Friday, June 28, 2013

Hot Fun in the Summertime

It's been unbearably hot in my stretch of the middle for the past week. I find it difficult to write when the temperatures soar into the nineties. Somehow my mind just doesn't engage with the words floating somewhere within. Images, yes, and feelings. I can sit in the garden and let my mind wander, watch the bees work a flower, and contemplate the sex lives of squash blossoms. Good thing romance isn't my genre! Could I come up with something worth writing? Forget it. I can barely concentrate enough to take notes.

Now reading is another matter. I find myself doing more of that, in any spot offering some shade, and always with a glass of iced lemon water. Summertime and a book just seem to go together for me - perhaps a habit from childhood? It's a good thing, too, because my stack of  "must-reads" is towering, even though I use a first-fifty rule when perusing books for reviews and acquisitions.

What does "first-fifty" mean exactly? Simply that the book must engage my interest in that many pages, or I don't read the rest of it. That's actually quite generous. I know reviewers and acquisition editors who expect rapture in the first ten pages or the book is out the window. I'm not that difficult, but you do have to get my attention by the magic 5-0.

Today I discarded several books for common errors. One adult novel simply introduced too many characters not yet relevant to the plot too early in the story. It confused me, and it wasn't the heat. The story just didn't evolve in a graceful and understandable way. It didn't bode well for the rest of the book.

I gave up on a middle grade chapter book because the names of the main characters were too similar. The protagonists were twins who were polar opposites but the names were so much alike, I couldn't keep straight which child was doing what. Let's pretend they were called Kee and Koo with Kee acting perpetually bad and Koo ever the angelic one. Would you root for Kee or Koo? It would have been better to name the children Ay and Zee with their shenanigans covering the spectrum from A-Z. That would have been slightly more clever and certainly easier to remember. I might have gotten past the 50-page mark. But, no. I got to about page 30 and had another tall glass of lemon water before hopping to the next book.

What about you, readers? Does the heat (or any kind of weather) influence your writing abilities? How about reading? Do you find nature inspires your creativity? Do you like lemonade? What about squash blossoms? How's the weather where you are, and how do you stay on task with summer in full swing?

Dani Greer is founding member of this blog. She spends her summer days with new writing and editing projects, waters acres of gardens, and often can be seen knitting yet another pair of socks. Visit her at News From Nowhere, Facebook, and Twitter.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Have You Heard of This Publisher?

Recently an author emailed me to find out if I’d heard anything about a publisher called knowonder! – she planned to submit a story I had declined though I really loved her work. I’d never heard of knowonder! but poked around the Internet a bit to get a feel for them. After researching and giving the author feedback, I decided my process was worth a blog post. Here’s my vetting approach and something any author looking for a publisher can do to get a feel for a company before submitting.

Google the company name. In this day and age they should have a website as well as links to their social networking sites like Twitter, Pinterest,  Facebook, and a blog. How do those sites look? Have they been around long? Are they active? They should give a solid and consistent impression across platforms.

Next look for a submissions page, and read every line closely. Knowonder! has a very concise submissions page, explicitly outlining what they seek. Their focus is read-aloud stories for 20 minutes a day as a literacy tool for children, so if you were submitting a story to them, you would be sure to read your story aloud first, and then have someone else read it to you as you critically listen to what you have written. How does your story sound? Would it pass muster with this company?

Now make sure all their other requirements are met by your particular manuscript. If not, revise and submit, or skip this company. With a publisher who is this clear about his needs, don’t waste time sending something you think might get noticed. No matter how good, they are building a book collection, and if you’re too much off-topic, you’ll be wasting your time and worse, risk alienating them because you can’t read instructions or are too dumb to follow them.

If you still think you might have a good story fit, do some more research in their About section and especially make note of what and how they will compensate you (should they state those terms online). Don’t be afraid of new publishing models that extend beyond the bounds of a normal royalty situation, and be sure to note digital products (including apps) and what the publisher is offering in the way of products.  (At this point in the process, terms will be fairly superficial. Don’t expect otherwise.) You can research and review further with your lawyer and negotiate later if you are offered a contract. But at least have an idea of what to expect.

Also note how long the company has been in business, how large their collection, and if they are expanding their offerings (age groups or genres) which indicates growth for a young company.

Then search online for any kudos or complaints. I found a great review from Hip Homeschool Moms and only one comment at the Absolute Write Water Cooler which is generally positive.

Finally, find out how to order a book from them. If they ship their own orders, this will test how easy their order process is and how quickly they can deliver. Poor fulfillment can kill the success of a company – and author success – so get a sense of this before you submit. It’s a very small cost upfront, and as an added benefit, you get to see the quality of the publisher’s books first-hand. Knowonder! sales are processed through Amazon so that tells you a great deal about order-processing. However, if you don’t like Amazon, you might have a problem with this arrangement.

Have I missed anything? How do you approach the task of finding and vetting potential publishers for your manuscript?

Dani Greer is founding member of this blog. She spends her summer days with new writing and editing projects, waters acres of gardens, and often can be seen knitting yet another pair of socks. Visit her at News From Nowhere, Facebook, and Twitter.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Reviews - The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

For many years it was understood that reviews could make or break a theatre production, a movie, or a book. Broadway producers would chew their fingernails to nubs while waiting for the first critics to respond after opening night, as did film producers. Authors, editors and agents, would wait for those reviews from Publisher's Weekly, The New York Times, Kirkus, and other trade magazines to launch a book onto the best-seller list.
Today, the whole arena of reviews has been expanded. With the Internet and Amazon and other online retail bookstores, has come a whole wave of reader reviews, fan reviews, and author reviews that aren't always on the same professional level. They can range from something close to what I like to call a real review to gushing to snarky.

A real review gives a short synopsis of the story, then has comments as to what worked well in terms of the writing and what the reviewer enjoyed the most. If there are minor problems, those are pointed out without attacking the writer personally. Those are the kind of reviews I wrote professionally for newspapers and magazines many moons ago, and continue to write on my blog and elsewhere. Now it seems like anyone can call himself or herself a reviewer without having a clue what a review is supposed to be. We've all seen examples of those on the Barnes & Noble website, as well as the other booksellers' sites.

