Monday, January 13, 2020

Advice on Your Publishing Career

Publishing is a profession. Always act in a professional manner. This includes any situation where you are in public as a writer. 

Spelling, grammar, and clarity are part of that professional manner. Don't send out social media messages filled with errors because it reflects back on your craft.

Your editor/publisher/agent may be your friend, but she is first and foremost a businessperson. If it is a choice between making money and being your friend, she will choose the money almost every time. 

Learn the business so you will understand what is happening in your career. No one cares as much about it as you do.

Some publishers use the same kind of controlling behavior as abusive spouses. They convince you that you write crap and no one but them will want it, and they pay you accordingly. If you don't escape this abusive cycle, you will either self-destruct as a writer, or other publishers in the know will not touch you because victims in this situation usually lose their confidence to push their writing to the next level.

Publishing is a small world. If you p*ss off one editor, every editor in the business will know about it. Editors also move from publisher to publisher. The editor you annoy today may be your new editor tomorrow. 

Promote yourself, not your publisher or the type of books you write. 

If you create bookmarks or any other expensive promotion, use them to promote yourself, not your current title because it won't be your current title forever. 

Brand yourself as a certain type of writer and produce all your books to reflect that brand. Make certain that the same readers will be as happy with your next book. 

Strive to improve with each book. Strive to surprise with each book. Don't write yourself into a rut.

If you don't enjoy the writing, find another profession. The publishing business is brutal and, often, the only joy is in the writing. 

No amount of promotion will make up for a lack of distribution. 

It's easy to be seduced away from the hard aspects of writing by other creative things. Working on your website and book trailers is much more fun because they aren't part of that bottom line.

There is no such thing as privacy on the internet. Be discrete. The comment you make today will come back to haunt you later. 

If an agent or publisher lies about one thing, you shouldn't believe anything they say.

The advantage of a small press/epublisher is personal attention. The disadvantage is the owner's life crisis will shut down operations.

If the publisher believes that the contract terms only bind you, not him, run for your life.

If an agent or publisher says they are in the business to help writers, run for you life. They are almost always crooks.

Don't be ditzy and proud of it. No publisher wants a business partner who is an idiot.

Writing is physically taxing. Take care of yourself by exercising and eating wisely. You may have an extra hour to write by avoiding the gym or that walk, but you'll pay for it long term by having your body fail when you need it most.

Take care of your computer. Keep your virus software up to date and run repair utilities once a week. 

Back up your hard drive! Back up on a regular schedule. 

Back up your books and keep a copy or copies elsewhere. Most banks offer a free safety deposit box to regular customers. Keep a digital copy of your books there. A flash drive is perfect for this.

Keep a paper copy of your book. If your computer crashes taking everything with it, the paper copy is the very best back up. Paper copies never become an outdated format.

Keep adequate business records. Save receipts for business supplies, etc., so you can use them as business expenses on your taxes.

Keep all your promotion information in one spot. 

Read as much as you can about the business. If you don't understand something, ask questions. 

The writing craft is like athletic skill. Even a natural talent needs practice to improve, and you should always be learning something new about yourself and the craft.

A good teacher and a good critique partner are worth their weight in gold.

A writing career is a marathon, not a sprint. A winner keeps going for the long haul.

Writing is a hobby, an avocation, or a career, but it is not a life. Real life is what matters most. You will regret it if you look up from your keyboard one day to discover life has passed you by, and the writing wasn't worth the cost.

"I'm just starting [a new book] and the battle has already begun. I don't think they ever go smoothly. It's work. It should be work. It should be hard work. I think if you sort of sit around and wait to be inspired, you're probably going to be sitting there a long time. My process is more about crafting, working an idea through my head to see if it's a good concept." Nora Roberts in an interview with the "Hagerstown Herald-Mail."

“Remember your dreams and fight for them. You must know what you want from life.There is just one thing that makes your dream become impossible: the fear of failure. Never forget your Personal Legend. Never forget your dreams. Your silent heart will guide you. Be silent now. It is the possibility of a dream that makes life interesting. You can choose between being a victim of destiny or an adventurer who is fighting for something important.” THE ALCHEMIST by Paulo Coelho

Monday, January 6, 2020

Why a Pen Name

One of the dreams most writers share is seeing a book with their name on the cover, but more and more writers are choosing a pseudonym (pen name).


