Using Discovery To Make Your Novel More Layered (And To Write It Faster)

I’m a planner when it comes to novel writing — no surprise if you’ve read Super Simple Story Structure.

Once I have my overall plot in mind, I first draft pretty quickly. But finishing a novel always takes longer than I expect.

I think I finally know why.

I tend to forget about the time and effort needed to go from the initial idea for a novel to figuring out the plot.

There’s a name for this phase of writing a novel (or other type of story).

It’s called discovery. Until recently, I was mostly unaware I was doing it, so I failed to set aside enough time for it.

What Is Discovery?

I first heard the term “the discovery phase of writing” a year or two ago. I had a bad reaction to it because in law, discovery is a process that can be drawn out, frustrating, and stressful.

In litigation, discovery means asking the other side to give you information about its case and evidence. Attorneys argue a lot about what needs to be handed over to the other side.

That type of conflict is only fun for people who like to argue and make life difficult for everyone. (Not all attorneys like that! Seriously.)

In fiction, the discovery process is much more fun because you’re finding out about and expanding your characters, settings, themes, and story.

When I was practicing law full-time, I didn’t realize I was engaging in discovery for my fiction because it happened in odd moments.

At court while waiting for my case to be called I’d scribble notes about my character on a legal pad. Later, standing in line at a Corner Bakery, I might look at the people around me and imagine what they were thinking.

I thought of what I was doing as “daydreaming.” It didn’t seem like part of the writing process. It was a way to entertain myself when I was bored.

It also was a way to feel I was making progress on my novel despite having little time to put words on the page.

What I didn’t realize was it wasn’t just an illusion to make myself feel better. I really was making progress on my novel.

How To Do Discovery

Now that I’m devoting most of my time to writing, the discovery process is more purposeful and I’m more aware of it.

Some things you might do in discovery:

  • Read Non-Fiction

This reading is different from research on specific topics. It’s about big picture topics and themes that might or might not help generate more ideas or prompt turns and twists in your story.

For my second mystery in my new series, I’ve been reading websites aimed at immigrants to the U.S. from various countries and paying attention to newspaper articles about immigration. (A missing woman in the book is an immigrant who overstayed her student visa.)

I’m also reading books about causes of death (the photo at the top of this article is from a recent trip to the library).

  • Images

Before so many images were available on the Internet I used to page through magazines and tear out photos of people who either looked like my characters or whom I found striking for one reason or another.

On the right is a photo of a magazine page that inspired the character of Erik Holmes, a wealthy CEO with an obsession about the end of the world and obscure religious cults in my Awakening series.

I also saved photos of outdoor and indoor scenes that evoked strong feelings.

Now I do the same thing but online through sites like Instagram and Pinterest. These sites also allow me to post and organize photos I take that relate somehow to my novels.

  • Documentaries

Watching documentaries is also great for prompting ideas and scenes.

Though I had no plan of including snake handling in my Awakening series, I happened to see a documentary on it. It solved an issue I had, which was how to put my protagonist in great danger without it being clear who was behind it. I chose a setting where snake handling was still practiced and plunged her into an underground cavern filled with rattlesnakes.

  • Music

Many writers create collections of songs that fit their stories or characters.

It doesn’t mean that these songs would need to be played as a soundtrack if your book were a movie, though you can create a soundtrack if you like. But they are songs that suit a particular mood or character.

Choosing them helps figure out how the characters feel and what’s happening in their lives.

Free Writing/Talking

I like to scribble in a notebook or on scratch paper, or type quickly into a document, random thoughts about my story and characters. Often I never look at these notes again.

The thoughts might or might not be directly related to the story. It’s a way to hang out with my characters or explore how possible twists and turns might affect them.

Sometimes rather than writing, I pace and talk.

Attending Events

Concerts, art exhibits, garden or city walks, sporting events, and just about anything you attend that stimulates your mind and helps you relax can also be part of the discovery process. All trigger emotions and set your mind free to wander.

It doesn’t matter if you love the event of not. Some of my best ideas for characters and plot developments came to me while sitting through a concert that bored me nearly to tears.

Why Do It

Embracing the discovery process can save you a lot of time later.

With my first mystery I had what I thought was a pretty solid first third of the book finished and a rough draft of the rest.

To my surprise, when I sent it to my story editor, her main response was that the mechanics of the plot seemed fine but, basically, who cares? Why does your main character do what she does and why does it matter to the reader?

Had I allowed myself more time for discovery, I likely would have developed more layered and engaging characters before plotting the book and writing the draft. But I didn’t, so my rewriting process took three or four times as long as I’d expected.

Taking time to read and daydream and look at photos (or anything else from the above list) pushes me to really get to know my characters and consider different plot turns and twists I might have otherwise overlooked.

Though “push” is really the wrong word.

When I let myself spend time in discovery I don’t feel pushed at all. Instead, I feel relaxed and happy to be spending time with my characters in a place that isn’t about hitting word counts.

It reminds me of how I feel when I’m reading a novel I really love. It’s as if I am living in another world that’s amazing, fascinating, and heart wrenching.

If that’s the experience I want my readers to have, and it is, I need to be able to go there myself first.

I started this purposeful discovery process about two weeks ago for my second mystery novel (working title The Charming Man).

I’ve been shifting between creating a rough outline and doing more reading, meandering, and discovering. We’ll see if overall this results in less rewriting than I did for the first one.

That’s all for now.

Until next Friday —

L. M. Lilly

P.S. For help on developing your characters, you can download my Free Character Creation Tip Sheet.

3 Ways To Create And Distribute Your Audiobook

One of my goals this year is to release my non-fiction books on writing in audiobook editions.

I created and released my Awakening Series through ACX, an Amazon-related company. I used the royalty-share option, which means all four books are exclusive to ACX for 7 years, and I split a 40% royalty for each book with the narrator/producer.

