World-building hidden meanings and messages into fantasy, with guest Laura E. Thompson

I am pleased to welcome Laura E. Thompson to the blog to contribute another great article on fantasy world-building. Laura has recently published her first book, the Burden of Destiny, which you can discover in more detail below.

Laura E Thompson

Laura E. Thompson grew up in a small town on an island that sits in the middle of Lake Champlain in Vermont. She has been writing since the young age of seven and has been an avid reader for longer than that. Her first novel was written and completed at the age of sixteen while taking a creative writing class. Laura started writing the Elven Quest Series in 2007. She had not written for pleasure in a long time and one day the characters from The Burden of Destiny entered her mind and wouldn’t leave. She had no choice but to sit down and write their story, now she’s so excited to share them with the world. Laura also co-wrote the published ethical theory model entitled Key Factors in Making Ethical Decisions Model, a chapter in the textbook: Ethical Decision Making for the 21st Century Counselor (Counseling and Professional Identity) by Donna S. Sheperis and Stacy L. Henning.

Fantasy World Building: Hidden meanings & Messages

One reason that I love fantasy is the fact that it is a brand new world where anything can happen. If a writer wants to remove the laws of gravity and have the characters float everywhere, they can do that. If they want people to have reflective fur that blinds their opponents, they can do that. I could go on and on, anything goes really. But what does this mean for a writer? What kind of things should you include in your own world when writing fantasy?

Personally, I think that no world would be realistic without some rules.
There should be laws of nature that make it clear that there are limits to what characters can  and cannot do. For example, with “the Force” on Star Wars, it can guide Luke, strengthen his gut instincts and allow him to use his mind to move objects, like when he loses his lightsaber and can use it to pull it back to him. However, he cannot use the Force to heal himself. When Vader cuts off his hand, he cannot grow a new hand using the Force. Does this make sense? Rules. There needs to be clear lines in the sand as to what the characters can accomplish to make your world believable.

It also helps the reader engage with your story and find it more believable if you can create a backstory for your world, a rich history of how things came to be the way that they are. This allows the readers to imagine the way the world was before.

It is important, while creating a history for your world, to consider connections. Each character must have some personal history, somewhere that they came from or things they’ve done. How can you, as the writer, connect these personal stories and histories to the current story or the main character? Weaving in ties between characters creates a nice platform for struggles, disagreements, and ways for characters to overcome obstacles or barriers. It creates a tapestry and allows the readers to connect the dots.

The Marvel MCU movies are masters at doing this. They can tie Thor and Loki, who came from another world, into conflicts with the characters on Earth. These ties allow for great action scenes, like Loki bringing his army of Chitauri through a portal to battle in New York City. At the end of every Marvel movie, they foreshadow into the next movie and create another tie. This has allowed their franchise to keep going and they do it wonderfully.

Writers have done this too, not just to create more books but also to enrich the novel itself. One of my favorite epic fantasies is the Pellinor Series by Alison Croggon. In her world of bards, magic and barding schools, there is so much history, it is insane. She talks about legends of the bards, songs and poems that they sung before they had written language, conflicts between the light and the dark even before the land was forged. It is so deep and rich that it sucks you into this world and makes you want to be a part of it. It made me wonder the first time that I read it if Croggon was writing about a real, ancient world or society that had died off. I was shocked when I realized that she, like Tolkien, Lucas, Lewis, Jordan, Pullman, Rowling and many others, had completely imagined the whole thing.

While creating your history you can subtly insert hidden messages about your own views on things like politics, religion, power, education, etc. Even simple things like the names of characters or places can have hidden meanings. For example, while writing my novel The Burden of Destiny: Elven Quest, in the beginning I was using my imagination to create names of characters and places. After a while though, I started getting bored with trying to think of new names and I decided that I wanted the names to mean something. In my second book, for example, all of the new characters that are introduced have names that have a meaning that describes who they are and what makes them special.

One of the first new characters you meet in the second book is an Elf named Cailean. He is the leader of the Wood Elves guard and he has the ability to transform himself into a wolf. I created Cailean’s name by researching name meanings and found one that I thought fit. According to one site, the Scottish meaning of the name Cailean is “triumphant in battle or war.” According to another site, the older Gaelic version of this name meant, “Young dog, whelp or wolf”. I felt like this was a good fit to describe Cailean’s character. I did the same with every other character I introduced as well. They all mean something that is connected to who they are. I know that I am not the first to do this. Rowling for example did this with Remus Lupin. He is just a wizard, you think at first, you find out however that he is also a werewolf and Remus is an old mythological character that was raised by wolves and Lupin is a form of the Latin Lupus, which means wolf. Again, she does this with many of her characters, Draco Malfoy, aka, bad faith and snake/dragon. What is neat about doing this is that your fans might not notice it at first, but it is something that if they look deeper into your story and research and find these meanings, like the Harry Potter fans have done, then they love you even more and they respect your time and dedication to your writing.

In terms of hiding your own views on things, this has to be done subtlety and in line with the story. My story has a lot to do with different races of people who had a history of wounding each other. So within my story I weave many conversations about working together, learning to accept differences and how important cohesiveness is. I do the same with discussing the natural elements, Earth, air, fire, and water and how important it is to protect and care for them. This is my way of discussing global warming and the destruction of our Earth today. I think that we should all be working together despite our differences with the common goal of protecting the Earth, which we all share.

Back to my girl Rowling, she did a great job of weaving in ties to our history. If you look at the structure of Harry Potter it is very much a reflection of World War II and the Nazi’s. Voldemort of course being Hitler, characters like Dolores Umbridge and Bellatrix Lestrange enjoy “punishing” the “Mudbloods” because they are not “pure” wizard blood. This is very much like the Nazi’s that felt the same about the Jews, gays, and pretty much everyone else who were considered “enemies of the state.” There is a scene when Bellatrix uses her wand to cut into Hermione’s arm the word “Mudblood” this is similar to when the Nazi’s used a metal stamp to “tattoo” a serial number into their prisoner’s skin in the concentration camps.

