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Author Images 101

The anthology I'm working on as part of Sand Kittens Press put out our call for author photos, and the results were mixed. I realized many people don't know what is important in one, so here's a quick break down of what to shoot for (pun intended ) in an author photo. As well as some examples of good, bad, and meh images.

Author photos are a reader’s introduction to you. Don’t underestimate their importance, but also don’t overthink them into oblivion. There is a middle ground, where they are both fun and a great marketing tool. The biggest things to remember are to be professional, show your personality, and, when possible, hint at your niche.

Being professional refers to both the image (i.e. you and your outfit/pose) and the quality of the image (lighting, focus, etc). You can 100% take a professional photo by yourself on your smartphone. You should use the rear camera (NOT the selfie cam) and the flash. Set it up, step back and use a small amount of zoom to help reduce distortion. Then hit the timer and hit your pose.

As far as poses go, there are not many wrong answers, but each place your author photo appears is essentially your resume, so if you wouldn’t submit it to a potential employer, maybe think twice before making it your author pic. There are plenty of times you can use those fun candid photos, but your official picture isn’t it.

As far as personality goes, think back to professionalism. A smile nearly always works. Some writers like to have a book, pen, laptop, etc in their photo to make it feel ‘author-y’. All good. You might choose a bright color shirt, or fun location to help make your personality pop.

If you can combine these to also include a nod to your writing niche, that’s all the better! Use your author image to help show your readers what they can expect from you. A picture is worth a thousand words, and as authors we know how important words are, so don’t forget the ones your author image represents!

Book Reviews

Stolen Tongues by Felix Blackwell

I have a hard time with horror. I love it, but I want to be creeped out—not just grossed out by shock-tactics of gore or inappropriate behavior. Murder and mayhem is fine, I love a slasher film, but there has to be more to it.

The prologue for Stolen Tongues reads as one of the best horror shorts I have ever read and with just those few pages I was absolutely sold on this book. Part cabin in the woods, part supernatural haunt, this book had that creep factor for me. It’ll have you straining to hear that voice outside, that scratch at the door or tap on the window.

It's not just a secluded cabin on a mountain with Native spirits book. It lingers, the ancient evil has a motive, and a life of its own beyond the desire to hurt. It manages to make open spaces claustrophobic, and the voices of loved ones terror inducing.

I was beyond pleasantly surprised by this one—I had recommended it to my family before even getting past the first few chapters. I knew right away and no one I’ve given it to has been disappointed. I will re-read the prologue whenever I want a mini-haunt. Carrot the parrot is one of the best uses of an animal in horror I’ve seen (and not-really-spoiler- he lives, so no worries from an animal-love standpoint!)

Unmissing by Minka Kent

I was back and forth on this book for quite some time. I liked the characters and could tell there was much more to them, and I love an unreliable narrator. As with most thrillers that promise the ever-magical insane twist, I was skeptical, especially as the blurb seemed to almost directly tell us something that, in some books, would be the totality of that twist. When that ah-ha moment came just after the halfway point, I was... confused and honestly, ready to be disappointed.

Fear not, there is more to come, much more. I won’t say too much, but just about everyone steps up in unexpected ways. I kind of wish there was one more chapter to wrap up at the end, but it was satisfying enough. I damn near* felt bad for our antagonist #1 by the end. *Near—not actually, terrible person through and through, but hey, characters with layers—I love them. Or maybe love to hate them. Either way.

Unmissing is a good read, especially if you are slightly more patient (or perhaps read faster) than me. Also being the terrible keeper-upper of authors I like, I hadn’t realized until I made it to the author bio that I have read, and thoroughly enjoyed Minka Kent before. Who knew? Nicely, she has a good bit of a back catalog I can now happily peruse.

Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin

This was an odd one for me. And, I suppose, it is meant to be. There are a lot of love-it or hate-it reviews, but I am very in the middle. I don’t think I can even consider a star rating. Did I read along, eager to figure out WTF was going on? Absolutely. Did I ever figure that out? Did anyone? Were we meant to? Ehhh. I don’t know.

For a short book, this one has a lot of layers and tons of moving parts, yet almost none of them are actually resolved. I like an open end, but I’m not really sure there was even an end at all? I don’t know.

The writing is good; the mystery is there and left me wanting to know so many things. On the level of what David was up to with the animals, what Carla was up to with Nina, and what the heck David was trying to get Amanda to realize/tell him in her story. I just don’t know.

Would I recommend it? You guessed it—I don’t know. It would depend totally on what you like to read. If you are there for an experience this one’s for you. If you are there for a tied up story, you won’t find that in these pages.

I know I didn’t say much about what this book is actually about, and that is because I don’t even know what might be considered a spoiler here. The story is told by Amanda. She is relaying it to David, the young son of her friend Carla. Odd things happen in their town, children become ill and desperate parents bring them to the woman in the greenhouse. Amanda and her own daughter Nina are with Carla one day when something happens, something important, and David urges Amanda to recollect the day and the moment in great detail. She tries, he presses more and more as time is running out.

I won’t say more than that, as I’m not even sure how much more than that I understood fully. Reading this book was certainly an experience, and if that is something you are after, give it a go. 

Or Else - Joe Hart

I’m having a hard time reviewing this one as much of the time I'm not really sure what kept me reading. Not to say I didn’t like it, I enjoyed the style quite a lot, so maybe that was it. The quiet neighborhood of The Loop  gets turned on its head when a body is found and the man's wife and children are missing.

We follow Andy, a novelist taking care of his father who is succumbing to Alzheimer's. He writes crime fiction and has now found himself the center of something that could be the crazy plot of one of his books. That missing woman, he was having an affair with her, and a mysterious note shows up letting him know that someone knows about them.

It’s slow paced, even for domestic suspense, despite lots going on. There is not just one dead body, but three; ranging from what seems like accidental to suspicious causes. [note here - I nearly stopped reading when we prattled on about Mary being killed by her horse - I'm not sure the author has ever met a horse or someone who knows about them, his plot here based on only the flimsiest ‘things people know about horses’ and made me roll my eyes numerous times. Also, he couldn't even get the vocab right. *sigh* I did like the horses' names at least.]

There are lots of players to keep Andy, and us guessing, but there just wasn't the tension that I want from a thriller. I'm not one to try to guess the ending as I read, but I had a pretty good grasp on where parts were going regardless.

Overall it was well written, and I liked the moments that were a little meta where Andy talked about his writing, but there wasn’t much for me to hold on to and remember, or that makes me want to shout about this book from the rooftops. At the same time I don't regret reading it, so there’s that. 

Wrong Exit by N.L. Hinkens

I wanted to like this book. It was really promising, with a cross country road trip, estranged family inheritance and mysterious hitchhiker. While it does have all those things, I found it really hard to like any single character. Cora is a rather vapid fashion influencer (ugh) and had it not been 90% from her POV I suspect she would have been even more unlikable. Her husband is borderline controlling as he is constantly gaslighting her about her ability to make the trip and her friend Adele is ungrateful and jealous. Yes, some of that comes up in the twist—more on that in a moment.

After picking up their hitchhiker Gianna things get dicey and I get more involved, until Gianna disappears and they don’t go for any obvious next steps. Cora has Gianna's fathers phone number, why not call him, if she had many things that would have been avoided. Again some of that dopey oversight was needed for the twist, but it made me hate Cora even more.

The trip is really well researched—the author has clearly done a lot of googling or has traveled at least parts of their route, which was fun—to a point. Sometimes it felt a bit like a history lecture when they toured museums. 

Then there's the twist. Now I love a twist, but I want it to be something that feels reasonable for the story—and this whole set-up is supposed to be: mysterious hitchhiker and bad-guy boyfriend. Out of nowhere we get a set of chapters from another character's POV where all is revealed and Cora’s life goes to hell. Sure, it makes some of the earlier issues I had make sense, but it all felt like quite a reach. Had I not been over 75% through the book I may have just quit there.

I was also really thrown, after the seemingly well researched trip, to have the ‘million dollar house’ she inherits be what appeared to be a 2 bedroom ranch.

I did like that Cora ended up sticking to her guns in the end and was able to get something from her inheritance other than money, which was a nice move for her, though I wish that depth of personality was shown to us earlier so I would have cared along the way. 

Overall, I don't think I wasted my time with this one, but I don't think this author will be a repeat read for me. 

I Read Her Dinosaur Lover So You Don't Have To.... but you absolutely should

I stumbled on this book down some reddit rabbit-hole (as one does) and was completely fascinated. Not enough to pay for it, but when I ended up with KU it was one of the first things on my list. Let me tell you, it did not disappoint. Well, I mean it did—it’s terrible by any normal writing or story standards…but hot damn, it is B-book (is that a thing? Like B-movies?) gold.

At first I thought, maybe this is satire, maybe this author is so over the paranormal romance genre that they are just going for it. But a quick look at their back catalog suggests otherwise. They are serious, and that, somehow—makes it all the better.

You might think, going in, that the half T-rex, half man is going to be the strangest thing in this book. You would be wrong, so wrong. Marc is totally a genetic f*ck-up—both in the story’s reality, and in ours trying to read it. The way the writer attempted to combine lizard and human biology is just...I can’t even. At one point she actually supposes that his torso (T-rex) is cold blooded while his legs (human) are warm blooded. Hmm...

Constantly, Marc’s big tick is biting his lip. On a human, sure cool, OK. T-rex though? Does he have lips? Not according to the cover. Again, hmm...

Marc’s biggest goal is to be a firefighter, but of course, he cannot be because of his tiny T-rex arms, he can’t grip the fire hose. So he is doomed to be a bouncer at the illegal dino-fight club.

But, lest you think Marc’s biological anomalies are the star of this story, think again! Our female love interest, Emily, is also genetically modified (as is everyone on this planet, there is some world building where it’s mentioned that this is required, possibly?) So, our normal looking lady has a most special talent, and it is what brings her to work undercover (maybe—it’s totally unclear how or why she is connected to the body investigating the dino fighting ring) and meet Marc.

She can sweat any substance she wishes. Yes, you read that right. Her hostess-type job has her sweating tequila for the patrons and we get lavish descriptions of them collecting her tequila-sweat in their glasses. Yum. As if that wasn’t bad enough, her ‘real job’ working her very own food truck features a special sauce and, you guessed it, she runs on the treadmill each morning to whip up a fresh batch! Double yum!

Their hook-up is surprisingly not all that steamy (it’s there, but I doubt anyone is blushing over it) and the whole thing ends rather anti-climatically with so many questions still on the table and with Marc’s biggest issue being easily fixed by a side character. 

After all that insanity, though, there was one moment where I literally put the book down and had to go tell someone WTF just happened.

There are a few side characters, one gorilla/human type guy called Bobo - he’s probably the most normal being in this whole mess. But my (gender neutral) dude Taylor, a friend and sometimes sort-of hookup for Emily, can literally turn themself into a washing machine. Full stop, spin cycle, washing machine. My brain stopped working when I read that one.

Upon finishing, I immediately sent it to some friends. This takes a special audience to appreciate. Have you seen Troll 2? The Room? Loved every moment of their bat-shit craziness backed up by a creator who (at least seems to be) convinced they are works of art? Then this is the book for you.

If you think this review is the ramblings of a crazy person, you might be right. But read the book. You won’t be disappointed, or you will, but in the best way. The journey is worth it. You will never look at another T-rex or ‘I sweat awesome sauce’ work out tee-shirt the same way.

The Death Investor by Ian Lomond 

I've never been to Sydney but after following Kidman and Reid on their investigation I feel like I could navigate the streets on my own. The Death Investor by Ian Lomond felt so grounded in the setting that it almost became its own character. The pace was quick and kept me turning pages to see what would happen next.

The mystery of who killed software developer Peter Maher is full of twists and turns with the perfect level of deceit. It could be any number of people as the possible motives pile up against the tech genius. Peter Maher is never pigeonholed into his job, the way I find many people want to portray the uber-smart. Hes got a life outside the office too, one just as potentially damaging as having the next million dollar idea. Detectives Kidman and Reid have a great banter and make a nice team with a solid and realistic dynamic.

The novel stands alone but introduces characters that are worth getting attached to. I will be looking forward to more from this author. I rate it five stars.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Play For Me by CP White 

I enjoyed the premise of Play For Me by CP White and give it four stars. The sociopath trying to 'teach people a lesson' versus the self-centered struggling musician. Its easy to see why LJ is willing to put herself in the position that she does. In her worldview its all about her. Even when red flashing lights should be going off at the invitation she receives its all about what it could do for her, trumping the clear danger of the situation.

At many times I wasn't sure who I was routing for, to be honest. At first LJ is such a good unreliable narrator that we don't see the issues of her personality because she doesn't see them. I think that was captured very well. The more we learn the more we see how she hardly sees beyond her own nose and at times I was sitting in the dark with the mystery person telling her off too. I don't know if its intentional but the nods to Seven really made my day. The movie is a running joke in my family... anytime there's a box, someone has to say: “What's in the box?” à la Brad Pitt.

At first I was disappoint with the ending. I'm not sure LJ learned all that much despite the other characters best attempts at almost literally killing her to make the case. Reading the afterward I understand the authors intent; it does show her change. I would have liked a bit more in that scene though to drive it home and I may have felt more connected to her characters changes then if she had shown her change from self-pity to empowerment.

Overall I definitely enjoyed this debut novel and look forward to whatever the author has next. 

My Dark Self by Jessica Huntley 

At first I wasn’t sold on My Dark Self by Jessica Huntley, but in the end I give it 4 stars. There were few typos/miss-used words in the early chapters that had me almost putting it down, but I kept going because I enjoyed the voice and was intrigued by the character(s). I’m not sure if the actual disorder is well (or factually) represented, but I am not really one to be bothered by inaccuracies if they do not affect my reading or engrossment of the book. The mystery was well kept up; when you think there is one thing, it leads you along, then tosses that thing you think you knew out and sends you on a new venture.

At times, I wasn’t sure I liked Alicia (I know she’s a psychopath, but I always like a love-to-hate character and I’m not sure I ever truly liked her) but she engaged well with the other characters and it was interesting how the POV shifted and kept us as in the dark as Josslyn was much of the time.

The final twist was well executed, although not totally surprising once we got there. I think some areas could have been expanded on in this quick read, but I definitely enjoyed it for that. Being able to pick it up and flip the last page in a short time frame made the dark theme fun and almost light reading-wise. Little things didn’t bother me because of the length. I love to read and write short, so this was really in my wheelhouse. I look forward to where the series takes us! 

My True Self by Jessica Huntley 

The second book in the My...Self series by Jessica Huntley gets five stars! My True Self carries on a while after book one ends. Alicia has moved and unexpectedly settled (due to the pandemic) in Italy.

She grew on me in this book, and I liked to see her figuring out how to deal with ‘regular’ people despite being a psychopath. My main/only gripe is we are reminded often in the text that she is a psychopath and she doesn’t have emotions. Even if I hadn’t read book one, I figured that out. But beyond that I was really engaged the whole time.

I don’t want to spoil anything, so it’s hard to say much. But the new character of Ben was fun, and I loved how he interacted with both Alicia and Josslyn. In those moments, we really got to see how different their voices were and it was really well done. The set up for book three is a big one, as with many book two’s it almost feels like it ends in an odd place, but that happens so much it’s kind of industry standard now so no complaints there. I tend towards stand-alones though for this reason. I can’t wait for the end of that cliffhanger! What I am happiest about though, and a reason I LOVE reading indie authors is, the morning after I finished reading I saw a date for the book three title and cover reveal is just a week away. Being able to interact with authors I read is so fun. I love some Stephen King, but he’s not replying to your comments about reading his latest book. 

Behind The Scenes

Doing The Work

It’s easy to look at your book and think that once you type THE END, the writing is over. Even after several rounds of readers and editors, the process may not be finished. It may have been the best book you could write at the time, but you are always improving—even if you don't think so—and quite often, if you look away long enough when you do come back, it may be with shock.

That’s what happened to me. I wrote AtP about a year and a half ago, with critique partners, did the edits with awesome betas and revised the crap out of it. I queried it, sent out fulls, the works. I thought it was ready and when I decided to self-publish, all I needed to do was format it.

So I started.

And it is apparent now, that in that year and a half since finishing AtP (where I wrote/edited/published my romance series) I have learned a lot. I was just browsing AtP to check the formatting as I went and so much jumped out at me that I now know how to improve. So, it’s back to the editing floor as I glean this baby with a new level of polish. 

On the one hand, I’m thrilled to see how clearly I have improved, on the other—I really thought getting this one to publication day was going to be fairly easy since ‘all the hard work’ was supposedly behind me. Ugh. But also, yay?

I haven’t officially set a release date, so I have no formal deadline, but I did imagine one in my head. Let’s see if I can push myself to keep it. Wish me luck!

You can get your copy now -- CLICK HERE! 

According to Plan Q &A

I love talking to readers and this book has already started some great conversations. I have a few questions that are coming up frequently so I am adding them here (though I'm still totally happy to chat about them more if you want to get in touch!) If you're questions isn't here, leave it in a comment and I'll make a second post when I have a few more to answer.

Was Jared inspired by a real person?

Yes and no, I am lucky enough to not have had to deal with any kind of stalking, but I do (like most women) have the experience of that guy who just doesn’t get it when you give a polite no. Fortunately, my guy was more lost puppy than bipolar stalker and after a few firmer no’s he got the hint. There are a couple lines of Jared’s that come directly from our text messages, so they helped me ground Jared’s point of view in something real.

Where did the idea for the book start?

The book idea didn’t actually start off with a stalker. I was looking through images (which I do all the time) and found an image of an abandoned tent in the woods. That got me thinking about who was in it, where they went and why. Laura doesn’t pack herself a tent, but that set-up turned into her little pile of items she left at the trailhead, things to make it look like she was gone for good. Then I just had to figure out what she was running from. 

Is Laura’s hiking spot a real place?

Sort of. Lincoln is an actual town outside of Boston and there are several hiking areas nearby that could feasibly be Laura’s disappearance location. I don’t have a particular one in mind and am not sure that any are surrounded by such meandering roads as she deals with though I am familiar with many areas between Massachusetts and New Hampshire that could fit the bill, small scenic roads are easy to come by out here so I envisioned all the best parts of them for her journey.

Which character did you enjoy writing more?

I wrote most of Laura’s chapters first (until the timelines merge) and I expected to enjoy her most. She is a planner and analytical like I am. But when I started getting into Jared’s head, he came so easily. It was so enjoyable to let his deluded worldview paint a picture on the page. He has become my favorite character I’ve written so far. He’s an awful guy but was awful fun to write.

Why use two different points of view?

I like to write in 3rd person (he/she/it) and it was natural to begin that way with Laura, but when Jared came onto the scene he really took over and I felt like I needed to be as close to him as possible—he had to be 1st person. I think it is very effective to understand his delusions this way by really seeing his thought process play out. Since it’s not very common to mix the two in one book, I thought about putting Laura into 1st person as well, but it felt unnatural. She is so closed off from the world that getting in her head seemed wrong. This is where the benefit of self-publishing came in. I didn’t have to make a choice that would be safer for the market, so I stood by what felt right for the characters.

Pen Names & Self-Inflicted Split Personalities

I write thriller/suspense and horror. That has always been my wheel-house—the stories that get you with a creeping feeling of trepidation, or ask some question about an odd ‘what if?’

Then someone suggested I write equestrian romance because I know horses. Their logic; you know the horse bits + you can write = simple... right? Well, no. Not really. That is a whole different genre with different rules, expectations and skill sets—not to mention mind set. But it intrigued me. Could I write a horse-y book where the horse stuff actually works? Hmmm.

No, though. Erica could not. She (excuse the self referred 3rd person, I know it’s annoying, but bear with me) writes stuff that creeps people out. But maybe someone else could. Then Isla was imagined. She could write romance, maybe, and I gave it a shot.

By creating this alter-ego I could pull out a different writing style and sweep into the romance genre with only a few missteps (sorry to those first early readers, who definitely did not get a romance!) A review on her latest book calls it ‘hopelessly romantic.’ That was the nicest thing to read, but to me, Erica, also hilarious. No one would ever use those words for me or the work I usually write. But here we were, with a beautiful review for something that did, in fact, come from my head. Thanks Isla.

Here’s where it gets interesting. I’m working on an anthology—a romance anthology. So of course Isla wrote a couple of stories for it—all well and good. I know her voice now. It (largely) works. Then one of the other anthology creators said she expected something from Erica too. Hmmm. But of course, you can write romance, she said. Just do it in her style/voice.

So I tried.

And got quick, emphatic rejections.


Not romantic. Creepy. Going to give me nightmares. Were among the critiques for Erica’s stories. And in their own way, great comments, but not for this anthology. I still needed something. But what? I was moody and annoyed that it wasn’t working. Then I just started writing. Something.

I didn’t know what to call it. I couldn’t even tell where it came from. It wasn’t Isla, and it sure wasn’t Erica either—it was some strange conglomeration of the two who turned out a... wait for it… A sweet space opera MM romance. It got accepted; excitedly—quickly. Huh. I’m not sure what this new voice is, or if I can replicate it anytime soon, but it is interesting.

Compartmentalizing writer voices allowed me to write distinctly in two genres/styles and now that both are comfortable in my head, they are playing nice. It’s created parts of a personality that I couldn’t have related to before, but now somehow inhabit as needed. I’m not an artist who will talk your ear off about my Muse, I don’t communicate with my subconscious very well, but I may just have found a way to pull some of that subconscious out and get her to play. 

How Not to Write a Synopsis

So, if you’ve been following the blog, you know I have my next novel out querying all around. Now, the plan is/was to choose however many top agents I like, query only them, then self pub if there’s no interest. I know the thriller market is tough, and I don’t mind self-pubbing. I digress. That list of agents didn’t include any who required a synopsis in the query package. Part of that was luck, part was.... well, I have never been good at a synopsis. So naively I figured, well, it’s not on their list, maybe I’ll just skip it. Here’s the thing, it might not be on their initial list, but they might ask for it!

One agent that I had written off finally replies over 100 days post query—to ask for a full! Yay! And (problem #1) a synopsis. Shit. So, I obviously want to reply asap, which my book is still on their mind. After several lists and pages of how to write a synopsis that doesn’t suck (they say I can do it in a morning!) I get to it, problem #2—I haven’t read my book since I started querying, back in September, and I’ve been busy on multiple other projects. What the heck is my book about!?

Turns out, here is the silver lining. It’s WAY easier to condense your book down to 700-ish words when you only remember the major points! So I did whip that synopsis out in a morning after all and got it sent out along with my manuscript just after lunch. Now it’s back to a waiting game. Who knows, maybe it’ll wow them, or maybe they will hate it (the initial query was only a couple pages and didn’t include what I think is the ‘hard sell’ part of the book). I am just happy they want to read it, and hopeful that even if it’s a no, it will come with some feedback. But, moral of the story, or maybe insane advice—you decide. You definitely need a synopsis if you are querying ANYONE, but if you wait long enough and get far enough from your manuscript, it just may be easier to write. 

For Writers

Website Redesign & Going Wide

A lot has been going on around here behind the scenes for the last month or so. Not much new writing, though there is a short on the way for an anthology this spring. But I’ve been reworking the way I sell books. You may or may not know how Kindle Unlimited works—it’s a great tool for voracious readers to read a ton of books for a monthly subscription.

However, it places many restrictions on authors to have our books listed there. The main one is exclusivity to Amazon for ebooks. Which I was fine with for a while, but issue have been coming to light recently and if it were just one I can (and did for some time) ignore it. Now, it is too much, and I have pulled my novels from KU’s list and ‘go wide’. Both According to Plan and Excite can now be found with Barnes and Noble, KOBO, and Apple Books. It’s been a learning curve to set them all up myself, but I am glad I did it. 

The reasons I left KU are both practical and based in fairness. Amazon bots were pulling books and threatening to suspend the account of authors whose KU titles were discovered on piracy sites. Instead of going after book pirates, they went after authors and that is a problem. Second, it came to light that the KU exclusivity applies only to indie authors. Traditionally published books can be enrolled in KU and sold everywhere.

It is a tough call for many indies who make most of their royalties through KU, but I sell more ebooks already, so the choice was easier. Plus, thrillers are less populous in KU, anyway. In other genres, a higher percentage of books are in the program, so it is harder to break out without it. My romance books under my pen name are still enrolled for now. If the transition goes well for my thrillers, those books may be next.

I will never tell another author what to do, or tell a reader how they should read (I still have a KU membership...for now) but I think it is important for people to know how things work so they can make informed decisions from both sides.

Beyond that, you will notice my site has a very different look now. After some issue with my old hosting, I needed to do a complete redesign. At first I was annoyed, but now that it is live I’m quite happy with the results. Yes, I know the blog page is a bit non-traditional, but so am I. Plus, I think it’s easier to find old posts this way.

I hope all the recent changes work out and I am excited to see what this change will bring.

Using Comps to Sell Your Book

Having comp (comparison) titles is an essential step when you are planning to query agents with your manuscript, but their use doesn’t stop there. Keep reading to see how to use them as an indie author. Common querying advice tells you to limit these to new(ish) successful books, letting agents know what your book is about and who your target readers may be. Finding books that are similar to yours is not easy. This is yet another reason why pursuing traditional publishing can be off-putting to new writers. 


Here’s the thing: comps are a GREAT thing to have for indies too! Instead of showing an agent who your audience is...take it straight to them! AND, when you are targeting the reader, not an agent, the potential comp pool opens up—TV shows, movies, older popular books, books/shows/etc. with a cult following. The list is endless.

Don’t forget to add those comp titles (I find two to be best) to your book description. It will tell potential readers right off if your book is for them, plus it is an automatic source of precious keywords for you.

I did #pitchwars over on twitter, with my comp line being most of the pitch.  This netted me several potential readers. Yes, new readers based almost solely off that comp line.

Knowing your target audience, and SHOWING them you know them, is huge.

Have fun with it! Comps need not be totally literal. They don’t have to be comparable to your plot or characters; it can be vibe, style...anything.

That book I mentioned? My comp line is: The Girl Who Met Tom Gordon meets YOU.

TGWMTG is an older book, far too old for agents to be impressed, but the paranoia vibe and the forest setting hit perfectly. YOU (both the show and the series) features a charismatic stalker, Joe. He and my stalker Jared could be besties, so I knew from the get-go that YOU had to be on my comp list.

Between the two it paints a vivid picture of what my book may be like, and can also show how it’s different from each. I choose comps that may feel worlds apart. This will highlight that my book is not trying to be the same as either of them; it is something all its own. Still, readers who enjoy either story are left intrigued—wondering where the combination may go—hopefully, enough to pick up the book! 

Interpreting Editor's Notes Without a Meltdown

Lately, I have been working with a group of authors on an anthology. They are all at different stages in their writing careers. I am on the developmental edit team, and working across the experience spectrum has been eye-opening. It has made me reflect on my writing journey, and how to help others with theirs. There’s so much I know now that I wished I knew back when I was working with my first editors and beta readers.

It’s easy to be in awe of your own work. However, the beta-reader/commenter/editor is flagging things for a reason. The story lives in our head; we know 100% of it, but we’re lucky if 60% makes it to the page in the first draft.

Those comments are showing us what isn’t making it, highlighting what the reader doesn’t understand (literally or stylistically). The comments don’t mean something is bad or wrong; they mean something is lost in the story's translation from your brain to the page.

When we see comments, we get upset and want to defend our story-baby on each one. We have the justification, and maybe it’s right. But if you find yourself justifying the same idea over and over—pause.

That is where you need to work. If it’s a matter of the reader not understanding what’s going on, you need to do a better job of explaining/describing. If it has to do with missing info/facts, that’s usually a quick fix - just move things around or expand a little, give us that tidbit that will help us make sense of what’s going on.

If the issue seems to be confusion about the world or character, you need to add details, a better description of setting, body language, etc. Use action tags in-between dialogue not only to add interest but to place your characters relative to each other, so the reader is able to set the scene in their mind.

If the reader is not engaged with your characters, you need to work on your character development. POV needs to be tight, well defined, and consistent. You need to get into your MC’s head and know their motivation and internal conflict/inner struggles and how this relates to how they present the story. If the character is going to tell the story in a particular way, you need to make sure the reader understands why the character is like this, or else that added layer of story you’ve worked so hard on will be lost. You must set the tone for the reader.

Revising is a huge part of writing. Writing is easy; words flow, drafts build... but revising is how you make sure that your vision, and story, is clear to a reader. This is hard, and impossible to do on your own.

Understanding how to use editor comments is probably the most important skill for a writer to develop. Just as you shouldn’t blindly follow every suggestion, you also have to shut down that part of your brain that wants to shout, ‘No, I love this! Let me tell you why it works!’

Don’t tell them why it works in the comments. Show them in the story!

To make the most of the comments that your editors/betas leave on your manuscript, you need to understand how you are reacting to those comments.

I’d wager that everyone has that defensive gut reaction, whether they are newbies just starting out or established writers with a string of books to their name. I sure did when I first started out. I was working as a ghostwriter and the client connected me with the editor. When I tried to explain things, I was told that wasn’t my job; to stop, read the notes, and make it better. No ifs, ands, or buts.

While that was a direct hit, it was also easier because it wasn’t my story-baby on the line (well, it was, I was too close, but I digress). It was his story and his editor. I had to learn quickly to get at the root meaning of those comments and make the fixes. In the end, I got some really nice compliments from that editor. It helped me push forward in my own stories, and in my acceptance of revision comments.

No editor is highlighting things to tell you the story is bad—they are there because they want to help (however blunt some comments may seem). For me, if I write some crazy comment manifestos to someone, that’s a good sign. The more I rattle on, the more I am invested in the piece.

Dig deep, writers! Put your ego aside and take a moment to breathe.

As writers, we know our stories all too well. We see everything in our mind’s eye, forgetting that the reader is not privy to any of this. Translating this highly-detailed picture in our heads into words is difficult. It is impossible to do on without feedback. This is why editors’ and beta-readers’ comments are so valuable. They are basically your short-cut to a better story.

P.S. Dear writers, even this blog post has gone through my best editor! We cannot, and should not do it alone!

Publishing on a Micro-Budget

Some people look at self publishing and think—good, I wrote my story, I’ll just pop it on Amazon and people will love it! No, no, they won’t. You cannot do this alone, and that is hard to hear, especially when you then look at price points on the various services you need to publish a book. Covers, website, marketing, editors, formatting... The list goes on and on and the $$$ goes up and up.

Many things you CAN learn to do yourself, but not without time, effort, and often real $$ shelled out on programs to do them. Everyone had to ‘pay their dues’ (generally, I hate this phrase, because I think it breeds an environment where people get taken advantage of, but hear me out) you have to put something in (besides your self-edited draft) to get something out of the publishing industry. It’s that simple, and that something can definitely be time... lots and lots of time. The less $$ the more time it will take. But that’s fine, you are on your own schedule. Do what you have to do. I have.

If you are like me, you just started out with some vague idea that you will write a book. Great, done. Nailed it. Then you are faced with making it something that people will want to read. Oomph. Here’s where I get honest and break down what I spent putting out my first romance series (3 novellas, in ebook and paperback). I’ll preface this by saying: I’m not a bestseller... yet (though I have ranked #1 in some free categories!). But my method is ever-improving and so are my results. I’m right here with you on this journey. Let’s enjoy the ride together. 

Part 1 - Covers

My first step was finding a cover. I (luckily) had some background using photo editing programs and doing design, so this was one place it made sense for me to study up and learn to do it myself. There are also tons of great resources and groups out there to help you with this (Indie Cover Project on FB is amazing, if you can take the sometimes harshly delivered critique). Stock photos can be free and cheap, so once you develop a good eye and the skill, you can definitely make your own covers (hint, you can also barter and make other people’s covers too!)

Covers ($0) - I’m pretty decent with a variety of free editing programs (photofilter (, photopea ( and also decent at making free stock work for me. So I did my covers myself. I made no less than 5 versions of each over literally weeks as I went round for round with feedback from various sources. I spent so much time scouring stock sites, even going out and taking my own photos for some versions (those didn’t make the cut, but I can use them in marketing images)

I absolutely ‘spent’ more in time than I would have paid for a cover designer, but again... I had the time, not the cash. And each time I do a cover, it takes a little less time.

Part 2 - Interior

Once covers were sorted (I did all three at once so I knew they would be cohesive) the inside needed attention (let’s assume MS is ready, I’ll talk about editing in post #4) It’s not something you think a lot about, until you face choosing it for yourself. Where do you want page numbers? What about chapter subtitles? Should you spell out the numbers? What is popular for your genre?!?

Are you ready for more hours staring at a computer screen? Do you love hunching over your keyboard and wondering how one keystroke sent all your formatting into the twilight zone?

Buckle up buttercup, let’s get to it!

Anyone can do interior formatting simply enough in MS Word with enough patience. Will it be gorgeous? Probably not, but it will be fine. My biggest writing venture was springing for Atticus to format my books (thanks to my Nana for seed money there) and now I can pretty quickly put together professional interiors—but just like cover creation, there is a learning curve. I spent (and still spend) days tweaking things to get them how I want. Eventually it will be quick, but until then, I’m still probably spending more time-value than I would $$-value if I could just hire someone. (But just like cover design, this is another service you can barter with!)

Interiors ($0 ish) My original formatting was all done in MS word. It took forever and left a lot to be desired. I wanted something fun and fancy, but got... standard. It was fine, and no one complained when the first editions hit the web. But I wanted better. Atticus sat on my ‘I’d love this’ list for a while, and when I got some unexpected birthday money, I jumped and bought it (cost: $147 It’s a great investment, formatting is smoother and comes out with much higher quality. Soon I hope to add this to a services list for future bartering.

Part 3 - Website/blog

Time to get your face out there! Your fans need a place to find you, and a website is the best thing for that. You can link out to all your socials, create a blog and share, share, share! It’s your homebase for links, books, stories and everything that is part of your brand. It can be as simple or as complicated as you want/are capable of. It may even begin simply as a landing page to build your mailing list and hand out freebies.

A website is a big task and lucky me to have been the type of person who’s been messing around with site-building for some time. It’s another skill that takes time to develop, but there are some very user friendly hosts/builders out there (I am using GoogleSites, free hosting and you can bring a custom domain - My site took me a couple of weeks to build, but I love it and it serves its purpose. I haven’t spent much (in $$$) keeping it up, and now have another skill I could barter with.

Website ($10/yr) - I did all my design with and hosted on GoogleSites - for FREE - I simply purchased my domain through NameSilo ( for about $10/year. Design and creation was easy; drag-and-drop kind of stuff. It doesn’t have the greatest SEO offerings, but with enough messing around you can work in your keywords to your text well enough to rank decently. BUT it took me days of slogging through chatrooms to get Google to finally crawl and list the site, even though they are the ones hosting it. If I were paying myself a reasonable wage, I don’t want to think what it would have cost. Would a pro have been quicker? Would I have fewer gray hairs? Absolutely, but I only had time to invest here. If I can find the patience, you can too.

Part 4 -Editing

The elephant in the micro-budget publishing room is the edit. The place in writing where going it alone is no longer an option and where the costs can skyrocket. As always, knowledge is power here. Do your research, talk to other writers, and put in those hours. There are ways to get this done and stay on budget, but this is the place where you will encounter the most work since actually writing your book.

No matter how much you learn, you simply cannot, and should not, do the edit on your own. Sorry. I’ve tried, for sure, but a second (or third, or fourth...) set of eyes is necessary. But.... you can find your people. Ones that may barter for something else you are good at (see previous posts in this series), ones who are looking for help on their own books... we all need something, and it’s not always $$. That is always the quick way, and if you have it, go for it and don’t get bogged down slogging through hours and hours working around your writing. Scroll around writer groups, read other people’s work, see who you connect with—it might not be who you think. But if you put yourself out there enough, and make enough connections, something/someone will work out.

A note here: make sure your work as is good as it can be before you look for these people! You are more likely to make good relationships if you show up acting like a professional. That means lots of self edits; use an AI writing tool, do an audio edit, (this was a game-changer for me! Listen to your work out loud and you will catch SO MUCH more.) make your book as good as you are able. Don’t rely on people to do the heavy lifting. If you abuse them, they won’t turn up again next time you ask for help.

Editing (hear me out once more - $0... sort of) My editing budget is, surprise, $0. But, I am a lucky one here—in many ways. I have found (through MUCH trial and error, many blink and you missed them beta swaps, unreciprocated reads, etc) an amazing group to work with, part of that was luck, and part of that is my newfound developmental editing skill. I had something to bring to the table, so this is my biggest barter chip. I can trade dev edits for line edits. Even before I labeled it as such I had another author I trade with (though we were both confused and called ourselves betas) to give her a dev edit for a line edit. It can be done.

Figure out what you have an eye for and hone that skill, then use it for all it’s worth to get your book published. Beg, borrow and practice your way to new skills, always be open to refining what you are capable of, and ask questions. Be humble, take critique, and learn, learn, learn. Know what you can spend time on, and figure out what you can spend $$ on. Someday I hope to be at a place where I don’t have to do most of these things on my own, for now... I will because I have to. It also makes me that much more appreciative of those who do offer these services. 

Developmental Editing - The Role of POV

I have been working closely with one of my writing buddies on a developmental edit of her fantasy epic. It’s totally unlike the stories I write, both in genre and style. I tend toward a cozy cast of a few characters and fairly structured POV changes. She has a large, diverse cast and moves through POVs as needed for the story.

In my reading, I have truly realized, and am now pointing out to her, how important POV character choice is in any scene. (Without giving anything away) Her story follows a magical traveler on a journey, when she has just picked up a companion. For much of the beginning, that companion is our POV character, and this is perfect! He doesn’t know much about her or her world, so it is easy for him to be the reader’s door into it. We learn as he does, and it’s wonderful.

Later in the story, we get more scenes from other characters’ POVs, especially as the action gets more focused on the larger group—this is necessary. Our original character doesn’t have a lot to lose in some of these scenes and therefore the tension is not his to share with the reader. As we near the climax of the story, I’m finding more scenes stuck back in his POV. I love him as a character, but those scenes consequently feel distant as he mostly observes what is going on. Now I am flagging her MS up like a Christmas tree asking for POV changes so the reader can feel the tension of those most affected by the events in the scene.

This is the big takeaway here: you are the author, and your world is yours, but the goal of writing is to share it with others, and to do that we need the best portal for that—the best character to relate what is happening, what they are feeling and doing to lead the reader into the action, the emotion, and the world overall. 

While this is a benefit of fantasy, the acceptance of more varied POV than some other genres, it is something we can all do in all our writing. Understand which characters have the most to gain (or lose) in a scene and frame it around them. If you can’t use their POV, choose your POV character that is closest to them, the one who knows what they are thinking and feeling, even when they are trying to hide it.

It’s also an excellent exercise to write scenes in other characters’ POVs, even if you don’t keep it (or even ever mean for it to be) in the finished book. You can even use these scenes later as bonus material for readers. 

A Writing Game to Get You Unstuck

The other day I was helping a fellow writer with their story and they mentioned being stuck on having to use a line over and over since the action was the same and kept repeating in the story. There was nothing wrong with the line, except that they felt like they were repeating it ad infinitum. And that was true, so I played a little game and told them to do the same. How many ways can you convey the same thing? What other aspects of the action can you look at and draw from? What other senses can you call upon? I think, for the meat of our stories, these questions come naturally. Explaining your magic system, or describing your villain in the most solicitous way, is fun. The hum-drum lines that bring us from scene to scene sometimes get overlooked though, putting us in this mess that my author friend is in now.

So let’s look at their example:

The issue: Every motorcycle turn is taken at speed and threatens to run off the road. 

The line: She took the corner at such a speed the bike threatened to go off the road.

OK, it’s fine if you do it once or twice, but it will definitely get boring, eventually. So, we play our game!

What does our MC feel—internally and externally?
The bike’s wheel trembled as she took the turn. Maybe she ought to slow down—but there was no time for that.

What does the MC do?
Stella struggled to keep her grip on the handlebars as the bike screeched around the corner.

What does the MC see?
Stella could just catch the glares of pedestrians out of the corner of her eye as she flew around the corner.

What does the MC hear?
Gravel skittered, pining against the brick building on the corner as Stella failed, yet again, to slow enough for the turn.

What does the MC taste?
Stella bit her tongue with the effort to keep the bike upright as the force of the turn threatened to send her skidding sideways.

What does the MC smell?
Burning rubber told Stella that she had once more taken the curve too quickly. If she didn’t let up, the bike was going to fall to pieces beneath her.

Are they all good? No, but are they different? Do they paint a picture? And most importantly, have they gotten you writing and thinking outside the box? YES! 

Em-Dash Breakthrough

OK, that may be a bit of an overstatement, but the em-dash is one of my favorite punctuation marks. However, the number of keystrokes for getting one was driving me crazy—the default on windows is alt 0151—and when I’m on a roll, I don’t want to have something so trivial slow me down.

I don’t know a ton about computers, but grew up as ‘the one who fixed it when it broke’ in my family, due only to the fact that I was the only one willing to google stuff, and willing to try it out when faced with the blue screen of death. So I went back to my old ways and hit up google. It turns out making a script for it isn’t all that tough. I downloaded AutoHotKey, attempted to learn how to use it—and failed—then hopped over to the forums instead and found my answer.

Once you have the program, open a new script. Right-click anywhere and it’ll be under the ‘new’ menu. Use this code:

:?*:---::{ASC 0151} ; em dash

Inserting whatever keystrokes you want to customize for the --- . I used a double comma since it’s easy and never comes up organically. Hit save, then double click the script file icon to run it. BAM em-dashes for all!

Here's the discussion forum link for anyone interested in more about how it works. 

Editors, Ethics, & Eye Rolls

I’ve recently seen some comments about editors upset that writers have used their reworked suggestions in the finished stories, and if I was reading one of those “Am I The A-hole” pages it would be an Everyone Sucks Here answer. I’m going to go at it from both a developmental editor and receiver of line editing standpoint.

1- As an editor I am very careful about offering direct suggested rewrites, NOT because I think ‘OmG sOmEoNe iS gOiNg To StEaL mY wOrDs’ but because I don’t want to force my words on a writer. When I’m working with new writers, I will (almost) never offer any kind of rewrite. My voice is not theirs, is not their characters, is not their style, etc. I will offer plenty of ideas and directions to go in, but I don’t want to trample on their style, especially when they may be just finding it. With writers who have a distinct style, I may add rewrites with the note “but better, or but in your voice (etc)” to remind them to make it theirs, or at least make sure it fits. If it works for their story, I don’t care one bit if they take it as-is. It’s my job to help, they are paying for it, those words are part of the deal.

2- As a writer getting edits, I get those suggestions. I interact with them much as I do as an editor. I have to turn it into my own style to fit the voice of the story. But, sometimes that rewrite is already perfect, and yes, I will totally use it. I think the issue that started the initial post I saw was that they were short stories, and it’s unclear how much input the editor gave that was taken as-is. Yes, there is room to argue that if too much was substituted in, who really wrote that story? But, I don’t think we can blame a new writer when someone they perceive as being experienced (in both writing and the editing process) comes in and says ‘write this’ and then doing so. You have to work out a relationship with your editor, it’s not just a hand-off. They are an important part of your team, and you need to understand each other.

So, should you take words directly from your editor? ...maybe. If it’s a lot of words, you could verify they think it’s alright. Double check that the new line feels like it is your voice. Does it fit within your world? When working with an editor for the first time, ask questions! Pay attention and learn about the process and get all you can from it. Be a good student, be thoughtful, and be serious about your work. Don’t blow it by being an A-hole.

Should an editor give direct rewrite ideas? ...maybe. Will you be upset if you see that line used as-is? Are you offering so much ‘help’ that you are bulldozing their voice, or is it just a helpful snippet? Do they know enough to know the difference? When you are editing for someone, YOU are the professional in the equation. Assume every client that you haven’t worked with before is a total newbie (but don’t be condescending). Be helpful, but also kind. Take a moment to understand where they are in their writing journey and show them what it means to be edited—every interaction they have with you is a teaching moment. Don’t blow it by being an A-hole. 

Payoff For the Reader

We write for readers, and it is important not to forget that. If we don’t work to give readers what they want (the FEELS - in all possible iterations) they will not connect to our work. A scene that may play out exactly as you envision in your mind may not be the right payoff for a reader. It’s easy to miss as you write. Especially when that payoff is part of a sub-plot. You get so caught up in the main arc that when those pieces fall into place, everything surrounding it gets fuzzy. But when not paid off, those moments are the ones that might make your reader throw your book at the wall. 

When you develop a plot (or sub-plot) you are making a promise to the reader: This will go somewhere, you will get a payoff for sticking around. And you HAVE to keep that promise. No if’s and’s or but’s.

I’ve recently finished working through Cassia’s novel that must not (yet) be named, and it has shown so much improvement. I’m proud on her behalf for the quality she has added. That said, I might have swapped from professional-dev-editor to friend-reading-the-book and left a comment with some expletives in it when the sub-plot came to a head only to linger on the edge without pushing over.

Her character was going to make a deathbed decoration... did make a deathbed declaration... but we didn’t get to know what he said! Total book-throw moment for me, and thank goodness Cass is a good sport, because my comment that followed was not exactly friendly. ( Her reply: “I love that you got so worked up… I like your unfiltered sentiment”, so all is not lost, she’s not running and hiding from me today.)

I kept reading, and those words of his kept getting teased, but never delivered. Finally she saw the comment and replied... “don’t you just want to imagine them?” As a writer to a writer, that might make sense. Often, what we make up in our head is better than what we can put into words. But—huge BUT—our readers are not writers. They need us to put what we want them to know on the page. And they deserve it. 

I went on and marked places where she could use this no-show technique to build tension and purposefully irritate readers just enough so that when we get a final reveal of the words (the pinnacle of this sub-plot), it’s a huge moment. 

I finally got those words pulled out of Cassia and they are everything I’d hoped for. I am so excited to see how this book continues to be reshaped into something amazing. 

Getting that TikTok 1000

Just over three months ago, I gave in and made a TikTok account. I’m a slow adapter—I barely use Twitter (even before the chaos there) and never really settled into Insta, so I had little hope for this app overrun by Gen Z.

Luckily, the Booktok side is more diverse, so I’m not the oldest one there, yay! But I was not good at it. I haplessly attempted random videos to get views and the illusive 1k followers so I could get a link in my bio. I never thought I’d see the day. But here I am, just over 60 days in and I reached that this morning, and most are readers or fellow indie authors, with only a handful being spammy randos.

If I can do it, so can you. Seriously.

1- Make those silly, lip-sync videos*. Yes, really. They seem ridiculous at first, but get creative in connecting them to your genre/niche and they get fun fast. I’m not great at them, but they are a great way to connect with people. Just do it. Also, make one of those (literally) begging for follows ones, pin it and wait. That one video got me 150 follows. (*note, you can do these without being on camera, you just get creative about it)

2- Be consistent. I don’t think you have to be consistent in video type. I mix up the fun ones with page-flip ones to keep my books out in front of people. But you need to POST consistently. I do 2 videos a day, one fun, one flip. Shoot a bunch of fun ones all at once, you don’t have to make a video every day.

3- Interact! Posting and running will get you nowhere. Spend a bit of time each day watching/hearting/commenting on videos in your top hashtags. This is your community. Find them, make friends, and have fun. Indie publishing is not being at war with other indies; team up, make connections, and work together. 

I know my whole 1k followers aren’t much, and I’m still working my way out of the 200-300 view trenches, but it is the start. I can link my books on my bio now, making it easier to convert sales.

Am I an expert, far from it—I am a TT beginner and I got there. These are really simple, even bare-minimum, tips that anyone can do. Go forth and get those followers! 

Why We Don't Want an Editor (and Why We Love AI shortcuts)

Editors are a lot—of money, of work to find, of time to work with, of emotional effort. So it’s tempting to look at something like ProWritingAid or Grammarly and think “Thank god! This is it! No human interaction!” But it’s not the same, and I doubt it ever will be. I’m not saying don’t use them at all, I’m saying, don’t only use them.

I know, handing over your book baby to a total stranger and waiting on pins and needles for them to point out what’s wrong is no fun. Whether you’re in the developmental editing stage or line editing, you’re going to get comments, lots of them. Until now, you are the only one to have read your book, and maybe a friend or family member who has told you how wonderful it is and what a genius you are.

Now you are looking at your options: run it through an AI program and get ‘private’ feedback to fix and move forward, maybe even straight to publishing or, research, hire and work with a real life human editor. A person who will take a professional look at your work and objectively point out areas that need work, someone who might (will) not tell you it’s perfect and you are going to be a bestseller tomorrow. Someone who will see your work for how it fits in the publishing industry and share that insight with you, whatever that reality may be.

No one likes to be told their story needs work, but if we want to improve we all have to hear that. No story is perfect (or even great) from the get-go and we cannot make it better on our own. We need other, real, live people to help us on the journey from draft to publication. We must suck up the anxiety, fear, whatever, and put the manuscript in front of those who can help us.

When a local, in-person, writing group offered free first page critiques, I stood in line waiting my turn in full-on panic mode. That page was NOT ready for an editor, but I’m glad I put it out there for the professional critique.

For me, that was a milestone.  I told myself, If I can manage to do this in person, I sure as heck can work with someone online when I (and my story) are better prepared.

These days, I love seeing my story pop up with a bunch of comment notifications from my editors—I trust them and know they want the best for my work. All stories need this. It can take time to find the right people, and some ups and downs, but you have to put yourself and your work out there or it will never get better. You can still use those AI programs, but think of them as a preliminary tool, not a final step.