My Trilogy is Done! Tips and Tricks for Writing a Trilogy, Duet, Series

My Tower City Romance Trilogy is finished. After two years of working on off and on, it’s done, published.


I started Don’t Run Away as a NaNoWriMo project in 2015 but didn’t actually start editing it until the later winter/early spring of 2017. I had gotten caught up in my novella series, Summer Secrets, and while that was being edited in May of 2017, I wrote Chasing You. Then, after finishing it, I let that sit and started the file for Running Scared, the last in the series, on October 12, 2017. Writing it went quickly, as it was the last in the trilogy, and I knew how I wanted the story to go. Actually, Chasing You went just as quickly, but I had gotten bogged down with the production and release of Summer Secrets.

Anyway, writing the trilogy was both satisfactory and one big drag. Here’s why:

Why Writing a Series is Fun

  1. You love your characters and don’t have to let them go. I see this a lot in Writer Twitter. Writers are so enamored with their characters, rather than finish editing, then publishing/querying, they continually edit. They edit and rewrite so they don’t have to say goodbye, to end a story they’re in love with. Rather than edit your book to death, figure out a way to make it into a series. Then you never have to say goodbye, but you can move on to new plots.
  2. The plots create themselves. When you’re writing about your main characters, eventually your secondary characters are going to want their own stories. It’s inevitable, so don’t fight it. Give them their own books. You know you want to.
  3. You can dig deeper into the town/world they live in. There’s a lot more time to create their world. My Tower City Romance trilogy was set in a fictional town in Minnesota. It was fun to create the places they worked in, the university they’d gone to school at. City parks, where they lived, that kind of thing. In three books, I was able to explore that more than just in one.
  4. You can make more things happen. When you have more than one book, you can either make each book stand-alone with each issue being resolved by the end of the book, like I did, or you can have a problem/issue that needs to be solved, and you can take as long as you want to do it. As long as you eventually do. Each book needs to have a purpose, like each puzzle piece helps you build the whole puzzle.


Why Writing a Series Isn’t So Fun

  1. You get bored. If you’re bored, your reader is bored. We’ve all heard something along those lines. If the story drags out of your fingers, if it takes two hours two write two paragraphs, you’re not having any fun. And guess what, your readers won’t have any fun reading it. Even though each of my books centered on a different couple, the trilogy was about the same group of friends. By the time I had finished the third book, I was ready to move on. I had even planned five books in the series, but when I was writing the second book, I realized that I didn’t want to keep going after the third book, and I started tying up loose ends I had kept open for other books.
  2. I felt like I couldn’t publish as soon as I was done with a book. I published my books a month apart, but for the most part, they were all done when I started publishing them. Why did I do that? One, so that if someone found my first book, it wouldn’t be long before they could find all of them. Two, because I wanted to make sure I could fix inconsistencies. Three, and I don’t know if it’s true, but I’ve been told to publish with no longer than three months apart from one book to the next to stay on top of Amazon’s algorithms. Whether this is true or not remains to be seen, but I wasn’t comfortable waiting months between books. I’ve heard testimonies from other authors who have said dumping a series all at once gave them ultimate sales results. But no matter what my reasons were, it was tough to sit on finished books and not publish them.
  3. Finding photos for the covers was difficult. This probably wouldn’t be a big deal to anyone who pays for their covers design, or buys cover templates made for a series and can work with the designer for as many books as you choose to write. But I did my own covers, and I bought my stock art from I needed all my photos to look similar so the covers looked like they belonged together. More books would have made this difficult and waiting to publish helped in this regard, too. It gave me time to find stock art and compare them to each other.
  4. You have other projects you want to write. I didn’t let myself get distracted by shiny new things. Lots of writers do, then they don’t finish anything. Or they publish one book in a series, write something else, then go back to the second book, etc. Readers won’t wait for you to finish messing around. If the like your first book, then they’ll want the second ASAP. In this era of binging TV shows on Netflix and Hulu, books are no different. Trad-pubbed authors have to wait. But indies don’t. Take advantage of that, finish your book, then get on to the next shiny thing.

Series sell. That’s a fact that the Smashwords Survey proves, so whether you like writing them or not, you may want to work one or two or three into your writing plans. At any rate, I am working on a stand-alone, then I have a couple plots planned that could easily turn into duets. I like the thought of a duet–long enough readers can get a little more of that world, short enough that you, as a writer, don’t get bored.

Are you writing a series? What do you think?

Let me know!

Who Are You Writing For? Yourself or Your Readers? Be Honest.

There’s a lot of fear in a writer’s heart. Lots of it. Am I good/smart/brave/pretty/handsome/wistful/*insert adjective here* enough to be a writer? Am I writing books people want to read?

I see this all the time. The fear. The agony of publishing. The waiting on pins and needles for reviews to start coming in. If they do. Then we have to wonder, is a bad review better than no review? Bad reviews mean that someone read my book, right? Or *gulp* tried to.

I have to admit, I see this stuff and I go wwwwwhhhhhhyyyyyyy?


There shouldn’t have to be this crippling anxiety when you write and publish a book. Not if you do it right. What do I mean by right? Well, I have some ideas.

The first and foremost is be honest who you’re writing for. Are you writing for yourself? Because if you are, then you have no justification to piss and moan when someone doesn’t read your book or want to read your book. Because after all, you wrote it for yourself so what do you care if no one else is reading it? So, be honest. I find that with a lot of indie myths floating around out there that this isn’t so easy. Some of my favorite indie myths? Indie myths

  1. Build it and they will come.
    This is the stupidest thing I ever heard. Your book is not a sports stadium. (And even sports stadiums are built with specifications. Could you image a stadium built with no bathrooms because the owner didn’t want to pay to put them in?) No one is going to find you unless you push your book out there. Even publishing houses make you do most if not all of the marketing for your book yourself. If you’re an indie, this means contacting book bloggers, paying for ads, hosting events on your FB author page. Setting up your own signings at bookstores. How does this fit in with writing for yourself? You can write what you want all day long, but if you’re writing what no one wants to read, why bother?
  2. Writing to market is a cop-out.
    I love this one the most. Do you know what writing to market even means? My friend Holly put it like this: Writing to market isn’t being a sell-out. Writing to market is writing what people like to read. That’s it. It’s not any harder than that. So what does that entail significantly? Knowing your genre. What tropes are used? What kind of characters are in that genre? It can even come down to how many pages does a book in that genre typically have? Know the genre. It’s why your reader picked up your book in the first place.
  3. Experimenting is okay/write what you love/it’s your book.
    I agree up to a point. You have to experiment to find your voice. You have to love what you’re writing because this is your hobby, this is your passion, and if you hate it, you might as well go to work instead and hate it there and get paid for it, too. And it is your book. Absolutely. The choice of genre and POV is in your hands. But you have to stay within the confines of the genre you choose. I don’t know how many more times I can say it. And if, for God’s sake, you have to experiment with a medieval Zombie sex plot, no one is saying you have to publish the *insert derogatory adjective here* thing.
  4. And the worst indie myth of all:
  5. I’m an indie and I can do/write/publish what I want.
    This is hurtful for so many reasons. One, because what you do affects all of us. You know that saying “one rotten apple poisons the barrel?” It’s true. Indie publishing already has a bad enough reputation, do we need to add to it by publishing whatever crap you decide to write? You hurt me, and I hurt you. And if you think I’m full of crap, think again. Another reason this hurts is because you are hurting yourself on a personal level. One crap book and your reputation is on the line. Readers remember you. Don’t think they don’t. I have a list of readers I don’t like, both indie and trad-pubbed, and you know what? I don’t buy their books. Easy-peasy.

So what does all this have to do with the fear I was talking about earlier? Well, I’m willing to guess and say, if you follow the rules (yep, I went there) and produce a good book, you may find that the idea of people reading your book won’t scare you as much as it did.

What are these blasphemous rules I speak of?

  1. Know the genre you’re writing in. When a publishing professional asks, If you were to put your book on a shelf in a bookstore, where would you put it? That’s a serious question. We all dream of being in a bookstore, and I don’t think that means being in the back room because the manager hasn’t got a fucking clue where to put your book. Follow the tropes and expectations of that genre.
  2. Get the thing edited. I don’t care by who. Just do it. You have a typo on the first page, and it can be something as simple as using a period in dialogue when it should have been a comma, you lost me. And probably about 100 other readers who were interested. They aren’t anymore.
    And if this is your first book and you have no idea what you’re doing? Get a developmental editor, too. Your plot needs to move, your characters need to grow. If you have trouble crafting a good plot (ie no plot holes) and your characters are flat out boring, don’t publish.
  3. Have a cover that matches your genre. Seems like a no-brainer, but it’s amazing how many authors do what they want with no sense of what is going on in their genre. This could be because they don’t have a genre, and well, that sucks. No genre, no cover, no bookshelf space, no book. It takes two seconds to Google the hot 100 on Amazon in your genre. If your cover looks like a sweet romance, but you wrote erotica, you’ll piss off a lot of people. And you know that means? Bad reviews.
  4. Write a decent blurb.

If you do all these, and yeah, it takes work, time, and money, and you publish the best book you can, there is no reason why you should be scared people will read your book.

Let me tell you a little story.
A someone told me they were petrified people were going to find and read their book. This puzzled me, as they published the darn thing–they should want someone to read it. Naturally, I looked them up on Amazon. The cover was okay; it prepped me for a chick-lit plot with some naughty bits. Can’t beat comedy and sex. The blurb sucked, but well, writing them is hard, so I gave them a pass. Their author bio was written first person, a no-no, but well, I guess some people don’t know that. I used the look inside feature that Amazon has so graciously set up for us so we don’t waste money, and I found the book was a mess. Their cover didn’t match the serious tone of the book, the formatting was horrible, and it was evident from the first paragraph they didn’t have an editor. They’re scared people are going to find their book? They should be.

