My Blog Has Moved!

If you are a subscriber to this blog, please go to (if you haven’t) and sign up to receive email updates…I’ve just written a great new post about indie authors and book sales that you won’t want to miss 🙂  But you won’t see it here, you have to visit the new site.

This is the last post on this blog – I hope to see you all there!

Posted in Promoting Your Books | 2 Comments

Lordy – What A Day! We’re Moving!

I’ve been needing to move my blog to a new WordPress site for some time now, and I finally began this process yesterday – lo and behold, fricking 24 hours later, I finally have the new site up and running…

What Does This Mean For You?

I need to ask one thing of all my loyal followers – the new site does not allow me to transfer your subscription information to the new blog…this stinks, I know.  What I would ask of all of  you would be to visit the new site and sign up for the blog again (it’s on the right-hand side, midway down the page and it says “Subscribe via Email”) – I know your time is extremely valuable to you, and I do apologize for the inconvenience.  It will only take you a moment, and then you’ll be able to receive great posts from me in the future (I have one planned for tomorrow in fact).

Here is the new site (it’s  All future posts will come from there and this site will soon be deactivated.  The new site looks very much the same and it has all the old posts for your reference.  I’ll see you over there!

Many thanks!


Posted in Writing Well | 2 Comments

Indie Authors – Promoting Your Book

As independent authors, or indie authors, you have a challenge that mainstream published authors do not – you are the sole person promoting your book.  I recently read a post by a mainstream published author and one of her comments was that indie authors (her term was self-published authors) have a much better understanding of book promotion and author branding.  She felt that almost all indie authors do a much better job of branding themselves.

I had to think about that, and my conclusion was, maybe the indie authors in her circle were great at branding themselves, but that’s not what I see (I’m purposefully not revealing this person because I thought this author seemed to reflect a bit of snobbery toward the indie author).  Many authors I interact with don’t seem to understand how to sell books – it’s the difference between being a writer and a marketer.  And authors (who want to sell books) have to be both.

As yourself these questions:

  • Do you know how to brand yourself correctly?
  • Do you know what that really means?
  • Are you effectively promoting your books and using your brand?
  • What do promoting and branding really mean?

Promoting your book is all about marketing your book, and believe me, too many authors don’t understand marketing.

Marketing Your Book – Branding

I write mystery novels.  I have the Reed Ferguson mystery series (This Doesn’t Happen In The Movies and Reel Estate Rip-off), and Nephilim Genesis of Evil, a supernatural thriller, or I could call it a horror book.  You’re saying to yourself – so what?  Exactly!  I’m just like thousands of other authors out in cyberspace (let alone at a bookstore).  As the author, I have to make readers care about my books.  I have to have a brand.

What does it mean to brand yourself?  Too many indie authors (and certainly mainstream authors) don’t have a clue as to what this really means.  Branding isn’t just saying:

  • I write mystery novels
  • I am an author of horror books
  • Read my mystery series
  • Readers couldn’t put my novel down
  • My novel is a page-turner
  • and so on

Guess what?  You and every other author out there is thinking the same thing.  Search on Amazon and Smashwords and see how many indie authors (and mainstream authors) make statements like that.  Now, please make sure you understand what I’m saying.  These are fine statements and they may absolutely be true of your books.  But everyone else is saying it, too.  It doesn’t let your readers know what makes you different.  It doesn’t tell the reader why they should buy your book instead of the other guy’s book.  When you take some time to figure out what makes your works unique from everything else out there, you’re on your way to figuring out your brand.

Marketing Your Book – The Reader Won’t Find You

In my post Indie Authors Miss Golden Opportunity, I talk about how indie authors need to really understand what constitutes quality writing before they publish.  Indie authors still fight the stigma that their books, by virtue of being self-published, must not be good.  My first bit of promoting advice is to always make sure your book is worthy of publication before you publish it.  Once you’ve published, if you want to make any money at it, you have to know how to promote your book as well.  It’s naive to think readers will just find you (there were millions of titles published last year alone) – yes, genre authors and non-fiction authors (who have a platform) do better, but there’s just too much out there to expect readers to scroll through Amazon or Barnes & Noble and stumble upon your works.  You have to do things to get readers to find you.  You need a platform, but you need to use it effectively.

