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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, July 27, 2014

EDITS, EDITORS, EDITING—The Secret Weapon of Every Successful Writer

by Ruth Harris

Editing is life. The blue tie? Or the yellow one? Peter or Paul? Or Mary?

You’re an editor—whether or not you know it yet—because to edit is to choose.

As a former editor, I’m obviously biased. As a writer, I've learned that for me (and for just about every writer I know or have worked with), editing is the most interesting and exciting part of writing a book.

  • Editing is your opportunity to figure out what you really mean to say and how best to say it.
  • Editing gives you the chance to come up with the killer line of dialogue, the on-target mot juste, the breath-taking cliffhanger that keeps the pages turning.
  • Editing is the stage at which you cut the blubber or expand and embroider when you’ve gone too bare-bones.
  • Editing can shore up a blah plot, identify, fill and fix plot holes; turn wooden characters into living, breathing, believable people.
  • Editing lets you to pick up the pace when necessary and slow it down when you need to give the reader a chance to breathe.
  • Editors are partners, coaches, shrinks, cops and cheerleaders—sometimes all at the same time. They dispense tough love when needed and gold stars when earned.

In my experience, editing takes longer than writing and can turn an OMG-did-I-write-that? draft into a book you can be proud of.

Your editors are your teachers especially if you are a beginning writer. Pay attention to them and you will come face to face with your worst habits—passive characters and/or passive verbs, adjective overkill, adverb and/or pronoun abuse, dangling participles, untethered plot points, run-on sentences.

You will also learn how to polish your strengths and turn interesting narrative into compelling storytelling, good dialogue to great, plot-twists-that-fall-flat into a breath-taking, never-saw-it-coming shocks.

Editing is expensive and choosing an editor is like picking a great date for Saturday night—without help from OkCupid or eharmony. Due to contractions in TradPublishing, there are many knowledgeable and experienced freelance editors offering their services. Most offer a sample edit of ten pages or so, a useful try-before-you-buy option.

Whether you plan to self-publish, want to work with a small press or are looking for an agent and a TradPub deal, hiring an editor to take a cool, calm look at your book is essential because—as if you didn’t already know—the days of Maxwell Perkins are long gone.

Define how much editing you need: 

Valerie Comer wrote a succinct analysis of the differences between a rewrite, revision and editing that will help clarify your thinking.

Where to start looking for an editor: 

Elisabeth Kauffman lists professional associations and sources and dispenses solid advice about what questions to ask as you search for your perfect editor.

Network with other writers in your genre: 

They will be able to suggest editors who know what they’re doing and warn you away from those who don’t. Writers’ Cafe has yellow-page lists of editors and threads about editors and editing pop up often.

Understand the different kinds of editing:

Learn the difference between developmental (or content) editing and copyediting.

Joanna Penn describes the functions of different kinds of editors and offers valuable guidance about how to find the right editor.

Developmental: A developmental/content editor’s contributions involve a broad overview of the manuscript, its structure, scene and chapter placement or rearrangement, even the basics of plot and character. A developmental/content editor (sometimes called a book doctor) can answer an SOS when a manuscript is on life support and needs rescue.

Victoria Mixon delves further into the various aspects of editing and describes how the editing process works between writer and editor. She also addresses the circumstances that involve trimming, re-writing, rearranging, and even the writing of new material.

Editor Belinda Pollard warns writers not to depend on editorial labels but to find out exactly what to expect from different kinds of editors no matter what they’re called. She also reminds us that “the right feedback at the right time is the secret weapon of every successful author.” I couldn’t agree more!

Copyediting: Copyediting takes place at a later stage when all the nuts and bolts of a story are in place. The copyeditor is concerned with clarity, clarity, cohesion, consistency, and correctness (the "4 Cs”) according to Amy Einsohn's The Copyeditor's Handbook.

Proofreading: Proofing is yet another stage in the editorial process and comes last of all, just before you send your book out into the world. The good proofreader is über detail-oriented, on the look out for typos, typographical glitches and lapses in spelling and punctuation.

The Writers Center posted a good article that covers the art and craft of proofreading.

The Chicago Manual of Style offers a Rosetta Stone to proofreader’s marks and squiggles.

Not all editors are the same. Some edit with a light hand, preferring to let the writer’s own voice come through. Other editors take a firmer approach, making an effort to conform your manuscript to current industry standards. Decide which approach you prefer and which one will work best for you and your book.

Choose an editor who’s an expert in your genre. S/he will be knowledgable about current trends, best practices and no-nos. A sci-fi specialist will not be up to date on the latest in romance. And vice versa.

Your editor is your partner and guide—not your overlord. Feel free to disagree with suggestions but be sure you have a good reason for your choices. Sometimes a brief discussion will lead to a third solution that’s even better.

Even billionaires need editors. Warren Buffett’s long-time editor at Fortune, Carol Loomis, spills the beans.

Basics to take care of before you send off your manuscript. 

Doing some advance clean-up will save you and your editor time and money:

  • Create a style sheet as you write. It’s not hard and it is invaluable for you and for your editor. I’ve written before about the importance of style sheets.
  • Perform a basic spell check and watch out for homonyms and homophones—words that sound alike but have different meanings. They will pass a spell check but you must actually read the sentence in context to ensure the word you used is the word you mean. Examples: through/threw; there/their/they’re, here/hear, by/bye/buy, to/two/too.
  • Run a grammar program. Most word processors have one and will root out common errors that guarantee rejection and/or bad reviews.
  • Review your dialogue tags. They can often be pruned or even deleted.
  • The cliché finder will hunt down, uh, clichés.
  • The Passivator will highlight passive verbs and adverbs.

India Drummond takes on editors (the cyber kind) in this review of White Smoke, Style Writers, Serenity Software, and Autocrit.

I don’t recommend self-editing for beginning writers who will probably need help with at least some or possibly all of the following: pacing, character, structure and/or story arc.

With more experience, though, plus a crit group or beta readers, you will be able to read your manuscript with a more detached and professional eye. If you’re not sure whether or not you need an editor, Derek Murphy pinpoints some important issues and suggests affordable alternatives.

If you want to go ahead on your own, be on the lookout for:
  • Flabby language and trite dialogue.
  • A saggy middle.
  • A blah (or confused) ending.
  • Info dumps.
  • Boring backstory.
  • Good guys who are too good and bad guys who are too bad. (Yes, it’s possible.) Characters require shades of grey to be believable.
  • Too many sub-plots? The ones that go nowhere, wander off and disappear or result in a dead end? Decide if they should be combined and streamlined or even done away with.
  • Too many characters? Do they get in each other’s way? Do they perform the same function in your book? Cut and combine is the answer.

Deborah Rains Dixon addresses story structure, why it’s crucial and includes different examples of structure.

