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benaduca Discussions
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Hello! Looking for someone interested in swapping the submission package, i.e. the query letter, syn…
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  •  · Excellent.  I'm busy putting a show on ( I work in theatre) until Sunday so I may not get time to se…
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Hello!I've had good luck getting feedback partners on here before. I've just finished revising a dra…
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  •  · Hi Caleb, sounds interesting. Willing to give an overall impression, and pick any glaring errors. Li…
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Hello all!I have a Sci-Fi novel (second draft) which is being beta read by some friends and family r…
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Hello everyone! I have a third draft manuscript and am looking for ways to polish it and make sure t…
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Hello again! As promised, here is the first chapter of my adventure novel. What is the title? Who kn…
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  •  · Hiya,A good setting and a good start. 80,000 words is very impressive. I hate commenting on other pe…
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Hello! So I'm on draft three of a novel and it's with readers right now. I'm going to post the first…
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  •  · Hmm... interesting. I do like those! 

And then you can send me yours in reply, obviously!

Hi David! Sounds good, I can send it to you via message later today!

It's not so far, and there's not so many writing festivals like this around! I just booked my schedule and my 1-2-1s as I wanted to make sure I got agents who represent Sci-Fi as I'm currently focused on querying my Sci-Fi book which I think has more commercial potential in the current market than my thriller. Have you booked yours? There's lots of good choices!

My first time, too! I'm coming from Switzerland and really looking forward to it. 

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Hello! Looking for someone interested in swapping the submission package, i.e. the query letter, synopsis and first 5,000 words. My WIP is science fiction/space opera. I've been querying it and have gotten some mixed reception so looking to improve it!

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I've had good luck getting feedback partners on here before. I've just finished revising a draft after a developmental edit and I'm looking for someone who can read the whole book and offer their feedback. I'm happy to do the same in return. For this swap, I'm thinking less focus on the line-by-line and more focus on the story overall (unless you spot any glaring errors). More information below: 

The novel is 70,000 words (I may need to add some length) and is an action/adventure thriller set in Cambodia. 


Phnom Penh, Cambodia: When Boran Tompkins, trained by his CIA agent father, witnesses the kidnapping of his best friend Thomas, a struggling archaeologist, he tracks the kidnappers to the jungle pyramid of Koh Ker where he uncovers their true intentions—they have discovered an artifact that’s worth tens of millions. Enlisting the help of Thomas’s beautiful sister, Emma, Boran sets out to rescue Thomas, using his father’s training and his wits to outsmart the thieves. But every move pushes the trio deeper into the smuggler’s schemes. Boran, Emma and Thomas must face their own demons as they race across Cambodia and Thailand, risking their lives to stop the smugglers from stealing the most important Khmer artifact discovered in decades, and to protect the country they love.

A previous draft of the manuscript was a finalist in an adventure writing competition, but after a developmental edit I decided to make some story-level changes to hopefully fix some issues. 



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Hello all!

I have a Sci-Fi novel (second draft) which is being beta read by some friends and family right now. But I'd like to get some more writerly feedback. Would anybody be interested in beta reading or swapping? I think I am generally a decent beta reader. I'd prefer to not swap for romance/historical fiction, but commercial fiction, thrillers, action/adventure, crime, sci-fi, fantasy, etc. are all welcome. 

Blurb (in progress):

After Sara Lee Chung was kicked out of the academy, she bought a ship, formed a crew and began scavenging space wrecks. But when a distress call leads her to a ship full of "runners" fleeing a dying Earth for the Marsian colony, she must choose whether saving them is worth risking her life and sacrificing her hard-won independence. 

Matthew Becker's fed up with a system stacked against his clients, the people Mars calls "runners". When a ten-year-old girl sneaks onto his transport, he must choose whether helping her and defying the system he hates is worth sacrificing his career and, possibly, his freedom. 

Their choices bring them into conflict with the most powerful man on Mars and his administration, which will do anything to stop them. They will either have to give up, or try to change Mars forever. 

(I find the above pretty rough, but I'm terrible at blurbs)

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Hello everyone! 