Marketing Your Book – The Platform

Remember, you are the brand, and your books are an extension of the brand.  At bare minimum, you should being using the following to promote yourself and your books:

  • a Twitter account
  • a Facebook fan page
  • an author website
  • a Google+ account
  • a blog

Many authors still don’t have a blog, maybe because they don’t like the task of keeping up the blog, and that’s understandable, but you are missing out on a way of promoting your books, and your brand.  But here’s the key with anything you are using for your platform.  You have to use it, and use it well.  If you are on Twitter and all you do is self-promote, it’s not going to work well.  If you have a Facebook fan page, but you don’t ever post on it, people won’t come back.  Your author website needs to look professional (this is so critical to understand that I’ll be doing a post on this soon).  You absolutely need to be on Facebook and Google+.  Now, I am not a fan of Facebook or Google (I’ve even harped on how I thought Google+ was not worth the time but I’ve changed my mind), but they are critical for promotion.  Want to know why?  Check back here because I will be showing you why they are important in future posts, but it comes down to SEO.  If you don’t understand SEO, start learning.  It may be the best way for readers to find you.

A Final Thought

Remember, there are tons of books out there.  In this new age of publishing, there is a lot of crap out there, too.  Laura Miller (senior writer at wrote an interesting piece about this in 2010.  It’s a bit sarcastic, but it makes a great point about readers and bad writing and bad books.  Just think where things are now as we near 2012, with so many more indie authors publishing books.  There’s even more to choose from.

You are the brand.  You have to promote yourself.  You have to make it happen.  Good luck!

REMINDER – contest for a FREE KINDLE – and I decided to throw in some free books!  This contest is about to end so don’t wait!  Mystery novels, great crime fiction, and horror books – how can you miss this?  Visit for all the details.

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Blog Tour – Featuring My Mystery Series

Hey all, I’d like to take a moment to promote myself 🙂  I am in a blog tour from December 5th through the 16th.  This is a great opportunity to check out my Reed Ferguson mystery series (great crime fiction with a dose of film noir), and learn a bit about how I wrote my supernatural thriller (some would say horror book) Nephilim Genesis of Evil.  Writing mystery novels is hard word, but promoting your books is even harder.  I would greatly appreciate your help in letting your followers know about this tour.  There are opportunities for free books and a chance to read some great interviews.

The Blog Tour Schedule

December 5: It’s Raining Books
December 6: Lisa Haselton’s Reviews and Interviews
December 7: Books Read ‘N’ Makeup Done
December 8: The Character Connection
December 9: Adventure Into Romance
December 12: Lindsay’s Scribblings
December 12: (2nd stop) Long and Short Reviews Guest
December 13: The Plot Thickens
December 15: REVIEW ONLY: Reviews By Molly
December 16: Kathryn Lively – Award Winning Mystery Author

I’ll be stopping by each one to interact with everyone. Check out some great sites where you’ll get a chance to learn a bit more about me, and of course, about the Reed Ferguson mystery series.

I hope you’ll stop by!

REMINDER – contest for a FREE KINDLE – and I decided to throw in some free books!  Mystery novels, great crime fiction, and horror books – how can you miss this?  Visit for all the details.

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How To Market a Book – Facebook Insights

Promoting your books is just as important as writing the books.  If you don’t believe me, consider my post Guerilla Online Marketing For Authors, where I shared that there were over a million ISBN numbers issued last year along (and this doesn’t include indie publications).  If you want sales, you have to learn how to market a book.  You have to help the readers find you.  I am a mystery author – I write crime fiction and horror books.  I have plenty of mystery stories available.  But I have to tell people about me and Facebook is one way to do this.

How To Market a Book – Facebook Insights

I’ve created a short video that talks just a bit about landing pages (or welcome pages) and also about Facebook Insights.  I hope that after viewing this, you’ll understand how far-reaching Facebook can be, and how much of an impact Facebook fan pages can have in promoting your books.

