Canva for Authors: how to make a trope graphic for your novel

Trope lists are hot right now, thanks to Tiktok. You might have seen graphics outlining tropes all over social media. You can use these to tell readers what’s in your book in bullet point form. You can use them for both fiction and non fiction. Ideally, you’ll be using this type of image alongside other sorts of images (like images with review quotes) so that you have some variety in your marketing.

Canva for Authors: why bother?

When my first book came out, I expected the publisher to do the marketing. (Ah, baby author me was so naive!). Turned out that was wrong. Where were my lovely marketing graphics that I could share on social media? How come other people got photos of their book covers on bus stops and on billboards? What was going on?

Eventually, I figured out that those cool images of your book on a billboard were mock ups and I found out how to make them. You used to have to either use Photoshop or fiddle around using different sites that dropped your cover image into different backgrounds. The websites were great, but the range was limited, so you saw a lot of authors using the same backgrounds.

The other thing about that first book was that the cover was … interesting. It wasn’t in keeping with the romcom market and it looked like someone had made it in Word. (They honestly hadn’t – the main image was hand drawn, but it still looked … not great). I showed it to a graphic designer friend who was so offended by it that he offered to do the cover for my next book for free (which he did, and it was beautiful). I learned at that point that sometimes the professionals might not actually be great at everything. Somewhere along the line, I decided I was going to teach myself graphic design.

I started off using PicMonkey (which is brilliant but pricey), but they started charging for their free tier, so I moved over to this shiny new platform called Canva. I’ve been using Canva for 7 years now and it’s become better and better. I had so much fun playing with it, that I even signed up for a Canva Pro subscription (even though I didn’t really need to), because I got so much value from them that I wanted to support them.

I started this with the question ‘why bother’? The answer is ‘because you have to’. If you’re really lucky, you’ll get some fun promotional graphics sent to you from your publisher around when the book first comes out. After that, their focus moves on to the next book and the next book after that, so if you need anything more – like different ads, or some printed merch (like bookmarks) you need to do it yourself.

I use Canva for book covers (I love doing those), Twitter graphics, Facebook images, little video ads, book trailers, cover reveal images, TikToks … all sorts. Eventually, I decided I’d record myself making things and put those on YouTube, so that you can make these things too.

If you want to know more, check out my channel. Here’s a video on how to use Canva to make a book cover reveal image:

How To Write Romantic Comedy

Did I mention that I’ve got a new book out? It’s my first non-fiction book and it’s co-written with my friend and esteemed colleague Jane Lovering. It’s all about … how to write romantic comedy. We thought we’d go for the obvious title. (Discarded titles were ‘RomCom101’, ‘Three times round the car park and back in for another, Dammit, dammit’ and ‘Things to do whilst eating biscuits’).

There’s a lot about biscuits, but an awful lot more about writing comedy. Jane has won lots of awards for her books and I’ve failed to win (but been shortlisted for) lots awards for my books, and we’re both comedy theory nerds, so we do know what we’re talking about.

If you want to check it out, here it is!

Book cover image How to Write Romantic comedy

Do you want to write Romantic Comedy, but struggle with the comedy element of it? Are you stumped by how inject more humour into your novel? Do you want to know how story structure is just like telling a joke? Do you want to learn these things whilst being lightly entertained and given a giggle or two?

Then you’ve come to the right place.

Award winning authors Jane Lovering and Rhoda Baxter have over twenty books between them (where they make a great defensive wall) and extensive experience of cramming laughter into literature. They will show you how to put comedy into your romances, and make you laugh while they do so.

This book will teach you:

  • The different types of comedy
  • The anatomy of a joke
  • How to make things funnier
  • Different uses for comedy in a novel
  • A simple trick to translate timing onto the page
  • Specificity explained through the medium of biscuits

If you’re looking for an easy, accessible How-To guide to writing romantic comedy* then this is the book for you.

*Contains confectionery. Bring tea.

It’s had some lovely reviews already from some established rom com writers! This post is getting rather long, so I won’t add them here. But if you pop over to the Amazon page, you might recognise some of the names 🙂

Book review: Write to Sell by Andy Maslen

Write To SellWrite To Sell by Andy Maslen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Since I have to write a lot of copy now that I’ve got a few indie books out – writing blurbs, writing emails – I figured I should read up a bit on how to write copy. This book is easy to read and concise (which is good, since one of the main pieces of advice is ‘be concise’!).
There are lots of useful pointers here. To be honest, a lot of what he says is what my English teacher taught me at O-level, but it’s good to have it reiterated. It’s also nice to see a book with UK examples.
If you’re looking for a book to help you write book blurbs, How To Write A Sizzling Synopsis by Bryan Cohen is better, but this is a pretty good guide to start out with.

View all my reviews 

Buy link Amazon UK:Write To Sell: The Ultimate Guide to Great Copywriting by Andy Maslen Second edition (2009)

Buy link Amazon US:Write To Sell

How to: Run an Instafreebie giveaway

Instafreebie giveaway how to

A few months ago, I set up an Instafreebie giveaway to send out samples of books which were shortlisted for the Romantic Novel of the Year (RoNA) awards. I wrote it up for Romance Matters magazine as a case study. In order to keep this blog post short, I’ve picked out the ‘how to’ part of it. If you want to see the full article, including the download figures etc, just download the document at the end (it’s free).

When I heard about being shortlisted of a RoNA award, I was over the moon. My first thought was to squee a lot and eat cheesecake (naturally), but after I’d calmed down, I started thinking about how we (my fellow nominees and I) could use this to try and get our books in front of people. The RNA press officers sent press releases out to traditional media – some people got a bit of press attention from that. As I have very few press contacts, I wasn’t able to get very far with that. So I poked around on the internet (which is my default pastime anyway) and stumbled across a service that Indie authors have been using for a while – Instafreebie.


Insta-what now?

This is my interpretation of Instafreebie: They are a site with a huge mailing list of readers who are looking for free books and previews of books to download. You can:

  • use it to give away books or samples of books, in the hope that it the readers are so smitten by the sample that they’ll go on and buy the full book.
  • Use it get ARCs into the hands of reviewers (You can set your giveaway to ‘private’ and send links to selected people. You can also set it so that they need a password to get the book).   
  • Use it to build a mailing list. I’m told that a lot of the Instafreebie subscribers are very engaged and tend to leave reviews.

The main difference between Instafreebie and Netgalley is that Instafreebie is cheaper and they have a huge email list already (a bit like Bookbub in that respect).


What we did with the RoNA shortlist

Twelve authors (well, eleven, really, but one of us had two books on the shortlist under two different pen names) put up samples of their RoNA nominated books. The samples were of various lengths. Most people gave away the first chapter, but some samples were a bit longer (around 3 chapters). We each put a link to the full book at the end of the sample. Where books weren’t out in the US yet, the author put in a notice saying ‘join my mailing list to find out when this book comes out in the US’.

It’s worth noting that if a book is on KDP Select, you are still allowed to use 10% of the book for promotional purposes.

Each author signed up for Instafreebie (you can get a basic account for free), uploaded their book and set up a public giveaway.

They sent me (the giveaway coordinator) the links for each of their individual giveaway pages and a jpeg of their book cover. I pulled them all together into a ‘giveaway’ page and made a graphic for it. 

The graphic included the name of the giveaway, the dates and the URL

We used ‘can you guess which of these books are winners?’ as a hook. It turned out that three of them were!

I then contacted Instafreebie ( and asked if they would help us promote this giveaway. All authors promoted this one page on our social media and on our mailing lists.

Since Instafreebie will help promote a giveaway that has more than 10 participants, they sent me instructions and we agreed on a date.

Do you want to set up your own Instafreebie giveaway? Here are some instructions:

What you need:

  • Your book sample in EPUB format. [Update: You can now also use Mobi format!]
  • A jpeg of your book cover.

Instructions on You Tube here:

Sign up for the free version of Instafreebie and set up the giveaway. Set it to ‘public’, so that it can be shared.

Once you’ve put the giveaway up on Instafreebie, send the giveaway coordinator the URL for your giveaway, a jpeg of your book cover and one or two lines about your book (the descriptions don’t show up very well on Instafreebie).

Setting up a Giveaway as a coordinator

Just pull together all the books and short descriptions onto one page on your website/blog. Link each book cover to the relevant giveaway URL (people tend to click pictures more than words). Send the URL for this new page with all the books on to all the participating authors.

More detailed instructions on You Tube here:

If you need help try

(Or you can email me and I’ll do my best to help!)

Converting a Word doc into an EPUB doc: My preferred way is to open the Word doc in Google docs, then click ‘download as’ and choose EPUB. That worked fine for me.

There are other (better) options like using Calibre or Draft2Digital. I haven’t tried these methods.

You can put your book sample/short story/reader magnet up and run a promo campaign for free. However, if you want to collect the email addresses of people who download your book, you have to pay ($20 a month).

If you are building your mailing list, then Instafreebie is great. You can set the promotion so that people have to give you their email address before they download your book. You can link your Instafreebie account to Mailchimp or Mailerlite so that all those email addresses go to your mailing list (or you can just download them at the end of the promo period). This is a paid for feature. They have a free one-month trial, if you wanted to try this.

Want to the see the download numbers and graphs? Download it here: Instafreebie How To

How to Organise a Blog Tour and how to limit Google searches to recent results

I gave a talk at the Romantic Novelists Association conference this year on ‘Organising a Blog Tour; A Guide For the Terrified’. I promised the people who came to my talk, that I would post my notes on my website. So Ta-dah! You can download them by clicking on the pretty picture below – it should download as a Word document.

Notes from my talk at #RNAConf15 "Organising a Blog Tour; A guide for the terrified"
How to organise a blog tour

I mentioned in my talk that you could limit your Google searches to the most recent results. Here’s how you do it:

Put the name of the author/book/thing you are searching for into Google. If you want to exclude the main site (in this case, I don’t want to see any updates from my own site, I know about those already), then use can use “” in the search. This effectively means ‘NOT this site’.

Screen shot of a Google search

Click on the Search Tools button (on the right of the second row down). This will bring up some drop down buttons. Click on ‘any time’ and change this to the time frame you want.

Incidentally, if you already know how to use Boolean search operators, you can use them in Google searches. Or, for ever more bells and whistles, try Google Advanced Search. (Yes, I know. I need to get out more).

Have you got any neat hints and tips ? Please leave a comment below and share!

10 Alternative Gifts for Writers – for all year round, and (mostly) for free

Gifts for writers

It’s that time of year again. I’ve noticed that there are a lot of posts cropping up about what to buy for the writer in your life. But a writer is for life, not just for Christmas, so here’s my alternative list of things to buy for your writer any time of the year. The best bit is, they’re nice and cheap. Most are free.

  1. Buy their books as gifts for other people. Ask the author to sign them for you, if you see them – they’ll be delighted. A signed book makes a great present.
  2. Read their book. Contrary to popular belief, writing doesn’t automatically lead to fame or fortune. That’s why most of us have day jobs. If we can’t have money (although money would be really, really nice), we like at least to be read. There’s nothing more wonderful than hearing ‘I read your book’ especially if followed by ‘I really enjoyed it.’
  3. Review their book. Seriously. What is the point of having readers if you don’t know about it? And, you know what? We pore over each review. Especially the bad ones. So if you liked your friend’s book – review it. Say nice things. Give it four or five stars. It all helps a bit when we’re plunged into the pit of despair by Mrs Trellis of North Wales who stopped reading because they were expecting it to be hotter/tamer/sparklier/funnier/grittier/deep fried.
  4. Talk about their books to other people. By far the best gift you can give your writer friend is to recommend their books to someone else. How often have you checked out a book because someone on else told you they liked it? Do this. Spread the love.
  5. If they’re book is on promotion for free for a short while – download it (NOTE: NOT from a pirate site, I mean from an actual retailer, as part of a promotion). Even if you’ve read it before. Then tweet about it. Every download helps it climb the charts. The higher up the chart the book goes, the more likely people are to notice it when the promotion ends and it starts sliding back down again. That’s the ONLY reason we do free promotions.
  6. Request or borrow their book from the library. It doesn’t cost you anything, but it really helps your author. If your library doesn’t have it, suggest they buy it. UK authors get a few pence every time their book is borrowed from the library. Plus, most writers love libraries.
  7. Take shelfies. If you spot your friend’s book on a shelf in a shop, or better still in a display or even (gasp!) in someone’s hand being read, then take a picture (if someone’s reading at the time, you might want to ask for permission). Put said picture on Twitter, Facebook etc. Go on, give us something to share.
  8. Put their books on your Amazon or Goodreads lists. It makes the books more likely to be picked up by search engines.
  9. Nominate them for stuff. There are all sorts of ‘people’s prizes’ – like the Goodreads lists or the Guardian Not the Booker Prize – which allow you to nominate a book you’ve enjoyed for a prize or even just a list. Why not? You never know, they might win and then they’ll love you for ever and ever.
  10. Take them out for tea and cake. This applies just as well to non-writers. Just, you know… cake.

Try one or more of these things and your writer friend will be most grateful. How will they repay you? Well… there’s only one way to find out…

PS: If you want to give them a fun gift that costs actual money, can I suggest a nice t-shirt designed by a writer (me) for writers. Check out the shop here.

Have a fabulous Christmas and all the best for the new year. Mwah!

How to make your blog work harder

How to make your blog work harder

Social media is bewildering. There’s your website and your blog, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Amazon Author Central, Goodreads… you can’t possibly be everywhere, so which ones do you choose? You have to do what you enjoy. Personally, I like Facebook because I can have conversations with people over several days. On the other hand, Twitter is easier to access on my phone, so I dip into that as well. But how do you keep the other sites from looking dusty and unloved? The easiest way is to join them all up.

Joining your WordPress site up to your social media accounts is easy. Just head over to the ‘Sharing’ button on the Post Settings menu – just over to the right from where you’re typing your blog post – and hit ‘connect a new service’.

I’m told that Google likes sites that are updated regularly, so I post to my blog fairly often. Usually around once a week. I also have a link with my Twitter account so that my tweets appear on the blog – new content, technically, but the changes are really small.

I found out that you can link your blog to your Goodreads profile,  your Author central page (not on the site, sadly), your Facebook page, your G+ and goodness knows what else. So here’s how you do it.

Google+  To do this, log into your WordPress dashboard.

Go to ‘Settings’. Click on ‘Sharing’. You’ll be faced with a collection of other social media sites you can link to. Link up with as many as you want.

Hey presto! Now every time you post something new on your blog, WordPress will automatically send a tweet, post an update on Facebook or Google+ or whatever you’ve told it to do. Neat huh?

The tweets that WordPress generate are pretty vanilla, so if you want to, you can edit the tweet before you press ‘publish’ on your post. To do this, go to the ‘sharing’ button in the post settings and edit the tweet.

If you link your WordPress blog to your Google+ profile, your posts will now be indexed for Google Authorship.

What the heck is Google Authorship? A good question. This allows any content tagged as yours to be linked to your Google+/gmail profile. In practice, it means that your profile picture appears next to the link when something of yours comes up in a Google search. In theory, people are more likely to click on something associated with a person’s face, rather than an impersonal link. I’m rather hoping that it also gets rid of any confusion caused by the same content being on various sites. I hope so.

Amazon Author Central Go to and sign up for/ sign into your author central account. Once you’re signed in, go to your ‘profile’ tab.

Click on ‘blogs’. Click  ‘add blog’.

For WordPress blogs, put in your blog address with ‘feed’ after it. So

Click Add.

It takes a day or so for the changes to take hold, but after that anything you post on your blog should appear in your author central feed within 24 hours. Similarly, you can add your Twitter address on to the site and your tweets will show up.

Does anyone read these? I’m not sure. I figure it can’t hurt.

So there you have it. Your blog now works extra hard by updating all your other profiles whenever you put on a new post. In my (limited) experience, different people pick up your content from different sites. Of all the links I’ve mentioned above, by FAR the most important has been the link with Twitter. A large amount of the traffic that comes to my blog is driven through Twitter.

Isn’t it marvellous that the social networks, which allow you to share your life/ work/hopes/dreams can now themselves be linked together. A network of social networks.

Which social networks do you use? Any tips or tricks on how to use them better? Please let me know in the comments below.

How to: Set up a (cheap and simple) WordPress based website

These are series of notes I wrote for my writing buddy Jen (writer of fast and funny YA fiction –  still unpublished, but it’s only a matter of time!). She wasn’t sure how to go about this social media malarkey, so I wrote her a set of ‘step by step’ notes, based on my own experience of getting and online presence.  I’ve posted the notes here in case they’re of use to people.



Building your own web platform.
A couple of things to know – the ‘brand’ is you. The products are your books. The web platform is to introduce people to you first, then your books. Think of it as making friends, rather than selling books. The selling books part is just a bonus.

Setting up a cheap and cheerful website

I didn’t know anything about setting up websites, so I did a lot of Googling and found out how to do it. I’ve listed what I’ve done here, so that you don’t need to waste as much time as I did.Before you start you need:

A list of possible titles for your website/blog. Have at least 3.

A photo for the header (I’ve used a section from one my book covers)

A picture for the background

A credit card

Some idea of what you want the text on the website to be.


You can set up a blog fairly easily, and for free, using WordPress or Blogger. You can then customise the way the blog looks so that it looks more like a web page. I looked at a few author sites and found I liked the look of the WordPress based ones better.  (If you scroll to the bottom of the site, there’s usually a sentence saying ‘X theme by XX provider).


I’m no expert, but here’s what I did:

Go to wordpress. Click on ‘get a blog’.

Type in the name of your blog. If your chosen name is taken, try your backup ideas.

Sign into WordPress.

You can pay for the more expensive URL, rather than the free one. The other option is to get the free version of the blog and map an existing domain name that you bought from somewhere like GoDaddy.  – this means you need to map domains. It’s a whole bag of hassle and costs 12 dollars extra. But it means you’re not tied to Techy explanation here:

(I got my domain name from GoDaddy for the ridiculous reason that I dithered it about getting it from WordPress and then changed my mind.)

Pay for privacy – it means that people can’t put your URL into Whois and find your registration information.

Set the domain name to autorenew for 5 years, or set yourself some reminders to do it every year.(I’m a bit hazy on whether WordPress does this – GoDaddy which lets you autorenew). If you forget to pay the domain name fee, your registration will lapse and there’s a chance that a Cybersquatter type person will register the domain name for the next year – so that you have to pay them over the odds to get it back.

It takes a couple of minutes for WordPress to set up the blog.

BOOKMARK your blog in your favourites. Because you can!

That’s it. Now you have a blog. Hooray! Have some celebratory chocolate.


Now to make to look less bloggy and more like a webpage.

In WordPress:

Go into the ‘Dashboard’.

On the left hand side you have a list of things. Go to ‘Appearance’ (near the bottom).

Choose ‘Themes’

Pick a theme – 2011 is a good one. So is Pilcrow. Both are free. There are loads to choose from. I tried these ones because they looked simple to use and had could have Twitter and a Facebook ‘Like’ button integrated into them. You can change your theme easily later, if you want to.

Still in Appearance, go to ‘Header’

Follow the instructions to upload your own header image. WordPress will help you crop it to size. Choose your picture/photo as your header. Save. You now have a unique picture heading up you blog. Time for more chocolate.

Making a home page

Go to ‘Pages’ on the left hand menu.

Create a new page with some Welcome info on. Name the page ‘Welcome’ in the Title line. Upload. You should now have two pages on your blog – one with the starter text from WordPress. One with your new text.

Click Edit for the starter page from WordPress. Name it ‘Blog’ in the Title line.

Go to ‘Settings’ on the left hand menu:

Click on ‘Reading’.

The top line should say ‘Front page displays’ – select ‘static page’

On the drop down that says ‘Front Page’ – select ‘Welcome’

On the drop down that says ‘Post page’ – select ‘blog’

That should give you a rudimentary website – with a static Welcome page and a blog page that you can post new blog entries on to.

Whenever you want to edit your blog, just log into and go to ‘my blogs’, then ‘dashboard’.

If you try this, let me know how you get on. If I need to refine instructions, please tell me!

You can find  info about how to find web images for your blog here and here and info on how to link your blog to other social media here.

[Edit: The instructions here are for a blog on This version gives you a blog that is held by WordPress itself and (in theory) WordPress can pull it down anytime. Also, you can’t use a lot of the plugins that third parties provide. On the other hand, you get all updates/ security etc automatically. Once you get going and have a huge number of pages and posts on your blog, it’s a good idea to back it up from time to time. Y’know. Just in case.

The other option is to get a blog. There are hundreds of blog posts on the difference between the two. (Just Google ‘WordPress com org’). I stuck with because the techy words scared me, but I am aware that I’ll have to pull my big girl pants on and look into it one day.]