Sunday, January 31, 2010

Resolution or Commitment?

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New Year’s resolutions—no matter how well-intended—are made to be broken. Why so? Could it be that they are created on a whim and aren’t backed by the commitment that turns intentions into actions?

Before moving into a smaller place recently, I spent days going through old files and eliminating bags full of no-longer-necessary papers. I even found several rejection letters I received some years ago when I sent out my not-quite-ready-for-publication first novel. Most were form letters, but one agent sent a personal note, commenting that the manuscript needed revision. He was right. I later pared over 20,000 words off the story, some of which I dearly loved. Letting them go met with more reluctance than I care to admit.

What’s the point here? I had resolved to write a more compelling book than the ones I was reading, a story that kept the reader turning pages despite the missing sex and profanity. And I had indeed written a story—some 116,000 words of story. However, I hadn’t committed to polishing that story into a marketable manuscript. “But it was finished,” you might say. “Surely that took commitment.” Yes, it did, but not enough. My ordinary family tale needed to be transformed into an extraordinary family drama.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of writers thrust their creations into the marketplace. Because few have found homes in traditional publishing, the vast majority of their works are churned out by small presses and print-on-demand houses. This glut of reading material—much of it poorly edited or unedited altogether—overwhelms the most prolific readers and leaves many authors disillusioned about ever realizing their dreams of writing a bestseller.

What’s the commitment? Help writers to learn their craft. Don’t just edit their manuscripts—teach them to become better writers. Instruct them in the finer points of painting word pictures in a variety of colors and hues. Teach them the difference between “show” and “tell.” Take them down the path to writing great dialogue. Make a difference for those who, for whatever reason, choose to travel the non-traditional publishing road. And in the process, give readers excellent stories that will keep them coming back for more.

Owner of Pen and Sword Publishers, Linda Lane heads up an editing team committed to raising the bar on non-traditionally published works. She and another member of her team will be presenting a 50-minute program on editing at the annual seminar of the Colorado Independent Publishers Association in March. Linda offers writing workshops and is promoting the development of standards for editors that will assure writers that they are getting their money's worth when they hire a freelance editor. Visit her Web site at (Site is under construction.)

Saturday, January 30, 2010


Nobody likes rejections, but we all get them. If you're a writer, you get them by the truckload. You get them from your critique group. Readers and judges of contests give you low scores or write mean-spirited or positive, but disheartening comments. When you start querying out your manuscript, you get rejected by agents. If you finally get an agent, then you get the pleasure of being rejected by editors. Your book gets published, and then it seems like the critics are out for blood. Even with good reviews, readers reject you, sometimes on world-wide bulletin boards or chat services, sometimes when you're sitting at a table in a store and hardly anyone even makes eye contact, let alone comes over. Book stores reject you--they don't want you for a signing, or you show up for a signing and they forgot to order copies of your book. And on and on. Constant, never-ending rejection.

Why Do We Do This To Ourselves?

Excuse me. Did I say that aloud? What I meant to say was: Rejection is good for building character.

If that's the case, then I've got more characters than Jim Carrey.

But, I will say this, and it's something you already know: If you let rejection get to you, if you give up because it hurts too much, if you lose faith in yourself and in your talent, then you won't succeed.

You can learn from rejection:

1) Figure out what you did wrong, and correct it.

2) Remember, the rejection is not of you personally.

3) Sometimes the problem is not with you or your writing; it's with the person doing the rejecting.

4) Every critique, every comment, whether it's from a reader, an agent, an editor, a contest judge, or a critic, is subjective.

5) If you labor over every rejection or negative comment, you'll make yourself crazy. Let it go and move on.

Pick yourself up off the floor, file away the rejection, and write some more. Okay, I'll let you have some private time to cry, or eat a half-gallon of ice cream, or take a nap, or call a friend -- but then you have to sit your behind back in your chair and write.

Remember, there is a recipe for getting published:
Half is talent.
Half is luck.
Half is meeting the right people, networking.
Half is rewriting and rewriting and rewriting.
Half is perseverance.

Yes, I know, that's too many halves. You've got all that character built up from being rejected. You've got more than enough halves to go around.
Helen Ginger is a freelance editor, book consultant, blogger, and writer. She teaches public speaking as well as writing and marketing workshops. In addition, her free ezine, Doing It Write, which goes out to subscribers around the globe, is now in its eleventh year of publication. You can follow Helen on Twitter or catch her on February 6th at Story Circle Network’s national conference, Stories from the Heart V, where she’ll be moderating the panel on “Getting Published.”

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Busted!—John Cheever caught using potent modifiers

In a former post I showed how taking another look at multiple modifiers can lead to deeper meaning. The example I used was “long orange stringy hair”—it gives a brief visual, but not much more. In later drafts I suggested you might examine such clustered modifiers to single out the one that can contribute the most to your story, and then capitalize on it to create meaning.

After posting that blog I happened to pick up an old copy of The Brigadier and the Golf Widow, a collection of short stories by John Cheever. Cheever is a master of the telling detail. I particularly enjoyed this passage from “An Educated American Woman,” in which Cheever introduces his main character, Jill Chidchester Madison, a woman who has light brown hair, small breasts, and brown eyes.

Many authors would have stopped at this roll call of visual elements, which the reader may or may not later remember. Not Cheever. And rather than whittle down to one telling detail, he turns each of these attributes into an opportunity to deepen characterization. Check this out:
Her light-brown hair, at the time of which I’m writing, was dressed simply and in a way that recalled precisely how she had looked in boarding school twenty years before. Boarding school may have shaded her taste in clothing; that and the fact she had a small front and was one of those women who took this deprivation as if it was something more than the loss of a leg. Considering her comprehensive view of life, it seemed strange that such a thing should have bothered her, but it bothered her terribly.… Her eyes were brown and set much too close together, so that when she was less than vivacious she had a mousy look.
In capitalizing on visual attributes in this way, in the second paragraph of his story, Cheever offers up a visual plus oh-so-much more. He deepens characterization, beguiles us with his wit, and adds dimension by suggesting the character’s boarding school past without flashing away from the story opening.

And will you ever forget that Jill Chidchester Madison is flat chested? Plucked from a list and highlighted in this fashion, the reader is not likely to gloss over this attribute.

