Creative Writing

8 Mar 2017: Momentum Killers – The Death of a story

Here’s the fourth installment of my series on How to Write a Good Romance (or any story really) based on what not to do:

4: Backstory dumps

I suppose this is probably a generic story problem, but it certainly is one that plagues the romance genre. A good story drops you right into the action.  It provides the bare essentials of information for you to understand the action and hit the ground running. It does NOT spend the first couple of chapters taking you from birth, trough childhood and adolescence and then to present day where your protagonists have their meet-cute.

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This backstory dump will kill whatever momentum the author is trying to build. The best way to introduce necessary backstory (and I stress the word necessary) is through the occasional dialog drop, a casual conversation that mentions something that happened in the past.  Let the characters current circumstances draw proper conclusions about the events that led to their current situation.

Don’t start a story with pages upon pages backstory about your characters.

Besides the fact that you’re asking me to be interested in something that is just backstory (not the actual story,) you’re wasting valuable real estate.  Those first few pages have to hook your reader, don’t waste it with things that are not your main story.  Drop you reader in the middle of a scene and make them hungry to know how they ended up there.  Tease them with bits and pieces of backstory, like bread crumbs that lead them to the last pages of the book.

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I recently read an excellent book that does a wonderful job of dropping the reader in the middle of the action. I wish I could copy and paste those first couple of pages here for you, but since I can’t, I highly suggest you check this book out if you’re looking for a good example.  It’s Haunted Souls by Kathryn Knight.

-Jennifer

Jennifer Geoghan, author of:

I’d love to hear from you!  So click on “Leave A Comment” below and let me know what’s on your mind.

6 Mar 2017: If they thought it once, they thought it a thousand times.

Here’s the third installment of my series on How to Write a Good Romance (or any story really) based on what not to do:

3: Unnecessary thoughts and feelings.

In a story where most conflicts are emotional, it’s easy to fall into the trap of repeating the same internal dialog over and over again.

“I was so confused. Did he really like me or was I just fooling myself that he could ever love a woman like myself?”

Believe it or not … Readers have good memories.  If she thinks that once, she doesn’t need to repeat it over and over again every time they meet.

Because in a story that is a pure romance all your story conflicts are emotionally based, you can easily fall into the trap of over thinking and analyzing your characters thoughts and feelings. Let their actions speak louder than words.

life-lemons-and-vodka-actions-speak-louder-than-words-20Don’t tell me a hundred times that she’ll die if he ever leaves her.  Once is enough. After that, let him leave and show me what happens to her.

-Jennifer

Jennifer Geoghan, author of:

I’d love to hear from you!  So click on “Leave A Comment” below and let me know what’s on your mind.

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In this case, tell me, don’t show me. Click on Leave a Comment.

4 Mar 2017: Never Underestimate Likability

Here’s the second installment of my series on How to Write a Good Romance (or any story really) based on what not to do:

#2: Never Underestimate Likability.

Not all characters have to be likable. Not everyone in this world is likable. Although the protagonists in a love story should have flaws, like all humans do, they should also have more redeemable qualities than flaws.

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I recently read a book where I kept thinking, why is she interested in him? He’s a total jerk and an unrepentant man-whore to boot! She can do so much better than him! When the finally got together at the end of the book, I really could have cared less. Did I read any more of the books in that series? No, they all sounded pretty much the same, with “heroes” that were not good people at all, certainly not anyone I’d ever want to fantasize about.

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The real problem was, he was just as much of a jerk on the last page of the book as he was on the first. There was no progression of character, no redemption, no understanding of why he was the way he was. Remember that your readers have to find something likable in your protagonists in order for them in invest themselves in them.

  • What keeps someone turning the pages of book is caring.
  • They care if the protagonist finds love or doesn’t.
  • They care what trap or mystery they may be walking into.

If you want to have a character that’s a jerk when the couple first meets, that’s fine, but give them a journey that reveals why they are the way they are, and continue that evolution of character until the final pages of the book. Every event that happens to us in our lives changes the person we were when we woke up that morning. How does this fact of life change who you characters are when you finally type “The End?”

-Jennifer

Jennifer Geoghan, author of:

I’d love to hear from you!  So click on “Leave A Comment” below and let me know what’s on your mind.

