Ask the Authors, ed. Kaye Lynne Booth

Front cover of Ask the Authors, ed. Kaye Lynne BoothBooth and the contributors blend personal details with more general advice, creating a book that is halfway between biography and craft guide.

The book is compiled from a series of communal interviews that the editor carried out with a pool of eighteen authors on writing- and publishing-related topics.

Booth has gathered the questions into ten rough sections:

    • The Rules for Writing Success: Five things to achieve success.

    • Writing Process: Biggest challenge about being a writer? — Is there anything unique or unusual about your writing process? — Is your writing process plot driven or character driven? — What is the single most important element in a story? — What is your favourite setting to write in? — Do you write with music or do you prefer quiet? — What is your favourite time of the day to write? Why? — How do you decide the titles of your books? Where does the title come in the process for you? — Are you a plotter or a pantser? — In a story we are often asked to create images for the reader that we may not have experienced ourselves. When have you had to do that? — What advice do you have for upcoming authors? — Why do you write? — Where does your inspiration come from? What can you tell us about your muse? — What kinds of writing do you do and what types of research are required? — How much do you read? What do you like to read? — What goals do you set for yourself in your writing? — What is your favorite setting to write in? — What do you do to get into that writing zone? — What planning tools do you use to prepare before actual writing begins? — How much of the story do you know before the actual writing begins? — How many drafts do you make before considering a manuscript ready for publication? What are the differences as you write each one? — What’s the hardest part of the story for you to write: beginning, middle, or end? — As a writer, what is the biggest challenge for you? What’s the biggest reward?

    • Plot/Story Line: What do you think the function of story is? — What are the elements of a good plot? — What is the best hook you’ve ever written? — What types of stakes do you create for your characters? — In your writing how do you avoid info-dumps? — Are you in favor of prologues? What is the function of a good prologue? — What is your approach to subplots? — What story structure do you prefer? (i.e. Simple Outline, Bracket method, Three Act Format, Beat Sheet) — Do you have methods you employ for avoiding inconsistencies in your story? — What is the best book you’ve ever written?

    • Character Development: What makes a character interesting? — What methods do you use to develop your characters? — Do you prefer single or multiple POVs? — Have you ever created any of your characters based on people you know in real life? — Do you have traits in common with any of your characters? — Have you ever created characters from archetypes? — What kinds of fears or flaws do you give your characters? — Do your characters ever do things that surprise you? — How do you give your characters a unique perspective? — How do you make your characters likeable? — How do you create a villain that we can love to hate? — How do you motivate your characters? — Characters change and grow through the adversaries that they face and the obstacles they overcome. Give us an example of this from your own writing. — What tools do you use to help readers get to know your characters? — How do you give each of your characters a distinctive voice? — Which of your characters was the most fun to write? — Which of your antagonists is your favorite? — How do you feel about killing off your darlings? What other ways do you find to add conflict to a story? — How do you evoke emotion in your readers? — Do your characters talk to you? — If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?

