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Finding Your Writing Voice: Article Review

Written by Gabrielle Goodloe. Edited by Maggie Burleson.

Article Resource: https://writerswrite.co.za/how-do-you-find-your-writing-voice/

This might seem a little obvious, but your personality will factor into your writing, even if you’re writing something academic. It’s not enough to just write the same way you talk because speaking involves so much more than just words. Think about the last conversation you had with someone. In person, listeners are getting your spoken words enhanced by your tone, mood, appearance, and body language. Those four things play a huge role in how people perceive you and how your words convey your intended meaning. What about the last phone call you had? Even without the physical nature of you there in person, listeners can still get a picture of the spoken words by your tone. 

Now consider your words in print without you there, left to fend on their own. Written words can do some work on their own, but they also need more help conveying things to others. That’s where you come in. Writing is a skill that takes practice. Everyone should take the time to figure out their strengths and hone their writing skills in a way that works well with those strengths.  

My first priority when I’m writing is thinking about the intended reader. The circumstances of that writing, whether I’m communicating my purpose effectively and whether my words clear enough are factors I take into consideration when I am completing an assignment. 

My writing voice is not stagnant; I adapt my voice based on what I think will work best for whatever writing I am working on.  

For some people, writing comes naturally and for others, it takes a little more time to complete something. No matter where you fall on that spectrum, everyone should be writing regularly because your writing voice isn’t something that is innate. It requires a lot of effort in order to get better at it projecting that voice in writing in a way that connects with readers. Consistency and commitment to developing your writing voice and like the article says, honing your voice takes practice. 

This article is a 10 out of 10. You probably should be writing now. The article even gives writing prompts as a great way for people to start writing and it takes the pressure off of having to think of an idea from scratch. 

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Covers: Critiques, Tips and Why They Are Important

A successful manuscript is one that has a promising story. What turns that story’s promise into a tangible complete project is when the story, title and cover all align into something that connects with readers. When it comes to selecting a title, as mentioned before, you need one that is specific, but doesn’t give away everything. There isn’t a title template everyone has to follow, but for some genres, certain ones may work better than others. Titles can be straightforward or have less obvious elements like metaphors that may resonate with readers as they read or long after they’ve finished the story.

If we take a look into some classic novels, the book titles are rampant with metaphors. We’ve grown familiar with these titles because they have become iconic, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take a look at them with fresh eyes. Are the titles doing the novels justice or would something else work better? Let’s look at some examples below.

In the case of The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, the idea of the title is meant to be used as a metaphor to describe the dislocation of the character from society. However, upon a first read-through of the story, I found that the cover is more relevant than the title. The Bell Jar doesn’t adequately tell us anything about the characters or the struggles Esther faces as she is forced to undergo shock therapy and face her depression.

How to fix? Knowing Plath’s poetry, she was obviously going for something of a double meaning with the title. However, an added word might’ve made the title more clear. Something like The Crack in the Bell Jar or The Cracked Bell Jar. It still uses a great metaphor, but it also tells you a lot more about the story.

When thinking about your work in progress, if you are going with a metaphor for your title, make sure that it explores multiple aspects of your story and not just one. Titles with metaphors can add meaning on different levels and they can provide readers with some vital essence of the story.

These novels can also have metaphors that repeat throughout the story, but aren’t necessarily obvious. A great example includes Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, the story about a Black man who is killed for a crime he didn’t commit. The book outright says that killing a mockingbird is sin as they don’t do anything but sing. Readers can see bird imagery not only in the title, but also with the surname of the main character Atticus Finch and his family. There are several characters that end up being targeted unfairly, so it’s up to the readers to think about which characters could be considered mockingbirds.  Another example is Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. As the first autobiography of six written by Angelou, its title is a direct reference to a stanza in Paul Lawrence Dunbar’s poem “Sympathy.”  Angelou is lauded as a writer that elevated and expanded the literary work possible for Black women by talking about her own personal life experiences. While we remember her today for her brave writing and honestly, it’s also important to remember where Angelou has come from. The reader won’t forget that with this title. In both Lee and Angelou’s works, the references to birds add another layer of nuance for readers and readers it is clear in both the titles and the plots.

