Friday, February 26, 2010

Reader's Advice to Writers

Susan Gabriel posted an interesting blog item about writing advice from a reader. Personally, I love getting feedback from readers. It is a fantastic learning tool. Since I write to the audience, I think these tips are a great idea.

Go to Susan's blog and follow the links, I like the one from the Guardian.

Then write in the comment section YOUR advice for writers.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Toxic Waste

Toxic people drain me and sometimes color the way I feel about myself, so I don't usually write them into my stories. Sure there are villains (antagonists), but I leave them in the background - in the shadows. The focus (think movie camera) is set for the close shots of the good guys, the people like us. These are people who play by the rules, not realizing that only people like them [who need no rules] are the ones who do.

I don't like reading books or watching movies with vile people in them. They disturb my spirit, my thought process, and erode the goodness I usually see. However, I'm thinking about making major changes to Act Like You Mean It, which is a derailed love story, and making the negative personality traits bigger and more obnoxious.

I don't have time to write right now with all these [good] transitions in my life, and maybe I will change my mind about ACT (writers give nick-names to their WIPs). I do feel it coming though, I feel the urge to write more boldly, perhaps more commercially. I feel the stretch coming, the stretch to step out of my comfort zone and write something unlike how I write.

The danger in that, of course, is it could alienate my fans to write so different from what they have come to expect after three novels. On the other hand, it might attract new readers who would only like that one book. I'll have to give this some thought. Storm Surge is definitely a bridge to somewhere.

Maybe it is time to move from writing the 'everyman' protagonist. Maybe it is time to trust my readers to trust me.

Now I've gone off thinking rather than concentrating on this post. Perhaps Raven's Song would be a better ms for this experiment. Well, that's it. I have to hurry and finish this moving project so I have time to write before I begin my new job. But did I mention, I have to become fluent in Spanish for this job. Que what?

Just to give you something to comment on, what would be a radical change in your writing style?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

15 Minutes of Fame

What happens when the broadband was down and no blog post written and it is 15 minutes until 'show time'?

Writers write, that's what happens. It may not be brilliant, but there will be a post.

Recently I put together a PowerPoint presentation about my trilogy. Like usual, I showed it to a couple of people (beta readers unaware). My cousin said it made her want to go back and reread them. (I'll pay her later or pick up the tab at the coffee shop where we meet.) Someone else said it needed more about the author.

True, there was very little of me on there. Having been a child abuse investigator I am careful to not give out too much information about myself and that permeates my behavior.

So what things would readers like to know about me? Gosh...hard to know what would be interesting.

Okay, in Kathryn's beach when I came to the part with the diary, I was tired, it was late, so rather than really write, I took a couple of entries from my own diaries. That got me going and I made up the rest. Since the rewrites, I've mixed them up so that you don't need to rush to your copy of Kathryn's Beach and expect the first two to be real and the rest fiction. I will tell you the one about wasted time is mine.

What else? Well, I hate being dyslexic. It is frustrating. But I tell myself that it is probably easier dealing with a handicap that I've always had than being 'normal' and losing an ability. I think that would not only be frustrating (like mine) but depressing to morn the loss. I have lots of gimmicks I use to get me through, so there is that. Most people don't know, and I only started mentioning it when I started this blog because I was trying to inspire someone in particular to try to imagine the unimaginable. I guess if it did or does inspire anyone, then it was worth the embarrassment.

Well, that's it. The fifteen minutes have run and it is time to post this. What can you write in 15 minutes? Give it a try. Consider it today's writing exercise.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Why Do YOU Write?

In terms of fiction, which is what I think of most of the time, there are two main types of writers.

First are those who always wanted to write. They may have taken more financially secure career paths, but never lost sight of their desire to be writers. The others of that group went the direct route, realizing they might have to do other writing jobs until their fiction career took off.

The second group fell into writing. This is the group where I belong. While I did take writing courses in high school and at university, it was never my goal to be a writer. Think about it - what makes sense of a dyslexic person being a novelist? At any rate, with this group, eventually an overwhelming desire to write befalls them and they write.

I've heard a number of people say they wrote as therapy for a situation in their life. Some write as a hobby that fulfills a creative outlet. Others have an internal awakening of a desire to be a writer. By now, everyone must know how I transitioned from a reclusive hobbyist to a public writer.

I've read on forums advice to write to please oneself. While I wholeheartedly agree that one must be true to themselves, it is not necessarily good writing to write for one's own satisfaction. Writing to the industry means that by the time the ms is ready to shop, the interest in that genre might have passed.

My formula for writing is to be true to the characters and tell their story, not to myself, but to the eventual readers. I deliberately added elements with specific readers in mind (my friends and family). Using the statistical theory of a sample being representative of the whole, I figured these people - very different from each other - represented different sections of the fiction reading population.

In retrospect, it worked because people who typically would not have interest in my books reported back the way they were touched by Kathryn. She became real to them. She spoke to them and for them, sometimes things they could not say. The biggest surprise to me was that men didn't hate my books and actually finished reading them.

The point is to write to the readers. That is the art of writing. The craft and industry are simply tools of the trade.

Read some of the comments here.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Time for a Change

Some people know I've been unemployed for well over a year and a half. I finally have a job and I'm moving to a new town. I'm not sure when I will have cable service, so there might be some interruption in my posts for the next week or two. I'm also considering changing from a daily post (excluding weekends) to less posts per week once I beging working.

I want to spend time in the coming weeks posting about my concept for Cactus Rain Publishing and get input from people who are looking for an alternative form of publishing. I'd like feedback and discussion, however mostly from persons considering these options, not from trolls. So hold that thought and let's see what happens this week.

Final reminder that today is the last day to submit an entry for the short story contest. Click the cactus logo at the top left of this blog for more information. Also click forward to the next post for information on the judging criteria. Good luck and may the Muse be with you.

Friday, February 19, 2010


I'm very happy with what I do, but it isn't for everyone. I self-publish. The good of it is very good and the bad of it is very bad, there seems to be little middle ground - and it is different for everyone. But it is the right choice for me.

