Monday, May 31, 2010

Priorities and Procrastinators

It's that time of year---again. Weddings. Bridal Showers. Rehearsal Dinners. First Communion. Confirmation. College Graduation. High School Graduation. Kindergarten Graduation. Day Care Graduation. Mother's Day. Father's Day. Memorial Day.

With so many celebrations going on, when is there time to work? Yes, I said work, because writing---and marketing, and editing, and book signings---are work. It's how writers earn their living. People who work for others certainly know when it's time to work because their employers tell them. But how do writers stay focused?

How do you maintain a reasonable work schedule amidst the chaos?

All of the above is, of course, in addition to the usual list of family, friends, and neighbors who see working from home as "working" from home---meaning that we writers can just drop what we're doing at any time to run a quick errand, comfort a friend in need---the one who is heartbroken over her third boyfriend loss this week---help a neighbor with the crisis of the day. None of these people would dream of calling a family member, friend, or neighbor at a workplace outside the home. But they will call you because you are "working" from home.

How do you respond to these requests in a way that lets you maintain your work schedule and not alienate everyone you know?

Charlotte Phillips is the co-author of the Eva Baum Detective Series, many short stories, and contributor to multiple blogs. Learn more about Charlotte, her books, and her short stories at:

News, Views and Reviews Blog

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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Welcome to The Blood-Red Pencil

We’re a group of editors and writers, so you know we’ll have lots to say. Our hope is that you will have lots of questions, comments, and suggestions for us. Our goal is to help writers by blogging about what we know best – editing.

You can see from our backgrounds, we have a wide range of experiences and expertise:

Shon Bacon
Shon is an author, editor, and educator, whose biggest joys are writing and helping others develop their craft. She has published both creatively and academically and 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 The World According to ChickLitGurrl.

Kathryn Craft
Kathryn is a free-lance editor at She loves any event that brings writers together, so she gives talks, hosts writing retreats for women, serves on the board of the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference, and is chairing the 2010 Write Stuff conference in Allentown, PA. She blogs at Healing Through Writing and is happy to be part of the virtual community of writers at Blood-Red Pencil.

Helen Ginger
Helen 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 tenth year of publication. She's also an Owner/Partner and the Women’s Marketing Director for Legends In Our Own Minds®.

Dani Greer
Dani heads up the Blog Blook Tours group (and started this group of fearless Blood-Red Pencil editors). She has great information for authors trying to set up blog tours. You can find her all over the Internet, from Yahoo to Squidoo to Twitter and elsewhere.

Jo Klemm
Jo Klemm has worked as a librarian since 1985, with the exception of the eight years she raised her three girls. She has worked in public, medical school, university, and community college libraries and is currently working at Tarrant County College in Arlington, Texas as a Public Services Librarian. In her spare time, she is a professional storyteller, focusing on western and Texas stories and Arthurian legends.

Linda Lane
Linda Lane has been writing since childhood and was first published in weekly bulletins at her elementary school. After studying creative writing at Purdue University, she sold a non-fiction piece and later worked as an editor for a small mountain publication. Now a publisher, she edits books — mostly fiction — and writes as much as time allows. You can contact Linda by leaving a comment and providing your email address.

Morgan Mandel
Morgan Mandel’s recent romantic suspense, Killer Career, is about a Chicago lawyer whose career change could be a killer when her mentor, a NY Times bestselling author, does more than write about murders. Morgan’s still available backlist includes Girl of My Dreams, a romantic comedy about a straitlaced assistant who enters a reality show, and Two Wrongs, her debut Chicago mystery, dealing with wrongful imprisonment and its consequences. Find out more about Morgan and her books at her website.

Maryann Miller
Maryann Miller is an author, scriptwriter and freelance editor. For four years she was an editor for Plano Magazine, a slick, quarterly magazine, and is currently Managing Editor for on online community magazine, She has done script editing and doctoring for Stephen Marro Productions in New York, and has edited for several small presses. Credits for freelance editing include The Habits Of Happiness by Mary Kay Mueller, Wind Trails on the Water, by Merlyn Norris, Making it Home, by Daniella Sarquiz, and Garbage by Sandy Montang. For rates and references, see her website at

Elsa Neal
Elsa Neal is an Australian writer, linguistics student, and former Fiction Writing and Creativity Editor for Elsa has a flair for interpreting what she calls the "perception matrix" of a manuscript, and a knack for finding the differences between UK, US, and Australian English usage. Elsa runs a Peer Critique Service on her website, She can also be found on Squidoo.

Scott Nicholson
Scott Nicholson is the author of nine novels, four comic book series, three story collections, and six screenplays. He’s a freelance editor and journalist living in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. More writing tips are available at

Charlotte Phillips
Charlotte writes the Eva Baum mystery series with her husband Mark Phillips. They have a great blog called Char's Book Reviews. You can find out more about their books and characters on their website. Charlotte is a member of Sisters in Crime, President of the Houston's The Final Twist writing group, and co-chair of the Texas Library Association New Members Round Table.

L.J. Sellers
L.J. Sellers is an award-winning journalist, editor, novelist, and occasional standup comic, based in Eugene, Oregon. She is the author of the Detective Jackson mystery series (The Sex Club and Secrets to Die For). When she's not plotting murders, Sellers enjoys cycling through Oregon's beautiful Willamette Valley, hanging out with her extended family, and editing fiction manuscripts.

Patricia Stoltey
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 more information about Patricia, visit her website and her blog. You can also find her on Facebook (Patricia Stoltey) and Twitter (@PStoltey).

Heidi Thomas
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.

So, there we are. The official “founders” and “bloggers” of The Blood-Red Pencil.

We hope you'll ask lots of questions (put those editors on the hot seat!) and leave pithy comments (or any kind of comment). Our comments section is always open.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Bookkeeping for Writers

Brigitte A. Thompson is author of eight financial books including the just released Bookkeeping Basics for Freelance Writers published by Crystal Press.

As writers, many of us may not think about the bookkeeping and financial side of our business. After all, we are creatives—we don’t have time to crunch numbers, and many of us don’t even like numbers.

This is an important point..."writing is a business." During interviews with other writers, the question I was asked the most revolved around this very concept. Most writers didn't really consider themselves to be in business. It's a disadvantage because income needs to be reported at tax time and without the expenses to offset the income, tax liability is greater.

