Wednesday, December 31, 2014

An Extra Month

The end is here.

Another year has come and gone. Like me, do you feel you could use another month to catch up with everything undone from 2014?

That’s one reason Gurutej Khalsa’s book, The 13th Month: How To Get An Extra 29 Days Each Year, caught my attention.

I first learned of this author through my yoga practice – I’ve enjoyed her video, Chakra Yoga, for many years.  So I knew the foundation of the book would be rooted in yoga practice.  However, it’s written in a decidedly accessible and conversational voice, and nothing in the suggestions would keep the average person from applying the techniques.  As I read each chapter, a handful of ideas resonated with me, and these are the ones I’ll apply or ramp up in the new year.

Let’s begin with the areas of food and exercise. I've long had a healthy diet, eating mostly organic (and often homegrown or locally acquired) foods. I exercise daily, in some combination of walking (3-5 miles), weight lifting, and yoga. According to the author, I could improve my energy levels by eliminating coffee entirely from my diet. That idea makes me cringe, but I’m going to give it a go.

Photo credit:
I already meditate, too, but I’m not as consistent in this area as with my exercise program. I’ll make an effort to meditate twice a day instead of only once, first thing in the morning and prior to my writing hours, then again in the evening before sleep. I know from practice that regular meditation keeps me focused and task-oriented throughout the day, and helps me sleep better, and sometimes less. (Gurutej herself sleeps only four hours per night.) I’m an eight-hour-a-night sleeper, so waking even one hour early each day would “buy” me 30 extra hours in just one month.

Perhaps the most valuable section of the book for me dealt with daily habits. I didn’t learn anything exactly new to me, but I did have an opportunity to face up to my own waste of time. Where do I spend my time every day? Doing what I believe is most important? Writing my novels?


What I usually do first thing in the morning involves all my social media errands, which include Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest as well as monitoring blogs. I consider this part of my work day, but the truth is, I sometimes spend more hours online each day, than I do writing or editing my books. I didn’t need my previous experience as an accountant to figure out that my extra month each year could easily be harvested from my social media hours each day!  I bet many of you can say the same thing. How are you planning to change your habits to maximize the time for more important things?

If you need some cheer-leading and advice on adjusting your own lifestyle to better meet your goals, I strongly suggest you connect with Gurutej Khalsa on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, then check out her website and blog for lots of inspiration and advice.  I promise you’ll get motivated to adopt some new and healthier habits, that will help you ramp up your writing life. 

But set your timer, and don’t let your day get away from you while you’re online learning! Or researching. Or connecting. Or any other excuse you come up with to avoid doing what you ought to be.

So what are you doing new this coming year to improve your writing life? Please leave us your thoughts and suggestions in the comments!

Dani Greer is founding member of the Blood-Red Pencil, and plans to spend 2015 writing and publishing her own books. You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and on her News From Nowhere book blog.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Ask the Editor: And then?

This post was first published here on April 8, 2010.

In my newsletter, I told subscribers that if they had a grammar question, they could ask me or post the question here on The Blood-Red Pencil. Kathy Lee Scott, who’s both a dancer and a writer, emailed to ask this:
Is it "and then," or could it be just "then"? One person insisted I make all my "then's" into "and then's." To my ear, it doesn't sound correct. Plus it adds an unnecessary conjunction, in my opinion.
Hi Kathy,

Thanks for this very timely question. I say ‘timely’ because I’ve recently heard several people ask this same question. The long-standing rule is you must put an ‘and’ with ‘then’ if you use ‘then’ as a conjunctive joining two independent clauses. You can zip over to Capital Community College Foundation’s well-know grammar pages where you’ll find grammar guidance as well as a link to “Conjunction Junction” (Scholastic Rock, 1972).

The hard truth is ‘then’ is not a conjunctive (joining word) like ‘and’ or ‘but’ or ‘or,’ so you’re supposed to use it with a conjunctive such as ‘and’ rather than in the place of a conjunctive.
Susan went to the store, and then she hurried home to cook dinner.
You have two independent clauses: Susan went to the store. She hurried home to cook dinner.

