Category Archives: research

Think big

Author: Let Readers Read Your Writing

You’ve written a book – a novel. You’ve had friends read it and have received encouraging comments. You could go ahead and publish on Amazon Kindle, Kobo, CreateSpace or Smashwords. (These links take you their publishing pages.)

However, if you’re not quite ready for total exposure you can take advantage of Wattpad – a website that publishes new and old writing a chapter at a time.  You can read another writer’s style and decide whether it is for you, then go look for them in the online book stores. Or you can simply sample and read on – a chapter at a time – the work of authors who appeal.

That sort of dip-in and leave or come-again reading without having to commit any cost is useful in many ways. You can use the talents of others to compare or lift your own writing style.

James Joyce  – masterful writing still

I was able to click into “The Dubliners”, a collection of short stories by James Joyce (now out of copyright). I read Joyce’s story “The Sisters”. It’s written in the style of last century, but what stimulated my writer mind was the subtlety of the revelation of characters. It was not the sisters but the character of the priest which is revealed, hint by hint. Joyce’s use of language, though now apparently old-fashioned, is masterful still.

Wattpad for aspiring authors

Here are a few trending titles on Wattpad right now:


The real benefit of Wattpad for an indie author with a completed book is the option you have of uploading your own works to the website (unpaid, of course) and testing out the response of readers. You could actually write your story online in their text editor, but I would urge you to copy and paste into the editor and follow the instructions to upload your story. It’s a great way of testing out the potential popularity for a serial.

Be careful, though, that you’re not infringing any of the rules of the websites where you may want to publish later, e.g. Amazon has strict rules about how much of a work may be published elsewhere if you choose to enrol in the Kindle Direct program and receive higher percentage royalties.

Become an educated author

No I’m not advocating that you go out and spend megabucks on books and writing/publishing or marketing courses. The information is out there and ready for the taking if you are prepared to spend time sifting through the dross. Look for blogs by successful writers – those with more than one book on the online shelves. Here are two I suggest you check out:

  • Non-fiction author Tim Ferriss’ How to Write a Bestselling Book This Year blog. This link to Tim’s blog is littered with other links that will take you to more information. Tim is author of the “Four Hour Workweek”, “The Four Hour Body” and several others in the same vein.
  • Well researched fiction author, Joanna Penn writes at The Creative Penn blog and invites in equally talented authors to talk about the processes they use to make them great. Joanna adds podcasts to her blogs which you an download and listen to at a later date.


Of course, I’d like you to check my own WriteGear Facebook page where I post many links to the results of my research, and you can enrol at my website to access the long list of how-to writing and publishing videos.

All of these blogs and websites require you to register, but the pay-back for writers who want to learn and succeed will be tremendous.  And who knows? You might even discover new authors you’d like to follow.

In the creative flow – Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author

I Love Google Research

But can research replace the real thing?

Well, I’d like to hear from travellers who’ve been to the Greek Island of Lesbos to find out if it can.  Here’s my experience in writing the location into my upcoming novel: ‘A Pearl of Wisdom’.

Setting the scene

The port of Mytilini on the Island of Lesbos where my characters, Pearl and Anna arrive.

In the second of my trilogy of the ‘A Lesbian Affair’ series (which I am currently writing and is called ‘A Pearl of Wisdom’) Pearl and her friend Anna go on an OE from New Zealand in the 1960s and visit the Island of Lesbos, the famed birthplace of the Poet Sappho. The problem was that I have never been to Lesbos though it is on my bucket list, yet I had to make the experience of these two women as authentic as possible.

Time and location

The year is 1963, post war Europe, as we enter the heady days of Women’s Lib, flower power and women doing their own thing. I wanted the two young women to meet up with other women and also have a realistic view of life in the 1960s. So I needed to know a number of things:

  • The terrain of Milan where they first start their OE
  • The terrain of Lesbos
  • The port where they land from the ferry
  • The weather temperature at the time of their visit
  • Any distinguishing features of the weather, houses, mountain ranges, transport

Where to research?

