Saturday, November 12, 2011

Book Titles

A title can grab a reader and get them to take a book off the shelf for a closer look.

I asked one of the Cactus Rain Publishing editors what makes a good title for her. The answer is obvious: it must represent the book -- be connected to the story; be intriguing; and sound good when spoken.

Usually titles come easy for me, except in the case of Storm Surge. By the time that third book was written, it had rules for the title: Two words (not necessarily the alliteration it turned out being), and it had to have something to do with a beach that fit the storyline. Whether that end was achieved will be decided by the readers. You tell me.

The title of a manuscript is the "working title." When writers talk about their manuscript they usually shorten the title to initials or one word. As time passes, the title becomes the embodiment of the story, our passion for writing it, and the paternal/maternal instinct we have developed for the work and the process. We have bonded.

The surprise for most writers is the publisher often wants to change the title. That change is driven by a marketing mentality. However, we writers have bonded with the working title and want it to be the real title.

Luckily, we adapt and accept the title change. The Practice became The Doctor, The Plutocrat, and The Mendacious Minister. We struggled with several interim choices, until author Glyn Pope came up with the title. Now, I can't imagine the book having any other title.

If you struggle with titles, here is an excellent piece that quite clearly spells out the process. This would also be a fun exercise for writing groups. Follow the link:

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Which is the most important to you?

Assuming the absurd that it isn't the whole package, what is the one ingredient of a book that is the most important piece? Which would you chose: the story, the editing, the layout, the quality of the final product, the cover art, or something else?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Sensory Dos and Don'ts

One thing that easily gets overlooked in writing is the sensory component. After the storyline is solid, the characters have unique personalities, and all the settings are imaginable for the reader, it is time to go though and make sure that there is sensory input.

We need to feed, not overfeed, the five senses of the reader. Consider it surround sound, but for all the senses. For example, when I write about the beach in Kathryn's Beach, occasionally there is mention of the hard packed wet sand. The dry sand sifts through her fingers, but it isn't just sand, there are shell bits (and assumed other stuff).

This is not the place to wax literary and go over the top with adjectives and adverbs in every sentence. Remember that less is more. Remember that the reader is an intelligent person with stores of experiences to tap. Avoid switching into the telling mode. Hint at things with simple additions, rather than lengthy descriptions. Allow the reader to tap their knowledge from a key descriptive word.

Keep the momentum of the story moving forward, rather than diverting to sidelines to describe things in detail. Not always, of course, but once in a while note a significant change in smell when changing venue. If something is different from what one would expect, for example a quiet bar, then briefly mention it. Or a fishing boat mysteriously floating unattended for days - wouldn't there be the smell of rotting fish from the morning catch on some fateful day? Basically, you don't want to have something obvious missing from the scene.

Visualize your story and once in a while add a small prop to the set. Read your ms aloud to a friend and both of you look for places where sensor items are missing. Avoid overloading the senses and it getting in the way of the storytelling.

Let me know if you try this and how it worked for you.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Getting Noticed

There are so many people writing these days and so few major publishers. Most large publishers use literary agents as a means of screening manuscripts; getting rid of the awful ones up front. Publishers who don't charge a fee to publish works, screen heavily to find the best bets before backing the project with company funds.

Writers use blogs, twitter, and facebook to get noticed. Writing samples are posted their websites and writing forums. Here is a new one: If you read the article, you know as much as I know about it. I'm not endorsing it one way or the other; just tossing out this bit of information for you to check out.

I've seen bulk queries come through that obviously are a shotgun attempt born out of desperation to get past the first hurtle and have their full ms requested. To date, every query letter I've received that began, "Dear Sir" hasn't made it past me to the vetting committee.

One committee person asked to read my rejects before I wrote the rejection email, then sent a note that they agreed that the work was so substandard that it wasn't worth taking it to the full committee.

It is extremely important to put your best effort forward every time. You only get one shot at a first impressions and the competition is stiff.

Try not to query when you're tired, feeling low from a rejection letter, or hurried. It will make a difference if you're rested and feeling confident about your work.

If you've self published, you know that your book gets turned away from some sites and some reviewers. It isn't a level playing field. Take a look at this place:

No matter what, write your best work and believe in yourself and your ms.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

What is a fair price for eBooks?

Nearly weekly, but likely more often, the trade news (publishing industry) has an article on the price of ebooks.

Usually the blog or article is stating that ebooks cost nothing after they are posted and should, therefore, be priced extremely low. (Keep in mind the distributor needs to make money to keep their company running so the ebook is available in the first place.)

Obviously those people haven't written a book and don't think an author should make any money on it for the life of the work. That is about like saying a museum should only charge a person once in their life to view an exhibit. How many people donate to their favorite museum to pay to keep the lights on and the doors open?

The reality is that any book, ebook or paper, has to support the author and the business that published it and it won't do it in one sale. It is a bit-by-bit process and a huge gamble that X number of copies will sell to pay for the expense to publish it.

Even with ebooks, a company has to continually keep the lights on and pay people to manage the the bare minimum. (And if you are a writer, you want the company to be able to afford the resources to publish your book with its funds.)

If that company needs to upgrade or replace broken equipment and pay ever increasing taxes, how would that work out with only charging the actual expense of an ebook(remember that ebooks have to pay the distributor too).

I love what I do, but I do want to point out that products, including books, have to support the "manufacturer." Each book is like creating a new car - it requires company resources.

That is my take on why books cost money. And remember the publisher and the author get nothing from books lent to friends and family, or sold at garage sales. The business model, especially in this world economy, has to not be a charity (business is in business to make money).

History judges a society more by its arts than its wars. As people, we tend to expect arts to be gifts, yet understand that war costs money. Consider this, between Sparta and Athens, which still exists?