He uses the same technique with setting details in the title story, “The Brigadier and the Golf Widow.” In the first paragraph he describes a bomb shelter “ornamented with four plaster-of-Paris ducks, a birdbath, and three composition gnomes with long beards.” Once again, though, he did not stop with this visual, no matter how intriguing. Of the bomb shelter he writes:
It was built by the Pasterns, and stands on the acre of ground that adjoins our property. It bulks under a veil of thin, new grass, like some embarrassing fact of physicalness, and I think Mrs. Pastern set out the statuary to soften its meaning.

To be sure, that second sentence offers up a visual: it describes the way the bomb shelter looks from the perspective of a neighbor. But it also creates poignancy and conflict through the pairing of the verb “bulk” with “veil of thin, new grass,” and suggests the way its owner attempts to disguise its ominous presence. [Note that instead of fighting one another for prominence, in this case the modifiers “thin” and “new” support the use of the word “veil” in one meaningful image.]

I should caution that while we can look to past masters for inspiration, we shouldn't always copy. Cheever's technique of inserting the omniscient narrator's voice into a story without developing him as a character is dated—“The Brigadier and the Golf Widow” was published in 1961 and “An Educated American Woman” was written in 1963 (both first appeared in The New Yorker). But Cheever’s use of the telling detail is timeless and one well worth studying.

Kathryn Craft is a developmental editor at What she believes: 1. Editing forever changed the way she reads. 2. Well-crafted moments of brilliance help her forgive many other problems in a manuscript. 3. All writers have strengths and weaknesses—but why settle for weaknesses? 4. We can learn as much from what other authors do right as we can from what we do wrong. Welcome to her series, "Busted!—An author caught doing something right."

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Editor Interview: Barbara Warren, Blue Mountain Editorial Service

Barbara Warren, author and owner of Blue Mountain Editorial Service, lives on a farm in the beautiful Ozarks in Missouri with her husband Charles, a herd of cattle and an office cat named Rosicat, who was abandoned at their church when she was just a kitten. Rosicat manages the office. Charles and Barbara do the work. She is a writer, editor, and Sunday school teacher. Her hobbies are reading and raising flowers. Barbara was my editor on Cowgirl Dreams, published by Treble Heart Books
Can you expand on your editing background--how did you get into it? Did you take classes?

No, I didn’t take classes. I belonged to a writer’s group and we critiqued each other’s work. People kept urging me to become an editor, and after a while I took them seriously. I do read a lot of books on writing and have an extensive library of books about writing and editing. I keep studying, wanting to grow so I can do a better job for the writers whose books I edit.

How long have you been editing?
I’ve been editing for twenty years. It’s a job I love and I hope I can keep doing it for many more years.

Do you do most of your work for Treble Heart Books or do you also do freelance editing?
I have my own business, Blue Mountain Editorial Service and am listed on several on-line sites. My clients are both published and non-published, and many of them come through word of mouth. I also get clients from Treble Heart and Lee Emory is great to work with. I’ve met many very good writers through her.

What is your advice for a writer who would like to become an editor?
Study books on writing and editing. Gain experience by editing for fellow writers. Study what is selling, and read books in all genres, not just what you like. When you think you are ready, make sure you have a website. Post your company online in places like Preditors and Editors. List it in books like Sally Stuart’s Christian Market Guide (both are free). Have brochures printed and ask writer friends to give you an endorsement. Hand out brochures and cards every chance you get. Attend writers’ conferences and ask permission to display your brochure. Establish business ethics and live by them. Always do more than you are expected to do. Help your clients any way you can, and always be honest. Don’t tell a client how good he or she is, point out what is good, but also point out the faults and tell the writer how to make the book better.

What are the major mistakes you look for when editing a manuscript?
One big mistake is to tell the story instead of showing it through dialogue and action. It’s the difference between someone telling you what happened yesterday and you being present when it actually happened.

Choose one viewpoint character per scene and show what happens in that scene in that character’s point of view. Let the reader see what that character sees, hears what he hears. Instead of saying Sally was scared. Show Sally frozen in place, every nerve tuned, listening for a footfall. See the difference?

Let your characters talk natural, the way you and the people you know talk. Don’t have a ‘good old boy’ talk like a college professor. Keep it casual, avoid formal language.
Know your characters. Know how each one would act in a stressful situation. Some people panic. Others withdraw. What will the character you have invented do?

What would you say are the “good” qualities of an acceptable manuscript?
Characters who seem real with believable problems. People read stories to learn about people. Think of your favorite books. Do you remember the plots? I’m betting you remember the characters.

Active writing as opposed to passive. Don’t write “tables were being set up.” Show who is setting up the tables. And avoid writing about ‘the man.’ Name him. If you read in the paper that a man jumped off the bridge you might be interested. If you read that John Walker jumped off the First Street Bridge, you’re more interested. And if you read that John Walker, owner of the local Sonic and the father of four children jumped off the First Street Bridge, then your emotions are engaged.

Always remember your reader. Will the reader understand what you are saying? Will the reader be offended? Are you preaching to the reader or trying to convert him to your point of view? Treat your readers with respect.

At what point should a writer seek an editor?
When you have written, rewritten, and feel you can’t do any more to the manuscript, then you are ready to have someone else look at it. But first do all you can to make it a good manuscript. No point in paying someone else to do what you can do yourself.

What can an independent editor do for an author in preparing her manuscript for submission to a publisher?
A good editor can point out flaws in the story, check for flow, awkward sentences, make sure there are no loose ends, and that it engages the emotions of the reader. An editor can also show proper formatting, help with a synopsis and query letter, and work with the writer to make the manuscript and proposal the best the two of them can make it. A good editor is not in it just for the money. He or she will do everything possible to help the writer polish that manuscript until it shines.

Barbara is also an author. The Gathering Storm, a mystery and her first novel, has been released from Jireh Publishers and is available at Amazon and on her web site. Her agent is Terry Burns with Hartline Literary Agency.

A native Montanan, Heidi Thomas now lives in Northwest Washington. She has her first novel published, Cowgirl Dreams, based on her grandmother. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing and is a member of Northwest Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing and edits, and is working on the next books in her “Dare to Dream” series, and blogs.