There is so much to learn that I won't go into detail here. There are books, websites, and blogs on the subject. It helps to have a firm understanding of the publishing industry, from first draft of an ms to agents to editors to marketing, including remainders and pulped books.

Yes, that's right, perfectly good books are returned from retailers and pulped. This usually occurs with the larger publishers - at least they're recycled. So the next time you lend a book or buy one for a nickel at a boot sale, rather than support the industry with a real purchase, feel guilty - my soapbox because the writer doesn't get a royalty when books aren't sold new.

Anyway... I start writing my ms with my software set to book format. There is no need for me to write in ms format then convert it. There are standards to the format. I've already mentioned that the copyright page is on the left side and I use Tahoma (a non-serf font). The margins are specific because the pages alternate to add for gluing the spine - I think I add 0.025 inch to my interior margin. I call that the ditch or gutter - look up the terminology

I go through and do the rewrites and self-edits. I have a list of words I notoriously overuse and clean up that mess. Some of my beta readers act like content editors. I don't think they even realize it. I read it aloud and fix those problems. After that, hire a proof reader.

I have software to design my cover and a list of names of cover artists to tap for those planned projects that the art is beyond my skill level. There are things to know like bleed and how to calculate the spine width. The ISBN is purchased from Bowker in the US. Lots to learn about them, including the country code for pricing and the scan bar particulars including where to place it on the cover.

Somewhere along the line there is research into printers. I use one here in Phoenix. I'm sure he has rolled his eyes a time or two because of me. This is a real print shop, big presses that do different jobs from business cards to church bulletins. I dream of having their fancy stationary one day, though I really don't need it.

A whole blog could be dedicated to paper. There is the weight and color, and the shiny coating on the cover stock. I use white paper, people notice and people mention it to me all the time. The fact is, it is easier for me to read on white paper with black ink. Most use cream colored paper and dark gray ink. I can read it, but it is work and I tire sooner.

There is the print run to calculate. There is a print shop in San Diego that a friend likes because they will do relatively short print runs - I think he said, 500 books at a time with the off-set press. My printer has installed a new digital press, which I like. It allows me to run small print runs to meet my demand economically and without hundreds of boxes of books in my garage.

Then there is distribution, use LSI or not, Baker and Taylor or not? Amazon or not? Sell on my own website or not? Set up a shopping cart - paypal or not?

Every decision falls to me. Just like I hire a real proof reader (certified), I hire a real web designer. My first one was an awful company to work with, and costly. For the last five years I've worked with Joyce at Bottom line, she cannot retire before I do.

There are all kinds of marketing decisions. This is my least favorite part of this whole process. There are companies who sell marketing and PR services. The good ones work really well for non-fiction books. Fiction is a hard sell, ask anyone. Then the decisions on whether or not to write a blog, do media releases, go to book fairs, get book reviews, worry about SEO (which I don't worry about with Joyce), speaking engagements, niche markets, mailings... and none of it works 100% of the time.

I have a friend in marketing who helps because I could never afford her company. I have a friend in book marketing who is more pushy than I like sometimes. There is the social media question, which to use, how much time to devote to it, and the back alley whispering that most of it doesn't really sell fiction. Think about it, has reading First Draft made you buy my books?

I even put the first chapter of the next book in the back of the previous book. There are tons of strategies because readers can't be grouped by any common factor besides liking to read, so they are hard to target for fiction, unless by genre.

The copyright needs to get registered. I've dropped the Library of Congress stuff even though it is free because it isn't likely that my books will be in Libraries. One staff at the Glendale Library said at a seminar, if they get the book donated, they give it to the friends of the library to sell, so they can buy real books.

Businesses need to be set up or at least discussed with the tax guy, retail licenses paid for, sales tax to be filed (and paid)...

There is more to the process that this. The whole process would be mind boggling without my friend Joy Collins across town. We meet for lunch and email like crazy on nearly anything to do with publishing. We even do a few joint projects together, though on some issues, like paper color, we do different things.

For me, marketing is the part I absolutely hate. Creating the book the way I want it done is the good part.

Google printing terminology, here's one list.

If you want an agent, following agent blogs is a wise idea. Here is one to get you started:

Joy Collins is at

A reminder, Sunday is the last day to enter the short story contest.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Overview

This is just the overview of these topics - the First Draft of this information. I don't think anyone could or should take my posts and consider they know everything they need to know to do [damn near] anything.

Here's my take on things. As bookshops and libraries know, books from certain publishers are going to be good quality. Sometimes I think the writing is average (I'm such an expert???) but the editing, formatting, and physical quality of the book are going to meet industry standards - EVERY TIME.

For whatever reason a writer decides to go the non-traditional publishing route there is a danger of becoming living proof of the maxim "Garbage in, garbage out." Most POD companies print exactly what is sent, unless you purchase an editing package. Certainly what you upload to Lulu, Amazon, or even LSI is going to be what is printed.

When publishing in a non-traditional fashion, the responsibility falls to the writer to meet the industry standard. The reason this sometimes doesn't happen is either the writer does not fully understand or is unaware of the industry standard, or they honestly think they have met it but missed to the point that it is horribly noticeable.

Notwithstanding content, the main glaring errors in self-published books are formatting and editing. Most people say editing is the number one area to pay attention. I have to say here that just because someone is an English teacher doesn't mean they can edit a book properly. They might be pretty good on the line editing (proof reading) aspect, yet even there the industry has some oddities that non-industry people might not know - one is the single space between sentences.

I know that is a bit of a crossover into formatting, but book formatting is unique and there are industry standards there too. One item where I deviate from the standard is fonts. I struggle to read a font with serfs, so I don't use them in my books. That is not the norm and because I do it doesn't mean anyone else should. But I'm not going to go to all the work to get a book I struggle to read.

Going back to content for a moment, I bet dollars to donuts Glyn Pope (from Monday's comments) will attest to the value of a content editor. When I beta read mss for people, I content edit. I touched on this last week when I wrote about things like the flow of the story - sometimes rearranging a paragraph here and there. There is a lot more to it than that, so review previous posts and notes about the short story contest and contest judging for more information, and search other sources of information too.

My favorite goof is when people teleport and walk into a room, then later walk in again in the same scene without leaving between the two entrances. I saw this in a traditionally published book by an imprint of one of the big publishing houses. Why is this nonsense important? Because stuff like this stops the reader from reading.

The only time a writer wants a reader to backtrack and read a section again is because it is so good that it resonated with the reader. Other than that, you want the reader always moving forward, and the story has to keep moving forward for that to happen.

There is overlap between what a content editor and line editor will catch. For example, both will catch words that are over used. That is a good thing. The more experts you can have look at your ms with a emotionally neutral eye, the better. Getting an ms edited is well worth the money and as I've said before, this is one area people seem to skimp.

There is nothing wrong with going with a POD company, but do research the options in printing and publishing, and of the companies out there. Look for posts on forums and blogs about that company and take the pulse of people who have worked with them before. If this is the right option for you, then don't let anyone rain on your parade.

Be aware that all the marketing will fall to you in this route. It isn't easy. There are lots of snake oil sales people and worthless services you can spend a fortune on and have zero results. There are no easy answers and anyone who says there are is scamming.

Even for writers who wouldn't publish if their ms isn't picked up by a big lit agency and a big publisher, knowing this stuff and paying attention to the details in your ms will help you get there.

Here is something to read:

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

More of the Same

Hopefully everyone read yesterday's post and the comments. It is a copyright thing with me not to repost the comments here, so please go look.

Frankly, I don't mind a passionate comment, so please continue to make them and continue to ask hard questions, not just in this, but everything.

I have friends who used these print companies mentioned yesterday for their novels and non-fiction works. For some it worked beautifully because they had no interest in learning how to do any of the stuff to publish a book totally on their own, even if only to upload it. For others it was a starting place in the maze of alternative choices. Most are where they are happier now. And for some, none I know personally, it was the end of their writing career before it began.

It is human nature for us to think our way is the best way, and for us it probably is. The important point is to research the options. What I try to do with First Draft is bring up concepts, the tip of them not the thesis. I also try to use industry words in a relaxed format. More than anything, I want to encourage people to keep going in their quest by making it a little less threatening.

One example where vanity publishing has nothing to do with vanity would be a pool and patio supply company (and I'm making this up, if it mirrors anything someone is doing, I don't know about it). I'll name it Splash! Imagine for a second that Splash! is a huge chain and offers classes on pool care. Over the years they have developed a good PowerPoint presentation complete with nifty handouts for the participants.

After experimenting with folders and binders, someone decided to take the material to the copy center and have it bound with a spiral and heavier stock cover. Because there is so much to know about caring for a home pool besides chemicals, things like backwashing, filter types, pool pumps and...whatever else, the class takes a huge jump as people tighten their budget. After all, pool service is one thing that can be eliminated from the budget if someone in the family learns this stuff.

The extra copies of the copy center "book" at the cash register sell like crazy. People tell their neighbors and the book is getting new customers into the store in droves. A staff member is dispatched to the copy center for more books on a regular basis. Other Splash! stores across the valley want the book in their shop too.

Someone comes up with the idea to have them printed. For a chunk of change, they go with, what I called yesterday, a POD company. The set-up fee is certainly less than the cost of sending staff to get the copy center book and it looks nicer - they put a list of all the Phoenix store locations in the back and share the cost with their sister stores. Splash! has no interest in how the publishing industry works, they are busy selling pool and patio stuff now that they have all these new customers they snagged because of their book.

As luck would have it, someone thinks about putting it on their website since it is now on online book retailer's websites. While they have a book, they probably don't think of themselves as writers like we think of ourselves.

There you have it, one example of where I think these companies serve a need beyond the ones we usually discuss. Remember I just made this up. This isn't the post I thought I'd write for today, but yesterday changed my mind. I think all forms of quality printing (and sometimes publishing) a book have their place. The trick is to learn enough to make sure your book ends up in its best place to satisfy your goal.

Sooner or later (remember I'm moving house now too) I will post the second area of self-publishing that I mentioned yesterday. This is actually real self-publishing. When done well, these people are my heroes.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Non-traditional publishing

I thought I'd explore self-publishing a bit, for those interested in it. It is a much bigger topic than traditional publishing. With traditional publishing all you need to do is write well and snag an agent. Many of the contracts don't allow competition, so you don't even have to figure out marketing.

I divide self-publishing into two areas. One is where the writer pays a company to publish their works. The fee can be from $500 and up, up a lot. We use slang and call these POD companies. For the most part, they have replaced what was called vanity publishing. Vanity publishing is now considered a derogatory term.

The term POD refers to Print On Demand which is actually the print method, the technology used, and not technically the correct way to refer to these company, but we do it as industry slang. (Be prepared to be corrected by purists.) Some companies call themselves author assisted publishing, but since POD is easier to write, that term gets used in a broad fashion.

Basically the writer pays the set-up fee and sends their ms in a digital file. The company puts it into book format, which is different from ms format. Usually cover art is included. The ISBN belongs to the publisher (of course). Most of the time, the interior or text belongs to the writer - but in America, you have to file for the copyright registration. (With traditional publishing, the publisher holds the copyright for the duration of the contract to the extent the rights have been given. I'll do a post on rights in a few weeks - remind me if I don't remember.)

These companies then sell packages of add-on services that vary in quality from one POD company to the next. The only way to know anything about the quality is to ask around on forums because most of their websites say pretty much the same thing. I recommend buying a book from their online store before you shell out lots of money. That way you can at least examine the workmanship.

Still, there is no way to know for sure the quality of their editorial staff because you won't know whether the writer bought that package or not for the book you bought - or if you'd get the same editor. The lack of editing is what gave what I call indie writers a bad name. It is one place people cut corners by not buying the package or hiring their own proof reader (line editor). It is the exact place not to cut.

That is one reason that libraries and bookstores usually do NOT shelf indie books. They can't possibly vet every book and it just makes sense to avoid the mess all together. So if you have a really good quality indie book, it gets painted with the same brush as the really bad ones.