There are things you can do to control the quality of your book. Find an editor/critique partner/beta reader who will teach you things, not just blow smoke up your bum. Read craft books. Go to writing conferences and have your first pages critiqued. Read in your genre. For the love of God, choose a genre. It makes writing a lot easier, trust me. And after you hit publish, you did it. Own it.

And seriously. If you are writing for yourself, when you’re done, print it out and shove it under the bed. Maybe the monster under there can edit it for you.

Am I too harsh?

Tell me what you think!

Vania Blog Signature

The Top 7 Indie News Items from 2017 (that I can remember).

Indie Publishing News of 2017

December is almost over, which means we’ll be welcoming in 2018 in a few days. Maybe you won’t see it happen because you’ll be in a pumpkin pie/eggnog-induced coma, or maybe you’ll be hungover, which is the best way to bring in any New Year. But nonetheless, 2017 will be just a distant memory. Here’s a recap of the top things that happened in 2017!

Amazon came up with Amazon Charts. Some people didn’t like this, some people did. Some people said it was a nice thing for Amazon to do since The New York Times cut back on some of their bestseller lists. Some people said it was a biased list; Amazon would only promote their bestselling imprint books. Whatever you think, there’s another list you can aim for, because just hoping for someone to buy your book and like it isn’t enough.


Pronoun closed. This caused a mad dash for indie authors as they were a third-party distributor like Draft2Digital or Smashwords. I don’t think anyone received a definitive answer as to why Macmillian closed Pronoun, but there was some discussion of money (isn’t there always) because they didn’t take a cut for distributing.

Speaking of Draft2Digital, it was big news in 2017 when they partnered with Findaway voices, giving indie authors a different way to produce audiobooks rather than relying on ACX through Amazon. Audio is on the rise, and while I hear it’s expensive and time-consuming to do an audio option for a book, more people than ever before are “reading” their books by listening. As an indie struggling with writing, editing, formatting, cover design, and marketing, audio is probably the last thing on your mind. But you don’t want to miss the boat–in the long run, you never know how many sales you’ll miss.


Two other big news items that happened in 2017 concerning audio books are 1) Kobo is now selling audiobooks. This is important because it gives indies another sales channel besides depending on Amazon/iTunes through ACX. But if you like Amazon and are “all in” with them, and you write romance, when 2) Audible added the Romance package to their subscription, this gave indie romance writers another venue for getting their audiobooks out there. It may be more difficult to get your book into the Romance Package in Audible than it is to enroll your ebook into KU through KDP, but it’s still an option if you write excellent quality books.


Amazon/KDP rolled out KDP Print. That little tidbit of information goes alongside the news that CreateSpace is closing their online store. At first, this caused a stir that maybe CreateSpace was going to close its doors completely, and we’d be left with only IngramSpark (for distribution purposes you should be using them with CS anyway) but this is not the case. CreateSpace may fold, but in its place there will be KDP Print. I’ve looked into this service a little bit, and how you submit your interior files and cover files is the same. It actually makes sense–you have your paperback sales and Kindle sales all on one dashboard. So, in light of that news, I would suggest that if you’re close to publishing your next book, try KDP Print, figure things out before you’re forced to.


Another thing that popped into 2017 was if you’re looking for another way to have your romances published, the Hallmark Channel is accepting queries through Hallmark Publishing. Because, you know, there aren’t enough ways to have your writing rejected. No, seriously, if you write clean romance that you could easily see as a Hallmark Channel Movie, give it a go! You never know what can happen.


Luckily, I’m not writing in order of importance, because surely the change in how GoodReads handles their giveaways is more important than pitching to Hallmark. This was a huge step back for indies when they decided to stop their free giveaway program for all 2018 giveaways and start charging for giveaway packages. Before, for free, an indie could giveaway paperback books and only pay for the printing and shipping for the giveaway. Now, GoodReads offers two tiers of giveaways, one for $119.00 and one for $599.00. Yes, you read the second one correctly. I haven’t looked into this too carefully, as I haven’t used the free program, and it will be a while, if ever, when I use the paid option. There was a lot of speculation as to why GoodReads did this, and in my very humble opinion, it was because they needed to assert some kind of quality control. It may not be true, but I’m guessing if an indie has the resources to pay for editing, book cover design, formatting, possibly ISBN, then they also have the resources to fork over another $120.00 for a giveaway. On the flip side, if you do everything yourself to save money, then you are less likely to shell out the cash. I’ve had people disagree with me, saying that poor writers still can put out quality work, and I agree. But in terms of GoodReads now charging for giveaways, it thins the herd, no matter what the reasoning is behind it.


