Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Book Quality

I was having lunch with an old friend of mine yesterday, and the conversation turned to writing, editing and publishing. This was hardly surprising, since she's a professor of English at a nearby university, and I'm returning to contract teaching after a long stint as a book editor and designer. (I'm not quitting; in my life jobs tend to accrete rather than change. Now I'll be a book designer and editor who also writes books and teaches College Writing.)

I had taken along a book published on CreateSpace, and as we talked she flipped through it. "Beautiful pictures," she said. And they were. Furthermore, the type was clean and crisp, the production values of the book (things like overall print quality, straightness of crops, color balancing, and so forth) were excellent.

"I have a friend who might be interested in self-publishing," she said. "But it's just text. How does that compare?"

I picked up one of the mid-grade paperback books she had brought along to read in slow moments (we're Those Kind of People) and said, "The book quality would be indistinguishable from a book like this."

Those of you in the printing and publishing world know what a milestone this is. For those of you who aren't, consider this:

When I switched from being an editor who designed stuff to being a designer who edited stuff, color tabloid-size prints had to be done on special paper. Letters were fuzzy. And they cost around $20 per page.

When I wrote and illustrated my first children's book the only way I could demonstrate what the finished product would look like was to get color prints, trim them with an e-xacto knife, do some really hinky stuff with various types of tape, do MORE hinky stuff with spraymount or hot wax, trim the pages again, build a cover and do yet more hinky stuff to get it attached. And when I was done, all I had was a "comp"--a designer's composite approximating how the piece went together. No one could possibly have mistaken it for a "real" book. And it cost well over $100, just for the prints.

Getting a sample book printed just like the one I brought to show my friend would have entailed every step of the printing process, up to and including actually going on press--for a single book. It would have cost thousands.

The complexity of that process is, in part, what drives publishers to select the books they will produce with a careful eye to sales and market trends. Producing a single book like the one lying on the table between my friend and me would have involved large investments in both time and money from at least four industries--five, if the book warranted a book tour or marketing campaign.

While printing technology has evolved a great deal, the fact is that producing a book by conventional means still requires a large investment, which means that authors get a smaller piece of the pie, and the books chosen for publication are most often those with either a proven track record, or a provable market appeal.

And that's why the increasing sophistication I see in CreateSpace's book quality and distribution channels is so exciting. I produced a sixty page book with a nice cover, color throughout, and full bleeds throughout (something that's still difficult to get from traditional book printers), and I did it for less than $50 total for two books--my proof, and the copy for the intended recipient. If I choose to print more, I will pay less than $10 per book. That's quality printing, trimming, binding, and shipping. And that's amazing.

So what does that mean? It means that in a world increasingly driven by the bottom-line mentality, it is now possible to publish books and make them available nationwide--or to one person--for the love of it. Never before in history has it been possible to produce high-quality books from exciting new voices so cheaply and easily.

Which isn't to say all of those new voices will be voices worth hearing. As with any major innovation that gives broad access to a formerly costly and complex process, there will be those who see self-publishing as a shortcut, and an opportunity to skimp on the areas of book production where money is well spent--areas like editing, proofreading, design, and marketing. Many terrible books are being produced even as we speak. But here's the thing: there are wonderful books being produced, too. And now we have the opportunity to read them.

Note: The images in this post are spreads from the book used as the example in this post--a book that would have been impossible to produce for less than thousands of dollars not so very long ago. I've reduced the images substantially for use on the web, so pouf goes the quality, but if you'd like to see the actual images email me and I'll send some full-size photos.
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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.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Cut the Boring

Ever wonder why you don't see characters paying their bills? Because it's boring!

I know that because I do that. I pay the bills. And it's boring.

Unless paying the bills has something to do with the plot, it's probably best to leave it out. Don't put in boring, mundane tasks just to increase the word count. When you’re editing, stop and ask yourself if what the character is doing is interesting, moves the plot forward, establishes the character, or in some way greatly contributes to the manuscript.

If it doesn't meet one of those criteria, seriously think about cutting it. Or try to think of some way the character could pay the bills that would make it more interesting or show his/her character in a unique way.

If your goal is to demonstrate that the character is in reality boring, then come up with a way to show it so that while the task may be mundane, your way of telling it is not.

Part of your editing process should be to cut the boring stuff. If it's really not necessary for the reader to see it, then cut it. That includes a lot of walking from the house to the car. Certainly includes the fifteen times in the book that your character picks up the phone and says, "Hello." Cut out the introductions, get to the meat of the conversation or encounter. Your protagonist doesn't have to feed the cat every time he comes into the house in order for the reader to know he has a cat and he's responsible in the way he cares for it.

Cut the boring so you won't bore your readers.
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 twelfth year of publication. You can follow Helen on Twitter or connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn – or catch her April 30, 2011 at Books 'n Authors 'n All That Jazz in Weatherford, Texas, where she and Sylvia Dickey Smith will be talking about “Jazzing Up Your Characters.”

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Monday, March 28, 2011

Deep Point of View - Part Two

As I discussed in Part 1 of this topic, Deep Point of View, or How to Avoid Head-Hopping, in order to draw the reader in and grab her emotionally, every story needs to have a clearly dominant viewpoint character. We should meet that character right away, preferably in the first paragraph, and the first scene or chapter should be entirely from that character's point of view so the reader can start bonding with him or her.

