E-Book Formatting: I’d Rather Be Fishing

I don’t like fishing. Waking up before sparrow’s fart to plod out on a cold miserable morning does not sound like fun to me. Smelling like salty fish and spending hours waiting for a bite on the line— aww hells no, I could be sitting on the couch eating cinnabons and watching Jessica Jones instead! So know that when I say I’d rather be fishing, I mean I would rather be gutting a fish, touching wriggly bait or stinking like  yesterday’s whale vomit than formatting an eBook.

But you already know this; I can see the bruises left from hitting your head on the wall. Purple really is your colour.



Let’s try this optimism thing I hear so much about. Here’s the good news: it’s do-able, I’d even go so far as to say it’s doable.

I was lucky, my manuscript was straightforward and there weren’t many fancy images or graphs to deal with, so the butthurt was unpleasant but bearable.

Step 1: Find a self-publishing platform

Google is your friend, use it to research platforms like:

Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP)






Step 2: Create an account

  • Set up your profile, author page and complete bank details.
  • It helps to have a dedicated email address for your book administration.

Step 3: Tax forms

If you’re a non-US self-publisher this bit might feel like a swift kick up the arse.

  • There will be forms (ugh, right?), don’t panic, just read it a few times.
  • You will need your tax identification number from your own country on hand.
  • From my own experience, I found the process most streamlined on KDP, forms are completed online and posting of hard copies is not required.

Step 4: Read the site’s guidelines

You’re looking for the following info:

  • File format: MS Word (doc or docx)
  • Cover dimensions / size
  • Image format supported

There are no pages in eBooks, your book will look different on different e-reader devices because we sacrificed the ‘page’ to give our readers flowing text that can be adjusted by font, size, and spacing to suit their individual needs.

With that in mind:

Step 5: Dunk the junk!

Remove: page numbers, headers and footers, backgrounds, fancy fonts and different colour texts.

Step 6: Page and paragraph breaks

  • Do not use tabs or multiple spaces to delineate the beginning of a paragraph.
  • Use the the automatic paragraph indent feature marked as “¶” on the toolbar.
  • Page breaks are not required in eBooks but if you absolutely must have them: do not use tabs/spaces to move to the next page— separate chapters with a page break (Insert > Break > Page Break).

Step 7: Strip your manuscript

Copy all your text and paste in a simple text-editing program like NotePad (PC) or TextEdit (Mac)—this will remove your previous formatting settings.

Open a blank MS Word document and copy your text from NotePad. This is our start-from-scratch document.

Now select all text and change it to:

  • A standard font, like Times New Roman, Arial or Georgia
  • Normal’ paragraph style (block or first indent style)
  • Left-aligned text, avoid justifying text—it does not convert well
  • 10, 11 or 12pt is fine for main body text (I have seen bigger font in children’s books.)
  • Single line spacing
  • Use the heading styles in Word’s Quick StylesHeading 1 for Chapter titles, Heading 2 for sub-titles or section headings, etc.

At this point you’re probably wondering:

How the heck are those changes supposed to be made?

I know that when I tried, the information did not sink in until I looked at pictures showing me what to click on and how the end product is supposed to look.

Resources that got me through this:

  • Catherine Ryan Howard’s blog post: a step-by-step guide with pictures!



  • Lulu’s Creator Guide:

The rules that apply for formatting to mobi or ePUB are similar; I have used the same manuscript on Lulu (ePub) and KDP (mobi), but I found the guidelines on Lulu easier to follow, simply because they had pictures.

Here are few topics I found useful:


once again harry edited

Image Found: http://www.dvdverdict.com/images/reviewpics/hp601.jpg (Image modified with text)


Step 8: Upload your book

  • Follow your publisher’s instructions and check that the table of contents (created automatically) is correct. I did this ten times before I realised that all my chapters were Heading 1 and not Heading 1 for Chapter 1, Heading 2 for Chapter 2 etc.
  • View your book before finalising: Download an e-reader like Adobe Digital Editions, use iBooks (Mac) or view on the Kindle app or Kindle’s onscreen preview.
  • Download a copy of your draft eBook and view it on different devices, if possible. I recommend this especially if your book has images. What looked great on my Mac, looked sloppy on a Kobo device—which meant adjusting the image layout and size for the umpteenth time!

Step 9: Upload your cover image:

Cover image dimensions/size are not the same across platforms. I used The Book Designer’s guide for a quick check but your publisher’s site should be your main reference.

Step 10: Publish!

Now take a seat, brave one. Your work here is done.


10 Tips For Self-Editing Your Manuscript

Hey reader, you’re looking fly today. I’m digging those cool vibes you’re putting out. Oh, and by the way, editing sucks. It sucks, big time.

Hot tip: Sweeten up the victim with compliments, then hit ‘em over the head with the bad news.

I do not enjoy editing; I do not have a perfectionist bone in my body. Editing is about awareness, spotting errors and cleaning up your manuscript, so that it is a flawless work of art. Meh, I’m more like:

But there’s a time and place for that, right now, we’ve got to edit.

“Great, but how do I fix what I don’t understand? I should leave it to a professional.”

It would be all kinds of awesome to just write and hire an editor but most newbie writers can’t afford this option (although if you have moola to spend, this is where you should make it rain). I have no experience of working with professional editors but my gut feeling is that they do not appreciate receiving shitty  manuscripts ridden with errors.

We are wordsmiths, right? Our words translate into money in the pocket, so whether we enjoy it or not—we must at least have a basic understanding of the editing process.

Tips to get you started:

#1 Edit first, proofread later

  • Editing is concerned with improving the quality of your writing. This involves removing unnecessary chapters/scenes, fact checking, rewriting to remove ambiguity.
  • Proofreading identifies typos, punctuation and spelling errors, poor grammar and formatting issues e.g. page breaks
  • You would hate to spend hours polishing every sentence only to cut out huge chunks of the content later.

#2 Print out the manuscript

  • After reading your manuscript a 100 times, you become so familiar with the script that your mind automatically fills in missing words. Reading your work in a different format helps with this.
  • Try changing the font, make the font size larger—this helps to shake things up and minimise your unconscious bias.
  • Randomise the reading of your chapters to break the monotonous pattern.

#3 Read aloud

  • Reading aloud helps you spot awkward/clunky sentences, missing or repetitive words and spelling errors.
  • Try your out-loud editing early in the morning when it is quieter (or at time where there are fewer distractions).
  • Read aloud to someone else (make that poor sod several cups of coffee).
  • Get a second pair of eyes on it. Look for someone who enjoys reading your genre.

#4 Trim sentences

  • Long sentences are tricky to read and harder to punctuate correctly.
  • Short sentences grab the reader’s attention.

#5 Pruning the redundant

  • Look out for repetition of ideas, words or phrases.
  • Avoid using words that aren’t needed because their meaning is implied.
  • Resist the urge to explain, give the reader some credit.
  • Examples:

“The big, giant” Giants are not known to be small.

“She blinked her eyes.” What else was she going to blink?

“The lecture on editing was dull and boring. It was putting Seymour Butz to sleep” The lecture on editing put Seymour Butz to sleep.

“She threw away the broken toaster that did not work.”

Homer was mad. He kicked the chair. “Bart, you’re going to drive me crazy,” he said, angrily.

#6 People say things—use “said” as the tag

  • They do not laugh/snarl/spit/wheeze/growl out words. No, really! You try growling out this sentence:

“I’m not growling.”

*hides her face* I’m cringing because I’m guilty of this no-no.

  • Aim: separate the words from the action.


Not: “I can’t do this. I give up,” sighed Irma Kwitta.

Try: Irma Kwitta sighed. “I can’t do this. I give up,” she said.

You could even leave out “she said” because this was implied by the first sentence.

#7 Commas

  • I obsess over commas. After hours of looking at sentences, every spot looks like a good gap to place a comma. I do, however, have 2 tips to share:

First tip: Put a comma in when using speaker tags.


Marco said, “I love pizza.”

