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Anne R. Allen's Blog


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Anne writes funny mysteries and how-to-books for writers. She also writes poetry and short stories on occasion. Oh, yes, and she blogs. She's a contributor to Writer's Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market for 2016. 

Her bestselling Camilla Randall Mystery Series features perennially down-on-her-luck former socialite Camilla Randall—who is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

Anne lives on the Central Coast of California, near San Luis Obispo, the town Oprah called "The Happiest City in America."

Anne blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris 
and at Anne R. Allen's Books

Sunday, October 28, 2012

8 Sure-Fire Ways to Improve Your Book—Tips from a New York Times Bestselling Author

This week we have some serious nuts-and-bolts advice from our own Ruth Harris. Ruth learned this stuff from both sides of the editorial desk, as an editor at Bantam & Dell, publisher at Kensington--and as a New York Times bestselling author of women's fiction and thrillers. Since I'm in the middle of editing my new Camilla Randall mystery this week, I'm using these tips right now

Number 8 is the biggest problem for me. It's amazing how many times I say the same thing. Just because your critique group has to be reminded of the plot every week doesn't mean your reader needs a recap in every chapter. Yup. I gotta use that delete button.

And remember Ruth has her own blog now, which provides links to wacky and fascinating news stories that can help jumpstart ideas for your own fiction: Ruth Harris's Blog.

If Ruth doesn't respond to comments in a timely way this week, she may be fighting the effects of the Frankenstorm about to hit the East Coast of the US. Take care, all of you back there in the path of Sandy and her stormy friends!...Anne

by Ruth Harris

I’ve been a professional writer for over four decades. I started out writing cover copy and flap copy at Bantam and Dell, then built a freelance career writing magazine articles. Finally, I graduated to writing paperback original mysteries, then to women’s fiction and eventually to well-reviewed hard cover publication and appearances on the New York Times Bestseller List.

None of it came fast but, over time, I became aware of my bad habits, figured out how to correct them and my books improved. My advantage was that I was an editor and worked with lots of writers, helping them to make their books better & in the process learning more and different ways in which writers undermine their own work.

Their problems and my problems won’t necessarily be your problems but I’m reasonably sure some of my “fixes” will show you how to take your draft and greatly improve its quality.

1. Embrace the power of the delete button. In my experience, cutting almost always makes a book better, more readable, more exciting. I think it was Elmore Leonard who advised taking out all the unnecessary words.

Specifically, that means delete all the spongy, weasely, weak words—you know, the ones that beat around the bush, the ones that don’t get to the point, the ones that aren’t crisp and precise, the ones that drag out a description without adding anything to it except length.

I duplicate my document before I begin so I can go back in case I get too enthusiastic but then I go ahead and cut like a maniac. Even though it seems terrifying, take out everything that doesn’t advance your story or help define your characters. See if the resulting clarity doesn’t vastly improve your book.

Sorry about this, but don’t just kill your darlings. Kill everything that doesn’t move the story forward. Any gems that don’t make the cut can be saved in a “future” file and used in another book where they pull their weight.

2.  Sharpen dialogue. Just as you leave our the um’s and ah’s of real life, leave out chitchat about the weather, the local gossip, the “warming up” before you get to the nitty-gritty.  No one wants to wade through digressions or long speeches that have nothing to do with your story or characters. Ernest Hemingway said that he wrote narrative in long hand but used the typewriter for dialogue—the rat-tat-tat was similar to the speed of talk.

Dialogue should be short and go fast. A scene with dialogue should have lots of white space. Allow your characters to give speeches at your own peril!

3.  Don't confuse the reader. It's "Dick and Jane": notice it’s not "James and Jane" and that’s for a reason. You want to help the reader as much as possible—it’s known as readability—and you’re not doing yourself or your book a favor by screwing up when you name your characters.

Example: The hero is Ken Brady. The heroine is Kathleen Boies. The villain is Kendall Brackner. The names are similar and the initials are identical.

Trust me, you are not enchanting your reader. You are driving him/her crazy, struggling to remember which of the K’s are OK and which aren’t.

Make a list of all the character names in your book and change names and initials wherever they need to be changed. Don’t confuse your reader. A confused reader is an unhappy reader and you know what that means: no repeat sales.

4. Utilize the almighty cliffhanger. The cliffhanger is the secret writer’s key to compelling the reader to turn the page. End every chapter on a note of suspense or irresolution. No exceptions. The reader, dying to know what happens next, will turn the page, will stay up till three AM to finish your book and then the next day tell her/his friends “you have to read it!”

The cliffhanger worked in beginning-of-the-Twentieth-Century weekly movie serials, in soap operas on radio through the 40’s and 50’s and then on TV. The cliffhanger hangs on today, you will find the little buggers right before the commercial break.

The cliffhanger worked then and it works now. Use it.

5. Have a flight plan. I’m a pantser, not a plotter. For me, a detailed outline results in a book that’s DOA. However, I do plan ahead in the form of lists of key scenes, turning points, notes about characters—anything I can think of that will propel the book along.

