Archive for the ‘Random Thoughts’ Category

email vomitWe all want to wow people into following us. Whether you are a published author, a professional reviewer (aka you write reviews on various products either for monetary compensation or in exchange for free stuff, with the expectation of getting some form of compensation for ever review), some form of professional or quasi-professional, or just blogging for kicks, it’s the reason you blog. It’s the reason I blog. Otherwise, we’d all just be giving out TMI and posting pics of our pets and suppers on Facebook and not bothering to write blogs.


want more followersProducing good and interesting content is the way to go. The blogosphere is the boxing ring and we are doing the dance off, yelling “PICK ME! PICK ME!”

Successful blogging means not just getting your articles read, but gaining followers and keeping them. It is writing articles they want, and sharing articles that will interest your followers.


Whatever the content you share, you need to do it often enough that your followers don’t forget you exist. When that happens, you sink into the black abyss of the web.  You don’t want to go there, because I’ve heard ugly rumors of what resides there. Yes, ugly.

Things like this.spider monster

It is a dark and terrifying place. Cold too, very cold. Or is that the chill of fear dripping down your spine?


Finding interesting content to share means following others. Successful blogging also works on a quid pro quo, only without the expectation of always getting something in return. No, it’s not squids gone pro. If you don’t know what quid quo pro means, you can Google it. Basically, it means you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.

In blogging, you follow others, who may or may not follow you back. You share their content because you liked it or think your readers might. You follow rules of decorum. In other words, play nice.


blah blah blah

But, every now and then, you encounter the over-sharer.  This is the blog world’s equivalent of the Facebooker who spams your feed with so many posts of their kids, their pets, their meals, what they did, are doing, and are about to do, Oh, very large hammer.jpgand what they are doing now, and now, yeah you get it … until you find yourself so sickened by their posts that you want to put your own eyes out, cancel your FB account, and put your computer out of its misery with a very large hammer. (Wow, that is one heck of a run on sentence, just like those annoying posts without end. OMG, there was a period in there but it still never really ended, did it?)


The blogger over-sharer will put up a mass of posts, their own or shared; at this point it really doesn’t matter. The thing is, unlike FB, when a blogger posts a vomit of blog posts and you do not have your notifications turned off, each and every post will ping your email inbox.

Yes, each and every one. So, you can turn off notifications and not know when one of the sites you follow posts an interesting blog, sending them to the bloggo black hole and likely forgetting to check and follow them (because you are so darned busy and these things just happen).

Or, you are subjected to having your email inbox spammed. Bloggers who spam you with 36 blog posts, each pinging your email inbox individually, because you made the mistake of following them, just aren’t getting it.


Now, when I get 36 bog posts from the same blogger spamming my email inbox, they have effectively vomited in my inbox. Yes, I had 36 one day, all at once, an incessant ping ping ping ringing and pinging. I had to shut my phone off and count the toll later.



Delete and unfollow. Yes, Virginia, there is such thing as too much.


You need to strike a balance in your blogging.


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fish & lureI’ve noticed a new breed of phishing scammers lately. They’ve gotten more sophisticated in their attempts to trick, cajole, and outright scare you into falling into their trap. The emails are written by someone fluent in English and are even doing a pretty good job of mimicking the company they are pretending to be.

The scammers of old seem to have fallen away, those all too predictable and obvious pathetic attempts with poorly spelled words, atrocious grammar errors, and the glaring obvious that they know very little of the English language and are completely oblivious or just don’t care.

As published authors we have to put ourselves out there, always marketing and schmoozing online like the girl at the young teen dance who so desperately wants to be asked to dance, but no one seems to notice her in the corner behind all the other girls desperate to be asked to dance.

The problem with making yourself visible to as many others as possible in the hopes that just one or two might actually buy your book, is that you are also making yourself visible to the spammers, phishers, and hackers.

Apparently a phisherman of this newer breed noticed me on Amazon. I suddenly am getting all these urgent messages that my Amazon account is in dire peril.

How do I know it phishing? It’s not that hard to figure out, really. Just be smart and stop and think before you panic and click that link or give any information. And when in doubt, just back out. Stand up and take a step back and close that email. Picking up a phone to call customer service (if they have one!) will sort it all out. If they have no real people working for them, then go to the actual legitimate website and contact them with all the details. They will no doubt tell you that you just got phished.

