What does ‘paying your dues to the industry’ mean?

Self-published authors should pay their dues to the industry like real authors.
I read this on a blog somewhere several years ago and thought that pay their dues was a really weird expression, I still think it’s weird, but now I understand what they were trying to say.

In the traditional publishing system, an author gains publication for a book only after countless rejections and numerous attempts at writing. Putting yourself through this is like trial by fire, you either turn to ash or you become stronger and brighter, burnished by the flames rather than destroyed by them.

The system is hard and it’s not fair, but the rejections and the time it takes to go through the process forces authors to revise more than they would otherwise. This is particularly beneficial for first time authors, and I highly recommend trying the traditional route with your first book. It will teach you the discipline required to produce your best work. If you’re wondering,’ should I try traditional publishing’, then read on, because there are  benefits, whether you find a publisher or not.

This is how it works.

  1. After several drafts, responding to feedback from your 5 or more beta readers and self-editing as much as you can, you submit your manuscript (ms) to an agent or two.
  2. While you wait, you read mainstream books, study writing and practice your skills by writing something else.
  3. Several months later you receive your rejection emails.
  4. You look at your ms again. This time, if you took step 2, you have more knowledge from your study, more practice at writing and a better idea of the standards the professionals consider necessary for publication. The time you’ve spent away from your ms gives you a perspective on your work you don’t get any other way. You see faults in your ms that you didn’t see before.
  5. You edit your book again and submit it to a few more agents and publishers.
  6. Rinse and repeat steps 2-5 until your ms compares well with mainstream published books. If your book has potential, by then you’ll have received some word of encouragement, something that indicates that you should consider self-publishing. I had an agent, several very positive rejections and a ‘near miss’ publishing deal.
  7. If you get nothing positive from anyone, consider shelving your book. Publishers know what sells. Are you prepared to go the indie route and put money into your product only to discover they were right and it wasn’t worth publishing? Whether you re-affirm your commitment to your book or shelve it, you’ve avoided the main reason for poor quality self-published books which is premature publication.

Whether you take the mainstream route or not, you can’t produce a quality book without this, or an equivalent, extensive revision and review process. This is what they mean by paying your dues.



My digital art

Before I was an author, I was a dancer; before I was a dancer, I was a painter. Now that I have my Surface Pro compu-tablet and the Sketchbook Pro program, I’ve found a way to be a visual artist again – with no mess to clean up.

I’ve just started with my new medium, digital art, so it will take a while to find my way, but here is one offering for you. I call it Mountain Garden.

Feel free to share it. It’s not a professional product. It’s a hobby. (I wish more authors would recognise the difference). I enjoyed creating it, I hope you enjoy looking at it.



Are Self-Published Books Inferior? Some figures.

This article was originally posted on the Awesome Indies.

Are Self-Published Books Inferior? This is the question people have been asking and arguing about ever since the new wave of self-publishing hit with the event of ebooks. No one has been able to give a definitive answer, not just because there is clearly a range of quality and, therefore, one can’t really make a blanket generalisation, but also because people only have personal experience with which to gauge quality, and they are unlikely to have taken any actual figures of books that have and haven’t met their personal standards, or, at least, not over a large number of books and a wide range of genres.

Now the Awesome Indies has figures with some degree of relevance in this debate. Prior to centralising our review requests, we took figures from our most prolific reviewers and discovered that on average they only recommended 40% of books they reviewed for the Awesome Indies. Since meeting our criteria is equated with meeting the same standards as mainstream books, that meant that according to our criteria, 60% of self-published books were inferior to mainstream books.

Since centralising our review requests, we have taken more detailed and precise data. We also made it very clear on our request page that we would give low rated reviews where warranted, something that would scare off a lot of authors, so we need to consider that these new figures are most likely only taken from authors who, due to a measure of positive reviews, are already fairly confident of the quality of their books, or, as is possible if the book has only recently been published, completely ignorant.

Out of 68 books submitted for review. 28 were not admitted to the site. 28 gained immediate approval, and 12 gained approval after reworking and re-submitting the book, usually after fixing copy errors and line-editing issues. In total, 40 books gained approval, and 10 of them received the Seal of Excellence.

In rough percentage terms, of those books submitted for review:

41% were rejected because we considered them of a lower standard than books published by the mainstream.

41% were considered of an equal standard to books published by the mainstream.

17% were considered of an equal standard to books published by the mainstream after the author attended to a small degree of copy edit and line editing issues.

14% gained a Seal of Excellence. These are the books that might actually have had a chance of picking up a mainstream publisher. Most of these either had agents before the author decided to self-publish or were written by authors who had previously published books with a mainstream publisher or had formal writing qualifications.

In total, 59% were approved for addition to the site, but BEFORE reworking and resubmitting only 41% were considered of an equal standard to books published by the mainstream. That validates our original figures that suggest that the majority (around 60%) of self-published books in the marketplace are indeed inferior.

The figures are, as yet, based on low numbers, so cannot be considered definitive, but considering that it is likely that our review requests are coming from those who are both concerned about quality and have done their best to achieve it, I’d say that the figures are likely to be fairly optimistic. At the same time, we rarely get requests to review books from established indie authors whose books consistently receive large number of reviews over 4 stars, so if those books are of a quality to warrant those reviews, then the lack of such books in our data would balance out the lack of books submitted from authors not so concerned or confident about their quality.

The only way for readers to be sure that they are getting quality indie books is to only buy those that have some form of approval from a valid source.  Due to lack of honesty, lack of education, and in some instances unethical behaviour by authors, public review ratings are unfortunately not a reliable system of evaluation. Personally, I would stick to indie books that either have some kind of award, or stamp of approval from a trusted source, or are produced by an indie publisher who I know from experience consistently publishes books of a high standard.

But rather than haggling over blanket statements about the quality of self-published books, the question we should be asking and answering is where do we find the good ones?

Obviously one of the answers is: here at the Awesome Indies.


How do you ensure that the indie books you buy are good quality?






When telling works: Tea Cups and Tiger Claws by Timothy Patrick

Tea Cups & Tiger Claws

The first thing that struck me when I began reading ‘Tea Cups and Tiger Claws’ by Timothy Patrick was that the author had a strong and engaging voice, a real boon when writing in omniscient point as view as the author has here. The second thing I noted was that the story was almost entirely told rather than shown, but I felt that this might be one of the few books that could pull this off.  However, when the story moved away from Dorothea before I had developed any connection with her—basically due to the telling in omniscient POV—I changed my mind. Had the writing been more immediate, I would have felt something for her. But by the time I got to the end of the book, however, my initial impression had returned.

The couple of plot points that were introduced and left hanging (that of the basement and the suggestion of blackmail after Dorothea’s father’s death) were reincorporated at the end, solving the mystery of the hanging plot threads. When we switched generations, I thought the plot was wandering, but when we finally settled onto Sarah as the main character, it all came together again. The pacing kept me reading without wanting to pause, and the story and its themes were well developed. The end scenes were written a lot more actively than the rest of the book which, along with the drama of the story, made them highly engaging.

I liked the author’s voice a great deal. He narrated the story with a light, sometimes humorous, touch and there were a few delightful gems in his observations of the society. I also liked how he didn’t reveal the full extent of Dorothea’s insanity until the end, and how the turning point for Veronica was seeing that her mother did, in fact, love her a great deal. There is a lot to like here.

If you put aside the expositional writing, which I’m prepared, in this instance, to accept as a stylistic choice, this is an excellent story that makes a strong statement about the corrupting influence of the desire for money and power.

4 stars.



Make a really big scene

Go on. Be a pest. Throw your weight around. Scream and shout. Make a really big scene. Get right in there and get your boots dirty.


So you can write it that way.

If you’re reading a book that’s really engaging, the kind you can’t put down, where you care deeply about the characters and feel as if you’re right there with them, then the author has probably thrown themselves into the scenes and written from the inside out, rather than the outside in.

If you’re an author, you’ll want to write the kind of story that really holds people, and the way to do it is to show the story rather than tell it. The first step to doing that is to think and write in scenes. Think of them as you would a movie scene. See the scene in your mind. Each scene has a beginning, a middle and an end. Each scene has a setting, a feeling, a soundscape and characters doing something.

Write your scenes as if you are there, in the room, while the event is taking place. And if you are writing in first person or in third person close, write it as if you are the character whose point of view you are writing from. Describe things as they see, feel and hear them.

A visual artist will see things a different way to someone with no artistic sense at all, for example. The artist will describe the different hues of colour and the different shapes that define their space, while an economics professor may not notice the colours at all. He may note how many pictures are on the wall, whereas the artist will see what’s in them and how they’ve been painted.

If you immerse yourself in a scene, the dialogue will flow more naturally and you’ll know what the characters are feeling without thinking about it. The words will rise spontaneously from the experience, and if you can totally be the character, the writing will deepen that character. Their insights and actions may even surprise you, and if they surprise you, they’ll surprise the readers.

Set the scene with some of description and describe the characters’ actions while they talk so that they don’t just float around in a kind of disembodied state. Describe the light, the time of day, the colours, and especially anything that is symbolic of some element in the story.

If you put your story into scenes, you can also name them and write them on cards and move them around to get the best arrangement. You can see more easily what is extraneous and where there are gaps you need to fill in. And you won’t skip over important things, because every major event in the story will have its scene, and once you get in there prepared to get your boots dirty, what needs the attention will get it as a natural part of your willingness to make a really big scene.

Do you like making scenes?


Discover the writing process of two Awesome Writer Friends

Last week I published a post on my writing process and I tagged a couple of author friends from the Awesome Indies. This week they wrote about their own  writing process.

Pop over to Mary Madox’s blog and see her post about her personal writing process  here, and find Ruthanne’s story here.

Interesting: Colorworld by Rachel E Kelly


Colorworld by Rachel E Kelly is a new adult paranormal romance about a girl who, after a seemingly innocuous treatment for allergies, discovers that her skin is deadly. People die if she touches them. As you can imagine, this is a pretty life-altering development that throws up many challenges. Wendy wants to get rid of the curse, and the only people who look like they can help her are the people that caused the ‘ability’ to rise in the first place. She goes to a private facility where she meets Gabe.  Wendy is also highly empathetic. She can feel other people’s emotions, so she gets to know Gabe in a fairly deep way in a short period of time. The prospect of a relationship with no touching seems like a dead end so, despite being as enamoured with him as he is with her, she rebuffs his advances, and so begins the romance.

Apart from the beginning and the end, there is little action, and some fans of the paranormal may find it a little slow because of it. It’s primarily a romance, so the story focuses on how Gabe and Wendy work things out. This is set against the backdrop of a ‘mentor’, Louise, that neither of them trust, along with the frustration of finding that she either can’t help Wendy or doesn‘t want to. As the end of the book draws near, it becomes clear that Louise has a hidden agenda, one that does not want Wendy to lose her deadly ‘ability.’

In terms of action, the best part of this book is the ending. The pace picks up, the stakes rise and the evil witch is revealed. The rest of the book goes deeply into Wendy’s character, her feelings for Gabe and her discovery and experience of the colorworld, the energetic world that only she can see. Her empathetic ability also allows us to get a good character study of Gabe, who is a delightful character.

The prose is unpretentious and reads smoothly, and the descriptions of the colorworld and of how Wendy experiences Gabe’s emotions are highly evocative. Overall it’s a well-crafted book with a unique premise and a lot of potential for sequels. My only criticism is that the middle of the book could be tightened up, because aspects of Wendy’s introspection sometimes seem to go over similar ground and the descriptions of her feeling’s for Gabe are a little repetitive. One’s capacity for such things is highly subjective, and young romance readers will probably enjoy every bit of it. I also felt that this large middle section could have done with a little more tension to keep the reader eagerly flicking pages. The book was sometimes too easy to set down. All up though, it’s a solid work that sets the scene for some interesting sequels.

Great cover too.

4 stars

Have the guts to show don’t tell your story.

 crazy face1

If you’ve done much study of writing, you’ll have heard the advice ‘show don’t tell your story’. Showing a scene as distinct from simply telling the reader about it makes a huge difference to how engaged readers become in a story, and the more engaging a book is, the better the book. The more you show a story, the more exciting and riveting it is.

Showing a scene makes the reader feel as if they are in the story while it’s happening. They can see the facial expressions, smell the odours and hear the sounds. The very best writing makes the reader identify with the characters. Instead of being remote from the scene, as if outside looking in, the reader’s heart pounds along with the protagonists.

Clearly, it’s preferable to show a story rather than tell it, but it takes most authors a while to really understand the subtle aspects of writing this way. It also takes guts. The author has to be prepared to get themselves dirty. They have to get into the scene. They have to be their characters. They have to face their challenges and feel their feelings.

Some scenes may not be particularly pleasant, and since all fiction requires some form of drama, every novel worth publishing will have some tense scenes.  If the author can’t immerse themselves in such scenes, the reader certainly won’t. And you can’t truly show a scene unless you have stepped inside it yourself.

Telling is lazy writing for authors who don’t want to, or can’t, commit themselves to their stories. Once again, if the author can’t fully commit to the story, the reader certainly won’t.

Here’s an example:

His father locked him in the bathroom, then beat him with his belt and raped him.

Isn’t that a bit of a cop out? We’ve been short changed, haven’t we? What did the father look like? Was he angry? What kind of sound did the door make when it closed and the lock clicked over? How did the boy feel? Did he know what was coming?  Did it hurt? Did he fight? Did his heart race, his breath come in gasps? Did he try to escape? Scream? We don’t need to know the mechanics of the actual rape, but to get the full power of the scene, we do need to know a lot more than what was in the single sentence.

And I don’t mean like this:

He tried to escape but failed and cried while his father beat him without mercy.

I mean more like this:

He threw himself against the door and grabbed the handle, but his father wrenched his hands away and knocked him to the ground. He hit the tiles with a bone-crunching thud, rolled onto his hands and knees and scooted back against the wall, then watched with wide, terror-filled eyes as his father drew his belt from his trousers.

I rest my case.

You can’t write the second version without immersing yourself in the scene. For that you have to have the guts to put yourself in your character’s shoes and feel all their fear and pain.

If you’re reading a book where, even though the story seems good, you could easily put it down and do something else, and your eyes keep roaming towards the TV, wondering what’s on, then this is likely to be the problem.

Do you recognise when a book is telling instead of showing?


Excellent YA urban fantasy: ‘Sacrifice’ by Jennifer Quintenz


Sacrifice (Daughters of Lilith, #3)

‘Sacrifice’ by Jennifer Quintenz is the third in the young adult Daughters of Lilith Series and it is every bit as good as the previous books. Quintenz knows how to hold a reader and keep them turning the pages to find out what will happen next. It’s a hard book to put down.

The story revolves around a girl who though a succubus herself (a daughter of Lilith) she stands on the side of the sons of Adam in an age-old battle that, unknown by most humans, has been raging since the beginning of human history. She loves a boy that she cannot have without risk of draining his life-force, and this adds a bittersweet touch to a powerful story.

This series has the vitality that makes the characters and the world they inhabit as real as our own. There’s plenty of action, but there’s also plenty of character development and growth that together deliver a very satisfying whole. The plot is gripping and often surprising, and the characters face moral dilemmas and terrible challenges that don’t always turn out well. Even so, the author manages to end the book with a slither of hope.

On top of this, the author writes well and handles her material skilfully. Very highly recommended for all lovers of YA urban fantasy. You won’t get better than this in this genre. 5 stars.

Buy Now

Kindle US 

Kindle UK

See all the books in this terrific series here.


Why you’ll have to wait for the book.

For twenty weeks now, I have published the World Within Worlds writings. During that time, they have moved in my mind from being a series of writings linked by Prunella Smith’s experience of each scene to something more cohesive. I gradually came to see in them the possibility of a novel, a not-novel novel I called it because of its loose structure. After a few more scenes had appeared, I realised that they were falling into a DNA style structure that, though still somewhat disjointed, could actually be called a novel. (link to post on that)

Soon after that, a flurry of different scenes appeared in my mind leading in a direction I had never previously imagined. In order to make sense of the jumble, I got out my sticky notes, labelled each one with the name of a scene and stuck them on a time line. They fitted together perfectly, with the tension ratcheting up in all strands as the end drew near. The last line of the book even came to me.

That’s when I realised that not only did I have a novel in the making but also I could not go any further with publishing the scenes here. I cannot give away where it’s heading now, nor can I let the end out of the bag before the whole is published. Also some sensitive scenes should only be read within the context of the whole.

The themes that have emerged and are still emerging are complex. I will strengthen and refine them before final publication. The main theme is how to deal with dangerous people whilst retaining peace of mind, and woven into this main thread are issues of ethics and power in the realms of social media, gender and publishing. Running though all of this is a thread of metaphysical contemplation as Prunella tries to make sense of all her worlds. It’s possible that the end result may best be described as literary fiction. Other than that, I would call it metaphysical suspense.

What I have published here under the title of Worlds Within Worlds are basically roughly-edited first drafts, never meant to be anything other than a single scene unrelated to any other scene, but from now on the strands draw more tightly together and build to a climax. It is no longer appropriate for them to be read out of context of the whole.

So if you want to find out where it all leads, you will have to buy the book! But don’t worry it won’t be a long one, so it will cost you less than a cup of coffee. I hope that when the time comes, you will support my endeavours. Otherwise, I really won’t write another book!