Margie Lawson’s Highlighting Editing System

I always liked to color, but this is a little different.

My editing partner, Jackie, introduced me (not in person) to Margie Lawson — whom she calls one of the premier writing teachers in the nation. After a primer on one of her workshops, I tend to agree.

Her EDITS System is this — highlighting different elements of your writing in different colors. Dialogue is blue, thoughts are yellow, setting is green, orange is tension, and pink is involuntary (visceral) response. Underline in red ink (I prefer purple) for action and taglines.

Once you finish, flip the page upside down and look at the colors. What’s out of balance? In my first chapter, I had a ton of thoughts and then a ton of dialogue, no visceral response, little about setting and tension. Those were the major weaknesses. I revised, and now, it’s MUCH better.

Grab some of your writing and give it a try. Next time, we’ll take a look at a paragraph of mine and dissect it this way. Hope this helps!


Here’s an idea: HOW you can get to 100 Beta Readers

Last time, we talked about Beta Readers (a test audience for a book) and their importance.

Boy, are they important.

Too often, you get the “do-this-and-it-will-work-for-you” and not the how. Like, “Get 100 Beta Readers.” You know 100 people, but they may not want to sit down, read your book, and rate your chapters, right?

My friend Lisa said she needed to start from the ground up. Here’s what I did and I guarantee it’ll work for you.

I have a friend, Adrienne, who is totally on my team. No matter how long you’ve been writing, there’s one person you can count on to be on your side. If not, e-mail me. I’ll be your person or help you find one!

Adrienne’s bought all four of my books and she works for a high school (my target market — score!). Identify your target market (the people you’ve written your book for) and find someone well-connected in it.

By chance, she hands my book to a student we’ll call “Tee” and says, “Read it, and if you like it, rate it on Amazon.”

“Tee” read Reject High in one day, loved it, and immediately wanted to read more. She became a Beta Reader. I asked her to recruit some other Beta Readers for me, and she’s uncovered six in one week.

Recap: Start with one person in your target market who’s enthusiastic about your work. Leverage their connections to help you get other people involved. They have to be excited about what you’re doing. Be aggressive and persistent, but friendly as you go. Hope this helps!


If you’re an author and you don’t have Beta Readers, there’s something seriously wrong with you

Beta Readers are a test audience for your new material.

For example, in the movie The Break Up, Vince Vaughn’s character originally came out looking better than Jennifer Aniston’s character. That ending did not rate well with its test audience, so the ending was changed.

If The Break Up was a novel, the test audience would have been Beta Readers.

For my next novel, Sophomore Freak I’m following the advice of Allen D’Angelo of Archer Ellison, Inc. Here it is:

  1. Find 100 Beta Readers. How do you find them? Research your target market. (Mine’s a YA, so I want both YA and adults, which is 15-35. Adults read YA more than YA read YA). Then ask around — relatives, friends, friends of relatives. Cast a wide net, but not TOO wide. Nobody has an “audience of everybody.”
  2. Get them to rate every chapter you write between 1 (“hot rotting trash on a summer day with no breeze”) to 10 (“That chapter was so good, I just cheated on my husband/wife/significant other by reading it”).
  3. If it’s not at least an 8, ask them why. Were they confused? What needs to be improved?
  4. Revise and resubmit. By the time you get to a finished product, it should be UH-MA-ZING.

The ultimate goal is getting “pass along” value. “Pass along value” equals “People talking about you.” This is what you want. Try it along with me!

Hope this helps!

Digital Books: The Price Is Wrong

I went to the store and almost bought the second season of Superman: The Animated Series. Not for my five-year-old, for me.

Don’t judge me — I have a bigger point to make about it.

The reason why I didn’t buy it is because I saw the price, paused, and thought about it. You never  want a consumer to do that. Logically, you want their interest plus access to the money for purchase to equal an actual purchase.

If they have to think about it, chances are you’ve lost the sale. In a former life, I used to sell men’s suits. The “I’ll-be-back-to-buy-it” folks are looking for something — a lower price, a cheaper product — but whatever it is, you don’t have it.

Recently, I read a blog where the author advised against pricing your e-books at .99 cents. Yes, it worked for Amanda Hocking, Darcy Chan, and a number of other authors. But he said it devalues your work to price it that low, and he’s right. I’ve seen a bunch of books priced .99 cents and they looked like they shouldn’t have cost any more than .99 cents.

This is a group I do not want to belong to, and neither should you.

