Home » Archives for Iola

Author: Iola

I provide professional freelance manuscript assessment, copyediting and proofreading services for writers of Christian fiction and non-fiction books, stories and articles. I also review Christian novels at www.christianreads.blogspot.com.

Writing Memoir

Writing Craft: Tips and Resources for Writing Memoir

I specialise in editing fiction, but I’ve recently had a few enquiries about memoir. I thought I’d share a few tips and resources on memoir today.

What is a Memoir?

Memoir is a non-fiction book about you, the author. It’s not your full life story—that would be an autobiography. And it’s not about someone else—that would be a biography.

Rather than telling your full life story, memoir has a single theme. For example, Soul Friend by JoAnne Berthlesen focused on JoAnne’s relationship with her spiritual mentor. Eat Pray Love by Elizbeth Gilbert focused on her one-year journey around the world following her divorce.

The key with memoir is to pick that narrow focus, and stick to it.

Who are you Writing For?

How you write a memoir depends largely on who you are writing for. If you’re writing purely for your family, then you can write pretty much what you want and how you want. It’s your book, so you can write it for yourself and your family.

But if you want to publish your memoir for a wider audience, you’ll need to write it for your readers more than for yourself. This means identifying and understanding your target reader, and writing a memoir that will appeal to those readers.

How do you Write a Memoir?

Memoir is part of a genre known as narrative non-fiction. That means the writing follows the same kind of narrative structure and writing style as a novel. Good memoir:

  • Has a clear theme.
  • Follows a clear structure.
  • Includes conflict.
  • Is told from a single point of view.
  • Shows rather than tells the story.
  • Focuses on the emotion.
  • Starts in media res—in the middle of the thing.
  • Avoids unnecessary backstory.
  • Leaves out events and relationships that aren’t core to the main theme.

A memoir must also strive for truth and accuracy.

Memoir is not the place for mistruths or outright lies to make ourselves look better. It’s human nature to want to present ourselves in the best possible light, but our readers expect honesty. Even when it hurts.

And it can hurt. Many people who have been through difficult experiences write memoir because they have a desire to help others going through similar experiences. But you have to be in a healthy emotional state to write about difficult experiences such as abuse, cancer, depression, infertiity, or rape.

These things must be discussed in detail, with an emphasis on the feelings.

Memoir isn’t the place to gloss over the hard parts. Readers need and expect the truths of the pitfalls and failures as well as the successes. A memoir writer will need to go deep into their negative emotions. The more traumatic the events being discussed, the more difficult this will be. If this is you, you’ll need a strong support network to talk and pray you through the hard parts so you can be truthful and accurate for your future reader without taking yourself back to the dark place. To do anything less will be cheating your reader.

On the other hand, full truth and accuracy might be impossible. For example, you might recount a conversation between you and a friend or family member as you remember it. But the other person might remember it differently. Does that mean your account is wrong, or inaccurate? No, but it does mean you might face future problems with that person if they can’t see your point of view.

Who publishes memoir?

The sad truth is that most trade publishers aren’t interested in memoir unless they can see a lot of commercial potential. Unfortunately, this means trade publishers are only interested in memoirs written by people who are already household names through entertainment, political, sporting or workplace achievements (e.g. Oprah Winfrey, Hilary Clinton, or Tiger Woods), or through the development of an online platform (e.g. Ann Voskamp).

Sure, a vanity press will be more than happy to publish your memoir, but that’s because they see the commercial potential … the potential of getting you, the author, to pay them.

Check out my list of Christian fiction publishers—many of them also publish non-fiction.

Where Can I Find More Information?

Christian literary agent Rachelle Gardener has a list of recommended books for people looking to write memoir.

Reedsy have published an in-depth post: How to Write a Memoir: Top Tips from Bestselling Ghostwriters

Award-winning Australian author Cecily Thew Patterson has a free online course on writing memoir available from her website, The Red Lounge for Writers.

Cecily recommends memoir writers start by reading and working through the exercises in Story Genius by Lisa Cron. I agree. While Story Genius was written for novelists, the principles hold true for memoir as well.

Do you have any recommended resources for memoir writers? Or any questions? Let me know in the comments.
Six-Stage Structure

Plot and Structure: Michael Hauge’s Six-Stage Structure

I’ve been wanting to write a blog post about Michael Hauge’s Six-Stage Structure since attending his all-day session at the Romance Writers of New Zealand conference in August 2016. I did write a summary post (Identity, Essence, and God), but I didn’t cover the detail of his approach to writing novels and screenplays.

I couldn’t. Because it can’t be boiled down to a 600-word blog post. But over the last year I have come across some free and paid resources where Michael Hauge explains his approach to plot. So I’m going to share those instead of trying to cover everything myself.

