Monday, November 12, 2018

Guest Stuart Horwitz: Using the Theory of the Iceberg

You have likely heard about Ernest Hemingway’s Theory of the Iceberg. In brief, Hemingway thought you as a writer should take out seven-eighths of what you know about a subject; the top one-eighth is the tip of the iceberg, what the reader reads. The catch is, the reader knows if you don’t know the other seven-eighths. Then they feel that your writing is not solid or substantive enough to enjoy, but rather just an ice floe on the loose.



Hemingway’s Theory of the Iceberg is also called the Theory of Omission. He even went so far as to believe that the quality of a piece could be judged by the quality of the material the author eliminated. That may mess with your target word count in a particular genre, but it’s more likely to mess with your faith. Can something really be gone and still be here at the same time?

I’ve seen it. I recently took a 3,000-word essay down to 1,700 words, while also adding some new material (always an option for a polished draft). I read it the other day, and I didn’t actively miss any of the good stuff that hit the cutting-room floor. What was there was everything I wanted to say.

To get there, you have to trust the process of revision, the same one that guides you to raise the best parts up a level. Those other parts, that weren’t the best parts—you don’t need them. Or rather, you don’t need them anymore. It might be difficult to part with those pieces that started a fire somewhere inside of you, and led to other discoveries that were closer and closer to the heart of the matter.

We can probably agree, though, that to do more than one draft of something is based on the understanding that we are not going to just use everything we thought of in the first place. Given this, when you embrace the Theory of the Iceberg it changes the way you view revision. You don’t have to agonize so much about whether something is in or out; now it’s more a question of whether it should be above or below the waterline.

This approach to revision takes a certain discipline. You might find yourself continually putting something back into the text, only to experience an ensuing uneasy feeling… and then remove it again. This restraint is the iceberg at work. What you are leaving is the clarity of the subject, its essence. This is no less than the difference between flow and sludge for a reader, curiosity and impatience, sparkle and doubt.

Iceberg-based decisions can cover everything from what words you use to how you understand your theme. On the most basic level, some words push other words further up towards the usable surface. You might start with some common ones that form your foundation, and then new ones arrive to rest on top of them and subsume the visible place in your text. On the other end of the spectrum, an iceberg-based approach can influence how you tackle an entire work by, say, writing the middle body of the chapters first, and then drafting an Introduction and Conclusion after what you are truly writing about becomes apparent.


Writers can engage in iceberg-influenced preparation activities. These might include drafting a 2-3 page character study of which you only use a paragraph’s worth of words, or semi-extensive research—not to stuff what you now know into a piece—but to be able to breathe life into certain passages with the perfect detail. The maxim here seems to be, “Use it, don’t include it.”

Finally, working with the iceberg requires patience. You have to really want to create a work of art as opposed to just be done. You have to want to create something solid, complete, evocative, and powerful. I know you do, I’m just elaborating on one conception of how to get there. For my part, I can’t help but smile at any decision whereby one tone of voice, scenic twist, or structural decision is submerged in favor of one I like better—but that I would never have gotten to without what came before it.

Oh that’s very icebergy, I think…


As founder and principal of Book Architecture, Stuart has spent nearly twenty years helping writers become authors, signing with top literary agencies, sealing deals with coveted publishing houses, or forging a successful path through indie publishing. He has written three highly acclaimed books which together comprise the Book Architecture trilogy: Blueprint Your Bestseller, Book Architecture, and Finish Your Book in Three Drafts. He lives in Rhode Island with his wife and two daughters.

*Iceberg image from Wikimedia Commons: By AWeith - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

IWSG Day November 2018 and The End of Another Contest

It’s time for another group posting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Time to release our fears to the world – or offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic. If you’d like to join us, click on the tab above and sign up. We post the first Wednesday of every month. I encourage everyone to visit at least a dozen new blogs and leave a comment. Your words might be the encouragement someone needs.

The awesome co-hosts for the November 7 posting are: Ellen @ The Cynical SailorAnn V. FriendJQ Rose and Elizabeth Seckman!

This month's optional question is: How has your creativity in life evolved since you began writing?



The submission period has closed for this year's anthology contest and it looks like we are shaping up to have yet another awesome collection on our hands. We are in the final throes of choosing our top picks to send to the judges and this is no easy task. The standard is extremely high this year and it is a thrill to read through such a diverse and exciting bunch of entries. Well done to all who entered!

In other news, the next Twitter pitch event is in January. Another exciting opportunity to get noticed by editors and agents. Don't miss it!


And for our new partnership with WEP (Write Edit Publish), we're hosting a competition to decide the theme for the February contest. 

Rules: Submit your idea for a WEP February theme by November 12 to admin AT insecurewriterssupportgroup.com. Nothing too U.S. culturally bound. Should have wide appeal.

Prize: Feature in the December newsletter for the winner. And, of course, the winning theme will be the official February WEP theme!

