Friday, November 29, 2013

Thanks and the Holidays

I have much to be thankful for this season including a healthy birthday, a lovely Thanksgiving Day, and a productive month of writing for NaNoWriMo. Let me take this moment to thank you, the Blood-Red Pencil readers, for joining us every day this past year and sharing your thoughts and feelings about the writing life.

I'm grateful for the BRP blogging team. Because of your efforts, this blog has succeeded for over five years and has logged almost 1,500 interesting and relevant posts. You inspire me daily with your savvy views on writing, editing, and marketing books. Let's be friends forever!

Starting on Monday and through the month of December, we'll be re-sharing some of our favorite posts from previous years. They truly deserve a repeat run.

We all wish you the peace and joy of the holiday season and a pleasant slide into a new year. On a good book, of course!

~ Dani Greer/Chief Red Pencil

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Gratitude and the Digital Age

This post was first published here on November 27, 2013.

Prior to the invention of the Internet, writers holed up in their attics, alone and palely scribbling, fantasizing about an elusive publishing contract. They spent sunny afternoons deep in the bowels of libraries flipping through the card catalog and paging through thick reference books.

Scribes developed callouses on their fingers. They sported perpetual ink stains from writing draft after draft on paper they wadded and tossed in bins. They longed for someone, anyone, to talk to about their passion. They were isolated introverts with impossible dreams, often in desperate need of a critique group or at least someone to help with plot snags or elusive titles.

Then some smarty pants invented the electric typewriter, which led to the personal computer, which led to the Internet. Writers were able to research from the comfort of their living rooms while still in their bathrobes. They could draft and revise a hundred times without killing a single tree. They no longer needed Whiteout or carbon paper. Writers no longer had to spend a fortune on postage or trudge out to the mailbox in their slippers in hopes of a reply. Submissions (and rejections) were sent via e-mail at the speed of light. The response was rarely the acceptance letter they hoped for, but at least they had an answer, sometimes within seconds of hitting Send.

Along came the book that is Face and other social media. Writers could talk to each other. They could form critique groups, share their passion with people from all walks of life all over the world. They could interact with readers who loved their stories. They could see what people thought about their books, good and bad.

Just when we thought, “It doesn’t get better than this,” another smarty pants invented  E-books and print on demand. The elusive dream of winning a publishing contract was no longer the only option. Writers could produce print and E-books themselves, with varying degrees of prowess. But that is neither here nor there. Mediocre pulp fiction was prolifically distributed before Gutenberg’s printing press.

The game changed, irrevocably, for good or ill. Paper became electronic streams of data that could be distributed and shared with the push of a button. There was hardly any need for the “sad book warehouse” where printed copies were consigned for destruction.

Audiobooks allowed more fans to listen to books. Voice recognition software allowed writers who could not wield a pen to share their words. Digital files were easily uploaded and downloaded. Fun experiments stretched the boundaries of storytelling by combining audio, video, and written words.

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.

Without these technological advances, I would still be alone and palely scribbling in my pajamas. Unable to write longhand since my twenties, I rely on a keyboard. With my physical limitations, I would never have met wonderful writers around the globe or have connected with the authors whose work I adore. I would never have formed my wonderful Ladyscribes critique group nor worked with the other talented writers I have met along the way. My work would still be hidden in a drawer. I would not have received touching fan E-mails. I could not have shared the advanced craft that I learned in my self-directed study course made possible by internet access. I may never have heard of the work of authors I have come to love.

These are heady times for struggling scribes. No matter where it goes in the future, the digital age, in spite of its dark side, is a heck of an opportunity. And for that, I am grateful.

For other articles on the internet as a useful tool, check out:

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.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Thankful for Books

I am thankful every day for many wonderful things in my life. But during this special season of Thanksgiving, I want to focus on thankfulness for books. I am thankful my dad was an avid reader and passed that love to me. I’m thankful for the bookmobile, the libraries and the bookstores that have provided me with wonderful avenues of adventure throughout my life. And, I’m thankful for the gift I’ve been given to write books.

