Guest Post by Pat Esden

Hi Lillian, thank you for inviting me to be a guest on your blog today. Actually, today is super special for me because it’s release day for REACH FOR YOU, the final novel in my Dark Heart trilogy.

One detail that makes the Dark Heart trilogy different from many series is that there are quotes at the beginning of each chapter. These quotes aren’t from other authors. I created each one as a way to deepen the characters, the world of the series, and to provide clues to the various mysteries. All the details in the quotes come together at the climax of REACH FOR YOU. I’m dying to hear what people think when the curtain is pulled aside and everything is brought to light.

As an example, here is a quote from REACH FOR YOU:

 The influence these devious beings have had on human history is immeasurable.

They stood behind Solomon, whispering in his ear and granting gifts upon the Blacksmith.

 They secreted the Mamluk warrior into the bed of the Mongol princess . . .

By the time readers get to REACH FOR YOU, they know that one of the main antagonists in the story is Malphic a jinn warlord. But this quote hints to his true level of influence and power over the world of the series and beyond. Writing these quotes, making sure everything connected and not giving away too much was one of the most difficult aspects of this series. But it was also fun for me and allowed me to share more backstory and depth without overloading the reader.

As a side note, I’m celebrating something as well as the conclusion of this series. I have signed with Kensington Publishing for a new series. In September 2018, the first book in my Northern Circle Coven series will be coming out. It’s a bit different than the Dark Heart trilogy. These books will be standalone. They’re set in contemporary Vermont and center on a disreputable coven. Each book will have a different witch as the main character and focus on her finding love while struggling to restore the coven’s reputation.


Thank you, Pat! Read more below to get info on all of Pat’s works.

About the Author:

Pat Esden would love to say she spent her childhood in intellectual pursuits. The truth is she was fonder of exploring abandoned houses and old cemeteries. When not out on her own adventures, she can be found in her northern Vermont home writing stories about brave, smart women and the men who capture their hearts. An antique-dealing florist by trade, she’s also a member of Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, Romance Writers of America, and the League of Vermont Writers. Her short stories have appeared in a number of publications, including Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, the Mythopoeic Society’s Mythic Circle, and George Sciter’s Cat Tales Anthology. The first two novels in her Dark Heart series, A HOLD ON ME and BEYOND YOUR TOUCH are available from Kensington Books. REACH FOR YOU (book #3 Dark Heart series) will be released June 27th. Her short story, Black as a Dark Moon, Scarlet as Sumac, will come out this September in the Fragments of Darkness anthology. Website: Author Facebook: Blog: Instagram: Pinterest Goodreads Newsletter:


Writing Groups

After ConCarolinas, I attended the 4th annual Roaring Writers writing retreat. We rent a house, hire an “author guest of honor,” and spend the week in Clarion-style critiques and writing. I am so blessed to be part of this group- I always return home exhausted but energized to keep pushing forward with my work.

Every writer is different, but if you find yourself in a difficult spot with your writing, then consider cultivating relationships to start your own writing group.

Some things to consider-

Not everyone has to write the same genre, but everyone needs to understand genre conventions. Also, if memoir is boring to you, then don’t join a group dedicated to memoir. You need to enjoy the voice of the other writers, even if you don’t always read that type of book.

Try to find several positive things about the piece to balance out the negative. Everyone has fragile egos when it comes to creative output, and a sensitive approach helps everyone in attendance.

Not everyone needs to be at the same place in their career, but it helps.

Everyone needs to work equally hard. If you do not read the contributions from your fellow writers, then don’t expect them to read yours.

Hope this helps-

Until next time,



Working with a Cover artist

Gentle reader, today I want to talk about the cover of a book. If you look closely, the cover of a book has several features- title, author, a picture indicating genre or themes of the book, sometimes a blurb, and sometimes additional information such as “part of a series.”

As a self-published author, I have the opportunity to make all the decisions regarding each of these pieces of the cover. Ideally, you want the whole picture- genre, main character, title and author- conveyed in a glance as the consumer scrolls through a webpage, bookstore, or e-reader.