Until now, I've kept my opinion to myself. I think it is not likely that anyone would go to their job every day and get no paycheck. Something for nothing doesn't sustain the economy. What's your opinion on this?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Blog Party

Two years ago at this time, we were in the middle of the most incredible blog party. It started out to be a one day deal to celebrate my 100th post. The joke was that I'd been a member of blogger for a couple of years before I created a blog and really had no interest in blogging (a lot like I feel about Facebook and Twitter now).

If you were part of the blog party, take a trip down memory lane with the link at the end of this post.

If you have no idea what I'm talking about, check it out. It was worldwide and unbelievable.

I have two copies of the limited edition of the total blog party in bound form. If you want one, order through the link in the left sidebar. Click on the book cover in this post to see a larger image.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Read any good books lately?

It's five AM and the mowers are rolling across the golf course (I hate that noise!). I'm sorting through emails before work.

Work? Yes, by day I'm a social worker who works with people who have developmental disabilities. Pretty cool job.

Anyway, the point I'm aiming for is that amidst the email from the lawyer and the advertisement with coupon for business supplies, is the daily feed of publishing news.

There is an article or two about price fixing and how eBooks are too expensive (really? it isn't my fault you bought an expensive eReader).

Forgotten is the time and expertise that goes into creating a book out of an ms. Not to mention that there are several prevailing digital formats to address. Am I the only one who remembers BETA and VHS?

The discussion should be a bit less about price (and price fixing) and a bit more about content. What is a well crafted story worth?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Desert Storms and Rewrites

I sat on the patio this afternoon, well used to the heat, and read mss. This is a photo of the monsoons rolling across the desert.

I've given a lot of thought to how specific I should be about rewrite requests to the CRP authors. The other day I asked my friend Jen Garsee what kind of direction she gets for her rewrites.

I know she disappears when she is doing rewrites and it isn't until they are done, by the deadline, that anyone hears from her. Jen writes for one of the major publishers and has her third YA novel coming out soon. (Links below.)

Here is what she said, which makes me think I do far too much handholding:
The rewrites depend on the book. I had a TON of rewrites with Before.After...almost none with Say The Word...and a lot of editing in the third-- not really rewrites, just needed to cut and tighten. Luckily my agent gives me a lot of advice before it even goes out to my editor [at Bloonsbury USA Children's Books].

ps The rewrite suggestions are never detailed. They just say "I need a scene with blah blah" or "Can you make this character a bit more likeable?" or "We need a transition here..." I have to figure it out myself lol.

Jeannine Garsee
Bloomsbury USA Children's Books

Check out Jen...she writes hysterical blogs.

For more Arizona weather info: We've had several haboobs - it is a strong wind in the desert; a sand storm.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


As if there isn't plenty to learn about writing, then dread strikes when the thought of editing tramps across the bliss of completing the first draft of 'the manuscript.'

There are several different types of editing, named, of course, closely to their actual function.

This is what usually occurs:
Spell check. Done. Off to the best friend or significant other to show off the manuscript, your pride and joy.

The friend likes it, but...

Finally they hesitantly and apologetically mention there are some errors.

Now the serious self-editing begins. The diligent writer reads through the ms on the monitor. He anguishes over the stupid errors he didn't notice before. Then off to another 'sure to rave' friend.

The best use of the writer's time is to print the ms and read it aloud - red pen in hand.

There are some things harder to catch than peek, peak, pique [homonym] goofs and over used words. Because the writer has intimate knowledge of the story and characters, it is easy to miss odd jumps in time, unneeded secondary characters, assumptions the reader knows things that aren't in the story or overly annoying explanations of things anyone would know, a sloppy misuse of literary devices, and a dozen more things that make the ms destined to forever hit the rejection list of the publisher's slush pile.

The solution is simple. It's not your favorite English teacher from school or your super smart friend who knows nothing about writing. The solution is to hire a content editor.

Finally after all the rewrites, and there will be many of them, comes the time for the line editor or proof reader; the final clean up crew.

After spending untold hours writing the ms, don't skip the final polish before sending it and the query letter on its way into the vast world of publishing.

The harsh reality is, regardless of how awesome the story idea is, if it will take too much time to find that gem and polish it into a marketable commodity, most publishers will pass.

There are thousands of mss shopped for publication a year. Yours needs to be competitively written to get the first three chapters read. No one expects perfection from a manuscript, but it really should look like some effort was put into presenting a worthy product.

I thought this was interesting. "Rewriting work under such circumstances more often than not works out to an editing rate of 2 to 3 pages an hour." It really does go at a snail's pace when I "read" a manuscript for content editing.

Enough blog reading, get back to writing the next Great American Novel.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Writing Quote

Short and sweet, here is the quote of the day:
I amazed at how people think they if read a few novels,they could write one. That is like getting a tattoo and thinking they could then open a tattoo salon.

Saturday, July 23, 2011


Often I use the term, 'storyline,' when referring to mss. The recognized industry term is 'plot.' Plot is more than a beginning, middle and end. It is more than the outline from which the story is built.

Plot is the most important element of fiction writing. The plot has to deliver for the reader to feel satisfied with the story. There are style expectations for each type of plot. The reader expects those elements and it's the writer's job to deliver.

First time writers who haven't studied writing often forget about the reader's expectations and the industry demands while in the midst of the feel-good high of writing. I would submit that there is a bio-chemical/emotional high to writing that is as addicting as the one people who exercise feel.

The point of writing, the craft of it, is the reader and the integrity of the art. Much like photography where anyone can take a snapshot with their phone, that doesn't make it a professional photograph (and don't get me started on photoshopped images).

Just so you know how this all fits together, the second important, nearly equally important, element is character. Characters have to have dimension. In one of the first writing classes I took, one assignment was to categorize a list of characters in a story [we read] as flat or round. The character's action and words (dialogue) fill in the life breath to make them real for the reader. By the way, there needs to be a balance of both types of characters in the story.