Throw into the mix author reviews and the topic gets more interesting. Should authors review each other's books? Should they only leave glowing reviews? Is it ever okay to leave a not-so-glowing review? Recently, those questions have been debated on several blogs and some writer's groups, and I first saw mention of this on Kristen Lamb's blog in her piece The Three Nevers of Social media

In that blog post she cautioned authors not to leave nasty comments on blogs, never be nasty on Twitter, and never write bad book reviews. She clarified, "This doesn’t apply to book bloggers and book reviewers. That’s your job and we love that you give us guidance on what to read. But, as authors? I believe in what Candace Havens calls Writer Karma. If I can’t give a book a five-star rave review, I just don’t review it. Again, publishing is a small world and we all need each other. The world is already out to throw us under a bus. We need each other to keep from turning into cutters."

Kristen followed that blog post with another titled Should Authors Write Bad Book Reviews? Actually, the answer is no, as reviewer Kevin Tipple pointed out in a Google+ comment, "No one should ever write a bad review. A bad review has typos and other issues. A negative review is something else entirely."

Reading Kristen's post, it was clear that she meant to ask whether writers should write negative reviews, and the comments on her blog really varied in responses. Some folks said they thought they should always give an honest evaluation no matter what. Others said that if they couldn't find anything good to say about a book they didn't review it.

Since I host authors on my blog It's Not All Gravy and post book reviews on Sundays, I get a lot of requests for reviews. While I do agree with Kristen that we need each other, I still cannot endorse a book that I don't consider well-written. That doesn't mean it can't have any problems. I've reviewed plenty that were not stellar, but I still found more positive than negative elements. I do not review a book if I cannot find enough positive about it to give it a three-star rating, which to me indicates good. Four stars are given to a book that is excellent, and a five-star rating is for “blew me out of my chair.” I rarely give five stars, and even my closest writer friends understand that I cannot give their book a glowing review just because I love them. It's all about the book. 

So what about you? Do you review the books you read? Do you give negative reviews?

Maryann Miller
is a novelist, editor and sometimes actress. Her most recent release is Boxes For Beds, an historical mystery available as an e-book. Stalking Season is the second book in the Seasons Mystery Series. The first book, Open Season, is available as an e-book for all devices. To check out her editing rates visit her website. When not working, Maryann likes to take her dog for a walk and work outside on her little ranch in East Texas. She welcomes reviews of her books; the good, the bad, and the ugly, although she prefers the good.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

How To Romance Your Readers - And Sell More Stories

Here’s a fabulous tip for making sure your readers love your stories and want to read more. But first, let me ask you a question.

As fiction writers, do we always write about ourselves? Our character may be a mafia don, nun, pearl fisherman or - in a sci-fi novel - a thinking blob of mud but, however we camouflage ourselves, it’s us. Isn’t it?

First-time novelists notoriously write their autobiography behind a very thin disguise. When they’re into their tenth novel and the best-seller lists they’re still doing it, albeit with more skill.

When Patricia Cornwell presents her medical examiner Dr Kay Scarpetta as a chip of ice - all business, no humour - we see Cornwell herself. We may admire her craft work as an author but we wouldn’t invite her to dinner. But when Kathy Reichs gives us Temperance Brennan, a forensic anthropologist in a comparable job, we warm to her feistiness, fallibility and dry wit. We’d just love to go to Reichs’s barbecue.

If the author is just like us, or how we’d like to be, we become a lifelong fan.

How to build our readers’ loyalty.

One way to turn our readers into lifelong fans is to pattern our protagonist upon our target reader - not as they really are but as they would like to be.

‘Cozy’ detective stories typically feature an amateur lady detective of a certain age. To strangers, she appears sweet, dull and utterly unmemorable. But show her a mystery and she’ll dive into a thrift shop and emerge, metaphorically speaking, as Superwoman.

Her prototype is Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple. The Marple stories can be enjoyed by people of all genders and backgrounds, of course, but their core readership is ladies of a certain age. (Superwomen indeed, although their menfolk will rarely admit it.)

For menfolk, Christie created Poirot. We might think him a buffoon on his first appearance but, oh, those little grey cells!

Pattern your main characters on your readers.

How can you do this? Mentally picture the person you are writing for.

If yours is a ‘genre’ story, draw up a profile of the typical reader of, say, romance, sci-fi, paranormal mystery, crime (of every flavour), historicals and the like. And examine their tastes. A Google search along the lines of ‘historical fiction readers demographics’ can be highly revealing.

The stories most favoured by both US and UK readers, it seems, feature a notable (real) person who lived in England in the 13th to 16th centuries and engaged in an adventure that was recorded in history books. Female readers like an added undertone of romance while men opt for a military angle. (Source:

So your ideal protagonist would be an erudite soldier, prominent in the Wars of the Roses (mid 15th century), and warring at home with a feisty woman. Her role can be played up or down according to the gender of your target reader.

What real historical characters fit that profile? How about William Hastings, who was knighted at the Battle of Towton in 1461, and his strong-minded wife Katherine Neville?

Sounds perfect! Unfortunately, Ken Follet got there before us. His historical adventure Pillars of the Earth, featuring precisely those characters, sold 18 million copies. How could it fail? It profiled its target readers.

Model your protagonist on your ideal reader and your protagonist becomes the reader’s ‘I’ or ‘eye’ in the text. It’s the character they’ll bond with.

Is that approach a formula?

Yes. It was long-whiskered even by the turn of the 20th century. H. Rider Haggard lampooned it wickedly in his hilarious Mr Meeson’s Will (1911). But the formula works. Haggard had previously used it, without a blush, in his adventure novels that sold more than 100 million copies.

Look at any escapist modern novel and you’ll find some variant of that pattern. The reader is given an ‘I’ or ‘eye’ in the text to escape into. If the protagonist is just like themselves, or how they’d like to be, the job’s done.

