Whose Line is it Anyway? Mixing Dialogue and Action Tags for Your Author Toolbox

Nano Blog and Social Media Hop2
Welcome to another Author Toolbox day! To sign up for the hop yourself, go over to our leader Raimey Gallant’s website

He said, she said, they said, we all said. Especially in fiction, there is a lot of saying going on. Good dialogue can save you from telling, can demonstrate everything about your character’s personality and traits, can be funny, move the plot along, or explain backstory. All at the same time. Dialogue is the best!

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SO much going on here! Movies get lots to work with because they’re visual. Authors have to work HARDER to get all of it across with dialogue and action beats.

Dialogue is also a trap. A big Sarlacc pit, waiting in the middle of the WIP desert to digest you slowly. One of the oh-so-easy ways to go wrong here is when you get caught in the web of dialogue tags. While you struggle amongst the strands of endless options, growing weaker, action beats are standing at a safe distance yelling, “Use me! I’m here! Hallo? I’m showing, not telling!”

Learn to love action in your dialogue. Learn to hate the overuse of dialogue tags. We are writing fiction, my lovelies. Pretty much anything goes, as long as the dialogue flows.

So. What are dialogue tags? Make with the clicks to read this good succinct post on the basics, by The Creative Penn. To narrow it down to a sentence; dialogue tags are anything tagged on to the end of dialogue to indicate that person is speaking.

Most of the time your characters say something, it will be said. It can also be begged, shouted, screamed, hissed, called, cried, implored, protested, and any other of a million different ways to indicate emotion while talking. Available advice, which is based on solid evidence, opines that you should use said most of  the time. It’s an invisible word to readers. They take it for granted that your characters will be saying something and skim right over the word, leaving the actions and emotions to impress in their memory.

To back that up, here is a post on keeping it simple from Writer’s DigestBut! (there is definitely a but.) You can’t use “said” for every tag. There’s simple, and then there’s mind-numbing. It’s a good idea to kick that boring staple up a notch with any of the other tags that express what your characters are going through, while still leaning heavily on said. Think of it as a ratio of using said to using other -ed words, where said is the building block and another tag is used when you want the reader to specifically focus in on what your character is feeling.

An even better way to include some good showing? Mixing in some action.

C.S. Larkin has a good post on this topic over at Live Write Thrive. Action beats (also called narrative beats) are a great way to fill the empty space left around repetitions of “said” or “replied”. They make your writing visual, a scene playing out in the front of your reader’s mind. With a mix of physical action sprinkled generously throughout the scene alongside the dialogue tags, you can create any scenario you can imagine.

  • While your characters are talking, how are they feeling? Add that in with your dialogue tags as they react to the conversation.
  • What are they thinking? Change their non-verbal expressions as they listen.
  • Where are they? They’ll interact with their environment by moving, sitting, standing, touching things, picking them up or throwing them. All of those are action tags.

We’ll finish off with some examples of good dialogue mixes from popular authors:

“Now I want to make love with you more than I want to go on breathing.”

“To make love,” C.C. repeated steadily. “But you don’t love me.”

“I don’t know anything about love. I care for you.” He walked back to touch a hand to her face. “Maybe that could be enough.”

She studied him, realizing he didn’t have any idea that he was breaking an already shattered heart. “It might be, for a day or a week or a month. But you were right about me, Trent. I expect more. I deserve more.”

—Courting Catherine, Nora Roberts

In this emotionally charged scene the main characters are at an impasse. One is in love, one thinks love is something to sell greeting cards and refuses to trust enough to try. All of this is obvious from their words and actions. And the word “said” isn’t used once. Nora Roberts is a great resource to study.

The tortoise subsided. “How many talking tortoises have you met?” it said sarcastically.

“I don’t know,” said Brutha.

“What d’you mean, you don’t know?”

“Well, they might all talk,” said Brutha, conscientiously, demonstrating the very personal kind of logic that got him Extra [Chores]. “They just might not say anything when I’m there.”

—Small Gods, Terry Pratchett

In this tiny slice of dialogue, both Brutha and the Great God Om (currently in the shape of a small tortoise) lay out their respective personalities perfectly. One is immortal, wise, sarcastic, and a bit of a pill. The other is young, naive, extremely conscientious, and about to butt heads with his God. It makes for a very entertaining read.

“I’m not going to run away,” Stanley said.

“Good thinking,” said Mr. Sir. “Nobody runs away from here. We don’t need a fence. Know why? Because we’ve got the only water for a hundred miles. You want to run away? You’ll be buzzard food in three days.”

Stanley could see some kids dressed in orange and carrying shovels dragging themselves toward the tents.

“You thirsty?” asked Mr. Sir.

“Yes, Mr. Sir,” Stanley said gratefully.

“Well, you better get used to it. You’re going to be thirsty for the next eighteen months.”

—Holes, Louis Sachar

One end to one short conversation, and we know without a doubt what obstacles our character (Stanley) has in his way, what the stakes are, and how little help he can expect to overcome any of it. Brilliant.

“I doubt there’ll be a next time,” Olivia said.

“Oh, there will be,” he countered with eyes that teased her own, “and when we do [meet], you owe me something.”


“A kiss,” he told her softly.

Olivia tried to speak around her suddenly dry throat. “What on earth for?”

“For letting you keep the rest of your money.”

—Something Like Love, Beverly Jenkins

In this tense scene the main characters are in the middle of their meet-cute, which is a train robbery. The first time the hero meets the heroine there’s an undeniable attraction, but business is business and he needs her valuables. Still, he lets her keep most of her cash money and only takes her earrings, which is something like love coming from an outlaw.

Good luck with your dialogue! I hope this post has enough resources to get you well on your way.

5 Tips for Writing a Book Review That Readers Will Enjoy – Guest Post by Desiree Villena

Today I’m welcoming freelance writer Desiree Villena to the blog. Desiree is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects authors and publishers with the world’s best editors, designers, and marketers. In her spare time, Desiree enjoys reading contemporary fiction and writing short stories, as well as the occasional book review!

In the dim and distant past, book lovers scoured the pages of newspapers and magazines for reading recommendations. Today, when they want to discuss the latest page-turner or need a new fantasy series to binge, bibliophiles peruse the endless book review blogs and sites available at the click of a mouse!

By shepherding fellow booklovers toward the latest must-reads, reviewers have become a driving force in the book world. And with more titles to choose from than ever before, authors are always looking to get reviews of their latest releases. So if you’re an aspiring reviewer, there’s plenty of work for you on the horizon!

However, getting into this community isn’t about finding chances to write reviews, but rather about making your work stand out. To that end, this post covers five tips for writing a book review that’s enjoyable as well as informative, for an experience readers will love.

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Tip #1: Whet their appetite

Although there may be those among us who read the last page of a book first (especially those with a purported “dark side”), most people don’t like to have endings spoiled. Enjoyable reviews intrigue the reader without giving too much away. So before you start writing a brief summary if a book, ask yourself: What’s interesting about this book? Why might someone want to read it? This is what you need to highlight, rather than where the plot ends up going.

A foolproof way to pique your reader’s interest is to open with a hook. Try a question or a provocative statement. For example, in her ode to Lucia Berlin’s Evening in Paradise, Patricia Lockwood begins with the irresistible lead: “There ought to be a cult, really, of teenagers with Lucia Berlin’s books in their back pockets, hair combed into black bouffants, imitating her squint against sunlight.”

Another great strategy for grabbing readers’ attention at the start of a review is to compare the book to other titles they know. Statements like “This book is Pride and Prejudice meets 50 Shades of Grey” are often used by authors to pitch their books to agents because they make an unknown book sound immediately interesting and suggest that it has a ready-made audience. They work well in book reviews for pretty much the same reasons: comparative titles instantly summarize the book’s essence and let the reader know whether it’s up their alley or not.

Tip #2: Make it personal

The most enjoyable reviews feel less like prose and more like a discussion with a friend — whether that’s an eloquent conversation over a cup of tea or enthusiastic exclamations over a round of beers! Though you should probably steer clear of cuss-filled takedowns, when it comes to the tone of a book review, the best advice I can give is to be yourself.

A great way to make a review feel natural and intimate is to reflect on personal experiences, especially since your readers will inevitably do the same thing. When approaching non-fiction, think about how reading the book changed or developed your perspective on this topic, and describe personal connections to the central issue(s) where possible. Alternatively, if you’re reviewing fiction, ask yourself questions like these to personalize your commentary:

  • Does the story stay with you?
  • Do you still think about the characters?
  • Did you learn something?