Years ago, finding someone by just knowing their name would have required lots of effort or the use of a private detective.

These days, any search engine can give a person's address and even print out a map to their house in just a few minutes. We can find out if they are married, their kids' names, and about anything else we want to know.  

Years ago, authors didn't worry about the dangers involved with using their real name, but today, professional writers talk about stalker fans, scary letters from prison inmates, and identity theft they and their friends have experienced. 

I have never had any problems, but, if I had it to do over again, I wouldn't use my real name. 

Other reasons to use a pen name aren't so scary. 

If your books' sales stink, your traditional publisher or your agent may insist you change your name so that you have a clean slate with book distributors and bookstores who look at your last book's sales numbers before they buy or don't buy your book. 

If your next book has a different audience than usual, a new pen name will allow you to attract the right readers and not disappoint your regular readers. For example, if your books are sweet romances, and you decide to write erotica, you don't want to disappoint your fans or lose readers of erotica who think Jane Smith only writes romance with no blatant sex.

Some authors are so prolific that they write under two or more names because publishers don't want to publish more than X number of titles per author a year.

How can you keep your real name secret?

Just choosing a pen name isn't enough. Your real name will appear on the copyright information page.

To avoid this, you'll need to incorporate your pen name so that name will appear on the copyright notice instead of your real name.

You also need to tell friends and colleagues that you wish to keep your real identity secret. More than one author has been "outed" by careless friends.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Writinng the Same When You are Different

QUESTION: Why don't authors keep writing the same kind of book? Some of my favorite romance authors have switched to different genres, and I HATE it.

There isn't a simple answer. Here are a few.

* Failing markets. The writer's genre starts losing readers so publishers want fewer books, and fewer books are sold. An example is historical romances.  Its established authors branched out into contemporaries, paranormals, and suspense novels to continue making a profit at their writing. 

* Respect. Romance authors, in particular, get no respect from their non-romance peers, and this gets really old. Non-romances also have more professional cache. 

* Authorial control. Romance editors exert more control over the final product than in any other genre so the final product is often more of a collaborative effort. At a certain point in a writer's career, this can get really old, particularly when some kid in their first editorial job decides she knows better than an established writer.

* Boredom. An author spends months writing a book that takes you an evening to read, and she then starts another book. If every book is exactly like the last as some readers want, this process can become boring. The creative juices dry up. If the author doesn't change gears, the readers will be the next to be bored.

* Innovations. Genre, as a whole, doesn't stay the same. Romances have changed dramatically over the last twenty years, and woe unto the writer who doesn't change with it. 

* Bandwagon Syndrome. Some authors see a trend become popular, and they absolutely must write to this trend. 

* Changes in an author's life. Writing is an emotional process, and sometimes, things happening in an author's life make them change the direction of their writing. I have had friends going through an ugly divorce who could no longer write about everlasting love when their true love proved to be a cruel, manipulative jerk. One writer lost her young son to a sudden illness. When she started writing again, she turned to novels that expressed her faith in God. 

As much as writers want to please their readers, sometimes, they simply must change direction with their writing. 

Monday, December 23, 2019

What A Christmas Carol Can Teach a Writer

"You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch."  The only character more interesting than a villain is a villain who is redeemed.

"Oh, Holy Night.”  A powerful story is often best told simply.

"I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.”  Sometimes, something innocent can become creepy.

"The Twelve Days of Christmas.”  A one-sided romantic relationship is boring.

"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”  The underdog with a reviled talent makes a great hero.  

"Frosty the Snowman.”  A great character often deserves a sequel.  ("I'll be back again, some day." ) 

"Carol of the Bells.”  Driving rhythm can pull the reader forward.  

"Do You Hear What I Hear?"  You can tell a story through dialogue.

"Silent Night.”  A few simple images can create powerful emotions.