If there is no plot, the story is simply a collection of words that recount an event in part or in whole. That is largely why I'm not a huge fan of memoirs. Unless well done, they are [to me] much like reading a history book and it isn't a shared history, so why should I [as the reader] care?

There are lots of books on the subject of plot development, here is one I recently read: 20 Master Plots and how to build them by Ronald B Tobias, published by Writer's Digest Books. If you're looking for writing resources, check out Writer's Digest Books. Most of their books are pretty good. A few, I found to be dry reads. Also, shop around and price compare. I found substancial discounts by doing that. Be warned, though, their book list is like sending a kid to a candy store with $10 in their pocket.

Just to cover the legal requirements, I have not been compensated monetarily or in kind to mention the book, author, or publisher in this post.

Friday, July 15, 2011


Quite simply, anyone can tell a story if they start at the beginning and go to the end. However, some people have trouble knowing where the beginning is and start before the beginning. Some people try to put in every detail of the backstory. Other people drop in things they forgot to mention and later need to tell to make something make sense or work.

The other important part is to know when to stop. When there is a group of listeners who become restless, then it is likely that it took too long to get to the point, or the storyteller kept going after it was finished.

But more than that, a writer has to engage the reader to care about the characters and what is coming next. Just because a person can tell a story, doesn't mean they can write a novel.

Make sure you write about people who other people can care about and put them in a setting that the reader can experience too.

Write well. Tell your best story.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

"What's all the haboob about?"

It must have been a slow news day or we are mesmerized about weather with all that is going on around the world.

Most people heard there was a haboob in Phoenix last Tuesday. (Google it, there are plenty of YouTube videos of it.)

A haboob is a wall of sand, much like a desert Tsunami. It's approach is visible on the horizon. It churns as if waves coming inland.

When it hits, it is like a tan blizzard, obscuring the houses across the way from view.

As long as one isn't driving in it, it is interesting to watch the sand blow sideways since the desert sand is not fine like beach sand.

Oddly, when there wasn't even a breeze, a tree fell over in my yard this afternoon. It was good timing since tonight there is another haboob from the opposite direction. I suppose all the sand will return to where it was a week ago.

This has nothing to do with writing or publishing, but since I had so many emails about it, I thought I'd mention it.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Tempus Fugit

Lately there has been more than the usual emails asking if the current work is finished and if I now have time to read xyz ms.

I don't think anyone realizes how many times I go through a ms pending publication. I can almost quote it by the last reading (marking all over it). It is a wonder the author (any author) still emails me after all the times the ms has been sent back for rewrites. On the other hand, not every publisher has the patience for works that require multiple rewrites.

Most of the time it has been a gracious exchange with many patiently withheld frustrations - I'm sure. The ones who won't do rewrites get sent packing.

Here's why:

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Wimpy Words

Sometimes beginning writers are apologetic without realizing it. It shows in word choices. At some point in the process of transforming an ms to a publishable book, I go through metnodically and evaluate the strength of each sentences, word by word.

I'm looking at the following:
Clarity - does it say what the writer meant?
Continuity - the connected whole (without jumping around in time or big gaps that are distracting).
Wimpy words - words that drain the energy or strength from the sentence.

Most people know (or have heard of) the eight parts of speech. I often mention that there are 48 prepositions because my youngest child counted then and it stuck in my mind. As a side bar, I don't think it is necessary to memorize them as was my son's school assignment, but it is worth having a sense of what they are so you know them when you see them.

What I think we do too little of is diagram sentences. That's where clarity gets sorted. A missing punctuation (as exampled by the book title, Eats, Shoots & Leaves) or a misplaced modifier can have humerous and possibly disasterous results. That is where diagraming a troubling sentence can help sort the problem.

Wimpy words are the easiest to fix. Simply delete them. But what is a wimpy word (a term I coined, I think)?

But what is a wimpy word? We use them in everyday conversations and in our head as we write. They are words that weaken the dynamics of the story.

It was almost 5:00. Since this is fiction, it doesn't have to be exact. Remove almost and read it again. Stronger? The added bonus in removing almost is it picks up the pace. Pacing is important in keeping the reader from disengaging with the story. (More on that some other time.)

As everything else in First Draft, this is strictly my opinion, and I'll have to add to the list as time goes on because I only think of them as I'm reading an ms (hopefully they aren't in professionally published books).

Always, almost, any, often, sometimes, about, and (to connect thoughts when it should be two sentences rather than one), even, nearly, also, each, both, and others I haven't thought of at the moment. A few of these words goes a long ways.

As you read through line by line, with a magnafying glass in your mind, notice these, then run a search for them. Keep only the essential ones and delete the rest. Less is more. By keeping the ones that really matter in the sentence, they are more powerful. The nonessential ones weaken the sentence.

My personal trigger is and then. It slows down the pace horibally to use both, pick one. I know I'm crossing the line on grammar rules, but it bugs me to have both words together.

And if you get bored with that, run a search for places you have two blank spaces after a period/full stop. Replace them with one blank space.

Sunday, June 12, 2011


I'm a year older, today isn't my birthday, but it was a few days ago. I'm huge on reflecting and planning, especially when landmarks come and go.

One thing I'm wondering is whether I have any more awesome bits of wisdom to pass on to budding writers. Not that I'd want you to wade through all the posts to find the information, but haven't I said it all by now?

What questions do you have about writing? Let's see if anyone leaves questions in the comment section. Or even comments in the comments. Also, if you think it is time to retire this blog, say can use the anonymous setting, if you'd like.

Sunday, May 29, 2011


Frankly, most first time writers think they are finished when the first draft is written. Trust me, it is just the beginning. That is why it is called a 'draft.'