Keys and tips to protect yourself from phishing:

  1. Don’t make your email public. Really, how many of your “fans” need to email you? There are safer ways to do set that up. Do you think Stephen King put out his private email to the public? Not a creepy clown down the sewer chance! Of course, that’s sometimes easier said than done whenever media site defaults to publishing your email.
  2. Use multiple email accounts. Use a spam email for social networking sites where you know you are likely to get spammed by the site or phishing scams. Never use the same email that you use for banking and other important business.
  3. If the email is asking for personal information, bank account or credit information, passwords, or for you click a link to log in securely – IT’S A PHISHING SCAM! As soon as you log in through their link they have your username and password, giving them full access to your account.
  4. It doesn’t matter what the account is: your bank, Facebook, Paypal, Amazon, etc they will never contact you asking for you to click a link and provide information that gives access to your account. They will instead direct you to visit their legitimate site to access your account securely or contact them.
  5. Check the IP or senders email. Big red flag: all the Amazon’s calling and your account is in grave danger and has been shut down emails are coming from “noreply@amazon.ca”. Now here’s the dead giveaway: the sender’s email shows up as “noreply@azon.ca“. But that is almost Amazon you say? Yes, but do you not think a multi billion-dollar corporation would get that right?
  6. Did it even come to the right email address? I’ve had plenty of warnings that my bank accounts are in imminent danger. Usually the first giveaway is that it’s a bank I don’t have an account with, or sent to the wrong email.

The phishermen may have gotten smarter and more sophisticated, but common sense is pretty smart and sophisticated too.

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I get incredibly lazy about character development in my first draft.  This especially happens when it comes to secondary and background characters.


When I’m in the throes of pounding at that keyboard, the words flowing through my fingertips as the story flourishes, or banging my head on the contraption in frustration, my focus is on the story.  The big question of what happens next is what drives that first draft.



 In most of my stories I have no better idea than the reader does about what is going to happen next or even who the characters are.  The story often changes from that initial hunch of what it will be about as the events play out.  Hell, I’m just along for the ride, wherever my imagination decides to take us.


Just like the reader I’m experiencing the story and meeting the characters as the events unfold.


This is why it is perhaps even more important for someone who writes like I do to never forget that every character is somebody, no matter how small a bit part they play.



What is more memorable?  The story where everyone is a faceless nameless blank except the three or four main characters?  Or one where old Mrs. Appleblossom down the street always wears a white flower either in her hat or tucked into her button hole, the absence of which could be a hidden (subliminal) hint of trouble to come?


What about Mr. Commely, who’s only purpose in the story is to deliver the letter that gives your character the bad news?  Does the reader need to know that Mr. Commely has returned to work after retiring because he’s lonely after his wife passed away, that he always has a gentle pat on the head waiting for even the most fiercest of mailman hating dogs on his route, or that his behavior is sometimes strange and erratic? It doesn’t drive the story forward, so some would argue this is just extra words that should be cut.


The girl serving coffee through the drive through window probably doesn’t need to tell you that she’s having a bad morning.  You can see it in her face.  You don’t know her name and you probably don’t need to.  But you can make the reader wonder why she’s having a bad day.  Did she have a fight with her boyfriend?  Was she reprimanded at work for being late again when she’s dealing with a serious crisis at home?  Maybe she has a parent or child who is deathly ill.  Why she looks unhappy isn’t important to the story.  But just making the reader notice her sadness and wonder about it because your character did draws the reader further into becoming one with and sympathizing with your main character.


When you go through the drive through yourself, that girl behind the window touches your life when she hands you your coffee and takes your money.  It may only be a thirty-second moment, but those thirty seconds still touch your life.



None of these bits about small characters drive the story and most of it can be left unsaid, back-story for these people who make only brief appearances.  But dropping these little observations can add a depth of understanding and reality to the world your characters live in.


If you write with a sense of familiarity will all your characters lives, the reader will pick up on it.  Like watching someone waving to someone walking by from across the parking lot, you can get a sense if they are familiar with each other or just passing a friendly wave to an acquainted stranger.


Some characters develop through the writing of that first draft.  The main characters mostly get a lot of their character traits and flaws because their reactions and needs are what push the story forward.  But with the rest they are lucky if they get dubbed as “frontdeskguy” or “girl2” as I write.  Sometimes they are nothing more than a mention of “the other guy”.


As the story unfolds, so do little hints into the characters that show up for repeat appearances.  And as I learn more about where these bit players fall into the story, I also get a better understanding of how each of them can bring more life to the story.


Like the young man in Men of Twelve (working name of a W.I.P.).  The young man is an unimportant player, like the Start Trek guy who wears red to beam down to the planet.  I know he’s going to die and the reader may get a sense of it too.  That the trees mock him for being a nameless bastard without a father moments before his death does not drive the story, but it does add a layer of depth to the scene and the world the characters live in.



It’s in the editing, when I go back over the story to re-write, revise, develop more, and delete than I put the emphasis on picking out each character from the biggest to the smallest and give them a little touch of personality.


Bringing your characters to life brings the story to life.  And, remembering that behind that blank nameless place holder in the story every character is somebody adds a touch of real life to your work.  Behind the blank nameless face every person you see today is somebody too.

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Tomorrow is the first day of March; the month legend has it Mother Nature totally plays us with a game of lions vs. lambs.  If it we enter into March with weather that is calm and quiet like the lamb we can predict the month will end with the weather roaring like a lion, wreaking Nature’s vengeance on us all.

Of course most of us don’t actually believe any of this stuff and year after year Mother Nature has let us down and forgot her game by the end o f the month.


I do have my own prediction for March and it has little to do with the weather.


March is three months after NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), where writers around the globe pledge to put aside the daily vanities of life and throw themselves heart and soul into trying to write a 50,000 word novel from start to finish in only the thirty days of November.

If you are like me that is three months during which you have completely put that NaNo novel out of your mind to focus on other things.  For myself December is spent stressing over Christmas, worrying over the lack of money to afford what is required of you, and getting little else done.  The other two months I focused on writing and editing other projects, giving no thought at all to The McAllister Farm.

Three months sounds like a good break to me.


March also happens to be a free month, falling between Christmas/Hanukkah/whatever you celebrate around that time and the busy spring and summer time.


I predict March is as good a time as any to go back and tackle that first revision of the NaNo novel.  A no holds barred attack in the same spirit of NaNoWriMo.

After three months of pointedly not looking at it or even thinking about it, it’s time to give that NaNo novel its first dose of merciless and aggressive editing.

Don’t stop to think or analyze.  First impressions are everything.

This is not a carefully thought out edit meant to fix grammar and spelling or smooth minor flaws.

MAIM (March Amend & Improve Mayhem) that NaNo novel.  Attack it without care with a big fat red marking pen (or the electronic equivalent).  Cut and slash anything that on first impression is off, weird, doesn’t work, or just seems like extra baggage.

Scribble notes all over it, whatever strikes you as you tackle the beast.  It doesn’t matter if the notes make much sense, impressions can lead to something later.

Anything that comes to mind: observations, ideas, questions, random thoughts, character traits, back story, behind the scenes story, what should have been, things you should link, etc. Anything goes.


EDIT: edit, deconstruct, improve, and transform that novel like you don’t care how perfect the final outcome is.  This is only a first edit anyway.


Take one month, March, to completely go over the WIP start to finish and tackle the obvious.  Amend, research, and outright challenge yourself.  “What the hell was I thinking when I wrote THAT?!”



Starting tomorrow you have thirty-one days to beat that NaNo novel into submission, the iron master pounding a strip of iron into a shape that resembles the finished sword it will become.


It’s madness, but it’s my madness.


So tomorrow grab that NaNo WIP, put on your Mad Hatter hat, and pour the tea (wine in my case) and let’s have a writers’ editing party.


And maybe just for fun, the next time you write/edit using the services of your computer accessed dictionary and thesaurus, try running it in a foreign language.  Oh, the madness just never ends.

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Ok, I admit it, I’m a comma junkie.  I write mainly by the seat of my pants, my fingers flying across the keyboard and barely (not always) keeping up with the words flowing through my head.  And I can type faster than I can hurriedly scrawl illegible scribbles mimicking words.


Apparently I like commas.  I mean I REALLY like commas.  I don’t worry about things like sentence structure, punctuation, and spellings when I write.  Later I’ll get a good laugh at the ridiculous suggestions Spellcheck gives me that often rendered sentences moot.  All that can get fixed in editing after the story is written.


I just let the words flow as they will, living in the moment of the story, and trying my best to type fast enough to keep up.

When I go back and edit afterwards, it’s a cornucopia of commas everywhere that I didn’t even know I put in.

Even on the fourth and fifth rounds of editing I still find myself removing excess commas.

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Being a newbie in the whole publishing thing, there is a lot that I don’t know.  I have yet to self publish a single thing outside of postings on my blog, and the stories that have been published were published through someone else and limited to online publications and one short story anthology.

So I decided to set forth and learn a few things for myself.

The first thing I investigated was the ISBN.


Why the Heck Would I Need an ISBN?

All books have them, but why?  What are those ISBN numbers on the copyright page of every book for?

ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number.

We should get one thing clear first.  Getting an ISBN is not copyrighting your work.  The ISBN has nothing to do with copyrights and does not guarantee your copyright rights.

The ISBN serves one purpose only – it is a marketing tool.  The ISBN is a catalogue number.

Is an ISBN necessary?  By my research, absolutely not.   At least, not if your publishing intentions are very limited.  You can even publish on some ebook sites without an ISBN; however it limits your markets.

If you are just going to get a few hundred copies of your book printed to give to family and friends, or share them in ebook form through emails or on your blog, then the ISBN is unnecessary.

If you plan to publish through a publishing company or self-publish, in print or ebook, and sell your book, then you’ll probably need an ISBN.

If a publisher picks up your book they’ll look after the ISBN.

If you decide to self-publish you’ll need to get one yourself.

Some Ebook sites, including Amazon, won’t let you put your book up on their site without an ISBN number.  And that goes whether you are charging $6.99 for your book, $0.99, or offering it for free.

Smashwords will allow you to put your book on their site without an ISBN, but they recommend having one.  Sony and Apple require ISBN’s.  I recommend reading Smashwords’ information on ISBNs before deciding whether to use their free one or get your own.  Note: Smashwords’ free ISBN has Smashwords as the registered publisher, but then so will any other site offering their ISBNs for your use.

If you are using any kind of a self-publishing printing service or vanity press they’ll likely have an option to include the ISBN as part of their services.  But before you go ahead and take their ISBN number you need to answer one question.  Who do you want listed as the publisher?  The printing service or vanity press will most likely be listed as the publisher for the ISBN they provide you.  If you want yourself to be listed as the publisher you have to get the ISBN yourself.
Some of the online articles I read on this seemed to find this to be a hot button topic.  The writer’s argued vehemently that you must get your own ISBN because, as they put it: Why would you want anyone else listed as the publisher of your book?

Well, for one thing in a way they are the publishing company doing the publishing, so of course they might consider themselves that.  For another, they are the ones who obtained the ISBNs, and depending what country you are in, may have had to pay for them.

The bottom line, the ISBN is nothing more or less than a catalogue number to make it easier for book sellers and buyers to locate your book out of millions of books, some of which may have similar or the same titles and similar author names.


What is an ISBN?
ISBN – International Standard Book Number

This basically is just assigning a catalogue number to a book.

The ISBN is broken down into parts.

EAN – Bookland country code.  Apparently books live in a world of their own separate from ours called “Bookland”.  In the land of books, this identifies what country the book comes from.  Luckily for us non-book beings, the numbers also coincide with the countries of our own world.

Group – identifies the language the book is written in

Publisher – identifies the publishing company or individual printing the book and/or providing it for availability for distribution in printed or ebook form.

            * oddly enough, it seems that when a publisher exhausts its block of ISBNs, instead of receiving an additional block with the same publisher identifying number, they are given a new identifying number for the new block of ISBNs.  I don’t know why this is.

Title – identifies the book title

Check Digit – this is akin to a spell check for the people assigning ISBNs.  If this number is not what they are looking for, then an error was made.

What the ISBN does is it simplifies a retailer’s search for a particular book.  Making it easier to find your book instead of, say, the same title by another author will make the difference on getting that sale.

You will also need a separate ISBN number for each edition of a book:  one for hardcover, one for paperback, and one for ebook.

If you do minor typographical corrections it is considered a reprint and new ISBNs are not necessary.

If there are major changes, additions, or deletions, then you are publishing a new edition of the book and need a whole new set of ISBNs.


Obtaining the ISBN

Of course, how you obtain your ISBN and what it costs depends entirely on where you are located.

In the United States, ISBN’s are sold by a commercial company.  Naturally, they charge accordingly.  After all, they aren’t doing it simply to be kind.  After getting your ISBN, it is up to you to have it registered with RR Bowker, the database for the ISBN agency.  www.bowkerlink.com

If you plan to publish a lot, it’s much cheaper per ISBN to get a block of them instead of just one.  Once you have them you can use them as your books are published, registering the book information at the time each book is published.

In Canada, the Canadian government offers the ISBN for free.  Isn’t this just a wonderful country to live in?!

Typically, publishers will obtain blocks of ISBNs at a time because of the cost.  This includes small presses and indy publishers, self publishing services, and vanity presses.


Come and Get Your Free ISBNs!

Some organizations may offer “free” ISBNs or an ISBN as part of a printing package.  One source said that even Bowker, the company in the U.S. where publishers get their ISBN numbers from, offers free individual ISBNs.  However, I haven’t found the Bowker link to confirm this.


AUTHOR BE WARNED:  While it might not cost you a dime for that free ISBN, you are in fact giving up having your own name listed as the publisher.

But again, it is only a catalogue number.  It has nothing to do with who the author is, copyrights, etc.

You will still be listed on the book as the author.  You just won’t be listed as the publisher.  This is a distinction that may be completely unimportant since very few people will actually look up your ISBN number to find out who the publisher is.  It’s much easier to just read the publisher name on the copyright page at the beginning of the book.

Not being listed as the publisher is entirely to be expected when dealing with an actual paying publisher.  After all, they are the publisher while you are the author, and nowhere in the ISBN is there a number specific to the author of the book.

Publishers are buying the publishing rights to your book, paying you royalties, and will list themselves as the publisher of note.

However, if you’re self publishing or publishing through a vanity press and are trying to brand yourself as a self publisher, then you will probably want to be listed as the publisher.

When an organization or individual obtains a block of ISBNs, the publisher digits will be assigned to that organization or individual when they are provided and are non-transferable.

That means, even though you are self-publishing, it will forever be noted in the annals of history that XYZ Publisher is the publisher of that book and not you.

On the bright side, you can go through the entire process to get a new ISBN for your book.


 ISSN – International Standard Serial Number

  This is the same thing as the ISBM, but is for periodical publications (ongoing series), such as magazines or a book series.

You would obtain an ISSN for the series, but I do believe that for books you would also need to get individual ISBNs for each book an in each form it is being published.



If any of my information is incorrect, I would gratefully appreciate constructive comments from someone more experienced and knowledgeable in publishing.

As writers we must always strive to improve both our knowledge of the ever changing face of publishing and our writing skills.



 Sources for this article include:











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I suspect this might be a sign of something.  A sign of what I’m not quite sure.

I am a firm believer that a writer needs a test reader.  Someone who is not intrinsically a part of the story through living and breathing it through months of writing and editing it.  A fresh set of eyes.  Someone who can read it as a new reader will, getting enthralled or bored, revelling in the characters or getting lost in a confusing plot.  Someone who will immediately pick up on things the writer left out that is vital to the story that the writer missed because they already know it, or is confusing to the outside reader.

As the writer there is so much of the story, back story, pre-story, and post-story in your head.  There is the life and dreams and unknown driving forces that make up the characters and surround the events that don’t make it into the story.  All the behind the scenes stuff that adds to the vibe the writer puts into the story is in the writer’s head.  Things you thought you hinted at but happen later, and missed the hint, leaving an obvious story gap in earlier chapters.

It’s almost inevitable for the writer to miss things; things that the reader will pick up because they don’t know what you know.  Things that if left out will make the reader go “Huh? What was that?  That made no sense.”

Here’s where the sign comes in.

I have two finished books (and untold works in progress).

One of these books is a 120,000 word novel.  Something of a murder thriller with kidnapping, murder and an antagonist who is tortured by his own actions and his past.  There are twists and surprises, psychological suspense, and an ending that is hinted at but may take some readers by surprise.  (At least that’s what I was going for).

I’ve written this book (and re-written it) over a number of years and have spent so much time editing and re-editing and re-editing again (repeat many times) and have come to that point where I just can’t find anything else to change or fix.

I know the book isn’t perfect.  There’s no such thing as a perfect book.  Writing is art and as such is open to the very fickle interpretation of the individual.

I also know the book could use some improvements before calling it publishable and that I’m just not seeing them.  That’s where the test reader comes in.

My spouse started reading the book.

To be fair, I do have to point out that with a major career change for him involving now working on shift work, and some weeks doing almost a double shift with overtime, and our lives being a big hodgepodge of irregularity and zero routine stability, he’s had little time for things like literary pursuits. He also is not a book reader.  It’s just not his thing.  He’s read maybe two or three books in his life outside of required school reading as a kid and teen.

The second book is my first attempt at a kids’ chapter book.  I made a list of what a good chapter book needs according to the experts (a couple kids I asked) and set out to write it.  I’m on book three of the series.  I’ve gone through the first round of edits on book one.

The problem is, how do I know I’ve done it right?  If it’s too easy they’ll be bored and uninterested with it.  If it’s too hard they’ll get frustrated and not read it.  It has to be just right.

So I gave it to the first test reader, my nine year old.  This kid loves to read.  And, like me, she loves to read horror (that’s my girl!).

Now here’s the sign.

The husband hasn’t even gotten through the first couple of chapters, and that’s after weeks. He did note a few suggestions and very good ones – two in particular that are more than just missed spell-check errors and will involve minor rewrites of those two scenes.

And then he seems to have abandoned all interest (and yes, I do know that lack of time is a factor too).

The daughter similarly has quickly abandoned her reading effort.  She was initially miffed that I hadn’t spent endless hours creating a wonderful and colorful cover picture for it before presenting her with the draft manuscript.  Quite frankly I just haven’t had the time and I’m not exactly the artistic type who can just sit down and draw a fabulous picture.  Her initial response after pouting about the lack of a proper cover was to toss it aside with no interest in the story.  She read just a little bit and abandoned it.  When asked about the story she made some vague reference to something being confusing and that has been the end of that.  She was uninterested in elaborating on what was confusing.

The question is – what do I make of this?

I could just chalk it up to the fickleness off a nine year old girl and forty year old non-reader.

I could peg it as being a lack of time in our disorderly lives.

One must also not forget that those closest to you, family and friends, are not going to share your passion just because it’s what you love any more than you share theirs for hockey and grade four playground melodrama.  They are their own people and have their own interests.

Then again, maybe they just thought the stories sucked and are afraid of hurting my feelings, so they won’t tell me that.

But they are just one reader of each story, and their opinions will be just as subjective as every reader’s will be to their own personal tastes, experiences, and relationship to the writer.  One reader might hate it, while a hundred others might love it.  You might have a problem if it’s the other way around, but good luck finding 100 test readers when many of us can’t even find one.

So, maybe the stories do suck or maybe those two test readers were just uninterested.

“Is it me or is Memorex?” (Remember that commercial?)  Maybe I need to scrap or rewrite the stories or maybe I just had the wrong test readers.  Of course, I may never really know since generally speaking I am my own test reader and that is not such a good thing.

The important message here is to never put too much into what any one person’s reaction is.

Opinions of the people closest to you will be the most biased.  Either they’re afraid even the gentlest criticism or suggestion might hurt your feelings, or they might go the opposite way and are unnecessarily rough just to prove they are not holding back.

Opinions of people who might harbor any jealousy or ill feelings will be even worse.  Probably the worst next to the people who need to tear somebody else down just to make themselves feel better.

It’s not the opinion of the individual reader that is the most important.  What is more telling is the general response by multiple readers.

And if you are like me and don’t have a pool of available test readers, and don’t have the money to pay readers, put on that tough outer shell and take no offence if that one person who does agree to read your manuscript doesn’t show the interest you were hoping for.

It might just not be their thing.

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