In the video, I mentioned a class I run on creating dynamic Facebook fan pages.  If you would like more information, click here.

REMINDER – contest for a FREE KINDLE – and I decided to throw in some free books!  Mystery novels, great crime fiction, and horror books- how can you miss this?  Visit for all the details.

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Writers Workshop – Writing Lesson on Passive Voice

If you’ve been following my recent posts, you know I wrote one called Indie Writers Miss Golden Opportunity.  I talk a lot about learning to write, so I thought I would do some posts about this topic because I am getting asked about writing techniques and writing skills.  It seems like it’s time to address some of this for the indie writer (and other writers too).  So let’s get the Writers Workshop started!

Learning to Write

Let’s face it, learning to write is not easy – but many people seem to think it is.  Crafting a quality novel takes a lot more than just a grasp of your native language.  There are many subtle nuances that can improve writing and make your novel scintillating and hard to put down.  Today we’re addressing…

Passive Voice

First, you have to understand the active voice: the subject of the sentence performs the action.  In passive voice, the subject of the sentence is acted upon.  This may not seem like a big deal, but read these two sentences:

Reed discovered that his neighbor was a thief.

It was discovered by Reed that his neighbor was a thief.

The first one is a much stronger statement, and usually in fiction writing, you want to have strong, powerful sentences that move a story forward.  The active voice conveys much better than the passive voice (yes, there are exceptions).  Certainly in mystery and thriller novels, my genre, you would want to use active voice because this heightens the suspense and thrills.

Writing Practice

In my last post, I said that a great, brave person stepped up and said he would let me post a snippet of his work for critique.  He had submitted this to me personally and I gave my suggestions, and I’m sharing a bit here because it’s great to get real examples to work from.  I hope that you will chime in with quality pointers yourself, but please be respectful – this is about all of us learning to improve our writing 🙂

Thunder boomed again and again, the thick clouds marched to its beat, effortlessly smothering the sun.  Blayke’s fingers sank further into the darkening puddle until he was shocked by something rough and icy, too large to close his hand around; certainly not the frog he was hoping for.  The young boy was afraid and tried to let go of the object but his hand was inexplicably stuck.

I’ve highlighted the passive phrases here – it’s a bit of a rewrite but my suggestions would be something like his hand struck something rough and icy.  He jerked his hand away.  This SHOWS the action and it gives the reader a more powerful visual than he was shocked does.  I think the other two bolded statements could be rewritten as well.

When the last morsel was gone she stood, “Well Flux, I suppose it’s time to pack up my whole life.  Do you think it’s too late to change her mind?”  Flux didn’t answer, just led the way to the door.

Some might call this nitpicking, but what if the writer said when the last morsel disappeared…it’s a stronger way of saying the same thing.

Applying This To The Entire Novel

If you think about the above paragraphs, it’s easy to say this is just a little bit, no big deal.  But a whole novel written this way is a different story (punny) all together.  Yes, there are times when the passive voice is better, and maybe even necessary.  But overall, you want to avoid this because it drags your writing down.

So, I again thank my anonymous writer for allowing me to use a bit of his work as an example.  Please weigh in with your comments so we can all learn.  Thanks!

REMINDER – contest for a FREE KINDLE – and I decided to throw in some free books!  Mystery novels, thriller novels, horror novels – how can you miss this?  Visit for all the details.

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Indie Authors Miss Golden Opportunity

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a very controversial post that I titled Indie Authors Are Killing Great Writing.  For the record, I am an indie author with a number of well-received books.  I am also a supporter of indie authors.  Believe it or not, that’s why I wrote the post.