Michael Hauge is best known as a screenwriting consultant, and his books do tend to focus on screenplays. But (as he argues), the essential elements of fiction are the same, whether the medium is novel or film or TV. And many writers would like to see their novels adapted into a film—it seems to me that we give ourselves the best chance of making that possible if we start by writing a novel that is structured like a film.

Yes, structure is the key.

A lot of writing instructors focus entirely on plot or structure. It’s not that they ignore character. It’s more that they place structure first. Plot then falls out of that, then character. But if you’ve tried to write a book like that, you’ve probably found it more difficult than it sounds. I think the reason is that it’s easy to explain structure: it’s a formula (and that’s not a bad thing). It’s engineering, and there is a right way to build a story.

Character is harder. Everyone is unique, and our characters also have to be unique. But trying to develop unique characters can’t be reduced to a formula. And that’s where Michael Hauge’s Six Stage Structure can help. (Click here to download a copy.)

Hauge’s methodology complements the work of many other leading writing teachers, e.g.

Here are a few key lessons from Michael Hauge:

  • Your role as a writer is to elicit emotion in the reader. That’s it.
  • The way you elicit emotion is by introducing conflict. Internal and external conflict is what engages your reader (or viewer) and gets them to care.
  • You can manipulate conflict using techniques such as a ticking close, or superior knowledge.
  • All stories are about a character who wants something, but something stands in their way. This must be a visible goal.
  • All characters have an emotional wound they are trying to overcome, and the best way to reveal the wound is through dialogue i.e. show, don’t tell.
  • Avoid multiple-hero stories.

For more information:

Film Courage Interview

Film Courage interviewed Michael in January 2017, and the 90-minute recording is available on YouTube. It’s their most-viewed interview of 2017, and I can see why.

Udemy Course

The interview references some work Michael Hauge did with Chris Vogler, integrating Hauge’s Story Structure with Vogler’s Hero’s Journey. This is available via Udemy. The full course includes over six hours of video. The full price is $175, but Udemy hold regular sales (I got it for $10). I suggest signing up for Udemy’s newsletter so you get notified when they hold a sale.

Writing Screenplays that Sell

Michael Hauge has several books. I’ve read Writing Screenplays That Sell, which I recommend. Hauge goes into a lot of detail about character development, theme, and structure, then moves into how to write and format a screenplay. This section is of less use to novelists but is still worth reading for the occasional relevant nugget. But the book is worth the price for the information in the first section.

You can read the introduction below:

Writing Backstory

Keep Backstory to the Back of the Story: #WriteTip or #BadWritingAdvice?

There are many “rules” to writing good fiction. One of them is to keep backstory to the back of the story, to not use any backstory in the first fifty pages.

Is this a good writing tip, or more bad writing advice?

Don’t we need to introduce our characters to the reader at the beginning of the story? Don’t we need to give enough of their personal character history to enable the reader to understand what’s going on?

As with many pieces of writing advice, the answer is yes. And no. Or no, and yes, depending on which way you prefer to look at the issue.

What is Backstory?

Backstory is anything that happens before our story begins. The reader doesn’t need to know the character’s entire life history … although the author does. Yes, the reader needs to know some of the character’s personal history. The trick with writing great fiction is understanding what the reader needs to know, and when.

One of the first writing craft books I read was How Not to Write a Novel by Sandra Newman and Howard MIttlemark. One of the quotes I copied was this:

Know what the chase is, and cut to it. Do not write hundreds of pages explaining… why the characters are living the way they are when the story begins, or what past events made the characters into people who would have that story.

I thought this was ridiculous. Surely no author would be so … so … stupid? So naive?

But by some strange quirk of fate, the very next novel I read had exactly this problem. I’m not going to embarrass the author by naming them, or telling you the title, or even the genre. I don’t remember much about the story. What I do remember is that whenever a new character was introduced, the author took the opportunity to share that character’s life story.

And the story of how their parents met and married.

And sometimes even the story of how their grandparents met and married, and how many children they had, and when, and where, and why, and …

And none of this information had any relevance to the story at hand. It was well written. It was interesting. But it was irrelevant to the present story (which is probably why I’ve forgotten the basics of the actual story).

Yes, some authors have a problem with backstory.

That’s not to say you can’t use backstory at the beginning of a novel.

You can introduce some backstory. In fact, you have to use introduce some backstory to give the reader an understanding of your main character’s goals and motivations, which influence their central internal and external conflicts. You may need to use backstory to give your reader a reason to care about your character.

But flip-flopping between the past and the present at the beginning of the story can leave you with a novel that confuses readers. Instead, ensure your opening chapter clarifies:

  • Who is the main character?
  • What does the main character want?
  • Why does s/he want that?
  • When is this story set?
  • Where is this story set?

