Thursday, August 9, 2018

How the Internet Is Destroying Our Language

Photo of Eduardo Paolozzi mosaic inside Tottenham Court road tube station by Mark Hillary, via Flickr
Like many people with creative tendencies, I wear more than one “artistic” hat. I not only love to read, write and edit, but I also dabble in art, photography, poetry, bead-making and a form of mosaic known as pique assiette that uses pieces of broken crockery in place of colored glass.

You might be asking yourself what does any of this have to do with a blog about writing and editing? Quite a lot, in fact. My artistic ramblings led me to the world of t-shirt design and I was pleased to discover it was a lot of fun and brought in a few extra dollars each month.

A few years ago, I posted some tee designs on Amazon when they opened their print on demand division, known as Merch. These evergreen designs had all been best-sellers on other POD platforms in the past so I figured they were a good place to start.

And there they sat. I was pulling out my hair trying to figure out why my clever, amusing shirts weren’t selling while barely literate teen boys whose designs were frankly awful were routinely making $10,000 to $20,000 a month selling their tees. Seriously. They were. See why I was intrigued?

I started investigating and soon realized the difference came down to language skills. My insistence on using proper grammar and punctuation in my keywords was costing me sales because almost no one else in America cares about such things anymore. Why search for a t-shirt when it’s so much easier to search for a tshirt? That’s one less character to type, plus it’s so difficult to reach all the way up to the top of your keyboard to type a hyphen when, really, it’s not needed.

Why bother with possessive apostrophes when potential buyers looking for runners’ t-shirts are almost certainly searching for runners tshirts instead? The sheer number of adults whose grade school teachers never managed to convey the difference between your and you’re to them, nor the vaguest concept of why it might be important not to use them interchangeably is staggering. Now, on almost a daily basis, I see the pronoun “our” used in placed of the verb, “are.” I guess they do kind of sound alike...if you’re underwater with a motorboat running nearby.

These errors are creeping into headlines as well, and not just in local community newspapers. Last summer, the scroll on an NBC newscast read: “Turkey Trimmers.” Now you might be forgiven if you thought that meant a light-hearted story about someone who provides free haircuts for needy turkeys, but nope. The story was about a devastating 6.6 earthquake in the Aegean Sea that injured almost 500 people and caused millions of dollars in damage to homes and irreplaceable historic structures. I guess whoever wrote that scroll was actually looking for the term, “Turkey Tremors” instead. But there was no copy editor on hand to correct the mistake before it aired because most copy editors have been fired, because really, they're not needed anymore either, right? So I say the Internet is destroying our language, I mean that when people see errors repeatedly in print, either on the Internet on TV, or in trusted publications, the error becomes the norm as it is inculcated into our language as acceptable usage. And correct usage withers, dies away and becomes "archaic."

I would like to say I am carrying this noble grammar flag into battle but the truth is, I caved on this one. I now meekly peck out "writers tshirts" in my descriptions, cringing with every letter I type. I guess that makes me part of the problem now, but hey, if you can manage to make $10,000 a month selling anything that isn’t drugs, I guess you’re doing something right.

Addendum: For the record, I don’t make anywhere close to that amount selling t-shirts online. If I did, I’d be on some sun-soaked island in the Aegean Sea, keeping a watchful eye out for trimmers.

Patricia B. Smith is a journalist who is the author of 11 published books, including Idiot’s Guide: Flipping Houses, Alzheimer's For Dummies and Sleep Disorders for Dummies.

Pat is also an experienced professional developmental editor who serves as an Editorial Evaluation and Developmental Coordinator for Five Star Publishing. She works with private clients as well and has helped many authors land their first publishing contracts. Many of her clients have achieved notable success, including two winners of the Missouri Writers’ Guild Show-me Best Book of the Year Award.

Connect with Pat on Facebook, Twitter, or Linked In.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

The Summer NovelRama: 25,000 words in 4 days. Because you can.

That’s the slogan for the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers most excellent summer NovelRama, a writing event sponsored by RMFW’s IPAL (independently published member writers) and open to writers everywhere who need encouragement, inspiration, camaraderie, a challenge, and a chance at prizes…and all from the comfort of your own home where you can work in your sloppy sweatpants and slippers (or any other venue and attire of your choice).

Need a boost (aka a kick in the pants) to produce a lot of words in a small amount of time? Think about that novel that just needs a few more chapters but has been neglected while you toddle off to lunch with friends, binge watch a new series on Netflix, or procrastinate by cleaning house (yes, I’ve been doing all three).