I’d like to share a few of Marketing guru John Kremer’s 32 Great Reasons to Read a Book:

• To escape your normal life.
• To travel to real destinations.
• To explore new worlds.
 • To imagine more than you could on your own
• To dream a new life.
• To know more than you could learn on your own.
• To learn what you don’t know.
• To learn what you do know.
• To discover something extraordinary.
• To meet incredible characters.

What are some of your reasons to read?

A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in North-central Arizona. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, is based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, won the national WILLA Award. The next book in the series, Dare to Dream, will be published in May 2014. 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.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Chameleon Characters

Photo by William Warby, via Flickr
In the animal kingdom, chameleons are noteworthy for being able to change color in response to their environment. This makes the word chameleon an apt metaphor to denote that specialized class of Fantasy characters whose moral priorities and personal loyalties are (or appear to be) in a state of flux throughout the story.

If you’re a Fantasy writer, having a chameleon in your cast list is like having a wild card up your sleeve in a poker game. I.e., it can really liven things up when the chips are down.

To begin with, the chameleon often has a touch of “the alien” about him.1 He may be racially distinctive (one lone dwarf in a company of elves); he may come from a suspect place on the map (a Southron merchant visiting Minas Tirith), or he might belong (or might once have belonged) to a socially dubious caste or profession (a former imperial inquisitor who claims to have renounced his past). Whatever the nature of his “difference”, he’s no more at home amongst a group of Sidekicks than he is among a group of Henchmen. Other members of the group mistrust him (rightly or wrongly) for being “not one of us”.2 That means anything can happen.

Where Sidekicks and Henchmen tend to keep to their own respective sides of the moral plot divide, a chameleon contrives to shuttle between opposing camps. It’s not uncommon to find a chameleon fraternizing with the Other Side, and if challenged, he will always have a plausible excuse for doing so. A chameleon is a capable role-player, and his true allegiance often remains a mystery till the book’s finale. His performances keep us guessing.

Another cause for speculation is the fact that a chameleon’s motives and objectives don’t necessarily match up with those of the company he keeps. A lot of scope for narrative tension arises when the chameleon’s personal agenda comes into conflict with his relationships with other characters. If (for example) his companions are out to rescue a captive wizard from a necromancer’s tower, the chameleon will stick with the party till they’re inside. Thereafter, however, he’ll seize the first available opportunity to peel off and steal a book of spells (the object of his own personal quest) from the necromancer’s library. If the main party comes to grief in his absence, he may turn back to rescue them. On the other hand, he might leave them in the lurch and make off with his loot.

Like Schrödinger’s cat, a chameleon exists in a state of uncertainty. We don’t know whether he’s friend or foe till the author takes the lid off the box. Either way, readers relish well-designed shocks and surprises, and employing the services of a chameleon is one way to generate a world of suspense. That suspense will keep us turning pages till the final curtain.


1 Once again I’m obliged by default to use the masculine forms as generic.

2 From the writer’s perspective, you can have a lot of fun out-foxing the reader by endowing a villainously disposed chameleon with charm and charisma, or (conversely) by depicting an angel-in-disguise on the surface as a capricious bad-tempered bitch.

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

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Dashing Off A Note About Ages

Graphic courtesy of stock.xchng
Hello again, dearies! Having just enjoyed a birthday, your Style Maven is inspired to discuss age.

Not my own mind you; Heavens, no. What we’re going to discuss today is the fact that while age is only a number (usually unlisted), it’s terribly important to write that number correctly. When age is included in a description, how does one hyphenate? More to the point, should a hyphen be used at all?

As usual, it boils down to usage. Since we’re all of an age (and quite clever enough) to learn by example, I’m going to show you when and how age terms should be hyphenated. Raise your hand once you catch on; you’re sure to pick it up straight away.

