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Showing posts from July, 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,

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

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

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 hea

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 kno

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 prob

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

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 Ed

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

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 secti

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

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 competi

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

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 f

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

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 Ma

Word Play By Morgan Mandel

IT'S WORD PLAY TIME! 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 be

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. ---------

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

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,

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

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 w

Ask The Editor Free-For-All Tuesday Is Here by Morgan Mandel

Intro: For those who have come down to earth after the long weekend of 4th and 5th of July celebrations.  we offer our monthly feature called Ask the Editor Free-For-All. Our member editors at The Blood-Red Pencil are standing by eager to hear your questions and respond. We also invite other editors to chime in with their advice and wisdom. Don't be shy. No question is too basic or silly. This is how it works: Today, and Every First Tuesday of the Month, The Blood-Red Pencil sponsors our Ask the Editor Free-For-All. I send out e-mail blasts to e-groups, post on Facebook and other hot spots calling brave souls to speak up and admit they don't know everything. Ask a question here and get an answer from an editor before you submit your manuscript to a publisher or agent. If you haven't reached the submission stage, it's possible you still may need answers to roadblocks keeping you from doing your best work. Find out how to break through those barriers here. The B