Doesn’t have to be a novel though. Maybe you want to write three or four short stories. Churn out the first draft of a novella. Whatever works for you works for NovelRama. Even if you can only participate one day or a few hours, you can still benefit from the activities and the fellowship.

Want to give it a try? Visit the NovelRama Facebook page and click on “Interested” or “Going.” There will be LIVE videos, writing sprints, and fun llama memes (ranging from charming to silly but guaranteed to bring a smile to your face).

Did I mention there are prizes? If you join the challenge, you'll need to post your word count each day and meet the word count goal. That’s how you get entered in drawings.

The date for this fantabulous event is August 10th through August 13th, Friday through Monday. The link to the Facebook page is right HERE HERE HERE.

A special note: This year there’s also a NovelRama Jr. Young writers can participate with a goal of 5,000 words in four days.

My own project for NovelRama is to finish the first draft of the historical novel I’ve been fiddling around with for many, many months. As of this writing, I have 54,964 words written and the rest of the story in my head. The research is all done, but I’ve been lollygagging on the writing part. The invitation to participate in NovelRama showed up in my Facebook notifications at precisely the right time—and the event is happening on a weekend when I have nothing else planned. I think the Force is with me.

I've committed to the event. What about you? Are you in?

To learn about other ways to kick start your writing efforts after a period of lethargy, check out these past posts from the Blood-Red Pencil blog:

Breaking the Literary Atrophy
Beetling Along

Pat (Patricia) Stoltey is the author of four novels published by Five Star/Cengage: two amateur sleuth, one thriller that was a finalist for a Colorado Book Award in 2015, and the historical mystery Wishing Caswell Dead (December 20, 2017), a finalist for the 2018 Colorado Book Awards.

Pat lives in Northern Colorado with her husband Bill, Scottish Terrier Sassy (aka Doggity), and brown tabby Katie (aka Kitty Cat).

You can learn more about Pat at her website/blog, on Facebook, and Twitter. She was recently interviewed for a Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers podcast that you can find at the RMFW website.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

The Benefits of Genre Associations

Fiona likes to critique
As writers, many of us are introverts and would rather hang out in our pajamas with our pets than go out and network and attend public functions where we don't know anyone.

Still, you really need to reach out and get involved with other people if you want to improve your writing and market your finished product.

There are multiple advantages to joining a genre-related group:

1. They have meetings, local and national, and online events so you can meet other people who love the same books you do. Most of them have online communities and Facebook groups which offer support and connections for beta readers, editors, etc. And I guarantee your TBR pile will grow and topple over.

2. Genre groups offer opportunities to build a virtual or in-person critique group. I met my crit group members at a local writers' conference. I wouldn't have met them if I hadn't gotten dressed and gone outside.

3. You can learn what is selling in your category. The groups often post articles about trends (and what not to do) and industry news.

4. All of them have great material on craft for their specific genres. Facebook groups post wonderful articles on craft, setting, worldbuilding, history, etc.

5. They can offer unique marketing opportunities. Banding together with authors who write the same genre allows you to do group promotions and cross promotions. A good example is Sisters in Crime for the Mystery genre.

6. Group blogs also help promote your work. A great example is Jungle Red Writers  with a few of my favorite mystery mavens: Hank Phillippi Ryan, Lucy Burdette, Rhys Bowen, Deborah Crombie, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Hallie Ephron, Ingrid Thoft, and Jenn McKinlay. There is power in numbers.

7. They often have contests you can enter to increase your exposure. You might even win!

8. They understand you. Unlike your partner, family, friends, and pets, they get what you are going through and serve as a support system and cheerleading team.

Here is a short list of groups by genre. Note, there are many other local, regional, and international chapters and subgroups. Look for those close to you.

Romance Writers of America

Gothic Romance Writers

Mystery Writers of America

Sisters in Crime

Thriller Writers

Horror Writers Association

Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America

Fantasy Writers Organization

Historical Writers of America

Western Writers

Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators

Blatant self-promotion is always frowned up. It is important to be a positive contributor and follow their guidelines. Groups are not entirely free of cliques, hierarchies, or trolls, but for the most part they are wonderfully supportive and enlightening and well worth your time. It is important to participate and not just ask for favors. Be professional and put your best self forward. Always add value when you can. Make a name for yourself - a good name.

Read more about networking:

Face Time


Building A Critique Group

2018 Writing Workshops and Courses

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.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Talking in the Nineties

One way to define a generation is their use of language, especially the slang developed in their teens and twenties. Slang words and phrases often reflect the political changes or social preoccupations of the time. You probably have stories that are built around the use of these timely terms.