“Let It Snow, Let It Snow.”  The quiet, homey moments are often filled with the greatest emotions and memory.

"The Christmas Song.”  ("Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…." )  Setting alone can show strong emotion and story.
“Last Christmas.”  A bad romance character can’t tell the difference between love and sex.  

“Blue Christmas” sung by Elvis.  Some songs are meant for only one singer, and so are some stories.  

“I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas.”  A fantasy plot makes much more sense with lots of details.  (“There's lots of room for him in our two-car garage.  I'd feed him there and wash him there and give him his massage.”)  NOTE: Best Christmas novelty song ever!

"Good King Wenceslas.”  Sometimes, a character is remembered more for kindness than power or glory.

"I'll Be Home For Christmas.”  Home and family are two of the most powerful goals within the human heart.  

"Baby, It's Cold Outside."  "This is for your good, not mine" is a great seduction.

“Is that You, Santa Claus?”  Every good thing may disguise a bad thing.

"Jingle Bells" and "Jingle Bell Rock.”  The times and tempo may change, but the story remains the same.  

"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”  Sometimes, the character's emotions and the message aren't the same.  

"Santa Baby.”  With the right voice, even Santa and a chimney can be made into a double entendre.

“All I Want for Christmas Is You.”  Love is the greatest gift.  

Monday, December 16, 2019

Pretend Doesn't Make It Okay

Imagine that a reader gives you a dollar’s worth of trust by reading your book. That trust means she expects you to give her certain things like a good story, interesting characters, and competent craft, among other things.

Every time your story fails in one of these elements, the reader takes away a bit of that money, and, when there is no money left, the reader tosses the book without finishing it and will no longer trust you enough to buy the next book.

The really tricky problem is you don't know what will irk each reader. Maybe it's grammatical mistakes. She may take a nickel out of that dollar, or, if she really hates grammatical errors, that error may cost you a quarter or the whole dollar.  Or it could be plot problems, bad science, or faltering viewpoint to lower that dollar to nothing.  

Do you really want to risk losing that reader by being sloppy about any part of your writing? It's just pretend is not an excuse many readers will accept.  

Monday, December 9, 2019

QUIZ: Do You Have What It Takes to be a Writer?

Do you have what it takes to be a fiction writer? Here's a true or false test to find out.

Be brutally honest. The only person you will be cheating is yourself. Choose TRUE if the statement describes you or what you believe, FALSE if it does not.

1. I don't need to know grammar and spelling. That's the job of the editor. My job is to tell the story.

2. Most authors make lots of money. That's why I want to write.

3. I want things NOW. I'm just not a patient person.

4. Friends or family want to watch a movie you really want to see, but you haven't written your quota for the day. You usually stay at the computer and write.

5. If I don't write every day, I get grumpy or edgy.

6. There's one secret to writing a publishable story, and when I learn what it is, I'll succeed.

7. Criticism really hurts me. If someone criticizes my work, I feel like a failure.

8. If someone criticizes my work, I will change it immediately.

9. I love to read a certain kind of story, and that's what I want to write.

10. It's easy to write and sell a novel. All I will have to do is sit down and write it, then I will sell it.

BONUS POINTS QUESTION: I dream of stories to tell, or characters demand their stories be told, or I envision whole scenes, and I want to find out what happens next.


1. FALSE Editors are busy people, and they don't have the time to correct simple mistakes. Simple mistakes indicate a poor writer, as well, and usually brings a fast rejection. WORTH 10 POINTS

2. FALSE Most authors are very poorly paid, expenses are high, and the time required is intense. The average writer can't support herself or her family on several books a year from a major publisher with good distribution. A few self-published writers do but most don’t.  WORTH 10 POINTS

3. FALSE Traditional publishing is an excruciatingly slow process. First you write the book, then you wait for months as you send out queries, more months for them to look at a portion of the manuscript, and even more months to look at the complete manuscript. And if they want to publish it, it will take a year or more to see print. Even self-publishing a book, if you do it correctly with an editor, etc., takes many months of work.  WORTH 10 POINTS