19 May 2016: Help! I’m drowning in excess exposition and characters!

As a continuation of my last post , here’s the issues I encountered and lessons learned from the other book I started this past weekend. Again, for the sake of the author, I’ll keep the name of the novel to myself.

It’s a not terribly long romance novel. Problem is, I’m over 50% of the way through the book and I feel like the entire first half of the book could have and should have been condensed into the first 10% of the book. The pacing is so slow it’s driving me crazy. The only reason I’m still reading it is because I’m curious to see if the author crams the plot  resolution into the last paragraph. At this rate I have no idea how she’s going to manage to get any story line into the book. So far all she’s done is introduce 16+ characters and have the heroine say she’s a school teacher who because all her friends are now married and having babies, wants to have a baby on her own without waiting for a husband to come along. There, I said it one sentence, the author took half a book to say that. Oh, and the heroine is organizing a charity event where they will auction off some bachelors. It took up to 49% of the way through the book for the couple to kiss and that was after they’d had their first real conversation. I gather that this is not the first book in the series, but one of my issues with it is that there are WAY TOO MANY characters. Even if it’s a series where all the books take place in the same town, it doesn’t mean you should include all the previous characters in every book. The main focus should be the couple that book is centered on and a few supporting cast. This book has thrown over 16+ characters at me so far and I’m only half way through!

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When writing my current novel, I’ve been very mindful of the pacing in the first chapter. By the end of chapter one I’ve introduced the main characters and placed them in the middle of the action. I’ve given the first chapter to a few people to read to get their opinion about the pacing, hoping I wasn’t dragging it out a bit. Sometimes it’s hard to take a step back and recognize the pacing of your own book.

With this novel, I think the author got lost in her love for her characters (all 16+ of them) and forgot that she needed to move the plot along quickly enough to keep the reader engaged. Novels shouldn’t be an author’s love story with a character they created, and in this case I think it is. In my opinion, the entire book would pace so much better if the author ditched a lot of narrative that takes place during conversations between two characters. This isn’t from the book, but will give you the idea of what I’m talking about.

“Let’s go to the beach today,” Mary suggested. Really she didn’t want to go to the beach but needed to get out of the house and any destination was better than cleaning the garage. It was Friday and that garage wasn’t going to clean itself. Looking out the window she wondered if it would rain, which only reminded her that she needed to wash her car. Her car … her father had given her that car for a graduation present. She missed her father so much it hurt sometimes. The day he’d been run over by the train on his way home from the apothecary had been the worst day of her life. Well, the worst until Justin walked into town. Justin was no good and never would be. Maybe he’d look better if his hair wasn’t purple. Mary loved purple, in fact it was her favorite color, but dying her hair purple was where she drew the line.

“Sure the beach sounds like a good idea,” Diane replied as she handed Mary a cup of coffee.

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In my little example above you can see how annoying it is that there is so much exposition between the lines of dialog that quite frankly has nothing to do with the conversation itself. The author of this book has the terrible habit of making a simple conversation go on for pages and pages and pages. Honestly, I started skipping over a lot of this filler to get to the rest of the dialog in the conversation. With so much exposition I was getting lost as to who spoke last so when someone eventually spoke, I had no idea who it was.

Lessons Learned:

Too many chefs crowd up a kitchen just like too many characters confuse your readers. Keep to a small core set of characters, especially in a shorter length novel and develop your main characters before adding more character into the mix. If you think you may have too many characters, see if there is a way to combine two into one.

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Pacing is paramount. By the end of the first chapter you should already have established who your main characters are, set up the situation they find themselves in and why the reader should want to continue reading. This is super important if you’re going to be submitting your book to a publisher or an agent. If they only want to see the first chapter, it had better be a good one.

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Don’t drown your dialog. Your reader wants to feel as if they’re eaves dropping on your character’s conversation. Too much exposition in between actual dialog dilutes the conversation they are having and disengages your readers.

-Jennifer

Jennifer Geoghan, author of The Purity of Blood novel series and If Love is a Lie: A Partly True Love Story.

I’d love to hear from you! So click on “Leave A Comment” below and let me know what’s on your mind.

17 May 2016: Learning good lessons from bad books

I shouldn’t really say they’re bad books, but the two books I read this past week definitely had some issues.

The first book I read (which shall remain nameless) had a heroine who was supposed to have been born and raised in/around New York City. Yet for some unknown reason she kept using words that only people in the UK would use. Here are a few examples of what I’m talking about:

  • It had a granite countertop, fitted dishwasher, ceramic hob, refrigerator … (A hob is a stove top burner)
  • Tucking into my lunch … (Tucking = eating)
  • Although we didn’t find a torch … (A Torch is a flashlight)
  • Pushing all the banknotes into his hand …(Banknotes = dollar bills)

Clearly, the author of this book needed to have a professional editor or an honest friend tell them to reword these sentences. Honestly, this is why all my heroines are from my home town of Wading River, New York. I know how my people talk and phrase things. In other words, I write what I know.

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Lesson learned:

Be mindful of the local lingo. Just because you shine a torch on the hob while in search of your missing banknotes doesn’t mean they do that in New York too.

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Jennifer Geoghan, author of The Purity of Blood novel series and If Love is a Lie: A Partly True Love Story.

I’d love to hear from you! So click on “Leave A Comment” below and let me know what’s on your mind.

25 April 2016: It’s the little things that annoy me the most.

I started to read a new book last night.  Part of the beginning of the book is how the girl (who lives in New York City)wins tickets to a concert in Montana for this famous band along with a five night stay in 5 star hotel.   Her and her friend get in her car and drive to Montana after she arranges to take a week off of work.

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Okay.  Do you see a problem here?

NYC to Montana is a 32 hour drive.  If she only took 7 days off of work, it would take 2 days to get to Montana if you drove and they’re all excited to use all FIVE days of their 5 star hotel experience.  Does she not realize she needed to take at least 9 days off of work to drive there, stay five nights then drive back.  This really annoyed me.

While lost in the backwoods of Montana, the main gal notes how they haven’t seen a petrol station in a long time.

Do you see the problem here?

I’m from New York, and I can assure you that no on in the state of New York calls a gas station a petrol station.

To be honest, the girl with the car lives and grew up in NYC.  She’s a workaholic too.  I think I really could have used the author justifying why she had a car to begin with.  Just about everyone in NYC who lives and works there takes mass transit. When she got into a fender bender with the guy in the book, she couldn’t afford to get a new headlight for her car. So I have to wonder why she has one to begin with in a city that you don’t really need a car in.

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Am I nitpicking? Yes, but I’m only like 15% of the way into the book!!!!

Lesson learned, know your geography first of all. Know that really no Americans use the term Petrol Station, and remember that if you’re writing about a big city lifestyle, ask someone who lives that lifestyle for advice on your character.

Now back to the book to see what else will annoy me.  Good thing the characters, though illogical at times, are interesting enough for me to continue.

-Jennifer

Jennifer Geoghan, author of The Purity of Blood novel series and If Love is a Lie: A Partly True Love Story.

I’d love to hear from you! So click on “Leave A Comment” below and let me know what’s on your mind.

8 April 2016: To Kindle Unlimited … or not to Kindle Unlimited …

In case you’re not aware of Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program, for $9.99 a month, you can have unlimited access to read as many books as you like so long as these books participle in the program. It’s sort of like a library card.  You can take out “on loan” up to ten books at a time. You can keep any book for as long as you like, but if you should decide to drop the program, any books you have on your Kindle that you acquired through KU will be yanked off your Kindle.

kindle-unlimitedIf you’re like me and you read constantly, this $9.99 is a huge savings. I’m simply limited to book that are in the program, but so many are that it’s never been an issue.  I still buy books that I can’t resist, but all things considered, I save a ton with KU.

So last night I finished reading a book that I got for free on my Kindle.  It wasn’t through KU, just listed at a price of $0.00.  It was an okay book.  The story was decent, but I could take it or leave it. As I suspected, when I checked to see what else this author had to offer, the book I’d just read was indeed the first in a series. The second book was $2.99.  For $2.99, I took a pass.  However … had this book been on the KU program, I’d have read it.

