Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Kindle and Smashwords Quirks

I've been back in the fray again these past weeks, formatting my books for electronic media. The last time I ventured into self-publishing was with Killer Career, which I published in print via Lightning Source and also electronically. I confess to cheating on that one and paying someone to do the kindle version, but I did tackle and conquer the Smashwords edition back then.

This time, I decided to try doing both when I re-released my romantic comedy, Girl of My Dreams, for which I regained my rights during the summer.

Now that I've successfully published Girl of My Dreams on Kindle and Smashwords, I'd like to share a few observations about each, which may save you some trouble.

VERY IMPORTANT:  Be sure to save your original manuscript first. Then, for each format, do a Save As and give it a new file name.

My Observations: When I read from my own kindle, long paragraphs seem boring. The shorter ones zip along much better. Since the preferred style is not blocked, I'm providing the indented paragraphs version.

Okay, here are the Kindle and Smashwords quirks.


1. First line indent of each paragraph, instead of tabs.
2. Single spaced, with no extra space between paragraphs.
3. A section break after each chapter.
4. It's okay to submit in Word, but as a .doc file, not .docx, but if necessary, see #5.
5. If you're like me, and have many small sentences of dialogue following each other, unless you take action, those dialogue portions will appear blocked, which you don't want. Do all your other editing. When you're done, save the file as a web page filtered file. That will restore the correct indentions.
6. Amazon recommends images be at least 500 X 800 pixels, with the longest side a max of 2000 pixels. I doubled their minimum size to 1000 x 1600 pixels.

One thing I noticed when I uploaded my image was it did not appear clear in their sample, although the original image looked great on my end. I spent tons of time trying to get their image to look better, and finally gave up. When the book appeared on Amazon, it looked fine.


1. On the cover page, be sure to use one of their formats for the title, and also be sure to include the special Smashwords license. Samples are provided in their stylebook. (I forgot at first and had to go back and do this.)
2. First line indent for each paragraph, instead of tabs.
3. No extra line between paragraphs.
4. NO section break between chapters. Smashwords recommends doing returns instead, but too many create blank pages. I used three before the chapter name and two after.
5. It's okay to submit as a Word .doc file, and you don't need to worry about that blocking issue found in Kindle when you have multiple lines of short dialogue.
6. Although Smashwords mentions the ideal size is 500 X 700 pixels, I submitted my larger original image size to Smashwords, and I was pleased with the results.
7. If you get error messages after you do your upload, before you go crazy, check the stylebook first to make sure you didn't violate any of the rules.

A few to look for first are:

A) Check to make sure all links provided are entire links.
B) Make sure you have no text boxes. I had inserted a text box on the last page of my manuscript where I was going to put my autograph, but then decided against it. I thought it was deleted. It only showed up when I hit that line on the page. I finally could delete it by clicking the outer edge of the box and choosing Delete.

You don't want an EPub error message, which I received, because the EPub version goes to many important vendors.

Of course, both Amazon and Smashwords have tons of other directions to follow, but these are some of the differences I happened to notice between the two. I hope this helps you along the way.

By the way, if you like romantic comedy, here are the two electronic links for Girl of My Dreams.


The print versions now available, unfortunately, are those of vendors who purchased the book and can still sell it on Amazon. After I finish publishing Forever Young: Blessing or Curse and re-releasing Two Wrongs, I'll be doing print versions for each as well.

Morgan Mandel Morgan Mandel writes mysteries, romancesand thrillers. She's a past president of
Chicago-North RWA, was the Library Liaison
for Midwest MWA, and is an active blogger and
networker. Check Amazon and Smashwords for Killer Career
and Girl of My Dreams, both at 99 cents.
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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thank You

Dear Readers,

It's a lovely thing to be able to write a thank you note and have it reach thousands of people in an instant. No matter how long I use the Internet, I don't think I'll ever quite get used to this amazing tool and the freedom it represents to me.

When I first starting writing, I used a pencil. I was a child. In my teen years, I learned to type... on a manual typewriter, and it was a miracle indeed when I got my first electric typewriter with an auto-correct ribbon. Years later, I can't begin to tell you how rich I felt to have my own computer with printer and copier. But the online communications with my computer... that is what I'm most grateful for and for many reasons.

Half a dozen years ago, my husband and I had an opportunity to move to a small rural town, and I decided then and there, I would focus on my writing. I have always written my way through life, but in a secondary way to my art career. I would leave the brushes for a time, and focus on my words and another master.

It became evident very quickly that my research and most of my communication would happen via the Internet, and were it not so, I would have moved from here years ago. I have no good library for research, few kindred spirits, not even a nearby place to buy writing supplies. The Internet makes my life as a writer, editor, reader, and world spirit real and possible. I could not be happy today without it. It is my work and my office, if not my life.

Before I started writing this thank you note, I was in an online mailbox reading manuscripts sent by authors far and wide. It's one of the jobs I do for a publisher, and one of the ways I make money. Opening that mailbox gives me a giddy feeling. To be able to read words pouring from other writers who are bravely submitting their stories, to respond to them in an instant, it's a gift I'll never get used to! What a miracle to share and support each other this way. How lovely that we can save paper and our planet on this step of our publishing journeys.

I am also grateful for the discovery of blogging and this blog in particular, which has quietly and steadily turned into a dynamic resource for authors. Over the past four years, we've had many guest writers and regular bloggers who have contributed almost 1,000 - 1,000! - outstanding posts about writing and all things related to books. Some of you have been with me since the first day, and I especially thank you for your steady and dear contributions and your sweet friendship. We have lasted this long because of your hard work. Let us stay together a long, long time to come. We are a marvelous team!