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Looking for the Right Writers' Conference

It's not always easy to find the right conference. You might want a one-day event, or a long weekend. Local is better if you can avoid a hotel stay. On the other hand, getting away from home provides networking opportunities you'll miss if you skip the evening events or hospitality room gatherings.

For some, a focus on the craft of writing is preferred. Other conference attendees will want a variety of expert panels and an opportunity to pitch their completed manuscripts to agents and editors.

For a series of informative articles about conferences from Writer's Digest editor Chuck Sambuchino, check out the Writers Conference category of his blog archives.

One of the places to search for writers' conferences, workshops, and genre conventions is in Shaw Guides. All types of events are grouped together alphabetically, so it takes a long time to separate conferences sponsored by colleges and universities from those offered by writers' organizations from those sponsored by privately-owned companies. There is no bad or good label that should be applied to any of them. It all depends on what you are looking for. It helps if you narrow your search to specific months or specific states when you begin.

The following list of January through April events is a sampling of from across the country. The cost is minimal for some of the one-day programs. Pitch sessions are available at several. All of the information for each conference or workshop can be found at its official website. Click on the conference name and follow the link.


San Diego State University Writers’ Conference
San Diego, California
January 29-31, 2010


South Coast Writers Conference
Gold Beach, Oregon
February 12-13, 2010


University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Spring Writers Festival
Milwaukee, Wisconsin
March 5-7, 2010

Tennessee Mountain Writers Conference
Oak Ridge, Tennessee
March 25-27, 2010

The Write Stuff
Allentown, Pennsylvania
March 25-27, 2010

Northern Colorado Writers Conference
Fort Collins, Colorado
March 26-27, 2010

University of North Dakota Writers Conference
Grand Forks, North Dakota
Lectures and readings
March 23-27, 2010 – All events free of charge


Emerald Coast Writers Conference
Fort Walton Beach, Florida
April 8-10, 2010

Truckee Meadows Community College Writers Conference
Reno, Nevada
April 17, 2010

Carolinas Writers Conference
Wadesboro, North Carolina
April 17, 2010

Columbus State Community College
Columbus, Ohio
April 18, 2010

Spring Fling 2010 Writers’ Conference
Deerfield, Illinois
April 23-24, 2010
Sponsored by Chicago North chapter RWA

Pikes Peak Writers Conference
Colorado Springs, Colorado
April 23-25, 2010

I attended the Northern Colorado Writers' Conference in Fort Collins three times and have participated as a presenter and volunteer. Other Colorado authors have spoken highly of the Pikes Peak Conference. If anyone has personal information on the others, please let us know. If you have a conference to add, please give us a link with your comment.


Patricia Stoltey is a mystery author, blogger, and critique group facilitator. Active in promoting Colorado authors, she also helps local unpublished writers learn the critical skills of manuscript revision and self-editing. For information about Patricia’s Sylvia and Willie mystery series, visit her website and her blog. You can also find her on Facebook (Patricia Stoltey) and Twitter (@PStoltey).

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

May I say a Word in my Defense?

In looking for some old posts to link to in a new blog post, I discovered that my post about what drives this editor crazy had 43 responses. Some of them made good points that encouraged me to rethink some of my editing pet peeves, a few were personal attacks -- but okay, I'm a big girl, I can take that -- and several defended the use of ordinary, common word usage.
One responder, who doesn't have a full Google profile wrote: "It seems editors feel they MUST be picky or they're not doing their job. The things you bring up are a matter of opinion. Some readers might enjoy flowery language and some don't have great imaginations and need things spelled out for them. Should we just ignore all those people and only write for the extremely literate? Should we only write to the level of editors?"
To her, and the others who said this is all just a matter of personal opinion, I remind you to think about the craft of writing. It is not enough to get a story down on paper using the same language and turns of phrase that you have read in a hundred other books. The craft of writing is about making it not like everything else you have read.
A writer can still use flowery language for a romance, or a sweeping saga, or a long historical, but that flowery language could utilize fresh descriptions and that same language is not used for a mystery, or a mainstream novel, or a western. When we apply craft, we know the difference, and when I am editing it is all about craft. I don't rely on just my personal opinion as to what could change to improve the writing. I employ what I have learned working with and for other professionals for many years.
Someone else made the comment that they like to write the way people talk. Well, the way people talk is often boring. Normal conversations are rift with polite speak -- all those hellos, goodbyes, thanks, etc. A writing instructor once told me to pay attention to how people interact when they talk, but don't necessarily use exact words you hear in a conversation.
When it comes to working with a client, I try to encourage them to rise above the ordinary in what they are writing. It is their choice to do that or not. Just like it is any readers choice to take the tips pointed out here at The Blood Red Pencil or not. One of the things I have enjoyed most about this blog is that we get into some great discussions and have all learned from each other. Nothing is cast in stone when it comes to writing or editing, but these posts and discussions help us all to grow and improve.

Posted by Maryann Miller. Visit Maryann's Web site for information about her editing services and her books. When she is not working, Maryann loves to play farmer on her little ranch in East Texas.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Writing for Wikipedia – Background on Biographies

If you’ve decided to write a Wikipedia biography, you’ve probably selected a subject that excites you – an author whose books you love (or love to hate), for example. There are some points to keep in mind for all wikipedia articles that have special importance when writing about people.

• Be factual – do your research, double check the facts, make sure the facts are independently verifiable
• Limit the article to relevant facts
• Keep your tone neutral, don’t state your opinions
• Take care to link your finished page to other pages, otherwise your hard work will be orphaned

Be Factual
Remember – Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, a collection of known, verifiable facts. You are also writing about a person and people tend to have families and friends who care about them. Your family probably would not be amused to read that you died three years ago in a drug induced frenzy during which you leapt from Grand Canyon rim while yelling “I believe I can fly!” Okay, maybe they would be amused, but all families are different. Would the mother who spent thirty-six hours in labor to bring you into this world and then suffered through your miserable teenage years like to read that you were adopted after being left in a restaurant trash can?

You may have heard from a friend of a friend that your selected author won the Pulitzer, beats his/her kids, kicks dogs, is the best loved children’s writer of all time, etc. Just because you heard a thing, or think you remember reading it in a headline while standing in line at the grocery store, does not make it true. Try to verify your facts with multiple sources. Aunt Mary’s blog is not an adequate source. A publisher’s web page might be considered a good source. An interview with your subject is a good initial source of information, but all information must be verifiable; an interview with your deceased subject’s ghost – probably not an acceptable source of information.