Independent Writers Have It Tough

Many people agreed with me.  In fact, one tweet read:  “At last! Someone finally says it!”  Another said: “Indie pub = more responsibility on writer”.  Again, I’m not trying to bash indie authors, I’m pointing out the fact that any author should hone his or her craft before publishing.  Most authors don’t write something worthy of being published on their first try or even their second or third.  It takes time to develop your writing skills before you truly know and understand how to write a compelling story.  It’s said that to master a craft takes at least 10,000 hours – I wonder how many indie authors have put that many hours into their craft (more on this below)…

My point is that as an indie author, you have a lot of hurdles to overcome.  There are millions of books being published each year.  It can be difficult to find readers for your books, and you don’t want to, nor can you afford to, alienate readers by publishing something bad.  If you don’t believe me, read this comment my other post received from someone who does reviews:

Renee, every time I see a novel full of errors, it drives me crazy. They are glaring and so obvious that it blows me away the author didn’t correct them. The vast majority of the time, it is indies who do this. For every ten indie books I read, at least seven will have this problem to some degree. Does it stop me from reading them? No, it doesn’t, but my expectations have been lowered because of it. You simply can’t expect as much.

As a book reviewer, I have gotten very frustrated with authors nagging my reviews or even commenting on them just because I pointed problems with their work. If they can’t handle criticism, then they shouldn’t release their writing to the public and ask people to pay for it. If I’m spending my hard-earned money (even if it’s only 99 cents), and using my limited time for reading, I expect the author to have produced a quality product for me to enjoy. Yet some of them get angry at me for saying even one thing is wrong with their book. This causes quite a bit of frustration, but I haven’t given up. Finding those Indie gems makes it all worth the trouble, even if some readers aren’t as patient as I am and will only read trad published books. Yet it shouldn’t be such a difficult process to find good books. You are absolutely right that standards seem to be considerably lower for what everyone thinks is good enough to be published since the advent of ebooks.

That’s just one comment.  Believe me, there are a lot of people who feel this way.  And along with alienating readers, why would you want to put out a story before you’d had some neutral feedback, quality editing and so on?  Don’t you want to put out something of quality?

But Mainstream Publishing Companies Publish Crap

What’s wrong with pointing out that there is a plethora of indie crap out there?  Some say this is not supporting indie authors.  I disagree.  Authors need to be self-critical.  They need to hear the bad – that’s how they improve.

Now, many pointed out that there is crap being published by mainstream publishing companies, and I responded there, and now here, that this isn’t the point.  Who cares if there is crap from mainstream presses?  But as I’ve thought about this more, I also think there is another response.

Remember Roxanne, with Steve Martin?  The bully in the bar picks a fight with Martin by calling Martin Big Nose.  What is Martin’s response?  “You have this in front of you, and all you can think of is Big Nose.”

Indie Authors Miss a Golden Opportunity

We have bad publishing by way of the mainstream publishers.  Our response shouldn’t be just to point that out.  We have a golden opportunity here!  We should be trying to rise above that standard, not meeting it.  Wouldn’t it be nice if people thought, “Wow, an indie author!  I love reading indie authors because they consistently publish works that are better by far than what I get from the mainstream publishers!”  But this isn’t the case.  In my opinion, you have tons of bad stuff out there – it far exceeds the occasional gem.  And that’s unfortunate because:

  • Those authors make it harder for the really good indie works to get noticed (a glut in the marketplace means that many more books for readers to search through to find the good ones)
  • It’s burns readers out – in my opinion, too many readers feel “burned” by a bad indie book and losing indie readers doesn’t need to happen at all (if you don’t believe me, research book reviewers and see how many of them won’t review self-published books)
  • Those authors only hurt their marketing/selling chances for future books

This is the BIGGEST point that I’m hoping to help some of you (who care to listen) to avoid.  I wrote on a previous post about an author who published something, got numerous reviews about how he needs to work on his writing, and in his author bio section he asked his readers to stick with him and that he was going to get the book edited and people could read it again.  It’s too late!  You’ve lost your readers.  I know, some of you are going to point out that some readers will check back.  Maybe, but the vast majority won’t.  And you, the author, have lost market share.  Maybe that doesn’t matter to you.  But if you do want sales, and you dream of quitting your day job, you can’t afford to alienate your readers.  That’s why I’m encouraging you to know that your book is great before you publish it.

