Category Archives: Books

Polished To A High Shine: Taking Your Book From First Draft to Reader-Ready

In a recent post here on the blog, a writer just starting out on her indie journey mentioned that she was interested in finding out more about finding, testing and paying an editor. (This one’s for you, Kate M. Colby.) That got me thinking, not just about editing, but about the whole process of polishing your book ready for publication. So here are my thoughts and advice about getting reader-ready …

pen and ink

Everyone Has A Different Standard

I know of authors who upload their first draft directly to Amazon, with the barest of checks beforehand – a quick pass round their friends and family (“My best friend used to teach high school English so she’s the perfect proofreader”), and off it goes. At the other end of the spectrum are authors who throw everything at their manuscripts – financially and otherwise: six drafts followed by a critique, then a structural edit, then a line-by-line edit, then beta-readers, then another ‘final’ edit, then proofreading. Which of these two examples would make the better book, do you think? (My answer might surprise you.)

The Writing Is Everything

I’d say that the better book would depend on the talent of the writer, and on the story and characters they have created. Yes, a novel with countless typos and grammatical errors would indeed be irritating to read, but equally you can’t make a boring, flat, tedious story fantastic just because it’s been edited and proofread to within an inch of its life. I have friends who are editors, and I watch them tearing out their hair with authors who are resistant to suggestions of improvement, or glued to ideas and characters that just don’t work. Why, I’m writing this blog post directly after a tutorial with my supervisor on the MA, and we had a very heated debate about whether a particular plot point in my next novel is or is not ‘convenient’. (I acceded to his viewpoint in the end, of course.)

Editing does not a great book make. Is is not substitution for great writing. So write and write and write some more, learn all you can, read widely, think about what you read and what makes it good or bad, learn some more, write some more, and then – when you are sure you have written the best book you personally can – start to think about the editing process that makes sense for you.

Options For Book-Polishing

Here are the various processes in getting a manuscript ready for publication, in no particular order:

Beta-reading. Beta-readers are lovely people who read your book (usually for free, or a reciprocal read) and give you informal feedback. The feedback may be detailed or brief, you can ask questions or leave it up to them, but the idea is to have a few beta-readers (three or more, but no more than six or seven) so you get a variety of views. Beta-readers are best for getting a feeling of the overall success of the book’s structure, and how effective the ending is, and also for likeability – or relatability – of the characters. Some beta-readers will make notes on typos etc, but it isn’t a substitute for proofreading, in my humble opinion. Find beta-readers via your blog or other social networks – just ask.

Critiquing services. A critique is a little like a beta-read, but by a professional who charges you for their time and comments. Usually this will be a published author, or someone who works in the publishing industry like an editor or agent. I once paid for a critique from the very well-known Hilary Johnson’s Critiquing Service. It was a bracing experience, let me tell you! But it certainly made me a better writer. Personally, I feel the critique should come at the point in your writing career when you are still learning your craft, and shouldn’t perhaps be part of the polishing process, but I know some authors are a little addicted to them so I thought I’d add it here. It should also be said, however, that taking a really good creative writing course will also provide you with opportunities to be critiqued and give you chance to refine your work and learn and improve. Critiquing services cost upwards of £400 for a novel, and as with all writing-related services, it’s usually best to go on a personal recommendation if possible.


Editing. Editing can be carried out on different levels, from structural to line-by-line, and each different type of edit will offer something different to your book. Structural editing may be needed when there is something about a manuscript that simply isn’t working, even though the story is good and the characters are well-drawn. Most authors can structurally edit their own work, and so this takes the form of redrafting. Line-by-line edits are self-explanatory – the editor considers the manuscript at a very detailed level, offering advice and making suggestions to strengthen the writing at the level of the sentence, as well as giving comments on the story as a whole. You can pay anything from £400 to £1000 for a good edit, and it is probably a good idea to get a price per 1000 words rather than per hour. Most editors will be happy to give you a sample before you sign up – you send them a sample chapter, which they mark up with comments etc. Be clear about what it is exactly you are looking for in your editor, both in your own mind and in all communication with them. Get an agreement in writing – email is fine – before you start which sets out how much the edit is to cost and how and when the editor should be paid. Ask your writing friends for recommendations, or join writing communities on Facebook or Twitter to seek out recommendations.

Proofreading. For some reason, people seem to confuse editing and proofreading, or maybe it’s a cultural thing. But as far as I know, in the UK proofreading remains the term for the very, absolutely final process in publishing a book. All editing should be done by now, all changes made. The proofreader checks the manuscript one last time for typos and errors, as well as continuity problems (eye colour changing halfway though the novel, that kind of thing – although the editor may have picked up on this already), before the book goes to print or is uploaded in ebook format. My proofreader currently charges around £4.50 per 1000 words, and is very good on the continuity thing. Again, ask for recommendations before you approach a proofreader – there are many so-called professionals out there who call themselves proofreaders but who aren’t properly trained and who don’t really offer value for money. The Society of Editors and Proofreaders is a good place to start, and where I found my proofreader. (I then contacted one of the authors she listed as a client and asked whether she would recommend the proofreader or not.)

How Much Is Enough?

Only you can answer that question, but make sure you answer it honestly, without being swayed too much by cost. If you are really good at editing your own work and reasonably experienced, you can probably get by with beta-readers and a proofreader. If you have zero budget and are willing to take the flak for errors in your ebook, do your own proofreading – like, a hundred times. If you have the budget and are publishing for the first time, or in a new genre, you could try a critique and probably should contact an editor. Beta-readers never hurt anyone, and often are the people who will pop those all-important early reviews on Amazon, so I would always recommend a beta or two. And don’t forget, when looking for your first beta-readers your blog can be a valuable source of support. Back in 2012 when I started blogging, I posted chapters of my debut novel Can’t Live Without on my brand new blog. The bloggers who commented were my very first beta-readers, and many of them went on to be readers of all my novels – and some went on to be really good friends too.



Filed under Books, Self-publishing, Writing

Mystery November Book Tour – Day One!

Today is the first day of the Mystery November Book Tour, hosted by the lovely Rosie Amber. 30 authors in 30 days, and 30 very different types of mystery. Today is Flora Lively’s turn to shine – head over to Rosie’s blog to read my interview and check out the rest of the tour stops.

Mystery Tour Day 1


I’m going to be out of action for a couple of days, but I’ll be back very soon catching up with the tour stops and finding some great new reads. You can tweet about the tour with the #MysteryNovember hashtag to connect with other mystery authors, and please share details of the tour on your social networks. Right – in the spirit of Mystery November, here’s a little question for you: Who is your favourite sleuth, and why?

My answer: Jessica Fletcher in Murder, She Wrote – because she’s calm and kind but she’s got a mind like a steel trap.


Filed under Books, Flora Lively

Mystery November Book Tour – Coming Soon

Starting this Saturday 1st November is the Mystery November Book Tour, hosted by the lovely Rosie Amber. Click here to go to Rosie’s blog and find out more (I’ve listed all the dates below as well) …

November Mystery Tour

Murder at the Maples is heading up the tour on day one, and there’s an exclusive interview with yours truly – I’ll post links to that on Saturday. What I’m looking forward to is finding out about different genres of mysteries, and hearing from all the different authors. As a relative newcomer to the mystery writing world, I’m always on the lookout for a new author to enjoy, and that’s what this tour is all about.

1st November – Murder At The Maples by Joanne Phillips

2nd November – Spirit Warriors: The Scarring by Della Connor

3rd November – The Singing Bowl by Roy Dimond

4th November- The Ties That Bind by E,L Lindley

5th November – A Single Step by Georgia Rose

6th November- Nobody’s Fault by Terry Tyler

7th November- Diamonds and Dust by Carol Hedges

8th November- Doppelganger by Geoffrey West

9th November- The Body On The T by Mike Martin

10th November- Marlin, Darlin’ by Margaret Langstaff

11th November- Blood Pool by Jan Ryder

12th November- The Truth Will Out by Jane Isaac

13th November- The Dream by Maria Savva

14th November- Moscow Bound by Adrian Churchward

15th November- Abduction: An Angel Over Rimini

16th November- Counteract by Tracy Lawson

17th November- The Sand Bluff Murders by C.M. Albrecht

18th November- Jamie’s Gamble by Greg Bell

19th November- Center Point by Robert Clark

20th November- Prime Deception by Carys Jones

21st November- Steps Into Darkness by Ben Woodard

22nd November- The Haunting Of Secrets by Shelley Pickens

23rd November- Buffalo Soldiers by Nicholas Denman

24th November- Blond Cargo by John Lansing

25th November- No Strings Attached by Lily Bishop

26th November- Isia’s Secret by Ray Stone

27th November- Pattern Of Shadows by Judith Barrow

28th November- Eden’s Garden by Juliet Greenwood

29th November- A Time For Silence by Thorne Moore

30th November- Twilight Images by Ethel Lewis

Of all these books, the only one I’ve read (other than my own, of course) is Terry Tyler’s excellent Nobody’s Fault, which will be half price at the time of the tour. November is to be a busy month, as I said yesterday, but I’m still going to try and find time to visit each of these authors and check out their books. My reading list is about to expand!

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Tiramisu-tastic: The Talented Martina Munzittu on Non-Fiction Excellence

Today I’m really excited to welcome to the blog my talented friend and author, Martina Munzittu. I asked Martina if she’d be happy to answer some questions about her latest release, a cookery book with a difference: Tiramisu Recipes From Italian Friends and Family. What’s really interesting about this interview is how Martina managed to produce a non-fiction book with the same beautiful standards as any traditionally published cook book. Read on to find out more …

STOP PRESS: The Kindle edition of Martina’s book is on special offer this weekend only at $0.99/£0.77! The usual price is $4.99/£2.99 so grab yourself a bargain then come back to find out more :)

Tiramisu Cover Square

  • Martina, I think the idea for an authentic Italian cookbook like this – with recipes inspired by your friends and family – is brilliant, but it’s also perhaps an unusual project for an indie author to undertake alone. Can you tell us a little about where the idea came from, and why you decided to self-publish rather than pitching it to a traditional publisher?

I had been thinking for a long time about writing a cookery book, but somehow the time never seemed quite right.  I love cooking and I particularly like baking and preparing desserts. Several months ago I was making tiramisu for some friends who were coming to dinner. Over the years I had changed the traditional recipe and added a layer of chocolate mousse to it. I love espresso coffee, but I’m not fond of coffee in my desserts, so I had replaced the coffee with Martini. While I was melting the chocolate in the saucepan, I started to think of the many times I tried tiramisu as a guest in the homes of my friends and relatives in Italy. How a simple, wonderful dessert could taste quite different depending on the person who made it. But not only that, I remembered the varieties of tiramisu I had had. The fruity tiramisus during the summer, children’s ones at birthday parties, alcoholic treats at weddings. And that’s where the idea for the book came from. I was going to ask my family and friends not only to give me their tiramisu recipes, but also to send in the photos of their desserts once they made it.

As far as pitching the book to a traditional publisher, to be honest, the thought never even entered my head. I just went ahead and self-published it.

  • When I got the pdf proofs to do the index for this book I was amazed at how professionally it had been laid out. Did you use a professional typesetter, and what other professional services did you employ on this title?


My biggest challenge with this book was to ‘marry’ the images with the text in a uniform and elegant way. I tried doing it with Word, but it wasn’t working. I realized that I needed the help of a professional and I found a lovely lady, Janet Tallon, who is a talented designer. I had an idea of what I wanted the book to look like, so I gave her the brief, provided the text and photos, and she produced something that exceeded my expectations.

The other challenge was to create the ebook. Ebooks with images are not that easy to do, especially when you have 70 photos. They need to work in every device, not just the kindle readers. Not to mention the fact that Amazon charges the author $0.15/£0.10 for each MB of data if you go for the 70% royalty option, and images tend to be heavy. I didn’t want my ebook to be too heavy/costly. So I had to hire another expert, as I was not capable of formatting the ebook so that it would work in any ereader and be ‘light’ at the same time. Serena Zonca was the lady who helped me format the ebook, and she did a fantastic job.

  • If the pdfs were good, the physical book itself was another huge surprise! As I said above, I’m really impressed with the quality of the final product, but I know you had some issues initially with the printing. Can you talk us through that and how you resolved it?

I published the book with Lightning Source and they had two options for printing in colour. Standard and Premium.  At first I went for Standard, because I wanted my book to be reasonably priced, but when I received the proof copy, I wasn’t happy with the quality of the paper: it was too thin and flimsy, I could just imagine any cook holding the book in their hand getting cross as the pages might tear. So I decided to upgrade to Premium Colour. Unfortunately, this pushed the price up of the paperback from £7.99 to £12.99. This is something that concerns me a lot as a self-published author, as I see many traditionally published authors (often celebrity chefs) who have fantastic cookery books out there, which sell for less. And I can’t compete with those prices (let alone with those names!)

  • The photos in the book are lovely, and everyone knows food photography is very difficult. How did you get such great pics?

The pictures were a huge challenge, both for me and my friends who were sending them to me via email. Some photos I was receiving were out of focus, at times the lightning wasn’t right. Some just didn’t do justice to the desserts so I had to ask those people to make the tiramisu again and re-send the photos and I felt really bad about that. I had to do my own tiramisus a few times, in order to get the pictures right. There was a lot of trial and error, and you can see that the style of photography varies considerably, depending on who made that particular dessert. In the end we got there, thanks also to the help of Janet, who managed to get the best out of each photo.

  • Which part of the process did you enjoy the most? (Okay, I’m guessing it was cooking and eating loads of tiramisu!)

You got that right, Jo! However, after you make tiramisu twice a week for several months, you kind of have enough of it… My husband though, always seemed to appreciate it, he liked the variety of the desserts. For me it was different, maybe because I was actually making them, measuring the ingredients, testing the recipes, writing about it; after a while I decided I didn’t want to eat another tiramisu for at least a month. It only lasted one month… I’m back on it now.

  • What’s next for you as an indie author-publisher?

I’m working on two other cookery books. One will be about pasta sauces and one about risottos. They will follow the same format as the tiramisu book, a collection of recipes from Italian friends and family.

  • Finally, what advice would you give any readers who are thinking of self-publishing a non-fiction title, particularly one that needs to look as beautiful as this?

This is my first non-fiction book, so I still consider myself as newbie. In my limited experience so far, I would probably say that many rules of writing fiction still apply: your research shows, so whether you’re writing about cooking or any subject, it’s important to get your facts straight. The style needs to be engaging and warm, which is easier to do when you’re dealing with chocolate desserts, rather than a DIY manual, but as writers we’re expected to be creative. Now, if you’re book has many pictures and you don’t have the skills to put it together yourself, I definitely recommend finding a professional who can help you, both for the design of the paperback and the ebook. You can spend hours and hours trying to do it yourself and still end up with something that doesn’t look good enough, while it’s best to use your time doing what you do best: writing a good book.


Martina Munzittu was born and raised in Italy (Sardinia); she now lives in Cambridgeshire, UK, with her husband and young daughter. She writes contemporary romance and chick-lit books. Her debut novel A Deal with a Stranger is a romantic/mystery set in Sardinia; Incompatible Twins and The Broken Heart Refuge are set in London.

Like many Italians, Martina has a passion for food and this comes across in her books, where the protagonists of her stories are often obsessed with cooking and eating. Martina’s latest books are dedicated to this passion.

Click here to buy the book 

Click here to visit Martina’s website



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