When I was twenty years of age, I purchased a five-year-old coat in a vintage shop.

A collection of thirty- to forty-year-old hats was found in the costume closet.

These shoes are three years old, but still very chic.

A six-year-old often has a unique sense of fashion.

Are you picking up the pattern? Lovely! I knew you’d get it right off. As you can see, ages can be hyphenated in both adjective and noun forms, with one or two exceptions. We do get one touch of consistency: these examples also apply to numeral forms. The Chicago Manual of Style does offer one bit of DIY advice regarding hyphens.

If you’re unable to find a suitable example, “hyphenate only if doing so will aid readability.”

And there we are; a lesson for the ages. Handle your hyphenation with care, and remember: A well-turned phrase is always in style!

Photo courtesy of Darrick Bartholomew

As cold weather approaches, your Style Maven has begun collecting scarves of all descriptions, and can often be found at the bottom of a large pile of colorful, fringed fabric. If she's not there, try looking for her online at The Procraftinator.

Monday, November 18, 2013

When a House Is Like a Book

The DH and I have been in the process of getting our house in order, a project long overdue. He's the kind of guy who's deathly averse to change. I'm usually immersed in writing and promoting, and don't expend much energy on keeping the house in shape.

Something set off a signal in my brain. Suddenly, I became disgusted with the state of our house. I had to make changes or go crazy, despite my husband's protests to leave well enough alone.

Before the necessary task of moving the furniture, what was inside everything had to be removed and put somewhere else. Some of the items we plucked out may find their way back to where they were before, while others will be donated or thrown away.

The walls are now painted, but nothing can go back to its proper place until the carpeting is installed.

What does this have to do with writing? Some of you may have already guessed.

Improving a house is very like editing a book. Sometimes an author can become complacent, unaware of the problems preventing a manuscript from being all it can be. After typing the words, "The End," we need to take a hard look and check for flaws before sending it out into the world.

Some are easy fixes. Others may be complex, requiring small or large parts to be moved around or gutted. It doesn't hurt to save the old version under a different name, and then make the changes. Also, if you're in doubt about discarded content, you can stick that in a separate file as well.

Once you've done all you can do on your own, consulting a professional editor is a wise course of action. Minds have a bad habit of supplying what should be there, when it really isn't. If you don't have an editor, you'll find many available at The Blood-Red Pencil.

Before sending your manuscript to an editor, here's a checklist for editing:

1. Spell check, but be careful, since sometimes that feature supplies what it wants to, instead of what's right.
2. Search for overused words, especially favorites - those you're in the habit of using.
3. Vary sentence construction.
4. Similar to #2 and #3 is making sure not to use the same word(s) in a row or close by to begin a sentence.
5. Use present tense when appropriate.
6. Discard as many of the just, only, as, and ing words as possible.
7. Check sequence to make sure reaction follows an action, and not vice versa.
8. Decide if each character's behavior makes sense.

Well, there you have it. I believe I've offered enough proof that getting a manuscript into shape can be similar to and about as daunting as improving a house!

You're welcome to comment by adding to my checklist, or expanding on an item already there.

Experience the diversity & versatility of Morgan Mandel. For romantic comedy: Her Handyman & Girl of My DreamsThriller: Forever Young: Blessing or CurseShort Stories Sequel: the Blessing or Curse CollectionRomantic suspense: Killer Career. Mystery: Two WrongsTwitter:@MorganMandel Websites: Morgan Mandel.Com Chick Lit Faves 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Gratitude Attitude Revisited

How do I thank thee? Let me count the ways… (apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning)

Here’s my “thank-you” list of all those who have helped me get my books out. Please share yours.

• Beta readers
• Editors
• Cover designers
• Book designers
• Printers
• Publicists
• Readers
• Fellow editors on BRP
• Fellow authors on BRP
• Commenters on BRP
• Family and friends who grant time and space
• All who encourage and support writing efforts
• Anyone who brings a glass of cold water or cup of hot chocolate or fixes a meal

Planting the seeds of a story, cultivating them through the arduous writing process, thinning them after editing storms, and harvesting them onto the printed pages hot off the press — this is what writing a book is all about. While it may grow out of long hours of lonely work, it is not a work that’s accomplished alone. Many or all the above people likely played a role in helping that seedling grow and blossom into a glorious flower.

Writing a book is a huge accomplishment. Even though the proceeds from it may not yet allow you to quit your day job, it’s some of the most mentally and emotionally taxing work you will ever do. Never buy into anyone’s implication that it requires less than stellar effort — it’s a real job.

Now, please, share your “thank you” list and publicly acknowledge (not necessarily by name) the unsung network of heroes behind your beautiful books.

Linda Lane
and her editing team work with writers at all levels of experience and in all stages of story development. You can learn about her team at

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Word Play

A friend of mine sent me a Word Play list three years ago. While searching for something else, I came across it in my computer and thought I'd share it. Whether you're a writer, reader, or editor (or all three), enjoy this Play on Words.

The Washington Post's Mensa Invitational one year invited readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition. Here are the winners:

• Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period of time.

• Ignoranus: A person who's both stupid and an a-hole.

• Intaxicaton: Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.

• Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly.

• Bozone ( n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.

• Foreploy: Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.

• Giraffiti: Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.

• Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it.

• Inoculatte: To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.

• Osteopornosis: A degenerate disease.

• Karmageddon: It's like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it's like, a serious bummer.

• Decafalon (n.): The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.

• Glibido : All talk and no action.

• Dopeler Effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.

• Arachnoleptic Fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after you've accidentally walked through a spider web.

• Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito, that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.

• Caterpallor (n.): The color you turn after finding half a worm in the fruit you're eating.

The Washington Post has also published the winning submissions to its yearly contest, in which readers are asked to supply alternate meanings for common words.

And the winners are:
• Coffee, n. The person upon whom one coughs.

• Flabbergasted, adj. Appalled by discovering how much weight one has gained.

• Abdicate, v. To give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.

• Esplanade, v. To attempt an explanation while drunk.

• Willy-nilly, adj. Impotent.

• Negligent, adj. Absentmindedly answering the door when wearing only a nightgown.

• Lymph, v. To walk with a lisp.

• Gargoyle, n. Olive-flavored mouthwash.

• Flatulence, n. Emergency vehicle that picks up someone who has been run over by a steamroller.

• Balderdash, n. A rapidly receding hairline.

• Testicle, n. A humorous question on an exam.

• Rectitude, n. The formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists.

• Pokemon, n. A Rastafarian proctologist.

• Frisbeetarianism, n. The belief that, after death, the soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.

• Circumvent, n. An opening in the front of boxer shorts worn by Jewish men

You can go here to see what's been submitted so far for 2013.

This one was my favorite off the 2013 list:
Transcendental vegetation: Becoming mesmerized by spinach in another person's teeth. (by Scot Estep)

Do you have any words (with definitions) you'd like to add to the list? If so, share them in the Comments.

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. In addition, her free ezine, Doing It Write, which goes out to subscribers around the globe, is now in its fourteenth 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, 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 Fall 2013.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Story Ideas Come From the Strangest Places

Some writers get their story ideas from reading newspaper items or hearing things on the news, especially us we mystery writers. Others get theirs from dreams. One of my writer friends dreams an entire story every night then gets up and writes it. I hate her. I really do.

Okay, maybe I don't hate her, but I really, really am jealous. My dreams are so fragmented, I could never pull a story together. Not to mention the fact that it would entail remembering the dream. Kudos to those who can, but not this lady.

Anyway, my friend, and frequent guest here, Slim Randles, shared a most unique way to get a story idea.