Now I feel less sure about committing to 7 years with my audiobooks distributed only through ACX.

Audiobooks are growing in popularity due in part to how many people now have devices like the Amazon Echo that will play audiobooks at home. Also, more vehicles now incorporate technology that will play books and other content.

These changes mean more potential income from audiobooks, so I see a greater possible downside to an exclusive deal.

Below is what I learned based on reviewing the websites of three companies:

A few things to keep in mind (a/k/a disclaimers):

  • I’ve only worked through ACX before, and I have no direct experience with the other two.
  • You should read the sites and information yourself, as I’m not perfect (though I wish I were!). Also, I’ve focused on what’s most relevant to me. You may have other interests or concerns.
  • The narrator typically produces the audiobook. When I refer to “narrator” below, I mean a narrator/producer.
  • When I refer to “author” below, I’m assuming you as the author hold the rights to your own book. Most of the information below technically refers to the “rights holder,” not the author.
Producing/Creating The Audiobook

Author’s Republic is a distributor, so it helps you distribute an audiobook that’s already produced.

But if you don’t already have a finished audiobook, and most of us don’t, its website offers a lot of information on how to produce an audiobook, as well as resources to find producers and narrators.

Author’s Republic’s website indicates it accepts audiobook submissions from authors and publishers in all countries.

Findaway Voices will help you produce your audiobook.

You can work with a narrator you suggest, if the narrator is willing, or Findaway Voices will help you find a narrator. Findaway Voices is also available to authors and publishers in all countries.

ACX provides an exchange through which you can find a narrator. The narrator produces and uploads the audio.

Note, however, that on one of its help pages, ACX indicates it is only “currently open to residents of the United States, United Kingdom, Canada or Ireland who have a mailing address, valid local Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN), and banking details for” one of those countries.

Paying For Your Audiobook Production

There are three ways to pay a producer/narrator to create your audiobook:

  1. Paying the narrator up front
  2. Sharing royalties when the book sells, or
  3. A hybrid deal of the first two options

Because Author’s Republic is a distributor, the cost will depend upon what deal you work out with your narrator or producer. 

If you pay up front rather than by sharing royalties, you typically pay a narrator per finished hour of the audiobook. 9,000 words of text usually comes out to one hour of finished audio. (For more on costs generally see The Cost To Create An Audiobook Edition Of Your Book.)

If you produce and narrate yourself, you obviously won’t need to pay a narrator, but you will need to pay for recording time and expertise if you don’t have your own studio and lack production skills.

When working through Findaway Voices, the author pays the narrator/producer up front per finished hour.

Findaway Voices says the range is typically $150-$400 per finished hour of audio.

Further, according to the site, “Findaway Voices charges a $49.00 fee to cover project management and ongoing administration.”

On ACX, you can pay your narrator through a royalty share, by paying up front per finished hour, or through a hybrid of the two.

ACX also offers narrators (not authors) a stipend–an additional payment above the royalty share–to produce certain books. Presumably these audiobooks are ones that ACX believes will sell well enough to earn back the stipend and then some.

How You Earn Money

The Author’s Republic website says the author receives 70% of what the “audiobook earns across over 30 channels, including all major distributors such as Audible,, and iTunes.”

My understanding of this term as to Audible, for instance, is you as the author would get 70% of whatever Audible would pay the author. So if on an Audible book created through ACX you’d get 25% of the retail price for a non-exclusive deal,  you’d be getting 70% of that 25%.

Through Findaway Voices, the author keeps “80% of all royalties Findaway Voices receives, which varies by distribution partner, channel, and business model.”

Findaway Voices indicates royalties from its partners vary, but are usually within the range of 25% to 50% of the list prices.

Through ACX, if you (1) do a royalty-share deal with your narrator and (2) your audiobook is exclusively distributed through ACX, you’ll be paid 20% of the retail price (another 20% goes to the narrator).

If you (1) paid the  producer up front and (2) your audiobook is exclusively distributed through ACX, you earn 40% of the retail sales price.

If you (1) paid the  producer up front and (2) your deal is non-exclusive, meaning other companies can distribute your audiobook, you earn 25% of the retail sales price.

ACX also offers a $50 bounty (to be split with the narrator if you have a royalty-share deal) if yours is first audiobook an Audible Listener purchases.

Who Sets The Retail Price

For Author’s Republic and Findaway Voices the author sets the retail price (though there’s no guarantee all distributors will agree to sell the book if you set the price too low or too high).

Being able to set your own price can be an advantage because if you have control, you can run and promote sales or adjust your regular price based on the length of the book or how well it’s selling (or not).

On ACX, ACX sets the price, and that price may vary over time depending upon several factors, including whether the buyer already owns your ebook and whether the book is bought with an Audible credit.


If your audiobook is exclusive, it means you can only distribute it through that company.

Author’s Republic: No exclusivity requirement.

Findaway Voices: No exclusivity requirement.

ACX: Your choice.

If you do an exclusive deal with ACX, right now you’ll earn 40% (split with the narrator if you do a royalty share deal).

If you choose a non-exclusive deal, you’ll earn 25% (but will need to pay your narrator up front).

If you have an exclusive deal, you agree that for 7 years your audiobook will only be distributed through Audible. (If non-exclusive, you still need to keep the book on Audible for 7 years, but you can distribute it through other companies.)


Author’s Republic states it allows you to sell “your audiobook through over 30 major retailers, library providers and distributors, with new channels added monthly.”

According to its website, Findaway Voices has “the world’s largest distribution network — reaching customers in more than 170 countries.” 

ACX distributes through Audible, Amazon, and iTunes.

It’ll be fascinating to see how the audiobook world changes over the next few years. At the moment, I’m leaning toward using ACX again but choosing a non-exclusive deal. While that means paying a narrator up front and potentially earning less, I like the flexibility to try distributing through additional channels.