You’re combining the two and showing a sequence: Susan went to the store, and then she hurried home to cook dinner.

But why that extra word in there? Why can’t you say:
Susan went to the store, then she hurried home to cook dinner.
Because you’re breaking the grammar rule. You could say:
Susan went to the store; then, she hurried home to cook dinner.
Susan went to the store. Then, she hurried home to cook dinner.
Susan went to the store. She, then, hurried home to cook dinner.
You can see from those examples that ‘then’ is not a conjunctive, but rather, in reality, a transition that shows time sequence. It is an adverb or a conjunctive adverb.

Some editors, undoubtedly some right here on The Blood-Red Pencil, will say you must put an ‘and’ with ‘then’ if you use ‘then’ as a conjunctive joining two independent clauses.

I know there will be those who argue with me, but I say using ‘then’ as a conjunctive by itself is acceptable today. In our everyday lives, we say:
I left the house, then I took the kids to school, then I ran by the cleaners, then I headed to the dentist, the grocery store, exercise class, the bank, then back to pick up the kids, and then, finally, home again.
If that’s the way your character talks, then let her talk that way, even if she’s breaking the rule. For now, though, if you’re writing for publication, you might want to stick to the rule in the narrative portion of your manuscript.

Keep in mind, though, that grammar “rules” change over time.

Some editors will not mark an “and then” infraction in your manuscript, even in the narrative. I am one of them, most of the time. I think this rule is in flux.

It hasn’t, however, gone through a complete change and you may find editors at your publishing house who will want you to follow the tried and true rules from the grammar book. If so, go back and add that ‘and’ where appropriate.

Thank you, Kathy, for the great question.

KATHY LEE SCOTT has written dance articles and performance reviews for the online Ballet Dance magazine and articles for several local newspapers. Kathy’s twenty years studying and performing ballet and other dance forms have been an asset to her writing career. A member of the SCBWI and online critique groups, she strives to improve her craft and offer encouragement to her fellow writers. She and her husband share a home with three cats and a dog, nurturing them with classical music.

What’s your take on this question? Do you feel grammar rules change over time? If so, is this one of those that’s in flux?

Helen Ginger is an authorblogger, Coordinator of Story Circle Network's Editorial Services and Chair of the Texas Book Festival Author Escorts. 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 the novels Dismembering the Past and Angel Sometimes, three books in TSTC Publishing’s TechCareers series, and two of her short stories can be found in the anthology, The Corner Cafe.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Are Book Launch Parties Worth It?

This post was first published here on April 26, 2012.

Left is Sally, a friend I sold my first book to in 2006. Seated
is Bill, an old friend (91 yrs to be exact), then me, Morgan
Mandel, to my right is Rosemary, a grammar school friend.
I'd grown complacent with putting my romantic thriller, Forever Young: Blessing or Curse, on Kindle and other electronic media; but still, whenever I ran into certain friends, inevitably they'd ask when was my book Launch Party.

Well, that proved print books were still in demand, at least in certain circles, so I bit the bullet and got my book published through CreateSpace, not an easy task to accomplish.

I checked the proof when it came in, found some errors to correct, so sent off for another. When everything looked all right with the book, I placed larger orders.

