Is Your Book Slow Out of the Gate?

Is your book opening slow? It may be tempting to open it gradually with an everyday scene. Perhaps your character is getting ready for school or work. Maybe they’re pondering their life. Maybe they’re staring into the mirror having a think. Maybe they’re staring at the sunset, thinking of the meaning of life. Or sorting through their sock drawer. Or cleaning their purse. Or weeding the garden. Before you begin your book with any of a million mundane activities while your character is deep inside their head thinking about whatever it is they think about…STOP.

If this were some random book you picked up off a shelf, would you keep reading? What would keep you reading? While it’s true that people do these types of things, opening a story with them usually doesn’t hook the reader unless you have a fantastic way of presenting it that makes them keep reading.

Either find a way to make what you want to say really interesting or open with some action that pertains to the story. Hook that reader. Here are some opening paragraphs from books. See what you think.Would you keep reading?

Mab, the Queen of Air and Darkness, monarch of the Winter Court of the Sidhe, has unique ideas regarding physical therapy. (Cold Days by Jim Butcher)

I spent the last afternoon of Before constructing a 1/10,000-scale replica of the Empire State Building from boxes of adult diapers. It was a thing of beauty, really, spanning five feet at its base and towering above the cosmetics aisle, with jumbos for the foundation, lites for the observation deck, and meticulously stacked trial sizes for its iconic spire. It was almost perfect, minus one crucial detail. (Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs)

The snake-haired ladies were starting to annoy Percy. (The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan)

“You asked for cold cases, Neil,” the captain said. He pressed the play button of the digital recorder and leaned back. (The Case of D.B. Cooper’s Parachute by William L. Sullivan)

When they brought him to me, I knew he wasn’t going to make it through the night. I had the ominous feeling he wouldn’t even make it through the next few hours. The damage to his body was well beyond anything that could be repaired. He seemed to be quite aware of it, too. My heart sank in my chest as I would be the only one to help him now. I watched as everyone moved on to other soldiers and sat down beside him. (The Purple Heart by Christie Gucker)

Do you see a pattern? You can tell by the opening paragraph that something is going to happen in that first chapter. It won’t be filled with a character going over their inner angst while they sort their socks or polish their silver. Each opening promises the reader that they won’t be disappointed if they keep reading.

This is what you have to keep in mind. Do characters eat? Sure. Do they do mundane things? Maybe. Do we care if they do mundane things? Probably not. What is it that makes us care about their journey? Of course not every book is about fighting monsters or tracking down killers. They don’t have to be. What they do have to do is make us care.

Take Christie Gucker’s book mentioned above. Ultimately, it’s about love and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Yet she makes you care about the characters and their journey. It’s hard to put the book down. That’s the ultimate goal, isn’t it? You want your readers to keep turning those pages until the end of the book, and then say, “Damn! It’s over already?” You want those readers so engaged with your story that they don’t want it to end. You don’t do that by losing them in the first chapter.

I’m not saying your characters can’t have mundane moments. At some point, it’s probable they’ll have a moment where they’ll mull over their choices while they make a sandwich or sort the laundry. Just don’t do it in the first chapter.


The Laundry List

In the last post, I briefly touched on the laundry list. Let’s explore this a bit further.

What is a laundry list? It can literally be a list of adjectives you use to describe a person, place or thing. For example:

He was tall, but not overly so, with a lean, hungry look to his handsome, rugged face that peeked out from the long, black locks hanging down past his shoulders.

Yes, I’ve seen sentences like this. It leaves you breathless, and not in a good way. Don’t be afraid to break up your sentences!

Now, I’m going to take it a step further. Laundry lists can also be descriptions that break up the flow of the story. Let’s say the main character has just noticed her arch enemy enter the gym on prom night:

Pam stood in the doorway, glittering in the flashing lights. Her red sequined gown trailed in the back, but revealed her shapely legs in the front. The bodice was cut dangerously low, trimmed with just enough black lace to almost be considered decent. The tight waistline cinched her body in like a wasp. Her matching heels had to be at least five inches tall. To add to her height, she’d piled her hair on top of her head in a golden tower. Her makeup was perfect, bringing out her pouty lips and drama queen eyes that were already warning of the storm to come.

