Why Your Self-Published Book Needs a Professional Cover


One of the two crucial things that indie / self-publishing authors should pay for is cover design. (The other is editing.)

Here are six different covers.

Which ones do you think are self-published?


(All of these are taken from the September 2016 and October 2016 editions of Joel Friedlander’s e-Book Cover Design Awards. I decided to use covers from these Awards as the authors or designers had already submitted them for critique, and I chose Awards from last year so that if those authors had wanted to make changes based on Joel’s comments, they’ve had a chance to do so!)

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Three Types of Self-Confidence That Will Help Your Writing Career (and How to Boost Yours)


What’s holding you back from writing?

A lot of writers say their biggest problem is “finding time” … but I think this often relates to a lack of self-confidence.

Maybe other priorities keep crowding out your writing.

Maybe you feel that there’s not much point writing because it’s so hard to get published.

Maybe you enjoy writing but you secretly worry you’re not very good at it.

All of those problems can show up as “I don’t have time” when really, you don’t need more time so much as you need more confidence.

Self-confidence isn’t about feeling an unshakable (but potentially unwarranted!) certainty that you’re an excellent writer. It’s more about being able to value yourself and your writing, and being able to put your writing out there into the world without feeling unduly anxious about doing so.

As I see it, there are three types of self-confidence that you can develop as a writer:

  • Confidence in your writing itself – the nuts and bolts of the craft
  • Confidence in your ability to get things done – seeing projects through
  • Confidence that your writing is worthwhile – it’s important and it matters

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Why Novellas are Making a Comeback (and Five Great Posts for Novella-Writers)

A couple of weekends ago, I headed off on an overnight writing retreat and started work on a new fiction project.

This is the first time in more years than I care to count (nine, yikes) that I’ve been working on a long piece of fiction other than my Lycopolis trilogy.

It’s going to be a short, stand-alone novel: a novella.

Novellas have, since e-publishing took off, become far more popular than they used to be. You may well have read some without thinking of them as novellas (most readers, and most writers marketing their work, just call them “short novels”).

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Everything You Need to Know About Writing Great Dialogue


I’ve written a fair amount about dialogue over the past few years … partly because I love writing dialogue! And I figured it was about time I collated those posts in one place.

Whether you enjoy dialogue too (and want to make yours even better) or whether it’s something you struggle with, these posts will help you.

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How to Write Character Descriptions That Work [With Examples]

If you’re writing fiction, at some point, you’ll probably want to describe the people populating your story.

(This isn’t absolutely essential, mind. I’ve just written a short story that consists entirely of dialogue – no dialogue tags, no action beats, nothing – and neither of the characters is described at all.)

When it comes to a description, you want to avoid doing anything remotely like this:

Julia gazed into the bathroom mirror, assessing how she looked. Her hair was neatly parted and just skimmed the top of her shoulders. Her blue eyes were perfectly spaced, and her nose had a smattering of freckles – just right, she felt. The new shade of lipstick, a reddish-pink, went well with her top. But her cleavage was non-existent …

This might just work if you want to convey a character who’s particularly self-absorbed and who frets a lot about their appearance, but, otherwise, it’s a boring and – often – annoying way to introduce your character to your readers.

So what can you do instead? Firstly…

Keep Descriptions Fairly Minimal

Some authors don’t describe much about their characters. Maybe we get a few key characteristics, especially if those are relevant to how the characters behave and interact with others (e.g. they’re unusually tall / short / skinny / fat / hairy / bald …) but we don’t have long descriptions of exactly how they look.

I think this is a good way forward. Personally, as a reader, I don’t really care what characters look like – I care who they are underneath the surface. Sometimes, their physical characteristics are important because they tell us more about who the characters are, or they’re significant because of how other characters relate to them.

In this description, from Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies, it matters that Celeste is so pretty because it affects how other characters relate to her, and reminds Jane of trauma in her own past:

Madeline’s expression changed. She beamed and waved. “Oh! She’s here at last! Celeste! Over here! Come and see what I’ve done!”

Jane looked up and her heart sank.

It shouldn’t matter. She knew it shouldn’t matter. But the fact was that some people were so unacceptably, hurtfully beautiful, it made you feel ashamed. Your inferiority was right there on display for the world to see. This was what a woman was meant to look like. Exactly this. She was right, and Jane was wrong.

What to Do (and What to Avoid) When Describing Characters

When you’re describing characters:

  • Don’t give us a huge chunk of description all at once. This is a bad idea not only because it halts the forward momentum of your narrative but also because the reader’s unlikely to remember most of it anyway!
  • Try describing one character through another character’s eyes. This can help reveal a lot about the person looking at them as well as the one who’s being observed, and it works very well if you’re using a third-person limited perspective.
  • If you’re writing a first person narrative, avoid having the viewpoint character describe themselves in painstaking detail. Instead, bring in key characteristics that are relevant to who they are (e.g. they’re overweight and trying to shed excess pounds – or they’re unusually tall / short and it bothers them).
  • Choose two or three key characteristics to focus on, especially unusual ones (e.g. eye colour probably isn’t worth mentioning unless it’s fairly striking, or unless one character is staring into another’s eyes…)
  • With any kind of description, word choices matter a lot. There’s a huge tonal difference between “long yellow hair” and “flowing blond hair” and “long golden locks” … even though all of those could describe exactly the same thing.