But how do we as authors go about this? Suppose you’re writing a story about a macho  guy named Kurt, who defeats the villain, restores justice, and even gets the girl. It’s Kurt’s story so he’s your main viewpoint character. How do you make sure that your handling of his viewpoint is as powerful as it can possibly be?

The first thing to do is imagine the setting, people, and events as they would be perceived by Kurt, and only by him. As you write the story, you the writer must become Kurt. You see what he sees and nothing more. You know what he knows and nothing more. When Kurt walks into a bar, for example, you do not imagine how the bar looks from some god-like authorial stance high above, or as a movie camera might see it; you see it only as Kurt sees it, walking in and looking around.

And of course include his reactions to the other people in the bar. Show Kurt’s feelings about what and who he’s seeing, and his reactions to the situation. Instead of writing, “The bar was noisy, dark and smoky,” write “The cigarette smoke in the air stung Kurt’s eyes and, in the dim light, he couldn’t make out if his target was there. As he looked around, the room started to quieten down. Heads turned, and eyes took him in, some curious, some hostile.”

This way, the reader is seeing the scene through Kurt’s eyes and identifying with him, starting to worry about him. This from-the-inside-out approach is vital if you want your reader to care about your protagonist and get truly engaged in the story.

But you need to go even further – you need to describe what he’s seeing and feeling by using words and expressions that he would normally use. If your character is a rancher or a drifter or a hard-boiled P.I, you’re not going to describe the scene or his reactions in highly educated, articulate, flowery terms, or tell about things he probably wouldn’t notice, like the color-coordination of the décor, the chandeliers, or the arrangement of dried flowers in an urn on the floor.

It’s also important to be vigilant that your viewpoint doesn’t slip, so you’re suddenly giving someone else’s opinion about Kurt, or telling about something that’s happening out in the street or even in a hidden corner of the bar, while Kurt is still at the entrance of the bar. You can let the reader know other people’s reactions to Kurt, not by going into their heads at this point, but by what Kurt perceives—he sees their disapproving, admiring, angry, curious, or intense looks, picks up on their body language, hears their words and tone of voice, etc.

Then, in a later scene or chapter, you can go into the villian's point of view and find out what he thinks of Kurt. Or, once he meets the girl, write a scene or chapter in her viewpoint so the reader finds out more about her and what she thinks of our hero Kurt.

This technique, properly used, will suck your readers effectively into your story world, where they really want to be, engaged, involved, and connected.

In part 3, I’ll discuss some practical tips for noticing when you’re head-hopping (ping-ponging from one viewpoint to another) and how to stay in one point of view at a time.

Links: Point of View from My Point of View       Writing to Sell: POV        Perception is Part of Point of View     Training Our Inner Editor, Part 3a: Point of View      Deep POV: Three mistakes and how to fix them, Part II       Deep Point of View, or How to Avoid Head-Hopping    

Guest blogger Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction manuscript editor, specializing in thrillers, romantic suspense, mysteries, romance, YA, and historical fiction. Jodie’s services range from developmental and substantive editing to light final copy editing and proofreading, as well as manuscript critiques. Check out Jodie’s website at and her blog, dedicated to advice and resources for fiction writers, at

Posted by Maryann Miller who is always happy to be reminded about whose head she should be in. 

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Friday, March 25, 2011

What Does It Take to Become an Editor?

Because I am a passionate book reader, my hope is to one day become an editor. I think that that it is a good career choice for me because I know that my love for reading will give me a love for this career, as well. I remember that I started reading at a pretty young age, and I haven’t stopped since then. I read everything from romance to mystery to horror to science fiction and everything in-between. When I was asked what I want to do when I grow up, my first thought was that I want to do something that I love, but I wasn’t sure what. Then a light bulb went off in my head, and I realized I can make a career out of my love for books.

Ever since I came to that realization, I have been trying to learn as much as I can about the job. But there are many things I would still like to know about becoming and being an editor. For example, which would an editor prefer—to work freelance or to work for a company and why? What kind of skills does one need to become an editor? Is there a need for online editors of newsletters, e-zines, newspapers, periodicals, etc.? What type of person would make a good editor? I want to know if this is a career that I would love, have the skills for, and if it is something that I can do for the rest of my life.

Hannah Cruz, a junior at a Denver, Colorado, high school, wants to become an editor and desires to learn all she can about that job. In addition to hearing from editors, she would like to know what writers expect of editors when they submit a manuscript to be edited. Hannah is currently shadowing Linda Lane for 20 hours as part of a school assignment.


Linda Lane edits books and coaches writers. Visit her and her editing team at and

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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Question from a Young Writer: How Writing Has Changed Your Life

Question from a Young Writer: Has writing changed your life in any way?


That's the short answer.

Here's a longer one.

Remember the saying, sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me?

Yeah, I never bought that statement. Words can hurt.

But they can also help.

And the biggest way writing has changed my life is in providing me a tool to help myself and to help others. Sometimes, that help comes in the form of stories--whether they are stories I use to entertain (books, short stories, etc.) or stories I use to illustrate a point (in essays, articles, letters).

In 2005, I had to evacuate from my home in SW Louisiana when Hurricane Rita struck. During my time away with some family and friends in a shelter in Northern Louisiana, I found myself dealing with a lot of racial, geographical, and at time religious conflicts and suffered a lot of inner turmoil because of them. I knew I had to place that turmoil somewhere else so that I could be OK, and I placed that turmoil in an essay. Writing it was cathartic for me and helped me to alleviate the pain I felt from the experience. Last year, the essay was used as part of a live theatre documentary production, and it touched me when I received e-mails from those who watched the production. Many of them that had similar stories and had never shared them but felt compelled to, felt relieved to, because they saw my story. At the time I wrote the piece, my only purpose was to stop hurting and to show people who I was as I experienced this event. In the end, I helped others to do the same.

My creative writing has definitely changed the way I write academically. Writers who love words, the sounds of them and how their rhythm and effects change depending on how you string them together, always hear words as they write them. They understand the effect of having sentence variety, of how the repetition of a sound, a letter, a sentence length can have on the point trying to be made. These things find themselves in my academic papers, as do stories to develop points. It's also not unusual to find a little Ralph Ellison sprinkled into a paper on race in cyberspace or a little Toni Morrison on a paper in women's inclusion to the rhetorical tradition. My development as a creative writer not only makes me a better storyteller, but it also makes me a better writer overall.

Sometimes that help received from writing has nothing to do with me at all. I'm big on letter writing campaigns. If there is an issue I feel strong about, I will take to words to write a letter and send off. In the past I have written letters for family members and friends who have been wronged by organizations and have needed the attention of someone who could make a difference. When my godson was attacked by bullies several years ago and it didn't seem as if people wanted to do anything about it, I joined my best friend and used my words and writing skills to draft letters to various media outlets in the hope that they might hear our plea for media attention for the issue--we actually got some of them to listen. When my mother had a problem with a utility company, she asked me to draft a letter to them and to the local news station about the issue; the news station ended up calling my mother a few days later about the problem. When a cousin of mine found herself dealing with an issue at her apartment complex, she asked me to draft a letter to the neighbor who was causing the problem and to management. Within a few weeks, the matter was handled to my cousin's benefit. And sometimes, the letters aren't about dealing with a crisis but with helping someone get a job. I've written cover letters and letters of intent to help friends and family members get job interviews, and it always makes me feel good to know that something I love doing--writing--can help those I care about.

There are a lot of people who hold pessimistic views about writing. I've had students in the past ask me why they needed to take a writing class in college. I've heard people bemoan the digital age and how it's making weaker writers out of youth specifically and everyone else generally. I've seen/read stories from new writers who could care less about writing well and just want to make a quick buck. And the list goes on.

And to all of them, I would say that writing well can have a life-changing effect on you. Not just in your ability to write a well-developed story, but also in your ability to articulate your angst, your desire, your pain and your joy--and that of others. When you are able to understand language, the written word, and manipulate it for good there is freedom in that, a freedom for you and a freedom for those you may help in the process of writing.

To you all out there in BRP Land, has writing changed your life in any way?

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, writing screenplays, and pursuing her Ph.D. in Technical Communication and Rhetoric at Texas Tech University.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Semi-Colon Savvy

I have to admit I’m a little bit addicted to the semi-colon. Ever since I learned how to use it properly it's seemed the perfect punctuation; it's stronger than a comma but not the full stop of a period. I even use semi-colons when I’m texting; I just can’t help myself. When one begins using semi-colons one seems to write more formally; it’s like donning a ball gown or tuxedo that makes one stand a little straighter and enunciate more clearly.

Someone once said that the colon is an obnoxious punctuation mark; it orders the reader to infer exactly this from what follows: what the colon precedes is the only possible explanation. The semi-colon, on the other hand, is more polite; it merely indicates that what follows relates to that which precedes. (See what I mean about writing more formally?)

The guidelines for semi-colon use are fairly simple. In a list, a semi-colon can be used instead of a comma, especially where the use of a comma might be confusing. In a sentence a semi-colon separates two independent clauses not joined by a conjunction. This means that where two complete but related sentences could each stand on its own, they can either be joined with a semi-colon or a conjunction (and, but, etc.). A comma needs a conjunction, but a semi-colon can stand on its own. What a semi-powerful piece of punctuation.

How do you feel about semi-colons? Do you avoid using them in your writing? Or are you semi-colon savvy?

Mark April 7th in your diary when author David Baboulene, expert on subtext, will stop by the Blood-Red Pencil on his book tour for The Story Book : A Writer's Guide to Story Development, Principles, Problem-solving and Marketing

Elsa Neal Elsa Neal is a writer based in Melbourne, Australia. Visit her website to download her free mini report on the Ten Most Frustrating Grammar Rules and How to Remember Them. Read up more on Grammar and Punctuation or browse through her Resources for Writers.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Avoid the Empty Phrase Trap

As writers we are told to avoid clichés, to come up with a new and better way to describe and characterize.

Here are some of my pet peeves:
• Irregardless. It’s just plain regardless.
• We’ll meet at 9 a.m. in the morning. As opposed to 9 a.m. in the evening?
• The good doctor. Maybe he’s a bad doctor.
• Very unique. Unique is a word unto itself. It doesn’t need any qualifiers. What is fairly unique? What's next: Uniquely unique?
• At this point in time. Where else would it be?
• At the end of the day. Probably a good phrase the first 5 times it was used, but now…sick of it!
• Think outside the box. Again a good one the first 10 times, but…
• I personally believe. As opposed to I impersonally believe?
• It is what it is. Huh?
• To be honest. That makes me think you might NOT be!

BBC's Magazine has posted a funny list of its readers' most hated cliché phrases.

To be honest and fair, going forward, this is basically something that, at the end of the day, we're likely to touch base about again.

Let's face it, the fact of the matter is that literally all of us succumb to the use of these stock phrases — even when bringing our A game and giving 110%.