Deadline: November 12. Winner announced in the November newsletter on November 28. 
Are you on Instagram? We run a different prompt for each day of the month. Participants are welcome to participate in comments or on their own feed. While on their own feed, the hashtag #theiwsg is used and @theiwsg may be tagged. Participants may use images, words, or some combination to answer each prompt. Each prompt is explained in more detail on the day of posting. 


This month's prompts could be particularly helpful if you're participating in NaNoWriMo. We're already one week in, so if you're already knee deep or even still thinking about whether to jump in, we're sending some power your way. Good luck!

Did you enter for the anthology this year? Looking forward to grabbing a copy? Interested in Twitter Pitch or WEP? Are you NaNoing this month?

Monday, October 29, 2018

Guest EC Murray: How to Get the Reviews You Want - Ethically

Several months before publishing my memoir, A Long Way from Paris, information flooded my in-box about reviews: businesses selling reviews, authors begging for them, aspiring writers searching for hints on how to get them.  This is what I’ve learned in the years since then.

Tip one: write the best book you can. Write a book which resonates with readers. Write a book that will make readers go out of their way to say, “I loved your book.” Then, you can move forward with a few strategies.
Recognize “review” has many meanings: reviews in newspapers, blogs, and journals vary tremendously from reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. Initially, I sent my manuscript to KIRKUS and Book life (a wing of Publishers Weekly) for paid reviews which authors can publish or forget, depending on how positive they are. In my case, both provided stunning reviews.
About nine months later, which was three months before publication with a hybrid press, I reached out to acclaimed authors with whom I was acquainted. I showed them the KIRKUS review and asked if I could send them a copy of my manuscript and, “if you like it, would you mind writing a blurb?” A blurb is another slant on “reviews,” which can appear on your back cover, on the first page, and on your Website. If these authors responded affirmatively, I asked if they would like a hard copy or digital edition.  Most wanted a hard copy. I then put paper clips around sections which I thought would be most applicable.

For example, Langdon Cook, winner of the Washington state book award, writes about outdoors and mushrooms, so I cordoned off the section on mushroom hunting. It may be that he liked the whole book, but if he was too busy, at least he’d read what was most relevant to him. For Carlene Cross, author of Fleeing Fundamentalism, I sectioned off the chapters relating to my spiritual connection with nature. For Theo Nestor, my memoir teacher, I selected areas where I struggled with my personal growth. I sent the whole manuscript to each author, since often times, they became hooked and wanted to read the full manuscript.
Additionally, I wrote to newspaper reviewers, quoted positive reviews I’d received, and asked if they’d like to receive my book and write a review. Most reviewers wanted a print version of my book. I never, ever sent my book to anyone before asking if they’d like to read it. By the time of my book launch, I had several positive reviews printed in newspapers which I could also use on my Amazon page as “editorial reviews.”
In contemporary writer’s parlance, however, “review” often refers to Amazon and Goodreads reviews. As an early writer, I scoffed that writers paid so much attention to Amazon reviews. Then, I asked people how they decided what to read. Some people chose library recommendations. Many readers heard about a book from a friend or radio interview, then went straight to Amazon and Goodreads to read reviews. Having positive reviews, and a lot of them, can make or break your sales.
There’s a general, overarching way to get reviews. That is, make your book available on Bookbub, Net Galley, Goodreads give-a-way, Kindle free giveaway, and Kindle countdown. Those may be good starting points, but I offer a word of caution. You may get some doozy reviews. One friend received a two star review because “It’s in present tense. I hate reading books in present tense.”
There are, however, better ways to get Amazon reviews. I wrote on the last page of my book, “I’d love to hear from readers. My e-mail address is truwryter@comcast.net.” If they e-mailed me, I then asked if they’d be willing to write –NOT a review on Amazon, but a COMMENT. What’s the difference? Your average reader is intimidated by the word “review.” “I can’t write a review! I’m not qualified! I wouldn’t know what to say.”
Here’s where I help. If someone emailed me to say they like my book, I write them back, addressing the story they’ve told me. There’s usually a personal story (my son was a heroin addict; I was in southern France during the war; I love goats) which surfaces as a result of reading A Long Way from Paris. Then, I ask if they would do me a favor. Would you mind writing a sentence in the review section of my Amazon listing? I paste a link to the review section of my Amazon listing. I say, “Your comment could be just what you’ve written to me” –I quote their e-mail—“or it could be as as simple as ‘I enjoyed this book because ______’” Or, I might give them an example of a “review” that’s already on Amazon.

By reaching out to the readers who I like my book, I’m accruing positive reviews. If someone says, “I read your book,” but doesn’t say they liked it, I don’t ask for a review, or a comment. My goal is to reach as many readers as possible, but my preference is to get comments, or reviews, from people who liked my story. By using the word “comment on” rather than “review,” and by providing a link, readers are far more eager and willing to write a positive review on Amazon and Goodreads.

E.C. Murray, teaches writing at Seattle Central College and is the founder of The Writers Connection.
Her memoir, A Long Way from Paris, was named a Kirkus Best Book of the Year.
View of Mt. Rainier (home area of EC Murray and The Writers Connection)

You can find her on social media: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and her Website.