It’s also the secret of a great conversation.

Stop talking about you. Start talking about them. And it works in novels. Write about your reader. You can’t help writing about yourself, anyway. Your characters will always be you, however you disguise them, so your ego will still be gratified. But, like Rider Haggard’s, your novels might sell 100 million copies.

Dr John Yeoman passed away in 2016. He held a PhD in Creative Writing, judged the Writers’ Village story competition and was a tutor in creative writing at a UK university. Prior to getting his doctorate degree, he spent 40 years as a commercial author and chairman of a major PR company. His Writers’ Village short story contest drew 1500 on-line entries each year from all over the world. Some of his blog posts are archived here, (however the writing class enrollment and downloads are no longer available).

Monday, June 24, 2013

Eliciting Details

I enjoy interviewing my ghostwriting clients to gather the material necessary to write their books. People say such surprising things, especially if you tell them, as I do, to be a blabbermouth and just say anything that pops into their heads. I tell them not to worry about wasting my time, I want to hear it all, even the dumb off-topic stuff. Interviews can go off in unforeseen directions, and some of the most colorful passages in books come from off-the-cuff remarks or the spontaneous, “Oh, that reminds me of a story …”

Nevertheless, I can’t just ask general, open-ended questions like “What was that like?” or “Describe your grandmother.” Because most people are not blabbermouths and general questions often give them a bad case of brain freeze. I will get answers like, “It was nice,” or “She was sweet.”

I must ask specific questions designed to elicit details. For instance, if I’m ghostwriting a memoir, I don’t ask my client the question, “What were you doing in 1985?” (Could you answer that question?) Let’s say my client is from Florida. I might ask him this question instead: “Do you remember the Florida citrus crop failure in 1985?” Even if he doesn’t remember the citrus crop disaster, he might have something to share about food prices in his lifetime, crop distribution or the grocery-store system in America, draw a comparison with what’s happening with food prices today, or remember when his wife angered him by switching his breakfast juice to apple instead of orange. Or it might bring up marginally related memories, such as his reaction to Anita Bryant, who was the Florida OJ spokesperson at the time, and her militant anti-gay crusade.

In other words I might get other stories, and these stories might illuminate something about him that would otherwise remain hidden.

When I ask specific questions, I will get specific answers. Details are what make a book come alive.

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 40 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit

Friday, June 21, 2013

Magical Mechanics in Fantasy Fiction

Years ago, while playing Dungeons and Dragons, my character acquired a Magic Ring – without the user manual. The results of using it were randomly generated by the Games Master using percentile dice. One time, I unleashed a stream of butterflies into the face of an attacking ogre. Another time, my character metamorphed into a griffon and clawed a party of orcs to ribbons.

Within the game, the random magic was Great Fun. But does the same “anything goes” principle apply to magic in Fantasy fiction?

If only!

Unfortunately, one of the distinctions between a good Fantasy novel and a not-so-good one has a lot to do with the mechanics of magic. This phrase may seem like a contradiction in terms; but in fact, magic in Fantasy works best when the writer takes time to figure out How the Magic Works.

Here are some considerations:

What’s the source of the magic in your world? (I.e., are your magic-users dealing with forces or entities?)

Is the magic natural (involving impersonal forces like weather and tidal flux); alien (involving non-human agencies from elsewhere in our cosmos); or metaphysical (involving meta-human agencies from higher/lower/other planes of existence)?

For instance, in her seven-volume Hero series, Moira Moore’s central characters use their biophysical psionic abilities (ESP and personal empathy) to control the forces of nature on a planet where these forces are always in a state of upheaval.

By contrast, the Before They Were Heroes quartet, by Jane Yolen and Robert Harris, features in sequence four Greek heroes (Odysseus, Hippolyta, Atalanta, and Jason) as teenagers, in a series of adventures involving gods, demi-gods and mythical beasts from the annals of Greek mythology.1

Yet again by contrast, in her classic High Fantasy Deryni series, Katherine Kurtz’s noble Deryni characters work magic by soliciting the aid of angelic powers within a framework of mystical theology.2

Which brings us to another question: by what means do your magic-using characters tap into this power source? There are many interesting crosscurrent possibilities. In the later volumes of the series, Moira’s Heroes discover a form of ritual magic which operates differently from their inborn psionic capabilities. Similarly, Katherine’s Deryni often use magically-charged artifacts in ritual contexts.

And now an important final point: as a writer, you owe it to yourself to establish – and abide by! – a basic set of rules concerning when, where, how often, by whom, and to what effect the magic in your world operates. By the same token you need to impose some restrictions on what your magic-using characters can and can’t use their magic for.

Setting these parameters will help you overcome the temptation (which we’ve all felt!) to invent a bit of magic on the spot to bridge a sudden gaping plot hole or explain away a continuity breach.3 Readers will notice if, every time the going gets rough, you invoke magic to frog-march the action along an illogical plot line.


1 Available now on Amazon Kindle. (And yes, Robert Harris is my husband.)

2Anyone interested in writing High Fantasy should make a point of reading some of Katherine’s books. They are exemplary!)

3 If eventually a twist in the plot demands that you extend the parameters in a given direction, the plot twist had better be a good one! Otherwise, you will be awarded a wooden spoon along with the title deus ex machina!

Debby Harris is an independent editor living in Scotland. Please visit her website for more information about her editing services and fees.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Setting the Pace

On my own blog on Monday, I started talking about pacing. As I mentioned then, although you can find entire books devoted to various aspects of the writing craft, an entire book on pacing is hard to find. The only one I discovered was about writing fast-paced action, and since pacing doesn't necessarily mean "high action," the topic is something one has to dig around for.

As I touched upon on Monday, the pace of your novel has to be 'right' for the genre, and the pace shouldn't be the same throughout. Each scene has its own pacing requirements. Today, I'll talk about ways to control pace. Much of this information comes from workshops I've taken from Deb Courtney and Kelley Anderson.

