Category Archives: On Writing

Work-In-Progress Update

Just a quick update on my work-in-progress: I’m at 101,000 words. And only about 2/3 of the way through the story. This will either be a long book, or four novellas. I haven’t quite decided.

The working title is The Karenina Chronicles: A Waterspell Novel. The subtitles of the four chronicles: The Leviathan, The Nomad, The Adept, and The Wolf. I hope to finish the first draft by January, and then let it sit for a month before I begin what will be a major effort of revising and editing. Themes emerged as I went along. They are much clearer to me at the two-thirds mark than they were at the beginning, so I must go back and clarify my somewhat muddled thinking in the opening third.

But I’ve got time. I’m on nobody’s schedule but my own.

Happy Holidays!

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How to Handle Mean Reviews

They’re inevitable. Every writer gets them. Even rich and famous authors get bad reviews.

Some of the best advice I’ve ever read, on how to handle the trolls, comes from Julia Whelan at Writer Unboxed. I excerpted some of her comments to give ’em the Canva treatment. But every writer will do well to read her entire post.

Julia Whelan quote 1

Julia Whelan is a screenwriter, lifelong actor, and award-winning audiobook narrator of more than 500 titles. Her performance of her own debut novel, the internationally best-selling My Oxford Year, garnered a Society of Voice Arts award. She is also a Grammy-nominated audiobook director, a former writing tutor, a half-decent amateur baker, and a certified tea sommelier. Her new book, Thank You for Listening—about a former actress turned successful audiobook narrator who has lost sight of her dreams and her journey of self-discovery, love, and acceptance when she agrees to narrate one last romance novel—released in August 2022.

Julia Whelan quote 2

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Write Every Day: Bad Advice?

“Write every day” is standard advice to writers. We’ve all heard it. I used to feel guilty because I do NOT write every day. I regarded my failure to do so as … well, a failure.

Now I know better. After eight books with a ninth in progress, I know what pattern or schedule works for me. I’m a binge writer, an all-or-nothing kind of wordsmith. When I’m writing, I don’t want to do anything else except drink coffee, eat when I start getting the shakes, and sleep when I must. That kind of intensity is productive, but exhausting. I can only keep it up for three days. Then, I must have a break.

Today was my non-writing day of “rest.” I’ve spent it doing a bunch of things that writers must do:

  • Checked Goodreads for new reviews (and found a lovely one)
  • Checked on my audiobook sales via Findaway Voices (and found a good number of new sales)
  • Found a new link for my audiobook at Hoopla
  • Found a new link for all four books of the Waterspell series at Overdrive / Libby
  • Updated my Books2Read universal book links (UBLs) with those new links
  • Scheduled a December 16 book promo with The Fussy Librarian
  • Communicated with my local library about adding Waterspell to their catalog
  • Made a new Bookstagram graphic with the lovely Goodreads review
  • Wrote this blog post

Waterspell review at Goodreads October 2022Additionally, I fulfilled my obligations to a save-American-democracy group in which I’m active in the area of Communications. And: I watched the Jan. 6 Committee Hearing on PBS. Busy day!

Would I have wanted to break away from my work-in-progress to do any of these things? Absolutely not. I suppose there are writers who can write fiction for just 4 hours in a day, and then put the book out of their mind, to focus on such mundane tasks as I’ve listed above. I’m not one of those writers. A far more productive approach, for me, is to devote whole days at a stretch to my writing, and to nothing else.

At the end of three intense days, I’m totally ready to turn my mind to less taxing tasks. By the same token, after one or two days of necessary but boring administrative/business work, I’m eager to throw myself back into the world of my imagination.

“Write every day” is a recipe for burnout, in my opinion. If you’re really into the story and the people you’re writing about, your mind and psyche can’t keep you deeply “in character,” indefinitely. You need a break. You need to come up for air, and spend a little time away from the story so you can return to it, refreshed. And unless you’re able to afford a personal assistant who can handle all of your non-writing jobs, you need to set aside time to tackle your To-Do list.