With books in hand, it was time to set up the party. Here's what I did:
  1. Reserved the venue - Arlington Heights Historical Museum - five weeks in advance
  2. Ordered banners, lawn sign, postcards, a promo tee-shirt, plus rack cards from - five weeks in advance
  3. Printed out announcement postcards and mailed them to friends and relatives - A few weeks before
  4. Sent e-mails to other friends and also phone calls - a few weeks before
  5. Sent invite on Facebook - week before
  6. Had the DH reserve the services of the nephew to help carry the books on the launch day - week before
  7. Sent announcement to paper - week before (Should have sent sooner, but forgot)
  8. Sent another reminder on Facebook, which also went on Twitter
  9. Lined up a smattering of my prior books to bring with, plus other promo, along with the new items I'd purchased and serving plates, serving utensils, cups, paper plates, plastic utensils - week before
  10. Got cash box ready, with enough singles, fives, and tens for change - few days before
  11. Put pens in purse for signing, also found Post-its and postcards for those who wanted special autographs, found the sign-in book - few days before
  12. Sent another Facebook reminder - day before
  13. Purchased food, soda, apple juice, ice - day before and day of
  14. Grabbed some different outfits from my closet, couldn't decide which to wear -  day before
  15. Wrote check for rental of the venue - day before, and spoke to manager there again about setup
  16. Wrote note to remember to bring the new books in the other room - day before
  17. Charged up iPhone so I could use its camera - day before
  18. Figured out what to wear and got ready for the signing - day of
  19. Hauled everything over with help of DH and nephew - day of
  20. Started decorating - only half an hour allotted, so I never got to put everything up, even with the DH and nephew helping, because people started coming in
  21. Busy signing and talking, while the DH took in the money, took photos on the iPhone featuring each guest. For each book purchase, the buyer received a raffle ticket.
  22. Held raffle for tee shirt, which featured covers of all four of my books.
  23. Before I knew it, it was 3:30. Distributed some of the leftover food to my brothers while we packed up to get out.
  24. Took leftover food, my serving items and the rest of the books home and unpacked. Fortunately, the book boxes were lighter than before!
  25. Put a photo album on Facebook about the event.
  26. Fell asleep on the couch watching TV - That night
  27. Finally, the next day -  I tried to figure out if I made money or broke even - I seem to be ahead. Sold 30 books, but did expend money to get the author copies printed, the room rental, food expenses, Vistaprint items. The total order amount can't be tallied yet, since one friend broke her hand, ouch, and wants three books later, two friends are on vacation, another couldn't make it, but wants a book.
Was all that work and expense worth it? I say, Yes! I got to see friends and family I hadn't seen in a while. Books were bought. The buzz will go out. Word will get spread.

And, one of the biggest rewards of a Book Launch Party - author validation! It's a heady feeling to know everyone who came there that day wanted to buy my new romantic thriller, Forever Young: Blessing or Curse.

Forever Young: Blessing or Curse is on Kindle or in Print.

Excerpts & buy links for all of Morgan's Books:

Experience the diversity & versatility of Morgan Mandel. Romantic Comedies: Her Handyman & its sequel, A Perfect Angel, or the standalone reality show romance: Girl of My DreamsThriller: Forever Young: Blessing or Curse. & its Collection Sequel: the Blessing or Curse CollectionRomantic suspense: Killer Career. Mystery: Two Wrongs. Twitter:@MorganMandel Websites: Morgan Mandel.Com Morgan Does Chick Lit.Com

Friday, December 19, 2014

Slang and the Art of Authentic Discourse (or “You’re in the groove, Jackson!”)

This post was first published here on August 17, 2012.

Whenever we open our mouths, we access a vast reservoire of linguistic reference material – words, phrases, and idiomatic expressions - that we’ve acquired in the course of our daily lives. Some of the most colorful idioms available to us are derived from the realm of slang, defined in the OED (rather amusingly) as The special vocabulary used by any set of persons of a low or disreputable character. Slang is the register of language invoked by fringe members of society (teenagers and street gangs, tramps and thieves, common soldiers/sailors, peons and low-lifes of every description) in order to mock, defy, devalue, or otherwise outmanoevre The Establishment. For this reason, slang never fails to pack a punch.

This precept holds true in fiction. When characters speak, they should communicate more than they say. I.e., their believability as characters is dependent on whether the writer can endow them with a mode of discourse which authenticates the individual’s fictional context.

If you’re writing a mainstream novel, set the real world in the present day, you won’t have to go looking for slang to enliven your character dialogue: the appropriate idiomatic expressions will come naturally to you. By contrast, in the realm of genre fiction (especially Science Fiction or Fantasy), you’ve got your work cut out for you.

Leaving aside specialist terminology associated with high-tech professions (like depth-psychology or astro-physics), real slang finds its way into popular usage in various ways:

a) as a source of creative invective;
b) as a metaphorical synonym for an existing verb or common noun; and
c) as a term of qualitative comparison.

The challenge for the SF/F writer is to simulate the above with reference to the world he/she has created.

