The Writing Sparrow Episode 7: How to Write Short Stories for Anthologies with Beverley Lee

Listen to the Episode:


Sarina Langer  00:06

Hello, and welcome to the Writing Sparrow podcast. I’m Sarina Langer, and this podcast is all about writing, publishing and marketing your book. You can find transcripts on my website at Let’s get started! All right, hello friends and sparrows and welcome back. It’s the 19th of September 2020, and this is Episode Seven. I’ve got horror author Beverley Lee here with me on Zoom, nicely socially distanced. And we’re going to talk about writing short stories and submitting them to anthologies, because that’s something that she’s really excelled at this year. So hello, Beth, welcome first of all.

Beverley Lee  00:52

Hi, Sarina, thank you so much for inviting me to take part.

Sarina Langer  00:55

You’re very welcome. I’m very excited to have you. Well, as I’ve just mentioned in the brief introduction, you’ve been doing really well this year with just generally writing horror stories and getting them into anthologies.

Beverley Lee  01:08

I know, it’s been quite a surprise for me, actually. Because now that I’m actually a horror novel writer, the short stories kind of came about because I moved house this year. So I didn’t have the focus to really work on anything longer. So I started messing about creatively with short stories. Yeah, and I’ve just been really surprised at how well people have taken to them.

Sarina Langer  01:33

I’m not, I know how great you are. But I also know just how long your move has taken. So I know that it was, you had quite a lot of time to write short stories and get used to that format.

Beverley Lee  01:44

Yes, the whole move, I could write a horror novel on the whole move.

Sarina Langer  01:47

I mean, moves are never great anyway, but I noticed how much of a nightmare yours has been. So to start with, I’ve tried to write some short stories, and I find it to be a very different format to writing full length novels. So my first question will be how do, you how do you approach it? Is it very different for you? Do you approach it in a similar way?

Beverley Lee  02:11

What you have to remember is that there’s not a lot of room for sort of endless rambling or world building in a short story. You’ve got a specific number of words, and it’s very important to keep to that number of words. Don’t go under and don’t go over because obviously, the people that put the ontology out have set the word count for a reason. But like a normal story, you do need a beginning, a middle and an end, it’s just an abridged version of that. You’ve got to keep your pacing even, you can’t really start off slow and then build up. And the most important thing is the ending, you have got to satisfy your reader. At the end, you can’t leave them thinking, well, what was this all about?

Sarina Langer  03:01

No. Definitely, I mean, I’ve read some, well, I’ve read quite a few short stories this year. Actually, I’ve been reading a few more anthologies as well, because I, I would like to try doing what you’re doing. Maybe get some of my short stories into maybe some anthologies. And for me, it’s been, well, writing, it has been a very different process, but also quite exciting. And I think when I’m reading short stories, you can really tell the difference between an author who’s really researched how to do it and someone who’s just approaching it in exactly the same way as a full length novel, because they’ll build it slowly, as you said, and they end up getting carried away a little bit. And you know, you sit there as a reader thinking we don’t have time for this.

Beverley Lee  03:43

That, that is very true.

Sarina Langer  03:46

Yes, I think it’s quite… not, not difficult as such, but I think you definitely need to… but it’s almost a whole new thing to get used to, isn’t it?

Beverley Lee  03:54

It is, it is. And I know that when I’m reading short stories, if that first paragraph grabs me, I know it’s going to be good and that’s much like a novel. It’s the, it’s the hook, you know, you don’t just want somebody in a room talking about something, you want something that’s making me to go and want to carry on.

Sarina Langer  04:15

I’m not sure if this will apply to you so much because I know that you’ve actually been approached to write for anthologies rather than you having to find them yourself and then apply to them. People are approaching you to write for anthologies, which is incredible. But if you, if you look at various listings of anthologies looking for more stories, they tend to ask for a specific kind of theme. Do you, do you write to the theme specifically?

Beverley Lee  04:45

I do. I’m very, I’m very aware of the brief. I mean, there’s not much point, you know, if they’re asking for say, a story set in a graveyard, when the graveyard is only mentioned in one paragraph. No. They’re asking for it for a certain reason. And I think it also applies that do your research on your genre and the anthologies you wish to submit to. It’s not any point, you know, submitting a dark fantasy to a proper horror unless there’s a crossover. And as they say, there’s a crossover because it’s just a waste of your time and a waste of their time.

Sarina Langer  05:22

Yeah, definitely. I’ve tried doing a bit of both this year, I think I’ve tried just writing a short story just for the sake of writing a short story and then see if I could possibly fit it to-

Beverley Lee  05:36

I’ve done that as well.

Sarina Langer  05:37

Yeah. But then I also, I can, god, I can get so carried away with this. But when I look at the listings, and what the various short story collections are looking for, I get quite… it’s almost like falling down the Pinterest rabbit hole where you think, that sounds exciting, I can write something to that. And then suddenly, you feel inspiration to write something for like 10 anthologies, and you don’t really have time to write anything for two. So-

Beverley Lee  06:02

It is a bit like those, like being in a sweetie shop, isn’t it?

Sarina Langer  06:04

Yeah, I was just thinking it’s a bit like being in a candy shop. It’s, it’s very exciting. It’s almost like a writing prompt, really, isn’t it?

Beverley Lee  06:13

Yes. Oh, it is, it is. And once you find one that really gets you excited, you kind of know that yes, this is, this is what I want to do. And quite often though, when I start a short story, I have no idea how it’s going to pan out, I’ll just start with an idea and know I have to have a certain thing in it. And then I’ll just let whatever character that I’m writing kind of show me the way. And that’s really very exciting. Because when you’re writing a novel, sometimes it takes a long time to get to know a character, whereas in a short story, you have to instantly know what my character wants.

Sarina Langer  06:48

Yeah, I think for me, that was another thing that I wasn’t quite sure about, is when, when I start writing a new novel, I do quite a lot of plotting beforehand, I need to know that I know the characters, at least, at least the main character and the main villain, so that I know how they might influence the story and how they might end up influencing each other. But when I sit down to write a short story, I almost feel like I should still do that kind of level of getting to know my characters first. But then on the other hand, you’re only writing something that’s maybe at most 5000 words long.

Beverley Lee  07:19


Sarina Langer  07:20

So I’m never sure if I still want to put in that same amount of work beforehand, if I should really just start writing and just go for it.

Beverley Lee  07:28

Well, you can. Again, you can get a first draft down and you can look at it and you can go, hmm, this isn’t working, and then just take out the elements that you would do if you were editing a novel, take out the elements and put them into the second draft and then, and then just rewrite the bits you don’t like.

Sarina Langer  07:46

Yeah, I think I’m gonna have to do some more experimenting with that. I haven’t written too many yet, but I’m seeing how well you’re doing with yours. And another friend of ours, Villimey, she’s starting to get into quite a few anthologies as well.

Beverley Lee  08:01

I noticed that. I noticed that on Twitter, I saw that Villimey was, so that’s, that’s really good.

Sarina Langer  08:06

I said to her it’s, it’s, it’s I’m having what I’m calling like, like this Pokemon moment where I go, you know, I put up my sleeves and I go right, I’m going to try my best as well. Seeing you guys, that’s it. I can almost picture Ash doing it.

Beverley Lee  08:24

But, but, but again, it just springs around about. I mean, I’ve just been incredibly lucky this year that every bit, everything I’ve submitted whether they’ve asked me to submit it or whether I’ve actually submitted it cold, they’ve accepted and nobody’s more surprised than me.

Sarina Langer  08:42

That’s gone extremely well. So have you been approached to submit your short stories for all of those anthologies, or have you approached some of them yourself first?

Beverley Lee  08:54

The first one, which was by, released through Kandisha Press, which is Graveyard Smash Volume Two, I was approached by the editor for that one. The second one, which was the charity anthology in aid of COVID research, Diabolica Britannica, I was approached for that one as well. The one that has just released, In Places We Fear to Tread from Cemetery Gates Media, that, that, that was a cold submission. I just followed the brief. And I’ve also had a flat horror accepted by them for the beginning of next year. That was a cold submission. And the one that’s coming out, I believe at the end of this year for another charity anthology in aid of women’s refuge, We Are Wolves, which is edited by the lovely Gemma Amor and Laurel Hightower, I was approached for that one as well.

Sarina Langer  09:53

And the list just keeps growing longer, doesn it? That’s amazing. Erm, well, normal mortals like me, erm, you know, we’re probably not going to just get approached to just submit to an anthology. But I think what you’ve already said is probably going to be quite helpful for that. One, do your research. Follow the brief as you said you’ve done, and also just stick to the theme, cause there’s a reason it’s there. So if the theme is graveyards, then there’s no point writing a story, getting carried away with it, have nothing at all to do with graveyards, and then just quickly put in one line, like, when I was five, we went to a graveyard once, and then hope that that ends up meeting the brief because it probably won’t.

Beverley Lee  10:41

I’m not quite sure they would accept that.

Sarina Langer  10:44

Maybe not. Even if it is really good. And even if you end up… well, maybe if you were famous enough, because then the name is going to-

Beverley Lee  10:52

Yeah, maybe. Stephen King, you could maybe get away with it.

Sarina Langer  10:56

Yeah. Yeah, maybe. But we probably can’t.

Beverley Lee  11:00

No, definitely not.

Sarina Langer  11:03

You know, as you said, it’s basically a writing prompt, isn’t it?

Beverley Lee  11:05

Yeah, it is!

Sarina Langer  11:07

Yes, I mean, I think for me, that’s easier to write than to just sit and just start writing something completely out of nothing, because I need to have at least some idea of where I’m going.

Beverley Lee  11:17

Yeah, you have to have an idea. It’s very hard just sitting down and opening up a Word document and then just staring at the blank page and the cursor flashing, and thinking ooh, I have to do something, because nothing is guaranteed to make your muse run in the corner and hide than something like that.

Sarina Langer  11:34

No, definitely not. I’ve tried that a few weeks ago, when I first thought, right, I’m gonna try doing some writing shome… erm… writing some short stories… that’s weirdly hard to say, it’s like a tongue twister. But you know, I just, I think I put into my bullet journal, write two or three short stories that week, which, obviously is going to be quite ambitious anyway. But I had lots of free time. And I was feeling really pumped up to do it, you know?

Beverley Lee  11:58

I can do this! I can do this!

Sarina Langer  11:59

Yeah, so I thought I was really excited to just get down some short stories. And I sat down, and I think because I had no idea of what to, what to go for. My enthusiasm died very quickly.

Beverley Lee  12:12

Yeah, I mean, that’s what happens, though, isn’t it? You’ve just got to kind of grit your teeth and just get some words down. And sometimes you can’t get 100 down, but sometimes they just flow out of your fingers. It’s just one of those things about being a writer.

Sarina Langer  12:27

Yeah, I mean, every story is always going to be different, you know, whether that’s going to be a short story or a full length novel, they’re all going to be slightly different. And one approach that’s worked for your last story may not work for the next one.

Beverley Lee  12:39

Well, absolutely.

Sarina Langer  12:41

Which is not helpful.

Beverley Lee  12:44


Sarina Langer  12:45

If we could like just have one process, and then just stick to that, and it just works for every story that would be brilliant and really useful.

Beverley Lee  12:53

And I mean, you kind of learn as you go along as well. I mean, you kind of learn what format works for you. And then sometimes you’ll think about… I mean, I submitted one, and they’ve asked for a rewrite, because it’s not… they like, they like the idea. They like the theme. But they don’t like the way I presented it. And that, and that was just, that was just an experiment on my part to see if it would work. And it doesn’t. So I’m in the middle of rewriting that one. But hey, I mean, that’s how you learn, isn’t it?

Sarina Langer  13:23

Yes. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I always think there was something like what we did with writing books, the best and really probably only good way to learn is by doing it. You know, you can read all the theory books that you want, hundreds if you, if you like, but you’re not really going to see what actually works for you until you sit down and make yourself write the words.

Beverley Lee  13:43

That’s it. Um, I mean, in regards finding markets for submissions, which I’m assuming is going to be one of your next questions, I’m pre-empting this, I use, I use Twitter a lot, because you will find that a lot of people, authors that write short stories will actually mention that there’s an anthology coming up. The Horror Tree is a very good one to follow. And they do weekly links to the short story anthologies that are wanting things, and also follow accounts that produce the short stories like Cemetery Gates, because they’ll often have links to say that they’re accepting submissions.

Sarina Langer  14:27

See, that’s where I then end up getting carried away. It’s on the Horror Tree website. I’ve had a look and they are listing all the various places that are currently looking for submissions on there. And you see this story is looking for something with ghosts and witches and lots of gore. So and then the next one is just looking for something that’s a bit more lighthearted but obviously still horror related, and it just needs to, it just needs to have something somehow to do with regret of some kind. So you start going through all of those and you think, Oh, this one’s exciting. I can write something to that. And then suddenly, before you know, two hours have passed, and you haven’t written anything, but you identified about 20, or 30, anthologies that you really want to submit to, and you don’t really have the time to do any of it, because you just end up browsing more instead of writing anything.

Beverley Lee  15:15

Again, it’s like falling down that black hole of Pinterest isn’t it. I think what you have to do is you have to kind of limit yourself, you have to go on and you go, I’m going to find three, say, that I want to submit to and then when you found your three, leave the site, go away.

Sarina Langer  15:30

Yeah, just close it. I mean, I’ve got the Forest app installed, even on my browser so that I can just, I can start planting a tree. And then I can’t open anything while I write, which is really useful, because I can tell while I’m writing, I get carried away so often that I think, I just quickly just see if I have an email. It doesn’t say that I do, but I just quickly look at my inbox for no good reason other than procrastination, and it won’t let me. Say, the amount of times that I have started writing and I thought I was quite focused but that I then just had to open the timer instead.

Beverley Lee  16:08


Sarina Langer  16:09

Really makes you realise how unfocused you can be when you think you’re being really focused.

Beverley Lee  16:15

Yeah, it’s not it’s almost like these people that said that they, they turn off their their WiFi when they’re actually writing so that, you know, they can’t get any emails and things and but then we tend to think, what if somebody needs me urgently. It’s ridiculous.