What are your most hated clichés — and how do you avoid them?


A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in Northwest Washington. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, is based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, has recently been released. 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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Monday, March 21, 2011

The Pros and Cons of First-Person Viewpoint

Most novels are written in third-person past tense: “He raced through the dark alley, the footsteps getting louder behind him.” First-person is another option: “As I put down the phone, I heard the doorbell ring.”

Some new fiction writers opt to write their novel in first-person, as they think this will be easier. But writing a novel effectively and compellingly in first-person is a lot more difficult than it first appears.

Some of the advantages to writing your novel in first-person are:

1. More like real life – we experience life around us only from our own point of view.
2. A direct connection from the narrator to the reader, so can create an immediate sense of intimacy and believability.
3. The narrator-character’s voice comes through more clearly, as it is expressed directly.
4. Can portray the POV character’s personality and world-view more easily.

Some of the disadvantages of using first-person point of view and narration are:

1. Difficulty dramatizing scenes where the POV character is not present.
2. Too many sentences begin with “I”. Can start to be annoying to the reader.
3. The reader may tire of the same voice and point of view predominating throughout the novel. Not enough variation in style and personality.
4. We may also get too much of the first-person narrator-character’s opinions on people and events around him, and long for a little variety. How do the other characters see things?
5. There’s a danger of too much introspection and interior monologue. Be sure to balance this with plenty of action and dialogue, which help the pacing and move the story forward more easily.
6. The viewpoint character has to be really interesting, with a distinctive, compelling voice, as we’re “in his head” for the whole novel.
7. With all those “I”s and “me”s, there’s a danger of the writer putting too much of herself into the novel.

First-person narration can work in the hands of a skilled writer, but is more difficult for a first-time writer to pull off successfully, especially for a whole novel. To work, your narrator-character needs to have a unique voice and personality, with lots of attitude. As James Scott Bell says, “There must be something about the voice of the narrator that makes her worth listening to—a worldview, a slant, something more than just a plain vanilla rendition of the facts.” On the other hand, don’t make your narrator-character too weird, as that could get tiring or annoying after awhile, too.

One can also choose to use first-person POV for different characters, giving each character their own chapters, told directly by them, from their viewpoint. In this case, it’s important to make sure that each character speaks with a unique, distinctive voice, with plenty of attitude of their own.

If you’ve written or started a book in first-person, try rewriting a chapter or two in third-person. Leave it for a few days, then reread the third-person attempt and see if you like the added freedom and variety of voice and point of view a little better. Or give both versions to a trusted friend or critique group and see which approach they prefer.

Resources: How to Write a Damn Good Thriller, by James N. Frey; “Look Who’s Talking: Mastering POV and Tense,” presentation by Susan Lyons, Revision and Self-Editing by James Scott Bell.

Copyright © Jodie Renner, February 2011
Guest Blogger, Jodie Renner
Jodie Renner Editing
Jodie's blog on tips for writers
Facebook: Jodie Renner Editing

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Friday, March 18, 2011

Writing for Young Adults – The Real Issue

With Harry Potter’s coming of age series and the advent of Twilight, et al., we are witnessing a resurgence of reading among young people. Add to that the novelty, convenience, and technology of Kindle, Nook, etc., and authors of young adult fiction are finding new readers in an otherwise challenging market. Yes, opportunity knocks, but with opportunity comes responsibility. And that is the real issue.

Too many children have little guidance beyond the classroom, friends, television . . . Are we, as YA writers, responsible for providing that guidance? An old African proverb says, “It takes a village to raise a child.” And that raises an interesting point—particularly since youngsters are often predictable products of their environments. Are we the keepers of the village’s children? Through our stories, can we offer something positive that inspires them to reach beyond the confines of that environment to be more than they ever thought they could be?

Great YA books result from deep thought and careful planning. (Note, please, that I did not say “preaching.”) Realistic characters that face the same problems readers face in true-to-life situations resonate with young people. Add those elements to the inevitable consequences that come from choices—good or bad—and you have powerful stories that touch the mind and heart if they’re presented in an action-filled format. Crafting characters with values and purpose is no more difficult than generating those who subscribe to the if-it-feels-good-do-it mentality or those whose depths barely scratch the surface of the skin. Putting our characters into situations where they must make choices and learn from their mistakes generates great tension while teaching the reader subtle lessons. This is a formula for success that you can take to the bank in more ways than one.

An article in the current Reader’s Digest tells of a homeless sixteen-year-old who lived in stairwells and searched desperately for a school that would admit her despite her long record of truancy. Two years later, the New York Times wrote an article about her because, as a still homeless but straight-A student, she had set her sights on going to Harvard. Encouragement and help poured in from strangers, and her present life bears no resemblance to that of the homeless teenager. Does it take a village (or New York City) to raise a child?

In his play Richelieu; Or the Conspiracy, Edward Bulwer-Lytton wrote this line: “The pen is mightier than the sword.” And it is even truer today than when it was written in 1839. Our youngsters live in the world of the mighty sword. If you doubt that, just watch the news. We writers of YA books, on the other hand, control the mightier pen. And we, like the strangers who helped a homeless teen into Harvard, can reach out with that pen to create much more than an entertaining book. We can be part of the village that raises a child. We can change a life.

Linda Lane edits books and coaches writers. Visit her and her editing team at and

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Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Voices in Your Head

We all have internal editors or critics. Writers seem to be prone to critics whose voices are especially loud – and good with words, of course. When you are writing, this critic often shows up, leans over your shoulder, and whispers mean things in your ears.