Description in Practice

Description is the thing I struggle with most in writing, and I try to do a fairly minimal amount of it! I’ll give you a few examples from Lycopolis, though, and explain why I wrote them in the way I did:

Example #1:

Kay sipped uncertainly at her hot chocolate. Seth was taller than she’d imagined him. His blond hair hung perfectly, parted in the middle to fall to his chin, just like his profile picture on Messenger. She’d brushed her own hair into fierce plaits as usual, but the wind had whipped strands of it loose.

This is the very first paragraph of the novel. Kay’s the viewpoint character, and the reader hasn’t met her or Seth yet – so I’m trying to get in a bit of description of both of them, and hint at the backstory between them (e.g. “taller than she’d imagined him” – she knew Seth already but hadn’t met him in person before; she’s clearly spent at least a bit of time imagining what he looks like). There are some basic physical details (Seth is tall with longish blond hair; Kay has plaits).

Example #2:

A few paragraphs later, we’ve got:

She lifted her head, and met his eyes. They were a greyish blue, like stonewashed denim, like the pebbles on the beach back home.

I’m not generally interested in character’s eye colour. But I’m hinting here not only at Kay’s crush on Seth – she’s noticing his eyes – but also at her homesickness (by this point, we know she’s a first-year student at Oxford).

Example #3:

Later on, we get a description of Seth from a different perspective, 14-year-old Edwin:

Seth was pretty much how Edwin had imagined from his Messenger profile picture. He was tall, and his hair was cut longish and floppy without looking gay. He wore dark cords and a grey denim jacket over a shirt which, unlike Edwin’s sweater, didn’t seem to have spent the last few days in a heap on the floor.

“Hey,” Edwin said, and found himself suddenly nervous. Did he look sort of stupid, with collar-length hair and studded bracelets and head-to-toe black?

Again, Edwin knows Seth online, but this is the first time he meets him in real life. Unlike Kay, he did picture Seth as tall – he’s rather more in awe of Seth than Kay is. I’ve got comparison going on again: with Edwin’s rather less careful attitude to clothes, for instance. And just in case Edwin hasn’t reminded the reader recently enough that he is Properly Goth, we get a quick description of what he’s wearing (and how insecure he is about it).


You can probably tell that, for me at least, character description is generally a way to bring in all sorts of other things: to hint at and establish relationships between characters, for instance, and to tell us about the viewpoint character, who’s describing someone.


Have you come across any character descriptions that work particularly well (or that just didn’t do it for you)? Share them, and the books they come from, in the comments.


Seven Things to Do When You Feel Like Giving Up on Writing

Should you just stop writing? Is it taking up your time, taking up your energy, taking up your life … and not giving anything back?

Most writers go through times when they feel like giving up. It’s a normal and natural, if difficult, stage in the writing life.

Some writers do give up, of course: either permanently or for a long, long time – perhaps stopping after their college years and not starting again until retirement.

And, of course, it might be that you don’t have to write. Maybe you tried your hand at freelance writing but it hasn’t really worked out for you, and you want to pursue something different. Maybe you enjoyed the creative outlet of writing, but you’ve now decided something else suits you better: sketching, perhaps, or composing music.

Assuming that you still do want to write (at least a little bit), though, here are some options:

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Is it OK to Use Swear Words in Your Writing?


Swearing. Cussing. Strong / bad / foul language. Whatever you want to call it … can you use it in your writing?


It’s your writing, and you can do whatever you want!

Of course, there are reasons you might decide against swearing, or reasons why you might moderate your language in different contexts.

Here are a few things to consider.

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The Four Essential Qualities You Need for Freelance Writing Success (and How to Develop Them)


How do you know if you’re going to make it as a freelancer?

I’ve been freelancing for eight and a half years now, and to be honest, there were times early on where I thought maybe I wasn’t cut out for it!

Over that time, I’ve seen lots of freelancers thrive … and I’ve seen others give up and return to the world of employment. (And, of course, there’s nothing wrong with that. Freelancing certainly isn’t for everyone.)

Assuming you really want to succeed as a freelancer, though, what qualities do you need … and how can you develop them? I’ll go through the four that I think are most essential, but I’d love to hear your take in the comments!

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Ten Book-Level Mistakes to Watch Out for When Redrafting Your Fiction [With Examples]


Stack of books

A few weeks ago, I posted about sentence-level mistakes: ones that are easy to spot from a page or a paragraph of writing.

Even if you write flawless prose, though, it’s possible to make bigger-picture mistakes over the course of a novel or novella … and these can sometimes be trickier to notice.

Here are ten that always make me wince (and, often, cause me to put a book down altogether, never to pick it up again):

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Is a Fear of Technology Holding Back Your Writing Career? Here’s What to Do


Image shows man writing in notebook, in front of laptop.

Do you ever wish you could simply write and that somebody else would take care of all the technological side of things? I know a lot of writers do, just as a lot of writers wish that somebody else would take care of marketing for them.

The truth is, whatever sort of writing you do, and whatever your ambitions for your writing, you will need to be at least somewhat comfortable using computers, the web and different software packages.

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