4. TRUE You have to create writing time and that means you have to give up other things. You have to want to write, or you'll never succeed. WORTH 10 POINTS

5. TRUE Writing is an adrenaline addiction. WORTH 10 POINTS

6. FALSE There is no one secret to creating a publishable novel. There are, however, a few things you need to do. The first is sticking your rear in a chair in front of the computer with some consistency and writing. WORTH 10 POINTS

7. FALSE A tough skin must be standard equipment if you want to be a novelist. Every step along the way will be filled with criticism and rejection. The trick is to realize that they are talking about your work, NOT you. WORTH 10 POINTS

8. FALSE Writing isn't a project by committee. You know your work best so you must decide if a suggestion has value or not. The trick is determining what changes are part of learning craft and what changes force your voice or story in the wrong direction. WORTH 10 POINTS

9. TRUE You have to enjoy, respect, and read the types of stories you write. This gives you a good basis for knowing what works and what readers want.

Nothing is more obvious to a reader or an editor than a writer who doesn't read in her field. This is especially true in romance. A reader can spot someone who is writing for the money really fast. WORTH 10 POINTS

10. FALSE Writing is a craft that must be learned. You are as likely to have the natural skills to be a publishable writer as someone who has never played basketball would have the skills to play professional NBA basketball.

The first novel rarely sells. Most published writers write several before they sell. Some can write up to a dozen novels before selling. WORTH 10 POINTS

Bonus Points Question: TRUE If this doesn't happen to you, you really aren't meant to be a fiction writer. All the other things above can be learned, but this can't. WORTH 100 POINTS


0 to 99 A writing career isn't for you. Do a happy dance because you have escaped such an evil fate and go read instead.

100-145 If you're willing to change and work hard, you can become a professional writer.

145-190 Congratulations. You are completely insane and the perfect candidate for being a professional writer.

Monday, December 2, 2019

The Man Who Invented Christmas

Those of us who write fiction are strange creatures to most people.  We create people, places, plots, and even worlds filled with magic or space ships.  “Where do you get your ideas?” is a major question.  Another is “What is it like to write those stories?”
I’ve often used the first scene in the movie ROMANCING THE STONE where an historical couple ends an adventure and have a love-forever-after smooch.  A woman is narrating the action, then the words “The End” appears.  The scene dissolves away to a very happy, weeping modern woman at a computer.  She’s in a sloppy outfit, hasn’t showered in days, and she discovers she’s out of cat food.  Yes, this is what it’s like being a writer in many ways.
A few days ago, I found a better movie to explain the creative writing process and the business of being a writer.  It’s called THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS, and it’s about Charles Dickens’ creation of A CHRISTMAS CAROL from the first idea to the final pages of the story.  
No, he’s not just staring at a bare page with a quill in his hand although some of that happens.  Real world things like his need for another hit and immediate cash after several flops push him to write a story fast so it can be out by Christmas.  
We follow him around London as bits and pieces of the story flow around him and wait to become part of the story. (If you’re familiar with the novel beyond just the plot, you can spot these easily.)  A waiter named “Marley,” people talking about poverty and the poor, and a happy dancing pair of shopkeepers start to fill his cast and give them future dialogue. At home, a new housemaid tells his kids ghost stories, his sister’s crippled son is shown, and his feckless parents arrive. More fodder for the story. 
Dickens spends a long time figuring out Scrooge’s name then Scrooge himself shows up to taunt and frustrate him.  (My characters also become much more real when I’m gifted their names.) And the story and the cast grow as his audience of family members, the maid, and a few friends listen and comment.  
Then writer’s block appears, and Dickens must figure out Scrooge’s emotional secret so he can finish the manuscript on time.  
I won’t say any more about the plot, but it explains the creative process in a way that makes sense to people who don’t write.  And, yes, most of us writers are that bonkers with characters following us around and harassing us, and ideas come from random places and memories.  We also isolate ourselves as the story churns within us. As with Dickens, writing is truly hard work, but the business of writing is the worst problem we deal with.
So, the next time someone asks you about the creative process of writing, suggest this movie to them.