Sarina Langer  16:29

Yes. See, I wouldn’t be able to do that, because my partner works downstairs, and he needs the WiFi for work. So I wouldn’t be able to try that theory, but I can see why it might work. I mean, I always figure, you know, what if you have an email, say, if you’re, maybe you’ve gone shopping, or you’re out and about just going for a walk, and maybe there is no WiFi, then whoever’s emailing you can probably wait for half an hour.

Beverley Lee  16:53

It’s not a matter of life and death, is it.

Sarina Langer  16:54

No, I mean, it’s unlikely to be, so it’s probably okay if we ignore it just for a little bit, you know, it’ll still be there afterwards.

Beverley Lee  17:02

Yeah, but with that we’re very good at going I’ll just check Instagram, I’ll just check Twitter, and you can’t just check it, you have to scroll, answer a couple of tweets.

Sarina Langer  17:12

Because the next post that comes up might be important. And then what if you miss it? But I started telling myself more now that because the Internet has widened everything so much, you know, I mean, most of my author friends end up living in America, or maybe in Australia, like Jaynelle who I’ve just interviewed the other day. And they, you know, on the one hand, it’s great that we can talk to each other so easily, thanks to the magical powers of the interwebs. But on the other hand, we end up being in so many different time zones, the chances are, they’ll end up emailing me, just as I’m going to bed which I won’t see for eight hours or more. And by the time I do see it finally in the morning, after all the time, it’s still fine and nothing has burned down. And there haven’t been any catastrophes. So, you know, it’s probably fine if we just focus on writing for just half an hour.

Beverley Lee  18:09

Yeah. I think I think the worst thing though, is when you, you have a submission, you’ve submitted it, and you’re waiting for that email to say whether you’ve been accepted. It’s like, I know, they’re not going to do it immediately. But maybe the day after the day after that, and you’ll find yourself looking through your inbox and then look into your spam box in case it’s gone into spam.

Sarina Langer  18:31

Well, it can happen quite easily, can’t it? I’ve had an experience with that it’s maybe worth mentioning is that the first short story that I’ve submitted was to a rather large online magazine. And I, by the time I submitted it, I think we only had like two weeks left or something before the deadline. So I thought I quickly get into that. But it told me that I was I think roughly the 860th submission or something in their queue. And I think it only went down by about five or six stories a day. So they weren’t getting through submissions overly fast. I think finally by the last day before the deadline, I think I’d made my way up to spot 300 something. And then suddenly, overnight, I don’t believe for one second that they suddenly read 300 stories in one day. And then I then got the email to say we’re very sorry but your story isn’t for us right now. And you just sit there and think there’s no way you’ve read suddenly so many stories, you’ve just run out of time.

Beverley Lee  19:35

They probably just filled their slots. Yeah.

Sarina Langer  19:38

So, so I think it’s probably also worth considering just how large the publication is that you’re going to submit to but also in this case, it was for a magazine, you know, which could probably only take one or two stories at a time. Whereas of course with anthologies, you tend to have 9, 10 authors in the book at the same time. But it still may be worth just making sure that the publication or the anthology that you’re choosing isn’t so large that your submission might just disappear.

Beverley Lee  20:10

Kind of like a little minnow in a huge pond, aren’t you. I think maybe start small, start smaller is probably a better way to go.

Sarina Langer  20:18

Well at the time it was an easy one, it was right there. The submission was easy enough. And again, I was in that mindset of I’m really excited to do this now, I’m going to submit to them and we’ll just see what happens.

Beverley Lee  20:30

You have that, you still have that story and that story you can submit somewhere else.

Sarina Langer  20:35

That’s it. You know, it didn’t, it didn’t get into it on this occasion, but it might get into the next one. You know, you never know. So if you do get a rejection, don’t think in any way that it’s not, that it happened because your story isn’t any good. Or even just that, even though they told you that it didn’t, that it wasn’t right for them, it might actually have been perfect for them. It’s just that they ran out of time.

Beverley Lee  20:59

So you’ve got to treat it like every rejection with a kind of a pinch of salt. It wasn’t right at that time for that particular publication. So yeah. And then just find somewhere else for it, just market it somewhere else.

Sarina Langer  21:11

Exactly. I mean, at that point, you’ve also already then got the cover letter for it. And you’ve already got it formatted. So actually, if anything then the second submission you do is even going to be easier, because you’ve already got all that sorted, you then just need to adjust it a little bit. So that also helps. All right. Do you have any, any tips for writers who want to do what you’re doing with all the short stories be that writing related or submission related? We’ve already touched on some parts, like really sticking to the criteria that they’re looking for and doing the research.

Beverley Lee  21:47

Maybe just start with an idea of your own. And see if you can keep it say, under 6000 words. Just practice getting the whole story down in that brief amount of words, making sure that again, you have an exciting beginning, a solid middle, and a fabulous ending that’s going to leave your reader very, very satisfied. Just see if you can do that. And if you can do that and you really like what you’ve written, get it to a couple of people that can beta read it for you, and can tell you if they think it’s any good. And then you actually have something to go by, you can try and find a market for it. But if there isn’t a market just leave it be, there will be a market eventually. But then you’ve got that form, right, you’ve actually done it, you’ve completed one which will give you the confidence then to start looking through proper submissions and applying with brief.

Sarina Langer  22:47

I think that’s very good advice. And then I think what people tend to struggle with is to just start if I haven’t got an idea, so I thought what we could do maybe is leave them with a writing prompt.

Beverley Lee  23:00


Sarina Langer  23:00

And then if they do want to give it a shot, they can dive straight in. So I don’t know if you’ve got something in mind. Probably not because this is improvising on my part as well. I’ve just thought of this.

Beverley Lee  23:13

This is definitely improvising! Just let me have a think.

Sarina Langer  23:17

I do have a book here, we can run with that.

Beverley Lee  23:21

Okay, go on, pull something out of there while I have a think.

Sarina Langer  23:23

Shall I just open it on a random page?

Beverley Lee  23:25

Open it on a random page.

Sarina Langer  23:26

Alright guys, so your, your writing prompts, this is from a book called 642 Things to Write About by the San Francisco Writers Grotto. It’s exactly what it says on the title. And your, your test writing prompt just to get you started on something is, write down as many cliches and aphorisms as you can think of. Go back and star the ones you actually say. That’s not a writing prompt.

Beverley Lee  23:55

That’s not really a prompt, is it.

Sarina Langer  23:56

That doesn’t work. Let’s do another one.

Beverley Lee  23:57

Let’s try another one.

Sarina Langer  24:00

Here you go. That might Yeah, this one might work: Scientists announced they’ve discovered the secret to immortality. Write a petition letter to save the event of death. Over to you people.

Beverley Lee  24:15

That’s actually quite tough.

Sarina Langer  24:17

Yeah, yeah. Well, maybe we should have gone with something easier. This is, that was just me opening it on a random page. You also get very simple things like write about an object that has personal meaning to you.

Beverley Lee  24:31

Yes, maybe just do that.

Sarina Langer  24:35

I’ll include all three in the show notes and then you can pick your difficulty level that you fancy that morning. Have you thought of anything?

Beverley Lee  24:46

Oh, I’m just trying to think. I’m useless at doing these off, off the spot thing but as, as it’s nearly Halloween, you could possibly write a short story that includes a scarecrow in a graveyard.

Sarina Langer  25:03

There you go. Doesn’t have to be complicated. See, I’m overthinking it. That’s what happens when I don’t plan.

Beverley Lee  25:10

So you can do anything you want, but it must include a scarecrow in a graveyard.

Sarina Langer  25:15

There you go. Any genre, anything you want, but try to keep it under 6000 words because I think that’s what most anthologies are looking for, might even be shorter than that. But I think for a start, just see if you can do that. Now remember to include a clear beginning, middle, and end. That’s all we need to do. All right, well, I think we can leave it on that. I will definitely link to all that in the show notes as well. I’m gonna link to Horror Tree.

Beverley Lee  25:43

Well, thank you very much for hosting me. It’s been a pleasure as always, Sarina.

Sarina Langer  25:48

Always, always. And we’ve had tea! No cake this time. Thank you very much for having a chat with me. And I hope that it’s helped you guys get started with writing short stories. Thank you very much, Bev!

Beverley Lee  26:02

Bye bye!

Sarina Langer  26:06

If you enjoyed today’s episode, maybe learn something along the way, hit the subscribe button. You can also connect with me on Twitter @sarina_langer, on Instagram and Facebook @sarinalangerwriter, and of course on my website at Until next time! Bye!

Transcribed by

Sign up for my mailing list for updates on my books, excerpts, early cover reveals, and the exclusive freebies Shadow in Ar’Sanciond (the Relics of Ar’Zac prequel novella) and Pashros Kai Zo (a Relics of Ar’Zac short story, which isn’t available anywhere else).

Take me to the Welcome page.

The Writing Sparrow Episode 6: What Is NaNoWriMo?

Listen to the Episode:


Sarina Langer 0:06
Hello, and welcome to the Writing Sparrow podcast. I’m Sarina Langer, and this podcast is all about writing, publishing and marketing your book. You can find transcripts on my website at Let’s get started!

Hi friends and Sparrows and welcome back. It’s the 12th of October 2020. This is Episode Six, and today I’m talking about my favourite subject NaNoWriMo. If you’ve been anywhere on social media this month, you’ll have seen other writers mention NaNoWriMo quite a lot, but you may not actually know what it is. So today, I wanted to explain to you what it is and hopefully also get you excited to take part yourself if you haven’t done it before.

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, and it happens every November. The goal is to write 50,000 words between the first and last day of November. If that sounds like a lot, you’re right, it’s a monster event and I love it so much. There’s always this excitement I get around early October when I realise that next month is NaNoWriMo, and then from there on, I’m just motivated until I eventually get really tired halfway through November, because it’s also really difficult. But I don’t want to put you off already.

So, you can prepare for it if you like. I normally do but then I’m a plotter anyway. But there have also been times when I didn’t prepare for it, and I was kind of surprised by how well it worked anyway. I think the only thing to remember is that you don’t overprepare for it because otherwise, you’ll end up with so many notes come November and so many pages upon pages of information that you’ll end up overwhelming yourself. And I promise you, there’ll be plenty of that during November itself.

You may also have heard of the smaller events that happen twice a year, Camp NaNo. They happen every April and every July, and they’re a lot more relaxed, so you don’t even need to write for them. Just editing or outlining is a perfectly good goal for camp. And your word count goal doesn’t have to be as chunky as 50,000 words, it can be whatever you want it to be. So if you just want to write, say, a 5000 word short story, for example, then that’s fine. If you want to edit 20,000 words of something, then that’s also perfectly good. Whatever you want to work on in the camps is great.

A lot of writers actually use the smaller camps to edit the book they’ve started or finished or continued in November. But you can also start something completely new if you want. The only important thing to remember is that for the big event in November, the idea is to only count the words towards that goal that you’re writing in November. So, say if you’ve already written 10,000 words in October, then they do not count towards your NaNo goal.

Joining NaNo is completely free, but if you fancy it, you can donate to support the good people who keep it running every year, because they do a really smashing job of that. And I… there’s also lots of other events that they put on around the country – maybe not this year so much given COVID – but normally, there’s lots of other events that they run throughout the world, I think. So all the more reason to donate if you want to. But again, you don’t have to, just joining and taking part itself is completely free. So don’t worry about that.

You can do either event, the big one in November or the smaller camps, on your own. But I actually recommend that you join a cabin so you’ll have people to cheer you on throughout the month. A cabin is basically like a private-ish chat room. On the NaNoWriMo website, well, you can join, I think the number is limited to about 20 people, so it’ll never be too packed and never feel overcrowded. And to be honest, most people who join it, or a lot of them anyway, they end up just being silent throughout the month. I think they’re then mostly just there to read all the encouragement from the other writers, but they don’t necessarily take part in any of those chats themselves. So the number is quite small to start with and then it’ll never feel that busy anyway.

I don’t think joining those, well actually it definitely wasn’t possible to join those cabins for the big event in November, they were a camp only thing, but it seems like they’ve changed that for this year. My cabin is still active and people can talk in it, and I’m very excited about that because the cabins are a really good way to talk to other writers and generally keep your excitement going for the month and get that support and encouragement. So they are a really cool thing to join and I recommend that you do if you fancy maybe the more social part of such a pig monster event.

You will have to declare your project on the website to take part officially and you can also collect badges that way. So I think you got, say, one if you’ve written 1666 for the first time and then you get another badge if you’ve written for seven days in a row, things like that. And that’s always quite fun. I like collecting badges. All of those things will also help keep you accountable and get your excitement going as NaNo gets a little harder every week.

I’m not selling it, am I?

But the most important part of NaNo is that you do not have to make it to 50,000 words, okay? You don’t need to write that many. Because let’s be honest, that’s a monster goal for just one month. So don’t worry if you don’t. Just have fun, enjoy the excitement, get swept up in it as I normally do. And if you, if you make it, then yes, that’s a fantastic feeling obviously, 50,000 words in one month is a huge achievement, but NaNo’s really, really hard. It’s really easy to burn yourself out on it, trust me on that, I’ve done it once or twice, and especially if you’re also working at the same time, maybe even full time, and you’re trying to keep a family alive. That’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself.

So just remember that all progress is good progress. And it’s totally fine to just join for the hell of it, especially if it’s your first time doing it. Enjoy it, do your best to reach 50,000 words, and if you make it, great, if you don’t, who cares? Look at all those words you’ve written during November and just… or maybe if you hadn’t joined NaNo, maybe you wouldn’t have written all those words. So that’s a great achievement already. Well done. Just join and enjoy the NaNo madness cause there’s a lot of that.

I’ll leave it here because I want to keep the episode short as promised. But in two weeks, I’ll do another NaNo specific episode on how to prepare for it without overpreparing for it.

The action step this week is to join the fun, join the madness, sign up for NaNoWriMo and declare your project. Make sure you stock up on tea or coffee or whatever your brew and make sure you have a few snacks ready as well, because you’ll want them and you’ll deserve them. You can sign up at but don’t worry, the link is also in the shownotes, so you can just click that. If you would like to join my cabin, get in touch. There’s limited availability, but I’ll fit you in if I can. The more the merrier or you know up to 20 people because that’s the limit. The easiest way to do that is probably via social media. The links for that will just follow in a second. See you there!

