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writing: beginnings and endings

Chuck Wendig had a great post yesterday about writing.

Once upon a time, I sat in a writing workshop class: a critique circle with a bunch of other writers. The piece we were critiquing was another classmate’s novel chapter, and everyone else but the workshop leader had gone. I was up.

“What I liked most about this chapter is that it has a classic narrative structure used very effectively.”

At that point, I had everyone’s full attention, and I could see that half the class didn’t understand what I meant.

The character, a woman, had an objective when she showed up at someone’s door. As I recall, she was looking for something. She failed to achieve her goal because the person she asked didn’t have what she wanted. However, in the meantime, the other party in the scene told her something interesting that she hadn’t previously known. Offhand, I can’t remember if it was directly related to the scene’s goal or not, but it was related to why she was looking for what she was looking for.

In short form: she had a goal and motivation behind that goal, she attempted, failed, then got new information, and left the scene in a slightly different direction than she came in: with a modified goal.

It’s not the only possible scene structure, but it’s a common scene and chapter structure in longer work. If you look at most of Chuck’s list of what a novel consists of, basically points 2-9 are some variant of the above, though I’d personally throw the character a bone or two for an upbeat chapter. “Yay, we got somewhere!”

Lessons from Being a First Reader

As someone who’s read slush (unsolicited manuscripts), I thought I’d talk a little about what I learned doing that for the three markets I’ve read for.

Most newer writers have no idea where to start the story. It seems to be the hardest part. We write our way into the story. The most important lesson here: where you start writing isn’t necessarily the start of the story.

Let’s take a hypothetical short story about a high school football player. (I don’t play or watch football, so forgive any lack of sports-fu on my part.) Let’s say our dude in question has recovered from an injury, but hasn’t fully mentally realized it yet. He’s avoiding something because of fear of being injured again.

The ending of the story’s fairly obvious: he goes for it, and he succeeds, and all is well and right and just in the world. Oh, and his team scores…and maybe even wins. But the big victory is that he’s recovered.

So…where to start the story?

The general rule is: as late as possible. There’s a 35% chance the newbie writer starts writing with the player waking up, but that’s the part you edit out. One could also start with the doctor’s office visit, a talk with the parents, and the coach’s pep talks. Etc. I’m not saying these can’t work, because anything can work if you do it right.

Our player has the ball, has that momentary rush, and he sees someone else coming, and he chickens out. That gives opportunity for some great self-loathing, some yelling at by the coach, threats that his girlfriend (or boyfriend) will leave him if he doesn’t snap out of it, and of course the fear that his college scholarship will vaporize.

Then there’s that moment where everything changes for him—whatever that is—and he works through it. Victory, followed by the end.

Writing Beginnings that Match Endings; Writing Endings that Match Beginnings

The best way I’ve heard the structure described is by Karen Joy Fowler when she was my Clarion instructor. Paraphrased:

The ending of the story should be the ending to the story you started at the beginning of the book. The beginning of the story should be the beginning of the story you ended the book with.

They’re bookends.

If you take just your first and last chapter (and/or first and last scene, and/or first and last paragraph), do they go together? Do they feel like they’re from the same piece?

If not, there’s something to work on.

Originally published at You can comment here or there.

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Sometimes, having a blog can feel like being out there all alone wondering, “WTF do I do now?” Joel Friedlander and Joan Stewart have a new package out that’s designed to help drive traffic to your blog: Blog Post Templates for Authors.

Now, I actually don’t have a problem getting traffic to my blog, but I’d like to get more organic traffic that doesn’t rely on: t-shirts I designed for NY Times Bestselling authors, publishers suing bloggers, or famous authors molesting their children.

I’m going to review the product later in this post, but first I’m going to review the webinar. Even if this isn’t a product that’s for you, I think you may still find value in my webinar notes or the webinar replay. (TODO: when that link is live, I’ll edit this post to include it)

The product itself has blog post templates for 17 post types, of which the webinar featured seven.

