Self-editing 101 – a primer #WriterWednesday #AmWriting #AmEditing

There is absolutely no doubt writers need to self-edit a manuscript before sending it on to their editor and beta readers. There are tons of articles out there designed to persuade self-published authors to self-edit, but how exactly does one self-edit? To be honest, with my first novel (or two or three), I re-read my manuscript, took out grammatical and spelling mistakes, et voilà! Um, no. In the meantime, I’ve developed a system – somewhat. This system expands and alters based on the novel. Obviously, I won’t be looking for historical accuracies in a contemporary romance! Here’s how I go about driving myself crazy with editing.

Naturally, like a good little writer, I let the completed manuscript sit for a few days before I begin editing. Unfortunately, I can’t let it sit too long as I’ve inevitably promised the completed manuscript to my editor soon, and there’s no way I’m providing her with a document that is – frankly – complete crap (all first drafts are complete crap).

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WARNING: Before beginning any phase of editing, ensure you have enough coffee, chocolate, snacks, wine, and beer in the house. Make especially sure you do not decide to take your coffee machine apart and then not know how to put it back together again.

First read-through. My first editing phase is the ‘Does my story work?’-phase: did the mystery resolve itself properly, was the culprit obvious, did you believe the hero when he fell in love, did I assume historical facts that are not yet known, etc. This phase is all about finding the BIG mistakes: historical inaccuracies, missing scene transitions, contradictory events, etc. Did I really just introduce so-and-so as new when we’ve already met him! Eek! During this read-through, I make an in-depth outline of the story. This is how I ensure accuracy in the timeline and story. It’s also a good cheat sheet when fact checking the novel. This read-through takes me the longest and is the most painful.

self editing nov 3Second read-through. This is the ‘details’-phase. Before printing out my manuscript for this phase, I highlight all my ‘trouble’ words. Every author has a list of words she uses ad nauseum. Mine are: actually, really, so, just, and that. My trouble words can change depending on the perspective in which I’m writing. I keep a current list in my notebook. I allow myself more ‘trigger’ words when I write in first person as ‘normal’ people tend to overuse certain words. (I’ve been accused of overusing the word ‘awesome’.) In addition to finding alternatives for my trigger words, I watch for phases I overuse and actions I repeat. In my current novel, one of the male characters was constantly putting the heroine’s hand in the crook of his elbow. UGH! Do something else already! If I’ve made big changes in the first read-through, I pay special attention to those.

Third read-through. This is the ‘would I buy this book?’-phase. It’s time to read my novel like I’m actually a reader and not a writer. I find a comfy chair and just read. Sure, I correct tons of mistakes as well, but it’s less about the details during this round and more about seeing if it’s actually a good story – one that a stranger would not only read but pay to read.

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Half read-through. This sounds a bit strange, but I print out the second half of my manuscript and do a mini-edit. I’ve noticed I often pay tons of attention to the first fifty percent or so of my novel while editing and then my attention to detail wanes. To prevent the end of my novel from containing mistakes or reading like a choppy wave (no one wants a seasick reader), I do this mini-edit.


Final read-through. This is usually a quick read of the manuscript one last time before I hand it off to the editor. Sure, I could go through another five or ten rounds of editing, but at some point, I get manuscript fatigue and fail to see the mistakes. There’s also a chance I throw the entire document at my husband and run screaming from the room. When you hit that point, save the document and send it off to your editor with your apologies and promises of chocolate.

If you’re looking for more tips/tricks on self-editing, check out my article here.


In defense of the boob tube (aka television) #MondayBlogs #Television #NetFlix

netflixI admit there have been many times in my life when I’ve stated, in a more than snooty voice, “Oh, television, I don’t watch that.” I don’t know where the snooty voice came from as my lack of television watching inevitably had nothing to do with my looking my nose down upon it. When I was practicing law, I couldn’t keep my eyes open long enough to watch anything. When we lived in Germany, the slightest wind would cause our satellite dish to lose reception. In Istanbul, we had so few English-language stations, it wasn’t worth the bother. Now that I’m in The Netherlands, I finally have television in several languages I speak as well as easy access to Netflix. And yet, I’ve still claimed for the past several months, “I don’t watch television.” As if watching television makes you less of a person or something. That wasn’t my intention. I just preferred books to the tv.

Recently, however, my viewpoint has changed. I’m currently overwhelmed with work in specific and life in general. Writing a historical novel is incredibly time-consuming with all the research that comes with it. It doesn’t help that I’m obsessed with the details and can easily spend a morning researching the inside of a prison just to ensure one sentence in the novel is historically accurate. On top of that, I’m currently vice-president for a local expat group, which entails way more work than I expected. Then there’s the house in Germany that I run as a holiday let. Oh, and I actually have a social life (this shocks me as well). That doesn’t even take into consideration maintaining the dreaded ‘author platform’, marketing, and blogging.

netflix 2By the time Sunday rolls around, I’m exhausted and probably slightly hungover to boot. Usually, Sunday is my day for reading books I’ve promised to review but haven’t gotten around to yet. To be perfectly honest, though, reading has just felt like yet another work obligation to me these past weeks. I needed to de-stress and get some rest as well. But how?

The past two Sundays I’ve spent binge-watching shows on Netflix. I can honestly say that not only have I enjoyed myself, but I’ve been able to ignore the rest of the world for those hours. Television series may not be the most intellectual of endeavors, but sometimes you need to let your brain check out for a while. Although – to my relief – I notice I can only handle one and a half seasons of any show before I’m over it.

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Any suggestions for shows I should binge-watch next week?

Learning how to say ‘no’. Step #1 – own yourself #MondayBlogs #IAmAWriter

saying no 1I know how to say the actual word ‘no’. It’s not a difficult word, after all. But, somehow, I don’t end up using the word as much as I should. Whether it’s responding to a request to become vice-president of the local expat group or ordering that third bottle of wine at dinner, I’m pretty much a ‘yes girl’. This has resulted in me being stretched so thin that I’m worried I’ll actually become see-through. It’s more than past time for me to learn to say no and not let myself be persuaded any other way! But how?

I recently met an interesting woman and as we were telling our stories, I started to whine about feeling overwhelmed. I normally don’t whine and complain to strangers. Really, I don’t. I blame the wine. It turned out that this woman is absolutely lovely and a communications specialist to boot. Naturally, this meant I continued to complain.

One of the things I complained about was the huge number of people who continued to ask me to do volunteer work despite my having a full-time job. Of course, the discussion then evolved into my writing and all the things I do for my writing. I continued to complain about how everyone thinks that my writing is a hobby and/or that I can arrange my schedule to accommodate their needs as I’m ‘only a writer’. That’s when I received some pretty awesome advice. (To be fair: I’ve heard it a million times, but at this particular moment in time, it really resonated with me.)

“If you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will. You have to own it.” (Click to tweet)


Easier said than done, am I right? One of the most difficult parts about being a writer (besides that horrible writer platform thing) is having confidence in your writing. Like most artists, our moods – and belief in our work – can change on a dime. One second you’ll be typing away thinking your story is awesome, then you’ll turn a page and ‘realize’ it’s all drivel. Who could possibly ever want to read this crap, you’ll think.

This is perfectly normal. But if you present this lack of self-confidence to the outside world, you will not only have a hard time selling books, but you won’t be considered a writer by the non-writing community. Thus, causing everyone and their cousin to ask you to do a gazillion things for them.

So, let’s practice this. All together now: I am a writer. That was pathetic. Let’s try again: I AM A WRITER. I feel better already.

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Biking in Holland ~ The Adult Version #Expatliving #Holland #Biking

If you are familiar with Holland at all, you know there are more bikes than people in this country. And because I’m a stickler for details, I have to point out that Holland is not actually a country. The Netherlands is a country of which North Holland and South Holland are provinces. Absolutely everyone rides a bike in the Netherlands – the Prime Minister on his way to the office, Crown Princess Amalia, and everyday Daan (most popular boy’s name at the moment).

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To the far left (the small tower) is where the Prime Minister works. I’m not sure where he parks his bike.


The Dutch bike in all kinds of weather. Rain is expected on a nearly daily basis, of course, but even when we get those few centimeters of snow, the Lowlanders will be out there on their bikes. When the wind off the North Sea gusts so hard you worry your house is going to blow over, they’re out there biking. I’ve actually managed to stand still while pedaling against that wind. (That was my last time biking in a storm by the way.)

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I’ve biked in this dress and shoe combo.

The Dutch also bike under all kinds of circumstances. They bike in dresses and high heels. They carry crutches, crates of beer, overfilled grocery bags … You name it and they’ve probably figured out a way to bike with it. They even have special hooks in which to put their hockey sticks. (Field hockey that is. They are crazy about field hockey as attested by the numerous Olympic medals.)



I no longer have a car and bike all over The Hague. I’ve gotten to the point where I now race against the time Google Maps thinks it will take me to arrive at my destination. One reason I bike a lot is my love for adult beverages. Yes, I’m talking wine and beer here. It’s impossible to go anywhere without those lovely adult beverages making an appearance. From the opening of a UN institute to a tennis game, beer and wine will be available.

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No blog post about biking would be complete without a picture of my pretty bike.


Biking is a good option to ensure you don’t get behind the wheel after having one too many. But the thing about biking while having had a drink or two is that you still need to balance yourself. Once you’ve managed that feat, you have to bike in a somewhat straight line. If you’re biking home with a friend, you have to manage the straight line while not running into your friend AND staying on the bike path. (Bike paths are often lower than the sidewalk. Hitting the edge of the sidewalk unexpectedly can be more than a little dangerous if you’ve decided to hit the pub after a wine tasting.)

This is the conversation I had with my Dutch hubby after biking home last week after a Thirsty Thursday gathering:

Me: Home safe. Me have hick ups. (sic)

Hubby: Are you drunk?

Me: Maybe?

Hubby: Did you bike home?

Me: With a friend! On a bike path!

Hubby: I’m so proud of you. Well integrated love adult biking 1 adult biking 1 adult biking 1


There you have it folks! I have passed my adult biking test. Happy weekend!

Getting Reviews ~ My Experience with Reading Alley #WriterWednesday #BookReviews #AmWriting

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As an indie writer, I sometimes feel I spend more time researching how to get book reviews and begging for reviews than I do actually writing the books for which I need the reviews! I came upon Reading Alley during one of my gazillion research sessions and decided to give it a try. Reading Alley is similar to many of other review sites: it provides a community of independent reviewers who can submit reviews.

The first thing a writer needs to analyze when deciding whether or not to use a new review website is whether the website violates the Amazon terms and conditions, because Amazon reviews is the end goal after all. At Reading Alley, the reviewers do not receive any monetary benefits, although there is a rewards program. There is also no obligation to post the review on Amazon or any other commercial outlet. This is the important point because Amazon clearly states the following:

Book authors and publishers may continue to provide free or discounted copies of their books to readers, as long as the author or publisher does not require a review in exchange or attempt to influence the review.

~ Amazon Community Guidelines (emphasis added)

Reading Alley looked like it will be okay legally wise, but what about the cost? Initially, it didn’t sound too bad – $25 for a three-month review session. That’s cheaper than NetGalley and other similar sites. But wait! Don’t stop there. You can also promote your book to gain more exposure (front page of the website, in their weekly email, or on their Facebook page). It’s an additional $25 for a minimum of 10,000 impressions. I jumped on that as I’ve had issues before with paying huge amounts to be on a review site and getting almost no feedback. In the end, I paid $50 for a three-month review session including promotion.

What was my experience? First, let’s talk about Reading Alley itself. Their customer communication was good. I received an email each time a reviewer requested my book, a review was posted, or there was any other kind of feedback. I could check my dashboard at any time as well.

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But what about the reviews, Dena? How did that go? A bit disappointing if I may say so myself. I had 10 reviewers request the book, 9 of whom downloaded and reviewed the book. I hear you thinking ‘that’s not bad’. That may be true, but only 4 of those reviews ended up on Amazon (one of which had already reviewed the book on Amazon). I know I can’t force reviewers to put their reviews on Amazon, but it’s disappointing nonetheless when it doesn’t happen.

In conclusion, I won’t be giving Reading Alley another try. Despite their good customer relations, the price is just not worth it for me. Guess I’ll keep searching for the magic formula for getting reviews.




Writers are no longer allowed to be big ‘ol scaredy-cats #MondayBlogs #AmWriting #BeingAWriter

I headed to Amsterdam yesterday for Dan Brown’s talk at the Paradiso. Well, as long as I was in the city anyway, I might as well go to Waterstone’s and spend those lovely book gift cards I’d received for my birthday. I’ve been waiting for Springsteen’s autobiography, the most aptly titled Born to Run, to appear in paperback. It took some digging (because I didn’t think to look in music instead of autobiographies *slaps head*), but I finally found a copy (and maybe a few other books as well).

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I started thumbing through my copy while munching on my lunch before Dan Brown’s presentation. I had already been musing about how remarkable it is to go to a presentation from a writer in a large venue with a sold-out crowd. (The Paradiso is a former church now used for concerts.) That’s not what we writers do. No, we hide in the shadows in our pajamas with unwashed hair while staring at a blank computer screen.

We are not performing artists like Springsteen. Springsteen writes in the foreword in response the question about how he achieved fame and fortune:

DNA, natural ability, study of craft, development of and devotion to an aesthetic philosophy, naked desire for … fame? … love? … admiration? … attention? … women? … sex? … and oh, yeah … a buck.

These are some of the elements that will come in handy should you come face-to-face with eighty thousand (or eighty) screaming rock ‘n’ rock fans …

~ Bruce Springsteen, Born to Run

Those words stopped me. Seriously, I got out my phone and took a picture of them. Not only can I never imagine standing in front of eighty-thousand fans, screaming or not, but I don’t have a naked desire for fame, love, attention, (wo)men, sex… Oh sure, I’d like to make a buck or two. And a little admiration wouldn’t go to waste either. But fame? Attention? Adoring men? Sex? I’m a writer, not a rock star.

With the exception of a few well-known writers whose novels have been adapted to the silver screen thus bringing their work to even larger audiences, writers are not performing artists. We don’t use our voices or bodies to convey our artistic message in front of an audience. But (you knew there was a but coming) in today’s digital era, we big ‘ol scaredy-cat writers are being forced to come out of our hidey-holes.

If you are self-published (or maybe if you aren’t), you are forced to create a writer platform if you want to sell books. In addition to having a website, you need to not only be on social media but be visible on several social media platforms. And you can’t just talk about your books. Oh no. Potential readers don’t want that. Nope. They want to learn about you. *Swallows large frog that suddenly appeared in her throat.* The days of writers hiding away in a small town in the New England region are, without a doubt, over.

I may never achieve the fame of Bruce Springsteen (or Dan Brown for that matter), but I’ve slowly but surely climbed out my writer hidey-hole and become more socially visible. With reluctance, I admit that the more visible I am with my writer platform, the more books I sell. If I figure out how to reach the Dan Brown fame-level, I’ll let you know (probably in a book you have to buy).

On Vacation


I am on vacation written

While my family is visiting (which is not strictly a vacation in my humble opinion), I won’t be blogging. Nope. I’ll be lucky if I get any sleep, let alone maintain my sanity, but that’s a different story. I have tons of blog ideas I want to get working on. Here are some things you can look foward to when I’m back:

  • Why I don’t want your free book
  • My experience with Reading Alley
  • My experience with Read & Review Program
  • How long should a blog post be
  • Phrases you should re-think using
  • Chosing a book title
  • Should you re-brand your novel

See ya in two weeks!