Second tip: Place a comma before and after sentence interrupters. Interrupters are words or phrases that disrupt the flow of the sentence. If you remove the interruption, the sentence will still make sense.


My cat, on the other hand, jumps on the bed as soon as he hears me close the door.

Your wife, in my opinion, cares more for her soapies than she does for you.

#8 Avoid cliché’s

  • This includes words, phrases and ideas. Your detective doesn’t have to be an alcoholic, serial cheater who drives a sports car and has a passion for a quirky hobby.

 #9 Give it a rest

  • Take a break. We need you sane for this exercise.
  • When you are fresh and percolated like the coffee you just made, then put on your editor’s hat and pull out your magnifying glass.
  • You can’t do it all on one day, focus on specific aspects of editing.

#10 End it

  • Perfection is an unattainable target.
  • You’ve probably found at least 10 errors in this post. *cringe*
  • That nagging feeling that you’ve missed something, won’t go away.
  • Scrub and polish your work to the best of your ability and then let this sink in:

A published piece with a few errors is better than a file that sits on your desktop (and never sees the light of day).



Get Your Copyright Template Here!

You need a copyright template and I have one. See? We’re good for each other, you should stop playing hard to get and just follow me already.


Let’s at least try to wrap our minds around it before we copy and paste. If you’ve paged through books for reference, you would have noticed, that some copyright notices are long and others are as short as 2 lines.

The must-have elements of a copyright page:

  • The copyright notice which includes: the symbol ©/ word Copyright, the year of first publication, and the name or abbreviation of the owner of copyright e.g.: © 2015 Oliver Klozoff
  • A statement giving notice that the rights to reproduce the work are reserved to the copyright holder: All Rights Reserved
  • ISBN number

Extra bits but not necessary:

  • Edition information: Second Edition
  • Publication information: publishers name and address
  • Printing history: printers key which is a string of numbers that indicate year printed and number of printings the book has gone through
  • Legal notices/ disclaimers
  • Credits for design, production, editing and illustration
  • Promotional information: website, email address

Template 1:

Best Book Ever

Copyright © 2015 Oliver Klozoff

All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the copyright owner of this book.

ISBN: (put the isbn number here)

Template 2 with disclaimer:

Copyright © [year of publication} by [insert author’s name]

All rights reserved.

Cover design by [insert illustrator’s name]/ [insert website]

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the author. The only exception is by a reviewer, who may quote short excerpts in a review.

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

[Author’s name]
Visit my website at [insert website]
Printed in the [country]
First Printing: [date]

Template 3 (From Lulu website):

Copyright © <Year of Publication> by <Your Name>All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review or scholarly journal.

First Printing: <Year of first printing>

ISBN <Enter your ISBN>

<Your Publishing Company Name>

<Your Street Address or Post Office Box>

<Your City>, <Your State> <Your Zip Code>

<Your Internet Address>



Unpublished Writer: You Can Write a Kickass Author Bio!

The author bio or the “about the author” section can be a real balls ache for unpublished writers. What the heck do you boast about, if you’ve just started this writing gig?

First things first: If you’re tired/ lazy/ about to flip the desk—chill. There’s a template at the end. Like, a really awesome one. So your problem is solved.

Next on the list: It’s okay to feel useless when staring at that blank page. Even experienced writers, who build worlds and have hundreds of characters swimming around in their creative minds, cringe at the thought of having to write about themselves. (Well, that’s what I’m telling myself.)

As an unpublished writer, you’re not even sure what to call yourself. Am I an author, writer or some chump with a keyboard and a few vague ideas?

My feeling is: fake it ’til you make it.

Think of the author bio as a resumé after one shot of Jägermeister. You’re going to sell your good points like you would for a job interview but you’re going to be relaxed and little silly about it.

At this point you’re almost a 100% certain this is the worst advice you’ve ever received. Bare with me, you’ll see there’s method to my madness but first let’s get the basics down.

Don’t call yourself a “novelist” if you haven’t published yet.

  • Describe yourself as a freelance writer because chances are you will be sending your manuscripts off to publishers, or sharing your work online e.g. writer’s forums, Wattpad, blog posts.

Write in 3rd person

  • It might feel a bit pretentious but it does create distance. Use this to separate yourself from the author.
  • It also makes you look less self-indulgent to the reader when you’re tooting your horn.

Keep it short

  • Fewer than 250 words, if you haven’t won any awards, what are you jibber jabbering about anyways?
  • Keeping it brief means that you can use the same bio for print publications, author pages, social media (these might have word count/ character number restrictions).

 Be professional

  • List your achievements, something that gives you credibility or makes you newsworthy e.g. education, work experience, big prizes, press credits, were you editor of the school paper?
  • If you’re an active member of a writing group, mention it.

Be a little silly

  • You are your genre: authors who write about serious topics usually have serious bios, authors of the young-adult genre tend to be more upbeat and funny. Non-fiction authors rely on credibility, so, not a lot of room for silliness there.
  • Give the readers a sense of your voice (light, chatty, dark, brooding, sarcastic, witty).
  • What makes you human/ relatable? Do you drink too much coffee, love 80’s music and wear white socks?
  • A touch appropriate humour can go a long way in taking the snore out of a bio.
  • Mention something that makes you interesting: quirky jobs, hobbies, and talents — if it aligns with your novels even better e.g. your book is about werewolves who own a gourmet burger restaurant and you’re the world’s championship burger winner.
  • If there’s nothing interesting about you, mention something personal. Readers may be interested to know that a children’s book author has kids of her own, or an ex-police officer wrote a crime novel, or that you have a fat cat that loves to eat lasagna.

Online presence:

  • Mention your blog, Twitter handle and any social media sites you’re active on.

If all else fails: use this template provided courtesy of Alexandra Franzen. She’s got mad skills, check out her blog!

Super cool template:

{Your name here} wants to live in a world where {describe the kind of world you want to live in}.

As a {your job title here}, {he’s / she’s} been {spotlighted / featured / showcased / honored / applauded} on {list of blogs / websites / podcasts / theaters / art galleries / places that have recognized or shared your work}.

When {he’s / she’s} not {describe whatever your normally do}, you can find {him / her} {describe whatever you do when you’re not doing … that}.

{His / Her} {first / next / latest / recently-released} {book / program / project / collaboration} — {title of your new and cool thing} — hits {the shelves / airwaves / silver screen / internet / an inbox near you} on {date}.

{Discover / learn / explore / find out} how to {describe whatever you help people to do} at {your website here}.

Best in Climate Change in South Africa, November 2015

Hells yeah! Just topped the score board.

*does her victory dance*

I’m the Best in Climate Change in South Africa for November 2015 on QuizUp.

Check out the app, it’s a fun game where you challenge random users around the globe or friends on quizzes about pretty much any topic you can think of from Buffy to Renaissance Art. 

I know you’re thinking “why is she jibber jabbering about gaming on a writing blog?”

Pft, my blog has layers, like an onion and just like my writing it’s been known to stink up the place. (Ouch)

What’s new with me?

Well, I’ve started illustrating a book, putting what little drawing skills I have to some use. Meanwhile, The Magical Sneezes of Mallowmale has hit a rough patch, with one delay after another and I suspect my new story Bertie Farts in Class is going to beat it to the finish line.

I’m taking a break from “trying” to format word docs to ePub on Lulu today (I’ll post something about it once I figure out what the heck is going on).

Until then, I’ll see you guys on the playing field – https://www.quizup.com/en/topics/en-climate-change/2015/11?scope=country&country=ZA&player_id=564739619334393091&banner=lb:en-climate-change:ZA:month:11:2015:1&position=1&source=share

The Lowdown on ISBN

The next time you pick up a book to admire the cover design, take a peek at the back, you will find a set of numbers and/or a barcode known as ISBN (International Standard Book Number).

An ISBN is a unique 13-digit number identifier for books that keeps track of every edition (hard cover, paperback), format (ePUB, mobi) and title you publish.