If you have experience with any of the audiobook companies, please share in the comments.

Until next Friday, when I’ll write about Using Discovery To Make Your Novel More Layered (And To Write It Faster)

L.M. Lilly

P.S. Producer/narrator Shiromi Arserio (who narrated Books 2-4 in my Awakening Series) tells me Spoken Realms is another audiobook production option. I have not yet had a chance to research that company, but it’s another one you can check out, particularly if you live in a country where ACX is not an option.

Create Your Own BookBub

It’s hard to find an image of e-newsletters.

As I noted in The Worst Ways To Spend Money On Book Promotion and Experimenting With First In Series Free the best e-newsletter I’ve found for generating sales of ebooks is a featured deal on BookBub (which often boosts audiobook sales as well).

It has a huge subscriber list and is very selective about the books it lists as featured deals.

BookBub, though, rejects most applications for featured deals, so that’s not always an option.

If you can’t get a BookBub deal when you want one (or at all) I found the next most effective technique is to schedule a series of ads in similar e-newsletters around the same time.

Cost vs. Benefit Comparison

For Supernatural Suspense, the genre in which I usually advertise Book 1 in my Awakening Series, BookBub charges $224 to advertise the book as a featured deal if the book is free.

My other ebooks in the series are priced at $3.99, and I make an average royalty of $2.65 for each sale. That means I need to sell at least 84 ebooks to break even.

The last time I had a BookBub deal like that, on the first day I sold 140 ebooks (of later books in the series) and 231 audiobooks.

That means on the first day I earned money on the BookBub even if you assume 20% or 30% of the sales would have happened without it. (That’s why BookBub is able to charge so much.)

Most other e-newsletters haven’t made back the money the first day and some don’t earn back the dollars spent at all. The best ones usually generate enough sales, though, that over the following 1-3 weeks I come out ahead.

This February I’m running a series of 5 e-newsletter ads. The total cost is $170.

At that price, I need to sell 65 ebooks to break even. I’m hopeful that will happen within the first couple days and that I will see increased sales for at least a month or two afterwards. (I’ll do results post a few weeks after the last listing runs.)

Making The Submission Process Easier

Scheduling multiple e-newsletter ads means filling out multiple forms, which is time-consuming.

To make this process simpler, I keep a list of product links and product ID numbers (such as the Amazon ASIN) that I can easily copy and paste into the forms. The ID numbers matter because some forms ask for those numbers rather than product links.

Here’s how my list for The Awakening looks:

I also keep a variety of descriptions saved.

That’s because some e-newsletters ask for longer descriptions, others limit you to 50 words or a certain number of characters. In addition, you may want to appeal to slightly different audiences, as not all e-newsletters will offer the same genres.

Below are a few of my descriptions for The Awakening, which are all a lot shorter than what appears on its product pages on sites like Kobo:

Though you’ll use them over and over, be sure to review the descriptions before you submit them each time.

You’ll catch typos you may have missed before. Also, once in a while I have come up with much improved ways to describe my story or my characters.

Tracking Your Schedule And Results

It’s important to track which e-newsletters you scheduled, how much each one cost, when each listing will run, and what genre you chose. You may think you’ll remember all of this, but when the dates roll around you probably won’t.

I use an Excel spreadsheet.

Once the ads run, I also keep track of how many free downloads and sales I have of each book each day by platform. That’s how I’m able to determine later which e-newsletters are most effective for my books and for particular sites. (For example, some are more apt to generate Kobo or Nook sales than others.)

While you can research the results that other authors get, what works best for your books will not necessarily be the same.

There are e-newsletters that other authors rave about that generate few sales for my Awakening Series. Similarly, I’ve had great results with e-newsletters that others find to be a waste of money.

Paying For The Ads

I personally like to pay with PayPal. That way I’m not giving my card number to an online vendor.

Even if I trust an e-newsletter, I find PayPal quicker and easier. I don’t need to reenter my credit card information and I can easily sign on and look at my payment history. (You can also input your credit card into PayPal if you prefer that to having money withdrawn from your checking account.)

As always, though, you should do your own due diligence regarding which sites you trust or don’t, including Paypal.

Before You Start

Before you spend anything on advertising, though, you should make sure you have a strong cover that fits your genre, a solid sales blurb, and good opening pages, as readers often check those before buying.

If you’re missing any of those things, you will probably be throwing advertising dollars away.

If you think you have all those elements but haven’t tried advertising in e-newsletters yet, try one or two of the less expensive ones. If the results are pretty good, then try scheduling a batch of ads.

It’s also important to try e-newsletters one at a time first so you can get a better sense of which ones work best for your books.

Keep in mind also that e-newsletter advertising is most cost-effective when you have at least three books to sell.

If you only have one or two, you may still want to advertise, but it’s less likely to pay for itself even in the long run. (What it can do is help you get some initial sales so that people start reviewing your book. You also may want to include incentives for readers to sign up to your email list within your book.)

If you try scheduling a batch of ads, good luck, and please let me know how it goes!

Until next Friday, when I’ll write about 3 Ways To Create And Distribute Your Audiobook

L.M. Lilly
 P.S. If you want to increase your chances of getting a BookBub featured deal, check out this Kobo Writing Life Podcast episode interviewing Carlyn Robertson of BookBub about exactly that.

Cutting Your Characters

No characters were harmed in the writing of this article, though a few may be eliminated, as this Friday I’m talking about when and how to use fewer characters.

Too Many Characters?

We’ve all read books where we felt we needed a list of the characters to keep them straight.

Reader expectations about the number of characters in a book vary from genre to genre. There’s a lot more leeway for a giant cast in fantasy or literary fiction than in romance, for example.

Also, generally, some readers will make their own list of characters. Others will simply stop reading.

The best analogy I’ve heard (from story expert Lani Diane Rich, though probably other writers have said it) is that each named character you introduce is like placing another brick in you reader’s backpack. You need the bricks to build the story, but if you make it too heavy to carry, your reader will give up.

This factor also relates to reader comprehension.

Even if someone keeps reading, it’s less than ideal if halfway through your novel the reader must pause to struggle to remember a character last mentioned in Chapter 1.

Returning to the brick analogy, some readers will sort through all those bricks in the backpack to find the right one. Others will move on, hoping it all becomes clear. If doesn’t, they’ll be confused and unsatisfied.

A third issue is pace.

Each time you introduce a named character, you need a line or at least a few words of description or back story for that person. That takes up the reader’s time and mental capacity and slows the action.

Dropping Characters

When narrowing my cast of characters, I look for two or more who serve the same purpose or play the same role.

If your protagonist has two best friends, for instance, both of whom offer a sympathetic ear, join the protagonist on risky adventures, and/or argue with your protagonist about her choices, consider combining the two.

If you find yourself mixing up two characters as you write or you can interchange one character for another without the overall story or emotional arcs changing, that’s also a sign that you don’t need both.

On a scene level, watch for multiple characters who do or say the same types of things. I particularly struggle with this problem as I tend to want to write scenes as I think they would happen in real life.

For example, I’ve been revising my new mystery novel, The Worried Man. The protagonist’s boyfriend dies (not a real spoiler, as the death is foreshadowed in the novel’s first paragraph).

I had a scene at the wake where she interacted with several characters.

The conversations included conflict, including over whether each believed the boyfriend could have committed suicide or had started drinking again. Yet the scene as a whole dragged.

I finally realized that while in real life many people would attend the wake and Quille (my protagonist) would talk about those things with a lot of them, the reader didn’t need to see it. I narrowed the wake down to two scenes where Quille talks separately with two people about two different issues.

The Character With No Name

Sometimes you can solve the problem of too many bricks by avoiding naming a character.

Using unnamed characters is a good option when you need a character briefly and there’s no reason for the reader to know specifics.

“The waiter” doesn’t need backstory and may not need a physical description. “Henry” probably does.

Unnamed waiters, store clerks, co-workers, and even family members can help create atmosphere, move the plot, and convey information. By omitting their names, though, you limit the bricks in your readers’ backpacks and keep the story moving.

Caveat: If it becomes awkward using an unnamed character (for example, you’re repeatedly writing “Jacinda’s friend’s brother”), it’s probably a sign that the character needs a name.

That’s all for now.

Until next Friday —

L.M. Lilly

P.S. For more on characters, download your Free Character Creation Tip Sheet.

Getting Leverage On Yourself Can Help You Finish Your Novel

The other day I talked with a friend who fell on the ice, her second fall this winter. She’s always had trouble with balance, and she’s worried because this time her injuries were more serious.

I asked if her doctor suggested anything to  prevent falling. She said oh, yes, she has 10 minutes of balance exercises to do each day but she never does them.

Most of us have things that, if we did them regularly, would help us reach our goals. We know what they are, yet often it’s hard to follow through.

The challenge of following  through day after day and week after week to reach a long-term goal is something novelists grapple with all the time.

No matter how fast you write, it’s impossible to finish a novel in one sitting. You need a long-term habit of writing in smaller chunks over many days, weeks, or months to reach (on average) about 80,000 words.

So how can you make it more likely you’ll do that?

A Tale Of Two Friends

When I attended the Oregon Coast writers workshop last fall, Dean Wesley Smith talked about when he was a college student taking a writing class.

He and his friend both wanted to write a story every week and submit it to a magazine or other publication.

They agreed to meet for dinner once a week. Whoever had failed to  complete a new story and mail it (this was back when you had to actually print and mail your manuscripts) would buy dinner.

As both were students and neither had much money, the fear of needing to pay for dinner got both of them to finish and submit stories weekly.

The agreement between these two friends is a great example of using leverage and accountability to meet writing goals.

Leverage And Accountability

You probably first heard of leverage in connection with moving physical objects. It literally means exerting force by means of a lever. It also means to support or strengthen.

When it comes to personal habits, to get leverage on yourself means to use a consequence or outside force to exert more pressure on yourself.

In the story above, the consequence of paying for dinner on a tight budget created pressure to accomplish the weekly task of writing, finishing, and submitting a story.

Accountability also can be used to get leverage on yourself.

Dictionaries define accountability as an obligation or the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own actions. That’s why corporations are talked about as being accountable to shareholders.

On a personal level, by telling someone you trust your goals and setting a schedule for reporting your progress (or lack of it) you become accountable to that person.

It’s much harder to skip doing something if you not only must admit it to yourself but to someone else.

Dean Wesley Smith’s story includes accountability.

In addition to the cost of a meal, he’d need to admit to his friend that he’d failed to do something he’d said he would or, on the flipside, he’d get to enjoy reporting that he’d accomplished his weekly goal.

Getting The Leverage To Finish Your Novel

The One-Year Novelist (my latest release) includes within its week-by-week plan specific ways to get leverage on yourself to finish your novel. You can adapt the methods, though, to fit your own schedule.

Here are a few options:

  • Tell three people that you will finish your novel by this time next year. (Or by whatever date you choose, just be sure to set a particular date.)

Ask each person if you can check in (via email, text, or some other type of message) every so many weeks to share an update on your progress.

If one or more of those people is willing, have a phone conversation where the person asks how you’re doing. But even if you simply report without getting a response, having to tell someone else will help you stick to your goal.

Caveat: I don’t suggest relying on posting on social media.

While it’s true that many people may see your goal and your periodic progress posts, there’s no guarantee that the same people will see them each time. Having to tell specific people who will follow your progress creates a lot more pressure and accountability.

  • Write down why you want to write and finish your novel. Be specific.

Do you love immersing yourself in a fictional world? Is it relaxing to get away from real life and write fiction?

Will you feel proud of yourself? Will you be fulfilling a lifelong dream?

Putting your feelings about finishing your book into words on a page will get you in touch with how wonderful you’ll feel if you achieve your goal, and you can look back at it when you need inspiration.

  • Now do the opposite and write how you’ll feel a year from now (or whatever timeframe you choose) if you haven’t finished your novel.

Be just as specific here.

The idea is to clearly identify and feel what it will be like if the time passes and you didn’t reach your goal. Look at these written feelings to spur you on as you write or when you’re tempted not to write.

If you want to add accountability, share both of the pieces of writing you’ve done with a trusted friend.

  • Close your eyes and imagine the moment you finish your novel.

If you like to type The End, see those words on the screen.

If, like me, you like to print out your manuscript to review, envision the printer shooting out the pages.

Get in touch with the sense of accomplishment you’ll feel.

  • Plan a reward for when you finish your novel.

It could be a weekend away, a longer vacation, or something as simple as a fancy latte at Starbucks. Whatever it is, though, it’s something you vow you won’t do until you finish your novel.

(I did this when I started my own law firm by skipping my favorite Chai Latte until I got my first check from a client. That was the best Starbucks drink I ever tasted.)

That’s all for this week, though you can always follow me on Twitter for other writing tips and ideas.

Until next Friday–

L.M. Lilly

P.S. If you’d like help fitting in the time to write your novel, you might find The One-Year Novelist: A Week-By-Week Guide To Writing Your Novel In One Year helpful. It’s available in both paperback and Kindle editions.

Dialogue and Character: Tricks, Tropes, and Twitter

The dialogue you write can enhance or hinder your story.

Using some famous (or some might say infamous) tweets as examples, today I’ll talk about how a few lines of dialogue can get across volumes about a character.

Strong dialogue builds and reveals a character in two ways:

(1) through what is said

(2) through how it’s said

Twitter and Trump

All politics aside (really), because he tweets in the same way he talks, the current United States President’s tweets are great way to learn more about dialogue and character.

The tweets – much like lines of strong dialogue – are instantly recognizable as coming from President Trump. They also evoke strong emotions about him and convey how he sees himself and/or how he wants others to see him.

If we could all write dialogue as well as President Trump tweets, our worries about characters sounding too much like one another or slowing the story  would be over.

What He Said

Most people, and so most characters, return often–whether deliberately or unconsciously–to favorite subjects and themes.

In one tweet, Trump wrote:

“… Actually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart.”

Later in the tweet and in a second continued tweet, he listed accomplishments, including businessman, TV star, and President.

These two tweets (along with others) show one subject Trump likes to speak about – himself. Specifically, great things about himself.

His words are also efficient.

In one line, he fits in a lot about his resume. Plus we learn he’s proud of having been a TV star and he doesn’t worry that this background will keep him from being taken seriously.

This pride reflects both the man and the times we live in.

When Ronald Reagan ran for President, many viewed his “B movie” actor background as a liability. Had there been such a thing as a reality TV star at the time, that would have no doubt taken him down a few more notches.

The content of these tweets also shows a man who believes in tooting his own horn and suggests he grew up and/or worked in a world where bragging was rewarded rather than being seen as tacky or a sign of insecurity.

The topics Trump chose also suggest a concern that his actions appear unstable or unintelligent.

A character who is for the most part forthright and honest rarely says “to be honest” or “I’m a really honest person.” He’s confident people will draw that conclusion on their own, or it never crosses his mind that there would be a question.

In contrast, a character who stresses in dialogue that she’s honest either has inner doubts or is responding to real or imagined attacks.

With Trump, these particular tweets came in response to attacks on his stability and intelligence in a recent book. If you didn’t already know that, though, you might guess it by his words.

Finally, what Trump tweeted shows he cares deeply about what others think of him.

A character unconcerned about the opinions of others wouldn’t devote time or energy to stating accomplishments that are already well known or responding to attacks.

How It’s Said

The wording of President Trump’s tweets also tells us a lot about him and is part of why his way of speaking is instantly recognizable.

For example, saying he is “like, really smart” shows he knows his audience.

Most public speakers and professionals do their best to avoid interspersing words such as “like” or phrases such as “you know” that make a speaker sound less polished. But Trump knows his supporters like that he speaks plainly and doesn’t sound like a professor addressing a class of college students.

Further, he has no doubt about his position and place in the world. Only someone who never questions his own authority and position is free to speak in a manner that others would consider far too casual for the situation.

In contrast, when I was a young lawyer (and because I’m female in a profession that still includes more male trial lawyers than female ones), I always needed to speak well so as not to raise questions about whether I was experienced enough or had enough authority to accurately present the law.

Trump’s word choice also shows how much it matters to him to be seen as top dog.

When he lists his accomplishments, he doesn’t say he is a “successful businessman” but a “VERY successful business person” (all caps on VERY are his, not added by me). He’s not just a “T.V. star” but a “top T.V. star.” And he didn’t just become president, he became “president (on my first try).”

Someone less concerned with beating others or being seen as at the top of the heap would be satisfied to list the accomplishments and stop at that.


In storytelling, a trope usually refers to particular and expected plot developments, such as an HEA–a Happily Ever After ending in a romance.

But tropes also occur in dialogue.

Turning back to the President’s tweets, using repeated superlatives such as everything being “great” or “the best” or “the worst” is a trope. It’s one of the ways we know immediately who is speaking.

Another trope is his use of negative nicknames.

The two tweets we’ve been talking about referenced “Crooked Hillary.” Trump’s use of nicknames like that one, Little Marco, or Sloppy Steve sum up in two words strong pictures and emotions about his opponents that resonate with many voters. Few  people match his skill in coining these types of labels.

This, too, is another way we immediately recognize who is speaking.

Your Characters’ Dialogue

So what can you learn about dialogue from this analysis?

When you write your dialogue, consider how your character’s background, self-image, fears, and aspirations affect the way the character speaks and what the character chooses to talk about.

Keep in mind that, as the President’s tweets show, the most effective dialogue goes beyond the obvious.

For example, President Trump is college educated, but he speaks in a way that deemphasizes that, either by choice to appeal to a certain audience or because that’s simply how he’s comfortable speaking.

Consider also what sorts of tropes or verbal tics might be part of your character’s speech patterns. Not everyone has the ability to come up with colorful nicknames for others, and some who might be good at it might  choose not to do so.

You might write a character who quickly sees the flaws of others but chooses words carefully to avoid pointing them out. Another might prefer to demonstrate linguistic ability and cleverness by skewering opponents with apparent praise that hides veiled insults.

Finally, think about what themes and subjects your character might work into almost every conversation.

Someone recently divorced, for instance, might compare a new boss’s challenging behavior to an ex-spouse even if no one else in the workplace sees any similarity between the two.

Someone who compulsively overate as a child might always use metaphors that involve food or dieting.

A strong believer in astrology might link any good or bad development in life to the position of the stars or might ask a person’s birthdate within moments of being introduced.

That’s all for this week. I hope this article has given you food for thought the next time you’re writing dialogue—or visiting Twitter.

Until next Friday—

L.M. Lilly

P.S. For more on characters, check out my Free Character Creation Tip Sheet.

Reaching More Readers

This Friday, I recommend checking out PublishDrive if you’re selling your books in ebook format or plan to.

Part of my PublishDrive dashboard after uploading The Awakening books.
Selling In Multiple Stores And Countries

PublishDrive offers a way to upload an ebook once and sell it in over 400 stores worldwide.

The stores includes ones you’ve likely heard of, like Apple iBooks, Kobo, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble, and also hundreds of others.

What I like about PublishDrive is that chance to reach readers–many outside the U.S. and Canada–who might not have access to Amazon, Kobo, or other well-known companies, and to do it without needing to upload separately in hundreds of stores.

Books Already Published Elsewhere

If you’ve already published your books on other platforms, you can still use PublishDrive.

I recently listed all four books in my Awakening supernatural thriller series. Because those are already available on Kobo and other platforms, I simply unchecked those boxes, targeting only stores I hadn’t already published in.

I don’t know how much I’ll get in sales as I haven’t yet figured out how to advertise for all the stores, but I didn’t see any downside to making the books available through more sites.

The Price

There were no upfront costs to publish. As of right now (January 2018), PublishDrive gets 10% of the digital list price.

Again, this seems like a no-brainer. If there are zero sales, it costs me no money out of pocket. I spent time setting up the books to publish, which is a cost, but it was only a few hours. That seems worth it for the chance of future sales.

Caveat – Book Descriptions

I hope to write more about PublishDrive down the road once I’ve had my books published there for some time.

So far I’ve found one downside.

The book description section appears to allow using basic html codes (such as for bold, italics, headlines, etc.) to make the description look appealing, which I wrote more about here.

At least one platform, though, dropped all formatting, including headers and paragraph spacing, resulting in this run-together, awkward-looking sales copy:

To deal with this, I revamped all my descriptions into simple paragraphs that I feel more confident will be readable on all platforms.

And now a word about Writing As A Second Career:

A Change Going Forward

Last Sunday I wrote an article More Than Writing a/k/a Goals For The New Year.

After writing it, I created my author business goals and started scheduling the next few months’ time to pursue them. In the process, I discovered I have far less time than tasks to do.

One of my major goals is to write a series of articles on my author website answering questions about what is truth and what is fiction in the background mythology of my Awakening series. Ultimately, I hope to compile the articles with additional material into a Readers’ Guide.

Going forward, to make room in my schedule to do that, I’ll be skipping Sundays and limiting my writing on this site to every Friday.

I hope you’ll stay with me!

If there area any particular topics you’d like me to address please post them in the comments or email me

Until next Friday–

L.M. Lilly

More Than Writing a/k/a Goals For The New Year

Each year around this time (it’s New Year’s Eve as I write this), I think about the different areas of my life and set goals following 3 guidelines:

  1. Aim High
  2. Be Flexible
  3. Life Is About More Than Writing

Whether or not you’re a list-maker or goal-setter, I hope my thoughts on goals will help you get excited about the coming year.

The 3 Guidelines

High goals are great because most of us rarely exceed our goals, so setting them high ensures the best results.

Also, as the above graphic (a modified quote from Robert Browning) suggests, higher goals are more inspiring and exciting. “Outline my first novel” is a lot less motivating than “Finish and publish my first novel.”

One caveat: setting all your goals too  high can lead to feeling discouraged if none of them are met.

That’s where flexibility comes in. I set a few goals that will be tough to reach and others that I’m confident I can achieve if I work hard.

I also set ranges.

So my goal might be writing  3-6 short stories in a year. That leaves me room to write fewer of them if I take on other unplanned projects or more if I get very focused on producing short pieces.

As to (3) on my list above, there’s more to life than writing, I love writing so much, it’d be easy for me to focus on nothing but.

Adding other goals reminds me that the point is not be a successful but unhappy writer, it’s to be a happy person who spends the bulk of my work time writing.

Areas Of Life

Below are the areas of life I focus on when setting goals. Feel free to borrow these or to choose your own.

  • Writing

Here I decide on my writing projects, not sales or publication goals. I’ll share my 2017 goals as an example, but I won’t do that with each category as everyone’s goals will differ.

