Kayla Howarth

Author of The Institute Series



Indies who are looking for an editor: DO YOUR RESEARCH. PLEASE.

Over the last few months, I’ve been contacted by people offering editing services. As someone who has been screwed over a lot in the past, I’m wary. But I realised today that there are so many new authors out there, and any of them could fall for the bullshit lines these people are trying to sell me.

You know that old saying, those who can’t do, teach? What does an author do when their books aren’t selling? I swear a lot of them these days are waking up and saying “I think I’ll be an editor today.”

Now, I’d love to be paid to read other people’s books and help them out. But there’s one thing I recognise that most of these other authors don’t. And that is I’M NOT QUALIFIED TO BE AN EDITOR.

My copy editor/proofreader (*waves* Hi Kelly Hartigan, you’re the awesome to my sauce … or something like that) has said to me that my drafts I hand over are some of the cleanest drafts she’s ever seen. And you know what? She still has hundreds of corrections to make. Aside from being too close to the project, I also don’t know every grammar rule in the book. MOST AUTHORS DON’T. I have serious issues with commas. In particular, omitting them when they are needed before a conjunction separating two different clauses (look at me! I have the lingo down … but please don’t quiz me on using the rule), and then adding them when they’re not actually needed. *sigh* I give up. I’m sorry I’m not learning, Kelly. But hey, I barely leave participles and modifiers dangling anymore 😉

I’ve asked some of these authors who are trying to now break into the editing business what makes them qualified. I’ve heard all different types of answers:

  • I have great attention to detail.
  • I recently hired my own editor who has taught me SO much.
  • I have a copy of the Chicago Manual of Style.
  • Because I’m really, really good.
  • I started my own publishing house, so I know stuff.

*facepalm* It literally makes me think “Well, I watched an episode of Grey’s Anatomy today. Want me to remove a kidney for you?”

I’ve fallen victim to THREE of these “editors” in the past. One was very early in my career. I saw proofreading being advertised for only $100! Struggling indie author me: “Hundred bucks? Awesome. Done.” *gets manuscript back* …… she missed typos even I’m now finding! I’m lucky I was only out $100. This was the editor’s discounted price. Full price, she was asking for $400, which is about average for what I pay for Kelly to proof my work now. (She charges per page, so each MS is different in pricing.) But, this was a lesson in learning you get what you pay for. And I’m happy to say, this editor is no longer in business.

I wish I could sit here and name all the people I’ve had bad experiences with. But the reason I’m not naming names here and screaming from the rooftop for people to stay away from certain people is because drama can affect public image, which can affect sales, which affects income/visibility etc etc etc. You don’t want to be famous for being the author who makes enemies.

So what I’m going to do instead is run over a list of things for authors to be wary of when looking for an editor, and questions to ask.

  1. Who have you worked with before, and what books have you edited?
    I would purchase said books and look at the editing quality. Are there mistakes? Are their grammar issues? Was an extra/another editor listed in the front/back matter?
  2. Are you willing to give a free sample of what you would do to my work.
    Most editors will be willing to do this up to about 2,000 words. The only problem with this is any changes/catches will seem good to an author, right? So, they catch some errors, but how do you know they got them all when you yourself couldn’t see any during your own revisions?
  3. How far ahead are you booked?
    Does it suck that I usually have to wait a month to get into my editor? Sometimes. But there’s a reason she has constant work. SHE’S GOOD. Anyone who says “I’m available whenever you want, and I’m never overbooked” is a red flag. If they truly are as good as they say, they will be booked for a while in advance, because they will have regular clients. I know of an editor who charges through the nose, is booked out for MONTHS (sometimes up to six months) in advance, and she recently announced she was no longer taking on new clients because she just doesn’t have the time. But she’s obviously sought out for her talent.
  4. Can I see a contract?
    One of my editors didn’t even have a contract. She told me she’d be done in ten days, took my money, and by day nine, I was worrying. Especially when she emailed me and said she was 3/4 the way through. She gave me my manuscript back on time, but that means she rushed through the last 25% in twenty-four hours. How accurate could her edits really be?
  5. What kind of editing do you do, and what does it involve?
    I was recently approached by someone who’s looking for editing clients. Yet, after five minutes of talking to him via private message, I already could tell he had NO idea what he was talking about.
    He didn’t know the difference between content editing, copy editing, and proofreading. It will do you well to learn the differences yourself. Here’s a blog I found which explains it.

Don’t get sucked in by people who claim to be the best without them being able to back it up with PROOF.

The cheap price tag of some of these editors is enticing. I know that. But a lot of the time, you may as well not hire one at all when they don’t know what they’re doing.

If you’re looking for my recommendation (I kinda don’t want to post the link because I feel possessive over her. SHE’S MINE, DAMMIT) you can’t go past Kelly Hartigan at Xterra Web. You can find her services here.
*She only does copy editing/proofreading.

If you have a great editor, spread the word!

Let’s not give work to those who are out to make a quick buck and have no idea what they’re doing. It’s a waste of your money, and it really leaves a bitter taste in your mouth when you’re out hundreds of dollars (sometimes thousands for some people!) and have nothing to show for it but maybe some typo corrections here and there.



To Americanize or not to Americanise …

Here’s a little insight into the workings of one complicated mind. MINE. Brace yourselves, because this may not be pretty.

When I started writing, I decided to set my first book in Australia because, well, I’m Australian. Please don’t hold that against me. We’re not all binge drinking, stubbie wearing (short shorts) drongos (idiots).

I figured it would be easier to write what I know because I wouldn’t have to worry about remembering to drop the U out of colour, favour, habour, labour … you get the point. I wouldn’t have to remember that realise has a Z in it. I was also starting out and didn’t have the money to hire a proper proofreader who would change these things if I messed it up.

But the more I write, the more I realise there’s no way I’m going to be able to write a book set in America because I am TOO Australian. For instance, I had no idea ‘How ya going?’ was not a universal thing until a beta reader laughed at it and asked ‘Huh?’ (Translation: How are you today?) A yobbo is an idiot (notice we have a lot of words for idiot?), a prawn is a shrimp (yes, if we had a Bubba Gump Shrimp over here, it would be called Bubba Gump Prawn … not as catchy, really) and the boot of a car is called a trunk. Don’t even think about calling someone a bogan. And what about fairy bread? What is this, you ask? Only the best invention ever. Bread, butter, sprinkles (Also know down here as Hundreds and Thousands). Go. GO EAT THIS DELICIOUSNESS RIGHT NOW!


I have an awesome editor now (who is actually American), and if I set my mind to it, I really could set a series in the US. But I’ve taken it upon myself to educate my readers about the awesomeness of the broken English we call Aussie slang. So I think I’m gonna stick to writing about Australian’s who say random stuff that make my readers whip out Google.

‘on ya, mate. (Translation: Good on you, friend.)

So, having said the above, there are a few Americanisms I have adapted to my writing, and here are the reasons why:

Ass. That’s right, ladies and gentleman. Ass is spelled arse over here. One of my favourite things to do is call someone an arse, and singularly, I prefer arse to ass. (I don’t think I have typed the word arse/ass so much in one damn paragraph.) However, put it together with other lovely terminology of name calling and what do we have?

  • Arsehole (that just looks wrong)
  • Jackarse (umm wha?)
  • Dumbarse (you get where I’m going with this)

So, my original idea was to adapt whole words like asshole, jackass, and dumbass, but keep arse for singular.

But what about the inconsistency?

Dammit, what’s a girl to do when she is faced with such large life dilemmas like choosing between using the word arse or ass?

I referred to the number one rule of writing. Okay, maybe not THE number one rule. There is no one rule that beats out all the others. There’s a billion rules, all of which aren’t set in stone, that all make my head hurt if I think about them too hard, and … okay, I’m getting off track. One of said many, many, many, many rules is to stay consistent. And this is how my brain decided to use ass over arse. (Are we having fun picking apart how my mind works yet? No? Let’s keep going!)

Living room. What most Australians call a lounge room, I tend to gravitate towards the more universal word of living room. Everyone knows what it means with little explanation.

Thongs/Flip-flops. You know what? None of my characters wear thongs. It’s just easier that way, because calling them flip-flops in Australia is just WRONG. And calling them thongs makes Americans think we wear underwear on our feet (when we all know, we only do that when we’re at home alone.) I try to make my characters wear boots or heels.

Tank top. In Australia, we call tank tops singlets. After finding out that’s what Americans call wrestling outfits, I decided to take on tank top as part of my written vocabulary. I assume most Aussies know what a tank top is, but not everyone knows what we mean when we say singlet.

I’m positive I’ve taken on more than the ones stated above, but these are the ones that stick out in my mind, because they’re ones that are used often.

I’ve heard it’s a trend right now for UK English writers to adapt to US English spellings, creating a sort of mix breed of English. AKA Canadian English. OOH SNAP! Hi Canadian friends. I love you.

When it’s all said and done, language barriers can be a pain for writers, but sometimes even moreso for readers.

I’ve had readers complain that while my books are set in Australia, not all the language fits with being Australian. But I’ve had way more reviews tell me they want my books translated to American because apparently the Australian language doesn’t make sense.

To which all I have to say is:

Strewth, there must be kangaroos loose in the top paddock for ’em not to get what I’m sayin’. My writing’s chockas with bloody ripper words. Deadset, mate.

Anyone care to translate?






Raised by adoptive parents since the age of six, Nuka James starts questioning her past. Unable to get the answers she seeks, she goes in search of the one person who can tell her the truth—her birth mother.
When her search leads her to Litmus, Nuka wants to prove she’s worthy. Litmus is the infamous underground club where Defectives use their supernatural abilities to fight it out for money, fame, and glory. Litmus is where you find out what you’re made of.
Nuka wants to win her mother’s approval, but doing it without losing herself might be impossible.


Litmus is a spin-off of The Institute Series. While it is set in the same world, and characters from The Institute make appearances, it can be read as a separate series.
Losing Nuka is upper YA, suitable for people fifteen years and older.



Why I LOVE Bad Reviews


The saying “Bad reviews aren’t really bad” is actually true. There are many benefits to bad reviews, and I’ll be the first to say that I LOVE them.

Do I love them when they pop up on my Amazon or Goodreads page and yell at me for being a mediocre writer with no hope of success? Not so much.
However, after I rant and rave about how the review was mean or unwarranted, I usually take a second glance and tell myself the same things I do every time someone doesn’t like my work:

  1. Everyone is entitled to their own (wrong) opinion. (LOL)
  2. Not everyone loves the same thing. 
    I belong to numerous writing groups and there’s an author who is always revered for their writing by everyone else. But me? I couldn’t read their work at all. Granted, it was written really well, but it wasn’t my genre of choice and I just didn’t find it interesting. It has nothing to do with that author and everything to do with what I do/don’t like.
  3. Is there anything in the review I can learn from or improve on? 
    I generally find the reviews that have a genuine complaint annoy me more than the ones that just attack the book. Valid complaints are upsetting because I’ll agree that I could’ve done better, or that they made a fair point. The good thing about this though, is it means I learn how to better my craft. I generally don’t stay mad for long.

So why am I professing my LOVE for bad reviews if they make me all twitchy and crankypants? (Crankypants – so a word!)

Not only do some bad reviews teach you to better your craft, they also keep you grounded, and help keep hold of that little bit of self-doubt all authors have.

I’ll be the first to admit that when the shining 5 star reviews come in, I’m usually on a high for a full day. I feel invincible, and like I’m going to be the next big thing. I need the bad reviews to bring me back down and remember that no matter how proud I am of my work, I can always improve. In this industry, it’s a constant learning curve. If you’re no longer learning, your books won’t progress and you won’t move forward. I believe I get better with every book I write, but if I got nothing but 5 glowing stars, why would I feel like I need to improve? I’d get lazy. I’d feel like everyone was going to love what I wrote, no matter what it was. I can tell you now – they wouldn’t!

Another reason I love bad reviews is because it means my book is getting out there. All different kinds of people are reading my books. Anyone who has only good or decent reviews is suspicious. Where did those reviews come from? Every best seller out there – Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, The Fault in Our Stars – they all have bad reviews. Why? Again, it’s because not everyone likes the same thing. So if a book is only being read by people who LOVE the book? Alarm bells warn in my head. Chances are they are all solicited reviews.
*Please note: I’m not saying solicited reviews aren’t honest, but it’s a sign the book isn’t selling and it’s not reaching its target audience.

The last reason I love bad reviews is because what someone might hate, someone else might love. I know I kind of said similar above, but what I mean is this:
One of my books received a one star review that said:

“I felt like I was reading a story written by a horny, liberal teenager.”

You know why I love this so much? Because this will make horny liberal teenagers pick up my book! (who are my YA target audience, unlike the above reviewer.) *Please note, if you’re a teen and neither liberal nor horny, I’m sure you’d still like my book.

Another one of mine that was two stars:

“I lose interest when the obligatory gay character enters the scene.”

You know who may read my book now? A teenager who might be struggling with their sexuality.

I’ve read reviews of Young Adult books that actually say something along the lines of the reader being in their forties and not enjoying the book because it was really aimed at teenagers.
Umm, what?
While I believe any age can enjoy a Young Adult book, if you don’t like teenage angst, why are you picking up this genre? But again, these reviews promote the book for what it really is – a book for teens. The right target audience will read that and want to pick up the book.

So that, in a nutshell, is why I LOVE BAD REVIEWS! **Except for that one on Goodreads that said my book was dull and predictable. YOU’RE dull and predictable, random reviewer! (Mature comeback, am I right?)


Raised by adoptive parents since the age of six, Nuka James starts questioning her past. Unable to get the answers she seeks, she goes in search of the one person who can tell her the truth—her birth mother.

When her search leads her to Litmus, Nuka wants to prove she’s worthy. Litmus is the infamous underground club where Defectives use their supernatural abilities to fight it out for money, fame, and glory. Litmus is where you find out what you’re made of.

Nuka wants to win her mother’s approval, but doing it without losing herself might be impossible.


Litmus is a spin-off of The Institute Series. While it is set in the same world, and characters from The Institute make appearances, it can be read as a separate series.

Losing Nuka is upper YA, suitable for people fifteen years and older.

Coming 24th March, 2016!


The Insta-love Rebellion.

Love at first sight. Instant connection. Sudden obsession.

When these things happen in a novel, people are quick to shout, “Insta-love!” “Unrealistic!” “Annoying-as-f***”

But when they happen in movies? ROMANTIC AS HELL! (Think of all of your Disney classics. Nearly all of them involve an insta-love story.)

So why the stigma when it comes to books? And why has it suddenly become this big taboo thing that people get to complain about if there’s even a hint of attraction between two characters?

Someone recently suggested to me that in novels, we have time to learn about the characters separately before they come together. Their relationship can bloom and grow at a slow pace because there’s 350 pages or so to fill. Whereas, in a movie, they only have an hour and a half to two hours of screen time, and so the attraction needs to be instant.

This analysis seems fair. But why can’t people find other people immediately attractive in books without having people whine about it?

Hell, I see a good-looking guy walking down the street and I get flustered! (Sorry, hubby. Love you, though.) There’s a really extremely good-looking veterinarian that I used to drop medical supplies off to at my old job. I think I’ve spoken a massive few sentences to him, and yet, whenever I drive past that vet, I think of the hunky, blonde, tattooed, animal loving guy who I want to have babies with. (Again, sorry hubby.) Sometimes when people meet, the attraction IS instant (even if it’s only one-sided, like in the case of me and the vet). I guess I should mention, that when I first met my husband, my initial thought was, “I’ll probably make out with him one day.” So maybe it wasn’t inta-love between us, and maybe I didn’t instantly jump to wanting to have his babies like I did with the vet *sigh* HE’S A REALLY PRETTY VET, but I certainly knew I wanted to kiss my husband upon meeting him!

Apparently there’s a fine line between insta-love and insta-attraction. Here’s where I think the line should be drawn:

Insta-like: The MC’s mouth goes dry, their heart starts pounding a bit harder, they have trouble forming coherent sentences.
(A lot of people associate this with insta-love, like this is not a normal reaction to have in real life. Once, when meeting a really good-looking guy – granted he was famous, so I was already nervous – he shook my hand, introduced himself, and I forgot my name. I am NOT kidding you. I actually FORGOT MY NAME. Was I in love with the guy? No! I didn’t even watch the TV show he was on, so I wasn’t even a fan, either. He was just really good looking. And I totally just tried to find a good pic of him on google images to show you all, but then I realised I must of had beer goggles on when I met him. He’s certainly no vet.)

Insta-love: You know it’s insta-love when the two characters touch and it sends a jolt of electricity through them. Okay, like, really? The only time this has ever happened to me in real life is when I’ve been at the shops and the static electricity gets me. It certainly doesn’t shoot warm and fuzzies to my lady parts, and certainly doesn’t make me think the person zapping me is my soulmate. Especially considering I mostly go shopping with my mum and sisters… please – we aren’t from Tasmania (The Kentucky of Australia).

Insta-like: Two characters want to see each other a lot after first meeting, and want to spend most of their time together.
(Isn’t this just how people are in the beginning of a relationship? Or am I just a clingy crazy girl? :


Insta-love: The two main characters throw their life goals/ambitions/jobs out the window, just so they can spend time with the person they’re dating. *sigh* THIS is extreme. But, if handled correctly (i.e. if the main character was having a crisis/struggle in making a decision in where they want their life to lead, and new character helps them make better life choices – even if it may not seem like the right choice at the time – I think this is okay, IMHO)

I dunno, I guess I’m getting really tired of people complaining about Insta-love in books. I agree, it can be overdone and done to the extreme, but it seems to be that these days, a character even MENTIONS that they find another character attractive, and BAM, reviewer writes that it’s an insta-love story. Hell, I read a review of a book where two characters hate each other in the beginning, and yet the reviewer said ‘I could see the insta-love happening between them coming a mile away’……….. THEY COULDN’T STAND EACH OTHER FOR THE FIRST FEW DAYS OF KNOWING ONE ANOTHER. How is that Insta-love? what?

I’m going to admit it, loud and proud: I LIKE INSTA-LIKE, but with today’s reviewers definitions, it seems I have to admit that I LIKE INSTA-LOVE. So sue me.*

*Please don’t actually sue me, I have no money.

Death of the Man-whore.

Okay, I think every girl has had that fantasy. You know the one. Handsome player with a huge reputation for being a ladies’ man sees you – Plain Jane – across a crowded room. He immediately dismisses the hot, skinny bimbo he’s talking to and heads in your direction.

Your breath hitches, your palms become sweaty, and your eyes dart around the room making sure this is actually happening, AND that everyone is watching it happen.

He reaches your side, a smirk playing on his lips. “You are, without a doubt, the hottest girl in this room, and I want to take you home. Right now.”

No, no, no, no, no. This can’t actually be happening. I’m totes dreaming, right? He’s noticed me? Why me? I’m nobody. He could have anyone he wants, and he’s chosen me. 

“Okay,” you stammer, reaching for his outstretched hand.

You know he’s a man-whore, that he’s slept with three quarters of the female population, but you don’t care – it’s your turn.

He leads you to his car, opening the door like a gentleman. You slide into the leather seats of his brand new, very expensive (insert dream car here – Beemer, Merc, hey maybe even a Porche).

He takes you back to his mansion/penthouse/wherever and makes sweet sweet love to you all night long. Okay, he f**ks you all night long. Players don’t make love. But that’s okay, because it’s not the reason you went home with him in the first place.

Waking up the next morning to his beautiful face, you blush, realising you just had sex with (insert rich boy name that’s still cool here – Donovan, Carter, Royce). He rolls over to face you, cradling your head in his hand, bringing your lips to his in a slow kiss.

“You’re perfect,” he whispers, not caring about your morning breath.

“You’re insane,” you giggle. Why in the world would he think I’M perfect?

“I mean it. We should do this again sometime. Every day, actually. Today, tomorrow, the next day, the next day after that.”

“Why?” you croak.

“Because you’re the woman of my dreams. All those other girls don’t mean anything. I’m done with my man-whore ways. You’re it for me.”

…… End fantasy …….

Okay, I get the appeal, I really do. It’s probably why these story lines have been done to death in the YA/NA/Romance genre and are so popular.

But can we please step back and take a look at the reality of this situation for just a moment?

  1. Girl is interested in boy, even though it’s well known he has had countless sexual partners. You know that saying, “When you have sex with someone, you’re not just having sex with them, but with every person they’ve ever had sex with?” Is it just me who would look at a man like that and see nothing but an STD risk?
  2. A guy like that would never chase. EVER. I’ve read many books lately where the hot guy makes a move/snarky comment/sexual innuendo toward the female heroine of the story, only to have the female reply in a negative way – ie. snarky non-flirty comment, a slap, a drink thrown in his face. Suddenly, the guy is up for the challenge because NO ONE ever rejects him. There must be something special about this girl, because hey, she has self respect. Something said boy has to tear down immediately, just to prove he can get into her knickers. And guess what – 100% of the time, HE WINS.While I appreciate the girls not throwing themselves at the guy at first, my respect for them teeters when the guy flashes his winning smile or takes them on a first date and suddenly she’s wearing no underwear. OOPS.
  3. These guys seem to always have girls fawning all over them. Like they walk into a room and suddenly girls are throwing their panties at them. WHERE DOES THIS HAPPEN IN REAL LIFE BECAUSE I WANT TO SEE THAT! (Purely for the entertainment of girls acting like morons, of course.) So I can understand them wanting the thrill of the chase when a girl rejects him. But realistically? He’d probably not even bother when there’s another hot girl right beside him, just waiting for her chance to pounce.
  4. Which brings me to point number four, and something that will probably piss a lot of people off. A hot guy like that will NEVER find insta-love with the Plain Jane. THE END. These girls must have such terrible self-esteem that they think they’re ugly when they’re really not. (Most cases this seems to be true because with all their inner whining monologue, everyone else always seems to tell them how pretty they are, and nearly all the boys want to have sex with her. Which brings me to a whole other point I won’t get into which is- while I think hot people can have insecurities, I don’t know of many hot people who will think themselves completely ugly like these girls do in these books.)Okay, so did I just say a hot guy could never fall for a not-so-hot girl? NO! I said they would never experience that Insta-spark, that instant lust where they want to get down and have sex with them immediately. And yet, all of these books portray this as reality.

And okay, here’s where the fantasy part comes into it. I realise these books are just that – a fantasy. (I really think some romance books should be in the Fantasy section because they’re so unbelievable.) But when aimed at YA/NA what are we really teaching them?
Yes, we may be teaching them that the hot guy COULD fall for someone who’s not as good looking as others, and that everyone is beautiful to someone – no matter what they look like on the outside. Yes, we may be teaching them that man-whores can change their ways (everyone can change, right?). And yes, we may be teaching them that playing hard to get will work if the right boy comes along. But aren’t we also saying that a boy isn’t worth having unless he is rich and handsome? Don’t worry about their sordid sexual history – he has money and is good looking. And that damn arrogant smirk! (Can’t forget the smirk!)

Why can’t I read about the Plain Jane woman falling in love with the Plain Jane (Joe?)? A man who has to work for a living? Even the decent looking poor woman, and the decent looking poor man who’s only had a handful of sexual partners?
I want to read about the imperfectly perfect man who makes her heart beat faster, and the butterflies swarm in her stomach. Why do they always have to be rich, and why do they always have to be the best looking guy in the world? Why do they ALWAYS have to have a man-whore status?

My fantasy couple may struggle through life, but they have each other… and that’s a lot for love. (We’ll give it a shot! WOOOOAH WE’RE HALF WAY THERE!…. okay, enough Bon Jovi)

I don’t want to read any more about taming a man-whore. PLEASE.

Third Book Syndrome

I’m noticing this common trend in trilogies, where the third and last book of the series is extremely different than the first two books. The story is different, the writing varies, and generally, the setting is different.

Not only am I part of the Third Book Syndrome Club, but best sellers like The Hunger Games and Divergent are also guilty of this.

Just a heads up, there will be spoilers from all of these as I’ll use them for examples. If you haven’t read them, but plan to, stop reading now. Unless you don’t mind reading minor spoilers.

So, Third Book Syndrome.

The Hunger Games :
Book 1. Katniss is a strong, independent girl who fights in an arena to save her sister.
Book 2. Katniss is a strong –  if somewhat suffering from a mild case of PTSD – independent girl who fights in an arena to save Peeta.
Book 3. Katniss is an absolute mess, there’s no arena, and weird shit goes down. The setting of District 13 is brand new to this world. A whole new cast of characters are introduced, and the overall feel is different than the first two.

Divergent :
Book 1. Tris joins Dauntless and trains to become one of them, living in a city surrounded by a big wall. They’re not told much about the outside world, just that it’s dangerous.
Book 2. Shit happens, Tris and Four spend nearly the entire book running from one place to another, still within the walls of the enclosed city. So while the scenery changes between factions, it’s still within the same world we lived in in book one.
Book 3. They go outside the wall. There’s a whole cast of new characters introduced, and there is a really, really, really, shit explanation of why they were locked in the city to begin with. (Can you tell I wasn’t a fan of the third book?)

The Institute :
Book 1. Allira finds herself in trapped in the Institute, doing whatever she can to protect her brother. Even if that means working for them. Three quarters of the book is set in the Institute.
Book 2. Allira escapes, but that’s not enough. Her family and friends make a plan to take the Institute down. Three quarters of this book is set in a new setting – the Resistance compound. The rest, is set in the Institute.
Book 3. The Institute makes an appearance a total of three times in the whole book. Allira isn’t the strong girl she was in the first two, and she’s lost, unsure of what she should be doing with her life. She does what those around her ask of her without questioning whether she should. With the help of new characters, she fights to find herself once again. There is a major romance plot line in this book, something that was very minor in the previous books.

All of the last books of each series feature a new setting, new characters, and major character arcs… well, except for Divergent. Tris didn’t learn a damn thing or change at all in three books. (but the new characters and new setting thing is true)

As a general rule, by evidence of reviews, the third book in a trilogy is the least favourite.

When I released book three of The Institute Series, I was so excited for people to read what I thought was my best work. It didn’t even occur to me that my new, improved, but different vision of where Allira’s life led, might not sit well with my readers who loved the first two.

The people who absolutely gushed over book one and two, found the third to be too different. They still enjoyed it, sure (or so they said in their review), but of the three, it was their least favourite.

I could say the exact same for my two examples. Mockingjay was my least favourite book of the Hunger Games series, and I barely made it through Allegiant, book three of Divergent.

So, what is it about book three that we as authors feel we need to mix it up? 

Could it be that in The Hunger Games, there was an arena in book one, an arena in book two … did we really want to see another arena in book three?
Okay, so all you die-hard fans out there will argue that when Katniss and her troop try to storm the capital, they are in arena like circumstances with the pods and weird mutts that are after them. But it’s not the same thing.
If there was another arena in book three, would the reviews be saying, “How many times can a government try to kill one girl? It’s the exact same plot as the last two!? I’m bored!”

Book two and three of Divergent were scattery, at best, but the different setting in the last book was necessary to resolving the questions everyone had been asking for the first two books.

In the Institute, Allira’s life had changed so drastically in between book two and three (there’s a massive eighteen month gap in between the books), it would only make sense that she would be meeting new people and forming new bonds. The first two books were about Allira’s fight against the Institute, the third was about her learning to be an adult.

Growth is an important part of writing. Characters need to grow and learn lessons, or you get to the end and kind of ask “well, what was the point of that?”

 How much change is too much, and how much of the same is not enough?

Why do you think people aren’t falling in love with trilogy endings?

Listing off other trilogies that I’ve read that also follows the different story arc for the third book include:

The Mara Dyer series (loved the first two books. The third just went weird.)

The Maze Runner series (although, this one lost me at book two, if I’m completely honest.)

The Matched series (but to be fair, I’d say of all of the books on my list, this one is the one that remains most true to the first two.)

How do we prevent the different story arc, but still show growth within the characters/community, without getting repetitive by using the same plot as the previous books. Or is this what readers want? They fell in love with book one and two for a reason, right? 

If anyone has the answer, I’d really like to know, because after mapping out my next trilogy, I’ve noticed it follows the same pattern.

Beta Decorum

Actors, artists, musicians, writers – we’re all creative, we all put ourselves out there, and we all get criticized. It’s part of the parcel for doing the thing we love.

For authors, these criticisms can come in many different forms: Feedback from beta readers, fellow authors, friends and family (if you have family like me who like to tell me that my books suck and are only mildly entertaining. Thanks, bro.) But the main form of feedback authors receive are through reviews.

I’ve written blogs in the past about reviews and how I handle negative feedback (reminder: it’s in the fetal position, rocking back and fourth in the corner of the room.) but this post is going to focus more on the feedback of others, BEFORE the book is released and the nasty reviews start coming in.

Nasty reviews are inevitable. No author is immune. Not everyone will like your work, not everyone will like how your story ends. And for most readers, who have NO idea what it takes to write a book, they will not hold back in their reviews. Everyone gains a certain amount of confidence behind a computer screen. I’m sure if they were told they had to deliver their reviews in person, to a real-life author, they’d be able to sugar coat their words a lot better, but because they’re anonymous behind a computer screen, they don’t really give much thought to the author reading them. They may not even realise authors read them at all. After all, reviews are for fellow readers, not to stroke the author’s ego. They’re also reviewing a product, not the author themselves (although some trolls have been known to attack an author personally, and that’s really unfair, but it’s important not to feed the trolls – they usually only do it to make themselves feel better, or to get a rise out of people so they can sit back and enjoy the ensuing drama).

So before us authors put out a product, we go through a series of reads and we rely on betas to tell us what could be changed or improved on.

I’ve read a lot of books lately where I’ve come across things that have me scratching my head and wondering how beta readers had not pointed out these flaws/plot holes/issues.

But after a string of beta reads I did myself, it didn’t take me long to realise that a lot of beta readers are too scared of receiving retaliation from their feedback. Something I have had happen to me recently.

I gave my honest opinion and was flat out told “you’re wrong” by the author who asked me to give me said honest opinion.

Actors, artists, musicians, writers- something else we all have in common: big egos!

I will be the first to admit that it hurts to get negative feedback. It stings when someone doesn’t like your work. We dedicate years of our life to our books, and to have someone rip it apart (even in the slightest), yeah, it bites. But if we all had the same opinion, wouldn’t life be boring as shit? (Sorry, my inner bogan is coming out here.)

However, after the hurt, after the swearing and muttering to ourselves that the person critiquing is dumb and stupid and doesn’t know any better… Perhaps we should sit back and take their opinion into consideration.

True story: I had a beta reader flat out tell me my work is not polished enough and then proceeded to tear chapter one of my work apart word for word before giving up and saying it NEEDED a professional edit as the copy editor I had obviously didn’t do a good enough job.

I found her remarks harsh and rude, and because I’m still a teenager at heart, when I’m told I NEED to do something, or I CAN’T fix it myself, I of course want to do the opposite just to prove them wrong!

After my initial overreaction, I sat down, evaluated her critique, and realised she was right. As much as I wanted her to be wrong, and as much as I wanted to dislike her for her words… I couldn’t. She was right, and fair, and I needed to get over myself.

So I’m not completely innocent myself when it comes to overreacting to critique, but I definitely know better than to retaliate or give a rebuttle stating why their critique is wrong.

Beta readers are doing is a favour by giving us their opinions ahead of publication. So when authors flip their lid at their betas for not giving them all glowing and fabulous feedback, we’re encouraging our betas to only give positive feedback in fear of being sworn at (has also happened to me). Meaning we may be putting out less than mediocre work. Then what happens when the reviews come piling in?

Writing is an industry where you need thick skin. The way I see it, if author’s can’t handle feedback from their peers, what is going to happen when they read a scathing review?

Scenario: you go to a five star restaurant and order the signature dish. It comes out and it is covered in garlic. You HATE garlic! Sometimes you like a little bit of it, but it looked good on the menu, so you ordered it. Your dining companion orders the same thing. They LOVE it, but it leaves a not quite nice taste in your mouth after a few bites. So you complain and ask for something else. Reasonable, right?

Well, what would you then do if the chef comes out of the kitchen, yells at you because everyone else loves the garlic, says you’re being too picky, and clearly you have the wrong taste because everyone else loved it?
You wouldn’t come back! (And if you did, you’d certainly be too scared to complain again!)

Same principles apply in writing. Not everyone will love it, and this is why it’s important to have more than one beta reader. You need an entire team, and you need to be able to trust them to tell you the truth, and you need to be big enough to take their advice into consideration without complaint. You need to not alienate your betas by telling them they’re wrong. Perhaps out of five beta readers, one of them hates a certain element. 1/5 isn’t bad, and perhaps you could ignore their opinion. But just remember, if one beta picks up on it, others will too and you WILL get reviews that represent that.

I recently beta read for a friend, and I admit, I was nervous about my critique because it did seem harsh. I really didn’t enjoy a major aspect of this book. But I spent the majority of the next day going over it all with my friend via email. We had about 27 emails back and forth by the end. She was appreciative and agreed with most of what I said. We did still had our differences of opinion in the end, but it’s her book, her choice. But she never once said “you’re wrong and I’m keeping it. End of story.” She took my feedback on and took what she wanted and left what she wanted.

Authors should be there for other authors. They shouldn’t be all compliments and bullshit like “I’ll stroke your ego if you stroke mine”. We should be able to state our opinions and have an open discussion without it turning ugly. We’re only trying to help when we give you advice.

As hard as it is to hear where our work is lacking, I’d rather be told while it’s still an easy fix, than after its published and I’ve had ten reviews stating the same problem.

So in short:

Stop treating betas like crap. You’re scaring them off doing it for others in fear of having their heads bitten off.

If you ask a question on a forum or group, don’t get defensive of people’s reactions if they are not of the same opinion.

Get more than one opinion. You may very well be right, but that doesn’t mean you have the right to tell the other person they are wrong. They simply have a different opinion to you.

And lastly: don’t take it personally. Betas aren’t attacking you!

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