In Self-Editing For Fiction Writers, two professional editors cover such aspects of fiction as dialogue, exposition, point of view and interior monologue.

If you think all this sounds too picky and painful not to mention too time-consuming and expensive to bother with, think again. As someone who served time in the slush pile, I guarantee: an unedited manuscript is the mark of the amateur, the bane of the pro, the kiss of death, a sure-fire route to nowheresville.

It’s your book. You decide.

What about you, Scriveners? Do you hire your own editor? How did you find your editor? Do you use the cyber-kind? Do you have any other tips for self-editing? What are your biggest problems that you need to address when you edit? 


A hilarious, fast-paced read from Ruth Harris! "Chick Lit for Chicks who weren't born yesterday"

The Chanel Caper is $2.99 on Amazon USAmazon UK and Nook | Kobo | iBooks

THE CHANEL CAPER Nora Ephron meets James Bond...or is it the other way around? Blake Weston is a smart, savvy, no BS, 56-year-old Nora Ephron-like New Yorker. Her DH, Ralph Marino, is a très James Bond ex-cop & head of security for a large international corporation. At a tense time in their relationship, Blake and Ralph are forced to work together to solve a murder in Shanghai and break up an international piracy ring.

Ruth Harris is a million-copy New York Times and Amazon bestselling author and a Romantic Times award winner for "best contemporary." Critics have called Ruth's fiction "brilliant," "steamy," "stylishly written," "richly plotted," "first-class entertainment" and "a sure thing."


WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG? CONTEST. Creative Writing Institute Short Story Contest. NO ENTRY FEE. First prize - $200 USD or a Writing Course with a Personal Tutor, valued at $260.Second prize - $100 USD or a Credit of $150 toward a Writing Course. Third prize - $50 USD or a Credit of $100 toward a Writing Course. Word limit: between 1,000 and 2,000 words. Your story may be any genre, but this exact sentence must appear in the story: "I have a list and a map. What could possibly go wrong?" Deadline August 9

CHICKEN SOUP - HEARTFELT STORIES BY MOMS Pays $200 for 1,200 words. Stories can deal with the pains and highlights of motherhood, the wonders of parenting grandchildren, special moments of raising a newborn, being a role model to a teenager, or anything that touches the heart of a mom. Deadline September 30.

Barthelme Prize for experimental flash fiction. $17 Entry Fee 500-word limit. $1000 first prize, $250 hon. mention prizes. Online submission form. Deadline August 31.

Want to Appear in Writer's Digest? Here's how. Have you ever tried to write a book in a month-as part of NaNoWriMo, with a writing group, or just on your own? What was your experience? WD wants to hear from you. Tell them about your write-a-thon! Send your story-along with your full name, city and state to writersdigest@fwmedia.com with "BIAM" in the subject line. Responses may appear in Writer's Digest publications and/or on WritersDigest.com.

Short Romance stories with holiday themes: Crimson Romance Ebooks (A division of F & W, publisher of Writer's Digest Books) is looking for holiday themed shorts (10K-20K words) Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa 2014, New Year's Eve 2015, Deadline: August 15th

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Sunday, July 20, 2014

How Not to Start a Novel: Four Things to Avoid on Page One

In these days of the "peek inside" feature on retail sites like Amazon, the opener of your book is more important than ever. 

Whether you're going the query route or self-publishing, your first page is essential to the success of your book...and may be your most crucial sales tool. 

Those first 250 words can make or break a reader's decision to buy your book. All the marketing tricks and advertising in the world cannot make the sale if your first page is a snooze-fest full of info-dumps and backstory. Or if there's so much going on it makes the reader's head hurt. 

Your first page is the hardest part of your book to writea tightrope-walk between exposition and dramaso it's generally best to write it last, after you know what's absolutely essential for the reader to know. (The  rest can be woven in later.) 

The first page of your early drafts are usually written for you, the writer, to help yourself get to know your characters. But the final version is for the readerwho only needs to know what's going on in this specific incident. Always start with a scene with conflict and action, so the reader feels enticed, not lectured. 

Is your first page ready?

Today we're honored to host Janice Hardy (@Janice_Hardy) who's the author of the HarperCollins teen fantasy "Shifter" series and the owner of the Fiction University blog--one of the best sources of free writing craft information on the Web. Her tips are solid and useful to writers at all stages of their careers. Clicking through her archives is like a free college-level course in creative writing.

She also offers critiques of selections submitted to her "Real Life Diagnostics" series. Check out the latest one here, on how to avoid info-dumps.  

And if you're looking for tips on planning or revising your novel, check out her newest book Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a series of self-guided workshops that help you turn your idea into a great novel.

As Janice tells us, inviting readers to enter the world of your book is like inviting them to a party. The most important thing isn't to impress the guest with your own accomplishments or tell them your life story, but to make them feel welcome and comfortable...Anne

Four Things to Avoid in the First Page of Your Manuscript 

by Janice Hardy

The first page of your manuscript is critical for more than just grabbing an agent's or editor’s attention. Readers often read the first page or two to determine whether or not to read the novel. If those pages grab them, they'll buy the book. If not, they'll put it back on the shelf. That’s a lot of pressure for 250 words.

Which is why those words need to capture the reader.

Common writing advice will tell you to "start with action," but that doesn't mean blow up a car or rob a bank—and this can actually hurt your opening not help if it.

What it really means is to start with something going on. It can be something going wrong, (my personal favorite), something revealed, something denied, something craved—the list is endless. But no matter what shape this “something” takes, there's a sense that things are about to happen, and that it won't be good for someone.

This sense of anticipation creates questions readers will want answers to. Why are the characters casing that playground? Who is that woman following them? What's the deal with these two people arguing way too loudly?

However, one question you want to avoid is, "What's going on?" A vague opening that confuses is not the type of question you want readers asking. They should be able to guess what’s going on, even if they’re not yet sure what it all means.

They know two men are watching a playground, but not why. They know a woman is tailing the protagonist, but not why or who she is. They know the protagonist is having an overly dramatic and clearly fake argument, but not why he’s doing it.

Aim for making the context of the situation clear, even if the details aren’t yet revealed. Create that mystery to pique curiosity and make readers want to know where this situation is going.

Of course, opening scenes can be challenging to write and hooking readers is easier said than done. But it’s easier to know what to do when you have a solid sense of what not to do. So…

Here are four common mistakes to avoid when crafting your open scene:

1. Having too much backstory and explanation.

Until the reader knows and cares about the characters, they don’t want to know the history of the world or the backstory of the protagonist.

They want to see a character with a problem and be drawn in by that story question.

Too much information can slow a story down and overwhelm a reader. If it’s too much work to read, they won’t read it.

Think of it like this: you walk into a party and some guy comes up to you and starts telling you all about his grandmother and how important she was to him, and how that’s affecting his current decision on whether or not to move to Baltimore and take this job he’s not sure s the right position for him. Are you intrigued? Odds are you’re looking for any excuse to get away from this bore.