One of my voices I named Ed. He used to tie my fingers up in knots and breathe dry ice into my brain. He doesn't do this so much any more, because I found out that I could diminish Ed's power by simply writing – about him. Here is one paragraph I wrote about Ed:

Ed is a middle-aged man with a sunken chest and a long thin nose through which he sniffs and snorts. He squints his beady eyes whenever he looks at me, suspicious that I will again try to write something. If I do, he’ll tell me I have nothing original to say, so why waste my time? His voice is usually sharp and piercing but he is capable of hissing his words, especially when he spots a mistake – any mistake, even a misplaced comma or a typo such as “teh.” He notes all mistakes in a black accountant’s ledger notebook that he always keeps with him. He reads the entries to me out loud.

And so on. As I wrote more about Ed, it eventually dawned on me that Ed is not my friend. And the more I wrote, the more obvious it became that Ed was a nasty, mean-spirited, chickenshit bully who did not want me to be happy. So why was I listening to him?

Why indeed. Nowadays Ed just pouts in the background, waiting for me to notice him again. But I no longer have to. Writing about him took away all his power. I saw him for who he was.

I teach a writing workshop titled “Finding Your Voice.” One of the in-class exercises we do is to write about our internal critic. Give it or him or her a name. What gender is it? Is it human or animal or a black scary cloud, like the monster in Lost? What does it look like? Is it tall, short, fat, skinny, pock-marked? What does it wear? Is it sloppy or tidy? Does it speak in a loud booming voice, or hiss like a snake? Does it wear too much perfume, or sweat profusely? Is it older and wiser than you, or is it one of those know-it-all popular teenagers who used to inhabit your high school? You know your critic doesn't admire you, so who does it admire? Who does it hate? Finally, ask your critic — and write down its answer — why it says the things it says.

You’ll probably find out that you don’t much like this guy, and his reasons for abusing you are lame. When he shows up again (and he will), regard him with compassion and thank him for sharing. Then tune him out.
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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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Art of Chaptering

In a recent Ask the Editor post, Kathy Stemke asked how a writer decides where to place chapter breaks. In fiction, chaptering is often intuitive. The practice isn't even as old as long-form fiction—it began in Great Britain so parts of books could be published in serial form.

Chaptering may feel arbitrary at first, but here's what you can gain from the exercise.

1. Chapter breaks remind you that story structure is important. Unless you plan to create numbered "books" or other multi-chapter sections within your novel, the chapter will probably be its largest building block. Building blocks make you think of structural elements like scene goals and conflict relevant to those goals, which is a good thing.

2. Chapter breaks remind you to think in terms of scenes. Chapters may have been revolutionary in Dickens' day but the modern reader is well adapted to sound bytes and jump cuts. We are busy. We want you to get to the good part. Whether your chapter includes one scene or more, ask what new conflict will now impact the forward movement of your story?

3. Chapter breaks remind you to watch for dramatic turning points. The savvy writer will create a chapter end in one of two places:

  • right before a dramatic turning point, when the reader's senses are heightened and he is dying to know what happens next (such as: "My tour group was looking at one of the most revered sculptures in the world while standing on a piazza made of ancient stone. At least we were, until the ground gave way beneath us.")
  • right after a dramatic turning point, when the next question has been raised (such as: "Even though I never had a chance to see his body or say goodbye, the memorial healed me. I laid out the dreams Jimmy and I had shared, admired them one last time, and buried them. I would move on with my life, because that's what Jimmy would have wanted. But that was before I got home and picked up the mail. In the pile was a hand-addressed letter, no return address. But I knew that writing like my own: it was Jimmy's.")
4. Chapter breaks can offer an added way to communicate with the reader. Who of his readers will ever forget A.A. Milne's chapter designations in Winnie-the-Pooh, as in this charming title from Chapter VIII, "In Which Christopher Robin Leads an Expotition [sic] to the North Pole"?

In her bestselling novel
The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd began each chapter with a nonfiction epigraph about the social nature of bees that kept you thinking about how the hive might serve as a metaphor for the relationships in the book.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, told through the point of view of a boy with autism, Mark Haddon titles his chapters in the POV character's beloved prime numbers, beginning with "2."

5. Chapter breaks remind you that you must woo your reader—not just at the opening, but again and again. Your job is to make it difficult for a reader to put down your book and walk away, where distractions may prevent his return. Young adult novelist Brian Jacques, who until his death last month wrote of woodland creatures in his Redwall series, is well worth studying for the masterful way he handles chaptering. You may not be writing action/adventure, but once you get the hang of it, subtler forms of psychological and literary tension can perform the same trick.

Kathryn Craft is a developmental editor at, an independent manuscript evaluation and line editing service. Formerly a dance critic and arts journalist, she now writes women's fiction and memoir. The first chapter of her memoir, Standoff at Ronnie's Place, modified as a stand-alone essay, has been published online by Mason's Road, the online journal of Fairfield University's MFA program. She blogs about Healing through Writing.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

As It Was in the Days of Kindle...

We live in the days of Kindle. There's no denying that e-book readers have much to offer; users can carry thousands of books around with them. Cost of production is virtually eradicated. And the trees saved…well, as I said, there are many good reasons to invest in an e-book reader, and use it regularly.

But here's another thing. The most popular e-book readers--like Kindle--don't support graphics. Users are offered a few simple type options, and a range of sizes, and that's pretty much it. The thinking is that this reduces file size, I think, and is supposed to enhance reading efficiency.

