Saturday, July 31, 2010


Several years ago when I wrote this poem for the opening of a small indie bookstore, I thought about the value of books and the waning sales at that time. Young people were caught up in video games instead of reading, while others spent most of their time working for the so-called "good life." Many of the wonderful classics, novels, and nonfiction books languished on shelves, gathering dust instead of inspiring dreams and changing lives. Hence "Books" was born.

Sadly, the struggling indie store went out of business a few years ago after a big chain moved into town and claimed the limited number of readers with its large inventory, variety coffees, and inviting areas to sit and read. Now, with the advent of ebooks, Kindle, etc., we are seeing a growing interest in books. Therefore, we writers and editors need to rethink the impact that books can have on lives and, by extension, on the need for quality reading for young and old alike. After all, that's our job, isn't it?


Where can you find the very best zoo?
Where can you learn exactly how to?
Where can you plan a flight to the moon?
Where can you seek the ways of a loon?

Where can you take a trip to the past?
Where can you join a big Broadway cast?
Where can you play in a Wild West show?
Where can you go that no one did go?

Where can you find unbeatable strength?
Where can you travel both breadth and length?
Where can you meet the great and the small?
Where can you grow to be ten feet tall?

Where can you find ways to get wealthy?
Where can you learn how to grow healthy?
How can you walk where ancestors trod
Or sail with Wynken, Blynken, and Nod?

You might be very surprised to know
That no matter where you want to go,
You have only to open a book—
Take a moment now for a quick look!

You can be mighty, you can be meek,
You can be plain, or you can be chic;
But it matters not which way you choose,
For you decide if you win or lose.

When you read a book, you grow inside,
Expand horizons, relish the ride,
Hitch your wagon to a rising star—
Who you want to be is who you are.

Read to your parents, read to your child,
Read to yourself, by books be beguiled;
Travel the world, the universe grand,
Your passport is the book in your hand.

by Linda Lane

I thought the picture might be fun . . . ah, to be 18 again! Linda Lane has written poetry since early in her elementary school days. In more recent years she graduated to novels, and then to editing. She loves to work with other writers to help them reach their goals and live their dreams.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Hocus Pocus Focus

One of the most common mistakes I run into, both as an editor and as a ghostwriter, is when the author wants to write too much. They know all the ins and outs and exceptions and nuances about their subject, and they try to cram it all into one book. This is not only unnecessary; it makes for a bad book. The readers don’t need to know everything the author knows – only what applies to them, and what they care about. If you try to cram too much in, your important points will get lost.

As a ghostwriter, it is my job to help my client find the right focus for their book. I look for the story arc, the common themes running through the story, the primary hook for the readers, and why anyone would want to read this author’s ideas. This is not that easy, because often my clients cannot answer these questions directly.

I once had a client who I met at a book fair, where I had a table promoting my ghostwriting services. He came up to me and said, “Oh, I want to write a book – I need to talk to you.” I said, “Great – what do you want to write a book about?” And he says, “I don’t know.”

Now there was a challenge. He just felt that he had a book inside him somewhere, but he’d never written anything, or thought much about what he wanted in his book, until that moment. You meet a lot of “tire-kickers” at book fairs, but this guy was serious. He actually hired me to help him find out what his book was about. I charged him a consulting fee to spend some hours talking about why he wanted to write a book, what his passions were, who he wanted to reach, and so on, and I recorded the conversations. Eventually a focus for the book did emerge, and he then hired me to ghostwrite it for him.

The book was about psychic hunches and how to follow them through.

If you’d like to know more about ghostwriting, I’m giving a FREE teleclass titled “Why Do People Hire Ghostwriters – or Why they Should” on August 5th, 4pm PST/7 pm EST. For more information and to register, go to

Kim Pearson is an author, ghostwriter, and owner of Primary Sources, a writing service that helps others become authors of professional and compelling books and articles. She has authored 6 books of her own, and ghostwritten more than 30 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit
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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Editing and Marketing: Are they related?

Years ago, a popular song compared love and marriage to a horse and carriage. Needless to say, editing and marketing were not then—nor are they now—similarly compared. Why?

Love, marriage; horse, carriage: They all have a positive connotation . . . or, at least, a romantic one. Author and editor, however, have never been part of either equation. Why? “Editor” seems to conjure up thoughts of red pens and resistance rather than feelings of warmth and fuzziness. Yet a book without an editor is like a year without springtime. Furthermore, an author without an editor is going to limp through the marketing maze with little hope of even nearing the peak of the sales mountain.

Does that sound a bit dramatic? Consider this: Hundreds of thousands of books are available through brick and mortar stores and online outlets. A significant number of those are vying for the same buyers—the same readers—we are. And we are not Nicholas Sparks, James Patterson, Nora Roberts, Tess Gerritsen, Danielle Steel, J. K. Rowling, Stephen King, John Grisham . . . you get the idea. It’s an uphill battle. Realistically, the odds are against us. However, we can reduce those odds by making one simple alliance. We need an editor—the right editor—to give us a marketing edge.

We all know that word of mouth is our best advertising. It’s also our worst. How so? We can have the highest powered promotion in the world. Our cover may grab every eye that passes over it. But if our content doesn’t measure up, all the rest of this means nothing. We offer a product. If our product is of poor quality, it will brand us as not worthy of a reader’s time or money. This is not the kind of branding that will make our books consistent sellers. You can’t tell a book by its cover, so the saying goes. But if we have a great cover, we’d better have great content. Our readers need to know that they can tell our books by their covers. They’re always going to be a fantastic read.

Love, marriage; horse, carriage; author, editor: What do you think?


Linda Lane is a writer/editor/publisher who specializes in helping other writers to develop their full potential. Learning to write well is a lifelong process, but the rewards of seeing it through are among the greatest of a lifetime. Word art stimulates the reader's imagination and takes her to places she's never been. It influences thought and feeling and can move mountains of metalities when used to the max. This lays an awesome responsibility on the shoulders of a writer.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Point of View from My Point of View

Point of view is one of the most interesting topics we cover at The Blood-Red Pencil. It can even be controversial because our preferences as writers, editors, and readers often get in the way. And those same preferences vary among agents and editors. The truth is, no point of view approach is totally wrong. Styles go in and out of fashion, although not quite as fast as hemlines and pointed-toe shoes, and the writer who doesn't pay attention to the current trend risks a flurry of rejections.

If I tell beginning writers what's best based on my own point of view, I suggest they never use an omniscient unknown narrator. Read a few chapters of National Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter (ignore The Custom House at the beginning) for a perfect example. An omniscient unknown narrator should only tell you what he sees happen or hears the characters say. He may repeat history or backstory that he's learned along the way. He cannot let you inside the character's mind or heart in a meaningful way.

Writing as an omniscient narrator, I could take the liberty of telling the reader my character's thoughts, but the reader wouldn't hear those thoughts through the character's voice, tone, and attitude, which leaves room to doubt the narrator's credibility.

There is another kind of omniscient point of view writers sometimes attempt, and that is one where the reader is privy to all characters' actions, behavior, dialogue, and thoughts, mixed together in a hodgepodge. There's no sense that an unknown narrator is present, so it becomes difficult for the reader to identify the important character in each scene. I recommend beginning writers avoid this option as well.

What do I prefer, whether reading or writing?

1. First person point of view limited to one character. If used for the whole book, every scene must be witnessed by that first person character.

2. Third person limited to one character. Again, that character must participate in every scene, even if only an observer.

3. Third person limited, multiple point of view. Each chapter or segregated scene must be in one character's POV, but the next scene or chapter may focus on a different character. No head-hopping is allowed within a scene.

4. Multiple point of view with one character in first person and the rest of the characters in third person limited.

As a fiction writer, which point of view option do you prefer? Is that also what you choose when you read fiction for fun?

For more information on point of view, check out these posts from other Blood-Red Pencil contributors:

Training Our Inner Editor - Point of View (3a) by Linda Lane

Training Our Inner Editor by Linda Lane (continuation)

Which is Better - Single POV or Multiple POVs? by Linda Lane

Point of View - Head Hopping by Morgan Mandel

Deep POV: Three Mistakes and How to Fix Them, Part I by Kathryn Craft

Deep POV: Three Mistakes and How to Fix Them, Part II by Kathryn Craft


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, July 27, 2010

Illustrator Eliza Wheeler On "Being Present"

Eliza Wheeler was born into a family of musicians, artists, and teachers, and was raised in the north woods of Wisconsin. As a toddler, she adored crayons, and drawing has been her favorite creative outlet ever since. Recently she was chosen by Little Pickle Press to illustrate What Does It Mean to be Present? The book, which explores various ways children can learn to live consciously--to "be present" in their lives--is the third title in this award-winning series. Eliza agreed to talk to us about life as an illustrator, and about her current project.

Q. What was your inspiration for choosing illustration? And how did you prepare yourself for your career?

A. I studied Graphic Design at University of Wisconsin-Stout, and also took all the drawing and painting classes there that I could. After college, it didn't take long for me to tire of a profession that is based almost entirely on the computer. I'd been building an illustration portfolio, but didn't know how to get it in front of anyone. In the spring of '09, I entered the Society of Illustrator's Los Angeles juried show and was accepted. I met a lot of illustration folks there, learned about the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), and have been attending their conferences for the past year. It's how I've made all my contacts within the industry.

Q. Can you describe your process for developing illustrations? What's the first thing you do? Second? Third?

A. I start by collecting images that inspire me and research other projects that might be in a similar vein. I get my ideas down with thumbnails; tiny messy sketches that capture the essence and composition of the completed artwork in my head. Then starts the arduous process of translating that small image into full-sized sketches. Then I draw all the black line-work on watercolor paper, and paint the scene in usually watercolors. Last, I go back and fill in more detail with extra line-work for those last finishing touches.

Q. Let's talk about What Does It Mean to be Present? What were some of the joys--and challenges--of this particular project?

A. The most joyful thing about working on Present was coming up with ideas for the flow of the entire book. I really loved that--it's sort of a magical time making the story come to life. Present has no narrative within the words, so I thought that it made sense to create one within the pictures to propel the reader forward. It turned out to be a "day in the life" story of two children. The book begins in the city with an orange tree in the distance of the landscape, and ends with the children playing in that tree.

The biggest challenge by far is being creative on a very tight time frame. Creating artwork for a picture book is a very meticulous process that's painful to rush. I'm sure every artist goes through panicked moments during big projects, and I certainly had my share on this one. It was my ultimate lesson in learning to be present!

Q: So what's with the blue butterfly on every page?

A. Whenever a butterfly is around people seem to stop to watch them. They are fragile, gentle creatures that don't usually live long, yet they bring such beauty while they are here. I included blue butterflies on each page because kids love to search within drawings and find repetition. Searching for the butterflies slows them down as they read the book, and helps them to be "present" and fully experience each page.

To see more of Eliza's work, or to contract her directly, visit her online portfolio. To purchase a copy of What Does It Mean to be Present? plus another title with a free poster of your choice enter the coupon code BRP at check-out on the Little Pickle Press website.

There is also a Grand Prize drawing of all the books and posters in a Dabbawalla backpack if you submit the chosen name for the next book in the series! Click here for more details.

Have questions about book design? Or about Little Pickle Press? Ask them in the comments below--we'll be around and answering throughout the day.

Images courtesy of Little Pickle Press and Eliza Wheeler

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Sherry Wachter has been designing and illustrating all sorts of things--including books--for nearly fifteen years. She has written, designed, illustrated, and self-published two novels--one of which won the 2009 Best of the Best E-books Award--and several picture books. To learn more about book design or to see her work visit her online at Magic Dog Press.

Monday, July 26, 2010

10 Steps to a Better Story

I evaluate fiction for a publisher, using the publisher's standard set of questions, with the last question being: thumbs up or down? It's a tough list of standards, and I see a pattern of common problems that keep manuscripts from being accepted. The most significant problems involve the bond between story and character. If you want an agent or editor to get past the first chapter of your story, here are 10 things to keep in mind:

1. Make your main character want something. Desire is the engine that drives both life and narrative. Characters who don’t want anything are rarely interesting.

2. Make your main character do something. Your story can start with a character who is the victim of circumstances, but afterward the character needs to move quickly into action. Readers like characters who take charge.

3. Let your readers know the story’s premise right away. If they get to the end of the first chapter and still can’t answer the question—what is the story about?—they probably won't keep reading.

4. Get conflict into the story early on. It doesn’t have to be all-out bickering or deception between characters, but let your readers know things will sticky.

5. Skip the omniscient POV. Let the reader experience as much of the story as possible through the eyes of your main character. This is how readers bond with protagonists. If you shift POVs, put in a line break.

6. Introduce characters one at a time with a little physical detail and a little background information for each. (Ella was five-eight, bone thin, and worked for IBM.) Too many characters all at once in the first few pages can be overwhelming.

7. It’s okay to tell sometimes, instead of show. Not every character reaction has to be described in gut-churning, eyebrow-lifting physical detail. Sometimes it’s okay to simply say, “Jessie panicked.”

8. Don’t over write. Nobody agrees on what constitutes good writing, so trying to make your writing stand out will probably work against you. The best writing doesn’t draw attention to itself; it just gets out of the way of the story.

9. Avoid word repetitions when you can. Read your story out loud. You’re much more likely to hear the repetitions than see them.

10. The components of a novel that readers (and publishers) care about most are, in order: story, characters, theme, setting. If you have to sacrifice something, start at the end of list. Never sacrifice the story for anything else.


L.J. Sellers is an award-winning journalist, editor, and the author of the Detective Jackson mysteries, The Sex Club and Secrets to Die For. Her new novel, Thrilled to Death, is available on Kindle now. She also loves to edit fiction and works with authors to keep her rates affordable. Contact her at:
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Sunday, July 25, 2010

Would You Pay For a Blog Book Tour? By Morgan Mandel

Blog Book Tours are very popular and important these days, but would you pay for one?

If you don't mind spending time to research popular blogs to make sure they get enough hits and are the right ones to promote your book, you don't mind contacting their owners and asking if they'll host you, you don't mind doing all the advertising yourself, also have a tight budget, then maybe a do-it-yourself blog tour is for you.

Then again, if you don't have the time or the patience for research, don't like making direct contact with hosts, don't believe your own advertising is enough, have enough money saved up for promotion, then maybe you'd prefer to leave it in the hands of a professional.

Either way you choose, you'll have lots of work ahead finding out what your hosts require, then getting the topics and blogs ready beforehand. During the tour, to make the most of your opportunity, you should be commenting on your hosts' blogs to establish your presence, plus tweeting and sending emails to Facebook, your egroups, and other spots. Not only that, your blog may stay up a few days, requiring you to make return visits.

For my Killer Career Blog Book Tour, I practiced a hands-on approach, but I had a great advantage. I not only belonged to the blogbooktour egroup run by Dani Greer, who owns a blogspot called  Blog Book Tours, but also the pumpupyourblog egroup, run by Dorothy Thompson - The first being an immensely informative hands-on, do-it-yourself group, the other a group comprised mainly of hosts and guests of Pump Up Your Book Promotion Virtual Book Tours. I've made wonderful friends in each group and love them both. Although I didn't pay for my own tour and arranged it all myself, many times I've served as a host for  book tours and still enjoy doing so.

What about you? Do you prefer to pay for a blog book tour? Or are you a do-it-yourselfer?

What are your reasons? Please share with us.

Morgan Mandel
Killer Career Book Trailer Link:
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Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Value of an Editor

I started reading a mystery novel last night that I just had to put down. The back-cover blurb sounded like a great story, the book begins with the discovery of a body—all great ingredients for a mystery. But…

The author obviously did not have the book professionally edited.

Telling rather than showing, passive sentence construction (“there was…” “they were spoken of…” “members were directed…” etc.) and long, stilted, unnecessary dialogue bumped me right out of the story and I had no interest in finding out “who done it.”

It doesn’t matter whether you are submitting to a traditional publisher or publishing a book yourself—as an author, you owe it to yourself to have it professionally critiqued and edited. You want to put forth the best possible product you can and not be embarrassed by negative feedback.

This is something I, along with the other editor members of the Blood-Red Pencil, can do for other writers.

Here is a link to a great article “How to Measure the Value of Editors” by James Mathewson, Editor in Chief, that talks about this very subject.

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A native Montanan, Heidi Thomas now lives in Northwest Washington. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, is 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.

Friday, July 23, 2010

A Cover That Sells

As self-publishing becomes more common and accepted  in the book world, all of the responsibilities of producing an excellent product fall on the author's shoulders. Beyond hiring an independent editor and handling marketing, the job of creating the book cover as well as book design within falls on our shoulders. Alas, most of us are ill-equipped to tackle these crucial elements ourselves. Today we welcome Sherry Wachter of Magic Dog Press, a professional artist and book designer and herself a published author. She'll cover many aspects of this important issue in future posts - because a good book cover and interior layout can help ensure the success of your book, whether self-published or not.
Welcome, Sherry!
A good book cover is more than just a matter of prettying up the outside of your book. It is your first--and quite possibly your last--opportunity to turn browsers into buyers. If you're considering designing your own cover you might want to check out some of the posts at Magic Dog Press, where book design is often the subject of conversation.