When Jim Kennedy uses his big backhoe, a crowd usually gathers. He's an artist, you see. He runs his massive-toothed monster gouging holes in the backyards of his neighbors, putting in their pipes and even the occasional swimming pool, and does it with the grace of a surgeon.
 At Bud McFarland's place the other day, he was there to install Bud's new septic tank. This was to be a massive septic tank, Bud said, "big enough so if I want to put in a hotel, I don't have to worry." 

It was a balmy day in May, past coffee time, and the backhoe master was at work. Bud was standing there watching Jim work his digging magic in the backyard, along with half a dozen others, including us. Now and then Jim would just do something to show off his skill. At one point, when Jim's backhoe cut through a buried tree root, there was about a foot-long section of root lying alone at the bottom of the hole. 

"Hey," Bud yelled at Jim, good-naturedly, "firewood!" 

Jim grinned and reached his long steel arm down into the hole, gently picking up just the one piece of wood, lifting it out of the hole, and delivering it to Bud's outstretched hand as though it were the crown jewels. 

As we watched, Jim lifted the massive concrete vault of the septic tank and placed it gently in the hole. Then his helper hooked a chain to the septic tank lid and Jim lifted this into the air and swung it over the hole. But instead of lowering it, Jim stopped the machine in mid stride and hollered at the new septic tank owner. 

"Hey Bud!" he yelled, "Got any bodies you want to hide?" 

The perfect place for a murder victim. Agatha Christie didn't even come up with that one. 

You have to admire professionalism wherever you may find it.

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 believes in the value of a good walk or a good chuckle.

Monday, November 11, 2013

When Your Story Takes a Vacation - 5 Ways to Cope

This is probably not the time to talk about this subject, especially while so many people are busy working on NaNoWriMo projects, but we have to face it: sometimes, the writing won’t come.

There are some writing experts that will tell you to write through this moment to get back to the story. I’m not really a fan of that suggestion because it can lead to a lot of frustration and negative feelings when/if the story continues to stall.

Writing is mental; it’s also physical, emotional, psychological, and for many people, spiritual. When problems arise in one or more of these cogs, writing can stall.

Sure, you can push your way through and perhaps suffer agitation, frustration, and anxiety over the lack of writing.

However, you can also tell yourself, IT’S OK, and work in other areas to keep your creative juices flowing and ready for when your story returns.

So, what can you do when the story packs its bags and flees?

Here are a few suggestions.

Play with your characters. In my last BRP piece, I talk about dating your antagonist. You do know you can date all your characters, right? And no one will think you’re fast and loose if you do. Take them outside of the story and share a drink and a talk with them. Make them your friends. Perhaps in doing so, they will want to come along and finish your story with you. You can also take your characters and place them in a location they’ve never been before, a place totally outside the realm of your story. How do they interact with the setting, the locals? Tapping into a new facet of your characters might spark you to return to your story. Play psychiatrist and invite your characters to a group counseling session. How do they interact when in a room with people they love, like, hate? What questions might you ask that can ignite tension, laughter, romance among the characters? Sometimes, it’s not about forcing yourself to plow through the writing; it’s about having some fun in different ways with your characters so that you feel good enough to jump back into the story.

Entertain another creative outlet. Writers are creative creatures, and often, writing is just one of the creative endeavors that they do well. Are you a painter? Do you crochet? Do you enjoy taking pictures? Do you enjoy web designing or creating graphics? Though I’m not great at it, I love taking pictures, whether on my phone or with my camera. It’s amazing how looking through that lens allows you to focus on the most minute, exquisite things that others might fail to see. Taking pictures and seeing the stories within them sparked me to start SNAPS: 1000 Words, a place where I and others write short fiction and non-fiction based off pictures. When the story stalls, it’s important to stay creative in some capacity. Keeping your creative muscles warm may help bring your story back quicker than expected. It might also help you in creating new story ideas.