To fix: Cut the backstory and look for ways to show how that backstory affects your character in that scene (If it doesn’t, that’s a big clue you don’t need to mention it at all). If it’s critical to know the protagonist is scared of dogs, don’t stop the story to explain how he was bitten when he was five, show him seeing a dog and being too scared to move.

2. Crafting a one-dimensional scene.

Some opening scenes focus on one thing and one thing only: a beautiful description, an action sequence, retrospective navel-gazing, etc.

The text is working too hard to set the scene, so there's no story yet, nor is there a character with a goal and something to lose.

Back to the party: If you walk in and the host gives you a detailed tour of the house (without you asking), odds are you’ll be bored and eager to get back to the party. Or if you walk into the middle of a complicated game in progress, and everyone ignores you and doesn’t tell you any of the rules. Sure, things are happening but you have no clue what or how to join in, so you’re just waiting to be included.

To fix: Don’t make readers feel unwelcome. Be a good host and ease your reader into the party. Introduce them to someone interesting who will be only too happy to show them around the house, share interesting facts, gossip a little and point out the people they’d might like to talk to—or avoid—during the night.

3. Using a fake opening

We’ve all read these bad boys: that prologue (or chapter one) that sets up a faux conflict to “hook” the reader, but then has very little connection to the following chapter. (A common "faux conflict" happens when authors use dreams and/or hallucinations at the beginning of a novel, one of my pet peeves...Anne.)

It’s a bait and switch, and no one likes to be tricked.

Often this includes a fast forward to an "exciting" scene later in the book. This isn't as effective as you'd think, because without the buildup to that scene, readers don’t understand why it matters—and they rarely care. If you lie to your readers, or trick them and change the book on them, there's a good chance you'll just piss them off.

At the party: Imagine you’ve been invited to a Hollywood party, and when you walk into the room you see all your favorite celebrities. You eagerly approach your favorite actor, gush all over him, and then discover he and everyone else at the party is a look-alike. Not only do you feel like a fool for buying it, but you’ll never trust your host again.

To fix: This one’s easy. Just don’t do it. Create a strong opening that works on its own. It takes just as much effort to fake an "exciting" opening as it does to fix a real opening. And since a fake opening is bound to feel flat anyway, and only seem exciting to someone who already knows the story, it's often a wasted effort.

4. Having a lazy protagonist

A lazy protagonist just sits around waiting for something to happen to her. She has nothing she wants, no goal in mind, she isn’t trying to accomplish anything—she’s just sitting around navel gazing or walking through a pretty setting. The job of a protagonist is to drive the plot, and if she’s not doing anything, the story goes nowhere.

One last trip to the party: Imagine a party where every single guest forces you to initiate all the conversation. No one talks to you unless you ask them a direct question, they don’t walk over, they don’t even make eye contact. How long before you give up and go home?

To fix: Give your protagonist something to do that matters to them. Their goal will help create that all-important story question to pull readers in and keep the story moving forward.

Openings are vital to getting someone to read your book. Don't waste those 250 chances. No matter how your novel starts, make sure it starts with the story. 

Scriveners, what’s your favorite way to start a novel? What’s your least favorite trick? Are there any novel openers that are deal-breakers for you when you're buying a new book? Have you been agonizing about how to open your novel? Do you have any tips to add?

About Janice Hardy

Janice Hardy is the founder of Fiction University, and the author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, where she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. 

Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The first book in her Foundations of Fiction series, Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure is out now. She is also a regular contributor at Pub(lishing) Crawl

She lives in Georgia with her husband, one yard zombie, three cats, and a very nervous freshwater eel. Find out more about writing at her site, Fiction University, or find her on Twitter @Janice_Hardy.


Planning your novel by Janice Hardy

available at Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon CA, Nook, Kobo, and iTunes

Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure takes you step-by-step through finding and developing ideas, brainstorming stories, and crafting a solid plan for your novel—including a one-sentence pitch, summary hook blurb, and working synopsis. Over 100 different exercises lead you through the novel-planning process, with ten workshops that build upon each other to flesh out your idea as much or as little as you need to do to start writing. 

"Planning Your Novel" compiles great advice, plus adds brainstorming questions and writing exercises at the end of each chapter. A must-read for writers who want to dig deeper and push their craft to the next level...YA author Julie Musil


CHICKEN SOUP - HEARTFELT STORIES BY MOMS Pays $200 for 1,200 words. Stories can deal with the pains and highlights of motherhood, the wonders of parenting grandchildren, special moments of raising a newborn, being a role model to a teenager, or anything that touches the heart of a mom. Deadline September 30.

Barthelme Prize for experimental flash fiction. $17 Entry Fee 500-word limit. $1000 first prize, $250 hon. mention prizes. Online submission form. Deadline August 31.

Short Romance stories with holiday themes: Crimson Romance Ebooks (A division of F & W, publisher of Writer's Digest Books) is looking for holiday themed shorts (10K-20K words) Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa 2014, New Year's Eve 2015, Deadline: August 15th

BLUE EARTH REVIEW FLASH FICTION CONTEST $2 ENTRY FEE. 750 words or less. Limit two stories per entry. First place $500. Second place $250. Third place $100. Winners will be published in the Blue Earth Review, the literary magazine of Minnesota State University. Deadline August 1.

A ROOM OF HER OWN FOUNDATION ORLANDO PRIZES $15 ENTRY FEE. Four Orlando prizes of $1,000 each and publication in The Los Angeles Review are awarded twice yearly for a poem, a short story, a short short story, and an essay by women writers. Deadline July 31.

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Sunday, July 13, 2014

What Defines "Traditional" Publishing? What You Don't Know CAN Hurt You.

by Anne R. Allen

The blogosphere has been full of debate about "traditional" vs. "indie" publishing since the dawn of the E-Age.

We've also seen lively discussions about the definition of the terms.

"Indie" once meant small independent publishers, but since the introduction of the ebook (and Kindle Direct Publishing) it has evolved to mean self-publishing as well.

Or maybe instead. The line is blurry these days. The word "indie" can change meaning depending on who you're talking to.

The traditional small independent press is now often called a "boutique publisher" or a "micropress" to avoid confusion. But I admit that I have often called myself "indie" since I'm with a boutique press, and I've been included in two "indie" anthologies.

Last month I joined the actual self-publishers for the first time when I re-published HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE all by my ownself (well, with co-author Catherine Ryan Hyde and some generous aid from the blokes at EBUK and the helpful Jason Anderson at Polgarus Studios, after our agent left the agency that published us in February.) So I guess I can say I'm truly "indie" now.

Meanwhile, some writers prefer to define the non-self-published model as "legacy" publishing rather than "traditional," because the tradition of self-publishing has been around at least since Benjamin Franklin.

But recently I've seen some odd statements on blogs and forums like, "only the Big Five are legitimate traditional publishers," and "you're just an indie unless you're with the Big Five."

So what's "traditional" publishing?

Of course the definition of "traditional" is going to be different depending on whose traditions you're talking about.

There may be people who believe only something printed on Johannes Gutenberg's actual printing press can be truly "traditional," and others might favor the papyrus scroll, the clay tablet, or the wall of a cave.

But most people in today's publishing industry—on both sides of the self-publishing fence—agree on the definition of traditional/legacy publishing.

Here's a version of that definition from Writer's Digest: "Traditional book publishing is when a publisher offers the author a contract and, in turn, prints, publishes, and sells your book through booksellers and other retailers. The publisher essentially buys the right to publish your book and pays you royalties from the sales."

And a here's a handy infographic from Writer's Digest Books' former head honcho Jane Friedman that lays out all our publishing options out in a colorful easy-to-read format.

Many thanks to the always-reliable Alex J. Cavanaugh and the good people at the Insecure Writers Support Group for those links and the tip about this new wrinkle in the indie vs. trad debate.

So is there any truth to this new claim that only a handful of multinational mega-corporations can be called "traditional"?

In a word, no.

Even if we all agree that multi-national media mega-conglomerates have been one of the world's most treasured traditions since 1998—when Bertelsmann swallowed Random House—traditional publishing is still defined the way it has always been defined, um, traditionally.

In fact, the whole argument is silly. By this new definition, J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books were not traditionally published, because they were issued by Scholastic in the US and Bloomsbury in the UK—neither of which are members of the Big Five.

And most Harlequin authors would have to be called "indie"—since Harlequin was not part of the Big Five until May of this year when it was bought by HarperCollins (owned by NewsCorp, aka Rupert Murdoch's evil empire)

Ditto all Kensington authors, although now that they've made a deal with Random Penguin to use the Penguin distribution channels, maybe they can now wear the "traditional" tiara too.

Ruth Harris, former editor and publisher at Kensington, will be fascinated to hear she wasn't working in traditional publishing all those years.

I do understand that it may seem that the French, Germans and Aussie Rupert Murdoch control 100% of publishing on the planet, but that's slightly exaggerated.

The truth is, we have a tradition of publishing right here in the little old U. S. of A. And not all of it is owned by Carly Simon's family.

Here are a few non-Big Five publishers who are as traditional as Bertlesman, Hachette and NewsCorp: Scholastic, Kensington, Hay House, W.W. Norton, Rodale, Llewellyn, Chronicle Books, Workman (includes Algonquin), Sourcebooks, Sunset, F + W Media/Writer’s Digest Books...and hundreds more, including all academic presses from the University of Alabama to Yale University Press. (Although I can't guarantee some of them won't have been gobbled up by the Big Five before I hit "publish" on this post.)

Many prestigious smaller presses like Beacon Press, GrayWolf, and Copper Canyon Press have been around longer than the mega-monopolies of the Big Five, too. You can find whole books listing all the well-respected small presses in Writers Market, the Literary Marketplace, and the Poets and Writers Guide to Small Presses.

These are all considered "traditional presses" by the publishing industry. Some use digital technology (POD) these days and some still use offset printing. What makes them traditional publishers is the economic process (contract, royalties etc) rather than the printing technology.

Also defined as "traditional" are the more recent ebook-first presses like Ellora's Cave and Samhain. They have traditional contracts and pay royalties just like paper-first presses.

And Amazon itself has become a traditional publisher, with imprints like: 47 North, Montlake, Thomas and Mercer, New Harvest, Encore—with new imprints added all the time. They pay advances and royalties and generally you need an agent to sign with them, just like the Big Five and most mid-sized presses.

So why do new writers need to know this stuff?

Because I fear new writers may be duped into staying away from all these legitimate mid-sized, smaller and digital-first publishers and steered toward the subsidy or vanity presses now owned by the Big Five, thinking anything with a Big Five label is somehow more "traditional" or "legitimate".

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

In the last decade, most of the vanity presses in North America were bought out by AuthorHouse and brought under an umbrella called "Author Solutions". In 2012, Penguin acquired Author Solutions. Then Penguin merged with Random House.

That means that technically Author Solutions is part of the new Penguin-Random House group owned by German mega-corp Bertelsmann and therefore part of the Big Five.

But it's just that—a technicality. Their self-publishing packages do nothing with the Big Five except fill their coffers. All the editing, production, promotion, etc, is done strictly in-house by Author Solutions.

Ditto Simon and Schuster's vanity wing Archway, Thomas and Nelson's Westbow Press, Hay House's Balboa Press, and Guidepost's Inspiring Voices. These are vanity presses, all owned and operated by Author Solutions. (Writer's Digest has recently—and I think wisely—severed connections with their Author Solutions affiliate, Abbott Press.)

What's the problem with vanity presses (sometimes called subsidy publishing)?

They are not always a bad choice and not necessarily scams. There are good reasons why some people prefer to use a vanity press. If you want to print a book of poems, a memoir, club recipes, or a family history—and you want something special to give as gifts or promote your community group or organization, a vanity press can be just what you're looking for. Some use old-school offset printing and can provide a lovely, beautifully bound product.

But for a career writer they can be a disaster. This is because:

  • They make money FROM the writer, rather than making money FOR the writer.
  • Their services are usually priced way over market value.
  • They often masquerade as something they're not, or claim they'll get you on the road to publication with big name publishers.
  • They often charge so much for a printed book that the author is unable to make money on resale.
  • They often charge for non-existent or sub-standard editing.
  • They often offer no distribution: you just get a box of books to sell out of your garage.
  • They push overpriced marketing packages that do little to sell books. (How overpriced? Check out these prices.) 

Or to quote one of the many lawsuits against Author Solutions (from Writer Beware), "It is a printing service that fails to maintain even the most rudimentary standards of book publishing, profiting not for its authors but from them." For more, here is the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association on why not to use a vanity press.

So what does this have to do with the people claiming the Big Five are the only "traditional" publishers?

I'm not sure. But when I heard from the IWSG about the bizarre "Big Five are the only traditionals" pronouncements, I remembered something.

Planting shills in writers' forums is something Author Solutions has done in the past, with sock puppets like the infamous "Fake Jared," and his friends.

And it seems Author Solutions has been paying kickbacks to bloggers who will steer newbie writers to their deceptive websites, according to April Hamilton of Publitariat.

I don't mean to say that all the people making these weird claims are working for Author Solutions. It's quite possible they may simply be contrarians or gadflies who enjoy stirring up a discussion with claims to know silly "facts". 