While that may be interesting to someone who’s really into fashion, it brings the story flow to a screeching halt while we all stop to admire Pam’s dress. If her outfit is important (maybe it is), break it up in the scene. Add bits here and there. Maybe as she approaches the main character, let’s call her Lucy, her towering height is intimidating because of the hairdo and her heels, which might make her wobble a bit (hey, a bit of humor never hurts). Maybe Lucy’s handbag gets snagged on one of those sparkly sequins when Pam leans in to threaten her, you never know. The important part is to make it part of the scene and only add the bits that make the scene interesting.

I’ve read manuscripts that had passages that stopped everything whenever the main character met someone new for a complete description of the new person including their height, weight, hair color, and what they were wearing. They even included what the main character thought of them as a potential bed partner. None of this was relevant to the scene at hand and wasn’t particularly interesting. Save all that for your character sheets! If it fits in the story, add it when, and only when, it fits!

Speaking of character sheets, they come in handy for stuff like this. They help you keep your details straight, like a character’s physical attributes, their attitudes, family  history, what they’re wearing in particular scenes, and so on. J. K. Rowling had reams full of character sheets on every single character in Harry Potter, even some that didn’t make it into the books. This work isn’t wasted. You can even write letters to yourself from the character’s point of view to get inside their heads. Try it. It may help flesh them out.

This is another in a series of posts inspired by this marvelous post at Writer Unboxed.

Too Flowery?

I read a great post the other day on styles that turn agents off. (You can read it here.) It has inspired this post and, I’m sure, many more to follow. This one is on flowery prose. You know the type I’m talking about.

Granted, flowery prose can be great fun to write. Unfortunately, it isn’t all that fun to read. It’s usually so full of adjectives the reader is tripping over himself trying to imagine every bit. If he trips too many times, he’ll put your book down and never pick it up again. Reading fiction should be enjoyable, it shouldn’t be work.

The blazing orange ball hung low in the dimming purple sky, glimmering in the rippling water as she shielded her cerulean eyes from the blinding glare.

Do you see what I mean? Twenty-six tongue-tripping words to say ‘she shielded her eyes from the setting sun.’

You could argue that the longer version is poetic, but if you want to be poetic, write a poem. Adjectives are fine in their place, it’s when you get too many crowding together that they gum up the works. Think of a painting of a crowd. If the artist focuses on a single object that draws your eye, say a woman’s hat, you have something to focus on. The rest of the crowd is still there, but it’s peripheral. You get the gist of it, but you’re drawn to the hat. If the artist focuses on the entire crowd, everything is lost as he tries to include every detail. There’s too much to take in. Writing is like that. Choose your adjectives carefully. Choose your descriptions carefully.

If you find yourself tempted to have more than one adjective in a row, stop and reconsider. Is it really necessary? Are you listing every descriptive word for that item in this sentence? If so, don’t. Try to think of one descriptive word that gets your point across rather than two or three. What’s the most important? Is it his red hair? Her gown’s sparkly quality in the moonlight? The bird’s annoying call? Other details can come through later as they become important (if they become important. Your reader doesn’t want to read a laundry list of qualities, they want to be taken in, they want to discover things as the scene goes on.

Write for them. Save your laundry lists for your character sheets.

How to Approach an Editor

When your book is ready for an editor, you’ve reached the next stage in your book’s development. If you’ve never done this before, it can be exciting. Daunting. Intimidating, even. How do you go about it?

Here are my recommendations based on how I like to be approached.

Don’t be afraid to make contact. Most editors will have a way to contact them on their websites. Mine is here: Contact me. Fill it out and tell me about your project. Be honest about what kind of editing you feel you need. If you’re not sure, look through the editor’s site… most likely, they’ll have a page that describes the type of editing they do (mine is here). Sometimes they’ll even list their pricing here, like I do. Sometimes they won’t.

Usually, the editor will get back to within a reasonable amount of time (I try to respond to emails within a day or two at most). This can begin a dialogue about your project, your budget, and the time frame your project will take.

Some editors only work on one project at a time, while others (like me) work on multiple projects at once. While this can slow me down at times, it also keeps my prices lower, since my budget costs are spread across several clients instead of just one. It’s up to you to choose an editor who works the way you want them to work.

Once an agreement is reached with your editor, your manuscript needs to be sent in the type of file you’ve both agreed upon. I like to work with Microsoft Word files. I find that most people have a version of that program and most platforms for publication or submission accept them in some form. If you use one of those cloud open source word processing programs, they can transfer to Word, but be aware that sometimes not all of the formatting will transfer and you may have some things lost in translation between you and your editor or you may end up with lots of artifacts in the file that have to be removed. Every program is different.

Some editors will go through the entire file before they return it, others prefer to work in chunks. I’m pretty flexible and will do it either way you choose.

Remember that you’ll probably fly through your edits faster than the editor… you’re mostly accepting changes while they’re carefully considering what needs to be changed and why. If you have a question or comment, make them. You don’t have to accept everything blindly and you shouldn’t. If you don’t understand why an editor suggests a certain change, ask. If you don’t agree, challenge them. If they can back it up with the Chicago Manual of Style, they probably have a point. If they’re changing it just because they would write it differently and it changes your voice, you don’t have to accept it. There’s a difference between following accepted publishing guidelines and changing the author’s voice. That being said, there’s a difference between blindly accepting the author’s voice and disregarding accepted publishing and story telling guidelines. It’s a two way street.

The relationship between an author and an editor is intricate. One is changing the creative work of the other. At the same time, those changes should be for the better. These changes should tighten the work, bring out the strengths and eliminate the weaknesses. They should make the author look their best. The editor should be invisible. We’re the set dresser, the makeup artist, the costumer, all rolled into one as we prepare the author for their debut. The author is the star.

So choose your editor wisely. Not every pairing is perfect. Your editor has to be content to stay in the background. Sure, we appreciate a mention on Facebook or Twitter or Google+ (along with a link to our website and undying gratitude LOL). It may help bring more clients our way and help us pay next month’s bills. We appreciate a nice blurb to put on our sites from another satisfied customer. All in all, however, we remain behind the scenes. You’re the one in front of the audience. Your book represents you. More than anything, the editor you choose should care that your book reflects well on you.


You may think punctuation is a boring topic, but I beg to differ. It’s more than a tedious lecture in English class. Victor Borge did an extremely funny bit about punctuation where each mark had its own particular noise. There are several books that tackle the topic of punctuation using humor, such as Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss and Lapsing Into a Comma by Bill Walsh. However you approach punctuation, you need it to write your novel.

I often come across manuscripts where punctuation is an afterthought. Periods are added outside quotation marks or left off altogether. Commas are sprinkled liberally wherever they may fall, and question marks and exclamation points seem to make their appearances on a whim. Apostrophes seem to either be nonexistent or used every time an s appears at the end of a word.

If words are the meat and potatoes of writing, punctuation is the seasoning. It not only brings the meal together, it brings out the flavor.

If you didn’t pay attention in English class, there are lots of books, like the ones I mentioned earlier, that can help. These are some of the tools of your trade. Learn to use them. Would you go see your local symphony if the violinists didn’t know how to use their bows? Of course not! Do you expect your mechanic to know how to use a wrench? Of course you do! As a writer, you need to know how these things work. If you can’t tell a question from a statement, you need to review your basics, including punctuation.

As I wrote last week, you need to learn your craft. Punctuation is part of this. If you wanted to learn to paint with oils, you would learn how to mix colors, use your brush effectively, how to paint light and shadow, how to paint forms and movement. You wouldn’t expect to just dab your fingers into the paint and have done. You would have to learn the basics before you could apply the artistry. The same holds true with writing. Master the basics and then you can soar. Learn where the dots, dashes, and squiggles go. They direct your reader and help interpret your meaning.

“Hi, Brenda.”  This statement is a lot different than “Hi, Brenda!” The whole meaning changes. One goes from the mundane and expected to excitement. If you’re not sure what you’re doing, practice changing the punctuation in a sentence and read it out loud. See how it changes your inflection? If you’re already dreading homework, you’re not cut out to be a writer, because that’s what writing is… perpetual homework you’re giving yourself. So what are you waiting for? Get to work.

Do You Really Need an Edit?

The answer is, of course, a resounding YES. And I’m not just saying that because I’m an editor.

Let’s explore this a little bit.

Your book represents you. You want people to buy it, and subsequently, any future books you write. Would you present yourself at a book signing in wrinkled clothing with splotches of last night’s dinner down the front? Of course not. So why present your book that way?

Your book is your baby. You’ve labored over it for months, maybe years. (Okay, maybe weeks if you’re one of those super fast wordsmiths who spew words like volcanoes spew lava.) Would you show your baby off in public with an aromatic poopy diaper and baby spit all over his/her onesie? Of course not. So why present your book that way?

You hope your book will garner you lots of fans that will follow you over hill, over dale, thorough brush, thorough brier, over park, over pale, thorough flood, thorough fire… okay, maybe not that far (thanks, Shakespeare), but you want those fans to wait impatiently for your next book. NEWSFLASH: They won’t if your book is full of errors.

I can see you shaking your head over there. Not you, right? That only happens to other authors.

C’mon. Sit down. Have a cup of tea.

Errors happen. As the author, you can’t always see the errors because you’re too close to it. It’s true. I write, and I don’t edit my own writing. I hand it off to someone else because I’m too close. Sure, I can find some of them. Most of them, even. But my brain makes me see what I expect to see there, not those pesky little errors that a fresh pair of eyes will catch in a nanosecond. And it’s not just typos. Are you sure you paid attention to every detail? Is your timeline right through your entire book? Or did you miss a detail here and there? Did Anne leave her hometown a month ago in chapter one and two months ago in chapter 18? Are Brian’s eyes blue on page 25 and brown on page 231?

Before you jump in and say that readers won’t care… they will. Sure, not every one of them will do anything about it, but some will ask for refunds. Ouch! Right in the pocketbook. Worse, some will write reviews. Lack of editing seems to be fair game for reviewers on Amazon. Don’t give them the fodder. Isn’t it hard enough to compete with the zillions of books out there without giving them reasons not to buy your book?

Seriously, are you willing to put your first impression on the line? Are you willing to get bad reviews due to something that was preventable, like editing? Is it worth the risk? Ultimately, this is a decision only you can make, but is it really necessary? You’ve invested the time in your book. You’ve invested something in the cover. You’re not going to invest in the rest of the package?

I understand budgets and the need to cut costs. But was it worth cutting the cost of editing if you don’t sell any books because readers are returning them and complaining about the editing (or lack thereof) in the reviews? I guess that’s up to you. But don’t you want to put your best book forward?

Editors Are Vital — Guest Post

Today’s post is by another client of mine, Shane Scollins. Shane is the author of Legacy Rising, The Game, and several other thrilling reads. If you haven’t read any of his books yet, you should pick one up.

By Shane Scollins

Writing a book is a solitary undertaking. As writers, we live inside our heads, listening to voices, and becoming random and often insane characters. We put a lot of time and effort into creating worlds and plots and all the things that make a great story. But without a good editorial eye, the story won’t be worth the broken keys on our laptops.

Editors are a vital cog in the gears of the novel creation machine. They are a key link between creating a story, and getting a polished book to the public. We want to believe we are good enough to get by without an editor. After all, today’s software programs are good enough to catch most basic mistakes. However, the reality is that no matter how good we think we are, and no matter how good we really are, there is no substitute for the second or third pair of eyes of another human. We need help from someone who can be both clinical and creative to help hammer our story into form. That’s exactly what an editor does.

A great editor can be the difference maker, because let’s face it, we can’t always be objective when it comes to our own work. We are simply too close to it. It’s not a matter of being a good (or bad) writer, it’s a matter of being an author. We all make mistakes and we all need the help of a professional editor. I’m a firm believer that producing a book is a team effort and the editor is an essential part of that.

I’ve heard a lot of writers express great dread over editing process. I have to say that I’ve never really been one of them. For the most part, I’ve had positive experiences with editors. Of course, I’m not one of those writers married to every word I write. There have been very few times when an editor suggested something that I disagreed with. I can usually see their point, and if not, I usually defer to them anyway because I’ve learned the wisdom of detaching my emotion from the process.

As writers, we want to protect everything we write. We want to believe that every word is vital to the story. But that’s not always the case. Readers are not always going to notice everything we do, they often gravitate to parts of the story we never intended them to become invested in. That’s what makes an editor so important. There are going to be parts of our stories that we may not be as fanatical about, but that readers will notice. The editorial process will ferret out all those nuances that only readers will discern.

If you are one of those writers that balls up with anxiety over the editing process, try not to worry. You’ll get through it. No matter if you’re working with the same editor, or a new editor, the key word is working. Writing is a job, and not every part of a job is going to be easy. Sometimes you’re going to have to default to another part of your team and give up some control for the sake of a good story. If you treat the editing process as just another aspect of your job, it won’t be nearly as stressful. Editors are not out to make your life miserable, they’re trying to make your story the best it can be. It’s never personal.

Remember, it’s the story that matters to you, and If you want the story to matter to the readers, work with a professional editor. Your readers will thank you.

Shane Scollins is a freelance writer and Amazon best selling author. Originally from New Jersey, he now resides in Upstate New York with his wife, Heather. He has a degree in computer science and has worked as an automotive service manager, a website developer, and a computer network engineer. In his spare time he enjoys playing ice hockey, riding his mountain bike, and strumming on his guitar. Primarily a SciFi and paranormal novelist, Shane enjoys taking readers on surprising and unexpected journeys that twist reality. He is currently working on his next book.

You can find out more about Shane at his website,

Learn the Craft

If I could give only one note to writers, it would be learn your craft.

Why? Because you can’t truly tell your story to the best of your ability unless you do. If it takes you fifty words to say something that only needs twenty, you don’t really know your craft. Those extra thirty words are unwieldy, clunky, awkward. Think of watching two dancers. One stumbles across the stage, trying to do the steps while the other glides gracefully, drawing your eye. That’s the one who knows their craft. Nothing against the one who’s struggling, but if you want to publish, you want your reader’s eye to be drawn from one sentence to the next.

How do you learn your craft? You keep writing. Revising. Reading. Practicing. Getting feedback. Acting on that feedback. Learning.

For example, if you get a note about a grammatical rule, try to make sure you follow that rule in your writing from then on. Don’t keep making the same mistake in your revisions and then in your next book and your next book.

If you’re doing some of your own research using one of the many writing resources available (and if you are, kudos!), put what you learn into practice in your writing. Maybe you’re learning how to build an effective story arc, or to flesh out your characters more effectively, or how to write more believable dialogue. Whatever it is, put it into practice! Don’t just read about it and then set it aside. Write practice scenes using what you’ve learned. Not every word you write has to go into a story.

Don’t be afraid to write down background information. J. K. Rowling wrote reams of information on every character in the Harry Potter series, even some characters that eventually got cut. She knew everything about even the most minor, including their birthdays, their family histories, their likes and dislikes, and so on. This is why her world was so believable to so many readers. She knew it inside and out. Do you always have to do this? Probably not. Will it improve your stories and characterizations? Hell yes!

Some writers seem to be most proud at how quickly they can churn out a novel, and I guess I’d be pretty proud if I could write 50,000+ words in a month or less. But how fleshed out is it? Do the characters seem real? Do you sympathize with them? Do you feel like the world they live in is real? Are you ready to step into it? Is the dialogue tight and well-written? Is the plot plausible and well thought out? Is the story enjoyable? Does it make your heart beat faster? Does it make you want to turn the page and find out what happens next? Are the details clear or muddled? Does the timeline make sense? If you know your craft, you could probably churn out a decent first draft in a short amount of time. If you don’t, you’ve got a lot of work to do, and you’re fooling yourself if you think you don’t.

Personally, I don’t care if it took you a month or three years to write your first draft. What I care about is how you apply your craft to the writing. When it gets to my desk, I’ll know if you know your craft or not.

Selling Yourself Short

The other day, I got into a discussion with someone about why authors might skip the editing process before publishing. Now, I didn’t know this guy, and I’m sure he’s a perfectly great guy. I don’t hold anything against him. We had a lively debate on the topic.

In my own experience, I’ve picked up a few ebooks on free days that I’ve put down just as quickly when I discovered that they were filled with basic errors. I’ll be honest… I edit for a living. That means I spend my life reading unedited writing, so I’m extremely choosy about what I read during my limited time for leisure reading. The occasional editorial flub is no big deal, it happens in every book, even those put out by the Big Six publishers. But I can tell the difference between the occasional editorial flub and an unedited manuscript. Remember Elaine from Seinfeld testing her dates to see if they were sponge-worthy? Well, unedited books are not time-worthy.