If outlines work for you, keep using them. But if you’re a pantser, at least begin with your fly zipped and your belt buckled. Let’s call our no-system system a flight plan.

6.  Know your crutch words. Every writer has them. To this day, I use “begin” even though I know better. To this day, I have to go back over my manuscript and get rid of it. Example: “She began to run for the bus” becomes “She ran for the bus.”

Simpler, more direct and more powerful and yet another example of the power of the delete button.

Do you abuse adverbs? A search for ly will ferret them out.

ID your own crutch words, be on the lookout for them and let them know who’s boss.

7.  Know your genre. You wouldn’t join an ice hockey team if you didn’t know how to skate. Ditto, genre. A hard-boiled romance? Really? With lots of tough talk? Dark alleys and gritty industrial setting? Beaucoup cursing? Well, lotsa luck.

Romance, thrillers, horror, romcom—all have conventions and readers expect those conventions to be honored. Disappoint them, and you and your book are toast.

Do your homework and study the genre(s) you work in. Read widely. Keep up with shifts and changes in the genre. Learn what your readers are looking for and be sure you give it to them. If you don’t, you’re wasting their time and your time.

8. Don't repeat yourself. Once is enough. This is a fairly common problem and not always quick or easy to fix because it involves actual thinking. Be on the lookout for places where you convey the same thought two or three times in different words. Usually, this kind of repetition means the writer hasn’t quite thought through what he/she is trying to say.

If you find yourself falling into this trap, you need to do the hard work of clarifying your thoughts and then conveying them clearly.

Decide exactly what you want to say and then say it. Do it right once and you don’t have to do it again


Which one of these tips is most important for your own editing? If you're a pantser, how much of a "flight plan" do you have in writing? 

COMMENTERS: I've had to turn off the Anonymous comments because of a barrage of robospam. It was either that or put the CAPTCHA  back on. If Blogger won't let you comment, email Anne at annerallen dot allen at gmail dot com and I'll post it. 

I'd also like to have people weigh in. Would you rather I turn the "word verification" back on, or keep the anonymous comments blocked? 

BOOK NEWS!!! After a year's wait, Anne's mystery,  THE GATSBY GAME is now in paperback! Only $8.99 on Amazon US and £6.99 on Amazon UK. It's Anne's most critically acclaimed book--and offers a possible solution to a mystery that has been called one of Hollywood's Ten Most Notorious Sex Scandals. It's also available as a $2.99 ebook on all platforms. (link to Barnes and Noble in the sidebar.)

And guys, you don't have to be afraid this is too much of a "shoe novel" for you: "Dead End Follies" reviewer Benoit Lelievre said "I never thought I would have so much fun reading a chick lit novel, but this was great, even for my hardboiled sensibility." Vine reviewer John Williamson said, "Anne R. Allen has really taken mysteries like this to a new level. This is a guaranteed 5-star read that shouldn't be missed.

Opportunity for short fiction and poetry writers: Suzannah at the fantastic Write it Sideways blog is starting a literary journal that looks as if it's going to be a very prestigious venue for your work. She's also looking for editors and other staff (positions that will look fabulous in a query letter.) Find out more about the new literary magazine, COMPOSE at Write it Sideways.

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Sunday, October 21, 2012

What if J. K. Rowling had used a Pseudonym? Should Authors Use Different Names for Different Genres?

Update: July 14, 2013.

It seems the critically acclaimed detective novel,
The Cuckoo's Calling was written by J.K. Rowling under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. Here's an article in the Telegraph with details about the new revelation.  It got great reviews, but didn't sell much. But since the revelation, it's zoomed to #1 on the bestseller lists. Here's what Nathan Bransford said.

"...people are missing one of the other important illustrative elements of this story, which is that The Cuckoo's Calling was not a great commercial success. It had sold only 1,500 copies in Britain. Despite all those glowing reviews and being published in a commercial genre, it didn't catch on."

So the pen name got her kudos, but she needed to be J.K. Rowling to make the sales. Branding is all. Looks as if I was right when I wrote this last fall. 

J.K. Rowling, the richest, most successful author on the planet, has been getting some pretty terrible reviews for her new novel, The Casual Vacancy. I won't quote them here. I think the Guardian's dismissal of it as "Mugglemarch" is probably one of the kinder ones.

A number of readers weighed in on The Passive Voice blog about it, and author Mary Sisson left this comment " If I were her I would have released this under a different name. All anyone is going to do is compare the book to Harry Potter, and then get upset because it’s not Harry Potter."

Other commenters agreed, saying things like,"The trouble with writing a series of such staggering success right off the bat is that inevitably everyone will be saying, 'It wasn’t as good as Harry Potter'."

But in the first three weeks, The Casual Vacancy has sold over one million copies.

So what if she had published it under another name, and kept the publishers from leaking her real identity? Would anybody be buying a pricey book with a ho-hum cover, bad formatting, and an unenticing title--from first-time author, Jo Nobody?

Or what if she'd started from scratch with a new identity, querying agents and editors like the rest of us? I haven't read the book, but I did look at the "peek inside" chapters on Amazon. I don't think the opener would have made it past most of those interns who read agents' slush piles these days. She breaks almost every one of the standard rules for novel openers: She's got a "Robinson Crusoe" opener with a lone character getting up in the morning, musing and flashbacking on page one. Then she kills off the P.O.V. character on page two.

Does that mean I won't read it?

Nope. I can't wait to get my hands on it.


Because she's J. K. Rowling, one of the world's greatest storytellers.

But if I heard the same stuff about Jo Nobody's book? I probably wouldn't bother.

So for me, the J.K. Rowling brand is the reason I'm going to read the book. And I'm pretty sure it's what motivated most of the million-plus buyers.

A pseudonym might have kept Ms. Rowling from getting those scathing reviews, but would it have got her any sales? Would it have kept her from being published at all?

It certainly would have kept The Casual Vacancy from that central spot in my local supermarket--usually reserved for exciting specials on seasonal Oreos and sugary cereal--instead of the back corner where they put their sad little shelf of books, along with the day-old bread and giant bags of dog food.

So what does this all mean for us mere Muggles? Should we use pseudonyms or not?

Lots of popular authors have done it. Stephen King sometimes wrote as Richard Bachman (complete with a phony book jacket photo reputed to be his agent's insurance agent.); Romance goddess Nora Roberts writes thrillers as J.D. Robb, and Dean Wesley Smith and his wife Katheryn K. Rusch write under dozens of pen names between them.

In fact, D.W.S. thinks authors who DON'T use pseudonyms are lazy and egotistical. He gives "not using a pen name" as his seventh way of "Killing Your Sales One Shot at a Time".

In another post, he gives the following reasons for using a pseudonym:  (I've paraphrased here.)

1) You write "too fast" for traditional publishing and you're only allowed one book a year under your current contract.

2) You want your readers know exactly what to expect from your brand (s).

3) Your writing might adversely affect your day job. (You're a youth minister who writes hard-core erotica.)

4) Your sales didn't live up to your publisher's sales expectations. (You've been told you'll never write in this town again.) 

5) You have family issues (You're telling the thinly disguised story of your Uncle Charlie's secret life as a cabaret singer named Chardonnay.)

6) Your real name is Stephen King.

7) You think this book isn't "good enough" for your brand.

8) You're writing work-for-hire in a branded series (Such as a Star Trek novel.)

Reasons #3, #5 and #6 are excellent arguments for writing under a name other than your own, but not for using MULTIPLE pen names.

Reasons #1, #4 and #8 only affect authors who are bound by old-school publishing contracts. These days, if you want to write fast, or don't fulfill your publisher's outsized expectations, you can simply self-publish. You can build on the brand name that you established as a traditionally-published author instead of going back to square one with a new name.

That leaves #2 and #7. Quite frankly, I don't get #7. Going to all the trouble of building a separate brand for a book you aren't proud of makes no sense to me. If the book isn't working, get an editor or collaborator or put the thing in a drawer and mine it for characters and short stories. I have at least a half dozen of them.

So the only compelling reason for MULTIPLE pen names is:

#2: You want to let readers know exactly what to expect when they pick up a book with that name on it.

But I feel you can show genre in other ways, like cover design. And you can put helpful text on there like, "Romantic Suspense by ..." or "A [Sleuth's Name Here] Mystery by..." in your metadata and cover text.

Even Dean Wesley Smith himself admits "sometimes readers will follow across genre lines. Give them the chance on a main website under a main name."

Certainly readers are crossing genre lines with J. K. Rowling. And other successful contemporary authors are luring their readers to cross those boundaries, too. Neil Gaiman writes everything from social satire to MG fantasy—and penned the screen adaptation of Beowulf--all under his own name. Literary prize-winner and Iowa M.F.A. Justin Cronin has recently moved from literary to horror with great success with The Passage.

Writing in multiple genres under one name is not a new idea.
  • Carl Sandburg wrote everything from poetry to historical biography to children's stories—all under the same name. 
  • Isaac Asimov famously wrote in "every category in the Dewey decimal system." 
  • Mary Stewart not only invented contemporary romantic suspense, but wrote some of the best high fantasy ever. 
And it may be that the digital era is changing things back to the way they were in earlier days. J.K. Rowling's success seems to show that brand trumps genre in today's world.

(And it also apparently trumps bad reviews.)

Plus the new publishing paradigm is blurring genre lines. And these days, position in a brick and mortar bookstore isn't the primary factor in selling books--name recognition is.

Writing in The Passive Voice comments on August 6th, epic fantasy author Tom Simon said:

"I’m highly suspicious of that advice about using pseudonyms for different genres; it may only be an artifact of the circumstances in which it originated. All data older than about three years is basically irrelevant to the new publishing model. It may be that the old advice still holds good — but if it does, it will have nothing to do with the original reason behind it. I would be very wary of assuming that the old practice is applicable in the new circumstances."

And: (my bolding.)

"I have not heard that anybody ever got mad because they bought Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare and thought it was a science fiction novel. But a lot of people bought Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare who would never have heard of it if it hadn’t been for Asimov’s SF. Note that Asimov built his reputation in the days before chain bookshops and computerized ordering — in other words, before multiple pseudonyms became useful as a way of gaming the system. It may be that the situation nowadays is more like the situation in 1965 than that in 2005."

