Monday, September 29, 2014

Adding Flesh to our Characters' Bones & IWSG Anthology News

The stories we remember long after reading them are the ones with compelling characters. As writers, we should try to replicate this quality in our work. Plotlines are important, but along with conflict, characters' actions are necessary to drive stories to completion.

Character charts are useful for helping us to better understand our hero/heroine. Rounding them out makes them realistic enough for readers to want to spend time with them and while crafting, there are things we should remember.

Avoid Isolation - Apart from friends and relatives, a variety of people cross our paths in a day—at work, school and where we live. While we don't need to insert every interaction, little touches that advance our storylines and add colour to our characters' lives can also hold clues that tie plot lines together.

Character Traits - Relationships tell a lot about people. How does your main character treat the people in his/her life? Is he kind, impatient or self-absorbed? It is necessary to create situations that show the strength and individuality of the characters we want our readers to admire.

Hobbies If we're not careful, our characters can be consumed by their problems, which is unhealthy and unrealistic. By giving them things they like to do, we remind readers that despite challenges, life continues.

Mannerisms. We all have habits that identify us—twirling our hair, giving other people ‘the look’, or making snappy comebacks—and so should our characters. The more unique the habit, the better it defines the person and should remain with them until the story is complete, or they give up the habit.

Problem Solving Approach
Another thing that sets individuals apart is the way they handle problems. One person may whine and moan about the unfairness of life and do nothing. Another individual is resourceful and tackles problems head-on. The most memorable characters are those who take action despite discouragement, fear and opposition.

Now that you’ve read my list of must-haves, what are some of the things that make your characters more rounded?

Don’t forget that Wednesday, October 1, is IWSG post day. It’s also this website’s one year anniversary and the day to post your entry for the IWSG anthology. If it is over 300 words, you can email it to

The purpose of the book is to assist other writers on the journey, so we are looking for tips and instructions in the areas of writing, publishing, and marketing. It can be inspirational in nature as long as you provide a solid benefit. We’ve already received a lot of great entries–mostly in the area of writing–so looking for some good tips on publishing and marketing. Be sure to state which category, add a one line by-line, and permission for us to use it in the book.

Once you have posted on October 1, go to this page at the IWSG site and enter your link - The deadline for submissions is October 2.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Fighting Insecurity at Conferences and Events with Jennifer Hillier

In the past three years since my debut novel was published, I've been fortunate to have attended five conferences (four ThrillerFests and one Bouchercon), I've gone on a book tour in the Philippines (which included a feature spot at the Manila Book Fair), and I've done a variety of other book events across the US and Canada, including a charity ball for the Toronto Public Library. It's actually not that much when you compare my schedule to that of other authors, but for someone like me – who's relatively new to publishing, and naturally shy to boot – in-person events like these can be terrifying.

For starters, the other authors I meet at these events seem to be so much more confident. They've been around longer. They know they belong. Unlike me. I'm always wondering if I have anything to contribute to the conversation, and I'm always scared that I don't. Whenever I receive a panel schedule only to discover that I'm discussing serial killers with authors who are consistently on the New York Times bestseller list and who have movie deals in the works, I always want to email the conference coordinators to ask if they made some kind of clerical error inserting my name in with theirs. That little song, "Which one of these is not like the others?" always goes through my mind.

And then, of course, I'm genuinely amazed that anyone even shows up to my panels. Surely the audience isn't there isn't to see me, when everyone else on the panel is funnier, smarter, and more interesting than I am. After the panels, when I'm sitting at the signing table, I always assume someone is lost when they approach me. Even if they're holding a copy of my book in one hand and a pen in the other, I'm still thinking they probably just need directions to the bathroom.

At the Book Lover's Ball, a charity gala for the Toronto Public Library, I found myself at a table filled with corporate sponsors who'd paid good money for a chance to talk to a published author all night. The hotel ballroom was packed, and each table seated eleven people – ten dinner guests and one author. And even though there were exactly ten copies of my book at the table, I still found myself waiting for the real author to show up. I had a hard time accepting that the author for my table was me.

It's an insecurity that I doubt will ever go away. I think I've managed to write each book more confidently than the last, but when it comes to feeling like I belong in the publishing world, I still feel like a fraud most days. I keep waiting for the moment when someone will tell me that I'm in the wrong room, that my name was accidentally added to the panel, and that the kind-looking lady approaching me really does need my help finding the bathroom.

If she does, I will gladly show her the way.

* * *

Jennifer Hillier is the author of the psychological thrillers THE BUTCHER (2014), FREAK (2012), and CREEP (2011). Find her on Facebook at JenniferHillierAuthor, and on Twitter at @JenniferHillier. She blogs at Serial Killer Files and her official website is here.

Monday, September 22, 2014


When I began my first novel in 1984, I believed when I finished it, I'd get published. "Most logical," as Spock would say. Self-publishing wasn't an option at that time because it was expensive and anyone who went that route wasn't taken seriously.

In 2008, I self-published DEAD WITNESS on a fluke. I hadn't given up on my dream of finding a publisher, I just wanted copies for family and friends while I waited. 

No one was more surprised when Overwaitea Foods requested copies to place in their bookstores; a request that set into motion me finding a Canadian printer, distributor and later a publisher for my novel BROKEN BUT NOT DEAD.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Prior to self-publishing DEAD WITNESS, I spent twenty-four gruelling years accumulating rejection letters. When I had enough to wallpaper my ensuite, I decided a new ploy was needed.

I covered two novels in brown paper sleeves, printed DEAD WITNESS on the first and  BROKEN BUT NOT DEAD on the second, along with my name in bold letters. I set them where I would see them every day. Every morning, I sat for 15 minutes, closed my eyes, and imagined how it would feel being a published author. I envisioned doing readings. I imagined the many interviews, smiled over all the accolades, and revelled in the delight of my brand new iMac and notebook.

When moments of doubt surfaced, I took a deep breath, felt the calm wash over me, and knew one day my dream would come true.

I'm not special or better than you in any way. Nor am I less than you are. We both love writing....

So...? What do you suppose my story means for you?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


Not long ago, I posted something on Facebook, totally unaware that it would garner such a huge response, not only from writers, but from all sorts of people who were aspiring to reach some sort of goal. It even resulted in the blog tour manager of Wow! Women on Writing referencing it in an article as being inspiring enough for her to forfeit attending her high school reunion (which she was very much looking forward to) and going to a writer’s conference instead. So, I thought I would share it with you folks at IWSG, too, as it seems to have helped quite the handful of people:

“About six years ago, I was lucky enough to have a family friend who was the step daughter of a very very big Publisher at a very very big publishing company. (I won't mention which, as I don't like calling people out.) This friend passed "String Bridge" onto this publisher to read. (Stupid idea. It was not in good shape then.) This Publisher told me that my book sounded like silly gossip two ladies would babble on about over a bottle of wine, and that I was kidding myself if I ever thought I would be an author. I was devastated, and thought that perhaps this was not my path after all. But I pressed on (after very much crying).

I now have a bestselling series of books which TEACH WRITING. A full-time job as an Editor for a publishing company. I run a successful and much-loved literary magazine, and have a growing career as an author.

I am not gloating. I am telling you that you can do anything you put your mind to if you want it bad enough. There is nothing ... NOTHING ... that should get in your way, even if you think you are lacking the talent. Talent isn't just a part of you that you are born with, it's something you can LEARN.

If you want something, LEARN IT. BELIEVE IN IT. DO IT.

Start getting what you want out of life now. Even if it means building with small blocks. Because one day, if you are dedicated, and love what you do, you will end up with the "house of your dreams."

I can confidently say, that this experience was where my road split into a fork. I could have turned left (into Giving Up Street), but instead I turned right (into Keeping On Street).

Has there been a moment in your life when you decided to turn right , despite being told to turn left? I’d love to hear your experiences.

Jessica Bell, a thirty-something Australian-native contemporary fiction author, poet and singer/songwriter/guitarist, is the Publishing Editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal and the director of the Homeric Writers’ Retreat & Workshop on the Greek island of Ithaca. She makes a living as a writer/editor for English Language Teaching Publishers worldwide, such as Pearson Education, HarperCollins, MacMillan Education, Education First and Cengage Learning.

Connect with Jessica online:
Sign up to Jessica’s newsletter and receive Book #1 of the Writing in a Nutshell Series, Show & Tell in a Nutshell, or Muted: A Short Story in Verse, for FREE.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Is Self-Publishing for You?

Whether to go self-publishing or traditional publishing is a question every writer contemplates. The quandary has become more difficult in recent years now that self-publishing has become so widely accepted and easy to achieve. While there are many advantages to self-publishing, I don't believe it is for everyone. And here's why:

Self-publishing may not be for you if…
You're looking for a shortcut to getting published. The same amount of work, if not more, needs to go into a self-published book. Multiple drafts still need to be written, critique partners still need to read it, the book still needs to get edited. Everything a traditionally published book goes through needs to happen to your book as well if you want a polished product.

You want to stay isolated and think you can do it all on your own without any help. As a self-publisher, you'll still need to find a cover designer. Please don't try this yourself unless you have extensive graphic design experience. You'll also need to find a professional editor. Nothing screams amateur louder than an unedited book.

You don't want to pay upfront costs. A good editor costs money, as does a good cover designer, along with advertising. On top of that, if you want to go down the print avenue, then printing and distribution will also cost money.

You want to see your book in a major brick and mortar store. A self-publisher doesn't have the same clout as a traditional publisher who can give your books a wider distribution.

Just because anyone with a little know-how can self-publish doesn't mean they should. On the flip-side, self-publishing definitely is for some writers. And here's why:

Self-publishing might be for you if…
Your book is time sensitive. That is, if your book covers a world event or a current news story, then to get it published while the topic is still relevant might require the speed of self-publishing.

You want to keep control over every aspect of the publishing process. Not everyone likes to have to deal with multiple points of view about which direction the book should take. Traditionally published authors often don't have a say about the cover or the title. As a self-publisher, you make every decision.

You enjoy doing the marketing on your own. Having a strong media presence and a love of social media is a massive bonus for any writer. However, a self-published writer needs to be even more proactive with marketing because they won't have any help from a publishing house.

You like the higher royalties. Self-publishers are well rewarded for their hard work and initial outlay because they don't have to split their earnings with an agent and a publisher.

You write outside the standard topics. In the risk averse environment of traditional publishing, you might have a difficult time selling a book that covers a genre that's been labelled as done-to-death, a story that doesn't fit into any particular genre, or a book that covers a controversial topic. If this is the case, then self-publishing may be your solution.

There are many more pros and cons to both self and traditional publishing. Of course, to pick one style of publishing doesn't mean you can't pick another as well. Hybrid authors—writers who go both indie and traditional—are becoming more and more popular.

What do you like more about one form of publication than another? Why have you chosen your particular route?

Lynda R Young

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Wishing and the Publishing World by Elana Johnson

Hello! My name is Elana Johnson, and I’ve been around in the publishing/writing/author blogosphere since 2008. You can find me atmy blog, on Twitter, or Facebook. My first series came out with Simon & Schuster beginning in 2011, and I am an Insecure Writer here to share with you some encouragement and support.

Sometimes we think we “have it made” in this business. Whether that means we’ve published a book ourselves, signed with an agent, or gotten a deal from a traditional publisher. But the publishing industry is a tough beast to be involved with. In some ways, it’s extremely unforgiving. In others, the sky is the limit.

Since I’m a rather positive person, and I like to dwell on things of a more optimistic nature, I’m going to talk a little bit about looking into that sky and reaching for the stars.

No matter where you are in your publishing career, I’m willing to bet you could still start a sentence with “I wish.”

“I wish my agent would read faster.”

“I wish I could sell to a publisher.”

“I wish I could write more than ten words before my kids interrupt me.”

We all have them. Wishes. I’m right there with you—and we should have wishes, and we should be working on making them come true.

See, 5 years ago, I was a complete unknown in the publishing world (and in many ways, I still am!). I didn’t have a single thing published, not a short story, a novella, nothing.

I was wishing on stars, writing books, and sending queries. A lot of queries. Hundreds of queries. SO MANY QUERIES.

Some of my dreams came true. Yours can too. Even if you aren’t recognizable yet. Even if you can’t get more than a handful of sentences on the page before something else comes up. Even if you haven’t signed an agent or publisher contract.

The point is to keep going. Sometimes it’s hard. Boy, let me tell you, I know how hard this business can be from an intimately personal place. Sometimes things don’t go the way we’d hoped, imagined, or dreamed—even if we do sign with an agent and then get a publishing contract from a New York house.

But keep going. Keep looking up into the skies, finding those stars, and making your wishes. I can’t guarantee they’ll come true, but I can guarantee that you’ll be happy and satisfied with what does happen.

So what’s your wish?

Elana is the author of the Possession series, which includes full-length novels POSSESSION and SURRENDER, and short stories REGRET and RESIST . Her newest novel, a YA contemporary in verse, titled ELEVATED, just came out in February. She is the author of FROM THE QUERY TO THE CALL, an ebook that every writer needs to read before they query.
She runs a personal blog on publishing and is a founding author of the QueryTracker blog, a regular contributor to The League of Extraordinary Writers, and a co-organizer of WriteOnCon. She is a member of SCBWI, ANWA, and LDStorymakers.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Qualities of a Good Critique Partner

The manuscript is polished – huzzah! Time for another set of eyes to look at it.

Beta readers/test readers are often those who are just readers of our genre. They’re great for spotting flaws in the story. But we also need skilled writers to go over the manuscript and examine the plot, the character arc, the grammar, the structure, etc. Enter–critique partners.

What should we look for in a good critique partner?

Similar writing ability and experience

A professional tennis player doesn’t want to play with someone who hits the courts once a month for fun. He needs a match with someone at his level. We need to find partners who are also at our level or above. A published book isn’t always the best criteria as there are many writers of talent not yet published. But they do need to be in a similar place on the journey in terms of ability.

Familiar with your genre

A partner who writes in our genre is great because he understands the setting, structure, and flow of that kind of book. But most writers read outside of their genre as well. They can judge a manuscript based on its characters and storyline. Often they are more subjective and spot things we miss.

Honest but tactful

We need to know the truth. Yeah, it can hurt. But if something is wrong or doesn’t work, we need to know while there is still time to fix it. This needs to be done with tact–and with suggestions if possible. The critique partner’s point should come across as ‘I don’t think this works’ rather than ‘this is all wrong, stupid.’ We also need to hear what does work well.

Familiar with your style and voice

This might not always be possible, but a good partner has read our writing before (even in blog posts.) He knows how we tend to write–what elements we usually include, the flow of our stories, the voice of our characters, and so forth. He’ll also be less likely to impose his own voice on our work.

Reliable and trustworthy

Most writers are trying to work on a schedule. We need someone who adheres to deadlines and is consistent with critiques. We also want someone who will not only deliver as promised, but will be discrete with our work. (Sharing it with the world or running off with it is just not cool.)

Good sense of humor

Everyone involved needs a good sense of humor. (Writing is intense enough–need to lighten up now and then!) We don’t always get to sit down with critique partners and words on a page can come off cold and harsh. A good partner knows when to add a little humor.

Understands you

This is a package deal and why it’s important to use people who know you well. It helps if they understand your standards, your morals and beliefs, and what you’re trying to accomplish. And just like making friends, it’s great when critique partners share many of those same attributes and goals.

If we find one or more critique partners with all of those qualities, then we’re set!

What do you look for in your critique partners?

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Insecure Writer's Support Group Anniversary Announcement!

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 September 3 posting of the IWSG are Laura at My Baffling Brain, Mark Koopmans, Shah Wharton, and Sheena-Kay Graham!

Today marks three years since the very first IWSG post. Next month marks one year since the IWSG site and Facebook group opened. And we’d like you to help us celebrate!

The IWSG Team is putting together an eBook that will benefit all writers - The IWSG Guide to Publishing and Beyond. And we invite all IWSG members, Facebook members, and followers to contribute.

Here are the details:

The three topics will be writing, publishing, and marketing.

Each contribution needs to be between 200 and 1000 words. Focus on one of those three aspects and give us your best tip or procedure. The essay can include bullet points, top ten lists, and recommendations. (Websites, software, books, etc.)

You can either post it for your October 1 IWSG post or email it directly to TheIWSG AT or alexjcavanaugh (Since the length can go over the standard IWSG post length.) Include a one sentence byline and a link to your site. Also state that you give us permission to use it in the book and which topic it falls under. (We will only edit for misspellings and grammar mistakes.)

All submissions need to be sent or posted by October 2, 2014. We will compile them into an eBook and aim for an early December release. The book will be free and available for all eReaders.

Thank you for making the IWSG such a huge success!!