Friday, September 27, 2013

The Personal Journey of Writing, Education, and the Knowledge of Self by Brandon Melendez, M.A.

Aristotle said “To know yourself is the beginning of all wisdom” and for me, there is no greater way to know one’s self, one’s innermost thoughts intimately, than through the discovery and building of the writing process. Taking those steps from inception all the way through to publishing is a way to take a piece of your soul and make it accessible through written text. Whether the ultimate goal is to keep the ideas as a personal record or to share them with your fellow man the process is nonetheless an ordeal the provides you with new insights into yourself and your place in the world.  Without knowledge of the self, you can never begin to understand others, or the scary and complicated sphere that we all share. It is for this reason that writing is fundamentally indispensible in an education that aims to “bring forth from within” the greatness and actuality of the self.  As trite as it may sound, it is more about the journey than the destination.

It is for this very reason that both education and writing are the centerpieces of my personal and professional development—because they are so very intertwined. There is no upper limit to what can be known, nor is there an upper limit to what can be written. The depths of one’s self and the bounds of one’s critical thinking and imagination have yet to be charted; however as an educator I know that the paths to taking the journey require some guidance. At least in getting started.  These paths are individual ones, no single path can serve the same writer, teacher, or student the same as the one before them, nor should they. There is not a single decent teacher in service that doesn’t want to see their students shine, find themselves, and surpass all expectations on their own paths. With creative liberty and intellectual curiosity, students will always find ways to broaden their horizons.

Education these days, however, has little to do with “bringing forth from within”. In fact in the tumultuous climate of public education today, teachers—the very people who are determined to help students along on their journeys of self-discovery—are being thrown under the bus.  Along with an overabundance of assessments that seem to be designed to help no student, we also have a culture of taking what is primarily an art (teaching) and trying to force it into being a science—much the same way that we are taking an essential right (education) and trying to monetize it into a business. What is being lost in the process, in the vain attempt to take an individual and idiosyncratic transformation is the human soul, creativity, and quite literally fun.

It is the process of writing—finding your big idea and building it from the ground up that tests your ability to know yourself. It isn’t standardized.  It’s personal. You can offer students some tools in the process, but in the end it’s in their hands. What ideas can they hold to the scrutiny of development? The ideas that students—writers in general—discard “on second thought” are just as important as the ones that they develop into blockbuster works. As an educator I realize that the only thing they need is our guidance and personal attention to their ideas. Even other writers working in writer’s groups are just looking for an encouraging word, or a slightly harsh truth to refocus; but that is only true if the goal is personal, not forced, assigned, or made compulsory.

In the Elementary classroom I have found that introducing of something as fundamental to the writing process as an outline has become a radical teaching practice. Outlines, of course, are not suggested by Caulkins, Fountas, or Pinnel and are nowhere to be found on the Common Core…so their instruction and implementation has gone from gospel to apocryphal.  Adherence to a rubric and the conventions of unproven thoughts on standardized “best practices” are more important in the educational world of “data-for-the-sake-of-data” than true personal expression and exploration. What is being lost is the sense of self and the sense of purpose…the very same internal compasses that are set by developing your voice and sharpening your mind in highly personal writing. 

I have found students whose imaginations are stifled, whose creative processes are commercialized, marketed, and standardized, and whose concept of the English Language and its descriptive deployment is foreign, strange, and irrelevant. After all, they grew up in a system where red pens are banned, spelling errors are called “invented spelling” and are corrected by osmosis, and who have been trained to call adjectives “strong words” as if the word was nebulous or burdensome. The process of writing for them is mechanical and unimportant because it has not been presented as wonderful (or it has but ingenuously, as read from the script of a boxed curriculum). 

Furthermore, what is being lost is the ability to develop their voice and explore writing. As teachers teaching writing we are afflicted with that abominable “Teacher’s College Workshop” language of “Good Writers Do This” and “Great Readers Always Remember to…” and “Authors Always Add These Kinds of Words”, when the truth is great writers do very little of it. I assure you that Twain, Vonnegut, Shakespeare, or even Sapphire weren’t secretly engaging in a 45 second turn-and-talk. Neither was Plato. I can guarantee you, in addition, that they didn’t call adjectives strong words. When a child describes a cloud as “cottony” it is poetic, and a use of descriptive language…but in the end the use of an adjective. The student that can call a cloud “cotton” is probably capable of understanding what the word adjective means.

Worse yet are the tools being eschewed in this world of “rigor”—spelling, penmanship, grammar, and at the end of the day: originality. The repercussions of their absence can be felt in my college classrooms where I switch honorifics from “Mister” to “Professor” but where my ultimate goal is the same: “to bring forth from within”. In the college classroom I have noticed the same reluctance to creative writing as I found in elementary students. The same invented spelling. The same inconsistent grammar. The same lack of passion. The students are, at that point in their writing careers, so married to the idea of academic writing that the world of creative writing seems like walking the tightrope without a net. Academic writing often has several safety nets that allow you to keep a distance from your process. Phrases like “the student practitioner” or “the observer notes” or “it was found that” are by design impersonal. Of course these are perfectly acceptable and don’t hinder critical thinking. They may however distance ownership, personalization, and certainly don’t allow clouds to be cottony.

While in neither venue are all students afflicted by disinterest, the number of them affected is staggering and the solution is so very simple.

I don’t mean the “authenticity” that the educrats throw around—most of those theorists and researchers have been out of a classroom so long they’ve forgotten what bells are for. I mean authenticity in enthusiasm, authenticity in interest, and authenticity in developing the students. The students are not, if you’ll recall, products from an assembly line. Each of them deserves the opportunity and is owed the right to build their character, and conceive their own voice. When students turn a phrase—I swell. When students need help I don’t tell them how, I ask them “what?”

