My Top 10 reads of 2017 #greatreads #booklove #amreading

I’m surprised to say I beat my reading challenge target on Goodreads. I read 34 books throughout 2017, my target was 30. I read 33 in 2016, so I think I’ve found a good reading level for me, but I might aim a little higher in 2018. I plan to be more organised in my reading next year, finishing a few trilogies I’ve started etc. But I’ll post about that later. Right now, I’d like to share my Top 10 Reads of 2017…

My kids have recommended a few books this year, which have been really addictive. It’s hard to choose between them, so I’ve selected two…

Wolf Brother by Michelle Paver.

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I love wolves, have done since I read Robin Hobb’s Farseer trilogy. This book has emotion, excitement, adventure and friendship. It has been enjoyed by three generations of my family, so don’t let the fact its a children’s book put you off. I haven’t reviewed this book on my blog yet, but it is a 5 star read.

The Iron Trial By Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

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Again I haven’t reviewed this book yet, but it’s an amazing read and my first try of both these authors. I highly recommend this unputdownable 5 star book.

I tried a couple of historical fiction novels this year and I was so impressed with IREX by Carl Rackman, which I read when I was a reviewer on Rosie Amber’s book review team.

IREX by Carl Rackman

This book really draws you into the Victorian era and the mystery elements keeps you intrigued right to the end. I was sad this book had to end at all. Here’s my review.

I also tried Urban Fantasy for the first time and loved…

Eleonore by Faith Rivens

This was another 5 star read, here’s my review. I was really surprised how much I enjoyed changing my usual fantasy genre. I highly recommend this demon hunting, kick-ass heroine’s story.

Two of my stand out fantasy reads in 2017 were…

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

This was my book club choice and I loved it. Here’s the link to my original review. I loved this magical book and I’m jealous of Naomi Novik’s story telling skills.

A Darker Shade of Magic by V E Schwab

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I was taken by surprise by this novel. I loved the characters and can’t wait to read the rest of this series in 2018. I plan to share my review of the series then. It was another 5 star read.

I have listened to a few audiobooks in 2017 and two that really stand out are;

Therapy by Sebastian Fitzek

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The premise of this book really drew me in and I couldn’t stop listening. I may not have been over the moon with the ending, but it was still a great book and a 5 star read. Here’s my review.

The Breakdown by B A Paris

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This book was another addictive listen, with plenty of twists and shocks. You feel as unsure of whom to trust as the main character, Cass, and I loved the ending. A must read, and I hope to share my review of it early in 2018.

I have read a few writing guides this year. Again it was hard to choose between them, but I’ve selected two favourites…

The Writer’s Lexicon by Kathy Steinemann

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This book is a great editing companion. I found it really helpful in helping me focus on over used and redundant words, with plenty of helpful word alternatives. Here’s my review.

Overwhelmed Writer’s Rescue by Colleen M Story

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A great book to help you re-evaluate your life and focus on what matters. There is so much in this book to help you find more time to write. Here’s my review.

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So looking back at my reading in 2017 I’m impressed that I managed to read so many books considering I’ve published my second novel, The Lost Sentinel, edited a third and wrote 40k of another during NaNoWriMo.

I don’t know what 2018 will hold, but I’m looking forward to immersing myself in more fantasy books and following more review blogs to build up my TBR shelf even more.

Happy New Year everyone!

 

Guest author: Suzanne Rogerson – 5 ways spreadsheets can help writers plan and edit their novels

As promised, here’s the first stop on The Lost Sentinel’s blog tour. Find out why I love spreadsheets as a writing tool.

Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

I’ve always loved using excel spreadsheets, which probably goes back to my office job days (yawn!). But it was only as I recently plotted and planned the second book in my Silent Sea Chronicles, that I wondered if other writers had considered the benefits of using spreadsheets as a writing tool. Excel is great for;

  1. Planning your novel
  • Plan scenes in brief (or detailed if you prefer)

I do a mixture of both on the spreadsheet. Sometimes I plot out the basic scene, but I might add a few bits of dialogue to help me get into the scene when it comes to actually writing it.

  • It’s easy to copy, cut and move scenes around until you find the right place for them in the story.
  • Keep track of viewpoint characters

This is great when you have a cast of characters. I don’t like to leave too long between…

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Blog update #amediting The Lost Sentinel #fantasy

I am happy to report that I’ve finally finished what I hope is the final draft of The Lost Sentinel – Bloodlines Trilogy Book One.