Instead, experiment with your pricing and watch your sales numbers. Find a price point where your buyers don’t pause and think about it, and your numbers stay the same. Stick with what works.

Hope this helps!

Paying for reviews: Worth it or not?

With my most recent novel, Reject HighI sunk a sizable chunk of my advertising budget to pay for a Kirkus indie review.

Before you skeptically look at your screen, let me tell you: I have tried a lot of different marketing ideas. For my first novel, The Lost Testament, I hired a PR person, held a book release party, and did a few TV and Blogtalk radio interviews. With The Revelation Gate, I paid for a blog tour and sent out paperback ARC’s. Last year, I mailed out t-shirts and used Pinterest to publicize The Anarchists in conjunction with electronic ARC’s.

With all of those, I spent considerably more than the $425 I paid Kirkus to review my book.

The results of my previous efforts were mixed. A good ROI (Return OF Investment) is to see a considerable bump in sales due to my efforts. Of course, there’s no concrete way to correlate the two. Book marketing is a formula: effective efforts + timing + God’s favor (you might call it luck or the universe) = MASSIVE SALES.

So, was it worth it? Kind of, sort of.

After your review is complete, Kirkus offers you a chance to “publicize” your review in online and print media. Of course, there’s a cost (somewhere north of $1,000) for it. That might be worth it and it might not, but I’m not doing it.

Also, if you want to use a part of their review on your book, you have to publish it, good, bad, or ugly, on their website first. What if your review was lukewarm or they trashed it? You excerpt what they said (they don’t allow you to add words) and pray nobody goes looking for the full critique.

My advice? If you’re going to pay for a review, you can’t put all of your eggs in just that basket. Supplement it by aggressively soliciting Amazon reviews from your faithful readers, book bloggers and reviewers, like Cyrus Webb of Conversations Radio, and book clubs. I’d also go grassroots and advertise on high traffic sites too.

Hope this helps!


It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:

Brian Thompson

and the book:

Reject High
Great Nation Publishing, LLC (June 13, 2013)
***Special thanks to Brian Thompson for sending me a review copy.***


Brian Thompson is a celebrated writer, educator, and former journalist. His previous works include the Christian fiction thriller The Lost Testament, inspirational adventure The Revelation Gate, and futuristic sci-fi novel The Anarchists. He and his family reside in Covington, Georgia.

Visit the author’s website.


After his latest fight, Jason Champion is sent to a rundown alternative school, nicknamed “Reject High.” Fine by him, except a girl named Cherish died there under strange circumstances. . .

Cherish’s only friend, Rhapsody Lowe, shows him a crystal that turns her invisible. Jason tries one on and he jumps over a city.

Their classmates, Sasha and Selby, see Jason and Rhapsody in action and receive crystals of their own. They keep a low profile until Jason discovers they are being studied by people they trust.

With eleven days until Reject High is destroyed, Jason and his friends must dodge their pursuers, solve the mystery of Cherish’s death, and save their power source from falling into the wrong hands.

The first installment in a multi-book series, Reject High combines engaging characters inside of a page-turning, breathtaking adventure.

Product Details:
List Price: $11.95
Paperback: 270 pages
Publisher: Great Nation Publishing (June 13, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0989105601
ISBN-13: 978-0989105606


my first mental breakdown

I watched policemen cut away the yellow crime scene tape on the five o’ clock news. It made my throat burn. They sent the memorials away to God-knows-where. I shouldn’t have been surprised at the lack of respect for the dead girl. After all, Cherish Watkins did go to an alternative school. That’s where I was headed.

My suspension won’t end until whenever that school opens back up. Sounds like an early summer vacation? Not if your stepmom takes everything fun from your room, like mine did. My video games and DVDs aren’t in their usual hiding place. Neither is my MP4 player. She must have hidden my stuff at Aunt Dee’s house under the mess.

Some parents, who were angry about the school being closed, forced an emergency board meeting. Did they think we’d start a zombie apocalypse and destroy the town? Who cares anyway? Reject High – what everyone calls the alternative school – will close for good in a month. The building will be destroyed this summer. Epic fail. Even then, I’ll probably never get back into North High, my old school. Guess I’ll drop out, since we can’t afford to move to another district.

This isn’t my first time being in trouble. Doctors don’t know exactly why, but in addition to ADHD, I have rage blackouts. I lose control, destroy things, and I hurt people. Problem is – I don’t remember anything about them. It’s one of a couple of reasons my father gave up raising me and let his ex-wife Debra take me in. He’d never admit it, but he didn’t have to.    

At the risk of making me angry, Debra forced me to come with her to the special meeting. I had “an interest in the outcome,” she said. If Reject High stayed closed, my apartment jail sentence would continue until June. Otherwise, I’d be free. . .to go to back to school. Wish I’d waited a little longer to break Ryan Cain’s jaw. The school board might have just suspended me through the end of the school year. Then I wouldn’t be in this mess.  

I rubbed the back of my neck and turned to my stepmother, who sat to my left. “It’s eleven days and it’s only Reject High, not jail.”

Debra shook her head, which she does when I let her down. As many times as I’ve disappointed her, she should have a serious neck problem. “That’s not a really big difference, Jason.”

Though she shouted that in my ear, I could barely hear it. People all around called us names, like “degenerates” and “multiple offenders.” After a good loud minute of that, the board chairwoman – the chick with the nameplate “B. King” – banged her little wooden hammer against the table. “One last comment,” she screamed while waving for the next person in line to step up.

Vivienne Coker moved to the center aisle. She looked like a sixty-year-old version of the mom on Friday Night Lights – graying red hair, with wrinkles all over the place and pointy boobs. She ran the city’s group home, which always had an opening. Vivienne complained about everything to anyone who’d listen. She and B. King smiled at one another.

“Ms. Coker,” said B. King with a sneer. “You have two minutes.”

“Won’t take me one, Belinda. Might as well send the worst ones to us, ‘cause if you let them stay out longer, it’ll be Armageddon.”

Fine, crime has gone up. Can she really blame that on us? As Vivienne walked back to her seat, I wanted to strangle her. But that’s why I was one of “them” to begin with. Well, so much for being “normal.”

At the front of the room, the eight men and women on the board sat in high-backed, brown leather chairs – like a semicircle of Supreme Court judges in dress clothes. At their left, a lawyer adjusted her glasses and said legal stuff no one understood. Finally, Belinda King called for a vote, and the board unanimously reopened the school. After that, they concluded the meeting and immediately hid from the media in what the lawyer called an executive session.

Debra stood. “Great. I’m officially raising a statistic.”

I’ve been called a lot of things, but that one hurt. I didn’t ask to be born different.

The next day, the school bus left us at the entrance to the school property. It had razor wire looping through the top of the fence and I smelled cigarettes and marijuana smoke. In front of the building, a maroon wooden sign said R.E.G.C.T. in white capital letters. Underneath the abbreviation, it was spelled out: Regional Education and Guidance Collective Training facility. At the top, someone had spray painted “JE” over the letter “G” to spell REJECT. Yup, this was close enough to jail, alright.

Since clear backpacks were required as a safety thing, I stuffed my MP4 player down between my books. Getting into a fight over it was not an option after Debra finally gave it back. The next thing I do wrong, it’s straight from here to someplace worse.

Allen Rush, my old principal at North High, once called me “trash that needed taking out.” No one would buy it if I told them he said it, because we were alone in his office. Who would take my word over an adult’s anyway?

On first glance, this place was nothing like North. It should have been blown up years ago. Instead of trimmed grass, it had weeds sticking up between cracks in the sidewalk. The concrete steps were broken in spots. The closer I got, the more horrible it looked. So did the students.

This kid from New York once told me to move with purpose. Doing that has helped me avoid trouble. Since I’m 5’2 ¾”, I always walked fast and stared a hole through anyone who looked at me. The potheads and the girls who Debra likes to call “garden tools” gawked back at me. I’m the weird one?

Inside the main entrance, a metal detector/pat-down line stretched along the nearby wall. Backing up against the orange bricks, I hid the contents of my book bag so no one could see my MP4. Debra had said not to take it in the first place, but she said lots of things. Without music to calm me down, I’d have only my thoughts, and thinking too much for me is a bad idea.

A cute girl – for a Goth, at least – stood next to me. Usually, girls like her wore torn up clothes and thought white and black are the world’s only colors. Not this one. She wore a blue and white spandex shirt and her bra strap peeked out on her shoulder. I’m not into pink, but it got my attention. She smelled great, like a flower garden. Her hair stuck up in randomly-gelled strands. With a better hairdo and less makeup, she’d be Penelope Cruz’s little sister kind-of-hot.

“Move,” she said to me with her eyes fixed ahead. “You’re next.”

Her voice snapped me to attention. “My fault.”

A uniformed Student Resource Officer with bushy nose hair waved for me to leave my bag on the conveyor belt and step through the metal detector. After removing my wallet, keys, cell phone, and belt, I passed through without a problem and collected my stuff.

Down the hallway a redheaded football-player shaped like a bowling ball played “keep away” with the bag of a kid around my size. I hate football and the guys that play it. After today, my MP4 and cell are staying at home.

“Won’t happen,” Goth Girl said with a playful grin.

“What ‘won’t happen’?” What was she talking about?

“You’re a virgin.”

“What?” I cleared my throat before my voice squeaked like a Yo Gabba Gabba character. There would be no saving myself from this one.

“Selby always gets to the first-timers. Just let him have his fun and try not to struggle too much.”

“No chance.” She didn’t know my reputation.

She smirked. “Good luck with that.”

Before I had a chance to react, the kid she called Selby yanked me by the neck into a nearby hallway, pulled off my backpack, and shoved me against a locker. “Freak,” he said, his lip curled. Wait – I know him! He used to go to North High and he acted like ninth graders were bugs to be crushed.

“C’mon!” The way he went through my stuff sent me into overdrive. My ears pounded, and suddenly everything in my world faded into white flashes. The blackout couldn’t have lasted too long. When I came out of it, my wrists weren’t handcuffed and nobody asked me questions I couldn’t answer. Selby groaned at my feet. He was bleeding at the mouth.

My knuckles were sore, and I didn’t notice any cameras. We were alone, so I got my backpack and ran down the hallway. Every classroom door was locked. Maybe the bathrooms? The boys’ restroom was locked, but the girls’ door gave in after I shoved it. No time for me to be squeamish. Besides, what was the worst thing I could find? Debra hand-washed her bras and hung them to dry in our shared bathroom. It couldn’t be much worse than that. I’ll just squeeze through the window and cut class. Anything’s better than facing assault charges.

Inside, I found Goth Girl applying a coat of lipstick to her already shiny black lips. “Told you,” she said, fully satisfied with herself. She continued making small ovals around her mouth while she mocked me.

The center stall, it looked like. . .no, it couldn’t be. We’re in the South Hall bathroom?

She faced me for the first time.  “No one will find you in here.”

Goth Girl said it like a threat, unaware I’d hulked out. Selby might never become a dad because of me.

“I’m Rhapsody Lowe.” She acted like we weren’t standing in a former crime scene.

“Rhapsody” couldn’t be her real name. Who names her kid Rhapsody? She probably had an ugly first name, like Peggy Sue. “Whoever you are, I’m not staying in here.”

“Why not, Genius?”

“I get marked absent, my house gets called,” I shrugged. “Stepmom freaks, and I’ll be in the Black Hole with Coker by Monday. Besides, it’s a bathroom. One of us’ll have to use it, at some point.”

She snickered at my reasoning. “C’mon, stay. I’m not shy, but since you are, I won’t watch.”

“I’m serious.” Someone had removed the stall doors and never put them back up.

She crossed her arms over her chest and backed against the sink. “So am I. Your stepmom might. What makes you think the teachers care that much?” She nodded to the center stall. “They’re all here to get a check and go home. It’s Reject High. You get shipped here when nobody wants to deal with you.”

Yep, it had happened. Right there. Cherish Watkins shot herself. Small brown spots of her dried blood lined the outside of the drain grate. The ringing homeroom bell interrupted us.

“Quit worrying. You a momma’s boy, or something?”

“My mom’s dead.”

“Sorry. Chill out is all I meant.”

I shrugged my backpack down from my shoulders and went straight for my MP4. Rhapsody turned on her MP4 player and rocked out to some loud heavy metal. I blasted hip-hop and slid down to the black and white checkered floor. For a while, everything seemed okay. I closed my eyes and listened to almost every song on two different albums. An hour-and-a-half passed. We didn’t say a word to each other.

Then, in the middle of third period, I had to pee. I tried to hold it, but the more I thought about it, the more I needed to go. The first stall was closest to me. She’d have to stand on a seat and peek over the walls to see anything. I glanced all around, but didn’t see anything. Good thing I didn’t have gas. Satisfied, I kicked the toilet handle with my foot.

“Seriously?” Rhapsody shouted at me. “You suck at skipping.” When she stomped closer, I remembered my pants were still open.

“You said no one cared!” I turned around to zip up and washed my hands.

“We’ve got maybe two minutes before an SRO gets down here. Grab your crap, sit on the seat and shut up,” she growled. “Can you handle that?”

We’re screwed – the stalls don’t have doors. Who’s the genius now? “Shouldn’t we run, then?”

Tired of waiting for me, she entered the middle stall. “Alright, Captain Obvious. Get caught then.”

Soon the slow click-click sound of approaching footsteps against the hallway flooring made me do what Goth Girl said. When I squatted on the seat, I found out why Debra yells at me to lift it up at home.

Screeching hinges warned me we were no longer alone.

“Anybody in here?”

Did he really expect us to answer? I’d deny doing anything wrong, even if there was proof of me doing it. It works in court, so it might work for me here, too. Besides, someone died here. Someone would have to be really smart, or strange, to cut class here.

Click-click. He closed in – not a flashlight cop, but a Student Resource Officer with a loaded gun. He stopped, gazed at himself in the mirror and plucked a few nose hairs with his fingers.

I almost forgot not to laugh.

The guy’s name badge said S. Spivey 0344. Spivey inspected the inside of Rhapsody’s stall, the empty one at the end, and then mine. He stared at me, face-to-face and used his radio.

My heart settled in my throat.  We’re so busted!

“Spivey here,” he said, still facing me. “All clear. They must’ve run.”

Was this guy blind or stupid? I waved my hand. Spivey stopped. Did he see me after all? I guess not, because he closed the open window and walked away.

About a minute later, Rhapsody reappeared in front of me. “Next time, don’t flush.”

What the Nook?

To drive early sales, get reviews and create buzz, I released the Kindle version of Reject High a month early and set the price at .99 using Kindle Direct. The process was simple — I uploaded my print-ready PDF and cover files and it was on sale within minutes. 

One of my beta readers and a good friend asked that I release it for the Nook as well. 


I’ll be honest; my experience with the Nook isn’t great. I used Pub It (now Nook Press) for my first two books and never registered one sale. Why? It’s not user-friendly and when you’re marketing yourself, you need a break sometimes. I know three people with Nooks. Where are the other Nook ones?

Furthermore, MS preparation takes forever. I find myself questioning its worthiness when Amazon does it for you and is crushing the Nook in competition right now. 

What’s your preference?

All your character wants is a meatball sandwich

E! True Brian Story: Though the meatball marinara sub  sandwich at Subway isn’t the greatest in the world, I still REALLY wanted one the other day.

My wife set me up with a text, describing it as “hot,” and “fresh.” I so wanted that.

Instead, my mother, who is in town, made me a homemade version. It was good, but it wasn’t what I wanted — so I was a little frustrated.

This is a struggle you should give to your fictional characters — the want something but don’t get it. True, a sandwich isn’t an appropriate plot device unless it’s an episode of FriendsBut your characters need to want something. 

Whatever that something is, even if they say that’s what they want, don’t give it to them. Frustrate him or her, string them along. And when he or she is about to burst, only give them a bite.

Hope this helps!

Plotting: I’m a believer. Are you?


Writing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m in the midst of writing my sixth manuscript. It’s the third in my Reject High teen series.

I got stuck. Like all four wheels spinning helplessly in the mud stuck.

I didn’t want to try writing out my plot.

For my first three novels, I created my characters, wound them up and let them go. My major plot points were a function of their behaviors. While I knew where they were going and how it would end up, I let them guide me through the “how.”

With this book, it was just different. I couldn’t do that anymore. My characters were letting me down (they’re teenagers, so there’s that).

So, I turned off my cellphone and iPad, stepped away from my laptop and started writing with my main character, Jason. Once I finished his arc, I worked on his love interest. Three hours later, the entire plot was done.

I’d never thought I’d say so, but I’m a believer in sketching out plots on paper now. Are you? What’s your process?

Writing teenagers in love is hard when your teenage experience sucked

I write what I know. For the most part, that results in layered characters that people fall in love with or hate. 

On the other hand, there’s writing teenagers, which I have to work hard at doing, especially when they’re in love..

I was TERRIBLE in teenage relationships. I can’t tell you much about my first love because she might actually read my blog and protest or worse, tell her version of events.

Let’s just say she knows who she is and leave it at that.

I’m currently writing a love story for my protagonist in my Reject High teen series and he’s trying to figure out if he’s in love or just “in serious like.”

For years, I thought I was in love when I said it the first time. Then, I realized it wasn’t love any other time but one far later than I thought. Think back with me: how could you tell the difference between love and “like” as a teenager?

Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: