Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border

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

Friday, August 31, 2012

Tip O'Day #388 - Reviews for Money

Guest blogger Seeley James on a Century Old Tradition.

After the New York Times wrote an article about a company offering ecstatic reviews for only $99, an uproar has ensued throughout the blogosphere. Salon wrote a particularly nasty piece about independent authors resorting to shills and paid reviews.

Last I checked, the NYT pays their reviewers to write reviews. Those would be paid reviews. The question is independence. Judging from the nastiness of some high-brow reviewers, I’d say they pay for making controversy not recommendations.

The problem that has arisen predates Amazon, the Kindle, and Goodreads. Back at the beginning of the century, Google stole advertising dollars from traditional newspapers. Large chains like Knight Ridder deflated so fast it was frightening. Some cities, like Seattle, no longer have printed newspapers. With that decline in advertising revenue went the payroll for professional reviewers. Only a few major metro areas still have them. Many of those are questionable in book choices. We, the people, do not want reams of irrelevant mattress ads from which we have to dig the comics every Sunday. We stopped responding to them. We stopped clipping those coupons. Those indiscriminate ads were the life blood of the 20th Century newspaper business. When we tossed out that bathwater, the baby (the professional book reviewer) was still in it. Gone now.

That leaves two issues:
1) How do readers find trustworthy book reviews on which they can base their purchasing decisions?
2) What is the ethical way for an author to make sure reasonable people (those without an axe to grind or a mental healthcare worker in full pursuit) review their book after having read it?

Not so long ago, I posted book reviews on my website, copied them to Goodreads, Amazon, Booktrib and other places, only to discover NO ONE CARES. Controversy creates views on blogs. Wild, unsubstantiated claims about anything for which readers can post virulent comments in reply will attract a lot more attention than book reviews. (I now understand the Fox News model; they’re after mass quantities of viewers to satisfy advertising rates, not journalistic excellence. It works.) Is there a fix for readers?

Goodreads would have you believe they are the answer to the reader’s dilemma. Not so. Their system is wide open to straw men and shills, just like Amazon. Likewise, Amazon will tout their reviews and sales rankings as worthwhile guide posts. Not even close. Am I the only one wondering how or why Amazon suggested I buy 50 Shades of Grey when I pre-ordered John Sandford’s new book? Are hardcore murder mystery readers really picking up an X-Rated revision of Beauty and the Beast?

Do we want to wade through the New York Times book reviews? They write great reviews. I have to look up at least one word for every NYT review I read. When I’m done, I feel like I learned something interesting—about a book I will never read. Why do they insist on reviewing the dreary literary pieces that are deep, meaningful, and use the English language in ways we never dreamed possible when the frickin book will never sell as many copies as my hamster’s memoir: Bondage for Their Enjoyment, the Caged Life.

As a reader, I would like to see a book reviewer’s seal of approval. We don’t even see it consciously, but the UL label on a toaster means something to us when we make our decision. I visualize a day when author-collectives use dues to support an impartial reviewing system. There are several online writing critique groups that do this today with mixed results but only for the author. Imagine reading a book review with a gold stamp next to the reviewer’s name that says, Indie Author Guild – Certified Independent Review. Or ALLi (Alliance of Independent Authors), or any of the many great organizations cropping up these days.

As an author, I would like to have some method of distinguishing my hard work from the guy I met at a 10K run the other day. He said, “I wrote a book just for fun. It sucks ’cause I don’t know anything about writing. But I published it on Amazon and got three five star reviews the first day.” Indeed. I hired a professional editor, proofreader, formatter and designer. My book won’t hit the shelves until October but it will be fighting for attention with his literary masterpiece. Would it make a difference to readers if I had a similar seal? One that says, Amazon Certified to be a Halfway Serious Effort? Maybe my editors, The Editorial Department, should create an emblem that reads, Certified to have Met at Least a Minimum Standard of Effort. Would that make a difference to you?

Seeley is the author of short story collection Short Thrills, and his novel Geneva Convention will be released later this year. He was a Finalist for the DeMarini Award in fiction, and was short-listed for the Fish Publishing Award and the Debut Dagger Award.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Tip O'Day #387 - “Plays Well With Others…”

Guest blogger Kim Boykin looks at Childhood Lessons on Writing.

1. BE KIND. Read for your fellow writers and offer good, honest critique. It’s easy to look down on someone else’s work when you yourself are long past the stage of development where everyone either longed to suggest you get another hobby. Be generous with praise, but be genuine.

2. PLAY WITH THE NICE KIDS. There was an unpublished writer I greatly admired. For a bunch of psychological reasons I won’t go into, I felt like such an idiot around her. Glaring red flags went up. I was so enamored with this person, my work suffered horribly. Pat attention! Those red flags are there for a reason.

3. STICK UP FOR YOURSELF. If you’re serious about writing, put yourself out there in critique groups. Listen to everything and fight the uncontrollable urge to defend your work. If the criticism is valid, it just is. But don’t be a pushover.

4. TEACHERS KNOW EVERYTHING. Not everything, but teachers have a bigger and better toolbox and they know how to use those tools. Best of all, they want to teach you how to use them, too.

5. DO IT AGAIN. Writing is like cleaning a bathroom. No matter how well I thought I'd done it, my mom always found something I missed and made me do it again. Be ready to write and rewrite to get noticed. Then, after you have an agent and a publisher, you’ll rewrite again.

6. GUARD YOUR STUFF. With computers and their tiny vast minds, it’s easy to think of them like a piggy bank. When you need to find where you said something really cool, you just give it a shake and there it is. As amazing as computers are, they aren’t foolproof. Use a back up service. Hell, print it out and put it in the safe deposit box in case the house burns down. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.

7. ROLLY POLLIES & BAKING. Don’t forget to layer in the small stuff, such as noticing things like rolly pollies or the design of wrinkles on your protagonist’s forehead, what her hands look like and why. Then taste your batch of words, smack your lips together. What does it need to become richer? Chocolate is good, but sadly isn’t always the answer.