What about modern covers? How to modern bestsellers today compare? Well, let’s take a look at some early modern fantasy bestsellers:

House of Night, by P.C. Cast was a best selling YA fantasy in the early 2000’s. The cover does a great job displaying the dark nature of the book series. The setting takes place at a modern, gothic vampyre academy in the middle of Tulsa, Oklahoma.In the book, all of the adult vampyre’s have tattoos-which plays an overall part in the series. The main character is a young, Native American girl in high school. The cover essentially tells us everything we need to know with the black embossment of wild tattoos across the cover and the shadow of a young, dark haired girl on the cover. While the covers might not be sparkly and shiny, it is definitely something that captures attention on a book stand next to its counterparts. The title of the very first book in the series is ‘Marked’. This tells us a lot of what we need to know about the book-someone will be marked for something. But what? With a dark front cover, it’s hard to imagine anything pleasant will come from being Marked and the negative trigger instantly creates a sense of drama among the readers.

Now, while we all may have reservations about the veracity of Stephanie Myer’s writing in the book Twilight, I will tell you that I enjoyed the simplicity of the covers. Without even knowing Myer’s religious upbringing, the apple was a clear indication of something forbidden and things we aren’t supposed to have. With the ingrained history of Sunday school stories in America, it’s hard to look at the cover and think about anything other than the subtext that Adam and Eve provide for the story. The soft metaphor creates interest in the contrast against the dark blackness of the background, capturing the reader’s attention. Once again, it tells us what we want to know-someone wants something they can’t have. While the title itself doesn’t stand out, nor does it tell us anything about the book itself, the cover alone is captivating enough to hold our attention. Add to the fact that both main characters want something the can’t have, it makes sense that the arms are the only part of the person visible. This cover is both marketable and simple in nature.

When I first saw the cover for Hunger Games as a reader, I turned the book down. It was too simple and told me nothing about the book. When I first heard the title, I thought it was a horror story and that just isn’t my genre. It brought to mind titles of stories I’d read in high school English class where the humans were hunted by other monstrous humans like wild animals. The kind of stuff that gave you dark nightmares and the kind of stuff I usually tried to stay away from. Because of those associations, I still haven’t picked up the book to this day. While the book became popular due to the positive reviews of acclaimed authors and the cover was related to the book, it’s hard to consider this book cover marketable. Had it been self-published, I don’t think it would’ve gardenered the same success it saw with Scholastic backing it.

It’s hard to understand why books like Fifty Shades of Grey sell so well, other than to say the obvious: Sex sells. Obviously, if you’ve read one of my blog posts before, you know I’m not a major fan of erotica, but some people are and at least they are reading. The series was originally picked up by a small press out Australia. The series saw so much success that the books were being talked about by mothers at the school gates in New York, where a Random House editor was picking up her children. She then brought them to the attention of Random House, and the rights to the trilogy were picked up globally by them. Originally Twilight fanfiction, this book saw a unique rise to fame not because it was marketable, but because readers were already enjoying it so much so that they were telling their friends. Perhaps because of this, the publishing company didn’t need to make the book marketable. It was already selling.

The cover itself is questionable.It doesn’t really tell me anything about the book other than that the main character is a man.The tie only hits at the richness of the character(s) in the story and offer a bit of mystery. Without the title, the book cover wouldn’t even hint at erotica.The title included doesn’t actually hint at erotica either. There’s only small references to the main character’s wealth. Overall, I’d consider this cover and title pair fail as well. Published by itself, it may not have seen the massive rise  to fame it enjoyed.

So what are some things you can do to make sure your cover stands out to publishers and readers? When do you begin your marketing research?

