Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border

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

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Tip O'Day #370 - Succeed by Helping Others

Guest blogger Terri Marie on almost living the dream.

Giving up a profession to write full-time as an Indie author was a scary step. Even so, I refused to let the dream inside me slip away. I had to climb so many mountains, make plenty of mistakes, shed lots of tears, and threaten my computer many times. Luckily, I never threw it! My mountains have decreased in size, but I still continue to climb them, just not by myself.

Doing everything on my own was my biggest mistake. I'm not talking about self-publishing. Writing was the easy part. I realized I had no idea what was involved in marketing, which is extremely important. I searched the Internet daily and found great information, but that wasn't the complete answer either. My sales barely crawled. Doing everything on my own wasn't getting me anywhere. It wasn't until I reached out to, and celebrated with, other authors, that things began to change.

Promoting the work of other writers is one of the most rewarding things I do. I have a core group of very successful author friends that give me insight, their experience, and tons of courage. Watching my friends rise in the ranks is so much fun! If you don't help other writers, you're really hurting yourself. Eventually, I found my work being cross promoted. My success began to grow, and my enjoyment in this venture skyrocketed.

Never give up on your dream. Connect with an author if you loved their work. Be a writer, but don't forget to be a fan. I love to communicate with and get to know my readers, and they love it when I bring great books to their attention. I started out with one reader and one author friend. Now I have many. What a wonderful and talented group of people. If you want success, carry other authors with you on your journey and never hesitate to go on theirs with them!

You can find Marie’s books at her Amazon author’s page.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Tip O'Day #369 - Seek Help & Return the Favor

Guest blogger Ashley Robertson has some writing advice.

The biggest thing writers should know is that you’d better be extremely passionate about writing or you might as well go ahead and hang up your hat right now. This business is extremely competitive; it’s similar to trying to be an actor. Yes, it’s that competitive.

Being an author is a part of who I am, imbedded deep down inside my heart and rooted within the marrow of my bones. That’s what drove me when the rejection letters rolled in or my books didn’t get the ratings I felt they deserved. Instead of taking it personally—sometimes it’s impossible not to when you invest so much of your time and energy into something—you’ve got to develop a thicker skin and use it to your advantage. Realize that you can’t please everyone, but a lot of the reviewers offer healthy constructive criticism too. That’s what you need to focus on to improve your writing skills and storytelling ability.

When I set out to publish my debut YA urban fantasy novel, Crimson Groves, I thought that I’d get accepted by one of the many literary agencies I reached out to and that they would take care of everything for me. That couldn’t have been further from how everything actually happened. Though I must thank a few of those agencies, because their personal rejections saying, in essence, “I like your writing style, but we’re not taking anything vampire related. Do you have something else you can submit?” were actually what motivated me to self-publish in the first place. You see, I’m obsessed with vampires and just about everything paranormal, and based on my own extensive research, I believe that genre isn’t going anywhere. Check out Crimson Groves here.

Now that I was doing this on my own, it was time to figure out my budget. When you go the indie author route, you have to pay all the upfront expenses (editor, cover designer, publishing company, etc.). My best advice about this is to only spend what you’re able to lose should your book not sell right away (or not at all). If you’re willing to teach yourself how to e-publish, Amazon and Smashwords offer free training manuals which can save you money on the publishing side; however, if you want to offer your book in paperback or hardcover, you must work with one of many publishing companies. I’ve found that CreateSpace is one of the less expensive ones, and they offer packages that include cover design and editing services. Since I prefer more control and a more personal relationship with a writing team, I outsourced my own editor—Stephen Delaney with Close Reader Editing Services—and book-cover designer—Claudia McKinney with PhatpuppyArt—and I couldn’t be happier with the business relationships I have with them.

That’s actually why I like CreateSpace. They allowed me to bring my already edited manuscript and fully designed cover to them and charged me a simple flat fee for formatting a printed version of my book. So when I was ready to publish my second mature YA/paranormal romance thriller, UnGuarded, it was much easier than before because I had a system in place. Check out free sample chapters of UnGuarded.

Now for another very important tip: networking. You must build “blogationships” with as many book reviewers and bloggers as you can. These amazing people are the backbone of your business. In exchange for a free copy of your book, they’ll give you an honest review and post it on Good Reads, Amazon, and so on. But don’t just be a “taker” when making these connections; be a “giver” too! Spend time reviewing their submission guidelines (and pay attention to what they’re asking for!), learn more about them by reading their bios and then perhaps include that in your review letter so they’ll know you cared enough to learn about them, subscribe to their blogs and follow them on Facebook or Twitter (or wherever they like to be “stalked”). Yes, these things take time and may distract you somewhat from writing, but they are essential. Eventually everything will balance out.

Remember, as indie authors, we are our own literary agent, our own publicist, and it’s up to us to market our books and ourselves. This is why we NEED those amazing book bloggers to help us. If they like you and your work, they’ll share it all over their social media sphere of influence, including in their blogs. Then you should return the favor by sharing the blogs you love, and also help other authors by reading their books and taking five minutes of your time to review them. That is why I recently added a review section to my website.

Ashley Robertson resides in sunny Orlando, Florida and loves reading and writing urban fantasy and paranormal romance. When she isn't writing you'll find her spending time with family and friends, training in her home gym, traveling, drinking fine red wines, and making gourmet coffees with her Nespresso machine. Besides Goodreads and her website, you can find her on Twitter as #!/AshleyR0bertson.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Saying for Writers #122 - Stephen King

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

“When your story is ready for rewrite, cut it to the bone. Get rid of every ounce of excess fat. This is going to hurt; revising a story down to the bare essentials is always a little like murdering children, but it must be done.” — Stephen King

This deer has nothing to do with the King quotation, but I just wondered: did you notice the two little ones?

