SPS-246: How to Write Your Best Book – with Christina Kaye
Writing a book doesn’t necessarily come naturally to many of us. Christina Kaye, book coach and editor, shares with James her best tips for making your way through the hero’s journey that is writing a book and getting to type The End.
- What kind of author might consider hiring a writing coach
- The steps taken when coaching someone through writing a book
- The different strategies for writing if you’re a plotter or a pantser
- Common mistakes new writers make
- Choosing a verb tense and a point of view that work for your story
- What ‘head hopping’ is and how to avoid it
- Dealing with the ebbs and flows of writing motivation
Resources mentioned in this episode:
PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page
COURSE: Self-Publishing 101 is now open for enrolment. Learn more here.
FREE WEBINAR: Getting your first reviews is a challenge. It’s also a chicken and egg situation – reviews lead to sales but it’s sales that lead to reviews. So how do you start garnering genuine reviews for your first book? On Tuesday 6th October I’ll be teaching exactly that, going through a number of methods that have served me well through the years. You need to register in advance to join us and places are limited to 1,000.
Grab your spot here.
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SPS-246: How to Write Your Best Book - with Christina Kaye
Announcer: On this edition of the Self-Publishing Show.
Christina Kaye: All those things that people who don't want to plot at all or plan anything in advance, that's fine, but I think that's where you're going to miss out on some opportunity to make your book really stand out.
Announcer: Publishing is changing, no more gatekeepers, no more barriers, no one standing between you and your readers. Do you want to make a living from your writing?
Join indie bestseller Mark Dawson, and first-time author James Blatch as they shine a light on the secrets of self-publishing success. This is the Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch: Hello, it's Friday and welcome to the Self-Publishing Show with me, James Blatch.
Mark Dawson: And me, Mark Dawson. Hello.
James Blatch: How are you, Mark Dawson. You got your hat on today.
Mark Dawson: Actually, I do play golf this morning. Yes, it's a golfing hat of sorts. Yes, it's autumn now. Proper, isn't it? It's windy and chilly a little bit here.
James Blatch: We have a lovely what we call Indian summer. I think we can still say Indian summer. It sounds like a sort of thing we can't say anymore, but I think you can, an Indian summer being a late summer. It's absolutely beautiful. Yeah, beautiful couple of weeks, wasn't it? I played my first grown up round of golf this week for 20 years.
Mark Dawson: What did you get?
James Blatch: 123.
Mark Dawson: Okay, that's probably about my level too on this. I think we'll be similarly rubbish.
James Blatch: I would like to get down. I'd had two bunkers which gobbled up 11 shots and the sand is very firm and wet and I couldn't get the ball out.
Mark Dawson: Bunkers are quite easy to get out. I'll show you how.
James Blatch: If the sand is pliable, but anyway, annoyingly on the 18th was one of them, five shots to get out and I was in the bunker, off the green on a par four for two. It was a really, really tough course. I'm not playing it again. It's far too hard. It punished good shots for amateurs like me. Not playing it again. There's got to be easier courses out there. Anyway enough golf.
Before we do anything else. Let me welcome Michael Allen Peck, you get a shout out because you are our Patreon supporter of the week, who's joined us this week. Thank you very much indeed, Michael, you can go to patreon.com/selfpublishingshow and support the show and get lots of goodies. We should also mention that Self Publishing 101 is open. Open sesame. Opened a couple of days ago.
At the time we're recording this, it will have been open a week and a bit by the time this goes out. We've had a fabulous first couple of days. Very excited to see lots of new students full of enthusiasm coming into the dedicated Facebook group already to get going. It's been good. I love this bit.
Mark Dawson: It has, but we've made a few mistakes haven't we this time? We've been running around doing different things. One the things annoyingly we all missed it was in the email that was sent out announcing the course was open, we had the wrong price and it was the wrong way as well. So, $50 more expensive when people got to the actual sales page, which we do not like that kind of experience. We have had a few people just saying what prices they're supposed to pay.
Apologies if you had a nasty surprise when you got to the sales page. Just one of those things. We try very hard to make sure that is all nice and smooth. But yeah, we all missed that. Me, you, John, young Tom, everyone.
James Blatch: I think they were both my fault. I worked out last night. It's taken us a while to work out what happened with the price one, but I think they were both my fault. I Mea culpa on that one.
Mark Dawson: Oh, yes. I knew it was you, but I was being polite. We all knew it was you. We've been talking behind your back. James is basically losing his marbles.
James Blatch: Yes, lots going on at the moment. I'm running lots of businesses. Doing stuff every day. Now, I wanted to mention I don't if you've watched it, I forgot to warn you about this, or ask you whether you've seen it.
Have you seen the Social Dilemma documentary on Netflix?
Mark Dawson: No, I haven't. I think I've heard about it. But no, I haven't seen it.
James Blatch: It was mentioned in the community group in a discussion by a couple of people. I think it's a compulsory viewing for us. Now, it's quite a big theme stuff, it's about the impact of social media on children's developments, and on what's the truth and facts and distorting the way democracies work. So, big theme stuff.
Smaller to us is just the fact that this is coming down the line. I think there's going to be regulation that might even be guerrilla tactics to try and take social media networks down potentially, and people really feel strongly about the influence they're having impact.
It's just another reminder that we rely on some of these platforms. For Fuse books, almost 100% is driven by Facebook advertising, so if Facebook suddenly got attacked and went down for a month or two or regulation came in, and we're already feeling the results of them being overcautious about everything, aren't we? We're seeing accounts being turned off and ads being rejected as they get very nervous about this.
But there's a very big discussion starting to happen about as we're waking up to the actual impact that social media is having on people, I think it's a really interesting documentary, and one that we should watch. I'd be interested to hear what you think about it when you see it.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, I will. I had a comment in the Mastery group but in one of... I think it was in the community, someone just a blanket statement, because two authors had posted in another group, their Facebook ads didn't work for them. This author decided that they didn't work at all, which honestly, I don't... Well, anyway, I basically replied and said it was nonsense, and lots and lots of other authors who basically like, Fuse, depend on Facebook for finding new readers.
It's not easy. It's not easy to get ads to work. If it was, there'd be lots of millionaire authors running around. But to say that they don't work is just a bit silly, really. We've got plenty of examples from myself to what you're doing with Fuse, and hundreds of other authors who drive a lot of their sales through Facebook ads.
James Blatch: Yeah, it's not always easy. It's definitely more expensive for me at the moment. I think the margin's been cut a little bit since last month and the month before. I don't know if this is my first cycle through the year running active ads, but I'm guessing that it gets a little bit more expensive running up to Christmas and Black Fridays, big commercial times. COVID helped us up in the middle of summer when it was quite cheap.
Mark Dawson: There's all kinds of different things playing together to make it a little bit more expensive at the moment, but it is cyclical. Those big budgets will pull out from the marketplace as we get into next year, and CPC will come down again. I've seen it a few times now.
James Blatch: Yeah, but still making a profit, and to work hard at it. Think about the optimization side of things. I've done a really bad job of shaving. You're watching on YouTube.
Mark Dawson: So have I.
James Blatch: Yeah, you've done a worse job than me.
Mark Dawson: I'm used to it.
James Blatch: I think it's better to not shave, than to do what I've done, which I leave bits there that's horrible. Anyway, what else are we going to talk about?
We've got a webinar, we have some live training coming up, which is a webinar actually we've given before, but it's a very useful one, and it does get very well attended. It's about how to get your first or your next 10 reviews. Really, Mark, this is aimed at people who are low on reviews, maybe don't even have any and it's a chicken and egg situation for authors, isn't it? Because reviews lead to sales, but without sales, you don't get reviews? So, how do you get going? How do you start? That's what you're talking about?
Mark Dawson: Yeah. We have done this webinar a few times, and it is always quite popular. I remember very well, when I was starting out in what, eight years ago, whatever it was now, and just have no idea how to do it. I could not get sales. Then I knew that I needed reviews to get more sales. But where was I going to get reviews from if no one was downloading the book? It was very, very tricky.
There are ways to do it. In fact, there are ways to get reviews that weren't unavailable back then. Things like, I think StoryOrigin offers a feature now, Booksprout. What else? There's a few. Hidden Gems, there's a few services like that, that enable writers to get their books in front of reviewing readers.
We'll go through that, and some methods that have been tried and true. They've passed the test over time, don't usually cost anything, completely ethical, so everything is in line with the Amazon Terms of Service, and ways that you can, after the webinar, go away, put those into effect, and I would be surprised if you don't start seeing reviews, maybe not a tonne, but you should get some reasonably soon after. It's definitely worth turning up and listen to me waffle about reviews for 45 minutes or so.
James Blatch: It's the live dose of the comedy duo that you and me are. It's on Tuesday, the 6th of October at 9:00 PM in London, that's 4:00 PM in New York, and 1:00 PM in Los Angeles, and something like 5:00 or 6:00 in the morning the next day in Sydney. If you want to attend, you will have to sign up and get a registration join link. You can do that at selfpublishingformula.com/getbookreviews, getbookreviews, and we will see you there.
Okay, right. Should we move on to our interviewee? This week, it is Christina Kaye. You will be very familiar with Jenny Nash, who's been on the show a few times, is our resident editor for the book labs. I must get another book lab going, find out where we are with that after the show.
Christina is in the same line of business. She does book coaching. She works with authors, particularly new authors. Like me, I found it incredibly useful work with Jenny. Absolutely loved her as an experience. Almost like going to night school and learning how to write.
Christina works with her own little company, her own little group, part of the community. Particularly works on character development. That's what we talked about in this interview. So, let's hear from Christina.
Christina, welcome to the Self Publishing Show. Lovely to have you here and-
Christina Kaye: Thank you, and lovely to be here.
James Blatch: Thank you also for bumping the interview by one day to help us out because the American Podcast calendar we have doesn't understand that we have bank holidays in the UK.
Christina Kaye: Lucky you.
James Blatch: We're lazy, what can I say? We have about seven of them.
Christina Kaye: You said it, I didn't.
James Blatch: Okay. Look, Christina, we're going to talk a bit about working with a developmental editor, with a book coach, or perhaps the difference between those two as well, if there's a subtle difference. Let us start with a bit about you.
Why don't you tell us your elevator pitch of who Christina Kaye is.
Christina Kaye: My elevator pitch. Okay, boy, it's been a while since I've given that, but I think I can give it a try. I've been in the publishing, author, community industry for about 10 years. I started just out trying to be the author and tried the traditional route and actually did get picked up by an agent, had some books published, won some awards, things like that. But then, about eight years ago or so, I started just editing for friends, which turned into a freelance side gig, which turned into coaching on the side.
If you fast forward to January of this year, I launched Write Your Best Book, which basically it's me scaling the freelance, editing and coaching and making it a little bit bigger, because I wanted to reach and help as many authors as I could, because I thought back to that 10 years ago time period when, at that time anyway, there were not that many resources for authors. What was there, you had to pick through to determine what to listen to, what to ignore.
I wanted to help as many as I could, and therefore we launched Write Your Best Book in January, and that includes a podcast and author coaching, like you were talking about and book editing. Now, I'm an indie author, though, I jumped ship from traditional. My last two books have been self-published.
James Blatch: Okay. Superb. Well, that sounds like a great nutshell, Christina, and we want to talk I think about working.
Would this particularly pertains to authors like me at the beginning of their career, I think they get the most benefit out of a book coach and a developmental editor?
Christina Kaye: I believe so. When you say author like me, you mean like a more self-published author?
James Blatch: Well, someone who's just starting out.
Christina Kaye: I have clients who run the gamut from I haven't even ever written a book, all the way up through I've published 10, but they're not working out for me.
I believe honestly, especially the coaching, when that comes in, it does benefit newer authors, more emerging authors a little bit more, because that's where the hand holding comes in and going through some of the craft related teaching and skills and things like that can really help.
So, yes, with a book coaching, author coaching, it does lean more towards emerging authors.
James Blatch: Do you think this is an essential thing for authors as they get going, or is it just a niche area for some authors?
Christina Kaye: I believe it's twofold. I believe book editing is absolutely 100% undeniably essential, especially if you're going to be a self-published author. I don't think there's any way around that. I think it's an investment in your book, and in your writing career.
Author coaching, on the other hand, I don't think everyone needs it, I think it would just depend on that person's needs, if they're struggling with structure, if they're struggling with setting a writing schedule and getting motivated, and if they need someone to hold their hand through some of the craft issues, then yeah, I do think in those cases, it would be very, very helpful and very beneficial.
James Blatch: Okay, so let's talk about the process a little bit.
If somebody perhaps got their first draft done, or they've been knocking about with an idea for a book, and they come to you. What's the process look like?
Christina Kaye: Well, again, on the author coaching side, it's going to look a little different than editing. Editing books got to be done, and then we go from there, and we polish it. If someone comes to me, and they're like, "Hey, I need an author coach." Usually, they're either not even started writing their first word, or they've just got a chapter or two done, and they've realised they need help.
What that entails, usually it depends on where they are, but I usually will review, at least this is the way I do it, I'll review their progress for each week, and we'll set a call for the next week and we'll set assignments if they get stuck, if they get "writer's block", I have exercises lined up that I always like to give them to do to try to get unstuck.
There's a lot of motivating that goes involved, because I think when you have an author coach, you're held accountable. You have that feeling of, not pressure. I want to walk a fine line between pressuring my clients, to holding them accountable. They'll bring me say, "Hey, this week, I did one or two chapters." I'll look over them and give them some basic feedback, not editing, per se, but just some general feedback. They really seem to really enjoy that process a lot. But there's a lot of motivating and hand holding that goes on with all the coaching.
James Blatch: I felt the benefit of that myself having used the book coach, the simply keeping honest bit, you can't underestimate his value to you, because you are on your own as an author, nobody, particularly unless you get a buddy to help you, nobody cares whether you get your words done, or not.
Christina Kaye: True.
James Blatch: In that environment, it can be easy just to let things slip. But when you're reporting to somebody once a week, after, you can do this with a buddy and lots of people do, they'll find a friend who's writing as well, and they'll report their word counts to each other at the end of the week. Just simple trick like that can make a big difference.
But let's go back this situation where you've got somebody who's starting out, they're not quite sure how to structure the book and so on. Do you talk through structure with them at the beginning? Do you talk through stories? Do you want to fully understand where they're going with the book at the beginning to help them?
Christina Kaye: Usually, what we'll do, some come to me, and they already have an outline. In that case, that's great, we've already tackled the first thing that I would do with them, which is to create an outline. I'm a big plotter, not so much a pantser. I believe in personally, the benefits... You don't even have to get it down to the scene, but just some general outlining, I think, can help every author.
They'll come to me either with or without an outline, and we'll do one if they haven't. Then we'll talk through if there are some structural things that I see right off the bat on that outline, we'll go ahead and address those and we'll get their acts nailed down and their story arcs and everything straightened out.
Then it depends on where they are with their writing based on a sample I've seen. If they seem like they need some basic coaching on the craft issues, then I have a resource vault, of different craft issues like dialogue and how to create a villain or how to do a story arc, or how to add voice, all those little things are in my vault, and I just pull them out and send them to the author and we work on craft for a week or two, till we get some of the major issues nailed down.
If they're pretty good on craft and don't really need much handling there, then we go ahead and dive into the story itself, and the character development. I'm a big proponent of sketching your characters out before you even start writing. I like to try to encourage my clients to do that as well.
James Blatch: Do you want to sketch out the character's journey, not just how they are at the time, at the beginning of the book?
Christina Kaye: I personally like to get a good character sketch done of all my main characters, anybody who really has a character arc, of course, not the waitress at the diner.
James Blatch: It might be about the waitress at the diner.
Christina Kaye: If it's about the waitress at the diner, then yes, you're right. But, if there's a character that's going to have a major story arc, I believe, personally in going ahead before you start writing, and sketching out, because you've got to have not just their physical descriptors and their personality, which everybody knows to do that. I think if you don't sketch it beforehand, you may not think so much about their backstory, their emotional wounds, their motivations and their goals, and all those things, if you do a sketch ahead of time can really, really help you have a grasp of that character before you even start writing them. That way, those things don't get lost or forgotten.
James Blatch: I was going to say, what about the pantser, or what about the person who simply wants to write? Stephen King famously just writes.
Christina Kaye: He just writes.
James Blatch: Marie Force is somebody else who just writes and things unfold in front of her she's writing. Am I thinking that that person is probably not going to come to you as a book coach? Or do they come to you, and you work with them slightly differently, and say, "Well, okay, let's see what unfolds this week?"
Christina Kaye: One of my clients for example that I'm working with right now, we're wrapping up his book, and he did not want a plot. He didn't want to outline and he's a total pantser. I'm somewhere in between, I lean towards outlining, but I also like to go by the seat of my pants within each chapter. But we just worked on a different level. I just let him do his thing.
Luckily for him, he was able to do it without much structure. However, if I have a client who wants to do it, pants it, per se, but there just doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to their plot, then I would just gently encourage them, let's get some things nailed down before we really start writing this book, because it sounds fun in theory and some people, you're right, Stephen King, there are tonnes of authors who can pants it. But it's not for everybody. That's why there's the pantsers or plotters debate that will always be ongoing.
James Blatch: That had never been answered before. Anyone that emails in.
I think most people are in between, aren't they?
Christina Kaye: I think I am, I used to think I was strictly a pantser, and then I realised, at least plotting out your basic acts, and story arcs and stuff, really, even if you just do that can make a big difference.
James Blatch: You have a book coach, do you set targets, do you say to them at the beginning, "Ideally, you need to be doing 800 words a day or something?" Or do you ask them what their expectations are?
Christina Kaye: That's kind of what I do. There's a questionnaire that I go through on the first free call when I talk to the potential client. One of the things I ask them is, do you know how much you can write in a given hour or day? I have a spreadsheet that I've created for my clients that basically spits out how many reasonable words they should get done in a week.
But everybody's not the same. Somebody may work an 8:00 to 5:00 job and then have to come home and deal with kids and only get half an hour to write each night. I can't expect them to write three chapters a week, it may not happen.
It all just depends on, we go through their schedule, we set a schedule for them, based on their life. Can they only do half an hour, five days a week? Well, great, we'll work within that. If they're retired, or they get to work from home, then we can add some more time in there. But you're exactly right, that's how I do it. I like to work around their schedule and what they're capable of without adding too much pressure, but yet still having some parameters and a goal to set by the end of the week.
James Blatch: At the end of this process, now, you've got a first draft, I guess. Has it effectively had a development edit, just had one as it went on?
Christina Kaye: Yeah, most of mine that have done a coaching, they'll go on, and they will only do a line edit after we've worked together because they really don't need that content edit, because I've already seen the content, we've worked together on it, and I already know it's in good shape. So, there's no sense in going through that process, taking that time or charging that fee, quite frankly, for them if they've already pretty much nailed the structure, because we've worked together for three months, six months, whatever the case may be.
James Blatch: Okay. You get an insight into lots of people's writing, shall we talk a little bit about some of the mistakes you find and some of the tips that you give people?
Christina Kaye: I love talking mistakes.
James Blatch: Let's talk about some of the common mistakes, then that newbies like me make?
Christina Kaye: Let's do it. Do you want to talk more craft related mistakes?
James Blatch: I think so, yeah. We could start certainly with craft and then perhaps talk about the story.
Christina Kaye: On the craft level, there are several common things I see because I do free sample edits for all potential clients, and I do several every day. Plus, I have a staff of four other editors that also do them every day. So, we're doing a lot.
The most common things I see are writing in passive voice, which in and of itself is not wrong, it just is not the best writing technique. You should try to write in active voice.
James Blatch: Shall we just pause there? Because I think some people do... I know, we had ProWritingAid on recently, and they talked quite a lot about this.
Let's just give examples of what exactly you mean by passive and active voice.
Christina Kaye: Passive voice would be if you said she was running to the store. Again, that's not a wrong or incorrect statement, but it slows your pacing down. If you were to instead of that, say, she ran to the store, really not much of a big difference in what you're saying, but it's just, over time in the length of a book, you'll notice now that you've heard this, people will start to notice in other writing or their own writing, oh, that does slow it down, when you have I was running to the store and then she was there too, and then I was doing this. If you have was and then an ING verb, that's your passive voice. That's your clue that you're using passive voice.
The really easy way in most cases to fix it is to take out the was, ING, and replace that with an ED verb. In most cases, not always, sometimes you have to restructure the whole sentence, but in most cases, there's your fix right there.
James Blatch: There you go. A good, clear explanation of that and it is a very common one.
Christina Kaye: It's very common. I always list that as one of the first ones because it's one of the most common things I see, but I do like to preface that it's not wrong, it's not an incorrect statement or an incorrect way of writing, it's just could really polish your writing if you went ahead and just knocked that out.
James Blatch: It's about the reader being in the moment with your character or being told something that's happened and there's a difference between those two. You in the moment, you get excited about how things are going to unfold, which is why you're reading the book.
Christina Kaye: Right, exactly. I agree with that.
James Blatch: Yeah. Okay.
Christina Kaye: Then another very common in early writers I see is slipping between tenses, which I think this is why they do that, I think that there are three essential questions that every author should ask themselves before they start writing. Which tense am I going to write this in, past or present? Or you could do future, but who does? Then which POV is it going to be? First or third or second? Then how many POVs, how many perspectives?
I think that if you don't think to stop and ask yourself these questions and determine them before you start writing, that's when you slip between points of view or you slip, which we'll talk about in a second, and you slip between tenses.
Regarding tenses, we'll clarify what that means. Tenses is when your verbs that you're using are all either past tense, or... The most common two are past tense and present tense, and it depends on the verbiage that you use and whether you're reading the story as the character does it, which is present tense, or whether it's the narrator is telling us what the character did five minutes ago, five years ago.
If you don't clearly decide for yourself which one you're going to choose, I think a lot of authors slip between it, they'll have one paragraph that's completely in past tense, and then the very next sentence will be in present tense. It's a tough one, I'm not going to lie, and there's not an easy fix other than practise, and just paying close attention to what you're writing. But that's definitely one of the most common mistakes I see authors making.
James Blatch: Do you have a recommendation for people setting out now, thinking about how they're going to write their book, and the first thing they're confronted with is another author. If you haven't got any experience when another author says to you, "What tense are you writing in, what perspective? Are you omniscient?" You're sitting there thinking, what are you talking about? You have read 1000 books in your life, and we've never really paid attention to this bit.
Christina Kaye: Never think about it.
James Blatch: Do you have a recommendation to make life bearable for a first time author, what they should be writing in?
Christina Kaye: As far as tenses go, I personally have a preference of past third. But, I've read plenty of great books that are written in present tense, but I feel like, in my experience, more slipping happens in present tense when authors try to attempt the present tense. I don't think there's a right or wrong, I also think it depends on the genre and the story that you're telling.
To me, just again, just an opinion, not a fact, but an opinion I have is like fantasy, I would prefer to read a fantasy novel in past tense, it just seems more natural to me because it's told aeons ago in most cases, or it could be futuristic. But it just depends. You have to decide what is best for your story, for your character, as far as tense goes, but I do prefer the past tense. I think it's easier to maintain.
James Blatch: Once upon a time.
Christina Kaye: Yeah, once upon a time, happily ever after. There you go.
James Blatch: You said third, you also went third person. This is the omniscient. Is that the right word?
Christina Kaye: Omniscient is a form of third person. You can have third person limited. We'll just dive into that.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Christina Kaye: The other mistake that I see, another mistake is, as I spoke with those three questions you need to ask yourself, one of them was whether you're going to write in first person or third? Again, the only book I know of recently that's pulled off second person which is when you say you, you walk to the store, and you did this was called You by Caroline Kepnes, and that's a big Netflix series. It's really good, actually.
Other than that, 95% of books are written in first or third person. First person is what it sounds like, which is, I walked to the store, I saw her there, I turned my head, everything is from the perspective of the narrator, the narrator is telling the story in their point of view.
Third person, there's different ways to do third person, and I have a preference. Believe that or not, there's third person limited, which is where you only get the view of the he... It's written in he, she, they, not I, we. You're showing the story from the perspective of a character but you're not inside the character. Within that, there's omniscient like you were just referring to, which is, imagine God was telling the story, if you believed in God or whatever higher being, imagine they were telling the story. Omniscient third means they know everything that every character is thinking, feeling, seeing, desiring, meaning, wanting, all that.
I think that's tricky. A lot of classics do it that way. Modern contemporary fiction we're tending away from omniscient third person. You either are going to see first person or you're going to see third person limited. Third person limited, which I prefer is where you would have it written in he or she or they, but in each scene, you stick to that character's point of view only. If you go outside of that, you get into another big mistake that I see often, which is head hopping.
That's why it's tricky. I think if you stuck to just first or third and third limited and just leave it at that you're going to have a lot less difficulty, but it's certainly doable to being an omniscient narrator.
James Blatch: So, third limited, I think is a good one, isn't it?
Christina Kaye: I think it is.
James Blatch: As you say avoiding head hopping. Let's just talk about head hopping a bit. We've mentioned it a few times on the podcast, and Jenny Nash knows what goes on about this a lot, quite rightly, and it's something... Gosh, I read quite a lot of books, indie books now, and I do notice it happening and it jars with me, but I wonder how much it did before-
Christina Kaye: It is jarring, that is the word I always use.
James Blatch: Let's just describe what head hopping is.
Christina Kaye: The best way I've figured to break it down is head hopping is within every scene... You can do it either by chapter or scene, you need to stick with one character, and one character only. Within a given scene, if this is Kelly's point of view, and it's Kelly scene and Kelly's doing this and that, and even if there's three other people in the room, I can only know, the reader can only know what Kelly is wanting, thinking, feeling, needing, seeing, observing, all that.
If you go outside of Kelly's perspective in her scene, and it's all about Kelly, all about Kelly's observations, and then you tell me, "Sam thought to himself, what is Kelly thinking?" That would be head hopping, because you've now gotten out of Kelly's head and hopped over into Sam's head, and you can't do that.
I think it's better to do it within chapters and dedicate a chapter to a point of view. But it is absolutely, 100% acceptable to do it within a scene if you use a hard scene break, so that the reader clearly knows, that was Sam's scene, now we're in Kelly's scene.
That's the biggest rule of thumb is just ask yourself if in that scene, if you go outside of that character's perspective, and get into anyone else's head, then your head hopping.
James Blatch: That's a good explanation. Once you know about it, as I say, you do start picking it up in books.
Christina Kaye: You notice it, exactly.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Christina Kaye: I do think, although I never tell anybody how to write their book, in what perspective or what tense, I do think for a new writer, I would not try to tackle omniscient third, because it is going to be a really hard distinction between head hopping and omniscient third. I would stick with a limited perspective.
James Blatch: Unless you are God, in which case-
Christina Kaye: Unless you are God, them by God, just write it however you want to.
James Blatch: It comes naturally, you just know everything. Okay.
Christina Kaye: Exactly.
James Blatch: For the rest of us mere mortals, we've chosen our perspective at the beginning, and yeah, third limited, I think is a good one properly to start with, unless you want to try and be really clever, which is not the right thing to do at the beginning.
Christina Kaye: It works.
James Blatch: Head hopping is a common mistake.
What other things are you picking up when people get going, and what challenges do they report to you that they're finding?
Christina Kaye: Well, really, those are the biggest challenges with craft other than the basics of grammar, spelling and punctuation, which you really... You can teach it, but you really have to already have a grasp of that. Punctuation and dialogue, not everybody knows that. So, I can teach that, but if someone doesn't have a grasp of basic spelling, grammar or punctuation, it's really hard to get them into writing a novel.
But that aside, outside of the craft, some of the problems, if you don't mind, if we step outside of it that my clients have reported don't really do, it's so much the writing techniques so much as how do I get motivated? How do I get out of this rut that I'm in? How can I finish my chapter? I don't know how to end my chapter. I don't know how long my book should be.
Really, I don't get as many questions about craft as I do those sorts of things. Basically, we can talk briefly if you want to about some motivational type stuff, like how to get out of a rut, and then we could do some, if we have time, a little bit of developmental, those are the big things that I deal with on a daily basis.
Let's talk about motivation, and I know plenty about that and drafting a manuscript and you go through periods where it flows and you can't wait to get back to writing a great tip. Someone talking about just to end your writing sessions in the middle of something you're enjoying writing, not at the conclusion because then you've got this hurdle in your mind, you've got to start a new scene the next day. Whereas you carry on mid-scene, it's a much more... Once you start writing, you're writing.
James Blatch: You go through other bits where you just... I will leave it sometimes for weeks, because I just think I don't know where I am, I don't like what I've written so far. These ebbs and flows come.
Can you give us some tips, some guidance?
Christina Kaye: Sure, absolutely. To be clear, I've been writing for 10 years, and I have eight books under my belt and all this, but I still do it. I can't speak for any other successful famous authors, but I would guarantee that everybody hits those moments. First thing I would say is you're not abnormal. You're not alone in dealing with that, it is very common.
The degree may be different for everybody, but everybody's going to hit a rut. But if you do, one of the things that I have found for myself personally, and even my clients to help is if you get writer's block, if you want to call it that, or in a rut, even if it's just a temporary one, I always say step away from what's frustrating you. Step away from that chapter if you've pounded your head against the keyboard, and nothing's coming out, I recommend stepping away from it.
But don't go away from writing, I think you should go and do little small writing exercises, use writing prompts that you can find on Pinterest, or Instagram has a lot of good ones, or write in a journal or write about your bucket list. Just write something else that keeps your mind focused on writing, and it keeps the creative juices flowing, but you're not so dead set on that one scene that you just can't get through.
Another thing that I like to tell my clients to do and it works for me is to stop for the day, if you just can't get it done that day, and then read. I know it seems over simplistic, but I find that if I read in the genre that I'm trying to write in, and I read for a day or two and give my brain a break from the writing, I get inspired.
Now, obviously, we're not talking about plagiarism or copying, but just inspiration from authors who write similar books. If I'm stuck in a certain scene, I just don't know what I'm going to have happen to the mother at the end of this scene. Is she going to die? Is she going to live? I just don't know. Odds are, if you read something in a book similar to yours, something may spark and you're like, "Oh, I know now what I need to do with that mother, that's what I need to do. She needs to overcome the cancer and whatever. It just will come to you, at least for me, I find it helps, and some authors find it helps for them too.
Other things, believe it or not, as simple as it sounds, go for a jog, go for a walk, have a spot of tea. Isn't that how you say it? Have a spot of tea?
James Blatch: That's what we do in England all the time.
Christina Kaye: Exactly. There you go. Just do something to get away from it. Now when you sit back down, and you've come full circle, and you're back to writing, go back to the beginning of that chapter that you're stuck on and read it through from the beginning again, maybe even use your read aloud feature. A lot of computer programmes have that read aloud feature, and sometimes after that little bit of a break, after some inspiration, it will just come back to you.
If it never, ever does, which I've never seen anybody not get unstuck. But if it ever does, then that maybe the universe or God or somebody's telling you that it's time to maybe think about a different book to write. If you really get so stuck that you just cannot get out of it after everything you've tried, maybe that's just not the book for you. Maybe there's a different one that you're supposed to be writing.
James Blatch: Put it down to a bit of experience of writing, which is never wasted, even if you're writing stuff gets thrown away, not every bit of writing contributes to your development of writing. I love to think of the characters that we create, standing around in their world, waiting for us to sit back down. It's a motivational thing for me, because I think of these guys... That's true, and I'm writing about a small town there in California, Edwards, these guys just standing around, tapping their fingers, waiting for me and they just want to get going. They want to know what's happening. So, they're waiting for you.
Christina Kaye: I like that, and I use that too. I like that.
James Blatch: That mind technique. One of the things that you're alluding to here, which we haven't really talked about is the story itself. I get a bit downhearted when authors say, "Oh, stories just come to me. Oh, yeah, I've got a million stories. That's not my problem. My problem is writing."
For me, I have characters, I have situations, I do struggle personally with a story.
Christina Kaye: I agree, and I'm not pulling the BS card on these people, but what I will say is, I don't think there's anybody that has an entire fully developed story come to them like that. Now, what I think they may be referring to is the nugget of the idea came to me and it just sounds good to say, well, the whole thing came to me in a dream. I'm not saying they're not right, I'm just saying that I wouldn't let that discourage you, because I think everybody, however much they want to admit it has to have put some thought into, like you said, the character development. I've had books come to me "in a dream." Ideas, but they're just little nuggets of a scene, maybe that then I have to sit down and that have to develop fully into a novel.
The way that my process works, is regardless of how the idea comes to me, it usually starts as a nugget, a little snippet of a book. Like, "Oh, I see a girl who wants revenge because her daughter died of a heroin overdose, and she doesn't believe it was an accident." That's so common. That book's been written 20 times. But then you have to think, okay, so there's one nugget.
Now, like you said, when you start to develop your characters, there's where the story... I hate to pause here, but something just came to me. I don't know if you've ever heard this quote, or statistic or whatever, that there are only six story ideas in the whole world. Have you heard this theory?
James Blatch: Yeah.
Christina Kaye: I believe it's true to some degree, because, if you boil a lot of these famous books down, especially someone like formulaic authors, I won't name names, but, their stories, in and of themselves are not that original. But what makes them original and makes them bestsellers and makes them stand out, is the characters that they create, is the story and the world that they create around their characters where they choose to set the book. My point being, all those things that people who don't want to plot at all or plan anything in advance, that's fine. But, I think that's where you're going to miss out on some opportunity to make your book really stand out.
Because if you can put some thought, really heavy thought and work into that setting, what's the very best... Don't just plop it in your hometown, because that's easy to do, what is the best setting for this thriller that you want to write about a woman seeking revenge for her daughter's death? What's the best setting for that? Is it New York City, probably not, there's nothing special about that. Maybe, I don't know, in the bayou of Louisiana, where it's dirty and gritty and hot, and sweaty. You maybe can see that a little better.
But that's what I think that you should do after you get that little nugget of an idea, that inspiration, sit down and plan out your characters. You don't have to plot, you don't have to do it scene by scene, but definitely work on that world building and the characters and try to develop your story out in general, at least and know where you want to go with your story.
James Blatch: Starting with the characters. To allow them, if you like, to talk to you once you start thinking through the how they're going to proceed, and get the story that way. That's a great approach for doing that.
Is this an area that your clients struggle with, or do they come to you with the story worked out, or think they've got it worked out?
Christina Kaye: Maybe, they're at the nugget phase usually. At that, I have an idea, I want to write a story about a woman who wants revenge... That's usually where they come from. Some may have a little more thought out. But usually, once we start talking, a lot of that changes, a lot of what they originally planned on doing may sound good in theory, but when you look at it, it's not a complete story arc or it's not the character was developed enough, or maybe that wasn't the best setting that they thought of.
I've never worked with a client who just said, "I want to write a book, but I don't know what I want to write about." They always have something planned out. But often it changes once we start working together. I think there's some benefit too, like we were mentioning earlier, if you don't have the resources or don't want to work with a book coach, that's fine.
I like what you said earlier about at least maybe work with a partner, a beta partner, what do you call them, a critique partner or something? Because not only is there the accountability, but the thing that I find my clients find the most valuable more than probably anything I share with them is they all say things like, "Gosh, I just love brainstorming with you. That helps me so much I didn't even think about that until we talked about it."
There's a lot of value that comes whether it's with a coach or a partner in bouncing those ideas off somebody that you trust, that you don't mind sharing your story idea with, that's going to be honest but not fluff your ego. Is you got to find that real easy in between there and bounce those ideas off and see how they work. Is it going to land or is it going to... Maybe you should think about it a different way.
James Blatch: In the character journey, Christina, this is something else that I think I've probably fallen foul of, is actually understanding that there needs to be conflicts and understanding that there needs to be a change in the way. We use the journey word all the time, and Mark hates it, but I can't think of a better way, or I can't think of another word.
Christina Kaye: I'll remember not to use that around you.
James Blatch: But I think at some point, one iteration of my story, I created far too much of that. There had to be conflict everywhere, and every character had to be on this journey. I found that a bit overwhelming, because ultimately, I'm not sure I've ever read a book like that.
You're on one or two characters journeys, and the others are best, well in the world, they're big players in the stories. Is that a better way of looking at it?
Christina Kaye: It is. I see what you're saying, and maybe what you did was where you felt you weren't having enough conflict on the character journey, is maybe you compensated a little bit too much on the other end of the spectrum by trying so hard. Sometimes we try too hard. That may have been what happened there, if you over compensated by trying to add conflict so much that maybe you made it too complex. I don't know without reading it, but that's what it sounds to me.
James Blatch: I think I created a conflict with his wife that didn't necessarily need to be there. Apart from me thinking things have to... Everyone says, you've got to be that point where your hero has no way out, so everything's piled on top of them. I created all this, and I'm thinking now, it's a bit of a drag reading this book.
Christina Kaye: You don't want to overburden your character or protagonist, that's true. I think that you have to strike a healthy balance between main plot and subplot. One way that I look at my stories when I'm planning them out is I try to have the main plot focus obviously on the protagonist and their journey, their struggle, their whatever. I use the hero's journey a lot with my writing, and then the subplots, I tend to use those to focus my secondary characters and their journeys.
This probably will resonate more with females, but maybe you'll get this reference. But I always describe subplots, and secondary characters storylines as a braid, like a braid that a woman wears in their hair. They're each individual just strands, right? But then you eventually weave... I wish we had a visual, but we can weave them all together, and when you're done, it's one plait. Do you call it plait?
James Blatch: Yes, we do.
Christina Kaye: Okay, one big braid plait, whatever, and it's beautiful, and it's all come together. But still, it's just a sum of its parts. It's all little tiny individual threads that interweave with the main plot. If you feel like you're bogging your character down, maybe too much, that's one approach maybe you could use, which is to look at your subplots and see... The sub plot should always interweave with the main plot, but never overpower.
But as far as with your character or situation, I think that the best thing to do, I would almost go with what you think right now, maybe too much, and you can always pare it back in editing, if you feel like in the end... I would say it would be easier to pare something back than it would be to go back and have to add stuff in.
James Blatch: Yes, which would sound maybe a bit forced. Yeah, I need to give the guy a break.
Christina Kaye: Yeah, cut him some slack, won't you?
James Blatch: Exactly. He's having a hard time. Good.
How do people know when their book's finished?
Christina Kaye: When their book is finished. You mean first draft is finished?
James Blatch: Yeah, how do they know that they need to write it again, they need to rewrite? Before line editing and stuff, how do they know this is ready to go?
Christina Kaye: Good question. What I recommend and I'd say we're speaking mostly from the point of view of self-published or indie authors. What I would always, always recommend, you know you're done when your book is hit an appropriate word count, which is a big thing that... That's another thing that actually I just talked about on YouTube today, and TikTok, which is, people struggle over what's the right word count? There is no right or wrong answer. But there are guidelines.
If you can stay in the sweet spot of for an adult novel, let's say 60,000 to 100,000 words, depending on your genre. If you hit a decent word count, that's one clue that you're done. Another thing is you want to make sure that your main plot has come full circle and that your character has not only gone through their journey, but they've grown, they've sought redemption, they've found salvation and this is all theoretical. They don't literally have to be baptised but they find some sort of salvation, a redemption or something. They've come around, they've come back home and now they're changed.
If that has all happened, and all your little plot lines are all tied up and there are no loose ends and no cliffhangers, then you know you're done. The very next step I would do is I would go back and self edit. That's the first thing I would do. Stephen King says to give it, what is it, six to eight weeks? He said some long period of time, and I'm not one to question the King, but I agree, but I don't know if you need eight weeks set aside, but I would definitely set your book aside for a week or two at a minimum.
James Blatch: Before you come back to it.
Christina Kaye: Yeah, before you come back to it. It just gives you a chance to step away from it and get it... It'll seem fresher to you when you come back to self edit. But absolutely, the very next step I would take after you think you're done, you're maybe done with the first draft, but I would not even send it off to an editor or do anything with it until you at least go through it one more time, and just check yourself. Read aloud is what I would do during that phase.
I would use the read aloud feature. Some people really find that very helpful.
James Blatch: Something I asked at the beginning, but we've talked really about coaching so far.
What about somebody who has a finished draft that is listening to this interview, and would like a developmental edit. Can you explain how that works?
Christina Kaye: For me, and most editors, it works the same way, we'll always do a free sample edit and quote, and we show them how the developmental and the line editing works. But once we're hired, the way that we do ours is I always try to get the client to do a developmental edit first, if they haven't worked with me on coaching. Because, if you think about it this way, if you did line editing first, and you made all the little technical changes, then you did a content edit and had a bunch of substantive changes, you're going to have to edit it again.
Our process is to do the content edit first, which we do by just going through... I give my editors and myself, we all have this long, three page list of questions that we ask ourselves about the book that we're editing. Is the character fully developed? Is the protagonist introduced well in the first scene? All the way through 30 pages worth questions. We go through and look for every, with a fine tooth comb, every single timeline inconsistency, every plot hole, everything that needs to be developed further, and we go through all of that.
What we do at Write Your Best Book, is we present our clients with the manuscript, to which may have some side notes, comments in the margins, but we also present them with a memo, which is usually two to five pages long and in bullet form that says on page 15, you need to do this, think about developing your character further, whatever.
That's how we approach content editing. I'd say most editors do it somewhat the same, but that's our process. I know that memo is something that we do a little bit differently.
James Blatch: The writer takes that away, and then hopefully goes through and makes those changes.
As part of that initial quote, would that normally involve them returning the edits to you?
Christina Kaye: I don't know how other editors do it, but when we quote them, I give them here's your content editing, quote, here's your line editing quote, and then here's your combo. If you do both with us... They know what it all is going to cost up front from the very beginning.
James Blatch: Yeah. Good. Well, the time has raced through tonight, and I've been learning loads.
Christina Kaye: I know.
James Blatch: Hopefully, the interviews go best when I'm learning because I think a lot of people listen to this at similar stage to me, which is trying to become a writer. Thank you for demystifying some of those areas, those common areas, which is really good. You better tell people where they can find you. You mentioned that a couple of times.
Christina Kaye: Yeah, I will. I'll just make sure it's really easy. It's a little bit of a long word, but it's Write Your Best Book, that will get you to our website, which is writeyourbestbook.com. All social media platforms are Write Your Best Book.
If anybody ever wants to reach out to me directly, I welcome it. I have several different emails. This is my not private one, which is [email protected]
James Blatch: Superb. We didn't talk about rates, but there's a rates card page there-
Christina Kaye: It's all on my website, yep.
James Blatch: They get a very good idea of how much this service is going to cost.
Christina Kaye: Yeah, I believe in putting it all upfront. I don't [inaudible] in hiding fees.
James Blatch: We certainly appreciate that as writers. Christina, thank you so much indeed for joining us. We're abouts are you, I forgot to ask.
Christina Kaye: I am in Kentucky in the good old US of A.
James Blatch: I thought that was a bit of a southern twang going on there.
Christina Kaye: It is southern. I've worked hard but it's still there. I'm in the Horse Capital of the World, we're in Lexington.
James Blatch: Is that where the derby is? We say derby, you say derby, which is by the way, how it's spelt.
Christina Kaye: Quite different.
James Blatch: Yeah. Okay, well, I've never been-
Christina Kaye: We had the queen mum here a few years ago.
James Blatch: You did? Well, she loves her horses.
Christina Kaye: All right. Well, thank you so much. It was a pleasure to be on your show.
James Blatch: Christina, it was brilliant. Thank you so much for joining us.
Christina Kaye: Sure thing.
James Blatch: There you go, Christina Kaye, someone like you, doesn't need a book coach, Mark, but coaches as an idea, I'm thoroughly in favour of them. I think having a holding hand, someone holding your hand when you're trying to navigate this, frankly, bewildering world of what it actually takes to write a novel is very, very useful service.
Mark Dawson: Absolutely. When I was traditionally published, I had some developmental editing help, and it's very useful when you don't really know what you're doing. I think this is a useful service that people can take advantage of, and enjoy that kind of tuition to enable them to write better characters and make things more credible. So, it's a good idea. I'm all for it.
James Blatch: I think that is the tricky bit for me, because I can tell the story okay, I cam work out the story so much, but trying to... A lot of the discussions I have with people, I'm hopefully getting notes back on my first book, I'm in the middle of writing my second one. The first book, next month, and I know the discussion is going to be about character development. I don't think he's going to say, "You need to change the story directly." But he's going to say, "I didn't like this character at the beginning, but I'm supposed to like him at the end."
On a current book, I'm thinking a lot about, the slightly hidden side of a character and how much to reveal. Whether in the end, I think what you tend to do certainly in the first draft, you write quite one dimensional characters, because you're writing the story. You don't want to really think so much about how they behave and act and language they use. I'm hoping for my second book that the second draft will be where I can, in a much more easier process than the first book, go through and make sure the character properly starts in one place and finishes in another. I don't know, that's how I'm thinking it's going to work with my second draft.
Is that how it works with you? Do you look at our first draft, that's, I suppose by now, your first drafts are quite close to the complete draft, aren't they?
Mark Dawson: Not many miles away. I'm actually in the process of just finishing... Well, not finishing, somewhere on the last lap for the new Milton book. It's my favourite part now, because I'm going through and applying the final polish and layering on detail, which, is fun. I'm looking at Google Maps to find the interesting landmarks I could drop in, things like food, taste, and smell will be the kind of things I add in at this level.
Milton has a fairly significant event happened to him that shakes something that's quite fundamental to his character. So, I need to think quite carefully about how I'm going to show that, because it's something that will change. This is the 18th book. It is something that will put him back in a certain way, and I want to make sure that that's handled effectively, incredibly and sensitively.
That's going to be fun. That's the kind of thing that I do at this late stage draught. Probably a couple of weeks out from getting this off to the editor myself. It's always my favourite part of the process.
James Blatch: Your books are contemporary. Have you mentioned pandemic? Thought about it?
Mark Dawson: No. This is different. It's contemporary in the sense that it exists in a world which is obviously based on our world and it is intended to be our world. But we don't have to be slavish with regards to viruses and things of that... I don't think readers are interested in that necessarily, in a book that... Actually I'm completely sure, readers would not want me to talk about Milton having to put a mask on to go into a shop. They're just not interested in that. They don't necessarily want to be reminded of the last eight months in 2020. They want to be with a character and not have to think about that kind of stuff. That's not what they're reading for. It's not escapism, if I'm reminding them of things that might be painful or frustrating.
Now, I don't include that kind of detail. If I was writing in a different book, yeah, sure. If I was writing a book about pandemics, obviously, you would include that. But no, there'll be no viruses in a Milton book, you can take that to the bank.
James Blatch: What about in the future when we're past the pandemic stage and the pandemic becomes part of our shared experience of life on Earth, if you'd like. A bit like the Second World War, where you'll refer to the war, the Gulf War, the Second World War, and maybe major moments like assassinations. Does the pandemic not become part of that, but it's in a shared experience in the background? Even if it's not central to your book, as I mentioned.
Mark Dawson: No, no, because the question would only be, why didn't I write about it in these books I was supposed to be writing at the time? No, it will never be referred to. It doesn't happen in my fictional little world. Those kinds of events you mentioned, wars and things from 20, 25 years ago, I wasn't writing books that were contemporaneously set in the early '90s. I am writing books are set in 2020 or in and around that date. So, it would be a bit odd if I didn't write about it now and then introduced it, dropped it in five books time. It'll just feel very weird. So, no, there will be no viruses in my books, guaranteed.
James Blatch: Well, the only viruses would be made in a Russian lab and unleashed on-
Mark Dawson: Well, that's true. Yes, that's true at the moment. Not a virus, we have a different references to nerve agents and things, but not this particular virus.
James Blatch: No. Okay, enough of the virus. Good. Right. Thank you very much indeed. I want to say thank you to Christina Kaye, for being our guest this week. A reminder, the selfpublishingformula.com/101 is the place to go to get more information about Self Publishing 101 course.
Don't forget we have that webinar coming up on Tuesday, the 6th of October. You can register, it's free, of course. How To Get Your First or Next 10 Book Reviews. If you pop along to selfpublishingformula.com/getbookreviews.
James Blatch: That's it. All that remains for me to say is that, it's a goodbye from him.
Mark Dawson: And a goodbye from me. Goodbye.
James Blatch: Goodbye.
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