There are always people like Cliff the Postman from the TV show Cheers, who loved to regale the bar crowd with his "little known facts" like "the harp is a predecessor of the modern day guitar. Early minstrels were much larger people. In fact, they had hands the size of small dogs."

Or they could be newbies who've been taken in by the hype of the vanity presses. That's more worrying, because that means the hype is working.

Why does it matter what you call your publisher?

Personally, I don't care if people want to call their publishers "traditional", "indie", "legacy", or "snookums."

But what I do care about is newbie writers getting steered away from solid publishing deals with a small or midsized press and into the arms of a vanity press because they believe a vanity press is a road to the big bux of the Big Five. (Although as I said last week, you should always run any publishing contract by somebody knowledgeable in contract law before you sign.)

I am in no way discouraging anybody from real self-publishing. Self-publication is an excellent road to a solid writing career. In fact it may be the best way in these days of shrinking advances and draconian contracts.

As I said, I've recently self-published myself. You can read some great reasons for self-publishing from David Henry Sterry in last Tuesday's Huffington Post. He also gives good reasons to publish with a small or mid-sized press. (Which are actually the MOST traditional. Media mega-corporations are a phenomenon of the last few decades)

Self-publishing is a good path to a writing career, but it's not the best road to publication with the Big Five, unless you're the one-in-a-million breakout superstar like Hugh Howey.

Self-publish because you want to control your own career, not because you eventually want a Big Five contract.

Yes, three or four years ago we were told "the ebook is the new query", but that was back when a lot of indies were making huge sales and it was easier to make that leap. In those days, Amazon's algorithms gave cheap indie books the same weight in calculating the bestseller lists as they did the big-name, expensive Big Five titles. And in those early days of ebooks, Big Five publishers weren't selling their backlists for 99c apiece through Bookbub.

So if you think you want a traditional or "hybrid" career, you should start by querying, not by self-publishing—or query with a different book from the one you self-published. For more this, here's a post on the subject from agent Pamela Van Hylckama Vlieg.

Most agents won't look at a previously published book unless it is steadily selling 10,000 or more units a month. And very few vanity published books get picked up by anybody. (Although I realize Author Solutions makes a huge deal of the handful who do.)

What if you DO want to publish non-traditionally?

If you want to self-publish—and go truly "non-traditional"—there are several excellent companies you can use.

There are aggregators like Smashwords, BookBaby, and Direct 2 Digital, who help you format and publish your ebooks and then distribute them to dozens of retailers all over the world.

Ditto Amazon itself, with CreateSpace for paper and KDP for ebooks. And you can publish direct to Nook, iTunes, GooglePlay and Kobo by yourself as well.

For paper books, Lightning Source (owned by major US book distributor Ingram) and Lulu, as well as CreateSpace and BookBaby, are great choices (and I hear D2D can now shepherd your book through CreateSpace.) They all use POD technology and offer distribution as well as printing.

Distribution is the key here. If a company feels their job is over when they give you a box of books, your book hasn't been published, it's been printed.

All of the above companies take a percentage of what YOU make, so if you're not making money, they're not making money.

But a vanity press makes money off you, not your book.

You can get great info on how to self-publish profitably from David Gaughran's blog and his two books Let's Get Digital and Let's Get Visible. You can buy both for under ten dollars. (And no, I have no connection with Mr. Gaughran except that I've read his books and follow his blog.)

You can also learn a lot of the basics of how the publishing industry works and how to avoid getting scammed in the book I've written with Catherine Ryan Hyde, How to be a Writer in the E-Age: A Self-Help Guide.

To me, paying ten or fifteen bucks for a few guidebooks beats paying a vanity outfit $25,000 for a "premium package" which comes complete with your own personal spambots to "market" your book to unwilling victims...and an empty promise that you'll be "considered" by one of the Big Five.

As I have said before, making a living writing books is hard, and there are no shortcuts. You need to do it because you love it. If you have delusions of instant fame and fortune, you're going to be a prime target for the armies of scammers out there.

What about you, Scriveners? Do you define your publishing path as "traditional" or "indie"? Have you run into people who say small and mid-sized publishers are not traditional? How do you define "indie"? Do you have more faith in multi-national mega-corporations than mid-sized companies? What other books do you recommend for self-publishers?


A book and a video that both poke fun at the scams that plague starry-eyed new writers


Murder, mischief, and a little romance at a writers conference in the wine-and-cowboy town of Santa Ynez, California. When a ghostwriter’s plot to blackmail celebrities with faked evidence leads to murder, our oh-so-polite sleuth Camilla Randall must team up with a cross-dressing dominatrix to stop the killer from striking again. Meanwhile a wannabe writer who happens to be a hot L.A. cop may or may not help Camilla recover from her recent divorce.

Ghostwriters in the Sky is now only $2.99 in e-book at Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon CA iTunes, Kobo, Inktera, and at Barnes and Noble for NOOK.

Ghost Writers is set in a writers' conference in Santa Ynez Valley, where I've lived for twenty years.... This book is hysterically funny AND accurately depicts the Valley. Anne Allen gets it right, down to the dollar bills stuck on the ceiling of the Maverick Saloon. It was so fun to read as she called out one Valley landmark after another. Allen got the local denizens right, too, the crazy characters that roam our streets...Sandy Nathan, award-winning author of The Bloodsong Series


NOW IN DVD: only 9.99 at Amazon.com also available at iTunes. Every writer who has been in a critique group has to see this one...

AUTHORS ANONYMOUS: An ensemble comedy about a weekly critique group of unpublished writers whose fabric is threatened when one member scores an agent, a book deal, and a movie deal in quick succession. Starring Kaley Cuoco of the Big Bang Theory and the late Dennis Farina. (And written by SLO's own Dave Congalton)


CHICKEN SOUP - HEARTFELT STORIES BY MOMS Pays $200 for 1,200 words. Stories can deal with the pains and highlights of motherhood, the wonders of parenting grandchildren, special moments of raising a newborn, being a role model to a teenager, or anything that touches the heart of a mom. Deadline September 30.

Barthelme Prize for experimental flash fiction. $17 Entry Fee 500-word limit. $1000 first prize, $250 hon. mention prizes. Online submission form. Deadline August 31.

Want to Appear in Writer's Digest? Here's how. Have you ever tried to write a book in a month-as part of NaNoWriMo, with a writing group, or just on your own? What was your experience? WD wants to hear from you. Tell them about your write-a-thon! Send your story-along with your full name, city and state to writersdigest@fwmedia.com with "BIAM" in the subject line. Responses may appear in Writer's Digest publications and/or on WritersDigest.com.

Short Romance stories with holiday themes: Crimson Romance Ebooks (A division of F & W, publisher of Writer's Digest Books) is looking for holiday themed shorts (10K-20K words) Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa 2014, New Year's Eve 2015, Deadline: August 15th

BLUE EARTH REVIEW FLASH FICTION CONTEST $2 ENTRY FEE. 750 words or less. Limit two stories per entry. First place $500. Second place $250. Third place $100. Winners will be published in the Blue Earth Review, the literary magazine of Minnesota State University. Deadline August 1.