Courtney suggests paying attention to your own physiological reactions when you're writing a high-tension scene. What is your heart rate doing? Your breathing? Your writing should mimic these responses with short sentences, be they narrative or dialogue.

In an action scene, your characters are physically doing things. Here, you want to reduce narrative, and eliminate inner thoughts and reflection. (I covered something like this in my "phone booth and gorilla post")

Think about a movie. You'll want to pull in tight, like a camera close-up. You'll want to stick to a single point of view for these scenes. Use short sentences, short phrases. Even short words. Single syllable words ending with harsh sounds, such as K or Z have more impact. Eliminate adverbs. Minimize dialogue to what's necessary.

In slower paced scenes, you have time to let your characters reflect. This is where there's time for description. Here, action is minimized. In your movie, you'd be pulling back, using a wider-angle. Lengthen your sentences and use softer sounds. Dialogue is looser here, and can be interspersed with action. The letter S is good for soft tension.

Even dialogue can slow a story. It must move the story forward. It's OK to summarize the basics. She warned of rehashing events in dialogue. No small talk. Armstrong then progressed to elaborate on one of Elmore Leonard's rules: "Don't write the part that readers skip." What do readers skip? (Not all true for all readers, of course).

Technical details
Researched facts
Characters on Soap boxes
Lyrics and poetry
Flashbacks and back story.

For all of these, a little goes a long way. Break it up.

She also reiterated the importance of stopping chapters where something is about to happen. It doesn't have to be a cliffhanger, but it should make the reader want to know what actually happens.

What about you? Have you ever read a book where the story was 'right' but the pacing was off? Did it diminish the enjoyment you got out of the book?

Terry Odell
is the author of numerous romantic suspense novels, mystery novels, as well as contemporary romance short stories. Most of her books are available in both print and digital formats. She's the author of the Blackthorne, Inc. series, steamy romantic suspense novels featuring a team of covert ops specialists, the Pine Hills Police series, set in a small Oregon town, and the Mapleton Mystery series, featuring a reluctant police chief in a small Colorado town. To see all her books, visit her website. You can also find her at her blog, Terry's Place, as well as follow her on Twitter, or visit her Facebook page.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Finding Your Audience

I’m puzzled this month.  And I can’t seem to get a handle on these numbers, so I’m writing this as a question to you all: How do you find your readers? Not just seen by the masses, but in this new world of a gazillion books on the market, what’re the best ways to find the right audience for your book?

I recently read a PW statistic that absolutely boggled my mind. It stated that in 2012, half a million e-books came out.  In 2013, that number is estimated to be one million. The projection for 2014? Fifteen million e-books. Fifteen million? I mean, we all know that in this digital (and cheap) age, the perception is that anyone can write/publish a book. And, obviously, millions do! We also know that the vast writing majority hasn’t honed the craft, not put in the blood, sweat, and tears that the bloggers and reader/writers here have. We all know what goes into a great or even good book, and we know that we’re now in the rare minority of writers who still strive to produce that elusive beast that is great art. But how does your book swim out of that vast sea to ride the crest of your audience’s wave? 

Readers are so very frustrated too. I’m surrounded by folks who read, and who tell me they can’t find anything worth their time. They, too, are inundated by all the free books out there. They tell me they download, peruse a page, toss. They buy the “bestsellers” from traditional publishers, and don’t have much better luck. Of course, they’ve come to the right place asking me! LOL. I always have a list in many different categories, and they go away happy. But that happens to me as well. I recently read the much-touted award-winning novel from Graywolf (a press I love), and was sorely disappointed.  Especially since I know of so many more deserving books out there (many self-published). 

Not long ago I read a blog from a prominent agent, predicting (of course, she’s not alone) that in the near future, promoting via Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest will be a thing of the past, as new social-media venues take prominence. Yikes. I’m just now learning those! 

And traditional publishers are, of course, scrambling to find readers as well, having found themselves lost in this very same ocean they didn’t see coming. As just one example, Penguin has unveiled a new program that will let customers see new titles months before they go on sale, in order to drum up word-of-mouth business. Called First to Read, its members can read excerpts from forthcoming books, and even request e-galleys. This is just one in the latest plethora of publishing gimmicks to find readers.  The point being, everybody is swimming against this tide.

I had to laugh this week as well, as my publisher looked into Oprah’s book club as a place to advertise our new book, What's Wrong With My Family, and How to Live Your Best Life Anyway. For a mere 50K, we could be featured. Fifty thousand dollars? I needed a drink!  And that people are paying this,
well, make that a double Patron.  

So, what’s working for you? I can’t really point to what works for my book sales. It’s baffling to me. While my newest is selling fairly well, it’s also had a ton of publicity. Five Keys For Understanding Men, A Woman's Guide,  which came out in 1999 and then was re-issued a few years ago via print and e-book, sells consistently and well every single month. Much more than the new one, and it has absolutely no promotion whatsoever—not even a mention here and there. My own publisher keeps talking about a slow burn, and that’s what’s working in today’s crazy market. Still, I can’t figure it out. I have people every day tell me they just found one of my books, and it was the very thing they’d been looking for for years. While I am of course quite gratified about that, I’m thinking, how do I find you earlier in the process?

Since what PW’s numbers say will affect us all in the future, greatly, how will you find your audience? 

Award-winning author and editor Susan Mary Malone has five 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:

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

To Cap or Not to Cap: That Is the Question

Photo by Chumsdock,
Ah, dearies, it’s so good to see you again. I must be on my way shortly to meet the girls for tea, but I do want to tell you about an experience I had over the weekend. Your Style Maven’s still shaking her head over this one.

Let’s begin at the beginning. I stopped at a bookstore to pick up a new novel by one of my favorite authors. I’ve wanted to read it ever since it came out, and it was my great fortune to acquire the last copy on the shelf. While on my way to pay for it, I stopped to peek at an enticingly-colored flyer on the bulletin board, announcing the upcoming release of a new novel by another favorite writer.

I gasped. My heart fluttered. I blinked and looked again to be sure my eyes weren’t playing tricks on me—they do that sometimes, you know. This time they saw what they saw. Above the image of the positively captivating cover, the words in the title jumped out at me, all seven of them. Now seven is a perfectly nice number, but only the title’s first word was capitalized. The other six were apparently considered too insignificant by the person who prepared the flyer to begin with a capital letter. While this sentence-style capitalization is often used in reference lists and library catalogs, I seemed to recall that book titles in most written formats should follow the rules of headline-style capitalization.

My mind began to churn. I headed for the shelf where my trusty grammar guide, the Chicago Manual of Style, sat a bit forward of the other books, as though anticipating my imminent arrival. I reached for it, hurried to a nearby table, and opened the index in the back. My practiced finger ran down the possibilities in each column, scurried to the chosen reference, and moved slowly past each line as my eyes perused the rules. Yes, yes, it was just as I remembered: all nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and some conjunctions in a book title should be capitalized.

I read the rule again. Now, mind you, my reading ability is totally intact. I just wanted to be sure that nothing had changed, but it had—more on that in a moment. Now don’t get in a dither; much is the same. You know that prepositions, unless they function as adjectives or adverbs, should normally be lower case. However, if they begin or end the title, it is appropriate to capitalize them (ex.: Of Mice and Men). Check the CMOS for other exceptions. Remember that to is lower case, also, when it appears as part of an infinitive. Similarly, as should always be lower case unless it begins the title (ex., As You Like It); so should conjunctions and, but, or, for, and nor. The list could go on, but I do want to get to that change before I must leave. If I’m even a minute late, those ever-so-punctual girls will make sure I never hear the end of it.

In the past, the recommendation has been that the second element of a hyphenated word or number be lower case. Now, however, CMOS acknowledges the functional equality of the second element and therefore notes that it, too, should be capitalized. (Think “Ninety-Nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall.")

Oh, my goodness, look at the time! If I don’t dash away this moment, I will surely be late. Ta-ta, dearies. I’ll see you again soon. Do check Chicago’s sixteenth edition if you have the slightest doubt about this change or the proper use of headline-style capitalization.

Photo courtesy of Darrick Bartholomew

When time and schedule permit, the Style Maven relaxes on her porch with a mid-morning cup of tea and her favorite book, the Chicago Manual of Style. Other times, her alter ego busies herself knitting doggie vests and sundry other pretties. Do stop by and say hello to her at The Procraftinator.

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Stigma

People don’t want to admit they hire ghostwriters. There is a stigma attached to using a ghostwriter, and we might as well admit it.

Why should this be?

Whether they can write well or not, people think they should be able to write. We are funny about writing. We think everyone can write – after all, we learned how in first grade! Reading and writing are a big part of what makes us “civilized.”

One of the correlating lessons that we learned, at the tender age of four or five, was that we must do our own work. Never, ever, copy someone else. We are all capable of learning the skill of writing.

A first grader can write a simple story. A fourth grader can write a book report. By the time we get to high school, we have learned to research and do reports on complex subjects. We have learned grammar and spelling and sentence construction. We have read some great works of Literature. We know what makes a book good.

So now we are adults and should be able to write a book of our own. If we have someone else do it for us, that means we’re cheating. Right?

Well, no. Not always.

I’m a ghostwriter. I make my living writing books for others. I believe this is a perfectly legitimate way to get thoughts, ideas, methods and stories out into the world where they can do some good. Why should only those with writing talent or the time to write be able to share their stories in written form? You can hire decorators to help you beautify your house, and mechanics to keep your car running smoothly, and gardeners to prune the roses at the right time. It’s just as okay to hire writers to help you get your thoughts and stories out into the world in a way that other people will enjoy reading about them.

Of course those thoughts, ideas, methods, and stories must be those of the author – not the ghostwriter. If you want to write a book, or an article, or a blog post, about the eagle’s nesting habits, or the history of the Watergate scandal, or how to grow tomatoes, but you don’t have the time or the skill to write it yourself, then hire a ghostwriter. But you must tell your ghostwriter all you know and want to say about those eagles or tomatoes or Watergate. And then you can legitimately claim that book as yours. Because it is.

No stigma left.  

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 40 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit

Friday, June 14, 2013

Social Media Marketing: Here to Stay or Gone Tomorrow?

An article I recently read caused the writer in me to ponder the future of book marketing via social media. The piece might be a downer to some or a challenge to others. Or perhaps it expresses the view of one person who tapped into a sea of stats and turned his findings into an op-ed designed to dampen the dreams of writers in search of book sales. Or it may be a well-thought-out evaluation that reflects the proverbial handwriting on the wall. For me it’s a challenge — I love challenges — but check it out for yourself here.

The book-publishing world has plunged from the ranks of standardized, regulated industries into a free-for-all. Anybody can jump into the foray and grasp at its elusive straws. Rules don't exist within its vague boundaries, logical organization has left the building, and the proverbial needle in a haystack looks like a sure find beside the unrealized hopes of myriad writers. Credibility takes a back seat to gimmicks, schemes, and outright lies. Or so the article implies to me. Social media — specifically Facebook and Twitter — as a viable vehicle for e-publishing promotion, he indicates, is doomed to slither off into extinction and leave behind disillusioned authors without that marketplace in which to showcase their wares.

Is e-pubbing through social media destined to suffer a premature death? If it does, surely something more marvelous will surface to take its place. Writers and marketers, who possess some of the world’s most innovative imaginations, will not be deterred when old dead-ends segue into new highways to success. The noted article may accurately prophesy the end of an era that has seen mind-boggling growth. On the other hand, social media as a marketing tool may evolve from its current state as an unruly adolescent into an organized, mature, and effective location where readers can stroll among virtual bookshelves without the frustration that marks today’s online pandemonium (spoken like the intimidated Internet illiterate I am, but I’m sure I have company). Perhaps some form of business media will take on e-pubbing while its social counterpart goes its separate way. Illustrator and web designer Shannon Parish, who works mostly with writers, suggested that audio books could come into their own as a new force in the industry.