Over the next month, we'll share some of our best and previous posts with you, dear readers, as has become our tradition each December. We hope you'll stop by daily, and look forward to sharing yet another new year with you. Thank you to all for your support and may you have the finest of holidays ever.

In peace and gratitude,


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Monday, November 28, 2011

Gratitude for My Writing Addiction

Hi, my name is Shon Bacon, and I'm addicted to writing. It's been about 29 years since I picked up a pen and thought, I think I would like to write stories for people to read.

Since then, I have found it quite difficult to stop. I don't want to stop. I can't stop. My blood is the ink to which I write life stories. My writing courses through my veins.

There have been several times when I tried to stop cold turkey, but I just couldn't. I could last a few days, even a week; one time, I lasted a whole month; however, words continued to churn in my brain and meld into sentences that grew into paragraphs that birthed stories.

I will admit, wholeheartedly, that in the teen years of my writing addiction, my work sucked. I loved baseball and I loved love, so as I teenager, I wrote a lot of suck-ass screenplays about chicks who somehow became owners of baseball teams and fell in love with the star player.

As I grew, my writing did, too, but not by leaps and bounds. My twenties found me writing stories, once again, about women and love, but I focused on the tangled relationships that women went through with their mates. At the time, all I really knew was I loved words and I loved telling stories; I had to get the words out. I needed my next story fix, and seeing my word count grow gave me a rush that could not be explained.

My stories didn't necessarily suck in my twenties, but there was something missing in them. That something--me.

As I approached my thirties, a strange thing happened to me. I began thinking about every nuance of my life. I truly began to feel and to grieve things in my life that I had just "dealt" with because I really didn't know about the true process of grieving, of dealing. Just as important as this, I also began to apply what I was learning about myself to what I saw and experienced with other people and're all going through a lot of the same crap. Finding that common ground made me want to write about more than just relationships. I wanted to write about the ugly, confusing, painful things that go on in life; I wanted to share my pain and ultimate triumphs on paper through fiction so that others could read, relate, and commune with me.

My need to write rushed over my psyche like a brush fire. Not only did my need to write and write differently grow, but my writing grew craftwise as well when I entered an MFA program that taught me the fundamentals of writing, both fiction and poetry, and helped me to develop the way that I wrote. I learned to love first and foremost the "word," how a word sounds and how it can connect beautifully with other words to not only say what you want them to say but also to resonate sounds and rhythms and meanings in ways that move the reader.

My fingers have never ached so much, the tendinitis in my wrists has never throbbed so much as it does now, now that I am continuing to still grow into who I am truly meant to be as a writer. I realize that ultimately, one should try to give up their addictions, and believe me, in this journey, I've suffered lofty highs and devastating lows, but I can't give up writing. I couldn't. After my actual physical presence, my writing has been an integral part of my connection with myself, with others, and with the world I live in.

Without those people who fostered in me the love of reading, of crafting stories, of connecting with others through words I use to concoct my stories, I would not be in this position where I could say Sum, ergo scribo: I am; therefore, I write. Because I exist, there are stories to be told, and I'm grateful for the addiction that allows me to keep writing the stories that only I can write.

Shon Bacon is an author, doctoral candidate, editor, and educator. She has published both creatively and academically. 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, writing, and pursuing her Ph.D. in Technical Communication and Rhetoric at Texas Tech University.

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Friday, November 25, 2011

Gratitude for the Simple Things

The Thanksgiving holiday is a special time of year when we pause in our whirlwind lives to remember what we are grateful for. I do try to think of each day with gratitude, but sometimes we do get caught up in the hurried way we live our lives and we start to see only the negative things that happen.

Sometimes the simplest things are what give me pause, bring me to tears:

• A spectacular sunset
• The full moon in a clear sky
• A day of sunshine in the cloudy Pacific Northwest
• My cat sleeping in my lap

I consider myself lucky (maybe that’s the wrong word, maybe it’s the recipient of great gifts) for bigger things in my life too:

• The parents who inspired me to be self-sufficient and independent
• My close family, including my “in-laws” who I think of as sisters
• The wonderful teachers who encouraged me to develop my interest in reading and writing
• My dear husband who has supported my writing dreams without question

And even though we have been going through a very rough year with my husband’s health, we still have each other. I am following my writing dream, I am busy with editing projects, and I just won a WILLA Award.

What more can I ask for?

Happy Thanksgiving, all!


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 won the national WILLA Award. 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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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Memories

Thanksgiving is traditionally the time to gather with family and share good times. That works well when family is close, but not so well when they live 1,200 miles away.

When we first moved to Texas, it wasn’t feasible for us to travel to Michigan when the kids just had a short break from school, and most of our relatives preferred to stay home. So it was always a treat when one of the Grandmas would join us for the holiday.

It was nice to have someone with whom to share that special spirit of Thanksgiving, and the kids appreciated having a Grandma all to themselves. No other cousins around clamoring for attention. I appreciated having a Grandma all to myself, too. There's nothing like an extra hand in the kitchen to make one feel like she can conquer anything, including a twenty-five pound turkey.

One year when Mom Miller came for the holiday, the kitchen sharing was a little awkward at first, due to the fact that we didn’t cook together very often. Once every three or four years left a lot of room for verbal stumbling, especially since we were both so busy trying not to offend each other.

"Is this okay?"

"Sure, do it any way you want."

"Well ... I'll do it the way you want."

"In that case ... 1 usually ... but you don't have to .. I mean ... my way isn't necessarily the right way ... "

But after we stopped all that nonsense, things went much better, and I even picked up a couple of helpful hints from Mom:

"Slice your celery on the slant and it won't be stringy.
Seal your onions in a glass jar and they won't stink up the refrigerator."