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Tip O'Day 368 - Something Was Lacking

Guest blogger Michael Keyth: “What made me write a book?"

I’m Polish, living in Poland. I’ve never been to the USA. I have visited the UK on three occasions, for just a few days each time. So why the heck am I writing in English? It’s not that I’m an English teacher and I have completed English studies, for sure. It must be something else. I have currently one novel completed, and am working on my second one. My family won’t read them; they don’t know the language. My friends, well, they know some basic English, but even those who took advanced English on their final tests, had some problems with vocabulary they didn’t understand. When people ask me why my books are in English, I usually answer, “Well this language is more suitable to write in.” It is. More words, better sounding and it’s the official language of our planet.

Still, what made me write? Me, a simple teacher with lots of hobbies and little time for anything. I remember in late 2007, when I was 23 and a horror fan, I was about to watch a long-awaited movie that just came out. I don’t remember the title, but it was something about ghosts. Well, I was never so disappointed. Another movie with ghosts killing everyone one by one, only for one or two people to survive in the end. Where are the movies where people oppose them, huh? The same story repeated with many other horrors. Every time, something was lacking. Something that could made the movie better, like different plot twists, different characters, different villains. Then I watched the Supernatural series for the first time. To be honest I expected something like a team with high-tech devices to deal with hordes of supernatural things…nothing what I expected. I’m not criticizing the series. I like it how it is, but I had expected something different.

Then it happened. I asked myself a very important question: Why not write about what I want to see in other movies or books? But how could I, with no writing experience (apart from some short texts for tests), and few books read at that time, actually create something as huge as a novel? Other people spent years working on their novels.

During my fourth year of studies, I was dying of boredom, gazing into my laptop. I decided to write something. It wasn’t perfect, so I had no choice but to learn the art of writing. I read around ten e-books about creative writing. Based on their tips, I did a lot of research, created characters, made an outline and wrote. After one year the book was written - over 120,000 words. Just to make matters weirder, I wrote it on my mobile phone during school breaks, train travels, holidays and waiting in long queues.

As I said, the first draft took me a year. Then I gave up the book for one year. When I finally woke up, I re-edited it within three months adding 50,000 words, and then re-edited it for the third time. Now I’m working on the sequel, and find myself liking what I do. Hundreds of ideas implemented into my stories make up for the mistakes which a non-native English speaker will make. Will I continue writing after finishing the sequel? The answer is a resounding yes, yes, yes. This art is addictive.

Check out the link to Michael’s book.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Tip O'Day #367 - Where Ideas Come From

Here is guest blogger Tim Reynolds, with an excerpt from an opinion piece taken from his blog “My Opinion, Love It or Leave It – The Tao of Tim” (originally posted on Jan 14, 2012 - used with permission).

Cross-Pollination in Writing…

I spent six years playing in the open mic night amateur scene in Calgary. As a comic I would watch the entire world just beyond my finger tips, looking for weird shit and finding a way to comment on it and make people laugh. I’d hear a conversation between two teens that his mother is spreading rumors that her father got the mother pregnant. The boy said “I know, sorry about that.” It would have been simply interesting eavesdropping except that the two teens were boyfriend and girlfriend. The kids were dating and their parents were screwing!

I saw a sign on a subway car advertising the benefits of seeing the local philharmonic live. The poster was a bunch of middle-aged philharmonic fans posing like rock concert fans with ‘Rock-on’ hand signs (looks like the sign for ‘bullshit’ with the thumb sticking out) and screaming faces. The word on the top was “LIVE.” It was a cool ad until I shifted my position and saw it reflected behind a woman sitting on the train. Because it was backward in the reflection, the word “LIVE” became the word “EVIL” and the rock-on hand sign became finger-shaped horns behind this woman’s head. Was the universe telling me she was evil? Maybe. Will I use it in a story? Read on.

My point is, the joke that came out of it didn’t get a lot of laughs but the incident became integral to the concept behind my short story “Shut Up and Drive,“ about a man driving a bus full of relief aid workers who turn out to be demons when he sees them in the rear-view mirror.

My novel, The Broken Shield, came in part from a moment I shared with a complete stranger while I was driving a bus (the day job). She was waiting to cross the street and she looked up at me the moment I looked down at her. Then we both smiled, not because we were flirting, but because we somehow knew each other and had known each other for centuries. It was a “Oh hi - There you are” moment. And then she was gone, never to be seen by me again. I can’t explain the reality behind it, but because I was so used to grabbing at moments for my comedy, I remembered the feeling and the moment and gave it to my characters to play with. I asked “What if?”

I was at a meeting of the Imaginative Fiction Writers’ Association (IFWA) last week and the guest speaker for the first hour was poet Bob Stallworthy. He was fun and entertaining and talented and then my epiphany moment occurred. Even though my book of poetry, The Cynglish Beat sold only two copies, the work that went into the writing of an entire tome of cynical, beat poetry has coloured my fiction writing as I break the prose rules and write for the emotions and not for the brain.

I have writing friends who have been working on the same short story for two years or more. Yes, I have stories that sit unfinished or unpolished, including a fantasy novel I started in 1981, but I have written novels and screenplays and short stories and self-help guides and poems by the pound since that first novel. At any given time I can find three things in the world around me and at least find a premise for a short story in there. Sometimes an entire novel springs forth, or a twist to a project already under way. I can’t wrap myself up in my own little world and expect to produce anything without lifting my head up from the keyboard and actually seeing what’s out there and then thinking about it like a comic, a poet or even as a photographer, which I am.