How to Master Your Craft

As I pointed out above, it’s said that you need 10,000 hours to master something (Stephen King and JA Konrath talk about this, as do many other respected authors).  How many of you have mastered writing before you publish?  How many of you publish your first book?  I have news for  you – if you publish the first book you wrote, statistics would say it’s probably not very good.  I’m speaking from my own experience here, as well as from hearing from multiple published authors that I’ve visited with at conferences.  My first two books are written well, meaning I have a grasp of the English language and I don’t have tons of grammatical errors, but the stories don’t really work.  They don’t engage the reader.  They run off on rabbit trails that don’t advance the story.   They use passive voice.  They switch viewpoints when they shouldn’t.  And so on, and so on.

Have you mastered your craft?  Do you even know?  Are you scared of rejection?  Is your ego in the way of hearing positive criticism?  These are things to ask yourself.

What Makes Good Writing?

A reader of my other post asked for some feedback.  I gave it to this person, and he has agreed to let me share a few paragraphs of his writing.  I’ll be posting this soon and I hope you’ll join in the conversation, both to help this other author and myself – let’s face it, there are always learning opportunities.

Before You Bash Me

Yes, I agree that there are wonderful indie authors out there.  I would include myself on that list (based solely on reviews and sales).  Yes, if there was only mainstream publishing, readers would miss out on many great reads.  Yes, the ebook revolution is giving us indies a chance to get our works out there.  Those are not and never should be arguments for publishing a bad novel.

We have a golden opportunity to rise above the bad books out there.  Let’s make the BEST of it!

REMINDER – contest for a FREE KINDLE (and I decided to throw in some free books)!  Visit for all the details.

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Posted in Promoting Your Books, Writing Well | Tagged , , , | 29 Comments

Double Indemnity – The Best of Film Noir

In my last film noir post, I talked about The Maltese Falcon, considered one of the best film noir movies.  This week I thought we’d take a peek at Double Indemnity, a classic noir movie, ranking up with the very best of the genre.  Double Indemnity has it all: a gritty story based off of a hard-boiled detective novel, a fantastic noir hero (or anti-hero in this case), and a great film noir female.

The Hard-boiled Detective Novel

Double Indemnity is based on James M. Cain’s novella of the same name.  The plot has all the elements of great noir:  Insurance agent Walter Huff falls for a married woman, Phyllis Nirdlinger, who consults Huff about accident insurance for her husband.  Although Huff displays some sort of morality, this wavers and he allows himself to be seduced into helping Nirdlinger kill her husband for the insurance money.  It’s a dark story, and what makes it even more stellar is that Huff and Nirdlinger commit the perfect crime, but this crime falls to pieces because these two characters distrust each other so much.

As any talented writer does, Cain intertwines a number of themes into the story as well: religious motifs (the story as confession), sin (lust and sexual desire), and the man rebelling against the economy (outwitting the system).  Check out William Marling, Ph.D. for more on this.

A Fantastic Noir Hero

Fred MacMurray, you might remember him from the sit-com My Three Sons, plays the noir hero to perfection.  MacMurray was known for playing good guys and he didn’t see himself as a great actor.  But the director, Billy Wilder, convinced MacMurray to take the role, and it showed that he could indeed act.

In the movie, MacMurray’s character is renamed Walter Neff, a successful insurance salesman.  We want to feel sorry for him at first, he seems like a good guy at heart, but he really is a heel, and he’s weak, as shown by his falling for the femme fatale.  As Nirdlinger pursues him, pouring on the charm, Neff falls for her and helps commit the crime.  But he never trusts her and things fall apart for him.

A Great Film Noir Female

Can you say sex?  Women in film noir are sultry and seductive.  In this case, Barbara Stanwyck plays a provocative housewife who wants to kill her husband.  Wilder wanted her to play Phyllis Nirdlinger from the beginning, even though she was not only the highest paid actress at the time, she was the highest paid woman in America.  Stanwyck loved the script but because of the dark nature of the role, she hesitated to take it on.  Wilder convinced her and the role earned her an Academy Award nomination (she lost to Ingrid Bergman for Gaslight).