I considered returning the favor, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't come up with any hints to pass back. I guess I just didn’t have the experience. It seemed like whenever I tried to come up with a brilliant idea in the kitchen I ended up in some kind of mess; like the time I put all my sugar, flour and other powdered stuff in plastic storage containers. It was a mad moment of organization, and I was so busy congratulating myself, I forgot to mark the containers.

When I handed Mom the container  that I thought had powdered sugar for the frosting she was making, I thought she'd be pleased at this obvious sign of incredible organization, and perhaps my efficiency rating had finally risen above a minus ten. But, alas, it was not to be.  And it was a good thing she tasted what was in the bowl before she frosted the cake with the end result.

Granted, the cake was a little crumbly, but it didn't really need wallpaper paste.

Despite the awkwardness, this was a very special time I shared with Mom Miller, and we had a wonderful Thanksgiving. Gathering as friends and family is so important, and doing so to give thanks for our many blessings just makes it better. Hope everyone has a wonderful day filled with good food and good company.

Maryann Miller is an author and freelance editor. Her latest book is Open Season, which has gotten nice reviews from Library Journal and Publisher's Weekly. One Small Victory, is a top seller in the mystery bestseller list at the Amazon Kindle store. Visit her Web site for information about her books and her editing services. If you have a good book, she can help you make it better. She will stop playing with her horse and work, honest.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Gift of Gratitude

At this time of year, we often contemplate gifts of the harvest—whether they come from the garden, grocery store, or perhaps a job after a long period of unemployment. Economic difficulties may make gifts more difficult to recognize, or they sometimes make them more apparent. When we look at what we really need to survive, we learn to appreciate the value of gifts.

Translate that into the writing and editing business—often a feast or famine industry, with famine outweighing the feast. What is there to be grateful for in this arrangement? As an editor, I can think of several gifts that have kept me going when economic hard times make writers think twice about spending their precious dollars on editing.

Authors can be a trying lot. (I’m sure they think the same about editors.) However, the vast majority of the ones I’ve worked with appreciate my efforts in their behalf and say repeatedly how much they’ve learned from working with me. And they come back with their next books. For these I am grateful because their cooperative spirits and genuine gratitude make my job easier and more rewarding.

Fellow editors often are not the competition, but rather comrades in arms as we wage war against not only poorly written books, but also against the stain of mediocrity. Every writer deserves to have a well-written book, and every editor here on BRP—including our guests—strives to make that happen. And we support one another. For these editors I am grateful because editing can be a lonely job, and few besides them understand the extra (unpaid) hours that transform a needy manuscript into an excellent book.

Manuscripts come in all sizes and conditions.
We freelance editors often find that our writers' works challenge our skill and ingenuity. Those of us who work for small publishers also may find the diamonds we receive in manuscript form to still be lumps of coal. The work that comes to us most often has not been accepted by an agent or publisher—and most often would not be. Yet for these I am grateful because such manuscripts put food on my table as well as, potentially, the tables of their writers once my work has been completed.

Opportunity doesn’t always knock on the front door. Sometimes it slips in through a back window to surprise us with unexpected gifts. More than once, writers who came to me as strangers seeking editing services stayed to become treasured friends. For this opportunity to make new friends I am grateful because they are kindred spirits of a special kind.

Looking back, would I want a different job? Absolutely not! I am so grateful to have a small share in developing literary works of art. Creativity in all forms can be priceless. To help another grow into his or her creative gift is the most rewarding job I can imagine.


Linda Lane writes, edits, and teaches writers to write more effectively. Visit her at

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Monday, November 21, 2011


As we start the week heading toward Thanksgiving, it made me think about the time I got all philosophical and used my newspaper column to ask if we don’t use the Thanksgiving holiday as an unconscious excuse not to be thankful the other 364 days of the year. Or at least not be aware of all the things we have to be thankful for. So I decided to make a concentrated effort to search my soul and come up with something to be thankful for every day. Here is the list I made that year:

I'm thankful for the cold weather that chills my bones and helps me to appreciate the heat of summer. (Next August you're free to remind me I said this.)

I'm thankful for the puppy that comes in my office to chew on my toes and remind me there's more to life than just work.

I'm thankful for mail delivery because I know it will draw me out of the house at least once a day. 

I'm thankful for the kid who will bail me out and cook dinner when I'm working on a deadline, even though he hasn't cleaned his room for the past six months.

I'm even thankful for those deadlines that loom like monsters and fill me with dread. They've been known to prod me into working when I don't really feel like it, and they've saved me from cooking when I didn't really feel like it.

I'm thankful for the buzz of the dryer that beckons to me periodically throughout my day, everyday. Did I really say that? Of course I did. At least it gives me a chance to unbend and stretch my legs when I've been sitting too long at my desk.

I'm thankful for the car I don't always have. The days it's mine, I can make important appointments and keep them. The days my daughter takes it to work I find that some appointments aren't all that important.

And I'm even thankful for the 4 p.m. onslaught, when everyone comes home from school and needs me right this minute. It helps me appreciate the peace and quiet of the rest of my day.

But most of all (here I'm going to serious-up folks) I'm thankful for the gift of life and living, family and loving, friendships and sharing, laughter and all the little joys that dot my life. That includes my colleagues here at BRP, and all the other wonderful friends I've made in cyberspace. Happy Thanksgiving to all.
Maryann Miller is an author and freelance editor. Her latest book is Open Season, which has gotten nice reviews from Library Journal and Publisher's Weekly. One Small Victory, is a top seller in the mystery bestseller list at the Amazon Kindle store. Visit her Web site for information about her books and her editing services. If you have a good book, she can help you make it better. She will stop playing with her horse and work, honest.