How to find a good cover artist? It is work, gentle reader, it is work. I found mine by emailing authors whose covers I admired and hoped that a few would share their artist information with me. I quickly narrowed the field after talking with my “finalists” about my book- the ones who wanted it to look like a romance cover I passed on immediately. The ones who wanted to make it look like a horror show, again pass. I finally decided to hire Adrijus Guscia of Rocking Book Covers to create my custom cover art.

AG is not a newbie to this game, and he has a specific process. I filled out a questionnaire for him that delineated what I wanted, the genre and feel for my book, title, and other considerations. He directed me to areas where I could purchase stock photos without copyright concerns as a starting point for my cover. I poured over possible pics on  websites where you can legally use photos for your work.

Once we had 6 pics that I thought might work, I sent them to AG, told him what I wanted, and waited. About a week later, he sent me three different versions for a cover, and we tweaked from there. I thought I may want my first novel to be part of a series, so I considered this when making my final decision to leave flexibility for future branding. My cover artist was amazing in helping me pick fonts that blended and communicated the book as well, and then sent me the files for me to submit with my novel to the formatters. AG is professional, on time, and the quoted price covered all expenses. It was a joy to work with him on this aspect of my book.

Here are a few things to ask when hiring a cover artist-

  1. Is there a flat fee that covers the project, or is the pricing structure ala carte? Some artists will rework the covers several times before the cost increases, others, you only get 1-2 revisions. Find out beforehand so there are no unintended costs to blow yoru budget.
  2. What formats will they provide for you? Do you need a banner for a Facebook page, or a thumbnail to use for a twitter handle? These additional items may cost a bit more.
  3. What other works have they done in your genre? Can they provide references?
  4. What is their turnaround time? How many covers do they do a week? Any assistants that may take over part of the project?
  5. Do you need original art? If so, how to pay the artist or copyright if the artist wants to retain rights.
  6. Are there pre-made covers that match your vision for your book? Several cover artists routinely release pre-made covers for a flat fee that is less expensive than a custom cover.
  7. How to credit your cover artist? Some want a line in the front of your book, some just want you to acknowledge them if anyone asks. Find out what your artist wants ahead of time.

Cover art is just as important as the writing and editing and layout to the success of a novel, and getting this part correct is crucial to the success of your book. Don’t skimp or take shortcuts in this part of the publication process!

Until next time-


Cover art with Stuart Jaffe

Today, gentle reader, I have asked a good friend of the blog, author Stuart Jaffe, to write a bit about cover art. He has two series with fantastic cover art – the Max Porter series and the Nathan K. series- please follow the link to check them out. Here’s Stuart!

Ah, cover art. A topic that could fill (and probably does) numerous books. Let’s try to narrow things down a little and take a look at some specific aspects of cover art. Today, let’s take a look at cover art for a series. Those last three words are the most important towards addressing this topic — for a series. Because what this really means is branding. You have an artist and you have an idea for the correct image to express the genre and mood of your book, but what about the series as a whole? If branded properly, a reader will be able to see at a glance that several books laid out next to each other are part of the same series. Heck, even if other books are interspersed, a reader should be able to pick out the series books.

In order to achieve this, there are a few things to consider, and in the grand tradition of the internet, I’ll bullet-point them for you:

Color: there are a ton of ways to approach this, and working with an artist helps. The thing to remember is that color is one simple way to connect all your books. My Max Porter books have numerous indicators that they are a series, one of which is color. Every three books follow the same color scheme.  Books 1-3 are all shades of blue. Books 4-6 are red. And the green set of three will finish out later this year. But color can be more than a monotone. You can choose to make all the colors pastels, or bright neons, or nothing but dark colors except one bright color. As long as you follow the pattern throughout the series, color will help connect the books. Color also helps define genre — for example, dark, moody colors are obviously not the choice for a romantic-comedy about summer camp. Most genres have set colors which you should be familiar with. Feel free to break from those limits, but know the rules first, then break them.

Layout: the layout of the entire cover should be consistent throughout a series. The author name, the book title, the blurb quotes, any information you put on the cover should always be in the same place on every cover (or as close as the cover image will allow). This consistency will contribute majorly to branding the series. Plus, if you have a layout in mind to begin with, it will help your artist understand what parts of the canvas they have to work with. The layout doesn’t need to be fancy — most layouts follow one of handful of patterns — but it does need to be consistent. There are times when shifting this information on the page is necessary or even desired, but those are the exceptions, not the rule.

Lettering: this refers to everything about the words. Font choice, font size, font color, you name it. And guess what? Just like all the above, you are looking for consistency. I recommend using no more than two fonts and use them the same way every time on every cover. In my Max Porter novels, the title and my name are in one font, the other (smaller) writing is in a second font. Those fonts, the general size and placement of the lettering, and the color choice (which is consistent with the entire color scheme, all are the same throughout the series. In my post-apocalyptic fantasy series, The Malja Chronicles, you can see that the stylized titles are also consistent. In those books, the words THE WAY OF are turned on the side and the various titles are made extra-large. Every time. Every book.

Image: this one is optional but very effective. If there is a single image or image type than can be repeated in every cover, you have another great way to tie a series together.  A single image can be a character or location or anything.  The Max Porter books have a variety of images on the covers, but every cover always has an image of a ghost detective from the 1940s with glowing eyes. Another example: An image type might be a different family crest or rune for an epic fantasy series. Though each individual image is different, being of the same type (rune, family crest, etc) the connection is made.

To be clear, you do not have to do ALL of this for the covers of a series. Only one, or a combination, or a slight alteration will work. The key is consistency. If every cover is completely different, nobody will know you have a series going. But if all the covers have at least one (and preferably more than one) aspect that is the same from book to book, your fans will be grateful.

So, if you understand how these things work in concert, then you will have a better way to communicate with your artist. You can let them know the exact layout beforehand which will, in turn, provide them with the boundaries that they get to work in. Boundaries are great things for all artists. It forces creativity and, if you let them play within those boundaries, the stuff they come up with will exceed your expectations.

Thank you Stuart! Next time, tune in for a discussion of how to contract and work with a cover artist.

Until next time-


Editing your manuscript

“If I’d had more time, this would have been shorter”*

As Janet Walden-West once observed, when The Lovely Lillian invites you to pen a guest blog post, well…here we are…


One of my favorite scenes in the old movie Amadeus is when Constanze has taken some of Mozart’s work to Salieri to consider him for a royal appointment. Salieri is overcome when he realizes that every page of music is an untouched original, perfect from the first “draft”. This, gentle reader, is not real life. (It wasn’t real life for Mozart and Salieri either, but it’s still a terrific screen scene!)

All good writers know that every first draft will become better and better with editing. In fact, one of the challenges for many writers can be to turn off “editor brain” and actually get the first draft of a manuscript completed. I have a friend who has written and re-written the first chapter of her novel many times. She simply can’t get it “perfect”, and so she can’t seem to continue. While one may debate the relative merits of “NaNaWriMo” (National Novel Writing Month), I believe one of their strengths is in their message of “just write—don’t edit” so that you can complete the first draft of your story (however short or long it may be), and then begin the work of revising and editing your manuscript.

But what is “editing”? Editing is, at its essence, the crafting of language, content, and style of your manuscript that allow the reader to forget they are reading words on a page and help them dive into the story itself.

I’m a natural-born editor. I spent six years learning the nuances of English grammar and diagramming sentences in jr high and high school. As an IT support person, I regularly point out split infinitives and dangling participles or mismatched nouns and verbs on the screen when I’m showing someone how to set tabs or create a table of contents. As a writer, I think this gives me a great advantage in crafting my stories with strong vocabulary and clear grammatical structure. But, as a writer, I know what I mean to say, or how I intend things to sound. Eventually, every writer needs someone else to read and edit their story—a fresh pair of eyes and perspective can be invaluable to the well-crafted success of the final version.

What, as an aspiring or professional writer, should you expect from an editor? It’s more than correct spelling and grammar, and as you venture into the world of editing, it’s helpful to know how people define their roles and their service toward the success of your story. There is a certain amount of flow among the different types of editing, and a good editor will often provide a mix of services. For instance, if you hire a proofreader, they should not neglect to point out a narrative structure problem that they notice, but it is not actually their job to do so.

