Wednesday, December 5, 2012

"Take Five"

Barely able to play the radio and certainly not a musical instrument, I admire musicians like one would expect of a non-musical person.

One person I really admire is Dave Brubeck, the jazz genius. Dave died today, as we all will. However, his idea that jazz should be 5/4 time has always fascinated me. He said that if we didn't play something unconventional once in a while, we don't move forward in Jazz.

The argument could be made that the same is true of most things. There is one person on the Cactus Rain team who has, what I believe to be, a nearly photographic memory. She reads mss for me, and the most important asset is that she points out when someone is borrowing from another work.

In whatever you do, dare to be unconventional. Be your authentic self in your writing [or music].

Watch Dave here:

Monday, November 12, 2012

Irene Watson

Recently, I had a bit of good news that I was going to share with Irene. The last time we talked she was excited about doing something new. And finally, I had something new to tell her. But she died last week, so I guess she already knows my news. I know she would be delighted with it.

We often talked shop. Of course, there were the industry tips we'd share. The one thing we were safe to do with each other was to be brutally honest about the publishing industry in ways that it isn't politically correct to be with just anyone. That was refreshing. I liked that about Irene, among other traits that probably everyone who knew her liked about her.

I will miss her. But my publishing experience is much richer for knowing her.

Get her book, The Sitting Swing, and meet my friend, Irene Watson.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Most Important Tip

The other day I was asked what was the one thing that makes the most difference in writing fiction. If I can choose only one thing, which was the case in that conversation, it would be to learn to recognize the difference between passive and active voice.

The reason that having a friend who is good in grammar or an English teacher edit a manuscript doesn't guarantee a marketable piece of work is that having impeccable grammar isn't enough. While it doesn't hurt for a writer to learn the eight parts of speech, it certainly doesn't make them a fiction writer.

Fiction writers, of any genre, should be able to deliver the basics of character development, story line with arcs, and an engaging beginning with a satisfying ending.

But it is voice, I think, that brings the story from the slush pile to publication. An active voice that shows far more than tells will grab the reader and hold them though to the end. And, if that reader is an acquisition editor of your most desired publisher, all the better.

Good writing isn't one skill; it is a skill set. I've mentioned other skills above that a writer who wants to improve their writing should learn: character development, strong story line, engaging beginning, satisfying ending, basic grammar, showing versus telling (and when to do each), and an active voice. That list isn't complete, but it is a start. Part of a writer's job is to continue to learn their craft, and perfect it.

What tip do you give people about becoming a writer?

Sunday, August 26, 2012

New Query Policy

Some people refer to their manuscript as their "baby." That tells me that no matter what needs fixed before it can be published, every word is sacred and regardless of how wrong the manuscript will not be changed for God or country, much less for a publisher.

When that is the case, and if you know you don't want anyone to mess with your masterpiece, self-publishing of one type or another is the solution. There are three basic groups of self-publishing. One is to upload your ms to one of several free sites (free to upload, but consider the cost of books), send the file to a for-hire outfit (consider the cost of the service and the books), and the real-deal self-publishing model where the writer finds and hires each professional in the publishing process; editor, proof reader, book formatter (layout), cover artist, and off-set printer. Be prepared for several thousand books to be in the first run.

For those seeking publishing from a large publisher, the process is to query literary agents. Most small independent publishers, like Cactus Rain Publishing, will accept a query directly from the writer. Purists reserve the word author for a writer of a published work.

In general, the basics of the query process are universal. Some agencies and lit agents add specifics to the query fundamentals, which are the genre, the page count, a brief synopsis of the ms, and a short bio of the writer as it pertains to the specific ms being queried.

In addition to the query letter, which is a business letter, is a one page (single spaced lines, written in third person) synopsis that tells the beginning, middle, and end of the story. The final item is the sample chapters. These are the first chapters not chapters in random order. For CRP, it is the first three chapters.

In the past, CRP has responded to each query. Most often a reason for rejection has been given, such as we don't publish non-fiction. At times I've coaxed the basic information out of the writer by asking, "What is the genre of this work?" or "What is the word count?" Those days are over.

That practice is coming to an end. A query should not be mysterious about what major event changed the protagonist's life and neither should the query. There is no way to know if I want to publish a book that I know nothing about. I'm not sure the reason, but recently someone sent a query without the required sample chapters. How am I to know if they can hook the reader and can deliver the basics of writing?

The new policy is that there will not be a response if the query does not follow the posted guidelines. My belief is if a writer thinks their manuscript has merit, they will put forth the effort to correctly query it.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Write with a knowing voice

It is no surprise Diane Keziah Robertson's book, The Lacemaker's Daughter, is selling like hotcakes to hungry people. Lacemaking is an ancient craft that looks very difficult to learn (video below).  It works perfectly that Diane is a lacemaker. Her knowledge of the craft adds the authenticity that brings truth (believability) to her fiction.

Two comments from early readers of the manuscript are the basis for this post. One person said the book, set in England in the 1770's, should have been set in America. The reasoning was, of course, that Americans rather read about America.

That advise makes perfect sense. First off, the American colonies were no more a miniature England than was colonial India, so sure, that would work. (Of course not.)

I can imagine moving Kathryn's Beach, one of my books, to Arizona. I hardly think that Kathryn would have run to the hot desert for solace in the way she ran to the beach.