For 2017, I aimed to:

  1. Revise and finalize the fourth and last book in my Awakening series, The Illumination
  2. Build this website as a resource for other writers
  3. Write, revise, and finalize the first book in my new mystery series

I reached (1) and (2).

As to (3), I’m on page 110 of 389 in my revisions to The Worried Man and once I’m done I’ll send it to beta readers.

I didn’t finish on schedule because I took a detour, or several, by writing nonfiction books that weren’t on my goal list. But I’m happy with those, so overall I feel pretty good about this set of goals.

If you’re writing while still working significant hours at another job, you may want to choose one major writing project, such as a first draft of novel or a non-fiction book, for the year rather than three. Or you may want to choose three smaller projects–three short stories, blog posts, or articles.

  • Writing Business

In this category, I set goals for publications, royalties, sales, and related items.

If you’re starting out, you might aim to publish your first book. If you’ve released one or two already, your goal may be to try out new advertising platforms, figure out ways to get publicity, or create or update your marketing plan.

Your goal also could  be to learn as much as you can about self-publishing or about following the traditional route of seeking an agent or publisher.

  • Your Non-Writing Profession Or Job

The goals for my day-to-day job or career evolved over time and usually dovetailed with writing.  At some points in life, my job goals were to work as little as possible so I could have time to write.

When I became a lawyer, though, I focused on developing skills and achieving “firsts” (such as first appellate argument). Later I focused on building client relationships and then building my own law firm. Still later I aimed to slow down my law practice to write more.

Your annual goals will depend on your long-term plan.

If you hope to write full time eventually or you want more time to write as you continue your current job, you might look at how you can work less and earn more at your non-writing career. If you want to keep doing both, your goals might be more focused on advancing your career and you might build more flexibility into your writing goals.

  • Other Income/Investments

Whatever your overall professional goals, having other sources of income or investments can make your life better and less stressful.

The economy, business, and the political world all change rapidly. The more ways you earn your living, the easier it will be to adjust to whatever comes next.

If you’re not sure how to do this, your goal for the year could be to read one or two books on the topic (the Rich Dad, Poor Dad series is a great start) or to read articles or talk to people who have multiple streams of income.

Also, it’s okay to start small.

Joanna Penn tells a great story about how her first affiliate income check (income from recommending a product or service) was something like $5. Now, though, she says affiliate income is a significant percentage of what she makes every year. This is a great example of starting small.

  • Relationships

There is something about setting relationship goals that seems a little too analytical. After all, relationships are about feelings and what’s in your heart, not your head.

But for most of us it can be easy to take the people around us for granted, and making a point to have better relationships helps ensure that doesn’t happen.

I find it especially helpful to set specific goals here. “Have better relationships” doesn’t give you a plan for what to do to achieve that. 

Everyone will have different goals on this front, but a few examples are visiting family or friends who are out of state several times a year, talking on the phone (rather than using only texting or social media) with a good friend regularly, or meeting someone you don’t see often enough for dinner once a month.

  • Interests/Fun

Yes, I include this on my goal list!

I started adding this category when I was working full-time and going to law school at night because for the first semester or two there was almost no time for anything else. I realized that I couldn’t continue another three years that way. Even if “Interests/Fun” only got an hour every couple weeks, it was important to make space for it.

You might include setting aside time for hobbies or sports, vacations, taking walks, seeing plays, reading, or whatever else you love that does not involve working.

  • Community

For me, contributing to the community helps me feel better about life, myself, and the world. It’s also a great way to meet positive people and to get perspective on my own challenges.

Goals here can include donating, volunteering, attending or planning fundraisers or other events, or simply learning more about different organizations you want to support in the future.

  • Health And Fitness

It’s hard to enjoy life and do our best if we’re not feeling well. Also, if you write a lot, you may start experiencing strain injuries or aches and pains associated with being at the keyboard.

That’s why I set big picture goals as well as day-to-day ones.

One of mine last year was to eat about 10% more vegetables. That goal pushed me to find a few more vegetables I could tolerate eating (asparagus and raw spinach—still can’t eat cooked spinach, no offense to Popeye). I also make a point to include some vegetables in at least two meals a day.

If you’re a vegetable-lover (I’ve heard there are such people), that may not sound like much, but it’s a big step forward for me.

Unless you’re by nature into health and exercise, it’s probably best in this category in particular to pick just a couple goals and really focus on them rather than creating a long list that quickly feels overwhelming.

What are your goals or aspirations for the coming year?

Feel free to share them in the comments or email me ( with thoughts or questions.

Best wishes for a happy, peaceful, and productive new year!

Until Friday–

L. M. Lilly

P.S. If one of your goals this coming year is to write a novel, you might find The One-Year Novelist helpful. You can download the free template for it here if you’d like to explore before buying the book.

Using An EBook Formatting Service

A couple weeks ago I wrote about using Vellum as a self-publishing tool. It allows you to pretty easily convert your word processing files to ebook and print formats.

A lot of writers, though, have asked me about using a service to do this instead. 

Up until this year, that’s what I did with each of my novels. It’s a good option for many writers who self-publish.

You can also check out the free formatting option at Draft2Digital. I haven’t used it myself, so I won’t comment on it.

When Should You Pay Someone Else To Format Your Book?

In my opinion, contracting out the formatting of your book makes a lot of sense if:

  • You don’t like working with software

If using new (or any) software makes you want to tear out your hair, it may be worth paying a service. While I find Vellum is pretty user-friendly, as with any software, it takes some effort to learn its quirks and ins and outs.

Also, user-friendly is a relative term.

I’ve used computer programs for over thirty years, so a lot of things that seem obvious to me could be challenging to understand if it’s your first attempt to use a program beyond a word processor.

  • You need or want to minimize the amount of computer work you do

Many writers, including me, struggle with neck strain or back strain from typing a lot. Other issues from laptop and computer use include eye strain, carpal tunnel syndrome, and prolonged inactivity.

