Skip to main content


Showing posts from December, 2018

How many editors does it take to....?

This post was first published here on November 12, 2008 Today, we talk to Hank Phillippi Ryan , author of the Agatha-winning book , Prime Time , the first in the Charlotte McNally mystery series. Thanks for joining us, Hank, and for answering a few questions about how your books get edited. Let’s start. Dani: How many of the various types of edits does each of your books go through from start to finish? Hank: Depends on the page—sometimes on the words! to quantify. Every day when I begin writing, I go back over my pages (or words!) from the day before. I polish and tweak for flow, pacing, logic, story and rhythm. I also go back, earlier in the manuscript, and insert clues or connections that are needed. By the time the first draft is complete, it's been nipped and tucked several times. I wait a week, then go back over once again for logic and continuity. For dialogue. For clues and continuity. How may full edits at that point? Some parts never change. Some parts change

Ask the Editor - How do I get back cover reviews?

This post was first published here on January 16, 2009 Mark Goldwich, author of UNCOVERED: What REALLY Happens After The Storm, Flood, Earthquake or Fire asks, "How do I get back cover reviews from the people I want reviews from?" Good question, Mark. Thanks for asking. The quotes you see on the backs of books come from two sources. Most are blurbs - short recommendations written specifically for the cover. Others are excerpts from reviews. I first learned about blurbs in Austin Camacho's marketing text. I recommend you find a marketing book for writers that will work for you. Many exist. How do you acquire blurbs for your book? The short answer is you ask for them. I know this is not an easy thing for many writers to do, but it is a necessary part of our business. If you are not comfortable writing request letters, find a friend who is and ask for help. When deciding whom to ask for a blurb, consider your target market. What name (or title) would your reader

Choosing a Working Title for Your Book

This series of posts was first published here on December 11, 2008 Sometimes the right title for a book is easy to think of and it fits perfectly with the storyline through any rewrites. Other times you may struggle to find a title you’re happy with, or the one you chose early on doesn’t bear any relation to the story once you change some aspect of the plot that the title initially referred to. If you’re not sure of your title, or don’t yet know enough about your story to choose one, you might want to settle for a working title so that you have something you can use to refer to your story, save it as, and file your notes under. Personally, I tend to refer to each of my stories by the name of the main character, even if I have a perfect title. It’s usually shorter and easy to remember. But think of what defines the story for you. If you write a lot of mysteries with the same protagonist, using his name won’t work for you, but using the murder style or weapon might be a better refe

Keep It Real, Only More Interesting

This post was first published here on October 14, 2008 Some people may think an editor looks only for the commas, split infinitives, missing words, misspellings – all the mundane stuff. Yes, we read a manuscript and find those things. But we also look beyond the basics. For example, we note the minutiae that need to be cut. And we note when the small details are not actually minutiae, but important stuff that has to be left in. Even if you’re writing a memoir, a person’s everyday life does not make for an interesting book. Let’s face it, our daily lives are boring. Even when something different happens, it’s boring. I got locked out of the house last week. So what? I unloaded the groceries, put the refrigerator and freezer stuff in the freezer, then headed to Starbucks for coffee. I talked to a friend of mine who recently went for a walk and got lost. Totally lost. Completely turned around. By the time she got back home, she’d been out trying to find her way for five and a half

A Book Reviewer’s Criteria for a Good Read

This post was first published here on March 31, 2011. Writer, editor, and book reviewer Wendy Noble is our guest today at Blood-Red Pencil, with some advice from the perspective of a reviewer. I’ve been reviewing books for over seven years. Four important elements stand out for me as the keys to producing a really good book, which will gain a glowing review. These four elements are: Text Give me some ‘golden lines’. Use imagery – without being silly about it – and make sure your nouns and verbs are so strong and evocative that only the rare adverb or adjective is needed. Dialogue Don’t start every second line of dialogue with um, err, oh, well, uh… or they’ll be as irritating to the reader as a dripping tap. Use them sparingly and they’ll shine like diamonds. Also, please remember that most people use contractions when they speak: it’s, we’ll, they’ve… Plot Make me want to keep reading. Give the protagonist a goal (big or small). Have difficulties get in the way, t

Where Story Ideas Come From

This post was first published on October 13, 2010. One of the questions most frequently asked of writers is: “Where do you get your ideas?” It’s not a popular question among published authors. Maybe they consider the question too silly to answer, or maybe they don’t want to share. I don’t think the question is silly, but I can’t always explain where my inspiration originated. It's amazing how new ideas weasel their way into my conscious mind. The process works in many different ways. Here’s one example. I belong to a local face-to-face critique group that meets every other week. One of the things we do is exchange thoughts on writing in general. Last week our conversation went like this (with lots of paraphrasing): M: Did you know Willa Cather is going to be here? I thought she was dead. Me: Blank look. M: My Antonia is one of my favorite novels. B: Willa Cather? She’s dead. Everyone laughs. Me: I’ll bet it’s one of the historical presentations where someone acts