8. GO FISHING. If you want to be a good writer, go fishing. You can learn a lot about writing just dangling a line in the water. Sensory detail, order and pacing are vital. Above all, patience will come in handy after you’ve written your novel and are ready to sell it.

9. TAKE GOOD CARE OF IMAGINARY FRIENDS. Those voices you hear in your head are a gift. They provide an understanding of your characters that can never be attained with process gimmicks, charts, or outlines. They are windows into souls that exist only to have their stories told.

Kim Boykin writes stories about strong Southern women, and her “beauty school” novel titled The Wisdom of Hair will be released in the Spring of 2013. Learn more at her website, kimboykin.com

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Saying for Writers #127 - Larry L King

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

“Write. Rewrite. When not writing or rewriting, read. I know of no shortcuts.” — Larry L. King

A quiet creek in northwest Montana.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Tip O'Day #386 - Complex Plot Lines

Guest blogger Cynthia Richards on “Keeping all the Wiggling Worms Straight.”

I love complicated stories with twists and turns weaving intricate patterns of clues or deception. These are the stories that keep me up until midnight, turning page after page. Tracking each strand of intrigue or character sub-plot in the writer's mind, however, can be as difficult as sorting worms in a bucket. How can an author make certain their character A isn't racing in his speed boat to rescue the scientist while in character B's point of view, character A is giving a lecture on physics at the same time?

I turn to my experience as a software developer. Computer code, depending on the software application, can be extremely complex. To keep the functionality straight in their minds, developers turn to a process called "Flow Charting." They use graphic representations of each step their code goes through to get from point A to point B. Sound difficult? It's actually very simple.

A writer can follow this same process with pen and paper. Start with the protagonist's story line. Draw a box and write a brief summary of the scene or event with the perspective of how it impacts your protagonist. Do the same thing with each scene, tying them together with arrows beginning with the first box (scene or event) to the last box. Voila! You have created a flow chart for your plot. If you’re using more than one character point of view, then do the same thing with the next character's storyline. Try printing out the flow charts for all your character story lines and comparing them. I've discovered quite a few plot holes I would have missed otherwise.

Paper and pencil work just fine as you’re flow charting, but if you'd rather save your work in e-copy, there are software tools available. I recommend Open Office, because it's easy to use and it's free (big plus). Having an e-copy version comes in handy when you’re writing your synopsis. The major plot points have already been written. You’ll just need to copy/paste into Word and then freshen up the language.

A co-author of horror and urban fantasy novels, Cynthia’s first solo fiction project is scheduled for release in 2013. Learn more at her website.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Tip O'Day #385 - What Not to Leave Out

Guest blogger Katie Jennings on “The Importance of Proper eBook Formatting and Content!”

Alright guys, so if there’s one thing we can all be sure of it’s that the publishing world as we know it has been dramatically altered in the last few years thanks to the advent of the eBook. Kindles, Nooks, iPads, Android tablets, etc are the latest craze and according to all the stats out there, if there’s one thing that people are buying more of, it’s eBooks.

This is EXCELLENT news for us as authors. Now we no longer have to rely on things like traditional publishing, print shops, and inordinate expenses to get a book on paper and bound professionally…in fact, if we want, we don’t have to even consider print books at all. Now, I still think that print books are fun so I encourage Indie authors to still pursue this route (especially since CreateSpace will do it dirt cheap), but maybe it’s time we focus the majority of our attention not on our print books, but on our eBooks.

I have four published novels with a fifth on the way, and I can tell you honestly that my sales ratio of print books to eBooks is unbelievable. As in, basically the only people who buy my books in print are my family and friends. My Kindle books, however…well, that’s a much different story.

I realize now that I was making them WAY too simple. The book itself is all in there, each chapter reading just as it would in the print book. But I left out so much more that I could have included, things that would not only make my Kindle book interactive, but also market me as an author AND help me sell more books. So you can marvel at my pitiable oversight, here are some of the things I originally left out of my Kindle books (some of them are very sad, but trust me I’ve learned):

1. A cool graphic for my book title/author name
2. A dedication
3. Table of Contents (not super important, but can be helpful in an eBook!)
4. The generic copyright page with clickable hyperlinks to my website and social media pages
5. A list of my previous works with a few customer reviews
6. About the author (Omg, sad, right?)
7. Cool graphics to accompany my chapter titles
8. Interesting section spacer graphics between sections in a chapter
9. Unique bold or italics to start off the text in a chapter or a new section of the book
10. A sneak peek of an upcoming new release (the cover and an excerpt), perhaps to the sequel of the book. Even using an excerpt from a different book entirely would be better than nothing.
11. And lastly, reviews of the book itself. Send out Advanced Review Copies of your book and get some reviews to include with your eBook. Readers love to hear what other people think before they commit to purchasing.

So here’s the thing: I was so worried about making my eBook as easy to read and simple as possible, that I missed out on all the cool stuff I could have added. I was worried that if I made it too complicated that the eBook wouldn’t format correctly and it would look awful and no one would want to read it. So while my eBooks read very well with very few formatting mistakes, they are also boring to look at (hopefully not boring to read, but that’s another story). Perhaps some readers prefer eBooks without all of the flair, but c’mon, it really does improve the look of the eBook and gives it that professional edge that we are all striving for.

So here’s what I did for my upcoming new release. This time I was committed to getting it right, so I actually hired a professional to format my eBook for me. Did you even know that there are professionals who do that? I didn’t. But I was referred to a great small company by a fellow author and their price was extremely reasonable, so I said hey, why not?