Tip #3: Don’t chase tangents

When writing a review, you’re aiming to encapsulate a whole book in brutally few words — the sweet spot is around 1,000. There’s a little wiggle room, but if it’s too long, you risk losing the reader’s interest. With this in mind, keep things short and sweet by sticking to the bare essentials. If you tend to chase tangents (or even if you don’t!) it’s never a bad idea to familiarize yourself with some universal elements of book reviews and follow them.

The advice from veteran indie critics is almost always to take notes as you read. Jotting down your thoughts as you go will help you to write a much more clear and focused review. Track characters, chronicle the basic contours of the plot, note what works, what doesn’t, and keep a record of your general impressions — especially if they transform as the book goes on!

Highlighting key quotes in your review is another great tactic to demonstrate a book’s themes, or an author’s distinctive writing style. Not to mention they give the reader a tantalizing taste of what’s to come.

Tip #4: Know your stuff

At the end of the day, somebody reading a review wants to know whether or not they should buy the book. If your reader is coming to a review site rather than scrolling through Amazon ratings or simply judging a book by its cover, then they’re looking for an informed review that shows understanding of the genre’s tropes and trends.

So choose a genre you already know well — one that you love to read — and become even better-versed in its recent trends so that you can draw comparisons between hot titles and interesting topics and themes. Before you know it, you’ll be a resident expert!

Also, with any review, it’s important to include something about the author; in the case of non-fiction, the author’s background is especially crucial (and interesting!). If it’s relevant, you can also add a lot of panache to a review — whether fiction or non-fiction — by layering historical, political, or social context into your criticism.

Tip #5: Give your honest opinion

A review doesn’t have to be effusive to be enjoyable. Remember that you’re not selling the book to an agent, a publisher or even a reader — you’re only sharing your thoughts with fellow readers. Most of them will value honesty above all else.

Of course, there’s a difference between being honest and being ruthless. If you didn’t like the book, you don’t need to go on and on about every little thing that made your blood boil. Cover the main reasons and include a few concrete examples, then take the time to really focus on the reader.

Consider what kind of audience will love this book, even if it missed the mark for you personally. You might want to let them know if the book was from a genre that you don’t usually get along with, or if it didn’t meet your expectations, or perhaps if your opinions are based on a personal experience. The reviewer’s job is to help readers form their own impressions, rather than to be an absolute arbiter of taste.

As long as it’s genuine, it doesn’t hurt to throw a little compliment to the author; it might be that you thought they built suspense really well, or had some snappy dialogue. But if you can’t think of a single nice thing to say, maybe don’t say anything at all. George Orwell once wrote that best practice “would be simply to ignore the great majority of books”; to write only about the best. And if it’s good enough for him, it should be good enough for us!

Six First Aid Steps for Bad Feedback: an IWSG Post

As part of the celebration for author Chrys Fey’s latest book release, we’re talking about writer’s block, depression, and the varied obstacles life will throw in your way as you try to publish. My contribution for the blog hop is about dealing with bad feedback. This could be editorial comments, a scathing one-star review, rejection letters, dismissive friends or family; anything which makes you feel like a big anvil made of “NO” just landed on your head.

I know about harsh feedback because I enter every unfinished manuscript I write into RWA chapter contests for judging because apparently I really enjoy pain haha wow—wait, sorry, actually I enter for the honest editorial critique (which I GOT, thanks a lot past me).

Anyway, what I’m saying is I know the sting. And I know what this occasion calls for. EMERGENCY FIRST AID. That’s right. Rush in the medics. Call a code blue. Without any shame, I will plant my wounded ass in the emergency room chair and refuse to leave until I get some treatment. When this kind of feedback lands on you, if I could, I would rush over with fluffy blankets and hot tea and a baby otter for cuddles. Since I can’t, here is a first aid guide and a big digital hug.

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1. Deep Breaths

First thing, breathe. I’m generally sucking in air because I’m going to let out a good long string of expletives, but you should take a breath because it’s actually therapeutic. Science says so. Deep breathing tells your brain to turn off the fight-or-flight threat response triggered by criticism.

2. Treat Yo Self

Exposing your work to criticism in the first place was a ballsy move. GO YOU. YOU ARE BRAVER THAN 90% OF THE OTHER ANXIOUS MONKEYS OUT THERE. So take a free afternoon and nap in your pillow fort. Finally buy that book on your wishlist. Drink a big mug of your favorite hot beverage. Wear that kickass comfy shirt. Go to your favorite park. In whatever way works for you, make sure to reward yourself for being so brave.

