Skip to main content


Showing posts from June, 2011

Who Is Your Editor?

There are many kinds of editors, and all of them are part of your writing team. One of the most important is an author's editor at the publishing house. Some authors and editors, like Mary Higgins Clark and Michael Korda , have been a team for decades. Those relationships are almost like family. Do you have an editor you've worked with for a long time? Share your story with us. What makes them special? How did you meet? How does this editor help you craft the best book you can write? If we get enough responses, we may have a special month that's all about special editors. Please leave us a comment.

Misery Loves Company

I don't really love to write. Some people swear they would curl up and die if they didn't write every day. I'm not one of them. I have to find ways to get it done, whether it's a blog post, an article for the newspaper, or a chapter in a book. I do it because I have something to say that I think needs to be shared, and sometimes the written word is the fastest way to get from my brain to yours. One of the teams that helps me put fingers to keyboard is an online group called Book-in-a-Week. This group has existed for over ten years, and I've been a member for nearly seven. The site has been listed on Writers Digest's 101 Best Websites for Writers more than once. Here's how it works: At the end of every month, Maureen Wood (fondly known as Moe) sends us an email to let us know sign-up can begin for that month's session which usually occurs the first week of every month. We then submit our page goal for that round. After all the goals are submitted, we

Hearing Voices - Vernacular

A few years ago, I edited a manuscript that had characters from all over the world – different worlds, in fact. Each spoke in his own particular slang and it didn’t take long for my eyes to cross. The plot held a grandmother from the Deep South, teenagers, foreigners, biblical characters, fantasy characters, and even talking animals. None had distinct, strong voices, even though the author had tried to convey speech patterns in the dialogue. Perhaps from trying too hard, the writing was terribly difficult to read, even for an adult. A youngster wouldn’t have gotten through ten pages without giving up. What went wrong in this scenario? Most importantly, the writer had not created a strong and simple vocabulary for each character. Most of the time, less is more when it comes to writing vernacular. For example, if one character uses the regional “y’all” for “you all”, stick to that. Don’t throw in y’ar and ye and youse. It’s especially important if your biblical characters are using “y

Selling a book as a team

My suspense novel, One Small Victory , has recently been released in Turkey - my first foreign sale.  Dani, our fearless leader here on The Blood Red Pencil, asked how the sale came about, and since that involved some teamwork,  the story of how it happened fits our June theme of teamwork. The book was originally published in 2008 hardback by Five Star Cengage/Gale and had moderate success there. Then I published it as an e-book myself via Smashwords in 2010, where it is available for a number of electronic devices. Later I published it directly to Kindle, and in February of this year a small publisher, Books We Love Publishing Partners, brought out a paperback version via CreateSpace .  Once the book was available in all those formats and venues, the challenge was how to let readers find it in the midst of all the millions of books available for the e-readers.  I joined several online groups that focus primarily on e-books and how to market them. Members there support eac

Case History: The Treasures of Carmelidrium

When author N.R. Williams asked me to design the cover of her fantasy novel, The Treasures of Carmelidrium, the first thing we talked about was the cover image. This is normal; it's what most people think of when they think of book cover design. We talked about Williams' book, about other books that she thought might be attracting the readers she wanted to reach, and about the challenge of adapting one of the fantasy "uniforms"--rich colors, an essentially medieval environment, and a magical feel--to her book. Adding to the challenge was the fact that Williams plans for this to be the first in a series, which meant the cover needed to be something that could be used to create a series identity by modifying key elements without losing the overall look. Ultimately, we decided to avoid the rich, elaborate, and highly-figured covers common to many fantasy books for the very good reason that by following that formula too closely we ran the risk of disappea

What Your Cover Should Not Do

Like many of us, your book cover works best if it has one job to do—and only one job. Book covers do not multi-task well. A successful book cover delegates everything that will not significantly contribute to book sales to another part of the book. Here are a few things you should not ask your book cover to do: 1. Promote someone else’s business. Your book cover is not the place to reference your designer, illustrator, editor, or publisher unless doing so will directly contribute to sales. A successful book cover is something like a spoiled child shouting, “Me! Me! Me!” It needs to be. Credit where credit is due is wonderful—on the Book Information page (where Library of Congress information appears, if that’s relevant to your book), on a separate thank-you page in the front or back, as a footnote somewhere—there are all kinds of tasteful ways to provide a business “bump” to those who have contributed to your book’s visual and verbal excellence. But the cover isn’t the place for it

Organizing Your Writing Project

Character profiles. Character pictures. Snippets of dialogue. Outlines. Images of houses, cars, etc. of book characters. Sketches of scenes. At some point, a writer has to take all of the “things” s/he has collected for a story and start organizing them in order to tell the story. As an organizer, I’m always looking for strategies, programs that help me visualize story components while I’m writing. For years, I’ve used One Note ; its notebook style helps me to see the project as a whole and to see it in chunks by chapters or by scenes while also allowing me to embed notes, images, videos, and web links. One Notes has helped me organize several of my novels and also academic papers, to include my dissertation that I’m currently researching and drafting notes for. One Note There may be, however, another program that will fight for my attention: Scrivener. It’s been around for a while for Mac users, but recently, I downloaded the Windows beta version of Scrivener ; the official v

Ask Yourself Why

Once again, Terry Odell is here to share some tips on writing. We like her so much we are going to let her keep coming back. Thanks, Terry. Even though we write fiction, it has to come across as reality. One technique I use to make sure things seem “real” is to ask myself WHY a character would do or say something. If the answer is "Because I need it for tension/conflict/humor/plot advancement," it's probably wrong. When I was writing DANGER IN DEER RIDGE, the first major error I spotted in my opening draft was having the hero appear while the heroine was looking in her car's trunk for her tool kit. WHY didn't she hear him drive up? Well, he left his truck at the top of the drive, and she was busy looking for the toolkit. But WHY did he park the truck there? WHY did he come down without a toolkit of his own? So she could be surprised and scared is contrived and cheating. All these WHY questions require answers. Answering all the WHY questions drives the story

You Had to Be There

By Bob Sanchez My first foray into fiction began out of my experiences with the Cambodian community in Lowell, Massachusetts. The idea was to tell the tale of a young Cambodian woman’s odyssey, with emphasis on the Khmer Rouge atrocities and the Thai refugee camps. I read almost a dozen gripping memoirs and talked to a few of the refugees, although the language barrier created a serious problem. Overall, I’d accumulated enough detail to flesh out a decent mainstream novel. Or so it seemed. What were the sights and smells like? The bugs, the plants, the animals? What was it like to have your feet in the rice paddy or to pedal a bicycle barefoot on a bumpy road? What did the inside of a home look like? I could pick up some of these details from books, but my novel may have suffered most of all because I’d never been to Cambodia or Thailand and could never convey the rich detail the story deserved. So what to do with my ton of research? Write a mystery about the Cambodian community in

Team Players Needed

WANTED : Self-motivated person willing to work long hours alone. Required skills include experience in relevant research, good vocabulary, above average knowledge of proper grammar, powerful ability to express ideas and convince others, and willingness to rework projects as many times as needed. Pays at end of project based on marketing ability of worker, but may not be commensurate with hours expended. Dream also required. Send résumé. Only team players need apply. Would you apply for this job? If you’re a serious writer intent on publication, you already have. Now you just need to get your résumé in order, attach the necessary document, and send it to the right people to put the realization of your dream in motion. How do team players fit in here? Let’s check out that résumé. Self-motivated : All freelance writers must set aside time to write and follow up with appropriate action. Enter family, friends, and critique group, all of whom make up the cheering section . Willing

Who would you thank?

I know you’ve done it: watched the Oscars, then fantasized that you were being honored in a similar fashion for your writing. Your sequined gown (or cummerbund) glistens in the spotlight as climb to the lectern and unfold your acceptance speech, written in 20-pt type so you can see it without your glasses. Who will you thank? We’re talking about teamwork at the BRP this month, and I’m sure a few obvious team members come to mind: your agent, your publisher, the husband who put up with you, the best friend who always believed in you, the English teacher who opened your eyes to literature, the group editing blog where all your questions were answered (woot!—thanks back at ya). That should cover it, right? Because writing is for introverts. We mostly work alone. I’d like to dispel that myth. Yes, we writers must tolerate stretches of time spent by ourselves—that's what it takes to apply our craft. But whether we write fiction or nonfiction, we pull our material from dramas pla