Well, for me, I guess that wraps up my year in review for big publishing news. I can do a personal, What I Did in 2017 post, maybe later. I hope you found this blog post interesting–maybe you’ll need to make some changes to what your marketing plans are for the coming year.

If you want to keep your ear to the ground, a good place to start is to listen to the podcast by Jim Kukral and Bryan Cohen, the Sell More Books Show. In their weekly podcast, they talk about indie news on a weekly basis, keeping you informed of what’s going on in the self-publishing industry. Also, follow Jane Friedman on Twitter (@JaneFriedman). She tweets interesting news articles about the publishing industry, and if you can afford it, sign up for her Hot Sheet. If you like to stay on top of trad-publishing news, listen to the PrintRun Podcast hosted by literary agents Laura Zats and Erik Hane. They work at Red Sofa Literary Agency in my home state of Minnesota. Also, follow them on Twitter (@printrunpodcast)! 

If I’ve forgotten anything, give me a shout. I like staying on top of things. You never know when it will come in handy.

Have a great 2018 in the world of publishing! Get your books out there! Good luck!



Thank you to the respective websites for the pictures that I stole borrowed for this post. Also, thank you to and Canva for the other photos.


Indie Book Reviews: My Unpopular Opinion

There’s been a lot of talk lately about writing indie book reviews. You know, it’s a kind thing to do, you’re giving the book a bump in the Amazon algorithms. You see it everywhere on Twitter: support an author, leave a review.

And I’ll be honest, when I jumped into the indie world, I read a lot of indie books. I was supporting my Twitter friends. But when you are just starting out, when you’re new to Writer Twitter, the thing that no one tells you is that there are bad books out there. Maybe I was naive, maybe I was just inexperienced. I was in awe of anyone who had published books. I hadn’t been exposed to the indie world, and I had no idea that a published book could be bad.

So I bought books, tweeted I was reading them, showed my support. The only problem was, some of them were good, some were okay, some were dumpster fires.


Then I would have to write a review. I admit, I wrote a handful of 5-star reviews for books that were mediocre. (I realize that is a moral dilemma for some, and I have stopped doing it since it’s not fair to anyone). There was a lot of telling, or the characters were flat. Maybe a plot hole here and there.

After I bought two books in a row that I did not finish (DNF), I stopped buying indie completely. Because let’s face it, indie books are expensive. I buy paperback, and to get any kind of royalty, CreateSpace makes you price your book at a ridiculous price. So spending $17.99 on a book I won’t finish is a blow to my wallet.

But lately, the review talk is getting out of hand. While writing a positive review for a book that is well-written and well-edited is one thing, writing a negative review for a book that isn’t good is something else.

What makes a book bad?

Poor or complete lack of editing
The formatting is wonky, so wonky that it takes away from the reading experience
Flat characters
Plot holes
An all-around boring story

I’ve read my share, and if you read indie, you have too. I once read a book that had so many typos in it, I used it as a proofreading exercise (a quick run through Grammarly could have fixed 80% of those mistakes). I’ve read two books that I did not finish because the formatting was so terrible I couldn’t focus on the story. I read one book where nothing happened for three chapters. I was still waiting by chapter four and eventually toss the book aside.

Did I write bad reviews for any of those books? No, I didn’t. Did I reach out to those authors, my friends? No, I didn’t.

See, here’s the thing that you probably won’t agree with, but something that I live by:

When I pick up a book at Target, Walmart, Barnes and Noble, I’m picking up a traditionally published book. I’m reading a book that has been read several times by an agent, by several (and different kinds at that) editors. If the book is bad, say unlikeable characters, maybe a slight plot hole, or just a boring story, several people are to blame for the all the book lacks. I’m also reading that book as a readerI don’t know the author, probably. I’ll never interact with them. I can leave an honest review, and for a traditionally published book on GoodReads I have left, you know, two or three stars (which technically isn’t a bad review anyway).

When I read indie, I’m doing it because they are my friends, or I know them peripherally, or I thought it looked good and picked it up in a show of support. What do you get when you purchase an indie book?

Maybe something that hasn’t been edited all that great due to cost, resources, what have you. Most times editing is a favor, and it’s not always done by someone who knows how to edit.
A book that has a cover that was maybe done by the author to save a few bucks. I do my own covers, and I like to think they look decent. I know decent isn’t what we’re aiming for here, and I realize that if I wrote in any genre other than Romance, I would have to pay to have my covers done. Romance is the only genre you can get away with slapping a kissing couple on the front and adding the title and your name and be able to call it good.
A book that hasn’t been properly formatted. This has always bothered me because CreateSpace has free templates for you to download. And there are lovely templates you can purchase at a low cost you can use over and over again. Copy and paste your book into it, and you’re done. You’ve got your headers, footers, the pages where there should be numbers, and where they shouldn’t be. Gutters, margins. The templates aren’t perfect, and I’ve had to tweak mine, but even just using a template as a starting point will put you ahead of hundreds of authors who don’t know they exist or are too stubborn to use them. Pick up a trad-published book for God’s sake. Copy it. Page numbers, title, author name in the headers and footers. Full-justify the damn thing. Take out the auto spacing between paragraphs. A 200-page book shouldn’t be 600 pages. It costs money, for you and your customers, to print all that space. Stop it.