Echoing his sentiments, author D.G. Sandru said in the same thread:

"Once you’ve got an author brand built, you can take it anywhere….Nowadays in the virtual book store at Amazon, with millions of titles, with millions of author names, for unlimited time, having a different pen name will diffuse your brand name. I’m in the process of writing a paranormal thriller and a true story. What are the chances that people that read my YA Fantasy under D.G. Sandru will find my other two books under two different names? Very slim. I would have to make three marketing efforts for three different names. Or instead of dedicating 100% to one brand name I would dedicate 33% to each pseudo name."

But another successful self-published author is very much in the Dean Wesley Smith camp. Regency romance author Anne Gallagher has recently published her contemporary women's fiction under a new name: Robynne Rand.

I understand her reasoning: her Regency brand is strongly traditional. She might lose readership if Anne Gallagher readers pick up a racy Robynne Rand novel and get offended. The same is true for most authors who write erotica as well as another genre.

Because pseudonyms are working for her, I asked Anne to weigh in on this discussion.

Why I Use Multiple Pen Names
by Anne Gallagher/Robynne Rand

ARA: Why did you decide to write your novels under different names?

AG: I built my "brand" writing Regency romance under Anne Gallagher. I write sweet historicals (no hanky-panky). My romantic women's fiction under Robynne Rand is contemporary with swearing and adult issues. There's a marked difference between the two and I didn't want to offend anyone (my Aunt Elsie comes to mind) if they picked up Remembering You and thought it was going to be a light read like The Lady's Fate.

ARA: Are you finding that marketing yourself as two different people takes more time from your writing than you'd like? Is one name taking more time than the other?

AG: Marketing under either name has always been a problem for me. I don't like tooting my own horn and any kind of promotion/marketing does take away from writing time. Robynne Rand is definitely harder to market. Even though it's still me, Robynne Rand is a newbie author. She doesn't have a huge fan base, (although my reviews are excellent) and I can't bang out books one right after the other like I do with my historicals. In writing historicals, there's a formula (more or less) I can follow. With my contemporaries, they're more complex, involving a deeper character arc. And truthfully, that's really the #1 marketing skill, just keep writing, keep publishing. A fan base will follow.

ARA:What are the benefits of writing under a pseudonym?

AG: If branded correctly, people know what they're getting when they pick up your book. For instance, I love Nora Roberts. I know who she is, what she writes, and I'll read anything by her. I had no idea she was J.D. Robb for about a decade. And though I like her Robb books, I won't go out of my way to buy one. I'm just not into the genre.

When people pick up an Anne Gallagher book, they know it's a Regency with a predictable HEA (Happy Ever After ending--ed.)  I didn't want to confuse people thinking they were getting one thing when it was definitely another.

ARA: Do you have any advice for authors who are trying to decide whether to write under two or more names?

AG: Build your brands differently. Market yourself as two different people. If you look at my Anne Gallagher blog you'll see a lovely young lady reclining on a chaise under a blanket of blossoming trees. All very calming, looking very historical-ish. If you go to my Robynne Rand blog it's totally different, contemporary with a shot of the Mount Hope Bridge in Rhode Island.

And start as soon as you know you've chosen that route. My mistake was not starting the Robynne Rand blog sooner, before the book came out. Or getting on Twitter sooner. Not that Twitter spam sells books, but at least my presence there may have allowed people to get to know me a little better. They might not buy this book, but they might buy the next.

ARA: I guess I'm lucky to have a muse who pretty much writes in one genre. No matter what I've tried to write in the last three decades, everything turns out to involve murder and mayhem combined with fairly cerebral romantic comedy. When you pick up an Anne R. Allen mystery, you know there will be a screwball romance, some darker literary subtext, and probably at least one villain attacked with a designer shoe.

I suppose Dean Wesley Smith would say I'm just too lazy to write steampunk erotica, space westerns, and techno-thrillers in my spare time. However, this does mean I personally don't have to worry about pen names.

I do understand why Anne/Robynne made her choice. If I were in her shoes, I might have made the same one. But I recommend every author carefully weigh the pros and cons. It takes a crazy amount of work to establish even one brand these days and I'm all about writers keeping their sanity.

Book-buying habits are changing. I think the "different names for different genres" paradigm does belong to old-style publishing. Readers are beginning to "get" the new/old way of doing things.

I think if PEN/Hemingway Award winner Justin Cronin had published his horror novel under a pseudonym, he'd never have got the major ink in the New York Times that sets his work apart from every other vampire novel.

And if Jo Nobody had written The Casual Vacancy, I doubt Ann Patchett would have interviewed her in front of a crowd at Lincoln Center who got so excited that Ms. Patchett said she was "going to have to hand out sedatives."And certainly Jo Nobody wouldn't get to go on the Daily Show and convince Jon Stewart that the U.S. needs a monarch.

And I doubt she'd be working on her second million in sales in less than a month.

Personally, I'd rather tough out the bad reviews than give up the perks of an established brand. (Even if my brand doesn't quite have J. K. Rowling's clout.) But I'd love to hear from writers on both sides of the question in the comments.

Do you write under multiple names? Do you think it's worth multiplying your marketing work in order to keep from offending some readers? Have you written in different genres under the same name? What kind of results did you have? Do you know of other authors who have written in multiple genres with the same name?

BOOK NEWS: For some reason unknown to me or my publisher, Amazon AND Barnes and Noble have chosen to reduce the price of my first Camilla Randall mystery, THE BEST REVENGE, to 99 cents. Practically FREE! So if you've wanted to check out one of my rom-com mysteries and you like a bargain--here's a chance to grab one cheap. you can find it on Amazon US , Amazon UK, and Barnes and Noble. Somehow it seems to have disappeared from Kobo. The ways of the Webz are mysterious indeed. But we will be trying to raise the price back to $2.99, so grab it while you can.

I WILL BE ON THE RADIO on Thursday evening, October 25th, 8 PM Pacific Time, talking with award-winning author Elaine Raco Chase on Triangle Variety Radio. Just click on the Triangle link and listen on your computer. I'll be talking about the real-life Hollywood mystery behind my mystery novel, THE GATSBY GAME, which is supposed to finally be available in paper this week. It isn't yet, and nobody knows what the hold-up is, but I've seen the proof and it's very nicely done. But as I said, the ways of the Webz are a mystery to us all...

If you're having trouble commenting, email me your comment at annerallen dot allen at gmail dot com and I'll post it. I've had to block anonymous comments for a bit. I was getting over 1000 anon. spam comments a day and even though they didn't make it onto the blog, they were all landing in my email box. I was getting carpal tunnel syndrome deleting them all.

Also email me if you'd like to subscribe. It looked as if Feedburner was working for a while, but now it's on the fritz again.

Next week: Ruth Harris will give us 8 super-useful tips for improving your book. A must-read.

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Sunday, October 14, 2012

Beware the Seven Deadly Writing Scams

We first ran into Lila Moore's scam-alerts at The Passive Voice. We visited her new watchdog site, PopularSoda.com and were impressed with all her savvy advice. Indie publishing has generated lots of new money-wasters and scams. Popular Soda adds an indie-focused viewpoint to other author-advocate voices like Writer Beware and Preditors and EditorsWhether you're traditionally published or indie, the following tips can help you avoid wasting your money, creative property, and time. 

Seven Deadly Scams
by Lila Moore

These days, writers face a range of scams from mildly annoying to lethal. Deadly scams are ones which can destroy your bank account, your credibility, or your ability to profit from your work. Not all of these scams are perpetrated solely by malicious outsiders: some of these scams only work because the authors themselves are complicit and some of these scams are perpetrated by the authors themselves.

Here are the Seven Deadly Scams-- and how to avoid them.

1. Investing in Internet Points

Internet points can be anything from fake Twitter followers to a bump in your Klout score to more incoming links, or even paying to publish your work on a website highly ranked by Alexa  To be clear, these are not things which encourage audience participation or even simulate the appearance of it. These are simply number bumps.

So what's so bad about this? It's backwards. Why would you pay for the appearance of engagement instead of actually engaging your audience? 

You're spending real money to fill a stadium with cardboard cutouts. 

An inflated number of Twitter followers does not create an equal increase in sales. A higher Klout score does not upgrade your level of fan devotion. It is mistaking the menu for the meal. The numbers don't really matter: readers do. And if you're providing value, connections, and fun for your audience, the numbers will follow.

2. Paying for Fake Book Reviews

There's been a lot of discussion about paid positive reviews since the NY Times' "The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy".  For me, part of the shock was realizing that fake reviews can and have been effective. 

Positive, paid-for reviews worked for top-selling authors like John Locke. As a beginning author, you don't have the luxury of millions of sales and hundreds of fans. Being exposed for scam reviews can quickly catapult you into ebook notoriety.

Your career might benefit from the scandal. Or it may take a dive and never recover.

Using fake reviews can kill off your credibility quickly*, and you’ll also lose the perks of real feedback: readers get a full understanding of your work, and you, as a writer, benefit from new opinions on your writing.

It doesn't make sense from a moral standpoint, but it also doesn't make sense from a monetary perspective. 

Positive reviews are expensive (they can be $100 each!) and there's no guarantee that you'll recoup the cost in sales. Take that money and put it towards editing, or a trip to a writing conference, or creative writing classes at a local college. Investing in yourself will help you grow as a writer; paying for positive book reviews only guarantees growing the reviewer's bank account.

(*Editor's note: Lila has a great post today with examples of real scam reviews and how to spot them. Also note: paying for negative reviews of "rival" authors is even worse. It's not just morally reprehensible but can destroy your career if you're found out. Beware ALL review mills.) 

3. Giving Away First Rights for a Cheap Prize

Writers (or anyone, really) can be dazzled by flashy graphics and promises of publication, monetary prizes, and the glory of winning an award. However, you need to make sure the award is worth winning. Prizes can range from simple publication on a website to a thousand-book print run. That print run sounds like a pretty good prize. The shout-out on the website is not.