Move! No, not to a new home. That’s a bit extreme. I’m talking about moving your BODY. Sometimes, it’s a good idea to take the focus off the writing and the creativity and get back to YOU. When we exercise, these lovely little things called endorphins can “ trigger a positive feeling in the body, similar to that of morphine. For example, the feeling that follows a run or workout is often described as "euphoric." That feeling, known as a "runner's high," can be accompanied by a positive and energizing outlook on life” (“Exercise and Depression,” WebMD). Five months ago, I took up walking, and now, I do it every day. There are many benefits of the “while walking” time, to include space to think, to see, to feel, to be in your surroundings and experience that, but there are big benefits to the after effects. Usually, for a few hours after a good walk (or other form of workout), the body is nice and warm and thrums on the endorphins, the mind is clearer, you feel good for taking some time out for your well-being, and these things can lead to the flow of good story energy, too. Earlier, I talked about those mental, emotional, physical, psychological, and spiritual cogs within us. Exercise can help to elevate their levels, and the good vibes you feel from a good workout can spark new ideas and perhaps even help you get back into your story.

Practice different forms of writing. Do you typically write novels? Perhaps try your hand at some flash fiction. Write poetry. Write an essay or commentary. How might your story look as a ten-minute play? A short script? Sometimes, the jolt that occurs from trying a different writing form can be enough to push you back into your story. Keeping a journal is another form of writing than can help, too. Currently, I have four active journals: exercise/health, WANT to-dos, scriptures/faith, and good things. A couple of them I write in every day, but all of them receive some love at least once a week. Even though you’re not writing your story, you are writing, which is sometimes the key to getting back into your story. Often, especially when I’m working in my faith journal, I will come across a scripture I have to write in my journal, but it also gives me much food for thought, which moves me back into at least thinking about a story of mine to work on. Like the “creative outlet” suggestion above, this suggestion keeps the creative muscles warm and ready for a storytelling return.

Read. Can you ever go wrong with reading? If you can, I don’t want to know about it. A good story immerses you into setting, character, tension, action in ways that will push all the reasons you can’t seem to write out of your mind. There have to be some “creative endorphins” that are released when you exercise your mind with reading a good story, and those good feelings can be used to spark you into returning to YOUR story.

How do you keep your creative juices flowing when a story stalls?

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. She's the author of mysteries, Death at the Double Inkwell and its sequel, Into the Web, the short story "I Wanna Get Off Here" (in the short story collection, The Corner Cafe), and the romantic dramedy novella, Saying No to the Big O. 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 pursuing her Ph.D. in Technical Communication and Rhetoric at Texas Tech University ... and trying to find the time to WRITE.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Countdown to a Book 14: Pre-sales

You only have one opportunity to create “buzz” about your book, and you don’t want to squander it. The hope is to create enough excitement about your release so that it explodes from the gate. My gate opens—hopefully with a bang—less than three months from now, on January 28.

As you can see by the number “14” applied to this monthly post, I’ve already been creating buzz for The Art of Falling for some time now. So much so that every now and then—when people say, “Didn’t that already come out?”—I have to remind them that the bees haven’t already fled the hive!

Once you get fully invested readers to pre-order, however, you can stop worrying about that.

Now that pre-orders are live and the final copyedits complete, my evolving author website devotes two pages to my novel. 
  • The first shows the cover, a brief synopsis, trade review praise and blurbs, and—for the first time—debuts the opening chapter. If the reader is favorably impressed, she need do no more than click the link to her favorite pre-order site and complete the purchase to send my publisher (and by extension, brick-and-mortar bookstores) the message that excitement for this book is indeed growing.
  • The second is for book clubs so they know I'm hoping to speak directly to their needs with this book. 

Sourcebooks does not give away huge numbers of free Advance Reader Copies (ARCs) to end consumers, as they have not found that this drives sales. [To balance this argument from the indie side, we’ve recently had authors express the opposite opinion at BRP here and here.] Instead, they hope that each ARC will influence numerous readers by giving them to librarians, booksellers, trade reviewers, etc.  That said, Goodreads is one place where a giveaway can build buzz, as numerous avid readers learn about your book, enter a giveaway for one of five free books, then add it to their “to read” shelves (which means they’ll be automatically reminded of their interest on release day). For The Art of Falling, that effort ran August through October.

I’m going to explore this topic more in next month’s Countdown to a Book post, but for now, suffice to say that early positive reviews can slide your book into many an avid reader’s “to-be-read” list. Readers with NetGalley accounts can access the digital ARC in exchange for an honest review, and those have already started showing up on Goodreads.

For a long time my release date was January 7. It drove me nuts to not be able to take advantage of holiday sales! Then I had an idea. Why not reward those who pre-order my novel as a holiday gift by sending them cards that they can use as “placeholders” for the gift, which will arrive just a few short weeks after Christmas? I ordered them and they’re beautiful. They feature my stunning book cover on the front and are blank on the inside so that the giver can add his/her own message.

After making this investment my release date was moved. Publishers will sometimes do this when they learn of big books coming out so that their debut authors don’t get washed out to sea. But now, instead of a few short weeks after Christmas, the book will arrive several long weeks after.

But I still have the cards, so: If you pre-order my book for holiday giving, go to my my website contact form, send me your snail-mail and the number of copies ordered, and I’ll mail off to you the commensurate number of cards. You will also earn my undying gratitude. While you’re there, sign up for my author newsletter for updates.

Network • Network • Network
Did you know that one way you can help your author friends is to carry their books around in public—even if you don’t suspect you’ll have time to read it while you're out? Years ago women at hairdressers everywhere were reading Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones; more recently I saw patients at doctors' offices with Leif Enger’s So Brave, Young and Handsome. Well, that can work with your own ARC, too!

The waitress sees it on the table, she remarks on that dramatic cover, you tell her you wrote it and when it’s coming out, then slip her a business card that has your book cover on the back, mentioning it’s available now for pre-order. People have asked me about it while sitting beside me in the theater and while walking down the street—and in each case they whipped out their smart phones and wrote down the title! My husband is also a deputized card distributor, as are key enthusiasts in different geographic areas who love the book. While you're at it, ask people to like your Facebook Author Page so you can stay in touch. Some people won’t care, but they’re polite about it. Others will think you’re the most generous rock star they ever met.

Next: Countdown to a Book 15: Author Quotes

Just catching up? Search results for this series can be found here:
Countdown to a Book

Okay, what am I missing? Let’s do a group brainstorm and help Kathryn fill in the missing promo pieces so she can drive pre-sales. Meanwhile, we'll all learn in the process!

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.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Actor to Writer

Taken during my summer in England, 2012.
I never thought my training and experience as an actor would be of much use outside a theatre. Certainly my family thought so. Announcing one is going to pursue an acting career garners the same response as announcing the wish to write novels: "But, what are you going to do as a real job?"

As an actor I spent years (and I do mean years) getting inside other people's heads. I've played career-driven women, women with relationship issues, women hungry for power and women looking for love. I've even played a man with emotional troubles; the psychiatrist, Martin Dysart, in Peter Schaffer's classic play Equus. I learned a myriad of dialogue rhythms, from comedic to tragic to Shakespearean. I honed my comedy. I discovered how people react to different situations and how to portray that (both emotionally and physically) on stage.

As a director I had to 'look at the whole board' (to quote one of my favourite screenwriters) instead of concentrating on one specific piece. Some plays need to move at the speed of a spinning top; some benefit from a more lackadaisical rhythm, but all need to create their own unique worlds. Audiences can sniff out a false moment in an instant and their rustling and coughing are the symptoms of your failure. 