Stanwyck plays Phyllis Nirdlinger perfectly, creating such sexual tension throughout the movie that in some ways it’s amazing that the movie made it past the Hays Production Code (the industry censorship guidelines of the time).  As you watch the movie, you just hate her character – attribute that to her acting the role to perfection.

Interesting Points

This film has wonderful dialogue, and a great look that employs light and shadow.  This further emphasizes the sleaziness of the characters and story.  Interesting to note, the original story has Neff and Nirdlinger committing suicide, but this would not pass the Hays Production Code standards, so Wilder wrote an ending where Neff goes to the gas chamber.  This was not used however (I won’t spoil it be revealing the ending).

Finally, Double Indemnity explored new territory on the screen.  Never before had audiences seen the motives, the means, and the opportunity to commit murder displayed through this visual medium.  Also, the Hays Production Code said that criminals should be shown paying for their transgressions and the screenwriting does this is a unique way.  It took great writing, acting and direction to pull this off so successfully.

So get your popcorn and drink, get comfortable on the couch and watch Double Indemnity.  You won’t regret it.

REMINDER – contest for a FREE KINDLE (and I decided to throw in some free books)!  Visit for all the details.

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Guerilla Online Marketing For Authors

As authors, we have to do a lot to a ton of book promoting.  It’s a tough market out there, and it’s a challenge trying to stand out from the competition.  In essence, we have to do guerilla online marketing, taking the fight to our market.  Too often, we as authors want to sit at our desks and create (no problem there, that’s the fun, right).  But very few (I heard a stat that only 1%) take the writing dream to being published, and fewer still make it as authors, meaning sell enough to quit their day jobs.  If you want that dream, like I do, you have to know marketing as well.  Those of you who want that dream, too, follow me.  Let’s not just be authors, but marketing authors, but doing guerilla style marketing.  With that in mind, we’ll focus here on keyword searches.

The Competition

You might not think marketing is important, so let’s go over a few statistics.  Last year,  one million books with ISBN’s were issued.  This does not account for the 800,000 books from indie authors.  Nor does this take into account ebooks.  For a visual, if these books were one-inch thick, and you lined them up next to each other, you’d have a line fifteen miles long.  A helluva a lot of books.  And you need readers to find yours.

Author Marketing – Beyond the Basics

Here’s where guerilla style marketing comes into play.  Thinking outside the box.  Doing what the others are not doing.  Making yourself stand out from the competition.  I believe every author should have at minimum:

  • a professional website
  • a blog
  • a Facebook fan page
  • a Twitter account
  • a Goodreads account

However, there is a lot of debate on how well these work for marketing.  I won’t go in to all the reasons why or why not, but here’s where going beyond the basics will help you.  You need to be engaging with your audience, and utilizing these platforms with keyword research in mind can help you.

Why Guerilla Online Marketing?

I used this phrase, and a couple of others, because of keyword research.  These are phrases that have a decent number of online searches each month and not very high competition with other websites using the same phrases.  This means that someone searching on the phrase guerilla online marketing has a better chance of finding me.  And since my blog advertizes my books, I just might get some sales out of this.

Now admittedly I might not be getting the right target audience here (since people searching for guerilla online marketing probably aren’t looking for fiction books), but I wanted to make a point.  Let’s use a better example for authors.

Be a Marketing Author

I’ve also used the phrases marketing author and author marketing throughout this post.  Both have decent searches per month, however they have a bit higher competition than I’d like, but I will use them anyway – I can’t give away my secret words that work for me 🙂

Here’s how this works.  I use the Google keyword tool.  There are others out there that are better, but not always free, and Google works pretty well.  You type in the keyword you want to use – we’ll use author marketing.  The keyword tool will show you how many global and local monthly searches have used this exact phrase, and then also similar phrases.  In this case, we get 5,400 global and 1,600 local searches on this phrase.  The tool will also show you that there is medium competition for the phrase.  Anything over 1,000 is decent, 10,000 would be better, especially if there is low competition (which we didn’t hit).

But don’t stop there, thinking you have a great phrase to work with.  Now you want to search this phrase in Google (I only use this because so many people love/like Google – I personally use Yahoo to check as well).  Type in the phrase with quotations: “author marketing”.  This gives you websites with the actual phrase (not the words separated throughout the site).  We get 262,000 sites with our phrase.  Not as good as we’d like.  Ideally you want 10,000 or less, but anything close would be good.

Why Author Marketing?

I chose this to give you an example for authors.  It’s not the best out there, but compare it to ebook marketing.  301,000 global and 90,500 local, with high competition.  Lots of people searching it, sure, but then look up that phrase in Google.  14,700,000 results.  Try standing apart in that market.

I try to keep keywords in mind whenever I write a post.  It’s more time-consuming, but I want my blog to rank higher in search engine traffic, and I try to target specific audiences.  Think what happens if people are searching mystery books, or great new reads, and so on.  You have, as the saying goes, a snowball’s chance in hell of being found.  You have to help the readers find you.

I hope this post is useful or you.  And I’m sure some of you may have better ways of doing this and I’m happy to learn from you, so please post your suggestions.  And if you have questions, don’t hesitate to ask me.  I’m here to help.


Don’t forget the contest for a FREE kindle!  If you already have one, this would make a great gift!  It’s easy – read a book, write a review, post the review, sign up on my email list (don’t worry, I hardly ever send out emails) = entered into a drawing!  Full details on my website:  Thanks and good luck!

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Guest Post by Sarah Woodbury

Welcome Author Sarah Woodbury.  She has written a great piece about writing historical fiction.  As I have written a middle-grade historical novel, I was keen to see what insights Sarah has.  Enjoy!

Writing Historical Fiction

Back in high school, I remember overhearing two girls lamenting how awful their classes were and how they ‘hated’ history.  Since I was hiding in a bathroom stall at the time, I didn’t give voice to my horror at their sentiment, but it has stuck with me in the thirty years since.  How could they ‘hate’ history?

Unfortunately, all too easily if by ‘history’ they meant the memorization of facts and dates that had little or no bearing on their lives.  Why did they care what year the Civil War began?  Or who was the tenth president of the United States?  Or what happened in the fertile crescent of Mesopotamia (though knowing might clarify our wars in the Middle East today, but that’s a different topic).

That’s not what history is about.  History is about people.  It’s the anthropology of the past.  It’s about finding out why people did what they did; what they cared about; and the nitty gritty of how they lived and died.

I strongly believe with Donna Tartt that:  “The first duty of the novelist is to entertain. It is a moral duty. People who read your books are sick, sad, traveling, in the hospital waiting room while someone is dying. Books are written by the alone for the alone.”

But along with entertaining, what I love about historical fiction is that it can bring history to life.

Because I have an academic background, research comes naturally to me.  When I decide on a topic for a new novel, I first spend a few weeks exploring the history, culture, and geography of that time period.  It is very important to me to know as much as I can about the history of the time, even if I end up changing aspects of it to suit my novel.  At the same time, I try to keep events as historically accurate as possible.

When writing about dark age and medieval Wales, however, there is so much we don’t know that sifting through the data to find out what ‘really’ happened is often next to impossible.  Many records were destroyed—deliberately for the most part—in the years after Edward I conquered Wales, but other records were lost to time, thrown away in ignorance, were never written down, or were lost when Henry VIII abolished the monasteries. There’s even a story that one of the twentieth century owners of Aber Garth Celyn (the seat of Llywelyn, the last Prince of Wales) found documents stuffed into a wall and burned them because they were in Latin and she couldn’t read them!

For the novelist, while knowing the birth date of the Hywel, the Prince of Wales who plays a part in my new novel, The Good Knight, would be helpful, that absence of knowledge leaves enormous scope for fiction.

A shelf (or Kindle)-full of good historical fiction can be entertaining, but also gives us a window to the past and allows us to lose ourselves in other times and lives.  And ensures that we call can say:  I love history!

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