Here's why: First rights are incredibly important in publishing. Many large publications will not accept work that has already been published elsewhere, and a post on a blog counts as "elsewhere". If you're entering a contest or submitting to a publication, you need to be okay if that story never garners anything more than a token payment (if that) and an appearance in an unknown journal.

This seems pretty above-ground, so where does the scam fit in? First, some companies are intentionally misleading about what rights they are using. They may claim you will retain all rights to your work. This is impossible: you cannot be published and still retain first rights to the writing. Some journals have both print and electronic editions, which effectively means you're giving up both first rights and first electronic rights in one go. Some publications request all rights, which means you can never again profit from the piece and the publishing company will own it. Despite this, certain publications use overblown rhetoric to persuade you to sign over your rights for a few shekels and a smile. 

Be smart. There's no downside for the publisher here: they can continue to profit from books, back issues, anthologies, and website traffic while giving up virtually nothing. Make sure you know exactly what you're giving up and what that means for the future. Aim your sights high and readjust a little lower if you're not getting any hits; don't start at the bottom and hope to climb to the top by....

4. Crowing about Cockamamie Credentials

Let's say a website calls itself innovative and groundbreaking, and claims to be one of the best places to publish. Let's say you fall for the slick marketing and submit. And let's say you get in, and let's say you put this credential in your official author biography.

What does that credential get you? If you're lucky, you might gain some respect and publicity. If you're not, you might end up worse off than if you never mentioned it. Flaunting credentials from an untrustworthy publication will make you look green at best. At worst, you'll signal to editors of established journals that you didn't research past publications before submitting, and there's no reason to believe you researched their publication, either.

Take a tailored approach to finding a suitable publisher: google the name of the publication with the word 'scam', read a few back issues, and look at the benefits to publishing there(avoiding Scam Number Three). If it seems like a good fit, then full steam ahead! But it's not worth winning space in an obscure journal just to see your name somewhere.

Some writers submit to these new or nameless publications because they simply want to take what they can get. But this exposes a logical inconsistency: If this is your best work, why aren't you submitting it to major, established, or reputable publications?

If it's not your best work, why are you-- 

1) not trying to improve it? 
2) attaching your name to writing which doesn't accurately represent your abilities?

5. Pyramid Scheme Publications

Pyramid scheme publications are an interesting case, both because they've found a new form recently, and because they're not technically doing anything wrong. In the old model, like the well-known poetry.com scam, all submissions were accepted for publication. However, you'd have to pay for the book, for the inclusion of your biography, for a certificate, and for copies for family and friends. The scammer banked on your ignorance of the scam.

In the new model of pyramid scheme publications, they're still after your money, but more than that, they want your assistance in building credibility. Here's how it works:

They promise tons of exposure (but usually little to no pay) for publication in their new venture. Reviews are mostly positive, so you submit. Once you're accepted, you buy the issue and send the link to your loved ones. After all, it's only a few dollars. Because of your acceptance, you leave more positive reviews.

So where's the scam? The positive reviews were written by people just like you: writers with a vested interest in seeing the publication succeed, not independent readers who enjoy the content. When you encourage your friends and family to each drop a few dollars on the electronic version, you artificially inflate its sales figures, contributing to the revenue without seeing any benefit yourself.

To be sure, there are certainly reputable publications* which have strong marketing components and happy authors. But there is a world of difference between a publisher's selling books based on content and a company's relying on a growing stable of newbie authors to hawk the product like Cutco knives salesmen .

Before submitting, Google around and try to answer this question: is the publication praised by unbiased, independent readers or is it kept aloft by the efforts of naive new authors in a writing round-robin?

*Editor's Note  I want to expand on what Lila says about REPUTABLE anthologies. Donating a free story to certain anthologies can be very much to your advantage. Charity anthologies, like the Indie Chicks Anthologies and the Literary Lab anthologies  can offer great opportunities. Nobody makes money on these and all proceeds are donated to a specific charity, but they can be fantastic showcases for your work. Showcase anthologies can also be put together by author collectives or small publishers. If you're a beginning writer and some well-known authors are contributing to the same anthology, this can be a great way of reaching a much wider audience

6. Paying for Poor Publicity

There are sites which charge thousands for ebook marketing with no discernible result. These online marketing efforts can usually be grouped into three categories:

1) high prices for free services, 
2) poorly targeted marketing efforts
3) spam activities. 

Let's go in order:

There are many, many ways to promote yourself for free online. 
You can pay to have those things done, of course, but make sure you're not paying hundreds of dollars for someone else to upload your press release to those free databases.

Additionally, it doesn't make sense to pay to market yourself on Twitter if you have no intention of going back on Twitter once your publicity stint is over.

Poorly targeted marketing efforts tie back into the previous scam: You don't want to market to other authors. Unless you're selling a book of writing advice, other authors are not your optimal audience. Not only are they in the same boat, they might be in a different genre. 

Tweet-blasting your romance novel will not help if you're not reaching any romance readers. Some marketers promise exposure on dozens of blogs. Quality outranks quantity here.

A horror novel which gets a nod from a popular horror site will probably fare better than a horror novel mentioned on two dozen pet, beauty, or health food blogs (unless you're writing about a supermodel who rescues kittens and turns them into protein shakes). (I'm totally reading that book!--ed.)

Any of the above actions can be considered spammy if they're poorly executed. You might not have control over the delivery, frequency, or placement of ads. If a reader keeps getting unwanted information and ads about your book, they're going to start associating YOU with spam, even if you're not the one sending it out.

7. Indiscriminately Working for Free

Publications which expect free work are sometime snarkily called "for-the-luv" businesses. In the most malicious cases, a business-minded individual finds free workers by appealing to the authors' Higher Calling and Pursuit of their Personal Truth. It's fine to have such a lofty view of writing, but like I've said before, if you want to make money from writing, you have to treat it like a business.

And that means writing for free strategically.

As you may have noticed, this is a guest post. I wrote this for free. However, I only turned up on Anne's radar after my guest post on Duolit was picked up by The Passive Voice. Part strategic. Part luck. Part good writing, and part good timing.

So what's the benefit for me if I guest post for Anne? First, I'm making a connection with a real person. And yes, I will probably get some Internet points for this. But the connection came first. This is actual engagement, the meat and potatoes to fake Internet points' Diet Coke.

Internet points aren't the only previous Scams related to working for free. Low-budget startup publications also seem to think that free work is a fair trade for seeing your name on their site. Taking an internship at a reputable publication can benefit your career. It doesn't have to be a Big Six publisher-- even a respected regional publisher or local newspaper can net you some contacts and meaningful work experience. But that brand-new, non-paying, no-name publication that wants you to write and sign over the rights for five articles before letting you know if you got the job?

Hell no.

Another Editorial note: If you're going the traditional route, be aware the old traditional scams are still out there. Here's my post on how to avoid bogus agents who prey on authors who are trying to break into traditional publishing. 

Lila Moore is a freelance writer and copy editor based in New Orleans. She has copy-edited a wide range of materials, from national advertising campaigns to cookbooks. Besides her passion for editing, Lila loves ebooks and founded PopularSoda.com to encourage professionalism and high standards in self-publishing. Lila previously blogged about writing-related scams for Duolit. And on the Passive Voice  

NEWS! On Monday, October 15th, Anne will be visiting the Readers Guide to E-Publishing site (RG2E).  She'll be talking about the setting of her sp-o-o-o-o-ky comic mystery, GHOSTWRITERS IN THE SKY,--the Santa Ynez mountains of California (AKA Sideways Wine Country.)

What about you, scriveners? Have you run into any of these scams? Do you have other scams to report? Can you offer any exceptions to these rules like the charity anthology?

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Sunday, October 7, 2012

NaNoWriMo—Should You Join in the Silliness? 9 Reasons to Consider it.

First: full disclosure—I've never NaNo'ed. I'm a slo-o-o-w writer. My editor despairs. I've got a new Camilla Randall mystery due in November (No Place Like Home) which I've been working on for a year and haven't finished yet. (Yes, I've been writing, editing and launching six other books and two anthologies during the same year, but it's still not a great record. I write slow. I also read slow and blog slow. I even live in a place called SLO-town. )

But the world rewards fast writers. Look at Nora Roberts and James Patterson, who seem to turn out books at the rate Mrs. Smith produces pies.

Plus, even if you're fundamentally a slowpoke like me, NaNo is a great way to push through your blocks and self-doubt and get that novel out of your head and onto the page.

For the uninitiated: NaNoWriMo is the National Novel Writing Month project. Started in 1999 by a young San Franciscan named Chris Baty—and 21 of his verbally ambitious friends—it challenges you to write a complete novel in a month. That month is November. Last year over 250,000 writers—called “WriMos”—joined in the merriment.

Entering the contest—now run by Mr. Baty’s non-profit outfit, the Office of Letters and Light—is free. Anybody who finishes 50,000 words by midnight November 30th is a winner. No prize but a badge for your blog--and I think there are Tee-shirts you can buy this year--but completion of your novel is its own reward.

To enter, you register at NaNoWriMo's site so you can have your word count verified at the end of the month, and on November 1, start writing. It doesn't cost a thing.

But…don’t they write a lot of crapola?

Yup. And that’s the point.

It’s all about creating that awful first draft.

As Anne LaMotte wrote in her classic book for writers, Bird by Bird, “the only way [most writers] can get anything done at all is to write really, really, really shitty first drafts.”

NaNoWriMo forces you to get that dung onto the page.

Here are some benefits.

1) No time to agonize over your first chapter.
You’ve read endless carping on blogs like this one about how the first chapter has to hook the reader, introduce all the major themes and plot elements, begin with the world’s most exciting sentence, etc. But when you’re writing your first draft, none of that matters. You’re introducing yourself to your characters and their world. You can worry about your reader when you start editing next January.

2) No frittering away time on research. If you’re one of those writers who has procrastinated for years, piling up reams of historical and biographical detail, this is your chance to actually write the *&%! book.

The truth is most of those details would bore the reader silly if you actually put them in your novel, anyway. You’re better off writing the book first and figuring out later whether your reader needs to know what they used for toilet paper in 13th century Scotland or what kind of underpants to put on Genghis Khan.

3) No time to censor yourself. You can’t afford to agonize over whether your brother–in-law/former teacher/ex-girlfriend will recognize him/herself. Or if your mom will find out you weren’t really at band camp that summer when you and your buddies took the road trip to Cabo. Besides you’ll be amazed how characters/situations inspired by real life take off on their own and create an alternate reality. And excuse me, when did your brother-in-law ever read a book anyway?

4) You won’t be tempted to save your best ideas for later. New writers are often terrified they’ll run out of ideas. But it’s amazing how many more will show up once you’re in the zone.

I recently read some great advice for writers in an article in Glimmer Train from author Josh Swiller: "Kitchen sink that first draft. Throw every damn thing in there. If you aren't sure something belongs, if you aren't even remotely clear what the point of a certain tangent is—in it goes. It can help to do this draft with pen and paper, in poor handwriting, so you can't be eying and judging what you've put down as you go along."

5) You’ll give up trying to control the process. If the story goes somewhere you didn’t expect it to go, or you can’t stick to your outline, you’ll have to run with it. When your muse is talking, you can’t take the chance of pissing her off for even a couple of days.

6) You’ll have a great excuse for skipping the family Thanksgiving
with all those relatives whose politics make you despair for the future of the human race.

7) It’s fun—and a great way to meet other writers all over the world. Look in the NaNo website forums for online and in-person discussions and groups. More than 650 regional volunteers in more than 60 countries will hold write-ins, hosting writers in coffee shops,bookstores, and libraries. Write-ins offer a supportive environment, turning the usually solitary act of writing into a community experience.

8) Lots of very good writers do it. This week GalleyCat reported that 90+Books began as NaNoWriMo projects including Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, and Cinder by Marissa Meyer: all #1 NYT Best Sellers.

9) You'll get pep talks from famous writers Not only will successful WriMos like Marissa Meyer be standing by to cheer you on, but this year they've enlisted the likes of Nick Hornby and Lemony Snicket to give you helpful tips to keep you on track and pounding out those words.

If you decide to jump into the craziness, here are the NaNoWriMo rules:

Register at NaNoWriMo.Org before November 1
  • Write a novel (in any language) 50,000+ words long between November 1 and November 30. “Novel” is loosely defined. They say “If you consider the book you're writing a novel, we consider it a novel too!”
  • Start from scratch. Previously written outlines & character sketches are OK—and highly recommended—but this can’t be a work already in progress to be an official NaNo novel
  • Be the sole author. Although you can use the occasional quotation, you can't use other people's words, even if they're out of copyright. No collaborations allowed.
  • Write more than one word. No repeating the same one 50,000 times.
  • Upload your novel for word-count validation to the site between November 25 and November 30.

Chances are pretty good you aren’t going to write a polished, publishable novel in four weeks (although Charles Dickens is said to have written A Christmas Carol in six, four of which were in November, so there’s some precedent.)

But PLEASE don’t start querying agents or throw that puppy up on Amazon or Smashwords until you do a serious, in-depth revision. You’ll just add to the "tsunami of crap" self-pub-haters rant about, and/or you'll make agents and editors and their overburdened interns extremely cranky.

Oh, and if you are going the traditional publishing route, it’s not wise to reveal that the book began at NaNo—at least not in your initial query. Unfortunately, a lot of participants send off the unedited crapola.

Also, most publishers won’t look at a novel of less than 70,000 words, so even the Chuck Dickenses among you will have further work to do.

NaNoWriMo is now entering its 14th year and has become a respected institution in the writing community. GalleyCat is promoting it with a fun pre-NaNoWriMo contest.

There's also now a NaNo for kids and a Camp NaNoWriMo for people who have more writing time in the summer, and a super-posh one-nightwriting-marathon party in San Francisco and all manner of tee shirts, mugs, and other fun NaNo paraphernalia.

Last year 36,843 writers crossed the 50K finish line by midnight on November 30th, thus "entering into the annals of NaNoWriMo superstardom forever."

So if you have a book in your head, some spare time (and a very understanding family) you just might become one of those superstars this year!

For some tips on overcoming your blocks and getting that book out no matter what, you might want read this helpful and funny post by Delilah S. Dawson on how to barf a book.

So how about you, scriveners? Are you NaNo-ing this year? How much prep will you do? Have you ever "won" at NaNo? Have you tried and failed miserably, as I'd be sure to do? Did you fail miserably but still manage to get some good writing out of it? Do you think the whole thing is a bunch of batty San Francisco nonsense? (Sorry. I had to do the Baty/Batty thing somewhere. Old puns never die.)

Next week we're going to have a great post by Lila Moore from the watchdog site PopularSoda.com. She's going to tell us about "Seven Deadly Scams" being perpetrated on writers in this new publishing era. She's written about writing scams on Duolit and the Passive Voice, and provides warnings that all writers need to read. 

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