Blog Post Templates for Authors Webinar Review

tl;dr: If you’re an author who wants to start a blog or improve your blogging, but doesn’t really know what to do, this webinar will give you some workable ideas without spending any money.

First, let’s be honest: free webinar is code for: “I want to sell you something.” That said, the best webinars offer actionable, useful tips, and this webinar does that.

Early on, Joel says, “The kind of blog posts you write affects the traffic you get.”

Yes, yes it does. I get the most interesting inbound searches from people looking to write letters to their sister-in-law, for example. I’m one of the top-ranked in Google for that search.

When talking about why one should blog, Joan says, “Let them fall in love with you.” I concur. Even blogs of subjects I’ve otherwise had no interest in can be compelling reading.

Joan Tells A Horrifying Story

One of the tips was not to blog at (someblog) or (someblog)—I agree, but not solely for the reasons mentioned.

Joan kept a bunch of publicity tips in a blog. I can’t remember if it was a WordPress or Blogspot blog, but someone apparently deleted the blog, and she lost six years worth of work. Fortunately, her IT guy had been keeping weekly backups, so she was able to move the blog to her own domain.


One of the problems of using a or Blogspot URL isn’t the risk of having your blog deleted. You risk that simply by having a blog out on the internet.

You could, as I have had happen, have your ISP have a catfight with another company and suddenly wind up with their servers on the metaphorical floor, never to be seen again. My blog was offline for about a month in 2013 for that reason…. I remember spending part of my limited vacation days in the Maldives fixing that. That should—not be one of the things I remember when I think about the Maldives, let’s put it that way.

So backup should always be a part of your plan, and you should not rely on a single point of failure. Ever.

My Limited Love for (and Others)

So here’s the problem I have with using free services (like Weebly and Blogspot) and not using your own domain with those services.

The Authority You Build
Does Not Belong To You.

When and if you buy your own domain name, that authority is not transportable. Those links other people made to your (someblog) still point there and not to where your blog moves to.

Search engine ranking wise, you start over again from zero.

Look, right now, if you build a free site on Weebly (which, frankly, has some excellent templates), and you use your own domain, you can pack up and leave, and move your domain to a self-hosted WordPress blog.

All your Google juice comes with you.

(Well, with some caveats and gotchas—which is a planned blog topic for later.)

I feel this was a very important and oft-overlooked point, but I’m done with that, so let’s get back to the webinar notes….

Seven Blog Post Templates Discussed in the Webinar

  1. This Week in the Blogs
  2. Short Book Review & Excerpt
  3. Articles on [Topic] for [Type of Audience]
  4. Pros and Cons of A and B
  5. When to Use A, and When to Use B
  6. Fun Facts
  7. How X Sparks My Creativity

Now, I’ve used some variant of 1, 2, 3 and 6, but I really haven’t done 4, 5, or 7. And maybe I should.

I stopped doing 1 because the way I was doing it for The Weekest Link was just exhausting. Maybe I’d be able to do it more if I scaled it back. A lot.

I’ve done a bit of #2, and that’s led to my placing on the first page of Google for the search term new adult romance books. Because that seems to be a winning strategy for me (and I have read a lot of NA romance), I may make that a regular feature. Note that I don’t review books per se. Rather, I feature books that I enjoy. different thing. Like Joan says in the webinar, I don’t think it’s fair to use my platform to trash a book I don’t like.

That said, I’ve only very rarely blogged about sf/f books, and that means I don’t have much authority built up in what I consider my primary genre. Oops.

I’ve done quite a few articles, though some of those are pages rather than posts. My E-Book Royalty Calcumatic Notes are several times more popular than the calcumatic they’re meant to support. It’s on my todo list to give this page a fluff and fold.

Long story short, the bullet points they gave of things to do for each of the seven types of blog post—even if you don’t buy the product—will give you some actionable types of blog posts to write.

Best of all?

With platforms like WordPress, you can schedule posts for the future. This means you can write two or three reviews at once, and maybe publish one every other week. So if you have a rough week and don’t otherwise blog at all, you still have that scheduled post.

