Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border

Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border
photo by Gene Tunick of Eureka, Montana

Monday, May 21, 2012

Tip O'Day #347 - "Consistently Varied"

Guest blogger Stephanie Osborn on “Things They Don’t Tell You In Author’s School – Part 1.” (Eighteen months ago, when I invited fellow writers and book lovers to submit guest posts, Stephanie was the first to climb aboard – with not one but eight Tip O’Day suggestions. I thought it might be interesting to revisit those early posts from the third week in January, 2011.)

I’m a fairly decent writer, with a good half-dozen popular books to my credit. (Not bad for a couple years in the business.) And long before I submitted a novel manuscript for publication, I did my homework. I knew about query letters, slush piles, and house formats. I knew some publishing houses don’t take unagented submissions and some do. I knew how to find the correct name and address for a submission, and to address the query letter TO that person. I knew how to make my query letter POP.

But once I got into the industry (translated – once I had a novel under contract), I discovered there are some little details they don’t tell you in author’s school.

Sub-thing: Everybody knows not to trust spelling and grammar checkers, right? They don’t know there from they’re from their… (finish the statement on your own). Good. ‘Nuff said. On to the serious stuff.

Thing One (with apologies to Dr. Suess): Different publishers have different definitions of what constitutes novel length. For some, it’s anything over forty thousand words. For others, it’s sixty, and for most in my genre (science fiction slash mystery) it’s around one hundred thousand. This is a rough rule of thumb, and generally the bigger the number, the more leeway you have, plus or minus, in your word count. But make sure you know what the definition is for your genre, and MAKE IT LONG ENOUGH, or you could run into problems.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Tip O'Day #346 - He Said, She Said

Guest blogger Pat Bertram on dialogue attributions that don’t drive readers crazy.

I recently tried to read a thriller by a best-selling author, but I could never get into the story. It was all action and talk, without much substance. Even worse were his speaker attributes. His characters never just said something. They agreed, cautioned, reminded, mimicked, answered, contributed, guessed, explained, responded, admonished, confessed, encouraged, clarified, blurted, pointed, winced, replied, corrected, acknowledged, returned, laughed, challenged, chided, objected, contested, quipped, offered, moaned, complained, repeated, stammered, pleaded, inquired, mumbled, interrupted, confirmed, addressed, countered, advised, completed, allowed, supplied, ordered, asked, continued, chided, answered, whispered, teased, requested, hollered, echoed, declared, informed, spoke, bellowed, spit out, thundered, hissed. All within a few pages. Whew!

The best speaker attribute, as we all know, is the word “said.” Like “the,” our brains barely register it, so it doesn’t yank us out of the story world. But the few times this thriller writer used “said,” he ruined it with an adverb. A professional, he should know that the only time to use an adverb with “said” is when the character’s words are at odds with his mood, such as: “I had a great time,” he said sadly.

In many cases, the writer would have been better leaving off the speaker attributes entirely, particularly when the dialogue was between two characters. It’s not difficult for a reader to figure out which character is talking when there are only two of them. And, to remind us who is talking, all the writer would have had to do was in insert an occasional beat.

Beats, those small actions that accompany a character’s dialogue, help set the stage, tell us about the character’s personality, and vary the rhythmn of the dialogue. Overdone, the beats are as distracting as any other speaker attribute, so the secret is to pay attention to the flow. Do you want short snappy dialogue? Don’t use beats. Do you want to slow things down a bit, keep the dialogue from seeming too disembodied? Use a few beats.

It’s hard to write crowd scenes and keep each character identified without resorting to copious “said”s, but beats keep the scene moving and, if you use beats that are specific to your character, you make them come alive.