One of the best examples of synthetic slang can be found in the British SF comedy series Red Dwarf. As a vehicle for creative invective, the characters regularly invoke the term smeghead as a synonym for asshole. Smeghead resonates alliteratively, metrically, and scatologically with the contemporary term shithead. By a further lateral extension, the term smeg can function as a verb (as in We are totally smegged). It also functions as a comparative: How smeggy is this?

The point being: if your point-of-view character is the first mate aboard a clapped-out space-freighter, he/she has got to talk like a graduate from the school of hard knocks. To invest this character with an artificial, but realistically idiomatic mode of expression, you need to explore the metaphorical possibilities based on what you know.

When it comes to terms of invective, let’s start with something like idiot. Pre-existent synonyms include bonehead, loser, and the fabulously-evocative Scots term numpty (numbnuts + dummy). Working at one remove, one option by analogy might be floozer (fool + loser). Another possibility might be gurk (geek + birk).

When it comes to tech-speak, let’s take the common noun gun. Real-world historical synonyms include heater, piece, and gat. Pre-existent SF synonyms include blaster and phaser. Ok, let’s call your world’s version of a personal sidearm a vaper (as in vaporiser) or a scorch (as in flame-thrower).

The bottom line here is that pseudo-slang is an integral aspect of SF/F world-building. If you can pull it off, you’re on the road to legitimate credibility as a writer. So exercise your imagination to descriptive effect!

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

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Resist the Urge to Explain

This post was first published her on May 18, 2011.

When I began writing, my crit partners would often return my pages with passages labeled "R.U.E." Anyone who's undertaken writing has heard "Show, Don’t Tell"—probably more times than they've wanted. This isn't a hard and fast rule, because often telling is more efficient than showing, and done well, gets the point across. But too much telling, especially when it comes across as author intrusion, can put the brakes on the pace of your story, doing exactly the opposite of what the author intended.

For example,
"Mary laughed so hard, she was afraid she'd pulled a stomach muscle. Susie had just told the funniest joke Mary had ever heard."  
The second sentence isn't needed; it's explaining something the reader would be able to figure out in context.

The goal of any fiction writer is to get readers to care about the characters. We want there to be an emotional connection, so we often tell our readers exactly what the character is feeling. However, saying "Mary was depressed" doesn't pull the reader in as effectively as showing Mary's actions. Did she stay in bed until noon? Eat a box of chocolates? Not eat anything at all? How did being depressed affect Mary's actions? That's what you need to show.

Another pitfall—telling something, then going on to show it. Let's say you're beginning to understand "show don't tell" and you do put the action on the page. For the sake of example, a simplistic passage might be written as follows:
After Bill cancelled their date, claiming his aunt was sick, Mary was depressed. She took one bite of chocolate cake, then pushed the plate away.

The second sentence shows what the first tells. If you find this in your writing, use your delete key on that first sentence. A better approach:
Mary had been looking forward to her date with Bill for weeks, and he'd cancelled, giving some excuse about a sick aunt. She moved the chocolate cake around the plate with her fork, then pushed it away.

The reader gets the information, and can see that Mary's depressed without having to be told. You can use the same to show other emotions. Maybe Mary was angry, not depressed, after Bill cancelled. Maybe she throws the whole cake against the wall.

What about this?
Mary's feet felt like lead. She couldn't run fast enough to escape the man chasing behind her.

Cut the first sentence. You don't need both. What about: 
Mary ran, but her feet refused to move fast enough to escape the man chasing her. Or, Mary's feet moved as though encased in lead shoes.

Sometimes, we tell the reader too much.
Mary twirled up two strands of spaghetti and waited for the excess sauce to drip onto her plate. Leaning forward, she manipulated the fork into her mouth, then wiped her mouth with her napkin. She was a very careful eater because she hated getting stains on her clothes.

Don't insult your reader with the last sentence. No need to explain. We can see for ourselves Mary is a meticulous eater.

Another common place writers need to Resist the Urge to Explain is in dialogue. Too often, we tack on tags or beats that tell the reader what the dialogue has already shown. Are you adding adverbs to your dialogue tags?
"I'm sorry," Tom said apologetically.