Do-it-yourselfing has become something of a national pastime, but before you decide to take a crack at book cover design consider the following:

1. Usage rights. Are you familiar with how these work? While many sites offer lovely photos for very reasonable prices, some have conditions on usage (for instance, that they can only be used for non-profit purposes, may not be used or sold as art, etc.) Before you download and use anything, please check this out very carefully. It can get you into a boatload of legal trouble.

2. Outlining an object. Do you know how to do this for printing? If not, I'd suggest that you not try this approach; things that have been badly outlined will kill what might otherwise be a pretty cover.

3. Designing for print. Is this an area you're confident in? There are a number of requirements for print design that don't apply to web design. For instance, image resolutions must be much higher than they need to be for online viewing. Colors must sometimes be adjusted and balanced (by number, mind you--the first terrible lesson probably every designer learns is that You Cannot Trust Your Monitor). Images intended to go to the edge of the page must be extended beyond the edge of the page by no less than one-eighth of an inch--and you must output your file in certain ways to preserve that setting. Many printers require cropmarks and registration marks; do you know how and where to apply them?

4. Do you understand enough about color theory to be able to produce an eye-catching, inviting cover without becoming a self-parody?

5. Do you know what you need to do to make your cover distinctive from a distance of about six feet--the standard browsing distance?

6. Do you have a fairly good idea of how printing works? And if not, are you willing to take a field trip to your local press?

The point of all this? Book cover design isn't brain surgery, but neither is it as easy as falling off a log, as my father used to say. Designing book covers is a lot of fun; I do it myself. But it is a process that can be fraught with difficulty for the inexperienced. If you'd like to design your own cover, you might want to invest a little time in talking to print designers, press operators, and book binders. Find out what works. Ask, "Why do you do it that way?" And when they answer, take notes.

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Sherry Wachter has been designing and illustrating all sorts of things--including books--for nearly fifteen years. She has written, designed, illustrated, and self-published two novels--one of which won the 2009 Best of the Best E-books Award--and several picture books. To learn more about book design or to see her work visit her online at Magic Dog Press.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Troubleshooting Headers and Footers

Recently Helen Ginger talked about How to Remove Section Breaks in your Word document. Another annoying issue that can arise with section breaks (whether you’ve inserted them yourself or Word has done it for you) is trouble with your Headers and Footers.

How to Turn On Headers and Footers

Word 2007/2010:

Insert >> Header / Footer / Page Number

Word 2003:

View >> Header and Footer

An easy way to exit Header and Footer mode is to double-click anywhere in the greyed-out text of your main document.

Double-click on a greyed-out Header or Footer to access it for editing.

De-Linking Previous Sections

“Link to Previous” (Word 2007) / “Same As Previous” (Word 2003)

When you turn on Headers and Footers, Word also turns on the “Link to Previous” command. This can cause a problem if you decide to remove headers, footers, and page numbers from the front matter of your manuscript (the title page, table of contents, etc.) even if these pages are in a separate section to the body of your document. With the Link to Previous command turned on, the headers and footers will be deleted throughout the document.

If you’ve already set up some of your headers and footers, make a copy of the document you’re working on so that you can easily reinsert anything that disappears if you need to.

Turn off the Link to Previous commands:

Word 2007/2010:

Click off the “Link to Previous” button found on the Design Tab >> Navigation Toolbar that appears on the Office Ribbon when you are editing a header or footer.

Note that the Built-In header/footer designs for Word 2007 continue to be linked even if Link to Previous is turned off. In order to allow different headers/footers in different sections (for example, different chapter names) right-click on the textbox you want to change and select “Remove Content Control” before typing your header or footer content.

Word 2003:

Click off the “Same As Previous” button found on the Header and Footer floating toolbar that appears when you are editing a header or footer.

Once you’re aware of how headers and footers are linked across sections and how to turn this feature off you’ll have greater control over this potentially fiddly aspect of your document.

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. Elle Carter Neal (aka Elsa Neal) has been strong-arming Word for 16 years and teaching others to do the same. She is based in Melbourne, Australia.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Writing in 140: What Makes a Book "Good"?

Featuring guest star, author Miki Starr Martin [website].

What makes a book "good"?

Shon: A “good book” is pretty subjective. There’s no one type of good book, but I believe there are “objective” components that are necessary to make a good book like strong characters, great action and dialogue, heightened conflict, etc.

Miki: Not only that but a clear understanding on the part of the author is just as important to constructing a good book. An author with no true connection to the characters and the world which the author has created will read like formula fiction. Being that what makes a book “good” is indeed subjective, it’s that connection and commitment that makes a good story great.

What makes a book good to you?

Writing in 140 is my attempt to say something somewhat relevant about writing in 140 words or less.


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 is now available for purchase. 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, and pursuing her Ph.D. in Technical Communication and Rhetoric at Texas Tech University.

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Five Self-defeating Recession Behaviors

1. Copy the genre and content of the few writers who actually are making money.

Werewolves, zombies, erotica, thrillers—whatever you determine is hot now may turn ice cold a few years down the pike. That’s how writers have always had to think and it’s even more true now—with publishers pulling from smaller pocketbooks, which is logically resulting in increased choosiness by agents, it might be many years until a project you write now sees publication.

This is no time to waste your efforts on a project in which you are only partially interested just because you think it will sell. There’s no surer way to kill the writing buzz. You need work that will sustain you.

And anyway, even the experts don’t know what will sell. If you love to write, write what you love.

