Author Interview: Melissa Caruso

Author Interview

Meet Melissa Caruso.

Melissa Caruso Author Photo 2

Social media links:

The Interview.


Hi Melissa! Thanks for joining us today. Tell us a little about yourself.

Sure! I’m the author of the Swords & Fire series from Orbit Books, including THE TETHERED MAGE (2017), THE DEFIANT HEIR (2018), and THE UNBOUND EMPIRE (2019). I’ve got a new book coming out in June 2020, THE OBSIDIAN TOWER, which is the first book of a new trilogy set in the same world as Swords & Fire, but with new characters and 150 years later.

My books tend to feature intrigue, magic, murder, betrayal, twisty plots, and explosions. THE TETHRED MAGE was shortlisted for a Gemmell Morningstar Award, and THE UNBOUND EMPIRE received a Kirkus Star.

As for me, in addition to being a fantasy writer, I’m a larper, tea drinker, mom, and all-around geek. I’m married to a video game designer and have two amazing daughters, and I live in Massachusetts with a wonderful old Labrador and assorted cats.


What are your top three favorite things to geek over?

Oooh, that’s a tough one! I’d say Fullmetal Alchemist (especially the manga by Hiromu Arakawa! MOST PERFECT MANGA EVER), larping, and writing craft. Birds come in a close fourth, but the rabbit hole of bird geekery goes very deep and I barely have my toes in it!


If you had to choose one of your books to live in, which would you pick?

Well, they all take place in the same world, so if we’re talking about the specific locations and events visited in the books…Hmm, I might have to say THE DEFIANT HEIR. There are some pretty good parties in that one, the outfits are fantastic, and I get to visit more places and meet more characters than in THE TETHERED MAGE (especially Kathe). THE UNBOUND EMPIRE is just too plain dangerous!


Did you ever create yourself, a family member, or a friend as a character in any of your story drafts?

I’ve never based a character directly on a real life person. Some of my family think La Contessa is based on my mom, but my mom is much nicer than La Contessa! There are certain aspects of real people I may have drawn on with certain characters—like I might think sometimes of someone’s voice or way of standing or general energy. And sometimes I think of which of my friends I’d cast as a particular character if I ever ran a larp based on my books! But for me each character is their own unique person, without a direct real life model.


How did you start your world building for the Swords & Fire trilogy?

In early drafts of THE TETHERED MAGE, it was a historical fantasy, based in an extremely alternate Venice. It kept getting more and more alternate, though, so it was a relief to revise it into an original world and to be free to really expand the worldbuilding! I thought a lot in doing my worldbuilding about how the magic in my world would have shaped history—how it would have affected who was in power, what conflicts arose, how it would have shaped the development of science. The history of the world and a lot of the core conflicts in the trilogy arose naturally from that thought process.


As a reader, what keeps you intrigued in a book?

I love books with well-crafted plot twists, great pacing, and really fun characters I’d want to hang out with (or love to hate, in the case of villains). And a cool magic system! I’m always extra excited when there’s some mystery or secret I can speculate about, or some source of tension that keeps me on the edge of my chair.


Are you a plotter or do you write as you go?

A bit of both, but leaning toward plotter! I always have an outline and many pages of notes where I figure things out in advance, but I also inevitably diverge from that outline as I get a better understanding of the story as I write it. I tend to update my outline as I go to reflect my new direction, and I don’t feel like I need to have EVERY SINGLE THING figured out before I write. So I guess a flexible plotter!


What was the hardest scene you ever had to work on?

The hardest scene emotionally for me to write was this one about halfway through THE UNBOUND EMPIRE where Amalia has to walk away from a certain situation, with heartbreaking consequences. I knew what was happening in that scene, and what would happen after it, and it broke my heart to write it.

The hardest scenes for me in terms of sheer bang-my-head-against-the-wall factor are always transitions! Getting my characters from one location to another (or passing time) without it feeling clunky or grinding the story’s momentum to a halt is like trying to push my face through the holes of a cheese grater, I swear.


Is there anything else you’d like to share with the readers?

I’m really excited about my new trilogy, Rooks and Ruin, which begins with THE OBSIDIAN TOWER, out this June! It’s about a young woman with deadly, broken magic who lives in a rambling, magical castle with an ancient secret at its heart, locked behind a forbidden door. And about what happens when she makes one terrible mistake that could change her world forever.

It’s got all new characters and takes the worldbuilding in a new direction, and I can’t wait to share it with everyone!


Thank you Melissa for joining us today!


Author Interview: Isabel Ibanez Davis

Author Interview, Misc.

Isabel Headshot.jpgMeet Isabel Ibanez Davis.

Isabel Ibañez Davis is the author of WOVEN IN MOONLIGHT (Page Street, Fall 2019), an award winning designer, illustrator, wife to Andrew Davis of Portlandia, and mom to a golden-doodle named Piper Bramble Buns. She’s a Pitch Wars class 2015 Alum. She’s also the creator of the new Pitch Wars branding and mascot, Poe Warburton. Isabel is also mentoring for Pitch Wars in the YA category. This is her third year mentoring.

By day, she designs greeting cards for 9th Letter Press, a company she founded and sold in 2017. Her work has been sold in over 350 mom and pop shops around the country, as well as in nationwide brands like Crate and Barrel, Anthropologie (a dream come true),  and Paper Source.

By late, late night she writes YA fantasies featuring amazing food and strong Latina characters who are often running for their lives. Her favorite stories always feature atmospheric settings, far-off places featuring lush landscapes, kissing, and action scenes. When she’s not doodling or writing, Isabel can be found playing board games and talking trash with fellow players, or traveling with her husband to far-off places. She loves to cook, but is a terrible baker despite her best efforts. One day, she’ll learn how to make the best carrot cake on the planet.

In college she majored in Creative Writing and History, but never dreamed that her work might one day be published.

Isabel is represented by the tenacious Mary Moore of Kimberly Cameron & Associates.

Social Media Links:
Twitter + Instagram | @IsabelWriter09

The Interview.

Pitch Wars has begun! Can you share what inspired you to apply to be a mentor and your experience so far as a YA mentor?

I’ve been involved with Pitch Wars since 2015 when I first applied to be a mentee. The community I found within it has been life giving and I learned SO much from my mentor, Megan Lally, and my PW sibling Sheena Boekweg. To this day we remain very good friends. The next year, I became a mentor and I haven’t stopped being one since. I wanted to give back and help writers with their own stories.

How does one become a “giant word nerd?” Frankly I need a t-shirt and design for that immediately!

Oh man, T-Shirts would be great—why haven’t I thought of that before? I became a “Giant Word Nerd” because of my parents. My first language was Spanish and growing up, I pronounced English words like my parents did—phonetically. It’s how one learns Spanish, by sounding out each letter. In English, that doesn’t always work and you may end up saying “Salmon” or “Epitome” wrong. 😉

This is when I really sought to learn English well, constantly reading, sometimes with a dictionary and I learned to looooooove words.

To follow up with my question – tell us your “word nerd story” in five words or less.

How about my favorite words?! Vellichor, Eloquence, flibbertigibbet, hiraeth, effervescence.

What was your first illustration project and how did you find the illustrator in you?

So, I majored in Creative Writing + History, but ended up going back to school for Graphic Design. I really wanted to become a children’s book illustrator, but ended up falling into designing wedding invitations. I love love and this turned out to be a great outlet, which lead to me founding 9th Letter Press, a stationery company that churned out greeting cards, wedding invitations, etc. I’ve since sold the company, but to this day I remain an avid paper lover.

How does your writing process look? Are you a plotter? Do you let your characters take the lead and see what happens?

I am SUCH a plotter. For a long time, I wondered why it was taking me so long to write books. Why some writing sessions took longer than others, and finally I figured out the problem. I am the most effective writer when I know where I’m going. Without direction, I flounder and spend too much time asking myself is this the right way forward. When I plotted and wrote an outline for the first time, I ended up finishing a polished version of WOVEN IN MOONLIGHT, my debut, in three months. This was a game changer!

My outlines are very detailed, and on top of that I actually block out each chapter, writing not only what happens but how my characters are feeling as well. In the moment, if something feels right I let myself go down that path, and that’s allowed for spontaneity. I actually think those moments exist because somewhere in the back of my mind I know if I get lost, that I have a map to find my way.

Name one book in 2018 that has stuck with you.Is there anything else you’d like to share with the readers today?

One book!?!?!? That’s the hardest question ever. There have been so many that I’ve loved, loved, loved. The first one that comes to mind is SPINNING SILVER by Naomi Novik. Her writing is incredibly atmospheric and lush. There’s also this fairytale tone to her work that pulls me right into the story.

I also loved The Cruel Prince and it has everything to do with the main character, Jude. She’s an adorable, scheming, and vulnerable muffin and so well written, I can’t stand it!

Is there anything else you’d like to share with the readers today?

I am around twitter (my DMs are open) and I always love to interact with avid readers to talk about favorite books. Don’t hesitate to say hello! 🙂

Guest Post: “Critique Partners: What They Are, Where to Find Them, and How to Make the Best” by Elysia Strife

Guest Post

About Elysia Strife.

img_6493.jpgElysia Lumen Strife has self-published three adult fiction novels and one children’s book. Strife keeps herself busy writing, critique-swapping, doing book reviews, and designing covers as she and her husband travel the country for work. She is a veteran, a fitness buff, and holds two Bachelor’s Degrees: Interior Design and Exercise Sport Science. With five books on the table for 2019, she’s hard at work. Strife writes in the following genres: Science Fiction Fantasy, Fantasy, Holiday Romance, Women’s Fiction, Romantic Suspense, and Children’s.