Wow, let me just say right now that it was so worth it. First off, it was nice not to have to fight with the formatting myself, but they were also the ones who suggested I include most of the fun things I mentioned above. So if you’re feeling lost and having technical difficulties getting your eBook to look just right, consider reaching out to someone who knows what they’re doing (even if it’s just a friend who’s very tech-savvy). Especially because an eBook file will look different on various eReaders, so you have to make sure it formats correctly on all of them. This is something the pros can do, and it will make the difference between your eBook looking drab or fabulous when a reader downloads it to read.

Make your eBooks phenomenal, guys. Give readers the most bang for their buck, and in the end they will greatly appreciate a properly formatted eBook. And as the publishing industry continues to evolve in favor of eBooks, you want yours to stand out as more and more people catch on to all of the possibilities available with eReaders and eBooks.

Katie Jennings is the bestselling author of The Dryad Quartet, a YA fantasy series. She has a new family saga/romantic suspense novel, When Empires Fall, available now on Amazon. You can learn more about her and her books at her website. The company she used (which she highly recommends) can be found at http://www.blueharvestcreative.com/

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Sayings for Writers #126 - Leonard & Kerouac

Two Quotes which Might (or Might Not) Inspire You to Write:

“If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it. Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative.” — Elmore Leonard

“It ain’t whatcha write, it’s the way atcha write it.” — Jack Kerouac

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Tip O'Day #384 - A Paranormal Review

Review by Kathy Bobo of Kat’s Tale - Undying Love Vampire Series By Teresa Mummert

Katie, or rather Kat as she prefers to be called, is the main character of Kat’s Tale – Undying Live Vampire Series by Teresa Mummert. Thinking of vampires conjures up long held myths such as being able to kill them with wooden stakes through the heart, driving them away with garlic and crucifixes, and their insatiable craving for human blood. In the past, vampires were always the personification of evil, but no longer. These forces of nature now enjoy the same constitutional rights of mortals, have their own blood banks, have careers and have romantic relationships.

Kat’s Tale opens with Kat’s dark night of the soul on the edge of a hotel roof. She is about to commit suicide over the murder of her brother. “I stood on the ledge of my hotel’s roof. I kicked my sandals off and watched them flutter to the ground below. They disappeared into the darkness of the night. I hoped I would be as lucky.” Of course, Kat changes her mind at the last minute, and that’s a good thing as the entire novel eventually proves.

Kat’s Tale has two romantic interests, Gavin (her boyfriend) and Caleb. Both Gavin and Caleb are great characters; Kat finds herself torn between protective yet party-loving Gavin and the mysterious Caleb. Caleb brings out feelings of sympathy, fright, compassion and love. From the beginning the reader is teased into wanting to know who in the heck is Caleb and what is he about?

The main character seems to have been living in some sort of bubble, never having heard about vampires. Caleb saves her butt on more than one occasion from what can only be described as the Vampire Mafia. She quickly learns not all people are what they appear and every person dead is not gone, including her brother, Marcus. Kat learns all debts are due at the door, and payments are to be made in full: “A debt of two vampires for the two he killed.”

Author Teresa Mummert‘s Kat’s Tale ends in classic cliff hanger style that leaves the reader wanting more of every woman’s ideal man, Caleb.

Dixon says: Kathy Bobo is obviously a fan of the paranormal, especially vampires. I believe her love of the genre got in the way of offering constructive criticism; other than one sentence about the protagonist living in a bubble, there was no mention of the slightest imperfection. A whitewash like this doesn’t help the author improve her craft, and might lead potential buyers to suspect the review is written by a relative or close friend of the author.

A quick perusal of the review makes it seem that all the clichés from Twilight and True Blood were scrambled together. A more interesting approach might have been to look at how the clichés are stood on their head and made fresh in a way that helps this story rise above the “typical” vampire romance.

Kathy Bobo has a clear and lively voice, and I think she’s capable of much better. Hopefully she will learn that it’s okay to be critical of stories she enjoys, and create more balanced reviews.

So what do you think? Was I too rough on Kathy, or did I give her sound advice that will help her writing career?

Friday, August 24, 2012

Tip O'Day #383 - Compare & Contrast

Guest blogger Doris Meredith looks at two different authors.

The following is absolutely true. No gender is bias intended as I know stay-at-home writer dads who share Writer Two's schedule. The names are changed to prevent my being sued by Writer One. Writer Two is yours truly.

The writing lives of individual writers differ depending on circumstances, but some circumstances are better than others. I decided to use that old high school English class device that made students break out in a sweat: Compare and contrast two writers' daily schedules.

Writer One rises from his bed at 7:00 after a night of restful, uninterrupted sleep, eats a light breakfast with wife, and retires to his paneled, book-lined office. From 8:00-9:30, he edits the previous day's work. At 9:30 his wife brings him hot coffee.

Writer Two rises from her bed at 7:00 a.m. after giving her son his asthma medicine at 2:00 a.m., and soothing her daughter after his nightmare. At 7:30 she fixes breakfast for her husband and children; at 8:00 takes the children to school. At 8:30 returns to school because children forgot their lunches. At 9:00 Writer Two cleans the kitchen, puts first load of clothes in washer, empties the trash, writes checks for overdue bills, and finally takes a phone call from the school nurse (“Your daughter has a headache and can we have permission to give an aspirin?”). From 9:30-10:00 she edits the previous day's work. At 10:30 she picks up her daughter after another call from the school nurse. After giving her daughter a ginger ale and the TV remote, she reheats a cup of coffee and takes two aspirin.

Writer One works on latest book from 9:45-11:45 a.m., when he calls his agent to discuss an upcoming book tour and his need for a publisher-funded car and driver. At 12:00 noon, he eats a leisurely lunch with his wife, reminds her to gather tax records for accountant, returns to his office and works until 3:30 p.m., feeling very relaxed because he’s well ahead of deadline. From 3:30-4:00, he speaks to his agent and arranges for the car and driver to pick him up at the airport. At 4:00 his wife brings him a glass of wine, after which he calls his agent again. From 4:30-6:00 he works on his book. At 6:00 he eats dinner with his wife and reminds her to pick up his cleaning and pack his bags for his tour. At 10:30 he retires for another night of uninterrupted sleep.