A ROOM OF HER OWN FOUNDATION ORLANDO PRIZES $15 ENTRY FEE. Four Orlando prizes of $1,000 each and publication in The Los Angeles Review are awarded twice yearly for a poem, a short story, a short short story, and an essay by women writers. Deadline July 31.

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Sunday, July 6, 2014

12 Dumb Things Writers do to Sidetrack Our Own Success

by Anne R. Allen

We writers tend to be a delusional lot. Most of us know the average writer doesn't make a bunch of money, but we secretly believe our own efforts will bring us fabulous fame and fortune.

Or at least pay the rent.

When we start out, we're certain our books will leapfrog over all the usual obstacles, and in record time, we will land on the NYT  bestseller list and the cover of Time. 

Don't be embarrassed. The delusions are necessary. If we accepted the reality of how hard it is to make a living as a writer, we'd never get that first sentence on the page.

But those delusions—and the fear of losing the comfort they bring—can take us on dangerous detours that can derail a fledgling career.

They did for me.

My own personal detours happened because I didn't learn enough about the business. People kept telling me to join RWA to find out the ins and outs of the industry (excellent advice, by the way), but since I didn't see myself as a romance writer, I didn't join until my career had been stalled for several years.

I was sure I didn't have to learn the business side of things. I'd have a magical fairy god-agent to deal with all the boring stuff.

I actually landed an agent with my very first query. Who promptly left the agency without telling me. I'd read in the literary agent guidebooks that the process is slow and you should never phone an agent, so I waited over six months before I called to ask what was going on. (Yeah. I wasn't kidding about the "dumb" part.)

I wasted most of that time writing almost nothing, because I was waiting for my agent to guide me. Should this be a series? Should I rewrite it as romance? If this doesn't sell, what other kind of book should I be writing?

I had four more agents after that. None of whom sold my books. Or gave me any guidance.

Turns out I might have been just a tad delusional about those magical fairy god-agents.

Here are some other dumb things I see a lot of beginning writers doing today. If you recognize yourself or a friend, check out some of the "get back on track" solutions to get that career off and running again.

1) Aiming too low 

Lots of brilliant writers never leave square one. They settle into a pleasant little comfort zone and never try to climb to the next step.

They enter—and win—the same couple of local contests every year and publish stories in the same handful of little magazines for decades. Nobody but the three judges of the contest and the five subscribers to the litzine have ever seen their work. But the writers get a thrilling little buzz every year from their wins and are scared of facing rejection in the larger marketplace.

Others never send their work out at all. They'll read the same book to a critique group for a decade or keep reading first chapters of books they never finish. I've met people at writers' conferences who always bring the same chapter of the same book to the workshops, year after year. I don't know if any of them ever get published. Or even finish their novels.

How to get back on track: Face your fears and accept that getting rejected is part of the process. Look at the "opportunity alerts" at the bottom of this column. Submit to a new magazine. Enter a contest with higher stakes. Finish that novel. Expand your world!

2) Aiming too high (a.k.a. not knowing you're a beginner.)

I cringe when a newbie writer with only a handful of credits tells me she will never write for free. Or after publishing four or five short stories an author says he'll never sell to anybody but Asimov's, Ellery Queen, or The New Yorker. Writers like this may say they're practicing the "law of attraction" by visualizing the big bux, but what they're actually doing is aiming to fail.

If you want to visualize yourself making it to the top of the success ladder, you need to visualize the whole ladder.

Even twenty years ago, expecting instant success was self-defeating. Nobody pole-vaults from the mailroom to the board room after their first paycheck. Especially in the publishing business.

And now, alas, we live in an era when everybody in this business works for free some of the time. Interns apprentice for no pay in literary agencies and publishing houses. Agents don't get paid until when/if they make a deal.

Even the rich and famous do it. Anne Rice pens Facebook posts all day long. Stephen King tweets. Tons of bestselling authors blog. All without remuneration.

How to get back on track: Accept that everybody has to start on the first rung of the ladder. Put in your 10,000 Malcolm Gladwell hours. If you write nonfic, write for smaller magazines, anthologies, and blogs and collect your clips. If you write mostly fiction, send those stories out to the non- and lower-paying litzines. The prestige you get from writing for some of them can be worth more to your career than getting a story into a higher paying slick monthly.

3) Taking an endless trip on the Query-Go-Round

Some writers never take the time to learn to write a good query. They keep sending out the same letter that calls their work a "fiction novel" and addresses the agent as "To Whom it May Concern" and talks about how their book is so much better than "all the crap out there."

Or they might fall for scams like this one, which charges $700 to write queries for you. (All query-mill letters are automatically rejected. Agents can tell.)

Or they can do the opposite and become query addicts. They send out queries on the same book for decades. They hone that query to perfection. They take all the workshops on querying at every writers conference they go to. What they don't do is work on the book. Or write another one.

These people don't want to discover what's really wrong:

  • That much-rejected book could be an unpolished gem that might get a contract if the author ran it through a few beta readers, cut the word count, and got somebody to proofread it.
  • Or it could be a finished masterpiece that just needs a good query.
  • Or it could be a polished book with a killer query, but the genre/theme is not trending right now. When everybody's looking for zeppelins, they've got zombies. Or the other way around.

But they'll never know if they're trapped on the query-go-round, addicted to the high they get from that rare request for a partial, then maybe a full, then waiting a year for the form rejection that says nothing. (Agents are very cagy these days. Their rejections are crafted to say nothing but "no thanks." And more and more, they reject with silence. Unfortunately, they've learned that any feedback at all can draw angry retaliation from crazed newbies.)

How to get back on track: Workshop the book if you haven't, and then write another one. Maybe not so trendy this time. Or look for a small press that specializes in your brand of zombie zeppelins. Or self-publish (but not until you've written zombie-zeppelin book #2. It's very hard to market a singleton title as an indie.) 

And if you're querying and have never read the Query Shark  or networked with the good people at QueryTracker, do. They may solve a lot of your problems.

4) Getting trapped with a bad agent and/or signing the first contract you're offered without reading the fine print

In these days of "forever" books and eternal bookshelves, bad contracts are much more dangerous than they were in the pre-ebook days.

You may end up signing away the rights to your book and characters for a lifetime—and even your children's lifetimes. 

Some publishers insist that you give the right of first refusal for every word you will ever write. Here's a cautionary tale from Jordan McCollum. There are lots of bad contracts out there, even with well-known agents and publishers.

And unfortunately, there are lots of incompetent and disappearing agents, scammers, and vanity publishers eager to lead you astray and deplete your savings.