I don't care if your mother, lover, or best friend says it is wonderful. It is not. What they probably mean is they think YOU are wonderful. And that is probably true.

As a side note, I just read an article about how many people in America think they should (and could) write a novel. If I find it again, I'll post the link at the bottom.

The reality is that most people who write are hobbyists. Being a professional writer is a different mind-set. For one thing, those people study the craft. It is pure BS that you can learn to write well by reading tons of novels. It shows when I read a submitted ms and no study into the craft has been done by the writer, though their library card is well worn.

There are very few natural writers who write at the professional level from day 1. I only know of one writer like that.

So what about everyone else, the non-naturals, who has a passion for writing? I'd say, harness that passion and drive. Take your writing to the next level. Study the craft. Study the industry (which is far less interesting than studying writing). Get serious and disciplined with your writing time. Talk is cheap. Get some ink on the paper.

Write the first draft straight through. Some people like to make an outline first, but I think that is best suited for non-fiction and it drains some of the energy out of the story if too much time is invested in writing an outline for a novel.

Plus, I contend that with an outline, the writer knows things that never get in the book, and that leaves the reader in the dark. They are expected to make leaps when the writer could have easily provided the stepping stones - those tidbits that were in the outline.

Basically, a writer needs to know where their characters are at the beginning and where they want them to be, developmentally, at the end. Find your starting point and write to the end point. If you've learned about the craft, you know how the journey from beginning to end should look on paper. A professional knows how to write a good middle story.

Some people think they need to edit-on-the-fly as they write the first draft. I can tell those who have edited one chapter before writing the next one. It has a disjointed feel to it when I read it. I don't know how else to explain it. Even if I like them, I 'pass' on the ms because it is too much work to fix the flow of energy that should be there.

The correct way to write a draft for a novel is to write from the beginning to end, straight through. Keep your eye on the prize. If you get preachy, it shows. If you go on a side excursion, it shows.

Besides stopping too soon, such as when the first draft is done, some writers do one or two edits and think it is done. Even if a line editor is hired, most do not provide content editing. The only suggestion I'll make on that is to print the whole ms on paper, get a friend who has not read your draft, sit for a whole weekend, and read it aloud to them. Even if you have to go it alone, read it aloud and listen to what is on the page.

Watch for stiff dialogue. How many of us speak grammatically correct in our conversations? Watch for time warps. Watch for telling the reader what is happening rather than showing them. Watch for side excursions where a secondary character tries to upstage the main character. (You can write a novel featuring them some other time.) Of course, you'll see lots of typos. Watch for homonyms and synonyms gone awry. Watch for sentences that are too long (how many breaths did it take to get through that one?). Watch for recycling unusual words too many times. Watch for places that are simply boring as hell and don't move the story forward.

The sooner you read your ms aloud from paper, the shorter the polishing process is...that means the fewer rewrites you will need to do.

There is one odd thing that always seems to happen. As soon as you submit your ms to someone with the hope of a publishing contract, you will see previously hidden mistakes that begin to glare at you and probably would glow in the dark if you were brave enough to turn out the lights.

I get follow-up emails with a horrified panicky tone. If the query letter is well done, and the synopsis is correctly done (and interesting to me), I can over look errors in the ms - providing there aren't a million of them and the writing is still solid.

However, that said, there are so many people writing these days due to laptops vs the manual typewriter, that it is worth it not to submit without letting the ink dry and reading the whole ms again before submitting it to anyone.

And the final word on the topic of "stop" is to not over write. Stop when the story is done. Some people like to keep writing and writing, and writing, because writing is fun. But you have to think about when the reader will feel the story is finished and stop there.

Go! Write your best work!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

O'dark thirty

Translation: It is entirely too early for "them" to be out there on the golf course mowing before 5 AM. Who can possibly love golf enough to welcome the intrusion into their sleep hours? (Not me!) Yesterday morning they were out with gas powered saws trimming the trees at the crack of dawn. Really, guys?

It isn't all that different to get caught up with writing the next Great American Novel and not think about anything else.

Here are some things to think about. If you're going to write a historical novel, study the time period. That means do more research than read other historical novels.

There is something to be said about the maxim, write what you know. Several years ago, someone was writing a novel set in Southern California - my neck of the woods, so to speak. They had never been to America. The story premise was interesting, but it should have been set somewhere the author knew.

One thing about the beach scenes in Kathryn's Beach that strikes universal is the inclusion of the spray and the gritiness of being on the beach. (Go to the video page of and watch both videos.)

When we lived in the Midwest, we would watch movies set in the western desert. I always perked up when I saw areas in the Mojave Desert in California, because I spent equal amounts of my childhood in that high desert region. It is much different from the Sonoran Desert of Arizona.

Besides setting, switching to dialects or nationalities requires attention to detail. Consult a local person to read your ms for authenicity. The homeless woman in Kathryn's trilogy speaks with an Appalachian drawl. Did I get it right? It isn't critical because that was her street persona, not the real person she was. But it is believable enough to pass inspection until her real identity is revealed.

Basically, don't get caught up in the rush of writing and forget that someday someone will read it. And if that someone is not your mother, lover, or best friend, they are going to notice things like the moon rising at 2 AM or the slight misspeaks your characters do.

There are thousands of people with laptops ticking out a novel. If you want published, you have to get it right because someone else out there is determined enough to pay attention to the details. The Cactus Rain team notices this stuff.

If you want to get ahead of everyone else, print your ms (yes, on paper) and read it aloud. Yes, ALOUD. You can be sure I will do that to your ms before offering a contract to publish.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

My Mother Hen Moment

There is so much great information on the Internet for beginning writers. It is easy to get overwhelmed with the process of distilling the information. Certainly, I believe, there are better blogs than mine, though I don't know which they are, nor do I really care who is better than me, as long as I'm my best.

Writing is a craft. It is also an art. It is also a profession. Here are a few tips, and as always, they are IMO. (IMO is In My Opinion. Most often it is IMHO, but there is nothing humble about my opinion. I very rarely apoligize for it or for calling it like I see it, therefore, forget thinking I'm humble when it comes to this craft and this industry.) we go!

It takes most people hours, months, and sometimes years to write a novel. I'm among the fortunate few who can write a complet draft in 40 hours, eg, a couple hours a day for three weeks.

That said, it totally amazes me that such lack of care is given to soliciting publication. Seriously, folks, this isn't an entitlement. Anyone wanting to be part of this wonderful and sometimes bizzare thing of writing must put at least equal effort into the submission process as into the writing process.

Here are a few obvious things that result in me not reading the first three chapters of a submitted ms: When a query letter begins, "Dear Sir," it is nearly sudden death then and there. Besides the fact, that as a woman, it annoys the hell out of me to be addressed as "Sir," it also indicates that the person sending the query hasn't bothered to find out if I am a sir.

A quick look at Cactus Rain Publishing's website reveals my name. A google will find First Draft, and I'm pretty sure the photo of me doesn't look like a "Sir."

The next arogant thing that catches my attention is the brush off query letter. It goes like this: I wrote this novel (please don't say "fiction novel" - novels ARE fiction) and have attached the synopsis and first three chapters for you to read.

It tells me nothing about the submission, assuming I'll jump over the correctly written query letters and rush to read the synopsis attached. Um...let me think on, no.

This isn't a complete list of what should go into a query letter, but it is a business letter that is your first and best attempt to get the reader to consider the ms. It should include the genre, the length (word count), and a two or three sentence paragraph that pitches the the manuscript (ms).

The pitch to readers (blurbs and such) is different from the pitch to an agent or publisher. There should be no fluff to it. For example, Kathryn's Beach is an 80,000 word contemporary woman's lit story of a social worker who returns to face the case that ended her career. It is set in Southern California near Los Angeles. That is very bare bones and wouldn't get a reader excited, but in this case, that isn't the point of the pitch.

The next problem area that results in a decline email is the synopsis. There is a search feature for this blog in the sidebar to the left. Search 'synopsis' for tips about the form and substance of synopsis, especially if you intend to query Cactus Rain.

It is heartbreaking to tell hopeful authors that their work is not a good fit for Cactus Rain. But at least it shouldn't be because the query process was slopped together and doesn't represent the work submitted or the writer's intent to become a professional, not a hobbiest.

Good writing, good luck, and God-speed.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Flap copy...

What a weird term that is (this post title, in case I've lost anyone). Well, this wordsmithing industry is like that. What can I say?

At the time it made sense to me to follow the article about book cover art and back of the book (though some show up on the front) blurbs with something about jacket flap copy.

Or I could write about the divorce that takes one step forward and two backwards and is simply annoying. You know, the one with the adulterous "husband" who writes in the petition that the "wife" cannot cohabitate? Seriously?

Who would want to cohabitate? Do you know anyone who would pay their half of the rent and utilities on time without reminders, keep their room clean, leave the toilet in the closed position, never-ever park close enough to roommate's car to dent it, agree not to have sleep-overs (even in the daytime), and never be home when "wife" is. I don't think that person exists and besides, what does any of this have to do with a blog about writing?

Actually, the point is not to tease readers. Not with the cover art, the blurbs, the jacket flap copy, or stupid stories that are not part of the plot. Be honest with your readers, deliver a well crafted story with good writing. That will sell.

Point taken?

Sunday, May 8, 2011


I keep reading this article because it is so true, and because I like the way it is written. (See below for link.) At the same time, I think I should put it out there for my readers to read. Partly, I'm inclined because it should be an eye-opener to new writers and because old writers, like me, will nod in the truth of it and laugh at the truth of it, too.

So why am I finally posting this? There was an ms nearly ready for publishing. It had been an uphill project and many frustrating hours to get to that point. When we got to the cover art, nothing was acceptable. It was becoming a money pit that I couldn't afford. And frankly, some days I'm just too tired to put up with arguments and whining. So out the window it went.

The reality is that when a publisher takes on an ms, the writer has to let go and let it get published. The whining and and fit pitching that worked on mom, teacher, lover...simply wears my patience thin. In that case, my advice is to find a company that does POD books and put your own money on the line.

Homework: Read this!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Internet Radio

I think this is very cool. Listen to the beginning of this ... (New perspectives du Jeudi 30 Mars)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

What NOT to write

Lately, there have been quite a few queries for young adult novels. My friend Jen Garsee writes YA, and I love her books. However, she writes for a huge publisher who specializes in YA.

While I can't possibly list all the genre that Cactus Rain isn't interested in, YA is certainly not a market we can romance.

What we are interested in is mainstream fiction that appeals to a wide general audience. I tend to like good solid stories that are well written. Books with staying power, timeless, fit our business model.

While I fully understand the crazy drive to write a specific story - we are nearly possessed at times - writers also have to understand the industry and the buying habits of readers.

Think about the last 10 books you bought full price. I have several friends who haven't bought a book in years. They borrow them from a circle of friends who trade among themselves.

There are no royalties to authors on books loaned, borrowed, bought at garage sales, or used book stores. Books bought from discount retailers don't bring full royalties either.

At some point in a writer's transition from crazed hobbiest to professional, thinking changes and an understanding emerges regarding the mind set of the reading public. That is how publishers think.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Have you seen this?

View this in full screen and turn up the volume.


Every day this week, I've written a post. No matter what I try, it comes out in one huge paragraph. I don't have time to figure out the problem until this weekend, just wanted you to know that it isn't for lack of trying that I haven't posted. Read this for now. Maybe we can discuss it in the comments???