Writer Two works on her latest book from 11:00-12:30 when she feeds her daughter a bowl of chicken soup, decides it's too soon to take another aspirin, phones her agent to learn he is on vacation in Paris. She works on her book until 3:30 p.m., then picks up her son and takes him karate class. At 4:00 she calls to ask if the publisher will buy her a plane ticket to her book signing, learns he went home early with a headache. She takes two more aspirins, picks up her son from karate class, fixes dinner and collects tax records for the accountant. She works on her book from 7:00-8:00 when it is bath time and story time for the children. At 9:00 p.m., she checks her credit card balance to see if she can afford to charge a bus ticket to her book signing. From 10:00 to 12:30 she works on her book, at which time she realizes the character she identified in her synopsis as the murderer couldn't have done it. She'll have to tell her editor she's changing the plot. At 12:45 she takes two aspirin and goes to bed, then suddenly remembers the washer full of wet clothes. She says to hell with it and falls into an exhausted sleep.

Conclusion: Every writer needs a good wife.

Learn more about D.R. Meredith (Doris to her friends) here.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Tip O'Day #382 - Writing is Hard Work

Guest blogger Jennifer Harlow says, “Oh, @%&^!”

She's done. The weeks of research, the months of writing, the weeks of typing, the month of editing, it's all done. She is ready to be read by my wonderful Beta testers who will see how splendiferous she is and confirm I am the genius I always knew I was. Huzzah!

Three Weeks Later...

Oh, @%&^. They hated it. They really hated it. They thought the main character was annoying. The male lead was too perfect (meaning no real man would act like that). I kept switching between too much description and too much telling and not showing. The entire first fifty pages were dull and redundant. And the grammar. Oy!

“Didn't they teach you anything at the baby Ivy college your father and I took out a second mortgage on our house so you could attend?” my mother asked. (Yes, that watching Frat boys play beer pong is not how I want to spend my Friday nights, thank you very much).

Well, did you like anything? “Yes. The chapter titles were funny.”

Anything else? “ I liked the character names.”


What do you do when what you've written the first time around isn't that great? Me, there was vodka and three Real Housewives marathons involved. (Kidding about the vodka.) It's hard hearing criticism about something that you spent so much time and effort on. When they're telling me their constructive criticism, I try to put on a brave face while inside I'm considering skewering them with a fireplace poker. (Once again kidding. It was a machete.) Then I watch more Real Housewives, calm down, and think about what they've said and the suggestions they give.

Like how to make the hero less of an archetype. Make the heroine have faults instead of her being little miss perfect. See how much of the beginning can be cut away without losing the characterization and world building you presented in those pages to get to the action quicker. Use a thesaurus as much as possible. When in doubt, use a comma. Really ask if you need to describe the leaves on all the trees. Then put on your big girl pants and get back to work. (Unless there's a Real Housewives of Atlanta on. Love me some Kim and NeNe.) With every word on the page ask if this is the best choice. Sound like fun? About as much fun as Andy Cohen has at the Housewives reunions. (I think I have a problem.)

Writing is @%&^#*! hard work. Most of my books have gone through at least five edits before I even present it to my agent, who does one more. Right now I'm on the third of the steampunk book I wrote, Verity Hart Vs. The Vampyres, cutting the first chapter entirely, working eight hours on the current first chapter, twelve on the second, and so on. My main character went from Cher Horowitz in Clueless to a pretty version of Jane Eyre. My hero now smokes, drinks, cusses, and is rude. There is more red ink on the pages than black. As it should be. Nothing comes out of the gate perfect, but if you're smart enough and trust in your skills and vision, it can certainly get pretty darn close.

Publishers are tough. I once got rejected because two character names were too similar and the reader got confused. So though it may hurt, and take for-bloody-ever, editing is probably the most important part of writing. I've learned that 80% of the time my Beta testers are right. As long as you have the backbone of the story and halfway decent characters with potential, then all is not lost. Most things can be fixed. And after all the hard work and tears, in the end you get this...

Jennifer Harlow is the author of Mind Over Monsters, the first in the F.R.E.A.K.S. Squad series (out now) and To Catch a Vampire (out in September 2012). To learn more, check out her website.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Tip O'Day #381 - Hone Your Craft

Guest blogger Warren Bull on persistence.

Dixon Rice, whose novel The Assassins Club can be downloaded from Kindle, was kind enough to ask if I would write a post for his blog. He noted that his goal is, “writing well enough to be published, whether it actually happens or not.”

It struck me that Dixon’s goal is similar to mine. I wrote my-all time favorite short story for author readings, “The Wrong Man,” in response to a call for submissions from a magazine. Sometimes writing is as painful as self-dentistry. Writing this story was fun. I borrowed a friend’s fictitious setting, with his permission of course, plopped my character in the middle of it and typed away. I even added a few details to the biography of my friend’s main character, again with his permission, although that character never appeared in the story.

Of course in the writing world having too much fun arouses the ire of the muse who must be wooed and gently persuaded into being helpful. She cannot be rushed. Thus it came as no great surprise that the magazine went out of business before I could send the story in.

For the next three or four years every time I submitted “The Wrong Man” to other venues I got absolutely great rejection letters. Trust me. I’ve had acceptances that were much less enthusiastic. Like Odysseus, “The Wrong Man” sailed across the writing world and ended up in a safe harbor on a webzine on the far side of the globe — in this case, Australia.

By now, “The Wrong Man” is available online, in print and for audio download. I plan to read it aloud at Killer Nashville later this month. I’ve read it to different audiences half a dozen times. Each time it evoked laughter and applause.