But you know what, a review is not the place to say all this. By the time the book is published, it’s too late. It’s not your job. You might say, well I have to warn other readers, or I’m giving my feedback.

When you read an indie, you are doing so as a writer, and that is not the same as reading a book as a reader. It’s not the same. When you read indie, you are peer-reviewing their books, and giving a poor review is a low blow. Reach out to them in a DM if you absolutely must, but be prepared for the backlash.

Look, there are a lot of readers out there, and eventually the book you want to “leave feedback on” will receive an honest review from someone the author doesn’t know. That’s an honest review, and maybe if your friend receives enough of them, they’ll pull the book and have it edited, or whatever.


This blog post is really long, and I haven’t even touched on the thing that makes me the maddest. I’ll write another blog post about it. But anyway, I don’t leave bad reviews for the simple fact that I am a nobody in the world of indie publishing. I don’t have thousands of sales, I don’t make six-figures. And when I do become an authority, I still won’t leave reviews. I’ll write blog posts like this.

Let’s try to save these books before they are published. Instead of reviewing, maybe offer to beta read, be a CP. Tweet informational articles about formatting. If you find services you like, tweet about it! Share when you find a paperback interior template that you LOVE. Share tips, tricks. A good editor that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. Maybe you can get the information out there; even if you can help one person, it’s worth it.

It’s hell for an author to pull a book to fix it, and by then, their reputation may already be ruined. All it takes is one book for a reader to be turned off by an author, forever.

Let’s stop it before it starts. It can only help all of us.

no one heals themsevles by wouding another

Tell me if you leave bad reviews. Feel bad about it? Proud of yourself for being honest? Let me know!

Vania Blog Signature

PitchWars: Should You Enter?

PitchWars is an annual writing contest where writers all over the world compete for the chance to be mentored by traditionally published authors. If you have a completed novel, you can enter. While mentors comb through entries, everyone involved in the contest spends about a month on Twitter making friends, talking about writing, and sharing their favorite GIFs.

Once picks are announced, mentors and mentees work together for two months on the mentee’s novel. After that, there’s an agent round where roughly fifty agents will read the entries and make requests for manuscripts that spark their interest.

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Right? It’s an amazing opportunity to network and get your foot in the door with traditional publishing. The question is, should you enter?

Yes, I think every unpublished writer who wants to go traditional should try it once. I entered this past August and didn’t get a spot, but thought it was a very valuable experience. However, please save yourself some heartache and assume you will not win a spot. Getting into PitchWars is no easier than getting an agent from cold querying.

So why should you bother? As with everything in this bizarre universe of ours, it has its pluses and minuses.


Seriously, the Odds Are Not in Your Favor

Ignoring duplicate entries, over 2800 people entered PitchWars in 2017. There were 180 spots. That’s a 0.6% acceptance rate. For context, Yale Fucking Law School has a 9.7% acceptance rate.

But let’s say you’re lucky enough to get in. As of July, PitchWars has almost 250 success stories. This means ~250 people have gotten agents out of the 385 mentees selected between 2013 and 2016. Don’t get me wrong, a 65% chance of getting an agent is HUGE, especially compared to the 1% cold query success rate rumor I keep hearing about. But it’s far from a guarantee.

Am I trying to shit on PitchWars? Absolutely not. But you need to go into this with wide-open eyes. You should have faith in yourself as a writer and your journey; your book will find a home (whether it’s with trad pub, self-pub, or small press). But it probably won’t be through PitchWars. PW is not a golden shortcut ticket to unlock the Gates of Traditional Publishing.

The Secret to Getting Picked Is a Goddamn Mystery

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In addition to the numbers working against you, there is no real way to know why your manuscript does or doesn’t get picked. Some mentors give feedback, but most do not. Your book has to fit into a specific and subjective set of standards, which include…

  1. It has to be good. Good voice, solid plot, interesting characters, quality writing, etc. are essential.
  1. But it can’t be too good. *facepalm* I know. But if you’re going to work with a mentor for two months, they need to have a vision for what they can do to help you improve the book. Contest rules say to submit a “complete and polished” manuscript, but I would read this more as “complete and copyedited.” Your lump of clay needs to be good, but it still needs to be a lump of clay.
  1. It has to mesh with the mentor’s tastes. Before you submit your application, mentors will post wish lists about what kinds of stories they’re looking for, which is helpful, but look at their backlist too. Does anything about their work resonate with you? Their voice? Their subgenre? The tropes they use?
  1. But it can’t be too similar to the mentor’s body of work. If the mentor has a series about a talking squirrel who solves mysteries with a cynical school janitor, they probably won’t feel comfortable working with you on a book about a talking chipmunk who solves mysteries with a grumpy hotel maid.
  1. It has to be marketable. Mentors are more lenient about this than agents are, but it still has to be clear where your book will fit in the market.
  1. The mentor has to believe you can work together. Mentorship isn’t just about quality and marketability. It’s an interpersonal issue, too. Some mentors will stalk you on Twitter to see if you’ll be a good fit.
  1. Weird miscellaneous factors can decide your fate. Maybe your protagonist has the same name as their favorite niece. Maybe your book takes place in their hometown—which they HATE. As they always say, this business is subjective. Considering some mentors have hundreds of entries to wade through, it could be literally anything that puts your book in the “Yes” pile.

Not surprisingly, aside from #2, the reasons a mentor will accept or reject your work are similar to why an agent will or won’t request more pages. Once again, PW is not simpler or easier than cold querying an agent.

Social Media Is Hell

What makes PW such an event is the social media component of it on Twitter, but to be honest, I have conflicting feelings about that aspect. In the weeks leading up to the submission window opening, there are all kinds of Twitter games, encouraging you to get to know mentors and other PW hopefuls. Once the submission window closes, the Twitter party continues for another month…but it gets more intense.

The entire purpose of the PW Twitter community is for everyone to get worked into a literal frenzy. They want you to be excited and proud of your work, which is a nice thought, but it also sets up unrealistic expectations. Many mentors post teasers about entries they’re enjoying— there’s an entire hashtag for them. There are also endless posts telling you to stay positive because there’s always a chance you could win a spot. It was an exhausting rollercoaster.

At least with agents, you know to pray for the best but expect the worst. Cold querying is beautiful in its simplicity. I send out my package, note the expected response dates in a spreadsheet, and walk away. If I follow agents I’ve subbed to on social media, I don’t have to worry their posts will be hints about submissions they’re reading. Some agents do #tenqueries, but those posts include specific reasons for passing on or requesting more pages of a project. They don’t post cryptic messages about something they might pick.

So if you do enter PW, protect your space. Like all social media, PW Twitter can become too much. Don’t be afraid to block hashtags, mute certain accounts, or take a break.

Advantages – Why You Should Enter Anyway


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I know, I raised a lot of issues with the contest, but I still think it’s worthwhile to enter at least once. Whether you’re new to the querying trenches or are a seasoned pro, PW has something to offer.

 If You Do Get Picked, It’s a Great Opportunity

It doesn’t hurt to buy a lottery ticket—just don’t gamble away all your money. Go in with low expectations, but if you do have the fortune of getting selected, the mentorship alone is an amazing opportunity. Not only are you getting free, in-depth help from a professional writer, but you’re also forming a connection with them. I often hear about mentors who still talk to and help their former mentees with their writing. Like with any other industry, you need connections to thrive. Mentorships are invaluable.

As I said earlier, the agent round may or may not yield fruit, but it does boost your chances.

You’ll Make New Friends and Expand Your Twitter Presence

While I wasn’t a fan of certain aspects of the PW hashtag, overall, I did enjoy the sense of camaraderie among entrants and mentors. If you participate in any of the games (e.g., GIF competitions) or interact with the hashtag, you’re bound to connect with other PW hopefuls. Some of these people will become followers, critique partners, and even friends. For some writers, PW has become as much a valued tradition as NaNoWriMo because of the unique community.

PitchWars is also a good excuse to post content and build your brand. Twitter is the most popular social media platform for us writer types, so if you’re looking to network, it’s the place to be. Many unpublished writers are using their growing platforms to build hype around their manuscripts by showing off novel aesthetics, character interviews, and memorable quotes. Taking advantage of the PW hashtag can help you with that.

You’ll Discover New Authors

Since mentors are wading through their slush piles for free, it’s nice to give back by reading their books. There are over a hundred PW mentors, so there is plenty of new content to discover. You might find your next favorite book or a new comp title to use in your query letter.

It’s Good Practice for Rejection

If you haven’t queried agents or publishers before…Welcome! PitchWars is a great way to rip off that first Band-Aid of rejection because there’s going to be tons of it, regardless of how you publish. Agents will reject you, publishers will rebuff you, and readers will scorn you. Get in the practice now with PitchWars. Rejections from faceless agents are way easier to digest after getting rejections from friendly mentors you bonded with.