Tucked beneath the article’s harsh prediction lie huge opportunities for honest, well-earned success. Even now, out of the chaos, new authors and e-published works emerge to claim a profitable place within the reading community.

How can we avoid the potential for crashing if social media marketing fails to produce sales? One answer is collaboration. Building a team of proven professionals can spell the difference between outrageous success and overwhelming disappointment. The vast majority of us can’t do it alone…but that’s a topic for next month’s article.

Have you found social media to be an effective marketing tool? If it disappears, do you believe a literary Phoenix will rise from its ashes to rekindle (no pun intended) book sales? How do you think the bookstore of the future will serve those who just want to write?

Writer and editor Linda Lane helps writers to write well. She believes the best relationships between editors and authors create a learning environment that fixes ailing stories and hones needy craft. Writing is a profession, and professional writing is a learned skill that can be sharpened through the editing process. This summer she will be adding book reviews to the list of services she offers through Visit her there to see how she and her team can help you realize your dream of creating a great book.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

POV: 1 or 2?

In the book you're working on, do you tell the story from one Point of View or two?

One POV is usually the norm. Most of the books I read are told by one protagonist or lead character. We're inside her or his head. We know what she thinks, what he sees, what she experiences, likes, hates. S/he can't hide thoughts from the readers because we are in the head of the lead character. This is the kind of books I write.

But I'm now planning on having two lead characters. Two Points of View. The reader will be in the heads, see the thoughts, know the plans, fears, intentions, hopes of two characters. Two opposite characters.

I have the one POV version of the book written. The reader identifies with the lead character, lives in the head of that character. Now I'm going to tear the book apart, let the reader see not only the protagonist's thoughts but those of the antagonist. Two heads.

Two heads with different goals, plans, hopes. Two opposites. One will live. One will die.

Each POV must be recognizable. You can't have the reader getting lost and not being sure which character's head he's in as he's reading.

Each POV must tell the truth to the reader. You, the writer, can't hide his or her thoughts. We're in their heads so we know what they're thinking, planning, doing. And yet, you have to keep the tension ratcheted up.

You also have to make the antagonist believable. Even the ultimate bad guy has something that keeps him "human". It could be a serial killer who talks to his pet turtle. It could be a grandma who is such a sour puss that no one in her family visits her. What they don't know is that she volunteers at a group home for orphaned children.

How do you make your characters believable and even relatable? Granted, it's not likely that your readers will relate to a serial killer, but if you know the character well enough, you will know that one little quirk he has that makes him human.

Have you written a book with two different leads? How do you make both characters "real"?

Helen Ginger
is an author, blogger, and the Coordinator of Story Circle Network's Editorial Services and writing coach. She teaches public speaking as well as writing and marketing workshops. You can follow Helen on Twitter or connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn. Helen is the author of 3 books in TSTC Publishing’s TechCareers series, Angel Sometimes, and two of her short stories can be found in the anthology, The Corner Cafe. Her next book, Dismembering the Past, is due out in 2013.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Writing Tips From the Funny Papers

I always get an extra chuckle out of a comic strip that speaks to me as a writer. Some of the messages are a little hard to take, though. Consider this first one.

From B.C. Wiley, sitting under a tree with Clumsy Clark, is opening a box and says, "A gift from my agent."

He reads a note he finds in the box, "Some writers are appreciated even more when they have passed on from this earth."

Clumsy says, "That's sweet. What's in the box?"

Wiley opens it, "A Noose."

Oops, maybe it's a good thing not to have an agent.

 Now some wacky definitions from  Wiley's Dictionary. 
  • Perfect pitch: Best-selling roofing tar
  • Counterrevolution: The invention of Formica
This one is from Peanuts: Charlie Brown has just finished writing a new story and is reading it to Snoopy. When he finishes, Snoopy shakes his hand. In the last panel Charlie Brown says,  "I guess he didn't like it. That was his 'good luck, you're going to need it' handshake." 

Snoopy is a tough audience.

This one from Pickles is not writing related, but it does have some fun with words:  Earl is at the kitchen table, looking up at the ceiling. Nelson walks in and asks, "What are you looking at, Grampa?"

"Nothing, I was looking at a crack in the ceiling, but now I've got a crick in my neck and I'm stuck like this. From now on I'll probably have to be fed from above like a baby bird."

Nelson then goes to Opal and says, "Grampa was looking at a crack and then he got a crick."

To which Opal relies, "That's a crock."

Be sure to check out yesterday's Pickles strip for more fun with words. 

A message from Non Sequitur: Moses is standing on the mountain with the stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments. People are gathered down below and one man says, "OK, enough with the hard news. Can we have the sports or comics section now?"

I'll second that motion. What about you? 

Maryann Miller
is a novelist, editor and sometimes actress. Her most recent release is Boxes For Beds, an historical mystery available as an e-book. Stalking Season is the second book in the Seasons Mystery Series. The first book, Open Season, is available as an e-book for all devices. To check out her editing rates visit her website. When not working, Maryann likes to take her dog for a walk and work outside on her little ranch in East Texas. Sometimes she plays on stage, but she does avoid computer games as much as possible.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

An Original Way to Make Any Story Plausible

To enjoy a story, we need to feel that the author's world is - within its own logic - plausible; and for a story, howsoever fantastical, to be plausible it must be grounded in the reader's world. Does that sound provocative? Let me explain.

A sci-fi tale may consist improbably of a dialogue between sentient sunbeams. But at least we're familiar with dialogue and sunbeams.

Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings is plausible (within its own logic), not solely because it's built on familiar epic myths, but because its weird characters are - arguably - human beings endowed with the properties of household pets. We know what they are.

Within a story, we have to detect aspects of our own world. We know what that is. Otherwise, we just won't understand the story.

Plausibility in fiction is the detection of familiarity.

