Thursday, July 20, 2017

Independent writer? Team player? Can you be both?

This month's theme at Blood Red Pencil is independence, very appropriate for July because this is the month it's celebrated every year in the United States. Independence, however, has a far broader application than one country declaring its liberation from another.

Take writing, for instance. Like other art forms, it promotes solitude. With some exceptions we work independent of others, turning our imaginations and creativity loose and letting them lead us wherever our characters go to tell us their stories. Those characters become our closest companions while we all share space in our heads. How do we view and deal with flesh and blood professionals who are equally vital to our stories?

Consider the following fiction scenario depicting some of this editor's experiences with writers over the last 25+ years:

Writer: I can't  believe I let my critique group talk me into hiring an editor. They all said my story was unique, so why do I need somebody to edit it? Everybody in the group suggested changes; but after I explained why none of their ideas worked, they all backed down and seemed to understand my reasoning. I still can't believe I wrote that fight scene. It's the best one I ever read, if I do say so myself. The writering group was stunned into silence when they read it. I can see it now: the big publishing houses will compete for the right to publish my debut novel. The advance will set me up for life.

Editor: What's this? A fight scene? Where's the setup? Who's fighting? Is it—no, it can't be; he's out of town. Maybe it's—no, he took his wife to the ER a couple pages back, and he's still there with her. Wait a minute—that's physically impossible. Oh, dear. I wonder what the best way would be to approach this writer. She seems quite convinced her book is the next New York Times bestseller. Maybe I could coach her, help her to see why she needs to work on more effective ways to hook her readers and keep them engaged. It's not a bad story, but definitely a diamond in the rough.

Writer: I can't believe that editor had the audacity to suggest my fight scene was less than perfect. What did she mean there was no setup? Those two characters argued on page three. It's only page 76. Readers are smart. They'll remember the bad blood between those guys, and they understand subtleties. What! Physically impossible? How dare she say that? They might have to be a bit more agile than the average Joe, but really! Then she had the gall to ask if I had done my research on the story's locale. Research? That's ridiculous. This is fiction. A rewrite? No way. As I always say, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. This ain't broke. I'm going to send that editor a piece of my mind right now. I can't believe I had to pay her and then tell her how to do her job. I'm glad I only wrote a check for her to edit the first half the book.

Editor: It seems I struck a nerve with this independent writer; I tried so hard to be tactful. I became a freelance editor to help self-published and independently published writers compete with authors from the big houses. The notion that self-pubbed writers are second rate because they aren't published by Random House can be changed if we all work together to produce great books, but that's easier said than done. I'd better send the writer an apology for ruffling her feathers; that was not my intent. Too bad. With a little work, hers could have been a great story.

Writer: I guess that editor found out who's boss. She was just the hired help, nothing more. At least she recognized I have talent, but then she went on to suggest I take a writing course. That would be like telling Beethoven he needed to take piano lessons. (Of course, maybe he did take piano lessons.) Hey, I know grammar pretty good. Commas sometimes confuse me, but that's not important. She mentioned fragments. Hey, the reader will understand what I mean. Hmm, she also said my storyline has potential. It's not potential, honey, it's reality. I've already written it. What's this? She rewrote my fight scene to show me another way it could be presented. How dare she! Wait a minute. Oh, I see. That does make more sense. My characters wouldn't have to be contortionists to do it this way. She did use a lot of my words, but the action flows better. That's a great verb, more powerful than the one I used. Wow, I didn't know that about my story's setting. I guess I should check out the place so I don't turn off any readers who live there and who might tell their friends not to buy my novel because it's wrong. Maybe I shouldn't fire her quite yet. I suppose I could learn to work with her, as long as she understands I call the shots. Several in my writing group have been real happy with her work. Two have sold their manuscript, and three self published. All of them are selling books. Maybe I should send her another e-mail and tell her I'll give her one more chance.

Editor: I see this writer's having second thoughts. I'm glad. What's this? Whoa, she reworked the fight scene, using several of my suggestions and adding some good ideas of her own. It works now. I'll let her know right away what an improvement she made. Maybe she understands that my goal is to help her book be the best it can be, not to rewrite it and make it mine. Who knows? We might be a great team after all.

Writing is an independent profession. Publishing a first-rate book is a team effort. Editors play a major role in polishing the rough diamonds of our stories to highlight all its spectacular facets. Cover and interior designers put the wrapping on the package to maximize eye appeal. Marketing experts work to help introverted and inexperienced writers sell their wares. Specialists create e-books and audio books to reach readers who prefer those options. Of course, you may not need all these pros for your project. Just remember that none of them desire to take over any writer's work, but only to make it the best it can be and reach the widest audience possible.

Can you be both an independent writer and team player? What do you think?

Editor Linda Lane has returned to her first love—writing—while maintaining her editing work. She also helps new and not-so-new writers improve their skills through posts on Blood Red Pencil and private tutoring sessions. You can contact her through her writing website, Also, you can visit her editing team at to find experienced editors to help you polish your book into a marketable work.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Journalists and the First Amendment

Freedom of the Press is protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution. It is supposed to safeguard against government interference in the dissemination of information and opinions needed for an informed electorate. Take away that freedom, and you eliminate the very principles on which our nation was founded. 

One of the first things an escalating authoritarian government does is limit the press, close the doors on the information it uncovers, and demean its research. When Adolf Hitler took power in 1933, the Nazis controlled less than three percent of Germany’s 4,700 newspapers. Little by little, they seized control of the press and radio stations, and destroyed opposition political party offices, which fundamentally stopped the distribution of information that wasn’t in their self-interest.

Governments have used the press to propagandize its positions. John Adams signed into law the 1798 Sedition Act, which made publishing anything critical of the government illegal. Jefferson stopped it when he became president. Teddy Roosevelt hated the press, called them muckrakers and liars. Sound familiar? Eisenhower restricted media access, and Kennedy’s love affair with the press went sour during the Cuban Missile crisis. He then shut off all foreign policy information. Reagan charmed the press. He also had a good public affairs department who did their job well. The press didn’t hit as hard as they could have on the Iran Contra affair, though the courts did.

Then there was Nixon, who called the press “elites.” Sound familiar? The Watergate scandal erupted because two journalists unearthed the facts behind the “third rate burglary” of the Democratic National Committee's office, with the help of “Deep Throat,” a source that urged them to “follow the money,” and whose identity they concealed until after the man’s death. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s stellar reporting exposed an effort by Nixon to cover up the crime, but the more the fearless reporters exposed the truth, the more obvious Nixon’s involvement became, which ultimately led to the fall of his presidency. Their book, All the President’s Men, was a bestseller, and the movie is still one of the best films of all time about journalism.

The book Game Change, an exposé of the 2008 election, by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin is a more recent example of journalists doing their jobs, in spite of efforts to shut them down. Another great journalistic endeavor and bestseller of the 1960s, The Making of a President, by Theodore White, chronicled John F. Kennedy’s rise to power.

TV shows like 60 Minutes have done some amazing stories. One I recall about Jeffrey Wigand, a chemist for the Brown and Williamson Tobacco Company, who exposed the addition of chemicals to the nicotine in cigarettes to make them more addictive. He received death threats for his whistleblowing and was the subject of a movie starring Russell Crowe.

For all the freedoms of the press, sources like Wikileaks dispense communications to advance a certain political agenda and can be both dangerous and/or informative. It’s still up to journalists to filter through the information, misinformation, distortions, propaganda, and fake news to makes sure that what surfaces bears some semblance of truth, free of bias.

Let’s hear it for the First Amendment and for the intrepid journalists who make sure we know what’s going on behind the scenes.

 If only we pay attention.

Polly Iyer is the author of eight novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, and Indiscretion, and three books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games, Goddess of the Moon, and Backlash. A Massachusetts native, she makes her home in the beautiful Piedmont region of South Carolina. You can visit her website for more on Polly and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Freedom of the Press and Freedom to Be Me, a Writer

Those of us who live in the U.S. and other free countries enjoy the liberty to express ourselves through the written word. Currently, the press in the States is under attack for alleged bias and failure to check facts; whether or not these allegations are true, they write on—because they can. The press is not stifled; it can speak freely.

Authors can also speak freely. Whether we write fiction, nonfiction, or fiction based on fact, we can say what we please with impunity as long as we avoid defaming another person in a way that causes them financial loss. While the publicity resulting from a libel suit might generate enough curiosity to sell some books, it might not be in our best interest in the long run. Thoughtlessly or viciously written words can follow us through a lifetime and impact our credibility as writers. Besides, we have other avenues in which to address almost any issue. Freedom of the press grants us carte blanche to say almost anything we like—within a well disguised fictional setting.

Most of us write what we know, what we like (or don't like), what inspires us. As a fiction writer, I observe people, watch the news (as much as I can tolerate, which some days is very little), listen to what those around me say—and what they don't say. I have my soapboxes, my pet peeves, my favorite things. Bottom line: These are all the building blocks needed to lay the foundation for a story.

Suppose we, someone we know, or someone we've read or heard about has suffered a severe trauma. Can we incorporate that experience in a story? Yes, of course, but we need to be discreet. Will our written words cause anyone pain? embarrassment? loss? To avoid those scenarios, we can change the location, the people involved, even sometimes the gender, and we can sufficiently alter the circumstances to protect those who should be protected. As Diana wrote in her July 6 post and as noted in this article, "with freedom comes responsibility."

The media climate today promotes name calling, slamming others, and violence when one does not get one's way. We are not required to be part of that mentality; in fact, we have a wonderful forum to show the possible consequences of such thinking and behavior. We can write.

On a personal note, my books address women's issues, relationships, various forms of abuse, and choices people make to continue in a negative lifestyle or rise above their circumstances. While they generally fall into the category of women's fiction, several of them contain strong male types. The stories are realistic, sometimes painfully so, and the three-dimensional characters step up from the pages to invite readers to take their hands and come along for the journey. Hopefully, the stories touch peoples' lives and hearts and perhaps show a positive path to some who may feel locked into a lifestyle that threatens their very existence.

What are your stories about? Do you use them to cite the wrongs in the world we live it? How do you pull readers into your words? What techniques do you use to make your characters live?

Editor Linda Lane has returned to her first love—writing—while maintaining her editing work. You can contact her through her writing website, or her editing website, 

Thursday, July 6, 2017

With Freedom Comes Responsibility

With the birth of the internet and self-publishing, it is a wonderful time to be an author, unless you were hoping for that golden ring of a traditional contract with a publisher and a huge advance. In that case, you have my sympathies. It has never been harder to obtain.

For those who have ventured into the water of self-publishing and found minimal success (a few amazing success) or are just happy to be published, these are heady days. No one can tell you that your plot doesn't fit into a particular marketing niche or there are too many stories like yours in their stable, or worse your book competes with a better known author's idea.

However, the freedom to write and publish anything you want comes with responsibility. You must perform all the duties of a traditional publisher.

1. You must "promise" a specific sort of story and not veer into another lane. There is nothing worse than settling down for a lighthearted romance then finding yourself chained to a BDSM fantasy. Or to curl up with a cozy mystery only to find a violent bloodbath serial killer as protagonist.

2. You must ensure your product is solid and not full of plot holes, thin editing, and lost threads. No one wants shoddy workmanship. It inspires returns and hateful reviews.

3. You must wrap it in an appealing package, aka the cover. You don't necessarily have to shell out megabucks to do so. There are many pre-made cover services and artists willing to design a cover for you for under $100.

4. You should offer your book on as many platforms as possible. Just like books were sold in bookstores, department stores, and grocery check out lines, customers are everywhere and like convenience.

5. You must have an online presence so readers can find out about you if they are curious. At minimum, consider a basic webpage that has your bio, contact info, and book information. Add links to buy your books with a single click over to Amazon, etc. If you have a series, readers often go to your site to determine the correct order. Make it is easy to find.

6. You must market your product. Most writers hate that part, me included. But no one can buy your book if they have never seen or heard of it. This might mean schmoozing, hobnobbing, and leaving your comfy chair, pet, and slippers to go where where book lovers hang out. Networking with  other writers can be fun. They are usually book addicts too. Loyal fans will promote you. Story addicts love to share their latest finds.

Self-publishing is a bit like playing the slots in Vegas. You can't win if you never go. Is it a sure bet? No, of course not. Can it be fun? Definitely. Can you win big? You don't know unless you try.

With the options available today, you don't have to accept "No, thank you" as an answer or leave your manuscript molding in a box in your attic.

Diana Hurwitz is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

There's Editing - Then There's Editing

While I've edited a lot of books and articles in the number of years I've been a professional, I've never done anything quite like my latest project, which was working with another writer to put his newspaper columns into a book. But before I tell you about that, let me back up to the beginning of this whole thing.

Four years ago, I was contacted by Arcadia Publishing, asking if I would do a book about Winnsboro for their Images series. I think they found me online, which shows that an online presence can pay off, and they wanted my small town included in the series. Since I am relatively new to this area – sixteen years – I told the editor that I would be happy to do the book if I could work with the Official Winnsboro Historian, Bill Jones. They agreed, and Bill agreed, so we worked for a little over six months to put the first book together - Images of America, Winnsboro. As the title suggests, it is a book comprised mostly of photographs.

After that book came out, a number of people around town said it would really be great if all of the columns and articles that Bill has written about the history of this area of East Texas were compiled for a book. We didn’t mean for four years to elapse before we did the next book, but life interfered and it wasn’t until last December that we were able to start working on Reflections of Winnsboro.

Bill gathered material he wanted in the book, and we met weekly to go through it, much like we did while working on the first book. Together, we decided what material would be included and where it would go in chapters. There was no way that everything he has written could make it to print. He has written a lot over the last 30 years, mostly for the local weekly newspaper, The Winnsboro News, and he has mountains of material.

After our meetings, I'd take the clippings home, read them into my computer using Dragon Naturally Speaking and go through a process of editing and writing short transitions. To turn columns into a book, there is a lot more to it than just dumping the material onto pages. Columns are stand-alone pieces, and they need to flow smoothly from one to the other in a chapter. Making that happen was my biggest challenge.

Equally important was not losing Bill’s voice in that editing process. Even though he is highly educated and is a former history teacher, he has adopted a country down-home way of speaking and writing since coming back to his hometown in the '70s. It is his voice that resonates in the columns, and I knew people wanted to hear that voice in the book. Thankfully, I was able to achieve that, and Bill has been very happy with the book. He keeps saying he doesn't know how I was able to smooth everything out and still make it sound like him. I keep telling him that it's because I kept most of his words.

I published the book under my little imprint, MCM Enterprises, after having it copy-edited by Audrey Linter at ALTO Editing and professionally formatted. The cover was done by Dany Russell, a graphic artist, and in mid-May it was finally ready for the book launch party we had for Bill at the Winnsboro Center for the Arts. We had a terrific turn out for the party, and Bill was thrilled to see so many of his friends, some he had not seen in a while. When it was over, he told me that it was the nicest event that he has ever had in his honor.

Here we are at the book-launch party.

Posted by Maryann Miller - novelist, editor and sometimes actress. She has written a number of mysteries, including the critically-acclaimed Season Mystery Series that debuted with Open Season. Information about her books and her editing rates is available on her website. When not writing, Maryann likes to take her dog for a walk and work outside on her little ranch in East Texas.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Editing and Coaching in the Internet Age

Image by Sean MacEntee, via Flickr

I’ve gradually shifted from enjoying the safety of expressing myself in writing (i.e., being able to edit and polish my critique reports and editing comments until they were perfect, and perfectly tactful), to preferring face-to-face conversations where I can gauge my client’s response and offer further explanations as needed. I think being time-poor has impacted on my frustration – I can no longer afford to spend a whole day crafting an email.

With local editing clients, the solution has been simple. We meet up for a coffee and pore over the edits to a few chapters. But since I became active on the Internet, most of my clients have been longer-distance than is practical or possible for a meet-up. When I discovered Google Hangouts-on-Air, I realised it would be ideal for a virtual editing meeting – only to find that, when I finally had a chance to use it, Google had killed the “on-Air” part of Hangouts (it has, instead, been incorporated into YouTube Live).

So we went with a plain Google Hangout (without the ability to record the call – but there are options for add-ons, plug-ins, or downloadable programs that can record either a Skype or Hangout video call, if this is something you need.) I prepared a Powerpoint Presentation with some screen shots of edits I wanted to talk through, and used the Share Screen option to run that presentation over the call. I also saved the presentation as a PDF and emailed that to my client after the call.

It was a very successful and productive conversation. I was able to gain instant feedback that allowed me to tailor information and explanations that would otherwise have taken many hours of careful wording. Written communication can seem very formal and intimidating, so it was great to be able to keep the tone light by sharing a few humorous anecdotes.

If you can’t meet a client face-to-face (or your editor, if you’re the author in the partnership), then an online video call can help you check that you’re both on the same page. So to speak.

Elle Carter Neal is the author of the picture book I Own All the Blue and teen science-fantasy novel Madison Lane and the Wand of Rasputin. She is based in Melbourne, Australia. Find her at or

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Writers: Famous, Infamous, and Just Plain Nobodies

Who knew that being an author could be so difficult? As if it’s not hard enough to write a book—and kudos to all those who have or will in the future—being taken seriously as a writer is sometimes beyond your control, even if you write a good book.

Exactly what does that mean? Certainly, the best way for people to want to read your books is if they already know who you are. If you have a platform and you’re famous, even locally, you grab the attention of an agent who knows part of her work is already accomplished. A writer with built-in name recognition can parlay that into bookstore signings, panels at conferences, interviews, and reviews by the big review sites. Many TV personalities have developed a major revenue stream from their books, using their programs as prime advertisements. They’re lucky, because most of us plug away in the silence of our offices, knowing that writing the book is just the beginning.

Networking is an important part of name recognition. That means going to multiple conferences, getting to know other writers, giving them support in exchange for the support they give you. The problem is conferences cost money. Lots of money. There’s the price of the conference, travel expenses, hotel, and if you have a job, which many writers need in order to survive, time off from work. Maybe you can juggle vacation time to offset the loss. Good for you.

Are you famous yet? Probably not, but if you can manage the cost of all I just mentioned, you have one step up, no, a whole flight of stairs up on those of us who can’t.

So what’s a Nobody to do, especially one who self-publishes? Years back, that would be the kiss of death. It meant you weren’t good enough to get an agent and a publisher. Not so much now, though there’s still a question of legitimacy. Many writers prefer to self-publish. A writer has control of his/her work, reaps more of the financial rewards (if there are any), and can’t blame anyone else for her lack of success. Many make more money than traditionally published authors, though the latter have garnered that elusive legitimacy by being published traditionally in the first place.

Internet social media, Facebook and Twitter, are of major importance to those of us who can’t swing the expense of a publicist or conferences after we’ve paid for editing and cover design. We post information about reduced pricing, good reviews, make friends, and realize a million others are doing the same thing. It’s also tricky. If all you do is self-promote, it turns people off, so we have author pages on Facebook and intersperse book information on our personal pages, hoping it’s not overkill. We tweet, which I’ve stopped doing because I felt I was preaching to the choir, though a friend who has over 60k Twitter followers, swears by its success in promoting her books.

We blog, blog hop, spend a lot on how-to books, advertise, have sales, promote, write and write some more, and sometimes we wonder why we’re doing all this to remain anonymous. Yet we keep doing it because most of us will say we can’t NOT write. It’s a conundrum, but it also makes us writers.

Polly Iyer is the author of eight novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, and Indiscretion, and three books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games, Goddess of the Moon, and Backlash. A Massachusetts native, she makes her home in the beautiful Piedmont region of South Carolina. You can visit her website for more on Polly and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.


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