Margaret McHeyzer is the author over a dozen titles, including the New York Times bestselling novel Ugly.

Recently she has been putting together a guide for aspiring authors, and has graciously allowed us to compile her novel writing, publishing, and promotion tips here.

If you want to fin out more about Margaret and her work, you can visit the Margaret McHeyzer Facebook Page.

Hi there, I’m Margaret McHeyzer! I’ve been around for a while (3 years this June in fact!) and I’d love to give some tips to new upcoming authors.

I’m going to call this Margaret’s Guide for Aspiring Authors.

Author Lesson #1.

CONGRATULATIONS – You want to write a book, or have already started writing it. One of the biggest things for me when writing is to not lose the confidence you had when you decided to actually write a book. When your brain (and sometimes other people) tell you you can’t do it, know this…YOU CAN.

Stay confident and write the story in your head.

Author Lesson #2.

PUNCTUATION.

Boy oh boy. I don’t profess to know everything there is to know about punctuation (Which is obvious in my earlier books) BUT here is something which every aspiring author needs to keep in mind:

Full stops and commas are absolutely necessary. Exclamation marks – not so much. Having too many ‘!’ stops the flow of reading. If every sentence finishes with ‘!’ the reader will pick up on it and have their eyes rolling by the end of the first chapter. Use them very sparingly.

Full stops – my goodness these are necessary or the reader won’t know where the sentence ends. This makes the sentences bleed into each other and the reader won’t know what’s happening.

Also without full stops (also called periods) the reader will stop reading your novel, because it’s too hard work for them to decipher the story you’re trying to convey.

Commas – these are just as important as full stops. If you need a breath in a long sentence, write the comma in, because the reader will need the same breath.

Author Lesson #3.

Paragraphs.

Wowee! These are just so important for so many reasons.

Here’s the thing; if a paragraph is too long, the human eye is conditioned to skip over it. It’ll look for key words which may not actually be the words you want the reader to read. Make the paragraphs short; the maximum I do is 4-5 sentences and even that can be too long.

Try to break it up, it becomes easier for everyone to read. Your beta-readers will thank you, your editor will thank you, and the reader will notice because they’ll read every word as opposed to skimming through the content.

Author Lesson #4.

Contractions.

This is something I catch myself not doing so often. If you’re writing something modern, you must use contractions. Example: he is = he’s, she is = she’s, cannot = can’t etc etc.

Why? Simply because that’s how we talk. If you don’t use contractions the story seems quite formal and also stops the reader from enjoying the story line.

Regency romance and period books are different. They talked very formally back in the day; we don’t now. We don’t say “I am going to the store and he is going to join me because he cannot be on his own.” It’s too formal and not how we talk. It rings false to our ears.

Author Lesson #5.

Word count.

Oh my gosh! Word count. This one is quite tricky. For me personally, I never set a particular word count for my books. I never say “this book will be 85k words” then stick to it. Instead I live by the mantra of “this book will be what it’s supposed to be.”

I never set a word count for several reasons:

  1. I don’t want to put unnecessary pressure on myself to make the book X words long.
  2. I don’t want to ‘fill’ the book with useless and unnecessary information.
  3. If I add things (unnecessary filler) to my books, it’ll cause my readers to question the point of the story line and maybe lose my original intention.

In saying this, you have to remember this works for me! Perhaps something different will work for you.

My point is this, writing a book, pouring your soul into it is difficult enough. Don’t put any more stress on yourself by trying to stick to a word count if you don’t have to.

Author Lesson #6.

1st person narrative vs 3rd person.

Which should you write? There is no right or wrong answer to this. It’s what you’re most comfortable writing. However, I’ve noticed a lot more modern books (in the last 8-10 years) are 1st person. 1st person is becoming increasingly more common, and there are pros and cons to both sides.

Pros for 1st person: you can get into your character’s head, really show emotion and thoughts of what they’re thinking.

Con for 1st person: it can limit how many characters you write. Alternative points of views are great, but what if you want to write from more than 2 POVs? Then you run the risk of the reader becoming confused. I myself HAVE written a book from numerous POV and it was received well. But that’s certainly not always the case.

3rd person pro: you can easily switch characters in the narrative and follow more than two without it being a problem.

3rd person con: “head hopping” can happen without even realizing you’re doing it, making the story difficult to follow.

Remember, these are things I’ve learned. There’s no right or wrong, just write however you feel comfortable, and let the results speak for themselves. Forcing yourself to write a particular style will not only make it much harder for you to finish your novel, but will most likely detract from the finished product.

Author Lesson #7.

Ranting on social media.

Writing is a creative industry, and sometime people can be tempted to think that being creative means that you don’t need to portray a professional image to the public. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

In my last 3 years as an author I’ve become friends with many people: Readers, authors, family and friends.

What I’ve noticed recently is the amount of ranting that goes on. People complaining about other people, situations, authors, cover artists, blogs etc. People calling out other authors for doing something wrong, or complaining about a tour host for some perceived slight, or a blogger for giving an author a bad review.

This makes me think about a few things, which is why I’m basing this lesson on social media ranting.

  1. When you rant, do you really know how you appear to people? If so, and you want your associates  to perceive you as someone who always complains – then continue doing what you’re doing.
  2. Do you know the effect your words have on somebody else? You can bring someone down – even if the rant isn’t directed at them – or lift someone up.
  3. Do you know who’s watching? What if someone’s 11-year-old kid saw what you wrote, would you still be proud of what you wrote? Or what about an agent who’s checking you out? Would they want to represent you? Would a publisher want to represent you, if you’re badmouthing other people in the industry?
  4. Does it really make you feel good enough to justify the damage to the way you’re perceived in the industry??
  5. Positivity attracts positivity. I’ve been getting countless messages about how my fellow peers, whom I respect, find me inspirational. I LOVE this. I’d prefer this than people rolling their eyes whenever they see my posts.

I absolutely love this community, on the whole, it’s very uplifting and encouraging. . . and that benefits ALL authors.

Author Lesson #8

Covers.

Hello baby! Covers are AWESOME. I love covers, BUT I love covers that mean something for the book. Now, you think I’m going to say something about half naked men and abs… right? Wrong. Covers are quite personal, but need to also be appealing to the masses. But this lesson is about creating covers.

If you’re incredibly talented, can write AND create covers, then more power to you. However, he’s some important info for you if you THINK you can make covers:

You can’t – yes I will repeat this – you CAN’T just pluck a picture off google, slap your title on it, and use it for your cover. Why? Because it’s breaching copyright and it’s illegal.

You need to get a licensed picture from a stock photo site. There are heaps around, some cheaper than others, some better than others too. But you can generally find what you want in a stock photo site.

Now, if your talent is only in writing the book and not creating the cover (that’s me) then you can hire a cover artist to do your work. They’re can be very reasonable in price, up to very expensive, depending on what you want, but it’s usually an investment well worth making.

The cover designers will generally use stock photos, so be aware, your cover may be very similar if not almost identical to at least one if not several covers out there already. Most cover artists will spin it somehow to make it different from others, anything from changing the color of the pants to putting in a different background. ANYTHING.

If you don’t want a stock photo, you can ask your cover artist if they have any photographers they work with and they may be able to get you a picture directly from the photographer. However, this will cost you much more than a stock image.

I’ve worked with one cover artist since very early on in my writing career. When you find one you like, stick to them, because generally they’ll get a feel of working with you and you can both mesh well together.

My cover artist is Book Cover by Design.

Author Lesson #9.

Editors/proof-readers/beta-readers.

Are they important? Let me see. You’ve read hundreds if not thousands of books. You love LOVE to read and you’ve come up with the most brilliant story line. Is it really brilliant? Of course, because it’s your baby!

Did you do an English based subject at college or university? No? Well then…YES an editor/proof-reader/beta-reader is required.

I can see you shaking your head and rolling your eyes at me thinking “My story is fantastic! I don’t need anyone telling me how to write!” Yes, you do!

I fell into the trap of having the wrong editor when I started. I thought she was great, and she is, just NOT for fiction books. She’s great for non-fiction books.

Did I get a lot (and I mean HEAPS) of reviews saying if it was edited it would’ve been a great story? Yes, I definitely did.

“These people have no idea what they’re talking about!” I said to my husband.

Except – they did!

So an editor found me, gave me a sample of how she could help me and when I saw what she did…I fell in love with her. She didn’t change my style of writing, she merely improved it so it read better.

I hired her, and have had her for the last 10 books!

But here’s the thing, she’s human, she still makes errors. So I now have a team of people who work with me, and guess what? Even with an editor, 3 proof-readers and 2 betas, my books still have an odd error here and there. But hey, I don’t pretend to be perfect but I do EVERYTHING I can to ensure when you purchase 1 of my books, you’ve got as close to perfection as I can give.

Now I ask, do you need an editor/proof-reader/beta reader?

YES! I can tell you the biggest named authors have them-so should you!

Author Lesson #10

Negative reviews.

Hmmm. You’ve written your book, you’ve done EVERYTHING right, the book is phenomenal. Your reviews have been glowing, you wake up and there’s a new review waiting for you.

Your heart skips a beat, you get so excited until…

You see IT! 1 star. Suddenly you’re wide awake and deciphering every single word.

Some 1 star reviews can be constructive – great, they’re the 1 stars we don’t mind getting.

But…but… Then there’s 1 star reviews that are just plain nasty. What do you do?

I can only tell you what I did.

I cried. And cried. And cried. My first nasty review said things like “I want to bash the authors head in.” And “she should burn what she’ll ever write.” WOW, right?!

These are times when we really need to be careful what those reviews do to us. We’re human, we’re allowed to feel upset and mourn over such horrible words. BUT do not give up.

Give yourself the day to feel like crap – then put it behind you. Don’t give that horrible person any more power. They don’t deserve it. YOU don’t deserve it either. Those disgusting and unnecessary words can play havoc on our minds, but only give them the respect they deserve. NONE!

You are so talented and brave. Keep going because it gives YOU happiness. Let others say what they want – you can’t help other people’s nasty streak. You CAN pick yourself up and keep going.

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