I’m going to be taking some time out from blogging to read though it before passing it to my first beta readers. I’m hoping it’s all come together in this latest round of edits.

Then it’ll be time to look for book cover ideas and try to perfect my blurb!

Not sure I’ll be on schedule to publish before the end of 2016, but I’m really hoping to stick to my plan of publishing a book a year.

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When I return to blogging, I’ll have some tips to share on keeping track of events whilst writing a trilogy or series.

Have a great weekend everyone.

#AtoZChallenge P – Proofreading Top 10 checklist

Proofreading is one of the hardest stages of writing for me. I love drafting and editing, but to read each word and sentence and analyse it’s components is difficult. It’s too scientific for my creative brain, but an important process that needs to be done before considering publication.

Back in August last year, I devised a checklist to tackle the final proofread of Visions of Zarua. My original post was here.

Looking back, I’m quite pleased with it as a ‘how to’ guide. It worked brilliantly for me, but I do have to warn you that a couple of tiny errors still slipped past this stage (slap wrist). Luckily with KDP & Createspace it’s a simple matter of updating the corrected file and within 24 hours the revised book is on sale. However, we should all aim to produce the best book we possibly can from the start and there really is no excuse for letting those errors slip past. My biggest advice is don’t skim at this stage. Focus and stay alert to stop those pesky mistakes from ruining a readers experience.

Proof reading Top 10 Checklist

  1. Use a hard copy – it’s too easy to skip over errors on the computer.
  2. Read aloud – but make sure the neighbours can’t hear you.
  3. Read it slowly, word by word – at reading pace your brain skips over words it expects to see and doesn’t pick up the errors.
  4. Use a ruler or blank page to highlight the line you’re reading – this ensures you don’t get ahead of yourself.
  5. Keep focused and hydrated by drinking lots of water – this helps keep you awake, and the trips to the toilet provide plenty of short breaks.
  6. Use a colourful pen to highlight the error, mark the sentence in the margin and fold the corner of the page over – triple insurance against the error being missed when updating on the computer.
  7. Avoid all distractions – escape from the phone and the internet.
  8. Keep a notebook handy – it’s great to make notes of any last minute niggles you need to sort out.
  9. The main edit should already have been done at this point so focus on errors with grammar, spelling, punctuation, word choice and spacing.
  10. And finally, there’s no harm in resetting the computer spell checker and giving it one last go.

 

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Used with my Editing Search & Destroy Checklist posted during the E challenge, you should catch most of the errors.

Have you got any proofreading tips to share?

Good luck!

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Quality close ups I want to share.

Check out previous a-z posts here

#AtoZChallenge K – Kai’s questions on an author’s resilience

This post was sparked by a recent year 6 school homework project. The subject was on resilience and my son asked to interview me about the resilience of an author. He also designed a poster of our kitten learning to write, intended to show other students that no matter how hard the task, you just have to keep going.

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(I’m afraid to say that Poppy wasn’t as resilient as the rest of us authors, she’s given up a career as a writer and moved to full time bird watching.)

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Here are the questions my son asked me and my answers. I may elaborate a little on this post as Kai really didn’t want to write down an answer more than one sentence long.

Kai’s Questions on Resilience

1. What have you overcome when writing your books?

Over the years I’ve had to make myself learn a lot of new skills; editing, formatting for self publishing, I’ve had to tackle social media platforms and learn how to market my book on my own. I’ve also had to get over my shyness and force myself to attend evening writing classes and book groups.

The biggest thing I’ve had to overcome is self doubt, otherwise Visions of Zarua would never have been published.

2. Have you ever felt like giving up?

When my work is rejected, or someone doesn’t like it I’ve thought of giving up. But I love writing, and even though it’s hard work and there are rejections to deal with, I could never stop.

3. What kept you going?

My love of writing has kept me going through all the set backs. And the support of my family and friends.

4. What inspired you to become a writer?

I’ve always loved reading and creating my own stories. I first discovered that I loved writing in junior school. My favourite class was English Language /  Literacy. I loved the homework! I’d rush home and sit in front of the telly and writes pages. I especially loved it when we were given TITLE PROMPTS for homework. The hardest thing for me was choosing which title, I wanted to use them all.

5. What disappointments have you been through?

My books have been rejected by agents and publishers. I’ve entered competitions and failed to be placed. Each time I have revised and reworked my novels and stories and resubmitted. You can’t give up if you want to succeed.

 

Extra Note:-

Another reason I decided to self publish was to show my children that you can achieve anything if you try hard enough. I could have kept submitting to agents and publishers hoping for a break, but instead I put in the hard work myself and took control of my own destiny.