Personally, I usually write my posts at night and schedule them for morning (for more page views; this strategy change alone doubled my page views). Right now, I have one post scheduled and 63 (!) in draft mode, including a book feature I’m horrifically overdue on.

The Importance of Photos

The webinar also discusses the importance of photos for engagement, and Joan briefly discusses Canva, a free web-based graphic creation tool.

While she doesn’t really feature this in the webinar, one thing Canva makes easily is facebook timeline headers and Twitter timeline headers, both of which can otherwise be a PITA. If you aren’t a Photoshop person, this would be an excellent way to make those if you aren’t going to use a graphic designer.

…and Calls to Action

One of the things I fail to do is to invite people to take action. Joel’s really good at this on his blog, and they give some ideas. I’m going to be using this more for sure.

Webinar Wrapup

I think the webinar’s useful to several audiences:

  1. Authors who aren’t currently bloggers, but who want to be;
  2. Authors who may be experienced bloggers, but who want more traffic (I’d consider myself in this category);
  3. Authors who really would buy the product if they could afford to, but the price is out of reach for them at this time.

(TODO: will edit and add webinar replay link here, too. When it’s available.)

Product Review: Blog Post Templates for Authors

Confession time: the other day, I bought a domain. I had some idea of what to put on the domain, but I had no idea how to get traffic to the domain.

During the webinar, I realized that the exact blog post types they talked about were useful even though it’s not an author blog. Part of the reason I have such sketchy notes from the webinar is that I was having a brain explosion of how I wanted to use this product for my new pet project. My plan is to use at least one of the 17 blog post templates each week for the next six months.

That said, some of the blog post types are more applicable to fiction, and some are more applicable to non-fiction—and some don’t apply at all to the blog type I’m doing. Looking through the blog post templates, I figure I can use 11 of the types, so my goal is to use each one at least twice in the next six months (26 weeks, so that accounts for 22 posts).

The Blog Post Template Files

Each template is a separate Word document. These don’t use advanced features of Word, so they will open in anything that can open a .doc file, including Pages on a Mac. I haven’t tried the Linux alternatives, but I’d be surprised if they didn’t work.

Each of the blog post templates include:

  • An introductory page (meant for your reference only) designed to get you thinking about how to use that template effectively.
  • Why readers will find this template effective.
  • Suggestions about photos.
  • Ideas for headlines.
  • Sample text.

And, while the blog post templates are designed for WordPress, because they’re rich text, they should work with other blogging platforms such as Blogspot and Weebly.

You don’t have to use any of these, of course, but they are all effective copy designed to help you.

Additionally, the product includes a Samples folder featuring a blog post for each template showing how the template was used.

There’s also a short PDF guide that explains the template format.

Bonus: 101 Ways to Find Content for Your Author Blog

You’ve got some posts done, but you can’t figure out what to write about. This is a laundry list of ideas to help bring you new subject matter.

Bonus: 103 Powerful Calls to Action

One of the things I need to step up is the call to action, so this PDF of 103 useful calls to action is a great reference.

Bonus: My Top 10 Free Stock Photo Sites

Well, not my top 10 (because, frankly, I don’t use ten). I knew about a couple of these, but most of them I didn’t know about, and that’s useful. You just have to not spend so much time looking at photos that you don’t get any blogging done.

One of the tips Joan mentioned in the webinar that’s not in the PDF is that some of the big stock photo agencies have free photos periodically that you get by being on their mailing list. This photo, of St. Peter Cathedral, was a recent editorial-only offering in a Depositphotos weekly email.

It is, by the way, absolutely okay to use editorial-only images in your blog posts so long as that post isn’t an ad. Typically, editorial-only images are lacking one or more of the following: property releases, model releases, or trademark releases. Or, in other cases, the photographer’s sold exclusive non-editorial use already.

Bonus: Canva for Authors video

Joan shares a short video creating a graphic for a blog post using Canva. If you don’t already have a photo creating/editing tool you love, this will be useful to you.

The video is in MP4 format; I don’t know the encoding offhand. Codecs says: H.264, AAC, so it’s definitely playable in QuickTime for both Mac/iOS and Windows, but I’m not sure about Linux.