Cite your sources. Citing sources will help the article reviewers verify the information you provided and may prevent your article being tagged with the ‘no cited sources’ disclaimer. For an example of this disclaimer, check out the Sharyn McCrumb page. (Scroll to the bottom of the page.) Ms. McCrumb has published more than twenty novels (and counting) in at least four different series. (All entertaining reads, in IMHO.) However, her wiki article didn’t site sources, so her page contains the disclaimer. If you are a Sharyn McCrumb fan, you may want to take on her page as a project, find and site sources for the information provided and update the list of novels.

Limit Your Article to Relevant Facts
You’ve chosen to write a Wikipedia article about a person you believe is notable in some way. What makes them notable? Your stated facts should shine a light on the subject’s notability. Save all the other fascinating details about your subject’s life for the full-length biographical book you may one day write.

Authors, for example, often have day jobs. Are the day jobs relevant? Maybe. Nevada Barr works as a park ranger in U.S. National Parks and her Anna Pidgeon mystery series takes place in those parks. Relevant. If an author works in a child care facility by day and writes erotic romance by night, the day job is probably not relevant.

Sticking to the relevant facts will also help to keep your article to a reasonable size, which is important for Wikipedia accessibility. Many rural internet users still have dial-up access as their only option. The newer mobile browser technology is also size sensitive.

Keep the Tone Neutral
Keeping a neutral tone can be difficult when writing about a topic that excites you. In fact, you may not even notice when you’ve strayed. If you know in your heart of hearts that your selected author’s stories are the best treat since chocolate dipped Twinkies, you may not immediately realize this is not a statement of fact, but your opinion. Wikipedia helps by providing a list of phrases to watch for, named peacock and weasel terms. These terms are red flags because the usually don’t offer any real information. Examples:

• An important…
• One of the most…
• It is believed…
• Some people say…

Writers have a mantra that can help here. Show don’t tell.

Write your article first. Then review, looking for words or phrases from the peacock/weasel lists and think of ways to replace those statements with facts and let the facts speak for themselves. For example, instead of writing, “My favorite author boasts an impressive number of awards,” simply list the author’s awards and let the reader decide if the list is impressive. Instead of writing, “My favorite author is one of the best-loved of all time,” state how many of the author’s books have been sold, how many titles went to reprint, etc.

Link Your Finished Article
You did it! You researched, wrote, replaced opinion/peacock/weasel statements with facts, sited your sources, ruthlessly eliminated non-relevant facts, and polished the result to a concise article. Congratulations!

Now that you’re finished, would you like readers to be able to find your article? If the answer is yes, you must find ways to link your article to the rest of Wikipedia.

Let’s take another look at the Sharyn McCrumb page. The author of this page did a great job thinking up links for this article. Some of the links take you to other pages (e.g. Bimbos of the Death Sun) and others do not (Missing Susan). Some links take you to pages with reciprocal links (Anthony Awards) and others do not (Berea College). The ideal, of course, is to provide links that take the reader to more information and to provide return links on the linked pages – follow the Anthony Awards example whenever possible.

Wikipedia says, “Avoid making your articles orphans. When you write a new article, make sure that one or more other pages link to it, to lessen the chances that your article will be orphaned through someone else's refactoring. Otherwise, when it falls off the bottom of the Recent Changes page, it will disappear into the Mists of Avalon. There should always be an unbroken chain of links leading from the Main Page to every article in Wikipedia; following the path you would expect to use to find your article may give you some hints as to which articles should link to your article.”

Give some thought to how you might link your article to the rest of Wikipedia. Your article should contain at least three bi-directional links. The more valid links you create, the more likely it is that someone will read your work. An easy way to approach this is to think of all the different ways you can characterize a person – by year of birth, by college association, by profession, etc. Another way to think about it is to list the person’s accomplishments (i.e. books written, awards nominated/won) and see if pages exist for those accomplishments. Remember to keep the list relevant.

Check the pages for Linda Barnes, Janet Evanovich, and Tony Hillerman.

Other articles in this series include:

• January 15 – Wikipedia Registration
• January 29 – Writing the Lead
• February 5 – The Rest of the Story
• February 12 – Creating and Article in Draft • February 19 – Benefits
• February 26 – Odd and Ends

Charlotte Phillips is the co-author of the Eva Baum Detective Series, 2009 President for The Final Twist Writers Group and contributor to multiple blogs. Learn more about Charlotte and her books at:

News, Views and Reviews Blog

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

My Computer's View of What I Write

Broncs? Steer riding? What IS this drivel? Oh my God, she’s writing a Western!
Leaping lattes, the boys at H-P never warned me about this. They only told me I was being placed in the home of a writer.

Here, I had visions of late-night literary discussions over a Corvaussier with a chap in a velvet jacket, smoking a fine Cuban cigar. Maybe a little Mendelssohn in the background, or at least Mozart.

Egads, what is that noise? “Come a Tie Yi Yippee, Yippee Yay”? Cover my speakers, please. No Mozart? Cowboy songs? Humph.

Back to my literary dream. Together—this fine author and I—we would create the modern Dickensian masterpiece, or at least a significant sonnet or two. Ah, the power of the written word…

Dadburned? Consarned? Dropped “G’s” all over the place? I try my best. But she just ignores those red underlines. What does she think that is, anyway, just a pretty color? And the grammar. Acres of green. Ignored again. Her manuscripts look like a Christmas tree. What’s a computer to do?

But wait. What is this, now? Lesson plans. Metaphors. Similes. “Angels invisible in their gossamer dresses …” “The reflected sky ran like a vein of silver in the creek…” “The murmuring of innumerable bees…”

Aaaahhhh. This is better than Mozart. Better than fine brandy. Yes … there may be hope for her yet.
A native Montanan, Heidi Thomas now lives in Northwest Washington. She has just had her first novel published, Cowgirl Dreams, based on her grandmother. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing and is a member of Northwest Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing and edits, and is working on the next books in her “Dare to Dream” series, and blogs.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Interview With An Editor -- Denise Dietz

This month's featured professional editor is Denise (Deni) Dietz. Responsible for using her fine-tooth comb on many of the mystery manuscripts (including both of mine) submitted to Five Star Publishing, a Division of Cengage, Deni is an experienced professional who teaches her clients as she edits their work.