Well, the answers are simple really:

  1. You begin your research at the earliest stage possible. The moment you have an idea. Often, narrowing down the title and the cover idea can help set the theme for the book and build even more plot into the story. It can help you thicken your subplot and fully embrace your characters. May they change over the course of writing the book? Totally, that’s okay, but at least have somewhere to begin and something to consider.
  2. To help your cover stand out, take time to determine your genre. Erotica? Fantasy? Crime? All of the above? Then decide your target market. Young adults? Adults? Male? Female? Once that’s decided, tak a browse through your local bookstore. Or visit somewhere like amazon.com or even publishers you may consider submitting to. What’s popular on their bookshelves right now? What colors do you see? Are the titles long or short? What themes are present throughout.
  3. Focus on the main theme of your story. What is it? What do you want your readers to take away? Try to make that the cover of your book.

These are just a few tips that will help you make your book a success, whether you are looking to self publish or publish traditionally. Think about your story right now. What would you choose for the cover of your book if you had to decide?

Share your cover or cover ideas in the comments and let us know!
And remember readers,

Say it with Words.

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What Makes A Book Sell?

This story was co-written by Maggie Burleson and Gabrielle Goodloe. The Article was edited by Ana Darhma.

It’s a little late today, but better late than never! I apologize for the late post, I’ve been under the weather.

Labels are the definition of all societies; they’re the things that can make or break our success as a whole. But on a broader scale, they can also help us understand and define the world around us in a more clear or distinct way, and the fact is, that a lot of times labels can either be very good and useful, or they can suck and make things a little too general.

In a writer’s case, a label is often necessary to define their book. From the whole process of genre, to title, and book cover, there are hundreds of  different ways to label a book. Just think about the first thing a person sees when approaching your book-the big bold letters or an illustrative design that  catches their attention. The cover piques their interest and draws them into your story, so what does YOUR title say about your book? What does it say about your story? What should they even mention in their story?

And that’s what we’re going to talk about today:  some trips and tricks I’ve learned from years of reading fiction and also a full year of interning at two publishing companies. One of my very first jobs as a writer was a pretty common internship for those looking to get into the publishing world. At the first internship, I worked for a company from August of 2018 to April of 2019 reviewing manuscripts. I read through piles of manuscripts and wrote reviews, encouraging the publisher to either pick up a manuscript or drop it like a hot potato. The lessons I learned at this internship were countless. If you have an interest in becoming a writer, I would suggest getting an internship like this. It’ll teach you more than you care to know, both about books and people in general. For example, , some people think they are generally a good enough writer that they don’t have to edit a novel before sending it to a publisher.

Another daunting task is getting your manuscript selected by a publisher. There are many things that factor into why a manuscript may not be chosen, but you can lessen the number of rejections by taking the time to look over both the large and small details of your book. In my case,  the process of editing books was pretty simple. I had a list that included questions like below:

  • What’s the tone of the story?
  • What’s the language?
  • What’s the violence level?

And the two biggest questions:

  • Would you pick the novel up in a store, based on its title?
  • Is the title marketable to a mass audience?

You might think these questions have nothing to do with each other, but let me tell you, I quickly learned that I was wrong.

One of the first tips I picked up is that the title should be super specific.  My biggest problem with reading from the sludge pile was that, often times, titles don’t match their books. Poorly titled manuscripts are more likely to be rejected because it might be an indication of the quality of the work. For readers, your title is the first thing they see as an introduction to your book,  so it pays to choose a title that accurately reflects the story. If your title is something like Moonlight Walk and doesn’t actually mention a walk in the moonlight, or it offers nothing specific to the book, readers become disappointed and may consider not purchasing your books in the future. It’s important to remember that your title alone creates expectations with readers. The goal is to pull readers in and make them want to know more without giving away too much of the story.

An accepted manuscript means  the publisher sees the potential of the story to connect with readers and has the potential to create sales. The publishers see something different about your story that they haven’t seen in the hundreds of others they’ve picked up from the slush pile, so  want to give your book the best possible chance to stand out from the thousands of other books the publisher will receive.. And guess what? Your title will be a huge part of that, even if it does get changed later.

Writers should also think about what unintentional associations a  book title may elicit. I specifically remember throughout my internship where there were instances when some books t were turned down in part because the title already had a popular name and the book couldn’t be marketed separately, or it would cost the publishing house too much money to market the difference. Remember that your goal is to make your book stand out from other writers. You want readers to pick up your book and think of your title and your name.

If your book is titled something like Cabin in the Woods, it loses a good percentage of its marketability. Especially if the published title has not sold well, with the fact that there is a horror movie with the same title, your target market will pair the two together. It’s really hard to separate the two if your target market is a genre like  romance instead of horror. It’s even harder if it’s in the same horror genre, because people may believe that you copied the movie and may not pick up your book. Imagine picking up a book titled The Notebook or A Walk to Remember. What are the very first assumptions and expectations your readers will have?

Don’t forget that nothing happens in a vacuum. Trends in the publishing industry do have a role in how your book title is received by both publishers and readers. For example, thriller books featuring the word ‘girl’ in their titles have seen tremendous growth with the popularity of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Gone Girl. Sometimes we see a period of time where every book seems to have a title on the cover or takes place in a specific location. It’s okay to pay attention to these trends.

Publishers even encourage you to follow these trendsBut don’t just copy titles because they are popular. Make sure your title will stand out from the crowd in a noticeable and positive fashion. And in addition make sure your title is specific to your book and that it will make it not only marketable, but specific to your readers as well. Afterall, your goal is to get published, not to get lost in the publishing chaos.

So how do you make your book marketable, and when hen should you start thinking about marketing? The truth is, the moment  you start writing the outline for your book, you should think about labels and marketing.

Think about the genre and the target market for your book, and , then go Google search titles in your genre. For instance, my books all revolve around new adult Fantasy, however, my target market includes  young readers who are transitioning into young adults and looking for new material to read. I knew this before I even understood what my book would be about, soI made my way to the search engine and googled  the most popular books in young adult fiction. I came to a realization that book series, which included a total of 6-12 books were extremely popular. All the books had short names with one or two words like Haunted or The Magic Coven. This helped me lay out a distinct marketing plan for my book before I’d even started writing the series! My labels were easily decided from everything to genre to the title of my book in less than a few hours work.

I also noticed that the books all had softer colors like deep red, blue, purple and green, and that;s when I knew right away that I wanted my book to incorporate red and blue colors together because of themes like magic, vampires and police officers. It was simply anotehr  easy decision made based off research.

But Maggie, I’m traditionally publishing. Why do I need to think about titles before my book is even ready to edit?

Well, that’s a good question. Whether you are traditionally publishing or self-publishing, book titles and covers are the very first thing that you see the moment you walk into a bookstore and look over to the shelves . It’s really what grabs the reader’s attention. Some notable publishers (i.e. the big five) may not even look at your book beyond your title, especially if your title is not marketable. Remember, these are often large companies and they rarely take a chance on stories they think aren’t certain won’t sell. Wouldn’t you feel the same way in a business?

By choosing your title and even considering a cover mockup before submitting to a publisher, you can often beat the race and stand out in a crowd, proving  that your book is marketable and can be sold. As a result, you’re already putting yourself ahead of the game, and isn’t that what we’re all trying to accomplish?

When we break down a piece of writing into its base elements, we can divide it simply into categories like characters, setting, plot, conflict, and resolution. Once a manuscript is accepted by a publisher, however, in the process of making a complete project, other things come into play besides those base elements. An accepted manuscript is a sign of potential. Your story will potentially connect with readers, become a complete and finished piece, and perhaps most importantly, sell well. With enough potential, publishers are willing to invest heavily in your work.

It takes work in order to reach a return on that investment. Editing and marketing are needed to create a cohesive piece, but sometimes the most obvious elements of the book don’t line up with one another. There are several reasons this happens and we’ll look at the examples below on  why they work (or don’t work) and how to solve the issue.

From interning, the second most important tip I picked up is that the cover should  represent the book (this is a must!)Obviously, readers would expect the story to include elements of the cover, so the cover should be set up to introduce the reader with compelling imagery. The colors should set the tone for the story as well, and the title should define the genre and tone.The picture should introduce one small element of the story, without giving away the entire plot. Think about books like Harry Potter. Whether you like it or not, you have to admit that the book series has transcended generations since its first publication in the early nineties. Why? I believe, in large part, it’s due to the simplicity of titles like Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. It’s memorable, easy to read, and quickly defines the plot of the story. The cover is simply as iconic as the title: a boy on a broom surrounded by the walls of a castle. The  series is a perfect example of book covers and titles creating a harmony to enhance the overall effect of both elements.

A look at the most popular published books shows that the covers often don’t have people on them. Why? It doesn’t tell us much about the story. For example, a  hot chick draped in fabric or a topless guy with dimples doesn’t really sing plot lines. For this reason, authors should focus on using covers that work with their unique story. Each genre has its own book cover conventions and while there is nothing wrong with continuing with a model that works, it doesn’t necessarily mean  that the imagery has to be obvious.

Peter Mendelsund, who has designed book covers like The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, prefers to make unconventional design choices. A look through his body of cover design work shows many different types, shapes, and colors, but what remains the same is his attempt to communicate some element of each story on those covers. With this example, Mendelsund used obvious imagery, but he combined it with a unique and bright color palette that pulls readers in. Regardless of what cover is chosen, writers should remember that after readers finish the story, they should be able to ook over the cover again to find new meaning in it.

This is why it’s often best to have a digital marketer, who has experience in color play and an objective eye design for your covers. Building a design for marketing when you don’t have a marketing background at all is a bit like pulling teeth. After years of making faux covers for my novel, I can vouch for this. A few google searches should be able to give you the information you need to make your novel covers a success.

In the previous blog, I focused on the issue of titles not matching the story, but what about books like the one below where the title, cover, and main story are not working together? It creates a lot of confusion for readers and they may not be interested in buying your books in the future. While Watership Down does turn out to be the name of a town in the book, it has very little to do with the plot of the story. The title of this book brings to mind stories of World War I and 2 and fighting battles. However, this story tells the plight of a group of bunnies running from the intrusion of a man in their hometown. There actually isn’t much war.

So what happened with the title? While it is relevant to the story, it isn’t relevant in a way that matters. The author was probably going for a title that excites the mind of the reader, but turned out to be something short and sweet. In theory, this is a great idea, but in this case, the title is not really assisting in making this story a good sell.

How to fix it? Look for something relevant to the overall plot of the story, something something to the effect of Escaping Man or The Long-Eared Escape that would have  made the story clearer..

So the final verdict is this, dear writers, when you are trying to figure out which direction to take your book-and if it’s ready for publishing- think about these tips:

  1. Is the theme clear?
  2. Is the title orginal/catchy?
  3. Would it place in a supermarket?
  4. Who is your target market and how well does your book apply to them?

Even if you are traditionally publishing, keep note that these are the things that publisher’s look for when reading manuscripts. You want your story to be the best that it can be. Give them something that they can’t turn away.

Next week, we will discuss more modern covers and continue to look at the covers and whether or not they strongly convey the message of the book.

Think you have the courage to see how your manuscript hold ups?

Send your first page, cover (if applicable) and short summary of the story to admin@merlotetmots.com and I will give you honest (and constructive) feedback on your story.

Remember dear readers,

Say it with Words.