Bonus: Google Analytics Peek video

I have to admit, I’m not super-knowledgeable about Google Analytics, which is one of the things I’m learning to correct.

This isn’t a great first introduction to Google Analytics, but if you know some basics and want to learn a couple of tricks, it’s a great video.

One thing I found interesting: 74% of his traffic over the last 30 days came from Google searches, while only 2% came from Twitter.

In contrast, here’s my same traffic sources:

Google Analytics Source/Medium

It makes sense that I’d have a lot of hits from Twitter because it really is my primary social media platform. Additionally, if you look at how I got some of the other sources, those mostly boil down to Twitter contacts, too.

If the Blog Post Templates Offer Sounds Interesting To You

Normally, it will be $97, but it’s on an introductory offer through Monday, March 2 for $67.

Check Out the Blog Template Kit

Questions? Comments? I’d love to help.

Originally published at You can comment here or there.

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Years ago, based on something Patrick Nielsen Hayden said (“You have three names, all of them difficult to spell.”), I decided to submit my work to publishers under the name D. S. Moen rather than my full name of Deirdre Saoirse Moen.

Partly that was being conscious, having worked in a bookstore, that anyone with an invisibly compound last name was difficult to shelve. We had signs in the M that Gabriel García Márquez was shelved under García Márquez, for example. (Wikipedia follows the same convention for Spanish-style naming customs.)

Mine isn’t that. I like to say that I emborged Rick and added his distinctiveness to my own, keeping my own surname as a part of my new surname. And Saoirse was a name I legally changed my surname to.

At the time I made that call, I wasn’t as well known as I am now, and I think it’s just easier for everyone if it’s under my whole name rather than part of it.

Henceforth, for things I publish under my own name, they will be under Deirdre Saoirse Moen rather than D. S. Moen. I care less about whether I’m shelved under S or M, though S is technically correct.

Limited Amazon Exclusivity for Rhonda and Duchess

Both of these have been out for a while, so I’ve put them in Kindle Select through mid-April-ish. This requires withdrawing sale from other retailers (including my own web site).

However, if you’re in Kindle Unlimited (and if you’re not, there’s a 30-day free trial), these books are free for you to read. Free!

"The Duchess's Dress" is a 3200-word fantasy short story set in a quasi-medieval secondary world. Can Elise, servant of the duchess, save her from the seer? Can the duchess, offended by the seer's vision, get the queen to sanction the seer?

"A Sword Called Rhonda" is a 2800-word humorous fantasy short story originally published in a Baen anthology.

Deirdre Saoirse Moen Anagrams Very Nicely

I’m the only person I know of whose names are separately anagramable and, when those anagram words are put together, form a phrase.

dire red / a rose is / omen


Red rose is a dire omen.

Originally published at You can comment here or there.

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sfwa-indies-bphSFWA, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, has just changed their membership rules. There will be some speedbumps, as this is a major structural change.

Effective March 1, both indie and small press authors will be eligible for SFWA’s Active and Associate memberships.

For Active (full) membership:

  • One novel-length work for which the author’s earned at least $3,000; or
  • At least 10,000 words of shorter work for which the author’s earned at least 6 cents/word.

For Associate membership:

  • At least 1,000 words of shorter fiction for which the author’s earned at least 6 cents/word.

And then there are those of us bound to break the system because we’re already associates, but before the 6 cents a word went into effect.

Not Just for Gearheads

SF/F is a bigger tent than you might think. If you write a number of romance genres (e.g., paranormal romance), you’re also arguably writing SF/F.

I look forward to our Amish science fiction writer members.

More details here.

Originally published at You can comment here or there.

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Another year! And a post to let those of you who vote for Hugos, Nebulas and other science fiction/fantasy awards know what I’ve done in the last year for your award nomination consideration. Without further ado:

Best Fan Writer

Five Several of my best posts:

  1. After fifty years of it never being public, I broke the story about Marion Zimmer Bradley’s abuse of her daughter Moira. Thank you to Moira for choosing my blog to speak out in. My two most-viewed posts on this: Marion Zimmer Bradley Gave Us New Perspectives, All Right and Marion Zimmer Bradley: It’s Worse Than I Knew. Link to my other posts on this topic.
  2. How to Get to Helsinki from Pitcairn. All that odd travel knowledge comes in useful sometimes. Bonus picture from Pitcairn that I took last January.