3. Raise Shields!

Yes. Just like Star Trek. Place your arms at a starship captain angle beside you, look all brooding, say ‘Activate shields! Make it so’, and then stroke your chin thoughtfully. You’ll feel about 67% better immediately, I promise. Then open up your Special Shield Folder. This could be physical or digital. Either way, this folder is stuffed full of good things related to your writing. Positive feedback, contest wins, emails from beta readers, anything and everything that reminds you how much others like your writing.

4. Run Away

They’re coming and they’ve got pitchforks, RUN! SAVE YOURSELF! ABORT MISSION, ABORT! No . . . that’s just me freaking out. Really what I mean is, go outside. Close out whatever you’re reading that has the negative feedback, leave it there (NOT TODAY, SATAN), and walk away. Go get some fresh air, remember to do that breathing thing, and clear your head a little. A touch of sunshine will make you feel a lot better about life, the universe, and everything.

5. Starve the Haters

Those nasty little demon trash pandas of Self Doubt will start chittering away when bad feedback comes. They get all validated by every harsh word, no matter how necessary the word might be. And they’ll try their very best to completely drown your confidence in an ocean of ugly whispers. Don’t let them. Go full viking on their asses. Talk to a close friend, re-open your Special Shield Folder, read encouraging articles, listen to ‘This is Me’ on repeat, reach out to other authors for help. What do demonic trash pandas know, anyway? NOTHING. That’s what.

6. Have Fun

This is definitely the time to fall back on your favorite form of comedy. One video that always makes me laugh until I cry is Tim Conway telling the elephant story on the Carol Burnett show. This is an outtake, because he destroys his cast mates, but Vicki Lawrence goes ahead and ANNIHILATES them, including Carol Burnett and Dick Van Dyke. (If you can get Dick Van Dyke to fall on the floor laughing you can die happy in the knowledge that you’re the funniest person in the universe.)

On a related but slightly different note, you can read How to Survive the Querying Process; Or, Being a Stubborn Ball of Rock

And remember, you’re awesome.

Insecure Writers Support Group Badge

Making this a total combo plate post, it’s also Insecure Writer’s Support Group day! The awesome co-hosts for the August 5 posting of the IWSG are Susan Baury Rouchard, Nancy Gideon, Jennifer Lane, Jennifer Hawes, Chemist Ken (Cheers!), and Chrys Fey! (Hi!)

The question for August 5th (which I did not answer in any way, shape, or form) is:

Quote: “Although I have written a short story collection, the form found me and not the other way around. Don’t write short stories, novels or poems. Just write your truth and your stories will mold into the shapes they need to be.”

Have you ever written a piece that became a form, or even a genre, you hadn’t planned on writing in? Or do you choose a form/genre in advance?

And Chrys’s shiny new book looks like this:

keep writing with fey

You can find it here on Amazon and guess what? It’s only 4.99$ for your Kindle edition.




Guest Post: Keep Writing With Fey!

keep writing with fey

Catch the sparks you need to conquer writer’s block, depression, and burnout!

When Chrys Fey shared her story about depression and burnout, it struck a chord with other writers. That put into perspective for her how desperate writers are to hear they aren’t alone. Many creative types experience these challenges, battling to recover. Let Keep Writing with Fey: Sparks to Defeat Writer’s Block, Depression, and Burnout guide you through:

· Writer’s block

· Depression

· Writer’s burnout

· What a writer doesn’t need to succeed

· Finding creativity boosts

With these sparks, you can begin your journey of rediscovering your creativity and get back to what you love – writing


Amazon / Nook / iTunes / Kobo



When I shared my story about depression and writer’s burnout, I received many emails, comments, and Facebook messages from other writers thanking me for my bravery and telling me about their own trials. That really put into perspective for me how many people suffer from depression and/or burnout in silence. I had no idea those individuals were impacted by these things, just as they hadn’t known that I was, because my outward presence to others was always happy and smiley and bright.

After the supportive response and upon realizing how many writers in my online circles were struggling, too, I wanted to do something to help. I was candid with my experiences and blogged about the things that assisted me through the rough times in the hope that it would aid others.