And answer these questions in the present timeline of the story.

Lay out actions in sequential order. Don’t jump backward or forward in the story. If you do, you’ll interrupt the flow of time and disconcert your reader .
– Janalyn Voigt, via WordServeWaterCooler.com

In Media Res

The use of backstory often relates to a common writing issue: new writers often start their story in the wrong place. Novels should start in media res—in media res—in the middle of the thing.

Your novel itself begins “in the middle of the thing”—the “thing” being the story. What starts on page one is the second half of the story, where the plot kicks in.
– Lisa Cron, Story Genius, Chapter 2

But characters don’t emerge fully formed on the page. They have personal histories, just like real people. They have likes and dislikes, just like real people. Some of that is directly relevant to the novel’s plot, and some is not. But without the backstory, there is no present story.

Your protagonist doesn’t start from “neutral”. He starts from a very particular place, with very particular, deeply held beliefs that your novel is going to force him to call into question.
– Lisa Cron, Story Genius, Chapter 3

Your character has a backstory.

In fact, all your characters have their own backstory, and that backstory is what influences their lives in the present (or in whatever “present” your novel is set, whether that’s the past, the present, or the future).

As a writer, you need to know this backstory. You need to know what has formed your protagonist and antagonist into the characters you are writing. In Story Genius, Lisa Cron recommends you do write three story-specific backstory scenes. But these aren’t included in the final manuscript. The information in the scenes might be, but the scenes themselves are not.

Margie Lawson uses the illustration of a pane of glass. Imagine writing all your backstory on a large pane of glass, them dropping the glass so it smashes into slivers. Then pick up those slivers, one at a time, and insert them into your story.

A sliver at a time. Not the entire window. At the time when it best serves the story to reveal that information.

An Example of Good Backstory

I’ve recently read A Dangerous Legacy by Elizabeth Camden. Much of the first chapter is backstory, but it’s written well and integrated into the present scene (well, the novel’s present. It’s historical fiction). Here’s an example:

They lived on the fourth floor of a brownstone walk-up that had once been a prestigious building, but had fallen on hard times in recent decades. Much like her own family.

Just two sentences, but a lot of backstory. What do we learn?

  • The setting—where the point of view character lives (a brownstone walk-up in Greenwich Village, New York).
  • A brief description that hints rather than tells—once prestigious hints the building is in a state of disrepair without telling us about the peeling paint or the chipped bricks.
  • A sliver of backstory—her own family has fallen on hard times.
  • A hint at timing—the problem goes back decades.

Clever. Very clever.

It’s also shown in the voice of the character, not the voice of the author.

This paragraph illustrates that we can—and even should—use backstory in the beginning of the story. But we need to sliver it in, not dump it. The author could then have gone on to describe exactly how the family fell on hard times—and she does. But not here, because it’s not relevant to the story at this point.

So here are four tips for writing backstory:

  • Know the backstory of your main characters.
  • Know how their backstory contributes to the present story.
  • Include only what is relevant to the story.
  • Include backstory as slivers.

What tips or questions do you have about backstory?

Publish Like a Boss

Book Review | Publish Like a Boss! by Honoree Corder and Ben Hale

Publish Like a Boss! by Honoree Corder and Ben Hale is the second book in their joint three-book series.

I read and reviewed the excellent Write Like a Boss! a couple of months ago, and wrote a post sharing Ben Hale’s fascinating (and detailed) editing process. After reading Write Like a Boss!, I was keen to read the rest of the series

Publish Like a Boss! starts by taking readers through the different types of publishing.

They avoid using the pejorative term “vanity publishing”, and instead refer to this as self-publishing. They then use the phrase “indie publishing” to refer to what I (and many others) call self-publishing. This doesn’t necessarily matter, but it is important to understand what they mean by the terms so you don’t get confused.

They go on to share their C’s and Q’s of successful indie publishing (Conistency, Company, Quality, and Quantity). They then provide tips on publishing fiction, publishing non-fiction, and useful resources.

I haven’t yet published a book, but I have spent the last few years observing and educating myself on the changes in the publishing industry, both for my own benefit and for the benefit of my editing clients. Some of the content covered topics I already knew, but which would be useful for someone new to publishing. However, I still picked up several useful tips.

The part I found most helpful was their list of mistakes new author-publishers make:

  • Being cheap
  • Rushing
  • Having no long-term vision
  • Failing to establish a brand
  • Not creating a long-term business plan

I’m guilty of not thinking long-term, so that’s something I need to work on.

It’s a short book and easy to read, but packed full of great advice for the first-time author, like:

If you want professional work, you can either pay with cash or pay with time. Either way, it’s going to cost you.