Great writing does not happen in isolation. Writers of every ilk must be sponges, absorbing whatever the universe throws in our path at that moment. Like all writers, I get asked, “Where do you get your ideas?” The simple answer? They find me. And I’m waiting with open arms.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Tip O'Day #366 - Embrace the Unexpected

Guest blogger Mary Ann Loesch on “baby steps to help you walk the path.“

Like a lot of you, I've been doing the writing thing for a long time. It started when I was a kid and my dad took me to see my first play. Not only was I hooked on the idea of pretending to be another person, but I totally loved the thought of being able to create a new world. I immediately went home, wrote the worst play imaginable, and then made the neighbor kids act it out.

Yep. I had it bad from the beginning.

As I got older and honed my skills, I never entertained the thought of becoming serious about writing. Sure, I had hopes of publishing a short story or two, but a whole book? C'mon. Get serious. I couldn't do that…

Ha! Here I am--three books later and with a zillion projects under way. However it was by no means an easy or conventional road that got me here. There weren't any classes or writing conventions that I would credit with helping me get started. It was the things I learned in my writing group and from doing freelance assignments that put me on the path to publication.

If you don't have a writing group, find one! You'll be surprised at how much you get out of interacting with your own kind. It's almost like being a Trekkie, only you don't have to wear a uniform--unless you want to! Be particular though. Think about where you are at as a writer. What would you want from a group? Do you want manuscript critiques? Or are you more interested in sharing resources about agents and editors? Knowing these things will help you make a decision about what group is best for you. I've been in one really excellent online group that helped me re-write short stories and taught me how to critique the work of others. I've also been in a terrible online group where people did nothing but tear each other apart!

For me, the best group I've joined is the one where I get to sit down face to face with the other members and really chat about the business. This is my All Things Writing group. We were so inspired by each other that we've started a successful blog called All Things Writing that is geared towards helping writers, and we created an anthology of short stories together called All Things Dark and Dastardly.

Freelance writing is something I never expected to really learn anything from. Heck, I just wanted to make extra money so I could forward my advertising campaign for my first book! That's not what fate had planned, though. Working as a freelancer, I discovered the importance of deadlines, how to write tight, that being able to write in different styles is an important tool to have in your tool belt, and how to deal with difficult and annoying people who don't actually know anything about writing. All of these things have benefited me enormously when it came to finally getting published, and I consider them the best on the job training I've ever had!

Were there other things that helped me get published? You bet, but writing groups and freelance writing were definitely what gave me more opportunity to get there!

Mary Ann Loesch is an award winning fiction writer from Texas. Her urban fantasy Nephilim was published in 2011 by Lyrical Press. An avid blogger for All Things Writing and Loesch’s Muse, her latest book, Bayou Myth, was released this June. Check out her website or Bayou Myth on Amazon.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Saying for Writers #121 - Ray Bradbury

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

“I don’t believe in being serious about anything. I think life is too serious to be taken seriously.” — Ray Bradbury

A view of the Flathead Valley in northwest Montana, which I'm glad to call home - Dixon.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Tip O'Day #365 - Accept Only the Best

Guest blogger Robert Medak asks whether quality writing has become outdated? (Appeared in his blog on March 16, 2012 – repeated with permission.)

Recently I’ve read posts about quality writing in today’s publishing environment. Another point mentioned is the greed of publishers for the lower quality writing published today. Is the problem self-publishing, vanity publishing, or print on demand (POD)?

The ones I blame are writers and readers. I will tell you why.

I’ve reviewed over 100 books from various publishers, mostly Outskirts, Lulu, Xlibris, and personal publishing by authors. This is because publishing houses can’t handle the amount of books submitted, including manuscripts that are not what publishing house print.

Now on to the books I’ve read, many of which break some fundamental rules of grammar, punctuation, spelling and word choice. There are two quotes by Mark Twain that bring this home for everything I write, they are, “The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction. By that time you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is that you really want to say.” And also, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter–it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning." These two quotes speak volumes to me as a writer, as they should every writer.

It’s my position, no matter what, that writers should always write their best to get the words down, then edit the work or have someone they trust edit it for them, be they professional or not. Only with honest feedback can writers improve. Writers need to write to improve their art as Mary Heaton Vorse said, “The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.”

Readers should never accept less than excellent writing from authors.

There might be a problem created in the printing or formatting of the book or eBook. It is up to the author to look at a finished copy of their book and ask for any errors corrected before it is ready for public consumption.

Learn more about Robert (a freelance writer/editor/reviewer) on his writing blog.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Tip O'Day #364 - Defeat the Blank Page

Guest blogger William D. Hicks has ten tips to overcome writer’s block.

If you’ve written long enough to have experienced writer’s block, you know how frustrating it is to sit in front of that computer with a blank screen staring back. Hopefully, one of these ten tips will help you start writing again.

1. Write now. Though writing through the block doesn’t seem rational, sometimes it works. Keep writing. I know it’s coming out wrong. So wrong you want to shred the paper, even though it’s on a computer screen. But don’t. Wait, keep writing. It’s an old writing technique. If you can’t think up anything to write, try doing a mind-dump. Just write everything in your mind, a stream of conscious dump, and see what comes out. Try this for a half hour. Is the block gone? If not, keep doing it. Eventually, you will have written something. While this something might look like what the cat coughed up it might also give you some great ideas for a story.

2. Be creative. Instead of writing, try painting, or drawing or playing music. Don’t worry about writing for now. You can write tomorrow.