I could have given up on the story, of course, but I persisted. In part, I was curious about how many wonderful rejections it could rack up. In part, it served and still serves as a metaphor for what it’s like to be a writer. I cannot control when or if anything I write will ever be accepted for publication. It does not matter how much schlock gets published from other writers. It does not matter that my work is better than theirs. What matters is that I put in the time and effort to continue to hone my craft, that I remain open to feedback, especially negative feedback, and that I continue to write.

Warren Bull is a multiple award-winning author and a Derringer Award finalist. He has more than forty short stories published, as well as novels, Abraham Lincoln for the Defense, Heartland, and Murder in the Moonlight (all available here) and a short story collection, Murder Manhattan Style (available here). Also check out his blog.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Tip O'Day #380 - Start Now!

Guest blogger Jeff Mazza on “The Story of a Non-Writer.”

Often we start out on a path that we think is where our destiny lies. A long time ago when I was in college, I began a class in expository writing as part of my Mass Communication major. The professor ridiculed my first attempt at creative writing as he read my essay aloud to the class. I dropped it from my schedule after about three days. I knew that any chance for a career in the media was over. I never finished the course and moved on to other things, namely starting a family.

Many years later a church member passed away and I was inspired to write a brief eulogy for him. Although the circumstances were unfortunate, I received positive feedback although it was not in my mind to begin a writing career. Later, I had the sad opportunity to write two more eulogies. This was not encouraging me to become a writer at all. Friends told me how great I was. The fact that someone had to die to spark my creativity did not exactly bolster my enthusiasm.

Skip ahead to the recent past, about three years ago. It seems that I was always starting a story or essay of some sort. All I had to my name was a few barely started attempts. Then a friend suggested blogging. This did get me motivated but my efforts were intermittent at best.

Eventually I began another short story and became determined to see it through. I made fun of my own attempt to write, just like that professor back in college. I called the story “Diary of a Non-Writer” as a mockery of my hopes to be a successful author. I knew that no one would want to publish it, so I didn’t even try. With so many ways to self-publish, I placed it on Amazon and sold most of the dozen or so copies to myself and a few friends. Despite my lack of fame and fortune, it was phenomenally satisfying to see my name on a web site plus a copy of the book sitting on my shelf.

Not long ago my wife of 29 years passed away. This reignited my desire to write. It was both a way of mourning and healing for me. Now I write two or three times a week and have received almost eleven thousand views.

My advice to those of you thinking about writing is this: start now even if you have nothing to say. Eventually that small spark might just ignite into a flame.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Saying for Writers #125 - Stephen King

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

“Making people believe the unbelievable is no trick; it’s work… Belief and reader absorption come in the details: An overturned tricycle in the gutter of an abandoned neighborhood can stand for everything.” — Stephen King

This photo of Ptarmigan Lake in Glacier National Park was taken earlier this week by my friend Sue Haugen of Kalispell, Montana. If Stephen King had taken the hike up to Ptarmigan Tunnel for this view, something grand and noble might have stirred his soul, and the world would have lost a great horror/paranormal author.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Tip O'Day #379 - Who Do You Write For?

Guest blogger Lauren Carr on “The Ailment of Writers with High Standards.”

Several years ago, I was speaking at a school after the release of my second book, A Reunion to Die For. When it came time for questions, a student asked, “What do you do for writer’s block?” To this, I laughed and said, “I don’t know. I’ve never had writers block.”

Well, now I have had writers block. For a year, between 2008-2009, I stared at my laptop without knowing what to do. So, I packed up my laptop and announced to my family that I quit. I was no longer going to be a writer.

A month later, I was back at the laptop working away. Once again, I made an announcement to my family. “Okay, I’m going to write, but then I’ll publish my next book independently. If it sells, fine. If not, so what? From here on out, I’m writing for myself.” It’s Murder, My Son and subsequent books have been my most successful books and I have not had writer’s block since.

How did I get rid of my writer’s block? The secret is in this advice offered by American poet William Stafford: "There is no such thing as writer's block for writers whose standards are low enough."

What? I'm supposed to write junk? Can you be serious?

In order to understand the meaning behind Stafford’s advice, let me explain the circumstances surrounding my writer’s block.

A Reunion to Die For was published by a commercial publisher. It was a $26 hardback. My thrill of being published in hardback was quickly extinguished when I discovered how hard it is to sell a $26 hardback when you’re an unknown.

My next book (It’s Murder, My Son) had to come out in paperback. My traditional publisher didn’t handle paperbacks. In October, 2008, I went to a mystery conference, where I discovered that the new word count that publishers were looking for was below 90,000. At this time It’s Murder, My Son was 94,000. So, I had to do a rewrite to trim what I considered a perfectly good book in order to find a new publisher. A few days after I arrived home from the conference, my father-in-law, for whom I was primary caregiver, passed away.

For a year I stared at the laptop not knowing what to do. Then, I decided to “lower my standards” and write for myself. Since I made the decision to stop writing for literary agents or publishers or anyone but me, I have never run into a problem of deciding what to write.

No, Stafford is not encouraging writers to produce garbage. He is suggesting, however, that it's easy to take yourself too seriously in trying to please agents or publishers or reviewers. As a result, you end up staring at your laptop, thinking how inadequate your writing is and cursing God for giving you the love of writing. Yes, I did a rewrite of It’s Murder, My Son, but I did it for myself. I quit sweating over a turn of phrase for fear that a literary agent would disapprove. I didn’t think about if this plot line is “hot right now” or not. I wrote with the intention of pleasing myself. If readers and reviewers happen to like what I have written—then that’s the icing on the cake.

Since I independently published It’s Murder, My Son and the other installments in the Mac Faraday Mysteries, (Old Loves Die Hard and Shades of Murder) I have been on a sugar high.

If you want to be a writer, you need to forget about the judgment of others. Write what you want to write, write what you love, write for yourself.

Besides being an author, Lauren is owner of Acorn Book Services, serving as publishing manager, consultant, editor, cover and layout designer, and marketing agent for Indie authors. The ABS website is here. Also check out her Literary Wealth blog.

Tip O'Day #378 - Listen to that Voice!

Guest blogger Vicki Elam on writing a book for children.

There seems to be a tiny voice (which somehow overpowers the owner of this voice) that urges me to write a children's book. It never stops telling me to put my ideas, emotions, and you-name-it onto paper.

This voice says to explore the significance of writing and it haunts me daily. I realize that writing has no boundaries. It is the guiding voice that would show me the path, a road that I've been hesitant to go down for several years now.

The strange thing, though, is that this inner writer never stops urging me to write, even for one as inexperienced as myself. It is inevitable for an inborn writer to turn away from his or her gifts. The voice may be silent for some time and it will let you know when the time is right to pursue. Inspired by my 6 year old granddaughter, I finally took the plunge. I'm now working with an illustrator and hope to have my book ready to be published in the next few months.

Becoming an author is something I've dreamed of doing. I had an idea for a great children's book and I'm passionate about creating and writing, and committing those ideas to the page. The path to becoming a published author can be difficult but I'm up for the challenge!

Learn about Vicki’s thoughts on writing and her journey of writing a children’s book at her blog.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Tip O'Day #377 - Literature & Romance

Guest blogger A.L. Jones on "Literature versus Romance."

What's the difference between literature and romance? Literature isn't about sex! At least, that's what most people would say. The truth is, most literary greats include a sex scene or two, if not more than that. A whole scene of Joyce's Ulysses is devoted to masturbation, and famous authors such as Toni Morrison, Ernest Hemmingway, and many others include sex in their work. So what is it that makes romance trashy and literature great?

Well, sex scenes in literature have a purpose: to reveal something about the characters that couldn't have been shown otherwise. Isn't there a purpose to sex in romance as well? Sure, it's supposed to get you all hot and bothered, but there has to be more than that to compel the reader to continue. Romances generally uses sex as a way to show the deepening relationship between two characters; not just to demonstrate their physical compatibility, but also to reveal how their love develops.

In literature, the characters are not always falling in love, but the gist is essentially the same. Sex is an important window into the character's mind. As a creative writing major who enjoys reading romance as much as I do literature, I get a lot of criticism from my peers. However, a good romance novel has all the same elements of a good literary novel: it's well written, has compelling characters, and reveals a piece of the human condition. Experiencing passion and falling in love is just as large a part of life as growing up and discovering yourself.

That makes romance, in my opinion, no less important than literature.

A.L. Jones is the author of Sire's Call.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Tip O'Day #376 - Review for a Fee?

Guest blogger Clayton Bye calls this his “response to the snidely scornful.”

The other day I saw an article that was almost certainly a shot at my personal policy as Editor-in-Chief of The Deepening World of Books (see this link).

Let me bring you up to date: Earlier this year I decided to start charging a minimal rate for the work that goes into a review on The Deepening. There isn’t a publisher around who will pay me $135 per hour, which is my professional rate. But maybe, just maybe, they’ll pay my reviewers $100 for a professional review, $50 for a poetry review, $25 for a children’s book, $7.99 to have your book featured, and – if an author is in a big hurry for a review - $150 gets the novel reviewed and posted within 14 days.

What was the shot? That people who charge for reviews can’t be trusted, that they have no principles, that a mere $100 is going to suddenly cause them to like books and authors they have hated for years. And under no circumstance can a person be fair-minded if paid the big bucks for a two week review.

Oh how easily we are swayed.

If I‘ve managed to work in sales for close to 25 years without getting jaded, and have also managed to sell on the basis that the customer must receive fair value for my products, then this little business of reviewing for money is laughable.

Every single reviewer everywhere deserves to be paid for their time. Shame on the government and publishers and authors and competing reviewers for suggesting different. Shame. Shame. Shame. Good Lord, I feel like I’ve stepped into an Ayn Rand novel. You know, I can’t think of any reason I would write a dishonest or “influenced” review. I review because I like to do it. And because my words belong to me — in my country they are copyrighted the moment they are set to paper — I can also do whatever pleases me with those words. Like… charge a publisher $100 to review his new release.

Get a grip, people. Reviewing is not a charitable undertaking. It never was.

Copyright © 2012 Clayton Clifford Bye

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Tip O'Day #375 - Which Voice?

Guest blogger Donald McMiken opines on writing distance.

In the paradigm of prose, writers are free to choose several viewpoints; we are not confined to a uniquely personal point of view in telling someone what happened. Within each of our choices of viewpoint there are several further possibilities. The primary choices are first person, second person or third person. It has been said that third person is the most flexible and appropriate point of view — except when it isn’t.

For each viewpoint we have another choice: single or multiple voices. A story may be told from just one, or from different perspectives. At a third level these viewpoints and voices might be singular or the consensus of a collective — plural. To complicate matters, a writer can also be closer or more distant in their viewpoint as intimacy in the tale changes, a perspective that’s called writing distance. More than a few writers, even successful novelists, have trouble changing their writing distance and tense where it could be most effective.

Writing distance refers to how close and personal your voice is, or at the other extreme, how your distant view captures reality through the wider lens of objectivity. Note that objectivity is perceived not actual; even the most deluded holocaust denier can write in an objective third person with a scholarly voice.

You can think of writing distance as like describing a panoramic scene. Picture, if you will, arriving by sea at a tropical island. As you approach you first observe the entire island on the horizon from the boat. As you get closer you can see details of a bay and a dark rainforest. Closer still and you enter this fine bay, heading toward a sunlit beach of white sand. Now you are so close you can no longer see the entire island, just the bay. You move closer through deep blue water. You see fish swim among the coral and dolphins leap and play around the boat, while sunlight sparkles on the water. Then the boat runs aground on the beach and you leap into gentle waves lapping the shore.

You venture across the hot, pristine sand with bare feet leaving footprints that track your journey. Now you can no longer see the whole bay, just white sand, a few palms and a dark foreboding forest dead ahead. You plunge in among the trees and vines. You stand still to allow your eyes to adapt to low light among the undergrowth. Now you can see only an arm’s length in front of you. There is a crash, low guttural rumble, a stench of a carnivore’s breath, then a flash as a monster bares its fangs ahead of you. In the slow-motion shock of an adrenaline rush you leap for a low-hanging branch. You have now closed writing distance.

You are so close that your only writerly choices now are fleeting impressions. At the same time, you will likely change tense, which amplifies immediacy and pace, to reinforce a sense of imminent danger.

Donald’s first novel has not yet been released. He is the author of Secrets of Writing Killer Essays & Reports, available from Amazon here.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Tip O'Day #374 - Make Bookaholics Happy!

Guest blogger Janice Strong says, “Books are a way of life for me.”

I have the deepest respect for writers who have worked so hard to give others books to read. I have thought about how I choose the books I read and it comes down to these things:

Before I consider buying a book, I must read about the author. I must know the genre and the description of the book. Then, I must see the cover of the book. Sometimes the cover alone sells me.

I read the words of recommendations from other authors whom I have read and enjoyed. I am hesitant to read reviewers because I want to make up my own mind about the book. Amazon is where I go for any information about a book and author. I read a sample of the book if it is available. If not available, I will read the blurbs on the cover of the book from reviewers or other authors.

From a reader’s point of view, I love books. As long as I live, I will be buying books and reading about authors. Recently, I crossed genres and read some westerns. I enjoyed them! I am even watching “Longmire” episodes on television (a modern western set in Wyoming). It is never too late for a reader to change reading habits or to add new authors and genres. So writers, keep doing what you do best: WRITE.

Dixon says<: This reminds me that I haven't done "one-sentence blog posts" in months. So write one sentence only on the topic "How I pick a book to buy, borrow or steal." Don't post a comment here - instead email your submission to montananovels@yahoo.com and I will post my favorites in a couple weeks.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Tip O'Day #373 - Sensory Writing

Guest blogger Dee Ann Waite says, “Eyes and ears are not enough.”

As writers, we must remember our readers are dependent upon our descriptions to bring them fully into the story. We need to make them not only see and hear the story, but also feel it, smell it and taste it. In my experience, smell and taste are two of the most neglected senses in writing. Pick a scene from one of your stories and review it for the five senses. Can you see where you could have added one or two to enhance the scene?

A while ago, as I was driving along a winding country road on my way to the west coast of Florida, I began to see Smoke Area signs. In Florida, when the season is exceptionally dry, they have what are called controlled burns – intentionally set fires to clear the dead brush. I slid the window open and inhaled deeply, prepared to experience the exquisite taste of home. As I breathed in the aroma of burning vegetation, memories of outdoor campfires and old wood-burning stoves flooded in from my youth. A smile creased my lips as I relished the joyful innocence of adventure, wonder, and the comfort of home. The smell of smoke brought it back in its full glory.

You see, senses have everything to do with writing because writing is metaphoric, sharing universal truths through metaphors delivered from the heart.

Writing from your senses doesn't mean including a few senses in your narrative. It involves much more than the simple description of a sense. Not connecting a described sense to a memory or emotion is to miss a very important opportunity as a storyteller. You have the opportunity to enlighten readers on some aspect of your characters’ experiencing the sense (such as their histories, the quality and nature of their relationships, their viewpoints, education, prejudices, how and what they've experienced in their lives). Here are some examples of what I mean:

#1: Judy walked into the Closed Closet Pub and caught the tantalizing aroma of garlic and peppers amid the din of jubilant laughter, cackles and desultory conversation. The amber light enhanced the rich tones of nautical oak. She saw some friends drinking in the corner and sauntered toward them, smiling.
#2: Judy hesitated at the Closed Closet Pub door, inhaling the exquisite aroma of garlic and peppers amid the din of jubilant laughter, cackles and desultory conversation. For a moment she was back on the boat, reliving the party that changed her life. She'd stopped eating peppers after that. She caught sight of her friends drinking in the corner, beneath the amber light. She sauntered toward them, a huge smile pasted on her face.

The first example describes; the second example emotes. The first one describes the place but it doesn't provide us with any information about Judy, except that she likes the aroma of garlic and peppers. We don't know why. In the second example, her senses are used to hint at intrigue linked to memories that, in turn, are linked to the associated sense--in this case the smell of garlic and peppers. This is the power of writing with your senses. You bring it home for the reader.

Adding detail to our writing can be a difficult process. We don't want to overwhelm our readers, but we want them to be able to visualize the details of our stories. Adding sensory descriptions will help them do this. Watch as I add sensory details to one of the scenes in this realistic fiction story:

Charles rushed out the door as he headed to his first day of college. He slung his book bag over his shoulder and quickly made his way to the school auditorium.

Although this is a great scene, more details can help readers visualize and understand what Charles is feeling. I might add the following to the scene:

The chill of the wind froze him to the bone as his feet crunched on the ice under his feet.

This tells me a lot about the scene. The reader knows it's winter and Charles is cold. The wind blows in his face and he has to walk slower than he wants because there is ice on the ground. I could also include what he smells and tastes, but sometimes it isn't necessary to include all the senses. We have to be careful not to be overly descriptive.

I've been advising you on how to incorporate the five senses into your writing to bring the characters to life and help your readers to become part of the story. Now I'd like to mention that omitting one of the senses here and there can also add tension, fear, etc. to the story. Consider this scene:

You’re a small child lying in your bed, all alone. Desperately waiting for your eyes to become accustomed to the dark, you hear it - a soft, scratching noise - and it's coming from under the bed. It lasts only a moment before it stops. You wonder if you're hearing things, and you're so desperate for the darkness to lighten that you forget to blink. The blackness seems to swirl around you, cloaking you in a thick, black fog, through which no light can penetrate. The sound begins again, only this time the scratching becomes louder, seems closer, and last a little longer this time. You hold your breath so the darkness doesn't know you’re there. Without your sense of sight, you figure by not breathing you will be able to hear the sound more clearly, and identify its location...

The description above relies on the complete absence of the sense of sight. This is where fear comes in and can play a major role - in this case, blind fear. To compensate for the loss of sight, hearing becomes more acute. You, as the writer, can introduce other horror-inducing thoughts and impressions.

You are at an advantage as a fiction writer. You get to create a real life environment, and enhance that environment any way you wish, to any degree you wish, by the use of sensory writing. Real life can be far more interesting than fiction.

Dee Ann Waite is author of the thriller The Consequential Element. You can learn more about her at her website or blog. She tweets as deeannwaite1

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Sayings for Writers #124 - Maugham vs Lessing

Two Quotes which Might (or Might Not) Inspire You to Write:

“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” – W. Somerset Maugham

“There are no laws for the novel. There never have been, nor can there ever be.” — Doris Lessing

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Tip O'Day #372 - How Much Is Too Much?

Guest blogger Ben Drake asks “How far can we go with an idea and still be able to come back?”

I’m a constant meddler in my wife’s novels. She brought up the subject of drunk driving a while ago. She made the character out to be some asshole for doing it. I tried to make her see that it might not be a very good idea to demonize everyone who has ever made a mistake in that situation, telling her, “You might be alienating certain members of your audience.”

It is easy to make our characters have all the answers to all the problems that they face, but what about when the actual author doesn’t have the answers to a situation? Examples could be Middle East turmoil, teen pregnancy and spouse abuse, just to name a few. These are all situations that might be easier to fix in reality, as opposed to in our writing and in-depth character development, that people seem to love. That is, if we have done our job properly.

In one of my stories, I dove into the criminal mind of a psychopath, and in making him a whole character I angered quite a few people.

Dixon says: I don’t mean to get embroiled in a domestic dispute, but your wife is right (in my humble opinion). One of the worst mistakes anybody can make is trying to please everyone. For authors, I don’t think we should embrace controversy simply for the sake of being controversial, but neither should we run screaming from the slightest hint of strong opinion. Where would Fifty Shades of Grey be without controversy? Just this week, its UK sales surpassed those of Harry Potter.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Tip O'Day #371 - What About Libraries?

Guest blogger William D. Hicks on generating e-book sales.

The only way to get noticed as a writer is to get read. But how? With a couple e-books out I decided to start promoting myself. I hired a PR company who booked a publicity blog tour. It’s the electronic equivalent of a multi-city book signing. While reviews and interviews and blog posts would likely get me noticed I wanted to generate sales. In my mind more sales = more readers.

I had recently noticed that my e-book sales to libraries were slow but steady. I wondered if I could ramp them up and asked my publisher how. He gave me several suggestions which I followed. I also figured out some short cuts along the way. And it worked. Over a three day period I got commitments from 5 libraries to buy 2 books each. While it’s not much money, I’m hopeful my e-book sales will spike from these efforts. Because it’s not really about the money; it’s about getting my stories read.

As a disclaimer, before doing all this work, be sure your publisher is authorized to sell e-books to libraries. This usually means they sell through Overdrive. If not, you probably should wait until they do before you put out the all this effort.

Write a “form” letter to the library. Use below as a template:

Dear (Sir/Madam/Librarian/Name of Person—especially if it’s the director or the email is directed at specific person),

Note something interesting about yourself, plus a request for the library to purchase your eBook. (Mention the state you’re from to libraries in your state, mention the state the book is set in to all the libraries with that connection, mention you’re an alumni to the college you attended, you get the idea. If there is no connection you might avoid specific state references.)

e-book Title
Genre, a little about the book
ISBN or other Identifying Number (e.g. ASIN-Amazon Standard Identification Number)
What Language it is written in
Publication Date
Price (especially if you know the price the library will pay, this isn’t necessary but it’s a nice to have)

Mention that your publisher is authorized to sell your books to libraries and they sell on “Overdrive” and any other e-tailers of note (e.g. Amazon).

Publisher Name
Publisher Address
Publisher Phone
Publisher Email

Ask the librarian to contact you with a decision and thank them for reading your email (politeness goes a long way).

Yours (some ending),
Your Name

Figure out which libraries you want to target. It’s often worthwhile to submit queries of this kind to all the libraries in your state, but first target those nearby as they will more likely pick up your e-book. When I suggested my suburban library should purchase my e-book and told them I was a resident, they instantly purchased a copy.

Check out the library’s URL. Before sending the email letter above, check out the library’s site. Some will have a “Purchase Suggestion” option, while others might have an “Ask a Librarian” link and others still might have a “Contact Us” section or “Email” address. You can use one of these more generic options or you can do some further digging and find information on the Library Director/CEO. If the email is directed to a specific person (e.g. the director), always personalize the salutation. Be aware that often the Director’s email address is not easily found and it’s best not to spend a lot of time searching for it.

Send the email and wait for a response. Not all libraries will buy your book. Sometimes you hear back from them weeks later; sometimes not at all. When a library buys an e-book, celebrate your win.

William D. Hicks is the author of novels Twist and Killer Flies.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Saying for Writers #123 - Lawrence Block

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

“One thing that helps is to give myself permission to write badly. I tell myself that I’m going to do my five or ten pages no matter what, and that I can always tear them up the following morning if I want. I’ll have lost nothing. Writing and tearing up five pages would leave me no further behind than if I took the day off.” — Lawrence Block

Dixon says: This sounds much more sophisticated than the advice I received years ago from novelist and screenwriter Dennis Foley: "Allow yourself to write crap."

Lawrence Block has experienced two towering achievements in his life so far: he was named Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America, and he and I became friends on Facebook. I imagine he's most proud of the Grand Master designation but maybe not...

This is a photo of Indian Paintbrush taken by a friend somewhere in northwest Montana, and has nothing to do with today's literary quotation.