Those adverbs are usually signals that you're telling something the dialogue should be showing. They're propping up your dialogue, and if it needs propping, it wasn't strong enough to begin with. All that 'scaffolding' merely calls attention to the weak structure beneath.

Will your reader notice these differences? Probably not, but they might not enjoy the read even if they can't explain why.

Check your manuscript for 'emotion' words, especially if they're preceded by "was" or "felt." Are you describing your character's feelings? Don't tell us how your character feels. Show us.

Check your dialogue tags and beats. Are they consistent with the words being spoken? If so, you don't need them. If not, your readers will be confused, trying to reconcile dialogue with the action.

Readers are smart. Don't patronize them by 'talking down' to them. Resist the Urge to Explain.

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, December 17, 2014

The Central Question

This post was first published here on January 28, 2013.

Every plot hinges on a central question. Posing the question at the beginning of the tale and answering it at the end is sound story architecture. Does that task make your head spin? It shouldn’t. It’s as easy as choosing a story skeleton. Let’s explore a few examples.

1) The Romance skeleton poses the central question: Will they or won’t they end up together?

The answer had better be yes or a satisfying equivalent. The girl can find out guy A isn’t what she wanted after all because she found guy B, but this is not the genre for an I’m okay on my own ending. That story uses the Literary (or Women's Fiction) skeleton. Romance readers want passion and fulfillment and are very disappointed if they don’t get it.

2) The Mystery skeleton poses the central question: Who did it and will they catch him?

The answer is yes. The criminal may escape at the last moment to torment the detective another day, but the case that is the focus of the story is considered solved. Twists where someone other than the detective solves the crime or there wasn’t a crime after all should be rerouted to the Thriller section.

3) The Thriller skeleton poses the central question: How will they, and by proxy we, survive the threat to an individual or society? 

For an up ending, the hero succeeds. If you want a down ending, the hero can fail and learn an ugly truth. Twists often provide an unexpected answer in this genre.

4) The Horror skeleton poses the central question: What brought the danger near and how will they escape it?

The answer can go either way as long as you reveal the reason why. Some horror stories ignore the why, but fans consider that a weak story. Fans want the main character to live to be frightened another day, even if every other character is knocked off by the tale's end.

5) The Science Fiction skeleton poses the central question: Will the hero find, change, or stop something in time?

Most fans prefer an up ending. They want to believe that we can overcome the challenges to our existence, especially if you plan a sequel.

6) The Fantasy skeleton poses the central question: Will the hero obtain or learn to use the power to defeat the evil that has disrupted his world in time?

The force is usually with the hero. The wicked witch gets her just due. Lord Voldemort is defeated. If you plan a sequel, the villain can live to fight the hero another day, but the story must show a resolution to a skirmish in the battle.

Once you've chosen a skeleton, the challenge is providing riveting obstacles between question and answer to keep the reader glued to the page. The reader knows from the outset that the hero will likely survive. Your mission is to make her question the outcome anyway. You do that by choosing believable obstacles.

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.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

He Said, She Said, They Said

This post was first published here on November 13, 2012.

Good morning, dearies! Please excuse the T-shirt and leggings; I’m off to the local jogging track in just a bit to work on my hurdles. I discovered a snake in the rubbish bin and failed to stick the landing.

It’s easy to fall into biased (and colorful) language when one is startled by a scaly percussionist, but what about the written word? The CMOS has a lovely section that covers bias-free language; let’s take a peek, shall we?

First and foremost, the Manual emphasizes maintaining credibility. Getting bogged down in objectionable language or visual distractions should be avoided. Have you ever tried to work your way through a paragraph stuffed with he/she and they? It’s like trying to decipher a store return policy.

While there are many biases to be dealt with, the CMOS focuses on gender neutrality and offers several ways to avoid drawing the ire of readers. Most of these techniques draw on careful pronoun use or omission. A smart shopper knows where he can find the best bargains on coats becomes A smart shopper knows where to find the best bargains on coats.