How can we give our stories that reader-engaging tenor of plausibility - or familiarity - even if our plots or characters are very weird indeed?

Here are two proven ways:

1. Create a Big Lie - and be proud of it.

Almost every story hinges upon an implausibility. Confront it - and get it over with.

At the start of Frederick Forsyth's thriller The Cobra the protagonist Paul Devereux, a discredited secret agent, is given $2 billion by the U.S. President to destroy the world's cocaine traffic. He takes the job on one condition: that he won't tell anyone what he's doing, not even the President.


Yet the novel works. Why? Because once the reader has swallowed the Big Lie, it proceeds with a meticulous - and plausible - logic.

One way to do this is to surround the event with such a wealth of authentic minutiae that they appear, by association, to verify the Big Lie. For example:

Suppose your story depends on the implausible thesis that Queen Elizabeth II is a lizard, the head of an alien conspiracy that secretly rules the world. As everyone knows, she is very fond of corgi dogs. Why? Because she eats them! (Not many people know that.)

To make that fatuous theme credible, even in farce, we should present the Queen's curious identity as a lizard as a 'given'. It's obvious. It needs no further discussion.

Instead, the tale might focus on the plight of a kennel owner who has an exclusive contract to furnish the royal kitchen with corgis. But a rival is poisoning his dogs. Worse, his last delivery to the palace made the queen quite ill...

What can he do? His poignant drama is the story.

Populate that tale with authentic kennel lore. Reveal the tricks of top breeders, the chicanery of dog shows, the technology of breeding programs. Pack in so many true details that even a corgi expert will acknowledge: this man's world is real.

The Big Lie, that Queen Elizabeth II is a lizard, will then pass on the nod. (Well, maybe...)

2. Supply the Missing Link.

Many a story, otherwise effective, will ‘sound’ implausible because a key step in its logic has been neglected or obscured. For example, in C J Sansom’s historical novel Dissolution a young servant girl cuts off a man’s head with one stroke of a sword.


Henry VIII had to send to France for a swordsman who could decapitate Anne Boleyn with one stroke. No English axe man was deemed capable of it, still less a girl.

Result: the reader feels bemused.

Just a few lines of explanation - ‘the girl’s father was a master swordsman and had taught her all he knew’, etc - might have supplied that missing link and fixed the implausibility.

Moral: find your gross implausibilities or loose ends. Every story has at least one. Make those absurdities or missing links appear rational. Just a line or two may do it. Then, by the doctrine of the Big Lie, your reader may go on to believe every word in your story. And buy its sequel!

Dr John Yeoman passed away in 2016. He held a PhD in Creative Writing, judged the Writers’ Village story competition and was a tutor in creative writing at a UK university. Prior to getting his doctorate degree, he spent 40 years as a commercial author and chairman of a major PR company. His Writers’ Village short story contest drew 1500 on-line entries each year from all over the world. Some of his blog posts are archived here, (however the writing class enrollment and downloads are no longer available).

Monday, June 10, 2013

Learning about Self through the Act of Writing

Use the creative process … to get to know yourself better. -Catie Curtis

When we discuss writing, we often talk about the preparation needed to gear us up to write; the important aspects of writing, such as character, plot, dialogue, and scene development; the need to be a good self-editor and to find an even better professional editor; the ins and outs of writing sparkling queries and synopses for agents and publishers; and the ins and outs of going the self-publishing route. In short, we focus on the writing, submitting, and publishing of stories, which is good. We need to talk about these things.

We don’t, however, talk much about what we learn about ourselves in the act of writing. And that’s just as important. We are the vessels in which stories flow. If we’re not checking on ourselves, our connection(s) to what we write; our common threads, themes that can be seen within our works; and how what we write might even change us, we may find ourselves churning out the same story with different titles, writing stories that don’t affect us, that don’t make us grow as writers.

This isn’t something I think about with every story I write. Every two, three stories, I find myself thinking about where I’ve grown as a writer. How my interests have changed… or even if they have changed. Where I see myself moving as a writer. Doing so keeps me a vital cog in this writing journey, helps me to refine my brand and platform, and helps me to see the trajectory of the journey.

I’ve learned a few things about myself through my writing, especially in projects I’m currently working on. Two big things are I care about the “broken” woman and I care about devastating things that go on in the world, those women that have a strength they haven’t found yet because the burdens of life weigh them down and those devastating things that often leave me in tears, confused about how people can be so cruel and inflict so much pain. Through my writing, I try to understand these women, to find ways in which the burdens can be lifted and the strength restored. Through my writing, I try to get into the minds of those who do devastating things or of those who have suffered so that I can find, in some way, understanding.

If I can learn something in the act of my writing, then I can use what I learn to give advice, to help people outside the pages.

What have you learned about yourself through your writing?

Shon Bacon is an author, doctoral candidate, editor, and educator. She has published both academically and creatively while also interviewing women writers on her popular blog, ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. In 2012, her second mystery, Into the Web and her short story "I Wanna Get Off Here" (in the short story collection, The Corner Cafe) were published. Her latest release, Saying No to the Big O, was published in April 2013. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her website, and you can get information about her editorial services at CLG Entertainment. Currently, Shon is busy writing her dissertation ... and trying to find the time to write CREATIVELY.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Countdown to Book 9: Why an ARC?

Traditional publishers often create a small print run of Advance Reader Copies, or ARCs, in advance of the version it will print for commercial distribution. This edition is clearly marked as an uncorrected copy so that it won’t be confused with the final product.

The print above my name: 
"Uncorrected Advance Copy • Not for  Sale"

But it feels so much like a book—and mine have arrived! Oh, to hold this book in my hand.

ARCs are typically made available 3-6 months before publication, often on the longer side for a debut author. The Art of Falling is still seven months out, but Sourcebooks wanted to have copies ready for Book Expo America (BEA) last weekend, since it’s the largest industry trade show in North America.

For today’s self-publishers, who are able to finish a manuscript one week, format it the next, and have it for sale online soon thereafter, creating an ARC may simply seem like a way to add considerable time and expense to the book launch process. I asked Anna Klenke, Assistant Editor at Sourcebooks, how this intermediary step still plays an important role in traditional publishing.

One word explains it: buzz.

“The success of a book is often tied to buzz and momentum,” Anna said. Literary agent Donald Maass spoke a bit about momentum in his recent keynote speech at the Pennwriters Conference in Pittsburgh, PA, when he said that books that hit the New York Times Best Seller List are chosen not by gross sales, but by rate of sale in any given week. “ARCs distributed by a publisher allow influential people to see your book and know that it exists well before publication,” Anna said. Knowing that the first three months after release are crucial, and with the stakes so high—the publisher has already invested fully in the advance payment, editorial time, and design work—this is no time to scrimp on promotional efforts.

Events like BEA are all about creating buzz for a book. “Our marketing team will develop a giveaway strategy for each ARC to make sure that we’re gaining as much momentum as possible,” Anna said. “We’ll be targeting your ARCs at people—readers, bloggers, librarians—who we think will be specifically interested in your book.”

Sourcebooks will also send out copies to the long-lead industry reviewers, such as Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist, Library Journal, and Kirkus. While they are not obligated to review anything a publisher sends them, Anna says that Sourcebooks generally hopes to get reviews from three out of the big four for their fiction titles. Depending on the book, they’ll also send ARCs to other media outlets, such as the New York Times Book Review, National Public Radio, and consumer magazines such as Newsweek.

While I already wrote of trying to get blurbs that might be placed on the ARC cover, at this point the search for blurbs is far from over. Because they can be so influential in getting the book onto bookstore shelves, we will seek cover quotes until the final book goes to print, which for The Art of Falling will be October 1. Since at this point the reading experience is greatly improved, thanks to the principles of book design, Anna says that most people respond better to a printed ARC than to a bound manuscript or electronic file.

Holding the ARC! Kathryn with the principal of her agency,
Donald Maass, at the Pennwriters conference

My personal copies have already acted as a ticket to ride, connecting me with speaking engagements, book clubs, readers (the woman sitting next to me at my son’s master’s graduation typed the title right into her smart phone reading list), and I’ve sent copies to key leaders among special interest populations who might have an interest in the book. I predict a few copies will find their way into Goodreads giveaways later this year, so feel free to connect with me there.

Just catching up? Here are links to the other posts in this series:
Countdown to a Book 1: Joining Hands
Countdown to a Book 2: Pitching
Countdown to a Book 3: Getting My Agent
Countdown to a Book 4: Developmental Editing
Countdown to a Book 5: All About Image
Countdown to a Book 6: From Writer to Author
Countdown to a Book 7: Five Tips for Getting Blurbs
Countdown to a Book 8: The Manuscript Becomes a Book

Next: Countdown to a Book 10: The Marketing Questionnaire

Kathryn Craft is a developmental editor at, an independent manuscript evaluation and line editing service. Her women's fiction and memoir are represented by Katie Shea at the Donald Maass Literary Agency. Her monthly series, "Countdown to a Book," details the traditional publication of her debut novel, The Art of Falling, by Sourcebooks in January 2014. Connect with Kathryn at her Facebook Author Page and Twitter.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

External Conflict Scenes

External Conflict scenes are your verbal camera at its widest angle and it is focused on the entire stage.

External conflicts test the protagonist’s courage, nerves, and determination.

They are high tension scenes that focus on the question of whether the overall story goal will be achieved. They are the main actions and reactions that provide the turning points and lead directly to and include the climax of the story.

External scenes show the characters caught up in the situation of your premise such as: boy meets girl, the volcano erupts, aliens invade the town, a body has been found, they are all forced to go to a wedding or reunion, or the wagon train heads out for the wild west. They do not address the subplots unless and until the subplot collides with the main plot at the climax. 

They introduce the protagonist, the inciting event, the story goal, the prize for reaching the goal, and the cost for not reaching the story goal (stakes). They show him developing and attempting a plan of action for tackling the story problem. In the usual three-act structure, his first plan fails and he must come up with a second plan (the wrong solution). That plan fails and he must come up with the third plan (the right solution). 

There have to be some positive moments where it looks like the protagonist is gaining ground. You could divide them equally: five scenes where he is making headway and five scenes where he is losing ground. 


1) If you have a story idea, list your initial thoughts on events that will happen to trigger then escalate this external conflict: snags in the plan, unexpected discoveries, reversals, gains, and increasing levels of threat. Arrange them in an order that shows cause and effect and final resolution. The first scene should contain the inciting event. The final scene should contain the climax. 


1. Dick learns a meteor will strike.
2. Dick thinks of a way to stop it while it is still far away. He will nudge it with a satellite. 
3. The satellite crashes into, but doesn’t change, the meteor's trajectory.
4. Dick comes up with plan to divert the meteor with a laser beam.
5. They can’t get the beam close enough from the ground.
6. They send the laser to the space station. The equipment breaks off and is lost in space. 
7. They are back to the drawing board - all seems lost. They enter countdown mode. 
8. Dick comes up with a final plan. It is do or die. They will nuke the meteor. 
9. They rev up the shuttle loaded with a lethal payload to intercept the meteor and, despite last minute glitches, the shuttle takes off on a suicide mission. 
10. Their plan succeeds and everyone lives, except the crew of the shuttle.

2) If you already have a rough draft, save a copy of the draft as “External Scenes” and delete everything except for scenes that show the protagonist dealing with the overall story problem. Are they in a logical cause and effect order? If not, can you revise them so that they are? Do all of the scenes contribute in a meaningful way? If not can you cut them? 

3) Which scene contains the inciting event? It is Chapter One or Two? If not, can you move it up? 

4) Which scene contains the climax? Is it resolved too soon? Are there subplots and other story lines that drag on after it? Can you cut them or move them up? 

5) How and where does your protagonist enter and exit the story? How does he end up? 

Next time, we will explore antagonist scenes.

Diana Hurwitz is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.