Deni has just accepted a position with Tekno/Five Star and will be the Associate Editor in charge of all mystery and romance authors who are submitting to Five Star for the first time. Authors should look for her as the Tekno/Five Star representative at writers conferences.

Also an author of mystery fiction as well as romance, Deni’s books include Eye of Newt and the Ellie Bernstein mystery series (latest release: Strangle a Loaf of Italian Bread, 2009). Writing as Mary Ellen Dennis, Deni received a Booklist starred review for The Landlord’s Black-Eyed Daughter, a novel based on The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes. Deni’s next Mary Ellen historical, Stars of Fire, is set in the American West of 1860-61.

Our discussion was conducted via e-mail.

Pat's Question: Would you tell our readers a little about your background and how you became a freelance editor?

Deni's Answer: Writing came first. But I found I had a knack for editing once I became a member of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and joined a critique group. A fellow RMFW member, Emily Carmichael, asked if I’d consider editing one of her historical romances. I said yes and she received her first-ever revision letter that didn’t have any revisions or corrections. In fact, her editor complimented Emily on a “clean manuscript.” Emily spread the word and I established my free-lance editing service: Stray Cat Productions.

I’ve never had any formal training but I did take a creative writing course in college (the University of Wisconsin). I wrote the first 3 chapters of a racy woman’s fiction novel for a class project. However, I kept using the word “thing” for penis (I was very young!). My professor gave me a 2-page list of euphemisms, my first introduction to “editing.” :)

Pat: What does the publisher expect of you as editor and how does that compare to the author’s expectations?

Deni: I line edit for both. However, the publisher usually gives me a realistic deadline while my freelance clients inevitably ask, “How long will it take?”—a question I can’t answer. Authors are often surprised by how much editing I do. When the author refers to a person, I change “that” to “who” every time, and I like a character’s eyes to stay on his/her head, not drop to the floor—where they can be stepped on—or sweep the room. So I’ll often edit “my eyes landed on his face” to “I stared at his face.” And be careful about a character tossing her head. Unless there’s someone there who can catch it.

Pat: How many manuscripts have you edited since you’ve been freelancing and what genre(s) is your specialty?

Deni: I’ve been free-lancing since the 1990s and in that time I’ve have had 14 books published, starting with the first two books in my “diet club” mystery series (two more novels are due out this year), so it’s difficult to guestimate. Plus, there’s a difference between editing and book-doctoring (I’ve done both). I even accepted an assignment to ghost-write a book, though I’d never do that again…unless it was for James Patterson.

Pat: Based on your own observations, what are the top three mistakes made by beginning writers?

Deni: It sounds like a cliché, but telling rather than showing is number one. If a writer simply tells me about a character, I feel no emotional connection. Number two would be books that start with a “weather report.” There are always exceptions, but if you tell me it’s snowing, there had better be a [dead] body part sticking out of the snow. Third would be overuse of a word. Check your manuscripts for the words “just” and “well.” Tied with overuse of a word would be dialogue tags, like “That’s funny,” he laughed. You cannot laugh and talk at the same time. Try it. Nor can you talk while you are smiling, grinning or (my favorite) exploding. (“I did not tell him,” she exploded.) Nor do I like “animal tags”: growled, brayed, chirped, etc. Here’s a “trick” I use for my own books. If your character is named “John,” do a search-and-replace and change it to “Bruce.” When you reread your ms, Bruce should stand out, and at least 50% of the time it can be changed to “he” or “his.”

Pat: What is the best piece of advice you give most writers?

Deni: I give them the best piece of advice I’ve ever received. I wrote a scene set in an opulent apartment. I described the living room in detail, including the eclectic collection of paintings on the wall. It was written from the POV of my protagonist, an actress. An author I admired read the chapter and complimented me on my narrative. She said she felt like she was there. I had barely begun preening when she said, “But how does Delly FEEL when she looks at the room?” I rewrote the scene, keeping all my details. Except, when Delly looks at the wall she wishes she could step into a painting. Here’s the rewrite:

"Delly stepped into an enormous living room and blinked at the brightness. The walls and ceilings were pure yellow, the floor a highly glossed parquet. An eclectic mixture of paintings crowded the walls. Delly recognized Andy Warhol, Peter Max, and Renoir. Her gaze lingered on the Renoir, and she wished she could step into the painting. In a Renoir there were no cameras panning for a close-up, no directors screaming for another take, no rejection. Renoir’s flowers have no smell, but they don’t die. Renoir’s people have no smell, but they live forever.

Once she had believed that actors lived forever."

Note that I managed to get some of her backstory into a couple of brief paragraphs! This is also an example of what I was talking about before: showing vs. telling. I could have said: “Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe print reminded her of her last acting role … blah, blah, blah, fishcakes,” and that wouldn’t be wrong. But it doesn’t really tell you how Delly FEELS. Can you see the difference?

Pat: What advice would you give someone who is interested in becoming an editor?

Deni: Don’t give up your day job. :) I once received an email from a woman who wanted me to edit her husband’s “adventure novel.” But she’d only pay $100, she said, because—are you ready?—her husband used spell-check. Editing requires a lot more expertise than simply correcting spelling and typos. For example, I cover punctuation, grammar, syntax, transitions, anachronisms, historical/ethnic accuracy, characterization, conflict (internal and external), motivation, secondary players, backstory, POV, narrative voice, dialogue, exposition, sensory details, and descriptions of people, places and situations. Warning: If you plan to go into free-lance editing, realize that the competition is fierce. Many retired pub house editors are now free-lance editors.

Pat: Is there anything I haven’t asked that you’d like to tell the writers and editors who follow The Blood-Red Pencil blog?

