#AuthorToolboxBlogHop: How to be a good beta reader or critique partner

Nano Blog and Social Media Hop2
This week I’m participating in the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, a blog hop for writers who want to learn from each other and build a community. I’ve participated in this excellent blog hop since its creation a couple months ago, and last month I discussed how to find beta readers & critique partners online. Often some or all of these people will also be writers, and they’ll ask you to read their work as well. Almost all of my betas/critique partners have also been writers, and I’ve beta read several novels and dozens of short stories.

Every time I beta read or critique someone else’s work, I learn more about giving feedback–and more about the writing craft itself. Today I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned.

Author Spotlight: SM Henley

2016-494 eBook Sue Clynes, Scratching in the Dirt, B01Today I’d like to introduce SM Henley, an urban fantasy writer who rapid-fire published their first three novels, the Written by Birds trilogy, earlier this year. She’s been kind enough to share the inspiration and process behind her first novel, Scratching in the Dirt, with us today! I hope you’ll enjoy reading this interview as much as I enjoyed conducting it.

The Book

A father in Hell, a dead lover, and a demon gangster on her tail. Today is the best day of Tazia’s life.

Demons are taking savage control of the disillusioned and down-at-heel. Half-vampire, Tazia, wants no part in it. She’s embracing her first taste of freedom in one hundred and fifty years. But liberty doesn’t come easily. When her celebrations are interrupted by a psychopathic angel, she is forced into a distasteful alliance to save the demon who was once her jailer.

Assisted by her best friend, a sex-addicted technomancer called Billy, she struggles to free herself from the angel’s evil plan. No easy task, when faced with resistance from a demonic terrorist, and pursued by her ex-lover—a human mercenary now out for her blood. If she fails, will Tazia ever regain her freedom or will she be forced back into a life of tortuous incarceration?

Scratching in the Dirt is the first in the Written by Birds trilogy, and is an adult urban fantasy novel set on the streets of modern-day Turin, London, and Detroit. It treads lightly in the darkness, with not a small amount of blood and gritty humor. Just ask the birds.

How to boost your creativity even when you’re exhausted

Pixabay -- http://thedabbler.ca/3-great-dystopian-novels/Most people go through at least one bout of insomnia in their lifetime, and for us writer folk, these bouts seem pretty common. I personally struggle with frequent bouts of insomnia followed by brief periods of oversleeping, and have for most of my life. It’s a lot better now than it used to be, but I still struggle to fall asleep before 2AM most nights.

Of course, insomnia isn’t the only thing that can cause exhaustion. Working too much, spending your free time with toxic people, job hunting, apartment hunting, these things tax your mind and soul. Mental illness and a variety of other disabilities also bring frequent exhaustion.

When we’re exhausted, sometimes we have to admit that we’ve been pushing ourselves way too hard and take a few days off. But I find that more often I only need to take an hour or two out of my day, and I can refill the creative well enough to make at least a little bit of progress on my current writing projects.  When I’m able to fully control my own schedule–which, as a freelancer, is most of the time–I even build a full hour of recharge time into my day. This time is separate from my meal time, and I use it for several different things, all designed to boost my creativity in different ways.

Everyone’s different, so you might find that none of these activities help you, but they’re all worth trying.

Editor Spotlight: Casey Lawrence of 11/9: The Fall of American Democracy

coverToday I’ve got something a little different for you: Casey Lawrence, a good friend of mine and an author who was interviewed here in 2015, has come back to The Dabbler, this time wearing an editor’s hat. She’s spent the past several months working on an anthology entitled 11/9: The Fall of American Democracy, a collection of poetry and prose that focuses on highlighting marginalized voices. We had a lovely chat about the anthology editing process, why anthologies like this one are so important, and how writers can turn their political despair into creative energy. All that below the fold–but first, the blurb!

The Blurb

Presenting the diverse voices of those most affected by the results of the 2016 American presidential election, 11/9: The Fall of American Democracy is a charitable project meant to prioritize and highlight marginalized writers for a good cause. One hundred percent of profits from the sale of this book will be donated to RAINN, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, and the ACLU, the nonprofit organization defending the constitutional rights of Americans.