Tell us what Bookkeeping Basics for Freelance Writers is about.

Writers have many important questions to ask about income and expenses, but no single source for answers. I created this book to be that source. It is an easy-to-understand guide to organizing a writer’s financial life.

This book addresses issues writers face daily, such as how to deduct travel expenses, determine taxable writing income, and claim home office deductions.

Have you found that writers require a different set of bookkeeping rules?

Many bookkeeping rules are universal, such as the requirement to record income, but there are some areas of the tax law that are of more interest to freelance writers. This includes dealing with royalty payments, bartering, personal property and agent fees.

What are some tax deductions that writers might not be aware of?

Some expenses are common, such as the cost of purchasing a case of paper or paying for a computer software upgrade. Other costs incurred in the operation of your writing business may not jump out at you as expenses when they could be. For example, mileage, meals, and shipping.

What are some of the most common accounting missteps and how can we avoid them?

Not taking yourself seriously as a business owner. The IRS considers you to be in business when you are actively pursuing projects intended to generate income and expenses. Keeping track of your income and expenses from day one will enable you to pay the least amount of income taxes on the money you earn.

Many people find numbers, especially when related to bookkeeping and taxes, intimidating.

My book breaks down complicated number crunching into easy-to-follow steps. Sometimes knowing the reasoning behind a task makes it easier to complete. Writers can take advantage of some wonderful tax deductions, but only when they are aware of the possibility and know how to accurately document the expenses.

What are some of the challenges writers face?

The most common challenge revolves around what they can claim as income and what counts as a tax deduction. For example, if their first job is writing the school newsletter, is the money received really income?
The second most common concern for the freelance writers is related to proper documentation. What receipts did they need to save? How should they be kept and what information needs to be recorded?
Why is it important for writers to understand bookkeeping?

Writers are earning money and this money needs to be reported as income on their tax return. If writers do not have any expenses to claim, their taxable income will be higher and they will owe more income tax.

Obviously, your book is a great place for writers to get information on bookkeeping. Are there are any other resources you recommend?

The IRS web site ( to research specific tax issues and the Small Business Administration ( for general business information.

I also recommend joining professional associations such as American Society of Journalists and Authors (, The Authors Guild ( and National Writers Union (

Freelance Success ( offers an insightful newsletter for their members. There are also online groups for writers such as MomWriters ( offering networking opportunities as well as camaraderie.

Bookkeeping Basics for Freelance Writers is available through and Brigitte’s publisher ( Learn more at her website and her blog
A native Montanan, Heidi Thomas now lives in Northwest Washington. She has 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, blogs, and is working on the next books in her “Dare to Dream” series. The sequel, Follow the Dream will be released this year.

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Thursday, May 27, 2010

An agent-turned independent editor, Part II

This is the conclusion of my interview with independent writing and publishing consultant Anne Dubuisson Anderson, a former literary agent. (Check out Part 1 here.)

Kathryn Craft: You once told me that you are an editor, not a writing teacher. How do you perceive the difference, and how much "education" do you think a writer should expect from a developmental editor?

Anne Dubuisson Anderson: A good piece of writing is the result of talent, both learned and instinctual, an intelligent (and perhaps unusual) read of people and the world, hard work, and the desire to always write better. While I am confident in giving direction in the art of revision (and yes, it is an art) which requires the latter two attributes, I think writers who need to nurture their talent or develop a different understanding of humanity should look to writing coaches (or experience life more fully!).

Kathryn: Have you ever had to turn away an editing client because the work simply wasn't ready for editing? How would you advise a writer to judge his/her readiness?

Anne: Before taking on a new client, I always ascertain how far along they are in the process of writing their manuscript and, as per the previous response, how willing they are to work to improve it. One successful writer I know advises an "apprenticeship" of six years of writing a first novel before thinking it is ready to show anyone. It worked for him, but I think a more realistic timeframe is at least a year, with at least two revisions. I would also advise most writers to have at least one peer review before coming to me—for instance another writer or good reader they trust (family members and close friends don't count!).

Kathryn: I heard you give a talk that translated some of the most common phrases spewed out by agents in their rejection letters. The one we've probably all heard is a variation on "I was not able to connect with your protagonist." What do you think the agent is really saying, and what should the writer look for to fix it?

Anne: Well, this could mean a number of things, none of them particularly sweet (which is why agents are masters at euphemisms). Some interpretations are:

• Your protagonist was too—(indistinct, boring, whiny, macho, bitchy, clueless, etc.) for me to care about them.

• I myself am—(conservative, liberal, funny, serious, male, female, just plain tired of this kind of character which you see all of the time in fiction, etc.) and couldn't relate to your protagonist.

• WHO is your protagonist? There are so many—(voices, points of view, characters, etc.) that I did not find one distinct character to latch onto.

What this and the large majority of "nay" responses from agents also says is that he/she didn't get very far in the manuscript. Something about that protagonist put her off right away.

I would not advise a writer to "fix" this perceived problem unless a number of agents and/or other readers echo this complaint. If they do, then the writer must reaquaint herself with the character again and try something new. That's where I might come in, to help a writer "see" her character more clearly.

Kathryn: What one piece of advice would you leave our aspiring writers with?

Anne: Here are two pieces of advice.

First: Be patient; patient with yourself and with the publishing process. Writing well and producing a marketable manuscript is not something for your daily to-do list. It takes time, effort, a burning desire, and patience.

Second: Write only if you love to write.

On behalf of the Blood-Red Pencil contributors and readers, thank you, Anne, for spending some time with us! If you would like to leave a question in the comments section for Anne, I'll post the answers there when I get them back from her.


Kathryn Craft is a developmental editor at, a manuscript evaluation and line editing service. She was a dance critic and arts journalist for 19 years before writing fiction. She is currently seeking representation for her women's fiction manuscript, THE SPARROW THAT FELL FROM THE SKY.

