Category Archives: Writing tips

Review of The Path of Self-Publishing Success by Michael R. Hicks


I’ve been a Twitter follower of Michael for a while and we’ve exchanged the odd tweet, meantime my husband has downloaded and read a couple of his ebooks on Kindle and they’re now archived waiting for me to get to them. I came across this book and downloaded it after reading the Look Inside feature on Amazon, as I’m seriously considering self-publishing one of my science fiction trilogies.

self-publishing-cover01-300hThe writing style is friendly and approachable – Hicks delivers the advice as if you are sitting at a table across from him over a coffee or beer, so I was immediately drawn in. The books is clearly set out, starting with Hick’s own experiences of trying to sell his first novel In Her Own Name, to agents and publishers and finally deciding in 2008 to take the plunge and publish it himself. And after working away, in mid-2011 he hit the best-seller lists and by July of that year was close to making $30,000 in a single month. He then takes the reader on a step by step journey of what you need to do in order to successfully publish your work, starting with the writing and editing of your work, acquiring a good cover, how to obtain an ISBN number…

It isn’t a particularly long book and I devoured it in a single sitting. However, I’m very aware that it is a book I shall be regularly returning to when I’m in a position to turn my own work loose on the unsuspecting public.

He has made a point of labelling his chapters, so you can dive right in to the appropriate section if you wish to retrieve a particular slice of information – and acknowledging that this is a fast-moving industry with a lot going on, he also has produced links where he will regularly update developments for those of us who made the investment of £1.90 for his words of wisdom.

I came away from reading this book feeling inspired and energised. However, at no time does Hicks under-estimate the significant amount of hard work and effort it takes to acquire the amount of success he has attained. Which is a relief – I get a tad fed up with the horde of tweets and Facebook messages to the effect that so long as you tell yourself, ‘You Can!’ or some other equally anodyne sentiment, you’re more or less destined for J.K. Rowling success…

All in all, this book is excellent value for money and if – like me – you are thinking about self-publishing, or simply curious to see what all the fuss is about, then you can discover a lot of valuable information from an industry insider, who has taken the time and effort to smooth the way for those coming behind him.

Writing a landscape – you’ll be lost if you don’t…


You’ve got this great story with a really neat ending. You’ve nailed the character – there was this teacher at your school who, with a bit of tweaking, will fit snugly into the part.

Fizzling with creative excitement, you spend the next week slaving over the computer. But on returning to your masterpiece for the first editing session, you are disappointed. It, somehow, seems rather flat. Which is odd – because the character is just as you envisaged and that cool plot twist has worked well, too. Chances are, if you are still scratching your head, your story is lacking an adequate setting. It’s crucial. But can get easily overlooked while trying to marshal all the other vital ingredients necessary to write a zinger.

Another classic ‘newbie’ writing fault is to give us a quick sketch during the opening paragraphs and then never touch on the scenery surrounding the action, again. However, it’s a tricky balancing act. Neither do we want detailed descriptions stretching into paragraphs, where your characters seem to have vanished while you are busy telling us about the lashing rain/drenched cityscape/squalid neighbourhood… How to get the mix just right, so that your characters and action are adequately anchored, without drowning your story in too much description?

This is where our old friend POV (point of view) comes to the rescue. You filter your backdrop through your protagonist– her thoughts, actions and reactions to the weather/Christmas shopping crowds/the herd of cows clogging up the country lane…

If you have multiple viewpoints, you can have some fun with one character loving the café – while another loathes it. Take care if you are writing short fiction, though. I don’t generally recommend switching viewpoints in any story less than 2,500 words. It CAN be done effectively, but you need to be skilful to pull it off.

Writing science fiction, my everyday surroundings can be of limited or no help. I find that using my characters to describe their landscape (or spacescape) is a huge help in getting the setting sufficiently depicted.

At times, I have also found the writing frame below to be useful in jogging my elbow. Although it is fairly crude, notice how it employs all the senses, ensuring that I haven’t neglected any of them. I’ve found it handy when writing a number of scenes in my books, when I don’t necessarily want to describe everything single thing around me to my readership – but I sure as heck want my character to be able to visualise it…

The air was ………………………………………… around me. A few steps in front of me I could see…………………………………
and above me ………………………………………… . The sound of
…………………………………………could be heard. To my right, ……………………………………, while to my left, ……………………
………………………… . Listening, I could hear …………………… …………………and the smell of ………………………………………… filled my nose. It felt ………………………………………… .

Punctuating Dialogue Tags


Most mistakes occur in punctuating dialogue, when adding the direct quote – “I’m not ill.” to the tag he said, she screamed, they chanted.

The rules are as follows:-

  • Use a COMMA to separate the quote from the tag.  Eg:-  “I’m not ill,” she said.

  • Use a FULL STOP to separate the quote from the tag if there is no speech verb.  Eg:-  “I’m not ill.”  She glared at him.

As there is no speech verb, the tag is considered to be a separate sentence.

  • If the quote ends with an exclamation or question mark, you don’t need to add any further punctuation.  And if the quote is followed by a tag, there is no capital letter at the start of it.  Eg:- “I’m not ill, you’re lying!” she shouted.

BUT when the tag doesn’t have a speech verb, you need to treat it as a separate sentence.  Eg:-  “Am I ill?”  She started crying.

  • If the tag interrupts in mid-sentence, use commas to surround it.  Eg:-  “I’m not ill,” she said, “and I wish you’d stop telling me I am.”

  • However, if the tag separates two sentences, use a FULL STOP and CAPITALS at the start of each sentence.

Eg:- “I’m not ill,” she said.  “Just mind your own business.”


“I’m not ill.”  She said, “Just mind your own business.”

The second example here sounds a little more awkward because these days, we generally put the tag line at the end of the quote.

  • If the tag doesn’t contain a speech verb, consider it a separate sentence.  Eg:-  “I’m not ill.”  She glared at him.  “Just mind your own business.

Remember, the words ‘smiled’, ‘laughed’, ‘grinned’, etc… are not speech verbs.  You cannot ‘smile’ a sentence.  “I’m not ill.”  She smiled.  “But it’s sweet of you to care.”

Sharpen up your dialogue…


Grammar spot

Setting out dialogue – if this doesn’t get nailed at school, it can provide problems. Just remember that if you can put your words inside a comic speech bubble, it should be surrounded by speech marks. Eg,

“Land ho!” called the sailor.

• Whenever someone new starts to talk ALWAYS start a new line, generally indenting it, except at the start of a new section or chapter.
• The text inside the speech marks is known as direct speech.
• The he said/she said lines are known as dialogue tags (more on this later…)
• Although I have added an exclamation mark, go easy on them. Editors generally don’t like them – and never more than one at a time.

General points

Dialogue can:-
• Give an immediate sense of your characters, especially if you ensure they use contrasting speech rhythms, vocabulary based on age, education, etc
• Inject pace, tension and/or humour into your work
• Move the plot along by introducing important information without lengthy descriptions
• Visually break up blocks of text on the page – a fairly modern concern, by the way. But certainly one to take into consideration if you are submitting your work to professional markets and competitions

Dialogue can also:-
• Derail the narrative tension by including too much pointless information, eg, “I’m fine, thank you. How are the kids?” Even in literary fiction, ensure that you compress your speech by taking out everything that isn’t necessary to your plot
• Kill your characters stone-dead with clunky, unrealistic speeches. One of the giveaways of an inexperienced writer is their characters often talk in chunks. In reality, people interrupt. A rule of thumb is never to let your character say more than 3 lines of speech at a time