Overall, a short but useful book, and I’m looking forward to reading the final book in the series: Market Like a Boss!

Thanks to the authors for providing a free ebook for review.

Blogging for Authors: 11 Tips for Writing a Great Post

Blogging for Authors | 11 Tips for Writing a Great Post

Marketing. It’s the part of writing and publishing that authors enjoy least (well, most authors). But marketing is a necessary evil no matter whether you are trade published or self published. And a solid author platform—including a website and maybe a blog—is the foundation of good author marketing.

If even the thought of establishing an author platform fills you with dread … I can help. Click here to sign up to be notified about my March Marketing Challenge: Kick Start Your Author Platform.

But today I’m here to share about blogging for authors: my top 11 tips for writing a great blog post.

1. Plan Ahead

Yes, I know this sounds boring. But it will cut down on your blogging stress in two ways because it means you won’t be scrambling to write and edit a blog post at the last minute. Planning ahead also means you can write when the urge hits you … even if that’s several weeks ahead of your scheduled post date. As an example, I’m drafting this post on 22 November. I know December is going to be busy, so I’m trying to get ahead while I can.

It gives me a good feeling to check the calendar on Monday morning and find all the posts are scheduled for the week. All I have to do is promote them (see point 10 below).

2. Find the Perfect Topic

Sometimes you’re writing a blog post with a specific goal in mind: to share a cover reveal, a pre-order, a new release, or a specific time-sensitive promotion. These are easy posts to plan and write ahead of schedule, and should be part of your regular book launch marketing plan.

Sometimes you’re writing a post that has to fit a particular theme.

But more often you’re faced with a blank slate. I find those blank slate posts harder to write than when I’ve got a topic in mind. So … plan ahead. Plan out what topics you’d like to cover and when. Then you can write to cover those topics, or (if the muse hits you) you can write to please the muse.

What makes a great blog post topic? I suggest choosing topics that:

  • Interest you (so you’re going to enjoy writing it)
  • Are not going to date quickly (so you can continue to promote the post in the future).
  • Are relevant to your target audience. You do know your target audience, right? Do they ever ask questions? Yes? Then write an answer. You’re likely to get the same questions over and over, and having the answer in a blog post means you can direct future askers to the post.

(Kick Start Your Author Platform has more great tips on choosing the perfect post topic.)

3. Write at least 300 words

One of our objectives as writers is to be read. Which means writing words people want to read. But first people have to find what you’ve written. This means making your blog post as appealing to Google (and other search engines) as it is to your target reader.

Which means writing a blog post that’s at least 300 words long. More words are better, but only if they are good words. No padding!

(P.S. In a group blog, that’s 300 or more words of content. Not 300 words including your bio.)

4. Make Your Post Scannable

As you write, make your post scannable. Many people read blog posts via a reader (such as Feedly), or on a mobile or tablet.

In an online world, scannable equals readable.

To make your blog post scannable, use:

  • Short paragraphs (no more than four lines).
  • Headings and subheadings.
  • Bullet points or lists where relevant. Like here.

11 Tips for Writing a Great Blog Post

5. Ask a Question

As bloggers, we need to engage our readers, to keep them coming back. A great way of doing this is to ask a question.

This could be like my Bookish Question, or like #FirstLineFriday posts (what’s the first line of the book nearest you?).

Or you could ask a question that’s relevant to theme of your post. If the post is sharing your favourite novels, ask your readers their favourite novels. If you’re about Christmas, ask your readers to share their favourite Christmas memory. You get the idea.

The blogs I enjoy reading most are generally conversations where the comments are as important as the blog itself. So work out how you can turn your blog post into a conversation.

6. Revise. Edit. Proofread

We’re writers. We can do this. (If you can’t, Christian Editing Services can help you!)

7. Add a Killer Title

Feedly delivers me over 100 blog posts every single day. I don’t have time to read 100 blog posts. No one does. So how do I decide which posts to read? Based on the title.

Some people don’t want to use clickbaity titles such as 11 Tips for Writing a Great Blog Post. However, it’s only clickbaity if the post doesn’t actually deliver on the promise (or makes you click through 32 screens to get the 11 points).

Also, I’m reliably informed (thanks, Margie Lawson) that people subconsciously like numbered posts, because the numbers show us how much longer until the end of the post (not long now, people).

 8. Include a Relevant Image

People like images. Search engines like images. Social media likes images—experts will tell you posts with images get more attention.

Include images. (But make sure you are using them legally.)

Your main image should be centred at the very top of the post. This is the image Blogger will pick up for social media shares (if you use WordPress, you can select a Featured Image. WordPress will display that at the top of your post, and use it for social media shares).

Intersperse images throughout a longer post—it breaks up the text and makes it more readable.
 Use design software such as Canva to brand your images, so your images stand out to someone randomly scanning through Feedly. And include your killer title with your image—that will help when you’re sharing to visual sites like Instagram and Pinterest (see 10, below).

If you’re posting on a group blog like ACW, include your author photo, bio, and social media links at the bottom of the post.

9. Add Your Byline

Tell your readers who wrote the post. This is especially important if you’re writing for a group blog with multiple contributors. Some people will choose to read the post because you wrote it. Make it easy for them to know they want to read this post.

10. Promote Promote Promote

Note: promote promote promote does not mean spam spam spam.

Promoting means sharing your post with your target audience using relevant social networks.

If your post is about your multi-author romance giveaway, share in places where romance readers congregate (hint: not LinkedIn).

I use Buffer to share to Facebook, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter—Buffer’s Power Scheduler means I can even schedule multiple posts at once. A few clicks, and it’s done, with a unique message for each network (e.g. one or two #hashtags on Twitter, but more on Instagram).

Why these networks?

  • For my reader-writer-reviewer posts, my target reader is on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. Many are also on Twitter, and it takes only a few extra seconds to get Buffer to share to Twitter as well.
  • For my writer-editor posts, my target audience is on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. The beauty of Pinterest is that people can follow specific Boards, so people who aren’t interested in writing can choose not to follow my writing-related Boards.

I share on Google+ because that is indexed for SEO purposes. Translated: sharing to Google+ means Google is more likely to show my blog post (or Google+ share) to someone who is searching for posts on my topic.

The other reason for sharing or promoting is that some blog posts get more traction on social media than on the actual blog. For example, my weekly Bookish Question often gets no comments on the actual blog post, but always gets Likes and Comments on Facebook and Instagram (especially Instagram).

11. Engage

You finished your blog post with a question, right? Now it’s important to check back and make sure you respond to answers (and other comments). And don’t forget to check your social media networks and respond to comments there as well.

Readers want to connect, to engage. That means responding to comments in a timely manner.

That’s it. My top blogging tips. Is there anything you don’t understand or you’d like more information on? Or anything you’d like to add? Let me know in the comments.


Best of the Blogs | 2 December 2017

It’s December already! The blogs have been a little quiet this week—perhaps everyone is recovering from Thanksgiving. But there is still plenty of news!


Christian Fiction Genre

Library Journal has published an in-depth spotlight on Christian Fiction, from writer and reviewer Julia Reffner. The article, A Delicate Balance, shows what efforts the major trade publishers are taking to bring Christian fiction to new audiences. In particular, she addresses age, race, and the amount of “real” readers are looking for.

Reffner has interviewed many major publishers for the article, and it’s well worth reading to understand the challenges in publishing Christian fiction, and the genres publishers are most interested in.

Christmas Holiday Shut-Downs

Christmas is coming, and Draft2Digital are advising you upload new manuscripts by 11 December to ensure they publish on time.


GoodReads Giveaways

Goodreads have announced changes to their popular giveaway feature. Currently, authors can give away paperback books free via Goodreads, or they can pay USD 119 to give away 100 ebooks. The supposed advantage of a Goodreads giveaway is that your book then shows up in entrant’s feeds (as your book is added to their Want to Read pile).4

Now Goodreads have announced that paperback giveaways will be paid from 9 January 2018. The standard package will be USD 119 (with an introductory price of USD 59 for January 2018 only). There will also be a premium option, which costs an eye-watering USD 599 (again, with a 50% introductory rate for January only).

The programme will initially be available for authors with US postal addresses.

Reaching Readers

Lacy Williams borrows from Kristine Kathryn Rusch in Multi-Layered Readers and How To Read Them – a fascinating blog post at Kobo Writing Life.

Writing Your Author Bio

Anne R Allen has tips for writing your sentence, paragraph, and one-page Author Bio. Even if you have an author bio, it’s worth reviewing every year to make sure it is still current. Read the article for a top tip from Kathy Steinemann to help you keep track of where you’ve posted each bio!

That’s it for this week. What’s the best post you’ve read online recently?

Back Matter or End Matter

Self-Publishing Your Book | Writing Your Back Matter

Over the last two weeks, I’ve covered what needs to be included in your book’s front matter, and what needs to be included in the author information. Today we’re looking at what else goes in your back matter (also known as end matter).

Back matter is the information at the end of a book, what comes after the final page of the story. It’s also called end matter (you know, because it’s at the end). Back matter or end matter can include:

  • Author’s Note (covered last week)
  • Acknowledgements (covered last week)
  • List of books by the author
  • List of comparable books from the publisher (for trade published books)
  • About the Author (covered last week)
  • Link to author website
  • Link to publisher website (for trade published books)
  • Social media links
  • References or end notes (non-fiction)
  • Index (non-fiction)
  • Review request (especially in self-published books)
  • Email list invitation (especially in self-published books)
  • Discussion Questions
  • Book Excerpts

Back matter is prime selling space. If your reader has enjoyed the book (and we hope they have), they want to find out more about the book, the series, and the author. The back matter is your opportunity to capitalise on that interest and turn a reader into a fan.