Let’s take a look at some common editing services:

This is the most basic, and yet the most detailed service, in which a proofreader is checking your work for spelling, grammar, punctuation, and consistency throughout your work. This work is generally to make corrections, rather than stylistic changes. Proofing is typically done after other forms of editing and layout.

Copy editing
Copy editing, like proofreading, provides the word-for-word focus on language and grammar; but a copy editor is also looking for overall language, vocabulary, and language structure and style.

Line/Stylistic editing
A good editor does their best to leave the author’s unique narrative voice, or style, intact. Stylistic editing polishes that voice, providing the reader with the best possible experience from sentence to sentence so that as they read the manuscript, they get lost in the story. Specifically, stylistic editing is checking the language to clarify meaning, eliminate anachronisms or clichés, adjust the reading level and tone for your target audience, and smooth dialogue. Stylistic editing occurs at the sentence and paragraph level, adjusting syntax for better flow, smoothness, and how the sentence “sounds” in the reader’s mind.

Developmental/Substantive editing
A substantive or developmental editor works at the page or scene level, looking at your work as a whole, examining plot structure, character development, and story arc through the narrative structure, logical consistency, and organization. This editor may suggest changes/additional/deletions to entire paragraphs or sections of your story to improve the narrative flow.

Editorial/Manuscript review
An editor may provide a summary evaluation of your manuscript to highlight areas where changes may be needed. The editor will note weaknesses in your narrative structure and flow such as repetitive or ambiguous language, as well as faulty story structure, gaps in the narrative flow, or anything else that pulls the reader out of the story and into an awareness of reading words on a page.

Should I pay for an editor?
You-as-author should definitely take advantage of offers from knowledgeable friends, beta readers, and fellow writers to review your work. You could pay for editing services, and there are some excellent reasons to do so, such as if English is not your first language, or you have been unsuccessful in previously submitting your manuscript to an agent or publisher.

If you choose to work with a traditional or small-press publisher, they will provide an editor and most likely a separate proofreader for your manuscript.

We often hear the phrase “money flows to the author” as a warning against services that require fees toward publication. And you should indeed be wary of these kinds of services—Google is your friend for researching their legitimacy. However, if you choose to self-publish, then you need to recognize that you-as-author are publishing through you-as-publisher. And you-as-publisher will have many expenses that any traditional or small-press publisher would pay toward the successful publication of a manuscript. You-as-publisher will need to pay (with time or money) for many services, such as editing, proofreading, print and epub book layout, book cover, promotion, etc. I say “pay with time or money” because you may choose to do some of these yourself. And if you have the time to learn the available tools, and the skill to make your work look professional, then you can do many of these things yourself.

However, as a self-publisher, it is truly in your best interest to pay for at least one professional service of proofreading and/or editing. Again, you-as-author know what you mean to say in your manuscript, and no matter how carefully you read and edit, you may miss mistakes because your brain knows what it expects to see. You may also miss certain logical structural problems, such as four people getting on a boat at the end of one chapter and two getting off the boat at the beginning of the next chapter (true story).

One of my most recent editing projects has been the Lawless Lands: Tales from the Weird Frontier anthology of 20 short stories, coming out this summer from Falstaff Books. I’ll share an example of how important it is for many different people to review a manuscript. Every story was submitted by each author, who presumably provide a manuscript they believed to be their very best. Each story was edited by one of the anthology’s three editors, then returned to the author for a final draft. These final drafts were submitted to the publisher, who provided them to a proofreader, whose proofs were returned to the authors for “final-final” approval. All 20 author-approved “final-final” manuscripts were provided to the publisher to be prepared for print and epub galley proofs. When we received those proofs, I noticed on one of the stories that the subtitle had a mis-spelling. This was after the author, editor, proofreader, and publisher had all reviewed this manuscript and signed off on it. But when I turned the page of the galley proofs, the error “jumped” out and caught my attention. I am sure my co-editors and some of the authors may have found similar last-minute corrections on one or two pages. There is a legend that one of the large publishing houses has long promised a million-dollar reward for the first book published without a single error—they have never paid out.

So the purpose of editing is not necessarily to make your manuscript error-free, although of course we all strive for that goal. The underlying purpose is to provide that smooth ride for the reader to be drawn in to your story, and not to consciously notice the words on the page while they are engaged in reading it. An editor will help you-as-author craft and polish your story to be the best that it can be.