It’s a Kick in the Pants

Most people don’t enter PitchWars because they simply happened to have a polished manuscript lying around. They prepare. Whether they just found out about PitchWars existed three weeks before the deadline or they’re a third-year PitchWars veteran, PW hopefuls haul ass. If you’re looking for motivation, the contest is a great stimulus for finishing your book and writing a query letter. Even if you don’t get a spot, you’re still way ahead of where you were before.

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PitchWars will re-open in August 2018, but you can read this year’s winning entries here:

nadia's logoNadia Diament writes sexy, funny things. You can ask her esoteric questions on Twitter here, check out her blog here, and read her stories here.


Let’s Talk about WAS

“Was” is a nasty, dirty, filthy word, am I right? “Was” means, oh my God, you are writing in the passive voice, and all passive voice must be eradicated from your Work in Progress, or you are going to fall into the fiery depths of writing hell when you die.


Indies are told it’s bad, that you need to take it out of your writing. Even when I edit for others, I will find it, give the authors the bad news that yep, they used it 4,000 times in a 70,000 word WIP.

But just how bad is it?

I’m reading The Snowman by Jo Nesbø right now. I love it. I saw the trailer for the movie, and I wanted to read the book before I watched the movie. (Chances are after I finish the book I won’t want to watch the movie anymore, but that’s a different blog post.) But you know what I saw when I opened up the book? Well, yeah, I saw the front matter, the title page. But what was the first sentence of the first paragraph?

It was the day the snow came.

A book by an acclaimed author whose book was turned into a movie started his book with passive voice. He could have written, Snow came that day or It happened the day it snowed. Something. But he didn’t. Why didn’t he? Why didn’t his editor catch it? Ask him to fix it? I wonder how many “was” words he uses in his book.

When should you write out “was?” Here’s what I think.

wite out

When it’s an indicator of tell, not show.
This is another no-no in the indie world. Always, always show, not tell. And for the most part, I agree. Description is always a lot better than telling your reader something.
When I was editing Don’t Run Away one of my little triumphs was:
Dane was livid.
I turned it into:
Dane trembled with rage.
You can see right away that’s a better way to go. I didn’t do it so much as to get rid of the “was” word, but I wanted my readers to picture what Dane’s anger looked like.

When the sentence simply sounds better without it.
This is tricky because how do you know? You can try to rewrite your sentence, but if you can’t get it to make sense without “was,” leave it alone.  Writers use “was” because it’s easy. It’s a lot easier to say, The sky was blue, rather than, The blue sky shone; not one cloud masked its brilliance. But not every sentence needs to be written that way–it’s up to you as the author to pick and choose, to decide where you want to put your energy.

When you freaking use it too many times. 
It always sucks when you do a search to see how many times you’ve used a crutch word. Just, 500, that, 1,000. Nodded, smiled, rolled eyes, shrugged.  “Was” is no different. If you have a ton of them, it could mean you are doing more telling than showing, that you’ve gotten a bit lazy, and you need to examine your WIP to see what you can fix. A paragraph describing a room like this:

The bedroom was small. A bed was pushed against the wall to make room for a desk that was filled with papers. A dog was sleeping at the foot of the bed, and a picture was hung crookedly on the wall. The rug was dirty, and the closet door was open, revealing clothes hanging haphazardly on their hangers.

Can be turned into this:

A dog lay on an unmade bed that had been pushed against the wall to make room in the small space. A desk filled with paper sat under an open window.  A rug that had seen better days lay in front of a closet that hadn’t been closed properly, and Janet wrinkled her nose in distaste at the mess inside. She straightened the crooked picture on the wall before leaving. Jack wasn’t there. She’d have to look for him somewhere else. 

Not only are you getting rid of “was” words, you are getting rid of repetition. I’ve edited for a few people whose paragraphs sound the same. Subject + verb + the rest of the sentence. If you want to get words down and move on, that’s fine. Some writers like to worry about the editing later. But please do go back and mix up your sentence structure. Sometimes this includes getting rid of “was”, sometimes it means starting a sentence with a prepositional phrase.

When you can fix the verb.
Don’t say, He was standing say He stood. She was watching turns into She watched. This is an easy fix and will save you some words too, if your WIP is bloated and you need to cut it down.

Rewriting some sentences that have “was” in them can make a sentence or paragraph stronger, can show your reader something instead of telling them what is going on.

But I also think that “was” is a lot like “said” in that it is invisible to a reader. The room was dark, and Stacy stumbled. We know what that means. We can picture that just as clearly as Stacy couldn’t see two inches in front of her face. She didn’t know what lurked in the shadows of the bedroom, and she tripped over God knew what when she gingerly took a step inside. Did the second example sound better? Maybe it did, but it’s also exhausting to read that all the time. It’s also exhausting to write that way. If every author tried to eradicate “was” from their writing, every book would be as thick as a Stephen King novel.

There is room for “was,” and I’m not as hardcore to get rid of it as I used to be. As long as you’re conscious of how many you have, if some of them can be replaced with something stronger and you do, then you’ll be okay.