2. Think your rejections signal your lack of talent.

I hear story after story from well-published writers who over the past couple of years have had trouble getting their next books read by publishers. Your current competition for an available publishing slot may not be that hack you're sure you can beat—it might be an author with an established track record to back them up. Rejection may not mean your work is subpar; it may simply mean that out of the thousands vying for those twenty coveted slots, the publisher can’t make the final fifty fit.

This recession is not just happening to you. It’s happening to all of us.

But wait...what if your work truly isn't up to par? Now's a great time to read: advice for writers, books in your genre, books in other genres. Learn about self-editing at The Blood-Red Pencil. Support your local library; support the bookstores you hope will one day support you. Try to figure out what techniques keep readers coming back for more and sprinkle some of that fairy dust on your work in progress. Invest in an independent editor to up your game. Join a writer's group. Take what you learn and share it with a new writer.

I guarantee if you do all this you will become a better, more publishable writer. And if there's one thing I know about America, it's that if we create a rock-solid demand for more books to read, someone will want to make money providing them.

3. Give yourself one more year to get published before quitting.

Ahem...I’m guilty of this one. Only my goal was "five more years"—at one point, some eighteen years into my free-lance newspaper career, I promised my husband I was going to give up if I couldn’t get a book published by the time my kids got out of high school. Well, by the time they graduated my writing was a hell of a lot better and I was so close, so hooked, I couldn’t possibly give up.

Now they’re 21 and 23 and I am humbled to realize I am not the master of the publishing universe. It will happen when I get the right manuscript into the hands of the right agent who will approach a publisher with actual holes in its schedule and actual needs in its business model that my manuscript can fill.

4. Self-publish just to get your book in your hands.

There are many reasons to self-publish, but desperation and impatience are not good ones. It will not feel so great to hold your book in your hands if somewhere deep inside you feel you’ve copped out. In addition, your already recession-beleaguered retirement savings are now depleted and you've got some explaining to do to your spouse.

Especially if you self-publish fiction, the kind of mass distribution your book may need to hit its target audience will be a challenge. But we can reach everyone with the Internet! you say. The landslide that is Amazon may not be the solution. News flash: that ranking of over five-millionth you obtain at their site will not pave your way to traditional publication.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t re-assess your strategy, just be honest about why you’re doing it. If your inner entrepreneur is screaming to try out a new radical business plan for distribution you feel certain will work, or if you've actually made money on the stock market while everyone else lost it, or if you just want to get a hundred copies into the hands of friends and family who've been begging to read your work for the past decade, by all means—go for it. But if your goal is traditional publication and the validation that brings, you might have to wait a spell.

5. Set writing aside until the economy picks up.

Never mind—you have my blessing on this one. Because if you can give up your writing, you were never really into it anyway. There's never been anything practical about becoming a writer. And since publication seems more elusive than ever, you might as well hang up your keyboard, right?

In advance, my thanks. If you leave the field it will make more room for those of us who are still hard at work sharpening our skills, investing in independent editors, building our publication credits in lower-paying markets, and continuing to submit because hey, the odds were against us anyway and what’s changed in that regard?

The recession is changing the market, for sure. And don’t get me started about the effects of technology! What’s gone for good? What’s here to stay? No one knows. But if your desire to write is still intact, then write away, my friend. Observe the yellow flag for your protection but don’t leave the course! Hang in with your fellow racecars as we continue to lap the track, hoping to be near the starting line when that green flag is waved.

Are you with me? (And if you quit—can I have your laptop? Contact me offline…)

Kathryn Craft is a developmental editor at As a writer of book-length literary women's fiction, she has been tossing her manuscript toward select agents while lapping the publishing course under the yellow flag alongside her fellow writers. She notes that the other drivers are engaging in increasingly aggressive behaviors, changing lanes and revving engines as she searches lamely for the horn. For the safety of all she hopes the publishing world waves the green flag soon!

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Monday, July 19, 2010

Jim's Insta-Poll: Can You Skin a Sheep More Than Once?

Today we welcome our newest blogger, Jim Thomsen. Jim's insta-polls are wildly popular at Facebook, so we decided to have the same fun here at the Blood-Red Pencil. Welcome aboard, Jim.
On my Facebook page, I recently asked my friends: "Have you ever read a book knowing that you don't like it, don't respect it and wouldn't recommend it ... yet you HAVE to finish it so you know what happened, for cripes' sake?"

Surprisingly, it was one of my most popular book-related polls. Apparently a lot of readers have felt burned by subpar genre books that delivered just the craft and left out the art. As a result, my respondents almost universally said that they'd never buy a book by that author again.

Some responses:

— Christy R., Loma Linda, Calif.: "Martha Grimes. Used to love her Richard Jury novels. I just dragged myself to the end of the last two, and that's it. I don't care about the crime. I liked her characters. But they jumped the shark, so I followed suit."

— Jenna J., San Diego: "Twilight. I knew I would hate it, but I was beaten and nagged into reading it. Trying like hell to stay in the story, I had a zillion questions I wanted answered, and assumed (silly me) that they would be if I finished. Nope."

— Marty B., Fresno, Calif.: "If I dislike a book, I generally don't finish it. But one I have is Nick Hornby's "How to Be Good," although that started out decently enough."

— Cheri B., Portland, Ore.: "Yes. Call me the eternal optimist, but I always hold out hope there's going to be a turning point when it gets good ... or at least worth the time I have invested in it ... even to the last word."

 The lesson here: You probably don't have room in your career as an author for even one sub-par book. As is often said: "It's hard to break into publishing, but it's harder to stay in." And part of that is that readers are unforgiving of what they perceive to be mediocrity. (As opposed to, say, what we might consider mediocrity.)

So, what do you Blood Red Pencil folks say? You need not name names, but do you stick it out with a book that's just not taking off? Especially if it's an author whose work you've liked and trusted in the past? And if you feel burned by a bad book, are you quits with the author, or will you give their next book another chance? How forgiving are you?