Margaret S. McGraw is co-editor, with Misty Massey and Emily Leverett, of two anthologies of short stories about the wildest West that never was: Weird Wild West (eSpec Books, 2015) and the upcoming Lawless Lands: Tales from the Weird Frontier (Falstaff Books, 2017). Margaret writes fantasy and science fiction; blogs about prompt-writing, con reviews, and book reviews at; blogs about the journey of writing and publishing at; and edits fiction, academic, and technical writing. Find Margaret on Facebook or Goodreads as “Margaret S. McGraw” or follow her on Twitter @MargaretSMcGraw.

Options for organizing your writing

Gentle reader, I wanted to take a moment today to talk about the value of organization. Not like a shadowy group to bring justice to all in the universe, but the organization you bring to your work in progress. I have an annoying habit of rewriting the same scene in three different apps on two different devices because I am sure that I had not completed that work yet. Now you may not have the organizational challenges that I face, so forgive me my transgressions as I share my process-  what I have tried, what has been successful and where I failed spectacularly.

I like to write in several places, and don’t like taking my personal laptop to work, cause, you know, I am paranoid about that. So I like to work on my laptop at home and have the flexibility to type out a few paragraphs during lunch at work, or while waiting at the doctors office, etc. This intimately affects workflow, and is reflected in my commentary below. If you only write on one device, then your issues about platforms to support your writing are different than mine.

How I started out

When I first decided to write a novel, I opened a Word document and started typing. No problem, until you are on the fourth version of  chapter five, fifty pages into a document, four different chapters labeled “chapter three” and the third version of editing the entire manuscript across two devices. I did not use an outline. I do now. This predates cloud-syncing, so I would email myself the new version of whichever part of the document I worked on that day, and title the email “this is the new version.” which is not a great way to sift through your work, or figure out where you are in the process. Soon, I had no idea where I was in my workflow, or what scenes happened in which chapters. Totally lost, I despaired.

I then started to use Pages, cause it was different than Word, and if I had one folder labeled WIP, then I had 3. I liked the improved synching it supported across my devices at the time compared to Word.

The least efficient workflow ever

Pages at its heart is really no different than Word- great to write a shorter document, but hard to organize a larger work. I ended up having a different document for each chapter, printed everything out after the rough draft was completed, then wrote the chapters out on index cards, rearranged them how I wanted, then had to go back in the master file, scrap it, rearrange all the chapters like I wanted in a new master file of the entire document, and then start editing. Woe to me if at this point I wanted to rearrange things again. If you are a dedicated outliner, then you probably have not experienced these issues and think I am a crazy person. But for my pantsers out there, I guarantee there are heads nodding yes, me too as they read this post.


I started asking around about other writers’ process, and let me tell you, they are a twitchy group with proprietary information! A few people shared “I do everything in Word”or “I don’t really have a process” but did not share how they organized their project from typed chapters to rough draft to edited manuscript.

Janet Walden-West shared her process with me- its called a spiral notebook for her rough draft, so when she types it into the computer, that is her edited and final order to her document, then she makes changes from there.

Ken Schrader shared that he used Scrivener, and kindly showed me a sample binder for one of his completed stories.

Now, for those of you who do not know about Scrivener, I invite you to look on YouTube at the thousands of videos on how to use it. I was properly scared as well, until started writing.

For me, this has worked the best of any app, format, or system that I have developed for keeping my writing organized. I can move things around, as I am not a linear writer, and I can keep all the character sketches, locations, and research items in the same place for easy reference as I create. There are sidebars where I can keep notes, like “someone needs to fight in this scene.” If you are an outliner, you can keep an outline in your binder. Research? Yep, there is a place for that as well, with capabilities to import photos, webpages, documents all into one folder within your work in progress.

If you are a dedicated outliner, then don’t spend the money on Scrivener, and keep plugging away at Word or Pages or Googledocs because you may not need that level of overlay to keep you on track.

Scrivener also offers synching across devices, but IMO it is glitchy and not as seamless as Word, Pages, or Googledocs. This is the one weakness Scrivener has over the other formats, and may be a big one depending on how many devices you use to create your story. I use Dropbox as a bridge, but I export the document to Dropbox instead of synching the Scrivener file as I have had nothing but glitches with that pathway. YMMV.