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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

An agent-turned-independent editor, Part I

Today I'm interviewing the independent editor I hired to evaluate the novel I’m currently shopping around to agents, THE SPARROW THAT FELL FROM THE SKY. Yes, we Blood-Red Pencil editors walk the walk: knowing how difficult it is to fully assess one’s own work, we too have been known to hire independent editors. I was getting a lot of “beautifully written but not for me” feedback from agents who’d been intrigued enough to request my full manuscript, so when I was ready for fresh editorial eyes, I sought perspective from former literary agent Anne Dubuisson Anderson (left). From the mid-1980’s to the mid-1990’s, Anne was a literary agent for the Georges Borchardt and Ellen Levine agencies, where she represented numerous fiction and nonfiction writers, including mystery writers, first novelists, memoirists, and journalists.

In 1998, she applied her insider’s understanding of the industry to a new role as an independent publishing and writing consultant. Since then, she has worked with dozens of serious writers at different stages of their writing careers, from beginners to established authors, including creative writing professor Rachel Simon (RIDING THE BUS WITH MY SISTER), who says, “My career would simply not exist if it weren’t for Anne Dubuisson Anderson.”

Kathryn Craft: When you were an agent at the Georges Borchardt and Ellen Levine agencies, what were the five most common errors you saw in the manuscript submissions you received? Do you see these same mistakes now that you are a free-lance editor? Any guesses as to why these mistakes are so prevalent among new writers?

Anne Dubuisson Anderson: I started agenting at a time when most people still wrote on word processers and typewriters. It could be my imagination, but I think the painstaking task of putting words to paper made writers more careful about each word they chose. For the most part though, I think writers still struggle with the same issues. Here are a few:

—overwriting: using two or more sentences to say the same thing in multiple ways

—mistaking good nonfiction for good fiction: using "real-life" experiences in a novel because they make a good story and not because they make a good story and actually fit the narrative at hand

—failing to research the market: writing stories with plots and characters too similar to other, successful books

—throwing characters off a cliff, literally and figuratively: bringing an unrealistic or rushed ending to a character or under-using a minor character who deserves more space

And last but not least,

—not following instincts: More often than not I will suggest a change to a writer and they will tell me they thought of doing that, but at the last minute, shied away from it.

Kathryn: How does your experience as an agent give you an edge as an editor?

Anne: There are many, many, very capable editors who can offer writers the right suggestions for improving the quality of their work. Since I worked as a literary agent, I read with the eyes of an agent, which means I use my experience and instincts to evaluate the marketability of a piece of writing as well as its quality. Sometimes the two do not go hand-in-hand.

Check out the conclusion of this interview tomorrow, when Anne translates from agent-speak this common component of a rejection letter: “I was not able to connect with your protagonist.” The answers may surprise you! If you have a question for Anne, post it in the comments. I'll post answers there as soon as I get them back from her.

Kathryn Craft is a developmental editor at, a manuscript evaluation and line editing service. She was a dance critic and arts journalist for 19 years before writing fiction. She is currently seeking representation for her women's fiction manuscript, THE SPARROW THAT FELL FROM THE SKY.

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

What Is an Editor?

The answer seems obvious. An editor is one who edits, i.e., prepares a manuscript for publication. That preparation can run the gamut from a few comma corrections to a major rewrite. On the surface, this appears to be simple enough. But is it really? Have you tried to find a good editor?

Authors pour their hearts into the words they put on paper. They bare their souls through their characters or through the nonfiction experiences they share with all who read their articles/books. Their words deserve to be handled with dignity and buffed to a soft glow or polished to a brilliant shine, depending on intent and context.

People who call themselves editors abound. Anybody can hang out an editing shingle and be in business. But in way too many cases, writers pay big bucks for poor or almost nonexistent editing that neither dignifies their work nor validates them as artists. And make no mistake—good writing in an art.

Great editing requires highly developed language, grammar, and punctuation skills that few people possess. It demands a strong sense of story/content development. Good editors are few and far between as the cliché goes; excellent editors are rare, indeed. So how do you find an editor who will take your gem in the rough and shape it into a Hope Diamond? The following is an excerpt from my writing/editing workshop manual:

Request references. A competent editor will be glad to share names of clients or letters of recommendation. Be sure to contact the writers whose names you are given. Ask them what kind of feedback they received from readers and professionals in the field after their book went to press.

Talk to others in your writers group. Have any of them used an editor? If so, were they satisfied with his/her performance? Did the edit help the writer place the manuscript?

Ask for a work sample. Compare the manuscript the editor received from the client with the finished product, checking hook, development, flow, readability, dialogue, grammar, etc. If you aren’t sure about the grammar, seek the help of a qualified friend or an English teacher at a local high school or college. No edit is perfect, but errors should be minimal.

Evaluate compatibility. Talk with the editor. Share your writing concerns, your vision, your goals. Listen to the responses. Discuss the editor’s approach and accessibility. Your manuscript deserves a great edit. You may not maximize its potential if you have a personality conflict with its editor.

Editing is an essential part of preparing a manuscript for publication, but it also represents a significant financial investment in your work. A typical edit can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars. However, the return can be huge. Just make sure you’re getting your money’s worth.

One last point: don’t allow yourself to be flattered or sweet-talked into committing to a particular editor. Do your homework. Then make a decision based on facts and goals, not on emotion. It’s your future as a writer—invest in it wisely.

What has been your experience with editors? I’d like to hear about them—good or bad.

Writer/editor/publisher Linda Lane has just published her latest novel, a psychological drama entitled Treacherous Tango. Writing is her passion, and helping other writers to learn their craft is her love.

Monday, May 24, 2010

First Steps to Building Your Author Brand by Blythe Gifford

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I'm happy to offer a special post from Blythe Gifford today about building your brand. I attended one of her workshops on the subject and was surprised to learn things about my own writing I didn't know before. Hopefully, you can take her advice to heart as well. - Morgan Mandel 

Under a pseudonym, Blythe Gifford has been providing marketing and industry affairs counsel and execution for many years. She holds an MBA and has worked in public relations, advertising, and corporate marketing, with businesses ranging from Kraft Foods to Westin Hotels to First Alert.

And now, here's Blythe to tell us the First Steps to Building Your Author Brand:

Talk of author branding and how to do it is everywhere these days. If it seems overwhelming, it is, even for professionals. (I was in marketing and advertising for several decades before selling my first romance.)

It is difficult for many reasons, not the least of which is that it requires you do two contradictory things: Explain how you are like other authors as well as how you are different from other authors.

