Friday, October 24, 2014

Notes from a DIY Book Launch

This morning I held a book launch for my first published book, and, since I am also my own publisher, I was the one who had to organise and run the event. Here are some considerations that worked for me, and some wish-I’d-thought-of-that-earlier ideas that occurred to me during and afterwards:

1. Food and books. It seems like a good idea at the time to treat one’s guests to yummy cake... Luckily I have two small children, so, as par for the course, I grabbed a packet of wet wipes as I dashed out the door – and placed it on the table beside the books for cleaning any sticky fingers.

2. Crack open as many of your sale copies of your book as you have time for, and check that there is nothing obviously amiss. I had a book with two folded pages, with the print broken across the fold line - embarrassing when someone picked it up for a browse and pointed it out.

3. Hire a “publicist”. If you own a teenager (or can borrow one), this is a perfect job for them.

I’d had in mind that I would take some photos with my phone and upload them to my Facebook Page when things got a bit quiet, so I could run a virtual launch at the same time, but the quiet part didn’t happen. I also didn’t work up the nerve to ask someone to take photos of me until the end.

Instead, have someone who knows their way around a phone and social media running around taking snaps and tweeting or Facebooking on your behalf (but not pretending to be you, of course – Facebook Pages can have multiple contributors, so simply add your “publicist” and select an appropriate role).

If you do a reading, have your slave “publicist” record it on your phone, upload it to YouTube, and then post the video on Facebook.

4. Hire a “stylist”. Again, a great role for a bored teen (as long as they don’t have it in for you). This job involves a quick check that you don’t have spinach in your teeth before a photo/video session, that your hair (piece?) is in place, clothing and jewellery straightened, etc.

5. Hire a “PA” (who could double as your “stylist” if you’re running out of victims to rope in). This job involves bringing you water, lip balm, pens for signing, or your phone if you have a call or a message. Perhaps even making a note of numbers of copies sold, and replacing the books on display as they sell.

6. Keep it simple (unless you have all these people, plus an event co-ordinator and crew, available to run around for you).

My car broke down yesterday, so I planned my worst-case-scenario on having to walk to the location with books and cake in a back-pack, carrying a two-year-old. Luckily I didn’t have to do that, but, after that, everything extra was a nice bonus rather than a necessity. Simple equals less stress.

What about you? Have you stage-managed your own book launch, or do you have a publisher who organised your launch for you? What went wrong, or right, on the day?

Elle Carter Neal is the author of Madison Lane and the Wand of Rasputin, a science-fantasy for tweens and teens. She blogs about the craft of writing at

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Building a Critique Group

Midwest Writer's Workshop 2008
I'll start out by saying, I am not a group-oriented person. I like working alone. I work faster and better without distractions. As a writer, that is a good character trait to have. You have to spend time alone and palely loitering over a pad of paper or keyboard to get the story out. I can disappear into a project for weeks and forget to eat, sleep, and bathe.

That does not mean I don't enjoy other people. I love other people: witty people, clever people, preferably with a wicked sense of humor and an appreciation of the ridiculous. Writers, artists, and other creatives make the best, funniest, and most interesting friends and acquaintances.

You can write alone, but you cannot publish or promote alone. You need people to help you edit, to point out the things you miss, and make certain you are telling the same story on paper that you tell yourself in your head.

My first experience with a group was when in I lived in my home town of Cincinnati. I started attending classes at Women Writing for a Change. "Class" isn't the right term, though tuition was involved. It helped pay for the building, the session leaders, and the outreach programs, and, quite frankly, encouraged people to show up regularly.

WWFaC was an excellent greenhouse for my budding voice to bloom. It forced me into public speaking at read-arounds, a concept that still makes my knees feel like jelly. I even guested on the radio show where no one could view my panic attack. I spent many happy years there. Then we moved.

My transplant to south of Indianapolis was bumpy. Friends, family, and greenhouse were two hours away and I did not immediately find my tribe. In fact, we had to move north of the city to find them two years later. I was introduced to the Indiana Writers Center and met the first of my critique partners.

I then attended the Midwest Writers Workshop where I met more talented writers.

Critique partners have come and gone along the way, each one mega-talented in my humble opinion. I have been inspired by all of them. I could not have published my young-adult series without their sage advice and encouragement.

I am currently part of a critique group called the Ladyscribes, made up of myself (YA Fantasy and nonfiction), Rita Woods (YA Fantasy/Paranormal), Sharon Pielemeier (High Fantasy), Cameron Steiman (Sci-Fi, Steampunk, and Literary), and Cynthia Adams (YA Paranormal). I decided to go indie. Rita is agented. The others are waiting for that golden ticket to the traditional route.

I feel each member has a unique voice, exceptional worthsmithing skills, and an excellent grasp of plot and character.

We try to meet in person at least twice a quarter, sometimes closer to Chicago, sometimes near Indianapolis. Sometimes we meet in the middle for a day. We make it a long weekend when possible: combination writing retreat and critique session.

We each submit 20 pages (double spaced) and prepare a written critique before we meet. We then take turns giving our feedback for each piece. When time isn't limited, we have hilarious, lively debates.

As with any group, there are challenges. We all have lives that keep us busy, illnesses, and family crises.  Some have kids at home, grandchildren to spoil, and full-time jobs.

Here are my tips for creating a successful critique group.

1. The crucial secret to success is to seriously commit and make it a priority. There is no other way. It's too easy to let life intervene.

2. To build a critique group you have to get out and meet other writers. Local is best. Long distance is harder, but well worth it for the right group. Skype is also a possibility. Email and forming an online group on Facebook, Yahoo, etc. can also work.

3. It helps to be at a similar level of skill. We are all advanced craft. It would be hard to work with someone who has never heard the term story structure. It also helps to be in similar genres.

4. Communicate your wants and needs up front in terms of critique. What exactly are you looking for? Do you want advice on how to fix it?

We do it all: line edits, plot arc, character development, word usage, grammar. We each catch different things.

5. You have to have mutual respect. We've become good friends. That helps. Ego and defense shields are left at the door, along with the cell phones. We do our darndest to never hurt each other, but are honest in our feedback. If you start from a place of caring and want each other to succeed, that is half the battle. It also helps to cross-promote one another.

6. Dissension is okay. We don't always agree. If one person says something, we listen. If two people notice it, we pay close attention to the details. If three people notice it, we change it, period.

7. A sense of humor is a must. If you can't laugh at yourself, you probably won't do well in a group. You have to be able to take the critique for what it is: an analysis of a product, not a personal attack. Which leads to ...

8. Bullies, snobs, and narcissists need not apply. There is no room for anyone in a critique group if they aren't there for the right reason: growing your craft and helping each other create the best product you can.

9. If there is a rift or misunderstanding, heal it immediately. Simmering conflict is counterproductive. Personality clashes can ruin a group.

10. Keep it even. Everyone submits. Everyone critiques. If one of us does not have a submission for some reason, we still have to critique everyone else's work and at least present something story related to discuss.

Most of all have fun. If it isn't fun, you won't make it a priority.

Further reading on critique groups:

Finding a Critique Group

How Not to Burn Your Critique Group to the Ground

Beta Readers and Critique Groups

Readers, Writers, and Pressing the Flesh

The Importance of Communities for the Writer

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, October 22, 2014

Body Talk

(You Say It Best) When You Say Nothing At All
by Paul Overstreet and Don Schlitz

In the real world, human communication doesn’t depend exclusively on the spoken word. On the contrary, the non-verbal aspects of communication in any conversation entail a whole range of signals – both voluntary and involuntary - including vocal inflexion (pitch, intonation, changes in breathing), facial expression, and body language (posture, gesture, manner of movement). Consciously or unconsciously, these non-verbal aspects of communication bespeak our moods, intentions, personal likes and dislikes, social attitudes, and responses to any given situation.

Playwrights have the luxury of being able to rely on their actors to supply all the relevant details of intonation and body language to bring a scripted scene to life on stage. In fiction writing, however, the writer has to inject occasional descriptions of body language into the text to show us how characters are reacting to circumstances. This kind of detailing enriches the tone, atmosphere, and texture of the story overall.

This is especially true in passages of dialogue. Take for example the following very basic four-line script.

Scene: two people meet at a bus stop.

Speaker One: Nice morning, isn’t it?

Speaker Two: Beautiful.

Speaker One: Do you think it’s going to last all day?

Speaker Two: Your guess is as good as mine.

Pretty flat, huh? Ok, let’s recast this exchange as fiction, adding in aspects of intonation and body language:

A man dashed across the street and ducked into the bus shelter. Shaking the rain from his jacket, he remarked, “Nice morning, isn’t it?”

Maisie backed up to avoid getting splattered. “Beautiful,” she muttered.

“Do you think it’s going to last all day?” the newcomer asked chattily.

Maisie made a show of studying the bus timetable. “Your guess is as good as mine.”

The addition of these extra features sets up the contrast between the two characters: the man is good-humored; Maisie is in a bad mood. He’s inviting further conversation; Maisie attempts to rebuff him. This raises our interest: Why is she so grumpy? Will her mood prevail over his and make him shut up? Or will he persevere and talk her into a better frame of mind?

Of course, given the original script, simply tweaking the body language of the participants will completely change the tone of the scene. Let’s try it again:

The man dashed across the street and shouldered his way into the bus shelter. Pushing his way past Maisie, he growled, “Nice morning, isn’t it?”

“Beautiful,” Maisie agreed with a rueful chuckle.

The man adjusted his collar. “Do you think it’s going to last all day?” he demanded irritably - as if Maisie would know.

Maisie sighed inwardly. “Your guess is as good as mine.”

Now the situation is completely reversed. For whatever reason, the man is behaving very boorishly. Will Maisie’s temperate responses to his snappish remarks make him aware of his behavior and alter it? Or will she leave the bus shelter and walk on to her destination in the rain just to get away from him?

In fiction, as in life: it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. Make this precept work for you!

Debby Harris is an independent editor living in Scotland. Please visit her website for more information about her editing services and fees.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Hifalutin' Hyphenation

Cheerio, duckies! Orange is everywhere, and pumpkin spice has our flavor options in a death grip. It is decidedly fall.

It is also decidedly easy to fall prey to sneaky little style slipups. Luckily, we have our faithful CMOS to finesse any faltering. Today’s case in point: the hyphen. That teeny little line can bewilder the best of writers, but the Manual is quite forgiving with regards to hyphen usage.

In section 7.77 of the Sixteenth Edition, the CMOS acknowledges the mental gymnastics required to decipher compound mechanics. It also offers an easy out: by consulting the dictionary. Webster’s provides a substantial, though not exhaustive, list of hyphenated compounds. Section 5.91 of the CMOS goes further, providing an especially helpful rule of thumb. Look for substantial alterations in meaning when deciding to apply hyphens. Is it a small shoe shop, or a small-shoe shop? Hopefully, the size of your feet does not range into square footage, and you’ll easily see the difference.

With common usage, many open or hyphenated compounds close over time. While both the CMOS and Webster’s dictionary may encourage hyphenated spellings, it is becoming more and more acceptable to use closed compounds where “pronunciation and readability are not at stake.”

Essentially, it all boils down to clarity. If your well-dressed businessman character requires a tie and a hyphen to be obvious to your readers, by all means, include both. If your description makes it all clear without the clutter, you may skip the hyphen if you are so inclined.

Just be prepared for Spellcheck and Webster’s to argue the point.

There are naturally many more considerations and rules to take into account, but it's time for all of us to be about our day. Have a lovely week, and remember: a well-turned phrase is always in style!
Photo courtesy of Darrick Bartholomew 
Tired of fishing walnuts out of the ornamental pond, the Style Maven has threatened the local squirrels with a steady diet of boring bread crusts instead of their usual cake tops. Whether this tactic works remains to be seen; if it does, you can read about it at KOFO's Procraftinator page.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Chicken Story

When she was around four, my granddaughter Ellie once stayed with me for a weekend while her parents were off gallivanting. What a great time we had! Ellie is into making up stories, so my grandmotherly ambitions went soaring – another writer in the family! She told me her stories while I scribbled them down. We wrote quite a few about Rapunzel, Tinkerbell, MuLan, and other heroines. (My favorite was the one in which Rapunzel went to San Francisco to buy a pretty dress and finally have her hair cut, leaving the Prince behind.)

We also wrote a “round robin” story in which Ellie told a piece of a story, then I told a piece, then Ellie, then me, and so on. We called it “The Chicken Story” and here it is:

Ellie: The chicken went to the park and he slid on a bumpy slide.

Grandma: Then he fell off the slide and hit his head on the ground at the end of the slide.

Ellie: Then he goes on a tire swing, and he fell off and he bumped his head again.

Grandma: The chicken said, “This park is too dangerous, maybe I should go home.”

Ellie: No, he said “I’m going to find another park.” But then he was hungry, so he said, “I’ll go home and have lunch.”

Grandma: But when he got home, there was no food to eat. He said to his mom, “Where is all my food?”

Ellie: His mom said, “We ate it all up. So the chicken said, “Okay I’ll wait while you go to the grocery store.” But then he remembered he was a big chicken and could go to the grocery store himself. So he did.

Grandma: At the grocery store, the chicken looked at all the food. He couldn’t decide what to buy, there was so much.

Ellie: He waited too long in the aisle and then everybody else bought up all the food, and then there was none left.

Grandma: So the chicken thought, “Maybe I can go outside and see if there’s any chicken food I can peck up. He went to the parking lot to find food.

Ellie: Some kid spilled his McDonalds french fries in the parking lot so the chicken ate them. They were good. Now the story is all done.

Kim Pearson is an author, ghostwriter, and owner of Primary Sources, a writing service that helps others become authors of professional and compelling books and articles. She has authored 8 books of her own, and ghostwritten more than 40 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit

Friday, October 17, 2014

A Place At the Table

There has been a lot of talk on one of my writers’ loops about the disrespect given to self-published and small-press authors. Are they good enough to be included in one of the big writers’ organizations? That organization just sent out a questionnaire to its members to ask for their opinions. I gave up my membership in that group a while back because, as a self-published author, they didn’t support me, so why should I support them with my hard-earned money?

If self-published authors are to be included in these organizations as “active” members, then by what criteria? Should we be accepted on the basis of how much money we’ve earned? And if that doesn’t guarantee acceptance, what does? How about the quality or quantity of our work? Who is to judge which writers are acceptable and which are not? What about rankings or reviews on sales outlets? Should that be a method of evaluation? By what calculus should we be judged?

I have two friends, one self-published and one published by a small press, who were bluntly rejected to guest on a writers’ blog because my friends weren’t “traditionally” published, which by the bloggers’ standards meant published by a major publisher. Both friends are avid readers, supporters, and blogging hosts, and both were embarrassed and hurt by the put-down. I understand bloggers want to draw in readers by hosting big name authors, but we all know the big guys. We want to learn about good writers we haven’t heard about. Not too long ago the same writers making these judgments were searching for publication acceptance themselves.

That’s not the only example of the caste system snobbery within the writing community. Self-published authors want an even playing field. A seat at the table, so to speak. The possibility of representation on the panels of major conferences. How that’s decided is up to the organizations who host these conferences, but how long can they pretend that so many good self-published and small-press authors don’t exist?

I recently attended a conference where I was barred to be on a panel. I witnessed first-time authors participate while I, who at the time had six well-received and highly ranked books, could not. I knew this before I went, so I accepted it.

But it’s wrong.

The insult is that “traditionally published” authors aren’t held to the same standards we are. I understand that bestselling authors bring more money to the publishers’ coffers. They’ve worked hard and earned their places. Many self-pubbed authors are also writing terrific books and making tons of money. They’ve been great advocates for the rest of us. We appreciate them and hope more of us join their ranks. But when will we have a seat on a panel at a big writers’ convention? When will we be considered “real” authors?