Anyway, back to my discussion. My worthy opponent brought up cost. He said editing costs a minimum of $1500. I know writers are notoriously poor. I’m an editor and I’m notoriously poor. I get it. Money can be hard to come by. There’s a reason they say it doesn’t grow on trees, because if it did, we’d all be horticulturalists. As I told him, not all of us editors charge an arm and a leg. Some of us softies even offer payment plans and bend over backwards to work within budgets. Why? Because we all have families to support. You gotta feed your kids, I gotta feed mine (and boy, it seems they eat more every year, doesn’t it?). I can’t speak for every editor out there, but this is why I work with several clients at one time… to keep my prices as low as I can. My rent won’t get any lower, but hey, I can spread my costs out to make it easier on my clients, right? So, authors… you may think we charge a lot at first glance, but we’re also having to use our fees to not only run our business, but to pay all those pesky bills that you have to pay at your house. It seems as soon as one month starts, it’s over and the cycle begins all over again. I’m sure you feel the same way. So, I do what I can to keep it reasonable, including a big discount for payment in full upfront. If you can afford it, you don’t have to worry about making payments, I don’t have to worry about sending reminders, you save money, it’s all good.

He suggested that most people don’t press the quality issue when I suggested that you can’t redo a first impression, and maybe that’s true. But they won’t buy book two, either. Putting out a second poorly done book won’t help you sell more books. While some may ask the seller for a refund, others won’t. When authors are signing petitions to convince Amazon not to refund ebooks after seven days (and part of me doesn’t blame them… you can read any ebook in seven days and return it, quality or not) the issue over quality becomes clouded. Was the book returned because the final quality was not up to par or because the reader knew they could get their money back, no questions asked?

Now, Amazon does have certain standards in place, but many of them don’t kick in unless complaints are made by readers. How many readers know how to make these complaints? How many readers actually write reviews? There’s the rub. Without the extra layer of an editor, how do these errors get expunged from the book?

To take it a step further, how do you know you have a competent editor? If you don’t know other authors who can recommend one for you, how do you know you don’t have one who isn’t an author just like yourself who decided they’d hang out an editorial shingle to earn a few bucks?

These are good questions. First, ask your author friends. They may have worked with an editor they liked. Second, (blatant self-promotion) you could hire me. :) Third, you can go to an editorial association like the Editorial Freelancers Association and peruse their members. If you go that route, make sure and look for editors who work on fiction. Fiction and non-fiction are two different animals, and not every editor is familiar with both. Not every good editor is a member of associations like this (not all of us can afford it yet), but you can bet that you can avoid the bad ones by going there.

If you’re not sure about an editor, look at their client testimonials. Ask them if they’re willing to edit a few pages for free as a sample of their work. When you send a sample, pick a few of your worst pages so you can make a fair assessment. If you’re testing more than one editor, send them the same pages so you can compare. Cheaper isn’t always the best choice, just like the most expensive isn’t always the best choice.

So, don’t sell yourself short. Put out the best book you can. Don’t skimp on the editing. You want a book as close to error-free as you can make it. You want your story as tight as it can be. You want it to be a pleasure to read, not something someone puts down after a few paragraphs.


Today’s post is by a client of mine, Hally Willmott. Hally is the author of Awakenings, soon to be published by Limitless Publishing. I thank her profusely for her praise… it’s very good for my ego. :)


As a newly signed author for Limitless Publishing, I can say that my road to being signed wasn’t an easy one.  What I found easy was writing—creating and reading. What I found hard and sometimes frustrating was editing! I’ve referred to editing as my new four letter word—originally not in the good sense of a four letter word either.

Once Limitless set me up with Toni, and I was given the opportunity to see how a true professional works with an author, my thoughts and opinions on editing have changed drastically.

It’s like she’s in my head—she has an uncanny ability to edit my writing the way I would have written it originally—that is if my grammar and punctuation weren’t horrendous. I always feared and loathed doing edits because I found them to be a pain in the butt. But, with Toni—she is concise, thorough, and bang on. She makes it easy for me.

Her services have made it so I look forward to the edited pages she sends. She is professional, accurate and most of all, she tightens up my work so the flow is amazing. She is awesome!


To find out more about Hally, check out the following links: