Monday, March 31, 2014

Seven Things I’ve Learned About Editing

Since signing my first book contract in 2009, I’ve worked with some excellent editors. The result of interacting with them is that I’ve learned how to reduce the amount of time I spend writing and editing a novel. I’ve listed the top seven things I’ve learned below and hope they will help you as you go through the process.

1.    Don’t gloss over solutions: In one of my novels, my female lead is abducted.  The men who commit the crime are eventually caught, but I forgot to mention how the police tied that crime to the heroine’s uncle, except to say that he knew his accomplices would rat on him to save themselves.  I eventually fixed that plot thread having reminded myself that it’s better to take time to write in small details that will complete the story and leave the reader satisfied, rather than glossing over the situation and risk leaving unresolved plot points at the end of the book.

2.    Never stop learning: On reviewing another manuscript, I saw that the editor added a host of commas. While the manuscript was with her, I’d done some reading on the use of commas and also did another edit. I’d put most of the commas in, so I was able to cut down on the amount of insertions I had to do when she sent the ms back. I believe that as long as I’m writing, I should be reading craft articles and books that will help improve my skills.

3.    Beware improper document formatting: Somehow, I ended up with stubborn extra spaces in what was supposed to be a double spaced manuscript.  My writing pals gave advice which should have helped me get rid of the extra lines, but didn’t.  I wrote in both Word 2003 and Word 2007, so I’m not sure at which point the file might have been corrupted.  After half a day spent deleting spaces, I decided I would work in one place with one format to avoid that kind of horror again. 

4.    A manuscript is never, ever complete: no matter that at some point, usually after the 50th or so read, the novel-in-production feels as if nothing can possibly be out of place.  I’ve learned that I’ll never cross every ‘t’ and dot every ‘i’, but I try to come as close as I can to submitting the perfect best possible manuscript every time. Smart writers know how to let go and move on. Not-so-smart ones like myself edit even when reading the finished product.

5.   Spare some ‘hads and ‘wases’: Unpublished writers in a workshop setting tend to be hard on each other for the dreaded ‘was’ and the loose use of ‘had’, but sometimes there’s no getting around them.  In the past, I avoided using these two words to the point where my sentences sounded unnatural.  I’m not advocating going overboard, but there’s nothing wrong with making use of ‘had’ and ‘was’. There’s a reason they’re part of our language.

6.    Relax and enjoy the ride: I never pressure myself into making a daily word count, or writing/editing for a certain amount of time. When I’m ‘in flow’ with a novel, I write as the story comes from brain to fingertip. There are also times when I edit for months at a stretch and write nothing new. I’m not advocating this method for anyone else; however, for me writing won’t be a pleasure if it starts to feel like work—even though I’m handling my writing as a business. The point is to find your own rhythm and make it work for you.

7.    ‘Never write down to the reader.’ I received that bit of excellent advice from a writing coach. ‘Always assume the reader is more intelligent than you are,’ he added. I remember this gem whenever I’m tempted to go overboard with details that should be clear to my readers.

What bit of advice have you received that has helped you in the editing process?

Don’t forget that the Blogging from A-Z Challenge kicks off tomorrow. Hop over to the A-Z site if you haven’t yet signed up.

For those on doing the A-Z Challenge, do remember that a link for the letter of the day will be posted on the IWSG Facebook page

Join us there and include a link to your A-Z post under the thread that will be opened by one of our Admins each day. Note that the Admins reserve the right to delete any post that is not under the official link of the day.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Finding Short Story Success - Milo James Fowler

My Own Worst Enemy

by Milo James Fowler

Have you ever had a story to tell, and you knew it was inside you waiting to burst forth, but you were too afraid you wouldn't be able to do it justice?

This kind of stinkin' thinkin' hit me hard when I came up with the idea for my story "Soulless in His Sight." Who was I to think I could write an homage to Faulkner's As I Lay Dying and McCarthy's The Road with Diogenes (crossbow and hatchet instead of a lamp) tossed in for good measure?

Here's the concept: What if Faulkner's Vardaman didn't know his own strength, and he hurt someone close to him? His father, a violent incarnation of McCarthy's paternal character, believes his son was born without a soul. Like Diogenes on the hunt for an honest man, the father must find a soul for his son so he can go to heaven and see his mother.

On Week #9 of Write1Sub1 2011, I finally decided to give it a go. I wrote, polished, and submitted "Soulless in His Sight" to Shimmer, a market I'd been stalking for over a year. The editor eventually responded, "I've read this story a few times now, and though I like it very much, the ending still makes me hesitate. I think if you were to be more concrete with it, the story would be a home run."

I was definitely open to a rewrite, and after making a few minor edits and overhauling the end, the editor replied, "I like the revisions very much. Fatha and Boy are just great; the story has a genuine voice that shines."