Don’t cut into your writing time to do those boring jobs. Hold your writing days sacrosanct. Set your phone to Do Not Disturb and commit yourself to do nothing except Write.

But don’t “write every day.” You’ve got other things to do.

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Social Media for Writers: Why I Like Instagram

Deborah J. Lightfoot @booksofwaterspell on InstagramRecently I was asked if Instagram is good for writers. I believe it is. Or at least its “subsidiary,” nicknamed Bookstagram, works for me. I’m not on Twitter (I tried it but found it to be too frantically noisy). I’m suspicious of TikTok, which the FCC calls a national security threat. Besides that, I have neither the time nor the inclination to make a bunch of videos, not even bookish videos, and certainly not silly vids. As for Facebook: Fewer than 100 people follow my FB author page, and that number hasn’t changed in more than a year. Facebook’s algorithms work hard to keep your posts from being seen, if you don’t pay to boost your posts. And I don’t pay.

On Bookstagram, however, I quickly attracted 900 followers (for free!), and that figure increases weekly. They’re all bookish people, a curated population of readers, writers, teachers, librarians, publishers, and bookstore owners. The collaborative connections I’ve made there have resulted in several very nice reviews of my books, and in turn I’ve been introduced to the work of authors from all over the world. My ebook library now overflows with books I plan to read and review, to support other authors as many Bookstagrammers have supported me.

Bookstagram Pointers

Tips for Starting a Bookstagram covers nearly everything a newbie should know about launching a Bookstagram account and interacting with other book people. To that resource, I’ll add the following points, things I’ve learned in my year there:

Engagement is key. If you want people to like and comment on your posts, you must like and comment on theirs. Like all social media, Bookstagram can be an enormous time sink. You mustn’t let it take over your life, but you do need to set aside time for not only your own posting, but also for interacting with other people’s posts. I tend to peruse my Bookstagram feed during my coffee and lunch breaks, and sometimes in the evening when I should be reading.

Waterspell audiobook available at all audiobook retailersCanva is your friend. I’m not much of a photographer, and my aging Android phone doesn’t take especially good pictures unless the scene is perfectly lit. To get around that deficit, I use Canva heavily. I’ll spend an entire day creating Instagram posts at Canva, using the covers of my books and incorporating the nice reviews that I quote or screen-shoot from Amazon, Goodreads, etc. Creating Bookstagram content can take quite a lot of time, but I enjoy playing with designs at Canva, seeing how creative I can get. (Pictured is one of my recent designs, to promote the new Waterspell audiobook.) For me, Canva and Bookstagram together have become a fun way to showcase a different side of my creativity. If the words aren’t flowing during a writing session, I can go to Canva and play with pictures, and still feel like I’m being productive.

Katherine Paterson Power to Offend quoteMix it up. My pattern is to alternate promos of my own books with quotes from famous authors, or writing-related memes, or the occasional review that I’ve written for somebody else’s book or audiobook. Over the course of years, I filled thick notebooks with admirable examples of other people’s writing, or with the wise words of established authors. Those notebooks have been a rich source of inspiration for my bursts of creativity at Canva. My Bookstagram followers always respond warmly to the quotes I share. Every writer needs a regular shot in the arm, an almost daily reminder that what we do, does matter. And that we’re not alone. Even famous authors have bad days and get one-star reviews or draw the ire of book-burners. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t see something inspirational on Bookstagram, something that validates me as a writer. The writers and artists who are active there support each other, celebrate each other’s successes, and commiserate with the setbacks.

Once a day is plenty. There seems to be a general consensus among Bookstagrammers that it’s poor form to post more than once daily. Which suits me fine. Only on rare occasions do I violate that unwritten rule. Many Bookstagrammers post only weekly, or 2–3 times a week.

Block the spammers and bots. Newcomers to Bookstagram are instantly deluged with “Promote it on” scams. Every one of those fake accounts uses the same wording — “Promote it on” — typically followed by some variation of “Writers Heaven” or “Writers Paradise.” (The bots aren’t imaginative.) To fend them off, go into Settings, find Privacy & Security, find “Edit comment settings,” and find Comment Filtering, where you can list Hidden Comments. There, paste the following list of terms that the scammers use. You’ll need to add new terms to the list from time to time, as the scammers tweak the wording (“Writers Heaven” becomes “Heaven of Writers”). As one of your first steps, however, when you create your new Instagram account, put the following terms in your “Hidden Comments” list, and you’ll vastly reduce the amount of junk that floods in from bots and scammers. Eventually, as they figure out you’re not going to pay them to “review” your book, the scammers move on to more gullible writers.

TheWriters_Heaven, _TheClassicWriter_, _thepoeticvalley_, author_paradise_, authors__paradise, authors_heaven, authors_paradise, authorsfam, empire.of.books, frozzenwhispers, frozzenwhispers_, heaven_of_author, inkpen_ig, paradise_of_author, penman, penman_ig, theauthorswarmth, thepoeticvalley, thepoetsvanity, thepotentatewriter, thewordrender, thewriters.paradise, thewriterswarmth, thewriterswarmths, writer.s_heaven, writersparadise._

It’s a Welcoming Community

As other thoughts occur, I may add to this post. For now, however, those are my main bits of advice for Bookstagram newcomers. I believe you’ll find, as I did, that it’s a welcoming community. Most of the writers and readers who are active on Bookstagram will follow you back, if you follow them. That reciprocity makes it fairly simple to grow your followers, in very little time, from zero to hundreds or even thousands.

I’ve been fairly selective about who I follow, being mostly interested in connecting with readers who might enjoy my books, and also with writers who work in my genre: traditional fantasy. I don’t follow many writers of urban fantasy, for instance, because I’m not trying to reach that specific audience. What works for them, in the way of promotion or reader engagement for instance, won’t necessarily apply to my efforts. From authors of epic or high fantasy, however, I’ve picked up many useful tips. I’ve learned about tropes and book blurbs and keywords. I’ve learned about online fantasy map generators, which is a new skill I really want to master.

Book Promotion Report CardIn turn, I’ve shared what I’ve learned about cost-effective book promotion. Pretty much the only time anyone reads this blog is when I share something on Instagram about my book-promo efforts, and I invite my IG followers to learn more at my blog. That’s when I get eyes on posts such as Book Promotion Sites: Ranked and its followup, Book Promo Overview. I’m glad to know that other writers are benefiting from my experiences in the often predatory and potentially expensive world of book marketing.

If you’re an author on Bookstagram, I’d love to hear from you. Please drop your comments in the box below. I have a huge amount to learn about that platform, and I welcome the advice of more experienced Bookstagrammers. Please comment, too, if you’re just getting started. I’ll do my best to answer your questions, or to refer you to more authoritative resources.

In closing: If you’ll follow me, I’ll follow you: BooksofWaterspell

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It’s Good to Talk Shop

Once upon a time I belonged to an in-person writing critique group. The group gave me valuable advice, and I benefited from participation in it. But times changed, and our lives changed, and the group drifted apart, gradually breaking up, or reformulating itself with new members in a different meeting location. I ceased to participate.

These days, I get feedback via email and text messages from my beta readers and reviewers. I also try to engage with other writers on Goodreads and Instagram. Writing is a lonely profession, but it’s not good to work in too much of a vacuum. Even the most introverted among us need to interact with our peers.

A Moment in Time by Martin DukesIt has been my pleasure recently to talk shop with Martin Dukes, author of the Alex Trueman Chronicles. It turns out that Martin and I have followed similar paths with our respective series: we were both away from our work for 10 years.

Coming back to a story after such a long break presents special challenges. I’m sharing our Instagram conversation here, for what it reveals about the issues involved and the concerns we both have as “long-haul authors.”

 


 

martin.dukes.wildest.dreams commented: Well done for writing four. How did this work for you? Has there been an obvious evolution in style during the series as you find your way with them? (Just going to Amazon now to get the first one ☺)

booksofwaterspell Thank you! I deeply appreciate your support and your interest. Books 1-3 of Waterspell are really the beginning, middle, and “end” of one continuous story. The new Book 4 is a coda, set five years after the events of the original trilogy. I’m not sure I would recommend that structure: A few readers have been really annoyed by Book 1’s cliffhanger ending. “Golly,” I think when a reader gets angry about it. “I’m giving you Book 1 for free, and several reviews have mentioned that it’s not a standalone, so why the outrage?” I guess I’m so accustomed to fantasy series that go on and on, it never occurred to me that readers would bristle at Book 1 ending on a cliffhanger. As to an evolution in style: I definitely became a more efficient writer. Rereading Books 1-2, I can see that they’re wordy in spots, and draggy in spots. Both would have benefited from a more ruthless paring than I gave them. By Book 3, I was writing more concisely. Partly, I imagine, because the scene had been thoroughly set (and described!) in Bks 1-2. But also because my style did evolve as I continued the saga. Many readers have commented that the series gets better as it goes. Oftentimes it’s the other way around (great first book, disappointing sequels) so I’m happy when readers say that I’ve avoided that trap, at least.

martin.dukes.wildest.dreams I’m surprised that anyone would object to your Book 1 ending on a cliff-hanger, unless it was not already apparent that this was the first in a series. From a writer’s point of view I’m sure such a device is useful in encouraging the reader to move on to Book 2 and a very normal strategy. TBF I could only see one such comment and your other reviews are universally enthusiastic. It’s constantly surprising how some reviewers will settle on one relatively trivial factor and use it as a yardstick by which to condemn the work as a whole! I’m interested to see that you recognise an improvement in your own writing style during the course of the series. I suppose sticking at it and writing them books in quick succession would help with regard to consistency. In my own series there was a gap of about 10 yrs between Books 2 and 3. I have tried very hard to keep things consistent but I’m sure readers will let me know if I haven’t! Did you likewise find that your characters matured and changed over time? (that is, assuming that some of the characters persist from book to book). For my own part, and since a central character is key to the series, I felt that there was a very real maturation as he aged with experience and as I came to know him better over time. Anyway, I wish you all the best with the series, which is evidently highly regarded and well-received.

booksofwaterspell A 10-year gap for you, too, huh. I’m working with the same: My original trilogy 2011-12, now the sequel in 2022. There’s a tension, I think, between achieving consistency but within a framework of growth, for both writer and characters. Like your main character, mine has matured, and her emotionally damaged “significant other” has (mostly) healed. One of my beta readers asked why I didn’t start Book 4 exactly where Book 3 ended (Bk 4 begins five years later). I replied that it wasn’t possible to pick up the story exactly where I’d left it. After my life took a sharp turn during those years, I wasn’t the same person who had written the original trilogy. My characters had also evolved. But I know those people and their story so well, I didn’t have as much trouble writing Book 4 as I thought I might. (Took me eight drafts, but that’s about right.) My beta reader commented: “Rereading the series, I realized your writing really hit its stride with the 3rd book. Not that there was anything wrong with the first two, but the 3rd had an ease about the writing. You’ve maintained that with this book.” I was relieved by her feedback. She confirmed that I’d achieved both some consistency and some growth, which is what a series should have, IMO. Regarding the grousing about Book 1’s cliffhanger: There’s more griping on Goodreads than on Amazon. But I served the story the best I could. If some folks dislike the structure, they have plenty of other books from which to choose!☺I’m looking forward to reading A Moment in Time. It’s up next in my TBR pile.

books of waterspell BTW, I love the cover of A Moment in Time. It’s great.

“It’s constantly surprising how some reviewers will settle on one relatively trivial factor and use it as a yardstick by which to condemn the work as a whole!” —Martin Dukes, author

 

 

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Blurbing Book 4 of Waterspell

Waterspell Book 4 cover detail

Waterspell Book 4 cover detail

A good day’s work. Got my errands done in town this morning, then drafted a heartfelt Author’s Note for the back of Waterspell Book 4 and tweaked the blurb into something I’m almost happy with. Thoughts are welcome. Does this give too much away?

In the House of Verek, it’s five years later. The waters are troubled. Memories are darkening. If the story is to end “happily ever after” for Carin and Verek, old demons must be laid to rest.
Readers of the Waterspell fantasy series will welcome this long-awaited fourth book for the answers it provides to questions raised in volumes 1 through 3: Does the wysard Verek regain his powers, and will Carin make her way back to him? Have Carin’s parents survived the plague that devastated their world, and will she ever see them again? Did Lanse survive the attack by Carin’s defender? Is Lord Legary really dead? And not least: Did the necromancer die in the jaws of Carin’s conjured dragon? Remember: there was no blood in the water. These questions and more are answered in Waterspell Book 4, which picks up the story of the lovers, Carin and Verek, half a decade after readers saw the pair separated in the closing chapters of the original trilogy.

By the blood of Abraxas, it’s about time we learned what happened next.

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Character Development: Showing Emotions

Once again, and gratefully, I’m sharing excellent writing advice from author Connie J. Jasperson. It’s very timely. I’m about to settle down, first, as a beta reader for a writer-friend’s work-in-progress, and then to make final (I hope) edits to my own WIP, Waterspell Book 4. Connie’s advice on how to show characters’ emotional states will be fresh in my mind as I undertake to help both my friend and myself Do Our Jobs Better.


 

Most authors who have been in writing groups for any length of time become adept at writing emotions on a surface level. We bandage our wounded egos and work at showing our characters’ inner demons. We spend hours writing and rewriting, forcing words into facial expressions. Happiness, anger, spite – all the emotions get a […]

Character Development: Showing Emotions — Life in the Realm of Fantasy

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Character Development: Motivation drives the story

Here’s excellent writing advice from author Connie J. Jasperson. I’m pleased to reblog her post, as follows, and I invite you to follow Connie at conniejjasperson.com.

You have probably heard of the literary rule known as Chekhov’s Gun, which says nothing should appear in the scene that has no use. If a rifle is important enough to be shown hanging on the wall, someone had better fire it, or it should be removed from the setting. Firing Chekhov’s gun brings us […]

Character Development: Motivation drives the story #amwriting — Life in the Realm of Fantasy

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Travel Inspires Writing

In the Before Time (pre-2020 Pandemic) I enjoyed traveling. Recently I had occasion to look through old vacation photos, and I found three that must have served as direct inspiration for pivotal elements in my Waterspell books. Their influence operated subconsciously. I didn’t have the pictures before me when I wrote their imagery into my story. When I came across the photos, however, long after the fact, I instantly recognized all that they had given me.

The Lake of the Lilies

Lily pond at Honey Creek State Natural AreaI snapped this picture at the Honey Creek State Natural Area in the Texas Hill Country, on a tour organized by the Texas Nature Conservancy. The outing was advertised as a wildflower tour, but when we got there our guide apologized for the almost complete absence of wildflowers—the deer had eaten them between the time the tour was arranged and before we arrived. I remember the beauty and wildness of the place, though. This old snapshot does not do justice to the shimmering of sunlight on the pads of the water lilies. Clearly, the vision stayed with me, and inspired the Lake of the Lilies in the woods near Verek’s manor house.

Carin’s Sanctuary Oak

Major Oak photo by Jerzy KociatkiewiczDuring a trip to England, I got to see the Major Oak in the midst of Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire. We soaked up the whole Robin Hood–Sherwood Forest magic of the place. I came home with a beautiful Lincoln Green scarf woven of English wool and sporting an embroidered Robin with his bow drawn. Looking at this picture of the Major Oak, I have no doubt that the tree was the subconscious inspiration for the Sanctuary Oak that saves Carin from the wasteland dogs. The above photo by Jerzy Kociatkiewicz appears at The Treeographer and shows the tree standing alone in the midst of a clearing, just as Carin’s Sanctuary stands. The branching pattern of the Major Oak’s thick limbs suggests how Carin is able to leap into her sanctuary tree to escape the dogs, and how she can sleep that night, though uncomfortably, by lashing herself to one of its thick horizontal branches.

The Mirror Pool

Towertop compass design at a Texas Hill Country state parkFour stone benches ring the well of the wysards in the cavern of enchantment deep beneath Verek’s manor house. The benches are arranged like the four cardinal points of a compass. When I came across this old vacation photo, I gasped in recognition. Look closely, and you can see the ornate E, S, and W directional markers of this stone compass that’s laid into the floor of a watchtower (or observation deck). The letter N for North barely appears at the left edge of the picture. I can’t remember exactly where I took this photo in the Texas Hill Country, but I’m inclined to think it’s either Longhorn Cavern or Inks Lake State Park in Burnet County, next to Inks Lake on the Colorado River. Seen through the lens of my writing, I easily picture the mirror pool replacing that stone mosaic in the center of the floor, with the benches set around the pool at the cardinal points, the directional letters giving way to carvings of key, crescent moon, fish, and radiant sun.

“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” (Attributed, probably incorrectly, to St. Augustine.)

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Time to Work Out the Plan

Waterspell tagline on sunsetFor a year, I’ve been laying the groundwork:

• New covers, first for the ebooks and now for the paperbacks
• Ongoing work on the audiobooks
• New book trailers, created via Biteable
• Reformatted Facebook author page
• Updated Amazon author page
• Updated Goodreads profile
• Lots of social media graphics newly made at Canva.com

My next steps include looking into the usefulness of these things:

• BookBub
• The Fussy Librarian
• Blog tours
• Goodreads Giveaways
• Amazon advertising
• Written Word Media
• Instagram

I know who I’ll ask for new reviews to augment the glowing reviews that Waterspell received upon the books’ initial publication. The circle I move in, these days, is much changed from the social circle that I knew before my husband’s death in 2012. Now, I number among my friends many anti-fascist activists, folks I got to know after November 2016. Most of them didn’t even know I was a many-times published author; it wasn’t what drew us together. Now, gradually, I’m revealing my past life and enlisting the support of those who are willing to help me recover something of it.

Waterspell Book 1 detail

Am I dreaming, thinking I can relaunch a 10-year-old fantasy series? Possibly. But I’m making final edits to Waterspell Book 4, preparing for a 2022 release. And the audiobooks are slowly coming together, after my wonderfully talented narrator endured a major upheaval in his own world. It took him away from the work for six months—disruptive, yes, but not as damaging to a career as was my own dark, nine-year period of grief and neglect. If nothing else goes too badly wrong, the audiobooks should be released in 2022, along with Book 4.

I’m thinking those two events could be and should be enough to spark new interest in the original trilogy. If I will get out there and promote, dammit. It’s no secret that promotion takes money, and I’m prepared to pay, within reason, for advertising. Here’s what I plan for my first sponsored Facebook post:

waterspell-fb“Perfect for fans of Kristin Cashore and Charlotte Brontë.” From award-winning author Deborah J. Lightfoot, an unforgettable epic fantasy that readers call “extraordinary, enthralling, completely unpredictable.” Think “Jane Eyre meets a sorcerer.” Coming in 2022, Book 4 of Waterspell will complete the series. Print & ebooks available. Audiobooks in progress. www.waterspell.net

Amazon advertising and BookBub being completely new to me, I’ll need to discover how they may or may not fit into the budget. But at least I’ve got a little ready cash to spend on a new promotional push. The 2020 Pandemic Year not only gave me time and opportunity to pursue audiobooks and to write Book 4, it saved me money. I went nowhere and cooked meals at home. Everything I didn’t spend on travel and restaurants is now earmarked for book promotion.

I hope to Drisha this plan of mine will get these four books in front of the readers who will most enjoy them. At this point, it’s readership I want—not fortune so much, just a tiny bit of fame to validate the years I’ve spent obsessing over this story of mine.

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