How you are like other authors

In order for an editor to buy you, a bookseller to shelve you, or a reader be take a chance on you, each has to understand your place in the world. Do you write mystery? Thriller? Romance? What kind? Historical? Paranormal? Humorous? What kind of humor? Situational comedy? Satire? Slapstick?

You must be able to clearly articulate your genre and what corner of it is yours. A rambling description of your work as a “romantic thriller with paranormal elements that’s funny, but also a tear-jerker” communicates that you know neither the market nor your place in it.

Once you can define your genre, (e.g. historical romance) the next step, your corner of the genre, is more challenging. To get there, I recommend you think of two to three “aspirational authors.” By that, I don’t mean New York Times best sellers. (We all aspire to that!) Pick three authors you love and admire and whose work you might hope to emulate on your very best day. Think about what connects them to each other and to your work and then seek some phrases or adjectives that capture those things. That should give you a start on the path.

It should also start you thinking of how your work differs from theirs.

How you are different from other authors:

If you have completed the previous exercise, an editor, or agent, or reader, will now have accurate expectations of where you fit in the market. But, of course, if you’ve clearly positioned yourself as similar to existing authors, you need to explain why they should read/buy you in addition to the perfectly good authors they already know and love. There are two aspects to this question: superficial differences and fundamental differences.

Superficial differences, as I think of them, are the “hooks.” They may describe a single book (a reverse Cinderella story in which she’s the princess) or a series (as I do with characters born on the wrong side of the royal blanket). The hook can differentiate you from what else is out there.

But only for awhile.

Because a hook can be copied. Original as your “reverse Cinderella” premise seems to you, an editor could have two proposals with the same idea. But even if she did, they would be different. Why? Because of the fundamental differences, or what I call “the soul of the brand.”

Soul encompasses voice, theme, and core story. It’s why you write what you write and what keeps you showing up to face a blank screen. It’s the bedrock of what you have to say to the world. And it’s what your readers will respond to, and return to share with you, again and again.

The soul of the brand cannot be copied. And cannot be faked. Because, ultimately, “brand” is not a costume you put on.

It is a shorthand for what you truly are.

BLYTHE GIFFORD is the author of five, angsty medieval romances from Harlequin Historical. She specializes in characters born on the wrong side of the royal blanket. With HIS BORDER BRIDE, she crosses the border and sets a story in Scotland for the first time, where the rules of chivalry don’t always apply.
Her 2009 release, IN THE MASTER’S BED, has just finaled in the Readers Crown contest.

Cover Art used by arrangement with Harlequin Enterprises Limited. All rights reserved. ®and T are trademarks of Harlequin Enterprises Limited and/or its affiliated companies, used under license. Copyright 2010 ■ Author photo by Jennifer Girard.

Blythe loves to have visitors at and at

Please be sure to leave a comment here to thank Blythe for her topical advice.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Getting Non-Fiction Clips

If you want to build a non-fiction career, one good way to start is right in your own backyard.

While local newspapers are facing tremendous economic pressures, they still need content, and many of them have laid off positions in the editorial department. That means fewer writers and fewer stories, as they often have to concentrate limited resources on crime, schools, government, and the usual core community interests.

This leaves room for freelance feature writers. While some newspapers still pay a small flat fee for articles, the operative word may turn out to be “free.” Still, writing a few features can give you some credits, build your skills, and possibly lead to more work (or a job offer) down the road.

In my 12 years in the business, I have seen a stream of freelancers come and go, yet a few stuck and turned in regular content. A couple got hired with us, were hired by other papers, or moved on to other writing occupations. Here are tips that set apart the successful freelancers, and the steps to take.

1) Contact the editor of your local paper. It’s obvious, but unless you make yourself known and available, you won’t be found. If you have writing credits, mention them. You’ll probably be asked to submit samples of your writing.

2) Have some story ideas to pitch. “People features” are especially welcome, because the only competitive edge local papers now have is they are able to touch diverse sections of the community. Not everyone has wireless and not everyone wants to read news online yet. Tradition still counts for something.

3) Deliver the stories in a timely manner. You may be asked to sit in on a story meeting with the staff. Pay attention to the way the writers present their ideas and the angles they explore. Be willing to step in and pinch-hit in an emergency.

4) Write a straightforward story with enough color to be interesting but no editorializing or grandstanding. Start with a great lead line that serves as a hook. Then include the “Who, what, when, where, why.” Be solid and make the story about your subject, not your brilliant writing.

5) Be prepared to do another one. Don’t feel like you are “done” because one of your articles published.

Where I’ve seen freelancers fail:

1) They don’t turn in a story or they spend weeks writing it. Newspapers come out daily, or several times in a week, in most communities, even the small ones. Editors need a constant supply of fresh content, and they are always under deadline pressure. They don’t have time to coax someone along.

2) Having only one story in them. Many writers have one passion, and when they write that story, they are not inspired by anything else. Cultivate many interests, or else this probably won’t work for you.

3) They turned in sloppy copy. If the editor spends more time fixing it than it would take to write the story from scratch, then you’re a drain instead of a resource. Next.

To summarize, freelancing for your local paper is one of the easiest ways to develop some skills and get published. It may not lead to a long-term journalism career, but practice is practice. Even if you’re a fiction writer, the effort will be rewarding because it teaches you persistence. Many fiction writers—Edgar Allan Poe, Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, and Sharyn McCrumb among them—started as journalists. So sharpen your story ideas and give your local editor a call or e-mail.

Scott Nicholson is the author of nine novels, four comic book series, three story collections, and six screenplays. He’s a freelance editor and journalist living in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. More writing tips are available at

Image by Jon S, via Flickr

Friday, May 21, 2010

Brainstorming Your Way to a Completed First Draft

Whether you’re writing your first book or your tenth, whether you’re writing memoir or fiction or non-fiction, you will occasionally encounter roadblocks (which sometimes look a lot like brick walls).

You might have trouble getting your character from one place to another, or from one year to another – a troublesome transition.

Your character could be stuck in a situation with no practical and believable way to escape.

Perhaps you discover a fatal flaw in your timeline, destroying the logical progression of events across six chapters.

The end result? You’re stuck and you can’t find a way out.

Before you delete big sections of prose or feed the whole manuscript to your shredder, one tortured, tear-soaked page at a time, try a brainstorming session with a couple of writer friends or members of your critique group. Even a session with non-writers who read a lot can be helpful. Invite the idea team to sit around your kitchen table, share tea and cookies, and focus on your writing problem.

If your book is partially completed, provide your idea team with a short synopsis. Explain where you’re stuck and why.

I took part in a work session with three other writers a couple of weeks ago. The novelist who needed input is writing a World War II story based on real events. In a project like this, the true story can act like a straitjacket, restricting the free flow of ideas. Since the rest of us don’t know all of the details and have no connection to the characters, we were open to new possibilities, asked questions that led to more options, and built on each others’ suggestions. There were flashes of brilliance among our ideas. There was also evidence of madness. It won’t all be good, but even a silly proposition can lead to a solution.

During our session, the author answered our questions, fielded ideas, and took a couple of pages of notes. It’s a process that works well for a lot of us. It’s worth a try.

Even if you don’t have a critique group, or you don’t live close to a group of writers, you can do a brainstorming session online via e-mail, chats, instant messages, a closed Yahoo! Group, or on Facebook.

If you’ve tried the brainstorming approach to problem solving, how did it work for you?

For more information on developing ideas or working through a plot snag, see these Blood-Red Pencil posts:

Ideas for Writing by Shon Bacon
Hitting the Writing Wall by Heidi Thomas
Stumbling Blocks by Helen Ginger
Need Help With Plotting? by Slim Randles
Blood-Red Pencil Contributor Heidi Thomas also has this excellent post on her own blog: Overcoming Writer’s Block.


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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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Imperfect Editors

A recent post on an author forum caught my attention and generated many comments from other writers as well. Here’s the post:

I am so pissed off right now. I spent $500 on an editor and caught errors. In the past I had edited my stories and then published them, but I kept hearing how good it is to have an editor and thought I would save some editing time. The problem? It's not the first time it's happened. I bartered services with two other people (who supposedly were good at editing) and had the same thing happen. It's just this time around, I thought if I paid a professional, then I would get better service, you know? Does anyone else have similar experiences, do you have a good editor who catches everything, or do you do fine on your own?

Editors are not perfect, and no single editor can catch everything in an 80,000-word document. Which is why books need to go through an editing/proofreading process that involves many reads. What was most interesting to me was in the comments. Several authors posted vague references to the editor “correcting the situation.”

My question is: What does that mean? How does an editor compensate a client who is unhappy with the level of mistakes? Do you offer to read/edit again for free? What if the book has already gone to print? Do you offer money back?

My second question is: What is an acceptable level of errors? Do you measure it per page, per total word count?

I haven’t encountered this problem yet, but I’m doing more and more fiction editing and I’d like to know how others have handled this. Authors and editors, tell us what you think.


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. Her new novel, Thrilled to Death, will be released in August. She also loves to edit fiction and works with authors to keep her rates affordable. Contact her at:
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What a Character!

As readers, don’t most of us enjoy identifying with a main character of a story, finding someone we can cheer on, even crawl into their skin for a vicarious adventure? I know I do.

Characters in our stories are human beings—readers want them to seem like real people. So we have to get to know them as well as we know ourselves. Even those of you who are writing memoirs or family history—it’s going to be a lot more engaging and readable if the people you’re writing about seem three-dimensional. Developing such a character is one of the most important elements of writing and can be one of the hardest.

I read a lot of books and often, as soon as I go on to the next, I’ll forget about the plot of the one before. But I love it when I discover a compelling character that stays with me long after I finish. Edward in 600 Hours of Edward by Craig Lancaster is such a character. He is a middle-aged man with Aspergers disorder who keeps a log of the minute he awakes each morning, records the high and low temperate, eats the same thing for lunch and dinner every day, and every night at 10 p.m. sharp, watches videos of DragnetI (in a certain order). Such a description of a character might make you think it would be a rather boring story. But Edward is such an endearing character, with the cares and hopes and dreams we all have, that I found myself cheering him on toward each small step of normalcy.

Here’s a fun four-sentence exercise to introduce your characters to yourself:
1. Introduce a character (age, sex).
2. Bring character home to dwelling place
3. Greet someone in the home, tell something about the mood of the char.
4. Move character out of room (off camera).

What did you learn about this character? It’s amazing what he or she will tell you in four sentences! Start out each character like this to find out about him/her. Fill in the information and find the emotional connection.

What are some key elements a compelling character should have?

The ability to care. What does your character care about? What is the goal? Edward cares that his father doesn’t seem to love him. This element of caring sets the character up in how he/she is going to live life, how he’s going to react to certain things. Giving your character something to care about commits her to a stance to live by.

Conflict. We have to challenge him, threaten her and what they care about. Throw the character into a situation that challenges what he cares about and threatens the thing he feels is important. A precious collection is stolen. A girl enters a dangerous relationship. You create risk. This doesn’t always have to be through a villain—it can be weather, hard times, a moral dilemma, friction between the characters. The twists and turns of your plot will come from these things. In my book, 14-year-old Nettie cares very deeply about her family, but wants to ride in rodeos so badly she is willing to risk ostracism and a wrecked reputation as well as broken bones.

Motivation is what causes the character to act. Is it to save his own life? Someone else’s he cares about? To preserve her reputation? The reasons relate to the character’s inner character. Something drives him to rescue the kidnapped child, slay the dragon, challenge the alien invaders, or track down the mass murderer.

Motivation often comes from a desire for change. Give a character so compulsive a desire to make a given change that he can’t let it be, and you have the basis for a story. And your character MUST change. It doesn’t need to be huge, it can be subtle. It can be a character’s struggle with addiction, mid-life crisis—trying to get out of a rut, a change in attitude toward something or someone. Readers don't examine stories looking for the motivational aspects. However, they instinctively know when they aren't there. They'll know the story is flawed and will stop reading.

Donald Maas, a New York agent, in his book, Writing the Breakout Novel, emphasizes that your character must be “larger than life:”

Take Strong Action. Do what we in real life wouldn’t do— Act in ways that are unusual, unexpected, dramatic, decisive, full of consequences and are irreversible.

Show strength to overcome the problems and conflicts he’s thrown into. What makes characters appealing is not their weaknesses, but their strengths, not their defeats but their triumphs—how they overcome their setbacks.