I have a third draft manuscript and am looking for ways to polish it and make sure that aspects of the story work with certain character arcs. I would like to think it's more fine-tuning, but I said that about the second draft before I re-wrote a lot of it! I'm on a Facebook group for beta readers and critique partners, but then I realized that I'd actually prefer to find someone through here. Does anyone else have a manuscript they'd be willing to trade and critique? I think 20-30 days is a reasonable time, maybe more if necessary. I'm super flexible. 

My book is an action/adventure novel set in Cambodia that tells the story of three friends in their late twenties attempting to stop the theft of a priceless artifact from a pyramid temple in the jungle, and it's written in multiple perspectives. Here's the teaser from my query letter. 

The book begins in media res, with Dylan Tompkins—a Cambodian/American young man, raised by an archaeologist father turned CIA agent—searching for his kidnapped best friend, Thomas St. Pierre, at a temple pyramid in the jungle. But the kidnapping isn’t the real story: the thieves have found something, an artifact of incredible value. They mean to steal it. But what is this artifact? And why did these men kidnap Thomas, a young archaeologist working at the Royal University of Phnom Penh? Most importantly, can Dylan stop these dangerous criminals?

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Hello again! As promised, here is the first chapter of my adventure novel. What is the title? Who knows! (It's currently Kidnapped at Koh Ker, but used to be The God Who Would Be King). In my first and second drafts the first chapter was a flashback (I know, I know) but this is now a flash-forward. After this chapter, the book rewinds two weeks and traces how they got to this place, arriving here about 1/4 of the way into the book. Any critiques/comments/thoughts are super welcome. I've struggled a lot with where to begin and making sure I have an interesting enough first chapter.


In the damp heat of the jungle air, a bead of sweat trickled down Dylan’s cheek. He kept himself pressed low to the stairs of the pyramid, moving straight up the face of the temple, not glancing back at the small plain dotted with sugar-palms that led to the stone wall encircling the complex, where a worn dirt path traced its way through an otherwise green landscape from the gate to the steps. 

Dylan placed his feet with care. The stairs were narrow and steep, typical for the Khmer empire, and short stone bannisters lined the walkway. The steps had cracked with age and a few sloped downwards, shaped by the wind and the rain. The stairway led up the side of the pyramid’s seven stone levels, overgrown with jungle plants intruding upon the steps. The lush green grass and brush contrasted against the laterite brick and sandstone of the temple. 

A stone slipped from the stair by his foot and clattered as it fell down the steps. 

Dylan froze. If they heard him, Thomas was a dead man. 

Pausing for a few moments, he listened. 


He resumed his climb, taking one step at a time. He pressed his body flat to the surface and crawled on his hands and feet. Dylan moved around a piece of stone lying next to an overgrown bush. The stone held an inscription and a faded carving of Apsara dancers which displayed incredible detail—to the headdresses that each dancer wore, their arms outstretched, one arm pointing upwards and the other angled towards the ground.

He glanced back at the jungle. 

From his viewpoint, twenty-five meters above the small plain, he saw the dense foliage continue past the temple in an endless verdant sea. Just ten meters to the top; he had made it this far. He shook his head, clenching his fist. 

He didn’t know they were here. 

But he had followed them. There was nowhere else they could be. Which meant Thomas was here. 

He fingered the key he kept around his neck on a small silver chain. It had slipped out of his shirt and hung just over the stone of the step in front of his face. He gazed at it with a strange expression. 

For a moment, he forgot where he was and what he was doing. He shook his head and put it back into his t-shirt, feeling the key trapped between the cloth and his chest. The metal stuck to his skin. A drop of sweat rolled down his breastbone. 

Looking back up, he scaled the last couple of stairs. 

He remained low as he pulled himself over and onto the top of the pyramid, a twenty-square-yard sandstone platform. A short stone railing encircled this last level. He crouched low and hoped that no one could see him from the ground and scanned the surrounding area.

There was a large opening in the middle. The opening appeared to lead straight into the heart of the pyramid, but it was hard to tell because thick undergrowth obscured his view. Digging and scaffolding materials lay scattered around it, and clumps of fresh dirt lay piled on one side of the crevasse. 

They dug there for a reason. The question was: what were they looking for?

Despite being shielded by the stone ridges, Dylan felt exposed. Someone was watching him. He was sure of it. The feeling was unnerving. He surveyed around him and glanced back to the front of the temple pyramid, juxtaposed against the Cambodian jungle. 

He had to be sure. He hadn’t missed anything. 

Or anyone. 

Next to a pile of shovels, someone had propped up an old Kalashnikov-style AK-47. A journal lay on the ground beside it, along with a half-full leather satchel. 

He sucked in his breath and hurried to the gun. His adrenaline spiked as his fingers brushed the cold metal and he swallowed hard. There was a day you could buy one of these for twenty-five American dollars in the market off of Pochentong Road that now sold army surplus. He remembered that in the 90s. His father had shown him the aisles of weapons and explained what they were.

The Khmer Rouge had favored the gun for its low cost—most of the gun was wood, which made it cheap to manufacture. After its invention in the 1950s, the gun became a symbol of guerrilla warfare. It was not an accurate weapon, but it clocked in at less than 10 pounds and held 30 rounds of ammunition, dispensable in a matter of seconds.  

The wood of the gun appeared worn, and the color had faded. The buttstock was discolored where the gun met the shoulder. He pressed the release for the magazine between the trigger and the clip. The magazine was heavy, the bullets spring-loaded. 

Full magazine. Shit. 

He started to push the clip into to the rifle. Before it clicked into place, he stopped. He removed it a second time and threw it into the opening. He heard a dull thump as the clip collided with soft dirt. He reached for the satchel and threw back the flap. It held several books and a collection of tools. He grabbed a book and opened it. There were drawings of this temple complex, and, at the bottom, a scribbled list of names. The writing wasn’t in English. He recognized it as Afrikaans, a language he spoke poorly. The writing was legible but slanted hard to the right. The book’s owner had circled several names in black pen. 

He picked up the journal next to the bag. Then he heard people. 

Dylan dropped to the ground. 

They were chatting and laughing. From the direction of the sound, the group came towards the pyramid’s back. If they circled the base, they would block his way out and to his dirt-bike. 

He would be trapped. That couldn’t happen. If they captured him they’d kill them both. These were dangerous men. 

He sprang to his feet and turned to run, but his foot caught on the rifle. Leaned as it was against two stones, it slid into the crevice between them. His momentum twisted the barrel as his foot pulled at the bottom of the stock. 

The gun discharged, firing the round in the chamber.  The top of the rifle shredded as the bullet tore through the twisted metal. He lost his footing and fell on his stomach. The air whooshed out of his lungs, and he grimaced in pain. 

And now, worst of all, they knew he was here. 

People shouted in several languages. 

“O fok!”

“Chjoey Mai!”

He scrambled up and leapt to the side of the pyramid, vaulting over the stone ridge and leaping to the sixth tier. Skirting to the side and avoiding the broken stairs, he jumped to the next level. His ankle twisted as he landed in the unkempt garden that grew on the top. He kept moving, using his momentum to propel himself forward. He was halfway to the bottom of the pyramid before he heard their voices again, this time closer. 

That was when they started shooting at him. 

He heard muted thumps as bullets hit the dirt around him and the crunch of splitting rock as they pinged off of the sandstone. Fear galvanized him, pushing him to run faster. He leaped the last two tiers in two quick jumps, falling several meters to the ground and hitting it hard. Ignoring the pain, he pulled himself to his feet, dug in his right foot, and broke into a sprint, leaning far forward and running as fast as possible. His rapid steps became long strides as he reached his top speed. 

The characteristic rat-tat-tat of an AK-47 added to the sporadic pistol fire coming from the side of the pyramid to his rear. He’d still be in range until he reached the gate where he could run hugging the outside of the sandstone wall, cut across the moat, and get back to his dirt-bike. 

They must have realized this too because the shooting stopped. He risked a look back. Ten people ran towards him. Three men led the pack. 

One enormous man sprinted in front of the others, hurtling around the side of the pyramid with reckless abandon. He wore faded army fatigues with a strange pattern of brownish-red and tan brush strokes.  He moved fast, belying his bulk. The man looked over six feet and at least two hundred pounds of muscle. 


As Dylan made eye contact with him, Jan raised his pistol mid-stride. 

Dylan whipped his head forward. The gate was a step away. He heard a shot, a whistling sound, and the bullet hit the stone gate as he flew past it, showering him with a puff of rock dust and stone chips. He threw his right foot out and dug in with his heel, turning as he skidded in the dirt. A moment later he was running along the outer wall, protected from his pursuers. 

He jumped into the moat and waded through the muck. He couldn’t risk the land bridge, giving his pursuers a clear shot. He had to get to his dirt bike, a CRM-250 two-stroke, parked on the other side of Prasat Thom. He had walked it up after cutting the engine a kilometer away. 

Leaping over various pieces of stone rubble that littered the ground, he bounded from rock to rock and vaulted over the other side of the fortifications of the outer temple, half-buried in the jungle soil. Risking revealing his position, he cut through Prasat Krahom. A series of renewed shouts and curses followed. He reached the outskirts of the temple complex as he pushed himself harder. The dirt road, pockmarked with potholes, cut its way back towards the highway. 

He vaulted onto the bike and pulled back the kickstand. They would round the gate any second now. He half-stood, his foot perched on the small metal piece. He clamped with his left hand and kicked with his right foot. The engine sputtered. He kicked again, and it sputtered a second time. He kicked a third time, gunning the throttle by twisting the right handle. The engine flared to life with its characteristic high-pitched whine. 

Putting the bike in first gear, and letting out the clutch with his left hand, he twisted the throttle with his right. The bike’s back tire spun as the engine squealed. His tire caught, and the bike jerked forward, Dylan shifting gears as the bike picked up speed. 

The dirt roads were wild and messy. The monsoon season was just beginning, and the roads flooded often. Large puddles hid enormous potholes that could trap a car or throw a rider from a bike. Out of necessity, he followed brief bursts of speed with slow circumventions of the dents and dings in the road—a proverbial minefield. 

But still a better alternative to driving in the jungle. There were paths through the dense overgrowth, ones that a dirt bike could follow. He could have turned on an ox-cart path and cut through the wilderness. But one ran a distinct danger by veering off the beaten path—a literal minefield. Several decades of unrest left the countryside of Cambodia littered with landmines. 

Despite de-mining efforts since the 1980s, landmines were still a genuine threat. The Khmer Rouge planted them mid-retreat or surrounding now long-unused hideouts, so they remained scattered throughout the countryside. Dylan remembered seeing vacant village plots of land full of red CMAC mine signs, warning the local children playing nearby. A frequent sight in Phnom Penh was a beggar missing a limb, a victim of a mine incident. The beggars wore kramas on their heads and held out their hands for money or food. 

Dylan kept to the roads, running the motor ragged with quick bursts of acceleration. His speed edged past what he knew to be safe. He continued to hear shots, and what he thought was the sound of another motorcycle chasing him. He pushed himself harder, bending over the bike and tensing every muscle. The bike shuddered as it bounced over the potholes and uneven dirt. 

Once he was sure that he had escaped, the only sound his own motor as he flew through the jungle, he pulled onto a small ox-cart trail. The bike coasted on the well-worn ruts of the path. He coasted up to a banana tree and put his hand out to steady himself. 

He was shaking. The adrenaline was wearing off; exhaustion took hold. He felt pain in his ankle, his knees, his chest, and his biceps. As the adrenaline wore off, the aches would come. 

He was sitting on something. Reaching back, he realized he must have stuck the journal in his back pocket. He pulled it out and looked at it. It was a nondescript thing—a black leather journal, six inches by four inches with a leather tie around it. Paper shops in Phnom Penh sold these for a few dollars.

He rolled his head back and relaxed his neck, taking long breaths with his eyes closed. “Shit,” he said to himself. The sun peeked through the leaves of the banana tree and warmed his face. He was sweating, and the bottom half of his pants were still wet from the moat. The muggy heat of the jungle was overwhelming. Even when driving on the bike the air was so hot it was like he was sitting in front of a furnace. 

He had escaped. But they still had Thomas. He didn’t understand why they needed Thomas, an archaeologist and a professor. 

But he knew one thing: he couldn’t leave his best friend to die.

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Hello! So I'm on draft three of a novel and it's with readers right now. I'm going to post the first chapter in here as well for comments/critiques, but I also have another issue I would LOVE help with. Two, actually. Well, a lot, if you count personal problems, but let's start with my writing issues :)

The novel is an adventure novel set in Cambodia (where I lived for five years), about a trio of childhood friends who get caught up in a plot to smuggle a priceless artifact from Koh Ker (a pyramid in the jungle). One of the trio is kidnapped and the other two have to try and rescue him. Once they do, they decide to try and stop the sale of the artifact. So:

1) I have cycled through agent page after agent page and it usually goes like this "I represent genre fiction, like thrillers, suspense, mystery, crime and then also women's fiction..." When I look up what a thriller is, what a suspense novel is, etc., I don't find books similar to my own. Just reading the above description, do you think there's a more appropriate genre classification than "adventure novel"? Because no agent I've seen says they represent "adventure novels" and it makes it hard then to pick an agent for submission.

2) I originally titled it "The God Who Would Be King". Admittedly long, it's a reference to Kipling and also to the artifact, as the artifact was built by a sort-of renegade Khmer king (Jayavaraman IV) who believed, as was common, that he was a deity. But none of my friends/readers liked the title. So I re-titled it the ever-bland-but-descriptive "Kidnapped at Koh Ker." Literally any advice is welcome. Do you like one better than the other? Hate one? Prefer something different? I've also gone through "The Koh Ker Conspiracy", "Koh Ker", "Stealing History", "Thieves of Koh Ker", etc. 

2b) (I tricked you there, huh? Thought it was only two? Well, I have a sub-part which is appropriate since it is a Q about sub-titles) What do you think of subtitles? I originally wanted "The God Who Would Be King: A Dylan Tompkins Adventure", since it is set up to be the first in a series. 

I bow at the feet of any who bring me answers and opinions. Thank you!

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Of all the writing habits I have, one of the worst – the worst from good financial sense point of view – is that I like writing LONG books.

My first novel was a spine-breaking 180,000 words. Not one of my novels has ever been less than 110,000 words. The first “short story” I wrote was 8,000 words, which is to say miles too long to be an actual short story. Heck, even this email is likely to be far longer than any other email you get in your inbox today.

Ah well. There are some things you can’t fight, and my addiction to length is one of them.

But that also means that when it comes to short-form copy, I’m at a loss.

I’m not especially good at book blurbs, which want to be about 100-120 words (depending a bit on layouts and where you’re expecting them to appear.) Since titles need to be short and punchy, I’m not especially good at those either.

In a word: I’m pretty damn rubbish when it comes to coming up with titles … and this email is going to tell you how to write them.

Which means if you want to ignore the entire contents of what follows, on the basis that I obviously, obviously, obviously don’t know what I’m talking about, then I have to say that the evidence is very much in your favour.

That said, I think it’s clear enough what a title needs to do. It wants to:

  1. Be highly consistent with your genre
  2. Offer some intrigue – for example, launch a question in the mind of the reader
  3. Ideally, it’ll encapsulate “the promise of the premise” in a few very short words, distilling the essence of your idea down to its very purest form.

The genre-consistency is the most essential, and the easiest to achieve. It matters a lot now that so many books are being bought on Amazon, because book covers – at the title selection stage – are no more than thumbnails. A bit bigger than a phone icon, but really not much. So yes, the cover has to work hard and successfully in thumbnail form, but the title has more work to do now than it did before.

Genre consistency is therefore key. Your title has to say to your target readers, “this is the sort of book that readers like you like”. It has to invite the click through to your book page itself. That’s its task.