This excerpt from my novel Daughter Am I, published by Second Wind Publishing, shows the use of beats. The scene is between my hero Mary, a young woman in search of her grandparents’ murderer, and a group of feisty octogenarians who are trying to help:

The man stopped bouncing and let his arms drop to his sides. Now that he stood relatively still, Mary could see he was skinnier than she’d first thought. A gray slouch hat tilted toward one eye, but the baggy pants cinched high above his waist and the bright flowery shirt several sizes too large marred the jaunty effect. His hands shook uncontrollably. Parkinson’s disease?

“You must be Happy,” she said.

Frowning, Happy patted his torso. “Must I be happy?” His voice deepened to what Mary assumed was his normal tone. “Can I be happy? Can anyone truly be happy?"

“His name is Barry Hapworth,” Kid Rags said, flicking a bit of lint off his navy pinstriped suit jacket. “For several obvious reasons, everyone calls him Happy.”

Mary glanced from the bus to Happy. “Were you driving this thing?”

Happy puffed out his meager chest. “Sure was.”

“And did you almost run over Mrs. Werner’s cat?”

“I’ll take the fifth.” Happy paused for a fraction of a second. “A fifth of bourbon.”

“Did someone say bourbon?” Kid Rags removed the flask from his hip pocket, took a swig, and passed it around.

“Who are all these people?” Bill asked from behind Mary.

Mary turned, wondering how she could explain the situation, but Teach saved her the trouble and made the introductions. Arms still folded across his chest, Crunchy nodded to Bill, then stepped close to Mary. Happy punched the air, but stopped when Bill showed no inclination to fight.

Kid Rags shook Bill’s hand. “You’re a lucky man.”

“What are you all doing here?” Mary asked. “I was supposed to pick you up. And why is Happy here?”

“Happy is a friend of Kid Rags,” Teach began, but Kid Rags interrupted him, saying hastily, “Not a friend. Just a fellow I know.”

“Happy knows someone who knows Iron Sam,” Teach continued, “and since we knew your car wasn’t big enough for all of us, we accepted Happy’s offer to drive us in his bus.”

“Who’s Iron Sam?” Bill asked, sounding plaintive.

“Butcher Boy,” Kid Rags said.

Bill’s eyebrows drew together. “Butcher Boy? Mary, are you sure you know what you’re doing?”

Mary laughed, suddenly feeling lighthearted and carefree. “I haven’t a clue.”

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Tip O'Day #345 - Catniss & Rose & Lisbeth

Guest blogger Kitti Bernetti looks to Hollywood for a bit of advice.

I’m not a huge reader of ‘how to’ books. I’ve met too many writers who are writing the breakout novel but never seem to finish it because they spend so much time reading ‘how to.’ That said, I am a fan of Michael Hague and Chris Vogler, story consultants for Hollywood - and let’s face it, Tinseltown knows how to craft a story that sells.

What Michael Hague and Chris Vogler say makes perfect sense for those of us who want to write popular fiction. They believe that successful stories often feature both an outer journey and an inner journey for the hero/heroine. The outer journey is an adventure to achieve a visible quest; there has to be a visible finish line. The inner journey Michael Hague sees as moving from being defined by others to being defined by oneself.

I often find myself watching films or reading books (and Messrs Hague and Vogler can help with both) and seeing whether their advice applies. Recently I saw ‘The Hunger Games,’ just out here in the UK. Those reading this in the States will probably have seen it some time ago. It’s an enjoyable yarn and well worth the price of admission. Playing my new game of seeing whether the story consultants’ advice applies, I see that one of the reasons the book and the film are so successful is that they do indeed pass the Hague/Vogler test.

Let’s examine this in more detail. For anyone who hasn’t seen the film, heroine Catniss Everdene (hey, it’s science fiction folks so they have to have weird names) is definitely on a quest. Catniss lives in a dystopian world in the future where she is chosen to fight for her life against other contestants in a survival game. This fight to the death is played out across wild terrain and televised for the delectation of others. So Catniss definitely has an outer goal: to win the game and save her life. She also has an inner goal. Propelled to fame she is bound to be defined by others. However, being a resourceful and feisty heroine, she sets out to define herself. One scene where she is required to demonstrate her archery skills illustrates this perfectly. The rich sponsors she must impress are too busy eating, drinking and chatting to pay much attention. So, with her expert archery, she shoots her arrow into their midst, deftly spearing an apple. She forces them to notice the girl from the backwoods.

Hague and Vogler are clear on the importance of character in a book. Any fiction writer should also be convinced of this. Whether you are writing romance such as in another hugely successful film, ‘Titanic’, or crime as in ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,’ character is nine tenths of success. It is easy to see why we root for Rose, the Titanic character played by Kate Winslet. She’s young, beautiful and about to be forced into marriage with a hateful man to fulfill the wishes of her family. But, in ‘Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,’ why should we root for the cold, dysfunctional Lisbeth? Here we can look at Hague/Vogler’s recipe for coming up with a compelling central character. Their thesis is that the viewer or reader has to identify with the hero/heroine – becoming that character. One of the ways to do this is to make the character sympathetic. Steig Larsson makes us sympathetic to Lisbeth because she is such a loner. What’s more, there are very good reasons for that, which are unpeeled like the layers of an onion as the story develops. Her mother is in an institution due to the cruelty of her father and Lisbeth is at the mercy of a thoroughly unpleasant state-appointed guardian. By putting her in jeopardy, the author ensures we care about her.

The same applies to Catniss Everdene. The moment she is in danger, we care. This is partly because in the very early scenes in the film, we see Catniss shielding and nurturing her younger sister. We know she’s the sort of person we would want on our side. Lisbeth is a different heroine altogether. She doesn’t fit in, has no family and apparently no softness to her. She wears gothic black clothes, is a tech geek, and refuses to be bullied. However, we still find her fascinating. This is because Hague/Vogler tell us you can make a character someone we root for is because they are an expert. If they are good at their job, we have a sneaking respect for them. Lisbeth is an IT expert, she knows things. Similarly Catniss is a pretty mean shot with a bow and arrow. Like a young goddess Diana the huntress, she feeds herself and her family – if we were hungry we’d want her on our side.

Aside from being a sci-fi adventure, ‘The Hunger Games’ is primarily a romance. All romances need a hero and Catniss’s love interest is Peeta Mellark. Although a less prominent character, Peeta displays another characteristic which Hague/Vogler cite as being a winning one – he is likeable. As Hague/Vogler point out, Tom Hanks has built a career on such characters.

So, to conclude:
• Goals - Give your central characters an external and an internal goal to sustain them throughout your story
• Characterisation – make your central characters people we can root for – put them in jeopardy. Make them people we would want to be on our side, make them experts. They may only be experts in chopping wood or using a bow and arrow, but make them the best at what they do and they will be intriguing. Or make them likeable, people we’d be happy to be stuck in a lift with and you have a hero people will root for.

These are just a few ways you can create characters and a story which pull the reader in and which sustain your plot to provide a satisfying read. Next time you see a Hollywood blockbuster, it’s fun to see how often they conform to these simple guidelines.

Kitti Bernetti has published dozens of short stories and novellas in a variety of genres of erotica including sci-fi, historical, crime and contemporary. Her latest, ‘The Thousand and One Nights’ is in the unique Secret Library range from Xcite. This range has discreet velvet covers hiding tales of feisty heroines, alpha males and strong romance. They are also available as e-books. She also publishes romance novellas and short stories under a different pen name. She can be reached through her website.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Tip O'Day #344 - Getting Past Rejection

Guest blogger Ann Harrison on being a ‘pantser’ and overcoming rejection.

Ever since I could remember I’ve loved books. I would read anything I could get my hands on and it’s only now that my taste has really settled on certain genres. I love a good romance. Who doesn’t love a happy ending and all the angst in between? I greedily absorb as much young adult (YA) as I can, and I can’t pass up a good suspense and murder mystery.

'I wish I had started writing years ago,' is a cry you probably hear from many a writer. I think I was always too busy reading to sort out the voices in my head. Four years ago, it all got too much and I had no choice. My first seven books spewed forth at a rate of speed that literally scared me half to death. I started with YA because that came to the surface first. You might gather from this that I am a pantser (writing by the ‘seat of my pants’ instead of planning every twist of the story). I can’t do it any other way and am in awe of those that do plot every part of their manuscript.

YA books one through three (and notes for the fourth) in a series were very quickly written. After having book one rejected, (six times), I thought I wasn’t cut out for YA and tried my hand at romance. Three books were written in as many months and sat while I entered competitions and took the judges’ comments to heart.

What scared me most was the almost impenetrable wall you hit when you start submitting your work. It is nearly impossible to get traditionally published in the current market. Many print publishers will only take on repeat authors they already have a connection with. This is the time that many good authors will give up and throw it all away. I almost did after another three rejections.

It wasn’t until I met freelance editor Annie Seaton, who pointed out the flaws in my stories (in a way that I understood) that I took heart. I polished them until I was happy to submit them. It was the turning point for me; within 48 hours I had three contracts on my desk. I feel I chose wisely and carried on writing. Three weeks later I signed my second contract with Breathless Press.

Taming the Outback will be out in August and Mistress for Magnus will be released in September. With my success I felt brave enough to resubmit Book One of my YA series. Witchling has now been signed with Lycaon Press and I know that all of the hard work has paid off.

Check out Ann at her website or on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Tip O'Day #343 - "Road Rules"

Guest blogger Laura Solomon on the writing life.

The writer treads a treacherous road.

The publishing industry is a fickle and capricious beast. Who knows when and why doors will mysteriously open or mysteriously close. The writer does his or her best - writes part-time and works full or part-time. They exhaust themselves for years, getting nowhere, and then suddenly, inexplicably, gets somewhere.

Katoshi, or death from overwork, could be a potential risk. Many writers suffer breakdowns and spend time in mental institutions or hospitals for one reason or another. As Maggie Gee would say, it’s feast or famine.

The dream can become a nightmare – the nightmare, a dream. There are dark sides to the industry, which is, as A.L.Kennedy would say, full of opportunities for the unscrupulous to exploit you. Not many writers that I know would fancy ending up as tabloid fodder, a literary Middleton. Sudden success can bring unexpected side effects. Many a young artist has found too much fame too quickly and wound up a drug and booze addled wreck.

Yes, there are pitfalls galore. The publishing industry is probably after young, beautiful men and women whom it can exploit, but what does the writer want? Writers are shot at, spat at, verbally abused, threatened with rape and death – especially, funnily enough, the female ones.

In reality, as you get older, you realize that, as with any industry, an apprenticeship is served, a ladder is climbed and it is the people above you in the hierarchy who make decisions about when to let you in or shut you out. To be fair to antipodeans, it is more difficult for them to understand the social rules of the British Upper Classes and to fit in within that society than somebody who was born into that class, just as it would be difficult for a British Upper Class person to fit in if placed in a Kiwi Freezing Works – unless of course they could successfully master the Kiwi twang and be willing to don the appropriate overalls.

A young writer plays on the jungle gym, minds the P’s and Q’s and hopes to one day be allowed into the big kids’ playground. Unless, of course, being a guppy, the writer is happy in the fish bowl and don’t want to go into the shark pit for fear of being eaten alive.

Personality, of course, must also be taken into consideration. Person X might love the limelight and relish media attention. Person Y might hate the spotlight and choose to live a quiet small town life, tinkering on their books and making few, if any, public appearances. Who wants what and from whom? Who is a giver, who a taker? At any given moment in time, friends could become enemies, or enemies, friends. Innocence lost turns to bitter cynicism.

A young writer might have a lot of talent, but be lacking in the diplomacy and social skills that come with a bit more life experience. Person A might have been exploited by Publisher A and therefore be reluctant to deal with Publisher B. There are the J.D. Salingers, who have one hit and then become recluses, there are the Atwoods, who don’t seem to mind the limelight, and the in-betweens, who do some but not a lot of publicity.

It’s a difficult but exciting road – full of risks and rewards, highs and lows. A journey that some of us feel compelled to undertake.

Dixon says: Thanks to Laura Solomon for her thought-provoking comments on the writing journey. As part of my journey, I've got a big birthday celebration this week, and my Kindle THE ASSASSINS CLUB will be free this Thursday, Friday and Saturday at http://tinyurl.com/7fav44l - come celebrate with me!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Saying for Authors #115 - Thacker

A Quote which Might (or Might Not) Inspire You to Write:

"If a man ever treated me that way, I'd get a restraining order," Shelly Thacker once said of the New York publishing industry.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Tip O'Day #342 - One Hell of a Ride

Guest blogger Michael McCarty on a writer’s journey.

My advice for beginning writers looking at getting their first novel published: hang tough, it’s one hell of a ride.

An author’s first book is like a first kiss – something you’ll never forgot as long as you live. After having nearly twenty books published, my first book still has a special place in my heart. It was Giants of the Genre published in 2003 by Wildside Press.

The story doesn’t really start here; it starts about a decade before that, in 1993. That’s the year I had my first national sale, an interview with Frederik Pohl in Starlog Magazine. Around the same time, I had started to send out query letters for a vampire novel called Liquid Diet: A Vampire Satire. Nobody seemed that interested in the novel. The suits at the publishing companies were saying, “Nobody is interested in vampires anymore.” And I would say, “Vampire fiction has been popular for over 100 years.” A decade later True Blood, Twilight and The Vampire Diaries would prove the editors wrong.

I would continue to do interviews with such genre writers as Ray Bradbury, P.D. Cacek, J.N. Williamson, and Charlee Jacob for various national and international magazines including Writer’s Block in Canada, The Zone in England and Dead of Night (where I was a contributing editor) in the United States. Strangely, I felt I was on a world conquest, but it was a humbling one to see my words spread to the different corners of the world and I hadn’t even left the United States my entire life. I interviewed Dean Koontz for a men’s magazine and received a four-figure check – I am still amazed at making that kind of money from a single article.

Near the end of the decade, Brian Keene approached me as being a contributing editor for a new internet magazine called Jobs in Hell. At the time, I was writing for another internet magazine, called Hellnotes. I kept writing Liquid Diet and finished the book in 1999. I still hadn’t found a publisher. I was so busy doing interviews I hadn’t spent much time querying the book.

The twentieth century soon became the twenty-first century and I had my first big break. There was this website called Science Fiction Weekly, which was the official website of the Sci Fi Channel. It was edited by Scott Edelman. After interviewing Neil Gaiman, I became a staff writer. For the next couple of years I interviewed more giants of the genre. Between interviewing people for Science Fiction Weekly, I continued sending my vampire novel to different publishers. I was starting to get frustrated and depressed. My goal had been to get my first book published by the time I turned 30, and I was nearing 40.

I was talking to Bentley Little one day and he gave me some excellent advice. He said it was time to put my vampire novel in the trunk and begin another one -- a lot of writers never get their first books published, including himself. I started working on another horror novel, called Monster Behind The Wheel, but figured that might take a lot of time to get published. In the meantime, I needed a new game plan. I was talking with my friend Mark McLaughlin about this and he suggested I do a “best of your genre interviews” type book.

I sent a query to a small publisher who specializes in collectible books. The editor wanted to publish the book, but in the end, I decided my book wasn’t right for this house, so onward I went. Next, I sent it to a publisher in Spain. The editor also wanted to publish the book, but ultimately, it didn’t work out there either. During the World Horror Convention in Chicago, I talked to William F. Nolan about the book project; he was enthusiastic, saying if two publishers liked it, a third was probably around the corner very soon. And he was kind of correct about that.

About ten minutes after meeting with Nolan, I talked with Neil Gaiman about the book. He suggested that publisher John Betancourt at Wildside Press might like it. So I sent a query and three chapters about my new book idea called Giants of the Genre to Mr. Betancourt. He read the three chapters and outline and politely rejected it.

A couple of weeks later, on the fourth of July weekend, 2002, I was thinking about Betancourt’s rejection. He said a lot of nice things in the rejection. So that Monday, I wrote back to the publisher saying something like, “Hey John, you’ve been in the publishing business for awhile, who would you recommend I send my book to.”

John wrote “You know, funny thing is -- I've been bugged by Giants since I turned it down. This usually means I'm convinced on some level that I've made a mistake. If you are still interested in having me publish it, I'll do it next year.” And that is how I got my first book published. Mark McLaughlin wrote the introduction. The book featured 21 interviews: Dean Koontz, Peter Straub, Neil Gaiman, Ray Bradbury & Barry Hoffman, The Amazing Kreskin, Dan Simmons, Douglas Clegg, P.D. Cacek, Graham Masterton, Alan Dean Foster, Forrest J. Ackerman, J.N. Williamson, Charlee Jacob, Dan Curtis, Poppy Z. Brite, Frederik Pohl, William F. Nolan, Charles de Lint, Connie Willis and Bentley Little.

My first novel, the collaborative horror novel Monster Behind The Wheel, with Mark McLaughlin, ended up on the Bram Stoker Final Ballot for First Novel and eventually became an ebook from Medallion Press in 2011. And, in 2009 my vampire novel, Liquid Diet: A Vampire Satire was published as a trade paperback from Black Death Book (went out of print in late 2010) and is now an ebook from Whiskey Creek Press.

Since that time, I have written more interview books, which are still available in trade paperback or ebook including Modern Mythmakers, Masters of Imagination, and Esoteria-Land.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Tip O'Day #341 - Gender Bender

Guest blogger John DeDakis asks, “Can a man write effectively as a woman?”

I'm a guy, but I write in the first person as a woman.

When my first mystery/suspense novel Fast Track was published in hardcover in 2005, one of my male friends said in astonishment to one of our mutual female friends, "I didn't know John was a closet woman!"

I inscribed his book: "Welcome to my closet."

My CNN colleague and cone-of-silence friend Carol Costello once told me after reading an early draft of the manuscript, "You have a very well-developed female side." I suppose some guys might be freaked to be told that, but Carol meant it as a compliment, so I accept it, even though I'm still not totally sure what she means (but I think it has to do with nuanced emotional depth, or something).

Writing as a woman started when I first began toying with writing fiction nearly twenty years ago. Someone suggested that I choose a point of view that would be different for me -- and a challenge. It was only later that I realized that most people who buy books are women. Cool.

I found that writing from the female perspective hasn't been as tough as I thought it would be, for a number of reasons:

• I had a great relationship with my mom (a third grade school teacher, incidentally) -- I could talk with her about anything.
• Cindy, my wife of 33 years, is one of those quality people who have a lot of substantive things to say. She's smart, compassionate, articulate, and never boring.
• My 30-year-old writer/daughter Emily is never shy about offering an opinion on just about everything. She has a PhD in Creative Writing from Queens University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and edited both my novels.
• I work in a newsroom surrounded by twenty-something young women who tell me about their boyfriend, career, and family issues, probably because I'm much more comfortable asking questions and listening than pontificating.

I asked a lot of women to read the Fast Track manuscript before I found my agent -- also a woman (Barbara Casey) -- and their feedback helped me make tweaks that rendered the text authentic to the female psyche. For example, I had a line of dialogue in which Lark Chadwick, my protagonist, says, "I'll just jump into the shower." The women of the Princeton Lakes Book Club in Marietta, Georgia, who let me sit in and listen as they critiqued the manuscript, said, as one: "Women do NOT just 'jump' into the shower. We savor the sensuality of the experience."

Got it. Lark no longer jumps into the shower.

After that first novel came out, Kris Kosach of ABC Radio wrote, "DeDakis crawls inside the mind of a twenty-something female, authentically capturing her character, curiosity and self-expression in this can't-put-down thriller." Nice.

And I continue to be amazed at the numerous 5-star reviews I get on Amazon from women who don't seem to mind that a man is writing as a woman. See for yourself here.

Bluff, the second novel in the Lark Chadwick series, came out a year ago. Veteran investigative journalist Diane Dimond (NPR, NBC, and now Newsweek/TheDailyBeast.com) writes, "Lark reminds me of me in the early days of my career.... DeDakis can so accurately write from a woman's point of view -- with all the intrinsic curiosity, emotion and passion -- [that it's] nothing short of astounding."

Conversely, I think it goes without saying that women, too, can effectively write as men. In fact, I would venture that all authors have at least some experience writing characters of the opposite sex because most novels contain male and female characters.

Yes, there is probably still plenty of prejudice out there among people who don't believe it's possible for a writer to be able to bridge the gender gap, but I've found that emotions are universal. Women, as well as men, experience fear, joy, anger, and sadness. Neither gender corners the market on having feelings, it's just that I've found women express them more interestingly and articulately.

So, I'm proud to be a woman -- if only on the printed page.

John DeDakis is a Senior Copy Editor for CNN’s “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer” and the author of the Lark Chadwick mystery-suspense series “Fast Track” and “Bluff.” He is currently at work on books three and four in the series (“Troubled Water” and “Bullet in the Chamber”). John will be a guest speaker at the Flathead River Writers' Conference, Oct. 6-7, 2012 in Kalispell, Montana. You're also invited to visit John's website.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Tip O'Day #340 - "Rejection, Get Thee Behind Me"

Guest blogger Jo-Anne Russell on The Reject Effect.

“You must develop a thick skin...”

This is a common phrase most writers hear at some point in their career – usually at the beginning. When I started out as a freelancer and short story writer ten years ago, I didn’t quite grasp its meaning. After receiving a handful of rejection letters, I was ready to quit with much resentment towards those who had put me in that position.

A writer friend of mine heard of my situation and repeated the phrase. Frustrated, I asked what exactly that meant. I knew I would receive rejections, but there were so many.

I believe he answered me by quoting Stephen King’s On Writing, and said: “Give ten editors a manuscript and you will get eleven opinions.”

I doted on this for a few weeks, and then started writing and submitting again. This time I did more research on the magazines, and paid close attention to what the editors were looking for as well as their guidelines. I still got rejections; this time, many of them carried helpful, handwritten editors’ notes.

I continued in this fashion until one day it happened. I got an acceptance, my first sale. I was elated! My attention to guidelines, my market research, and my determination had finally paid off. Every future rejection was taken with a grain of salt, and each page added another layer to my “thickening skin.”

Now, as an editor and publisher of my own press, I am in the same position as those editors who made the hard decisions on my manuscripts. I can understand their frustration with ignored guidelines, sloppy punctuation and inappropriate content. As I write rejections or editorial comments, I try to remember how it felt to receive them, and to be compassionate. The reject effect carried me along from writer to publisher, helping my career and my business to grow.

My advice? Grow a thick skin, be aware rejection is part of the business, learn from it, and pay attention to editors who take the time to personalize your rejection – because they see something in your work that cries out “potential.”

Jo-Anne is a horror writer and publisher at Scarlett River Press. Despite numerous short stories, poems and a novel under her belt, she still feels like a new writer. Her debut novel, The Nightmare Project, will be available October 2012. Find her online at her website or visit her author page.