If you enjoyed today’s episode, maybe learn something along the way, hit the subscribe button. You can also connect with me on Twitter @sarina_langer, on Instagram and Facebook @sarinalangerwriter, and of course on my website at Until next time! Bye!

Transcribed by

Sign up for my mailing list for updates on my books, excerpts, early cover reveals, and the exclusive freebies Shadow in Ar’Sanciond (the Relics of Ar’Zac prequel novella) and Pashros Kai Zo (a Relics of Ar’Zac short story, which isn’t available anywhere else).

Take me to the Welcome page.

The Writing Sparrow Episode 5: Lessons Learned from Publishing a Debut Series with G. R. Thomas

Listen to the Episode:


Sarina Langer 0:08
Hello, and welcome to the Writing Sparrow podcast. I’m Sarina Langer, and this podcast is all about writing, publishing and marketing your book. You can find transcripts on my website at Let’s get started!

Hello again, friends and sparrows. And welcome back to Episode Five of this podcast. Um, today is the fifth of October 2020, and it’s a very special one because I have author GR Thomas with me, that’s Grace, and she has written four books. Now it’s a debut series. And I think it’s fair to say that she has learned one or two things along the way. And it’s our hope that by listening to us chat about her journey today that you will maybe learn a thing or two about just what’s in it for you on this journey, especially if you’re just about to start writing your first book.

So, hello and welcome, Grace. How are you? I’m so pleased that we can do this and just have a chat. So you have just published your fourth book by the time this podcast goes live.

Grace 1:25
Hi, Sarina. I’m really well, thank you for having me. Yes, in a couple days. So the 30th of September. Yeah.

Sarina Langer 1:30
So, this should go live on the fifth of October all being well, unless I’ve got my dates wrong, in which case sorry to everyone who I’ve just confused.

Grace 1:37
It will be five days old.

Sarina Langer 1:39
Yay. Very exciting. And I know from personal experience very well that to start with, this was, what, books three and four were just book three, to begin with. Is that one of the biggest changes that you’ve made since you started writing?

Grace 1:57
Um, yeah, huge. I think I didn’t actually understand from the beginning, that although I had an idea, that the characters and the story kind of, can get carried away with themselves. And it goes on and on. And the characters went on and went on. And I thought I was having a trilogy, that was my vision. Because they’re very common, a trilogy, I read a lot of trilogies, and it sounded like a reasonable thing to aim for. And then as you will know, it ended up quite massive. And it was a bit of a conundrum. And I think the splitting of it, in the end was probably the best thing that ever happened for it.

Sarina Langer 2:40
Well, I think we do that, don’t we? We as authors tend to get carried away a lot when we write the first draft. And then our characters also get carried away a lot. Just if we, if we’re brave enough to just give them the reins and just see what they get up to, it can go into a completely different direction. And then suddenly you have, you’ve written 100,000 words, and you were only ever planning on 70. And you have no idea what to do will all that. And of course, in your case, you had written a lot more than just 100,000 words.

Grace 3:08
Yeah, I think probably in all if I added up all four books before editing, it was probably I reckon about over 600,000 words, or–

Sarina Langer 3:19
That sounds about right. Yeah, I seem to remember seeing a little of word count like that and thinking oh dear, better make another tea.

Grace 3:27

Sarina Langer 3:28
That’s all right. You’re good.

Well, let’s start at the beginning. When did you first start writing this? What do you call it, a quadrilogy? Hmm.

Grace 3:41
Well, actually, Beverly Lee called it a quartet. And I quite like that.

Sarina Langer 3:45
A quartet, hm, yeah, that makes more sense. That’s a word, too, unlike what I just said.

Grace 3:50
But, um, I started writing in 2014. After I read a book by an author called Rochelle Maya Callen, and I loved the book, it was like an urban fantasy novel. And I read her bio, I often do that with authors.

Sarina Langer 4:10
I do now as well, it’s something I’ve started doing.

Grace 4:14
Yeah, because I think it’s interesting. And her bio was quite similar to me. She had always loved reading and had always wanted to write a story, but then she thought… she did life instead, she went to university and had a job and da da da, and then had a child. And when she had was… I think, when she was pregnant the first time she thought I’m gonna write that book. And it just resonated with me. So that day, I sent her an email, never thinking I would hear from her. I just sent her an email saying, Oh, my gosh, that’s really inspired me if you can do that, and you’ve written this amazing book that I really love.

Sarina Langer 4:48
I’ve talked about exactly something like that on the last podcast that I’ve just published about how I’ve written… you know, how I’ve read this book by Karen Miller and it’s inspired me to start writing again, and I’d written her an email, not thinking that she would get back to me and she did.

Grace 5:03
Well, that’s the same!

Sarina Langer 5:04
It’s exactly the same!

Grace 5:06
Yeah, within 24 hours, this strange lady from the US, massive, and I mean, this email gigantic. And I still remember, I don’t have the email anymore. I wish I had kept it. But remember that she said, My heart is bursting with joy that you want to write. And I wrote to her as soon as I read your bio, I started writing the first paragraphs of Awaken. And since then, to this day, we’ve remained friends, and she’s gone on this messy writing journey. She’s become a writing coach and all kinds of amazing things. And she’s republished one of her amazing books with a proper publishing house, like she was an indie author, and she’s gone through this huge metamorphosis. And I’m so… we still talk to this day. And I actually dedicated my first book to her because it was because of that contact with her that I literally picked up a pen and started scribbling something down,

Sarina Langer 6:07
That’s such a wonderful thing to get out of that. And only because you were brave enough to write to her in the first place, I mean, let that be a lesson to everyone listening that sometimes, you know, it’s literally all it takes is to just be brave and tell someone that they’ve inspired you and just see what happens. And maybe you just make a lifelong friend out of it. And I think also, what we should take away from this is to all of you thinking that you just knock your book out in a month, and then publish it and get famous right away. Jeynelle has started this journey six years ago in 2014. And, you know, four books and six years, that’s really good. I think that’s, that’s a good number I think to aim for, because obviously, there’s so much that goes into it, as you well know. And especially with your first book, you can’t imagine to just, you know, just sit down home, knock it out, publish it, and then you’re done. You know,

Grace 7:01
I think I actually shocked myself that I finished the first book.

I didn’t quite know that I was going to finish it. And then I did. But then it’s kind of sounds a bit weird. It was kind of like having the baby, My first baby. I had my first baby, I knew I wanted another baby. And

I literally… Oh my gosh, hang on a little, I’m not gonna answer that.

I um literally started the second book Surrender when I sent this other book off to my first editor. And it just sort of went from there. So.

Sarina Langer 7:37
Isn’t that great? See, I did, I did that sort of in a similar way. When I finished my first book, Rise of the Sparrows, in that I thought, well, I want this to be a trilogy, probably because I thought that’s what you do. I thought, you know, when, when you write a series, you write a trilogy, that’s the thing. But I wasn’t really sure exactly how it was going to end, and I had no idea whatsoever what I might be able to deal with books two and three. That was a problem for future Sarina, not a problem for Rise of the Sparrows Sarina. So when I was done with that, I still wanted the series, but also I had no idea what to do. So I went through the first book again, just to see what I might have set up. I mean, my process has changed so much from the first book where I had a plan, but really only for the first book. And now when I plan, I have an idea for the whole series. So I know where I’m going.

Grace 8:29
What’s interesting is that because I’ve always known the ending, and the ending that you know, is exactly the ending I always knew was going to happen. The filling in, in between, um, that’s what sort of evolved and sort of grew and I filled in and fleshed out like there’s certain elements I always knew were going to be there. And they did end up being there. But there were also characters in there who appeared, which I wasn’t expecting. And there was one particular character, which I won’t say, who was going to be a bad guy, but turned out being a really good guy. I thought just…

Sarina Langer 9:09
You should tell me all about that later. I want to hear all about that. I think this is probably one of the most exciting things for me, and I think it is for you too. So when you start with something, and you think you know where you’re going with this, and then suddenly there’s this new character saying, Hello, I’m going to be in your book now. And then maybe they’ll become the most important character, you just don’t know when you start. For me, that’s so exciting.

Grace 9:34
This one did become quite significant. But also what was a surprise I don’t know whether I’m jumping ahead here or not. But I’m in, I actually between Book Two and Book Three, I had massive writer’s block. I completely lost the voice of my character. Yep, I had six months, even though like I had this vision. I knew where my ending was going. I lost my character’s voice. She was coming out wrong, her… she sounded wrong, she felt wrong. Everything I wrote seemed wrong. And I felt, probably because I felt this urgency to finish it and get going. Because by the time I had started the third book, I was going to pop culture expos and selling my books, which, because mine is urban fantasy supernatural, really suited those things, you know, like, like, Comic Con in America, I have Comic Con in Australia, and we have another one called Supernova. And books, indie books, can do quite well there. And I was having a lot of people buy my books, but then I was having a lot of people saying, oh, I’m not gonna get your series until it’s finished.

Sarina Langer 10:48
There’s a lot of that, and I admit that I’ve done that.

Grace 10:50
Yes. And I felt this kind of urgency like I had to get it finished. But also at the same time I went back to work after having a few years off. And so you know, I was busy here, busy there, obviously being a mum. And it just occurred to me, I just had to put it away for a bit. I didn’t want to, but I did and there were six months, I put it away. And I actually deleted the first probably 10 chapters and started again,

Sarina Langer 11:18
I’ve been there, I feel that pain. I think quite a few writers have been where you were at the time that you just felt blocked, and you just could not get back into it. But also it’s supposed to be a series, so you have to. So, I have to ask, was the thing then that helped you get back into it that you just put it away for a bit?

Grace 11:39
Yeah, it was putting it away, and was actually admitting to myself I was stuck. And also, it felt like I had to cut my arm off, but I had to delete the chapters because I was rereading them, rereading, and I was trying to self edit them. But I couldn’t get past this dialogue that was coming out wrong.

Sarina Langer 12:00
Oh, that’s horrible. I know exactly what it feels like.

Grace 12:03
Yes. So I thought if I’m reading that dialogue and this narrative, and it doesn’t sound right, it’s not going to get out of my mind in my thinking. And I do remember highlighting it. And then I press Delete, and I felt a bit sick.

Sarina Langer 12:18
Oh, that must have felt horrible.

Grace 12:21
I felt a bit sick. Because for a minute I thought let me archive it. But then I thought I’ll probably go back to it. And I’ll stay stuck in it. But I knew it was wrong. And I knew, I knew how Sophia’s voice was meant to sound. And I’ll tell you now she was coming at angry. She was coming at angry and pissed off. And she, for anyone who reads my books or will read my books or has read my books, she has every reason to be annoyed and pissed off. But she was just, she’s coming out unlikable to me. And I thought if she’s unlikable to me, no one else is going to like her. So I had to delete it.

Sarina Langer 12:56
No, because she’s basically one of your children, isn’t she, I mean your main characters will do that. So if you can’t like your own child, you can’t expect anyone else to.

Grace 13:06
And it is really hard to read a book, even with a good story, if you don’t like the main character.

Sarina Langer 13:10
It’s really hard. Yeah, I mean, I always think that obviously, plot is important. And all the other characters and the relationships, they are very important. But the main character is your main character for a reason. And you want your readers to stay for their sake. So if they can’t stand the main character, then that’s going to make it really difficult to finish even just one book, let alone four.

Grace 13:30
And the interesting thing is, Sophia is a very close replication of me and my personality. And so maybe at that time, maybe I was feeling angry, maybe I was feeling stressed. So maybe that’s why she was coming out that way.

Sarina Langer 13:46
And hopefully writing all that down and her voice has helped you a little bit walk through it because writing can be such great therapy.

Grace 13:53
Oh, you know what? I recognise that now. Probably not then.

Sarina Langer 13:58
That’s always how it goes.

Grace 13:59
during this COVID lockdown as you know, I finished off the last two books. And I’ve started writing this novella, which I’m absolutely in love with. I’m obsessed with it. But, and it’s really therapeutic because I can’t go anywhere. And my mind is just ticking over. So yeah, I’m finding it now quite therapeutic, but without the pressure of feeling like I have to do or achieve anything for anyone else other than myself.

Sarina Langer 14:28
Yes, because it’s just the start maybe of something. And at this point, you know that it’s not part of a series. It’s not a sequel. So if you don’t publish it, then that’s fine. You can just write it for yourself at this point. There are no expectations and that’s got to be like such a, it’s, it’s probably such freedom.

Grace 14:47
Yeah, I’ll tell you something really funny and interesting that happened last night. There was a big storm here and the power nap for about eight hours. And we had dinner by candlelight with the kids, which was quite novel. And it was novel because they actually all wanted to sit at the table with us, they had no technology. So we all had to sit together. And I was telling them about what I was doing with this new story. And we all had this fantastic, all the different ages, we had this fantastic round table of what they thought about my story. I was going around, because my new story is going to be more horror based, which I haven’t written before. And I was saying, What do you find scary? What do you find scary, you know, sound, smells, tastes. And then in the end, we had this fantastic conversation where they kind of actually helped me change this vision of the ending of this story I’m writing, which was really great.

Sarina Langer 15:44
So often, just talking it through with someone, if you’re feeling stuck, can make such a huge difference. I’m always up for that, as you know, you know, if you’re stuck, I’m very happy to discuss it with you. And just…

Grace 15:57
It’s interesting, because I’ve never felt the confidence of joining a writers group. Because I constantly get told, join a writers group, join a writers group, but I’ve never felt like I’ve got something to contribute.

Sarina Langer 16:07
Yeah. I’ve got experiences with that myself.

Grace 16:12
But then last night, I thought, Well, that was interesting, because they said, Yeah, now that doesn’t sound scary. Why don’t you try this? Oh, but that sounds good, blah, blah, blah. And it was actually really interesting. So it’s made me think, oh, maybe down the track. Maybe I might try something like that, because I’ve got a thicker skin now than when I started.

Sarina Langer 16:29
Yeah, that’s something that writers definitely have to develop, isn’t it? So if you’re listening right now, if you’re just, if you’re still at the start of your journey, watching what Grace has just said is very true, you will need a thicker skin if you haven’t got it already. Get used to it now because somebody will hate everything you do, no matter how much work you put into it. It’s just a fact of the business. I’m afraid it’ll happen. And that’s totally fine. As you know, as I’m sure you know, for every negative review, we’ll probably get 10 or more positive reviews of people who love it.

Grace 17:01
Yeah, I think you’ll learn to take the good out of a bad review. As long as it’s not a mean review. I’ve never had a mean review. I’ve had some ones that have made me cringe a bit, but I try and take the good out of it like, Okay, well, what are they trying to say? I’ll try and learn from it.

Sarina Langer 17:18
That’s the best way to do it. I think. I mean, when I, when I review a book that I didn’t like, I always try to be constructive. So that it’s not just, I hated this, this was terrible, this was awful. I can’t understant that. Especially if it’s maybe an indie book, and maybe it only has like one or two reviews. And I don’t want to be the person who just completely ruins the experience. I think yeah, I think what you’re doing with trying to see the positives of them is a very healthy thing to do. If they indeed give you something positive, you don’t always know. But

Grace 17:50
No, I think, look, I’ve been pretty lucky. I haven’t had any unkind reviews. You know, I’ve had a couple of which were a little bit cutting, but nothing was unkind.

Sarina Langer 18:00
Nothing that was an attack.

Grace 18:03
Yeah, exactly. And that, because they can can be particularly on Goodreads, you know, Goodreads is a bit unmonitored, unlike Amazon, and people can be a bit nasty. And you got to just keep that in mind. Like, I’ve gone, I mean, you can go on to bestsellers, like the biggest books ever written. And people write some terrible stuff about them.

Sarina Langer 18:22
Absolutely. I think the more positive, I think the more positive reviews a book has on Goodreads, the more every reviewer who doesn’t like the book almost feels compelled to really justify why they didn’t like the book, and they’re really laying into it. But I feel like that’s a Goodreads phenomenon. So again, also something to get used to maybe, don’t read all of your reviews, especially on Goodreads because they can get nasty. And I swear sometimes it’s just for the sake of nastiness.

Grace 18:53
Yeah. And you do have the ones that, I do have my one, my one one-star review with no words. And from what I understand there is that little group of people who like to just go and put one star on things they don’t even read just to bring people’s writing down. So you’ve got to keep that in mind. If there’s a bad review with not even a word, I don’t take that as a review. I just take that as very lazy, or just a bit of meanness. To me, that means nothing.

Sarina Langer 19:21
And also, a negative review doesn’t have to mean that your book is bad. As you probably know, I mean, I always have to look at why they didn’t like the book because you know, someone’s reason for hating a book might be your reason for loving the book. Yeah, you know, we all look for different things at the end of the day.

Grace 19:39
Well, I’m, see I’m, I’m totally not into constant triple x erotic fiction. And like, that like the biggest seller. Maybe I should write it. People just make scrillions out of that. No, I…

Sarina Langer 19:53
You know, I have to say, I thought I should try writing this, but I can’t. It doesn’t come naturally to me.

Grace 20:01
Yeah, it’s not for me, I just kind of think, yeah, but where’s the story? Well, the clothes are off.

Sarina Langer 20:08
I read one book, I won’t name the author or which book of course, but I read one sci fi novella, I think it was, which was supposed to be like an erotic space adventure kind of thing. And it got to a point where the whole station was about to blow up. And the character literally had something like, Okay, so this station, it’s about to explode. But let’s just have sex really quickly. So… no. Which part of the station is about to explode do you not understand? this is not the time to take off your clothes, and have sex with someone. This is the worst time for this. It’s just prioritise. Prioritise.

Grace 20:47
Oh, my gosh. Yeah, I know, I think yeah, I think Yeah, a bit, just having a bit of perspective. And I think, yeah, that thick skin, it takes a little while to grow.

Sarina Langer 20:58
Definitely, but you will need to grow it. And then it’s hopefully just something that will develop naturally, as you start getting negative feedback, which is unavoidable, and it’s fine, it doesn’t mean that your book is bad, or that you’re a bad writer, it’s just something that’s gonna happen.

Grace 21:14
I think it’s important to take, it is important to take feedback on things because they could actually be something fundamentally wrong. Like, I know some people are very stingy about typos. And, yes, they all get through. Um, but you got to be aware of that and be prepared to go in and make a change or understand to be, you know, more attentive to things like that. Yeah, sometimes I know, some readers are very, very sensitive to that very sensitive.

Sarina Langer 21:45
I do think that some readers, especially reviewers tend to maybe overthink it a little bit when they read books, and I can almost picture them with checklists of this book needs to have this and this and this and this. And then if they don’t have it, they give a negative review. And there’s no mention in their review about whether they actually liked the story or not.

Grace 22:05
So I have a tolerance, I have, I have a pretty high tolerance for mistakes in books, if I enjoy the story, because if I enjoy the story Oh, well, you know, I don’t mind. There’s mistakes in loads of books and stuff, as long as it’s not massive. So yeah, I do, I do think you need to take on board if someone’s picked out a legitimate error or something. And like, I won’t say it now but I do know, in time, I’ll go back and probably review things and maybe tweak things, because I’ve learned a lot over the time. But they’re things I’ll do in the future, when I feel I’ve got more experience under my belt.

Sarina Langer 22:46
Yeah, that’s I think, that’s quite a healthy attitude. I mean, you see even big name authors like, well, I can’t think of a good example now but, you know, you have seen some that have said, say on a writers panel, that they’ve read the first book again, and they cringe at how different it is to the stuff that they’re putting out now 10 years later. So it’s something that we all do, you know, indie published or traditionally published, we all evolve as writers. So, it doesn’t have to mean that you need to go back to your first book and adapt it to how your style has changed. Just, just leave it, write the next book, keep growing. And I know, again, from personal experience that you have done a lot of growing over the years. And I’m so proud of you, actually, of how much… of how far you’ve come from your first book now to this one, and how much work and effort you’ve put into it. I mean, you really haven’t shied away from having to do the hard decisions on this.

Grace 23:45
Oh, look, I’ve enjoyed your red pen wielding all over my manuscript. Some, you’ve been very kind in your words.

Sarina Langer 23:58
I should, I should say at this point that for Grace’s last two books, I have been her editor on the developmental edit and the line edit. So I know exactly how much these books have changed, because I’ve been behind it.

Grace 24:14
But you see, it’s interesting. A lot of, a lot of, a lot of writers say they hate editing, I actually quite like it. I do. I mean, as you know, though, it has been hard for me to let some things go. And you will see there’s a couple of things I didn’t.

Sarina Langer 24:28
Well, we all struggle with that.

Grace 24:31
But in the main, I let go the things that I did see through your eyes just didn’t work. And then when you go back and look at how it works better, and I’ve really, really learned through that. I think that is… it sounds really silly, but I thought I kind of chilled out of it, through it all and realising it…

Sarina Langer 24:54
I think we all do.

Grace 24:55
Yeah, yeah. The constructive criticisms are there for the positive end of the book.

Sarina Langer 25:03
that said, I mean, I remember when I wrote my first ever book, the one that we don’t talk about, years before Rise of the Sparrows. I was, I was so proud of that but I was terrible, and I mean absolutely terrible, at taking feedback on it. I remember my partner read over it, and I should also say he’s not a reader so he’s not really my target audience to begin with, but he would, he would just give me like some advice on where I got the grammar wrong. And I’d be so defensive of it, which I think is something that so many new writers do, because it, you know, it’s your baby, we get that. You’ve put so much work into it and you always think that no one will understand your book exactly like you do, because it’s come from you. But actually, you need that second opinion of someone who’s not that married to it, who can see it for, well, how a reader is going to see it because you can’t do that.

Grace 25:55
I think the thing… the first time someone who reads your book, particularly someone who is not someone you know, is honestly like.. You know that dream people have where you wake up and you’re like, you’re naked at school, or you’re walking down the street naked, it’s honestly like baring your soul. And I remember the first time anyone who wasn’t even related to me read Awaken I was, I felt sick, I felt absolutely sick.

Sarina Langer 26:22
That’s exactly how I feel with this podcast. I’ve got used to my books to a degree. But this now because I’m also putting my voice out there. And it’s not, it’s not edited. I think that’s probably the hardest part. Because obviously, by the time you publish your book, you’ve had so many different revisions of it. This is very raw. And that’s very scary. So

Grace 26:42
Look, you’re braver than me. I understand that.

Sarina Langer 26:44
And yet, you’re here. And you’re doing this with me. So you’re also very brave.

Grace 26:48
I’ve got braver, well, hey, I, I remember the first day I turned up to my first Expo with my one little book. And I remember when they opened and thousands of people walked in, and people were just kept walking by and by and by and I literally was shaking, I was so nervous.

Sarina Langer 27:06
Oh, they’re so terrifying. We should talk about this in a future podcast, maybe about your experience with those kinds of expos, because you’ve done quite a few and I consider you a bit of an expert on it. So we should have another chat about that at some point. I feel like we’re getting sidetracked a bit.

Grace 27:24
I’d love to! I’m so sorry.

Sarina Langer 27:25
No, that’s my fault. And, um, so over the last six years, since you’ve published your first book, or even just since you started thinking about maybe writing a book, what would you say are the main things that you’ve learned?

Grace 27:43
Oh! A, there’s very little opportunity to make some money out of it. You think you’re going into it with grand plans,

Sarina Langer 27:52
That was my first plan before Rise of the Sparrows.

Grace 27:56
So I’ve learned realism and some realistic options. I have learned that, particularly as an indie author, now, I was very invisible to start with. Just finding someone to read or beta read in the beginning was so so hard, it was so hard. And I had to work really hard to make connections. And to be honest, it wasn’t until I got onto Instagram, and I accidentally sort of dropped myself into someone else’s conversation one day on Instagram. And that led me to a particular offer, which led me to another author, which led me to you, which led me to Becky Wright. And it sort of just flowed from there.

So the biggest thing I’ve learned outside of crafting, writing and learning from writing is to make really meaningful connections and friendships through authors and readers and, and learn from them. And, like, help each other, helping each other is probably the most valuable thing I didn’t know I needed in the beginning.

Sarina Langer 29:11
Our community is so good at that, isn’t it. the writing community is wonderful. So if you’re having any second thoughts at all about getting out there on social media, just do it because we are there. And it’s such a welcoming and supportive place.

Grace 29:27
If I had have known at the beginning what I should have done then I would have started marketing my book and making those connections before it was out. I think that’s the thing I didn’t know at the time. So if I’d started marketing I would have had some momentum for it and that, because you know, my book was released and it was like crickets chirping.

Um, but yeah, making that community and it’s not… For me, over time, it’s not just been about the book. Now I’ve made some amazing friendships which I value, I value them more than just being about people who’ve helped me with my book. They’re wonderful. You know.

Sarina Langer 30:12
I know exactly what you mean.

Grace 30:14
I didn’t fly to England last year just to sell you a book did I. I came over to meet you guys, because it was an opportunity. And it was wonderful. And you guys all, you know, mean a lot to me. And it’s like, I’ve got this other life. I’ve got my home life with my family. And I’ve got my book life and my book life is kind of very centering to me outside, outside of the stresses of my normal life. And yeah, so these are things I didn’t know or anticipate when I first started writing.

Sarina Langer 30:49
Well, you’ve heard it here first. Get yourself on social media and just start talking to people. Writers are not weird people. Although we are all a bit weird, aren’t we.

Grace 30:59
We have to be because you make up voices in your head, don’t you?

Sarina Langer 31:03
I don’t make them up, they were already there. We just started collaborating. And now I have books?

Grace 31:09
Yes. You did that by listening to them and writing them down.

Sarina Langer 31:12
Yeah, that’s the only difference. And if you could look beyond that, I feel like we’ve kind of already covered it. But I’ll ask anyway. If you could give new writers who are just at the start of their journey just one piece of advice, something to consider for the years of hard work ahead. What would it be?

Grace 31:33
Ah, you know, I would say, and I warn people of this all the time now, don’t pay for reviews. Don’t go to vanity presses. Do not answer unsolicited emails saying we will promote and market your book.

Sarina Langer 31:46
Oh god, no never. They’re usually always a scam.

Grace 31:50
Everything I have done over the last few years when I was new, and had no one to guide me. I made all those mistakes. I’ve been ripped off, I’ve been scammed. So I… because I didn’t know, I didn’t know any better. I just believed that this was a thing. So I think indie authors, new indie authors, you’re sitting ducks, because you want to sell a book, and you want a review. And people know this and they’re fake, they lie. So really, making connections with real people, you know, read someone else’s book, and they might read yours. And, and keep reading other books, and someone else might read yours, talk about your book, but talk about someone else’s book as well, you know, sort of share the love a little bit and I think that’s how I found it. But don’t pay anyone for anything like that, because it’s just to take advantage of you.

Sarina Langer 32:49
Very well said and thank you very much for that. I think that’s a good point to end on, so thank you very much for having a chat with me, Grace, and thank you guys very much for listening.

If you enjoyed today’s episode, maybe learn something along the way, hit the subscribe button. You can also connect with me on Twitter @sarina_langer, on Instagram and Facebook @sarinalangerwriter, and of course on my website at Until next time! Bye!

Transcribed by

Sign up for my mailing list for updates on my books, excerpts, early cover reveals, and the exclusive freebies Shadow in Ar’Sanciond (the Relics of Ar’Zac prequel novella) and Pashros Kai Zo (a Relics of Ar’Zac short story, which isn’t available anywhere else).

Take me to the Welcome page.

The Writing Sparrow Episode 4: A Chat About Formatting, Book Trailers, and Book Covers with Becky Wright

Listen to the Episode:


Sarina Langer  00:08

Hello, and welcome to the Writing Sparrow podcast. I’m Sarina Langer, and this podcast is all about writing, publishing and marketing your book. You can find transcripts on my website at Let’s get started!

Welcome back, friends and Sparrows, to episode number four. It is the 28th of September 2020, and today I have Becky Wright with me on zoom. Apart from being an indie author herself, she also runs a full time business, Platform House Publishing with her husband. And that’s what we’ll be talking about today. The services they offer include formatting, book trailers, and book covers. And I have worked with them myself on several projects. Well, first of all, welcome to my podcast. You’re the first person I’ve interviewed for it. I’ve done one interview before but for someone else’s podcast. But it’s a lot more weird when it’s my own.

Becky  01:15

Yes, yeah, you’re in control. So it’s fine. You’re in control.

Sarina Langer  01:25

I am, I am very in control. I’ve done the first episodes just with myself. And that was incredibly weird and awkward. So it’s actually a lot easier doing an interview because I can see you. Of course the listeners, they can’t see anything. But I could see you while we were doing the interview.

Becky  01:43

Yeah, you’re not getting crazy. You’re not talking to yourself,

Sarina Langer  01:45

thank God. It’s been a worry for many years. This is very different. And I mean, your business, as you’ve just said to me, before we started recording it, you’ve been really busy. I’m really chuffed for you. Because what you do is normally so good. So you’ve done a few things for me. You’ve done trailers, you’ve done a cover for a short story, and now you’re doing another few covers for the podcasts. And you’ve been formatting for me? Yes, now we’re doing this as well. So I know how good you are. And I know how fast your turnaround is as well.

Becky  02:21

We do really try to be really quick. We try to be realistic, because most people want things done yesterday.

Sarina Langer  02:29

Oh, yeah, I know that.

Becky  02:31

Because that’s the thing with writers, you know yourself. We’re all… we’re all involved in the actual writing process. We think, Oh, I need to get this sorted. When do I need it? Well, I needed it yesterday. But I suppose I better talk to someone about getting it done. And then we do have a little bit of a time… a time issue cuz my husband works full time. Yeah, so yeah. So because he deals with all the the trailers and the book covers and  the digital aspect. And he’s in charge of that. So on his days off… well he doesn’t get a day off. His days off, he’s working for me. So whenever he actually gets a day off–

Sarina Langer  03:10

It’s got to be so hard for him as well, because I’ve– The first episode I recorded for this, apart from my introduction, was about burnout and how important it is to look after yourself and to take time off. I trust he still gets some time for himself even–

Becky  03:25

Yeah yeah. Well he went fishing last night, so I was quite happy

Sarina Langer  03:30

Night fishing. That sounds so relaxing.

Becky  03:34

Yeah. He loves fishing. Fishing is his go-to sort of chill-out time. Doesn’t have to think, doesn’t have to talk to anybody, doesn’t have to talk to me.

Sarina Langer  03:52

I can’t really see you being very demanding. But of course with this job, because there are so many things happening all the time and all at once, I mean your to-do list must just completely blow mine out of the water.

Becky  04:03

I work with my diary, my diary is attached to my palm most of the day. It sat on my desk and it doesn’t move and it’s, it’s constantly open and I’m constantly updating because I have a brain like a sieve. Yeah, I think it’s, it’s, it’s that writer’s brain because we’re all… it’s marshmallow most of the time. You’re so consumed by words and plots and characters who decide to do their own thing.

Sarina Langer  04:33

Weirdly enough in this lockdown, everyone’s been talking about how at first they didn’t really do any writing. And then they just kind of got into a new routine and they ended up writing and plotting and world building and all that and I just burned out really bad.

Becky  04:50

I didn’t do anything. No, I’m with you on that reading. My reading has had to take a backstep. I’ve had to prioritise because everybody decided, right, wait, I’ve got all this time on my hands. I’m gonna write. So now I need formatting on book covers, and we’ve been so busy because of that.

Sarina Langer  05:12

But I’m so chuffed for you because of course you just set up the business. I think it was only last year and it’s just completely blown up, so that’s credit to you and your husband for how good you are.

Becky  05:25

Thank you. It’s wonderful to hear. I mean, we get some fantastic words of reviews. And everyone’s saying, oh, my goodness, that’s amazing, I never never imagined that’s what it was going to look like. Because most people have an idea. We all have an idea in our head, yes. But when it’s actually visual, and you can actually see, especially with the trailers, the trailers are… they are the thing.

Sarina Langer  05:47

When I first asked you to do a trailer for me, to me, it felt like the hugest thing I’ve ever done. Definitely, because normally, when you think of a trailer, like something that you might see on TV, or maybe in the cinema, so for little me, with five books published and a box set, to have a trailer for my book was something so bizarre.

Becky  06:10

I know. And we really try to… I mean, we did a lot of extensive research into the market and what was available out there. And if you’re a big publishing house, with, with massive funds behind you, it’s okay, you can have these beautiful, beautiful trailers with real actors and, and we thought we can’t do that. But James has fantastic access to videos, and we’ve incorporated a lot of moving aspects to the trailers now. And yesterday… this is actually a sneak peek. No one knows this. My new, my new novella is coming out very soon, and obviously James has decided that we’re going to have this fantastic trailer for it. Okay, well, I’ll leave that to you. And he’s found a voice artist, and  she’s done the read-over the top. So rather than just having music and the words on the screen–

Sarina Langer  07:11

You stepped it up another bit. Yeah, that sounds incredible.

Becky  07:16

It was a little trial thinking Well, okay, how good is it actually going to be and so we sent the blurb and she did it. And the turnaround was like within hours actually. And, and it was so amazing. I literally just cried last night thinking–

Sarina Langer  07:31

Oh, I feel that. When I first heard my narrator start reading Rise of the Sparrows, I just started thinking, Oh, my God, this is… she’s reading my book. And she just read that Cephy is crying, and she’s actually doing some crying noises. And I feel like… I actually feel really bad.

Becky  07:53

It’s amazing how your characters… I mean, in your head and in the readers head, we have our own thoughts of what they sound like, what they feel like to hear, like, even if they were in the room and having a conversation with you. And when an audio artist puts that into reality, and all of a sudden your words that you created. This just… it’s a fantastic feeling.

Sarina Langer  08:15

It’s one of my favourite things for me so far. I mean, I published my first book about four years ago, and there’s been so many highlights, absolutely. Like your book trailer, for example. But hearing a narrator read it and do the accents as well, for me was the first time I’ve thought about… I’ve really thought about the accents. Because as you’ve just said, your character sounds a certain way in your head. Usually it’s just you. And then when you do an audiobook, you have to hand in the list of all the characters, if they have any speech habits, whatever. And I just sat there thinking, well, Kaida should probably sound Japanese, because that’s where she’s from in the book. And to me, she just sounds like a fancier version of myself. Obviously, I’m not Japanese, and I don’t have an accent. So to hear her do that, for me was a bit of ah this is really weird.

Becky  09:09

Yeah, yeah. But also really good. Yeah, fantastic. We’re learning all the time. All of us. We’re all learning. Every time, I know, these little milestones and these little steps we were climbing and it gets a bit bigger and we climb ever more. And it’s like, are we going to do this and, and when we take a step back and actually look at how much you’ve achieved? It’s amazing as an independant author because we don’t have massive publishing houses behind us.

Sarina Langer  09:41

We have to do everything ourselves. Obviously, we can outsource quite a few things. But ultimately, that’s down to us. You know, we don’t have someone who says, By the way, we’ve just started work on your cover. This is the person who’s going to be doing it. You know, we end up doing all the research into that ourselves. We have to find someone ourselves. And then hopefully we get a mock version the cover so we can choose something. And then we’ll take it from there. But, you know, I think quite often when people first decide I’m going to write a book, they don’t necessarily know how much actually goes into this process, because it’s not just sitting there. And the words probably won’t just pour out magically with rainbows and sparkles attached. It is actually really hard.

Becky  10:27

Yeah, I mean, I don’t know about you, Sarina, but when I first decided, oh, I literally woke up one morning, I thought, I’m going to write a book, everyone looked to me and thought, she’s… she’s lost the plot today. I had no aspirations of doing anything with it apart from getting the story on paper.

Sarina Langer  10:47

That’s probably the best way to approach it to be fair, if I end up having no expectations. And then when your first book ultimately, doesn’t do very well, because most of our books don’t, but it’s fine. By the way, you know, don’t go expecting that your first book is going to make you famous overnight. And you know, if you go in with just the expectation of just I’m just going to write a book and see what happens. I think that’s really… that’s a really healthy mindset to have.

Becky  11:14

Yeah. And I think it’s also for personal achievement, knowing that you’ve created the character, that story. And it’s unique to you. And we all know that there’s only certain, certain amount of plots out there, there’s only a certain amount of scenarios. Yeah, but no one’s told that story in your way. So it’s your story.

Sarina Langer  11:34

I’ve recorded exactly something like that yesterday, one of my first episodes is – or was I guess, at the time you’re hearing this – about whether your story is good enough. And that’s one of the things that I said, that you don’t know how much your story is going to grow, or what it might become, your first idea is just that it’s just, it’s just the starting point of something that will blow up into something much larger than what you can perceive right now at the very beginning. It will grow into something so beautiful.

Becky  12:05

Exactly. And it’s also when you first start you do have… I suppose there’s, there’s people have different feelings. Some people like myself, and probably you I’m just going to put this story down on paper and see how I feel about it. And the characters do grow. And I never quite know exactly when I start, I have, I have a general idea of what genre and where I think I’m going. But really is not until the characters pick up the plotline and thinking I will actually, I’m going over here with this

Sarina Langer  12:42

Actually, I may be a little bit drunk right now – not me, the character – cuz so often you just, you just don’t expect at all where they’re going to go. Often I’ve just thought well Rachel, where did that come from? We did not talk about that. I can’t- I don’t remember allowing this

Becky  12:57

Exactly. And I think it is the moments where you, you realise that… I think that you realise that you’re meant to be doing this. If it’s not, if it’s something that comes naturally and the characters then do it themselves, then you are not necessarily in control. So it’s something that’s happening. I think, if you have to put too much structure into it, and you have to plan too much, right, in this chapter this has got to happen, this conversation has got to happen, it’s too regimental, it’s too planned and then it becomes a little bit limited.

Sarina Langer  13:35

I mean, I, I plan and I plot quite a lot, I’m definitely more of a plotter. But I also always think of myself more of a very flexible plotter, so I know where things are going to go. I know roughly what the end is. Sometimes I have a very faint idea, but I would never sit down and, and know exactly what needs to happen in every single chapter and how long they need to be and then stick to that so rigidly that my book suffocates.

Becky  14:04

That’s it. Yeah, yeah. I mean, I think we all need some sort of idea where we’re going Otherwise, we’ll end up in nonsense which goes around the circle and no one’s getting anywhere.

Sarina Langer  14:13

Exactly. And I don’t believe that people who say that they are complete pantsers have no idea whatsoever when they’re going in, because you must have had some kind of idea that made you sit down and decide to write this down.


That’s it. So you already have something.

Sarina Langer  14:28

Exactly, no, it doesn’t have to be a completely full blown structure that’s really long enough to be its own novella in its own right. But you have something and because of that you probably already have some idea of where it needs to go or where you would like it to go. So that’s… that’s a plot. It doesn’t take long, but that’s a plot, that’s an idea and direction.

Becky  14:50

Yeah, where you’re going and who your character is. I always tend to start with a character. I just listen and know them quite well. They’re thinking, Okay, now what’s happening with you? What you up to here? What’s he going to do. Let’s see where that goes next.

Sarina Langer  15:06

I just throw 100 tarantulas at him. Will he panic? I would, I would probably just have a heart attack and die. It’s fun to do because you know, who knows what they’re scared of until you throw 100 tarantulas at them? Yeah, me too. I should try that. The first question that I’d written down for you was formatting related because for me formatting, and I think for many writers, is the Antichrist. Formatting for me means wanting to throw my laptop out of the window, taking a pillow and screaming into it until I have no voice left. But you enjoy it.

Becky  15:53

I absolutely love it. I think the problem is I am slightly dyslexic. And which is really strange to be a writer. No, I think I’m a storyteller. So as long as I can tell the story, I leave the other aspects in the hands of others like you to deal with the other things. But when it comes to formatting my brain and my eye works on visual. And I like things to look neat and tidy, and uniform. So I think formatting is the way. And when we don’t use… we don’t use templates. And I looked into all of that initially. So I build my own templates. And we do it all in Word. And then I input, I import everything else. And… but I’ve learned, I’ve learned everything the hard way.

Sarina Langer  16:53

I mean, there’s only so much research that you can do before you actually have to start doing it. When I started writing my first book, I thought I knew roughly what I was doing plotwise. But since then, I think for every book that I’ve written, my procedure has changed again and again and again. So you’re just constantly evolving.

Becky  17:12

That’s it, and you just learn, like we’ve, we’ve had the conversation before that you are, we are always learning this, is never a business that you can sit static and thinking, yeah, I know what I’m doing. I’ve got everything figured out, I’ve got this template now. And my next book will be easy but it’s gonna kick you in the butt and it never works. And I think I would like to think that most independent authors out there have the same mindset that they know that this is a learning curve. And the industry’s forever changing, there will always be something new.

Sarina Langer  17:47

I mean, just think back a few years ago, we still had CreateSpace. And now that’s gone. And everything just runs over KDP. And that just yeah, it seemed to happen overnight, but in Amazon’s defence, I think they’ve, you know, they’ve really given us quite a long time to get used to the idea. But it’s just changes like that, that you don’t see coming at the start of the year. I guess.

Becky  18:10

That’s it. Yeah, exactly. 2020 is a fine example of that,

Sarina Langer  18:14

Oh, blimey, I mean, I had so many plans at the start of the year, and none of it has happened or happened in quite the same way. Because I think the whole–

Becky  18:21

Everybody’s in the same boat, and that, that’s the population, we’re all in this together.

Sarina Langer  18:26

And I think as writers, we have this mindset, as you said that we know it’s going to be a learning curve. So when something like this happens, we don’t freeze and we go well, I don’t know how to deal with this. We go on, it’s just another thing that I didn’t plan on.

Becky  18:40

It’s a plot twist. We have to just adapt. Let’s just see how this pans out. How exciting.

Sarina Langer  18:48

Um, yeah, exactly. I mean, yes, I’m so I’m so grateful to you with what you’ve done with my box set. Because Originally, I thought, well, I’ve done the formatting for the other books by myself, I’ll do the box set and the novella too. And then for all my following books, I’ll give them to Becky. And then I sat down and thought, actually, I just I gave it to her

Becky  19:13

Absolute pleasure to know. I get… I feel quite honoured every time someone gives me a piece of work to do. I feel quite honoured to be part of part of the process. Yes, it’s so personal to the writers. And there’s a real element of trust, giving somebody your manuscript and saying, right, now put this into book form. Because obviously, we get it in an A4, full-run on manuscript and then it’s transferred into a book and then you… It’s when you get that proof copy, and yes, my goodness, it actually looks like a book. It doesn’t look like some random files on my screen. Those don’t make any sense to anyone but me. It actually looks like a really big paperback that you might just see walking into Waterstones, for example. I feel quite honoured to be part of part of that for everybody. I mean, it’s like when last night, I was formatting my own book, which is quite strange because I haven’t done that for a while because it’s been a year since Mr Stoker and I came out, or even year and a half. And so when I sat and did that I thought, Oh, it’s my writing on this. What am I going to do with it? Because, like yourself, we get a brief and and, and I give suggestions and things we can do to it. But obviously, depending on the genre, a lot of the time it’s either very decorative, or it’s very plain.

Sarina Langer  20:45

Yeah, it was anything that I hadn’t never considered, before I really started talking to other writers is that different genres, obviously have completely different expectations. So you’d probably format a horror book, for example, completely different to a contemporary.

Becky  21:03

And that will be down to the actual, the actual font that the the main body of the text is in to the font of the title headings, and whether you’re going to have ‘chapter one’ or just ‘one’ or having Roman numerals. Yeah, it literally does depend on the actual genre. So it could be very slick, and very clean, which sometimes you’re thinking of from a formatting point of view, that’s going to be really simple. But it isn’t because you need… because otherwise, it looks, it’ll look really bland, and the most simplest addition, or a font, or the title size, or the position can really make a difference on that.

Sarina Langer  21:42

Yeah, it can really make it blow up in a very, very good way. And just completely change how you look at it. And, yeah, I mean, I always think that the first page is so important, because you might… when you open a book, and you’re instantly in love with the layout, and everything just looks so pretty. You immediately know as a reader that the author has really thought about this.

Becky  22:05

It’s the, yeah, it’s the time taken and the attention to detail. And the love we all put into our our books is not just about the story. I mean, it has to, it has to follow through I think, especially nowadays where most, well, a good percentage of our independent sales come via ebooks. And, and years ago, it was just a case of Well, once it was in that format, it didn’t really matter because you couldn’t do anything with it. It was just a, it’s just an ebook. That right there is the cover. There’s ebook. It’s all about story. But now there’s so many things we can do. And it doesn’t have to be and we can make it match the paperback. So we’re not restricted. I mean, we are restricted on some, some elements don’t translate, don’t convert into ebook very well. So we find ways around it. I’m a great one for finding a solution. If I have a problem, it may take me a few days. And I may email the client back and say, Okay, can you leave it with me a couple of days, I need I need to get to the bottom of this one. So again, it’s going back to that I’m constantly learning I’m learning ways to around situations where in the past we said, Oh, we can’t do that. So I will always do my damnedest.

Sarina Langer  23:27

I know this from personal experience as you do, because when I’ve had books come back to me from me, and I was just something where something wasn’t quite right. And I’ll send it back to you again. And I always feel really bad when I do by the way. She thought she was done and here is something that’s not quite there. And you’re always really fast getting it back to me as well. So I know that as soon as I send my book to you, my worries are over. And I think for me, that’s such a, it’s such a such a breath of relief. Because I know that as soon as it’s in your hands, I can stop worrying.

Becky  24:01

And that’s wonderful to hear. But I also think that’s because I’m an author myself,you know, I understand from everyone’s point of view that this is your book baby. You want it to be perfect, but you also want it now. Because I mean, I am probably the world’s worst. I’m so impatient. And I do have the, erm, James will tell you, it’s like, I want this well, when do you want it? Well, I wanted it last week,

Sarina Langer  24:28

But I hadn’t thought of it in advance.

Becky  24:32

I’m terrible. I mean, if with every every piece of work that’s booked in with us, whether it is formatting, book cover or book trailer or images, anything, everyone gets this form like you know, we have this form and you fill it out so we have as much information as possible and a lot of the time the information may seem irrelevant, and people start filling out like, well, I don’t really know what to put in there. But chances are we will need it because unfortunately like James, especially the trailers and the book covers, he can’t read everybody’s book before he does that book trailer. So it’s getting a real feel for characters, plot scenes, seasons, feel what music, the, the characters like to listen to everything so we can then, you know so we can have a clear vision before he goes into the piece. So going back to me being the world’s worst. Jay says to me, so what do you want for this trailer? Well, I don’t know. Yeah. So. So we’re formatting, I try and get as much possible information from, from you. And then because I am an author myself, it’s very important to get the changes done as quick as possible. Because I know that the process is so intense for publishing, because there’s always something you need to do. There’s always–

Sarina Langer  26:04

There’s always something. I think, which book was it? That was one book that I published, I think last year? Well, for me, probably the first time ever, I was done quite early. And I think I had everything uploaded to Amazon. And I was so nervous because I thought that everything was done and just, I just kept thinking I must have forgotten something. There must be some things that are gonna go wrong in the last second, because there’s no way I’m this prepared.

Becky  26:07

I have a checklist. I have a checklist of everything I need to do

Sarina Langer  26:36

I do. But I don’t question my checklist. And then I’m like, did I forget to put the most important point on there?

Becky  26:42

I have added to it. And it’s like, keywords and categories, and things like that and getting those right. And it’s just it’s the publishing process. It’s so once it’s out there, it’s almost that sigh of relief, isn’t it? Is that release day? And you’re thinking, you have them initial nerves? Oh, my goodness, someone’s going to read my book. And then you’re thinking, ah, okay, well, it’s out there, there’s nothing else I can do for it for the minute. I’ve just got to–

Sarina Langer  27:12

Just get it out there. And you know that, by that point, you couldn’t have done any more to make it the best it can be. So you just need to move on. Because otherwise, you’ll end up just worrying about it constantly, instead of writing the next book.

Becky  27:26

Yes, exactly. And I do know a lot of writers, especially writers on their first debut novels, where they’re, they’ve almost got their date set to release, and they’re still going in and fiddling with it.

Sarina Langer  27:42

I try… I must admit, I have done that. I always try not to do it. But there’s always something that you just suddenly remember last second, we thought– Two weeks ago, someone told me that I missed a comma somewhere, something that your reader won’t even care about, but you care about it. Because you know now that it’s there. And

Becky  27:58

Yeah, but there does have to– There does come a time where you have to put it down and you have to say, Okay, I have, because otherwise you’ll be panicking for that, for that release day. And you’re thinking what? Well, once it’s locked in, you can’t do anything, it’s coming out in two days time and you find–

Sarina Langer  28:15

You’ve done everything you can do. You can’t possibly, can’t possibly do… Why, even more than that, because eventually you have to let it go and move on. I think so many of us tend to, tend towards perfectionism, which is…

Becky  28:30

I think that goes with the word author. To some level I am I am, I am terrible. And it’s relinquishing responsibility. I know a lot of us have that issue. No, I like to format my own book. I will sort this out myself. Sometimes you have to relinquish that and give it to somebody else

Sarina Langer  28:53

I think it’s especially writing the first book. Yeah, it’s always this thing of no, I can do it myself. I don’t need any help. It’s my book. No one else gets this book like I do.

Becky  29:02

I Oh, I so did that. I totally get that.

Sarina Langer  29:05

It’s totally fair. Obviously, we completely understand where they’re coming from. But also, I think it’s, it might be quite difficult to accept at first. But it’s very important to accept that your formatter, for example, and your editor and your cover designer, they’re working with you, they’re not working against you, they what do you want for your book, which is for it to be the best that it can possibly be.

Becky  29:29

That’s it. That’s it. I’m more open now than I used to be with suggestions. So if someone says but you know what, that’s great. But have you thought about this? I’m like, Well, no, brilliant. Let me think about that. 

Sarina Langer  29:43

Because it could be good! And actually, why haven’t I thought of that, that’s genius.

Becky  29:48

It’s not seeing the wood for trees. Sometimes when you’ve looked at something for so long because you created them words, you’re so blinkered by what it contains, that you don’t see the most obvious Ideas sometimes, though, it’s taking somebody else’s viewpoint, which is, you know, the beta readers are so important.

Sarina Langer  30:09

I’ve got a few episodes planned, just dedicated to beta readers alone and critique partners, because they will absolutely save your work and they will be valuable. I don’t think either of us can quite stress just how important these people are.

Becky  30:24

No, no. These things we’ve learned, we’ve learned along the way. Because I think in in the very beginning, and I didn’t fully appreciate just how important that was.

Sarina Langer  30:37

No, I didn’t when I first published Sparrows, I did the bare minimum. And I’m, you know, for me, it’s been such a steep learning curve. But obviously, we’ve all had that I got, I did a proofread. I had that done. And I had beta readers. And that was that that was the extent of what I did, which is why a few years later, I republished it. Because I did, I did it very badly. The first time. And I think I, I got back about 21 pages worth of feedback from my beta readers on that first book, just things to chang and things to take out. And now, erm, Brightened Shadows with my beta readers right now. Hopefully, I’ve got it back, actually, by the time this airs. And so far, all I’ve had, I’ve heard back from about half of them, and I’ve had people saying this should be a movie, I can picture this so well, it should be it should be a movie and I just I loved everything I completely forgot about even taking notes, because I just enjoyed everything. So you know, to go from having 21 pages worth of this is shit and this is terrible and this makes no sense and this was wrong and you spelled that wrong to just getting a completely forgot about even taking notes because it’s so good…

Becky  31:51

That’s it. When you know you’ve done it, but because we’re all learning. The mind in process is learning every, every, every new book, whether it’s the same genre, you’re going, like, I’ve gone slightly off kilter with this latest novella, I won’t divulge too much of that, but I’ve gone slightly off. It’s still Gothic. It’s still horror, but it’s gone slightly in a different direction. But it’s, um, but you’re always learning and you’re always progressing and everything is a little bit slicker. And because you’re learning, you’re thinking, Oh, yeah, that’s gonna, someone’s gonna read that and thinking No, and, and you look at it and think, no, I’m not happy with that line. And you reword it. And,

Sarina Langer  32:31

And then you probably put it back again to how it was to begin with.

Becky  32:37

And the clip, the clip board and thinking, no, okay, maybe I’ll put that one back in. Yeah,

Sarina Langer  32:42

Just, just just to see how it looks, just to see how it reads. And you know, I always think when I, when I read books, in the few moments that I take for myself to just enjoy a book that someone else has written. If you just look at any one sentence, you think you could have taken that word out.

Becky  32:59

Mm hmm.

Sarina Langer  33:00

And maybe he even completely obsessed over that, but the word is still in there. And, you know, it reads perfectly fine.

Becky  33:08

Yeah, yeah.

Sarina Langer  33:10

So it’s probably fine if I don’t obsess over mine, quite to this extent.

Becky  33:15

As a reader, as a reader, I think that when you’re reading a really good book, as in a good story, a lot of the time you’re so – like you’ve just said about your beta readers with this one. As you’re reading, you’re not reading as a writer, you’re reading the story, because you’re so involved, and the characters are taking you with them. And you’re feeling their emotions that a word a lot of the time, all the extra little words, you don’t actually read anyway, because you’re, you’re reading the story, rather than the actual line, aren’t you. As an editor, you read the lines when you’re editing, but when you’re a reader, you are reading the story, and I am just like you on the different– oh like when we said about formatting, when I pick up a book, and I do definitely try not to do it now. But I will look at the layout and thinking, Okay, I quite like that. And it’s terrible, rather than the actual words.

Sarina Langer  34:13

No, do that. I do that quite a lot. And I’ve just now started doing it with movies as well, everyime we’re watching something just casually with popcorn on a Saturday evening, I think, you know, this moment that is called the dark night of the soul and I can tell you exactly what’s coming up next. I mean, he does care and he just wants to enjoy the movie. As we all should.

Becky  34:35

Yeah, me and James do the same. We’re watching, we’re watching… he doesn’t watch horrors. Despite what I write, he doesn’t watch horrors. So to get him to sit down and watch one with me is quite, quite a task and we do it occassionally and I will be like sitting thinking I know what’s going to happen next, and if it doesn’t, well, they really missed a trick there because I’d have written that.

Sarina Langer  35:00

It could have been so good.

Becky  35:03

And he watches, he spent so much of his time watching movie trailers. So I think a lot of, a lot of, a lot of the book trailers that we’re doing now are becoming more and more cinematic. Because he watches… he will sit on YouTube and he will just be scrolling through and watching movie trailers constantly just to get more ideas on the graphics and on the sound. And he’ll say, Did you hear that? And I’m like, What I didn’t hear. He said, the sound effect there. Because he’s, he’s picking out everything. So I think everything’s evolving. But it just goes back to how we’re all learning something all the time.

Sarina Langer  35:39

constantly. But it’s also really exciting. And I think you’re like me, and that is that you don’t mind all the learning you actually quite enjoy it.

Becky  35:46

No, I love the learning. Going to bed at the end and thinking, Oh, well, I achieved something today because I didn’t know how to do that yesterday.

Sarina Langer  35:53

Exactly. I mean, this week for me has been so daunting. And again, awkward. I can’t stress how awkward it’s been for me. But also, I’ve learned so much. And I felt genuinely pleased last night when I left my office and thought, you know what, it’s been really hard. And I’ve spent so much time just feeling so awkward for myself, but I’ve just recorded two podcast episodes.

Becky  36:16

That’s such an achievement.

Sarina Langer  36:17

And I’ve done it and I should be really proud of myself.

Becky  36:20

Very proud.

Sarina Langer  36:21

And we had pizza last night. Thank you. So I think you do need to celebrate your successes no matter how small they are, and no one else will do it for you.

Becky  36:24

Well there you go! No, that’s it. That’s it. And we do, we do need to do that. And we need to congratulate ourselves. And I think as it’s too easy for everybody to put themselves down. Oh I’m not sure if this is good enough. I’m not sure if I’m good enough. Well, you’re not in any competition with anybody else, you’re in competition with yourself. And as long as you think that you are growing. And I think that’s important. And that’s important with the learning that with especially with an indie author, that the process is inside you. And if the second book is better than the first in your own mind. You’re thinking, no, that’s better than that. Then you’ve progressed. And if you’re learning when you’re writing the sentence structure, and you write a paragraph and you’re  thinking, Oh, my goodness, I love that, then you’ve learned something.

Sarina Langer  37:19

Yes. And you should celebrate that because it’s such an achievement.

Becky  37:24

Exactly. We don’t, we don’t get… It’s not like we’re going to university, and we’re getting all these degrees to do what we are doing. Because it’s, because it’s, because it’s creative. And we’re all in different genres. And we’re learning different aspects of it. And we’re growing as we go. So it’s, it’s a completely different, completely different industry. I think now, as well as it’s, it’s changed, the independent authors, it’s such a massive part of book publishing.

Sarina Langer  37:59

Yes, it’s growing so much all the time.

Becky  38:03

Also, it’s, it’s, we can need to congratulate ourselves and feel proud, rather than having this stigma attached to the fact that we’re not traditionally published,

Sarina Langer  38:12

well, which is perfectly fine. And we need to be okay with it. And you know, not everyone ends up being an indie author because we can’t get a publisher. For me, it’s because I don’t want a publisher. I’m such a control freak.

Becky  38:30

I was gonna say exactly the same thing. I need to be in control, and if I were not in control, I don’t think I would enjoy the process and then put pressure and restraints on–

Sarina Langer  38:40

Absolutely. And we already do plenty of that ourselves anyway. And you know what, the idea of someone saying, by the way, this is your cover. And this is what we’re using and me thinking, but I hate it. I don’t think it represents my book. The blurb doesn’t represent my book, it, it’s almost ambiguous, and almost seems to show that it’s a different genre than it actually is. I would hate that so much.

Becky  39:02

That’s it? Yeah. Yeah. And because we, we are creative minds, I think most of us have an idea of what we want the visual aspect of the book to look like, even if we can’t put that in to creative aspects, you know, so we need a cover designer to do it. We all have in our minds, I like our characters, we know what they’re going to look like, we know how they talk in our heads, and we created them. So we know what that book needs to look like, and we have a feel of this is how, this is how I envisioned it. And if it doesn’t, if you’re not in control of that… Now not saying that if a publishing house, a big one decided to approach you and said, right, we’d love your books, and we’re going to– and this is what I can do. Most of us would say, Oh my goodness, yes. Where do we sign?

Sarina Langer  39:51

I think I would say okay, let’s let’s have a tea and we can discuss this.  And you know, I’m very flattered, but also let’s just talk about it. Because it’s still in my book, and I need to have a certain level of control over everything. But also Yeah, sure, let’s, let’s absolutely talk about it. You know, I’m open to the idea. But a lot of it would certainly need to happen on my terms.

Becky  40:12

I mean, I’ve purposely never… I have never gone down the route of traditional publishing. I’ve never approached a publishing house. I’ve never sent a manuscript off. I’ve never done it. And I think most of us have, but I never have. And I think that… and that’s fine by me. And it’s not because… I’m not traditionally published because I was turned down. And because no one’s even had the opportunity to turn me down. And it’s not one of those decisions I made because of fear, or fear of rejection, it was more of a case of… No I’m quite happy to do it how I’m doing it. I’m quite happy to be in control. Yes, I’m not a number one bestseller. No, you can’t buy mainstream in the bookshop, you can’t go into the supermarket and pick it off the shelf. But you know what, that’s fine by me. It’s available on Amazon, you can still click, and you get it delivered. Or you can just download it instantly. Readers are still out there. And it’s still being read, and it’s still being enjoyed. And I think that’s it, and if you can connect to it– It’s like reviews, they are so important to us. But when you get one, and if you’ve really hit home with that one reader, you said, Oh, my goodness, this part in this book, and I absolutely loved it. And I– then that’s, then it makes everything worthwhile.

Sarina Langer  41:46

Absolutely, definitely. Yeah, I mean, I think we’re always told to have an ideal reader mind when we write, someone that we want to write to. But most of us probably don’t actually know this reader, it’s just someone that we’ve created. So then we have this guide when we write, that we have this rough idea of who we might be aiming for. But when you then find a review like that, as you said, it shows you that actually, this person does exist. And they’re loving all the moments that are… that I wrote for them, for this person. They’re all connecting.

Becky  42:19

Yeah. So it’s when they really connect with the characters, and they feel the emotion. I mean, I think a lot of the time I write, I write what I want to read. And so I am the reader. I think a lot of the time, I think, Well, you know, I… No, this is the book, this is, this is, this is my genre. This is the genre I write. This is the genre that I choose to read. If I can pick up a book, this is my favourite genre. So I write that, I don’t think you can work any other way. But I think I am the reader that I am aiming for. And I think, well if I’m there, there has got, there has got to be other readers who want to read it too. And and if people don’t connect with my book…

Sarina Langer  43:06

That’s fine, they’re just not your audience.

Becky  43:09

We all like if– the thing is, if we all liked the same genre, we all liked the same books, we’d all be writing the same books, and there’d be no diversity out there and we’d be bored. Exactly. We would be really bored. They’d be monotonous amounts of the same thing, whether it’s axe murderers, or Gothic horrors, or fantasy with Dragons or romantic fiction. There’d be so much of the one thing because we’d all write the same, so.

Sarina Langer  43:45

Well, let’s get back maybe to talking about your business. What always really impresses me, and we’ve already touched on that a bit earlier, is how much you get done. You’re so incredibly prolific with the business. You’re always working on something.

Becky  44:04

Yeah, I used to procrastinate terribly. I used…

Sarina Langer  44:09

How do you… how do you plan out your day? How… how… how?

Becky  44:16

working around a six year old at home is and obviously been in lockdown was not fun. And home schooling was not great to add into the mix. But I think I don’t sleep very well. And that’s going to be an honest, but and I think that’s simply because my brain is so full of everything I’ve needed to do. So I try and transfer that onto my diary. So every morning I look at my diary, every night before I go to bed. I’ll add anything that I didn’t get done today, ready for tomorrow and prioritise. I try and prioritise. And a lot of the time clients always come first, because everyone’s on a deadline, and I work my deadline… my deadlines around everybody else’s. And this is a lot of the time why we work so far in advance. At the minute we’re only taking bookings for December. I’m booked up until December. But we’re still… we’re already taking bookings for 2021. So I’m already got diary bookings up to spring.

Sarina Langer  45:17

That’s amazing. And it’s very well deserved.

Becky  45:20

Thank you. And it’s simply because our time is so precious. And it’s also… most of us can work in advance, most of us know, Okay, I’m writing this book is nowhere near finished. But I do need to plan the cover. And I even… if I have no clue at all yet what the cover is going to be, I’ll book it in the diary.

Sarina Langer  45:43

Yeah, and I must say, I’m the worst for that. Because as my cover designers will tell you, I book a cover. And then eventually I say, Actually, yes, we can do it now. But just so you know, I’m not going to be ready to finish the cover, because I have no, no idea how thick this book is going to be. I haven’t even finished the first draft. So I don’t know why I thought half a year ago that I should book this. But let’s just say that things came up and I ended up, maybe I ended up editing a different book, or maybe I had something to do there. Maybe I set up a podcast, and I mean, the covers for the Blood Wisp trilogy… I think I got the last one done at the start of last year. I’ve had this covers sitting on my laptop for for over a year, for nearly two years on some of them. And I’m still working on the second draft of the first book. Because this monster has changed so much in ways that I definitely did not predict. And you know, as you know, sometimes it’s just what happens, but I booked these so far in advance. So I think I will be, when I book a cover, I almost need them to say, Are you sure? Are you sure you be ready?

Becky  47:00

Yeah. I mean, we tend to book clients in and it’s never on, it’s never for a week, it will usually be a month, right? Okay, you’re booked in for this month, because we know that everybody has to adapt, and a four week period will give us leeway for anything that’s working over, over its time or over anticipated timelines. Because a lot of the time as we know we do something and you think, yes, that’s what I want. And then you’re like, Well, actually, can we put this on the cover? Or can I change that blurb? So because James is only available for certain amount of hours in the week, I will then say, right, okay, well, we need to do this, but it may be 48 hours time, I may not be able to get it done today. So in a four week period. So if I say someone’s booked in for November, they, they’re booked in for the whole of November, not because it will take the whole of November to do the job. But because then we can shuffle them around, and then I will give myself that flexibility, and I’ll always try and prioritise people depending on their timeline and where they are in their publishing process. And when their, when their release date is. And a lot of the time people will be like, okay, I want to get this out, say November, I’m booked in for October, I may try and get them in for September thinking, You may have been over eager, and it may not be ready. So I’ll always try. And so I juggle, say my calendar, my diary may look quite strict at the beginning of the month, and by the time I get to the end of the month, everybody’s changed position and jobs have been brought forward and put back because I’m working around everybody. So it is a juggling act. And then I have to block out days for myself which feel quite guilty. And I own the early days, timelines and my own deadlines will often put off and put off all the time because I was desperately trying to get clients in before myself, and James said to me Okay, you’re going to have to block out, why don’t you give yourself a whole month and I was Oh no, I can’t do that. I can do, I can do, I do like two or three days at a time maybe a week in a month that hasn’t got a lot on, so when I say that we’re booked up into, we’re not taking bookings until December. We’re not solidly booked up but we are because I’ve got a release coming out. And then James is like well I still do need your cover. I still need to do your trailer. We’ll need to format. And then I still have, erm, and then that gives me enough space and room to put people in on quick notice because a lot of the time we have a lot of I’ve got this right ready to go, can you just change this for me? Okay, that’ll take me a couple of hours but let me. So I need them sort of days where they, they’re that hovers in the in the diary where there’s nothing particularly in but I know I’m going to be busy at the end of the day. Something always comes up.

Sarina Langer  47:25

Something will come up, often last minute.

Becky  50:04

And now I have a podcast cover!

Sarina Langer  50:10

Well, that’s just rude, I don’t know who would do that.

Becky  50:14

Which is why we which is why I allow myself these days knowing that I can always get something in during the course of a week at the drop of a hat a lot of the time, so I will do that.

Sarina Langer  50:26

Well, this has already gone on a lot longer than I promised. And I think this is a really good note to finish on as well that if you… if you can’t be bothered, or you just, just the idea of doing your own formatting is giving you a slight like panic attack and you want to scream into a pillow, book Becky and James, book Platform House Publishing and do it now because they get booked up really quickly.

Becky  50:51

Really quickly. Yes, and we’ll always try and get everybody in. I hate turning clients away. And I, and I don’t turn them away. I’ll always juggle around.

Sarina Langer  51:02

There you go. Book them now and you will definitely get a slot with them and you will be very pleased that you did.

If you enjoyed today’s episode, maybe learn something along the way, hit the subscribe button. You can also connect with me on Twitter @sarina_langer, on Instagram and Facebook @sarinalangerwriter, and of course on my website at Until next time! Bye!

Transcribed by

Sign up for my mailing list for updates on my books, excerpts, early cover reveals, and the exclusive freebies Shadow in Ar’Sanciond (the Relics of Ar’Zac prequel novella) and Pashros Kai Zo (a Relics of Ar’Zac short story, which isn’t available anywhere else).

Take me to the Welcome page.

The Writing Sparrow Episode 3: Is Your Book Idea Good Enough?

Listen to the Episode:


Unknown Speaker 0:08
Hello, and welcome to the Writing Sparrow podcast. I’m Sarina Langer, and this podcast is all about writing, publishing and marketing your book. You can find transcripts on my website at Let’s get started!

Unknown Speaker 0:29
Hi, friends and sparrows. Welcome back to episode three of my podcast. It’s the 21st of September 2020. And today, I’d like to talk about a common question I actually get quite often: is your book idea good enough?

Unknown Speaker 0:46
I see quite a few people who think that they have this idea that they would really like to write about, that they think might be interesting as a book, but they haven’t started yet or they’ve shelved the book and they haven’t come back to it for a long time, because they don’t think that it’s good enough to ever be published. This is something that many of us have felt at one point or another, and there is a really simple answer to this. And that’s that yes, your idea is more than good enough. Because all your book idea needs to do is just exist. And then everything that you do with it, you know, all that comes later, the things that really make it unique to you. All that can come later. The only thing that your idea needs to do is just be there for you to work with and to mould into this beautiful thing. But for all that to happen, first you need the idea. So just alone for that reason, yes, your idea is plenty good enough. Your first draft is a whole other matter and it deserves its own episode.

Unknown Speaker 1:54
One thing I also see quite often is that maybe you really like your idea, but it’s been done before or you’re not sure if it has been done before. And again, there’s an easy answer to that, and that is that yes, it has been done before, but it hasn’t been done by you before. There’s actually a really easy experiment with this that you can do that might just put your worries at ease a bit. Give two people you know – you can totally be one of those people – a writing prompt, anything you can think of, and ask both of them to just write a small story to that prompt for 10 minutes or however long you’d like. And I guarantee you that both of those stories are going to be a little bit different. They will both have the same foundation, which is of course the writing prompt that you have set, but because two different people are then writing them, they will go into completely different ideas. There might not even be the same genre anymore. So, if you’re worried that your idea alone isn’t good enough, just see how much just one little prompt can be taken in completely different directions.

Unknown Speaker 3:00
My process is usually that, to start with, I really like my idea. This is why I’ve decided to write a book about it, because it’s really taken me by storm and this is something I really want to write about. So I do that. And then usually somewhere while writing the first draft, I start to doubt the idea. And then eventually I put the book away, let it rest for a bit before I start editing. And then normally when I start going over it again, I suddenly realise that actually, it’s a really good idea and actually, there’s a few really good things in this book. But then by the time I’m done with it, I’m not so sure anymore. And that’s perfectly normal because you end up spending so much time with it.

Unknown Speaker 3:45
But remember, your idea is just the first building block. After that, once you actually start writing and you start to develop your characters and you start to build your world and you get beta readers and critique partners and your editor and all those great people involved, your book is going to develop a lot. So you just can’t know where it’s going to go that early on. And, you know, chances are that by the time you’re done writing your book and you’re ready to publish your first idea will still be there, but it will also have come such a long way that you can’t really compare it in the same way anymore, because it’s unique just because it’s changed so much from what it was when you first thought of it.

Unknown Speaker 4:30
Now, if you’re still worried that something that you’ve written is too similar or that it’s just simply too predictable and therefore not strong enough, there is one tip that I got roughly 10 years ago when I wrote my first book – and that’s before Rise of the Sparrows even, this is the book I don’t normally talk about. It’s not something I’ve published. It was sort of my first adventure into writing anything longer than an A4 page. And one of my favourite authors at the time, Karen Miller – she’s written the Godspeaker trilogy, for example: Empress The Raven Kingdom, and Hammer of God – and she’s actually the reason that I started writing at all. I remember reading Empress and just thinking, I want to do this, this is awesome, I need to do this myself. And I had a very brave moment, and I sent her an email. And I figured that she would never actually reply to me, because, you know, in my head, she was just one of the biggest, most important most famous authors of all time. I asked her if there was anything that she would tell me that, you know, that I might be able to take away. And she actually got back to me and I was just… I was so over the moon, that she had taken the time to reply to me. She said that one thing that she was told when she started writing is don’t write down the first thing that you can think of. Instead, go with the ninth thing, or the 10th thing, or even the 11th thing, because if it’s obvious to you and it’s the first thing that you think of, chances are it will be obvious to your readers as well. And then they won’t be surprised, and they will be able to maybe predict your entire plot, and that’s not exciting. So instead, go with maybe the 10th solution that you can think of, because by that point, you probably really need to think about where you can take your book and what you can do with it, say, won’t be obvious to your reader anymore, either.

Unknown Speaker 6:31
So if you’re still thinking about whether your book idea is good enough to do anything with, yes, it really, really is. You will take it into such a great direction that you can’t even predict yourself right now at this point. It will grow so much more. But it can only do that if you start writing and try to do something with it. I actually really envy you this stage, because it’s honestly one of my favourite things in the beginning. You’ve just had this idea that you may turn into a book. And it’s so exciting to me because anything can happen at this point. Your characters can go anywhere, they can become anyone, they can do anything. Your book can become anything you want. So yes, your idea is definitely good enough. Because who knows what kind of journey it’s going to take you on? But you need to be brave, and you need to start and then just see what happens with it. And, you know, if at the end, if you’re still not sure, you don’t have to do this yourself. You’ll have beta readers, you can get critique partners, you’ll have an editor, and all those people will be more than able to tell if there is something in your book that’s still a little bit flat even then.

Unknown Speaker 7:46
So don’t worry about this at this stage, just get started. And I guarantee you if you put in the work, your idea is going to be absolutely incredible. And it’s going to lead you to places that you can’t imagine at this point. So just get started.

Unknown Speaker 8:02
And this is your action step today: just start writing. And I know it’s really hard, the beginning is always the worst and just your first sentence alone is going to change so many times. But you’ve already got an idea, and that is more than enough to get started with. And remember, you can always polish your draft later. But you can’t do that if you don’t write it down in the first place. All your idea needs to do right now is exist. And then the rest later is honestly mostly up to the editing and just… Your first draft? Just… Just enjoy it. Enjoy the process. Just get it out there and enjoy every second of it. If you’re still doubting if your idea is good enough, feel free to leave a comment, or you can also message me elsewhere on social media – links for that will follow in a second and they’re also in the show notes. I’m happy to talk about your idea and tell you that it’s good enough any day. So just get in touch and we can have a chat about that.

Unknown Speaker 9:00
Thank you very much for listening. If you enjoyed today’s episode, maybe learn something along the way, hit the subscribe button. You can also connect with me on twitter @sarina_langer, on Instagram and Facebook @arinalangerwriter, and of course on my website at Until next time! Bye!

Transcribed by

The Writing Sparrow Episode 2: My Experience with Burnout and How to Avoid It

Listen to the Episode:


Hello, and welcome to The Writing Sparrow podcast. I’m Sarina Langer, and this podcast is all about writing, publishing and marketing your book. You can find transcripts on my website at Let’s get started!

Hi friends and sparrows, and welcome to Episode Two. Today is the 21st of September 2020, and today, I’d like to start by talking about burnout – what it is, how to avoid it, and how to recover should you push yourself too hard after all.

So, the reason I’d like to start with burnout instead of, say, how to write your book is because your mental health matters maybe the most in this endeavour, and because we need to be more open about mental health in general. So I wanted to start with the one thing that you maybe need to look after the most if you want to write and publish your book and not completely defeat yourself in the process.

Before we start I just want to say that I’m not a therapist, I’m not a licenced mental health professional or any health professional in any way. But I can share my own experience with you and hope that it helps you stay as far away from burning out as possible. If you’ve ever burned out before, you know just how unpleasant this is, and if you haven’t, I can tell you what I’ve gone through.

So, I have burned out three times… say, two and a half. The first time, I just I sat down one morning at my desk to write, I had the book open, and I just stared at it for maybe 15, 20 minutes. And I just, it was almost like I’d forgotten how words worked, if that makes sense. I just I felt so tired at the same time. But I’d also been struggling to sleep, and I thought that’s why I was tired. So, I thought I just sit on the bed for just a minute, maybe I nap, and I’ll feel better after and I’ll be able to get the words out. And instead, I couldn’t get back up again. It was really bad. I even took time off. I called my boss and said sorry, I can’t come in, I physically can’t move anymore, it’s weird. She knew what was going on, so that was really helpful. But it took me… it took me a couple of days to recover and get back to myself again.

But then this year around April, I burned out really, really, really badly. And the really annoying thing about that is that 1) it had been coming for a while, for roughly a year in the making, but also I knew that I was burning out. And for some reason some part of my brain just went, ‘it’s fine, you can totally push past this, it’ll be okay’. And it was not okay at all. I took about… god, you know what, I think I took about two months to recover again. And even after that, I couldn’t just get back into my normal routine like I had been before the burnout. So even though I was mostly feeling like myself again, if I overdid it one day – and that didn’t take much, by the way, I’m not talking about working for like 20 hours one day, I mean just sitting down to write for two hours straight. I could just feel myself draining again. So I still had to take it easy for a little while.

The things that started this one… As I said, it’d been coming for a little while, for about a year. Last year, I was working from home full time, I’d quit my day job to be a full time author and editor because I actually really like editing. Some people find that weird, I really enjoy it. But it’s also a really, really difficult thing to make work when you’re relying on it for income. And I’ve done the stupid thing of basically just completely overdoing it. I took on too many things at once. And then there were a few other things besides that as well like worrying about money, for example. So ultimately, around April this year, everything just… it just completely overflowed. And I just I physically couldn’t do any more. Like, I had the book that I was supposed to be working on open on my laptop, I sat in front of it, and just thinking about just cutting one more word from it… I could feel my energy just go. So I sat down on my sofa in my little home office and I called my mom because I thought, you know, just talking to someone I love is going to help a little bit at least. And I think I just started crying on the phone to her. So I think that’s when I knew that I had to stop. My body and my mind had literally forced me into a position where I had to take a break. And I really don’t want that to happen to you, because it was not pleasant at all. As I said, it took me about two months to recover again, and even then it wasn’t ideal.

What do you look for? How can you recognise if you are coming close to that? Well, the symptoms are always a little bit different from person to person, but I think the most common things -for example, maybe you can’t sleep properly, or maybe you do but you’re still feeling just tired all the time, you might get irritated really quickly, you might not have any motivation, even for things you normally love doing. Those are normally my telling signs. But also what made it worse for me was that I just I couldn’t do anything anymore. As I said, there were things that I can normally do, like reading a book, for example, and it’ll help, but it just… I couldn’t even do that anymore. By now I can tell when I’m getting there, but it has taken me burning out in the first place to know what it feels like. By now, I think I can roughly tell when it’s about to happen, and I can now make sure that I take this break. But obviously, ideally, you wouldn’t be in that position in the first place.

Normally to recover, as I said, I might… I might read a book, or I might play computer games. And this year, none of that worked. And I think what I’d done was that I had generally burned out on all kinds of stories, because I had just, I hadn’t really done anything but for more than a year. I haven’t even taken time off properly. Obviously, I took weekends, but I hadn’t really had a proper week off. I just completely overwhelmed myself. And I think because both parts of this – the editing and the writing – you know, they’re both related to stories, I couldn’t even read anymore. I couldn’t play video games anymore. Nothing. There wasn’t any way story-related was fun anymore. So I decided I had to pick up a new hobby, something that had nothing at all to do with plots, basically, and I took up knitting. It has helped a lot, but for this burnout, I needed to do more than just one thing, which you may well need to do as well. But it depends entirely on how severe your burnout is.

Hopefully, you won’t be in a position where it takes you several months to get better again, but this is actually your action step for today! I would like you to make two lists. Make one list of things that you enjoy, things that calm you down, things that help you feel more like yourself again when you feel tired. This can be something like going for a walk or knitting or reading if it helps, or maybe you’d like to binge-watch something on TV, or maybe you like to go swimming, or maybe you do yoga, whatever it is that you do, write everything that helps you relax onto this list. And on the other one, make a list with your symptoms. I have listed a few in this podcast if you’ve never burned out before and you’re not quite sure what to look out for. I’m also listing a few in the show notes, so you can just copy that.

Also tell someone you’re close to what to look out for, because quite often when you burn out, you might know that you’re tired and that you should take a break, but you will probably try to talk yourself out of doing it. You’ll probably feel like you can’t take a break, to be honest, because that’s normally how I feel. I know that I’m too tired, I know I need to take a break right now, but there’s always this part in your mind that will go, ‘You can’t have a break, you have a deadline.’ Even if you don’t actually have a deadline, you might still feel like just taking this one day off, or even just an hour is going to put you so far behind this deadline that may not even really exist that you can’t possibly ever hope to catch up again, which is rubbish. But it’s also a very clear sign that you have possibly pushed yourself too far.

There is nothing on your to-do list anywhere that can’t wait for you to get better first. You might have clients or maybe work with someone else and maybe they have deadlines, which is fair, but you know, always talk to them about this. If you don’t think that you can work for a little bit, if you feel like you’re just that mentally and physically exhausted, talk it through with the people you’re working with, whether that’s a boss or maybe someone you’re editing for, or maybe someone you’re writing copy for, because it’s not in their best interest either for you to keep going when you have nothing left to give. You will not be able to do your best work at that point, and it doesn’t help your own books either. So it’s just better to take a break. And hopefully that way you won’t take yourself out of the action for two months and a little bit after that to really get back to feeling like yourself.

Thank you very much for listening. If you enjoyed today’s episode, maybe learn something along the way, hit the subscribe button. You can also connect with me on twitter @sarina_langer, on Instagram and Facebook @sarinalangerwriter, and of course on my website Until next time! Bye!

Transcribed by

The Writing Sparrow Episode 1: Introduction

Listen to the Episode:


Hello, and welcome to The Writing Sparrow podcast. I’m Sarina Langer and this podcast is all about writing, publishing and marketing your book. You can find transcripts on my website at Let’s get started.

Hello, friends and sparrows, and welcome to my first ever podcast, The Writing Sparrow. Woo! How exciting is this! And very daunting and very terrifying. It’s the 21st of September 2020, and this is podcast number one.

I’m Sarina, and I published my first book just over four years ago in 2016. And at the time of recording this, I have published five books and the box set of my first trilogy. And with this podcast, I’m hoping to make this journey a little bit, or hopefully a lot, less daunting for you and a lot less overwhelming for you so that you can also finish your first book, and get publishing and become an author.

But I want to stress first and foremost that I’m definitely not an expert. I have made many mistakes along the way, which definitely helps, but it also means that I definitely do not know everything. And I don’t think that there is anyone who does. Just because something doesn’t work for me at all doesn’t mean that it can’t work for you. And likewise, for example, just because I like plotting my books doesn’t mean in any way that you can’t pants your book–you totally can.

I’m hoping to bring you a mixture of solo posts like this one, where I will talk about my experience and the things that I have learned over the years. I will be doing interviews, the first one coming up shortly with Platform House Publishing, Becky will be talking to me about formatting, doing book covers, and all that good stuff. And I will also be talking with other authors about their own journeys and their experiences so that you get quite a wide range of journeys and experiences and so that you can see that whatever it is you’re doing, there are lots of other people who totally know what you’re going through, or have been there and definitely know what you’re struggling with, and hopefully it will shed some light on this whole thing for you so that you can figure out what works best for you.

I promise to keep all my episodes short and give you action steps after every solo show so that you can take something away from it, something that you can put to use right away.
So, why am I calling this the sparrow podcast? Well, as you might know, my first thought Rise of the, ahem, Sparrows clearly has it in the name. And I’ve also been using it since then here and there around online. For example, on my reader group on Facebook, it’s called Sarina’s Sparrows. And for me, it’s a reminder that I have published a book and I can totally do anything because I’ve managed that and it wasn’t easy. But I’ve learned a lot from it. And this podcast right now, wow, guys, it’s very far out of my comfort zone, but I’m doing it. And if I can do this, you can 100% finish writing your book this year, or maybe next year, and you can absolutely publish it. And you can also become a self published author, because I managed it and God knows I did not know what I was doing, which does not mean that I know now. I definitely don’t know everything there is to know about this now.

Now, before we begin, every now and again you might hear this sweet little meow in the background, because I am mama to one beautiful baby kitten… well, she’s like six years old, but you know what I mean. She’s very chatty. She likes to say hello. And if you hear a meow in the background, that’s my baby! Say hello. She’ll know with her superior kitty senses.
So, let’s get started. Let’s get you writing and publishing your book. Thank you very much for listening, and let’s dive right in!

If you enjoyed today’s episode, maybe learn something along the way, hit the subscribe button. You can also connect with me on Twitter @sarina_langer, on Instagram and Facebook @sarinalangerwriter, and of course on my website at Until next time! Bye!

Transcribed by