I hope this helps writers faced with the same issues of organization. Next time, editing your work!

Until next time-


How to write a book- from idea to finished rough draft

from Fritz Lang’s seminal 1927 science-fiction classic Metropolis

Gentle reader, this post will start a series on how to write and publish a book.

I know, I know. It’s a big topic. I’ve invited guest bloggers for part of this journey to speak about their areas of expertise.

This first post is about how to get from an idea to a completed rough draft. I will share my process, such as it is, in hopes that it helps someone else in their journey.

How do you start a book? Well, you start with an idea.

How do you transmogrify that idea into a fully-fledged story? That’s the hard part. Avoid the techniques in the picture above! Some people just start writing, no idea of where the story will head- these persons are referred to as pantsers. Plotters start with an outline of places, story arc, characters, and outline everything before they start writing. Lots of writers float between these goalposts.

My personal process is a hybrid version of the plotters and pantsers. I will start with an outline, like for the first three chapters, and I have an idea where I want my story to end- the big climactic scene. Once my world building takes hold, I need to revise and change things a lot, which is why over the years I realized it makes no sense for me to outline anything more that the first bits of story. My outline is a work in progress, and is a combination style sheet and novel scaffolding  than I can use as a basis for a synopsis if needed. For me, the outline serves as a repository of all things plot, world-building, character and setting.

Once my outline is started, my creative juices are flowing and I start writing. I don’t worry too much about anything at this point other than getting the words from my head onto the page. I tend to write sparsely at this stage with just enough detail to define setting, time, place, and character.

The next part is where I hit the rapids.  I typically produce roughly 10,000 words before the creativity starts to wane. Doubts creep in. I question my hypothesis, my choice of character, my choices for anything, and in general believe all that I have written at this point is a pile of garbage. Which is sometimes true.

WHATEVER YOU DO DO NOT HIT DELETE. This is the part where the harder work for me kicks in- here is where I go back to my original outline, my original world-building, my original character sketches, and get everything back on track, reform the characters and plot to conform to my original idea, as I have invariably gone off the trails by this point in the work. This helps me refocus and plow through the next 30000 words or so. Then I write the ending- not because my story ends at 40000 words, but because I need to see the finish line and this propels me forward the rest of the way.

After this scaffolding is complete, then I go back and fill out the rough draft with details, correct POV, fixing plot and character issues, which adds another 10000-15000 words.

Then I take pivotal points in the story, write them out on index cards, and rearrange them into HOW I WANT THE STORY TO BE. Of note- the pivotal points may not be an entire scene- it may be a conversation with a character, or a particular plot point. These go on the index cards as well. I’m not Mozart, so there is a LOT of rearranging and gnashing of teeth to get the pacing right with the story choices made at this juncture.

Then I start the first edit.

Seems like a bit of work just to say I am done with my rough draft, but I cannot slog through the mess of a NANOWRIMO type of verbal regurgitation, and I stall out and just keep going back and editing stuff if I don’t force myself  to plow ahead.

THE key for me, at the end of a rough draft, is to know the motivations and conflicts of my main characters, have the plot arc set, with setting and tone and voice trending in the right directions.

All the rest, I fix with editing. I also have a decent rough draft to work with, so my editing is *faster* than if I just verbally vomited on the page and try to sort it out.

Your mileage may vary.

Next post, I talk about how I keep all these things sorted until I can put them into my final document— organizing your workflow up next!

Writing today, then gardening

Hello all!
Today I am deep in the part of a writing project I call “Hold on and just keep going.” It’s the part where all my ideas and characters try to pull me off task, onto tangents and limbs that my story cannot support, a deep dark hole of temptations that I must resist. I want to have this particular project done for my writers retreat in early June, so time is of the essence.
To help with attaining this goal, I am really trying to stick to an outline for the first time ever.
I will let you know how it goes.
Later, I will do a bit of gardeniing whilst my story is marinating in the back of my brain.
Have a lovely day in your part of the world, and if you have any insights to share on getting through the rough draft, share them int the comments.
Until next time-