The cover price is set by the number of pages in the book. With some companies there is a provision to set the price higher, which is usually done on non-fiction more often than fiction. You really need to research the market before increasing the cover price.

The writer usually can purchase books at a discount (plus shipping). The world wide distribution mentioned on these company's websites is to make the books available on book retailer's websites. There isn't any active marketing to distributed the books.

They sell marketing packages which can include everything, but the kitchen sink. One example is to include listing with Baker and Taylor. B&T supplies books to libraries and some retailers. Refer to above about what I said about libraries. Don't think your self-published book is going to get the same treatment as one by one of the six (or is it now five?) major New York City publishers and their many, many imprints. The packages usually include such things as post cards, book marks, posters, and the kitchen sink. Most people I know haven't used the materials because they come with the publisher's advert on them.

There are sites where the writer can upload their ms for free and print out their book. The best known of these is The free 'package' didn't used to include an ISBN. Nor was the book made available anywhere, but Lulu. That works great for people who will take the time to learn a bit about book formatting - for example, most people don't think about the fact that the copyright page is on the left side. The more you pay attention to details, the better results you get. The workmanship on their books is pretty good and their packaging for shipping always amazes me. Read their website for updated info. I haven't read it for over a year. They send out update notices, I just don't remember what all they are. Besides, you'll learn more if I don't spoon feed you.

Another of these free companies is Amazon's CreateSpace. With Amazon there is also the availability of Kendle. But the books are not available anywhere else, other than the writer's website.

All the POD companies pay royalties like the traditional publishers. The percent varies so look at several and do the math if you are interested in this form of publishing.

Some traditional publishers use POD technology printing (they don't use the 'POD companies' to do it). In my mind, it is perfect to print short runs of galleys. Galley books are not the same as a proof book - remind me, that is another post too.

There are actually (in my mind) legitimate reasons to go this route with a book. One of the biggest is when a ms doesn't fit the model for a traditional publisher. For example, books like mine don't have a huge audience; or a town may print a book suitable for local gift shops, but it isn't a major tourist destination that a large publisher would have a market for; a company might sell a book on their website that complements their product line, but is not their main product - again, a niche market - but they need total control over the content.

I know a fairly well known US writer who went this route when the rights to her book reverted to her. There was still a small demand for the book, the marketing had been done by the big traditional publisher and with other books coming from that publisher and her latest picked up for a Lifetime Movie, she wanted to have her out-of-print book available again without learning all the ins and outs of self-publishing.

Sure there are some 'losers' who couldn't write their own name, much less a novel, who use POD for their works. But it is important not to be an elitists and look down on every book published in a non-traditional means.

Please ask questions in the comment section. This is a huge topic and the post was getting a bit long to cover everything. I'll write on the second self-publishing area tomorrow.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Drawing a Blank

I have a new job that starts in a couple of weeks. As my English friends say, I'm moving house. Which isn't exactly true, the house is staying - I'm moving my stuff to another house.

My head is full of all the details of moving, like setting up utilities, packing, toting, unpacking. So I'm drawing a total blank on what to post here today. There could be some interruption in posts since I don't know when I'll have broadband at the house. I may not have time to go to a coffee shop in the mean time.

You can check, but likely you will have more time to write or read my books rather than read my blog for the next week or two. I hope some of you stay with me through the move and we meet back here again soon.

Just a reminder that the deadline to submit short stories for the contest is February 22. Thank you to everyone who has already submitted.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Beta Readers

Treat these people like royalty. They are worth their weight in gold. Who are they? Beta Readers are, at best, a mix of people. Parents and lovers are going to read your masterpiece and say you are brilliant. In their eyes you are.

But an agent hasn't fallen for you yet, so let's get some real input and prepare to go through the ms again when they are through.

My beta readers are diehard readers who respect me enough to tell me where my story doesn't work. Some of them are writers and some are not. Most of them (as it turns out) don't read literary fiction. But usually it is good to get some beta readers who read in your genre.

Care of beta readers: First off, it takes much longer to beta read an ms than a printed book. For one thing, they are looking for things for you rather than laying back and reading for enjoyment. So never, ever be argumentative to a beta reader.

It is fine to disagree, but consider if they missed the point of what you wrote, then likely you didn't write what you meant. Encourage them to tell you the hard stuff, the stuff they fear might hurt your feelings. This isn't personal. The point is to make the ms the best it can be.

I have found when a beta reader questions a sentence or word that the problem is a bigger problem than they realize. Sometimes it needs to be rewritten, moved, or deleted. So look bigger than they point out. I like to engage in a dialogue with my beta readers when they have a question and draw out as much comment and opinion as I can. They can only get a first impression the first reading, so make it count.

Some of my beta readers have been with me for ten years. We're like family. I trust them not to sugar coat things. They trust me to respect their opinion, even if I disagree.

Always be courteous. I know, that shouldn't have to be said, but when I've beta read, sometimes the writer forgets that I could have been doing something else, like my own writing rather than reading for them. I always give them a gift, a signed copy of the published book.

Sometimes I have several sets of readers. The first group goes through, I make changes, then the next group goes through. Regardless of how many or few groups of beta readers I have, there are a couple of people who I save for last because they are the gatekeepers. Nothing gets past them, nothing. Wear thick skin with these types, but they are priceless.

I don't give my beta readers strict instructions because I don't want to limit the feedback to a set number of items. I want every thought. I usually ask for them to point out things that seem amiss and things they really like (or I might change them if I don't know that is a good part - it all looks bad after a while, know what I mean?).

Some of my readers prefer paper copies and some digital mss. I accommodate them. I rather have them read on paper because it is easier for me to mark their notes, not that I incorporate all of them. Others send me a list with page and line number and change or comment. Basically, I go with the flow because the input is so valuable.

Then go back to your ms (also called WIP - work in progress) and fix the places you agree with the beta readers need fixing. By this point, I'm totally sick of the story, the characters, the title, and so ready to start something new that I could delete half of it. Then at some point, it is all okay again and I'm happy with it. I usually read through it aloud one more time. That might be a bit much, but things get missed with all that editing and rewriting and deleting.

From here, most of you will polish your synopsis and query letter. I do other stuff because I'm happy with what I'm doing with my books now and I wasn't happy before. But that's me. You have to figure out what is best for you.

Whew, I've told you all I know. Guess I'm done with this blog unless I come up with something else to write. Oh wait, the short story contest is still going on. Guess I can't quit here.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Rewrites and Edits

I don't know if everyone does, but I make a distinction between rewrites and edits. Perhaps it is one of my post-draft survival strategies to divide this next part into manageable tasks.

I prefer rewrites. By my definition, rewrites are content editing; taking sections that simply don't work and rewriting them - you know, that thing that some people like to do during the first draft. These are things I focus on during rewrites: (no particular order)

Sequence - are things happening in the best order? Do scenes need to be rearranged? Have I 'time traveled,' do people appear out of nowhere, have I told too much or too little at the wrong time?

Pace - is the pace of the scene correct and the overall pace of the novel fitting?

Characters - are they interesting? Do they stay in character? When they behave 'out of character' is there a good reason and do I pull it off?

Dialogue - do the characters have their own voice or does everyone speak the same? Does it move the story forward or are they just talking?

Best Word - I made that up, but it means to make sure you've used the best word to say what you meant. Beta reading can help with this, but it is more than clarity. This has to do with not using big words to show off. It means that you wrote like a writer, not an everyday person. That there is some creative genius at work. Same goes for sentences and paragraphs - is that the best it can be stated? It also means not overusing words.

Overall Appeal - does the story move forward or have I gone off on a side track that isn't part of a sub-plot? More on this when I blog about beta readers.

FORMAT: I didn't mention this in the title, but this is a third thing that comes during the post-draft phase. When I don't feel up to doing content editing or regular (grammar) editing, I look at format. I have never known a first time writer who stopped and set up the format correctly before starting to write. Generally, we start off with our word processing program set to its default settings. Believe me, you'll only do this once.

Even if we knew to adjust the settings to manuscript form, there are other little things to watch too. Use the new search window I added to the sidebar and search for 'format' for the list. Add to that list to turn OFF widows and orphans. Also if you use MS Word, turn off that thing that puts an extra blank line between paragraphs. That is not the correct fiction format and don't argue with me on this.

Here are some of the 'human error' formatting things that occur during the writing of an ms. Use 'find' or 'search' in your software program to look for places where there are double (or more) spaces between sentences or words. Every space should be only one space. The software reads things differently from how we learned to type on a typewriter. There is a feature where the spaces can be revealed (usually looks like a dot midair in the text). Also remove the extra space at the end of a paragraph.

If you had wacky things happen to the format during the first time through making changes, you have to fix them with computer commands. The most common errors are using the space bar for indents. Set the tab for 3 spaces and use the 'tab' rather than the spacebar or you will get uneven indents. Centering chapter titles has to be done with the center text function, not tabs or spacebar to eyeball it to the center. The end of every chapter has to have a page break. Do not use enter to get to the top of the new page. All of that 'wrong' stuff has to be removed.

Trust me, if the ms looks neat (and the correct format) it is more likely to be read. You simply have to learn the functions of your software. I work with other writers in MS Word, but personally, I use WordPerfect. It is more sophisticated with its commands, especially with its reveal codes.

Now the editing part. Because I'm dyslexic, this is my least favorite part. This is line editing. It is likely that most of the noun-verb agreements were caught when you read aloud. Commas were added where you took a breath and epic sentences where made into two or three shorter ones. Make sure every sentence ends with punctuation. You'd be surprised how often they are missed, especially at the end of a paragraph - this includes dialogue. Only one punctuation per sentence end, none of this business "!?" got it? And watch that exclimation mark. Try to force yourself to remove all of them that are not in dialogue.

I go for the big stuff because I hire a line editor when I'm finished, really finished messing with the ms. Not spending the money on a line editor is like building a house and not painting it or not planting the yard. If you need a really good and reasonably priced line editor or proof reader, email me and I'll give you a name.

So now, you've gone through it three more times. The format run through is a no brainer, but it is intense to get it all correct. Don't forget scene breaks that aren't the start of a new chapter.

Now you're ready for beta readers. Whew, finally.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


There! Finished! Your manuscript is finished and - and it is perfect! You might even print it and take it to the copy center for a cover of some sort after you've had your tea. You begin to wonder how to set up an amazon account. Maybe a website. Who knows, Oprah might call next week.

You sit there (sipping tea) wondering why so many writers talk about drafts and rewrites. Your ms is perfect. After all, spell check was on the entire time. Based on how complete you feel and satisfied, you are certain this ms is ready for the NY Times bestseller list.

All I can says is, "Ah, to be a novice again."

Let the ms sit; leave it at least six weeks or more. Go off and draft the synopsis, research literary agents (Yes-yes, I know you only need one. Yeah right.) Humor me and make a list anyway. Research what they have sold in the last two years. Research if there are complaints about them (then weight those) and lawsuits. Double check their websites for their exact submission guidelines and if they are still representing your genre.

They are more likely to be the real deal if they belong to agent organizations, since there is no licence needed to be a lit agent. For example, AAR (Association of Authors' Representatives) isn't just one of those clubs you can pay up and join. Sure there is a membership fee, but also criteria to be eligible for membership. Check out their Canon of Ethics. Link at the bottom.

"Search" for info on writing query letters. There are all kinds of tips out there. Unless the agent requests what book your book is like, I omit that. What if you use a book that they hate? Yet, they might like yours - know what I mean?

Put on your bright mind and think about things. This is the big stuff now.

When you get your agent picks listed, your synopsis and query letters drafted - put them aside. Did you notice I said drafted?

Go back to your ms, that lovely perfect literary work you wrote months ago. Print it. No, really. Print it on the back of used paper or promise me to use the back of this paper.

Read it aloud. Not to in your head, read it with an audible voice. (Have pen in hand - you'll need it.) If you can get someone to take a copy and follow along as you read aloud, you just hit the jackpot. Sometimes we read something different than we wrote. Usually what we said is the better choice than we typed. At least consider it could be better and make a note for later.

I circle everything I find and make a note in the margin too. I use proof reader marks on my mss. Seems not many writers know what they are.

Make a copy of your ms file. The first is named with the title and draft. You never touch that one again. You might need it. The copy file is named with the title and master. Remember to make back up copies in your usual way: CD, flash drive, external backup or portable hard drive.

Then make all the changes to the second file of your ms. The trick to doing this is to make the changes from the back forward. Why? Because as you make changes in your ms, the text will move up or down (if you deleted). Before long, it will be different from your printed copy and turn into a bigger task. If you make changes from the end to the beginning, it will go much easier.

Get that done and I'll go from there tomorrow.

AAR link:

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Buy Button

** This blog is interrupted for a Special Bulletin * *

My favorite classes at Arizona State University was the social policy classes. What I liked best, I suppose, was that they were classes where those with strong analytical abilities did well. That would be me.

Often a policy is developed for the immediate 'problem' - quite shortsightedly. Policy is often different for different classes (ethnic, economic, educated, gender and so on). And when not obviously discriminating in development, they can be applied in a discriminating manor.

Since Mr. Bezos launched in 1995, it became a large part of my life. We lived 50 miles from the nearest bookstore, used or otherwise. Largely Amazon has been 'good' to me as a shopping customer. Though in 15 years, their website has become quite cluttered and at times almost too 'helpful' in suggesting books.

As a writer, I'm not sure that Amazon is such a 'good' friend. I pay a fee to have my books on there. Books that 'everyone' said should be there and they would buy, if there. Turns out that is not the case - sales are pathetic (doesn't even cover the fee).

Amazon strong arms a whopping 55% per book which one would think would leave 45%, but that doesn't consider that the price of the book printing and shipping comes out of that 45% and has, so far, cost me more than I made. Imagine what a loss it would be if I hadn't raised the price of my books so I could put them on Amazon - like everyone told me to do.

I'm not sure how anyone could miss the recent situation brewing at Amazon. I've spent the last week thinking about my position on Amazon pulling the buy buttons off of MacMillian's books. That is a bully thing to do, but this isn't the first time Amazon has done it to other, smaller publishers. Probably won't be the last time. And I can't quite forget when the Amazon Rankings went missing on gay and lesbian books. Who's next?

What does this mean to the readers? I guess they go to another online provider or wait. What does the publisher do? Google "MacMillian and buy button" for that whole story. What does Amazon do? Same answer as the previous one.

When I wear my "Writer's Hat" and think about it from that prospective, it first brings to mind that our work is only a pawn. It is not valued in financial terms - readers don't want to pay list price. Publishers and agents don't stand behind their authors like they once did. Everyone and their cousin has a business that makes money on the fact that we write, that is except most writers.

And we are the most pathetic of all. We don't have the guts to strike like the screen writers did. We know if we don't produce, there are a million and one novices who will cross the picket line.

If you have a book on Amazon, there is a new website from the Authors Guild where you can track the absence of your book's buy button - There is an old site that I used in the past that tracks your book's amazon ranking -

Now it is [probably] only a matter of time before my buy buttons disappear. Will anyone notice?

Who Moved My Buy Button:
Amazon Ranking tracking:

On the flip side, Random House sides with Amazon:

Monday, February 8, 2010

Kathryn's Story

Every story has a spark that brings it into existance. Sometimes the writer sets down to write with deliberate determination. Sometimes the story takes on a life of its own [through one means or another] and the writer is mearly the scribner.

Kathryn's Beach began as a short story emailed to a friend who had nothing to read during an ice storm. Nothing more. She didn't even know I wrote when she shared her plight: acute book withdrawal.

Then she asked, "What happens next?"

Next? There is no 'next' - that was a short story, I think. It could be anything Terrie wanted. "She either goes home and it works or it doesn't, or she stays and it works or it doesn't."

She wanted me to write more. That's what she wanted.

I was finished, but Terrie wasn't. She kept asking for more. Every night for three weeks I emailed a chapter or two to her (the first draft mind you, unedited). The ice storm had long passed. She had read many books in the time it took me to write one.

After Kathryn's Beach, I was finished. The short story that I emailed to my friend had become a novel. I was very finished. My secret that I wrote was out and I was okay with it.

Then it came. "What happens to Joseph?"

Joseph? I'm thinking, Who cares about Joseph? "Well. He either comes back and it works or it doesn't, or he stays and it works or it doesn't." (I should have known that answer wouldn't work with her.) So I wrote High Tide.

Before she could ask for more I promised Storm Surge, but told her Kathryn dies (so she couldn't ask for more). The story was finished with the end of Storm Surge.

Sometimes I wish I had made them into one book rather than three. I had even submitted Kathryn's Beach and High Tide to my agent as one book (knowing that Storm Surge would be much different or maybe never finished).

In the end, I agreed with him to make it two books. I think he was right in that advice. They each have their own personality, their own story to tell.

I could write more, but I think the three are enough - at least for now. In my mind I know what happens next - and it either works or it doesn't.

If you've read all three books and must know what happened after the funeral, email me. If you don't have all my books, buy them.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Search this BLOG added

I don't ordinarily blog on weekends, however I did remember that I wanted to add a search button to the sidebar. Done.

I tested the word "format" and it showed three pages of posts with format. On page three there is a 'more' button. Guess where that goes? It opened Google search results pages with all my related posts there. Oh cool! I love that feature. I'm glad I remembered to add it.

Go play with it and let me know if there are any kinks that need fixing. (I'll call my web designer, coz, I don't know 'fixing' stuff.)

Reminder: One week left to submit contest entries. I love everyone that has been submitted. Good thing I'm not a judge. Whew! You guys are awesome.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The End Is Near

I decided today would be "the end" because this date is significant to me. Yet, I sit here and wish I had said more about character development, dialogue, plot and sub-plots, arcs and so many other writing elements I learned at uni and from peers (books, blogs, and my cherished beta readers).

The end comes and shouldn't be prolonged beyond its time. Don't put your story on life support, let it go to resonate in the minds of the readers long after they have read it.

I should add, don't rush the end. Don't leave your readers still hungry for the resolutions left unwritten.

So the end comes. It is short in comparison to the middle, yet it has always been the goal. If you think of a bell curve in statistics, the beginning and end are the outward edges. The middle is the swollen part between them.

Whether the story is "a day in the life" twenty-four hours in a rapid paced adventure of espionage or the saga of a western frontier family, the end is the curtain call. First you finish up with the minor characters, then the next prominent, then the main character and the antagonist. They hold hands and bow. The stage darkens. The curtain closes. Those who 'got' the story sit as the house lights come on and others begin to leave.

They are satisfied. It will be a least a day or more before they pick up their next book and begin the adventure between the covers.

What have you done? You have resolved everything you've mentioned throughout the story. You've used every prop the prop master set on the stage. One by one, each character's quest has been resolved and has helped to carry the main character to their resolution. The music (pace) has been perfect. Every line delivered as intended.

You type, "THE END" and sit back; satisfied, complete as your readers will feel too.

Thursday, February 4, 2010


Whata say, let's wrap this up? I could go on forever about writing. I love the 'science' of the craft. There is always something new to learn, to experiment with, to take where it has never been taken before - successfully.

The middle is the good stuff; the inside of a jelly donut, of a clam, of a perfectly baked Chicken Kiev (the buttery herb stuff). Take every opportunity to learn the tools of the craft so you reach for them by instinct. When you see a screw you know the tool needed is not a paint brush. You don't even give it a thought, you know. The same is true or can be true with the tools of this trade.

Look out for people who insist on formulas - a chapter is 20 pages long, a paragraph 3-6 sentences, remove all adverbs or adjectives (or both) or words that begin with 'q' (made up that last one). The only genre with a recognized formulamatic style (I know of) is romance writing.

Relax. Let your characters develop and show you who they are (just like your kids do - or pets). Don't sweat the small stuff, that is what rewrites and beta readers and line editors are for.

Be flexible. Trust your ear as Beethoven trusted his. Write your first draft without thought of editing or anything beyond writing from the beginning to the end. You can worry about everything else when the first draft is finished. Savor the moment, play it through.

Be a storyteller more than a writer. I believe in you. Don't work so hard to 'write' the story. Sit with your reader, share a cup of tea and tell them a story as you put it to paper. Make their presence real every time you write. You can do this, I know you can. Look at me, I'm dyslexic.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

More Middle - imagination (believability)

I've touched on today's topic before (Today's topic? Sounds like there is a list of planned posts - there isn't) ... today's topic is scattered throughout other posts. It is part of character development, fleshing-out a scene, and perhaps a bit of POV - point of view.

We focus much of our writing energy on our MC and their antagonist. For a moment think of the cast of extras in a film. Also think of being behind the movie camera viewfinder.

We decide our MC needs to be in a highly populated place for some reason important to our story line (plot). However, we often forget to put the people there that were the reason we chose that setting for a particular scene. In essence we have the reader focusing on a tight shot, a head shot, of the MC/Antagonist for the whole scene.

Maybe we realize it at the last minute and comment in our booming narrator's voice, "Oh yeah, and the place was full of people, nameless - faceless people." Well yeah? Consider this, did all these people suddenly appear at the end of the scene? Or in the beginning and "poof" disappear?

The reason we call news broadcasts (especially in the US) talking heads is we see their head from every view possible, and not much else. It isn't until the end of the show while the credits roll that the camera pulls back and shows us the whole on-camera set and full body people.

We want to avoid talking heads in our writing. Even when we have two people seated at a coffee shop chatting, we want the reader to have a sense of that person as a full person, best yet is to take it a step further and give that person an inside - emotion, thought, sometimes even physical pain - a gut ache perhaps.

It is a building process since we don't have the visual advantage of film. We constantly add layers and body parts to the character and keep them attached. It isn't much good to go to all that work and let it fall off straightaway.

If you study film - watch several in your genre - you will see the seamless change of camera angles that we accept as natural occurrences. Grab a DVD and look, not at the story, but at the camera angles.

When a person arrives, there is a wide shot. It might pan the building, often shows the valet parking as a scene setter, and a sweeping view of the extras on set. By all means, keep it brief.

If the specific architectural elements are not important to the story (say it with me) "Leave it out." That telling business stops the story - goodbye reader. No, keep your character moving into the scene. Tighten the camera angle and keep moving.

Then alternate between the two principals in the scene. Think of the rule of a new paragraph for each dialogue as switching the camera between the two people talking. That is the cue to the reader that we are looking back and forth.

I'm not going to go into dialogue tags in full here, but part of pacing is to write a short section of he said/she said volley back and forth with little more than their spoken words. If it gets very long (look at what you can cut, tighten), or there are more than two people, or they don't take turns in order, then tags and some prose might be required. To slow the pace or intensify the emotions, add prose to the dialogue exchange.

When the scene is finished move to the next scene. Make a bridge. Give the reader an idea of where the next scene will be so they anticipate and keep turning the pages, especially if it is going to be a new chapter.

The whole point to writing a novel (not a journal) is to share it with a reader - hopefully millions of readers. Write so they can dispense with disbelief and get lost in your story.

None of what I say are hard-fast rules. These are guidelines. Do I write perfectly every all the time, no. Do I strive to constantly improve, yes.

If I had only one book on writing, this would be it: The Complete Book of Scriptwriting By J. Michael Straczynski. There is so much in this book that can be applied to any creative writing project. It is on page three of my Amazon store.

Seriously, go read about it. Better yet, go buy it. It is the best money I've spent. I noticed that it is only available on Amazon from a used book seller. It is no where to be found on Barnes and Noble's site. So don't delay. Don't ask to borrow my copy, it ain't happening.

FTC thing: Mr. Straczynski gave me nothing to include his book in my post. As far as I know, he doesn't know I exist.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

More Middle - literary devices and style

Everyone has their own style of writing. Well, except for those who try hard to copy someone else. If you look at what comes out tomorrow, it is already at the very least 2 years old. That is one of the reasons it is said, don't write to the market. There is no way to play catchup with the market. If something is hot now, writing it now is writing it late.

Nonetheless, everything we read influences our writing, both a novel and information about writing.

Of course I'm trying to influence writers - influence and encourage. I'm encouraging brave writing. Drop words that make the writing hesitant, drop the gimmicks, write for the reader's enjoyment, be true to the craft, and all that jazz.

Some hesitant words are: almost, really, so, nearly, passive verbs - and that's what I got from the top of my head. I'll add more as I think of them. But hesitant writing is apologetic feeling to read. I think I'll go to the store can be simply, I went to the store. It was almost 8 PM when... Unless something special happens at eight, just say it was eight or evening or dinner time (not the same time as tea time).

The goal is to write your best and I hope you write better than me - and those you help along the way, write better than you.

My preferred style to write is first person, present tense. It allows, no - demands, an intimate relationship between the reader and the MC. I'm not shy about toying with emotions. Every one of my novels begins in the middle of a conversation. I deliberately use literary devices at certain points. That's my style. And I like to write literary novels, though they do not sell as well as blockbuster novels of any other genre.

Literary devices are nearly an obsession with me. But like any food, too much of a good thing is simply, too much. Take alliteration, for example. A little alliteration goes a long ways. It is, by my understanding, a poetry device. It works well in titles and very limited use in prose. Alliteration and rhyming work better in children's books than adult novels. Still care should be used when considering their use.

Parallelisms work in titles, and are used in prose much more than most people realize. For all their simplicity, it is amazing how many people don't get parallelisms correct simply by mix-matching the tense. Think Sesame Street here, two of these things go together and one doesn't. Make them all match. And use commas on each item.

Not to go off on the use of commas when making a list, but here goes anyway. For some reason, and it is perfectly acceptable to do so, people leave out the comma prior to the 'and'. The trick is to make sure the 'and' means 'these two things go together' - like when making a compound subject. You know compound subjects, I'm not going to insult anyone with an example.

"I like photos in color, and in black and white." The second 'and' is to connect those two together. "I went to the store for bread, milk and cookies." Milk and cookies are yummy together, but those are two separate items, so it needs a comma after milk. I admit that comma is optional, but really, how hard is it to put it in?

Foreshadowing and Reminiscing are two sides of the same coin. I use both, but foreshadowing is a much stronger device than reminiscing. Reminiscing should be used when it makes sense that the character should do that, and at a time in the story when it fits naturally. For example, Kathryn reminisces (longs for) her past life. I don't use reminiscing to catch the reader up on something they missed because it happened before the story. I use it because that is where Kathryn is at that time, wanting the past over the present. She longs for the safety of what she knows, not for what she fears.

Now foreshadowing, that's writing. In TV crime shows the camera pans to an item that has no relevance to the moment, holds, moves to one of the characters. Give me a break! They just showed something that will be pivotal later. That is one bit of foreshadowing, but pretty shallow in my opinion. I like things natural in storytelling. So the item has to be something occurring naturally, not out of place on a bookshelf so anyone would know it was a key. Might as well put a sign up that says, this is the real murder weapon. Sheesh.

The greatest foreshadowing I've ever done is to put the ending of the third book, Storm Surge, in the beginning of the first book, Kathryn's Beach. That's rich. And if you've read all three, do you see the connection to the diaries in the middle of that foreshadowing? Can't just drop it in and 600 pages later, pick it up again. Leave a few bread crumbs. The clue in Kathryn's Beach is connected through the diaries, that is why it all feels natural.

Readers are smart, give them a real puzzle to solve.

Side note: In yesterday's post's comments I mentioned that we are putting together these tips for those who have been cutting and pasting them elsewhere. I'll let you know when we have that up and going on my website.

Monday, February 1, 2010

More Middle - conflict

Without saying so, we talk a lot about the middle when we discuss the elements of writing. Here are some random thoughts on middle stuff. Today's topic is conflict.

Happenstance just doesn't work to resolve a conflict, and it can't be fixed by the main character (MC or protagonist) saying to himself, "Boy, that was lucky." If it was luck it had better be believable that it could happen, but I think it is weak writing to rely on luck to solve the mini-problems (sub-plots) on the road to the final resolution of the major problem introduced in the beginning.

For example, the MC can't be in a sticky situation and reach in his pocket to find a gun that wasn't [ever!] mentioned before. He can't then say, "Oh yeah, I left this in my pocket the last time I wore this overcoat." Just like in a play, you can't use props that aren't on the set when the scene opens or is carried on the stage by a character.

Even worst, absolutely worst, is to take that hand-in-the-pocket moment and go off about when he wore the coat last and why the gun was in the pocket and what he had for dinner, and, and, and...

Don't be lazy and try to fix bad writing by the use of internal dialogue. If the MC is backed into a corner, build the drama to that point so the reader is saying, "No, no don't...." Then have the MC honestly get himself out of the jam.

Like in Apollo 13, they can only solve the problem with the items at hand. Except in old westerns, the Calvary can't ride into town at the very last moment and save the day. Same goes for Superman. It is called dropping it over the transom to drop in solutions out of the blue.

A word on Superman or any other superhero. The reason the sudden rescue is allowed by the reader or viewer is because it is part of his story. He is in a difficult situation and part of the stress point is he needs to resolve it so he can go save the day.

If it was part of the other person's story, if from their point-of-view, then he does drop into the scene out of the blue. Which, admittedly, he does sometimes. As the saying goes, "Don't try this at home." Not many people get away with it.

The only legitimate fix to the need to resolve something by luck or the transom, and internal dialogue is to go back and set it up correctly in the first place. Do not try to take the easy way out of the situation with an easy fix. The readers will not buy it. They might tolerate it the first time, but do it again and you've lost them.

Write strong and brave. No shortcuts, no 'luck' solutions. Your readers deserve nothing less.