Let's hear it.

Jim Thomsen is a news editor for the Kitsap Sun newspaper in Bremerton, Washington. Facing a layoff this fall and the end of a 23-year journalism career, he's trying to launch a new career as an author of crime fiction and nonfiction. He hopes to launch his first self-published mystery novel, "Revenge Island," this fall.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Pros and Cons of Self-Publishing - Scott Nicholson

With the publishing industry undergoing vast change and new avenues opening for authors, the choice of career route no longer leads straight through Manhattan. With authors able to directly upload their manuscripts for the growing digital market, the temptation is there to bypass agents and publishing houses altogether, going for the immediate reward and readership–however large or small.

Self-publishing was long considered “vanity press” and the mark of a frustrated amateur, but as more established authors release their own backlists as e-books and a new generation of authors embrace the do-it-yourself indie spirit, it’s no longer a dirty word in the literary world.

Vicky Tyley, an Australian mystery writer, finished her novel Thin Blood four years ago. After numerous rejections on two earlier novels, she found an agent, who then approached all the major mystery publishers. After he kept hearing “we can’t consider an Australian mystery,” he encouraged Tyley to put it on Amazon for Kindle and see what happened.

What happened was the book hit #1 on the Kindle mystery bestseller list. It has since sold more than 20,000 copies.
“First, I wanted to have the best manuscript I could,” Tyley said. “I invested in an editor and, whilst the changes she suggested weren’t major, they added a polish that the novel wouldn’t have otherwise had.
Her agent, Robert Fleck of Professional Media Services, said he took a somewhat unusual step in an industry where self-publishing is still largely suspect.
“For people like me, and honestly a huge proportion of the editors and agents in publishing, the joy of finding that one book out of the pile is a huge part of what drives us, but it's also why these jobs aren't for everyone,” Fleck said. “Vicki and I chose to test her first book through self-publishing precisely because it was a very good book that wasn't being read many places because of a stupid marketing belief. That's a very different thing than many of the would-be authors out there who think they're being rejected because nobody understands their brilliance.”
Some indie authors have piled up numerous agency rejections, and some have had agents who couldn’t sell their work. Other authors, like Zoe Winters, started out with the idea of building their own audiences, not even bothering to waste the years typically involved in querying agents.

Some, like Boyd Morrison, do well enough that they are then able to sell their work in New York even if it was previously rejected.
“To me, the electronic publishing frontier is probably best for breaking in an author who can't get a reading for specious reasons, or for maintaining the careers of midlist authors who have a lot of quality product but never quite ‘broke through’ in traditional publishing,” Fleck said.
As one of those authors with modest sales numbers, I embraced self-publishing after a year of struggle, in which I had left an agent and was a couple of years removed from a book on the store shelves. I was writing steadily but with a sense of discouragement, because I was schooled in the old lesson that “professionals don’t self-publish.”

Six months into my experiment, I still work with agents but I see indie publishing as the foundation of my career, especially as e-books expand and bookstores diminish. New York is still the lottery ticket, but more and more writers are drawn to the idea of a steady, albeit often small, revenue stream. It’s also very appealing to know readers are just one click away from connecting with your words, but that can also breed an impatience that leads writers into bad habits and a slack approach to craft. A book needs careful editing now more than ever, simply because it must swim even harder to rise above the tide. In the next installment, we’ll crunch some numbers and compare the practical benefits of both traditional and independent publishing.
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

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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Finding Your Voice

As a writer, how do you find your voice? If you’re working on your third, fourth, fifth manuscript, look back at that very first one. What do you think of it now? Do you still have the same voice? Has it evolved? Do you feel like you’ve “found” your voice?

How did you find it? Did you find it by hearing voices in your head? Did it come to you in a dream? Probably not.

Remember, I’m talking about your voice, as the writer. Not the protagonist’s voice. Your voice.

The arrangement of the words in sentences. The cadence. The words you use. The length of the sentences, the paragraphs. What the readers hear when they’re not reading the words or thoughts of your characters. The overall voice of your book. The author’s voice. Keep in mind, that voice is not static. It can evolve. It can change from book to book. But some authors maintain their voice. You can pick up their eleventh book and know it’s them.

Chances are you may have developed yours without even thinking about it. And you may have gotten it from other writers. Writers, I believe, read differently than non-writers. We’re not always reading just for plot. There are times when a sentence catches our eye. Stops us. We re-read it; ponder its structure, the way it talks to us. We think, that’s beautiful or I never would have thought of putting it that way or, wow, that is such a unique metaphor. Sometimes we may even make note of it by highlighting or adding it to a list we’re keeping of examples of great writing.

Although we may never go back to read that list, it affects us. Not that we copy that person’s words, but we absorb what we consider “good” writing. Good writers are readers. And we learn by reading. And, over time, we develop our own voice, a lot of it based on what we consider wonderful writing.

Helen Ginger is an author, blogger, and writing coach. You can follow Helen on Twitter or connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn. Helen is the author of 3 books in TSTC Publishing’s TechCareers series, Angel Sometimes, Dismembering the Past, and two of her short stories can be found in the anthology, The Corner Cafe. Her next book, Deadpoint, is due out in Spring 2015.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Finding Tips on Self-Editing at The Blood-Red Pencil

First published on July 14, 2010, this post is one of the most useful we've ever offered! Thank you to Patricia Stoltey.

Most of us who write spend as much time in the revision and self-editing phase as we do writing our first drafts. Since a large percentage of the contributors to this blog are editors, there's a lot of information here to help. Now that we've added a search bar, it's easy to find what you're looking for, whether it be advice on using adjectives and adverbs or different points of view on point of view.