You may prefer to pay someone else to do the technical work so you can reserve your computer time for writing. This can be especially important if your day-to-day career also requires a lot of typing.

When I worked a lot of hours as a lawyer, I spent much of my day in front of my keyboard, as I wrote a lot of legal briefs, corresponded with clients mainly by email, and kept my books on my laptop. Whatever computer work I could outsource for my self-publishing, I did.

  • Your time is limited and you can afford to pay a service 

Sending your word processing file to a service can also save you time.

There are a few caveats, though.

You will still need to review the finished product and flag any conversion errors. This takes time in itself. With Vellum, I find I integrate this into the formatting.

Also, correcting errors directly in the Vellum file generally doesn’t take any more time than sending notes on the errors to a service.

Despite that, overall, having a service format your book is usually quicker.

All of the above, of course, assumes you can afford to pay a service. To give you an idea of cost, before I started using Vellum, I sent my files to 52novels.

Here are the prices from its website as of December 29, 2017, when I’m writing this:

Formatting manuscript into an ebook format from Word, WordPerfect, RTF, or another “readily workable native text format”:

Under 15,000 words: $125
15,001 to 40,000 words: $150
40,001 to 100,000 words: $200
More than 100,001 words: Quote, with $225 minimum

Keep in mind that if you ask for too many follow up corrections due to your own errors in the manuscript, you’ll also need to pay per-correction fee.

Print conversion has additional fees. (See the pricing page here.)

  • You’re not sure if you’ll write or publish another book

If you’re not sure if you’ll write or publish another book, it probably makes more sense to pay a service for formatting.

It’ll probably be cheaper than the cost of Vellum or a similar program. Even if it’s not, you won’t need to spend time learning a new program that you may never use again.

Tips On Working With A Formatting Service

Based on my own experience, there are some things you can do to make working with a service go more smoothly.

  • Get A Recommendation

You can do an Internet search and find plenty of ebook and print formatters.

It’s best to get a recommendation, though, from another writer.

Ask about how reliable the service is, whether there are hidden costs, whether the service keeps to the promised schedule, and if there are any reasons the writer would not recommend the service.

  • Plan Ahead

As with any business, there are busy and slow times for ebook formatters. It’s best to contact a service well in advance to find out what the waiting time is before your book can be started and how long the conversion process takes.

Be sure to check the schedule before you announce a release date for your book or, worse, set it for preorder.

That way, if the timeframe is longer than you’d expected, you can push back your dates or shop around for another service.

I’ve waited as short a time as 2 weeks and as long as 6 weeks. I’ve gotten files back sometimes in days and sometimes weeks. So far, happily, the times have always conformed with the estimates I was given or been shorter.

  • Finalize And Proofread Your File, Including Back Matter

As noted above, if you need to make too many changes after conversion, you’ll need to pay extra.

If you carefully proof your file and have someone else proof it as well before you send it, you’ll be much less likely to need a lot of changes.

Also, don’t forget to add any back matter, such as an Author Biography and/or an Also By page and provide links to your other works, your website, your social media platforms, or anything else you want your readers to find.

It’s easy to forget about those pages in your rush to get your story polished.

If you create those back matter pages quickly when the service reminds you (as some formatters do), you’re more apt to make errors that require corrections later. (At least, I’m more apt to make errors, as exactly that happened with When Darkness Falls, the last book I had formatted for Kindle.)

  • Proofread And Eyeball The Formatted Files

Carefully check the files you get back.

Doing so will help you spot proofreading errors you missed. It’s also vital for spotting conversion errors.

Glitches can happen with any conversion, and you don’t want to find out after you’ve started selling your book that certain letters were replaced with odd-looking characters or the paragraphs are running together.

The latter point is why I mentioned “eyeball” above.

It’s important not only to look at words and paragraphs but to scroll through the pages to see that chapter headings, chapter endings, and back matter all look right.

You’ll also want to check the links in the Table of Contents and in your back matter.

I hope you found the above useful!

Until Sunday–

L.M. Lilly

Scene-By-Scene Revision

I had a much longer post planned today about the pluses and minuses of taking detours from your writing plans and chasing shiny objects.

I promise to write that eventually and link to it, but it’s Christmas Eve. Once I finished 30 minutes of (re)writing fiction with my cup of tea, I spent the morning getting as much as I can ready for a breakfast buffet I’m hosting tomorrow.

The photo below shows my first attempt at frozen chocolate-dipped strawberries (you can see I had mixed success but I think they’ll taste good):

Also not relevant to writing, I pulled out my mom’s 1950s dish warmer to keep the bacon, mini-quiches, and toast warm tomorrow:

I still have some dishes to sort out and a whisky sour recipe to try (more retro fun, as that was my dad’s favorite drink).

So for today I’m simply sharing the checklist I use when I reach my near final rewrite and focus on each individual scene:

Scene-Level Revision Checklist
  • Is each scene necessary to a plot or subplot?
  • Is the point of view the strongest choice for each scene?
  • Does the writing bring your reader into each scene using all five senses, not only sight and hearing?
  • Are the characters’ emotions and motives clear enough for the reader to understand?
  • Are your characters behaving in ways your reader will believe?

I’ve been referring to this list the last few days as I do what I hope are final revisions on The Worried Man, the first book in a new mystery series. I love this part of writing, so it was a little hard to tear myself away to clean and wrap presents.

Visiting City Hall on my birthday – nice of Chicago to put up a tree for me

Once I did, though, I was glad. I love the winter holidays and the friends and family I share them with.

So I guess I did write about shiny objects and detours after all, in a way. I let myself veer from my writing goals, and that’s okay.

Until Friday (and Season’s Greetings!)–

L.M. Lilly