3. Do the Opposites. Try an old actor’s trick and focus on not doing something. This often becomes the thing you want/need to do. Try telling yourself, “I don’t want to write.” Say that ten times out loud. Then do something else for a half hour. See how much you want to write afterwards. Try writing.

4. Exercise. This will pump blood into your brain and distract you from worrying. Plus it’s good for you. Once done, try writing.

5. Do a writing exercise. There are specific exercises available to spur different types of writing, e.g. poetry and fiction. Either buy a book or look online for exercises. It’s amazing the stories that have started as writing exercises.

6. Listen to music. Really listen to the words. How are they stitched together? Why? What do they mean? Try writing a song.

7. Go to a movie. Often this triggers an “I could have written that line better” thought. Write some thoughts down about the movie. Maybe even start a story from those thoughts.

8. Read a book. This often triggers the same response the as #7. I sometimes read a sentence and think, “Why did the author write it that way? I would have done it this way.” Again, that line might spur you onto writing a great story.

9. Review old unfinished manuscripts. You have them. We all do. Try to rewrite one. Editing might also spur you onto writing. Even if doesn’t, you’ll feel like you’re writing which should stop you from beating yourself up.

10. Ask writer friends how they’ve beaten writer’s block. If they have no answers, tweet/blog for suggestions. Most everyone has a trick that has worked for them. Try something that sounds appealing to you. If that doesn’t work, try something different.

In the end remember the famous Monty Python line, “And now for something completely different.” Cut yourself from slack and do something that doesn’t resemble writing. Go grocery shopping. Deposit your coins at the bank. Get your hair done. Take a leisurely bath. Don’t get hung up on the fact that you’re not writing. Everyone needs a vacation from time to time, even from what they love most.

Check out e-books by William D. Hooks on Amazon: Twist and Killer Flies.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Saying for Writers #120 - Robert A. Heinlein

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

“Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards.” - Robert A. Heinlein

An uncommon sight - a Canadian Caribou in Montana.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Tip O'Day #363 - The Secret Is...

Guest blogger Troy Lambert divulges the Writing Secret.

There is some belief that what a writer does is somehow mysterious. That there is some secret formula, some secret ingredient you get when you join the author club (secret handshake and decoder ring included) that somehow makes you a better writer than the rest. I am going to share with you the secret. No club dues needed. Free, today only, right here.

The secret is to sit down and write. Not tomorrow. Not the next day. Right now. I am sure you have read enough books about writing—we all did in the beginning and we still do from time to time. We need to refresh and to hone our craft. These books have value, and reading them should be a part of your writing life. It is like continuing education for a nurse or a doctor. Without it, progress passes you by. But the one thing you must do every day without fail, no matter where you are, is write.

I used to teach skiing and I had a saying: “There is no substitute for time on the snow.” We talked about skiing, we watched movies about it, and we studied it in books. Sounds like writing, huh? (Have you seen Misery or Bag of Bones?) Writers attend conferences and seminars (even the dreaded webinar from time to time). Like skiing though, there is no substitute for time at the keyboard. It doesn’t matter if you are writing a letter, a short story, making progress on your novel, or even writing a blog post. (Yes, this counts.)

Between technical writing and professional research (some for my day job, yes I am a lucky guy) and the fiction writing I do, I average about five hours of writing every day. That does not count marketing, education, or anything else writing related. Add those in, and being a writer is a full time job and then some. I work an average of 70 hours a week. I also made three times what the average writer does last year.

Am I getting rich? Nope, even though my novel Redemption is doing rather well (you really should check it out). My short story collection Broken Bones continues to sell also and I am being hounded by fans to finish the sequel to Redemption titled Temptation. I am working on another research contract and will be at the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association Conference in Seattle at the end of July (if you are coming you should drop me a line or stop in and say hi).

Meanwhile, you have spent enough time reading this post. Get back to writing. After all, that’s what writers should do most.

Troy released Broken Bones, a collection of short stories, in 2011 and a new thriller titled Redemption came out earlier this year. You can learn more about this writer at his Amazon page or his blog.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Tip O'Day #362 - "So tell me..."

Guest blogger Rebecca Scarberry on interview questions.

Since I finally self-published my novella on June 17, I’ve decided to take a break from writing so I can spend more time with my family as well as some new friends. Instead of writing, I have been interviewing self-published authors on my blog. This has proven to be quite interesting since I have been asking questions that I don’t see other bloggers asking.

Here are some of the questions I’ve asked:

• Can you tell us a little about your nationality/ancestry?
• Once you finish writing, do you miss the characters you’ve written about?
• While writing, where do you turn for help with punctuation and grammar?
• Do family members support your writing, or complain about the time spent away from them?
• Does writing benefit you in any way, and if so, how?
• When you’re writing, do you shut-off all social networks?
• If you used Beta readers, were any of them family members?
• If you write book reviews, is there any special process you use?

The answers I receive don’t vary much, but they still surprise me.

You can find Rebecca’s blog here, or check her out on Twitter as Scarberryfields.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Tip O'Day #361 - Do You Know a "Once Great" Author?

Guest blogger Linda Blevins on the Reluctant Reader/Reluctant Writer.

I sell books. And I don’t mean that I SELL books, like a publisher or an agent. I physically sell books at a small family-owned bookstore in my own neighborhood. I see the same 50 or so people every week, usually at the same time, on the same day every week. I know them by name, where they live, and who their people are. I have secret pet names for my customers that are sometimes nice, sometimes, not so much. My people tell me everything I want to know about what they read, why they read it, and if they want to try something new. They also tell me things that I probably shouldn’t know, but then we wouldn’t be having fun, would we? The point is: I am good at knowing my people.

For instance, Bingo Lady comes in on Wednesdays before lunch. She will only read romances with cowboys in them, preferably Texas cowboys. She is looking for book 6 in the McKettrick series by Linda Lael Miller and she has enough credit to never have to use real money to purchase said book. She’ll also flip you off if you make her mad.

Then there is Creepy Old Guy. He comes in on Thursdays, 4:30 on the dot looking to see if we have marked down even further the price of that collectible book that he will never buy. He also talks for hours about batteries or fire safety or God. He is … interesting.

Why the heck NOT me? I’ll be the reluctant (yet secretly thrilled) writer, stand au natural, and I’ll tell you about the reluctant reader. Perhaps by getting a different perspective, writers will have a new view of their particular piece of work.

I don’t advocate anyone writing for readers because that can be a slippery slope for everyone. Readers are fickle and somewhat spoiled. Sue Grafton writes the A, B, C mysteries and everybody loves them. She is famous for her series and she probably makes a lot of money. What I hear from my customers are things like, “The first 10 books were great!” “I’m disappointed because it seems like the same story over and over.”

I don’t know a single person that wants to be known as “once great, but now mediocre.” I am sure it’s a frustrating little tide pool for Ms. Grafton. The customer will reluctantly ask for that next book in the series, bemoan that the story is played out, and yet insist that they have to read it because they are not done with the alphabet. What?! If I was Ms. Grafton, I’d say, “You are asking for the same story, I’m trying to give it to you. Don’t do me any favors, Miss Fickle!” What the readers are really asking is to read a story that they enjoyed as much as the first one written. They want to feel the same feelings that they enjoyed and experience them again.

I envision that she is as reluctant to write the stories as much as the reader is reluctant to pick up her next piece of work. She is a gifted writer, has worked her paces and deserves more than money and kudos. She deserves to still enjoy her craft! Karin Slaughter has done an excellent job with her series. There are two different storylines, in two different series with a moderate amount of books for both. When the story was all told, she teamed the two stories and made a new one with everybody on the same playground. She does not re-tell the same story, but the readers still get a reminder of all the warm and fuzzy feelings without being resentful. I do want to add that Ms. Grafton and Ms. Slaughter are equally gifted and talented writers with engaging storylines.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Saying for Writers #119 - Elmore Leonard

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

“If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” — Elmore Leonard

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Tip O'Day #360 - A Mentor's Advice

Guest blogger Debbie Peters says we can all still learn more about writing.

In 1996, I was not even thinking about writing and thought I had no prayer of doing anything outside of the medical field. The decision to get one more degree, as a Social Worker this time, brought writing into my life. Trust me, I hated writing when I was younger and got D's in it, but I did rather well in English. One of the requirements for becoming a Social Worker was composition. I assumed that I would fail. To my surprise, the instructor said he wished there was a grade higher than an A, and asked why writing was not my career choice. Lacking confidence, I did not want to believe that I had talent at anything.

Since then I’ve made waves in the writing industry. Degrees help, but 16 years of writing experience helped more. Having passion for using my God-given talent did not hurt either. I wanted to help other new authors, so offered my help to make their dream of finding a publisher come true. I have mentored over the last 4-5 years and it amazes me how many times I repeat the same advice. Many newer authors today don’t seem to research the markets, or learn what it takes to write a good query letter, let alone proposals or a synopsis. They are in such a hurry to get published, they do not even want to finish the manuscript first.

Since I have the Mentoring Blues right now, here’s some advice to new authors:

1. Do not procrastinate. If you want to write, there are absolutely no excuses. I was nearly dying in bed when I wrote 72 manuscripts in one month.

2. There is no such thing as writer’s block. I always work on more than one story to keep from getting bored or blocked. Sometimes, I have resorted to a Story Gram, which are easy to make. You simply write the first word that comes to your head in the center of a piece of paper. Then you think of the first word that occurs to you when you think of that word. This can keep going until it unblocks you, or else you fill the page and then you might have a whole different story idea.

3. Always finish your manuscript before contacting a publisher. Make sure your story has plots, subplots, and more than one climax. You have to research the market. Make sure the particular publisher you query is actually interested in your subject.

4. Search the Literary Market Guide. This can be found in the library or on-line. Smaller publishers are more likely to try out new authors. The Literary Market Guide has a much better selection of those small or regional publishers willing to give new authors a chance.

5. Do not edit your own work. You should double check and maybe even triple check your grammar. One more pair of expert eyes is always best. I use three editors. I never use family or friends.

6. Be willing to do anything to sell your book. Even if you get a publisher, it still requires considerable time to make choices for the cover, bookmarks, fliers, and marketing of your book. I even had to research to make my own videos for one of my books.

7. Keep in mind that you are an artist. Drawing, singing, playing a musical instrument, painting, and even writing are all forms of art. Like other artists, you will probably not make much money. More than 20 of my books have been published, but it has also taken more than 15 years for me to get known.

8. Your On-line access is a valuable friend. Visit ASK or GOOGLE and type in “How to write a query letter.” Do the same for a synopsis, cover letter for publishers, and even a proposal letter. I suggest a one page synopsis and query letter, since that seems to be what most editors are looking for today.

9. Use your experience to write. This does depend mostly on your age. Research topics that you know little about. I have been using my 20 years of experience in the medical field for my suspense thrillers, as well as anything from my 47 years of life experiences.

10. Do not settle for “No.” If you think you have talent at writing and in a particular genre, go for it. You can always self-publish. You can always have more than one publisher. You can find get an agent to get you a publisher. I have not gotten a negative rejection letter. Positive rejection letters can be good, when they have helpful advice. I learned that some famous authors self-published first, so I took that route.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Saying for Writers #118 - Jim Thompson

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

“There is only one plot—things are not what they seem.” — Jim Thompson

A photo of Red Meadow Lake in northwest Montana.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Tip O'Day #359 - Who's the Villain?

Guest blogger William D. Hicks on antagonists.

Some stories have obvious villains. Others don’t. Think of those old movies where the heroine is placed on the tracks by a man dressed in black. Nowadays, people don’t like stories that obvious. If a reader knows who the evil character is in paragraph two, why bother reading to the obvious ending in paragraph 42?

As an example, while it seems easy to determine who the villain is in Frankenstein, it truly isn’t. Is the real villain Dr. Frankenstein or the village people who want to destroy what they don’t understand? Is it the monster? To some degree, it’s everyone in the story. Yet the only real victim is the monster. He had no choice about whom or what he was. Such is the case in most horror stories where man alters the world around him.

This is true in my story Killer Flies. While the flies are the ultimate villains who do the killing, they are also the main victims. Without some kind of human intervention, they would have remained normal house flies, unable to do any harm other than annoying their human counterparts. But all good writers know that villains are good and bad. Just like in real life. Some part of each character causes a situation, making it hard to decipher who to blame.

Readers love these shades of gray because life is like that. Not clear cut. Curious. Scary. Exciting.

Especially for a kid. At seven I was a bit of precocious child and didn’t like people directing my actions. I walked home from school every day. Alone. I lived in a safe middle class neighborhood on the north side of Chicago. I’d been walking myself home without a problem since first grade.

One day turned out to be different. The cinder block grammar school felt old and gray, more like a haunted church than a place of higher education. Maybe because the sky was oddly dull and overcast on this early November day. It should have been bright and sunny instead of autumn dreary.

This day I had helped a teacher clean some chalk board erasers so had left at 3:30 and missed the mad rush home. A few kids lingered and were still mulling around the school but not many were heading my way. That was fine by me. It felt like rain. The wind had a bite and smell I had begun to associate as a storm front.

The school loomed over my shoulder and a shiver rose up my spine. I was passing the girls’ chain linked playground area, so named because there were two sides to the grammar school. One side where the boys played baseball and one side where the girls giggled, spread rumors, talked about makeup and sometimes got little boys to play tag. I hated this side since some girls had convinced me to play and I had been teased by my friends afterwards.

No kids were in this fenced in area since school had let out 15 minutes before. A man yelled at me from a black van and told me get in. The vehicle had no side windows. I jumped at the sound of his grating voice and veered toward the chain link fence. I hadn’t seen the van pull to the curb beside me. The man hailed me again.

I couldn’t see him. I didn’t recognize the voice. I didn’t know the van. I bolted and ran like hell for home. No boogey man was going to child-nap me. This all happened. In my mind it was all true. The man was the villain. But was he really? Did he have malice in his heart — or was he a concerned parent with a kid my age who wanted to make sure I got home okay?

Who then was the villain — me for possibly falsely accusing this unknown individual, even if just in my own head? Or him for not identifying himself and scaring me to death? Or was he a real life villain — there to kidnap me?

Who knows? That day everything seemed sinister and suspect, just as it does in many stories. But when I wrote the story I intentionally left much to my reader’s imagination. Because to be like real life it couldn’t be so black and white. It had to have some suspense. Read my e-book Killer Flies and you’ll see what I mean.

Check out these e-books by William D. Hooks on Amazon: Twist and Killer Flies.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Tip O'Day #358 - The Book Revival

Guest blogger Ben Drake says, “Buy books, people - physical or downloaded.”

I work in an old folks home. It's not very glamorous, I know, but they are pretty cool people with some pretty cool stories. Upon talking with them and enjoying their company, I find their generation did a lot more reading than my parents’ generation, and a hell of a lot more than my generation.

I am sure that one of the reasons was financial. With the Great Depression and two world wars, they just did not have much money to be going out. They were forced to be frugal, and books were an inexpensive escape from grim reality, as opposed to the lifestyle of today. Or should I say yesterday.

Today, with seemingly endless foreign wars, the constant fight against terrorism, and the recession that nobody has the balls to say is turning into another depression, few of us have the disposable income we once enjoyed. I think books are ready to make a huge comeback. E-books are incredibly inexpensive, or you can get free hard cover or paperback check-outs at the local library.

The weekend movie and dinner date will surely not be totally replaced, but some of us will scale back to the evening book and conversation instead.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Saying for Authors #117 - Margaret Laurence

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

“When I say work, I only mean writing. Everything else is just odd jobs.” - Margaret Laurence

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Tip O'Day #357 - No More Mr. Nice Guy

There’s hardly any chance you might mistake Dixon Rice for John Grisham. We don’t look alike. We don’t write alike. Our bank balances have little in common. Grisham could get his grocery list made into a Hollywood movie, whereas my brilliance is still a closely-guarded secret.

Despite my shortcomings, I still enjoy trying to help other struggling authors. I’ve been out there in the slush piles, and I’ve self-published on Amazon – maybe my experiences could help others. I been a writing conference coordinator, a writing group president, and started my own critique group. I blog nearly every day, and I make a pest of myself in a number of online writing groups, and I have more than 4,600 FB buddies. I’ve written more clichés and sentence fragments than the law allows. I’ve been there and done that.