    • Setting & World Building: What tools or strategies do you use in world building for your stories? — Have you ever had places that you travel to end up in your books? — In a story we are often asked to create images for the reader of places we may not have experienced ourselves. When have you had to do that? — What kind of details do you like to add to create a mental picture of setting for your reader? — Would you like to share a brief excerpt from one of your best setting descriptions? — Thoughts on Worldbuilding — How do you pick the right sensory details for your story? — What kind of sight details might be important to a story? — What methods do you use to add sound details to your stories? — In what ways have you incorporated touch details into your writing? — How do you factor in taste and smell details? — Have you ever had a reader tell you that you missed the mark with a certain detail? — Do you prefer to set your stories in the real world or one which you’ve created? — How do you paint a picture for the reader so they can visualise your character’s physical environment? — How do you portray the rules of the world, beliefs and preferences of the characters? — Have you ever had a reader catch an inconsistency in your story because a character did something that violated the rules of the world which you created? — Some authors draw maps of the fictional worlds they create to help readers follow the events of the story. Have you ever used this technique? What other techniques have you used to help readers visualise your world? — Has anyone explored physical locations in the flesh in order to get the details right when writing about a real location? — Do you plan out your world or build as you go and see what happens? — What tools or methods do you use to keep track of all the details of your world?
      Tone: Voice, Person, Tense & Point of View: Do you have a preference for PoV or does it just depend on the story you are telling? — Have you ever written a story in one POV and then later rewritten it in a different POV to see if it worked better? — How do you decide what POV to use with a story? — Have you ever tried to write anything in the second person? — Do you prefer single or multiple POVs? — When using multiple POVs, does each character get equal page time? Do you switch POVs within chapters, or on the chapter break? — How do you indicate to readers that a switch in POV has occurred? — How much narrative distance do you like to give for your readers? — When using multiple POVs, have you ever used multiple narrator’s voices in the same story? — Do you prefer to write in past or present tense? — How do you avoid the passive voice in your writing? Or do you?
      Action: What tips do you have for writing fight scenes, or car chases, where a blow by blow description might get tedious? — How do you write action sequences clearly, so as not to confuse readers when there is a lot going on, like on a battlefield or a chase scene? — What tricks do you use to ensure you do more showing than telling? — Have you ever taken fight lessons or sough out experts to learn how a fight might play out, or how a particular weapon operates, or perhaps how a person would react to a particular poison? — In what ways do you use dialogue to affect the pacing of the story? — What other methods do you use to control and/or maintain your pacing? — Can any of you elaborate on how you keep the action flowing smoothly in a fight scene, specifically? — What methods do you find effective in controlling your pacing?
      Is it difficult to produce dialog that is natural and realistic? — What are your secrets for writing dialog that doesn’t sound forced? — Do you use dialog tags? — What methods do you use to clue readers into subtext? — Any pet peeves with dialog? — What is your secret to finding the right balance between action and dialog? — What is your secret for making action scenes move smoothly? — Would you like to share a brief excerpt from one of your best dialog scenes?

    • Genres: Which genres do you write? — What are the more well-known tropes of your genre(s)? — How much do you think about the tropes of your genre while you are writing? — What kind of research do you do for your genre(s)? — If you write more than one genre, in what ways does your writing process differ for different genres? — How do you think the marketing and promotion of your genres differ? — If you write in more than one genre, what do you do with your marketing to tap into the different audiences?

    • Editing and Revision: How do you feel about the editing and revision process? — What roles do alpha readers, beta readers, critique partners, editors, or proofreaders play in your editing and revision process? — How do you handle editing? — Have you ever received edits which you felt showed that the editor didn’t get what you were doing at all? — Have you ever received edits that made you think the editor was totally off, only to find as you began to work through them, that they were actually spot on? — What do you look for in an editor? How do you know when you find an editor who’s a good fit for you?

    • Publishing: Are you published independently, traditionally, by small press or some combination? — What factors have influenced your decision to publish via the route(s) you chose? — What do you see as the pros and cons of independent/traditional publishing? — Which formats are your books available in? Which file formats for eBooks do you provide? — In the self-publishing area, which platforms have you found good to work with? How do you deal with KDP’s exclusivity clause? — What are the pros and cons that you see for each publishing platform you have used? — Which platforms have you found to be the most beneficial? — What should an author look for when seeking out a publisher for their book? — Any publishing advice for new authors? — Can you share with us a little about what the process of creating your own imprint entails? — What are the advantages of having your own imprint? Would you recommend authors do this? — Would you share the story of your own publishing journey? — Although you are self-published, do you still long for the esteem of a traditional publisher? — What are your thoughts on small presses? What are the pros and cons? Do you curse them or sing their praises?