That was a relatively simple example, but it may not work for every case. Another option is the use of relative pronouns such as who. For example: If your visitor is wearing mismatched socks, she may not have had enough coffee becomes Visitors who are wearing mismatched socks may not have had enough coffee.

One thing to bear in mind is the fact that you cannot please everybody. While you may end up inadvertently irritating someone, a reasonable reader will understand and be pleased by your carefully chosen words. Do your best, and remember: a well-turned phrase is always in style!

Photo courtesy of Darrick Bartholomew 
Seeking escape from freezing temperatures and howling winds, the Style Maven has laid in an enormous supply of milk and cocoa, and is pondering the logistics of a hot chocolate bath. If she succeeds, the story will be posted on The Procraftinator.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Don't Marry Your Writing

This post was first published here on July 17, 2010.

Telling stories to a ghostwriter is like talking to a therapist or a bartender. When they get comfortable with me, my clients tell me all sorts of intimate stuff,often answering questions I never even asked. Then later they may have second thoughts, and wish they hadn’t.

Here’s a frustration with working with non-writers.  Writers know that writing exposes you and makes you vulnerable. The more real and truthful you are, the more vulnerable and exposed – and the more compelling to your readers.  But non-writers don’t know that. They get their manuscript back from the ghostwriter they hired to write their story, read their words and thoughts and feelings on paper, and get scared.  They want to hedge and soften, and turn specifics into generalities, so they will feel safer.

Of course, this will kill the writing.  Readers respond to gut-level stuff; that is what makes stories compelling and readable.  But it’s not just the readers who get shortchanged when the story is “softened.”  So does the storyteller.  By softening those rough patches, by hedging their truths and telling instead of showing their pains and joys, they have dramatically reduced one big benefit of writing – healing their emotional wounds.

From the ghostwriter’s perspective, this is so frustrating! It’s not my story; it’s theirs. If they don’t want to tell the truth, I can’t make them.  All I can do is offer my word tools, and hope they use them.

Many times I’ve been told “I didn’t say that” when I know they did – I have their recorded voices saying exactly that. I had one client who had a bit of a potty mouth, but she didn’t realize it. I didn’t include all of her swear words, but I inserted a few so it sounded like her. She was upset. “I would never use that f***ing word!” she said.

I once ghostwrote a memoir for a lovely man who had led a rich and varied life. He was a touring musician during Vaudeville in the late 1920s and early 30s. His circuit included places like Al Capone’s Chicago, and as you might guess, there were some juicy details in his stories. I loved listening to him, and could hardly wait to get those stories down on paper. But his wife was a very proper lady in her eighties, and she did not want any of those juicy details in his memoirs – they weren’t respectable and she didn’t want anyone knowing about them. They belonged to his youth, before he became a pillar of the community.

The musician himself didn’t actually care, since he was just doing the book at the request of his children. He shrugged and said, “Whatever my wife says.” So I had to take some of the best stories out of his memoir, and make it conform to what his wife deemed proper. It made the story much blander than it should have been. Boy, that was hard for me.

This happens to ghosts. I don’t always agree with everything my client wants to say, or doesn’t want to say. I may have to argue for artistic integrity. I’ll have to defend why I want to put those details in, or why I want to take them out. I’ll have to explain why the story about grandma and the plumber just doesn’t fit in a book about gardening. Even if it is funny.

But I must be aware that I might lose this argument. It is their book, not mine. This is one of the hardest challenges of ghostwriting – you must let go of your own ego. You can’t marry your writing. In fact you can’t even get engaged to it. At the most, you’re simply dating.

Kim Pearson is an author, ghostwriter, and owner of Primary Sources, a writing service that helps others become authors of professional and compelling books and articles. She has authored 6 books of her own, and ghostwritten more than 30 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Ask the Editors: Third Person/Present Tense

This post was first published here on Nov 3, 2009.

Theresa M. Moore, author of ten books, including her latest, Principles of Self-Publishing: How to Publish and Market a Book On a Shoestring Budget, Rev. Ed., and another 4 in progress wrote to ask The Blood-Red Pencil editors this question:
Recently I have received two books for review which were written in third person present tense (action as it happens) instead of the standard third person past tense. I found both books hard to read as I am used to the latter style. Is this an acceptable way to write a book for new authors?