It also strips books of their visual elements--their illustrations, their page layouts, and their font stylings. Does this matter? Well, yes. Quick now, which of these words is the "holiest?"

Which of these was written by someone in tie-dye and a medallion, which by someone wearing barrettes, and which by men laying the foundations of a nation?

A book's design--the fonts and illustrations used, the size of the type and margins, even the amount of space between the letters and lines--can create a powerful image, even before we read a word. They set the stage for the book's content every bit as much as the sound track and lighting set the stage for a movie. And all of that is lost on most e-book readers. It's a bit like watching a movie--with the image and the soundtrack turned off. Or reading Shakespeare, rather than watching it performed.

Our history as a literate species begins with pictures--pictures on cave walls, pictures on cathedrals, pictures in devotional books. In ages when most could not read, stories were told--and told powerfully--in pictures.

We've been a visual species from the beginning, a literate species for a few thousand years. The walls of cathedrals bore the Church's message to the masses far more than any printed document. As children, our first books are picture books. The visual and tactile experience a printed book can provide is still impossible to replicate on the most popular e-book readers.

Some readers are beginning to move into the graphic world; Barnes and Nobles' Nook offers a graphic, color experience--and the hope that our future may include books that replicate the graphic, emotional experience that designed and printed books offer now.

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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. She does not own an e-book reader. To learn more about book design or to see her work visit her online at Magic Dog Press.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Question from a Young Writer: Dealing with Fear of Criticism & Rejection

I love when I get questions from young writers--and you can take "young" to mean in age or in reference to writing journey. Sometimes, after much experience, we tend to forget that every day there are writers who come behind us as wet behind the ears as we were when we first started.

So, I went to a special young writer friend of mine and posed the question, "As a young writer, what are some questions you'd like answers to in regards to writing (the life, the practice, etc.)?"

What I got was a nice list of questions, and I'd like to answer one now:

What would you tell an aspiring writer whose fear of criticism and failure keeps her from jumping in and writing?

There are three important things a young writer needs to know; well, there are a lot of things a young writer needs to know, but to answer this question, I'll tackle three things.

Every writer will face criticism. It's just going to happen. As long as people have a right to their opinion, they will have opinions of your work, and sometimes, those opinions will be negative. Personally, as a writer, I tend to ignore most "criticism"--unless it is constructive. If someone is criticizing just to criticize, then it doesn't help me as a writer. However, when I receive constructive criticism, there is something there for me to learn from, to perhaps better my writing. I truly believe that writers should take part in a lifelong learning of the writing craft, and part of that learning comes from receiving constructive criticism and being able to discern what within that criticism can help your writing. Believe me, once upon a time, I cried at every rejection I received and after some workshops during my MFA years, I tucked my tail and went for some libations. But once I understood that in the end, it's about developing the best writing you can, I began to welcome constructive criticism and was eager (believe it or not) to revise works. It's a process, and with any process, it takes time to overcome some fears. But you can overcome them.

Here, I will say MOST because they are those few miracle writers who have had a pretty easy road of getting an agent and getting a deal (why aren't these people writing books on how that happened? But I digress...). Most writers will face rejection. When I was younger, I had enough rejection letters to create an accent wall in my bedroom. And can face rejection from almost anywhere--other writers, agents, editors, readers... And it hurts. And you'll be mad. And you'll be upset. And you'll want to quit writing. But if writing truly matters to you, you won't stay away for too long because characters will call you back to the page. For me, I've always lived with the understanding that as long as I knew something, that something couldn't surprise me too much, couldn't put me down for the count. If I know I will face criticism, if I know I will face rejection, it somehow lessens the sting of them for me and keeps me on the writing path I really want to stay on.

In the big scheme of things, it's good that others like what you do. That's how you get published and that's how you make sales and hopefully stay published. At the end of the day, however, criticism and failure must take a back seat to your desire to write. When you come to the table to write, you have to learn to dropkick those two pesky bandits and focus on what brought you to the table to begin with: that desire, those characters, those situations that call you to develop a whole other world. You have to write for you and that desire because if you write for acceptance, if you write to somehow lessen the criticism and eradicate the failure, you may lose your writer self, and then where will you be? When you wrangle the fear of criticism and failure and put you and your stories in the driver's seat, you'll notice that over time, the need to wrangle the damaging duo will dissipate.

To you all out there in BRP Land, What would you tell an aspiring writer whose fear of criticism and failure keeps her/him from jumping in and 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 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, writing screenplays, and pursuing her Ph.D. in Technical Communication and Rhetoric at Texas Tech University.

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Friday, March 11, 2011

Cues from the Coach: Taming Your Characters

Taming your characters? This is not to be confused with making your characters tame. If your story is set in the wild, wild West, on an African safari, or on the trail of a serial killer, you can’t think “tame.” Besides, in the minds of your readers, “tame” is likely to mean boring. “Boring” does not sell books—or manuscripts.

So what does “tame” signify in this context? Suppose you want to tame a wild animal or even a dog or wolf hybrid that has been running free and fending for itself. How would you begin? Some basic rules about safety and training play into the picture, but a less tangible element weighs heavily into the success of any such undertaking. What’s that? Observation.

That makes sense, but we’re talking about “taming,” not “observing.” True, but animals, like people, have unique personalities. By watching their behavior, noting their likes and dislikes, and considering their habits and their heritage, you can often learn more about the critters than you’ll ever find in a book. But how does that relate to “taming your characters”?

Detailed character sketches—pain in the backside that they are to create—teach you everything you need to know about the people who populate your story. Did one or more of the grandparents come from another country? Does the character love tacos and hate sushi? When your protagonist is stressed, does she rub her left elbow or cross her legs and swing her foot? Where did he go to school? How does she feel about marriage and relationships? What events in his childhood shaped his current attitude? What are her sleep patterns, his goals, her taste in clothing? (Note that appearance is not included. Yes, it’s important; but without far more detail, it alone creates flat characters that are soon forgotten.)

Answering the above questions may seem a useless waste of time, but the responses play a major role in the development of your characters’ personalities. Does your reader need to know all this? No. But you do. And you need to know it for all your characters, not just your protagonist(s). Why? That’s a lot of extra work. If you know your characters as well as—or even better than—you know yourself, those characters will never step out of character in your story. They will be real three-dimensional people to your readers—people they can relate to, cheer for, love, or hate. Your readers will laugh or cry, be brave or fearful, feel hope or despair right along with them. This makes your characters memorable because you’ve “tamed” them in the sense that they are true to themselves and to their place in your story. And it makes your audience long to read your next book.

Do you have a question that can be answered with a cue from the coach? Let me know. I may be able to feature that topic in a future post.

Editor Linda Lane coaches writers through rewrites of their manuscripts. By using the writers’ own works rather than a generic text as a basis for the lessons, she individualizes each course to fit the needs of the writer and to enhance the development of a marketable book. Visit her at Watch for the inclusion of a new team member, a movie producer who specializes in working with aspiring screenwriters.

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Writer’s Path

To be a happy, successful author, you have to be passionate. To be a selling, successful author, you have to be organized.

There was a time long ago … okay, not so long ago … when writers could sit in their office or coffee shop and write. Then after months of writing, they would compose a query letter and send it to their top pick of agents, then another agent and another until someone agreed to take them on.

Today, hooking an agent is getting quite difficult. More writers are turning to independent presses or going it on their own - self-pubbing their own print books or e-pubbing. They’re also figuring out that taking this route is a blessing and a curse. A blessing because they can make as much if not more by going solo on the e-pub route. A curse because to be successful you have to do all the promoting on your own while you write the next book. Plus, you may have to pay people to edit your book, design the book cover, and help with formatting before it’s uploaded and each platform has different requirements.

No matter which route you take, you have to work on the next book. Agents and big publishers don’t want a one-hit wonder. And you, if you’re your own publisher and agent, don’t want a one-hit wonder. You want many hits. You also have to spend a huge chunk of each day promoting the book that’s out or coming out. You have to do blog tours, be your own bookkeeper, lawyer and publicist. You have to research the next book, outline and plot, gather cover blurbs, tweet, track reviews, arrange speaking engagements and workshops at conferences. It’s enough to drive a writer mad.

Or perhaps to adapt, to say, times have changed, therefore I must change. Can you change? Can you adapt? Will you go the traditional route, hand-in-hand with an agent and big or mid-list publisher? Will you e-publish your own book? Are you teetering on the edge of querying? Or the edge of going it alone? What path are you on?
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 twelfth year of publication. You can follow Helen on Twitter or connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn – or catch her April 30, 2011 at Books 'n Authors 'n All That Jazz in Weatherford, Texas, where she and Sylvia Dickey Smith will be talking about “Jazzing Up Your Characters.”

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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Name That Tune

"We've Only Just Begun"
It's the beginning of a new manuscript. Your head is bursting with ideas and you simply can't type fast enough. Anything is possible. You're filled with energy and purpose. And're smiling.

"I Will Always Love You"
You've discovered your characters and you love them all. They're all clean and shiny and even the bad ones have a special place in your heart.

"Do You Really Want to Hurt Me"
What happened to those cherished characters that but a few days ago had won your heart? Now they're quarreling and refusing to do what you're wanting them to do.

"Stuck in the Middle with You"
You're in the middle of your plot. Time isn't really standing still, it just feels like it. You're convinced your characters are dull and flat and your plot is tired. This is not a smiley time.

"The Long and Winding Road" 
Yes, you're still in the middle. Middles are long. Keep plodding (or plotting) along. The road may wind, but every step (or word) gets you closer to the end. Just pray you're not walking (or writing) in a circle. It happens.

"Oh, What a Beautiful Morning"
You've finished your first draft. You swear you can hear birdsong and see a rainbow dipping down into your yard. It's a good time. Take a well-earned breath and break.

"Please Release Me"
You thought once you'd reached the end it was over? HA! Now you've got to edit. Don't try to guess how many times you'll go through that first draft - it's not a happy number.

"It's the End of the World as We Know It"
Yes, you're still editing. You're convinced this project will never be finished.

"Bridge Over Troubled Water"
You've put your manuscript in front of another pair of eyes - or several pairs. The ensuing comments will help cement your story. Yes, it means more revisions, but the end is in sight.

"It's Over"
It's done. Really, really done. Dance a jig. You've climbed Mount Everest. Demand a parade. And're smiling again.

"Here We Go Again"
You know what this is, don't you?

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Elspeth Antonelli is an author and playwright. Her twelve murder mystery games and two plays are available through She has also contributed articles to the European writers' magazine "Elias". Her blog, "It's A Mystery," explores the writing process with a touch of humor. She is on Twitter as @elspethwrites.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Leave A Tip on the Blood Red Pencil

March Madness is here. Tip one in for your fellow writers and everyone will win!