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There are many authors that poo poo the KU program because they feel the royalties just aren’t there for them.  To those authors I feel the need to remind you that the members of KU are hard-core readers, but we’re also extremely budget conscious. I might WANT to read your book, but I’m just not willing to pay more than $2.99 for an ebook of an author I’ve never read before, or was slightly ambivalent about their first book.  This was the case with the book I read this week.  The author missed out on me reading the second book in their series because I’d have had to have paid for it.  My suggestion would be to take the first book and put it in the KU program instead of making it $0.00 on amazon.  If they had, they’d have gotten royalties on the first book instead of nothing which is what they got from me.  I’d price book one at $0.99 for non KU and have it enrolled in the KU program.  I’ll be honest, if a book looks interesting enough, even with my KU, I’m willing to pay $0.99 for it.

royaltiesAs an author, I can tell you that I’m currently generating just as much royalties through the KU program as I am with straight sales. So what have your experiences with KU been like?  Let’s here from some other authors or KU members!!

-Jennifer

Jennifer Geoghan, author of The Purity of Blood novel series and If Love is a Lie: A Partly True Love Story.

I’d love to hear from you! So click on “Leave A Comment” below and let me know what’s on your mind.

4 April 2016: Maybe we should just hold hands instead of kiss …

What is Romance?

Exactly how much “romance” does a novel have to contain for it be considered a romance novel?

I’ve been pondering this question for a while now. Is it as simple that at the end of the book the male or female protagonist ends up with the person they’ve been flirting with? Is it the amount of sex in the book, and by sex I mean sex other than casual sex? Is it as simple as love, two characters that weren’t in love when the book began but are when it ends?

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Oops! Sorry, I can’t kiss you there. If I did, that would be a romance and I don’t do romance.

Let’s take my latest book, If Love is a Lie, for an example. I list it as a romance, but there’s a whole lot more to it than your standard formulaic romance. The first third of the book is Emily’s relationship with her internet dating scam artist. Hardly a worthy romance! The next phase of the book is her working with the FBI to bring her scammer and his gang to justice. There’s a growing attraction between her and the FBI agent assigned to the case, but really this section of the story is more crime/action/adventure. The last section of the book is where she’s forced to make a choice about the direction of her life. She’s caught in a love triangle between her scammer and the FBI agent. In the end she makes her choice and they ride off into the sunset together to start a new life. The last section is very dramatic but I suppose it would fall into a romance category. I’ll admit I like love triangles. There’s always a happy ending in my books but I like to keep the suspense of who she’ll be happy with until the very end.

So is If Love is a Lie a romance novel?

Sometimes I think romance is like vampires. My book series (The Purity of Blood novels) has vampires in it. Is the fact that they are vampires central to the story? No, but because there are vampires in it, it’s automatically “Paranormal Romance.” Personally, I don’t feel that classification is warranted, but a vampire is a vampire and if even one creeps into a novel, it’s automatically a paranormal book. This makes me wish there really was a vampire in the world, just one, a friendly one preferably, but just that one would make the paranormal … normal. Thus my “paranormal romance” could be classified as just romance.

I was gonna suck your blood, but I'll just kiss you instead!

I was gonna suck your blood, but I’ll just kiss you instead!

As with vampires, I think any book with kissing involved gets unfairly classified as a romance novel. Is If Love is a Lie a romance? Yes … and no. I think folks who like and those who dislike romance novels would both enjoy it.

Does underwater kissing count?

Does underwater kissing count?

Yesterday I wen to lunch with a friend and asked him this same question, how much romance is enough to push a book into that category. His reply was if the central theme of the book was romance, than it’s a romance. A logical and well thought out answer. With that in mind, I’d say my series (The Purity of Blood) is not a romance series at all. The central theme is the development of Sara from the innocent girl she is at the beginning of the series to the strong woman she is at the end. Are her romantic relationships part of that development? Yes, but even stronger in it is her relationship with Randall, her grandfather. But seeing as Randall is a vampire … I’m still stuck with the paranormal label. Oh, well. C’est la vie as the French say.

-Jennifer

Jennifer Geoghan, author of The Purity of Blood novel series and If Love is a Lie: A Partly True Love Story.

I’d love to hear from you! So click on “Leave A Comment” below and let me know what’s on your mind.

14 Feb 2016: So you want to write a novel … now what?

Over the course of the last few years, I’ve had many people tell me that they have a great idea for a novel.  Some say they’ll get around to it one day, some ask if I want to write it with them, some admit it will probably never get written. I’m often asked for advice on how to go about getting started.  Getting started is always the hardest part, even for me, an author who’s written seven novels.

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  • So how do you start?

First you need to start gathering your thoughts on paper.  Get a notebook and write headers on the top of several pages.  Headers Like “Plot,” “My Main Character,” “Subplot,” “Other Characters.” Really it’s the process of organizing all those thoughts that have been rambling around inside your head.  You think it will be easy to just sit down and write your book out without this step, but you’d be wrong.

  • Why on paper and not on a computer or other device?

Don’t discount the effect of paper and pen.  There’s something cathartic about writing with a pen or pencil that you’ll soon discover for yourself.  I suggest a portable notebook.  I use smaller ones that fit in my purse.  Believe me, you’ll want to have it with you at all times and inspiration tends to strike in the most unlikely of places.  I especially recommend you keep a pad and pen on your nightstand. How many times have I woken up in the middle of the night with a great idea and been too lazy to get up and write it down? … way too many times.  And then I wake up in the morning thinking … didn’t I have an idea last night? But I can’t remember exactly what it was.  Don’t be like me because it totally sucks.

Okay, let’s say you’ve started the above.

  • So when do I get to start writing my novel?

After you have a decent idea of your plot and a detailed description of your main characters, their physical descriptions, likes, dislikes, past history, the flesh on their bones, it’s time to start your outline. For me, my outlines are bullet point outlines, plot points I need to hit in a specific order so that I tell the story properly. This outline will evolve a lot from the moment I start writing till I finally type “the end.” It’s not chiseled in stone, it will evolve as your story evolves, but it helps you keep your eye on the prize.  It will be your guiding north star.

When you’re writing a novel, you need to feel as if you’re making headway, and being able to tick off another bullet point on your outline makes you feel as if you’re making progress and that in and of itself is encouragement to continue on. It is your light at the end of the writing tunnel.whats your story

  • So now I’m writing … now what?

My suggestion to not lose your momentum going and keep from getting bogged down to the point you give yourself writer’s block is to XXX it. Huh? you’re asking out loud as you scratch your head.  Yes, you read me right. When I’m writing out a scene and I come up to something that I’m not sure of, I xxx it, and go back to it later.  I’ll give you an example. In my current project, I had a sentence that went something like this:

“Doc Gibbs came by this afternoon and said he’s worried about the new calf, thinks he may have come down with XXX and he wants to come back tomorrow and give him a TREATMENT.”

My novel takes place on a ranch in Texas.  I’m from New York and live in Orlando. What do I know about Longhorn cattle? Nothing.  If I stopped to do the research on what could be wrong with a calf and what they’d have to do to treat it, I’d never get a book written.  I finished the first draft this week and spent a couple of days fixing the XXX’s and other issues like this.  These are things that aren’t really important to the story so I don’t even bother to stop to dwell on them while I’m writing.  I’ll have things like this: “After I order LUNCH ORDER, I handed her the menu back.” Don’t lose yourself in minutia.  I have news for you … your first draft will suck.  Get over it and know that you can always fix it in the editing.

Don’t expect perfection.  If you do, you’re doomed before you start.  Perfection is crafted from your first draft.  Your first draft will have lots of issues that need fixing.  I can’t stress enough that you need to leave expectations of “The Great American Novel” at the doorstep. All you can hope is that your first draft shows potential.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t attack your first draft with gusto, it only means that if you agonize over every sentence, you’ll never get to THE END.  You’ll get so discouraged by chapter two that you’ll never bother to finish.

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  • So I finally finished my first draft.  No what?

Congratulations! The first thing I do is try to catch the easy things before I really dig deep.  In my word document, I use the “Find” feature and look for things I know I commonly type wrong.  Having just typed your novel, I’m sure you probably know what your typing foibles are. Mine are that for some reason, I tend to type an extra ‘ after the “t” in a contracted word.  – didn’t’ –  Don’t ask why, I have no idea why I do it.  I also type “because” as “becuase”, transposing the a and u.  I type “the” as “teh” a lot.  Not to mention that I also have issues with tenses.  I write in first person narrative and find that I can stray from writing in a past tense to a present tense.  Example: “I take the book he hands me and smile.” When I really should have typed “I took the book he handed me and smiled.” Again, I have no idea why this happens.  This is also when you go back and fix your XXX’s and Capped letter issues.