I’ve been around enough to realize that, whether you’re traditionally published or you’re flogging a self-published e-book or you’re somewhere in between, it’s a tough world for 99 out of 100 authors. So when someone with a familiar name messages me that, “Hey, Dixon, my novel Book X is free on Amazon for the next couple days – please help me spread the word!”…well, I do just that.

Not no more.

At least, not without performing some due diligence. I recently told the world to check out the freebie of Book X, before I had actually read a page of it. Then I downloaded Book X and started to read.


There were so many run-on sentences in the first few pages, I had trouble finding a sentence that WASN’T a run-on. Twice in the first two pages, the author used “your” when “you’re” was needed. There were spelling errors. There were formatting errors. All the characters sounded alike. The dialogue was long and rambling, full of info dumps. I couldn’t fight my way past page five.

People, before you submit or self-publish, get some additional sets of eyes on your manuscript. Have your story read by somebody who is an avid reader, or a writer, or a retired English teacher. Preferably somebody who’ll provide honest feedback, and who you’ve never slept with. Then do it again with 5-6 other people. Call them beta readers, or online writing partners, or previewers, or critique partners – just call them before you inflict your masterpiece on people who really matter, such as literary agents, editors, or paying customers.

If you have a half-dozen fairly literate people read your manuscript, then most of the typos, misspellings and grammar/punctuation mistakes should be eliminated, along with some of the glaring plot issues. Hopefully, your beta readers will have also asked you questions, forcing you to re-think some of your story decisions. This process results in a better book – one that Dixon (or anyone else) would be proud to help promote.

I was mortified to think I had recommended that folks waste their time reading the unprofessional mess that is Book X. I have learned my lesson. In the future, I pledge to be more protective of your time, and more deserving of your confidence.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Tip O'Day #356 - Do You Do Freebies?

Guest blogger Paul D. Marks on writing for free.

Why is writing the only profession where your customers, whether magazines, producers or readers, feel they shouldn't have to pay you for your work? If you were a plumber they would expect to pay you.

I come to this having just done my first free-for-Kindle promotion on Amazon. My new award-winning thriller White Heat normally sells for $3.99 (now $2.99), which I thought was a pretty reasonable price. And it started with a bang, making it to number one on Amazon's paid Hot New Releases chart a couple weeks after release. But then sales fell off, despite good reviews on and off Amazon – and mostly from people I don't know. So how do you crawl out of the pile? How does the wheat get separated from the chaff? It seems that one way to do it is by having a promotion where you offer your book for free.

But why should we give away the product of our labor?

In another life (well it seems that way anyway) I was a "script doctor." I would often take meetings with producers at their houses or restaurants. One particular incident stands out: I went to meet two producers up on Sunset Plaza above the Sunset Strip in L.A. This is a particularly good and expensive neighborhood. I pulled up to the house to see two Jaguars in the driveway. The house was very well appointed inside and out. And to make a long story short, while they wanted to hire me they also wanted me to work for free, at least on the first draft. These were people with a track record, not just starting out. These were people who supposedly were signatories to the WGA. These were people who were either putting on a good show (not unknown in Hollywood) or who actually had the money to back up the veneer of success they were putting on. So why did they think they had the right to ask me to work for nothing? And that's not the only time that happened.

Though I'm still ambivalent about freebies, I decided to give my book away for free myself. Why? The difference is now I'm the one making the choice to offer my own book for free with the payoff that I will gain new readers and word of mouth for my book and future books. I am giving new readers a chance to find my writing and hopefully come back for more and at that point be willing to pay something. It is a never a bad thing when there is demand for books, be they free or $2.99 or $12.99. The important thing is getting the book out there and getting it read.

So I ask - do you think writers should write for free? I hope to hear from some of Dixon's readers as to what you might think.

Dixon says: I've had the pleasure of reading White Heat, Paul's awesome novel of a man on a quest against the backdrop of the L.A. Rodney King riots, and I recommend it highly.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Tip O'Day #355 - Write or Promote or Both?

Guest blogger TD Jones asks, "Do you ever want to just give up on promoting?"

As I sat here and try and think up other ways to promote my books, I let out a loud sigh. I love the writing world and hope to do it for a very long time but promoting is one of the least favorite things I like to do. Now don’t me wrong, I love hearing from readers and doing the whole meet and greet, but there comes a time I wonder when will I just get to write my stories and not think about promoting one or all of them.

I wondered what past writers did before the internet was around. How did they promote? I get the feeling that promoting wasn’t so much on their mind as creating a great story was. There was no Facebook, Twitter or blogging or even Pinterest. Their books sold by word of mouth. If someone liked a book then they told someone else and so forth. There was no ordering on line, you had to actually get up and go to a bookstore and picked up your favorite author’s books. And is it just me or did authors back then have a better chance at being a full time writer than we do now days. I find it funny with all the social networking advantages we have, we really aren’t getting to live the dream of a writer’s life like the authors before us.

I’m trying to find that balance between working full time, writing in the evening and promoting, but I just feel like something is getting short changed. I think back to two years ago when I first got that e-mail about my book Hot Days being contracted and how I felt. At that moment all I wanted to do was write. Now five books later that is still my dream…just to write. So that’s what I will do. I will promote when I can, but writing stories has always been my dream and it will always stay my dream.

Never let your dream become second best. Without the dream you have nothing to promote!

Check out this author’s latest novel, Wrangled Hearts. Learn more about her at this website or her blog.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Saying for Writers #116 - Patrick Dennis

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

“I always start writing with a clean piece of paper and a dirty mind.” - Patrick Dennis

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Tip O'Day #354 - Is the Work EVER Done?

Guest blogger Stephanie Osborn on “Things They Don’t Tell You In Author’s School - Parts #7-8.” (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. This is the final post in that series.)

So you have the book edited, it’s in gorgeous shape; the cover art has come down and it’s beautiful. You’re done, right? Nope. Now you get the e-ARC, the electronic Advanced Review Copy. You get to review that, make corrections, and send the corrections back. That's gotta be it, you think.

NOW you’re done? No. Now you get the galley prints. These are unbound first run prints of your book. Again, review for errors and send back the corrections. These will sometimes be things that were missed in all of the previous edits (yes, it IS possible!), but mostly it will be problems in converting the electronic version of the manuscript into print. This usually comes in the form of dropped formatting - a missed tab, lost italics, a strange carriage return, a blank line where it shouldn't be, or an odd symbol substituted for punctuation.

Meanwhile, you and your publisher are working on the public relations and publicity campaign. Start making appearances before the book is released if you want to build buzz. Build a website. Blog. Tweet. Face. Space. If you can get your name out there, and your book’s name out there, do it.

After the book comes out come the interviews, talks, and book signings.

Somewhere in there, you start writing your next book.

Thing Seven: You NEVER really get done.

And finally, Installment #8:

Wait - the book is OUT, right? What more can there BE?!

Thing Eight: Congratulations. Once you’ve realized Things One through Seven, you are now an experienced, professional author.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Tip O'Day #353 - So You Think You're Done...

Guest blogger Stephanie Osborn on “Things They Don’t Tell You In Author’s School - Part #6.” (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.)

Thing Six: Getting a contract in hand is NOT the end of the job. It’s the beginning.

Now you get to work with one or more editors, copy editors, and proofreaders. Multiple times.

Thing Six-A: Be aware that you are NOT required to do everything, or even anything, the editors say. But you better really be confident you’ve done it exactly right, because these guys are usually way more experienced than you are and know what they’re doing. (Not always. But mostly.)

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Tip O'Day #352 - A Little Help From A Friend

Guest blogger Stephanie Osborn on “Things They Don’t Tell You In Author’s School - Part #5.” (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.)
(The previous tip discussed the need for patience since your masterpiece may get stuck in a slush pile.)

Well, how the heck do you DO it (get published), then?

Thing Five: A mentor helps. S/he should be someone already experienced in the business, firmly established (hopefully as an author) and willing to take on a protégé. S/he is the "somebody you know," your entrée into the business, acting as your reviewer, your advisor, your agent, your friend, and your shoulder to cry on when an editor says your beloved baby is a pile of horse manure. (Tidbit Five-A: Editors do sometimes say this. Or words to that effect. You haven't lived until an editor has informed you that he hates your intro, hates your conclusion, and everything in between needs to be totally re-written.)

What your mentor can do is to point you in new directions, and tell you if and when someone is trying to take advantage of you. Sometimes your mentor even becomes a co-author, and then it’s really fun.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Tip O'Day 351 - Catch 22

Guest blogger Stephanie Osborn on “Things They Don’t Tell You In Author’s School - Part #4.” (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.)

Getting your foot in the door can end up with a smashed foot.

Thing Four: The old adage, "You can’t get published without an agent, and you can’t get an agent without being published," isn’t true – but it isn’t far from it. Many of the big publishers won’t even look at anything that isn’t handed to them by an agent. With some of them, it’s impossible for the budding author to even find contact information.

Contrariwise, most agents won’t look at anyone who isn’t published. (There are a few. But your story had better be good, and polished to the nth degree.) However there are some good publishing houses out there that DO accept unagented submissions. The trick to these is that, unless you know somebody, your submission goes into a "slush pile" and will remain there for some time. Slush pile submissions are read in the order received, so your baby will be there for however long it takes for the company’s readers to dig down to it. Be prepared to be patient.

Dixon’s comment: Consider getting your first publication credit from a small, regional press. Also, many authors e-publish and hope that sales on Amazon and other sites may entice a major publisher to pick up their book.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Tip O'Day #350 - The Pecking Order

Guest blogger Stephanie Osborn on “Things They Don’t Tell You In Author’s School - Part #3.” (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.)

Some things have nothing to do with your manuscript.

Thing Three: There is a pecking order among authors, and it is not entirely determined by tenure, sales figures or awards.

Who published you? How big was your last advance? (This is, not coincidentally, often determined by the size of the publishing house.) The bigger the publishing house, the larger your advance, the higher up the pecking order you are – at least in the minds of some.

Be prepared to experience resentment from those below you, and disdain from those above. Some of us view the playing field as level – but not all.

Dixon says: Fortunately, I've mainly experienced generosity and helpfulness from other authors. Okay, Grisham keeps driving by my house late at night, dumping beer bottles and other trash on my driveway, but other than that...

Monday, July 2, 2012

Tip O'Day #349 - Bigger Isn't Always Better

Guest blogger Stephanie Osborn on “Things They Don’t Tell You In Author’s School - Part #2.” (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.)

Thing Two: It IS possible to have a novel that’s TOO LONG. It seems there’s some alchemy mixed into publishing. There’s an arcane formula publishers use to transmute word count into page count. Page count, in turn, converts to shelf space. Use up too much shelf space on one book, and the publisher suddenly can’t display as many books. So your wonderful, two hundred thousand plus word count book that spewed out of you like water from a fire hose probably isn’t usable, unless you can find a way to cut it down into two or three books.

Due to software problems, I've been unable to blog the past few weeks, but hopefully all is now well. Once I finish with Stephanie's delightful tips, I'll repeat some of the previous posts that were not formatted as well as I'd wished.