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Friday, November 18, 2011

Grateful for My Dream Clients

Today I would like to express my gratitude to the writers I’ve worked with who understand that writing a long story (novel or narrative nonfiction) isn’t easy.

Until recently my dream clients have:
  • read and written a lot in their lives, for pleasure or work or school
  • undertaken a writing education, whether in a formal MFA program, during on-the-job journalism training, or by attending workshops, continuing education classes, and writing conferences.
  • realized that their writing education is never complete, and that each project will present its own challenges.
  • networked with other writers farther down the publication road so they have a realistic view of what they’re in for and the effort involved.
  • improved on earlier drafts of their project after sharing with a critique group or other trusted advance readers.
  • hired a developmental writer for the express purpose of identifying problems and suggesting solutions, so will not get angry or lose heart when she does so.
As you can see, my dream client is a hard worker. But this year I learned that not all hard workers adopt the same process for achieving their goals. Because this year I met Martin.

Martin told me that many decades ago he’d had an unusual life experience that he’d now written as a novel. I felt ambivalent when I heard this. Basing a novel on real events can be tricky, as once the story structure is in place it is often the “real” parts that stick out as irrelevant or unnecessary—and the writer is typically loathe to change them.

A retired researcher who had often written for publication in scientific journals, Martin had received no formal education in writing since his undergrad days as an aspiring poet. Nearing 80 and used to working alone, he had no time or inclination to go back and get the kind of education I outlined above.

So he embraced his strengths as a researcher and read numerous classic novels and analyzed them as to what made them work, slowly but surely absorbing plot structures, methods of characterization, and ways to build psychological tension. He applied what he learned to his first draft, checking his progress with trusted first readers. Only after several drafts did he seek my services.

His voice was confident from word one because he knew what he was trying to do and had a plan for doing it. Since I didn’t have to teach him to write I was able to dig into the underlying structural issues without distraction. I’m still not quite sure how much of his novel is “real” because Martin was always willing to make changes in service of the story so it would ring “true.” And he didn’t make suggested changes verbatim—he took every suggestion I made and ran with it in his own direction. This tickled me to no end.

Even at his age he never rushed the process. He wanted to get this right. And when he had made revisions based on my suggestions, he did something else my dream clients do:
  • he took advantage of my lower rates for repeat projects and ran it all past me again, realizing that any major change can instigate a host of new problems.
Martin’s education was nothing like one I might have outlined for him, but it served him well. Because he was so willing to help himself, I was able to help him all the more.

He did not leave me wondering if all my effort was worthwhile. I saw his revised, stunning project through to completion, and as he now submits to agents, I am reinvigorated to the work of editing new clients.

Authors willing to work hard? See me. I’ll gladly list you among my roster of dream clients!

Editors: what attributes define your dream clients? And writers: what do you want in a dream editor?

Kathryn Craft is a developmental editor at, an independent manuscript evaluation service that offers submission package reviews. Her women's fiction and memoir are represented by Katie Shea at the Donald Maass Literary Agency. Her debut novel, The Art of Falling, was published by Sourcebooks in January 2014. She blogs at The Fine Art of VisitingConnect with Kathryn at her Facebook Author Page and Twitter.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Be My Guest Jodie Renner

Ellipses vs. Dashes; Hyphen, Em Dash and En Dash 

A.  Ellipsis (…) or Dash (—)?

In fiction,
An ellipsis (…) is used to show hesitation: “What I meant is…I don’t know how to begin…”  (Also indicates the omission of words in a quoted text.)

A dash (—), also called em dash, is used to show an interruption in speech:
“But I—”
“But nothing! I don’t want to hear your excuses!”

or a sudden break in thought or sentence structure: “Will he—can he—find out the truth?”

The dash is used for amplifying or explaining, for setting off information within a sentence, kind of like parentheses or commas can do: “My friends—I mean, my former friends—ganged up on me.”

B.  Hyphen vs. En Dash vs. Em Dash:

The en dash is longer than the hyphen but shorter than the em dash (the regular dash)

A hyphen (-) is used within a word. It separates the parts of a compound word: bare-handed, close-up, die-hard, half-baked, jet-lagged, low-key, never-ending, no-brainer, pitch-dark, self-control, single-handed, sweet-talk, user-friendly, up-to-date, watered-down, work-in-progress, etc.

Dashes are used between words.

An en dash (–) connects numbers (and sometimes words), usually in a range, meaning “to”: 1989–2007; Chapters 16–18;  the score was 31–24 for Green Bay; the London–Paris train; 10:00 a.m.–2:00 p.m.

An em dash (—) is used to mark an interruption, as mentioned above (“What the—”), or material set off parenthetically from the main point—like this. Don’t confuse it with a hyphen (-). Some authors, publishers, and companies prefer an en dash with spaces on each side of it for this: ( – ).

C.  How to Create Em Dashes and En Dashes:

Em dash (—) Ctrl+Alt+minus (far top right, on the number pad). CMS uses no spaces around em dashes; AP puts spaces on each side of em-dashes

En dash (–) Ctrl+minus (far top right, on the number pad)

D. Advanced Uses of the Dash (Em Dash):
According to the Chicago Manual of Style (6.87), “To avoid confusion, no sentence should contain more than two em dashes; if more than two elements need to be set off, use parentheses.”

Also, per CMS, “if an em dash is used at the end of quoted material to indicate an interruption, a comma should be used before the words that identify the speaker:
“I assure you, we shall never—,” Sylvia began, but Mark cut her short.

But: “I didn’t—”

No comma after it here, as that’s the end of the sentence, and no tagline.