This is another fun term for writers, and something we can keep in mind if we need a bit of humor in dialogue or our character's thoughts. Here is the definition: "Figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected; frequently used in a humorous situation." "Where there's a will, I want to be in it," is a type of paraprosdokian. 1. Do not argue with an idiot. He will drag you down to his level and beat you with experience. 2. The last thing I want to do is hurt you. But it's still on my list. 3. Light travels faster than sound. This is why some people appear bright until you hear them speak. 4. If I agreed with you, we'd both be wrong. 5. We never really grow up, we only learn how to act in public. 6. War does not determine who is right - only who is left. 7. Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad. 8. Evening news is where they begin with &#

Don't Rush to Judgment

One of the hardest things to do, in writing as in life, is to not judge. In writing, every time you express your opinion or judgment, you are robbing your reader of theirs. Think about it. If you are describing climbing Mount Everest, you could accurately describe it as difficult, challenging, painful, or exciting. But these are all your judgments. If you want your reader to truly understand how it is to climb Mount Everest, he or she must have an experience. They must feel the ice forming on their eyelashes and hear the crunch of frozen snow under their boots. Then they can form their own opinion that it is difficult, challenging, painful, or exciting. Here’s a simple exercise in “Show Not Tell” that practices getting rid of judgment words and replacing them with experiential details. Describe a room in your house, perhaps the room you are sitting in now. Describe everything and anything in it – without using any adjectives or adverbs that imply opinion (such as pretty, or dirty

Leave a Tip on the Blood-Red Pencil - It's Okay to Show Off

Last Tuesday The Blood-Red Pencil encouraged writers to be humble, ask questions, and admit they didn't know everything. Today, as on every second Tuesday of the month, The Blood-Red Pencil invites you to be a show off. Let everyone know you've learned something. It's so wonderful that you'd like to tell the world about it. Or, maybe you're a beginner, and you think your tip is so simple, everyone else knows it already. Share it anyway, because writers from every level come here to get tips. It can be anything about writing, publishing, or editing, in whichever format or venue, traditional, indie, self-publishing. Once you figure out what you want to share, leave it here in our comment section, along with your website or blog URL. If you'd like to share where you've heard of this blog, that would also be great. Since I've been in the midst of editing my thriller, Forever Young - Blessing or Curse , my tip is: After you've edited your manusc

Writing in 140: What Makes Your Story So Special?

Great concept, strong beginning, well-developed characters, excellent pacing that builds in conflict and tension, dialogue that reveals, scene development (and I could go on) are important to any story, but you know what’s also important? Doing your homework and seeing where your story fits amongst all the other stories out there. Whether you plan to submit to an agent or publisher or to go the self-publishing route, it is important to know where you fit in the market. What books are out there like yours? Who’s representing them? Who’s publishing them? How are they being presented in cover design and promotion? Answering these questions will help you answer the most important question: How does your book stand out in the crowd? Be ready to answer it because someone will ask it. ----- 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 an

Cues from the Coach: Avoid Writer Intrusion

“Writer intrusion? That’s ridiculous! It’s my work – I can’t intrude on it.” Really? If you’re an author of first-person fiction, or if you’re an expert penning a nonfiction book in your field, you may be right. But if you’re a third-person fiction writer, you can literally sabotage your chances for success with writer intrusion . What is writer (author) intrusion? When you inject into your story an opinion that doesn’t quite fit the scene or the character(s), you have intruded on your story. Now if the thought or idea is a natural and likely expression of one of your characters as you have developed him or her, it might work. But if that’s not the case, you would do yourself (and your readers) a favor by leaving it out. Also, writer comments and blatant hints of what’s to come pull the reader out of your story and undermine the elements of suspense and surprise. Another example of intrusion is the writer as narrator; the reader “listens” to the story from a distance rather tha

Working Within a Critique Group

Critique groups are a good way to get feedback and ideas on how to improve your work. Plus, you get to read other works in progress, as well as offer advice. You not only improve your own writing, you learn by critiquing others. Sometimes, the group’s rule will be that the person being critiqued should remain quiet and listen, not argue with someone’s suggestion or critique. At some point, though, you can ask questions, get clarification, explain something, or even argue a point. That back and forth is part of the critique. Absorb what your critique partners are saying. Ask questions or get clarification . You don’t have to take every piece of advice you get. But do listen to every comment or suggestion. Listen with your mind open, not closed to new ideas. If someone says or suggests something and it makes you grind your teeth, keep in mind that they’re giving you their honest opinion and advice. You may not always agree with them. That’s okay. Listen. Make notes. Go home and revi

Beware These Writing Pests!