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day to those in the UK - and elsewhere - who celebrated it this past weekend.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

More stuff about querying ...

It might just be me, but when I see quotes from other works at the beginning of the manuscript or each chapter, my head starts talking, "No! No-no-nooooo. Don't even consider that ms!"

I suppose that any sensible writer would remove the quotes if the prospective publisher indicated that the headache of getting license for each of those gems was a barrier to getting a publishing contract.

There are provisions for short quotes in the US Copyright laws, however my legal advisor says that those do not include uses for profit. News flash: books are published with the hope of making a profit. Besides, I have a personal moral about lifting other people's works without permission. I wouldn't want it done to my stuff, so why do it?

This includes cover art and fonts. We pay for the licence for our cover art and fonts that aren't free use.

Another thing about making a profit. Just because your mother, best friend, lover, teacher, or writers group loves your ms doesn't mean there is a market for it. And just because your mother, best friend, lover, teacher, or writers group edited the ms, it really isn't "book edited" IMO. So if either of those statements are true, don't put them in a query letter to Cactus Rain - or probably anyone else.

I'm not interested in writing awards unless it is the Nobel Prize in Literature, the Pulitzer, or maybe the Man Booker. Actually, there are two others that might get my attention, but definitely not awards from writing groups. Those can be as much a popularity contest as a writing contest. How am I to know?

Don't pull a James Frey in reverse. Cactus Rain only publishes fiction. Changing the names of the people involved in a real event is not fiction. While I get lots of comments that I'm Kathryn in Kathryn's Beach, it isn't true. That isn't my story. A couple of people wanted in KB, so I let them write themselves into the story, mostly by naming a character -- but it is fiction.

Don't send memoirs, though I will consider a faux memoir. But honestly, memoirs usually don't sell unless they are celebrity memoirs, and if that is the case they won't be coming to Cactus Rain anyway.

I'm being pesky this week, but on the other hand, the query letter is asking me to love the ms enough to put money behind it, so I'm laying some of my cards on the table. It is important to know who you're querying and what they like.

Please don't send letters to Cactus Rain that begin, "Dear Sir." I'm many things, but Sir is not one of them.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Totally off topic

I was visiting and found this lovely photo. Someone needs to write a novel worthy of this on the cover.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Next Step

Out of six recent submissions, two have made the next cut. I know you've heard this before, but let's look at some of the things that can be done to get through the next hurtle to get your york of fiction published.

The query, by some stroke of luck, got the reader to want to read the three chapter submission. Good job!

Here are some things that can get the chapter sample a favorable read. First off, submit exactly what is asked for in the guidelines. In the case of Cactus Rain, I like to see the first three chapters. Never send chapters that aren't the first and in sequential order - no skipping to the good part. The beginning has to be the good part.

Manuscript format counts more than you'd think. Double spacing the lines in an ms is not optional - ever. The people who did not set up their software before embarking on the adventure of writing, have work to do to fix that omission. Single spaced paragraphs with spaces between them is not correct. Manuscripts must be double spaced lines. Always.

One space between sentences is the mark of someone who's done their research. It is never okay to have two spaces between sentences in an ms.

At this point, if these two basic formatting errors are present, it is likely that the writer knows even less about writing. Before I became so busy, I would give a "pity read," but even I don't have the time for that now.

For writers who believe in the value of their story, but are not good with grammar - in the slightest, then it is worth paying for a professional line edit. Line edits are about grammar and punctuation, they are not the same as content editing. They are not ready for submission just because they were edited by your English teacher or grammar-geek friend.

It is not necessary to be able to recite the 48 prepositions, but the writer should have a basic knowledge of parts of speech (there are 8 in US English -- how hard is that to review?) and review the basic punctuation rules.

There are differences between UK English and American English punctuation rules. However, there are some things that I will never tolerate again. The number one offender is ellipsis marks. It is rare that ellipsis would fit correctly in a work of fiction; if you use them, don't send your ms to Cactus Rain Publishing.

In school we're taught there is a formula to paragraph writing where a certain number of sentences and types of sentences are required. That is not wholly true in fiction. The trick on fiction paragraphs [and dialogue] is easy.

This next bit isn't the technical way to explain this and if Nick Daws reads it, he is likely to comment - consider yourself warned.

Think of dialogue and scenes as a tennis game. Each time someone speaks, the ball is in their court and you look their direction - that equals a new paragraph. Every change in speaker in dialogue is the start of a new paragraph. Even if the speaker gets only one word said, they get their own line.

Basically the same is true for scenes. When you take the reader from one location or one "camera shot" to another in the same location, then make a new paragraph. For example, if the reader is facing the fountain as the setting behind the scene action, then the action comes from another direction, say from behind the reader, that is a new paragraph. Think of it as watching the ball in tennis and it has changed courts.

This post is getting furiously lengthy, so I'll take a break here. This would be a good time to save a master copy of your ms, then run searches for things like double spaces between sentences, and fix them in a new file doc.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

How to Romance me...

(Keep in mind that I have not done a call for manuscript submissions -yet.)

There are two books in the cooker, so to speak, nearly done and ready to be published. And a third project very near and dear to my heart (yes, you Uncle John).

Recently, three extraordinary queries landed in the Cactus Rain submission box. I have no idea how these new three found Cactus Rain. We have not shelled out big bucks for SEO for the website and I've been unusually absent from my usual treks across the internet in my usual haunts. All I can figure is that Joyce, my wonderful-can't-live-without-her web designer, did her usual stellar job on creating so that it would be found.

At any rate, of the three new queries, one is the best query letter I've ever seen. One had no query letter and launched head-long into an extended elevator pitch that had me smiling by the third paragraph. The third has an intriguing story, but said something that really got my attention in a recent email.