In spite of my self-doubt, "Soulless in His Sight" eventually appeared in Shimmer's July 2012 issue, and if that wasn't cool enough, in 2015 a reprint will appear in the Wastelands 2 anthology edited by John Joseph Adams. I'll be sharing a table of contents with George R. R. Martin, Orson Scott Card, Hugh Howey, and a host of others. It doesn't feel real yet. Maybe it will once I'm holding a copy in my hands!

"Soulless in His Sight” was a challenge for me to write, but I'm so glad I stuck with it and now have a story I can point to as one I didn't allow to beat me—and an example of my best work.

We don't have to be our own worst critics.

Believe in yourself. Believe in your work.

Cool stuff will happen.

Milo James Fowler is a teacher by day and a speculative fictioneer by night. When he's not grading papers, he's imagining what the world might be like in a few dozen alternate realities. He is an active SFWA member, and his work has appeared in AE SciFi, Cosmos, Daily Science Fiction, Nature, and Shimmer. His novel Captain Bartholomew Quasar and the Space-Time Displacement Conundrum is forthcoming from Every Day Publishing.

Monday, March 24, 2014


I'm waiting to hear what my new editor thinks of the sequel to Broken But Not Dead, Omatiwak: Woman Who Cries. My former editor left the house and now I'm working with someone who doesn't know me. In essence, I'm back in the trenches vying for his attention.

Feeling apprehensive, I read my copy of the entire manuscript last night to see if I had succeeded in creating a strong protagonist. While you may be thinking it's too late, he has the manuscript, I'm thinking, it's never too late.  If I'm wrong and Sally stinks, I'll run down there (700km), sneak into his office and steal my manuscript back!

Lucky for me, when I finished reading Omatiwak: Woman Who Cries last night, I felt the same way I've felt every single time I've read it.  

Wow, I wrote that!

But will my editor be as enthused? Will he find my 60-year-old protagonist a woman of substance?

She lives in a fancy house. 
With a fancy foyer.

Does that mean I've written a whopping good tale?

A winner?

Everyone knows--well, writers do--that to succeed in this crazy business we need to write a book that will knock the socks off our readers.

Our bread and butter is determined on whether our editor agrees.

My pledge to you is this: 
If you pick five of your favourite movies (easier and faster than reading your favourite books) and answer the question, 'What makes the protagonist so appealing? And I don't mean PRETTY,' then apply the answers to your manuscript... you'll be that much closer to getting your book published. I'm assuming you already know how to write, understand the elements of style, and can spin a good tale. You combine all those with an appealing protagonist and you've got a winner. 
I know that sounds too easy, but it's actually hard work. As you watch your movie, ask yourself: How do I feel about the character within the first few moments s/he is on the scene? Why? Ten minutes into the movie? Why? At the half-way point? Why? By the end?
  1. Dolores Claiborne (Kathy Bates) in Dolores Claiborne
  2. Warren Schmidt (Jack Nicholson) In About Schmidt
  3. Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks) in Forrest Gump 
  4. Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) in Casablanca
  5. Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) in Alien

What do all these characters have in common? Why are they unforgettable? Why do we feel an instant reaction? Why do we wish we'd written their stories?

Here's a few more:
Leon (Jean Reno) in The Professional
Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) in Fargo
Evelyn Greenslade (Dame Judith Dench) in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

A good story requires a great character. They don't have to be good or perfect or beautiful. They do need to be extraordinary, while at the same time believable.

You create a character through effort, stamina, sweat and tears. You work hard at rounding them out, attaching intrigued and fascination to their stories... You do that and I promise... your reader will be mesmerized.

After you've finished the fifth draft and have typed THE END, give me ten reasons why I should care about your protagonist. If you can only come up with seven, time to work on the sixth draft, eh?

Joylene Nowell Butler lives in Cluculz Lake, BC with her husband and three cats, Garagee, Marbles, and Shasta. She is the author of mystery thriller Dead Witness, psychological thriller Broken But Not Dead, winner of the 2012 silver medal IPPY Awards, and contributing author of the soon to be released anthology collaboration Break Time.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Discoverability: Four Ways to Win Readers When Self-Publishing

Please welcome Susan Kaye Quinn!
"Discoverability" = the ability to have readers discover your work, fall in love, write glowing reviews, and send chocolate-covered kisses to your bank account in the form of royalty deposits. The ways to reach readers are forever shifting. In our connected world, readers today are discovering books at the speed of electrons. This connectivity, plus direct distribution to readers, is what makes a career in indie publishing possible.

What's the right way to find your readers? Any way that works.

Four keys to making it work:

Make Great Art (Hat Tip to Neil Gaiman) A fantastic book/blurb/cover makes marketing possible. An unprofessional cover, stumbling blurb, or a story that doesn't satisfy won't sell, no matter how much time or money you spend. It all starts with a great product. There are always exceptions, but in general, well-selling books are giving readers something for their money.