I recently ghostwrote a memoir with many scenes set in the 1960s. One of the themes of this memoir was how secrets were preserved in the family by simply not talking about them, or even ignoring that they existed. I wrote that the children in the family had internalized their parents’ wishes to keep things secret by telling themselves “don’t go there.”

It wasn’t until I was in the editing phase that one of my beta-readers said he was jarred by the “don’t go there” phrase because it didn’t seem to belong to the 1960s. And of course he was quite right. I unconsciously took a slang phrase that originated in the 1990s and applied it retroactively. This is one of the common pitfalls in writing memoir, and this short episode points out why the use of an outside editor or reader is absolutely necessary.

Just for fun, here’s a list of twenty slang words and phrases that came into being in the 1990s, some of which are still alive today. Do you recognize any of them? Can you define all of them? Did you use any of them, even if you weren’t in your teens or twenties in the 90s? Perhaps you have a story from your life that is built around the use of one of these terms.

As if   |   F-bomb   |   OMG   |
Boo-ya   |   Get a room   |   Phat   |
Cha-ching   |   Going postal   |   Punked   |
Chillin’   |   Hella   |   ’Sup?   |
Dead presidents   |   It’s all good   |   Whatever   |
Don’t go there   |   Mofo   |   Yadda yadda yadda   |
Eat my shorts   |   Not!

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 12 books of her own, and ghostwritten more than 45 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit

Thursday, July 26, 2018

So You Want to Self-Publish

Getting your book plucked from obscurity isn’t just a self-publishing nightmare. A writer can be with the best publisher, get solid reviews, or win awards, but it still doesn’t guarantee the kind of success that few writers enjoy. For most, after the buzz of an initial success dies down, getting back in the public’s sphere may take another push. It could be a second successful book, controversy, a movie contract, or such amazing writing skills that reviewers persevere until readers catch on. Few self-published books get there. Andy Weir’s, The Martian, originally a self-published book picked up by a major publisher, was then optioned for film. Fifty Shades of Grey, Eragon, Legally Blonde, and, coming soon, Hugh Howley’s Wool, were all initially self-published before Hollywood came calling.

However, a self-published author has to work twice as hard to get noticed as some believe that if she were any good, she would have had a publisher to begin with as validation of her talent. (This applies to men too, of course.) I do believe it's harder for women to achieve attention on a grand scale, which is why Sarah Paretsky founded Sisters in Crime to promote women mystery writers.

My first books were published under a pseudonym in the erotic romance genre, and though I’m proud of them, my first love was crime fiction. I'd already written a few hard-edged novels, queried hundreds of agents, and received “Your book is not quite what we’re looking for” responses. When an agent replied with positive feedback, I was elated. Though the agent worked hard, she was a relative newcomer (new agents tend to latch onto new writers) who wasn’t in New York. After some close calls but no editor acceptance, I decided to self-publish.

I had a great deal of success as a self-published author in 2012 and 2013, even 2014, but as the years passed, sales have dwindled. I attribute this to a few reasons, and this is what anyone contemplating self-publishing should take into consideration. Advertising is much harder and more expensive.

BookBub, the gold standard of promotion, was just getting its start back in 2011-12. At one point when I was advertising a free book to generate sales, BookBub GAVE me an FREE ad. Downloads went through the roof, and when the promo was over, the book rocketed to the top one hundred in sales. I even gave Stephen King a run for his money after one promotion. See above. (Note: his book was on pre-order, but so what!) Same thing happened with another book when I bought a BookBub ad. Who wouldn’t put out the money after seeing the success of the first ad? After fifty thousand free downloads, sales again hit the stratosphere, giving me another place in the top hundred, and that didn’t mean only on the sales charts but on the author charts.

So what’s changed?

All those free books that translated into sales a few years ago when readers were hungry for free and discounted reading material were now saturating their Kindles. Readers had hundreds, even thousands of books they’d probably never read, and if they ran out there were always ad pages that gave you a daily summary of deals. I use some of those ad sites to promote a sale, usually at $.99, but only a few of them generate numbers anymore, and I'm lucky if I break even from my costs.

It’s almost impossible to get a BookBub ad these days, especially if you are exclusive to Amazon, which I am. They get paid on click-throughs, and if readers are clicking on one platform only, in my case Amazon, BookBub doesn’t make as much money as if the books were on multiple platforms. Also, their price has skyrocketed. Why? Because they bring results. Also, and this is important, they now have major publishers promoting famous writers, buying ads for double and triple the costs of free book ads. A crime fiction ad reaches almost four million readers. Free it costs, $569, a $.99 ad costs $1,138, $1.99 = $1,970, $2.99 = $2,845, and anything over $3. is $3,983. Of course there are other genres that are less, but the more popular genres cost more. This might be fine if your publisher kicks in some money or pays the total amount, but few indie authors can afford those prices.