What is it you’re trying to say?
What is the most important part of your piece?
What can you do to make your reader understand?
What will this piece do for you?
In my college classroom I discuss “world building” and I tell students that every story you can think of, and every character you invent is a facet of yourself. Every work of art you create is a piece of you viewed through a prism, and made to appear as if it has its own life, when indeed, the author and the work are inextricably, inexorably linked. I tell my elementary students that writing is creating; writing is the ability to use words like bricks and build ideas and worlds—a way to explore your brightest dreams, exorcise your nightmares, express your feelings, and demand your desires (though admittedly in more kid friendly terms).

As an author, and a blogger—a writer—myself, and the Editor-in-Chief of a website and publishing house I have a responsibility that isn’t at all foreign from my charge as a teacher. My responsibility there is to the integrity of my own writers’ voices—and my own—in order to properly engage and challenge an audience. The same disgust for stifled and stale minds I bring to the classroom is the same zeal for self-determination and self-directedness that I offer my freelancers, staffers, editors, and contracted authors at Maglomaniac and Eat Your Serial Press. I know that their process—the journeys that they’ve taken in writing—is purposeful, personal, and viscerally their own. Like in the workshop they only need that encouraging word, or that slightly harsh truth to set them in motion…but never a censor, and never someone looking to patronize them with buzzwords that reinvent preexisting concepts in order to sell them.

When I first helped start the publishing house a few years back, the whole idea of it was to be a platform for the unheard, a place where the unfound can be found. From that single foundational rule, the concept grew to the extent that we have over ten books in publishing or development and almost thirty bloggers, all working together to exchange ideas and thoughts. Some are serious, others whimsical, others yet sarcastic, optimistic, cynical. All going through their own processes and looking for a moment of your time to share their thoughts with you. All of them had teachers willing to listen, and ask them questions about their ideas, rather than put them through an intellectual meat grinder so that all their works were easily assessed on a rubric.

Writing and the exploration of self is a key human experience, and while it may not be everyone’s forte in our ever-more-electronic world is it fast becoming more important than ever. In a world where students are inundated with perpetually reinforced errors from text message or internet short hand, and educated in a world where red pens are more sinful than misspellings teachers have their work cut out for them in getting the quality out of students. However, the same talent, imagination, and potential is present in them as was in any other generation of talented writers. There are Capotes, Harpers, and Sallingers (watch out for them) in every school, everywhere. It is only a matter of dedicated and brave teachers to remember that at the end of the day, their presence is to help these gems shine themselves and not force them to be diamonds or rubies or emeralds unless that’s what they were when they walked in the door. Every writer’s process to that shine is personal, unique, and beautiful. It is our job solely to let them know how bright they are.

Brandon Melendez is a New York City Department of Education Elementary School Teacher and a Professor in the American Urban Studies Program at Metropolitan College of New York. He is the President and Editor-in-Cheif of Maglomaniac, Inc's brands Maglomaniac and Eat Your Serial Press; more information about Brandon, the Publishing house, and the Online Magazine can be found at

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

All Things Writing: Writing an Opening

All Things Writing: Writing an Opening: Ah… the dreaded opening. Feared, avoided and even loathed by many writers, the beginning of a novel or short story can be a real challenge. ...

Writing an Opening

Ah… the dreaded opening. Feared, avoided and even loathed by many writers, the beginning of a novel or short story can be a real challenge. An opening sets the scene, introduces your principal characters and moulds your themes. It can also be the reason that potential readers choose to buy your book or not – no pressure! If you are publishing through Kindle, Amazon’s ‘Click to look inside’ feature alone should emphasise how important the opening of a book really is. People might be dazzled by your cover or wowed by your description, but it means little if they’re not enticed by the first few pages of your book.

The following are some useful tips for writing a gripping and appealing opening. The first thing, and perhaps the most important to remember, is…

… don’t panic about it!

This is vital. Many writers will tell you that the beginning or opening of their story is actually the last thing they write! If you find yourself incurably frustrated when crafting your opening, put it aside and come back to it. If you write it after you’ve scribbled your middle and end, you might even find that you come up with something stronger; after all, you will know the whole book inside out by then!

Don’t rush to tell your characters’ life stories all at once.

We all need help to get started
Here is an example of this: “I like cats,” said Bob, who had green eyes, came from Washington and whose mother was a chef. “Really? Eww!” replied Lucy, who spoke with a London accent and gave herself concussion by falling off a horse when she was three.

‘Sprinkle’ in details about your characters as you write the book. You don’t have to squash it all into the opening. Yes, giving your readers vital information about your principal characters is important, but, just as you get to know people in real life, allow your readers to get to know a little about your characters every time you meet them. This will not only avoid clogging up your opening with information that appears irrelevant or uninteresting, but also provide a more engaging experience for your reader.

Over-description can destroy an opening.

A slow book is not one that people are likely to keep reading. A beautifully written description of a certain place, no matter how stylish, poetic or innovative it is, is not going to charm your reader if it goes on for seven pages. Jump straight into the story; start with action, or carefully craft suspense. Opening your story with dialogue is fine, but don’t overdo it. Although dialogue can be great for furthering a plot and giving your reader details about your characters, it can also make an opening bland and thin if there is too much of it.

These are facts…

Make sure your story is starting with a story, and that you’re not just describing a sequence of events which took place prior to the beginning in order to set your scene. Like with the introduction of your characters, sprinkle this information throughout rather than hitting your reader with it all at once. Not only does it become too much information to retain, it makes for a tedious start and weakens any building of suspense. Trust your reader – don’t over-explain. Writing a solid opening is tough, and it isn’t always a pleasant experience for the author. Don’t force it; focus, and take your time. It might take up more energy and hours than any other part of your book or short story, but don’t worry. All the hard work and frustration will pay off in the end.