During this time, I recognized the need for writers to receive support, guidance, tips, reminders, and encouragement during their writer’s block, depression, and burnout. That’s how I got the idea for this book. A book not just about depression or only about writer’s block, but both, and much more.

As always, keep writing.

Keep believing.

Keep dreaming.

Chrys Fey

thumbnail_Chrys Fey Author Photo

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Chrys Feyis the author of Write with Fey: 10 Sparks to Guide You from Idea to Publication. She is also the author of the Disaster Crimes series. Visit her blog, Write with Fey, for more tips on how to reverse writer’s burnout.

10 Reasons Writers Are Definitely Creatures of the Night; Author Toolbox Post

  1. We function best with comfy, secluded, darkened spaces. In a house, there was a writing cave. Inside that writing cave, there was a desk. At that desk, there was an author and an empty notebook. Under that desk, there was a blanket fort, and in that blanket fort there was . . . a writer’s block. See? It just works.

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2. Random screams into the void have high probability. Also we’ll hiss at our Word program, to assert dominance, after it tries to autocorrect the character’s name for the fiftieth goddamn time.

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3. Highly developed sense of hearing means we pick up on and use the conversations we hear around us all the time. Especially you, Karen in line who is abusing the cashier for no real reason. Oh, yes. You are going into the next book.

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4. Specially adapted eyesight means we catch the personal quirks of random strangers to adapt into characters.

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5. We’re mostly shy, introverted, and prefer the cover of night.

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6. Shove us out into the light and we might dry up into a pile of melodramatic dust. It’s a risk. Don’t do it.

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7. We tend to scurry into darkened corners when placed in overly bright social situations.

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8. Flocks of us congregate online at late hours to debate minuscule facets of obscure writing advice.

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9. Writing is better than lying in bed, wide-eyed, watching the shadows dance and populating them with imaginary creatures.

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10. How else would we legitimize drinking coffee after 4pm?

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This post has been a bit of a silly addition to the Author Toolbox blog hop, because I’m exhausted trying to stay on top of the doom and gloom lately and wanted something light this month. Anyway the hop was created in 2017 and is hosted by author Raimey Gallant. Authors at all stages of their career are welcome to join, and don’t worry, the posts are much more helpful than this one might lead you to believe. Come to the dark side with us.

Nano Blog and Social Media Hop2

SE’s 10 DNF Red Flags

Featuring SE, being a Judgy McJudgypants. I’ve been alive for thirty-three years now, and a bookworm for roughly twenty-three of those years. TWENTY-THREE YEARS, friends. By now I know what I like. And, inversely, what I do not like.

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*guy in the middle sits silently judging* Also, what I DO NOT like is Brienne not giving Tormund the time of day, DAMMIT Game of Thrones writers.

Any book gets at least a fair try, no matter what, but I admit to being a mood reader who will yeet straight to DNF if I’m not feeling it. And there are a few things which pretty much guarantee I will not be feeling what the author is dishing out

∼Let’s note this list mostly has to do with romance genre, since that’s what I read.

  • Plot dragging characters along

I am a character driven reader. It’s all about those lovely fictional people. Obvs, yes, I do need there to be at least some plot happening. But I will forgive a lot as long as I care about those kooky kids running around on the pages. Also the characters must be *doing* things within their plot, not sitting back and having everything *done to* them. Character introduction, growth, and agency is everything this bookworm needs.

  • COMMUNICATE people OMFG put us all out of our misery

This one’s pretty romance specific but there is NOTHING I hate more than two characters who simply refuse to clear up a huge misunderstanding/lie/obstacle/problem by talking. Just open your mouth! And let! The words! Come out!! It reads as pure, stubborn, pride keeping our two protagonists apart and it screeches nails right up my chalkboard. Is feeling a tad uncomfortable, or refusing to humble yourself, really a good enough reason to sink you and your beloved in a sea of unrequited love and agony for the rest of your lives? NO. No, it is not. Get over yourselves already.

  • The Old Skool Female™

Again a romance trope. It goes something like this: everyone knows the female of the species is irrational, emotional, and prone to changing her mind. So during every argument the heroine will rage, cry, rage-cry, scream, sputter, be unreasonably accusatory, probably smack the hero’s shoulder/chest, and then melt into the hero’s arms when he uses his [manly scent? strong arms? erect penis? I don’t fucking know] to calm her. Fortunately this is only sporadically present in old school romance (1970-2000ish), and although it does show up in modern books it is still pretty rare. Because, yes, hello, actual women write romance and we know this is a misconception. I blame internalized misogyny for this, DNF the book, and move on.