Where did this style originate, and should it be accepted by editors?
Here’s my take on this, Theresa.

Writers are constantly being told they need to write something new, but not too new: something unique, but that the reader can identify with … a plot device that grabs the reader, but doesn’t lock them in a stranglehold … a new twist on an old story … characters who will lead the next rage-wave … and on and on.

What editors want is a story that will grab their attention, carry them late into the night reading, and make them close the book and want to call the writer the next morning to grab them before someone else does. Yeah, they want that unidentifiable “something,” be it a unique plot twist; a new vampire, but not a vampire; a thread that runs through the story that will establish a platform for the writer and create mega sales; a story that moves them; something different, yet not too different; fully developed characters who arc over the course of the book and who live and breathe in a setting that will pull the reader into the story.

They’re rarely looking for a way of telling the story that baffles the reader.
He sees a manuscript on his desk, neatly typed, with a compelling title, and he picks it up, ruffles through the pages. He reclines in his desk chair and begins to read. He is only a few pages into the story when his assistant comes in, sets a cup of mocha on the manuscript. “Hey, I’m reading that.”

“Sorry,” she mumbles. “Where can I put it? Your desk is covered.”

“Set it on top of the Dan Brown tome. I’m gonna pass on that, anyway.” He smiles, watches her leave the room, and picks up the manuscript. He knows it’s not a new ideal; it is, in fact, a remake of a hundred other books: A vampire who craves the blood of young teens, but holds himself in check because he’s in love with a human cheerleader. But it’s written in third person/present tense. He nods his head. Yeah, that’s a twist. He checks the cover page to see if the writer included her phone number.
Yes, there have been books written in third person/present tense. It has the feel of the old gumshoe TV shows. It lets the reader in on everything that happens as it happens. Third person/present tense is not easy to maintain for 300 or 500 pages, nor is it easy to keep the attention of the reader who’s sitting smack in the protagonist’s lap seeing and feeling his every move as it happens.

Before you write this kind of book, get several published books under your credit belt. Establish yourself with your agent and editor, so they know when they receive this third person/present tense manuscript that you can handle it and they can work with you. Or , better yet, you’re close enough to your agent or editor you can talk to them ahead of time and see what they think of the idea before you start. An unpublished writer sending this to an agent or editor probably won’t get far.

She may get the first few pages read, but not much more, unless the agent and the editor think it’s brilliant.

Thanks, Theresa, for the question.

Helen Ginger is an authorblogger, Coordinator of Story Circle Network's Editorial Services and Chair of the Texas Book Festival Author Escorts. 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 three books in TSTC Publishing’s TechCareers series, and the novel Angel Sometimes. Two of her short stories can be found in the anthology, The Corner Cafe. Her next book, Dismembering the Past, is due out soon.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

DRM - Is Digital Rights Management Right For You?

This post was first published here on June 28, 2012.

By Elle Carter Neal

In the case of e-books, Digital Rights Management (DRM) is a type of technology, also known as a digital lock, employed by publishers to control how an e-book is used after it has been purchased. But digital copy protection has been around in software and gaming circles for much longer than in the publishing industry, and it is from these sectors that the greatest criticisms, and lessons learnt, can be found.

Firstly, the point of DRM (and the benefits of using it) is to protect your e-book from unauthorised sharing, copying, or resale – in other words, it protects your copyright. Or does it?

Read the original post here.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Who Cares What Happened Before? A Look at Backstory

This post was originally published in September 2008, but still applies.


What is it? Backstory is anything that happens before the actual story takes place.

Characters think and feel and know things, but where does it all come from? What shapes their opinions and reactions? It's events and circumstances that take place before the story starts.

Often it's necessary to clue the reader in on some of these details to make it easier to understand and/or identify with the character. The temptation is to plop all the information down right away so the reader knows what's going on. Don't do it.

What you should do is dot bits and pieces of backstory throughout your manuscript.

Instead of saying Jane Doe is sad because her mother is dead, you can weave in this backstory in dribs and drabs.