BSP - It's all About Buzz

This post first ran on October 6, 2015 Okay. First off, let me say I know zilch, nada, nothing about marketing - which is what self promoting is all about. What I've learned from online resources, such as Kristen Lamb's interesting and entertaining blog and others, just highlights how much more I have to learn. But when it comes to promoting, the first thing a writer must do is come out of the closet  - so to speak. Back in 2009, I wrote a post here about Glenda Gibberish , who worked on her stories while hiding in the closet so nobody would find out that she was a writer. She didn't want any attention, and she didn't want to have to explain what she was doing if one should happen upon her writing at a desk. However, she finally reached a point where she had to tell someone, so she invited her best friend out to lunch. After hearing Glenda's tale of surreptitious writing, the friend assured Glenda that she would keep the secret, to which Glenda responded, “Ac

Using Commas with Adjectives

This post was first published here on March 20, 2009 If you use several descriptive words in a row, where do you put commas? Or do you? Here are a couple of my theories on that subject. First, if you can put the word and between the words, you should use a comma between them . For example, Mary is an impish-looking, animated, slim white girl. This sentence easily could read this way: Mary is an impish-looking and animated and slim white girl. But you wouldn’t say she was a slim and white girl. So, according to that example, you put a comma where you use each and . Here’s my second theory. If you can rearrange the descriptive words, you should use a comma before each of the words that you can move . Using the same example, you could write that Mary is a slim, animated, impish-looking white girl. However, it wouldn’t work to say Mary is a white, slim, animated, impish-looking girl. The word white needs to stay next to girl because it is an integral part of her basic descri

Beta Readers and Critique Groups

This post first ran on April 25, 2013. Today I'm talking about critique groups, specifically the sort where work is presented in small bites rather than having someone evaluate an entire manuscript. The ideal critique group has people who write as well or better than you do, and understand your genre. Members should agree to a schedule for submitting and giving feedback. They should be willing to accept the positive and the negative, and understand that if several people have problems with an aspect of the work, it deserves rethinking no matter how good you think it is. Critique groups can be Face to Face, or they can be done online. I've done both, although now I'm with a small (3 member) online group. Face to Face gives you a chance to discuss critiques in more depth. One of my constant questions as a beginner was, "Am I writing it wrong, or are you reading it wrong?" because I thought I knew what I meant to say, and needed to know where I'd gone wron

Building a Critique Group

The following article from Diana Hurwitz reminds us that, even though it was published in October 2014, it is as relevant today as it was when it was written. Writing may be a solitary profession, but it requires a team to take a book from concept to creation. Be sure to note the ten points she mentions—lots of wisdom there. ~ selected by Linda Lane ~ Midwest Writer's Workshop 2008 I'll start out by saying, I am not a group-oriented person. I like working alone. I work faster and better without distractions. As a writer, that is a good character trait to have. You have to spend time alone and palely loitering over a pad of paper or keyboard to get the story out. I can disappear into a project for weeks and forget to eat, sleep, and bathe. That does not mean I don't enjoy other people. I love other people: witty people, clever people, preferably with a wicked sense of humor and an appreciation of the ridiculous. Writers, artists, and other creatives make the best, f

Semicolon, my new love

This post was first published on June 11, 2009 My knowledge of all things punctuation-y is flimsy. In the past, I’ve thought- “Okay now I’ve got it” but, sadly, I didn’t, and when someone pointed it out I felt a bit embarrassed about my proclamation made firmly from Dunderhead Land. I bought Eats, Shoots, and Leaves (ESL) and somehow feel I’ve made a breakthrough. I think I now understand the scariest punctuation mark of them all: the semicolon. Before ESL, I avoided the semicolon. I just accepted it was a punctuation mark out of my league. It was for writers who really got it; people who know what a non-defining participle clause is, for example. Those people do not include me. I just accepted that I would make my way through the writing world with the comma and the full stop. I would manage. If I needed more, I might resort to a dash, but that was moving toward shaky ground. It was okay. It was a smaller life, but still a life. But after ESL, I feel I can now use the semicolo

About Those Trolls…

This post was first published on October 10, 2014. A post by Merry Farmer struck such a chord with me that I felt compelled to further ponder the role fear plays as we writers embark on and pursue our careers. Like Merry, I dreaded public criticism of my work. Even the idea of private trashing made me cringe. Why? I harbored a deep-seated fear that my dream would be crushed. That dream of becoming an author, nurtured since childhood, was still quite fragile. Also, the book’s secondary theme, domestic violence, contained scenes of abuse based on real incidents—mine and others. Because the cost of an editor at that time was well beyond my means, I joined a writers’ group to get an evaluation of my manuscript from objective strangers who would likely be more open and honest than family or friends. However, I was emotionally connected to the story in ways that worked against my ability to handle harsh criticism and was too inexperienced to appreciate the difference between constru

Ask the Editor: Internal Monologue

This post first ran on February 12, 2009 and it's as relevant as ever! ~ Dani QUESTION: What is your take on internal monologue? How frequently should it be used and how should it be formatted? Contrast its usage as opposed to indirect thought exposure where summaries of what goes through a characters head are exposed but not the exact wording. Donald James Parker Angels of Interstate 29 ANSWER: Internal monologues -- sometimes thought of as stream of consciousness or internal dialogue -- is different for different types of novels. A literary novel may have pages and pages of stream of consciousness. James Joyce, anyone? But it takes a deft hand to pull that off and not lose the reader in a jumbled mass of disconnected thoughts. In most contemporary commercial fiction – which encompasses a wide variety of genres – internal monologues should be used sparingly. Readers come to mysteries and romances and westerns and science fiction mo

Scare Quotes Everywhere!

This post first ran on 1/31/2009 and we still don't like being "scared" this way! ~ Dani Quote marks are probably the most overused form of punctuation. Quote is short for quotation, so essentially, quote marks should be used only to set off a quotation—the verbatim text of something that was said or published. If you’re writing a novel and using quote marks for anything but dialogue—take them out! Writers everywhere like to use quote marks around words they consider special for some reason or around words that are not being used in a traditional way. Old school editors call these scare quotes, a way of alerting the reader that the word may not mean what you think it does. Ninety percent of the time, the marks are completely unnecessary. If you’re writing logical sentences—even using euphemisms—readers know what you mean. Here’s a few examples of unneeded quote marks. “Quote” is short for “quotation.” (Did anyone misread the sentence when I wrote it earlier w

Distractions vs. Discipline

This post was first published here on March 19, 2014 One of the most important elements for a writer to learn is discipline or structure or whatever else you want to call it. Discipline is different from perseverance. A writer has a story. The story isn’t working out; she perseveres until she finishes it. But what happens when she gets up in the morning to work. I can tell you what happens to me, and I hate to admit it. I have my coffee and raisin toast at the computer. My home page is Yahoo. I know, I’d have fewer distractions if I had Google or some other blank home page. I just looked at Yahoo and saw that Savannah Guthrie got married, and she’s four months pregnant. Then I got hooked on an article about Nicole Kidman’s relationship with her children with Tom Cruise, and then flipped through all the photos of the eclectic Malibu house Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell sold for 9 million, then… you see where I’m going. These were distractions while I was trying to write thi


Old but good advice, which we first shared on 9/16/2008. It's always important to fact-check your writing, maybe more today than ever! ~ Dani  Punctuation marks and misspellings are not the only thing that can trip you up and de-value your writing. Poor vetting erodes the confidence the reader has in your story and can even go so far as to void the suspension of disbelief. Facts, even the “fictional facts” of a novel, must work together to create a story into which your reader can escape. No cognitive dissonance allowed. Of course, the writer must watch this as the work progresses, but at least one of the final read-throughs needs to focus on questioning and verifying, checking and authenticating. Perhaps “questioning” is the most vital of these…you simply must question everything. Anything not known as confidently as you know your own name must be verified. Here’s a little laundry list of things: 1. Are all names spelled correctly? Confirm the spelling of actual person

L.J. Sellers and Ann Parker on Beta Readers

This interview first published 5/29/2013 and is still a challenging part of the writing process. Don't try to skip it though. ~ Dani  Maryann Miller recently wrote about her beta readers in this post . But what exactly is a beta reader? Sometimes called “first readers”, these are the people who freely read an author’s latest manuscript, usually after the second revision when the story has come together and is fairly solid. Sending a book out for critique at this stage gives the author a chance to break away from the story for a period of time, and then come back with fresh eyes and the help of trusted critical reviews to consider. It’s my observation that beta reading and subsequent revisions make for a stronger story in the final version, even if the author hires an independent editor (especially if only for proofreading the final draft). Dani Beta readers and the help they give an author make dramatic differences in the quality of a story. Today we chat with two autho

Proofreading Part 2 of 2

This post was originally posted on June 7, 2017 Recently, I had to take a long road trip. I decided to proofread while my husband drove. By sending the document to my iPhone, I realized that seeing it on the smaller screen highlighted certain errors. It also gave me a feel for how the e-book version would look on a mobile device. 1. Save your document as a PDF from Word. If you do not have this option with your word processing program, you may be able to upload the word document itself or convert the word document through another source, such as Nuance PDF or Adobe online. 2. Email it to yourself. 3. Open the email on your phone. 4. Upload the PDF to iBooks or other PDF reader. Note: iBooks allows you to annotate. 4. Read and take notes. 5. Update your draft. Keep proofreading until you can't find any mistakes. It helps to have other people read the final draft as well. They catch things you cannot because you have read it so many times.