Monday, April 30, 2012

Face Time—Maximizing Author Appearances in an Increasingly Virtual Age

by Sophie Perinot

My debut novel (The Sister Queens) has been in stores for two months. The launch of a book encompasses lots of new experiences—some exciting, some nerve-wracking, some both. Among them, the author appearance, often better known as “the book signing” (though more than signing can be involved). The author events I’ve done thus far have me pondering (right here before your eyes) the anatomy of live appearances and whether they are worth the time they take.

Once upon a time when a writer sold a book to a publisher live author appearances were pretty much a given. Authors from newbie to veteran gamely piled into their cars (or got on planes if their publishers would spring for air travel) and hit a wide swath of bookstore-land, giving readings and signing novels. Nobody questioned the wisdom of the live author appearance as a way to sell books and generate buzz.

But the times, they are a-changing! In the world of the “virtual bookstore” in-person author events are less and less frequent (unless of course you are a wildly popular NYT Bestselling author with a cult-following and then your publisher will have you out on tour). This is not necessarily a bad trend–the plain fact is the internet provides authors with so many new and more efficient ways to connect with potential readers. Ways that don’t involve spending a fortune on gas, shirking their day jobs or suffering from jet lag. For example, I just finished a blog tour that took me to more than 45 blogs catering to readers looking for new and notable historical novels. My name and my novel were brought to the attention of hundreds (if not thousands) of book fans while I remained comfortably ensconced in my home-office.

Still, especially on your home-turf, author appearances can make sense. My advice—if you are going to do them: 1) keep your expectations realistic; and 2) arrange and execute them in the manner most likely to maximize their sales impact.

If you are a newbie author and you expect a reading or signing to draw an audience full of book-buyers, you are likely to be disappointed. Oh you may have a super turn out—particularly if the event is close to home. Your Aunt Tilly and the cousins will pile into the front row, the book club from your church will wave to you from the “cheap seats.” Folks from the office might even drop by. Everyone will be there to celebrate your success. That’s a gratifying feeling—pretty damn gratifying. Enjoy it. But recognize those full seats probably won’t increase your over-all sales numbers by much. Why? Because these attendees are folks you should be able to count on to buy your book even without an event. I mean, does Aunt Tilly want to stay on your Christmas card list for next year or not? Your friends, your relatives, your colleagues, are BUILT IN sales. You don’t need an event to woo them.

This does NOT mean an event can’t sell books. But you have to plan it carefully AND you need to THINK BEYOND THOSE ACTUALLY IN ATTENDANCE.

“What’s your advice Sophie?” So glad you asked!

Triple-treat author appearance (I am on the far right)

Plan a “value added” event to get the biggest interest and attendance from potential buyers. A signing is easy. You show up, sit at a table surrounded by piles of your books, talk to anyone who approaches, and sign books they purchase. Not much prep on your part. But not too exciting for readers either. Give potential buyers of your book original content—something they can’t get from your book itself or your website. That will make them turn out.

My favorite author thus far was the panel discussion (billed as a historical fiction triple-treat) I did with fellow historical writers Kate Quinn and Stephanie Dray. We prepared a discussion called “Sex, Lies and History: A Literary Threesome.” Those who turned out had something more to see (and hear) than authors sitting quietly at a table. They witnessed a lively debate on, among other things, common misconceptions about women in history and the trend towards more sexual content in mainstream fiction. The audience was also able to participated during the Q&A portion of the discussion—and believe me they did, enthusiastically. Every seat available was filled, and many of those bodies were people none of us had met before. These were people turning out to be entertained and educated, not just to support a friend or family member.

My book (and banner) in the B&N front window

Promote your event—tweet it, blog about it, put announcements in your local paper and in on-line sources for local events and entertainment. Consider having a banner or foam-core poster made that you can use to promote a variety of events (you can see the one I created in one of the pictures accompanying this post). Often you can get the venue hosting your event to display this for you and that can really pay off (see below). Even if the people who see your announcements or poster don’t show up for your actually appearance, this type of publicity increases name recognition for you and for your book. The more often potential readers run into your work the more likely they will start to have the feeling your book is “hot.” That’s a sale waiting to happen.

If you are lucky, the bookstore hosting your event will promote it as well. This, in my opinion, is what really distinguishes the super-worth-while event from the average appearance. The Barnes & Noble that hosted the triple-event mentioned above gave each of our work a prominent window display—dozens of copies of our books right in the front window with huge banners showing our covers super-sized. You can’t pay for that type of exposure if you are a debut author—literally. Your publisher may buy coop placement on those coveted front tables (“New Releases” anyone?!) but the chances of you being in a front window of a major chain bookstore—let alone for a full week—are pretty slim. Now THAT’S the type of exposure that sells books because it makes you look like one of the big dogs.

Be gracious and friendly to the bookstore staff, whether in you are stopping by the store to discuss details of your upcoming event or during your author appearance. I recently did a signing at a nearby bookstore. Unlike my panel event, there were no chairs sent out for an audience and I gave no presentation of any sort. The entire event was just me, chit-chatting with shoppers and hoping some of them would buy a signed copy of my book. And some did—but probably not enough to warrant two hours of my time.

Sophie Perinot is a writer of historical fiction and wielder of a mean moderating ruler at AgentQuery Connect, where you'll find her as Litgal. You can also find her on Twitter and at her website.

Friday, April 27, 2012

And the Winners Are...

Have you been biting your nails in anticipation of this post?