    • Building an Author Platform: What methods have you tried for growing a reader following? — What’s the most effective way you’ve found to gain followers? — Do you utilize giveaways or book events on social media? Which ones have been effective for you? — Do you utilize in person book events or giveaways? Do you feel these face to face events are more effective for gaining followers than social media events? — What are some effective methods for branding yourself and your work? — Do you have a website or blog that you drive traffic to? How effective do you think they are? — What methods have you found successful for obtaining reviews? — Have you ever used paid reviews? — In your mind what are the pros and cons of paid reviews? — How effective have you found interviews to be in bringing new followers? — Has there been one interview you feel was most effective? If so, why do you think this interview was more effective than others? — Which blogging platform do you use and what do you see as benefits and drawbacks of it?

    • The Business of Writing: How much non-writing work (marketing & promotion, illustrations & book covers, etc…), do you do yourself for your books? — How do you see recent changes in this digital world we live in affecting your writing as a business? — Do you think print books are on the way out? — Have any of your books been offered in audio format? If so, how successful do you think this was in increasing your book sales? What was your opinion of the overall experience? — What benefits does membership in a writing organization bring? Do writing organizations help bring readers, or do their benefits regard craft and promotion? Do you think the size of the organization matters? — For those who tried to publish traditionally or via small press, where your work must be submitted in hopes that someone else will deem it publishable, how many rejections did you receive before acceptance? And how did you handle the rejections?

    • Marketing and Promotion: For marketing and promotion, do you prefer online advertising and book events, or face to face events? — What’s your favorite social media site for promotion? — What sites have you used for marketing and/or giveaways? Which do you recommend? — Do you use paid advertising or just what you can do for free? — Which book marketing sites have you found to be good? What do you like about them? What is the downside? — Website, blog, author’s page or a combination? What are the benefits of each? — Do you have one or more mailing lists? Do you have a newsletter? Which do you find to be useful or effective? — How effective have interviews been for you in your overall marketing scheme? — What interview has been the most effective for you in terms of marketing? — What was the most fun interview you’ve ever done? — Do you use book trailers? If so, do you create them yourself or hire them out? — Have you tried press releases? — Do you have a street team? If so, how do you utilize them? — What type of face to face events have you found to be effective? — What does the multi-genre author do as far as branding goes? Do we have a brand for each genre, or can a single brand for your works encompass all the genres that you write? — If you have published independently, what challenges have you faced getting your books into brick and mortar bookstores and libraries? — Please tell us how you come by your covers: DIY or hired out or prefab? — What do you consider your best cover and what do you think makes a great cover?

The contributors are a range of traditionally published, author-published, and hybrid authors at different points in their career, writing in several different genres. Each of these also has their own writing voice: in the case of a couple of author’s this includes a certainty that different readers might read either as an exercise in marketing confidence or a wearing pridefulness. Thus, the answers provide a broad range of perspectives that may well spark new thoughts in readers looking to move their writing or publishing to the next level; but some of the contributors’ answers are likely to be less relevant or less accessible to each reader.

As can be seen from the questions, this is a blend of anecdotes, advice, and thoughts. This gives the book a conversational tone that is likely to attract readers who are interested in the contributors as people; however, this also means the hard theory is mixed in with more personal matters, meaning readers who are less interested in the contributors’ lives might feel they are wading to get to the worthwhile bits.

The blurring further manifests through some authors having differing opinions on what a question is actually asking, or using the question as a starting point then going somewhere else. While this does produce some interesting insights that might not have come up if every author had conformed closely to the same seed, it does mean those insights are sometimes within a question that might not seem like one that would produce them; thus, readers seeking to refer back to a specific idea many months later might have to do some guessing before they find it.

This lack of perfect re-accessibility is exacerbated by the table of contents only including the major section headings rather than the individual questions, requiring the reader to page through to find the question they seek.

Conversely, because the book is collected from a series of communal questions that were asked over an extended period, a number of the answers repeat the same anecdotes or advice. This both increases the chances of finding these ideas when returning later and demonstrates how the same underlying approach might apply to more than one area of the writing and publishing process. However, it also risks the book feeling repetitious if read from end-to-end rather than dipped into.

Overall, I found this book useful in places. I recommend it to readers seeking multiple perspectives on writing and publishing rather than a single deep one.

I received a free copy from a contributor with a request for a fair review.

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