About the author

Are you an author looking for somewhere to start? If so, check out Any Subject Books, the family-run and friendly face of publishing and self-publishing. It's a company run by authors for authors and doesn't that say it all?

Monday, September 23, 2013

Goodreads Giveaway for Bayou Scar

As I mentioned in last week's post, my book Bayou Scar comes out on October 1. I am hosting a book giveaway at Goodreads to celebrate the occasion. If you would like to receive a signed paperback version of Bayou Scar click on the link below to enter the giveaway!

I love Goodreads! It is one of my favorite websites to discover new books, authors, and writing groups.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Bayou Scar by Mary Ann Loesch

Bayou Scar

by Mary Ann Loesch

Giveaway ends October 10, 2013.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

I'm also working on new author site! Here is the current link if you are interested in checking out my other works! MARY ANN LOESCH, AUTHOR

Friday, September 20, 2013

4 Tips to Increase eBook Sales on Amazon's Kindle

Today we welcome Luke Glasscock as a guest blogger! He's chatting about something I know many of us who frequent this blog are interested in! Thanks for joining us, Luke! -- Mary Ann

As a self-published author, I’ve dabbled in the many promotions and opportunities that Amazon offers writers looking to increase their  ebook sales.  Many writers want to know what works and what doesn’t.  
I’ve tested nearly all of the tips and theories circulating the Web,  and here’s what I’ve found to produce results.

1. Cover Design – It’s sad, but we all do it.  No one listens to: 
“Don’t judge a book by its cover!” One of the most important steps in 
selling your book is having a good cover design.  This is especially 
important on Amazon, where buyers scroll through a page in a matter of
seconds.   I’ve known authors who have seen as much as a 60% increase 
in sales, simply from changing the cover design.
A great place to find graphic artists that can create a professional 
cover for a low price is on (you can often scroll through 
the artist’s previous work to see if they are the right fit for you).  
I would also add that you have your artist look through your book’s 
categories on Amazon to create something that stands out amongst your 

2. Sub-Category Placement – Many authors make the mistake of not 
placing their books into sub-categories.  Unless these authors have 
great publicists—or already have a known title that is at the top of 
the charts—it will be hard for many readers to find their book under a 
general category.  By choosing sub-categories, the author is filtering 
out a lot of the competition that is found in a general category.  It 
also makes it easier for the book to rise in rank on Amazon (as it 
does not have as far to travel to get to the top).  Kindle Direct 
Publishing allows up to two sub-categories, so choose wisely.

3. Key-Words – Again, this is something that is taken for granted by 
many authors.  It’s so simple, yet it can be extremely effective if 
the competition is not too great for the keyword.  The idea is to 
think of a string of words that your buyer might type when looking for 
a book like yours.  If your book is called Tales of the Comedic 
Housecat, you may want to use keywords like: funny cat stories, funny 
cats, cat humor.  Amazon KDP allows you to select up to seven keywords.

4. Book Purchases – Let’s call it Amazon’s Vicious Circle of Death.  
Your book’s ranking is dependent on the sales that it receives.  If 
you don’t sell books, your rank drops.  If your rank drops, you sell 
fewer books.  The great thing about this, though, is that it works in 
the same fashion when you sell a book: a book sale will increase your 
rank (temporarily).

Every time you sell a book, your rank will jump up in rank and then 
slowly begin to decrease soon after.  When your rank decreases, it 
will eventually settle at a position that is determined by your 
sub-category and competition (if your book is new, this may be the 
bottom).  The “settling point” will be a greater rank as Amazon’s 
profits from your book increase.

So how do you keep your rank up?  This is where promoting your book 
comes into play.  Scheduling online book interviews is a great way to 
create publicity for your book.   Facebook, Twitter, and your personal 
website are also great ways to drive traffic.  But I’ll share my 
strategy that I’ve found to be extremely effective.

I use gift certificates as a promotional tool (you can purchase/send 
them through your Amazon account).  I will often use this for social 
media giveaways, or just gifting my book to a random interested 
reader.  I also will sometimes provide a gift certificate for my book, 
in exchange for an honest review.  Here’s the thing with gift 
certificates: it counts as a sale the moment the individual uses it to 
download your book.  This allows you to strategically boost your sales 
rank, while building great author-to-reader relationships.

Increasing ebook sales through Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing is not 
something that needs to be complicated.  Implementing the first three 
tips will ensure that your book is in the proper place for you to make 
internal sales, while you help to promote external sales.  If you 
follow these four easy steps, you will see a definite increase to your 
Amazon ebook sales.  The best of luck to you!

Luke Glasscock is the author of Get Accepted Into Architecture School 
( and founder of My School of Architecture 
( informational website.  He has 
also successfully published other numerous books on the Amazon platform.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

How to Write a Self-Help Book

Despite the criticism they have attracted, self-help books are a popular form of literature. They cover subjects such as managing relationships, boosting self-esteem, finding employment, healing from mental and physical health issues, and many more. If you want to write a self-help book on a subject you feel you are able to offer first-hand knowledge and advice about, then you must bear in mind that you are not just writing an instruction manual. Your book must also be entertaining, encouraging, motivational, and come with a personal and sympathetic touch. People will be reading this book because, obviously, they need help; they are struggling in some area(s) of their lives and are relying on you, through your writing, to provide them with some solutions and answers.

The trouble is with self-help books, a lot of people tend to buy them in a moment of desperation or optimism, then never ‘get around’ to reading them. The following are five tips to help you get started in writing a warm, effective and informative self-help book which your target audience will not only buy, but actually want to read.
  1. Read other self-help books.
    Before you begin writing a book of any kind, it’s always an idea to research the market. Read more obscure self-help books as well as popular ones, and don’t just stick to reading ones written on your chosen subject. Which ones are more effective and why? Is it the style of writing? The information? Is it very insightful and thought-provoking? Remember, the best writers are the best readers, so during your ‘market research’ really look out for what is and isn’t… well, helpful!