Good back matter sells books. And this starts with the book list.

Book List

There is probably some fancy psychological term for what comes down to pleasure.

If the reader enjoyed your book, they want to replicate that feeling of enjoyment the easiest way possible: by buying and reading another of your books. As an author (and especially if you’re a self-published author) you need to capitalise on your reader’s lack of impulse control.

Your back matter should include a list of all your books, especially if this novel is part of a series.

Include a list of all the books in the series in reading order. You can also include older books, either in series order or in reverse order of publication (i.e. newest first).

If the book is part of a series, make sure you include information sales on the next book in the series (e.g book description and release date). The best time to persuade a customer to buy your next book is when they have happy feelings about the current book. We will not discuss how much money I spend this way.

If your book is an ebook, make this list into hyperlinks to a retail site (Amazon, or whichever site the book was purchased from). If the book is part of a series, include the buy link or pre-order link to the next book in the series. If it’s not yet available for pre-order, direct them to a page on your website where they can sign up for your email list so they are the first to know when the new book goes on sale.

A great book followed by comprehensive back matter is your best marketing tool for the next book. Take advantage of it. Make it easy for your readers to buy your next book.

A trade publisher may also include links to other books in the same genre by other authors from their publishing house. Your objective as an author is to sell your books. Their objective as a publisher is to sell books: yours, and those of all their other authors.

Email List Signup Link

Self published authors realise the importance of having an email list. Savvy authors will include a link to their email list in their back matter. They may also offer an incentive for people to sign up to the list e.g. a free novel or novella.

(You can sign up for my email list in the box on the right.)

Review Request

Positive reviews from customers are an important feature of Amazon, and other retail sites. Less than one reader in a thousand will review a book simply because they enjoyed it—mostly because they don’t know how adding their review helps an author.

Adding a request for a book review on Amazon, Goodreads, or your favourite online bookstore will help boost your review rate. This, in turn, will make your book look more popular (which can help with sales), and will increase your chances of getting a BookBub advertisement.

Discussion Questions

The rise of book clubs means a lot of novels include discussion questions at the back of the novel. These make it easy for the book club host to facilitate the discussion. Discussion questions usually take two pages of a standard paperback.

Book Excerpts

Some authors and publishers include excerpts from other books as a hook to entice the reader to buy now. This is obviously an evil plan designed to part readers from their money. This is a great idea, but don’t go overboard. I’ve read novels with so many excerpts that it affected my perceived pacing of the novel and therefore my enjoyment.

I suggest including one chapter. This could be:

  • The first chapter from the next book in the series
  • The first chapter from an unrelated standalone title in the same genre.
  • The first chapter of the first book in another series.

Publisher Information

A trade publisher may also include their own website information, an invitation to sign up to their email list, or an invitation to join their book blogger/review programme.

References/End Notes

A novel might include a list of reference either in the Author’s Note, or separately. Fiction authors usually include just a simple list of book titles and authors, ordered alphabetically on the title.

References in non-fiction are more complex. They need to include more information—title, author, publisher, year, and the exact page or chapter reference. They are formatted according to the publisher’s style guide. This could be the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS), Associated Press Style (AP), the Christian Writer’s Manual of Style (CMS), another style guide, or an in-house publisher guide.

Paperback or hardcover non-fiction books may include footnotes, but these can mess with the formatting in ebooks. Many newer books use endnotes instead. These may be at the end of each chapter, or at the end of the book, but before the index.


Non-fiction books (other than memoir) need an index.

Indexing is a specialised skill, and should be completed by your publisher or a qualified freelancer. The convention is that the index is at the very end of the book. This makes it easy for readers to find the information they are looking for.


I have come across some small trade publishers which do not include back matter in their books. This, to my mind, is a problem. They are missing out on potential sales. They are also depriving you, the author, from the opportunity to connect with readers.

If you’re trade published, ask (or getting your agent to ask) what information your publisher includes in their back matter, and what you will need to contribute (e.g. discussion questions).

If you’re self-published, you get to choose. If I haven’t convinced you, maybe this infographic from Bookbub will:

Using Back Matter to Sell More Books

What else do you like to see included in the back matter of a book? How much is too much?

Best of the Blogs

Christian Editing Services | Best of the Blogs | 25 November 2017

Another week gone! What have you been reading and writing this week? Or have you been too busy with Thanksgiving?