The CMS (6.90) says that if the break belongs to the surrounding sentence rather than to the quoted material, the em dashes must appear outside the quotation marks: “Someday he’s going to hit one of those long shots and”—his voice turned huffy—“I won’t be there to see it.”

Using an em dash in combination with other punctuation: CMS 6.92: “A question mark or an exclamation point—but never a comma, a colon, or a semicolon, and rarely a period—may precede an em dash.

All at once Jeremy—was he out of his mind?—shook his fist in the officer’s face.

Only if—heaven forbid!—you lose your passport should you call home.

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 used to always confuse ems with ens and resorted to hyphens at all the wrong times.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Be My Guest - Susan Malone


This is the time of year we all count our blessings, and like you, I’m grateful for oh, about a hundred things!  But since this is a site about writing and editing, we’ll keep it to that.

It’s funny; a decade ago, when my brother (a renowned psychiatrist) and I wrote our first book together, Five Keys for Understanding Men,  we were in NYC promoting it via the network broadcast stations.  Gary looked at me and said, “This isn’t going to work for you as a career path—it’s too risky.”

Now, I know my brother loves me, and has my best interests at heart. And from the outside looking in, it’s very difficult to dispute his reasoning. Publishing is the iffiest of businesses in the world. I could go into all of the depressing facts about getting a book published, actually making a living at it (and how few folks do so), and all of the other nightmares included herein. But what I’ve learned over the many, many years I’ve been involved in it, is that fabulous things happen too.

I have been so blessed by publishing, both as an author and an editor. I write, of course, as almost all of us do, because as Rilke said, I must. When that’s not happening, I tend to babble (if not actually speak in discernible tongues), tear my clothing, gnash my teeth, and run screaming into the night (just ask some of the folks who have lived with me :).  As many of you surely do as well.

Editing, oddly, was not something on my early career-path’s radar, but rather, I stumbled into it, lo so many years ago. When in a writer’s group, I discovered I had a knack (as did the rest of the group, who kept piling manuscripts atop my head).  And I fell smack dab into the flip side of writing—editing. Little did I know how much I’d grow to love it, and love the writers who can’t live without it.

Has any of this been easy? Well, no. My first book was published nearly a decade after I wrote my actual first novel (not the one that was published.  Or even the second . . . ) In fact, publishing will humble one to her knees. Any creative endeavor will. But what absolute joy to see that first baby in print. And the second one, and the next, and . . .  Man, is there another rush on this planet to compare to that? This year, when Five Keys was put out as an e-book by the publisher, that rush remains the same. What a true, true blessing.  And when one of my writers snags a publishing contract, and his book does well, I get to feel that tingle all over again.

Anyone who loves books and aspires to be part of this business, to hold that dream and work for it, who understands the blood, sweat, and tears that go into all of this, hears me. And as difficult as the journey can be, the rewards are that much sweeter.

Can you get there? Yes. Might it take time (and enough tears to sink the Titanic)? Yes. But ah, the joy!

For the record, I’d actually forgotten my brother sitting me down and saying that, all those years ago. He reminded me of it recently  and said, “I was wrong.” (Hark!  A man admits it!  LOL.)  Only then did the memory coming back in living color. And now we’re working on our second book, about families. What a joy it is to write with him.

And now as well, some of my dearest friends are authors, agents, editors, and publishers. In fact, I met Maryann Miller, who asked me to blog for this site, at a literary conference where we were both speaking last summer. What a neat lady. 

I am indeed so very blessed. For all of the difficulties in this business, the highs are better than any drug, and so many folks have become lifelong friends. And as for me, I get to live in a world of words.


Award-winning author and editor Susan Mary Malone has four traditionally published books to her credit (fiction and nonfiction) and many published short stories. A freelance editor, forty-plus Malone-edited books have now sold to Traditional publishers. You can see more about her, and what authors say about working with her, at:

Posted by Maryann Miller, who did not pay Susan to say those nice things about her.

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Monday, November 14, 2011

Be My Guest: Robin Spano

The Write Tools

There's nothing more exciting than finding a new tool to help you with the craft you love. My husband loves leaving Home Depot with a new saw or power drill. My agent's face lights up when she talks about her iPad – and all the cool work things she can do with it. My photographer friend goes nuts over a new lens that can help him shoot a specific light or angle.

I get this excitement from learning new writing tools – tangible skills that help me attack my trade with more expertise. While writing fiction is a creative endeavor first, editing – shaping the story into something enjoyable and interesting to read – is a science. The more tools I pick up, the more able I feel to tell the story I want to tell – to confidently take readers along on a fun and exciting journey.

Reading Self-Editing for Fiction Writers  by Renni Browne and Dave King, I felt like a kid at Christmas. They give you twelve of these new tools. My brain was on fire while I read – I'd study a page or a chapter and burn to get back to my manuscript to show it what I'd learned.

Here are their 12 steps:

Chapter One: Show and Tell – Awesome opening example from The Great Gatsby. Takes the concept of “Show, Don't Tell,” explains it for those who haven't cinched it, and expands to show when telling is a good thing, too.

Chapter Two: Characterization and Exposition – Shows you how to introduce a character as if you met them in real life. As in, you don't have to know their whole history right away. It is way more interesting to see a character unfold piece by piece, as it's relevant over the story.

Chapter Three: Point of View – Shows why you'd choose one POV style over another. Do you want to get up close and personal with first person or go with limited third? Or do you want post-modern and oddball with second or very old-fashioned and godlike with omniscient? The chapter clearly defines the benefits and drawbacks to each POV option.

Chapter Four: Proportion – How to spot when you're giving something too much or not enough air time for its weight in the story. One of the most complex chapters, and the one I took the most away from.

Chapter Five: Dialogue Mechanics – Lots of fun rules about never using adverbs, only using said, and using said as little as possible. Some excellent advice about how to use mechanics to do more than identify the speaker: to paint the landscape, to create a mood, to illustrate a relationship.

Chapter Six: See How It Sounds – How to craft convincing dialogue that isn't how people actually talk to each other (because that's slow and boring) but cutting to the meat of what they say, using words they would actually use.

Chapter Seven: Interior Monologue – How to use a character's observations to convey both their personality and their emotions. In the same place on the same day, one character could see a glorious sunny day, another could note, "The damn sun was in my eyes" and a third could wonder if the sun would hold, or if the rain is inevitable.

Chapter Eight: Easy Beats – How to keep your story flowing  naturally, using beats to slow the pace when it might be going to quickly – and taking beats & dialogue mechanics away when they interrupt the flow of the story.

Chapter Nine: Breaking Up is Easy to Do – How to not have long passages of prose that look intimidating on the page (long unbroken paragraphs like in an 18th Century novel). Also, how to avoid the reverse – too many paragraph breaks or too much punchy dialogue in a row can exhaust readers.

Chapter Ten: Once is Usually Enough – How to avoid repetition – on the word level, the chapter level, the character level, and even the book level. Full of fun “what not to do” examples.

Chapter Eleven: Sophistication – How to sound like a pro. This chapter covers a few topics. My main takeaway: maybe my characters swear too often. As the writers say on p. 206, “Just think about how much power a single obscenity can have if it's the only one in the whole fucking book.” (Or blog post.)

Chapter Twelve: Voice – The quality that makes your writing original, because it's who you are. It's the hardest thing to master and, according to Browne and King, it is impossible to teach, yet they give tips on how to coax your voice out naturally over time. On p. 218, they write “Voice is something you can bring out in yourself. The trick is not to concentrate on it.”

While the ideas in these chapters – with the exception of proportion – were things I'd heard before, each chapter breathed new life into these concepts for me. Browne and King write in a fun, simple style – easy to read and easy to process. There are many, many gems in Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. I cannot recommend it strongly enough.

Robin Spano writes a series about a young female undercover cop, inspired loosely by Charlie's Angels. Her website is, engage her on Twitter, or argue politics with her on Facebook.

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Friday, November 11, 2011

Cues from the Coach: 3-D Writing Revisited

Last month's post on writing in 3-D drew some great feedback. Neither cited example struck a chord with all those who commented, so clarification of the term as I intended it seems in order.

As a reminder, here are the examples:

1.) Lisa looked up at the azure summer sky, and the bright noonday sun made her squint. Cotton candy clouds dotted the horizon. Birds sang on the power lines at the back of the property, and squirrels chased one another up and down the tree trunks. She let her chilly body soak up the warmth before she went back inside the air-conditioned building. It might be a long time before she could feel the sun again because, by now, someone must have discovered that she was no longer in the ward. Whoever left the door unlocked would no doubt be fired.

2.) Lisa squinted. The bright noonday sun almost blinded her, but she refused to move under the giant oak tree, where the squirrels chased one another up and down the trunk. Bird songs coming from the power lines at the back of the property sparked a memory that teased her mind, then blossomed forth in the recollection of weekends spent at her grandmother’s house when she was a little girl. She forced it away and turned to the cotton candy clouds that snuggled next to one another atop the horizon. Unwrapping her arms from around her waist, she raised them upward and welcomed the sun’s warmth into the chill that had held her body captive since that horrible day. A moment later, her arms fell to her sides. Her head drooped. She shuffled toward the door in the back of the building. It might be a long time before the sun would warm her again. They must know now that she had slipped out of the ward. Whoever had left the door unlocked would no doubt be fired.

While some chose the longer example, most preferred the shorter, simpler paragraph that depicted the scene without excessive verbosity. Neither would pass untouched in a final edit, but both demonstrate that our words can lie on the page as the reader passes over them, or they can rise up to pull that reader into their magical world. Any work that accomplishes this qualifies as 3-D writing.

What makes a book appealing to you as a reader? What is it that connects with you and pulls you into a story? Knowing and applying this information to your writing can make a huge difference in the way a reader responds to your work.

Linda Lane writes, edits, and publishes books. A number of the books she has edited have won awards for their writers. You can visit her at

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Thursday, November 10, 2011

I'm Thankful

November is the month of giving thanks, so I thought I’d tell you all what I’m thankful for.

I’m thankful I didn’t kill someone.

Two and a half months ago, my computer black-screened. I turned it on and got nothing. So I took it into a tech guy. He spent a day checking it out and then said he could save all my data, clean up the computer, and put the data back on – or, since my computer would probably die within a year, he could get me a new laptop and put everything on it. I opted for the new computer. During that time, I called him during office hours several times and he didn’t pick up. I left messages and he never called me back. He called me one time. The only way I could get him to talk to me was to show up in his office and stand in front of his desk.

I’m thankful I didn’t go kung-fu on his behind. (And am thinking I should possibly learn some kung-fu.)

He loaded some, but not all of my data. He put Palm on my computer, but none of the years of info I had input. And now I can’t sync the Palm on my computer with my handheld Palm because my handheld is so old it’s not compatible with the new laptop. So, I’m now putting it all on Microsoft Outlook, one contact at a time. That’s approximately 1000 entries.

I’m thankful I didn’t bop him over the head when he started his one and only phone call to me with “As I told you last time I called…”

He did not load my Microsoft Suite, but instead loaded Microsoft Starter, which only works in compatibility mode and expires in 30 days, and when I try to open a document, just whirs and whirs and won’t open unless I first open the program then ask it to open the document.

I’m thankful for my iPhone and iPad, which I used to try to keep up with email and my weekly newsletter. I’m thankful for my husband’s computer, which I could use when he was out of town. I’m thankful for friends who sympathized with me and called to remind me of meetings or appointments. And I’m even thankful for the tech guy being still alive. And me being not in jail.

What are you thankful for?
 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. Helen is the author of 3 books in TSTC Publishing’s TechCareers series.

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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

10 Questions Every Writer Asks (I Hope)

10. Why is it so much easier to write about writing than to actually write? I think every blogger must wonder this at some point.

9. Why is my writing in my head so much better than the writing on the page? Annoying, but true. Usually.

8. How does time seem to fly by when I'm writing well, but yet crawl when I'm struggling to write one decent sentence? Unfair, but true.

7. Do I have too many characters? Too few? Only your plot knows for sureOr your editor.

6. How did I manage to forget that subplot that I began on page 20 and appears to have vanished without a trace? I refuse to admit if this has actually happened to me.

5. Good grief. How many more editing passes is this manuscript going to need? The answer always seems to be (for me) one more than I originally thought.

4. When will I ever consider myself a success? (on non-JK Rowling-terms)

3. Will anyone really want to buy this book? The question that niggles at the edges of your brain as you near the finish line.

2. Will I ever have another good idea? Not an idea; a good idea. The nightmare of every writer.

1. What happens next? Really. What happens? (Aren't first drafts fun?)
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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, November 8, 2011

Leave a Tip Today at The Blood-Red Pencil And Make Someone Thankful

In this month of thankfulness, leave a tip, and someone will be grateful for your kindness. Today, as on most second Tuesdays of the month, we're inviting you to share your writing tip at The Blood-Red Pencil.

Make it simple, or complicated. Maybe it's something you recently picked up, or something you learned ages ago, and forgot you knew it until now. Or, it could be something you figured out all by yourself and you're feeling generous and would like to share.

We welcome tips about any aspect of writing, publishing, or editing, and about any format or venue, traditional, indie, self-publishing.

Make someone truly grateful for your generosity. Leave your tip in our comment section. Don't forget to also include one website or blogspot link while you're at it, so readers can learn more about you.

If you wish, we'd appreciate your also mentioning where you've heard of us, but it's not a requirement.

Here's my tip:
Don't forget the holidays. They can ground readers into the time elements in a story. I forgot them in my first draft of Forever Young-Blessing or Curse, but fortunately I remembered in the nick of time during the editing process.

Your turn now. Share and Make Someone Grateful!

Morgan Mandel
 Morgan Mandel writes mysteries,Romances
and thrillers. She's a past president of
Chicago-North RWA, was the Library Liaison
for Midwest MWA, and is an active blogger and
networker.Her personal blog is:

Morgan's website is at: http://www/
See her new senior blog at
Her romantic suspense, Killer Career, is 99 cents on
Kindle and Smashwords, and is also in print. Her thriller,
Forever Young - Blessing or Curse will be released soon on
Kindle and Smashwords. Girl of My Dreams, Morgan's romantic
comedy is also electronically available.

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Monday, November 7, 2011

Writing in 140: Writers Feel

It’s pretty impossible to be an effective creative writer if you don’t feel. Our ability to emote, to go from joy to despair, to have experienced first-hand situations that move us across the spectrum of emotions, or to have experienced those emotions via second-hand situations through loved ones and those we just meet as we pass by through life enables us to explore those feelings and emotions in our writing. Readers often come to our stories in the hopes of connecting with the stories—seeing themselves in the characters we develop, seeing their current situation played out in our words. If our readers laugh and cry, experience joy and pain, shouldn’t our characters? And for our characters to realistically convey those emotions to the reader, shouldn’t we as writers be just as in tune with our emotions and feelings?

Robert Plutchik’s wheel of emotion, created in 1980

List of Emotions – via Wikipedia [LINK]
Writing in 140 is my attempt to say something somewhat relevant about writing in 140 words or less.
Shon Bacon is an author, doctoral candidate, editor, and educator. She has published both creatively and academically. 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, writing, and pursuing her Ph.D. in Technical Communication and Rhetoric at Texas Tech University.

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Saturday, November 5, 2011

Whisky or Whiskey? I Need a Drink!

First, thank you to the Blood Red Pencil for hosting me for this stop on my two-week-long virtual tour for Mercury’s Rise, the latest book in my Silver Rush historical mystery series.

Truly, I have to thank BRP for more than that, because it was BRP’s Dani Greer who helped me out of a tight spot regarding word usage in Mercury’s Rise.

It all began with whiskey. And whisky. I had taken great pains to determine under what circumstances my protagonist Inez Stannert would use which term. After all, Inez runs a high-class saloon in 1880s Leadville, Colorado, so she would certainly know the difference.

My conundrum began when the line editor at my publisher, Poisoned Pen Press, noted that some places in the manuscript were “whiskey” and others read “whisky.” Which is correct? she asked. I sent her a long reply (with links!) noting that they weren’t the same. (New York Times weighed in here and The Boozin’ Blog had a discussion here.) But I began to worry that switching between the two might lose the reader. So, I turned to Dani—good buddy and my independent editor—for advice.

Dani’s suggestion: “Go with whiskey since you’re in America.” She offered up a couple of links of her own, including one from the site Whisky: Distilled. She added, “I'm thinking if you pick one spelling and stick to it, your readers will be happy.”

Even so, it was a tough call for me to make—be correct or be consistent? I dithered and vacillated until the associate publisher of Poisoned Pen Press took pity on me and made an executive decision.