  2. Do your research before you begin writing.
    Even if you have first-hand experience of your subject and have encountered a lot of knowledge and wisdom throughout your own journey, you will still need facts in order to write an effective self-help book. If you’re aiming to help with mental illness, such as depression or addiction, you may need to do some medical research about common and typical symptoms, statistics regarding sufferers or the arguments for and against certain treatments for the illness at hand. This will give your reader confidence that you are knowledgeable about your subject and have taken the time to truly understand it.

  3. Share yourself.
    Your book has to be informative and educational, but it also has to be personal; your readers have to be able to connect with a part of you in order to use your advice to help themselves. Relay anecdotes about your experiences of your chosen subject; use humour; be honest. This can make all the difference between a rather rigid and formal self-help book which educates but doesn’t really offer any personal or emotional support, and a colourful, enjoyable read which your readers will get something great out of.

  4. Be a friend to your reader.
    With self-help books, it is always best to keep your tone light and informal. Although you may be handling pretty serious subject matter, write your self-help book as if you were writing to a troubled friend. Don’t act superior in knowledge or experience to your reader, or be overly blunt or insensitive in your encouraging them to help themselves. Be supportive, be patient and be gently persuasive. Make them believe that they can help themselves.

  5. Make sure the tone and style of your book is appropriate for your target audience.
    This fifth and final point is very important. If you’re writing a self-help book about friendship troubles for teenagers, you want to keep your style sharp, humorously cynical and appear knowledgeable about current and relevant teenage issues. If you are aiming it at chronic pain sufferers, write in a sympathetic and understanding, but practical and non-patronising, manner. If you are writing from experience as most writers of self-help books do, you might find it fairly easy to work out the appropriate tone and style of your book; ask yourself, how would you like a self-help book to speak to you? What would you find the most inspiring and supportive?
A well-written self-help book should always gain a fair readership. Good luck!

About the author

Stephanie-Louise Farrell writes for Any Subject Books and uses the ASB self-publishing services to help her with her book production and promotions. Find out more about how ASB can help you with its range of book publisher services.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Bayou Scar--The Journey of Writing a Sequel

My new book, Bayou Scar, comes out on Oct. 1, 2013. Finally. It should have been out almost four months ago! But writing a trilogy isn't as easy as you might think, and when you've written the first tale to good reviews, you kinda feel that crazy pressure of the next one needing to live up to certain expectations.

I think the hardest part for me in crafting the second book was that I wrote the rough draft for it right after writing a second draft of Bayou Myth. I was inspired and ready to keep the story rolling along while it was fresh in my mind. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

But then life interfered. Edits for Bayou Myth ate up a lot of time. I started writing for multiple clients and Bayou Scar got pushed to the back burner. When I did get around to reading that rough draft, it depressed me. I'd made so many changes and edits to Bayou Myth that the draft for Bayou Scar had things in it that no longer applied or didn't make sense.

It was frustrating. Really frustrating. The kind of frustrating that makes you procrastinate big time and only work on it in small spurts.

Last spring I finally got my act together and started cleaning up the rough draft. It was surprisingly painful. Joan (my main character) and I were at odds with each other. She wanted to do one thing on the page and I wanted her to do another! She wouldn't behave.

And then I realized she really needed to run the show. So what if I had all these words already written? They weren't exciting me, much less Joan. I had to let go and let her take the lead.

Once I did, every thing fell into place.

I'm proud to announce that after writing five drafts of the novel, going through a Beta Reader group, and working with the best editor out there--Ramona DeFelice Long--the novel will be released on Oct. 1. Yippee! Just in time for Halloween!

You can pre-order your copy of Bayou Scar today at Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon!

Here is the publisher's blurb from Dragonfire Press:

The moment teenage voodoo queen Joan Renault holds the Golden Apple of Journalism in her hand, its deadly power silently infiltrates her life. But this apple is more than just a token of high school pageantry.

It's toxic. Poisonous.

And it just might kill all the people Joan loves.

This is Book 2 in the Bayou Myth series.

Of course, now comes the hard part...writing the final book in this trilogy! It's called Bayou Curse and will hopefully be out soon!

Follow Mary Ann Loesch at Twitter or Facebook or drop by

Friday, September 13, 2013

Gilded by Renita Pizzitola--a review

I think Renita Pizzitola is fast becoming one of my favorite authors to read. She has a knack for engaging the reader and truly immersing them in whatever world she has created. When I reviewed her book, Dream On, a few months ago, I remember thinking the same thing then! That's why I was so excited to get my copy of her latest book, Gilded. It's a sequel to Gossamer! Read on for my thoughts on her latest endeavor.

From the publisher:

True love comes with a price.

Kyla Ashbury, half-fae, must learn to wield her Earth magic to protect herself from the king’s guard. Fleeing her betrothal to the prince, she takes refuge among the woodland fae, who are experts at Earth magic. Before she can learn to control her gift, she has to return to the castle to undo some of the damage done when she ran away with Grant. Wielding power she can’t control makes the situation worse.

Grant will do anything for the girl he loves. Even with his power to foresee danger, keeping Kyla safe is a constant challenge. As answers lead to more questions, he wonders if he is endangering her further.

Kyla’s growing talent destines her to a power struggle she doesn’t want. Every choice she makes seems to jeopardize those closest to her. She must learn to control the angry magic coursing through her if she ever hopes to live a normal life with the man she loves.