  • Crazy Ex be Crazy because; plot complications

If the ex has some depth, motivation, and more of a morally grey standpoint I will absolutely buy into this device getting in the way of our happily ever after. But do not bring back one of the protagonist’s ex lovers, out of nowhere, for no other reason than the being the catty, take-me-back, no-one-else-plays-with-my-toys plot device. A) it’s super obvious and therefore obnoxious and B) just don’t do it.

  • Angst. Angst. Angst.


This is how I feel reading super drama filled books. I like pure, unadulterated, escapist fluff, thank you so much, next. Dark romance is a HARD sell for this reason, although I have found a few (Annika Martin! Skye Warren!) I do enjoy.

  • Giant, gaping, nonsensical plot holes

My bar for this one is set exceptionally low, but I do have one. Look, I read alien romance. I will accept the Mysterious Plague™ which wiped out all their females and makes earth girls appear super deliciously breed-able. I will read and enjoy fur, feathers, scales, whatever the hell Susan Trombley is dishing out now, and tentacles. I will accept time traveling, wormholes, magic, identical twins, evil twins, hidden Dukes, secret heirs, rags to riches, and amnesia. An author has to work pretty damn hard to throw me out of my usual suspension of disbelief, but it has happened.

  • Love triangles

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Nope. Nope, nope, nope. I will remind you that poly romance, reverse harem, and ménage are all readily available, and then go read one of those instead.

  • A character is doing all the relationshiping alone

When one character is in love and doesn’t bother trying to hide it, while the other one takes all of their feelings, locks them in a box, buries the box deep in a peat bog, pretends there are no ripples, and then denies the existence of such concepts as love. Similarly, one character might be willing to bend until they break, while the other one refuses any form of compromise. 0_0 I start thinking of that character as a self-centered meanie, and then I have lost all interest in their happily ever after.

  • Offensive or damaging content

Trigger warnings are a thing. In my opinion, they are a necessary thing. Mentally prepared I can read and handle pretty much anything, but when one of my triggers leaps out at me unexpectedly the results are not fun.

  • Writing style

Sometimes the writer’s brush strokes and I do not mesh and I fail to ‘see’ the picture they’re painting. It’s not the author’s fault and objectively the book is still a great read. Just not a great read for me.

The Insecure Writer’s Support Group Changes the Writing Industry

The Insecure Writer’s Support Group is a place where writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. It’s a safe haven for you on your author journey and available at this website where you can also find resources, articles, and various other help.

The awesome co-hosts for the July 1 posting of the IWSG are Jenni Enzor,Beth Camp, Liesbet, Tyrean Martinson, and Sandra Cox! Don’t forget to go say hello as you’re hopping today.

July 1 question: There have been many industry changes in the last decade (this is a stellar example of what, as an author, I would term understatement), so what are some changes you would like to see happen in the next decade?

The best way to answer this seems to be with a list. A bullet point listicle. Yes. Just roll with me here as I present:

SE’s Non-Exhaustive List of Fail-safe New Rules for the Writing Industry*

*research based on zero experience whatsoever, but I do have a blog and probably stayed at a Holiday Inn at some point in my life, so definitely very trustworthy

