right. There isn't a single occurrence of that in the above text that I can't remove if I want -- and, I do.

"I didn't know Ella used to date Mark!" Claire exclaimed, wide-eyed, an expression which made her look a little comical. 
Krista nodded. "The boy who wears the red hat told me," she twirled her fingers around the necklace her father gave her (which she'd never liked) as she answered.

 That, Which, Who

Many times, that can be eliminated in sentences entirely -- but sometimes, writers are using it improperly in place of who and which. Learning when to use that and when to use which is actually pretty tricky stuff, but you know you should be using who when you're talking about a person (so that one's easy).

According to the rules of writing, you're supposed to be using which instead of that when you're writing non-restrictive clauses. See? It's already tricky. Here's what you need to know, in brief:

The word that is used to point to something specific in the sentence: that necklace, that expression. Eliminate the word that points to in the sentence. Does it still make sense? In the example above, is that expression the main focus -- or is it Claire's comical face? When you're writing about the necklace, are her feelings the most important part of the sentence?

That is only used when it's pointing toward a specific word or phrase the sentence just can't do without. That boy in the red hat, That table is really unsteady. You wouldn't say which unless you were asking, right? If you find that you can substitute which for that and lose absolutely nothing in the translation, it's safe to assume which is supposed to be there anyway.

Over use of that makes writing very, very bad, and I've found that the word can be eliminated more often than not. To prove it, keep reading to get a complete version of this post with all that unnecessary junk removed, and you'll see the difference.