Another good example of inputting the writers view into a fantasy story was C.S. Lewis and the Narnia tales. Lewis was a Christian and he admitted that his novels were what he called “an imaginative welcome to the Christian faith.” He uses symbolism for his faith throughout the books including the obvious Aslan as Jesus. Aslan is stabbed by the White Witch, killed, he was dead as a doornail, but then, the table cracks and he comes back to life. Hello…remind you of a certain savior that was nailed to the cross? It should, that’s what Lewis was going for. There are other instances too that are a direct correlation in his story to the Bible, but I am running out of space dear readers, so I would suggest researching on your own if you are interested in learning more. 😉

I hope you enjoyed my discussion of creating your fantasy world and weaving in some hidden meanings and ties. If you would like to learn more about me, my novel, or my thoughts on writing and also life, you can visit me on my blog Elemental Words, the link is listed below.

Enjoy creating your own worlds, dear readers, and as I say on my blog: remember, writing=happiness ;).

Laura coverFind out more about Laura’s book, The Burden of Destiny available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords and  other leading book retailers.

Connect with Laura E. Thompson:




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Self-editing for writers: how to approach revision and drafting effectively

I bought my first house a few years ago. It’s a well-maintained home in a quiet residential area with a quaint little office overlooking the street, which makes it an ideal place for an editor to live. I’m grateful that the previous owner took such good care of this house, and for the most part few things have gone wrong.

Of those few mishaps, most were things we could fix ourselves. The latch on the front gate shifts out of position now and then, but it’s nothing I can’t fix in a few minutes with a wrench. The deck needed a new coat of all-weather stain, and even though the job led to sweat, sunburn, and sore muscles, it was doable in one day. We’ve installed a new dishwasher, a new washer-dryer unit, and a new element in the stove. We even did our own vinyl flooring.

But then there are the major problems. Late last year, we became aware of a leak in the bathroom. On heading down into the crawl space under the shower (we have a dugout basement and the shower hovers over an expanse of dirt ) it turned out a bracket on the pipe draining the shower to the sewer was wide open. Water was pouring out onto the now-mud. We called in a plumber and, on inspection, it turned out that was just the beginning of our troubles. The pipes behind the shower were also leaky and had caused considerable rot in the wall and the bathroom floor, which in turn was making the toilet slowly sink through the floor.

That was when we reached our limitations for homeowner repairs. We lucked out finding a handyman who not only provides excellent service at a competitive price, but he also likes to teach homeowners how to do further repairs. So he came in and told us what to tear out for him (saving us money by not having to pay him to do it), then he fixed everything, he put some things back in place (like a new wall and a new floor), but then to save us more money, instructed us on how to put down vinyl flooring rather than having him do it. As a result, not only do I now have the bathroom put back together again, I know much more about how this house is constructed, and I’m also experienced at laying vinyl plank flooring.

Self-editing vs. hiring an editor: knowing your limitations

Many authors feel they can edit their books themselves.  To a certain extent, they can. This process is called self-editing.

Self-editing a book is like doing the basic repairs on a house. You can fix tense and POV and verb agreement issues.  You can fix plot holes and pacing and dialogue.  You can tighten sentences, cut your word count down by 10% (a pretty standard recommendation across the board), make great scenes awesome, make weak scenes great, improve sensory details…I could go on and on.

There’s no limit to what you can do with self-editing, and the more experienced you are, the more you can apply your skills to self-editing to make your editor’s/editors’ job(s) less tedious.

However, no matter how good you are at self-editing, you are the equivalent of one hand clapping. Why is this?

No matter how detached we try to be, as writers, we are prone to seeing what we want to see, not what a reader will see. So, while we can self-edit and perfect our book until there’s not a thing more we can find wrong with it, this will be limited to our sense of how we react to our own book. Where this becomes a real problem is in scenes or elements of our book we feel are exceptional, which might actually be lackluster and problematic — sometimes even having the opposite effect on readers.

That scene you can’t stop laughing at? You might not realize there’s a problem until your editor gets back to you on it and tells you it’s self-indulgent and eclipsing the gravity of the mood. The kick-ass climax that had you buzzing while you wrote it and which you can’t stop playing over and over in your head because it’s so awesome? Your editor might be the one who has to break it to you that the scene doesn’t even fit in your book, that as a whole it’s not consistent with the promises you set up in your opening. It has to go, or if not, it has to change to line up with the expected payoffs.

Now, you might learn to identify these things, but it can be a two-edged sword. We could have definitely tried to rip our floor up, replace the rotted sub-floor, cut away rotten boards, replace a toilet, do the plumbing, learn how to do drywall and paint our own wall…but all that time we could have been busy living our lives and working while someone with the refined skill set would do the job right, efficiently, and quickly.

Likewise, a writer can consult a dozen craft and editing books and try to be objective and become their own editor, but all that time they could be busy writing more drafts; the revision to follow when they work with an editor will take them eons further than if they did it all themselves, and for a fraction of the time in.

But, like we did with out major home repair, through self-editing, a writer can pick up many of the pieces through learning from working with their editor(s) over time. The greatest skill is developing detachment and learning to identify your blind spots.

In my own self-editing, I have become as cynical as the King Solomon of Ecclesiastes. In fact, this last week I just wrote the plot climax of A Thousand Roads and I thought I pulled off something amazing, I was pretty sure, but I kept a healthy skepticism because I knew that, while that ending definitely paid off for me, I have deluded myself all too often in past; off the pages went to my editor and I heard back from her a few days later — indeed, I did rock that scene, but there were some issues, nothing that couldn’t be fixed, but it wasn’t the perfect Hollywood production I saw it as in my mind; essentially, my instinct was correct that the scene was working, but because of the emotional intensity of being in the middle of it, living it as only an author can, I’m prone to being blinded to other things that, without being addressed, will hinder the reader’s experience.