Today, as in every second Tuesday of the month, we invite you to Leave A Tip On The Blood Red Pencil. It may seem like a small contribution, but your tip could be enough to make someone achieve the goal of a lifetime - a winning manuscript!

Freshman or senior writer, it doesn't matter. Any tidbit you pass over to us is welcome.

Also, don't be afraid to applaud another player's contribution.

Stop by more than once, think over the tips, and decide if one or more can be added to your writing game strategy.

I'm tipping this one in:

Your story will move faster if you substitute action verbs instead of adverbs ending in ly.

Okay, now, it's your turn. Our basket i.e., comment section, is available for you to throw in your tips. While you're at it, don't forget to leave your name, along with one website or blog link. It's not necessary, but always appreciated, if you mention where you've heard of us.

Morgan Mandel
Killer Career is 99 cents on
Kindle and Smashwords

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Monday, March 7, 2011

How do I Procrastinate?

I hereby dub myself “Queen of the Procrastinators.” How do I procrastinate? Let me count the ways.

Instead of working on my WIP:
• Yesterday I baked bread.
• Today I cleaned my keyboard.
• And I'm writing this article.
• Once I even cleaned my stove!
• I go grocery shopping.
• I check e-mail.
• I have lunch.
• I do dishes.

And on and on…

I even took a class on procrastination once. No, not how to, but how to avoid doing it. I think I need to re-read my notes!

One thing the instructor recommended was to make an appointment with yourself. Every day from 9 to 10 a.m. (or whatever time you designate), I will write. Period. Nothing should interfere with this appointment. This is creating a habit, and most likely you will end up working longer, because you’ll find you’re on a roll.

Reward yourself for doing this. Even something that seems as silly as putting a sticker on your calendar each day that you write is a huge thing. I did this a few years ago and I found that if I had a day that interfered with my writing and I couldn’t put up a sticker, I was disappointed. I became determined to fill my calendar with stickers every day. (Except Sunday. It’s OK to give yourself permission to take a day off.)

Some writers set a daily word goal. Maybe the reward for that is to check e-mail AFTER you’ve accomplished this goal. Or to go for a walk (that results in a number of rewards, mentally and physically). Or meet someone for coffee.

How do you procrastinate? And how do you overcome it?

A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in Northwest Washington. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, is based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, has recently been released. 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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Friday, March 4, 2011

Busted: A.S. King caught giving voice to a building

Young adult author A.S. King is fearless. Her first novel, Dust of 100 Dogs, begins with dead 17th century pirate Emer Morrisey returning to a human body after living out a pirate’s curse that had doomed her to a hundred lifetimes as a dog. She has retained her original human memories as well as her memories of lapping at water and fighting with litter mates, and all of this accumulated experience contributes to Emer's long-interrupted pursuit of love and riches.

And yep (or should I say, “yap”)—we buy all of this, hook, line, and sinker.

In her new book, Please Ignore Vera Dietz, King continues to exert an almost defiant creativity. Rather than rely upon prose alone, King employs flow charts, for example, to exemplify the decision making of her 18-year-old protagonist, Vera. The big decision: Vera must decide whether she wants to clear the name of a dead friend—a boy she loved, who she feels betrayed her, yet whose memory won’t stop hounding her. King has Vera use her school vocabulary words to parse out the conflicting motives of other characters involved in the story ("Here's me using parsimonious in a sentence.")

King also hands off a point of view to a building. And not just any old building. It's the Pagoda, a seven-story Japanese-inspired "monstrosity" (Vera's word) that has been sitting on Mount Penn, looking out over Reading, PA, for the past hundred years. Apparently, it's been collecting its thoughts.

For those of you who want to read the book, I won’t quote what it says, but when King inserts short chapters titled “A Brief Word from the Pagoda,” you’ll uncover several laugh-out-loud moments.

Why give a point of view to a building?

Creative writers do it all the time; it’s just usually a little less direct. At the end of the first chapter of my memoir, Standoff at Ronnie’s Place, I assign the burden of my own sadness to the sagging architecture: “Rain rolled down the unreadable faces of the outbuildings.” Already established is the fact that the farm in my story, old as it is, has seen many life cycles of joy and despair. Using setting to indirectly evoke emotion is a powerful technique that can detour you past clichéd biological responses like jaw tightening and stomach flopping; once I refer to the "faces" of the outbuildings, I don't need one brimming eyelid for the reader to know I’m talking about crying.

But King is after a humorous effect. Even though her story is contemporary, with no dragons or vampires or other fantastical elements, she allows a fanciful piece of architecture short chapters for direct commentary. Her objective was the same as mine—while sitting on its immovable foundation all these years, this building has observed the comings and goings of generations of misguided teenaged humans. It can therefore offer a depth of perspective that spans generations.

King shows us that once buildings are allowed to talk, they don’t have much of a filter. The result is both wise and outlandishly funny.

In this era of reality television, and with manuscript after manuscript crossing my desk with murders and rapes whose solutions are CSI-based and whose trials are “ripped from today’s headlines,” I'd love to edit such a fanciful manuscript. Many of us writers have drifted away from fiction’s true potential. Maybe, King’s approach reminds us, we should be a tad less concerned with verisimilitude, and a little more fanciful in search of what is true.

The result is still as enlightening—but it’s also entertaining as all get-out.

What outrageous moves have you come across in your writing or reading lately?

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

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