So this year for Cactus Rain, not yet two years old, is looking quite good. Trust me, ask anyone who knows me, I ain't that easy to impress...but these three certainly got my attention. They will each hear from me shortly.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Something I like

As strong as the desire is to fit in and be accepted, we usually try to give our children enough self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-worth that they are not owned by the latest fad, and yet have some sense of fashion and style.

The latest fad I'm hearing is, "It is what it is!" It is already annoying me and I can't believe the number of people who say it. First off, I think it sounds stupid. Might as well say something jibberish. I have a strong desire to reply, "And just what is it, exactly?" (So far, I haven't given in and asked.)

The point I'm leading up to here is that sometimes a writer will get in a rut with a cliche and over do it. Being cute or clever isn't the same as good writing and the reader will tire of it.

I'm probably one of the toughest audiences for writers, because I don't like to read fiction. I love reading mss because I accept that they aren't the finished product. But once a book is published, especially by a big publisher, I expect the story to represent fine writing. So when I can't put down a book and read it in one weekend, that is meaningful.

Ray Derby writes government conspiracy books that fling me into their world and hold me there until the end. If you're serious about reading a good book or two, grab Ray's books while they are still in print.

Something I like

As strong as the desire is to fit in and be accepted, we usually try to give our children enough self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-worth that they are not owned by the latest fad, and yet have some sense of fashion and style.

The latest fad I'm hearing is, "It is what it is!" It is already annoying me and I can't believe the number of people who say it. First off, I think it sounds stupid. Might as well say something jibberish. I have a strong desire to reply, "And just what is it, exactly?" (So far, I haven't given in and asked.)

The point I'm leading up to here is that sometimes a writer will get in a rut with a cliche and over do it. Being cute or clever isn't the same as good writing and the reader will tire of it.

I'm probably one of the toughest audiences for writers, because I don't like to read fiction. I love reading mss because I accept that they aren't the finished product. But once a book is published, especially by a big publisher, I expect the story to represent fine writing. So when I can't put down a book and read it in one weekend, that is meaningful.

Ray Derby writes government conspiracy books that fling me into their world and hold me there until the end. If you're serious about reading a good book or two, grab Ray's books while they are still in print.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Thou shalt not...

There is a lot written about how to write, and perhaps a bit less written about how not to write. Somewhere in the middle is perfection. The closer a manuscript hits that mark, the more likely it is to become published.

In my mind there are two types of writers: Those who plan every detail so that by the time they have written, rewritten, and edited each chapter before moving forward it is totally rigid and has no energy left; and those who write stream of consciously thinking every word is golden, which results in a whole lot of superfluous dribble and clever remarks to the reader.

Either style has to have an end point in mind. The story line has to stay on track and get from A to B with little distraction and wandering off to too many antidotes that do not advance the story. The writer has to keep asking, "What does this have to do with the story?" and stay true to the story line.

The elements of good writing that I look for when I consider a queried piece are these:
1) Does the story move along to a logical endpoint in an interesting way to keep the reader reading?
2) Are the characters developed with a heartbeat so the reader cares about them?
3) Is the dialogue realistic or forced? (Someone once told me they write the first draft, then go back and add the dialogue. I can't imagine how that would work.)
4) Has the ms been polished enough to show me the author cares about the craft?
5) The ms has to be marketable. Marketability has many facets. It has to appeal to a definable audience, and for me, it has to contribute to the Cactus Rain catalogue.

Before a book can reach the reader, the author has to first reach a literary agent or publisher and sell the story. It would be insane not to do multiple submissions, but each should be tailored to the recipient. Do the research. It makes no sense to spend years writing the perfect ms then sending it to the wrong person.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

di·a·lect [dahy-uh-lekt]

The question of writing in dialect, particularly when it involves phonetic spellings, is usually answered emphatically, "NO! Don't do it."

Strictly following EVERY rule of writing [of course], I gave the parade lady (in my trilogy) the voice of a street version of a southern black Appalachian woman. As with most things in literary fiction that was an enigma. Later the reader understands who that woman really is and her message (role) in the story.

I've seen dialect done extremely well by Jewell Parker Rhodes in her Douglass' Women. She did a reading (by memory) that totally silenced the room. I would dare anyone to tell Jewell not to write in dialect. She did it masterfully.

Historically, the grand master of dialect is Mark Twain. Recently there was the [misguided] notion to sanitize Mark Twain's writing and remove the offensive N-word [and a bit more].

Having heard several stage productions (by Hal Holbrook) of Mr Clemens' essays, I'd doubt he would go along with such a project. He didn't treat any subject delicately, and his writing would not be immune from his brisk no-nonsense opinions either.

Substitute "damn" every time you're inclined to write "very"; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. Mark Twain

"Fixing" Mark Twain's writing would make as much sense as "fixing" Shakespear. (Who comes up with these ideas?)

Like anything in fiction writing, dialect has to be a justifiable part of the story. And, it has to be done extremely well.

Catch this link, it is what started me thinking on this topic:

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Bragging Rights...

Glyn Pope certainly has bragging rights about his novel, The Doctor, The Plutocrat, and The Mendacious Minister.

A quote from BBC radio has been added to the back cover of his book.

RICH IN ATMOSPHERE and the colour of the time, all the characters in Glyn Pope's novel are alive. This is a true reflection of life in a certain suburb of Leicester in the English East Midlands, but the themes are universal. This could well be your neighbourhood facing the challenges of a changing world at the end of the 2nd World War. Enjoyable and challenging.
Stephen Butt, BBC Radio

Today, there is an article about "Doc" in the local newspaper, the Leicester Mercury. Follow the link.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

More on editing...

I love that Glynis, in Cypress, is only person who dared to comment on the last post. Cheers to you, Glynis!

Being a huge fan of Jacqueline Kennedy, I love that she spent 20 years as an editor. I can imagine her sense of style as she midwife'd a manuscript into a masterpiece of literature.

Read the article below and let me know what you think? Would you let (or have you let) someone take a serious hand in the development of your manuscript-to-book? Please post a comment on what it is like to let go enough to let someone mess with your baby. I know it is difficult.

That midwifery is a given for Cactus Rain Publishing, LLC's books. I'm very fast to send packing any author not willing to take direction, since I do (as it turns out) know a thing or two about this industry. I'll content edit a chapter or two before we mention the word contract. I am way past the hand-holding part of life, and all about business when it comes to producing a book that I will put my [Italian made] logo on the cover.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Anything is possible

There is a freeze advisory for the central Arizona deserts tonight and the next few days. The palm trees took a hit earlier this winter, but this is the deep freeze. Many of the houses in my neighborhood have adorned their most precious plants with blankets and towels. My yard is the same. The expected low tonight is 24F, freezing is 32F.

When the boys were younger we would look at things in nature, particularly sunsets and cloud formations, and discuss how if they were in a painting just as they were - they would not look real.

That is a question writers need to ask constantly as they edit and rewrite their manuscripts. "Does this seem real?"

Some people think their life story is memoir worthy. Frankly, memoirs by unknown people rarely sell more than a handful of copies. There are tragic moments most of us have endured and risen to overcome in heroic fashion, but that doesn't mean our story is book material.

I've had writers argue with me about dialogue changes stating that the line was what was really said. Perhaps so, but it isn't believable in fiction. As they say in the courtroom, it doesn't have the ring of truth to it.

Even in fiction, the writer must ask the hard questions: "Is this believable?" "Will the reader dispense with reality and sink into the story?"

Fantasy and science fiction writers master this or at least struggle with it. Same with romance writers, though rarely do I think the story is believable.

Writing errors can be corrected, but bad writing is just that -- bad. Prepare to step up to the big time and make sure your writing measures up. I boast that Cactus Rain books can stand toe-to-toe with any other book on the shelf, beginning with The Doctor, The Plutocrat, and The Mendacious Minister.

Check it out and tell me what you think.

Friday, January 28, 2011

WOW! Look at Karen Dionne

I like to follow the stock market news. Big surprise? Clicking through the AOL stock section, as usual, I targeted an article about Border's bookstores. A quick scroll through the article to preview the length and whether I really wanted to read it, and guess what I saw?

I should say, guess WHO I saw. Karen Dionne! Karen and I met long ago on the writer's forum, Backspace. There is a small fee to be a member since it is a private forum. However, it is a place where some agents hang out and some very well known million dollar writer I can think of right off.

Karen is the driving force in an annual mystery writing conference in New York City. She is also the author of Freezing Point and Boiling Point, both ecological disaster thrillers. As anyone who knows me can guess, I have autographed copies in my library. That's one thing you can't do with ebooks, BTW.

So, go check out Karen's article:

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Matt Laman is engaged

Meagan is escorted, look at that!

Maitiu is on his knee.

That's my boy! And Meagan said, "Yes!"

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Remember when...?

Do you remember when I posted daily? I seemed to have less trouble posting every day than I have aiming for a weekly post. Last year was horrendous, personally, for me. The good bit was, of course, getting Cactus Rain Publishing off the ground after working toward that end for five years.

I've been in California for a funeral and it was wonderful to be with my family again and at home. It was a chance to revalidate me and the Cactus Rain project with family.

Let me recap where Cactus Rain is: The debut novel, The Doctor, The Plutocrat, and The Mendacious Minister (by Glyn Pope) is doing awesome. The reviews are great and we're waiting for one promised from the BBC. It is still being considered for adaptation for the stage. It has been published in ebook form for Kindle, Nook, iPad, and Sony reader by Coyote Moon Books.

You can see the cover art on the Cactus Rain website (link on the sidebar to the left).

There are more that I simply haven't had time to preview. I know that waiting for an answer is difficult, but then again that is part of the industry process. Nothing happens fast in this industry.

Keep writing, rewrite and edit after you get the first draft completed. It definitely shows when you do it the other way around. The story simply is not as dynamic when edits are done during the first draft. (A word to the wise.)

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Something most of us knew.

Social media doesn't deliver sales as well as direct marketing (emailing a list or word of mouth) and a website.

There are only 24 hours in a day and Facebook (et al) isn't where I'm spending even one of them.

The fact is that books are discounted on Cactus Rain Publishing website all day - every day. I can't make it any simpler than that.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

My view

From my back patio the view is the golf course. If you are imagining lush lawns, think desert. The only green I see is the tee (look by the cactus outside the fence). However, it has provided insightful entertainment. I'll put a writer's spin on it, if I can.

Some people love golf so much that they play in the rain, yes, they swing metal rods around while it is lightening. Real writers have passion and will do whatever it takes to get time to write.

Some people wear brightly colored knickers and matching golf shirt. Real writers know it isn't the laptop that is going to make a story good.

Some people have a horrendous swing, but the ball gets to the green. Some people have a knack for writing.

Some people swing like they practice a lot and have had lessons from the pro shop. Some people work at their craft to produce the best written work possible, including taking lessons.

There isn't any way to tell before the ball is hit who is going to drive it into a nearby house, sometimes a window. (Always be ready to take cover.) Most writers know that there is always someone looking to make money on writers, rather than on writing and you can't always tell how good their info is until it flies into a wall. Don't be a dope.

Some people drive quickly past the tee and eventually circle back through the desert. Beginning writers often think they are done when the first draft is finished. There is no excaping rewrites. Everyone does them, and lots of them.

Once in a while someone walks the course. (You write this one.)

Almost everyone looks like Fred Flinstone in their golf cart. Don't be full of yourself. So, you're a writer? Prove it!