I thought this book was a solid sequel to Gossamer. Once again, Ms. Pizzitola lures the reader back into the fae world by providing clues as to what the future might hold for Kyla. With strong characters, fast paced plotting, and some great comic relief, Gilded glides along.

The characters of Grant and Kyla have really grown in this second book. They aren't quite as naive as before and the challenges of what faces them is evident. I found myself totally rooting for them as a couple! I enjoyed their connection and particularly liked the way the author handled one smoking hot love scene--very classy. With that in mind, I almost wonder if this book is leaning more towards being classified as New Adult rather than YA.

I gotta say that Lexie, the best friend, is one of my favorite characters. She cracked me up and is the kind of girl everyone wants to have their back! Her comments about the "V-card" totally had me laughing out loud.

The only character that I have some wonderings about is Liam. Liam is the "would be" love interest. He doesn't quite score the girl, but is obviously suppose to be a catch. He almost seems a little too good to be true and at times, I didn't really see a big difference between him and Grant. However, I do like that he is not the traditional jilted lover who sits around licking his wounds. I just wanted a smidge more depth from him--something tells me I'll get that in the final installment in this series.

Speaking of, when the heck is that next book coming out? I'm already wanting more!

Author Bio:
Renita lives in Texas with her husband and two children. She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with an English degree. She writes both fantasy and contemporary romance for Young Adult/New Adult and Adult readers. While splitting between magical worlds and contemporary stories, she promises romance. Lots of it! She writes about swoon-worthy boys and the girls who love them! When not writing, she enjoys reading everything she can get her hands on, drinking copious amounts of coffee and playing referee to her two typically adorable children. Renita Pizzitola webpage

Want your own copy of Gilded? Here is the Amazon link! GILDED AT AMAZON
Better yet, click on the Rafflecopter link to win a free copy!


Embedded: a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Look within and what do you see?

Have you ever thought about what people see when they view your book page on Amazon or Smashwords etc? If not, you owe it to yourself to conduct this basic piece of research at the earliest opportunity as it's an essential piece of research for any author. Let me include a spoiler - this is how it goes for most people.

Having chosen a genre and found your book, a buyer’s attention is drawn by a catchy cover and title. Assuming you've done that homework (and it's likely that you have), the next thing that's essential if books are to be bought and then not returned is that your 'Look Within' section is up to scratch. This is the portion of your book which is freely available for any potential buyers to browse within and thus assess your style and ability as a writer.

With that in mind, what does make a good 'Look Within'?

Here are five things to bear in mind if you want to sell as many books as possible:

Blank or virtually blank pages

I know e-pages don't cost anything to produce but including them only serves as an obstacle between your buyer and your book and that translates to an obstacle between them and a purchase. Edit your book carefully to remove any blank spaces at the beginning. Don't waste time on repeating the title in text - you've got the cover for that.

A contents page which goes on and on

It's an unfortunate feature of the mobipocket (Kindle) format that it doesn't allow any versatility in the field of setting out. If you've written a book with lots of chapters, these chapter links (often oversized because they match up with the chapter headings) will occupy pages and pages of links which any potential buyer has to scroll through.

Loads of reviews

The world and his dog may think that your book's the best thing since sliced bread but let me as a reader be my own judge. Given that the whole reviewing process has been devalued beyond the point of worthlessness your 'Riveting Read, Daily Sycophant' is mere suspicious clutter. If you must include it, put it below the blurb description and not in your actual e-book.

About the author

I've not decided that I like your book yet so why should I want to see your grinning face and read about how much you love croquet and trout fly-fishing? If I've enjoyed the book, then I'd like to know more about the author and his/her other books so save your self-advert until the end.

A summary of the book

Either this serves as one big spoiler or a mere repeat of the blurb in the 'product description' area. Either way I don't want to read it now. I don't know why some authors think that it is going to be persuasive but it's only another obstacle for a buyer to overcome.

Just like the Grand National where a few horses will fall at every fence, you'll lose a certain percentage of buyers with every obstacle you construct for them. Given how hard it is to find buyers in the first place, don’t fall into these traps. Maybe it's time you looked within your 'Look Within' sections. You may be surprised.

Got a book in you? Looking for a publisher with the personal touch? Find out more on our 'Writers Wanted' page.

Monday, September 9, 2013

How to Boost Your Book Sales Part 2

Boosting books sales....there is lots to be said on the subject! I know many authors who are always looking for that magic pill that will automatically shoot their book to the top of every best seller list. Being a working writer is hard and we need all the support we can get when it comes to getting the word out about our books!

Last week, the incredibly talented Clive West, wrote a great piece about listing your book at an alternative selling location. I absolutely loved his approach and had to repost sections of it here because I believe it to be a solid idea that will help out writers. There is no cost and your royalties pay out exactly the same as they would when you list at Amazon. It reminds me a little bit of Smashwords except Clive's company is doing more of the file formatting for you!

The point is that it's free and another place for people to buy your book in different formats other than Kindle.

Click here for the full article: How to Boost Your Book Sales or read on to see some of the highlights!

From Clive:

I'm now going to propose something which I hope every author reading this will find relevant and of interest. It won't cost you a bean, there's nothing to buy (anyway) and there are no restrictions attached. In other words, I’m not about to launch into one of those awful, intellect-insulting exercises in thinly-garbed hard-sell.

Simply put, we're able to offer authors another way of selling their books and in 3 different formats; mobi (Kindle), ePub and PDF. We'll take your book and cover files, format them (to those 3 formats) and upload them securely in a way in which anyone buying them can't use to give others free downloads. The amount your book will be sold for will be identical to the price listed on and the amount we pay you per sale will be identical to what Amazon would pay you.

Thus, a book selling for $3.00 would accrue $2.10 in royalties from Amazon so we would pay you $2.10 for every book sold through us and a $1.50 book would accrue $0.525 per book in royalties - again exactly what we would pay you.