There are household pests and then...there are writing pests. Here are a few I know very well. Scenus Repeatus : This animal is known for his excellent camouflage abilities. Plotus Circulus : Often disguised with whimsey and wit, this creature can trick the writer into believing the plot is moving forward when in reality it's moving in a gigantic circle. Backstory Dumpus : Although usually inhabiting the beginning of a manuscript, this rouge can also make his home anywhere the plot is lacking in forward motion. Character Quirkus : A useful animal, although they can tend to overbreed. Control your population. Namus Familiarus : The writer will know this pest has invaded their manuscript when they discover several characters named with similar-sounding names, or names beginning with the same letter. Verbus Repeatus : A relation of Scenus Repeatus , this creature forces characters to give the same reactions to situations. A sign of their presence may be many characters smiling,

Ask the Editor Free-For-All Can Grow Your Manuscript

Once again, it's the first Tuesday of the month, meaning it's Ask the Editor Free-For-All Time! Winter is over. Spring has sprung, and it's almost summer. Wise gardeners have cultivated their soil. Their reward is previously dormant grass and flowers have sprung to life. What about your manuscript? Has it grown or does it remain dormant, tucked away until you can get to it, or maybe until you can figure out how to pull a few weeds or add fertilizer to get your story moving? Our gardeners a/k/a editors will assist you by offering manuscript growing tips. Ask us and you may receive just the right formula to produce a prize winning masterpiece.  We're here to answer your questions, be they from novices or seasoned writers. No question is too dumb to ask. If we can't provide an answer, we'll offer a suggestion about where to find it. It's our goal to help you grow your manuscript to its potential. How Ask the Editor Free-For-All Works: Today, and eve

B is for (To) Be Verbs

Forms of be: am, is, are, was, were, been, being. Some “be” verbs combine with “helping” verbs to indicate time, possibility, obligation, or necessity: can run, was sleeping, had been working. Some common helping verbs are: be able to, could, have to, may, might, must, ought to, shall, should, will, would. Leaving out a helping verb often leaves a sentence fragment and doesn’t make sense. For example: Many have been fortunate (not Many been fortunate…) or Some could be real-life Superman (not Some be…). Sometimes “to be” verbs are used as linking verbs (linking the noun with the adjective or adverb: He was happy, They were careful, Our trip to Glacier Park was fabulous . They can be used to describe actions already in progress at the moment "in focus" within the sentence, as in “I was doing my homework when my brother broke into my room, crying.” or “I will be graduating from college about the same time you enter high school.” However: Most often “to be” verbs a

Busted!—Storytellers caught giving authors a leg up

As a developmental editor, I do the same stuff all editors do. I challenge word choice and track continuity and check for consistency in voice and clarity of meaning and errant punctuation. But my main task—and my true love—is to help you tell a good story. Since this is where any thorough edit should start, one might think it is also where a writer’s education begins. This is not necessarily so. I learned an awful lot about stringing words and paragraphs together for maximum punch before I learned anything about storytelling. In fact, I had to seek out my teachers in this regard, and I am humbled to now step up to the plate and pass along what I've learned to other storytellers. While the projects I assess vary greatly, I find myself recommending certain storytelling resources again and again. Since some of my favorite authors write about this topic, I thought I’d bust them here today. A summer spent studying these techniques would boost your storytelling skills. And if you ha

Constructing Your First Chapter

No matter how you think you want to begin the first few pages of your book, there are other people with a vested interest in your first chapter. It may seem unfair but you first need to sell your story before it will ever be read. Your first chapter, and, even more importantly your first page, is your demonstration product for your sales pitch. Your first sales pitch will be to an agent or publisher, or both. The second sales pitch is to the buyer in the bookstore, who may read the first few pages, a whole chapter, or simply judge your book by its cover and/or blurb. You don’t want to lose a sale with a weak opening page. Agents and publishers have specific expectations of a first chapter. Although there are always exceptions, following the generally agreed guidelines as to what makes a good first chapter could improve your chances of having the rest of your manuscript requested, and eventually being offered a contract. The first chapter should begin just before a pivotal event