If you have fantasies of a magical fairy god-agent, you could easily fall prey.

How to get back on track: educate yourself about the business before you jump in. Join professional writing organizations like  RWA  or SCBWI . Keep yourself informed by checking Writer Beware, and read popular publishing industry blogs like the Passive Voice. (Very indie oriented, but usually solid advice.)

5) Chasing trends

Some writers have files filled with half-written Twilight clones, maybe a Dan-Brown artifact-chaser, a couple of a YA Dystopians and 25 ½ Shades of Mommy Porn. They never quite finish any of their projects because, well, what they really like is family sagas or space operas, but everybody says those aren't selling.

How to get back on track: Don't follow trends; set them. Anything that's on the bestseller list now will be saturated and waning by the time you get a book finished, polished, edited and ready to go. Write what you love to read, not what's on the bestseller list or a hot TV trend right now.

6) Forgetting the part where you learn how to write

We've all met newbie writers who say stuff like: "Why should I have to study writing? I read all the time and I edit our Justin Bieber fan club newsletter. I'm a great speller. So I can write a novel, no prob."

These people don't understand that writing narrative is an intricate, specialized craft. Eating a sandwich doesn't teach a person how to bake bread. They wouldn't expect to be able to knit a sweater or play golf without some kind of instruction. So why do they think they can write a novel in a total vacuum?

I'm amazed how many people would rather spend 20 years flailing around writing badly rather than pay a few bucks for a workshop or a book on plotting or structure. 

Some of these people think they can hire an editor who will magically turn a bunch of random pages into a coherent novel. Anybody who's worked as a freelance editor has had to deal with a few of these. It's amazing when you see the horror on their faces when it dawns on them that writing a novel involves a whole lot of work.

How to get back on track: Take a writing class or workshop and buy a few books on writing. Nathan Bransford has a brilliant one called How to Write a Novel for only $4.99. Or try Save the Cat by Blake Snyder or How to Write a Damn Good Novel by James N. Frey.

7) Partying like it's 1999

Some writers are hooked on old media. They don't want to know anything about online marketing and every year they launch a new paper book with a signing party at a local bookstore announced by an ad in the hometown newspaper, or postcards sent to a local mailing list.

The same twelve people come. Every year. Twelve people who would have bought the book anyway. Nobody else knows these authors have books, because they don't have a website or a blog or an Amazon author page and consider themselves "above" social media.

You Google these people and up comes the picture from when they campaigned for John Kerry in 2004.

If they're with a traditional small or mid-sized press, they may have an ebook, but they don't know how to get online reviews or set up an Amazon author page, so their book ranks at about #7,891,000.

Or they self-publish with a vanity press and insist on putting tons of money into a hardcover novel that nobody can afford.

How to get back on track: Join the 21st century. It may seem scary, but it's more fun than you realize. Take baby steps. Get a friend or relative to help you set up your Amazon author page. Start reading blogs. Molly Greene and Kristen Lamb give top-notch info on how to use social media on their blogs. Pick up Molly's Blog it!, Kristen Lamb's Rise of the Machines or, um How to be a Writer in the E-Age by yours truly and #1 Amazon bestseller Catherine Ryan Hyde.

8) Refusing to accept that publishing is a business 

An amazing number of writers seem to think the writing life is a perpetual high school English class where there are gold stars for everybody. They are offended when publishers and agents are "mercenary" or "only out for money."

Newsflash: people don't run businesses in order to lose money. Not everybody can live off the Bank of Dad forever.

If you want to make a living as a writer, you have to learn how the business works.

You wouldn't try to open a restaurant if you'd never worked in one, but most new writers know nothing about the business they're trying to enter.

How to get back on track: Give up the magical fairy god-agent fantasy. Then go read the archives of Jane Friedman's awesome blog, subscribe to (free) Publisher's Lunch and follow a few agents on Twitter. Or pick up a solid book on how to self-publish like David Gaughran's Let's Get Digital.

9) Chasing that first-draft high 

We all live for that moment when we're in the zone and the muse is dictating that story as fast as we can write it down. Nothing's better than that.

But most of us know that euphoric high is fleeting.

Sooner or later we have to confront the reality that this book is not, in actual fact, the greatest cultural achievement in all human history, and we may have to, um, write a second draft.

In the middle of which we will be sure the book sucks.

But people hooked on that first-draft-high never get to the "my-book-sucks" stage. They never let a beta reader tell them about the holes in the plot or how it's totally confusing when Estella's name changes to Ralph halfway through. They'd never use a critique group. They never rewrite or hire an editor.

These self-adoring geniuses just go write another brilliant masterpiece instead. And another. And can't figure out why nobody wants to read them.

Whether they endlessly send the masterpieces to agents, or self-publish and constantly tweet "buy my book", they fail to become professional writers.

How to get back on track: Learn that the first draft is between you and your muse, but the final draft is for the READER. If you don't keep your readers in mind, you won't have any. It's simple as that.

10) Spending all your time and money on iffy marketing schemes 

There are thousands of blogs and books that promise you instant riches with ebooks. Most of them are out of date and all of them are lying. 

That's because nothing is certain in this business (except rejection and bad reviews.) Nobody can  fulfill a promise that you'll make the bestseller list or become a millionaire.

I know lots of people do fall for the hype and bullbleep because I see them all over the place: 
  • Writers who tweet their books 24/7—or pay somebody to—and constantly spam their FB friends. 
  • Blogging authors who are always running contests to give away book swag they've overbought and nobody wants.
  • Or they give away expensive gift cards to bribe people to "like" their Facebook page. A page those people will never visit again. 
  • Or they make boring book trailers and hammer friends and family to go "like" the videos on YouTube. Friends and family who are too busy, um, reading books. 
  • Or—this is the one that's trending now—they put a ginormous amount of money into a Kickstarter campaign designed to beg for an even more ginormous amount of money to pay a publicist to do all of the above.
And in case you still think tweeting your book boosts sales, I now have personal experience that says it doesn't. A sweet friend put one of my books into a tweet circle a couple of weeks ago and it got tweeted at least 500 times.

Guess how many books I sold that week? None. Zip Zilch Nada. I'd sold 40 the week before. So if anything, those tweets made people NOT buy the book.

How to get back on track: Look at what actual successful authors are doing. Hugh Howey built his huge audience by connecting with fans on his blog and on forums. Catherine Ryan Hyde and Anne Rice have constant interaction with their readers on Facebook. Catherine gives away lots of free books from her blog.

All these bestselling authors are connecting with their fans one-on-one, not "targeting" a faceless "them". Books have to be hand-sold. Marketing schemes don't work unless you're the Big Five and can load every chain bookstore in the world with huge front-of store displays.

And don't tweet your book unless you have news about it. Like that it's free for the next 24 hours, and you just got a rave review from Big Al.