  3. Delia Derbyshire, Overlooked Musician and Composer. A piece about the performer and co-composer of the famous Doctor Who theme.

  4. Vernacular & Literary Tricks. Commentary on the use of vernacular in fiction, specifically sf/f.

  5. Jay Lake, RIP, and a Few Memories. I’ve never been able to say before, on the day someone died, “I had a great time at his wake last year.” That’s the kind of person Jay was.

  6. Also, while my series of posts about Ellora’s Cave are more about the romance genre than science fiction/fantasy, EC also publishes some arguably SF/F/WTF works, including EC’s main owner’s own work. Review here. Eggs!

    Anyhow, getting to my writing on the subject, Proving Substantial Truth is an interesting post about the following hypothetical. Let’s say a blogger publishes an article that says “a set of authors” hasn’t been paid in quite a while? What does it take, size-of-data-set-wise, to prove that that’s not substantially true?

    And then there was the “Virtual Visit” to Romanticon, Ellora’s Cave’s own single-track convention, where single-track could be a double entendre. On the way back to Texas, Cavemen Axl and Taylor wound up sitting within three feet of Amber Vinson. They self-quarantined at first, then, when they entered the more likely active contagious time period, the quarantine was mandatory.

My other fan writing is tagged here.

Note: If you’re inclined to vote for me for Best Fan Writer (or, heaven help you, Best Fanzine), the canonical version of this site is I compose there, and it pushes to Dreamwidth, Livejournal, Tumblr, Twitter, my Facebook timeline, my Facebook Author page, Google Plus, and, until it annoyed me by stripping my own links out, LinkedIn.

Best Fan Artist

  1. I’m best known for this t-shirt I designed for John Scalzi.
  2. I’m proudest of this set of products I designed around the Dihydrogen Monoxide theme.

    a. Approved Dihydrogen Monoxide Isolation Vessel (aka coffee cup)
    b. Stand Back Dihydrogen Monoxide Reaction Timer (aka clock)
    c. Stand Back Dihydrogen Monoxide Containment Shield (aka shower curtain)

    For what it’s worth, I sold exactly 0 items in this series last year, but I had a lot of fun making them anyway.

  3. What to Do With a Rusty Dumpster. Space art from common things.

  4. Mockup: 307 Ale Bottles. One night, Tom Smith’s song “307 Ale” would not leave me alone. Hence.

Best Short Story

I don’t think “The Duchess’s Dress” has a hope of actually winning anything, but I did publish it last year. It’s in the middle of flipping over to Amazon Select, meaning it should be available in Kindle Unlimited in a couple of days.

If you’re not a KU subscriber and don’t have a copy but are an eligible nominator, please email me and tell me your preferred format. (EPUB, MOBI, or PDF. If PDF, let me know if you need large print.)

Eligible Nominators

  • Nebula: SFWA Active and Associate members.
  • Hugo Awards: You’re a supporting or active member of either Loncon3 and/or Sasquan, and/or MidAmericon. Note that while nominations typically remain open until March-ish, you’d have to become a Sasquan member by January 31st.

Originally published at You can comment here or there.

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Joel Friedlander, aka the book designer, wrote a blog post about book landing pages.

I’ve been in the middle of writing a long blog post about web sites for authors, and I think I’m going to tear up my post and go home. (Actually, no, I won’t, but it’s going to wait until next weekend now.)

Because what Joel’s upcoming webinar’s about is book landing pages and, I’m gathering,, which has already made me want to toss my WordPress plugin in-progress against the wall.

  •’s pages are pretty.
  • They are minimalist.
  • There is a free plan.

We all know that webinar is not-very-secret code for “I want to sell you something.” I’m hoping it’s a nice discount on the paid plan.