Sometimes we can get too caught up in following every single rule out there. And it’s disheartening to be trying your best when you read trad-pubbed books doing things you’re trying not to do. Give yourself a little break. Keep on eye on the numbers, take your beta-readers’ opinions to heart. Listen to your editor.

Avoiding “was” hell won’t matter too much if you’ve trapped yourself in editing hell. Find a happy medium. Your sanity, and your readers, will thank you.

To Query or Not to Query

When I talk to people about my publishing plans for my next couple of books, people ask me if I’ll ever query and try for a traditionally published deal. I always say, “No, I’m not writing anything queryable right now.”

People can take that a lot of different ways, and mostly that sounds like I don’t have faith in what I’m writing, or that my work is crap and only suited for self-publishing.

That couldn’t be further from that truth.

What I mean by that is, I know what I’m writing. I know what it’s suited for. That doesn’t mean what I’m writing isn’t being traditionally published; it just means I don’t have to find an agent to get it there. I write fluff. Maybe that’s demeaning to my genre when I say that, but I also am not pinning my work with any more importance than it deserves. Harlequin, the publisher that brings you the lines Temptation, Desire, Blaze, and the like (they’ve done some remodeling, so I don’t know what their lines are now) prints hundreds of books like that every year. In my Barnes and Noble, they take up a shelf in the corner of the building near the floor. All the shiny red spines with titles like One Night with the Billionaire or The Cowboy’s Baby. Women read these by the handfuls; a quick read you can get through in a couple hours before tossing it onto a pile and reaching for another one, like candies in a heart-shaped box. You know what you’re getting, you savor it as it melts in your mouth, but you have no problem reaching for another one when the chocolate is gone.

My books are like that. What I write in three to four months will be devoured in three to four hours, and I’m okay with that. I’m more than okay with that. Romance is a huge genre, and where there are millions of writers cranking out millions of books, there are also millions of readers. They don’t call the Romance genre the bestselling genre for nothing.

But along with pages of guidelines for how they like their books to be written and their preferred word count, Harlequin has its own dropbox on its website. I don’t need to query an agent and let my manuscript sit in a slush pile to wait for an agent’s assistant to skim my query letter. I can upload my manuscript onto Harlequin’s website myself, or to Carina Press, the digital-first arm of Harlequin, and let it rot in their slush pile without any help, thank you.

If I were to query, going back to the original question, I would query something more serious. Something I worked harder for. We all have visions of our books sitting on the display table at Barnes and Noble in the center of their main walkway. Trust me when I say Don’t Run Away would never make it there—agent or not. No, looking at the New York Times Book Review right now, I would want to write something more akin to Women’s Fiction, not Contemporary Romance. I would want my manuscript to mean something, to say something, to point out an injustice, to try to right a wrong, to help someone. I would want my manuscript to come from my brain as well as my heart.


I’m not trying to degrade romance, not at all. But any romance writer or reader knows the difference between In the Arms of Her Boss and Sing Unburied Sing by Jesmyn Ward, a finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction. And let’s be clear, a reader who picks up either one of these knows what she’s getting. You have to be in the mood to read it, and a writer has to be in the mood (not to mention have the talent and skills) to write it.

I’m not in the mood to try to write something of Sing Unburied Sing’s caliber. I’m perfectly happy editing Chasing You. (You can weigh the two books by title alone, can’t you?)

If, or when, I plan to query, it will be with a book that will make it worth my time, and it will be with a book that will be worth the pain and heartache of rejection. Because I know the score. Querying is a whole lot of rejection, and I won’t put myself through that for a computer file full of fluff.

You might think that I’m too hard on myself, but I prefer to think of it as a realistic POV of my work. And, quite possibly, more indie writers should have it. Querying a story that won’t make it onto a table at the Barnes and Noble will sour you on the whole process. Traditional publishers only publish so many books per year. Why query a book that would never make it? That’s not to say your fluff isn’t good enough for Harlequin or a small press. (The back of bookstore on a shelf near the floor is better than nowhere at all, right?) It very well may be, and you should definitely go that route if you feel your book is worth it. Query to find an agent knowing/admitting where your book is going to end up, or use Harlequin’s dropbox and let your book sit in cyber purgatory for a few months while interns wade through the submissions.

But I won’t bother to try to find an agent for something that will sell just fine when I self-publish it.

After I’ve grown a bit more as a writer, or maybe when I have a nice backlist I can be proud of and want to challenge myself, or when the perfect plot plops into my head, I’ll write my book and I will query it to find an agent who loves it as much as I do, and maybe one day it will end up at the Barnes and Noble on a table in their main walkway.
I’ll pass it and brush my fingers over the cover as I walk to the café for a coffee. But for now, I’ll finish writing Running Scared while chocolate melts in my mouth.