We received some great entries for our one-year blogiversary contest.

As a reminder, second place wins ebook copies of Devil on a Sparrow's Wing by Calista Taylor and The Watchtower by Darke Conteur. First place wins print copies of Sophie Perinot's The Sister Queens and Spring Fevers anthology edited by Matt Sinclair. All winners will also receive a special bonus prize (more info at the end of the post).

I won't torture you by drawing out the tension longer than the last pause on the American Idol finale, so let's get to it. (Any typos or minor errors in each submission have been edited. You're welcome. :-))

Second Place

We had a tie for second place, so you both win! Congratulations to Martina Cote-Kunz and Ty Unglebower. Let's take a look at their flash.

Disturbed, by Martina Cote-Kunz

She sat in the park, novel in hand, enjoying the solitude. The twittering of the birds did not disturb her. The rippling of the creek meandering by did not disturb her. So caught up in the words on the pages, that not even the occasional screech from a nearby playground could break her concentration or cause her to tear her eyes from the words she loved. She licked her finger, readied to turn the page, when a sudden ‘shuff clomp, shuff clomp’ caused her head shoot up.

A man, dressed as though he belonged to the group of guys doing construction on the other side of the park, the crew she’d made sure she was far away from, shuffled toward the only bench beside the creek – the one beside the seat she currently occupied. She frowned, hoping he’d realize that he was annoying her. But, he smiled, tipped his head in her direction and walked past her to sit down a few feet away. He was quite good looking, she realized. And, he looked strong as an ox. She slipped her sunglasses on and tilted her head at the perfect angle to watch him without him seeing her.

He took the newspaper he had tucked under his arm – a well toned and tanned arm, she admitted – and to her surprise, hidden inside the folds was a copy of Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities. All thoughts of his perfectly chiseled face instantly dissolved. This man had a mind! He must have to be reading such a glorious book. It was one of her personal favorites. She longed to discuss it with him, but the nerd in her was shy – much too shy to talk to this god who reminded her of Alcide from True Blood. She was entirely shocked when she heard his voice speaking to her first.

“What are you reading?”

She held up her worn copy of Jane Eyre to show him.

“One of my favorites,” he replied.

“Mine, too,” she answered back. She nodded toward his book. “That one, too. I love it.”

“It’s my first time reading it,” he acknowledged. And then continued, “I’m sorry if I bugged you by coming over here. But, the guys.. well you know. They’d bust my chops if they caught me reading a book without pictures of…. Well, you know,” he repeated himself.

She laughed. “I understand. I don’t mind,” she lied. Well, it was a lie up until about thirty seconds ago.

He nodded and began to read, an easy silence falling between them. The beeping of his watch roused them both from the stories they read and he stood.

“Time for me to get back to work. Maybe I’ll see you again?”

“I’d like that.”


He wrapped his book back in the paper and shuffled away again. This time she was free to look at his especially callipygian backside. “Good indeed,” she whispered before becoming lost in the words once again.  

Ty Unglebower

He'd learned from his days on a film crew how to negotiate his surroundings and insinuate himself into virtually any space without being obtrusive, or even so much as detected. He knew just how useful this set of skills would become as soon as he'd read the article in the town paper.

"'It’s a little embarrassing, but I always write completely in the nude,' the statuesque 24 year old author confessed with a giggle. 'I just can't concentrate wearing clothes.'

Now that she has completed her move into the old Belmar Mansion, Miss Walsh can finally put that concentration to use again, writing her highly anticipated third novel."

Every night for two weeks he had observed Stacy Walsh's routine. From down the street at first. Then across from it. The last two afternoons, from her back yard. He memorized her movements down to the minute she began writing. (When she pulled the curtains in her study shut at 3:00 each afternoon.)

At 2:15 he entered the Walsh home by jimmying a basement window open. He glided up the stairs into the house, and up to the second floor to her study's closet.

There were boxes of stationery up to the ceiling. After a few easy contortions he situated himself and his cell phone at such an angle that he had a clear shot of her writing desk through a slat in the closet door.

When he heard the front door open, he knew it was ten minutes to 3:00. That was when she had always come back from lunch. He pressed record, and waited.

Walsh sauntered into the room and into his frame, and walked over to the window opposite where he lie, to pull the curtains shut. The author then pulled off her t-shirt and tossed it to the floor. No brassiere.

Next she wriggled her way out of a set of blue jeans two sizes too small for her. After some struggle, her callipygian form, unencumbered by panties, oozed out of her Levi's, which dropped to her ankles. She stepped out of them and crossed to the writing desk.

For half an hour his only movement was blinking. Yet he even tried not to do that, unwilling for even an instant to tear himself away from the bouncing, naked form of the sexy young author as she pecked away without pause at the keys on her laptop.

His shoulder had only just started to cramp, when she rose and walked out of the room with a sigh. This, he knew, was when she took her mid-day shower.

Once he heard the water come on, he opened the closet slowly, and extricated himself from the boxes. Rushing to the laptop, he punched a key to wake it from sleep mode.

Blood left his hands, as upon scrolling down he realized she had typed the same sentence over and over again for ten solid pages.

"I know you're in here."

He heard the cocking of a pistol behind him.  

First place - Joan Cusick

The copy desk chief knew, without having to glance from his first-edition paper, as soon as the shapely intern walked into the newsroom. Suddenly, the night crew wasn't the least bit interested in writing anything -- a headline, a cutline, or even the great American novel. Their brains had downshifted into a much lower gear.

Then the muttering started.

"Legs all the way up to her ass."

"Look at that, will ya? It's down-right..."

The veteran editor couldn't resist. "Callipygian," he growled.

"Say what, chief?"

"Callipygian." His voice sounded like smoke and scotch -- two longstanding newsroom essentials. "I've got a twenty for the first person to use that word in a headline."

"Come on, chief. That's a fifty-dollar word if I ever heard one."

The chief refolded his first edition and looked up at the young editor. "You've got the right angle, kid. But my finances aren't nearly as plump and well-rounded as my ass."

Congratulations again to our winners, Joan, Ty, and Martina! As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, in addition to the listed prizes, each of you will also be getting a bonus prize: a copy of Pete Morin's Diary of a Small Fish, in your choice of ebook or paperback. We'll be in touch with you this weekend to work out the logistics of delivery.

Thanks to all who submitted. We hope you had as much fun writing your flash fiction as we had reading it. Last but not least, a huge thank you to ALL of you - all of our readers and supporters who have helped us come this far in our first year. We hope you'll stick around and continue reading.

As always, we welcome your feedback and questions/suggestions for posts you'd like to see in the future, so don't hesitate to email us. We're happy to give you the write angle on all things writing and publishing related.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Five Things I’ve Learned About Self-Publishing

By Matt Sinclair

As many of you have heard by now, several of us at FTWA were involved in a short story anthology, Spring Fevers, which was e-published in February and is now available via print-on-demand. I’m proud to be the publisher of the work, and we will be doing another later this year.

In the meantime, I thought I’d share some bits of learning I picked up from our publishing venture.

  1. Know your goals before you start. Why are you doing this? Is it to see your name listed as an author? There’s nothing wrong with that. Do you expect to sit back and watch a tsunami of e-money flow into your account? Sitting back and watching a tsunami up close is never a good idea, especially when the wave doesn’t arrive. You’ll need to do more than write something excellent. For us, the goal was creating an audience for a band of as yet little-known writers. Oh that reminds me: we priced accordingly.
  2. Assemble a strong team. This was by no means a one-person job. With the emergence of electronic publishing tools, it’s relatively easy to publish just about anything your heart desires. But if you’re like most of us, your talents will take you only so far. You’ll need help, whether it’s for the cover, or the design, or the publicity. And before any of those considerations are given much time, secure an editor—someone who will tell you the unvarnished truth. Not to put too fine a point on this, but you need an editor, not a proofreader. You might also need a proofreader, but make sure you have an editor. We were so fortunate to have Robb Grindstaff edit these stories. Excessive typos certainly won’t endear you to readers, but neither will weak characters and plotlines, inconsistencies, and perspectives that hop from head to head.
  3. Your cover is absolutely critical. I lost count of how many cover ideas we went through for Spring Fevers. That’s not counting the hundreds of images that I skimmed and knew immediately the answer was no. Plus, I wasn’t the only person looking for images. Our cover designer, the wonderful and talented Calista Taylor, provided sage advice at every step of the journey. She and R.C. Lewis, our book designer, came up with what I think is a very attractive look that captures the overall atmosphere of the stories within the anthology. Keep in mind that covers are different these days as they need to work at the thumbnail size for electronic publishing. As the e-publishing trend continues and expands, look for titles to be shorter and covers to be less busy. I also expect, at least for now, that image details will need to work in both color and black and white.
  4. Embrace social media and develop your audience. Sure, you could send press releases out to local papers and talk to your local bookstore about a meet-the-author event and reach out to book clubs. That approach is a wee bit 20th century, but it still has its place. But being active on tools such as Twitter and Facebook can help you reach people you’d never have reached before. And those are just two of the most obvious. Blog tours are another. Indeed, there’s a lot you can do to reach out to readers. Consider all these ventures part of your audience development. Never stop developing your audience. Don’t quit marketing and pitching your work. There’s an old truism in advertising that people see an ad seven times before it finally registers in their brain. People won’t buy your book if they don’t know you published one. That said, keep things balanced. I wouldn’t recommend flogging your book at Aunt Grace’s funeral, no matter how supportive she was of your creative efforts.
  5. Writing more books will sell more books. I’m talking about audience development, but to be honest, I’m saying this on faith, since our team has only produced one book together. I don’t like to spout unverified information, but I know from writers I’ve enjoyed reading that I’m more likely to seek out their previous works when I like the book through which I discover them. Indeed, we’re counting on it.

Matt Sinclair, a New York City-based journalist and fiction writer, recently published a short story anthology called Spring Fevers, which is available through Smashwords, Amazon, and in print via CreateSpace. It includes stories by fellow FTWA writers, including Cat Woods, J. Lea Lopez, Mindy McGinnis, and R.S. Mellette. He also blogs at the Elephant's Bookshelf and is on Twitter @elephantguy68.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Thank the Gods for the Publishing Industry

by R.S. Mellette

Yes, that's right, an unpublished writer who is between agents and has been through the hell of notes from Big Six editors just got down on his knees to bless the crankity, old, slow, 1800s-built steam engine that is the publishing industry.

Why? Because a television agent came to talk to my writer's group the other day.

Before I say another word, I have to tell you that not everyone in Hollywood fits any particular stereotype. This agent was pleasant, intelligent, cared about writers, etc. Having interacted with both development executives in major studios and editors at the Big Six, I can tell you that they are comparable. Some have brilliant insight that can turn a good writer into a great one. Most are just pretty good at their job—like the rest of us. They mean no harm. They are Salieri to their counterpart's Mozart.

The problem is in the way the Hollywood machine has evolved. What The Industry calls "Literary Agents"—meaning they represent film and TV writers, and have nothing to do with books—don't read new writers. When asked where he finds new writers, this agent had a rambling answer that amounted to: writer's assistants, script coordinators, managers, personal references ... anything but, "Send me a query and I'll take a look at it."

When asked where managers find new writers, the agent didn't know—which is fair, he's not a manager, but still, it's frustrating. Yes, the bottom line in writing for the big and small screen is still "Write a good script," but after that there is no well-worn path to success. The machine is too new. Parts wear out from overuse and are replaced so quickly it's hard to tell how the machine works.

So, my fellow literary-as-in-books scribes, let us take a moment to thank those gatekeepers we usually curse. We thank them not for keeping us out, but for having a gate at all. Yes, there are hurdles and obstacles between us and the gate, and our gatekeepers are relentless in making us master these impediments—but they are there. We can see them.

You write a good manuscript and polish it to perfection. Then you write a good query letter that pops off the page. Then you query hundreds of agents. You query until fingers bleed, and if your work—and your work alone—is good enough, one agent will say yes. And together you head off toward the next gate.

Compare that to: You write a good script and polish it to perfection. Then ... well ... I don't know. Some people say you should get a manager, or ... maybe you want to find a production company, but you have to make sure they have a housekeeping deal at a studio. Depending on the budget, you might want to ... and of course, you have to be liked, or no one is going to want to work with you ... and so on, etc. yadda yadda yadda.

So cheer up, struggling artists. The beatings will continue until morale improves.

R.S. Mellette is an experienced screenwriter, actor, director, and novelist. You can find him at the Dances With Blogs film festival blog, and on Twitter.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Five Reasons Why Other Writers Aren't Showing You The Love

by Jean Oram

Ever get the feeling that another writer isn't exactly loving you? Maybe it's just a slight niggling feeling that somehow, somewhere along the line you've annoyed them. Or maybe you haven't had that feeling, but you've been noticing that you're just not getting the responses and feedback from others that you've been hoping for.

Maybe it's not them. Maybe it's you.

But what did you do? And how do you fix it?

I've asked ten writers what their writer pet peeves are about other writers, plus added four of my own. Read on and see if any of them feel familiar or strike a chord.

Five FIFTEEN Things About Writers That Annoy Other Writers and What You Can Do About It:

1. It's All About YOU

Writers (and people in general) who make it all about themselves and their work are annoying. They leave the impression that they don't care about others.

Is it you?: If you notice that you're not replying to others because you aren't that interested in their problems and story, that you're not offering assistance when you could, you never have the time for others, don't bother to answer questions, and always seem to leave conversations feeling pleased that you got all your information on the table, but can't really recall what those other folks were about, then you might be focusing a bit too much on yourself. I understand that we can't all be perfect and our time is limited. But think about the impression you are leaving.

How to fix it: It is understandable that you want to get the word out about your book, contest, blog post, latest rejection, but others also want to feel heard. Bite your tongue and try to let others talk. Listen. Retweet or tweet their news. You will be amazed at what happens.

2. It Rocks to RECEIVE

Writers who take, take, and take from others whether it is getting others to do their promotion, editing, critiquing, or research, (the list goes on) without giving back are often dumped and eventually find themselves without many good writer friends.

Is it you?: If you find you are receiving more than you are giving back (really think about it here), you might be one of these dudes. When was the last time you helped someone directly? Either shared a link, retweeted their news, liked their page, provided feedback, sent them an agent's name who just happens to be looking for that person's genre, etc.

How to fix it: Look up "Giver's Gain" and the term "Karma." Apply it.

Give for the sake of giving. Offering help to others will improve you in more ways than I can ever explain. I'm not saying if someone gives you a query critique that you have to critique theirs back. However, if you find a great article you think they would like, send it to them. Or help one of their friends. Keep the generosity and helping spirit going. Get in the habit of helping.

3. I'm the BEST

Writers who feel that they are at the top of the game, the best (even if unrecognized), and are simply annoying beyond words.

Is it you?: Do you feel that you really (although maybe even secretly) are the best? Do you wonder why you haven't been noticed yet by all those stupid-heads who know nothing and you should be agented/published/a bestseller by now? Do you ask for critiques just to hear how great you are? Do often brush comments and reactions off as the other writer just being jealous?

How to fix it: Get over yourself. Nobody is hot stuff right off the mark. One of the most wonderful things about writing is that there is always something you can improve upon. Always. And that attitude is going to kill you. Agents REJECT writers that they feel are going to be big-headed and not open to improvement or suggestions. Which brings us to ...

4. I Don't Need to LISTEN

These writers can be a real time waster. They ask for advice, and you provide it only to have them turn around and say, "I know that." Or worse, say, "You don't know what you are talking about."

Is this you?: You find you disagree with critiques about 85% of the time (maybe more). You shut off if you don't hear praise. You interrupt or don't finish reading other people's comments before replying. You have caught yourself thinking something similar to: "I don't need to listen to you, you are just an unpublished writer."

How to fix it: If you ask for someone to take the time out of their day to provide feedback, damn well listen. Even if you don't agree with it. If your pride makes you snap back saying your work is perfect, resist. This kind critiquer probably hit a nerve which means you should probably take note because that insecure little writer dude hanging out in your gut knows they are on to something. Close your mouth, open your ears. Pause. Consider. Then maybe reply.


For the 5th pet peeve, I asked fellow writers on Twitter and in the shoutbox on AgentQuery Connect (an online writing community) what irks them about other writers. Here are 10 pet peeves from other writers. (A big thank you to those quoted below.)

Eric T. Benoit: My pet peeve: Writers who use "alot" instead of "a lot." I see writers use it all the time and it makes me want to poke my eyes out! :) I mean, we're supposed to be professionals, we should know our craft and that's grammar more than anything else.

Khaula Mazhar: When they start to sound stuck up when they get published and famous ;)

S.L. Jenan: Authors who don't trust their prose. They put me in a scene, build tension, then tell/explain: Protag was scared. DUH!

J Lea Lopez: I can't stand the "aspiring" writer with a million excuses who you know will never move out of "aspiring" mode.

Jemi Fraser: All promo!

RS Mellette: Resumé talkers—"Hey, how have you been?" "Good, I just finished a new manuscript that's out to agents..."

... I meant, how have YOU been, not how has your writing been going.

SC_Author: Those who want you to look at their queries/synopsis/MS only to hear how great their work is—it's not always great!

Caterina: When they assume being self-published equals terribly written work. (A lot of time and effort goes into self publishing)

Aprilmwall: "Writers" critiquing other writers who in fact have NEVER WRITTEN ANYTHING :) At least give it a go b4 you tell everybody else what's wrong with theirs.

Tom Bradley: Snobby writers who look down on "lesser" (non-literary) genres.

Carakasla: My pet peeve is not having consistency in critiques. I hate it when three people stop by and give three completely different critiques, it's kind of like 'can you check OTHER'S suggestions first? So not to confuse me?!' It's about the only time repetitiveness is a GOOD thing!

Note: These pet peeves probably apply to agents and editors as well—be aware!

Now that you've looked at yourself and other writers from the write angle, what do you think? Are there some areas where you could improve? Are there some writers who now 'make more sense' to you?

And don't worry, we'll share what we love about other writers in the future. :)

Let's learn from each other: What are your pet peeves when it comes to other writers? How do you handle them?

Jean Oram is a writer who tries to practice Giver's Gain in her daily interaction with others ... in fact that's today's blog topic on her blog. She likes to tweet helpful info, pin interesting things, and sometimes even hang out on Facebook and is trying out .

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Best Writing Tips Ever

by Cat Woods

“... I thought of the lesson, only lesson I learned and remembered from two years of a creative writing class…”

This quote from one of my commenters on my home blog got me thinking about the resources we tap into on our writing journey and the lessons we take away from them. For instance, each book I read leaves me with one memorable lesson, while each class I’ve taken teaches a new concept or solidifies an old adage.

I have more writing books than a duck has feathers. I have listened to speakers at writer’s conferences who impart great advice. Some of it works for me and some is just out of my reach.

Probably the most common advice I have heard is to “Write every day.”

I would love to, but it just isn’t realistic for me at this point in my life. I have kids who need a taxi driver mom and a dog who demands my affections. I love spending weekends with my DH and nights get crowded with bedtimes—mine included. Every day does not work for me.

“Write what you know.”

What if I don’t really know enough about anything, but I know a lot about everything? To me, this advice is pretty vague. I write for kids. Do I know them? Sure, I was one–30 years ago. Things have changed. I love gardening, but in my own willy-nilly way. Not the Garden Guru kind of way.

As writers, we read blogs and books, attend conferences and cozy up in the comfort of writing communities and critique partners–all in the hopes of honing our craft and getting our byline out there.

So, my question becomes: what have you learned? What is the single most valuable lesson you have taken away from a mentor, teacher or kindly rejection letter? What words do you live by to be the best writer you can be?

My all-time favorite words of writing wisdom come down to this: Create characters readers can care about. If they don’t care, they won’t read. I live by this lesson. It drives my novels.

As people commented on my blog, I compiled a list of their tips. Please add yours to further complete ...

The Best Writing Tips (Ever)

  1. Leave out the bits that readers might skip.
  2. Create characters readers can care about. If they don’t care, they won’t read.
  3. Two words changed my life: “Precise and spare”.
  4. Finish something, even if it’s terrible, get to “The End”.
  5. Edit, edit, edit and then edit some more.
  6. “Cut the crap” was one thing a prof used to always say. It made me smile, and works.
  7. Don’t just kill your darlings; kill your gerunds. Die, “ing” clauses, die.
  8. Mind your misplaced modifiers.
  9. Know your characters. Interview them.
  10. Type, don’t think.Thinking comes later after you get it on the page.
  11. Open your brain–to learn about writing and to let your characters in.
  12. Write, get it down on the page. You can edit crap. You can’t edit a blank page.
  13. Be true to your vision as a writer.
  14. Of criticism, know what to take and what to leave behind.
  15. Do what works for you and your story. It frees me to use any words I want in any way I want whenever I want.
  16. Don’t compare. My writing journey is mine, not yours. I enjoy my journey and celebrate with others along theirs.
  17. “Find out what your hero or heroine wants, and when he or she wakes up in the morning, just follow him or her all day.” Ray Bradbury

Cat Woods creates lists every day. Some of them work, while others—like "Piano practice at 4:30" don't always help. To read about her whimsical walk through the writing life, you can join her at Words From the Woods.

Monday, April 16, 2012

It's All About The Zing

by Lucy Marsden

As usual, I’ve been finding the posts of my compatriots here at FTWA both thought-provoking and timely. In particular, I’ve been musing on RC’s post about Balancing on the Edge of Your Comfort Zone, and Jemi’s discussion of Writing What You Read.

What I heard both of them saying is this: stretch yourself, and play with different aspects of writing if they call to you and they enhance your process, but don’t sacrifice your authenticity or your integrity as a writer. (And by integrity, I’m talking less about morality, and more about “the state of being whole and undivided.”)

What I think it comes down to, is that we risk diluting, confusing, or really alienating our Voice as writers when we push ourselves to create in ways that aren’t true to us. Voice is ... well, Voice is a lot of things. I think of it as the absolutely unique flavor of our writing. Some of it is world view, and some of it is word choice and cadence, and some of it is our take on the story we’re telling—the list of intangibles goes on and on. I’d argue, though, that inextricably linked to Voice is a sense of vibrancy and vitality in our writing, a zing that has everything to do with being truly engaged with what we’re working on. We’ve all read books or watched movies that charmed us despite the many Craft goofs therein, and we’ve all encountered works that were technically perfect and as lifeless as the moon.

I raise this point, because sometimes, in an attempt to be more successful (however we’re defining it), we kid ourselves into trying on some facet of writing that is not really “us.” Or maybe we do the reverse—aware that it has no resonance for us whatsoever, we don’t leap on the latest hot commercial trend in publishing, and we feel guilty and anxious about it. At these times we need to remember that what our readers (including editors and agents) are hungry for is the piquant, chewy goodness that only we can provide. But we can only bring the zing when we’re truly excited about the story that we’re telling.

And in the end, it’s all about the zing.

Lucy Marsden is a romance writer living in New England. When she’s not backstage at a magic show or crashing a physics picnic, she can be found knee-deep in the occult collection of some old library, or arguing hotly about Story.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Writers and the Good Luck/Bad Luck Gambit

by Darke Conteur

In honour of Friday the thirteenth, I thought I'd take a look at the one commodity all writers think they need—LUCK. One definition of the word is as follows: Success or failure apparently brought on by chance rather than through one's own actions.

Those are some pretty harsh words. Basically, it's saying that people would rather sit and dream about what could happen, instead of going out and making it happen.

I am one of the most superstitious people you will ever meet, but I have to wonder if we blame luck for our own shortcomings as writers, and hail it when we receive the reward for a job well done. Don't get me wrong, I believe in luck, but I also believe that you have to meet it halfway. Maybe that query was rejected because the author didn't follow the submission guidelines, or it was poorly written. Maybe the author got the agent of his/her dreams because they spent years learning and honing their craft. In either case, the outcome fell solely on the talent (or lack thereof) of the writer. It had nothing to do with luck and everything to do with knowledge and determination.

Relying on ourselves can sometimes put us in unfamiliar or uncomfortable positions. Self-doubt will always be with us, hiding within the small corners of our mind. My advice, never brush it away. Embrace it. Allow yourself to understand why you have this doubt about your work, but don't let it guide your actions. Remember, nothing worthwhile ever comes easy, and in the end, when things start to go in your favour, you'll know that it was more you and your hard work that helped you to accomplish your goal, than some mysterious force.

Darke Conteur is the author of stories from the darker side of life. Blogs here, Tweets here & plays Facebook games here.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Can I Use My Smashwords ISBN When Publishing Elsewhere?

by J. Lea Lopez

From keeping your e-pubbing legal to contacting book bloggers once you've published, authors who self-publish have plenty of questions, and we love being able to answer as many as we can. One question I've seen popping up recently is whether an author can use the ISBN provided by Smashwords when she uploads her book at Amazon or another retailer.

Short answer? No.

There, question answered, thanks for reading!

Okay, okay. I know some of you are kicking your feet and whining But why not? It'll save me money to use the ISBN provided for free (or as part of the $9.95 Premium option) from Smashwords when I upload to [insert other eBook retailer here].

My gut-reaction reason for not using the ISBN given to you by Smashwords when you e-publish elsewhere is that it's simply unethical. Smashwords is not your cheap ISBN vendor. They offer their free or low-cost ISBN service to people who use their distribution services. It's a perk. Something to entice you to do business with them, you see. If you take that ISBN and attach it to your Kindle book or any other eBook format that you then distribute yourself (or through some venue other than Smashwords), you're taking advantage of the service they've provided. In the long run, this could hurt indie authors everywhere. If everyone snagged a free or cheap ISBN from Smashwords and then used it elsewhere, you can bet your laptop Smashwords would eventually stop offering the service. You might be saving yourself some money in the short term, but you'll be doing yourself (and the rest of us) a huge disservice in the long run.

*steps off soapbox*

Now let's look at some of the logistical reasons you don't want to do this.

First, you don't need an ISBN to publish and have your eBook sold through any of the major outlets except Sony and Apple. You can sell direct through Amazon and have Smashwords distribute to various other outlets without an ISBN. So why even bother putting an ISBN on your Kindle version when you upload to KDP? Amazon will assign you their own identification number. The point of an ISBN is to identify a title (or an edition of a title). Retailers then use the ISBN to track sales of that title or edition. Since Amazon and other retailers will assign their own identification numbers to your book for sales tracking purposes, I'd be curious why indie authors feel the need to bother with an ISBN for the eBook at all, outside of the retailers that require it.

You're required to have a different ISBN for each edition of a book. If you do a print edition, you'll need a different ISBN than your eBook edition. It's currently hotly debated whether each of the eBook formats constitutes a different edition, thereby requiring different ISBNs for each. Some say yes, others say no way, and it's even unclear based on what I've read from Bowker and here. Here, in the ISBN Users' Manual, is the closest thing I've found to the assertion that each format will require a different ISBN. But it also begs the question of whether an eBook is either "software" or an "online publication." Their section on non-printed books was written in 1996 and covers physical items like audio cassettes, CDs, computer tapes, and more, but (obviously) not eBook files. Behind the times much?

When you purchase an ISBN yourself, there's a dropdown menu to specify why type of book the number will be assigned to. Among the different format types, there is a "multiple formats" option—according to some people's personal experiences I've read, like this one—to select when specifying what the ISBN will be associated with. It would seem this option would be sufficient to use with all eBook formats. Of course, ISBNs are expensive, which is why many people have been asking about using the one given to them by Smashwords in other places. In the U.S., it's $125 for one ISBN, $250 for 10, $575 for 100, or $1000 for 1000 (obviously the best deal, but how many indie authors have $1000 to spend on ISBNs, and how many anticipate needing that many?) plus processing fees. If you're Canadian, you are super lucky. You can get yours for free.

When Smashwords purchases the ISBN for you, that ISBN is attached to the ePub version of your book ONLY. Why? Because that's the industry standard for everyone but Amazon, and that's the format that is distributed to Apple and Sony, the two retailers requiring and ISBN. So the ISBN record will only list ePub as the format, even if you use it when you upload to Amazon.

If you've purchased ISBNs for your eBook versions, let us know about your experience and your thoughts. 

J. Lea Lopez is a writer with a penchant for jello and a loathing for writing bios. Find her on Twitter or her blog, Jello World. She has had some short stories published, most recently in the Spring Fevers anthology, available as a free download.

There's still time to enter our blogiversary contest! Click here for info.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Balancing on the Edge of Your Comfort Zone

by R.C. Lewis

Last week, Jemi posted about writing what you read. It's a matter of choosing to write what we're familiar with, what we're passionate about. In a way, it's our comfort zone—a good kind of comfort zone, the kind that gives us power and authenticity.

There's another kind of comfort zone that isn't necessarily so good. It consists of the aspects of writing that we're most secure with. Our strengths. For some, maybe it's world-building. For others, dialogue. Or weaving in backstory, or evoking emotion.

Strengths are good. Embracing them, playing them up helps create our individual style as a writer. But what happens if we stop there?

What happens when we shy away from aspects we know lie outside that zone of strength?

We should always challenge ourselves, push to improve and learn more about all areas of our craft. That means going to the edge of our comfort zone and taking a small step over that line. Weaknesses can't be ignored and left alone.

This has been on my mind a lot lately. There are particular nuances within the context of characters' emotions that I struggle with. I used to be downright afraid of it. I've been edging myself into that realm, trying to get more comfortable, trying to handle it more deftly. I think I've been making progress, but once in a while I get a reminder of how far I have to go.

At the same time, it's important to be true to ourselves. We each have our identity as a writer, and it's possible to push ourselves not just outside our comfort zone, but outside of who we are. For me, it's important to convey emotional context more clearly, but I also know I could take it so far that I'd be attempting to write something not authentic to who I am.

It's a matter of finding balance. Moving outside our comfort zone—and thereby expanding it—without wandering too far from the core of our writer-selves. How to find and maintain that balance ... that's something I'm still working on.

What aspects of writing lie just outside your comfort zone? How are you pushing that edge out a little further? How do you hold your identity as a writer while still learning and growing?

R.C. Lewis teaches math to deaf teenagers by day and writes YA fiction by every other time. You can find her at Crossing the Helix and Twitter (@RC_Lewis).

Don't forget our Blogiversary Flash Fiction contest! You still have over a week until the submission deadline on the 18th.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Writing What You Read

by Jemi Fraser

"I don’t believe for one moment you can write well what you wouldn’t read for pleasure"
-- Nora Roberts

This quote makes sense to me. It matches the way my brain works.

I can't imagine writing a book I wouldn't want to read myself. I'm my own target audience. Of course that has its own set of advantages and disadvantages.

On the plus side, I find myself smiling when I get it right. I know the nuances of the genre. Even though I don't plot in advance, the flow of my story is going to more or less match those expectations without me having to study it. I know the flow. I've read so many books in the genre, it's kind of etched into my brain.

On the down side, I may eventually find I'm a target audience of one. Hope not!

This topic came up recently when I lurked outside of a public online conversation where an aspiring author admitted to writing in a genre she never/rarely read. She said she chose that genre because it was easier to write than the other genres. She figured she could bang out a story with little or no effort.


I read a lot. And I read widely. I have a lot of favourite genres. Although my top favourite is romantic suspense, I also enjoy fantasy, steampunk, science fiction, murder mysteries, romance, suspense, paranormal. And I enjoy them in several age categories.

So, I could probably write in most of those genres. But literary fiction? Horror? Spy thrillers? Medical mysteries? Political satires?

Nope. Not me. I wouldn't even know where to start. The thought of writing in any of those genres induces panic. And melt downs. I wouldn't even know if I was on the right track. Too scary for me!

How about you? Do you read what you write? Are you a fan of your own genre?

Jemi Fraser is an aspiring author of romantic mysteries. She blogs and tweets while searching for those HEAs.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

A Blogiversary Contest!

From the Write Angle is one year old! We can't believe it has been a year already. To celebrate our birthday month, and to thank you, our loyal fans and readers, we're having a contest!
  • What: Flash fiction, maximum 500 words
  • Requirements: You must use each of the following words in your entry: paper, crew, callipygian, angle, novel. Other than that, there's no specific theme. It's up to you. Have fun with it!
  • Deadline: Entries must be received by midnight (EDT) on Wednesday, April 18th 2012
  • Method of entry: email your entry to with your flash fiction pasted in the body of the email. Please don't send any attachments.
  • Results: the Write Angle Crew will read and collectively decide on two winners, which will be announced here on the blog on Friday, April 27th.
Important: By entering, you agree to let us publish your flash fiction on this web site if you're one of the winners.

We would love if you would tweet or otherwise share this post and spread the word about the contest. We'd also love for you to subscribe to our blog. However, these are not requirements for contest entry.

One last thing... PRIZES! Two lucky winners will receive book by Write Angle crew members.

1st Place: 2 Print books
The Sister Queens, by our own Sophie Perinot

Spring Fevers short story anthology edited by our own Matt Sinclair, with stories from FTWA writers Cat Woods, J. Lea Lopez, R.S. Mellette and Mindy McGinnis. (Cover design by our amazing Calista Taylor, and interior design by R.C. Lewis) Currently only available in eBook format, you'll be one of the first to get your hands on a paperback copy!

2nd Place: 2 eBooks

Devil on a Sparrow's Wing, by Calista Taylor. This is the second in a series. You can get the first book, Viridis, free here so when you win this prize, you'll be ready for the sequel!

The Watchtower, by Darke Conteur

If you have any questions, leave them in the comments. We look forward to reading your entries!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Plot Bunny Proliferation: Working With Our Imaginations

by Cat Woods

Ask nearly any writer and you'll hear complaints about the distracting qualities of plot bunnies.  Current WIPs often get left by the wayside as brand new plot bunnies entice writers away from one project after another, leaving a wake of half-realized manuscripts.  Plot bunnies can be dangerous to the unsuspecting.  Just like their counterparts are in my garden.

My back yard is a bunny haven.  While we have two dogs, neither of them are interested in chasing bunnies away from my flowers.  We also have a fence that should keep the bunnies out.  Instead, it seems to keep them in.  I think they like the safety and the ready to eat treats.  We've tried... eliminating them in the kindest way possible to no avail.  So, after years of fighting them, I've gotten to the point of working with them.

I've allowed them unlimited winter access to my landscaping smorgasboard as long as they turn tail in the spring.  It seems to work for both of us.  They prune my lilac tree, and every spring it fills out beautifully.  They sheer off my perennials so I have less winter yuck to clean up.  And the babies are just too dang cute as they romp around in the melting snow.

Plot bunnies are no different than real bunnies.  They feed off the delicate blooms of our imaginations, yet can be nearly impossible to capture. They also multiply at the same rate—which is to say writers typically have far more of them at any given point than they know what to do with—and the babies are especially cute and compelling.

If left unchecked, both plot bunnies and their real life companions can destroy the best-laid plans.

While I haven't quite mastered corraling all my plot bunnies, I've found that treating them the same as my backyard bunnies helps keep my writing on track.

I allow them unlimited access during certain seasons. 

Seriously, in between projects I allow myself the freedom to explore any idea that pops into my head.  I have dozens of started projects.  These projects run about 1,200 words and capture the essence of my ideas.  I don't consider these failures or unfinished projects.  I consider them practice.  They also become a part of my writing file that I can pick through at other times.  By giving them page space, the plot bunnies settle down and allow me to funnel my attention on my WIPs.

I feed them.

Strange, but true.  I figure if I ever trap and kill off the rabbits in my mind, I'll have nothing left to work with, so I encourage them to multiply as needed.  I always carry a notebook with me.  It's filled with hundreds of mini-outlines, names, places, spaces and character sketches.  Whenever a new thought strikes, I jot it down and play with it.

What I find most often is that the plot bunny isn't fully formed—and likely never will be.  Rather, it is just a shiny, new idea that looks as cute and cuddly as the baby Easter Bunny.  It's exciting for a moment, but once it's placed in the notebook among the other bunnies, it loses some of its appeal.  It's underdeveloped and malnourished.  At least for the time being.

Rarely, the idea solidifies.  It gels, either on its own merit or within the context of other ideas.  Eventually, a few bunnies band together and prune back the winter detritus, leaving room for spring's new blooms.  Whenever I see or hear something I think my plot bunnies would like to eat, I add it to the notbeook.  As time goes on, these ideas become new WIPs. 

And the best part about feeding ideas this way: it takes virtually no time.  Once I pen my plot bunny in ink, I'm freed to think about other things.  Namely my current writing project.

So, the idea behind plot bunnies is to corral them, not eliminate them.  If we embrace our fertile imaginations and provide some boundaries for dealing with new ideas, we will be less tempted to leave our current WIPs whenever a new bunny hops by.

How do you wrangle your plot bunnies into submission?  Do you allow new ideas to take over current projects?  If so, how does that work out?

Curious minds want to know.

This weekend, Cat Woods started spring cleaning her garden.  Thanks to the backyard bunnies, she has more time to spend with her plot bunnies.  You can find her wrangling both rabbits on her blog: Words from the Woods.