ISBNs are a key component to making your books discoverable online by readers—remember book titles are not exclusive, book buyers may need more than just the author’s name and book title to identify the specific format or edition they’re searching for. The ISBN barcodes (usually reserved for printed books) are scannable and may have other information embedded in it like the price/currency of the book.

Let’s look at a practical example: A friend of mine lived in Thailand for a while, when the time came to pack up and return to South Africa, she was concerned about her books being stolen or lost in transit. I’m talking about over 10 huge boxes of books. She discovered that by using the Goodreads app, she could simply scan the ISBN barcodes on her phone and then link them to a shelf on her profile e.g. Bangkok-to-RSA. ISBNs made stocktaking less soul draining for this particular bibliophile.

Another perk of the ISBN is that it gains you entry to the world’s largest catalogue of books called Books In Print.

This catalogue is licensed to all the major search engines, several libraries and bookstores. It’s a simple process, once you have your ISBN, check out BowerLink and fill out the required forms.

When I first heard about ISBNs, a few thoughts popped into my mind:

  • Shit on toast, is this gonna break bank? It depends on the country.
  • Can self-publishers get an ISBN? Hells yeah!
  • Can I get away without an ISBN? If you plan to sell your book then you need an ISBN. If it’s for private use then you’re in the clear son!
  • Barnacles, I hope it doesn’t expire before my book comes out! ISBNs do not expire

I won’t lie, I was befuddled—I saw adverts for American ISBNs that ranged from $99 to $1000 and then I saw that some ISBNs were free. Some folks recommended buying ISBNs in bulk (e.g. blocks of 10) because it worked out cheaper and others blogs advised that new writers should get one ISBN, publish and then move on to buying blocks.

I figured narrowing my search to local hits would be best and was directed to the National Library of South Africa.

I was stoked to find out that the registration of an ISBN was a free service rendered to South African publishers.

For mahala boss!

I simply emailed the contact provided on the website, I received an application form within the day, it required the following info:

  • Title of book
  • Book format
  • Name of author
  • Name of publisher (if not author)
  • Contact details of author

I was advised that:

  • Every eBook format (PDF,ePUB, audiobook, etc) requires a different ISBN.
  • A new ISBN number is not required for reprints (books printed again with no changes or only minor corrections).
  • A new ISBN is required for a revised edition of a book.

I had received my ISBNs within 72 hours—I take my hat off to Ms. Magret Kibido for efficient and friendly service, the process was painless much to my surprise.

Happy days were here! Me first ISBN aarrgh!

My bank account had survived the exercise unscathed and like a diamond on the ring finger, my writing went from “it’s complicated” to official.


Hmm, why are you frowning, dear reader? 

Not a South African? Click on this link to read about ISBNs in other countries.

You got 99 problems and ISBN is one of them? I got your back bruh. Here are answers to 20 Frequently Asked Questions About ISBNs.

Best of luck, new writer!


Use Your Facebook Network

Well, it’s hardly original but certainly is true that the story of the book I plan to publish came to me in a dream.


I woke up with a sneeze, a craving for pasta and the content feeling of having had a proper laugh. My heart was smiling but it wasn’t letting me in on the joke, so naturally my mind poked and prodded, sniffing out the source of this unexpected bliss. It came to me as I brushed my teeth, while I stirred my cup of tea, at the first bite into my tuna melt sandwich and by midday the story of Mallowmale’s Magical Sneezes was born.

Before the dream, I had spent the day absorbed in researching and writing a sex scene for a food-themed piece of fiction.

It’s a hard job but someone’s got to do it.

Yes, my working day comprised of reading the most celebrated and smuttiest pieces of steamy literature I could find. I never knew that sneeze erotica existed…oh, what a sheltered life I have lived.

By the end of the day my mind was so deep in the gutter, the mayor of 69ville gave me the keys to the city—so, I can only assume that the innocent, simple tale that entered my subconscious must have been a desperate attempt to scrub my mind—a palate cleanser of sorts.

I wrote the story down as urgently and spontaneously as possible, each word made the story real and as the story unraveled in my mind, the characters began to breathe and the tale took root in my heart. I knew this was the book I would publish first, it was more than a good feeling; it was tangible.

Well, that’s fine and dandy but where do I start? I headed straight to Facebook to lament on the peculiarities of life when it struck me—we all have certain types of people as our friends on Facebook:

The Grammar Nazi: who posts memes about your vs. you’re or the proper use of a semicolon.

The Bookworm: who has read more books than you’ve had poops this month.

The Creative Hipster: who hangs out with artists and musicians.

The Beautiful Girl: whose face could launch a thousand ships.

The Budding Photographer: always posts amazing pics and has mad photoshop skills.

These are resources to be used.

No, don’t give me that look.

It’s rough out there, trying to publish a book with no money.

The dream is free but the hustle is sold separately.

With that in mind, this awkward loner did the unbelievable—she asked her friends for help.

I solicited the help of a Grammar Nazi and Bookworm to read and review my work; I asked the Beautiful Girl and Creative Person if they would use their network to help me find a graphic designer.

— is how I met my illustrator and proofreader.

Yeah, the Internet surprised me with kindness and I found out that sometimes the most supportive people are not relatives or loved ones but the acquaintances we call friends on our news feeds.

Wattpad: We Can’t Be Friends

A friend on Facebook excitedly mentioned that her fanfiction had received over a thousand views on Wattpad.

Hot tip: Hang out with young people; they know where all the cool shit is going down.

Wattpad is an online community where you can post your writing and read books for free. It has turned the lonely business of writing into a social activity. You can write your book from a smart phone or tablet and this convenience extends to your audience who can read your books on the go. Wattpad is huge, with over 24million users the majority of which, are readers.


I signed up eagerly, posted a chapter online, sampled a few books and looked at the featured authors.

First impressions:

  • There are some goddamn awful stories on the site.
  • One Direction fan fiction will get you a hundred views by default.
  • Ermahgerd this crowd is young and sexed up.

Still, I was excited and prepared for my phone to blow up with notifications. This did not happen.

Not in the first week, not even in the first month.


If you’re not writing about last night’s wet dream with Hairy Styles and Zac Afro or a zombie apocalypse at the The Playboy Mansion, then you’re going to have to work your ass off for every view.

How the fudge do I get a captive audience? It requires interaction you socially-awkward penguin! Nerts.

Let me share my game plan:

  • Once again The Universe insists that I make friends, so I went after like-minded people, popular people and lonely loners with no followers.
  • Read for review: Comment and review books with only a few views and then ask those authors to read your work.
  • Tweet or Facebook quotes from your own work with Wattpad’s lovely templates.
  • Put a word in, mate: Ask a Wattpad friend to share your writing with their network.

This was a decent start and I worked my way up to 85 views, a few votes and some reviews in my inbox. It was a lot of work for no joy and I’ll tell you why:

Wattpad is not a place to discuss the craft of writing; you will not get input on character development, lazy writing or any kind of constructive feedback. It is frustrating for functioning adults—brace yourself for teens and their emotions.


It is the high school scene rehashed. Not even the cool high school scene like The Breakfast Club, Can’t Hardly Wait or American Pie—it’s Highschool Musical.

Hot Tip For Myself: You can’t even be around adults in their 20’s; there is no way that you’re equipped for kids who have only just discovered the joys of masturbation.

Sorry Wattpad, we can’t be friends.

Before the Internet sends me karmic butthurt, let me say this: Wattpad is a cool place, anything that turns young people into readers is a good thing—it just wasn’t the right fit for me.

We get caught up in numbers as if this alone can validate our writing. No, I don’t want validation or pats on the back. I want a conversation with my readers of different ages and demographics so that I can ask questions like:

  • Did you follow the plot and did it hold your interest?
  • Did you find any passages difficult to read, boring or slow moving?
  • Were the characters believable? Did they ever behave in a way that was “out-of-character” ?
  • Was there enough conflict and action to keep you interested?
  • Were there any issues you had with the formatting or grammar?