Now, after nine books in crime fiction (mystery, thrillers, and romantic suspense) and four in erotic romance, I’ll finish the fifth book in my series, but that might be all. I am trying my hand at a totally different genre, and if I think the end result is good enough and can be the first book in a series, I might try for an agent. Why? Because times have changed, and writers have to change with them.

Am I sorry about the route I’ve taken? If you had asked me in 2012 or 2013, and I’d have said no. It was a great decision. Ask me if I’d do it the same way in 2018, knowing what I know now, I’d have to think long and hard before answering, but I'd probably say yes. I'd just do things a little differently.

Polly Iyer is the author of nine novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, and Indiscretion, and four books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games, Goddess of the Moon, Backlash and The Scent of Murder. 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 24, 2018

Why Novelists Should Consider Writing Magazine Articles

You can spend months researching fascinating bits of information for your novels. Maybe you found out your character who lived in the early 1900’s couldn’t be drinking Makers Mark because it wasn’t available until 1958. Or maybe you read about an ancient Japanese tradition that says if a sumo wrestler makes a baby cry it will bring the little one good health.

Some research finds its way into your novels, while other facts make you shake your head in amazement, but never make it to the page. Instead of having all this interesting information die a slow death in the depths of your computer hard drive, consider writing articles using these topics.

Writing magazine articles is a great way to use all this fascinating research, and it allows you the chance to get your name out there to potential new readers. If people read your article and enjoy it, it may compel them to look up your website or one of your other books listed in your short bio at the end of the piece. One Facebook post talking about your book may reach a couple thousand people on a great day. One article has the potential to reach tens of thousands of readers or more depending on the magazine.

If that isn’t enough of a reason to consider writing articles, how about these:

  • Showcases your writing skills
  • Helps your SEO (search engine optimization) when people Google your name because the articles may appear in the searches
  • If you target the right markets, you will get paid for your work
  • Gives you a nice break between novels and keeps you writing
  • Builds your credibility 
  • Strengthens your author brand

Ready to move forward? The first step is to take out all your research. Look through it and pull out the ideas that have potential. Write down specific angles for each of those ideas. For instance, if I go back to the Makers Mark whisky fact, that piece of information alone isn’t enough to sustain a whole article. But I could look at writing an article about:
  • The history of whisky in the U.S. 
  • Bill Samuels, Sr., the man behind Makers Mark 
  • The science behind whisky and how it’s made
  • The top 5 whisky companies in the U.S.
  • How to host a whisky tasting party 

Once you figure out the direction for your article, it’s time to find the perfect magazine for the idea. Think beyond the obvious magazines. A piece about the top five whisky companies can work for a business magazine or the tasting party idea can fit in a lifestyle magazine. Use the Writer’s Market as a reference to find a variety of markets. Go to the magazines’ websites to read past articles to better understand the style and tone before pitching your idea.

For articles, email a short query first. The basic components to include:
  • Salutation (Find the correct editor and the correct spelling of his/her name)
  • A great hook
  • Provide information about the topic (enough to pique an editor’s interest and show you have knowledge of the topic)
  • Share specifics about what you are proposing, approximate word count, the department you see this fitting into, the type of article (profile, roundup, how-to, feature, review…)
  • Your bio
  • Your name and contact information (Phone number, email and website if you have one)

If the editor is interested, she will give you the assignment, a contract and then you write the article.

This is a quick look at how to make the best use of your research and build your author brand through magazine articles. If you want more in depth information, I wrote a whole book about the topic, The Writer’s Digest Guide to Magazine Article Writing. Good luck and I hope to see your byline on articles in the near future.
Kerrie Flanagan is writing consultant, freelance writer, author and presenter from Fort Collins, CO. She is presenting at the Writer’s Digest Conference this August in NYC. To learn more about Kerrie, her books and where she is presenting or teaching next, visit her website at

Thursday, July 19, 2018

POV or Writer Intrusion?

What is you favorite book? Why? Who's your favorite author? Why? What qualities in a book draw you to its story? If it's fiction, do you relate to the characters or their situations or both? What makes any book memorable for you?

When a writer—first time or with decades of experience—sits down to apply words to paper or hard drive, he or she begins a journey that often travels many roads before reaching its destination of publication. Is there a shortcut? Almost always. Should a writer take that shortcut for the sake of expediency or for any other reason? Definitely not. Why?

Writing a book demands the creation of a life or, more often, several lives. Just as in the real world, this doesn't happen overnight. Characters in a story must be as three-dimensional as those we see walking down the street, those who live next door, as family, friends, and, yes, enemies. This realism must resonate with our reader to such an extent that the reader can step into the story and walk side-by-side with any given character. This may sound easy, but it requires considerable effort in a number of areas and careful adherence to some of the dos and don'ts of good story writing.

Now let's consider POV with some definitions.

First Person POV (I): The author and the character become the same. The tale, therefore, has a single, biased viewpoint.

Second Person POV (You): This rarely used POV assumes the reader to be the POV character and writes the story accordingly. "You" might also be an intended recipient of a letter, in which case that person becomes the POV character.

Third Person POV (He, She, occasionally an animal or an inanimate object): One or more characters narrate the story or a portion of it. The reader not only sees what that character does and hears what he says, but also is often given a glimpse into his/her thoughts. For greatest effectiveness, only one character at a time should be in the POV position. More than one POV character in a scene may confuse a reader or push her away.

Limited POV requires the thoughts, etc., of other characters not be available in this variation of third person POV. In a later scene, another character may become the focus, and the same restriction applies.

Objective POV shows rather than tells a character's feelings. This one takes some practice because the writer must show those feelings only through dialogue and action.

Omniscient POV is godlike in that it sees and knows all. The reader can be clued in about future or past events unknown to one or more characters and may even be addressed by the narrator (author) as was done in a number of Victorian era books. Unfortunately, this POV often removes the reader's need to keep turning pages to find out what's going to happen.

Shallow POV: Here we have the "he-said she-said" scenario. While these dialogue tags may be necessary in scenes involving discussion among more than two people, they tend to pull the reader out of the story, particularly when only two are speaking. See examples below.

"I don't believe you," she said.
"I told you I did it," he said.
"Nobody imagines you would do such a thing," she said, scowling.

"I don't believe you." She pretended to straighten the books on the shelf.
"I told you I did it."
 Scowling, she turned to face him. "Nobody imagines you would do such a thing."

Other examples of shallow POV include such phrases as he thought he saw, she felt like, she knew what she wanted, he hoped he could find, and many similar phrases.

Deep POV makes the POV character's thoughts, words, and actions the focal point. Nothing that character cannot see, hear, feel, or know is allowed. Dialogue tags are kept to a bare minimum or removed altogether. Sounds easy, but writing well in deep POV takes practice. The reward lies in the superior finished product, which is well worth the effort.

Here are some examples:

He thought he saw a bird fly out of the bush. (shallow) Was that a robin that flew out of the bush? (deeper - reader knows he's in this character's POV and understands it's his observation; no need to say "he thought").

She felt like she was going to faint. (shallow) Lights dimmed. The music faded. Her knees shook. (deeper - this pulls the reader into the heart of the scene while the shallow one simply makes a statement).

We could go on with examples, but the point has been made that shallow POV distances the reader from the story while deep POV pulls the reader in.

One final word about deep POV: The POV character is telling the story, showing the action, sharing her thoughts and fears. The reader stands next to her. The writer has left the building.

Speaking of leaving the building—or not—let's devote a moment to writer intrusion and why it's detrimental to great story-telling.

Writer intrusion wears a variety of faces. A few are listed below.

  • POV character seems to know something he can't unless he has eyes and ears detached from his head or is clairvoyant. 
  • Overabundance of research info shows up in unlikely or unbelievable dialogue.
  • POV character becomes a mouthpiece for writer's social, political, or religious views.
  • While typically not stupid, neither do characters have unusual insight. They can't know too much too soon.
  • A scene is hurried through and the emotional impact diminished because something big is about to happen, and the writer can't wait to get to it.
The list could go on and on, but no need. The point is made that it is the characters' stories and lives that grace the pages of the book. If we, as authors, want to indoctrinate readers with our views, we should write an autobiography. If we want to engage our readers with a fabulous story told by our characters, we should let our characters speak freely and with heart—unless, of course, they digress too far. But that's another article.

Narrator Intrusion Part 1 by Diana Hurwitz

Narrator Intrusion Part 2 by Diana Hurwitz

Tips for Deep POV by Terry Odell

What is Deep POV? by Heidi M. Thomas

Editor Linda Lane has returned to her first love—writing—while maintaining her editing work. Her novels fall into the literary category because they are character driven rather than plot driven, but their quick pace reminds the reader of genre fiction. They also contain elements of romance, mystery, and suspense. You can contact her through her websites: and