Using our service to sell your books means extra exposure, more customers (not everyone uses Kindle) and the ability to send customers straight to a sales link using 3 URL's we'd supply you with (one for each format).

Since you don't pay us for setting it up and you get paid exactly the same per sale (although we pay quicker than the big companies), there's absolutely zero to lose and everything to gain. There are no catches, no small print, no nasties. We do ask that you're with us for 6 months (to give us a fair crack at getting our setting up costs back) but that's about it.

This is a win-win situation and one which we hope you'll take full advantage of. For more information, please visit

Friday, September 6, 2013

Interview with Jen Armstrong, winner of All Things Writing Contest

As our faithful followers know, Jen Armstrong is the winner of our summer writing competition! Her story, Chaotic Thrills, was posted on Monday, and if you haven't had a chance to read it, click here! I'm so excited that Jen was able to be our guest again today and that I got a chance to interview her! ---Mary Ann

Welcome Jen! I really enjoyed your story, Chaotic Thrills. Is there a message in your story or other works that you want readers to grasp?

JA: At some point, yes.  My passion is to write for women, to be a voice to those who feel silent, to be a light in someone’s life, to let others know they are not alone in the struggles they face, to encourage them to share their own stories and to remind them that we all have a story and together, by sharing our stories, we can all learn and grow.  I hope to write sharing messages of hope, peace, understanding, redemption, forgiveness and overcoming at some point but for now, I am working on a couple fiction ideas.

What books have most influenced your life most?

As a teenage girl in high school, I vaguely remember reading To Kill A Mockingbird.  It became part of my world.  It was the first story I had ever read that touched on the issues of rape.  Having been sexually abused and facing the effects of life after that, filled with fear, depression and shame, silence had overtaken my world.  This book gave me a voice by speaking for me!

On a similar note, a few years ago, I read Hidden Joy by Wendy Blight as part of an online Bible study.  This book also followed the story of a young woman who was raped.  Immediately, I just knew I needed to teach a class on this book.  I had never even taken a Bible study class other than this one online and I was terrified at the thought of teaching.  I also carried doubt that anyone would deem me worthy to teach.  To my surprise, I was met with total encouragement at the idea. The following fall, I taught my very first Bible study class with this book.  It was an amazing experience and this year is the beginning of my third year teaching!

I have to also add the Bible.  I’ve never been big on reading the Bible, probably because I most of it didn't make sense to me, but in the past few years, I have learned that it really is a map for my life if I allow it to be. I have grown tremendously and learned so much just by soaking in verse after verse.

If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?

Wendy Blight’s book, Hidden Joy, was really the spark to my interest in reading.  Before that, I really wasn't much of a reader.  I would say her care and compassion for others, her willingness to share and help, as well as her love for God make her a great mentor.

What book are you reading now?

I am currently reading two books.  I am in an online Bible study going through the book, What Happens When Women Say Yes to God? by Proverbs 31 Leader, Lysa Terkheurst.  Also, I just finished reading the book, The Unburdened Heart by Suzanne Eller, however, I am going to be leading a Bible study on this book in the upcoming weeks so I’m working my way through it for a second time!

Do you see writing as a career?

I would love to have a career in writing.  I am very new to this world so right now, I am still trying to learn all I can.  I do have a very strong desire to write and hope I never lose that desire. At this point, I am pretty clueless to much of the ins and outs but thankfully research is pretty easy these days and I'm building connections along the way!

Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?

I have always loved writing but have never had much discipline as far as making time for writing.  I do remember writing a lot as a teen.  I mostly wrote poems to express my feelings.  I was a broken, scared, hurt girl and needed an outlet.  Writing poetry was a safe way I could share my thoughts and feelings.  I look back at those writings and while they seem so silly and immature now, I know they were poured out from that broken little girls heart.

Can you share a little of your current work with us?

I currently have four books in mind.  I have the story lines mapped out for two of them which will be part of a fiction series, The Blessing Series.  I’m a short way into the writing process with the first book.  Basically, the story follows a family faced with numerous struggles including infertility, tragedy and loss.  As they face trial after trial, questioning their faith, they find their hope and strength lies in that very faith they've questioned.  I never realized just how much time it took to write a book and with three small kids as my assistants, at this point, I’m just praying to have this first one finished before they go off to college!

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

I would say the most difficult thing has been setting aside the time to write.  Other than that, it would be the critical part of me.  I am very critical of my own work, in any area, so I find myself constantly comparing or doubting.  If I could put that aside, I think this process might go a bit smoother. 

Who will design your covers?

Me!  That’s the plan anyway.  I own a photography and design business and I already have the image idea I want to use for my first book cover.  I also do a great deal of graphic design work with web design, logo design and more. 

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Just write.  Some people make it and some people don’t but you’ll never know if you don’t keep trying.  Keep writing.  If nothing else, you’re growing in the process and hopefully it will pay off for you!  (Telling myself this too!)

Thanks again for joining us! Readers, click the links below to find out more about Jen Armstrong!

Jen Armstrong Blog -
Jen Armstrong Facebook page -
Jen Armstrong Facebook page -
Twitter - @JenHArmstrong

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

How to Boost Your Book Sales

I don't know about you but I like transparency in my business transactions. It's normally something you can insist on - either because it's your statutory right (in the case of public utilities for example) or through the simple act of 'taking the ball away'. For example, how many of you would think of buying some expensive item from a delicatessen counter where the weight of the item wasn't at least visible to you - never mind printed out for you to check on your own scales?

We’d quibble over some relative small-change yet we’re prepared to put our books up with the big distribution companies and hope that they'll be straight with us about how many copies have actually been sold and that our book’s ranking and those of other books in our book’s genre, are fairly calculated and applied. That's a lot of trust to be placing in anyone.

It reminds me of something my old boss used to joke about more lifetimes ago than I like to reflect on: "Open your wallet and repeat after me". He'd say that when he was suggesting someone could be patsied, that they were a soft touch and that they wouldn't ask pertinent questions for fear of being rude.

I'm not casting aspersions on anyone, merely remarking at how trustful we've suddenly become – I hope that trust is justified.

With Mary Ann's blessing, I'm now going to propose something which I hope every author reading this will find relevant and of interest. It won't cost you a bean, there's nothing to buy (anyway) and there are no restrictions attached. In other words, I’m not about to launch into one of those awful, intellect-insulting exercises in thinly-garbed hard-sell.

Simply put, we're able to offer authors another way of selling their books and in 3 different formats; mobi (Kindle), ePub and PDF. We'll take your book and cover files, format them (to those 3 formats) and upload them securely in a way in which anyone buying them can't use to give others free downloads. The amount your book will be sold for will be identical to the price listed on and the amount we pay you per sale will be identical to what Amazon would pay you.

Thus, a book selling for $3.00 would accrue $2.10 in royalties from Amazon so we would pay you $2.10 for every book sold through us and a $1.50 book would accrue $0.525 per book in royalties - again exactly what we would pay you.

Using our service to sell your books means extra exposure, more customers (not everyone uses Kindle) and the ability to send customers straight to a sales link using 3 URL's we'd supply you with (one for each format).

Since you don't pay us for setting it up and you get paid exactly the same per sale (although we pay quicker than the big companies), there's absolutely zero to lose and everything to gain. There are no catches, no small print, no nasties. We do ask that you're with us for 6 months (to give us a fair crack at getting our setting up costs back) but that's about it.

This is a win-win situation and one which we hope you'll take full advantage of. For more information, please visit

Monday, September 2, 2013

Short Story Winner: Chaotic Thrills by Jen Armstrong

Congratulations to Jen Armstrong! Her story Chaotic Thrills is the winner of our Summer Mayhem and Amusement Parks Short Story Contest! I really enjoyed this story and it was one of those pieces that stayed with me after I'd read it--especially with everything going on in the world right now. Be sure to check it out and tune in Friday when I post the fabulous interview Ms. Armstrong did with me.---Mary Ann

Chaotic Thrills
Jen Armstrong

            It was a cool, crisp Saturday morning in the middle of April.  With the van loaded, we headed

out for our first trip of the year to the amusement park. 

For three years now, we had tucked away a little extra money for season passes.  The excitement radiating from the kids with each visit was more than enough reasoning to justify the splurge.
                After driving nearly an hour through four lanes of rushing traffic, we finally arrived at our destination.  For miles the kids could see the roller coasters high in the sky.  They shouted and squealed with excitement.  It never seemed to grow old to them or to us for that matter.
                We pulled into the member’s lot, still having to park quite the distance and make the long hike to the park entrance.  Knowing what was ahead made the daunting walk much more bearable.  We piled Olivia’s stroller full of our necessities for the day and strapped her into the seat.  She gleamed from ear to ear at the thought of riding her favorite pink horse on the carousel.   
                As usual, when we arrived at the gate, our bags were checked, ID’s were scanned and we passed through the turn-styles ready and willing to dare the coolest, fastest rides.
                This year would prove to be even more exciting than previous years.  Our oldest son, Noah, had always been able to ride all the rides with no restrictions because of his height, however, in previous years, our middle child, Caleb, had been left out of the excitement of the biggest rides because he fell just shy of the height requirement.  This was his year.  He was finally able to ride the big rides, much to my dismay.
                As we made our way to the newest ride first, an exciting thriller with nothing more than a waste bar to hold you in, my heart began to race.  I looked at my small framed, eight year old son and panic quickly set in.  As a mom, there is nothing worse than worry and fear for your children, which creeps in and overtakes your mind.  I imagined him getting on the coaster, having the time of his life, laughing with bundles of joy and just when the highlight of the ride sinks in, him slipping through the safety bar and plunging to his death on the stone ground below.
                It’s certainly not the pretty picture we had started out with that morning.  What had been sheer excitement for us all, was quickly wiped from my mind when all the “what if’s” began to take their place, occupying in mind, stealing those precious moments of joy.
                Tony and the boys made their way through the winding line of anxious thrill seekers.  Olivia and I watched from afar, noting the fearless faces loading the black and red coaster.  Click and clanks sounded from the air pressure safety mechanisms locking the bars against each riders lap.  They were off, off to the thrill of a lifetime, one I could not bear to watch. 
                In my heart, I hoped they would be fine.  What are the odds of someone falling from the ride, I asked myself.  These things are tested and retested and tested again, right?  Of course they are!  I had convinced myself there was no reason for all this worry.  Everything would be fine and what memories we were making.  After all, hadn’t we done this very same thing for the past couple years?  This was a new beginning, a new thrill for Caleb and who was I to take that away from him?  I waited with anticipation for his safe return.
                In the meantime, Olivia and I watched as other guests passed by, each with their own stories of why they were there, how often they came and what worries they brought with them.  I found myself drawn to their stories.
                I imagined as this one family walked by, they were probably from nearby.  They looked like regulars.  The two small girls had matching bows tied around their bouncy blond curls.  The mom was thin, wearing a light blue tank top with gray shorts.  She looked like a runner.  She’s probably one of those 5k kinds of moms, I thought.  The dad wore an overgrown five-o-clock shadow.  I assumed he was a business man and enjoying a day without having to be Mr. Professional. 
They were the image of the perfect suburban family.  Images of their house and car ran through my mind.  They probably lived in a cute little neighborhood with matching mailboxes and a well groomed entrance, bearing a sign that read Happy Trails Community or something of the sort.  They most likely drove the newest and safest SUV or minivan, in a dark gray, I pictured.  They were soon out of sight and my focus quickly turned to another family.
Strolling along the hot, black asphalt was what appeared to be an extended family.  There was grandma and grandpa, doting on the four small children.  They stopped along the brick seating just down from the bench where Olivia and I were waiting.  Overhearing their conversations, they carried quite an accent.  Chicago, I guessed, but having traveled very little, all I knew for sure was it had to be a northern accent.  Two younger couples followed behind pulling a large plastic wagon with two more children in tow.  The little boy in the wagon was wearing dark blue sunglasses and a funny little orange hat.  The girl, who I assumed was his sister, kept kicking his legs, and shouting, “Move, you’re in my way!” 
I chuckled slightly, thinking of the trip here and how Olivia had done the same thing with Caleb when he had gotten close to her.  She often shouted her annoyance by him or tattled when Caleb would continuously aggravate her.
One of the gentlemen quickly introduced a juice cup and snack to the two small children and all was well in their world.  The other children plopped down along the brick wall next to grandma and grandpa.  I listen for a few moments, enjoying the stories grandpa told about when he had brought their dad to this amusement park when he was their age.  The women stood there and talked about what rides they would do first.  The grandma and one of the girls traded licks on a bright red lollipop. 
Olivia noticed the lollipop and begged for a purple one which I, of course, promised to get her later!
Other people continued to pass by as I watched, imagining where they came from and where they were headed.  Families, large and small, young couples and groups of friends passed by, all excited to be headed to their next ride.  It was a beautiful sunny day.  Not a cloud could be seen in the brilliant blue sky.
Moments later, much to my relief, Tony and the boys had found their way back to us, safe and sound, with all their limbs.  I breathed a momentary sigh of relief, thankful for their return.   The emotions, of course, would all return at the next big ride.
Suddenly, just as we were reacquainting with each other, shrills came with full force from a few feet away.   Tony shouted, “Wait here!” and before I knew it, he was gone.  He ran over to the gift shop that was quickly being swarmed by onlookers.  There, on the ground, was a small boy, probably about ten years old or so.  His lips were a dark shade of purple.  He was lifeless.  Tony pushed through, stating he was a firefighter and there to help.  He leaned down to the boy, felt his neck for a pulse and began pressing on his chest.  Something was wrong, very wrong.
Minutes later, emergency personnel toting their bright red and orange gear pushed through the crowd and took over.  Tony stayed there, waiting to offer more aid if needed.
“What happened?” I wondered.  What could possibly have gone wrong?  Maybe an allergic reaction?  A heart condition?
As the boy was loaded onto a stretcher and hauled away by the emergency workers, the crowd began to thin.  In no time, people had all but forgotten the moments that had just transpired.  A family left in crisis and yet we all returned to our day of thrills.
Just then, more screams.  “Oh God,” I couldn’t help but shout.  As if I hadn’t already experienced enough emotions in my battle as a mom, letting her child go on this crazy roller coaster.  What was going on?
The family I had just been admiring, the runner mom, business dad with the pigtail girls.  The dad ran by with his daughter cradled in his arms.  The mom and other girl not far behind him, were screaming, “Help!”  Emergency workers were still nearby and came to their aid.  We watched in disbelief as they too began doing compressions on her petite frame.
At this point, those in the area near us were practically in panic.  It was odd for one situation, but to have two?  Floods of emotions began to rush in.  Of course my mind began to wander, thinking of all the possible explanations for what was happening.  Was the food poisoned?  Could there be two allergic reactions?  Was this really happening?
Just then, the unthinkable happened.  Dozens of people started screaming, shouting for help.   Several more people fell to the ground.  The grandma and the little girl with the northern accent collapsed just feet from where we were standing.  A young man shooting basketballs fell to his knees screaming in agony, grasping his throat.   Two teenage girls passed by the snack stand as the first one fell, the second looked on with terror and collapsed next to the first.  There were people passing out, crashing to the ground all around, others panicking.   It was pure chaos all around.
Tony glared at me.  I could see the fear in his eyes.  We wanted nothing more than to run, to get away, to go home and to be safe, but what about these people.  What was wrong with them?  What had happened?  Were we next?  In that moment, a whole new fear filled my body.  Was my family safe?
Police flooded in.  Sirens were blaring.  Park workers shut down the rides and encouraged everyone to stay calm and stay put.  People were rushing towards the gates, frantically trying to catch up with their loved ones. 
We were promptly escorted to the main entrance of the park.  There, many more officers lined the gates with metal detectors, and canines.  Families were being questioned and searched.  Guests were encouraged to report to the EMT’s and get checked out.  What had been my own silly worries over the safety of the roller coasters, had quickly turned into justified fear, overwhelming concern for my own family and others.
Hours later, after thirteen deaths, nearly fifty people sent to nearby hospitals and hundreds more checked out by firefighters and EMT’s, the suspects were caught.   Three men who had previously worked for the park had come in as guests when the park opened that morning.  They had placed some lollipops with arsenic in the candy store.  Immediately, I thought of Olivia’s request for a lollipop.  In that moment, all that could have happened to our family was wiped away with tears of thankfulness that she had not yet gotten her own lollipop. 
As the police were searching the park to investigate what happened, they found the men videoing the scene.  They had been watching with joy as people fell, while on lookers screamed and panic set in. 
With handcuffs on, police hauled the three away through a side gate.  News crews were outside the park waiting to interview the police.  As one officer shoved a man into the car, the reporter managed to ask, “Why, why did you do this?”  His reply, “It’s all about the thrills, isn’t it?”

© Jenny Armstrong, July 2013