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Book Review: The Smuggler’s Path by I.L. Cruz

The Smuggler’s Path is the young adult fantasy we’ve all been waiting for. A lot of magic with a little mystery and romance mixed in.

dark night with tree, full moon
SYNOPSIS

In Canto, magic is a commodity, outlawed by the elites after losing a devastating war and brokered by smugglers on the hidden market. But some know it’s more—a weapon for change.

Inez Garza moves through two worlds. She’s a member of the noble class who works as a magical arms dealer—a fact either group would gladly use against her. Neither know her true purpose—funding Birthright, an underground group determined to return magic to all at any cost.

But the discovery of a powerful relic from before the Rending threatens her delicate balance.

Inez’s inherent magic, which lies dormant in all the Canti, has been awakened. Now the Duchess’s daughter, radical and smuggler must assume another forbidden title—mage, a capital crime. This will bring her to the attention of factions at home—fanatical rebels bent on revolution, a royal family determined to avoid another magical war, her mercenary colleagues at the hidden market willing to sell her abilities to the highest bidder—and in Mythos, victors of the war and architects of the Rending.

Evasion has become Inez’s specialty, but even she isn’t skilled enough to hide from everyone—and deny the powers drawing her down a new path.

A Smuggler’s Path by I.L. Cruz

The Smuggler’s Path is the young adult novel we’ve been waiting for, combining a lot of fantasy with a little mystery and a tad bit of romance. It isn’t perfect, but honestly what novel is? The few notes there are to make are easy enough to look over with the incredible writing of the author. There is a lot packed into a small book and the author does an amazing job tying it all together.

For the first real time in a young adult novel, since I can remember, Inez and her mother don’t have relationship issues. While their relationship isn’t perfect, it is still a strong example of a realistic mother-daughter bond. While the main character secretly fights for the resistance, the mother secretly supports it, but the demeanor in which she was raised keeps her at a distance. This creates a new dynamic within fantasy fiction that I, for one, am happy to see.

Of course, because of her mother’s nobility, it’s no surprise that Inez is destined to save the island of Canto, but always with the proud backing of her ancestors and family, though some of Canto’s society doesn’t quite like the idea of being saved from anything.

Not only does the author do a great job creating realistic relationships with family, but in romance as well. Inez and Zavier’s relationship is just solid enough to not be the usual mushy, gushy relationships of fantasy culture. Inez declares her independence and doesn’t try to fit in where she knows she can’t stand, Zavier is a strong part of that dynamic.

The story line plays out so well and is so beautifully crafted that the world of The Smuggler’s Path is easy to fall in love with and will no doubt leave readers wanting more in the future.

As I said, there were only a few complaints, one being that at certain points it wasn’t so hard to keep up with the characters, but the objects with characters. Inez carried a bag of goods, and it would seem to pop up at random locations. At one point, she hid it in a flower and then in a scene later she was holding a bag. I wasn’t sure if it was the same bag or different bag. This happened with several different objects throughout the story, dispelling the beauty of the written words.

The main character wonders through a magical forest collecting magic to sell.

Additionally, some of the characters were slightly confusing. There is a list at the beginning of the book of all the characters involved, which is a great help, but as I read the final chapters leading up to the end of the book, I didn’t want to scroll back to the first page to figure out who was who. I continued to mix up Austra and her daughter within the same scene because they acted so similarly and switched emotions regularly.

These two complaints are all that I have to offer within the review. The world is impeccably built, beautifully described and action packed. I have definitely become a fan and can’t wait to see what the next book holds. I hope that the author pays closer attention to editing because the book will then be golden.

Because of the few errors I pointed out and the amazing storytelling mentioned above, I have to give this book a 4 out of 5 stars. If the issues were a little cleaned up, it would be a full five stars, but despite that, this book is definitely a keeper.

REVIEWED BY
Maggie M.S. Burleson

Maggie M.S. Burleson


I am a new blogger learning to market and brand to millennial, college age woman. Despite being a new blog, I can help authors reach an untapped potential in college age women as potential influencer of books.