What did she decide? Read Mercury’s Rise and find out!

I’ll say this: by the time we’d finished going back and forth, I think we all wanted a drink! More to the point, dear BRP readers, what would you have done, if you had to make this decision? And why?
Ann Parker is a California-based science/corporate writer by day and an historical mystery writer by night. Her award-winning Silver Rush series, featuring saloon-owner Inez Stannert, is set in 1880s Colorado, primarily in the silver-mining boomtown of Leadville. The latest in her series, MERCURY’S RISE, was released November 1. Publisher’s Weekly says, “Parker smoothly mixes the personal dramas and the detection in an installment that’s an easy jumping-on point for newcomers.” Library Journal adds, “Parker’s depth of knowledge coupled with an all-too-human cast leaves us eager to see what Inez will do next. Encore!” Learn more about Ann and her series at

MERCURY’S RISE and the other Silver Rush mysteries are available from independent booksellers,, and Barnes and Noble.

Leave a comment on this post to be eligible to win a Silver Rush mystery prize! Winner will be announced later this week. To see the rest of Ann’s blog tour, check out her Appearances page.

Winner is Larry Constantine (Lior Samson)! Please contact Ann Parker by emailing her here.
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Friday, November 4, 2011

Busted!—Tatiana de Rosnay Caught Doing Something Right

I've been known to irreverently refer to the early work of untrained writers as “an amazing number of black marks on a white page.” I'm not without compassion; we all must start somewhere, and I applaud anyone who sits still long enough to try to bring a literary vision to fruition. As a developmental editor, I enjoy helping shape such work.

But it's immediately apparent, in many manuscripts I see, that the writer has concentrated too hard on the black marks without giving the white page its due. In overwriting, the author has created a wall of words and feelings and facts and actions and descriptions and stage directions that virtually shut out the reader. That conscientious effort to tell every aspect of a story ends up being a misstep.

The reader wants to bring her life experience and intellect and observation skills to what she reads. Add things up. Make educated guesses. Feel smart. Fill in the blanks. To that end, you need some blanks. What you don’t say can be of vital importance.

Of course without applying black marks to a white page we wouldn't even have a manuscript. But that's first and second draft thinking. While editing later drafts, your writing will benefit from thinking of your manuscript as white pages defined by black marks.

In visual art, you might think of this as a canvas on which sketched lines or dabs of paint start to suggest a human form. Music would simply be noise without the small silences that organize and define it. Watching the way a dancer manipulates space, energizing it and pushing against it and slicing through it, can be more thrilling than the movements themselves. A soliloquy without dramatic pause would fall flat.

This brings me to the author I’m busting today: Tatiana de Rosnay, who in titling her 2007 novel points to the literary device she so beautifully employed: Sarah’s Key.

In 1942 occupied Paris, as French police tear entire Jewish families from their homes and escort them to unknown fates, ten-year-old Sarah bravely “saves” her brother by locking him inside their secret bedroom cupboard, promising to come back for him as soon as she and her parents are released.

Sarah keeps the key in her pocket throughout her unconscionable ordeal. It is around this symbol that de Rosnay builds her entire novel—Sarah’s 1942 story line entwines with that of a reporter who, sixty years later, tries to unlock secrets about this buried aspect of history, as shameful to her own family as it is to France.

One story event at a time, as we learn of the impact Sarah’s act ultimately had on so many, the key grows in symbolic power—to the point that its re-appearance, near the end of the book, packs a powerful emotional wallop. If de Rosnay laid out for the reader its many figurative meanings, she would have insulted her.

Bonus bust: Because de Rosnay told her tale in short, punchy chapters, plenty of white space contributes to her book—as if her story is visually wrapped around untold secrets and unexplored spaces.

Not every story lends itself to a powerful, unifying symbol. But other comparisons, such as simile and metaphor, also do a fine job of inviting the reader to apply her life experience to her understanding of your story.

This is what literary art is all about: a white page defined by black marks.

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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Thursday, November 3, 2011

Adding Conflict to Your Story

If your manuscript has come back from your editor noting a lack of conflict, don’t despair. Adding conflict in retrospect is easier than you might think. If your editor has marked passages she believes would benefit from added conflict, you can tick off a third of the job already. The next steps are planning and writing the extra scenes.

Change Something

A very easy way to insert conflict in a scene is to create a major change in the protagonist’s knowledge, expectations, perspective, relationships, etc. For example, the protagonist could expect one outcome but be forced to deal with another, or learn something that changes her perspective and sets her on a different path. Anything that makes a major, plot-related difference at the end of the scene compared to the beginning is a conflict within the scene itself.

This is also a good way to test your chapters and scenes: if nothing changes plot-wise within a chapter, it is incomplete.

Inner Conflict

The protagonist’s thoughts, hopes, and anxieties offer a rich layer of inner conflict, often under-utilised.

Is your hero’s goal something he wants at all costs? Or something he’s going for against his better judgement, or because he has no choice? Does he have to make ethical decisions or confront his fears in order to reach his goal?

Reader Conflict

Get your reader invested in opposing outcomes to use her/his own conflicting feelings to increase emotional involvement in your story.

Character Conflict

Two likeable characters with the same goal, or opposing goals can also increase the conflict stakes as the reader wonders who will win, and what will happen to the character who doesn’t.

Conflict in a story improves reader engagement, so it’s worth the extra planning and writing to improve the impact of your story.


Elle Neal is a writer based in Melbourne, Australia. She writes fiction as Elle Carter Neal. Browse through the resources for writers available at her website or follow her writing insights at her Fictional Life Blog.

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