Such as, when Jane Doe is looking at her garden, she can sigh and think something like If only Mom were here to enjoy the flowers. She did so love geraniums.

At some other point in the novel, Jane Doe can be watching TV and the news program will be about a fatal car crash victim. Jane will think something like, First Mom, now this poor soul. When will people learn not to drink and drive?

Another way to weave in backstory is through conversation, but again be careful not to spill the beans and tell it all right away.

John Doe comes home early and sees his wife staring wanly out the window at the flower garden. He comes up to her and says, "Jane, why so sad?"

"They remind me so much of Mom. She so loved her geraniums."

"She loved you more. She wouldn't want you to be miserable that she's gone. "

You get the idea. Let the reader go on a discovery journey and want to read more and more to find out what happened before and what will happen next.

Let the journey begin!

Experience the diversity & versatility of Morgan Mandel. Romantic Comedies: Her Handyman & its sequel, A Perfect Angel, or the standalone reality show romance: Girl of My DreamsThriller: Forever Young: Blessing or Curse. & its Collection Sequel: the Blessing or Curse CollectionRomantic suspense: Killer Career. Mystery: Two Wrongs. Twitter:@MorganMandel Websites: Morgan Mandel.Com Morgan Does Chick Lit.Com

Monday, December 1, 2014

5 Tips to Stay Creative during a Busy Holiday Season

November and December are often hectic months for writers and their creative output because of three culprits: Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Eve, and all of the preparations needed to make each culprit better than the previous year.

Although many writers, come December, suffer from PND, Post-NaNoWriMo Disorder, and decide to take a break from writing, the rest of us often struggle to stay creative while in the midst of a busy holiday season.

Below are five tips to keep your creative mojo thrumming while you deck the halls and ring in the new year!

Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year, and Writing images from

Being creative doesn't necessarily mean writing until your hands hurt--though we always love new words for a story. This tip could be extremely helpful for those of you who participated in NaNoWriMo and need a break from writing but not a break from creativity. Take the month of December and revamp your writing space. Clean it. Declutter it. Add pops of color. Buy new writing utensils. Meditate in your space, imbuing it with positive vibes. Organize your writing goals to begin in the new year. We all know that atmosphere can be conducive to our emotions and actions. Create a beautiful, bright, active atmosphere that will spark beautiful, bright, and active writing!

This is a big one. You want to keep something nearby that will enable you to get story ideas down. While out buying last-minute Christmas gifts, you might have a brilliant idea for a story. Having pen and paper on hand can secure that idea. For the more digitally-inclined writers, having your phone, tablet, or a small recorder around can help capture story ideas and thoughts on the fly. No writer, especially when up to eyeballs with wrapping paper, masking tape, and gift tags, wants to be left with empty hands when a new idea or scene pops into the mind.

A brisk walk benefits you healthwise (we all know how much food is packed on the body during holiday season), but beyond exercise, the walking gives your mind time to think. Why not start a walk with the intention to creatively think on a project you're currently working on? By the time you return home from the walk, you might be inspired and motivated to park before your computer and write.

Of course, this works beyond the holiday season, too, but it works great during the holidays when you find yourself so overwhelmed with decorations and gift buying and meal preparations and seasons greetings that writing a story (instead of a Christmas card) becomes the furthest thing from your mind. Hook up with your accountability partner (AP) now, each of you telling the other what you'd like to get done between now and the week after the first of January. Be reasonable and realistic. You know how much holiday work you have to do, so don't overtax yourself--but do keep creativity in your life. Make weekly check-ins with your AP to make sure the creative work is getting done.

I find that when I start my day with those activities that warm my heart and spirit, that ignite my passions, I am able to be more productive throughout the rest of the day. Likewise, when I end my day on those same activities, doing so not only puts me into a sweet sleep, but it also makes me anxious to start the new day. Use these first and last moments of your day to get in touch with your creativity.

How are you planning to stoke the creative fires during this busy holiday season?

Shon Bacon is an author, editor, and educator, whose biggest joys are writing and helping others develop their craft. She has published both creatively and academically and interviews women writers on her popular blog ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her author website, and you can get information about her editorial services at CLG Entertainment.