11/9: The Fall of American Democracy contains the work of a number of award-winning poets and authors including Roger Aplon, Laura Foley, Alan w. Jankowski, Mike Jurkovic, Sergio A. Ortiz, Mindela Ruby, Claire Scott, and Jan Steckel, in addition to a number of unpublished poets and fresh young voices. From a precocious four-year-old writer to octogenarians, amateur poets to Pushcart nominees, American expats to teens who have never left their hometown, this volume collects poetry and short prose reflecting on 11/9/16, a dark day in American history.

#InkRipples: How much of your story should be in your blurb?


Today I’m joining the wonderful Mary Waibel, Kai Strand, and Katie L. Carroll for this month’s #InkRipples challenge, and we’re talking about blurbs. Since my debut, Keeper of the Dawn, came out last month, I’ve been thinking about blurbs a lot. Especially because although I didn’t write the blurb for Keeper of the Dawn, I will eventually be writing my own blurbs when I self publish.

So today I’d like to tackle one of the most important questions in blurb writing: how much of the story should you include? We’ll be using Keeper of the Dawn‘s blurb as the main example, but I’d love you to share some of your favourites (or least favourites) in the comments section!

Author Spotlight: HL Carpenter

Emma 3D Cover Image (Medium)Today’s author, HL Carpenter, is actually a mother-daughter writing team. I met these lovely ladies way back when I worked for Musa Publishing (now defunct), and their first novel, Skyhorse,  was freshly out on its first print run. Musa closing was not going to stop them, and this dynamic duo has not only gotten Skyhorse back into print but also published five more novels. Today they’re here to chat about their most recent novel, A Cause for Murder.

Please give them a warm welcome!

The Blurb

Septuagenarian sleuth Emma Twiggs thinks her neighbor’s death was an accident—until her friend Arnie says he suspects murder.

Arnie is convinced he knows the killer’s identity. He wants Emma to prove it.

Is Arnie right? And is he right in his belief that Emma’s best friend is the killer’s next target?

As Emma navigates madcap mayhem, multiple mysteries, and murderous motives, she discovers more than one person is hiding deadly secrets.

The question is, who has a cause for murder?

Why reviewing books you love is so important

One of the most recent books I loved
One of the most recent books I loved

I’ve written about why it’s so important to review books you love in the past, but I thought I’d revisit the subject now that I’ve released my first book, Keeper of the Dawn. This is a slightly altered version of my original article, which you can read here.

Why you should review books you love

When it comes right down to it, the thing that drew most of you to this blog, the thing that convinced you to start writing, was most likely a love of books.

We all have books we’re passionate, both well known and almost unknown. I have at some point been touched deeply by books from every genre, but the genres that have impacted me most deeply are fantasy, YA and science fiction, particularly dystopian fiction.

Some of the books I love are immensely popular: The GiverHarry Potter, The Chrysalids, The Hunger Games, several books by Terry Pratchett.

Other books I love have been written by little known authors, like Lady of Hay by Barbara Erskine or Timeless by Crystal CollierHow popular a book is has nothing to do with how much I enjoyed it. I can list quite a few popular books I didn’t enjoy much, but I won’t bother. That’s not what I’d like to talk about today.

I’d like to talk to you about those little known authors whose books you love. 

A great many of them are struggling. Struggling to make a name for themselves, struggling to make a living–or even enough to go out for dinner a couple times a month–from their writing. They might write the most amazing novel you’ve ever read, but making a living as a writer is nigh on impossible even with good reviews. It’s much harder when you don’t have those reviews.

Which means it’s your duty to review the books you truly love, especially when they’re written by an unknown author. 

You don’t have to start a book review blog. You can do a quick review on Amazon and Goodreads and go on your merry way, but the more reviews a book has, and the higher its rating, the more likely it is that the author will make real money from the books you love.

With the sheer number of small presses and self published authors flooding the market with new books every day, book bloggers are always pressed for time. Even the best authors struggle to get reviews, because there are so many different authors competing for each spot on every book blog.

Most people who enjoy a book won’t take the time to review it, but every person who does contributes to an author’s career.

As a writer, you have a vested interest in the success of other authors and the publishing industry as a whole. You should be more eager than anyone to leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads–or both–when you really love a book for two reasons:

1. Supporting small presses and lesser known authors helps ensure that you’ll have many different publishing options in the future 

There are hundreds of small presses, which means that there are hundreds of opportunities for you to get published, but it also means there are hundreds of voices to compete with. Small presses rarely have even a fraction of the marketing budget big presses do, which means they’re even more reliant on word of mouth marketing and the reviews they get on Amazon and Goodreads.

We might all daydream about getting published by Random House or one of the other massive publishers, but realistically, the vast majority of us will get published by small presses or eventually choose to self publish. That means we should be eager to support small presses and self published authors so the people who make those things possible continue making a living.

2. In the book world, karma is real 

Small press and self published authors tend to be among the friendliest people on the planet. Over the years I’ve interviewed dozens of small press and self published authors, and they’ve all been a pleasure to work with. When my own novella, Keeper of the Dawn, came out, many of those authors hosted me on their blogs. Many more have shared my social media posts about the book. A couple have even left me reviews. This was never the primary goal of my interviews, but I always knew it would be one of the benefits.

If you write a glowing review for a book you love and the author isn’t particularly popular, chances are you can make a friend by sending them the review and telling them how much you adore their work. Now you’ve made a connection, and someday when you also have a book to publish, you can do cross promotions.

3. A single review CAN have a big impact

If the book you’re currently enjoying was published by a small press, you can bet that author doesn’t have many reviews. Most small press authors are lucky to get more than 10 reviews, especially on a first book. Many self published authors have trouble even getting that many.

When a book only has a few reviews, your review really matters. Your rating has weight. You might even be able to bump an author you love up a star. Nobody’s sure exactly how much of an impact this has on your sales, but it definitely helps. Even if the sales don’t go up, the author feels encouraged to keep writing. And isn’t that what you want? More stories from authors you love?

Final Thoughts

Support authors and small presses you love and they’re a lot more likely to stay around long enough for you to enjoy the publishing and networking opportunities they provide. And if you’ve already read Keeper of the Dawn and loved it, this is me officially asking you to leave a review and let me know!

Do you review books you love? Why or why not?

#Ownvoices Author Spotlight: Michele Berger

REENU_YOU_FRONTCOVER Today’s author, Michele Berger, is an EXTRA special guest: the second author in The Novella Initiative, which launched with my own Keeper of the Dawn. Her novella,  Reenu-You, came out May second and is available for purchase in most places where books are sold (all buy links below the interview). She’s been kind enough to share some of the inspiration and process behind this amazing book. I hope you’ll enjoy our interview as much as I did!

The Book

New York City, August 1998. On a muggy summer day, five women wake up to discover purple scab-like lesions on their faces—a rash that pulses, oozes, and spreads in spiral patterns. City clinic doctors dismiss the women’s fears as common dermatitis, a regular skin rash. But as more women show up with the symptoms, one clear correlation emerges–an all-natural, first-of-its-kind hair relaxer called Reenu-You.

As the outbreak spreads, and cases of new rashes pop up in black and Latino communities throughout New York, panic and anger also grow. When the malady begins to kill, medical providers and the corporation behind the so-called hair tonic face charges of conspiracy and coercion from outraged minority communities and leaders across the country.

At the heart of the epidemic are these five original women; each from different walks of life. As the world crumbles around them, they will discover more about each other, about themselves, and draw strength to face the future together.

Writing to yourself

LetterToMeIf you’ve been writing for any length of time, you’ve probably heard the advice to write for yourself first at least a thousand times. This is obviously great advice, but today, I’d like to suggest something a little different: writing TO yourself. It’s a technique usually thrown about in self help circles rather than writing circles, and for good reason. Writing to yourself forces you to really consider where you are. There are also a few ways you can use this technique to improve your life.

Today I’d like to talk about a couple that have helped me develop a better relationship with myself.