SPA Girls Podcast – Episode 104 – Ten Truths For New Self-Publishers

SPA Girls Podcast – Episode 104 – Ten Truths For New Self-Publishers

This week we’re dealing out the “truthslaps” – in a loving way, of course. Wendy, Cher and Shar discuss ten truths for self-publishers that will help you navigate the choppy waters of a new indie author career. We want to be positive, but also realistic, so we are holding nothing back here. This is a rewarding (but tough) business and it requires patience and persistence. When you’re starting out you’re more than just a writer, you’re launching a small business with a pretty steep learning curve. Fortunately there’s a ton of help out there and here in the SPA is the best place to start!

  1. You do need an editor and someone to proofread.
    Your book deserves good editor so that you are giving it the best chance of success. A proof reader at the end of your process will make it even better.
  2. You do need to set up a mailing list/newsletter. This is one of those things that must be done sooner rather than later.
  3. You do need to be prepared for a slow start and a long haul. Be Passionate. Be Patient.
  4. Do your own research and due diligence. Listen to others’ advice, but always rely on your own research and gut instinct. Whether it’s genres, marketing methods, advertising resources or self publishing “gurus”, always remember there’s no such thing as a magic wand!
  5. You do need a basic web site. And don’t forget to set up your Amazon Author Page (and other retail sites) Listen to our podcast on Zhushing Up Your Amazon Author Page for detailed advice.
  6. You do need to be professional at all times.  Everything you say or do on social media will have a consequence. Respect yourself, respect your process, respect other writers and most importantly, respect your readers.
  7. You do need a good cover. The cover is the window to your product – make sure it’s the best you can afford.
  8. You must believe in yourself and learn to deal with any comparisonitis. Trying to copy others is good and bad, and there may be other reasons your book isn’t doing as well as another’s.
  9. Do use other beta readers that aren’t your family and who will tell you the truth! You want honesty, not unhelpful ego-stroking. Remember you can take advice or choose to ignore it.
  10. Do keep studying and improving your craft. Remember “it’s all about the story”. Tell it well and never stop learning.

Further reading:

Check out our Author Overwhelm book for tips on coping with comparisonitis and information overload.

The Naked Truth About Self-Publishing is also a must-read.


Read More
SPA Girls Podcast – EP79 – How To Write Dazzling Dialogue

SPA Girls Podcast – EP79 – How To Write Dazzling Dialogue


Writing dialogue is a very difficult skill to master, but this week we try to unravel some of the secrets around how to create dazzling dialogue for your characters. More than just a transcription of what people actually say, dialogue can be witty, fast paced and give insights into your characters… or it can be stilted, awkward and boring. Which would you rather have? Listen in to this episode for our take on the best ways to create dialogue that will make your manuscript sing! 🙂

Dialogue is more important in the modern romance than it was many years ago. Readers don’t tolerate redundant info dumps like they used too. Having said that, nor do they tolerate long-winded prose. Getting the balance right is not always easy, but it comes the more you write. Take the time to read some of those authors you love, and see how they had perfected it!

Tips for writing good dialogue

-Don’t have dialogue for the sake of it! We don’t need two people talking and saying nothing of importance!
-Keep your dialogue realistic to your characters.
-Get the balance right between readable and readability. We don’t want to hear all the umms and ahhs that take place in a conversation on the page like you would do if you were listening to a conversation in real life.
-Every line of dialogue needs to be there for a reason.
-It’s important not to make the characters all sound the same. Men do sound different to women. Each character also has their own individual way of speaking. We’re not talking about languages, like Scottish, “dinna ken, lassie!” Sometimes this works, but be careful your readers will understand what it is you you’re trying to say. We’re talking about the masculine way of speaking, v the feminine. Old v young. A well-bred aristocrat v someone who speaks using a lot of slang or swearing.
-Don’t info dump! As Shar calls it, the ‘do you know, Bob,’ conversation.
-Dialogue if done right, can increase the pace of your book.
-If there are only the two people in the conversation, you shouldn’t need too many he said, she says.

Avoid purple prose, which is dialogue that is too elaborate or ornate.
Don’t over do it! ‘Even so, beloved Eva! fair star of thy dwelling! Thou art passing away; but they that love thee dearest know it not.'”

Don’t overuse words. “I do not want to go to the supermarket today.” Instead of “I don’t want to go the supermarket today.” Obviously, there are exceptions, like historical romance, but for the most, don’t!

Just because we talked about these, here’s what they are!

-A contraction is a word made by shortening and combining two words. Words like can’t (can + not), don’t (do + not), and I’ve (I + have) are all contractions.

-Ellipses – An ellipsis is a set of three periods ( . . . ) indicating an omission. Each period should have a single space on either side, except when adjacent to a quotation mark, in which case there should be no space.
If only she had . . . Oh, it doesn’t matter now.

-Em dash- The em dash is perhaps the most versatile punctuation mark. Depending on the context, the em dash can take the place of commas, parentheses, or colons—in each case to slightly different effect.
And yet, when the car was finally delivered—nearly three months after it was ordered—she decided she no longer wanted it, leaving the dealer with an oddly equipped car that would be difficult to sell.

-Be careful of parroting. “It is a lovely sunset, John.” “Yes, it is a lovely sunset says, Jill.”

-FYI It’s ok to break the rules, just make sure you are doing it right? Go to your keeper shelf and read the books you love. If they’ve broken the rules, usually it’s for a reason, like sarcasm.

-Dialogue and action work well. “Get out of here now,” he said angrily, or “Get out of here now!” He slammed his hand down on the table. The second sentence has more punch don’t you think?

Dialogue is easy. It’s what you’ve been doing almost every day, most of your life.
– Josip Novakovich


Read More
SPA Girls Podcast – EP74 – Formatting Tips and Tricks

SPA Girls Podcast – EP74 – Formatting Tips and Tricks

This week we tackle the topic of formatting your ebooks. We talk about the difference between outsourcing the formatting and doing it yourself, and the pros and cons of each option. Then we talk about what we’ve done in the past and how we do it now, what we think are the best practices, the programs that we recommend, and why we like them. If you’re about to start formatting, or even considering a change to the way you’re currently doing it, this is a great episode to listen to!

There are two ways of getting your e-book formatted. You can do it yourself, or you can outsource to a formatting company.

Doing it yourself

Pros of doing it yourself:

Can save you time by not waiting for someone to fit you into their schedule

A price is a one off for the software and use over and over again

Offers flexibility in time and re doing changes, covers, spelling corrections updating links

Cons of doing it yourself:

Time involved learning another piece of technology.

Restriction in what you can add to your formatting. Limited or harder to learn.

There is a learning period, so you have to be prepared to spend time on it.



Pros of outsourcing:

Time saved

Emotion/ stress saved

The product will usually be better – not always

Usually a good outcome

A great way to start.

Cons of outsourcing:  

Another additional cost.

Possible inflexibility time wise.

Harder to make changes – and more costs to do so.


Here are some programs you can use


For Mac only.

Not a word document. You need to use a text file. Trudi tried this first,

The program is good – and cheap at $23. A one-off fee and unlimited updates.

A little complicated, but works well.


For Mac and Windows.

Owned by Julian Smart.

Cheryl and Wendy are Jutoh girls.

$39 USD to download. Updates are no extra.

Easy to use. Click through screens which have all the info you need.

A great way to ease into doing it yourself.

Try : India Drummond for Jutoh. A clear, precise tutorial on u-tube.


For Mac Only

You can pay per book, 10 books, or unlimited.

NZD$41.99 per book, $39.99 for 10 Books or $279.99 for unlimited.

USD will be cheaper.

If you decide to upgrade later they will deduct your earlier payment.

Very simple program. Not hard to learn.


A lot of styles to choose from which can be set to the whole book. Very structured.


A one stop program for writing, plotting and formatting.

We use it for writing and plotting, but not formatting, although, we know others who do.



Simple to use and will do the main 3 files as listed below.

Adobe and Design

Not something that we know a lot about, but it would be amazing! (Probably very expensive)


These are the 3 most used types of files you will need:

mobi – for Kindle – Amazon Only

e-pub – for most other platforms

PDF – for promos, reviewers etc


There are a lot of different aides to help you learn – U-Tube, tutorials etc.


Shout-outs to these formatters:

Polgarus Studio –

Amy Atwell – –


A print book is done using other programs, which we will discuss at a later date.

Read More
SPA Girls Podcast – EP67 – Common Writing Mistakes and How to Fix Them

SPA Girls Podcast – EP67 – Common Writing Mistakes and How to Fix Them

Wendy, Cheryl and Trudi talk through some common writing mistakes and give suggestions for how to avoid making them yourself.

Based around Jack Bickham’s book, The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes, we talk on topics from not making excuses, lecturing your readers, dropping alligators through the transom (don’t worry, we figure that one out), stopping too soon, giving up and not just sitting there.

Filled with some great advice this is another fabulous episode of the SPA Girls Podcast. 🙂

Don’t make excuses!

-We can all make excuses, and find reasons why we don’t want to do something.

Wendy is good at this, so she makes herself write everything daily in her diary. And she must tick everything off at the end of the day, and have a good reason why it’s not done, if she hasn’t completed her tasks.

-Get organized. Make lists of what needs to be done daily.

-Put the things you don’t want to do first, and do them when you sit down at your computer in the morning.

-Take if from Wendy, you’ll feel better when it’s done.

What about if your excuse is a good one?

-Break down your day into hours, and find some time to fit your writing in there. Even an hour, thirty minutes. FIND THE TIME!

-Be prepared for when you do have writing time. Get notes jotted down of what you want to write. Use your time well and efficiently, rather than steering at the screen blankly.

-Get up 30mins earlier to write.

-Train your family to know when is your writing time, they’ll get used to it!

 Don’t Duck Trouble

-Don’t write a nice story where everything is ‘happy ever after’ from the start with no conflict. BORING!

-You need your readers to emphasize with your characters. You can make them bad, but don’t make them unlovable, show the reader glimpses of vulnerability, and why they are like they are.

-Conflict does not mean add more fight scenes. We’re talking internal/external conflict that is there from the start and builds to a resolution.

Don’t Lecture Your Reader. Don’t Let Your Characters Lecture Your Readers.  Don’t Be a Windbag.

-Don’t dump a lot of information in a block that will put the reader to sleep. Feed it in verbally, or in small steps.

-Don’t lecture your readers in your books because you have a belief you want to share. Unless it’s important to the story leave it out.

-You are entertainers, so entertain!

-You only get one shot at hooking a reader, don’t ruin it by boring them to tears.

-Be topical but not preachy.

-Show don’t tell.

Don’t Ignore Professional Advice (don’t cut corners). Don’t Take It to The Club Meeting

-Make sure your product is the best it can be. Listen and learn to what resonates with you. Get it right from the start. You only get one chance to hook a reader, as we have constantly told you.

-Yes, you will get a lot of advice. Sift through it and use what works for you. People tell you to write, write, write. But if you publish substandard work, you will lose readers, not gain them. So find the rhythm and process that works for you.

-Pick you close writing friends closely, because not everyone will be on your side.

Don’t Stop to Soon. Don’t Give U., Don’t Just Sit There.

-Keep going, don’t stop at three chapters. The middle can be difficult, but persevere, and get that first draft down.

-To make it in this business, perseverance and determination are a must.

-Be proactive.

-Don’t be arrogant and think you know everything.

-Don’t just sit back when you publish your first book, because you think it’s the best book ever written. Chances are others won’t. Look at this as the long game, get on with your next masterpiece!

-Start making your career happen.


Transom meaning-

the flat surface forming the stern of a boat.
  • a horizontal beam reinforcing the stern of a boat.
  • a strengthening crossbar, in particular one set above a window or door.

Jack Bickham

Read More
SPA Girls Podcast – EP66 – The Book of Your Heart Vs Writing to Market

SPA Girls Podcast – EP66 – The Book of Your Heart Vs Writing to Market

This week we talk about writing the book of your heart versus writing a book to market. What do these terms mean, and why should they matter to you? Writing the book of your heart means writing what you love, the book you’ve been dreaming about for your entire life, with the characters who feel like they’re your best friends and the storyline that is going to rock the world. You know, that book.

Writing to market is about researching the genres that are selling, finding out what the most popular tropes are and finding a storyline that you feel fits into the research you’ve been doing, and then writing that book. It could be a book you love, but that isn’t always the case.

There’s controversy around the two terms with people on both sides arguing fiercely for their point of view. What side do the SPA Girls fall onto? Listen to this episode to find out!

What is the Book of Your Heart?

A passion project – a story you must tell.

The Book of Your Heart sings to you and lifts your soul.

It can be dark and passionate or light and airily romantic. It can be laugh-out-loud funny, deeply moving, or tragic.

It’s your creation.

It’s your deepest emotional truth poured onto the page.

It’s unflinching and courageous.

It doesn’t care what others think.

It’s the book that carries your dream — of finishing a novel or being published or publishing on your own.

It can be the first book you ever write, or it can be the one you’re working on right now.

Do you feel excited just thinking about it? Do you lie awake at night mulling over your characters and that great scene? Can you not wait to get to your desk or laptop or writing tablet each day?

That is the Book of Your Heart.

Perhaps most authors start with this book, but often it won’t see the light of day until you feel that you have perfected your craft.

Don’t overthink this, or dwell on it too much. Just write what you can, that feels good right now.

The book of your heart might not be in the genre you’ve chosen to write the majority of your work and so may not push your career forward.

Also, if you want to write to market this book may not hit the right tone. Just be aware of this, but don’t let this stop you.

Trying to write in a genre that you love but feels forced will more than likely be unsuccessful.

Try several genres and you will find your own voice and where it fits.

Writing to Market

Find something in a genre you enjoy reading. Can you write this way? Does the idea of writing this genre appeal?

Do your research for any genre you choose to write in. Read a lot. Check out forums in this genre. Know, don’t guess, the tropes.

For a long term career, show respect and check on how to market this genre. Amazon is a great place to look up authors and their books. Drill it down to the top 100 in a sub genre. Weed out traditional publishers. Kindle spy can help here too.

You need to study successful authors in this genre. What do their covers convey?

We do believe that you don’t have to distinguish between writing the book of your heart and writing to market. If the market is wanting what you’re choosing to write, then this is easy. If not it may be much harder, but not impossible, to do well with doing both.

However, it goes for you, don’t give up. The book of your heart may have to wait, but you can always go back to it.

Hopefully the book of your heart or your one written for the market will be a success and sometimes that’s all a matter of the time of publishing – if that genre is doing well at that particular moment.

Read More
SPA Girls Podcast – EP63 – Interview with Kathryn Burnett

SPA Girls Podcast – EP63 – Interview with Kathryn Burnett

This week we talk to screenwriter Kathryn Burnett about planning writing projects, as well as setting goals as an author and keeping them – just in time for the start of the year. We went to a fantastic workshop (on creativity and how to keep it flowing) given by Kathryn at the 2016 RWNZ conference, which is why we thought it would be a great idea to get her onto the show. It was a fun interview; Kathryn gives a heap of valuable information for organising new projects and making sure you stay on track, plus she has some really interesting stories about how she got into screenwriting, and the kind of work she does now for clients.

“I help people do their best creative work.” 

Kathryn has worked in the television/film industry for 20 years, has significant television writing credits and has developed numerous television series for New Zealand’s major production companies.  She was the Executive Director of the New Zealand Writers Guild between 1997-2000 and the screenwriting tutor at South Seas Film and TV School between 2003 and 2007.  In addition, she is an in demand Script Consultant/Assessor who has worked with numerous writers and production companies.  Kathryn produced her first play Mike & Virginia (co-written Nick Ward) in 2011 as part of the International Comedy Festival and it was subsequently produced in Wellington at Circa Theatre (2013.)  She currently has two screenplays in development and is working as a script consultant on two feature films.


SWANZ – Best Play – Mike & Virginia (with Nick Ward) (2012), KFM Inaugural Short Story Competition (2004) – Winner, AFTA for Best Drama Script (with Paula Boock) for “The Strip.” (2003), Qantas Media Award (Best Human Relations Column 1998)

I have distilled everything I know about the challenges of creative work into a series of dynamic training workshops.  I also offer one to one coaching.

Ideation Training Workshops

Improve brainstorming process and encourage innovation.  My ideation training teaches new techniques and reinvigorates creative thinking.

Writing Workshops

My workshop subjects include screenwriting, creative problem solving for writers and how to get your projects started. I also offer two nifty online courses –  “Screenwriting Toolkit for Teachers” and “How to Set Up Your Amazing Writers’ Group.”

Screenplay Assessor

As a professional screenplay assessor for over ten years, I have helped many writers and producers improve their scripts before taking them to market.  I have numerous screen credits and has worked as a writer and series developer with all of New Zealand’s major production companies. (See my bio below). I also teach popular Screenwriting Workshops.


Contact Kathryn :



Read More