11) Failing to write the book at all 

Speaking of gimmicks, I can't believe how many newbie writers get drawn into the Kickstarter game. They spend a bunch of money on a video ad for Kickstarter explaining how if you just give them a bunch of money, they will sign a book for you that they plan to write someday.

Oh, and they'll also need your money for an editor, a formatter, and a cover designer and of course, a book trailer, which will only cost $10,000.

Okay, it's true that if you do something truly outrageous on Kickstarter, like ask for money to make potato salad, a bunch of idiots may give you money. But this is not a good business plan.

Because here's the reality: anybody with a BookBub, Pixel of Ink, EBUK or KND subscription can get any number of brilliant books from bestselling authors for 99c-$3.99 these days.

Why would readers give $500 to a newbie who's got nothing but an idea? We all have ideas. Would you hire a hairdresserfor 500 times the going ratewho hasn't yet attended beauty school, just because he has a mental picture of a choppy bob with feathered bangs which would look totally sweet on you?

Kickstarter is a wonderful tool for things like reviving Reading Rainbow and the Veronica Mars movie. But you need to have something to offer the world besides your own neediness.

Here are some other ways wannabes avoid actually writing:

  • Endlessly talking out their books with other wannabes. 
  • Boring everybody they meet with blow-by blow descriptions of scenes from the novel they haven't started yet.
  • Spending a year decorating the room where they're going to write someday.
  • Obsessing about finding just the right software to compose in.
  • Blogging about the book instead of writing it.
  • Researching the book for decades without actually writing a word.

How to get back on track: Either put your butt in a chair and your fingers on a keyboard or figure out what you really want to do with your life. Hint: it's okay not to be a writer.

12) Not reading (especially in your genre)

I'm amazed at people who claim to want to be writers, but when you ask them what they're reading they go totally blank.

Or they’ll mention a bestseller of a decade ago as the last book they read. Or they say they read nothing but classics—which you strongly suspect they haven't read since college. They may even follow by telling you "there's nothing good out there."

It's awfully hard to write a novel contemporary readers are going to like if you haven't read anything published since The Great Gatsby. And it's impossible to write something Romance/Mystery/Thriller readers are going to like if you don't read (and love) those genres.

How to get back on track: Make time for reading every day. Especially new books in your genre. Consider it part of your writing routine. If you'd rather watch Dancing with the Stars or play a videogame, ask yourself why you want to be a writer. Are you trying to please Mom? Or Mrs. Hoolihan from fourth grade? Would you rather be designing videogames or sequined dance costumes? That's okay. 

And probably pays better. 

This is a great profession if you love it, but there are no shortcuts and the pay is pretty lousy for all but a handful of superstars. If you'd rather be doing something else, let go of the delusions and go follow your bliss, wherever it takes you.

What about you, Scriveners? Have you been sidetracked by any of these detours from your writing path? How did you get back on track? Do you have any other pitfalls to warn us about?  

Oh, and you can hear a half-hour excerpt of my comic novel NO PLACE LIKE HOME narrated by C.S. Perryess and moi every Sunday night at 9 Pacific time, streaming at http://esterobayradio.com/ or 97.3 FM if you're in the Morro Bay area.


How To Be a Writer in the E-Age: a Self-Help Guide has been republished again! 
It is again available at Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon CA and all the other Amazon stores. 

It was not un- & re-published by choice. Our agent suddenly left her agency where we had been published with an "agent-assisted self-publishing" program, and without warning, the agency unpublished the book and sent us the files about two weeks ago. It was a "Yikes!" moment for this cybermoron. Especially since Catherine was on vacation at the time. But with some generous help from the kind tech blokes at EBUK, the book was back up within 24 hours. It took another two weeks and several requests to the Zon for our reviews to migrate, but as of this weekend, they're back. 

And I think this means that I am finally over my fantasies about those magical fairy god-agents (not that it was our agent's fault, but intra-agency squabbles happen, and authors need to be on our toes.)

Unfortunately all this happened the day the paper book was supposed to go to the printer. Needless to say, that has been delayed. I'll let you know when that finally happens.

This is one of the few guidebooks that addresses both the writers who hope to traditionally publish AND indies. We even give some info to help you choose. Also lots of stuff on how to blog, use social media, get critiques, deal with agents and avoid scammers...without driving yourself nuts.

"The moment I started to read "How to be a Writer in the E-Age" I knew it was a winner in every sense. The information is not only valuable to new authors, it's relevant to published authors who might be thinking about making the switch to e-publishing, too." Ryan Field, reviewer

"This comprehensive, humorous and down-to-earth guidebook covers our ever-changing industry, our growing choices, and lays down what we can expect at the end of our road so we plan our travels well." Joanna Celeste, reviewer at Joanna Celeste's book blog

"I hadn't done much writing in recent years, but this book opened my eyes to many new things. I've now started a blog and following the suggestions in this book, have many more followers than I thought possible"...Travel Blogger Sil Cadenasso


CHICKEN SOUP - HEARTFELT STORIES BY MOMS Pays $200 for 1,200 words. Stories can deal with the pains and highlights of motherhood, the wonders of parenting grandchildren, special moments of raising a newborn, being a role model to a teenager, or anything that touches the heart of a mom. Deadline September 30.

Want to Appear in Writer's Digest? Here's how. Have you ever tried to write a book in a month-as part of NaNoWriMo, with a writing group, or just on your own? What was your experience? WD wants to hear from you. Tell them about your write-a-thon! Send your story-along with your full name, city and state to writersdigest@fwmedia.com with "BIAM" in the subject line. Responses may appear in Writer's Digest publications and/or on WritersDigest.com.

Short Romance stories with holiday themes: Crimson Romance Ebooks (A division of F & W, publisher of Writer's Digest Books) is looking for holiday themed shorts (10K-20K words) Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa 2014, New Year's Even 2015, Deadline: August 15th

BLUE EARTH REVIEW FLASH FICTION CONTEST $2 ENTRY FEE. 750 words or less. Limit two stories per entry. First place $500. Second place $250. Third place $100. Winners will be published in the Blue Earth Review, the literary magazine of Minnesota State University. Deadline August 1.

A ROOM OF HER OWN FOUNDATION ORLANDO PRIZES $15 ENTRY FEE. Four Orlando prizes of $1,000 each and publication in The Los Angeles Review are awarded twice yearly for a poem, a short story, a short short story, and an essay by women writers. Deadline July 31.

Mash Stories: No entry fee. $100 prize. Quarterly short story competition aimed at promoting new talent. Flash fiction up to 500 words. Must incorporate the words: monkey, cathedral, relativity. Stories are voted on continuously throughout the submission period. Shortlisted stories are featured on the Mash website, professionally narrated on Mash podcast, and included in their magazine Deadline July 15.

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