Deni: When you submit your manuscript to an editor, it should be as error-free as you can possibly make it, and be sure to follow any formatting instructions. Too often I’ve heard: “If it’s a good book, the editor will fix it; that’s what they’re paid to do.” Aside from that misconception, why have one strike against you from the get-go? Look at it this way. An editor has one open slot and two books competing for that slot. Book A is “clean” and formatted but Book B isn’t. Which book do you think the editor will acquire? When someone queries me, I respond with formatting guidelines. And yet I recently received a 90,000 word manuscript that was written like a 90,000 word email. Not a real email—as a plot device—but every single paragraph was flush left and there were two double-spaces between paragraphs. Did the submitter even bother to glance at my guidelines? Or did someone tell her "the editor will fix it"? :)

My thanks to Deni for being kind enough to answer my questions. You can find out more about her novels at her website Deni Dietz.


Patricia Stoltey is a mystery author, blogger, and critique group facilitator. Active in promoting Colorado authors, she also helps local unpublished writers learn the critical skills of manuscript revision and self-editing. For information about Patricia’s Sylvia and Willie mystery series, visit her website and her blog. You can also find her on Facebook (Patricia Stoltey) and Twitter (@PStoltey).

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Great Book Discussion Questions

Book-club discussions are important to many readers, including me. I participate in online books discussions regularly through a mystery listserv, and sometimes I even led the discussion. So I have some experience in coming up with thought-provoking questions, and I’m finally getting around to writing discussion questions for my own novels.

Every novel has specific events and character actions that naturally seem ripe for discussion, so I included a few of those. (Do you believe the mayor’s version of what happened to Jessie? Why or why not?) Then there are the standard questions that work for almost any novel. (Did the setting enhance the plot or could the story have worked anywhere? What themes did the author weave into the story? Was the antagonist believable?)

My favorite questions go beyond specific settings or events:

Motivation. Any question that gets to the heart of a character’s motivation, especially to behave in a socially unacceptable way, will make for a lively discussion. (Jasmine shares privileged information with a reporter. Why? Claire says she stole the painting to protect it, but what were her real reasons?) I’ve discovered that readers bring their own experiences into a novel and often perceive things in characters that others don’t, even the author. It’s fascinating.

Fate. Questions that discuss the course of events and whether those events are inevitable will generate strong reactions from readers. (Did the young boy have to die in the end? Could the story have gone in another direction and still been effective?)

Does the story rely on a major or minor coincidence? Was it believable and did it work for you? Was the story plausible overall?

Values/beliefs. In what ways do the events and characters reveal the author's values or world view? What is the author trying to say about [insert hot-button topic here: women, race, sexuality, discrimination]? Did the story make you question any of your own beliefs?

As readers, what are some of your favorite book discussion issues?

L.J. Sellers is an award-winning journalist and editor and is the author of the Detective Jackson mysteries, The Sex Club and Secrets to Die For. She also loves to edit fiction and works with authors to keep her rates affordable. Contact her at:

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Monday, January 18, 2010

As Time Goes By - Morgan Mandel

Time can change according to circumstances. Here are a few examples, which you may find true.

1. Lunch hours and breaks go by faster than the same amount of time spent in a dentist’s chair or at a doctor’s office.

2. At the beginning of a vacation, there seems to be a lot of time, but by the end, you didn't do everything you wanted to do.

3. Getting an agent or publisher to accept a manuscript can take longer than to write one.

4. A Facebook hour goes by faster than a synopsis hour.

5. The older you get the faster time seems to fly. If you’re still young, you won’t notice this right away, but it will happen.

6. Similar to the one above - What seems to have happened last year actually happened at least five years ago.

7. Busy people make time to do more, while those who are not busy can barely do what they already do.

8. If you quit your day job, you’ll find more time to write. Someone, tell me, is this one true? I threw it in as wishful thinking. It hasn’t happened to me yet.

9. Race against time – This occurs when I have a long time to get ready for an event, but then suddenly it’s upon me. It also happens in novels to heighten suspense. Will the bomb be found before the timer goes off? I'm sure you can think up other instances in books or movies.
10. Add tension by slowing the pace in a novel. Make time crawl so the reader can feel the anxiety.

In Killer Career, the heroine has claustrophobia. I draw out the climactic scene when she’s stuck in the elevator. Can she find a way out?

11. Quickening the pace and speeding up time can also add tension. Short sentences, less description, more action help the reader’s mind leap ahead and wonder what will happen next.

Do these examples hold true for you? Have you noticed anything else about time? In what way have you seen or incorporated time in a novel?
Morgan Mandel

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Using Characters and Scenes to Trim the Fat from Your Story: Part Two

In addition to examining the characters in your story to trim unnecessary material, you can also look at your scene development.

As I edited the VBB, I saw a major need for the client to edit scenes. Back in 2008, I wrote a short piece titled “Developing Scenes” that’s worth a check out. It’s important to remember that scenes don’t have to start at the beginning. Now, what does this mean? Let’s say you wanted to write a scene in which your main character’s conflict was revealed. You plan to do this by having the conflict blurted out during an argument between the main character and her boyfriend. In your scene, you start with allowing us to see the main character driving home, then she walks into her apartment, then she checks her mail and phone messages, then she takes off her clothes and puts on something comfortable, and then after all of that the boyfriend comes home, and there’s a lot of conversation about nothing before we even get to the argument. This would be considered a very slow-reading scene. As a reader, I would be waiting impatiently for something to happen. You would be amazed, if you went back and read through your manuscript paying close attention to scene development, at how many words go into revealing nothing important about the story and characters.

With this issue, it’s important to ask yourself, “Where’s the best place to start a scene and end a scene?” You don’t want to start too early and slow the read, and you don’t want to drag a scene on.

In my piece “Developing Scenes,” I write, “Typically, we are ‘placed’ somewhere (setting). People are revealed to us (characters). Some idea, point, purpose, situation is presented to us (beginning). There is interaction amongst the characters (middle), and the scene concludes in a way that propels the story forward and makes us want to know what happens next (ending).” As you edit through your manuscript, you want to make sure that these elements are in your scenes and that each scene does what it needs to do to make your story sing, not lag.

To those writers who tend to write epics when a particular book doesn’t necessarily call to be epic-size, place this word on a Post-it near your computer: SCOPE.

I know there are a lot of pantsers out there, those who just sit and let fingers fly across keys until a story is done. However, to help limit scope, it might be a good idea to actually outline books before writing them. An outline can give you a sense of how big a book will be. If it looks like your book will hit the scale at 125k or more, then you can work to revise an outline instead of revising a whole novel. And as you do so, you can ask yourself what is the overall purpose of this story, what characters are absolutely necessary to tell this specific story, and what tension, development is necessary in order to tell that specific story.

Shon Bacon is an author, editor, and educator. She has published both creatively and academically, and her debut solo novel, Death at the Double Inkwell, will be released June 2010; you can read an excerpt here. Shon also interviews women writers on her popular blog ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her official website, and you can get information about her editorial services at CLG Entertainment. Currently, Shon is busy editing, promoting her debut project, writing screenplays, and pursuing her Ph.D. in Technical Communication and Rhetoric at Texas Tech University.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Using Characters and Scenes to Trim the Fat from Your Story: Part One

Every year, I edit a slew of manuscripts – short stories, flash fiction, novellas, novels, etc. The biggest book I had ever edited before this time was about 200,000 words, and that story was about 80,000 words too long. A lot of slash-and-burn occurred for that literary baby.

But in 2009, I met my biggest adversary: a book that was over 330,000 words. No, this was not a Twilight saga. No Harry Potter. No The Lord of the Rings. This was a contemporary novel, a blend of street, urban, and literary fiction.

It was, by far, one of the cleanest reads I have ever read. The writer is extraordinarily creative and talented.

Despite these glowing praises, the book was way too long. Typically, I would have helped the writer slash and burn the book down to a nice length, but it was difficult to do so with this project because everything in the book “seemed” to belong there. After reading the book once before editing, I realized that two problems hindered this VBB (very big book) from being a good size: characters and scenes.

In May 2009, I wrote a BRP piece titled “Eight Questions for Writers.” The very first question in the list is “Who is your main character?”

If you have a book that needs to be cut and cut BIG TIME, then you seriously should consider this question. In the book I edited, though the client told me who the main characters were, everyone was a main character. Every character had a backstory, nearly every character had a story arc, and there were so many characters that I needed to index them and take notes while I read so I could keep up with who did what when and how all the characters connected with one another. No reader will take that kind of time to read your book. They just won’t. We read, typically, to escape and to enjoy another place, another set of people. There’s nothing escapist or enjoyable with having a slew of main characters that we have to keep meticulous tabs on.

So, ask yourself, “Who is your main character?” Realize, there will be supporting, minor characters that help main characters, but all of these characters do not need full-blown stories of their own; that’s why they are minor and supporting. At least one read-through of your completed manuscript should be conducted to edit out any material that over-inflates a minor/supporting character’s role in a novel and to make sure your main characters are developed as necessary.

Part two will look at scenes and scope.
Shon Bacon is an author, editor, and educator. She has published both creatively and academically, and her debut solo novel, Death at the Double Inkwell, will be released June 2010; you can read an excerpt here. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her official website, and you can get information about her editorial services at CLG Entertainment. Currently, Shon is busy editing, writing screenplays, and pursuing her Ph.D. in Technical Communication and Rhetoric at Texas Tech University.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Things That Drive an Editor Crazy Revisited

Resident editor Maryann Miller recently wrote about things that drive an editor crazy here. She mentioned dialogue tags and the overuse of unnecessary words to explain a character's conversation. I had to laugh while reading a mystery novel today that, in the course of fifty pages, only used the tag "said" once. Here are some examples that were used:

she answered
she explained
she asked
she read
she questioned
she stated
she quizzed
she requested
she inquired
she exclaimed
she replied
she interjected
she rallied
she spoke up
she frowned
she added
she stated
she commented
she shuddered
she inferred
she mused
she purred
she advised
she argued
she wailed
she pouted
she shrugged
she shouted
she implored
she clarified
she rallied
she begged

Often she said these things in adverbial ways like distractedly, honestly, reluctantly, calmly, flatly, proudly, and even jokingly.

That's just our female romantic lead - the hero was just as amazing as he supposed, surmised, rationalized, declared, sneered, sputtered, and grunted his way through the conversations. What really intrigued me about the dialogue though, is that the author, being a skillful enough writer, weaved the tags in such a way that they were often imperceptible. The only word that really jumped in my face was "quipped", and it wasn't used as often as in prior novels, having been replaced by emphasizing, noting, sighing, chuckling, countering, and exclaiming.

I wonder if the author has a contest going with the editor to see how infrequently the word "said" can be used? So far, the author is winning, and since there is another in the series due out this year, the editor hasn't yet been committed to an asylum. ;) We'll keep you apprised if that happens... she laughed (wickedly).
Dani Greer is a founding member of this blog and edits mystery and history novels part-time while working on her own writing. If you have a completed manuscript for review, contact her for pricing at and for details of what is provided in an edit.

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Monday, January 11, 2010

Multiple Modifiers: A portal to deeper characterization

As you read back through your story looking for ways to improve it, stop and question each set of multiple modifiers. If all they provide superficial detail, as many such word sets do, reconsider their usage. Because if you let them, they can provide a window to deeper characterization. All you have to do is climb through.

Let's say the first set you come to says that your character has “long stringy orange hair.” In your first draft, that visual image was enough—the movie of story was unreeling in your mind, you saw the character, you took notes. By applying three modifiers your subconscious suggested that this character's hair was a detail worthy of further consideration. In this draft you have an opportunity to do just that—and in doing so, uncover deeper meaning.

Long. Stringy. Orange. It is unfair of you to ask your reader to sift through your verbiage to arrive at meaning. How is she to know what is the most important information if you as author don’t? Try paring that word cluster down to the most important modifier. After all, this isn’t a film—if you give the reader meaning, she will come up with her own visual.

In the case of “long, stringy orange hair,” there is no one right answer. If the hair is inordinately long, and this will come into play later—as a mode of strangulation, or in an emotional turning point where the hair is ritualistically cut off—then its length may be the most important modifier at first. You can always add orange and stringy in later if you want, but spotlight length now and your reader will remember it later. How long is it? Apply a comparison that is relevant to your specific story. Is it so long that if she isn’t careful her brother will sit on it when he flops next to her on the couch? So long she could keep four Locks of Love patients in the current hair fashions? So long she must wear a size larger batting helmet to tuck it all up inside?

If you choose stringy: why is this important? Is she poor, or homeless? Did she have no mother to teach her to care for her type of hair? Is she too preoccupied to read the directions that say she must rinse out the hair conditioner? Or maybe she can’t read? And how does she feel about her hair? Is it a constant frustration that no amount of product can give her that lift that will attract boys? Or is her hair simply the least of her problems? Does her stringy hair reflect depression, or a devil-may-care tomboyishness?

If you choose orange: is the hair a flaming flag of Irish temper? Was the natural brown bleached out and replaced with Day-Glo orange, much to the character’s mother’s dismay? Or is her hair color the genesis of “Pumpkin,” the nickname she hates?

As you encounter further multiple modifiers, follow a similar exploration to see if you can pare away a barrage of detail to find that one telling detail that will deepen your story’s meaning. Assured that you have layered meaning into your story, your reader will start to look for it.

Give this a try—it's fun! And who knows. Maybe the sheer number of words your subconscious attributed to it in the first draft will tell you there’s more story to that “blue-striped canvas folding chair” than you originally thought.


Kathryn Craft is a free-lance editor at, a manuscript evaluation, line editing, and writer support service. For 19 years she wrote dance criticism and arts features for The Morning Call in Allentown, PA, and for publications of the Lehigh Valley Arts Council. She now writes memoir essays and women's fiction.

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Friday, January 8, 2010

Printing Bookplates on Adhesive Labels

Yesterday we looked at how to create a simple bookplate, either for your own library or to use as a promotional keepsake that your readers can download and print from your website. Today we're looking at printing on adhesive labels.

Bookplate Setup

You will need a box of labels of a size that will fit the smallest books for which you intend them.

Check the website of the label manufacturer for pre-made Word templates for the specific labels you’ve purchased. (Avery is a brand available in many countries and their website features a range of templates.) Another option is to check Microsoft’s website by connecting through New Document, Templates, Templates on Office Online. Here is an example of a Microsoft pre-designed bookplate template. (Word 2007 users will probably find templates for most labels already available under the File, New... menu.)

Using Tables to Set Up Your Labels

If you’re unable to find a suitable blank template you can construct your own using tables in Word. Some label boxes contain a diagram with the measurements of the label pages, otherwise measure the margins, label width and height, and bleed spaces between labels and write these measurements in the margins.

Set your document's margins to zero and hit Ignore when Word complains.

As an example, if you have four labels to a page (2X2) and a margin all round, create a table consisting of four rows and four columns. Set the first row's height to your top margin measurement, the second and third rows to the height of your labels, and the final row height to the bottom margin measurement. Do the same for the columns. If the labels have ink bleed margins surrounding them each of these spaces requires an additional column or row with the exact measurements.

Once your table is in place, turn off all borders by selecting the table and choosing the No Border option on the Tables Toolbar. Turn on the Show Gridlines option so that you can see your labels.

Some examples of bookplates and bookplate templates:

Designing Bookplate Templates
Bookplate Junkie
Monet Adhesive Bookplates
Homemade Bookplates
Making a Bookplate

Elsa Neal
Is Word driving you crazy? Then Word 4 Writers is for you. Learn to tame the monster and save your time in front of the screen for writing not fighting. Elsa Neal has been strong-arming Word for 14 years and teaching others to do the same. She is based in Melbourne, Australia.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

How to Create Your Own Bookplates

A bookplate is a label stuck in a book originally with the purpose of identifying the owner of the book. More recently bookplates have become an item for authors to autograph and send to fans who cannot attend a book signing in person.

Designing and printing your own bookplates is fairly easy, but depends on your personal tastes and design skills and how elaborate you want your design to be.

Bookplates for Autographing

If you are an author you might want to design a bookplate that you can autograph and have available to hand out or post to fans who request one. Another option is to scan and convert your autograph to a digital image and offer a bookplate template on your website that your fans can download and print out themselves.

Commonly such bookplates include an image of the book cover and might include either a scanned autograph or white space for your autograph and possibly space for a message or the recipient’s name.

Designing Your Bookplate

You can use a program such as Paint, or other graphics software, to edit your book cover image and/or your scan of your autograph so that it is a suitable size for your labels. (In Paint, use Image, Stretch, input a number less than 100%).

Alternatively you can insert a full size image in Word and use the image handles to drag it smaller, and the relevant options on the Image Toolbar to position or crop it and to wrap any text around your image or float it over the image.

You can print your bookplates onto plain paper and paste them into your books with acid free glue, or print them onto large sized adhesive labels. In the next post I talk you through setting up and printing on labels.

Elsa Neal
Is Word driving you crazy? Then Word 4 Writers is for you. Learn to tame the monster and save your time in front of the screen for writing not fighting. Elsa Neal has been strong-arming Word for 14 years and teaching others to do the same. She is based in Melbourne, Australia.

Monday, January 4, 2010

How Far Can You Go? By Morgan Mandel

As I was walking to work in Downtown Chicago and doing my best to bypass the slippery remnants of the latest snowfall, I realized how distance can be relative. Here are a few examples:
1. Temperature – What would ordinarily be a short walk seems endless on an extremely hot or cold day. Even a drive is torture, if the heat or air conditioning in the car won't function when needed.

2. Terrain – A few steps can take forever if you're trying to negotiate an icy patch. I know this for a fact. (g)
Swimming a few feet against the current can seem like a mile.

3. Injury or Illness – If you’ve hurt your hip, leg, foot, ankle, etc., walking a short distance can be time consuming. If you’ve injured your shoulder, arm or hand, lifting that member or moving it a few inches can be a nightmare.
It may seem like traveling to the end of the world for someone with heart disease or bad lungs to walk across a parking lot from the car to a store or restaurant. Even if they're dropped off by the door, it could be difficult.

4. Age - Similar to Injury or Illness – The elderly can’t usually walk as far or as fast as the rest of the population, with the exception of those who regularly follow an exercise regimen. (I know one lady over 80 who can outdo me in Fitness Class.)

5. Direction – Climbing stairs takes longer than going down stairs.

How about climbing a ladder in an elevator shaft, as the heroine does in my current release, Killer Career? That's no picnic either.

Can you think of other instances? Or, maybe you’d like to share how you’ve used distance in one of your novels.

Morgan Mandel
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