If I wrote the same books for a big publisher, would my books be any better? Some would argue that they would. They’d say I’d have first rate editing and outstanding covers. I admit that at the beginning of my writing career, I made mistakes, but I and others learned quickly what we needed to do. We hired editors and cover designers. Even books edited and published by The Big Five have glaring mistakes and typos. I’ve seen them, and so have you. As for covers, the books represented in the collage on this page are all self-published books. I think they look pretty darn good.

A friend went to a romance conference this past weekend in Atlanta, Moonlight and Magnolias, and told me that three of the eight category winners were self-published. Romance seems to be ahead of the curve. Three cheers to RWA. I may even renew my membership.

Are there some bad indie books? Yes, but we’re working harder and getting better collectively all the time. In all fairness, there are some less than great books in the traditionally published market too. I forecast that a self-published author will win a prestigious award in the near future, and more will follow. There have already been a few indie writers nominated. I hope I’m there to cheer their win.

Stay tuned.

Polly Iyer is the author of six novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, and two books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games and Goddess of the Moon. 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.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Alright Already?

First, a  quick followup to my last post about pre-orders, and Windswept Danger.
Since someone near and dear to me was recently diagnosed with MS, I'm donating ALL royalties from pre-orders of the book to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Pre-order price of 99 cents, a $3 savings, is good through Oct 26th. You can find buy links here.

And now, on to your regularly scheduled posting.

Language, as everything else, is constantly changing. But what constitutes a legitimate change? When does something that was previously "wrong" become acceptable?

Back in the Dark Ages, when I was in school, we were taught that already was an adverb that had to do with time. "When I got to the mall (although there were no malls back in those Dark Ages of my school years), Mary was already there."

This was not to be confused with all ready, which means that everyone was prepared, or someone was completely prepared.

Likewise, there's altogether and all together, which have different meanings as well. Altogether means wholly, or entirely, whereas all together means everyone was in a group. (This omits the idiomatic use of altogether, meaning nude, and I'm not going there with this group.)

And, perhaps because already is a word, it was easy to get confused and carry that over to words like "alot" instead of the correct a lot. Another major No No, resulting in Miss Cook leaving big red marks on one's paper, was to use the word alright. Again, our teachers insisted, there was no such word.

But recently, I've been running across "alright" in published books. And, although I hate to have to qualify this, because publishing is changing, too, I'm talking "traditionally" published, not indie published. For some reason, people assume that what they read in traditionally published books is "right" and indie books are full of mistakes. But since reading alright makes my teeth crawl, I had to go look it up.

What I found in my online dictionary:
alright - adverb
1. all right.
Can be confused (see usage note)
Usage note
The form alright as a one-word spelling of the phrase all right in all of its senses probably arose by analogy with such words as already and altogether. Although alright is a common spelling in written dialogue and in other types of informal writing, all right is used in more formal, edited writing.

So, it would appear that alright is slowly gaining acceptance. In fact, as I write this post, there are no red squiggles under the word alright. At what point do we take what used to be wrong and consider it correct? After all, new words are cropping up all the time. Google is a verb now, isn't it? And will readers understand what we mean if a character "MacGyvers" something together to get out of a tight spot? The word might not be in standard dictionaries yet, but it's out there in some of the slang ones. However, I'll say this. I'll use MacGyver long before you'll catch me using alright in my writing. I do not want Miss Cook turning over in her grave.

What about you? How receptive are you to change when it's not something new, but something that contradicts what you were taught? Do you have any hangups about the language? Any words you confuse?

Terry Odell is the author of numerous romantic suspense novels, mystery novels, as well as contemporary romance short stories. Most of her books are available in both print and digital formats. She's the author of the Blackthorne, Inc. series, steamy romantic suspense novels featuring a team of covert ops specialists, the Pine Hills Police series, set in a small Oregon town, and the Mapleton Mystery series, featuring a reluctant police chief in a small Colorado town. To see all her books, visit her website. You can also find her at her blog, Terry's Place, as well as follow her on Twitter, or visit her Facebook page.


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