Amazon: Elysia Lumen Strife
Twitter: @ElysiaLStrife
Pinterest: Elysia Lumen
Instagram: Elysia Strife
Goodreads: Elysia Lumen Strife


A secret tip: Strife always publishes Advanced Review Copies of her books on Prolific Works prior to publication. Her next book, A Promise in Ash, will arrive in July. You can watch her page here: Prolific Works. If you like free reads, this site has a ton. Enjoy!


The Guest Post:

Critique Partners:

What They Are, Where to Find Them, and How to Make the Best

CPs can help you stay on target if you have trouble motivating yourself.

It’s like self-imposed homework. The concept might bring back bad memories, but it helps you achieve a goal you set out to reach.

We need to challenge our fellow creative-types in a supportive way.

This is one way we can do just that.

Stay tuned for a CP Question Cheat Sheet below!


What They Are:

A Critique Partner is someone with whom you swap written work in an effort to gain a crucial, fresh perspective on your story. Yes, this is necessary. I say this firmly from experience. You want other writers (people that study the craft and like to read) to let you know what they see. We all do our best to convey the message/themes/characters/scenes we see in our minds. But are we doing this effectively? How do we know? This is where Critique Partners lift the veil of uncertainty and help us pinpoint areas for improvement.

I’ve encountered some confusion between Critique Partners (CPs) and Beta Readers (Betas). Technically, a CP is someone with which you share a chapter or a few at a time as they are written—an ongoing process. You’re not co-writing; you’re sharing impressions to tune the work. These are writers that work with one another through the process of writing the book, offering tips and feedback as the story unfolds. Betas are people that read the book when it is one complete unit, providing overall feedback to check for consistency, plot holes, character arcs, etc.


Where to Find Them:

  1. Local Writing Groups – This one is a fantastic option if you can get into a group in your area. You’ll be able to meet face-to-face with others and talk about your ideas and concerns as you write. Some groups will have requirements for participation (like waiting for your turn/week to swap and bringing enough paper copies of your work for the entire group). That’s just one example. Sometimes, they’ll want you to hang out with the group for a few weeks or months before submitting work for the group to review (so they don’t get flighty drifters). I’ve seen a few that require you to earn points by critiquing other works before you can submit your work.

I use the MeetUp app to find local groups and take a look at their rules. Often, the public library will have postings if any groups have a schedule to meet there. Some of the bookstores may have writers events or rent out rooms for meetings as well.

  1. Online Writing Groups – Most of these are free, and you can find ones specific to genres. is a fairly large writing forum where you can connect with other writers and authors. There is a section where you can post a request for feedback partners, but you have to register to post. And in order to start your own thread, they require you’ve made 50 posts first. is similar to the above. It is a thread site but aimed at those more interested in traditional publishing and being in contact with agents. has a network of engaged people where you become part of a like-minded team and swap critiques. It is a paid membership, $85 annually, but offers a more constructive and timely environment. They also have online versions of NaNoWriMo camps. is a free website (with paid upgrades). You do have to earn points to post if you want critiques. They have free writing contests, a writing blog, and a forum for educational information. You can only post 3,000 words at a time for critique, and it requires 5 points to post that. It’s a great process with a high expectation of positive/constructive feedback. But it is definitely a time consuming process.

Examples of genre specific options:

Mystery Writers:

Science Fiction Fantasy:


Christian: Kingdom Writers –

Sorry Romance and Children’s peeps. I searched but couldn’t find any genre-specific online groups for you. Try social media and the non-genre specifics listed above.

  1. Social Media – I have found the best crew on Twitter via Megan Lally’s #CPMatch hashtag. I love it because it’s FREE, and I’ve made a ton of connections with other authors this way. She runs events every month to month-and-a-half where people storm the hashtag with their short synopses and occasionally a mood board or book cover. Posting the genre of the writing helps find compatible works to swap with.

You can also use #critiquepartner, #cpmatchmaking, #betabustle and #betareader on Twitter, but I haven’t found a more loyal and excited group than the one listed above.

Facebook has a lot of writer’s groups as well. I’m not even going to delve into this one. But I will say this: many are tired of spammers – I mean the self-pubbed gurus that just want to drop their links and leave. (This isn’t effective, and it isn’t nice) Become an active member. You will make friends. Friends make a network. A network is how you will succeed.

Wattpad is a fantastic place to meet a lot of work-in-progress folks. It’s a place where you can post your upcoming works one chapter at a time and get feedback from your followers for free. That said, it counts as publication. So… if you want to maintain copyright, make sure you include a notice at the beginning of your book on Wattpad. And when you do officially publish for sale, you need to be aware of this when filing on They will ask you if it has been published previously. But if you’re looking for a fast turnaround with feedback, this is a great way to do it. Wattpad is heavier on the YA and Fan Fiction side, so the crowd there tends to be younger. They give great advice on how something reads, plot, characterization, etc. But not always the nitty-gritty voice, line, and copyediting advice.

Goodreads is a good place to connect with readers. You can also find groups where you can post your work for review or beta reads. This is only as successful as you make it. If you want to be noticed here, you have to interact with lots of other people. There are numerous posts made every day to many of the groups.

Here are a few examples:

The Circle: for readers/beta readers/critiques/reviews/free reads size: 1,681

Goodreads Reviewers’ Group size: 5,846

Support for Indie Authors size: 14,401

Making Connections size: 11,932

Goodreads Authors/Readers size: 29,859

  1. Writing Associations and Organizations

Local organizations, like the Writers’ League of Texas can offer you a host of options for a decent membership price. Texas, of course, isn’t the only location. I’m just using this one as an example because I was a member when I lived there. The great thing about WLT was online classes. Yes, you can take courses online and not have to live in the state. Members get a discount on courses. If you plan to take several a year, it’s worth it. They also have a website where you can get counseling and one-on-one attention with your work. I met other authors at classes they had at St. Edwards University. This is one way to grow your living, breathing, human network.

There are quite a few online organizations, several of which you might be familiar with. This list is not all-inclusive. There are many more.

American Christian Fiction Writers

Erotica Readers and Writers

Historical Novel Society

Military Writers Society of America

Mystery Writers of America

Nonfiction Authors Association

Poetry Society of America

Romance Writers of America

Sisters in Crime

Small Publishers, Artists, And Writers Network

Society of Children’s Book Writers And Illustrators

Western Writers of America

Writers Guild of America

  1. There is always the Fiverr option if you’re looking for timely feedback and haven’t made many other connections yet. If you haven’t heard of it, Fiverr is a massive website where people can post their work-for-hire ads. Be very careful. Always read reviews. This site does not filter quality of work. However, there is a lot of talent to be found here from editing to cover design. Let me just stress this again: be picky.
  2. Some freelance editors will also work with you, but this depends on the editor. A lot of editors will provide an initial, free, ten page or first chapter critique as a display of their skills (and a way to find out if you’d be a good match for future editing). This critique is a little different. They’re expecting your work to be as refined as you can make it before they get it. The term implies different things depending on who you ask. So an editor is less likely to walk with you through the construction of the book. Maybe later, after you’ve sold tons of books and you and your editor are best friend. Then they probably would.

Keep at it. You’ll get there. I believe in you!


How to Make the Best:

There are benefits and downsides to both online and in-person critiques. Online is great (through certain methods) for quick turnaround and removing any personal bias a family member or friend might have. You can send digital feedback, collect all of the responses in one file or folder and look at it simultaneously. Google Drive and Docs is awesome for collecting group feedback. Just upload your book and share the link to whoever you want via their email address. Seriously, it’s awesome.

It’s difficult to gauge the level of importance an avatar/icon puts on the feedback they give you. It can lack the depth you may be searching for. The comments may also come across heartless and hard to read. Some might respond with something too vague like, “Great read, just move the ending to here.” Or they might never get to it and you find yourself waiting indefinitely. They could also redline your work to shreds and leave you feeling like giving up. With a personal contact, you can meet them face-to-face, get a feel for them as a person, and decide if you’re comfortable swapping. The human element is hard for a lot of introverts, but it can be a powerful tool in the long run.

A tip for people with unpredictable writing habits… isn’t that a vast majority of us? Finish your book first. Or at least be close to ready before you search for CPs. The reason I say this is because we often have life events that get in the way of completing our weekly or monthly goals. Instead of making your betas wait (This still happens to me because of lack of internet) you will be prepared to send the next chapter. You can still swap one chapter at a time and critique it, but you don’t have the pressure of having to finish writing each unit while you’re critiquing their recent work and holding down a job, dealing with family, fixing the car, etc.

The key to online critiques: SWAP A SAMPLE. Yes, I guess, I’m yelling. Never send your book in its entirety right off the bat. (This is a security measure.) Send one chapter or five pages, whatever you agree upon. Critique it the way you would normally. Then exchange your feedback. This way, you can see if they give you what you’re looking for in responses and also, if their writing is of content and a reading level you’re comfortable with critiquing. That said, people are ready at different stages, so I tend to prepare myself to work with wherever they’re at.

Giving feedback can seem like an easy thing to do. Anyone can say, “I like this,” or “This sucks.” But that doesn’t tell the other writer what’s wrong or missing. I’ve included a list below of possible questions to ask when critiquing work. I hope it helps tune your mind as you read so you can offer the best experience you can to your CP. If they enjoy working with you, they may stick around to swap with you in the future.

Try to keep it a mixture of what you like and what you think could use improvement. Every writer needs to know what works just as much as what doesn’t. We need to know our strengths to be able to build on them like we need to know our weaknesses so we can fix them. The ABA approach (good, bad, good) doesn’t always align with things as they happen in the story. Just aim for balance. And be kind with your words.


Don’t say – You picked a terrible character name. Change it.

Say – This character’s name reminds me of (…). This way the other writer can see what you see. If it’s not the imagery they were hoping for with the name, then they can see* why they should change it.

Offer suggestions and observations. Keep personal opinions out of feedback. Maintain professionalism.

Never criticize the other writer as a person because of something they wrote. If its fiction, they’re constructing a story, not living it. And if it’s nonfiction, then it actually happened so it’s a fact that needs to be accepted. Be mindful of your emotions and comments. We’re here to build one another up and help each other reach our goals.

On the flip side, it isn’t easy receiving feedback either. We all send it off knowing it isn’t perfect, but hoping the other person will find some things they enjoy. This is the biggest reason for swapping a sample. You want to make sure they are going to give you what you need and want and not too much of what you don’t. Keep in mind, not everyone is going to present ideas to you in an objective and impartial manner. Some people can be downright mean. (Which is why we have to be the mature ones and lead by example.)

Their critiques are only theirs. They do not represent the mass majority. They are one person. Don’t judge your work’s value based on one person’s opinion. You’re not being fair to yourself. This is why you need to get feedback from at least three different people. You will have critique partners back out from time to time. It seems to happen in waves. We all have a lot on our plates. Few of us are full-time writers.

Always ask more people if they’d like to swap than the number you think you need. Maybe you’ll get lucky and snag them all! Just be prepared to work through that number of stories if they do. Play fair, and it will work out in your favor.

Be encouraged by the feedback. It’s better to chop your manuscript up and rework it now, than let your readers do it for you on public websites. I know it can seem overwhelming sometimes. That’s okay. Cry it out. Get some extra strong coffee. Hug whatever or whoever is close to you.

Deep breath.

Take the news in stages if you have to. Look at the notes one at a time. If there is a consensus among your returned critiques, then you know what needs work. It can be a bit more ambiguous when it comes to the individual comments that don’t line up with the others. Filter them for anything confusing and ask for clarification on the comment if needed.

Sort the opinions from the facts. Opinions are subjective statements that contain assumptions, judgments, and beliefs. Facts are objective statements and are backed by evidence and reason. Some writers are very good at hiding their opinions in a factual statement. Fact checking is crucial in non-fiction but can be a component of many fiction genres. But, in truth, CPs are only able to give you their best observations of your work as it coincides with what they’ve been taught or researched is “correct.”

There is a level of differentiation to consider as you read their comments. If they explain why a concept/scene/character action doesn’t fit, you’ll want to consider delving into this. If someone is providing you an opinion on something menial, let it go. So they don’t like it, big whoop. It’s not worth getting upset over.

Critiques are recommendations. Be open-minded about what they’re suggesting, but don’t change everything just because others think you should. Instead, take their notes as help in deciphering what messages or concepts may not be coming across clearly.

Sometimes, we want them confused and misled. Maybe because of a Red Herring we carefully wove in, or we’re trying to make our readers think. Confusion would be a good thing in those cases. Otherwise, it may mean there is a deficit in showing of a component in your writing.

On the flip side, if critiquers feel bored, it may be a sign you’ve shown too much, and they’re not actively engaged. A little mystery is the key to a good hook.

Swapping critiques can lead to insecurity among writers. I hope you’re one of the lucky few that hasn’t had this issue. It’s been my experience that new CPs need a gentler approach. Find out the stage they’re at and see how it compares with yours. Swap the samples. Find out if they want a full critique or a traditional one, in chapter segments as they write. Make sure you’re on the same page.

I love ending with terrible puns.

Remember, when we write, we’re in our comfort zone. When we send off our work for its first critiques, we enter the zone of fear, doubt, and insecurity. Getting our feedback is when we are offered the chance to learn about our skills and how we can make our writing better. It is when we accept it and work on improving our craft and our stories that they shine, and so do we.


Framework for critiquing:


General things to discuss upon swapping samples of writing

Is this a finished book or a work in progress?

Is this the genre you like to read?

Is this the genre you write in?

Have you done critiques before?

How long have you been writing?

Who is the target audience?

What are you looking for in feedback? General (plot/scene setting/characterization) or more detailed (voice/structure, line edits/copyedits)?



If you’re doing a group critique, don’t read others notes while critiquing. You run the risk of bias.

Remember to provide professional and polite feedback

Point out what you liked as well as what you found problematic

Read through these questions before you begin the critique to help you hunt down critical issues and answer them as thoughts come to mind

Leaving in-text notes can help you with a final (overall) assessment and also point out specific problem areas to the writer


The Questions!!

First Chapter/Opening

Do the first few lines hook the reader with the main character and their problem/conflict?

Can you visualize the environment, the main character, and the problem?

Is the manuscript starting where you think it should?

Is there enough tension and emotion to draw the reader in?

Does it start with a cliché, or is it a unique and intriguing beginning?



Was there a major resolution to the main conflict? Or did you feel something was missing at the end?

Were the stakes enough?

Did the tension ebb and flow in a way that made you want to keep reading?

Were there tense hooks at the end of each chapter?

Did the beginning of each chapter give you the premise with a subtle hook as well?

If this is a series, is there a bit of conflict left unresolved for the next book?

Could you understand the internal/emotional battles the characters were fighting? Did they contribute to the progress of the plot and the character’s overall change (arc)?

Did any details or events seem convenient/contrived?



Were the chosen names, dress, and ages appropriate for the genre and setting?

Could you follow along with the emotional journey of the character? Or did it feel glossed over or forced?

Did the characters encounter enough struggles, including between characters, to complete a transformation at the end?

Do you understand why the villain/antagonist is a protagonist in their own mind?

Does each characters’ behavior seem believable?

Are the characters three-dimensional in personality?

Do they experience all emotions?

Do they improve the story?

Do they have flaws/limitations?

Are their goals, morals, and desires understandable?

Are they relatable to a level that fits the genre?

Are their back-stories compelling and well-rounded?

Did you find the characters’ changes satisfying at the end?

Were the social relationships among the characters genuine and supportive to the story?

If any, was the hierarchy presented believable and beneficial?

If this was a character-driven piece, do you feel the work was appropriately saturated with detail?

Did you find the characters motivating, compelling, or inspirational in any way?

In general, were the emotions, actions, and dialogue shown effectively?



If this was a plot-driven piece, do you feel the work effectively tackled this as a priority?

Do you know what the main plot is/was? Was it consistent from beginning to end?

Is the sequence of events consistent and believable?

Were there too many dreams or flashbacks that detracted from the clarity of the plot?

Were any aspects predictable?

Were any events dwelled in for too long or not long enough?

If there was more than one plotline or any subplots, were they constructive to the storyline or the character arcs?

Is the influence of any “daily life” in the work helpful?

Are the twists realistic? Surprising?



Can you clearly visualize where and when the story takes place?

Do you understand the cultural norms?

Is each change of scene distinguishable?

Were there any environmental descriptions that were overwhelming?

Does the setting/world frame the plotline effectively?

Is the history/back-story of the landscape fitting and believable? (Why are we here?)

Was every scene necessary to the plot?



Are the colloquialisms effective or overwhelming?

Did the language seem to fit each character?

Was the dialogue constructive in moving the story forward?

Were there too many formalities? Hi/Bye, Thank you/You didn’t have to

Any dialogue dumps?

Any moments that needed more?

Did it evoke emotions or thoughts in you as a reader?

Did the dialogue reflect the displayed emotions of the characters?


Point of View – Format of narration for the book

Is the point of view effective for the story?

First person – “I am telling you.”

Second person (rare in novels) – Narrator tells story *to* another (the reader). The “you” perspective.

Third person (limited) – Narrator is outside of character minds. “He read it to her.”

Third person (omniscient) – Narrator is in characters’ heads. “Josh hated the concept. This sucks, he thought. But he read the book to his little sister anyway.”

Was the point of view consistent? (Especially between third person limited and omniscient?)


Perspective – Comes from all characters telling the story as we meet them throughout it. This is their view on situations because of their pasts, prejudices, attitudes, and personalities.

For works with multiple perspectives, do the changes from character to character seem fitting or does the story head-hop too quickly?

Are there too many perspectives?

Is there a character whose perspective you’d like to see?





Did the writing carry you along smoothly?

Were there any problematic slow/fast areas?

Did any sections of backstory/info/descriptions slow the story?

Are the transitions helpful in moving from one scene to the next?

Does the pace fit the genre? (ie: Action Adventure vs. Historical Romance)


Show vs. Tell

Any clichés used? Once upon a time…

Does the work show things where it is needed?

Are the moments of telling appropriate?



Are the chapters broken up appropriately by scene/perspective/time changes?

If there are breaks within chapters, do they seem fitting? Or could pieces be joined?

Were any sentences or paragraphs too long or short?



Did the voice flow along with the story or did it seem choppy in calm moments and too calm during action?

Is the tone fitting for the genre? (ex: Humorous, dark, melodramatic, literary, mechanical)



Was punctuation used correctly? (comma splices, run-on sentences, not too many ; or !)

Any misplaced modifiers?

Are there too many adverbs?

Are the sentences sticky with too many conjunctions?

If there are curses, were there too many?

Are there vague filler words?

Is the writing concise?


At the End

Did the beginning fit now that you know the ending?

Did you notice any inconsistencies in plot/character/scene?

Does the author have any redundancies, catchphrases, or go-to words?

What was your personal take on the story? (Keep this separate)


Guest Post with Kaya Quinsey: “Writing With Time in Mind”

Guest Post, Misc.

Kaya Quinsey - Headshot 6Meet Kaya Quinsey.

Kaya Quinsey holds her undergraduate and master’s degree in psychology. Her first novel, Paris Mends Broken Hearts, was released in April 2018. Her second book, A Coastal Christmas, was released in October 2018. Her books have sold in seven countries. Kaya’s passion for culture, travel, and psychology blend for a reading style that is fun, full of surprises, and easy to read. A romantic at heart, Kaya’s writing offers a contemporary twist to traditional love stories. She hopes to inspire women through her stories to fiercely chase their dreams.

Social Media Links:
Author Central:

Guest Post

Writing With Time in Mind



Here is some advice I’ve found helpful on how to finish your manuscript relatively quickly (and with minimal headaches). Enjoy!



1. Write first, edit later


If you start to painstakingly sift through sentences as soon as they are typed up, it is going to be a long road to get to the finished product. Some writers will type away at a blacked-out screen, so they aren’t even tempted to edit throughout the process. Get the words out, finish your idea, and don’t let yourself get in the way. This leads into my next point



2. Let go of perfectionism


It is difficult to finish writing a book if you are critiquing it the entire time. Remember that the more you practice, the better you will get. So keep practicing.



3. Write every day


I have found that writing on a daily basis has been helpful to maintain a plot driven story line. It takes discipline to stay focused, to keep writing, to have patience with yourself each day. Stick with it.



4. Set a word count


When working on a book, I typically aim for between 1000-2000 words per day. Within a relatively short span of time, you’ll have a first draft of your book.



5. Plan your plot


Having a general overview of what is going to happen in your story can be helpful so that you have a sense of direction when you are meeting your daily word count (see number 4), on a daily basis (see number 3). You don’t necessarily need to have it all figured out, but an overall big-picture idea can be helpful to guide the path.



6. Set hard deadlines for yourself 


When I say “hard headlines”, I don’t mean set difficult deadlines (e.g., “I will write a whole novel by Wednesday!”). What I mean is set goals about when you want to have Chapter 1, 2, 3, etc. done by. Keep those promises to yourself. Remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect the first time you write it. There will be time to go over it all when you’re done! Which leads me to my final point…



7. Schedule time to revise



Congratulations! You’ve written a book. Now comes the real fun (just kidding).


Good luck with your writing and I wish you all the best.


Rae, thanks for having me on A New Look On Books.



Thank you Kaya for stopping by again!

In case you missed it, check out Kaya’s interview here!




Guest Post: “5 Ways to Unwind After a Deadline” by Author Amber Mitchell

Guest Post

Meet Amber Mitchell.


Amber Mitchell graduated from the University of South Florida with a BA in Creative Writing and her debut novel was Garden of Thorns.

When she isn’t putting words on paper, she is using cardstock to craft 3D artwork, exploring the world with her husband Brian, or playing far too much Dungeons and Dragons. They live a small town in Florida with their four cats where she is impatiently waiting to return to Scotland and explore ancient castle ruins.


Her second novel, War of the Wilted, will be released by Entangled Teen on October 1, 2018.

Social Media Links:
Twitter: @amberinblunderland


The Guest Post.

5 Ways to Unwind After a Deadline



Your fingers have been glued to the keyboard, the playlist you were listening to has long since stopped playing and you are surrounded by a forest of mostly empty coffee mugs (or if you’re me, Diet Coke cans). If that sounds like a familiar scene, you’ve probably been on deadline. Whether it is a self-imposed deadline or one from an agent or editor, the end result is always the same: a plethora of words on a page and a mind so made of mush, you’re envious of the shape Jello can take.


But now that you’ve completed your deadline, it’s time to relax! Pat yourself on the back and get ready to unwind. Here are my five favorite ways to treat myself after a completed deadline!



  • A hot bath- There is nothing more rewarding than drawing a hot bath. Bonus points if you can swing a bath bomb or bubbles in there. Grab your favorite drink, a fancy glass, your phone for some ambience music, light a few candles and let yourself soak. Chances are, you’ve probably pushed everything aside to get this book done so now it’s time to spoil yourself a bit.


  • Save a good series- As a reward for a job well done, I always save a popular or new series that I want to read. Though it’s hard not to pick it up while I’m writing, nothing makes me happier than binge-reading when I’m finished with my own writing. Not only is this a great way to reward yourself, but it also helps you replenish all those words you just spent writing your own book!


  • Binge-watch a t.v. show- Brain too mushy for reading right now? That’s alright! That just means that you can find a good t.v. series to get lost in for a while and let the screen do the work for you. Falling in love with a new show is a great way to relax your overworked mind and you can learn a bit about storytelling along the way. A few shows I find particularly binge-worthy: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Outlander, Stranger Things, Jessica Jones and Doctor Who


  • Try a new recipe- Sometimes I spend far too much time watching Tasty videos and that’s mostly because I don’t have the time to make them. But after deadline, I treat myself to one or two really good looking ones and get busy in the kitchen. Following a recipe is a great way to relax your mind and after you’re finished, you can share your hard prepared meal with friends… or if it didn’t turn out so well, because let’s be honest, it’s never as easy as it looks on the video, you can go grab a bite with them!



  • Start daydreaming about the next exciting thing- Whether it be that idea the sparked in the middle of writing your book on deadline, wondering what the cover will look like for the book you just turned in or getting back to your WIP, let yourself look ahead a little bit. Daydreaming about the next big step you’re going to take is part of the fun and will really help you remember why you pulled an all-nighter three nights in a row to hit your goal.


There are a few of my absolute favorite things to do after deadline. The main thing to remember is that you just pushed yourself one step closer to your dream and that deserves to be rewarded.


What do you do to unwind after accomplishing a goal?

Interview With Author J.N. Chaney

Author Interview, Misc.

Meet J.N. Chaney.

Welcome! Thanks for joining us today. Tell us a little about yourself.

J.N. Chaney has a Master’s of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and fancies himself quite the Super Mario Bros. fan. He migrates often, but was last seen in Avon Park, FL. Any sightings should be reported, as they are rare.

Social media links:
My facebook page:
My website:
My Amazon page:

The Interview.

An invasion of fifth dimensional creatures has begun. You can pick only one weapon and one other object to take with you as you fight or flee. What do you pick?

That’s a tough one. How do you fight something like that? I’d probably assume I was doomed and just take off running with a bag of food and some water in the microscopic hope that I could live long enough to survive this new Hell that has befallen us. Either that, or I’d bring my Nintendo Switch and just kick back and have some fun while I wait to die.

Genetic engineering and dystopia seem to go hand in hand as a current trend. What do you like and dislike about each topic?

Genetic engineering is something I try to include in most of my books, but it was especially prevalent in my dystopian series, The Variant Saga. I view genetic engineering the same way I do most scientific advances. It can be used for both good and evil, depending on the person who wields it. The same is true of something like atomic energy. On the one hand, you have a bomb capable of wiping out New York City. On the other, one of the most plentiful sources of energy ever conceived. With genetic engineering, you could create the perfect human, cure all diseases and disabilities, and even bring humanity into a new era of happiness. At the same time, you could create an army of superhumans or develop a biological weapon. I think that’s why people find it so fascinating. Not only is it so open to possibilities, but most of them could actually happen.

Did you ever find yourself struggling with your main characters – such as they just wouldn’t do what you wanted or expected?

That happens sometimes, but it’s never a struggle. More of a journey of discovery. By the 50% mark of the first book, I know exactly who my character is and what he would do in a situation. After that, the trick is to simply throw some problems at your hero and see what happens. If they’re worth writing about, chances are they’ll find a way to overcome it and naturally create an interesting and fun story along the way.

Anthologies. Series. You’ve done it all. Do you prefer one over the rest or do you have an equal enjoyment of all three?

This really depends on the type of story you want to tell. For me, I’ve mostly done series, but every once in a while I’ll get an idea for a short story or a novella. When that happens, you have to write it out the way it demands. If you try to stretch an idea into a 4 book series when it should only be a short story, you’re probably asking for trouble. The reverse is equally true. I have several ideas for both series as well as standalones, and I’m equally excited to dive into all of them.

What is your favorite part of being a writer and creating your writing identity?

For me, there are several highlights to writing and releasing a book. The first is the beginning. Just sitting down and writing the opening chapter is a thrill, because you’re creating something brand new and it’s all still fresh. That’s probably my absolute favorite part of the writing process. The next would be the ending, because that’s when the stakes are at their highest and everything is on the line—it’s all coming together and you’re the first person to see it happen. The last highlight is the release—the moment you get to share your story with the world and learn if everyone else feels the same way you do about it. Writing isn’t just about you sitting alone in your room anymore. It’s about getting online and seeing readers talk about the book afterwards. They make posts, leave reviews, tweet, and blog about your story, giving their take on what you just poured your heart and soul into. If you’re lucky, they’ll see the same beauty you saw in it. Good or bad, that part is always a nail biter.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with the readers today?

There’s no greater magic in the world than reading. It allows us to experience other worlds and perspectives we never would have in our day-to-day lives. For that reason, I hope you’ll keep on reading for as long as you can, no matter how life treats you or tries to get in the way. Pick up a book and play pretend, if only for a little while. If that book happens to be one of mine, then I hope it treats you well and gives you a tale worthy of your time.