Give (Some Of) It Away Publishers have forever been using free samples to entice readers to discover a new author. Virtually every well-selling indie author I know has used free as part of their marketing strategy to get a large sample of their work in reader's hands to whet their appetite. But they're smart about it: they set the first book in a series free and don't give away their only book. I'm a fan of permafree over Select, but both have their uses. Other strategies: giveaways on Goodreads (print) or LibraryThing (ebook); ARC giveaways for your loyal fanbase; free short stories for newsletter subscribers.

Get It Reviewed Reviews count in the Amazon algorithms that can help sell your book 24/7 while you're working on the next one. If you have a fanbase, free ARCs to loyal fans in exchange for reviews is a great way to get a book started. Review copies for book bloggers, or bloggers in your readership niche (say steampunk or historical), can generate great quality reviews. A Netgalley membership (especially as part of a co-op) has reviewers self-selecting for interest in your book.  

Advertise It Be very wary of paid advertising. Only a few services generate enough sales to pay for the ad, and they're always changing. Bookbub is the gold standard. Their prices are high but I've yet to hear of an author who didn't make back their money (and move a lot of copies in the process). Carefully vet any other paid advertising against the Bookbub model of tailored email lists and transparent subscriber rates. Other ways: Goodreads giveaways; blog tours; cross-promoting with other authors in reader-focused events (like my recent Steampunk with Heart week). The key here: always fish in new ponds, not just in your own backyard.  

THE KEY: Always be thinking outside the box, trying new things, and writing your next book. Most of all, be patient. This is a marathon, not a sprint, and it takes time for word of mouth to spread and fanbases to grow.

Susan Kaye Quinn is the author of the bestselling Mindjack Trilogy, which is young adult science fiction, and has been indie publishing since 2011. She writes speculative fiction for all ages, from middle grade fantasy to adult future-noir, and her foray into non-fiction includes her Indie Author Survival Guide, a guide for the heart as much as the head. Her business card says "Author and Rocket Scientist" and you can subscribe to her newsletter (hint: new subscribers get a free short story!) or stop by her blog to see what she's up to.
Indie Author Survival Guide
Kindle | Nook | Print
This book is for every author who's thinking about indie publishing, or has already taken the leap, and wonders why no one told them about the sharks, the life-sucking social media quicksand, or the best way to avoid sales-checking, yellow-spotted fever. Check out Susan's free webinars on 10 Ways to Survive Indie Publishing and Facing Your Fears.

Monday, March 17, 2014

How to Survive a Writer’s Life

By Lynda R. Young

A writer’s life is not an easy one. It can sometimes feel like we are trying to reach the stars from the top rung of a ladder. Not only do we need to master story structure, the ins and outs of grammar and the nuances of character creation, we also need to become masters of marketing and social media as well. We need to find time to write between all our other commitments, we need to edit and polish and know when our stories are ready. And we need to keep going despite less than wonderful reviews, or countless rejections, or family pressure to get a ‘real job,’ or a multitude of other obstacles a writer faces.

When the writer’s life gets particularly rough, and the ladder collapses under our feet, there are four things we can do:
1. Give up
2. Take a break
3. Seek solace
4. Keep writing

1. Give up: This is not recommended. While writing isn’t for everyone, most of us are drawn to writing because we must. The ideas keep coming whether we write or not and if we cut off our creative outlet altogether, then the pressure builds and comes out in other less pleasant ways, such as dissatisfaction, restlessness, or even grumpiness.

2. Take a break: This works a treat. Sometimes a writer has to take a step back. It doesn’t have to be for very long. The writer may need the time to reassess what he or she wants from writing, to recharge the creative batteries, or simply to take a breath, enjoy life and learn to love writing again despite the difficulties.

3. Seek solace: There’s something deeply satisfying to learn you aren’t alone in the writing struggle. Groups like the Insecure Writer’s Support Group have been founded because of the need to connect with other writers. Through the support of those writers, you might learn you need a break, or you can keep going because you love writing so much. Being a part of this kind of community can also change your thinking so it’s no longer about survival, but about your undeniable passion for writing.

4. Keep writing: This is my personal favorite. I particularly like to mix it with the previous option as well. Through the encouragement of the writing community, I’m able to keep writing. When we keep writing, we keep moving forward, we keep creating and improving and loving the act of stringing words into polished manuscripts. When we keep writing, the setbacks become less important, because that’s all they become: temporary setbacks.

What helps you to stay optimistic when your dreams seem impossible to reach?

Image: Photoshop creation by Lynda R. Young

Monday, March 10, 2014

Where to Advertise Your E-Books – Discounted, Free, and Otherwise

Last year, a fellow author ran a discount special on her book. She and her publisher combined efforts and advertised the sale price on several sites. Her sales went through the roof, her book shot to the top of the Amazon charts, and she moved over four thousand copies.

Wow! Was that normal? Would that work on any book?

She was nice enough to send me a list of the sites they’d used and I forwarded it to my publisher. They’d never discounted a book in that manner before, but decided to give it a try. I was to be the guinea pig and they set up a one week sale for my second book, CassaFire.

The result? While I don’t yet know how many copies moved, CassaFire did hit the top of several categories on Amazon and was in the top two hundred of all books. Whoa!

As an added bonus, since I have two other titles, both of those rose in ranking as well. And after the sale, all three books continued to sell well.

Does advertising a free or discounted book work? I’d have to say yes!

Between the list she sent me and some research on my own, I was able to compile a list of sites where you can advertise your eBook. A few are free while many cost money. There’s often a minimum number of quality reviews required for a listing. You have to decide which book qualifies, which one would best benefit from a sale (and benefit your other books), and what you or your publisher can afford.

While not everyone will experience great results, it’s definitely worth checking out!

Probably the most expensive, but it also gets the best results.

Kindle Books and Tips
Costs $25 for basic listing.

Digital Book Today
Free and paid options, and not just for discounted or free books.

EReader News Today
Costs 25% of sales through their site.

Read Cheaply
Free listing for discounted books.

Pixel of Ink
List your discounted and free books.

Many Books
Free and paid options

The Fussy Librarian
Listing for any eBook.

And the following websites list many more discount and free book sites:

Ready to have a sale now?

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

IWSG Post Day! How Can We Help? And Seeking Co-Hosts.

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.

Our awesome co-hosts today are Tina Downey, Elsie, Elizabeth Seckman, and Julie Flanders!

We have two questions for you today!

First, we are here to help you grow as a writer an author by providing valuable information. Our posts and guest posts are written with you in mind.

What other topics would you like to see covered? What else would you like to know? About writing? Promoting? Research? Anything – no question is too dumb! Let us know in the comments and we will address your issues and seek experts who can help.

Second, the IWSG will post during the month of April! If you are participating in the A to Z Challenge, you can either incorporate it into your post or make two separate posts. (Remember to keep it short.)

We’ll need four co-hosts for April 2. If you can co-host on that date (or at a later time) let us know in the comments. (Even better if you’re not participating in the A to Z Challenge – we don’t want to overwhelm anyone.)


Now, go enjoy some IWSG posts.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Throwing In My Two Cents...

When I was asked to contribute to the IWSG website, I wondered what advice I would give to writers. My first thought was... well... I’ve only been writing fiction for just under 3 years now. That’s not a whole lot of experience and there are a plethora of well-established writers out there. These are peeps who have been writing from way back when. Many have written and published two or three, or more books.
They have decades of writerly knowledge to impart to the hordes of up-and-coming writers who are out there searching for writerly nuggets, that one piece of info that will give you the edge over other wannabe’s...

Me? Give advice? Ha! But I’ve been acting. Did you really think that I know much about writing? It’s all an elaborate act. That’s what I’ve been doing all along. And sure, it’s gotten me this far, but if I tell you guys that, then what!? DANG.
*moment of red-handedness*

BUT... upon further pondering and much, much deliberation, *ahem* I’ve decided that maybe I do have some advice to impart. It’s not much, but it’s all that you need... for today anyway... and remember that the human brain can only process a limited amount of information at any given time...
So settle in and and let me squeeze these dregs of knowledge out of my brain and into your listening ears.

Know that you are not unique. For the budding wordsmith, (newbies sit up and listen) it’s easy to believe that you’re part of a small, chosen few—an intellectual elite of creative geniuses. During this stage, you might think that people will fall over themselves to publish whatever it is you are writing. So, to a new writer, I would say get on social media. Just poke your head in (whatever you do, don’t get stuck there...) and you’ll see that writers are not a rare breed. The writing world is flooded.  It seems like every person is writing a book that he/she hopes to see published one day. Understand these odds now, because when you finish that book and start shopping it around, you’ll learn that the publishing world has many varied problems. Scarcity of writers is not one of them.

Know that you are unique. So now I’m contradicting myself. Though you may be surrounded by thousands of other writers advocating for their books, you must never lose sight of the fact that you have something to offer. You have something to add to this vast conversation. Something different. You have your own story to tell, based on the sum of  your life knowledge/experiences/interests/goals/challenges/positives/negatives. That makes for a powerful and unique story. So don’t let the masses frighten you off;  stake your claim in the market and let your voice be heard. You might be part of an enormous writer cosmos, but that shouldn’t stop you from shining.
And there you have it!

By the way, I’ve just started a new part-time teaching position and I’ve been asked to submit a proposal to start up a writing club.

Not bad for a novice writer, hey?