When you feel as if you have a good grasp on these kinds of issues, for me, this is when I print the first twenty or so pages and start to read.  Reading on paper and not off a screen is very helpful to me.  Maybe it won’t be for you, but I recommend you try.  It’s another perspective, one that your reader will have, so it’s worth taking a step back to look through their eyes. I like to make hand written notes on paper then enter them on the word doc. In this first 20 pages you’ll start to see other issues you missed.  After that just keep editing.

I usually read through, editing as I go, at least three times through the whole book.  At this point, I email the doc to my Kindle and let the text to speech feature on my Kindle read my book to me.  Believe me, you will find even more typos and issues.  Hearing it out loud is going to blow your mind.

After I listen to it two or three times, I think my books are ready for someone else’s eyes.  WARNING: Be careful who you give it to. I’ve had issues where you give it to them and a month later they haven’t even started it yet.  Find someone who has the time to sit down read it now.  Gently give them a deadline in which you’d like it back.  I’d also provide them with a sheet containing a guideline of what you’re looking for.  They are most likely not a professional editor and need your guidance here. Tell them you’re looking for typos, grammatical errors, inconsistencies in the plot, anything that confuses them or doesn’t make sense.  Some people are naturally good editors, many are not.  Your close family man not be your best choices.  Don’t give it to someone who is just going to hand it back and say “That was lovely, dear.”

Once you get it back, incorporate what notations you received and thought made sense to change.

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  • Set goals for yourself.

It would have taken me a decade to write my first novel if I hadn’t of set daily quotas on myself.  10 pages a day to start with.  As the story gets written, it gets easier to write.  By the end, my quota was 25-30 pages a day. If I didn’t meet my quota one day, the missing pages got added to the next days quota.  For example, I write 8 pages today means I have to write 12 tomorrow.  It was a mental way for me to stay on track.  I increased the quota when I found it was too easy to meet and I was exceeding it.

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  • Don’t get married to anything in your novel!

I gave a short story I wrote to a friend to read/edit last week.  She gave me back some good notes.  One being that she thought the ending was too quick and she gave me a suggestion on away to prolong the plot twist. I thought about it, and she was right. I made a few modifications and it really flows much better now. If I’d been stubborn and thought the baby that was my story was perfect just the way any mother would think her child was, I’d have been holding it back from being all that it could be.

  • What about all these fancy writing computer programs?

Don’t get sucked into the mentality that a computer program will help you write a book. People were doing it with feather quills and writing masterpieces of the English language long before the advent of the computer age.  I use MS Word and do just fine.  If you’re trying to write your first book, believe me, that is hard enough without tossing learning a new computer program into the mix.  Concentrate on writing, not fiddling with the newest software. I promise you, the software isn’t going to write your book for you while you slumber at night.

Well, that’s my advice on how to get started. I could go on and on and on about the subject, and I’m sure I will in future posts.

Happy writing!

-Jennifer

Jennifer Geoghan, author of The Purity of Blood novel series and If Love is a Lie: A Partly True Love Story.

I’d love to hear from you! So click on “Leave A Comment” below and let me know what’s on your mind.

5 Jan 2016: It’s official!! I’ve given birth to a paperback.

At long last, the first book in my series is now out in paperback.

Click here to see it on Amazon

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After a couple of years of only putting out Ebooks, it’s nice to finally be able to say “Yeah, sure.  You can get it in paperback.”  I always think I’m the last to get any new tech, as I usually am, so I’m still surprised how many people are out there that just won’t read an ebook even if they have access to them.   What’s up with that anyway?  I mean I get the whole you love the feel of the book in your hands, turning actual pages and all, but welcome to 2016. For me, if I read an ebook that I fall in love with, I usually try to buy it in paperback and add it to my library. But I still read the ebook first.  This is especially true for me because I love my Kindle Unlimited that only lets you have 10 books out at a time.  Best to get it in paperback if I want to reread it.

So, if you’re one of those folks who was waiting for the paperback version to buy my book, Today Is Your Day!

-Jennifer

Jennifer Geoghan, author of The Purity of Blood novel series and If Love is a Lie: A Partly True Love Story.

I’d love to hear from you! So click on “Leave A Comment” below and let me know what’s on your mind.