Teen readers will tell you if they think your characters are cool or relatable otherwise brace yourself for: it sucks or it’s…nice.

I trudged on and stumbled across a more diverse audience on WritersCafe. This site is geared towards the mechanics of writing; users are actually discussing the nuts and bolts of a good story. Users are rewarded with points for reviewing or commenting on posts. There’s a genuine focus on constructive feedback on the site that appeals to me and I’ve received some good advice thus far. Your job is to find the writing community that’s right for you.

There are success stories of writers who crack social media platforms seemingly overnight. Five meow meow beenz to you if you’re one of them, for the rest of us:

Keep calm and carry on.

Posting Unpublished Work Online

You get a visit from the muses and your story cup runneth over. You type feverishly.


Urgently recording a dream, a whisper, the evaporating trails of legend. You stand back and you admire your masterpiece. Truly, it is a thing for the world to behold. You realize that it is not enough for the story to be written; your runes must be read.

Crud. Now, I don’t know about you but I have no friends. I’m your garden variety asthma pump-inhaling, glasses-wearing, Firefly-loving, LoTR-quoting dork and I’m awesome. Yes, the “no friends” thing is a mystery of puzzling proportions.

The first person I showed my work to was my computer-geek husband who mostly reads books about cricket and military battles. My story revolved around food and the supernatural; not his usual cup of tea. Actually, he doesn’t drink tea of any kind but I digress.

Yes. He loved it!

200_s (1)

But wait—my billowing bosom and hair flicking can easily sway this man.

giphy (1)

He is not an unbiased source.

I knew on the spot that I needed constructive feedback and that asking friends and family was not a good idea. Why? Let me put it this way: it’s like posting “highly recommended from my loved ones” under accomplishments on LinkedIn.

I quickly researched the subject and what I found scared me shitless, what came next told me the exact opposite.

The issues:

  • Many unpublished writers were afraid of their work being stolen.

My research on copyrights advised me that once you put pen to paper, you have full ownership of the book.

  • Why would anyone want to post half-baked, unpolished work online?

First drafts are rarely publisher ready and I’m a novice, my expertise is clearly limited. Feedback will help me revise and refine my work. This is critical to the development of my writing.

At a quick glance, I found that while posting short excerpts online is acceptable, anything else makes your work “previously published”.

  • Why would a publisher buy something a consumer can get for free online?

This is a good point if you plan to sell your book. It seems to me that the real issue here is quantity: if you are posting your work online, don’t post the story in full.

  • Test marketing by using a subset of individuals to estimate characteristics of the whole population.

Statistically speaking, most new writers do not have a large enough following for accurate market testing.

  • People can be meanies:

We all know that the online anonymity can turn people into ass-hats who revel in trolling and tearing things down. Are you emotionally prepared for this?

Yes, I am. You do not survive the harsh lab environment with a soft underbelly. My best advice is to separate yourself from your work and not take the feedback personally. Use the criticism to make your writing robust. Ignore the ass-hats where possible.

Feedback makes us better writers but not all feedback is insightful. What you really want is an experienced reader of your genre or someone who at the very least is honest with you. “ I like it” is useless to me, I want actionable feedback that improves my writing.

These were my options:

  • Hide my work in my mind palace and wait for a professional to critique my work for free. ( What? Kind people don’t exist in your realm?)
  • Post my work online and accept the consequences.

 I like to pretend that I gave it more thought than this but in the end I figured:

Don’t look at me; I’m an unpublished nobody.

You’ve got to decide for yourself.

Write Savvy : A Half Decent Guide

Full disclosure: I have no idea what I’m doing.


No really.

I often feel this way, usually before my first cuppa tea. Make no mistake, this panic and crushing self-doubt is a tool to be used. Let it drive you to elevate your game. I used it to get off my ass, and it started with research. I read up on as many blogs and articles I could find and even stuck gold with a short writing course on Groupon that was heavily discounted. It was time consuming but worth it.

Here’s what I discovered:

 The 3 C’s: Character, Contrast and Conflict

  • Characters: should be different, believable and have recognizable personality traits and mannerisms
  • Contrast: Examples: light vs. dark, fast paced action vs. slow reflective moments
  • Conflict: A good story has one or more strands of conflict e.g. small boy against school bully


  • Synopsis: Can you describe your whole story in one sentence? The job of a synopsis is to outline the characters, plot and major twists in the story. If you cannot summarise your story – this should ring warning bells. Find out if you idea is weak before wasting hours writing only to abandon it later.
  • Mapping:

List the characters, plan when characters appear and depart, pace out major incidents.

Example: Cinderella

Chapter 1-2: Cinderella cleans the house, sings to birds. Stepsisters are mean.

Chapter 3-4: The Prince is having a ball. Cinderella can’t attend.

Chapter 5-6: Cinderella meets Fairy Godmother, goes to the ball in a pumpkin.

Setting up climaxes should be like climbing stairs- as the story progresses, conflict and incidents should come through more frequently, building tension for the final climax.

Setting: Exterior, Interior and Psychological

Exterior setting: the country/ planet/ land the story exists in.

Interior setting: rooms or houses.

Psychological setting: social/ emotional/ cultural background

  • Be wary of setting your story in familiar territory. The writer’s jobs is to excite the reader by vividly describing the scenery – if you are too familiar with the setting, you may ignore sounds, smells, tastes and textures that make a setting really breathe.
  • Try to describe surroundings as they impact characters and not merely because you’re chuffed about the décor you’ve imagined.
  • Keep an eye out for perception e.g. insect vs human or adult vs. child. A child who is shorter than an adult experiences his setting differently. He looks up and reaches for things, he would not notice the white carpet unless he drops raspberry juice on it.
  • The emotional background or social values of the time helps shape your character, explains their behavior and adds authenticity. People have baggage.

Viewpoint: Who is telling your story?

First person

  • You write as if you are the character experiencing the events.
  • Gives you access to the characters deepest thoughts.
  • This intimacy helps the reader bond with the character.
  • Be careful your character does not sound conceited when they describe themselves.

Third person

  • You write as if you are observing the characters and events.
  • You can write about incidents that occur when the main character is not present.


  • This is about tone, not dialogue e.g. melodramatic, lyrical and indifferent.
  • Your characters should never speak in the same voice.
  • Pick a voice and be consistent.

Junk Words:  

  • These are crutch words that weaken your writing and make it look lazy.
  • They can be removed without altering the meaning of your sentence too drastically.
  • Example: very angry = terrified; very tired = exhausted

Passive Voice:

  • Produces sentences that are wordy and ambiguous.
  • Occurs when you make the object of an action into the subject of the sentence
  • Identified by the excessive use of the word ” was” in your writing.


Clive washed the white car. (active)
The white car was washed by Clive. (passive)

Show Don’t Tell :

Mannerisms/ Body Language:

  • Use body language, mannerisms and quirks to add depth to your characters.
  • Mannerisms help you to show not tell.
  • Interesting way to say ordinary things.


Emotion: Triumph

Body language: Clenches hands above head or pumps fist in the air.

Action: She smiled.

Body Language:  The corners of her lips rose and her eyes twinkled.

General tips:

  1. Avoid flittering from one genre to another. Find the genre that excites you and give yourself time to learn your craft.
  2. If you’ve written a story and it has been rejected or you’re stuck – don’t start writing a new one because this teaches you nothing. Find the errors so that you don’t repeat them, fix the story and complete it.
  3. Find out who your reading audience is and get to know them. For example, you can’t write a children’s book if the last time you talked to one was over 15 years ago.
  4. Research your market – look at word length, tone, how the books are structured and tailor your manuscript appropriately.


Are you freaking out?


Chill – I’m still waiting for all of it to sink in.

Here’s the most important thing I’ve learnt from this exercise:

Just start writing already!

You will have plenty of time to review these points. Your work will not be perfect the first time. Don’t worry about the right words, spelling or grammar. If you’re stuck, move on. Do not let gaps in your knowledge stop you.

Inhale. Exhale. Pause. Relax.

You’ve got this.