I applied this feedback and already the chapter is taking on a dimension of payoff it wouldn’t have without that professional input, and light-years faster than were I to kick my way there through self-editing alone.

Self-editing to death: how to avoid circular revision

The floor in my detached garage is badly cracked and starting to sink.  I need to fix the problem and I know that means fixing the concrete floor, perhaps by laying down fresh concrete.  However, I happened to show it to the same handyman who fixed our bathroom, and with his professional expertise and his emotional distance (as it’s not his house), he was able to point out the painful truth.  The garage was poorly constructed and is very slowly falling down and is irreparable.  It might be a good decade before it actually needs to be demolished, but due to faulty construction, the fix is not at all easy. In fact, it’s a waste of money unless we’re willing to re-pour the foundation and build a new one from scratch.

I came across a similar situation in a novel I wrote several years ago — my first one. As most first novels go, there was something major wrong with it, but I didn’t know what.  When I was in the midst of writing and revising again and again and again, I was rapidly identifying and repairing all of the little things that were wrong with it, and it was improving a lot with each revision. I even worked with an editor and he pushed me through further revisions, inspiring me to dig deeper. I even cut two of the characters who I really liked when he helped me understand they didn’t serve the plot, but still, it just wasn’t working. We got up to an eighth draft, and I pushed into a ninth and I was determined that this time I was going to figure out what that deep problem was.

What I had run into was a case of circular revision. Eventually, I had to put it down and walk away.

Several years passed and I wrote several more novels, and always that novel was lurking somewhere beneath the surface of my mind. Gone, but not forgotten, as it is with stories we create, no matter how we go about producing them.

What I found was that over the time that passed, I gained emotional and creative distance that’s allowed me to appreciate that book on a deeper, conceptual level. Most importantly, I’d grown so much as a writer and developed my self-editing skills to the level where recently, riding the wave of some caffeinated inspiration, I was able to map out an outline for what a new draft would look like. But like the handyman with the garage, this isn’t a plan to “fix” the older story; rather, it’s a plan to write something completely new, using the the viable parts of the plot ideas and the same overall concept. Basically, when the time comes for me to pick this one up and redraft it, I’ll be making a new novel that works; a new draft vs. a mere revision.

The key lesson for me has been that self-editing is a skill that helps us improve our edge as writers so that our time with an editor, or with revision and redrafting, will be more efficient. But, just as critical to the art of self-editing, is the wisdom to know when self-editing is killing your story, and that it’s okay — in fact, it’s good for you and your health and growth as a writer! — to walk away for a bit and write something else.

Putting it all together: always write, always self-edit, always revise; develop your own sequence

With writing, we can’t always take five years away from a project and rewrite from scratch.  We need to write, polish, publish, repeat. We have to put out books for our readers. We need to build our career.

I’ve always liked the wine bottling anecdote to describe an effective writing routine. Some bottles of wine can spend years in the cellar before they are sold. But the vineyard produces grapes every season. Grapes are pressed with care. Yeast is added and fermentation begins. Sugar converts to alcohol, then when the desired amount of dryness or sweetness is reached clarification begins. Wine is racked, then it’s bottled and the wine maker can decide if it should be bottled for sale or aged. Some wines must age, while others are good to drink right away. But the wine maker makes lots of wine so that every harvest, there’s wine to sell, even if some of the finer wines must spend years aging until they are finally corked and ready.

Likewise, a writer must write. Draft daily (as most do), your necessary output. This is your grape harvest. Eventually, you’ll reach the end of a given manuscript, and the draft is done. You can self-edit, work with an editor, and decide, depending on the needs or considerations of that given book, if it’s ready to publish, or if it’s not ready and you need perspective. This is your choice of if the wine needs aging or not.

If your given draft needs more time, put it away, but if you have the habit of drafting every day (my habit is to spend 2 hours drafting every day, no matter what), then this means if your given draft is put away then you have no choice but to write something else. (You will probably find, as I did, that what comes out of this conundrum is a very very good realization about just how much wider your storytelling universe is than one simple book.)

Eventually, this is going to add up. Most likely you might write different things. As a rule, never write something unless you really want to be writing it. But always be writing something, and try to write something different after you finish any given draft and its relevant revisions.

This is your sequence as a writer — think of it as the equivalent of a to-read pile, except as a writer, it’s your to-write pile. The point, though, is that you will continually be writing and self-editing and revising, and, for many of these drafts, you will be publishing and making money and building your readership, and your career.

In all this, you will come back to your older drafts. When you have the right perspective on those, you’ll know it and you’ll write that new draft with the expert skill you’ve gained because in all the time that’s passed, you’ve kept on writing, and self-editing, and revising.

Self-editing might not be a means to an end, but, used with these other principles, it can serve to add an edge that lets any writer push their drafting power upward in steady quantum leaps.

Where do you draw the line between self-editing and editing? How do you decide when you are done self-editing and when you need someone to step in and give you input? Have you ever had to abandon a book before, and if so, did you find you gained the perspective you needed after writing something else?

If you want to receive more of these kinds of inspiring posts on writing, editing, and productivity and wellness practices for writers, sign up for my weekly newsletter with Story Perfect Editing Services, here.

You can also listen to a more in-depth discussion on this topic in our week’s episode of the Write Right Podcast, here.

Posted in John's blog, Story Perfect Newsletter Posts, Writing Tips | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Steps to becoming a great fantasy world-builder: guest Viel Nast

For those who saw my recent call for guest posts on fantasy topics, today I’m excited to share the first article on world-building, from author Viel Nast. Viel celebrates the recent release of his book, Savage Swords: The Great Old Ones series, which you can find out more about at the end of the post. (And no doubt after reading about the awesome tips he shares, using his world as a case study, you’ll be curious to check it out!)

Viel NastMy love for reading came from an early age when my parents read me children’s books. Later, when I learned to read, I devoured any book I could get my hands on. The turning point for my immersion into epic fantasy was buying the Lord of the Rings centenary edition at 1992, celebrating the hundredth birthday of J. R. R. Tolkien. From then on, and with my small teenage (and later student) allowance, I grew my library. Now it includes more than a hundred books (and many more comics), most of them on epic fantasy.

My first attempts at creating stories involved the background information I made for my rpg characters (a D&D 2nd edition). I tried to make them as elaborate as I could, although for many years I haven’t written anything down. It was five years ago when I began writing down an epic campaign in the Birthright world setting of TSR. Even when the campaign finished, I continued to write. I grew to like and expanded with stories we didn’t role-play.

But my serious writing started when I was searching for a new rpg setting when I decided to make one of my own and wrote its history and timeline. As the information grew, I realized that there were many stories I could write to make my world, Land of Oyr, feel alive and real. Also, I decided to make a tribute series with short stories dedicated to great authors I have read and this shaped my taste in writing while introducing the world. Thus I recently published my first book, a tribute to R.E. Howard, a classic Conan sword & sorcery story. There are many to follow and I have plans for a larger novel and an even larger heptalogy, where Land of Oyr will be reshaped by cataclysmic events. I am also a self-publisher and have learned in the past few months before I publish the gigantic effort that’s needed. Writing is only a small percentage of the effort!

In day life I am married and we have a happy little boy of four months old. I work in a bank and suffer as a regular person the ordinary daily routine until I become a famous writer! I compete in HEMA events, sword-fighting being another great love of mine, and between or beside all these activities, I listen to epic metal music.


As an insatiable role-player, I will put my fantasy world-building process in (almost) rpg terms:


Most fantasy worlds, (at least the ones I have read) have a long history. But the most glorious moments and greatest heroes belong to the past, while the events of the books are a finalizing touch to already ordained events. I decided that my world would be new and young! It will still have a history and background (a rather long one as it is) but it will grow as the reader follows the history. I will allow a possibility that the reader will decide the fate of the world. In my mind, there is a timeline running for thousands of years in the future that I will unfold as the stories grow. Living through changes and great events in the books that reshape and change the face of the land is more interesting than reading about these events as an old history. The most distinctive part of my world is the Cosmic Rains feature. Cosmic Rains fell twice, the first time they shaped the land and created flora and fauna. The second time they created the original denizens of the land, Men of light and dwarves, and of course the various monsters that roam the wild. Through the fabric torn off the multiverse created by the second cosmic rain came the elves, servants of the great old ones. The demons, their enemies, entered the world and thus the interesting part began…


No world could be real unless it has unique and many monsters for the heroes to fight. Also, there must be a structured racial history and every race must have a distinctive flavor. I took a new approach here using well-known materials. There are elves, dwarves, humans and orcs, but taken into a different perspective and their outlook is unique. Elves, for example, live in tall mountains. The concept is that the world is evolving during the reader’s lifetime. New monsters and races are coming as cosmic events change the land of Oyr. (There are no dragons in Land of Oyr yet…). There are also various beastmen and half-beastmen types of various sizes as well as many hybrids between demons and men, and elves and men as well.


Faiths and priests are a basic element in every setting. Once again the unconventional model led me to have temples dedicated to Demons and no other Gods. There is an old faith to the earth mother, Oyr, kept by druids who seem more like the historical counterparts and not the transforming nonsense D&D has turned them into. Essentially, all religions are evil and there are no priests of good except the druids. All men share the common faith to the land and mother Oyr, but it varies between different regions. Dwarves have a peculiar ancestral religion while orcs and beastmen have primitive shamans. Of course in the future, there are coming changes and there are going to be many different options.


I have noticed that as you outline the history of the world and put elements, there comes a time when these elements interconnect as if by their own. You can make great stories just combining notes and materials you have already written. It is a great process and it feels peculiar to see your world evolving as if by its own volition. So you must write without ceasing, putting down anything you think in your wake or dreamy state!


Fantasy world means a new map with peculiar unfamiliar names and places (in the beginning) which the reader will eventually learn better than his own hometown and will love and will wish to visit.


Nothing great is done by sitting home leisurely drinking, eating and sleeping in a cozy environment. So a world of fantasy needs conflict, war, opposing factions and lots of blood! So you must put in wars and battles of epic proportions that shake the land and shape the history of the world. In these wars, the heroes will emerge and become famous showing their abilities, skills, honor and faith to what is right, while their faith and honor will be tested and some would succeed while others fail.


Put as many details as you can including time, weather, landscape, kingdoms and cities. I have a world with many unique characteristics in the aspects of time and weather which I will unfold during the books, leaving a feeling that you are reading something new and original. The most distinctive element is that the sun is in the south and doesn’t change its course in the Y-axis so it remains in the same position and night and day are changed when the sun diminishes his light.


The approach I used in creating a detailed world was a bottom-up. I needed to have a detailed (as much as possible) pattern from it to draw elements for my stories. Although in the stories there will be many details portrayed that will reshape some details of the world, the setting and the history is something I have thought beforehand and placed in my stories to put emphasis in major events. As I plan to turn Land of Oyr into an rpg setting eventually I want for the character to have a framework where he can maneuver and evolve feeling secure that there is much planning ahead.


I have put Land of Oyr in a multiverse as one world among countless others, but unique in the concept of its creation and separation from the general cosmology and theology. I am not sure if it would be possible to travel to other worlds but I have not decided entirely against it.


The famous concept of bloodwar as it has evolved in the D&D settings has been blended with the concept of the battles of Titans in the ancient Greek mythology. So there are gods or greater powers that rule the many worlds (even gods of evil). But they have defeated the Demons who represent entropy. The demons want only chaos and destruction, having no power of creation at all. In this concept, I have made the demons trapped in Land of Oyr unable to create creatures that will obey them. So orcs and beastmen remain chaotic and malevolent tormented creatures of darkness. The bloodwar in my world is a struggle of the gods to keep the major greater demons at bay and the demons manipulating to break the magically sealed prisons they are contained in.


The many gods of the multiverse exist but don’t have access to the Land of Oyr. They can send their servants, the elves, to harvest power but they cannot enter by themselves, because they will be trapped as the demons did. So the struggle is played indirectly using agents and keeping the bigger truth hidden…


I am totally against powder in fantasy worlds and I am going to keep Land of Oyr free from all modern industrialized troubles that keep us away from nature. I take a Tolkien approach in thinking everything not involving manual labor is inherently evil. Men of light and dwarves are like medieval people in social structure and amenities except that they have magic.


I have long considered the changes the presence of magic would bring in a medieval world. Sometimes it can substitute technology and many times it could be even more easy to use. It depends on the extent magic reigns in your world. I hate totally magical worlds where ordinary people have access to magical items, although I don’t like magic being totally isolated and legendary. I tend to take an approach that blends the two theories, having enough magic to be of general help, but not too much to become mundane. Magic in healing and battle can put a great difference in a kingdom’s success and the amount of magical power it can gather will dictate much of its progress. In the Land of Oyr, there is divine magic from the temples of the demons, druidic magic which comes from the land itself, arcane magic that comes from manipulating the cosmic forces and the inherent abilities and elemental magic, forcing the elements into your power.


In the end,  if you want to tell stories and if you love creating things with your mind, you will be able to build your own world. A personal world built by your mind is something very akin to a child where you see it growing and despite all the pains you took to raise it, it gives back more by only just existing! Be creative, be epic, and leave this mundane world for others made by magic. After all, we are escapists trying to find a way out of routine. 


Nast CoverA short story, the first of the tribute series to the Great Old Ones, dedicated to R. E. Howard and Conan! It will be available for free download until the 22nd of March! Click the link below to check it out!

Savage Swords: The Great Old Ones series

Nast Map

Connect with Viel Nast:

Oyr blog:


Our self publisher!:

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Amazon author page:

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The basics of book marketing: What every self-published Indie author needs to know to sell more books

Due to popular request, today I’m going to segue into the topic of marketing for self-publishing Indie authors.

Before I do, I want to be clear on where my knowledge on this topic comes from. Craig Gibb, the outreach coordinator for the Story Perfect team, is the author of over seventy titles (under various pen names), most of which are self-published. For the steps involved in self-publishing a book, Craig has a lot of practice. Earlier this year, for the launch of our Story Perfect Books imprint, we published How to Self-Publish Your Book. Originally, the goal of publishing this book was to make it a ready reference for our editing or cover clients since we get a lot of requests on the nuts and bolts of self-publishing. However, in putting it together we realized that, between the two of us, we have a wealth of knowledge on the aspects of marketing for self-publishers and had to streamline most of these discussions in the book.

The result: We’re working on the follow-up book, How to Market Your Book, which we hope to have out this summer. You can look forward to more marketing articles from me, based on some of the core topics from our book, over the next few months.

To start, let’s tackle the basics of book marketing.

Your book is out…now what?

You’ve done all the hard work — you’ve written and revised your novel, you’ve had it professionally edited, you’ve purchased a top-notch cover, you’ve formatted it perfectly for upload, and now it’s available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, and more.

Now’s the time to sit back and wait for the money to roll in as the reading public discovers your book and recommends it to all their friends.

Only…that last part isn’t happening.

Book marketing is one of the most difficult steps in the whole process of publishing a book. Everything else is clearly defined as something you can check off a to-do list. Fixed plot holes? Check! Typo-free? Check! Formatted properly? Check! Strategic keywords chosen? Check!

Book marketing is a lot more ambiguous and amorphous to the Indie author who is stepping into daring new waters.  It also involves a great deal of work with little immediate payoff.

But the good news is as an author there are steps you can take to ensure you are optimizing your chances that you will connect with your ideal readers and ultimately, sell more books. These steps involve setting up an effective platform and developing an effective engagement system.

Pick your platform with care: know where your ideal reader will show up.

Simply put, platform is the place where your readers can find you. I’m going to focus on internet-centered marketing, since this typifies the approach of most Indie authors. Hence, your platform in this case can be thought of as your “online presence”.

Usually, a platform consists of website, blog, and social media. Ideally, these are all interlinked and if a reader were to Google your author name, they would enter your platform.

The purpose of a platform is twofold. On one hand, you want your platform to exist for readers of your book to find you online, so that they can become fans and buy future books. On the other hand, you want your platform to connect you to ideal readers who eventually buy your books and eventually become your fans. This means when you set up your platform, you want to think carefully about your brand (a topic for a future blog post) and ensure that comes across in your author bios (yes, your Twitter bio counts as a short author bio too).

Some authors say you should be on every single platform — Website, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon author page, Goodreads, Pinterest, Snapchat, Tumblr, Wattpad, Tsu, WordPress/Blogspot, Google Plus, etc — and other authors say you should chose the one or two platforms you particularly excel at, and stick with those.

In either case these two extremes are not built on sound book marketing principles. Being on every platform is like firing bullets in every direction and hoping one will hit the target. But what if the target needs five clean shots? Fifteen? You’re wasting your time elsewhere and won’t be able to give it the attention it needs. Remember: you only have so many hours in the day — and only so much energy — and as a writer ideally you want to be writing as much as you can. The other example of being only on the platforms you find you naturally excel at means you’re choosing where you want to be based on your own comfort level, which might be fine, but what if all your idea readers are elsewhere?

Both Craig and I have found it helps to be somewhere between those two extremes, and not just arbitrarily so: In deciding where you should be setting up your platform, you should be where your readers are.  If you write young adult or new adult fiction, you likely won’t find them on Goodreads or Pinterest, no matter how much you love those platforms.  Instead, you’ll find them on Snapchat, Tumblr, and perhaps Wattpad.  If you write fiction targeted at men, you’re likely wasting your time on Pinterest — but Pinterest is the place to be if you’re targeting adult women. (Though this might sound stereotypical, it’s based on market demographic research, for example, this article:

When it comes to thinking about your platform, think like your ideal reader. In fact, this ties back to my previous post on how to channel your inner ideal reader. Whatever fiction you’re writing, hopefully you are a fan of that fiction as a reader, and as such, you know where you like to hang out and can frequent those spots when setting up your author platform.

If you’re not sure, then experiment. Better yet, do research (especially, the kind that involves reaching out to other authors in your genre who are doing well and try to learn from them). One of the best platforms for an author, in my opinion, is a blog ( is easy to learn and probably the most popular) because it allows you the opportunity to both host other authors and to be a guest on other author blogs — you have an instant reason to connect when reaching out to authors in your genre. (I’ll be doing a post on blogging and how to write effective guest blog posts at a later time.)

Engage for the sake of engaging: how to use your author platform to get more readers.

The second step to connecting to your ideal readers and selling more books is to set up an effective engagement system. Simply put, an engagement system is a set of actions by which you govern yourself while using your platforms. An important sub-component of an engagement system is a content system (also a post for a future date) — your choice of what content you post (and why).

This is a broad topic and in practice, developing an engagement system is a continual work in progress. You learn as you go. Because I plan to talk about blogging and newsletters in another post (and in that I’ll be covering the topic of the importance of getting reviews and blurbs from other authors and bloggers), for now I’m going to focus on social media because, aside from author website and blog, social media is the primary means by which authors engage with their readers.

I want to emphasize, though, that your goal is to engage, not just to sell books. Promoting on social media is about building relationships. Sending out non-stop promo tweets or posts, while it might be effective for some, is nowhere near as effective as building genuine relationships with your readers. So if you’re on a platform, your best strategy is to just be yourself — share tidbits of your personal life (within the bounds of what you decide is appropriate for your author persona) and react or respond to what others are saying and doing.

Twitter makes engagement easy. You can jump into conversations by searching for relevant hashtags, or by combing through your feed of lists or users who’ve followed you and hitting “reply”. If you combine this with sharing personal information tweets, someone new who is about to follow your account will see that you like to engage your audience and they’re more likely to follow you. If you try to limit the amount of promotional tweets to about 20% of your overall tweet content, then a prospective fan will see that you’re an author and can discover your work when they’d like to, but won’t feel that in following you they are going to be smothered by endless tweets of “buy my book buy my book buy my book”. (One good tip: create a tweet that links to your book, with the cover added as a photo and relevant hashtags, then pin it to the top of your feed; this lets new followers see your book right away, as well as any other time they view your feed, reminding them of your book without them feeling like you have a case of self-promotional diarrhea.)

I’ll be posting at a later date about effective engagement on Twitter because I’m just scratching the surface.

The same core principles apply on Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, Goodreads, Tumblr and others, though of course each platform has its own nuances. It is worth mentioning that with Facebook, having an author page makes engagement difficult. If you’re running a page, you’re not actually connected to your readers and so you can’t see what they’re posting on their personal profiles. (That being said, and this will be yet another future post, engaging on Facebook through a page is still better than engaging through a profile, despite the connections that a profile can provide.)

While this principle of engaging vs. hard selling is a good rule to follow, different platforms and even different genres allow for different levels of marketing. In general, romance and erotica authors can engage in considerable self-promotion and maintain good relations with their readers. Authors of slower turnaround genres such as fantasy and science fiction are best to go light on self-promotion as readers typically want to see less of it. Non-fiction is a genre that allows a lot of promotion, particularly because you’re giving your readers solutions to a problem and can offer that with a natural segue to your book.

There are always exceptions to the rules. You have to figure out the undefined and invisible lines set up by your readers, and do your best not to cross those lines. You’ll make an error now and then and that’s okay. You’ll do a promo at the wrong time and lose followers, but you’ll also do a promo at the right time that attracts followers and bumps sales. Just make sure you’re continually learning and approaching engagement with the intention to learn.

Putting it all together: engage effectively on your platforms and you will gain fans who market for you.

By being engaging and focusing on building a dedicated fan base, you begin to build a readership that will buy every book you write, post positive reviews, and promote your book to their friends. And that’s just the power of this strategy: if you approach book marketing on your platform with the intent to engage your ideal readers, then you find fans who love your books so much that they help you market — or they even do it for you. A lot of times, you won’t even see this happening, so it can be very hard to quantify.

Oftentimes, it can feel like you’re putting in all this effort and getting nothing — but the truth is that a lot of the time, the results either come much later or the results are not easy to see. The key is to approach marketing without these objectives in mind, to engage with your readers as if you’re just having a good time, not that you’re there for the sole purpose of selling books.

While every author dreams of their book spreading across reader networks like fire on a field of dried grass, the reality is often for new Indie authors, success comes in the form of a rolling snowball. As you build your fan base through an optimal platform and engaging effectively, you gain momentum, and you keep on going, and keep on growing until nothing stands in the way of success.

How do you approach marketing? Did you find you had to experiment a lot to discover your ideal platform and means of engaging with readers? Are you struggling with book marketing in general, and if so, is there anything in what I’ve said that you want to try out? Any lessons you’ve learned from social media you’d like to share? I’d love to hear from you!

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Where is the best place to write a book? Coffee shops and the writer’s office

Picture the inside of a Starbucks — what do you see?

I’m willing to bet you see at least a few people hunched over laptop computers typing away furiously. While some might be students and others might be entrepreneurs, a few of them are likely writers. In fact, if you’re reading this post, I bet you’ve been one of them.

A coffee shop: the writer’s office. It’s almost a cliche, but there is some truth to it, and for good reason.

Most writers know the story of how J.K. Rowling wrote her first Harry Potter book in a coffee shop in Edinburgh (it’s called The Elephant House and in fact, I’ve put in a few writing sessions myself there, many years ago). Did the “writer in the coffee shop” stereotype originate there? Perhaps the popularity of it did. I’d certainly be curious to know if anyone’s ever looked into a correlation between the spread of J.K. Rowling’s success story and the sudden prevalence of writers going to coffee shops to work on their novels.

But I think, inspiration aside, it’s about a lot more than wanting to emulate the formula of someone else’s success. J.K. Rowling, in choosing to lay the foundation stones of her career through going to that coffee shop to write, channeled something universal, a phenomenon behind what defines a great writing space.

Breaking the cycle of isolation

Writing is a very solitary pursuit.  Unless you go out, you’re usually sitting at a laptop or desktop computer in the corner of some room of your house or apartment, with no one around you except perhaps a cat that’s asleep next to your keyboard.  After all, when we write, we need as little distraction as possible.

Sometimes the silence can be deafening and draining, though, and in order to break it, we think of where we can go to work in a more public setting. Or maybe that cat who should be sleeping next to the laptop has a habit of sleeping on the keyboard (such is life with my cat, Wizard, and my one true source of writer’s block).

There’s many places you could go. A university study hall. A library. Heck, you could even go to a restaurant if you make sure you tip the server and agree to feature them as a character in your book. But the coffee shop usually trumps all these options for many reasons.

On one hand, there’s the susurrus of random chatter, a dull drone that makes you feel like you’re in the middle of a busy town square in the middle ages, an artisan perfecting your work while the busy world encircles you. The best thing about this drone is occasionally you might pick up conversation and, being a writer, you know the rule about how you should always be listening to how people talk and filing away in your mental archive some further notes on the nuances of dialogue.

But maybe you hate background noise when you’re writing, or maybe the conversation closest to your table is loud and annoying and is slowly making your WIP evolve into Act 5 of a Shakespeare tragedy. Thankfully, there’s headphones, and, in the age of ubiquitous internet and YouTube, there’s music and sound samples of endless variety available to give you the perfect writing mood for your writing session. In that case, being in a coffee shop lets you simply enjoy that you are out among people.

Whether it’s every time you write, or once in a while, the appeal of the coffee shop helps writers break outside the cycle of isolation.

Beyond coffee shops: writing is not always solitary

But do we really need to write in coffee shops? In my mind, there’s a lot more to J.K. Rowling’s successful completion of Harry Potter than escaping to that coffee shop to get her pages written, and to get there, we need to dig a bit deeper.

While many writers do like to write in coffee shops, there are just as many who cannot write anywhere except for their sacred space, wherever that might be, in isolation. In fact, I know some writers who do not feel isolated at all while working from the space at home or some other isolated office they have defined as their writing space. Stephen King, in his book On Writing advocates for the necessity of writers treating their writing space as sacred and has a special place in his home for it. He’s even symbolized the importance of his space by how his desk supports a corner where two walls meet — since “life does not support art, it’s the other way around.”

I have an office and as far as I’m concerned, whether I’m writing at home or writing at a coffee shop, my writing space is not physical at all. When I truly enter my writing space, it happens after the specific location has allowed me to filter out the world (and I’ve spent a long time experimenting to determine best conditions for that); see, my writing space is not part of this world, it’s some abstract corner of my mind which only opens its door when I shut the world out and decide I am committed 100% to the given story before me. You can ask anyone who’s tried to get my attention when I’m in a focused writing block — I startle as dramatically as someone who’s just been woken from a dream by a bucket of cold water over the head. (And they will also tell you about the glare that follows…)

Regardless of where I write, when my 2-hour timer comes on, I write and, on the best of days, I enter that place and delight in every moment of it. On the worst of days, I experience the writer’s equivalent of airplane turbulence. However, I’ve found both with practice, persistence, and perseverance — the willingness to sit through a hurricane of I just can’t write I just can’t write I just can’t write and prove the voice in those winds wrong — well, I can write no matter what, and the storytelling that comes out is the same regardless. After all, it’s coming from the same place; it just depends on how good a job I’m doing of keeping the door open and hauling the story out effectively.

All right, if I haven’t proved that I’m a quirky writer (maybe that I’m just plain nuts) then I hope at the least this demonstrates that really, writers don’t need to write in coffee shops. And, returning to the example of J.K. Rowling, I think she would have written Harry Potter on a street corner if that’s what it took to get the story out (though I’m sure she got there much sooner, and in a much happier state, thanks to the comforts of The Elephant House).

Wherever you write, write with your whole heart and you won’t fail

Does it matter if you’re in the attic with a long, vanilla-scented candle burning on the top of your Great Aunt June’s china cabinet, with the lighting dimmed to 30% and all your notes laid out correctly around the keyboard? Or if you write in a cold room like Hemingway, early when you’re uncomfortable and your mind is quieter and less critical? (The topic of when we write is something I’ll be exploring in a future blog post.)

In my opinion, the answer is it depends. All of these very specific conditions for the right writing session are emanations of a specific inner belief about what it means to write. Do you believe that your ability to write or not write depends on external situations and thus is subjected to your circumstances? Or do you believe that your ability to write is wholly dependent on your own willingness to write, no matter what your circumstances? If you lean toward the latter, as many writers do (myself included), then really, where you write doesn’t matter at all, just so long as there are no obstructions getting in the way of your ability to focus.

I’m not saying that it’s wrong to believe in a sense of magic in your writing space (heck, keep in mind I’m the guy who, above, just outlined how my writing space is not based in the physical world), but it’s important to realize that regardless of where you write, that magic comes from within you, not your writing space. It’s a manifestation of your will to be the shaman who goes into the Story World and brings forth Story. The importance of finding an appropriate writing space then is more pragmatic, based on learning what spots will keep you grounded in the Story World, as efficiently as possible, so you can channel as much Story as possible.

I’d love to hear from you on where you write and if you’ve struggled to write in different places. Do you have an ideal place, or do you write wherever you’re able? Please share about your writing space so that other writers can compare notes.

If you want to receive more of these kinds of inspiring posts on writing, editing, and productivity and wellness practices for writers, sign up for my weekly newsletter with Story Perfect Editing Services, here.

You can also listen to a more in-depth discussion on this topic in our week’s episode of the Write Right Podcast, here.

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How to decide if you’re ready to publish: channeling your inner ideal reader

Probably the most common editing clients I work with are romance writers. Romance is a very competitive genre, one that requires several releases per year, preferably monthly, to stay competitive and to maintain a readership.

Romance authors, understandably, crank out a huge number of books and can’t spend too much time on any one book, for fear of getting behind and perhaps losing readership. These authors have to quickly perfect their plotting, writing, and revising skills so that their writing is pretty solid from the first draft. (Side note: if you want an interesting read of just how romance writers do this, check out  The Five Day Novel by Scott King.)

Readers of the romance genre tend to devour books — with some of them reading as much as a book a day. Granted, some of these are shorter books, so it is easier to read one, cover to cover, in a day. Readers therefore demand much higher turnaround of their favorite authors, meaning romance writers have to be more resourceful, but with skill that comes with writing many novels, great romance writers can turn around books quickly and effectively, because they know how to create the most important thing: a love plot that is worth rooting for and relentless conflict that has you reading on in suspense hoping your protagonist and love interest will get together in the end.

Readers of science fiction and fantasy, on the other hand, are much more interested in the nuances of plotting, world-building, and prose.  These readers often, but not always, take more time with their reading than a romance reader does. They aren’t in a rush to get through and will often stop to enjoy the view. Due to the nature of these genres, readers want to be immersed in new worlds, filled with fantastic technology and strange beings.  They also prefer their books to be longer, especially in fantasy, so time spent on world-building and added layers of plotting is a must.

Thus, authors of science fiction and fantasy know the risk is much higher that they won’t engage their audience if they don’t go to the extra lengths their readers expect on every book. Science fiction and fantasy readers tend to be okay with waiting for your next book if they know it’s going to deliver on all the extra layers of amazing storytelling they expect. Even George RR Martin’s fans, who have waited now nearly 6 years for the 6th book in his Song of Ice and Fire series, despite some frustration you hear about from fans, know that when the book comes out it’s going to be stellar because he’s demonstrated with the painstaking time he invests in his work that it translates to a book executed with mastery.

And somewhere in between all that is the broad vista of YA, NA, paranormal fantasy, urban fantasy, action, thriller, adventure, horror, and many of the genres where readers can’t get enough of their favorite authors’ series and the expectation is at least 1-2 books / year, where there is a lot more interest in plot and payoff and the standards are higher, but not so high that you need to make every book a masterpiece. (If there is anyone in the world capable of writing 1-2 masterpieces per year, please let me know because I’d like to study more of their methods!)

Am I ready to publish?

The main point I’m making above is that knowing if your book is ready to publish requires knowing your audience, and that means knowing your genre well. Usually (rarely not), the genre you will devote most of your time to writing in is also a genre you love to read. How else can you know what’s going to excite your readers? (I’m not taking into account the exceptions, such as someone who might write a weight loss book based on their strategy to lose 200 pounds; or a fiction writer who had a profound life experience and turned that into a book that captured the hearts of millions.) When asking yourself if you’re ready to publish, you have to consider what your potential readers will think of your book.

It’s important to know that, while editing can give your story an edge and prepare it for publication, it can only go so far if your story is not ready for publication; and only you can address that through strategic revisions, possible reworkings, continued education on craft and storytelling techniques, immersion in fiction to expand your awareness of the standards your readers will have (especially outstanding books in the genre you write in), and most importantly, a willingness to be relentless about finishing what you set out to do. When you submit your work, either to your agent, or to an editing team, your part of the work must be done so that the editing process can work effectively.

I write epic fantasy. I’ve been working on my novel, A Thousand Roads, for a few years now. I’ve had a few beta readers who have gone through earlier drafts of the book. I’ve even hired editors to work on some drafts (including my present one). The draft I’m finishing is hanging together pretty good and there’s lots of improvements; in fact, I would be so bold as to say the book is moving into the territory of being very good. But I am also an avid reader of the epic fantasy genre and I know what I’m striving for in this book. I am a fan of exactly the “species” of books my book is striving to be like, and when I work on this book I know what I want this book to be, and this means the potential I’m aiming for is nowhere near tapped yet and I have a long way to go. I’m not discouraged at all because I understand, this being the genre I’m in love with, it just goes with the turf. It’s part of the process, and many epic fantasy writers will fail (either through continued rejections, or indifferent readers should they self-publish) because they compromise the I need to get published instinct for I want to do this right.

But that’s my set of criterion. You as a writer most likely know your genre, and as a reader and fan of your genre, you know what it is you want in your book. You also know your process and methods that help you create that book, and it’s important to trust those instincts.

The important takeaway above all is that the process of channeling your inner ideal reader is a sure criterion for helping you understand if the book you’re trying to complete is actually done or not, provided you belong in that group. Why is this? Because if you are a fan of a specific subgroup of book types that have sold well, then you are one of a large group of people who have read those books and want more. You are writing your book because you are creating more for that group of readers, and you, being one of them, know exactly what you’d want in a book, were you to pick it up off the shelves and read it.

The power of channeling your inner ideal reader

Are you ready to publish? Simply ask yourself if the novel you’re about to send out into the world is the kind of novel you, as your own reader, would want to read. Is there anything lacking? Are you left wanting? Address that, and ask this same question, and repeat until there is nothing to do. Depending on your genre, this might be a quick process, spending an extra few days with your  manuscript and booking those days off work; it might be years’ long and seventeen drafts which will later win you a Hugo award (you deserve it if you stick it out that long).

Either way, know your reader, and write for your readers, because you are also that reader, and you know when your work is ready.

What’s your genre? Are you a big fan of it as a reader? What expectations does your audience have and how does this shape your process of adding touches to your story before you decide it’s done? I’d love to hear from you!

If you want to receive more of these kinds of inspiring posts on writing, editing, and productivity and wellness practices for writers, sign up for my weekly newsletter with Story Perfect Editing Services, here.

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