Self-Publishing & MWSA

Image from the Forbes website (Anna David MIKE CARANO).  Click on image to go to article.

Image from the Forbes website (Anna David MIKE CARANO). Click on image to go to article.

I recently read an article on the Forbes website titled, The Biggest 5 Mistakes When Self-Publishing A Book. It provides an interesting take on the pitfalls of self-publishing--especially mistake #4. I'd have put it more "diplomatically," but the concept still applies. In this short article, I’d like to expand on that 4th “mistake” from my perspective as awards director.

What problems is MWSA seeing with our members’ self-published books?

Between a third and half of books submitted to MWSA each season are self-published or published via very small publishing houses (who may or may not have a full-time editor on staff or contract). Of those books, quite a few end up scoring rather poorly in our evaluations.

In almost every case, the most noteworthy problems are of a technical nature (grammar, punctuation, capitalization, etc.). We also see glitches in layout--this is especially the case for eBooks. These types of shortfalls can usually be identified and fixed via a round of editing with a pro. But not all self-published or first-time authors are prepared to go that route (financially or emotionally).

What are your options as an MWSA member-author who isn't quite ready to work with a professional editor?

Use MWSA's Beta Reader Program to have someone other than friends and family check your work.

Through our Beta Reader Program (, full members of MWSA can arrange to have another MWSA member-author go over their work. Most of our members are not editors, but having written books themselves, they probably have a different perspective than your run-of-the-mill beta reader. Also, since they don't know you, you're likely to get the honest feedback your family or friends might not want to share with you.

Run your manuscript through something other than your word processor's spell-checker.

There are several free or low-cost programs out there--Grammarly seems to be one of the most popular. Give them a try and see what works for you.

It's undeniable that self-publishing a book is becoming easier all the time. However, self-publishing a high-quality book still requires work. That's the difficult part, and MWSA would like to help you get there.

John Cathcart
MWSA Awards Director

Comma Wars


To comma or not to comma, that is the question:
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The missing punctuation of outrageous run-ons,
Or to take arms against a sea of commas
And by opposing end them.

There’s no question that when it comes to writing, my wife is my fiercest critic, editor-in-chief, and most steadfast supporter. For the past 40-plus years, we’ve agreed on almost every subject—except for commas. Rather than continue our never-ending skirmishes, I thought it was time to do a little research. After a bit of digging, we discovered that we were both right—and wrong. 

Personally, when it comes to comma use, I had always subscribed to the Theory of Supplemental Oxygen. According to this theory, if you run out of breath and require supplemental oxygen at the end of a sentence, you’re probably missing a comma or two. Although probably true, is this a useful theory? Will it keep any writer out of trouble on the Comma Wars battlefield?

Given my personal experience as MWSA Awards Director—and as a writer and occasional Commakaze—I thought we all might benefit from a refresher course.

Over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to offer a short series of excerpts from various Internet sources, outlining eight basic battlefield rules of engagement for the use of commas. Will this be a dull recitation of something we all slept through—I mean learned, during elementary and high school English classes? Maybe.  But perhaps it’s worth pointing out that one could say the same thing about the instructions that came with that new gas grill you bought at Home Depot.  You ignore those boring instructions at your peril.

After finishing these articles, if you don’t end up winning the Comma Wars, maybe you’ll at least be able to arrange a ceasefire.


Use a comma before a coordinating conjunction—such as: and, but, yet, so, or, nor, for—when it joins two complete thoughts or ideas (independent clauses).


1. Betsy read the author’s book, and then she filled out her MWSA scoring sheet.

2. Rob can apply the rules of grammar when writing his novel, or he can suffer the consequences when he doesn’t.

3. Jack and Jill went up a hill, but they didn’t come down together.


This comma informs your reader that you’ve finished the introductory phrase or clause, and you’re getting around to the sentence’s central theme.


1. When Nancy got settled at her desk to read her email, her cat decided it was time to play.

2. After suffering through the book’s early chapters, Jim discovered that the book included some worthwhile information.

3. Before she knew what was happening, Carolyn’s cat jumped on the desk and spilled her tea all over the keyboard.

That’s it for this battle in the ongoing Comma Wars.  In our next campaign, we’ll cover comma use…

  • between all items in a series

  • to set off nonrestrictive clauses (is that when Santa isn’t enforcing his naughty-and-nice list?)

If you want to jump ahead or download a comma study guide for personal use, you can do an Internet search for “comma use.”  I’ve found the one offered by Indiana University East very helpful.

John Cathcart
MWSA Awards Director

Want to put song lyrics in your next book?

Click logo for article

Click logo for article

How many times have you listened to a song that brought back pleasant memories or transported you back to a place or time in your own past? If a song can set your own personal scene, maybe it’d be the perfect thing for you to use in your next book to help transport your readers to a particular place and time.

Over the years, MWSA has received several of our members’ books that have incorporated song lyrics to one degree or another. If you’re thinking that all you have to do is attribute the songs to the band that you remember playing the song… you might need to think again.

MWSA doesn’t pretend to be expert enough to provide legal advice to our members, but you might want to read this article (or do your own Google searching) before you take the plunge.

Just click on the image above. If the image doesn’t take you to the website’s blog article, copy and paste this link into your browser:

Saving your Kindle notes and highlights

This short article covers how you can extract all those notes, highlights, bookmarks, etc. you made on your Kindle (or Kindle app or program).  This will be particularly useful for our MWSA reviewers, as it makes it much easier to document the specific location of any errors (or great parts) of a review book.

Although most of the screen shot images below are from a PC, the same general instructions apply to all platforms.  Click on the images to see a larger version.

Figure 1
Click to enlarge

Step 1.  Click on the Notebook icon (the page with 3 horizontal lines). 

  • On a PC, this opens a bar with all your notes and highlights (Figure 1)
    • Click on the notebook icon again to hide all your comments
  • On an iPad, it opens all your notes and highlights on a new page
    • Click on the "X" at the top to return to your book.
  • Both platforms show the word(s) highlighted, any notes you've written, and the location in the e-book.


Figure 2

Step 2. Export your notes

Figure 3

  • On a PC, this opens a small dialog box that allows you to "Export Notebook for Entire Book" (Figure 3)
  • On an iPad, you'll be able to chose between "Email" and "Flashcards" (Figure 4)







Figure 4








Step 3.  Save & Send notes as html file (format used in emails and websites)

  • Try to save where you can find it later... like on your Desktop on a PC
  • On an iPad, you'll pick a style (None, APA, Chicago, MLA) and then click "Export," which will open an email with the html file attached. 


Step 4.  Share, Email, or Copy and Paste your notes where you want/need them! 

Figure 5.


See Figure 5 for an example showing what the exported file will look like.









How to link to your book on Amazon


Every MWSA author submitting a book for inclusion on our website is asked to provide a link (URL) to their book's sales page.  For the vast majority of us, that means a link to Amazon's website. 

But how do you do it?  Are there any "tricks to the trade?"

The easiest way to provide a link to your book is to 1) search for your book on Amazon or Google, and 2) "copy and paste" whatever you find in your web browser's address block. 

However, if you use this method and don't pay attention, the resultant URL can be very—in fact, ridiculously—long. 

Don't believe me... or don't know what in the world I'm talking about?

I just did a Google search for books dealing with PTSD on Amazon.  I've pasted the resulting link to one of the books (not an MWSA one, so I'm not endorsing it) that came up near the top of the search results below:

If you were the author of the above book, would you want all that gibberish on your website or on a poster or other marketing media?  Of course not.

Here's a cleaner link to that same book:

The key to a "clean" URL linking to your book's sales page on Amazon is the "/dp/" followed by your book's ASIN number.  All the rest of the "junk" added before or after isn't required!

Generally speaking, the "cleanest" version of your book's Amazon link should look like this:[Your book's ASIN]

Note that the "s" in "https://" will be automatically added, as will the "www." in "".

Here's another, "graduate-level," Amazon URL tip...

If you want, you can add a slash "/" after your ASIN number and add whatever information you'd like. 

Let's say you want to keep track of the various editions/formats of your book—or direct potential readers to a specific version/format of your book.

For example, I could distinguish between the paperback and Kindle versions of my book, Delta 7, like this (yes, this is a shameless plug): B0043GX216/Kindle

Depending upon which version you're highlighting to potential customers/readers, you could use one or the other—and easily keep track of "which was which!"

That wasn't so hard, was it?  :-)

Good luck and here's wishing for massive increases in your book sales from all of us here at MWSA!


Make Your Book More Discoverable with Keywords

To increase your book's discoverability on Amazon, you need descriptions and keywords that accurately portray your book's content and use the words customers will use when they search. Along with factors like sales history and Amazon Best Sellers Rank, relevant keywords can boost your placement in search results on 

Best practices with keywords: 
Combine keywords in the most logical order: Customers will search for military science fiction but not for fiction science military. 
Use up to seven keywords or short phrases. Separate them with commas, and keep an eye on the character limit in the text field. 
Experiment. Before you publish, search for your book's title and keywords on Amazon. If you get irrelevant results, or results you dislike, consider making some changes—your book will ultimately appear among similar results. When you search, look at the suggestions that appear in the Search field drop down. 
Think like your customer. Think about how you would search for your book if you were a customer, and ask others to suggest keywords they'd search on. 

Useful keyword types
● Setting (Colonial America) 
● Character types (single dad, veteran)
● Character roles (strong female lead) 
● Plot themes (coming of age, forgiveness) 
● Story tone (dystopian, feel-good) 

For suggestions on search keywords based on browse category, read more here. 

Do not include these things in keywords: 
● Information covered elsewhere in your book's metadata—title, contributor(s),  category, etc. 
● Subjective claims about quality (e.g. "best") 
● Statements that are only temporarily true ("new," "on sale," "available now") 
● Information common to most  items in the category ("book") 
● Common misspellings
● Variants of spacing, punctuation, capitalization, and pluralization (both "80GB" and "80 GB", "computer" and "computers", etc.). The only exception is for words translated in more than one way, like "Mao Zedong" and "Mao Tse-tung," or "Hanukkah" and "Chanukah." 
● Anything misrepresentative, such as the name of an author that is not associated with your book. This type of information can create a confusing customer experience and Kindle Direct Publishing has a zero tolerance policy for metadata that is meant to advertise, promote, or mislead. 

Don't use quotation marks in search terms: Single words work better than phrases—and specific words work better than general words. If you enter "complex suspenseful whodunit," only people who type all of those words will find your book. You'll get better results if you enter this: complex suspenseful whodunit. Customers can search on any of those words and find your book. 

Other metadata tips
● Customers are more likely to skim past long titles (over 60 characters). 
● Focus your book's description on the book's content
● Your keywords can capture useful, relevant information that won't fit in your title and description (setting, character, plot, theme, etc.) 
● You can change keywords and descriptions as often as you like
● If your book is available in different formats (physical, audio) keep your keywords and description consistent across formats
● Make sure your book's metadata adheres to KDP's Metadata Guidelines.

[From Booktown]

Writing Dialog by MWSA Author, John Schembra

A few words about writing dialogue, folks.  First, I am by no means a professional editor, but what I am is an avid reader and author of five books.

I know writing dialogue is difficult but, if we are to be good writers it takes a lot of effort to keep the story moving smoothly, logically, and continuously.

So here's the rub;  if the dialogue is stinted, overly verbose, or not natural sounding it slows the pace of the story while the reader (me) fights his way through it. Sometimes I have to read it a couple of times to make sense out of it. 

That is definitely a main reason why I lose interest and tend to stop reading the book.
When I write dialogue I picture the scene in my head and put myself in the place of the character speaking.  I think "How would I say this?" then have an out loud conversation with myself and hear how it sounds.  Does it run on?  Is it realistic, common speech?  Are there contractions needed? Does it help the flow of the plot?

If the answer to any of those questions is no,  I will rewrite it until it meets that criteria.
Don't forget-It is OK to use common slang and curse words, as long as they fit the scene and are not just gratuitous. Instead of saying "I am going to go to the crime scene" why not say "I'm gonna go to the scene," thereby eliminating the excess verbiage and keeping the story moving at a good pace.  The reader will easily be able to figure out where the character is going. Besides, not many people talk without using common contractions.

When using curse words, keep in mind the who are the readers of your work and make those words age appropriate to the reader AND the speaker. The words should provide emotion to the dialogue and scene and not be gratuitous.

Last point:  You do not have to identify the speaker by name EVERY time he or she talks! If it is a somewhat long or complicated conversation, remind the reader who is speaking by using an identifying phase, such as "Detective Jones took a deep breath and said..."

In conclusion, remember, you may have a great plot and great characters, but without writing good dialogue you just might lose your reader, who might write a poor review of your work, and none of us want that.

[Copied from]

Self-Publishing Presentation by Pat Walkow and Jim Tritten

During our 2017 San Antonio Conference, Pat and Jim gave an excellent presentation covering publishing anthologies.  They have graciously offered to share their presentation.

.  A PowerPoint copy of the Presentation we gave on Self-Publishing and Anthologies
.  Anthology Formatting Guidelines prepared and used by the Corrales Writing Group
.  Editing guidelines used during the production of any Corrales Writing Group Anthology

Many thanks to Pat, Jim and the entire Corrales Writing Group!


How to share/lend your Kindle eBook

This trick should be helpful to authors who want to share their book with someone else (without the recipient having to pay for it).  

If you have copies of your book in Kindle format (which has .mobi extension), you can simply email copies of your book.  This costs nothing, and recipients click on the attachment and the email you send it should open in their Kindle reader.  Some authors don't have that option, because someone else handled the conversion of their book—or perhaps the technology was just too baffling!  :-)  

If you don't have that digital copy of your book sitting on your computer's hard drive, you'll have to purchase a copy yourself and then lend it out to others.  

In certain cases, MWSA authors submitting books for review and/or award consideration may be able to use this method to get books to our reviewers.

Please do not send MWSA unsolicited books... use the Awards/Review submission form!

How to loan your Kindle e-book—step-by-step

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  • Must be allowed by publisher
  • Loan lasts not longer than 14 days
  • If not accepted in 7 days, book is returned to sender
  • Cannot be read by you during 14-day loan period

How to do it

  • Log in to your Amazon account
  • Go to "Accounts & Lists"
  • Select "Manage Your Content and Devices"


Click for larger image

  • Find and click on your book
    • There's a search box on the top right of the page if you can't find your book
  • Click on the "Actions" button to the left of your book
  • If you're able to lend it, "Loan this title" will show up in the resulting pop-up box
  • Click on "Loan this title"
  • Fill in the blanks in the form
  • Send!

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