The intrigue is harder to do, but also kinda obvious. “Gone Girl” works because of the Go Girl / Gone Girl pun, and those double Gs, and the brevity. But it also works because it launches a question in the mind of the reader: Who is this girl and why has she gone? By contrast, “The Girl on the Train” feels a little flat to me. There are lots of women on lots of trains. There’s nothing particularly evocative or intriguing in the image. I don’t as it happens think that book was much good, but I don’t think the title stood out either. (I think the book sold well because of some pale resemblances between the excellent Gone Girl and its lacklustre sister. The trade, desperate for a follow-up hit to Gone Girl, pounced on whatever it had.)

The third element in a successful title – the “promise of the premise” one – is really hard to do. I’ve not often managed it, and I’ve probably had a slightly less successful career as a result.

So what works? Well, here are some examples of titles that do absolutely nail it:

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Brilliant! That title didn’t translate the rather dour and serious Swedish original (Man Som Hatar Kvinnor / Men Who Hate Women). Rather it took the brilliance of the central character and captured her in six words. She was a girl (vulnerable), and she had a tattoo (tough and subversive), and the tattoo was of a dragon (exotic and dangerous). That mixture of terms put the promise of the book’s premise right onto the front cover and propelled the book’s explosive success.

Incidentally, you’ll notice that the title also completely excludes mention of Mikael Blomkvist, who is as central to that first book as Salander is. But no one bought the book for Blomkvist and no one remembers the book for Blomkvist either. So the title cut him out, and did the right thing in doing so.

The Da Vinci Code

Brilliant. Dan Brown is fairly limited as a writer, but it was a stroke of genius to glue together the idea of ancient cultural artefacts with some kind of secret code. Stir those two things up with a bit of Holy Grail myth-making and the result (for his audience) was commercial dynamite.

And – boom! – that dynamite was right there in the title too. The Da Vinci part namechecks the world’s most famous artist. The Code part promises that there are secret codes to be unravelled.

Four words delivering the promise of the premise in full.

I let You Go

This was Clare Mackintosh’s breakout hit, about a mother whose young son was killed in a hit-and-run car accident. The promise of the premise is right there in four very short words … and given a first person twist, which just adds a extra bite to the hook in question. A brilliant bit of title-making.


So that’s what a title wants to do. A few last comments to finish off.

One, I think it’s fair to say that it’s quite rare a title alone does much to propel sale success.

Because there are a lot of books out there, and because everyone’s trying to do the same thing, there’s not much chance to be genuinely distinctive. My fifth Fiona Griffiths novel was called The Dead House, but there are at least three other books on Amazon with that title, or something very like it. That didn’t make my title bad, in fact – it did the promise of the premise thing just fine – but I certainly couldn’t say my title was so distinctive it did anything much for sales.

Two, if you’re going for trad publishing, it’s worth remembering that absolutely any title you have in mind at the moment is effectively provisional. If your publishers don’t like it, they’ll ask you to change it. And if they don’t like your title #2, they’ll ask you to come up with some others. In short, if, like me, you’re bad at titles, you just don’t need to worry too much (if you’re going the trad publishing route, that is.) There’s be plenty of opportunity to hone your choice well prior to publication.

Three, you don’t want to think about title in isolation. There should, ideally, be a kind of reverberation between your title and the cover. That reverberation should be oblique rather than direct. Clare Mackintosh’s I Let You Go had for its cover image a butterfly trapped against a window – a metaphorical reference to the anguish of the book’s premise. If instead it had shown a mother obviously distraught as a car struck her son, the cover – and title – would have seemed painfully clunky and ridiculous.

If you get a great cover image that doesn’t work with your chosen title, then change the title. If you have a superb title and your cover designer’s image is too directly an illustration of it, then change the image. That title/cover pairing is crucial to your sales success, so you can afford no half-measures in getting it right.

That’s all from me.

My kids are making elderflower cordial and singing as they do so. They are also wearing helmets for no reason that I can possibly understand.

Till soon


PS: Want to know what I think of your title? Then I’ll tell you. Just pop your title (plus short description of your book) in the comments below. I’ll tell you what I think.

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