Sunday, March 21, 2021

Write, Write, and re-Write

Yesterday there was an article posted on the Internet with tips on how professional writers get disciplined to write every day. It was the obvious, eliminate distractions and write at scheduled times -- just like any other employment. With a great deal of enthusiasm it stated that professional romance writers write 3,000 words a day. The truth is on a standard US page of 8.5" x 11.5", there are approximately 300 words of narrative in a work of fiction; dialogue is less dense. In actuality, then, that is only 10 pages. Ten pages. Making the goal to write 12 pages a day allows for later rewrites and editing.

After doing the math in my head, I wasn't impressed with the article. However, it is true that to be a professional writer it takes the same discipline as being an employee. Go to work on time whether or not you feel like going, and actually work -- produce results.

There are as many writing habits as there are writers, but the more common habits fall into these categories: the planner, the perfectionist, and the organic writer.

  • The planner spends days, perhaps weeks, planning every detail of the story. They have written bios on the protagonist and antagonist, and some, if not all, of the secondary characters. They have extensive chapter outlines and when they write, they stick to the script with clinched fists.
  • The perfectionist writes a chapter and stops. They go back over each word, each line, each paragraph with a fine tooth comb -- over and over -- until it is perfect in their mind.
  • The organic writer sits down and writes as it comes. They learn the story and characters as the reader will later learn them. The story flows naturally. It takes discipline not to think about the story, if they are not writing right then.

Each writing style still requires knowledge of storytelling, scene and character development, dialogue writing, story arcs, basic grammar, and much more. When professionals have written their target word count, or when writer's block occurs, they are reading about the craft or the industry.

A book that I highly recommend writers read and later review again is The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (And How To Avoid Them)* by Jack M. Brickham. Get your copy from your favorite book store.
*Cactus Rain Publishing is not compensated in any way for this book recommendation.



Tuesday, October 20, 2020


Without a doubt, 2020 has been a curious and sobering year with the broad strokes of the pandemic brushing across the earth. Observing local, national, and international governments respond to the challenge of the dreadful virus has caused many people to reevaluate their own priorities. It seems newsworthy [not really] that celebrities are turning to new endeavors of cooking, gardening, fine art, and writing the next Great American Novel. On the newsfeeds that I monitor most of the publishing news has centered on a few political tell-all works that came out this year.

I asked myself who would buy those books? Who would think that one Washington person would be any more accurate or truthful than the person they are spilling the beans on? In general, those books vilify the subject and propose sainthood for the writer. I am particularly appalled that anyone with moral fiber would write or publish a book claiming to be a former friend. News flash to their current friends: You’re next!

RISE UP. We always told our children that the goal was to be better than us, to move the family up: to be kinder, more compassionate, to give more effort, to do more, to be smarter. RISE UP. That is what comes to my mind when I hear people complain about their lot in life. RISE UP. Life isn’t without difficult challenges. RISE UP. Meet them head-on. RISE UP. Do it. Pass it on.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Getting Started

If you are thinking of writing your first book or your fifth book, take a minute to jot down those ideas. But before starting typing the next Great American novel, make sure your computer skills are more than the bare minimum.

In general, most manuscript submissions, Cactus Rain Publishing included, are expected to be submitted in Microsoft Word. If you use another operating system than Microsoft Windows, find a Word comparable software program. When in Rome…

All of us who took typing in high school have to adapt to ‘typing’ a document, and particularly a manuscript, on a computer.
  •  Rather than use five spaces to indent a paragraph, use the TAB key.
  • Don’t set the program to automatically indent or to add a space between paragraphs.
  • For centering a chapter title, use the CENTER key, do not TAB or space over and eyeball the center.
  • At the end of a chapter insert a page break. Hitting enter to move down to the start of the next page doesn’t work in the long term.
  • One of the hardest habits to change is to only put one space between sentences rather than two spaces.
The importance of doing these things this way is that all of these old ways of typing have to be fixed by someone. When it isn't done right from the beginning, it wastes someone’s time to fix the manuscript.

Now, you can type your manuscript and get that creative high that comes from writing.

If you have questions, email

Sunday, February 25, 2018


A novella is a short novel or a long short story. Lately we have received quite a few (lots more than usual) submissions of Novellas. 

While they have a place in the literary world, we can't afford to publish short works like novellas. The pay-through takes so long that I'll probably be retired -- or dead.

I noticed that our submission guidelines were unclear on novellas, so we will get that corrected in the coming days. 

Write your best work and good luck to each of you.  

Saturday, December 16, 2017


Most of us remember book report writing in grammar school. In addition to the obvious writing exercise, I thought that the real reason for the book report was to prove to our teacher that we had read the assigned book. Perhaps it was only a writing exercise.

Some people read book reviews before deciding to read a book. For them, the information on the cover or the retail website isn't enough. They want to know what others thought of the book.

Often books are sent out for review. That can be a complicated process of who knows who on whether the book is reviewed.

Friends of authors want to write reviews as a sign of support. Some publishers ask their writers to review each other's books.

First, it goes without saying that the book should be read. It isn't always true that a reviewer reads the book. I have firsthand knowledge of a review company that doesn't always read the reviews, because they made assumptions about the character's profession and dared to put it into print. After that, I have assigned no value to their reviews.

The novice reviewer should have a basic understanding of the difference between a book report and a book review. Namely, do not tell the story/plot in the review. Don't tell that there is a murder. Obviously, if the book genre is a murder mystery, the potential reader will figure that out. Certainly, don't tell who committed the murder.

Tell what was well done in the book. Did the author capture the era or location so well that the reviewer found it palatable? Were the characters appropriately developed to make the potential reader dispense with reality and become submerged in the life of the story.

If you hate the book, maybe it wasn't your cup of tea. Just because YOU didn't like it doesn't mean that it isn't a good book. Even industry professionals disagree on books; that doesn't mean they are right -- it is only their opinion.

Reviews drive Amazon [and other's] ranking. That's a good thing. However, the true value of a review is the quality of the content.

Check out this: Book Review UK

Friday, October 6, 2017

Be Original...

During the last U.S. presidential campaign season there was talk about plagiarism in speeches. I read an article that Dr. Martin Luther King plagiarized his dissertation. Maybe both are true statements, maybe they are not.

Speech writing and dissertations aside, there is a code among fiction writers that you write your own stuff. If you read it or heard it, then don't use it. Use your own voice and imagination. 

Be original. 
Be authentic.
Readers deserve no less than your best.

Sunday, May 7, 2017


It's inevitable that the time will come when re-writes are requested. It is a fact of writing life. Your head gets into the story so much that you can't see the trees for the forest.

My friend's big-time publisher asked her to fully remove one character from her manuscript. Imagine the thought of that task. Like a true professional writer, she faced the task and did it without complaint.

We get a variety of reactions when we request changes to the story line in a manuscript. We've requested to delete the final chapter -- the story had ended, stop writing. We've requested that the last two chapters be swapped with each other. And of course, we often request that the vulgar words be eliminated or reduced to one character's dialogue and greatly diminished.

Sometimes it is as simple as changing the title that the author has embraced for years of writing the piece. Failure to be adaptable is the wrong move. Most of the time, the writer knew in their heart of hearts that there was something amiss and welcomes the guidance.

It is important to remember that you're writing for the reader, not for you. If that isn't true, then put the finished manuscript in a drawer and let them sell it at your estate sale.

You're not alone. Read the article below.

Sunday, April 2, 2017


When should a person self-publish their work?

Anytime they want to, of course.

Here are some specific situations when self-publishing might be the best option for a writer:

  • When the writer wants complete control over the title, content, layout, and cover. (Most pay-to-publish companies do not waver from their process and allow customization, so this may not be the best route for someone who MUST have total control over the production of their ms into a book.)
  • When the work is to be used for seminars on a topic that the writer is deemed an 'expert' in the field. These books are usually non-fiction and the price is higher than fiction because the value added by the author's expertise.
  • When the work is to be used to accompany another product, similar to a manual for the user of the product. Have fun with this if there are lots of schematics to add to the text.
  • When the writer can afford to hire experts to create an industry quality book or is competent in the required skills and doesn't care whether it bears the stamp of approval that comes with being vetted and published by a traditional publisher.
Before submitting a query to a publisher or literary agent, a writer should be able to affirm within their heart that they have done the best they could and they are now willing to let it go and let someone else take it to the next level.

For some people, letting go of their work is difficult. If that is the case, the writer should consider self-publishing the work or simply remain a writer and never become a published author. I'm not sure that this is a bad thing. It depends on each person's goal or vision of the future for their works.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Sample Chapters

Your manuscript is finished. It is no longer a first draft. You've gone over it a couple of times. Your friends and family have gone over it. Together you toast the thing and proclaim that it is ready.
Hopefully, that is true.
Just to be sure PRINT it and read it ALOUD. 
The internet is full of literary agents, small publishers, pay-to-publish outfits, and do-it-yourself sites. There are print directories to buy, should one choose. Just like we will do with your submission, sort through them and find the 'best fits' for your work. 
Whatever method you use to develop a list of places to query, the main thing to do is to follow the submission guidelines completely.
What we are expecting for sample chapters at Cactus Rain Publishing:
  • Manuscript format
    • full page - 8.5" x 11"
    • double spaced lines
    • standard font -- I'm going to change it to Tahoma, because that is more readable for me (remember that I'm dyslexic?)
    • standard form for fiction -- no space between paragraphs, that is for non-fiction. Fiction indents each paragraph. Start a new paragraph (with quote marks) for dialogue. We accept the non-American single quote marks or the American double quote marks -- be consistent throughout the sample.
  • No front matter -- you are way head of yourself doing this
  • No cover -- you are way head of yourself doing this
  • ONLY the first three chapters
  • A prologue is not a first chapter, don't send it to us.
The fastest route to a rejection letter is to stand out in a bad way. We don't advertise. We don't need to advertise. If we published all of the queries we have right now, we have enough for the next 5 years. It is truly survival of the fittest, not the quirkiest.
Send us something that meets our submission guidelines and you are highly likely to see a request for the full manuscript.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

First Impression

Because of the agreeable weather, Phoenix frequently hosts car shows. Unofficial previews are available on the road, whether the car is driven or trailered. Singularly, they are impressive. At the show where they are parked next to each other a pecking order of quality emerges.

The same is true of submission packets. While friends and family [usually] shower the writer with praise, at our end of the process where they are lined next to each other is where the quality differences is obvious.

There is only one opportunity to make a good first impression. One. Late at night with a glass or two of wine or whisky is not the time to decide the work is ready for the light of day.

For Cactus Rain Publishing the three elements of the submission packet are: 1) a query letter; 2) a synopsis; and 3) the first three chapters of the ms.

We see query letters that range from ridiculous to amazing. A query letter is a business proposal. It needs to sound professional, pitch the project, and include any specific information the publisher has listed on their submission page.

Attitude speaks volumes. Sending a query email that says, "Here you go. I've sent my fiction novel for you to publish," is not a good idea. First off, "fiction novel" screams that the person is clueless. Novels are ONLY fiction. If it isn't a fiction, then it is non-fiction, poetry or who knows what.

A synopsis is a one page summary of the story, single spaced, and written in third person. The synopsis summarizes the story's main character's transit through the story. It is not the back of the book tease. It is the whole story, including the ending.

The last piece of the packet is the first three chapters of the manuscript; nothing more or less than what has been requested. Sending different chapters and telling us that the first three chapters don't show the awesomeness of the manuscript should tell the writer that those chapters need reworked or deleted.

Not following the instructions on how many chapters (or some publishers want the first 50 pages) tells us that the writer doesn't follow instructions. Whether they are simply arrogant and don't think rules apply to them equally or they are special [for some unknown reason]. It tells us "This person is going to be difficult."

The sample chapters should be in manuscript format: Full size page (8.5 x 11 inches) -- not a simulated book-size page; it should be double spaced; it should contain computer functions (use the center button to center things like the title, end the chapter with a "page break" command, not several "enter key" strokes); and dialogue should start a new paragraph and have quotation marks.

Compared to 50 other queries, how strong is yours? It is easy to weed out the ones we aren't interested in. Sometimes I won't read the sample chapters if the query letter and the synopsis are bad. What would be the point?

First impressions are a one time occurrence.