  • All stickers on covers to be made illegal, effective immediately. I’m very serious about this. Sticker residue marring a beautiful cover is all bad things in this world and should be banned forever.
  • E-readers for everyone. Cause we are living in a material  sorry, digital world, and I am a digital reader girl. Also higher literacy rates can only be a good thing, so yes. Make books easily available for everyone.
  • As a corollary to this: all E-readers should come equipped with the Library lending app, standard. Because more books! For free!
  • Richard Armitage and Jude Law should be required to narrate one audiobook per year. Have you heard either of them speak? YES PLEASE MAKE THIS HAPPEN.
  • Indie bookstores are the future. I would like to see some sort of location app that pings to warn you whenever you’re close to one and gives you directions. Honestly, none of us care if we follow the road trip itinerary or whatever, we just want to know if we mistakenly passed the bookstore instead of going inside it as is proper and correct.
  • ALL TRADE PAPERBACK SIZES TO BE STANDARDIZED. Stop changing your minds on paperback sizes, publishers! I don’t care if it saves you money! You don’t exist to save money, you exist to give us perfectly matched series!
  • There is nothing worse than buying the fifth book in a series and finding out they’ve CHANGED the DIMENSIONS and now this book is thinner, or taller, or fatter, than the others in the series and GREAT, now I have to start over and buy them all again in the correct size or else spend the rest of my life twitching whenever I look at the mismatched series staggering across my shelf. STOP IT, PUBLISHERS.
  • The Big Five (or is it Four, now? I forget) publishers should immediately hire ownvoices sensitivity readers/consultants and pay them well, because they will save the publishers a huge amount of missteps, mistakes, and retractions in the long run.
  • Create and promote big name prizes and awards for Indie books. I’m talking Pulitzer or Booker status, but for self-published titles. They are a huge portion of the market share, they are here to stay, and they deserve some recognition. The awards ceremonies will likely be much more exciting and interesting than the traditional ones and I, for one, welcome our new confetti-blasting overlords.
  • Also a big name award for book cover design, because covers are seriously underrepresented in awards when they do most of the heavy lifting in selling the book.

Which Came First? The Plot, or the Characters?

This is a perennial question authors get asked, and it’s just as unanswerable as the chicken and egg conundrum.

Look, let’s be brutally honest here. Authors as a whole live in a half-unreal world with their heads feeling cloudy ALL THE TIME. Fictional people fill our brains with ghostly conversations. Interesting, exciting scenes play out behind our closed eyelids. Fantasy worlds and concepts capture our imagination. Reality is pretty much optional, okay. In the midst of all this noise, pinpointing the exact genesis of a story idea or the specific birth of one character is like grasping one tiny pebble from a rushing torrent of ideas.

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IDEA! New idea! Get it! Wait! Another new idea! Squirrel!

Nonetheless. I can take a stab at tracing the origins of my most recent book.

If I remember the story pebble correctly a group of us on #romancestagram were discussing our favorite tropes. (We do that a LOT.) Enemies to Lovers, of course, came up as one of the top contenders. Everyone loves a good spatting antagonists to hopelessly besotted plotline.

For some reason superheroes came to mind. Probably I had just recently watched the final Avengers movie, that was a 2019 thing right? Several years before this I read (and ADORED) the novella Superior, by Jessica Lack  and I think that novella added to the idea. Also I love the movies Megamind and both Deadpool films, writing a protagonist in those veins has always tempted me.

(YES. Being a writer means there are plots and ideas and half-formed notions in the back of your mind for literal YEARS and it all combines with current ideas into this constantly-bubbling SOUP OF INSPIRATION.  And yes, it definitely burns your fingers when you try to fish out one specific idea nugget.)

Anyway, all of that mushed together and I started thinking . . . what if? What if two enemies in a superhero universe fell in love?

The idea caught me hard and I started plotting it out. Who are the antagonists in a superhero universe? The villains. Even better, a supervillain. Having a superhero fall for a supervillain seemed too obvious, plus I’m fairly sure it’s been done already? So . . . what about a sidekick. Oooh, yes, a sidekick. Obviously, to be the loyal partner and not the main event, my sidekick would be considered kinda weak. Not too “super”.

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But, of course, narrative expectation told me the sidekick had hidden depths and more power than the big name heroes would like to admit. That gives me both a mystery to slowly unfold, and a motive. And my supervillain would definitely have a tragic past, because plausible morally-grey character motivation.

If you can’t tell, daydreaming up a plot took a considerable amount of my mental processing time.

I decided my supervillain was a guy, and my sidekick was a girl, because that sounded right. Every time I reached the next plot point, I asked myself what next? What makes my supervillain A Bad Guy, but not too bad? What power could my sidekick have which seems harmless at first glance, but is actually pretty threatening? How does she feel about being pushed to the back? What would attract a supervillain to a sidekick, and vice versa? And how would she feel if someone cool and cocky and irresistible started paying attention to her and complimenting her unusual power? Coming up with fun hero and villain names was a bonus, and I also got to throw in kissing on a Ferris wheel ride, murderous nanobots, public naughty behavior—it’s a kink, don’t judge—mother issues, kidnapping, and a ton of sneaky callbacks to superhero movies.

Every answer spawned more questions, which told me I was on the right track to an actual story and not just an imagination exercise. I wrote out a quick blurb to clarify the main story obstacles, and it made them sound pretty good.


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So that’s how writing a book goes, at least for me. It’s a bit like . . . tossing stepping stones into a river boiling with ideas. Each stone brings me closer to crossing. Sometimes I have to haul a stone out and begin again, and I generally have to use dynamite to blast a bunch of stones for the climax, but eventually I do get to the other side.

Does this method seem familiar? Or sound completely kooky? What stepping stones do you use? Tell me about your process.

How to Support Diverse Books and BIPOC Writers: Author Toolbox

After the Black Lives Matter protests have died down, when local law enforcement has been restructured and defunded, as June Pride Month slides over into July, we will still be holding vigil and working to create change. As writers, we have a lot of options and a lot more power than we might think.

Words seem fragile, but we know words can turn potentiality into reality. Words can build or break, tear down or repair, halt all forward motion or keep momentum going. We can help flood the culture we swim in with own voices, melanated voices, diverse stories, new perspectives and change the very words we use to describe ourselves.

So let’s get started.


  • Make a conscious effort to diversify your reading.

Here are some lists, because we all love lists and clicking on lists and making more lists about lists. This is 100% a thing.

There are POC centered romances (definitely try Courtney Milan! Alyssa Cole! Talia Hibbert! I could go on and on but just message me if you want some romance recs. Or follow me on Instagram where I do most of my reviewing.)

Young Adult is doing a stellar job building a super varied selection. Seriously there are SO MANY CHOICES in YA.

If you prefer fantasy or SciFi you are covered! Or you could just follow Holly at The Grimdragon here on WordPress or on their Instagram, their book reviews are kickass.

Horror has your back as well. In fact, there’s an entire website dedicated to this with a comprehensive list at Diversity in Horror.blogspot.com. Ahh, the internet is a wonderful place.


  • Read nonfiction

Yep, more lists and listy things for you.

Even if you don’t like or typically read nonfiction (IT ME) it’s important to acknowledge the truly messed up history leading up to what’s happening right now. One way to do that is to read nonfiction books about it.

Or watch a documentary. Or attend a webinar. Or listen to a podcast by someone like the wonderful Layla F. Saad, seriously she’s a fabulous teacher.


  • It doesn’t begin and end at BIPOC authors. Include authors who are LGBTQ, disabled, gender fluid, and/or neurodiverse in your TBR.

Basically, take a good hard look at your bookshelf and check to see if any combination of these applies to the authors on it. No? Not one? Luckily, this is an easy fix.

There are so many wonderful options! Let me shout, shamelessly, about Mark Oshiro, Tamora Pierce, C.G. Drews, and Sarah Gailey again, because it pleases me greatly to repeat myself. READ THEM.

  • Recommend your favorite reads to other bookworms.

We all know other bookworm recommendations have a lot of weight when it comes to deciding our own purchases. I’ve read entire fifteen book series recommended to me by #romancestagram readers and I REGRET NOTHING because they were RIGHT.

If friends come to you for recs, use this power to push and poke and prod them towards the melanated voices you’ve already discovered as a side effect of mindful TBR choices.

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  • Ask your library to purchase books by diverse authors.

Bonus: this is the zero money option.

Also, your local library will look all modern and dynamic with new releases and upcoming debuts on their shelves. Don’t leave the library lagging all dusty and forgotten in the racist past. Nudge them into bringing in new voices.

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  • If you blog or have a website, signal boost these authors.

Another low cost option! Yay.

You have a platform? Good. Boost other authors up onto it. Lift their voices with your tools, time, and media.

Alex Blajan

  • Buy media created/written by BIPOC authors.

Yep this one is a simple command, but it’s also the most powerful. If you’re able to, put your $$ where it will make concrete changes.

Publishing is a business. Businesses exist to make money. Typically, publishers won’t take a chance on diverse authors because there is a false narrative in place that no one will buy their books. We all know this is racism, but it’s worked like that for hundreds of years.

The way to change the narrative is to prove beyond a doubt that authors who are not white, cisgendered, and typically abled can, in fact, make a publisher money. The only way to do that is to buy their books and prove there is a demand for them. Go forth, author friends, and create demand.


Nano Blog and Social Media Hop2

This is an author toolbox blog hop post. To sign up for the hop yourself and get in on all the goodies, head over to our fearless leader Raimey Gallant’s website and sign yourself up. Any and all types of writers welcome!