Getting the First Page Right

Jeannie Nash shares the six things she wants to see in the opening pages of a novel in What We Can Learn About Starting Strong from Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. How do your opening pages stack up?


Mindy Tarquini visits Writers Digest to share 11 Unconventional Resources to Kick Your Historical Fiction Up a Notch. I can see this becoming a time-suck (perhaps why I’m scared to write historical fiction: too many fun rabbit holes!

Writing vs. Marketing

Writing or marketing? In Forget Publishing and Write, Carla Laureano says it’s more important for pre-published authors to write than to think about publishing or marketing.

In contrast, Bob Hostetler at the Steve Laube Agency blog says that if you want to show agents and publishers that you’re capable of building a platform to market yourself and your work, you need to do it before you get the contract.

What do you think?



Author Glynnis Campbell shows how to rock Facebook on just twenty minutes a day (hint: this does not include watching funny cat videos). I’m not sold on her rationale for working from her Profile rather than her Page, but I love her overall concept … especially the themed daily posts. What do you think?


I have barely dipped my toe in the Medium waters. I have an account. I read some posts. That’s it. Upping my Medium game is one of my goals for 2018. In Medium vs WordPress: Where Should Your Blog Live? Elegant Themes make a convincing case for answering: Both.

Do you publish to Medium? What do you see as the pros and cons of the platform?

Author Information

Self-Publishing Your Book | Writing Your Author Information

Author information is part of the front or back matter of the book. Some authors and publishers include it at the front (mostly older trade published paperbacks). Others include it in the back (especially ebooks, but also modern trade published paperbacks).

There is no absolute correct order in which the front and back matter should be presented. In fact, there isn’t even complete agreement on what should be included as front matter, and what can be used as back matter.

However, there are some elements which are fixed, and I discussed these last week:

  • Endorsements
  • Title Page
  • Credits Page
  • Dedication
  • Table of Contents

There are other elements which may be included as front matter or back matter. These include the author information:

  • Author Note
  • Acknowledgements
  • About the Author

Older books (from the pre-ebook era) often included these as front matter. Newer books and ebooks are more likely to include these as back matter. Why?

Because there are differences between how ebooks are formatted compared to paper books.

Ebooks vs. Paper Books

Most ebooks start directly at Chapter One, which means the reader won’t even see most of the front matter. There is limited use in including Endorsements or other sales material at the beginning of an ebook, as the casual reader won’t see them. Someone who wants to look has to go back to the Kindle table of contents, and choose the appropriate section. Choosing Beginning will take you to the beginning of Chapter One (or the Prologue).

It is also important to limit the front matter in ebooks. Most online stores allow readers to sample a portion of the book—up to 10 per cent (or more, depending on the retailer). Too much front matter limits the amount of the actual text that will be included in this sample, and that can affect your sales.

I remember downloading one Kindle sample which was all front matter, with no actual book content.

Yes, really.

Did I buy the book? No. I download samples to (wait for it!) sample your writing to see if I want to read your book. If there is no book to read, I’m not going to buy.

So while some authors and publishers recommend including these three elements of author information as front matter, I don’t. With a few exceptions.

Author’s Note

This is your opportunity to address any factual issues in the novel—such as part of the novel being based on your own personal experience. Books that deal with traumatic issues may include contact details for relevant help organisations (e.g a novel about dealing with an unplanned pregnancy may include details for organisations that provide pregnancy support).

Some authors include a short list of research books and sources, which always impresses me. Others say this information is available on their website, which is doubly clever—it shows me the author has done their research, and it encourages me to click through, and perhaps sign up for their email list.


I do have a few exceptions, instances where I believe the author’s note or similar material should be included in the front matter, not the back matter:

Deliberate Errors

Authors of historical fiction sometimes introduce deliberate errors to better serve the story they are telling (e.g. they may have moved event by a few weeks or months to better fit the timeline of the novel, or they may change the location of key characters or events).

I’m a history buff, and when I find incorrect “facts” in a novel, I always turn to the back to see why the author has made that change. If there is no note, that affects my enjoyment of the novel because it gives me the impression the author hasn’t done their research.

I don’t mind deliberate changes to suit the story, but telling me Germany was in the “early days” of World War II in 1942 is guaranteed to annoy me. An introductory Author’s Note is the perfect time to explain these changes … but only if it can be done without spoiling the story. Otherwise, it may be more prudent to add a simple note explaining that certain facts have been changed, and detail the exact changes in the back matter.

Family Tree

Historical or fantasy novels often include a family tree to enable the reader to keep the characters straight. Depending on the circumstances, this can be helpful or it can serve as a spoiler. My suggestion would be to include the family tree as it is at the beginning of the novel, not the end.


If your character uses unfamiliar vocabulary, then readers will appreciate a glossary explaining the meaning.

This could be words from another language (e.g. many Amish novels translate the Deutsch terms used). They could be technical words, or terms which have fallen out of everyday use. Or they could be local idioms that your characters use, but your target reader may not understand (e.g. if you have a book set in Australia or New Zealand).

As a guide, if the information is essential or important to enable the reader to understand the novel, include the information in the front matter.


Fantasy novels or historical fiction often include a map (I’ve even seen maps in some contemporary novels set outside the USA). This provides readers with a heads-up about the setting, and helps them orient themselves in that unfamiliar location.


This is your opportunity to thank the reader for buying and reading the book. It is also the place to thank people who have helped in the writing, editing, and publishing process—your critique partners, beta readers, and editors (if you’re trade published, you can also thank your agent, publisher, and the marketing team).

I always read the acknowledgements. As a reader, I often the names of other favourite authors in this section. I’m then more inclined to check out books from the authors whose names I don’t recognise—if I enjoyed this book by Author A, who thanks Authors B and C (who I’ve read and loved), then I think I’m likely to enjoy books by Author D as well.

As a pre-published author, the acknowledgements section provides valuable market research. Which agents and publishers are interested in books like this? Who designed the cover of this self-published book? Which freelance editor does the author use? (Everyone needs an editor, even editors. We can’t edit our own work—we see what should be there, not what is there.)

About the Author

Readers want to know and connect with the author as a person. There should be an About the Author or Author Bio section which gives readers a brief author biography, and displays a professional photograph. It may also include links to the author’s website, and social media sites e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.

A paper book will have these as written links, but an ebook should have them as hyperlinks so the reader can click through to the website. Hopefully they will then sign up to your email list, or subscribe to your blog.


This author information needs to be included in your book no matter whether you write fiction or non-fiction, and whether you are trade published or self-published.

I’ll be back next week to talk more about the back matter that always goes at the back.

What do you like to see in the front matter? Or the back matter?

Best of the Blogs

Christian Editing Services | Best of the Blogs | 18 November 2017

We’re more than halfway through November already! For those of you attempting NaNoWriMo this month, how are you going?

I’ve flunked. But I have written and loaded a heap of blog posts, almost finished the visual rebranding for a group blog (we’ll roll that out over the Christmas break), and I’m currently doing two online courses with Lawson Writer’s Academy, one on writing craft, and one on marketing. The writing course has shown me how little I know my characters … which is why I’ve flunked NaNo.

Anyway, on with the news …



Michael Hauge asks What’s Your Theme? A novel needs an overall theme … but it’s something a lot of authors either skim over, or try and shoehorn in at the end.

What Are You Writing?

David Farland asks Are You Writing a Book, or a Movie? He goes on to explain the differences in point of view for novels and movies. As it happens, I’m currently writing a blog post on this subject, inspired by a course I’m taking through Lawson Writers Academy.


Cover Design

Paul Barrett, Art Director of Girl Friday Productions, visits Author Marketing Experts to share Book Marketing 101: 10 Things Not to Do on Your Book Cover. There are so many bad book covers out there! Unfortunately, the authors don’t know they’re bad (because surely you wouldn’t deliberately allow your book to go out with an awful cover?).

I suspect that’s because many newbie authors can’t see beyond it’s a book! With my name on the cover!

They don’t know the principles of good design … and it’s something you need to know before you start designing your first book cover (actually, for many authors, that’s their first mistake. Designing their own cover).

Fighting Piracy

Following Maggie Stiefvater’s blog post about her experience with book pirates, Jana Oliver visits Fiction University to share what she’s doing to fight the book pirates in Why eBook Piracy Matters.



Belinda Griffin of SmartAuthorsLab visits The Creative Penn to share 7 Best Ways to Build an Authentic Author Brand.

If you’re interested in learning how to build your brand from nothing, I have two suggestions:

1. Follow my blog. I have a blog series on branding coming up in February 2018.

2. Click here to sign up to my Kick Start Your Author Platform information list. I’ll be running the programme again in March 2018 … and there will be more information about it coming up soon!

Cross Promotion

Diana Urban visits the BookBub blog to share 14 Ways Authors can Cross-Promote Each Other’s Books. You will note none of them include commenting on blog posts (although that’s always welcome!).

Facebook Chatbots

Louise Harnby introduces Facebook Chatbots in How To Market Your Book and Build Your Author Platform Using a Chatbot. What are chatbots? Are they the next big thing in book marketing? Who knows? But they are currently underutilised, and if there is one thing I’ve learned about book marketing, it’s that it pays to be at the leading edge of the curve.

That’s my top seven posts for this week. What’s the best post you’ve read this week on writing, editing, publishing, or marketing?