To give you a head start, here are the links to my series, Self-Editing One Step at a Time:

1. Charting the Novel Story Arc

2. How to Identify Dragging Narrative

3. Identifying and Eliminating Your Habit Words

4. Searching for More Silly Stuff

5. Weeding Out Unnecessary Adjectives and Adverbs

6. Cleaning Up Those Dialogue Tags

7. Analyzing Sentences for Redundancy and Wordiness

8. Fine-Tuning Sentence Structure

9. Read Your Manuscript Aloud

10. One Final Self-Editing Chore

11. Critique Groups Part I

12. Critique Groups Part II

When I used the search box to look for "self-editing," I found more, including these:

Alex Sokoloff's guest post from June, 2009 is called: Top Ten Things I Know About Editing.

Lillie Amman's post from September, 2008 is Ten Tips for Self-Editing.

You can do the same kind of search for "adjectives," "adverbs," "dialogue," or any other element of writing to see what the authors and editors have written. If you don't find what you want, check the  Ask the Editor free-for-all and post your question or suggest a new post topic.

Patricia Stoltey is the author of two amateur sleuth mysteries, The Prairie Grass Murders and The Desert Hedge Murders. Originally published in hardcover by Five Star and paperback by Harlequin Worldwide, both are now available as e-books for Kindle and Nook. Her November 2014 novel from Five Star/Cengage, Dead Wrong is a standalone suspense. The novel has been described as “…lightning paced…” and “…a fantastic combination of suspense and action…”

You can learn more about Patricia and her fiction at her website and blog. She can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Word Play By Morgan Mandel


The 2nd Tuesday of the month is Word Play time here at The Blood-Red Pencil. As writers and readers, we enjoy playing with words. Simple exercises like Word Play get our imagination going while we think up examples and have fun in the process.

How to Play:

It's easy. Just make up a sentence or two, or a phrase, using this month's chosen words. I like to pick words that sound alike, but are spelled differently and have unique meanings.

Here are July's Choices:

Sleigh - adjective or noun - Think cool and winter - Sleigh bells ring - A vehicle with long blades in the snow, usually driven by horses.

Slay - A verb meaning to kill.

More Choices:

Sleight - He practices sleight of hand - Noun for a trick by magic or otherwise.

Slate - Wipe the slate clean - Noun for something like a tablet or recordkeeping instrument.

Slate - I've got a slate floor in my hallway - Noun for a kind of tile.

Your Turn to Play:

Leave a comment below using as many of these words as you can. Include your name, one website or blogspot and where you've heard of this blog. That way people will know where to find you after reading your brilliant examples.

Have Fun Playing!

Morgan Mandel

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Monday, July 12, 2010

Writing in 140: Connecting with Characters

Featuring guest star, author Miki Starr Martin [website].

Shon: How do you connect with your characters?

Miki: I become the characters. They’re not external beings for me. I’m not an observer writing things that I see. It’s like acting. An actor/actress becomes the part they are playing and so it becomes real for them, the emotions, reactions, gestures. In the moment of telling the story, it IS my reality. How do you connect?

Shon: I work on character dossiers. A dossier may have images of what the character looks like, the car she drives, the house she lives in, siblings, parents, etc. I write about where the character was just before a story begins, her fears, joys, memorable moments, morals, etc. Sometimes, I jump into a story without these things, but I always find myself coming back to develop dossiers.

How do you connect with your characters?

Writing in 140 is my attempt to say something somewhat relevant about writing in 140 words or less.

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 is now available for purchase. 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, and pursuing her Ph.D. in Technical Communication and Rhetoric at Texas Tech University.

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Saturday, July 10, 2010

Genres - Alternate History

We started our discussion of genres last time with a look at Magical Realism. Shortly after writing that post, I ran across a very fun read that is a great example of the genre. Horns by Joe Hill tells of a young man sprouting horns and slowly transforming into a demon. He knows others' most inner, most evil thoughts and uses that information to help solve a murder. It is written very believably and is a captivating story. I was intrigued to see in your comments that much of your writing falls in the Magical Realism catagory.

Another genre that has been getting quite a bit of attention from publishers lately is Alternate History. Alternate History plots usually contain historical characters and events but change some major detail, causing history to progress down a different path than it really did. Alternate history is often viewed as a subgenre of historical fiction or science fiction but many works stand on their own as uniquely Alternate History.

One of the seminal works of this genre is The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick. In this classic, the United States has lost World War II and is ruled jointly by Japan and Nazi Germany. It won the 1963 Hugo award and firmly established Dick's literary career.

From the writer's perspective, there are both perks and pitfalls to writing in this genre. A definite perk is that characters and main plot lines can be taken from actual events, jump-starting the writing process. History can give an author the basic outline, rather than the author having to form a story from nothing. The problem of naming characters and places that was discussed in a recent Blood-Red Pencil post can be avoided by beginning with actual historical characters and events.

A pitfall, however, is that the characters and plot elements a writer adds must fit logically into the historical record. This may require some research into the actual historical events of the period. The Library of Congress and the National Archives websites may provide material to help authors with details of a plot centered on American history. Euro Docs and Gallica provide links to European historical documents and the Universiy of Washington Library has a list of helpful resources on Asian history.

Alternate History fiction can be a powerful teaching tool for history and literature teachers as well as an enjoyable area for recreational reading. Asking the question, "What if...?" helps us all think about our world and take valuable lessons from what actually was.

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 and doing coursework on a doctorate. 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 worries 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.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Writing as an Art—March to the Beat

Do you ever read aloud from a favorite book? Or does a particularly poignant or empowering passage or poem inspire you to verbally articulate its content?

All good writing possesses a rhythm—a beat—that sets the tone for the action, the scene, the discussion. A competent writer “hears” it and uses it to reach out and touch the reader. He or she creates the rhythm, puts it in place, and marches to the beat. The reader follows along behind.

Have you ever listened—I mean really listened—to a great drummer? Drums do a lot more than make ear-splitting noise. Drum solos can express a variety of emotions from the gentleness of a summer breeze (using the brushes) to waves lapping on the shore or a jog through the park (the sticks) to the power of a thunderstorm (the deep resonance of the bass). Morse code messages can be tapped out on the rim and worked into an overall piece. The rhythm can inspire an entire dance without the benefit of any other instrument. The snare, high hat, cymbals, and bass all communicate with the listener, creating different emotions, different moods, different mental pictures, depending on the drummer’s intent and the listener’s experience.

How does this relate to writing? The same freedom the drummer employs to express himself through percussion, the writer uses to create a word picture, first for himself and then for his readers. Why him- or herself first? Writing is an extension of self. What we cannot imagine, we cannot write. Is this not true? Who we are comes through in our characters—our dark sides as well as our brighter ones. Whatever our passions, our loves, our fears, our hatreds, our experiences, we reveal them in some fashion through our stories and our characters. Then the rhythm of our words creates a work—gentle, powerful, fierce, compelling. Our emotions determine the beat. Is it jazz? rock? rap? ballad? symphony? a combination of these or other forms? Whatever it may be, we want our readers to listen to the rhythm and march to the beat. That’s what makes them want to buy our next book.

How do you use rhythm in your writing? When proofing a draft, do you know when you’ve missed a beat? when the story ceases to flow? when the rhythm is off? when the reader no longer marches to the beat? Please tell us how you handle these writing bumps in the road.

Linda Lane, owner of Pen & Sword Publishers Ltd., writes novels and edits books. Learn more about her at

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Name Game

Sometimes writers spend more time stressing over what to call a character than they did naming their own child. Authors want their character to have a name that will draw the reader as well as identify the character. It has to sound right. Maybe it implies social status, ethnicity, age, some aspect of the character's personality, or maybe his or her occupation.

We all would like to come up with character names that stick in our heads or just seem perfect for the "person": Hawkeye Pierce, Magnum, Rockford, Mike Hammer, Daisy Mae, Scarlett, Hannibal Lecter, Mrs. Maxim de Winter, Atticus Finch, and on and on.

Authors have multiple copies of Baby Naming books. Some have phone books from different cities. Others keep lists of names they read or overhear. Others buy books designed to help writers or to explain the origins of names.

Some authors choose the protagonist and antagonist names before they ever begin writing, and that name becomes so ingrained with the character that it would be unthinkable to change it. Other authors choose character names, but may change them multiple times, looking for that "perfect" name.

Some names sound "old;" some are new and modern. You can look up statistics for what would have been your character's birth year and find out what were the most popular names given to children in different countries. Also, you can find out what various names mean and decide if that particular trait fits your character--or you can go in the opposite direction and choose, say, for a tall, strapping football hero, a name that means "timid and meek." Keep in mind that all these resource books are nice to have handy, but you don't have to pay to find names. Go to the library, pay attention to movie credits, search the phone book, look in your children's school directory or the church roster, use the Internet, read the lists of political candidates, scan the obituaries in the paper.

As an editor, I recommend writers avoid names within the same novel that sound similar (unless you have some underlying reason for doing this). It's even best to make sure two names don't begin with the same letter (lessens the chance the reader will get the two characters confused) or sound (such as Clarissa and Karla). It’s a good idea to avoid using the names of your friends or family, real life politicians or neighbors (unless that person has, for example, won a raffle to have his/her name in a book).

Usually, it’s not easy to decide on character names. If you just can't decide, try throwing out possible names to your critique group. Sometimes, it helps to hear how other people "see" your characters.
Helen Ginger is an author, blogger, freelance editor and writing coach. 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 and LinkedIn.

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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Time out For a Little Humor

 Writing Tips From Our Guest Humorist, Tracy Farr....

The final step to becoming a writer is to let someone read what you've written. Sounds simple, doesn't it? But it's not!

After you've spent weeks, months or even years on your story (I limit myself to an hour, and I'm sure it's quite noticeable), the hardest thing you, the writer, can do is hand over what you think is a masterpiece to someone who may or may not like it, may or may not give you honest constructive criticism, and may or may not still be your friend depending upon what they have to say about your story.

"Well, I think your opening really caught my attention, especially the part where the bad guy is chasing the good guy on a John Deere tractor through a hay meadow, looking to turn the good guy into goat feed, but I really think the second page was, how should I say really sucked, and it kept sucking from that page to the end!"

Yes, indeed, we hope for good reviews, but way back in the back of our minds (and for most of us, way up front in the front of our minds) we fear that nobody will like our story, which means they don't like us, which means we are total failures, which means we ain't going to be buying a Rolls anytime soon...

...but we keep writing anyways because writing is not about money, fancy cars, dining with fancy stars, rubbing elbows with the most georgous women in the world because now we have access, which leads to Letterman, Leno, and Oprah, and before you know it we're under a lot of pressure to come up with a blockbuster second novel, but we can't figure out what it's going to be about, and now we have no more paychecks coming in, we've bought so much crap that we need a storage shed to store everything, especially since we defaulted on our home loan, and now we're living from day to day under some overpass, hoping that "lighting" will strike again before we get run over by a semi!

Nosirree! Writing is about writing, and if you don't have the balls to let someone read what you've written without getting all teary-eyed and suicidal, then you might as well stick to watching television and reading trashy novels from authors who DIDN'T give up!

So, it's up to you. Write, let someone read it, write some more, and continue until you're done. And how will you know when you're done?

Try poking with a fork. If the juices run clear, you're done!


Posted by Maryann Miller with Tracy's permission. He likes to share his humor here with a few more people than read his blog, which by the way is pretty darn funny. Trust me. He isn't paying me a penny to say that.
Maryann's Web site

Tracy's Blog