A story needs to be set where it belongs.

If Americans are only interested in stories set in America, then what is the explanation for the popularity of the Da Vinci Code or James Bond, or even Out of Africa and Mary Poppins? Please don't mention to J. K. Rowling that she should have written her million+ best sellers about Harry Potter set in America. It simply would not have worked.

Another suggestion was that the book didn't contain enough about lacemaking. Um, refer to the title. The book is about the daughter of a lacemaker. It is fiction, not a how-to book.

What does work is that Diane knows a whole lot about lacemaking and gave that essence to the story. The book gives a glimpse of the life of an English lacemaker. But the story is about one particular person, her family, and the people she meets.

Keeping with the Cactus Rain Publishing tradition, Diane delivers a well written, entertaining, feel-good read that does what literature is expected to do; guide the reader through an enjoyable experience that dispenses with their current reality.

The point is, write what you know. If your character is schizophrenic and you have no experience with the classic behaviors of schizophrenic people, on and off their medication, then do the research to make your story, even fantasy and science fiction, believable to the point the reader can dispense with reality and become immersed into the story. Follow Diane's example of excellence in storytelling.

Happy writing and reading.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Amazing Book!

The Lacemaker's Daughter is an absolutely amazing book. When author Diane Keziah Robertson held her first reading, I meant to get a post with a photo on First Draft. However, I've been wearing out the road to town shipping books to her. Sales are far above expectaions.

Diane has been the featured author at several events in the month and a half since The Lacemaker's Daughter was published, with more events booked.

Get your copy of The Lacemaker's Daughter to check out why it is selling like hot cakes, and I'll get a picture or two posted as soon as I can. and

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Lacemaker's Daughter

The latest book published by Cactus Rain Publishing has me quite excited. The Lacemaker's Daughter was written by Diane Keziah Robertson without the heavy syrup of show-offish historical detail. Keep in mind that I've read this book 20-30 times in the last year; from manuscript to publication.

Yet, Diane has me, the reader, sitting outside a thatched-roof cottage in Devon, England with Susannah and involved in her life within minutes. Before I knew it, I was fully anticipating the day she got her first pair of [used] boots after walking in the snow barefooted.

Like any mother, when Susannah does something impulsive, I think, "No! No, don't do that!" And when she does something wise or brave beyond her years, I think how proud her mother would be of her.

Even though Diane's sister's research found Susannah, a child lace maker, in their family tree, the Susannah in the story isn't real in historical context. But I forget all of that as I read this delightful, inspiring story and get lost in the lives between the pages.

The book is available now. This is a book you'll want to read again, even if you never read books twice.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Query Letter

We really need to get back to the basics. I'm getting quite a few query letters that are all wrong and don't work. Actually, they insure that I don't look at the attached writing sample.

A query letter is a business letter that introduces the submitted work. It should be business sounding, not cute, clever, or mysterious.

It is important to realize that so many query letters come in daily that they all get a quick view, but only a few get more than a brief read. Sometimes I will reply and do a little coaching of what is missing, but most of the time I don't have that kind of time -- and it isn't my job.

First off the letter needs to be an email, not an attachment to an email. Secondly, address it properly. I don't think I've accepted any who began, "Dear Sir." The slightest bit of thought should tell anyone that I'm not a sir.

The letter needs to contain the basic information that tells me whether to keep reading or send a rejection letter. And believe me, I have no problem writing a rejection letter. I want to know the genera, the word count, the setting and year.

The query should not be filled with rhetorical questions or written in the voice of the main character. Tell me who you are and what makes you the person qualified to write this ms (what's your connection to the story?). The story should be described in an elevator pitch, that is one sentence.

Make sure it is a story that Cactus Rain will have a connection to, too. Know your publisher and send only material they are interested in publishing.

Tell me who might like this book; who is the target reader? Do not tell my that you write like xyz. That's been done. What is your writer's voice like? And again, who would enjoy this book? Believe me, the answer that everyone would love this book is not correct, and I don't think anyone in the industry would buy it.

End with your contact information and your real name.

Any questions?

Monday, January 2, 2012

Happy New Year!

Oddly enough, last week, several people asked if I had dropped them from my newsletter email list. They hadn't received my last newsletter. Actually, they had -- months ago. I haven't sent a newsletter for months because there are only so many hours in the day and there didn't seem to be all that much interest in the newsletter. I thought the blog was covering the bases. Maybe I was wrong about that. Maybe I should do both.

I'm surprised by the number of people who continued to visit my blog, though I've been very lax in posting. Do you remember the days I posted daily? And that month long Blog Party (a play on Block Party), 'memba that?

I've been off with my boys (and girlfriend) on a road trip to middle son's wedding and other celebrations.The other thing that has kept me busy are two mss. The Lacemaker's Daughter is getting closer to the final run for the tape (or checkered flag, if you like). I'm getting very excited and author Diane Keziah Robertson has been busy with pre-marketing activities. The other ms isn't under contract yet, so I'll hold on mentioning it.

So, how does it work to do emails for marketing, or to send out a newsletter? Actually, there are laws about that, and Irene Watson of Reader's Views has the rules, tips, and straight talk on mass emailings. Check out the link: