Monday, August 31, 2015

How to Make Your Novel Sellable - Step 2

by +Denise Drespling

Edit Novel

Welcome back for more editing fun! A quick review of the 7 steps:

  1. Initial Read Through
  2. Seek and Destroy Problem Words
  3. In-depth Word Analysis
  4. Read it Out
  5. Get Some Feedback
  6. Let it Rest
  7. Repeat!

Onto step #2!

Step #2: Seek and Destroy Word Problems

It’s time to get out your editing gun and go double-oh-seven on some pesky words.

There are some words in the English language that are overused, misused, or used in vague and weak ways. Your mission is to find the offenders and punish them—with death!

The easiest way, I think, is to have a list. Then you can use the find feature in Word, or whatever your favorite writing program is, to go to each one and decide what to do with it. In some cases, the word might work and should stay. In some, it can be yanked out, and in others, it just needs to be changed or finessed a bit.

Here is my list of words that come off vague or create wordiness: that, thing, stuff, very, really, actually, quite, just, perhaps/maybe, amazing.

Sometimes you need “that” for clarity, but many times, it’s extra. Unless your voice or character are more on the formal side (which having lots of “that’s” tends to feel), you can cut a bunch of these.

Thing and stuff are excuses for ambiguity. Say what the thing or stuff is. Even if you actually don’t know what it is, you can probably find a word to somewhat describe the “stuff.” In this sentence, “He stepped in sticky goo,” is better than “He stepped in sticky stuff.” At least goo provides a visual and a texture. Stuff and things could be almost anything.

Very, really, quite, actually, and just are words that find their way into writing and seem to amplify, but most times really just actually need to disappear. See what I did there? ;) That sentence is quite fine as “most times need to disappear.” Once again, these words can be voice-specific or may come out in dialogue that fits a character, but it’s still worth searching them out to see if they’re very necessary.

Perhaps and maybe also don’t have a place in most cases, unless it’s in dialogue—internal or external. “Maybe I’ll go to the store, or maybe I’ll just go home and read,” works if it’s being said or thought, but something like “the sunrise glowed a red that looked perhaps more orange” sounds like you don’t know. Is it red or orange? Be clear.

Have you ever read something so amazing that you really just had to tell everyone how amazing it was? This is, sadly, a word overused and worn out. I’m guilty of it myself. Not so much in my novels, but if you catch me on social media, most things are amazing or awesome. It should only be used for situations that are “causing great surprise or sudden wonder,” which is what the word amazing actually means.

This brings me to adverbs. What a point of contention in the writing world! Are they evil? Are they fine? What are they? Most adverbs end in ly, but not all. They are any word that describes how something is done. She didn’t just walk, she walked “quickly.” He didn’t love the movie, he only “sort of” liked it. The biggest problem with adverbs is overuse and poor word choice. She doesn’t have to “walk quickly.” She can hurry along. She can dash, speed, rush, or make haste. Chances are, if you remove an adverb and the word it’s modifying, you can find a stronger word to use in its place. Watch these especially around dialogue tags. Don’t do this: “He whispered softly,” “she said angrily,” or “he said coyly.” A whisper is already soft, the anger should be obvious anyway, and the coyness can come out in a gesture. But, they are not evil. You can use them if necessary (which should be sparingly). But make sure it’s truly necessary.

And finally, one of the most important problem word areas—verbs! Using a weak or vague verb can take the fight out of your writing faster than anything else. Some are just plain nondescript like “got” and “went.” “I went up the stairs” can be more colorful as “I dashed up the stairs” or “I shuffled up the stairs.” Even “I walked up the stairs” is better than “went.” Still, you can probably find a better word than just “walked” to describe in what way you moved up the stairs. Take this as an opportunity to show something about the character. Is she excited? Maybe she hopped up the stairs. Is he feeling dejected? Maybe he lumbered up the stairs. Scrutinize every verb and see if there is one stronger than what you have.

And at last, we are at the weakest of the weak words—to be verbs! These are: was, is, am, are, been, being, were, be. I’ve heard it said that “was” is one of the most-used words in the English language. With each of these, as with all the words mentioned here, sometimes they just work. You can’t always cut an “is” or an “are.” What you want to look for are constructions like this: “She was telling me about her trip.” No. She told me about her trip. “Was telling” is passive voice, and it’s something you want to avoid. You want your writing to be as strong, direct, and as clear as possible. Too many of the “to be” verbs in there and the story starts to sound like your distant relative rambling on and on about her month-long vacation to Idaho.

* Special Note: To all my yinzers out there (that’s someone who lives in Pittsburgh, for all you non-yinzers), I will give this warning. DO NOT REMOVE THE "TO BE" WHEN IT’S NEEDED! One of the most confusing and frustrating bits of Pittsburgh-ese are sentences like this: “The house needs vacuumed.” If you’re not originally from the ‘burgh (like I wasn’t when I arrived 15 years ago), this sentence construction sticks out like a sore thumb. But, if you try to explain it to someone who watches the Stillers dahntahn n’ at, you might have trouble getting through. I love Pittsburgh. It’s a beautiful city, filled with amazing things, and the best sports teams in the country (most Super Bowl rings of any NFL team—that’s all I’m saying). I even love the Pittsburgh-ese, but when someone tells me something “needs updated,” my eye twitches at them a bit. It needs TO BE updated. The house needs TO BE vacuumed. Pulling out the “to be’s” in these cases doesn’t make your writing better, it just makes you sound like a jagoff.

Now that the little pesky words are gone forever, we are ready for step #3 (my favorite step)—In-depth Word Analysis

Denise Drespling is the author of short story, “Reflections,” in the Tales of Mystery, Suspense & Terror anthology (October 2014) and “10 Items or Less,” in 10: Carlow’s MFA Anniversary Anthology (April 2014). You can also find her work in these anthologies: The Dragon's Rocketship Presents: The Scribe's Journal and Winter Wishes.

Hang out with Denise at her blog, The Land of What Ifs, her BookTube channel on YouTube, or on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, or Instagram.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

There's An App For That: Apps for Authors

by MarcyKate Connolly

If there’s one thing most writers would like more of it’s time. Time is precious, time is words on the page.

This is a thing that really hits home when you’re launching a book, but writers at all stages feel this pressure. Fortunately, there are apps that can help streamline your process, keep you organized, and most importantly save you time. Since I never leave home without my iPhone, I thought I'd share a few apps I’ve found particularly useful:


Available on: Web, Desktop, iPhone, Android

What it is: Have multiple computers and devices you use to write your books and collect notes? Save them in Dropbox and keep everything synced across devices.

Why I love it: Ever had a laptop or device stolen? Or malfunction and lose a whole day’s work? If you saved your work in Dropbox , your files are still available to access on the web (and download to your new computer/device when you replace it!). Basically this is a MUST HAVE for writers!

Zoho Projects

Available on: Web, iPhone, Android

What it is: A project management app in your pocket (and web browser!). The free version of this app has a calendar to track things like events, and a task and milestone function to keep your writing on track and meeting deadlines. You can also track your progress on how much of the task you’ve completed, add notes, and even invite people to your project (handy if you’re co-authoring a book!)

Why I love it: I have book ideas coming out my ears, guys. This app is a necessity for me so I can keep track of which project I’m supposed to work on now, and when I want (or need) to complete it by. Also hugely helpful in ensuring I do all the big and little things I need to do to promote my books. I use this daily, and even setup the paid version for my day job (and my employer loves it!).

Save the Cat! Lite (also paid version with more features)

Available on: Desktop, iPhone (lite), iPhone (full paid version)

What it is: Do you love Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat beatsheets? Well, there’s an app for that! Comes in free (Lite) or Paid versions ($21.99).

Plot your book on the go! Pro features also include scene cards, characters, locations, notes, and more.  However, if you just like to plot beats on the go, the free version should totally meet your needs.

Why I love it: It’s Beatsheets meets Scrivener on your phone = WINNING (especially for those of us who have been waiting for a Scrivener app FOREVER.). Basically, it’s my two main writing tools in one, and that’s pretty dang awesome.


Available on: Web/Desktop, iPhone, Android

What it is: Available in 3 versions: Basic (free), Pro ($29.99/month), or Premium ($49.99/year). Create “notebooks” to store various notes, pictures, checklists, audio files, and more.

Why I love it: I create a notebook for each project I’m working on so I can jot notes down on the go, store photos of places I visit that are featured in the books or remind me of the books, and keep track of revision ideas and to dos.


Available on: Web, iPhone, Android

What it is: App for the iPhone and your browser to track expenses by category (things like postage and mileage, etc) and give you a handy PDF export at the end of the year. You can enter expenses manually or scan your receipts. The free version has plenty of features but those who want the bells and whistles can upgrade.

Why I love it: Taxes! Also, it’s very good to know how much I spend on each category every year. I had no clue I spent so much on Postage but uh, yeah. Kind of a huge expense when you add it all up!

MarcyKate Connolly writes middle grade and young adult fiction and becomes a superhero when sufficiently caffeinated. When earthbound, she blogs at her website and spends far too much time babbling on Twitter. Her debut upper middle grade fantasy novel, MONSTROUS, is out now from HarperCollins Children's Books, and the companion novel RAVENOUS will be out on 2/9/16.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Lead Me Gently, Author...

by Cat Woods

When I open a book, I embark on a magical journey. The path is set before me, and page by page, I explore a new world until I reach the destination at The End. If I'm lucky, I will walk away changed somehow. Your words will have touched some inner part of me and asked me to evaluate and re-evaluate the way I live my life and the way I see the world. It will challenge me to be a better person, one more cognizant of the people and places around me. It will fill some small part of me I didn't know was empty.

And so I ask, lead me gently, author, and I will follow.

Help me discover amazing gems off the beaten path.

But please, please, please do not tell me what you want me to know.

Rather, let me attach my own meaning to your words. Ignite my senses so I can take away what I need from your writing. Help me feel your book in my heart and soul, not just swallow the sustenance you believe I need.

Tread carefully and don't moralize. Let your characters grow so that I may, too.

Guide me, don't instruct me.
Share without preaching.

Dear Author, I've been told that readers are lazy, that they need you to draw them a map from Point A to Point B. That assumption scares me. It means you are responsible for making the reading experience equal for every reader. It means there would be no need for book discussions because we've all walked in each other's footsteps over the same rocky terrain with our eyes trained on a sole destination. It means we will miss the greatest opportunity to look past the words and see between the lines.

We will miss not only the forest, but also the trees.
We will fail to see the magic hiding right beside us.

And so I ask, dear author, don't give your ending away on page one, and don't beat me over the head with your message.
Don't foreshadow so much...

...that you ruin the surprise.

Your book isn't a soap box.
It's a gift to the world.

Treat it as such.

How do you share your passion without crossing the line? At what point do we risk losing our readers to a pedantic attitude? When is it our job to connect the dots, and when do we allow readers to make their own connections? Is it important that our readers understand and feel exactly what we want them to, or is it more important that they walk away from our writing with the message they need?

Curious minds want to know.

Cat is an avid hiker and lover of all things amazing. She enjoys exploring off-the-beaten-path with her daughter in State Parks across the upper Midwest and thinks that regardless of the destination, the journey is half the fun. When she's not hiking in the woods, she's blogging at Words from the Woods or writing juvenile lit from her little house on the prairie.

Monday, August 17, 2015

ISBNs: An elementary primer

by Matt Sinclair

A few years ago, when I was planning to publish what became Spring Fevers, I started to look into what was involved in becoming a publisher. I was a neophyte to the whole independent publishing thing, but it seemed pretty exciting and I wanted to learn.

Initially, we planned to do everything electronically. It soon became apparent that I’d need to either use an ISBN provided for free by the distributors I’d be going through or buy one for myself. Free is one of my favorite words, but when big companies – or even medium-sized companies – offer you something for free, there’s usually a catch or at least a reason that is to their advantage. Well, in this case the reason was because they became the actual publisher.

In the United States, ISBNs, which is an abbreviation for International Standard Book Numbers, are administered by R.R. Bowker – and only Bowker. Each country has a single representative agency responsible for the registration of ISBNs. I imagine those folks around the world know each other pretty well and have little get-togethers every year where they talk about ISBNs while sipping wine and noshing on grapes and cheese. Anyway, the folks at Bowker sell the ISBNs to publishers.

Of course, in the twenty-first century, a lot of authors have decided to become their own publishers. Self-publishing is not a new thing. It’s been around for a long, long time. But it’s become super easy in the past five years or so when e-readers became popular -- and especially now that half of humanity reads books on their phones. Perhaps I’m exaggerating a little, but not by much.

So that free ISBN that Smashwords or Amazon Kindle will give you? It means they’re the publisher of your book. Now, for a lot of writers that’s perfectly fine. I mean who needs any additional headaches? In my case, I was publishing a collection of stories by several different writers. I’d had to develop contracts with them all.

To my mind, it would have been irresponsible for me to take the free ISBN when I’d entered into agreements with all these authors. Looking at the prices of ISBNs, however, I understood why many writers might opt for free. To buy a single ISBN cost upwards of $125. If the book had any success and inspired us to create a second anthology, then I’d presumably pay the money again. Or I could buy ten ISBNs for $250. It was one more milestone in my path toward creating Elephant’s Bookshelf Press.

In a little more than a month, EBP will publish its tenth book, Horrors: Real, Imagined, and Deadly. We’ve long since exhausted the ten ISBNs I bought back in 2012, and I bought a hundred more. So, I have ISBNs “to spare,” or so it would seem. But that’s the funny thing about ISBNs: you can’t give them away. What was it Uncle Ben in Spiderman said … With great cost comes great responsibility? Something like that.

As I mentioned earlier, each ISBN is associated with the publisher. So if I let a friend use an ISBN, I’d be publishing their book. That might not be a bad thing; I know some pretty darn good writers. But it’s something that carries responsibilities. At least nominally, the revenues would be associated with me and my company, for instance. I’ve learned that a good way to spoil a friendship is to get money involved. But even if that situation had been addressed appropriately to begin with, you might also have advertising issues to contend with as well as promotional sales and opportunities. All of a sudden, you and your buddy are in business together. Again, that could be wonderful. Or it could ruin a friendship.

That said, most self-publishers I know have opted for the free ISBN. And to my knowledge, they’ve not had any major problems and do not regret their decision.

Matt Sinclair, a New York City-based journalist and fiction writer, is also president and chief elephant officer of Elephant's Bookshelf Press, which recently published Billy Bobble Makes a Magic Wand by R.S. Mellette and Tales from the Bully Box, a collection of anti-bullying stories edited by Cat Woods. In September, EBP will publish its latest anthology, Horrors: Real, Imagined, and Deadly. Matt also blogs at the Elephant's Bookshelf and is on Twitter @elephantguy68.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Fear

by Riley Redgate

I am studying for a degree in Economics. I am the type of person that economists call, kindly, "risk-averse." This is a much more forgiving term than "a large wimp," but in my mind, they're synonyms. I admit it! I am a large wimp. This is objectively true. I hate roller-coasters because of the panic centers in my brain that helpfully supply scenarios in which I fly, screaming, off roller-coasters and to my doom. I hate walking home alone at night because of an overactive imagination, which plants serial killers behind every ominous-looking dumpster, and also because I am a human female. And I hate deep water because Jesus, have you guys seen The Perfect Storm?

I'm getting published next year, and it's surreal and wonderful, and part of me is still expecting to wake up from what is clearly a fever dream. People understand those emotions, those of disbelief and excitement, which I've been experiencing ever since the sale. I haven't spoken nearly as much about the fear.

It's kind of a mood-killer. What If, the fear helpfully supplies, every review for the book is filled with the most vitriolic hatred imaginable? What If the general reader response doesn't even merit hatred, and is a resounding 'meh'? What If you sell exactly two copies, and they are to your parents and your sister? What If your words are lost within this wash of human noise in a virtual instant, and ground down to nothingness by the inevitable progression of time? (That last one will certainly happen, which is rough.)

Most of my fears terrify me because they are unanswerable. What if I fall overboard in deep water? I don't know. I could get eaten by a shark (which would be sad, because I love sharks). I could do the boring thing and drown. The difference between that sort of fear and writing fears are twofold: 1) I'm not going to die from bad reviews. I'm just not. And more importantly, 2) with writing, I have an answer to all the horrible hypotheticals in my head.

So, What If every terrible thing I'm imagining does in fact come to fruition after I'm published? What if it's all exactly as horrible as my pessimist side imagines?

Well, too bad. I guess I'll keep writing, because it's a compulsion.

Whether you're just starting to draft that first novel or on the road to your eighth publication, if you're afraid, that's all right. The only question that matters is this one: do you need to write? If the answer's yes, then the fears don't matter. Which isn't to say they're not valid. Just that they can be beaten by sheer stubbornness.

I need to write. This is the only thing that calms my nerves, because nobody can stop me from continuing, no matter what happens. Unless, of course, we become subjected to an Orwellian dystopia, and an overreaching governmental hand snatches all writing materials from my grasp. In which case I will move to Canada.



Riley Redgate, enthusiast of all things YA, is a senior at Kenyon College represented by Caryn Wiseman. Her debut novel, Seven Ways We Lie, will be released by Abrams/Amulet in Spring 2016. Her site is here, and she Tweets here.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Waiting for “Mr. Write”

by Sophie Perinot

I am in a rare and sometimes frightening place. Those of you who’ve finished more than one book know it. I am awaiting the publication of a novel (4 months), and yesterday I handed a completed work-in-progress over to my trusted critique partners in anticipation of that manuscript’s “date” with my agent later this month.

This is that moment when the grain has been harvested, but you are not quite ready to thresh.

It should be a time of thanksgiving for a good harvest—for a manuscript I am extremely proud of. And it is. But it is something else too. For this writer at least, it is a period of mourning and nervous energy.

I have lost the closest companions (save my human family) of these last months. The characters who interrupted and informed my days and peppered my dreams are gone. Even when I turn back to editing, I will be merely arranging flowers on their graves. They will speak to me no more. This is grief profoundly real and unimaginable to those who do not write. I miss my protagonist at odd moments. I tear up driving my car. I have been widowed, and I suspect the only non-writer person who understands that is my flesh and blood husband (who, god bless him, is not the jealous type).

Yet, because I’ve done this before, my sadness is underpinned with anticipation. I know, in a way that newbie writers do not, that a brain that wrote once will do so again (just like those widowed from happy marriages are the most likely to marry again)

So I am waiting, waiting for Mr. Write.

I can’t force it. I have manila files (don’t we all) of research, neatly gathered by time period and story idea. But I am not looking at them. I have helpful friends who want to introduce me to characters—most recently my middle-child who, traveling in Europe, skyped me absolutely giddy with an intriguing story from Saxony.  But even if Mr. Saxony is ultimately my next beau, it is just too soon. Go on a first date with him now and he will become my rebound. That would be a waste.

I piddle around. I do the things that everyday life requires. I organize the notes from my wip into a
tidy folder. When I think no one is looking, I open up my “inspiration” folder and gaze lovingly at the characters who have gone. I listen to “our songs” (yes, the characters from my wip demanded a playlist). But one corner of my brain is on alert. I am waiting to glimpse something special out of the corner of my mind’s eye. I am waiting to hear a voice behind me in the produce section of the grocery store—a voice that says, “excuse me, are you Sophie? I have a story to tell you.”

Ah, there you are Mr. Write! 

Sophie Perinot’s next novel, Médicis Daughter--set at the intrigue-riven, 16th century French Valois Court--will be out in December of 2015. She could tell you about her wip but then she'd have to kill
you. To find out about Sophie's previous literary endeavors, visit her website, or her FB page.  You can also  follow her on Twitter as @Lit_gal