But now, I write. Climbing inside each of my characters' heads and viewing the world through their eyes is second nature for me. I can know their vocabularies and their rhythms. Most importantly, I know what each of them want. In a play every scene has to move the plot forward and I try to apply this rule to my writing. Every unit has to either move the plot or let the reader learn something new about a character (or characters). I try not to have large descriptions of settings, unless it's vital to the plot. Many times it's the people and the events that are important, not the colour of the paint.

Every actor learns how to discover their character by answering the questions: What do I say about me? What do I say about others? What do others say about me? I suggest you take a look at whatever you're writing at the moment and answer it as each of your main and secondary characters. It may change how you view your characters or it may help you realize you're writing it exactly the way you want!

In the theatre instead of saying 'good luck' we say 'break a leg'. In that spirit, to all you writers I say 'break a pen or keyboard'.

Elspeth Antonelli is an author and playwright. Her murder mystery games A Fatal Fairy Tale and Curiouser and Curiouser are among the top-selling mystery games on the internet. All thirteen of her murder mystery games and two audience-interactive plays are published by She has also contributed articles to the European writers' magazine Elias. Connect with her on Twitter at @elspethwrites or on Facebook at Elspeth Antonelli, Author.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Grammar ABCs: X Marks the Spot, a Placeholder

"Work, the what's-its-name of the thingummy and the thing-um-a-bob of the what d'you-call-it."—P.G. Wodehouse, Psmith, Journalist

A placeholder is what a writer puts in when she can’t think of the right line or idea at the moment. Placeholders can be a useful tool when you are making that mad dash through your first draft, especially during November’s NaNoWriMo challenge. How often do you get bogged down when you stop to try to think of just the right word or phrase? How many times do you make a detour to the Internet to search for that word or phrase and get further derailed by blogs, articles or that “ding” that signals you have a Facebook message? Well, turn off everything but your word processing program and remember “placeholders.”

You can use a placeholder when you can’t remember what you named the heroine’s fifth child ten  chapters ago. “When he saw the huge shadow looming, Little Whosit dropped his books on the ground and ran.” You don’t need to take the time to search back to find the name right now.

You can use a placeholder when you don’t know the name of something. “Bob peered at the wires in the thingamajig, sweat rolling down his back. If he couldn’t disarm this thing…” You certainly don’t want to stop in the middle of a high-tension scene to figure out what the “thingy” is he’s working on.

You can use a tagline (he said) as a placeholder in dialogue. “No, I understand why you want to break up with me,” he said. My fiction teachers (and consequently I) recommend not using taglines when it’s possible to use an action or a reaction instead. But if you’re writing dialogue and you know you’ve used too many “his stomach clenched” actions, you can go ahead and put in a placeholder.

"I have unspiked the sliding doors at the far end of the barn, so that the greatly increased flow of visitors can move past the whatchamacallit without eddies and backwash. In one end they go, and out the other."—Kurt Vonnegut, Bluebeard.

Do you use placeholders? What are some of the gems you’ve come up with?

A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in North-central Arizona. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams is based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, 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.

Friday, November 1, 2013

A Month of Writing Intent

I've done it for five years. I'm doing it again this year. For one solid month, for 30 running days, I will focus my attention and intent on writing a long piece of fiction. A story. A novel. Not blogging. Not editing. Not all the other running-words-together writing I do. I will focus on writing a book and I will do it by joining 200,000 or more other writers participating in NaNoWriMo a.k.a. National Novel Writing Month.

And I will do it first thing every morning, crapping out 1,667 - 2,500 words before I do another thing.

I will not care if it's crap.

I will write.

I will write fiction.

I will create a world.

I will create characters.

They will do stuff.

To each other.

To me.

And maybe, some sweet day, to you.

I am already starting to get nervous. My palms are sweaty. My heart is beating faster. Freakout!

How about you? Are you revved up for NaNoWriMo? Does a group effort like this excite you? Propel? Inspire? Leave us your NaNo handle in the comments so we can be writing buddies! You can find me here.

Good luck and good writing!