How could I find out that kind of information?

In the past I would have visited the library and come home with an armful of travel books, but today I could access most of this information by searching on Google.

Here’s what I found out

Milan is built on a fertile plain between two mountain ranges, so I couldn’t have my two heroines looking down on the city. They had to look out from their hotel. However, I could name a few likely places they would see and describe the architecture of buildings around the piazzas where they would wander.

Old building architecture is constant

Historic buildings don’t change even if we modernise the buildings in between or inside the facades. I let my young travellers wander around Piazza del Duomo where they would see the Milan Cathedral and La Scala Theatre (Opera House).

Piazzo del Duomo and Milan Cathedral  La Scala Theatre and Opera House

The likelihood of them coming across a cafe where they could observe the people was high, so I let them taste the local brew.


(Pearl speaking) We decide to take a break at a little cafe in the Piazza del Duomo, choose takeaway cups of steaming coffee and buns and walk out into the square where other tourists are sitting on the raised steps under ornate street lights.

Even the people passing, raising their voices in expressive Italian, hands waving in emphasis, capture our attention. At one point,  I realise I have been sitting for several minutes, coffee cup raised, mouth half open, listening to the cadences of a light-hearted argument between four men, who stand legs astride, hips forward and talk over the top of each other.


Maps can tell us lots about locations

Here’s how I learned about the terrain of Lesbos – Google Maps and Images.

Skala Eresou on the Island of Lesbos

The wonderful thing with Google maps is you can actually get to see street views, so as an author you can describe what you see, as well as view photos for added detail. Of course, I had to be careful that my descriptions were not too detailed, in case I described something that did not exist in the 1960s.

A few words in the local language adds authenticity

I wanted to drop in some authenticity using the Italian language so I went to THIS PAGE for a translation service. I didn’t need many words, because most of my readers will be reading in english and will accept only a few words before they become annoyed at not understanding what is being said.

The same website will also translate into many other languages, so when you get there, BOOKMARK IT.

Meeting people with authentic names

It is so easy to delve into your own repertoire of known names when introducing minor characters, but I try to look up genuine names of the location or the event. Here is a passage when Stephanie (note the male name root – a device I use for other minor characters) – an english woman settled in Lesbos talks to Anna and Pearl:


“How did you find out about my B and B?” Stephanie asks us.
“A woman at the Milan airport travel agency gave us your address. We really didn’t know anything else about you,” Anna informs her.
“Yes! She said we’d be safe here,” I add.
Stephanie leans back her head and laughs hugely, her lungs gasping with the effort.
“Good ol’ Carlita,” she grins once she’s regained her breath. “She taught me all the Italian I know.”
And she says it as if there’s a story behind the Italian lessons.


Speed of spoken language

It’s hard to convey speed of language in text but it is a part of writing that helps you give colour to the story. At one stage I asked the question in Google:  Are some languages spoken faster than others? The answer took me to THIS PAGE. But I ended up with a lot of speculations. As one forum member said: “Out of the several languages I am learning, I would say either Greek or Italian.”

This film suggests Italians have the quickest tongues:  “Fast talking? Marcello Mastroianni and Sandra Milo in Fellini’s 8 1/2. Photograph: Channel 5”

Here is a quote from Pearl about language and its differences:


“Una piccola quantità,” he (the driver) assures us, so we lug our suitcases up the bus steps and find an unoccupied double seat. The other passengers watch us struggle on in silence, but as soon as we’re seated a hubbub of conversation erupts.

I feel a wave of loneliness wash over me. Even in crowds at home, I have not felt this.  I understand in this instant how living surrounded by another language is as isolating as actually living, like my mother, alone.


Discovering underground nightlife

I found out about a Lesbian nightclub through Sappho Travel’s website. Now that particular travel guide and the club may not have been around when my pair were exploring Lesbos, but you can be sure some night-life was happening. It gave me a location to create a club for the pair to visit with their newly found friend and landlady, Stephanie.

I entered the words: ‘skala eressos nightlife’ in Google images and immediately gained a great picture of what is there now.  Here are a couple of images:


Again I could assume that the permissive attitude to female nudity in Lesbos was the same as when my travellers arrived.

Working with the weather in novels

I have learned that the weather can be used to colour your location in novels, and I’m not talking about those long descriptions about sunsets over the sea. In ‘A Pearl of Wisdom’ my characters are introduced to a dominant wind that affects Lesbos – The Bora.


(Pearl’s voice) I’m about to scream when I feel Anna shaking me (from a dream).
“Sorry love,” Stephanie’s voice comes out of the gloom. “I just want to shut the shutters. The Bora is cooking up a storm and we’re in for a wet night. Can I turn on the light?”

Anna replies. I can’t shake the dream from my head. “Sure. The storm woke me too.”

Yellow light floods the room and Stephanie is standing there in an old robe, tied loosely with a cord that has worn into something like old rope. She moves over to the window, opens it and leans out into howling wind. She grabs one shutter but can’t quite reach the other.

“Just a minute,” Anna calls and climbs out of the bed to help her. Together they wrestle the shutters together, Stephanie secures them, and then shuts the window.

“Wow,” she says shaking the sodden arms of her robe.
“Are you wet too?” she asks Anna. “Come on down and we’ll towel off in front of the stove. Won’t take me long to stir the fire into action.”


People who know about the weather in Lesbos will recognise the effects of the Bora wind. If you don’t know anything about it, you’ll just accept that the wind brings in storms and accept that bit of local colour.

So thank-you Google, for giving me access to all that information. And thank-you for the people who shared it on their websites.


NOTE: I expect that ‘A Pearl of Wisdom’ will be published in July after the publication of my second novel:  ‘Family Ties and Rainbow Bonds’. If you would like advanced notification of publication, or would like to receive review copies, please register at my author website:

Yours in the creative flow – Heather Sylvawood

Writing is hard work

WriteGear website

by Amazon Author Heather Sylvawood

When I started writing as a semi-fulltime, professional career, I had this naive idea that the writing would take care of itself and all I’d have to learn was how to market my books.  How wrong could I be (and how right)!

The job of writing

First of all I found that writing doesn’t just flow – not all the time. Sometimes my fingers would fly and out would come the words that conveyed just what I wanted. Other times I would plod along. I realised that a structure, something I could work from when I couldn’t see where the story was going was necessary. It didn’t stop me from having those inspired moments – it simply kept me going when I flagged.

Flagging energy for a story is also something I came across, particularly when I got into novel-length writing. Short stories could be written in a day and then revised at leisure; novels, however, take so much longer. It is so easy to be disheartened along the way.

Professional Writer is an amatuer who didn't quit

Flagging writing moments for me

I found the following moments needed all the perseverance I could muster:

  • About the 5000-6000 word mark (day 2 or 3) – I would look forward and see those miles and miles of words stretching forever into the future. I would wonder if this story was strong enough/interesting enough to continue into a novel-length book.
  • About the 20,000 word – By then my daily word total would have slowed a bit. A 2000 word binge was all I could manage and the enticement for blogging and posting on Facebook was becoming hard to resist.
  • About the 40,000 word mark – I was halfway, yet I looked back and thought how hard the writing had been and I still didn’t know exactly how the story would end. Would it be good enough to warrant another 50,000 words?
  • About the 70,000 word mark – Rolling on to the end. I knew now that I would finish and I couldn’t wait to get there. I found my writing showed the rush – I didn’t ‘milk’ the climax enough; I needed to give my characters their last opportunity to shine. Editing and allowing the climax to happen naturally was vital at the end.
  • About the 80,000 word mark – I knew I was going to get there, it was simply a matter of a couple of days, but I kept getting distracted by my research for my next novel. I would stop and write up my ideas and even the beginning paragraphs as I took breaks in completing the current novel.

But now two are complete – one published: More Than I Could Bear, and a second in editing phase: Family Ties and Rainbow Bonds. And guess what? I’m onto novel three: a sequel to More Than I Could Bear, called A Pearl Among Swine.

Editing my writing

So a story/novel is complete. What next? Edit, edit, edit. It’s a challenge to edit your own work. You have blind spots about your sentence construction and spelling. Especially with my novels I found it was hard to actually ask anyone, including my life partner Tre, to read my work. I didn’t want criticism – I wanted only affirmation.

Heather Sylvawood editing, edfiting, editing

Who wants criticism?

As it turned out Tre was a wonderful critic, but in the end I asked another friend, who had been a proof-reader for a print publisher, to look it through and she came up with many issues neither of us had spotted. Thank-you Karen.

You need the feedback, not just about spelling and punctuation, but for sense. Were those items mentioned in the novel around at the time depicted? Would he/she really have said that? These were questions I had to answer, or alter in my writing, to make the reading experience flow for a reader. Even cross-cultural issues were important to consider in order to allow readers from many backgrounds to understand what was going on.

Marketing your finished writing

Once upon a time print publishers took on this role. If you were a big name you had your printed books on the front tables of every bookshop. If you were a lesser known writer your books would go on the back shelves, spine outward. If you were an unknown writer then you hardly had a chance unless some obscure editor, looking for the next big seller, LOVED your work.

Nowadays Indie or Self-published work allows unknown writers/authors to at least get their titles and front covers on the vast shelves of Amazon, or Kobo or Goodreads (which is being bought by Amazon, by the way).

Heather Sylvawood sample books

The cringe of marketing books

Again I had to overcome a lot of fear to expose my work to the public eye. What if no one liked it? What if no one bought it? I don’t care, at least it’s out there. The reality is a DO CARE. I do want people to read my books and enjoy them – and there’s no reason why they wouldn’t enjoy them, I’ve won short story competitions and had amazing feedback from beta readers and other authors.

My next cringe was whether to ask my friends to help me market my work. Would they think I was spamming them?  Would they get cross at me taking their friendship into the realms of commerce? So far not one of my friends has firebombed my letterbox.

Expert advice

Recently I’ve been reading a number of Kindle books giving advice on publishing and marketing. I’ve become quite adept at telling whether the information they offer is applicable to my situation. One I have to recommend is The Indie Author Power Pack, by various authors including:  David Gaughran , Joanna Penn, Sean Platt , and  Johnny B. Truant .

One of the main messages I have gleaned from this wonderful ideas-dominated book collection is that the only way to move from unknown to well-known is to write – lots of books that  keep hitting the self-publishing  NEW lists and use strategic marketing to keep putting your books in front of your market.  Like all internet marketing success is a case of building your LIST.

So here it is – my published novel

BookCoverMoreThan  More Than I Could Bear

And if you want to get onto my list for notifications of new releases, or reduced-price sales please fill out the form you will find on my web page HERE.

Yours in the Creative Flow – Heather Sylvawood

Hook-in words for book titles

What are hook-in words?

They’re a bit like keywords but they have an extra overlay of emotion. They give an urgent desire to find out more.

A keyword is a word used by many for internet searches: “how to something”. A hook-in word is  a word that arouses or disturbs our feelings.

If you’re writing a non-fiction book be aware that most people looking for answers search on the phrase “How to blah, blah.” So go with the flow and use what they search on – it will be a problem, hopefully answered in your book. These are keywords.

Fiction hook-ins are not true keywords

Fiction book titles use hook-in words. Hook-ins might not be searched for like a keyword, however, when a reader is searching for a good read the titles that stand out as intriguing use hook-ins in the title. Readers won’t necessarily search on ‘love’ but when they reach a list of books (Kindle or print) their eyes will be attracted to words that fit their genre.

Looking on Kindle I found a few e-book titles that use hook-in words.

Example 1

Anything with love in the title and you know where the story is going. Readers wanting to read a love story would know instantly that Hello Love by Karen McQuestion is in the romance genre.

A similar title is something with the word ‘heart’ in it: Guarding His Heart. Here is a young man who needs a (woman?) to unlock his heart and give him emotional release.

Brides is another hook-in word. Also in the romance genre. But then War Brides is an exception – a story of revenge.

Example 2

Hook-in words that indicate the darker side are also useful for attracting the attention of the horror, mystery, thriller and crime genres. Titles I found in this group were: Mean Streak, A Dangerous Witch, Body Guard of Lies, Whiskey : You’re the Devil.

The words ‘mean’, ‘dangerous’, ‘lies’, ‘devil’ hint at a little evil in the writing.

Weak hook-ins

Some book titles use weak words that don’t really indicate what they’re about, or hint at a problem. I didn’t know all this when I wrote and self-published Real Estate Rollercoaster.

The title didn’t give any indication of what was within or what the reader could gain by reading it. One of these days I plan to re-write and re-publish with a better hook-in title like: Avoid Tears on the Real Estate Rollercoaster. You see how the title becomes more compelling by using an emotion-laden word?

In my search I found a few weak titles: Good and Valuable. Both of those words are positive words but they don’t convey anything compelling.  Similar is Priceless.  This is no indication of the quality of the writing, or the skill of the author; it just means the books will be less likely to be bought by the impulse buyer.

Random hook-in words

Here a few random words that will hook-in a reader for a second-look:

Lost – Few of us have not experienced the panic of feeling suddenly lost, or having lost something important – even the car in the car park! The word will intrigue because we empathise with anything lost – a lost puppy, a child crying because they’ve lost their parent.

Edge – as on a precipice or momentous change. The word holds a feeling of nervous tension – great for a mystery or thriller.

Suspicion – anything that is under suspicion is something to possibly fear. It purveys a sense that we cannot trust what is happening or what we think is real. Definitely a useful word for a crime novel, but could also turn up in dramas or even romances where the suspected person turns out to be all right in the end.

Betrayed/Betrayal – This is a word that really has our world turned upside down. We don’t have to experience betrayal to know how it must feel.

Die/death/murder – I put them in because they will appeal to readers of a definite genre. Luckily most of us don’t have to experience it to feel the finality of the words.

Attack – (and many other fighting words) plays to our fear of being vulnerable. Fighting words can put off readers who dither between wanting to find out if it turns out all right in the end and their fear of being horrified by what they read. Use fighting words when you’re confident of your genre and audience.

Titles for display on the ‘Net

A new requirement has come about now that books are sold on the Web. The titles that look the best are those with easy to read fonts, have short 2-3 word titles that take up about a third of the cover. This is because fancy fonts don’t look too good when they’re reduced to the size of a thumbnail.

Take a look at the book covers I’ve put in so far. The first two titles (mine included) are reasonably easy to read. The last two are much harder to see in the small size. They might look fine on a print book cover, but not in the size of an e-book thumbnail.

To summarise:

  1. Use emotion-laden hook-in words in your title suitable for your genre
  2. Keep titles short
  3. Design your cover so the words take up about a third of the space and look fine at thumbnail size
  4. Use easily-read fonts

What’s in a name or …

Naming your story characters

Unlike mere mortals our novel and short story characters can be given names that enhance their personalities. Not so for our own author names!

When we’re born our parents give us a name they like. They may have wanted to honour a parent or relative, a favourite singer or musician; or our name may honour their beliefs, like Faith or Christian, or like Fern or Sage. Or you might have been blessed with a cultural name, like Tamati or Francesca. What we end up with, and whether it moulds our personalities is a lottery bought in the time when our parents were young.

Like them or hate them, names are important

Like our parents, we can ‘give birth’ to new characters and name them how we choose. Unlike our parents, we know how our characters will turn out as adults. The names we choose can give depth to our characters so that the reader gains a hint of who, what and why. Therefore, before blindly accepting the first name idea that enters your head, you need to think about what names imply.

Character names by era

A character named Edgar will be assumed to be

  1. A) Old
  2. B) Posh
  3. C) Pompous

A character named Marlissa will be assumed to be

  1. A) Young
  2. B) Girly
  3. C) Not strong

You could, of course, choose to give a character either of those names and build a story where the characters defy the implications of their names. It is simpler for the reader, however, to buy into their beliefs about names.

Don't let naming your characters get this bad

In novels, names should fit the era or decade in which your story is set.  Here are some popular names of the decades:

1950s (they’re approaching/in their 60s now)
  • James, Michael, Robert, John, David, Mary, Linda, Patricia, Susan, Deborah
1960s (they’re approaching/in their fifties now)
  • Michael, John, David, James, Robert, Lisa, Mary, Susan, Karen, Kimberly
1970s (they’re approaching/in their forties now)
  • Michael, Christopher, Jason, David, James, Jennifer, Amy, Melissa, Michelle, Kimberly
1980s (they’re approaching/in their thirties now)
  • Michael, Christopher, Matthew, Joshua, David, Jessica, Jennifer, Amanda, Ashley, Sarah
1990s (they’re approaching/in their twenties now)
  • Michael, Christopher, Matthew, Joshua, Jacob, Jessica, Ashley, Emily, Sarah, Samantha

It’s interesting to realise how popular names for boys change very little, and those of girls only slowly. If you’re trying to set an era for your reader search for names slightly less popular than the top five but still recognisable as a name from an earlier generation. A great site to search for names is: the US Social Security website.

By using these names for your characters you are giving your story setting credibility. But remember that children given these names end up as adults a couple of decades later.

Strength of character in a name

The number of syllables in a name can make the name/character sound weak or strong. Dan is stronger than Danny and much stronger than Daniella. Sue sounds more no-nonsense than Suzy, while Suzette, for me, conjours up an elegant French woman.

Think about your characters. Think about their relationships. Who needs to appear strong and who weaker? Will their name matter?

How to choose character names

When you start writing or, even before, when you start thinking about a story, a character name may come to mind. Sometimes it fits, sometimes not. This is the time to consider the implications of choosing that particular name.

Does it enhance the character? Is it difficult to pronounce? Does it have cultural implications? Would his/her parents really have called him/her that? Think about their social class.

Even though your character may never refer to parents throughout the story, the reader imagines them placed in a wider context. “What kind of parents would teach a child that (belief/behaviour)?” “Why would they call him that?”

Calling in names with character

You could play on the implications of famous people to imbue personality types into one of your story characters, but you need to be sure that the famous person doesn’t engulf your character with too strong a personality. Someone named Barrack would immediately be assumed to be black (and handsome?) by readers. It might not feel comfortable to a reader to discover that Barrack was a retiring Spaniard.

There are some names to avoid if you want to build up affection for a character. I wouldn’t recommend ‘Adolf’ unless you wanted your character to inherit an overlay of evil. Sesame Street graduates (if that is the demographic of your audience) might have a tough time getting beyond the grumpiness of ‘Oscar’ or the clownishness of ‘Bert’. However, all of these names might to perfect for characters who possess these personalities.

Avoiding character confusion

When naming a group of characters, be careful not to have several starting with the same letter. When readers are beginning your story or novel, and they’re sorting out who is related to whom, characters with very different names help them differentiate between them. Nigel, Nick and Nathan are likely to trip them up, just as Nick, Mick, and Mac might. (You thought I was going to write ‘Dick’, eh?)

In the end, though, it will be your own creative process that defines what are perfect names for the characters who people your story. If you’re stuck, though, some of these ideas might help you ‘give birth’ to the perfect character.

Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author