Inner conflict—striving to attain the seemingly impossible. Struggle is more compelling than satisfaction. Example: Scarlett O’Hara longs for the solid comfort of Ashley Wilkes, but who is the great love of her life? The roguish Rhett Butler.

Self regard—emotions matter, he/she learns from them. Allow your character to measure himself—How have I changed/ What caused that change? Do I long to return to my old way of feeling, or am I determined never to go back to that frame of mind again?

Wit & spontaneity—shock, sting, snap your character awake with humor or a reaction you wouldn’t dream of, i.e. tell off your boss, spit in your father’s face, drive a car into a ditch just to scare the daylights out of your date, slap a man you later sleep with.

Transformation—a character in trouble has sympathetic qualities. He’s aware he’s in trouble, tries to change. Readers need reasons to hope.

Character Qualities: Things that give a lasting & powerful impression of a character: For example, forgiveness and self sacrifice—what is the character willing to give up to achieve a goal?

A native Montanan, Heidi Thomas now lives in Northwest Washington. She has 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, blogs, and is working on the next books in her “Dare to Dream” series.

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Ask the Editor - Question from Free For All Tuesday

Terri, one of the writers who follows this blog, asked this question on our Free For All Tuesday post earlier this month: "I'm certainly not opposed to hiring an editor. I'd love one. But I realize I must do a lot of fixing up before I'm even ready for that. My question was about how a writer would go about editing after the first draft of a novel. After I get that done, I'll pray for the money to go the next step and hire an editor."

I had to laugh at her comment that she would pray for the money to hire an editor. If you find some benefactors, Terri, send them my way. I need to hire an editor for my next book.

I take a 3-step approach to editing after finishing the first draft, looking first at the big picture. Is the story holding together? Are the characters consistent? Does the time-line make sense?

Then I start looking at individual scenes to see where things can be tightened and improved. The final go-through is for more detailed editing, mostly grammar issues.

That is the super-condensed response to your question, and for more help I would suggest you read some of our previous blogs about editing. There have been a number of them that readers have said they saved off as good resources for self-editing. Here is one that has TEN QUICK TIPS.

Here's a post that I did with tips from an editing workshop I used to do. This one covers what I call THE FISH CLEANING approach to editing.

More tips from my EDITING WORKSHOP.

Another good post with QUICK TIPS.

And finally, a new contributor here at The Blood Red Pencil, Scott, had this to offer in response to the question: Wow, whole books have been written about that subject! My recommendation would be to set it aside for a while, a few weeks or more, before returning to the edit. There would be books I'd recommend, like Chris Roerden's "Don't Sabotage Your Submission," as a guide, but I think distance is the main challenge. Also, if you edit when you're cranky, you're more likely to get ruthless about the cuts.

Hmmm. I'm always cranky during edits, but I'm not sure that has made me ruthless.

Feel free to chime in here and offer Terri some more tips.

Posted by Maryann Miller, who has been on both sides of the editing table and appreciates a good editor. 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.

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Monday, May 17, 2010

When to let your inspiration go

I recently gave my first keynote speech at a writer’s conference. Hoping to speak on a topic to which my multiple-arts experience could give a new twist, I explored what literary artists have in common with people like choreographers, painters, composers, and architects: we are all trying in some way to manipulate a piece of this great big messy thing called life so that we might come to terms with it.

I outlined my draft from experience, then looked up quotes from artists in all genres that would support the points I wanted to make. I had great stuff from poet Amy Lowell, painter Pablo Picasso, director Federico Fellini, and more. These witnesses gave me the authority I needed to chart my arguments.

My husband timed my speech the day before the conference. He said I made a lot of good points but—God love him for telling me—he admitted to being bored in a few places.

We quickly pegged the culprits: he drifted every time I read one of those quotes. They pulled him away from what I was trying to achieve.

I deleted them all. As inspiration, the quotes had served their purpose; I could now release them from duty. When I gave the revised speech the next day, my audience remained engaged.

For those of us who write speeches, narrative nonfiction, memoirs, or personal essays, it sometimes feels arrogant to think that people are interested in our own perceptions and stories. Yet consider this: Windows 7 commercials aside, it can sound even more arrogant to explain the thought process behind writing your piece. “I was in the shower this morning and as the shampoo bubbles went down the drain I had this wonderful idea to make my operating system much simpler…”

Letting your inspiration hang out can also sound apologetic—like it’s someone else’s fault you came up with this material—which is the wrong tone for an authoritative piece. Many essayists make the mistake of describing their inspiration in their opening. Not only can this make your essay sound sophomoric (“The reason I am writing this is…), but that inspiration that worked so well for you can stymie the reader as she tries to orient herself to your piece. You are assuming her mind will work in the same way yours does. Thank goodness, our minds work in different ways, which is the whole point of the essay form—to deliver fresh perspective.

Please note I'm not speaking about anecdotal material that pulls the reader into your argument, such as I used in the opening of this piece. I'm talking about that story-within-a-story that you never read, because I already deleted it, about when I first learned to jettison inspiration from a famous choreographer who critiqued my work in college. I learned this concept as a dancer. Asking writers to make that leap would not serve this piece.

A time may come when your inspiration is no longer relevant to what you are trying to accomplish; your thoughts will have evolved beyond the “starter” material. This tends to happen in fiction inspired by true events. I’ll be editing along, enjoying the fictive dream, and “POP”—out I go. The perpetrator: a piece of dialogue that just doesn’t fit. When I suggest deleting it, the writer says, “but that’s really how it happened!” I could have predicted this.

Your reader doesn’t know what really happened and your reader doesn’t care. He just wants dialogue that seems relevant to the characters as developed on the page and the story you are now writing. The challenge for memoirists is to develop their characters on the page so that "real" dialogue actually rings true.

Your readers don’t need to know your inspiration; they want to witness the inspired work.

I hope we can agree that all creative endeavor is inspired. As artists we comb through our memories and observations and passions and fears for our material, and then make something of it. That’s how art works. It's what makes it mysterious. Readers may think, "How did she get that idea?", but they may be disappointed once they know.

Part of being a creative artist is knowing when to let your inspiration go so that your own work can be born.

Kathryn Craft is a developmental editor at She was offered her first paid writing gig because she was also a dancer and choreographer. She went on to enjoy a 19-year career as a dance critic and arts journalist before turning to literary women's fiction and memoir.

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Saturday, May 15, 2010

Reading Your Work in Public

Today, we welcome a new member to our blogging group. Say hello to Jo Klemm. We look forward to many more posts from a librarian's point-of-view.
In the last Ask-the-Editor post, there was quite a bit of discussion about promotion and publicity of new books. Many authors may find that during the promotion process that they are called upon to give public readings from the book at book signings or author events. This can be great way to hook readers into a story but it can also become a liability if not done well. Here are some hints about readings or book talks to help you get the most out of the situation.

    * Know ahead of time what you will read. Don’t try to just open your book on the spur of the moment and find a good passage. Have the passage highlighted or, better yet, copied in larger print so it is easy to read.

    * Choose passages that set the stage for the story. Passages that describe characters or settings will help the listener quickly develop a relationship with the character or place and make them want to read (and better yet, purchase) the book.

    * Avoid spoilers. This seems like it should go without saying. However, you, as the author, have been living with the book for a very long time. You may have lost your perspective on what the reader knows at a given point in the book. Think about how the passage you are reading connects to the rest of the story and be sure it doesn’t include any vital information about “who done it” or whether the characters “lived happily ever after.”

    * Avoid dialog passages. Depending on your writing style, this may be difficult. Dialog, however is sometimes difficult for listeners to follow who is speaking. You may be tempted to create different voices for each character, but unless you are very good at it, changing voices for the different characters becomes distracting.

    * Consider taking a reader with you to appearances. If reading aloud just isn’t your forte, don’t hesitate to ask someone else to come to the signing or event with you to read. Make sure you hear the person ahead of time to know they interpret the piece the way you want them to. Having your book read well is much more important than having it read by you.

The fact that you write well does not automatically mean you read aloud well or that you are a good public speaker. Unfortunately, if you write well, you very likely will be called upon to read aloud and discuss your writing. Honing these skills will pay off for your writing in the long run.
Jo Klemm has worked as a librarian since 1985, with the exception of the eight years she raised her three girls. She has worked in public, medical school, university, and community college libraries and is currently working at Tarrant County College in Arlington, Texas as a Public Services Librarian. In her spare time, she is a professional storyteller, focusing on western and Texas stories and Arthurian legends. The written and spoken word has always fascinated her and, though she embraces technology, she worry that it is moving us away from appreciation of the power of the written word. In her teaching, storytelling, and writing, she tries to inspire and empower students to learn from great authors, old and new, and to find their own voice on the page.

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Friday, May 14, 2010

Writing as an Art: Words That Sing

Most people enjoy music. They like the rhythm, the cadence, the beat, and most of all, the sound. Music can calm the troubled mind, soothe the angry spirit, salve the battered heart.

Far fewer people, however, enjoy reading. They can’t find the rhythm, the cadence is missing, the beat is off, and the sound grates on their psyches. Troubled minds, angry spirits, and battered hearts might be touched if the words sang, but sadly, dissonant sounds incite negative attitudes when harmonies should be inspiring readers to turn pages to see what happens next. What’s the problem here?

The answers could be many, but likely the readers don’t hear the melody. The words don’t sing; they don’t resonate with the soul; they neither caress the spirit with their joy nor stab the heart with their pain.

So how do we make the words in our books sing? Let’s have a little fun here. Below you will find a grammatically correct paragraph that gives new meaning to “boring.” It’s taken from a lesson in my Pen and Sword Writing Workshop Manual in the “Giving Sentences Form, Shape, and Variety” chapter.

Writers and editors, please tell me how you would make it sing. Here’s the paragraph:

Maria stepped off the bus and looked around. The employment agency should have been right there. She didn’t see it. She looked in her purse for the piece of paper she had written the address on. It wasn’t there. She must have left it by the telephone. She looked at her watch. Her appointment was in five minutes. She wouldn’t be there because she couldn’t recall the name of the agency. She wiped away the tears in her eyes with the back of her hand. Then she turned around and sat down on the bench at the bus stop. It didn’t matter anymore. Nothing mattered anymore. She probably wouldn’t have gotten the job anyway. She never did. 

Linda Lane, a writer/editor/publisher, has completed her second novel, a psychological drama entitled Treacherous Tango. Reader feedback has been exceptional, and she is currently working on the sequel. You may contact her by email.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

How To: Remove Section Breaks

Not long ago, while editing a client’s book, I came across Section Breaks. Many of them... messing with the formatting... and driving me nuts. I deleted some, then after a while, wrote the author a note telling her to delete them. On the second read-through, I deleted more. Then more on the third read.

After she read my comment, she wrote and asked, "How do I delete the section breaks?"

Ahh. Maybe you’ve had this problem. If you have, it’s easy to fix.

First step, you have to diagnose it. Generally, there are two ways to know if you’re having errant Section Breaks in your manuscript. One way is… you see them. The other way is… there are gaps in your manuscript. You figure you’ve somehow put in blank lines, but when you go to delete the blanks, they won’t, and yet the gap is there.

Second step, you fix the problem. If you can’t see the section breaks, you need to switch to “Print Layout View.” When you do, you’ll see them. They show up in this view as dotted lines with the words “section break.” To delete, click your pointer on the section break, then hit delete.

Voila! They’re gone.

While they’re easy to delete, if you don’t know why your manuscript is acting screwy, it can be very frustrating.

In case you’re wondering why I didn’t just delete them all and save her having to do it… one of the goals of hiring an editor should be to learn so you don’t repeat mistakes (plus, the less your editor has to do for you, the lower the cost of hiring an editor will be). You don’t want to chance having a manuscript turned down because the agent or editor became too frustrated with the faulty formatting to continue reading.
Helen Ginger is a freelance editor, 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 connect with her on Facebook.

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Exploring: A Newbie's Guide to Publishing Blog

Sometimes I discover a website or blog that's so full of information I recommend it to writer friends over and over.

One of those, of course, is The Blood-Red Pencil.

Another is Joe Konrath's A Newbie's Guide to Publishing. In addition to the blog's regular posts, brimming with information to help the beginning writer get published, Joe now has his material organized in The Newbie's Guide to Publishing, available as a free PDF download or as an e-book from Kindle.

From information on how to format for Kindle, to guest posts on promotion, Joe's blog is a must-read.


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, May 11, 2010

Word Play Tuesday

Word Play Tuesday - The Second Tuesday of Each Month

Time to Play - Today, and every second Tuesday of the month, we play with a chosen word or string of words. I make a choice, offer some uses, then invite you to comment below with a sentence using the word(s) we’re playing with. If you wish, you can use one of my phrases below and expand on it, or you can make up a sentence or paragraph from scratch, as long as you use the monthly word(s).

When you comment, if you have a website or blogspot, be sure to include it along with your name, in case someone really likes what you've written and wants to visit you.

May's Word - Spring
Again, I've picked a versatile word with many meanings. Here are a few examples of its use:

Daffodils are a sign of spring.- A noun denoting a season.
The deer drank from the spring. - A noun for outdoor running water.
How did that spring come loose? - A noun for a mechanical part.
Don't spring that kind of surprise on me. - An action verb.

Now it's your turn. Use the word, spring, in a new example or tie it in with something you've written or read. Or, if you like a challenge, you could use more than one meaning of spring in the same example.

Morgan Mandel

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Finding Time to Write

During the month of April, “busy” was the operative term to describe my life. In fact, “busy” is not a strong enough word to define me.

In April, I:
  • edited 4 novel manuscripts and a collection of poetry
  • wrote several articles for various columns
  • read over 30 articles and sections of books for various academic projects
  • hit crunch time for end-of-semester, where I had to produce drafts of non-profit grant proposals, business proposals, pilot studies, etc.
  • racked up many hours of “bonding time” with my Usability team as we went through testing for a project that’s due soon
This list does not count for time in class, time on phone with various clients (current and potential), time conducting research for various projects (current and potential), and time on phone as sisterfriend.

Needless to say, there wasn’t a lot of time to sleep.

But there is one other thing I did in April that was probably the most rewarding: I started and completed Script Frenzy []. Created by the founder of NaNoWriMo, Script Frenzy gathers screenwriters from around the world during the month of April with the goal being to write 100 pages toward a screenplay.

All I wanted to do during the month was get some writing done. Even if it were only five pages, I would have been ecstatic, but I finished having written 110 pages.

How did I do that when it seems as if there was no time for it?

Three things helped me find the time to write.

  1. I TREATED WRITING AS A TASK. Many of us put writing down on our to-do list, but it becomes an expendable task, meaning if something more important comes along, then writing goes further down the list until it disappears. During the month of April (much like I treat NaNoWriMo’s November), writing became a task, just like putting gas in the car, finishing a project for class, or paying my rent. And because I treated it as such, I felt a responsibility to COMPLETE the task.
  2. I TREATED WRITING AS MY ESCAPE. I haven’t written much during my first year of doctoral work, and it has been very unsettling for me. Before April hit, I told myself that writing would be my refuge during this hectic academic month. Whenever I got stressed, whenever I needed to “get away” from academics, I opened up my script outline, opened up Final Draft and wrote bad pages to my screenplay. When I was done taking my mini “vacation,” I was ready to get back to the school work at hand.
  3. I TREATED WRITING AS MY ENTERTAINMENT. There are a lot of things I do to keep from doing work…to entertain myself. I get on Second Life and play with my alter ego. I watch TV. I play games on my phone. I play music and dance around until I’m too tired to do any work, LOL. I read. For the month of April, writing became my entertainment. Instead of turning on the TV, I wrote. When I felt the itch to play on Second Life, I wrote. When I had the urge to play music and dance, I played music, chair-danced, and wrote.
In the end, using these avenues to get writing on the page, I nearly completed a whole screenplay in April. And it kept me sane enough to stay on task with all the other things on my plate.

What do you do to keep yourself writing?

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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Friday, May 7, 2010

Advice from a Reader

A prolific reader (and book reviewer) I know posted this advice in a discussion forum. If you’re working on a novel, it’s worth considering.

1. Don't give me time shifts or reverse time chapters unless you clearly indicate what you are doing and the purpose is absolutely necessary to make your story work.

2. No backstory after chapter one. If it's that important, you should have written the earlier book instead.

3. Don't assume I have read all your previous books, but don't fully include them in the current book unless relevant.

4. Refrain from obscure references outside the current book. No, I don't recall what painting is hanging on the far west wall in the room of the Louvre just beyond where the Mona Lisa is displayed, and frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.

5. Don't start multiple stories in the first 50 pages with the vague promise that they will all be resolved by the end of the book. Life occurs in sequence, not parallel.

6. Give your characters names that make sense but stay away from cutesy and/or tongue twisters that no one will remember. If your female characters are all Sue, Sue Anne, Suzanne, Susie, Susan, and all your males are Mike, Michael, Mikie and Mikhiel, well, forget it.

7. Check your facts. You don't have to be perfect, but please no ballistic checks for rifling on shotguns (there aren't any), no Chevrolet Thunderbirds, etc. The basics should always be right.

8. You can take certain liberties with reality if it makes story sense. It’s much better to have a temporary suspension of belief than an overly convoluted plot sequence just to make it work.

9. Limit coincidences. Yes, they do occur. But how often have you been walking down the street in a strange city, stop to help a little old lady cross the street, and discover she is your ex-wife's fourth grade school teacher?

10. Don't be unkind to animals or kids. I will throw your book against the wall whenever you beat, hit, kick, burn, or otherwise abuse either. Yes, there are animal abusers and child abusers in the real world, but not in mine.

11. Stereotypes are usually okay. After all, they help us quickly picture a character based on our real-life experiences. On the other hand, what I call an anti-stereotype can be distracting, i.e., if you paint the character one way and then have him/her act out of character.

L.J. Sellers writes the bestselling Detective Jackson mystery/thriller series—a four-time winner of the Readers Favorite Awards. She also pens the high-octane Agent Dallas series and provocative standalone thrillers. Her 17 novels have been highly praised by reviewers, and she’s one of the highest-rated crime fiction authors on Amazon.

L.J. resides in Eugene, Oregon where many of her novels are set, and she’s an award-winning journalist who earned the Grand Neal. When not plotting murders, she enjoys standup comedy, cycling, social networking, and attending mystery conferences. She’s also been known to jump out of airplanes and hurtle down zip-lines.