Now I have a finished book and I can say ‘I am an author!’ My children can say ‘My mum writes books,’ instead of saying she stays at home and looks after the cats – my son really did say that at school once.

I’ve actually just registered as a self employed author with the tax office. Now I really have to believe it and start writing it on forms instead of falling back on being a housewife.

 

It was fun being interviewed by my son, and really nice that he thought of me for this homework.

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Tomorrow – L for leaves and lovely lilies.

More a to z posts can be found here.

 

#AtoZChallenge – E for Editing ‘Search and destroy’

If you want your story to fly off the page – then it’s all in the editing.

Once you have a near finished draft, it’s important to go through it and cut any unnecessary words. I use Mircosoft Word ‘Navigation’ – CTL ‘F’ key. It’s brilliant. You type in a word and it will tell you how many times you’ve used it, shows you page numbers and allows you to navigate easily between these sentences to fix them.

I have a list I work through. It started when my Beta readers commented that I used certain words and phrases too often – everyone grinned (mostly inappropriately!), there were lots of smiles flashing and a few too many calming breaths! There are plenty more, but I don’t want to embarrass myself too much.

We all have our own pet words to search for and destroy, but here’s a list of a few that are universal.

ly words – Usually these words are added to weak verbs. It’s better to change the verb in question and delete the ly word. (walked quickly – ran)

ing words – Sometimes we use too many ing words and the prose would be improved by a rewrite.

ALL Variations of said: whisper/shout/mutter/ etc – As my editor pointed out, it should be obvious by the dialogue itself how it is said. If not, rework it. Also if its obvious who is talking you can get rid of the speech tag altogether.

Look / gaze / sat / walk and other weak verbs – replace with stronger ones.

Smile / grin / nod / shrug / cry  / sigh – Any over used actions that slip in during the creating stage.

Yes, No, well (in dialogue) – These are often pointless sentence starters.

Just, very, quite, more, really  etc – Filler words don’t add to the prose. The sentence becomes stronger without them.

Sense / feel / felt – These sentences can often be improved by rewriting. If a character felt something, it should be obvious by their actions without the writer spelling it out.

Contractions – Check they are used where appropriate in prose and dialogue.

Then, next – A creative writing teacher told me these are unnecessary (unless in dialogue)as everything in fiction is consecutive.

There was /were – Passive sentences slow the pace.

(I’m sure there are lots more to add to this list, please share yours)

Conclusion – Using Word’s Navigation (search and destroy method)

Lowers your word count.

Ensures your writing is succinct.

Roots out repetition and your pet words and phrases.

Helps you view the sentence in question separate from the whole, so you can pick out the problems and be ruthless fixing them.

You can see what words you use too often and become more conscious of them as you write your next draft.

 

Now your novel will fly off the page…

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(This brilliant pic is off Pixabay.com. It’s the first time I’ve used someone else’s image, but the site said it was free to use.)

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Tomorrow I’m up for a bit of Foraging.

Links to my previous A to Z challenge posts

#atozchallenge – B Beta readers

Beta readers are a writers best friend. They helped me turn this:

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into this

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I’d never have found the courage to publish without their help and support. They were instrumental in helping the novel develop, pointing out character flaws, plot issues and words and phrases that I have a tendency to overuse.

How to find Beta Readers

I was lucky enough to make friends with writers from the adult education classes I attended a few years ago. Some of us have kept in touch and meet up to critique each others work.

These creative writing classes are a great way to learn the craft and make new friends, and I really recommend new writers try to join one.

There are other options; online courses, peer websites, or you can find beta readers advertising online and on sites like Goodreads. But there is nothing quite like sitting down over a cup of tea, or glass of wine and talking through your book with someone who understands the trials involved in writing.

Be a Beta Reader

You can learn a lot about the process of writing and editing by being a Beta reader yourself. I found it an enriching experience, both to the reader and the writer in me. It’s an honour to read someone’s work, to know that they trust you with their baby and that you’re probably one of the first to read their work as a whole.

Now for a few words from a couple of my lovely beta readers;

Beta-reading by Louise Spiers

‘I had not known I was a beta-reader until I saw the acknowledgements in Visions of Zarua by my friend Suzanne Rogerson. My ignorance of the term did not hinder my becoming one. Beta-reading comes naturally to those of us who as teachers have spent many hours reading and marking essays. I met Suzanne at a creative writing evening class and was impressed by her work and professionalism. After the class finished, a small group of us continued to meet. It was then that I read more of her book. The opportunity to read through the entire fantasy novel was one that I approached with enthusiasm. I enjoyed the process and it was a pleasure to help her. I can thoroughly recommend beta-reading to any writer. It is a privilege to be asked to read and comment on a writer’s work especially when you understand how many hours of hard work it represents. If I am ever in the position of needing a beta-reader, Suzanne will be my first choice. Finally, do go and check out Visions of Zarua. You won’t be disappointed.’

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‘Beta readers are vitally important to improving your writing – they catch plot holes and inconstancies that you totally missed, along with providing encouragement when they tell you what worked well!   I’ve also enjoyed being a Beta reader for friends and other writers; it’s a great feeling to know you’ve helped someone else on their path to publication!’   Barbed Words
Barbed Words is also taking part in the A-ZChallenge so check out her blog here.

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Has anyone else any Beta reading experiences to share?

The next few blogs will have a more crafty theme. And then I’ll be onto E – its all in the editing. See you next time.

#amediting for the next two weeks!

Last week I finally completed the read through and edit of ‘Search for the Sentinel’. It’s in good shape, though far from ready to self publish. I need to add in a dozen or so scenes and have lots of tell and unnecessary exposition to delete. I also need to work on some of the world-building ideas to make sure they come alive for the reader.

I’ve challenged myself to complete this next stage of editing in two weeks, deadline when the kids breakup for half term. If you could see the scribbled mess of my draft you would know that it’s quite an undertaking. But if I don’t set the challenge I will just drift along without completing anything. Looks like I will have to unplug my Wifi.

The plan will then be to print it and read it again after a break of a week or so. Then I’ll keep repeating the process until I’m happy enough to pass it on for it’s first beta read.

I also need to look into book covers. This time it will need to have a theme that can run through 3 books – and I have no ideas where to start with that. But I shall be heading over to ‘The Cover Collection’ who made the brilliant cover for Visions of Zarua.

In the near future I hope to put together an editing checklist which will incorporate what I’ve learnt from creative writing classes, professional critiques and professional editing. Watch this space.

My editors are getting ready to give me a hand…

See you on the other side of two weeks, if I still have my sanity!

 

Guest Post by Alison Williams – 10 things new writers should know

I first came across Alison Williams in 2015 when I was looking for a professional editor to give ‘Visions of Zarua’ a final edit before I self published. I had thought the novel was pretty much ready, but Alison suggested many areas of improvement. In all, I cut 10k off the word count!

She has been a huge help to me through the editing and self publishing stages, and here she offers her advice to all new writers. Thank you, Alison…

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Ten things new writers should know

  1. Writing a book is hard. It’s a long process. It will take up lots and lots of your time. Don’t be fooled into thinking you can write a 50,000 word novel in a month – NaNoWriMo has its uses but what you write in November is certainly not the finished article.
  2. While you might love writing, when you’re supposed to be writing other things will take on a glamour and an appeal you never knew they had. Even ironing.
  3. Social media can be the best thing ever and the worst thing ever. You will make writer friends, find support, help and empathy. You will also waste hours and hours and hours of valuable writing time.
  4. You need a fresh pair of eyes. However good your spelling and grammar, spellcheck and your own eyes aren’t enough. You WILL miss mistakes.
  5. You need an editor. For the reasons above and then some. Not only can spelling mistakes get missed, but so can plot holes, inconsistencies, issues with characterisation, flow, pace – the list could go on and on. And I’m not saying that because I’m an editor. ALL writers need editors.
  6. You need a professional book cover if you’re self-publishing. Too many good books fail to reach an audience because the cover is awful, or bland, or doesn’t relate to the content. See Rosie Amber’s wonderful Friday Five Challenge if you have any doubt about the importance of your cover.
  7. Promoting your book will take as much time, if not more, than writing it. This is the case whether you self publish or are traditionally published. You will need to promote your work, blog about it, tweet, use Google +, Facebook, engage with other writers and readers, maybe do book signings, readings, conferences. Don’t think writing is all about sitting at a laptop creating worlds. You have to interact in the real world too.
  8. Not everyone will love your book. Some people might even hate it. And if they do they may well tell you so. On Amazon. In detail. Grow a thick skin and be prepared. And be prepared to listen to criticism. Your harshest critics might have a point (or they might not, in which case ignore them – never, ever engage with them).
  9. You won’t make lots of money. At least you probably won’t. You’ll work hard, very, very hard for not much monetary reward. Don’t have expectations of paying off the mortgage, buying a new car or even giving up the day job. It might happen. But it probably won’t.
  10. Writing is hard. Did I say that already? It is though. It’s hard, it’s time consuming, it’s frustrating and thankless and sometimes it’s really, really boring. But you should do it anyway. Because when you publish something you’re proud of, and when someone, a complete stranger, writes a five star review for your book on Amazon, it’s a wonderful feeling. And it makes all that hard work worthwhile.

 

Alison Williams lives in Hampshire with her husband, two teenage children, and a variety of pets including a mad cocker spaniel, a rescue Labrador, a psychotic cat and two of the most unsociable rabbits in existence. She is an independent novelist, freelance editor and writer. As an editor, Alison works mainly with independent authors and has edited everything from erotica, memoirs and poetry to children’s books and fantasy. When she has any time left at all, she enjoys blogging, reading, going to the gym and listening to music (she has an obsession with Johnny Marr), and watching The Sopranos (again). From 2011-2012 she studied for a Masters in Creative Writing with the University of Glasgow. As part of her studies, Alison wrote her first novel ‘The Black Hours’ – available now from Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, Sony and the Apple Store. ‘Blackwater’, the prequel to ‘The Black Hours’ is available free as an eBook from all the above outlets. Both can be read as standalones.

Blog: http://alisonwilliamswriting.wordpress.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/alisonwilliamswriting

Twitter: @Alison_WiIliams

 

My 9 Point Plan to Succeed in 2016

1st Jan 2016 is the perfect day to plan the year ahead. Start with optimism and who knows what can be achieved.

1. Read more and review more (As a new author I am desperate to get reviews, so it only seems right that I should put this into practice myself.)

How to achieve:

– I’ve signed up for the Good Reads 2016 reading challenge. 25 books. Not a big target, but it’s more than I managed last year.

– I have a brand new notebook to record the books I read and my thoughts on them. First book of the year is ‘The Iron Ship’ by K.M.McKinley.

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– I’m a member of a local Waterstones Fantasy / Sci-Fi book group. We meet once a month and they encourage me to try new authors. Needing to finish a book to a time scale is good motivation.

2.  Publish my next book – Working title Bloodlines ‘Search for the Sentinel’

How to achieve:

– The minute the kids go back to school, I’m turning off the computer, internet etc. I’m going to focus on the draft I’ve already printed ready and concentrate on pulling it into shape. I’ve worked on it previously, so hopefully it will only take a few months to prepare it for a beta reader – Cue long suffering husband?

3.  Try to blog at least once a week

How to achieve:

– So far I have a couple of half started draft posts to fall back on. I need to build up a list of posts to do. It’s sometimes easier if you already have a title or a starting point.

– If I manage to start reviewing the books in my Goodreads library, that will cover a few blogs (hopefully 25!).

– I hope to blog about the process of editing and publishing my second book, focusing on things like the front cover selection.

– I hope to blog about the successes and failures of marketing my first published book – Visions of Zarua.

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4.  Finish the draft of another WIP – which will be another standalone fantasy currently called Child of Destiny.

How to achieve:

– NaNoWriMo in either April or November. For two years running I worked on Child of Destiny, completing 50k one year and 22k the next. It seems fitting that I finish the first draft during NaNo 2016.

5.  Create new – short stories, flash fiction, new ideas for novels

How to achieve:

– A beautiful new notebook to write in and a lovely new Parker pen. It’s a start, then I just need to add a spark of imagination and I’m away…

 

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6.  Enter competitions

How to achieve:

– I have a handful of stories I need to finish polishing and make changes to after receiving some very helpful critiques during previous competition entries.

7.  Consider publishing a novella

How to achieve:

– Develop my s/s Death Dream and see if the idea can be sustained through a longer word count.

8.  Market Visions of Zarua and get reviews on Amazon and Goodreads

How to achieve:

– I hope to do a blog tour early in 2016 and get to know more bloggers and reviewers. Maybe run a giveaway or two.

Goodreads Giveaway – already in motion and attracting a steady flow of entrants.

– Contact reviewers, I already have a couple lined up and some I’m hoping to approach this year.

9.  I would like to tidy and redesign my website

How to achieve:

– Resist the urge to pull hair out, punch the laptop and swear head off.

– Muddle through as usual.

 

I’m already thinking 2016 is not going to be long enough for everything I’ve planned, and we’re only on day 1. The next job will be to print this plan and pin it on the wall by my desk where I can look at it and get inspired. It’s always good to have a plan…

Has anyone got any time management tips?