The free plan allows for as many book pages as you want, but no extras like mailing list integration. Here’s a page detailing the differences between the free and paid plan.

Example: one of my stories on vs. the same story’s page on Could I improve my own site’s version? Sure, with some significant elbow grease. (I could also finish the one; I only fussed with it for a few minutes.)

What’s WordPress Like For This?

Let me tell you briefly about the state of things in WordPress plugin land.

With MyBookTable, if you want a buy button in anything other than Amazon and Apple, it costs $49 a year (or you can hand-modify the plugin yourself). If you want affiliate sales for your referrals, it also costs $49 a year.

With MyBooks, it’s free for Out:think’s authors on one of its paid courses, but you’ve got to be one of those people.

There is Buy This Book, which only has widget versions, meaning things for your sidebar.

I use Easy Digital Downloads, which is great for direct sales, but falls down when you need the product to link to external places. So, for this paperback, I hand-coded the purchase links and the CSS and suppressed the purchase button.

Another quirk of EDD is this: look at the purchase buttons/links here. In order to get my link above everyone else’s, I had to suppress the automatic generation, then add a manual button. Then add the links for other stores.

Oh, and there’s no sense of “series” of things or obviously related things other than via tags and categories, so that would be another thing I’d have to roll in there. (To its credit, MyBookTable has this.)

So why not use MyBookTable and Easy Digital Downloads together, you ask?

I’m so glad you asked that. Because MBT defines its items as a new post type. And so does Easy Digital Downloads. So, for each book, you’d have to hand-enter the data twice (once for each post type), so you could get to your books via two different URLs, and possibly have the content out of sync. Oh, and pay for MBT too.

No. Thank. You.

My brilliant plan was to automagically generate that, to make a font for icons for the common stores, and to therefore let people style whatever however. I was inspired by Lauren Dane’s website, except she’s gone and changed it and I don’t like the new look.

There are 34,000 WordPress plugins that have been downloaded 796 million times and that’s apparently as good as it gets for the stuff that’s out there.

Depressing, huh?

Fact is, most of the WordPress plugins designed to hook into Amazon are designed to create little web shops where you live on the affiliate income from providing, say, links for the top ten blenders.

I’m curious to see what they’ll say about the state of the competition that’s out there. I really haven’t seen anything in this niche.

But What If You’re Not Me?

Look, I’ve been paid to do web work since 1998. If I find it annoying that there’s no better publicly-available free solution, I’m guessing that you do too.

You can hire awesome people like Jeremiah Tolbert or Stephanie Leary to do it for you.

Or maybe you want to come to Joel’s webinar on Thursday. Blog post link again.

Originally published at You can comment here or there.

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Tim Grahl of Out:think has a new free course coming up called Hacking Amazon. (Above graphic is from Tim.)

A few weeks ago, I published an article about how to launch your book with 25+ Amazon customer reviews. This article really exploded, and it got me thinking . . .

I know a lot of little hacks and tricks that make Amazon work better for authors. So I’ve decided to put them all together into a course titled “Hacking Amazon.”

I’m putting the final touches on it over the next couple days. It launches on Thursday at no charge so watch your in-box!

Here’s that blog post Tim referred to.

He’s also got a free book and author marketing course, and you can sign up for that on his Out:think site.

Originally published at You can comment here or there.

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(Product link on Redbubble.)

I wrote this piece in July after a particularly frustrating week.

One of those pieces of writing advice came back up (like vomit) again this week, and I’ve been in more discussions than I’d ever hope to be about it. I’ve reduced it to two things that really annoy me.

Failing to Respect Other People’s Writing Processes

I wish I had an easy process. I’ve tried. It’s not some moral failure on my part that I can’t outline then write a book. It’s that the energy of the book fizzles when I do it that way, and then I can’t actually write anything interesting.

Your process is your process. You can fuss with it a bit, but not that much. I still think Karen Joy Fowler is absolutely correct.

Dumping One’s Frustration with the Business of Writing on Others

All that advice about what’s “easier” or “harder” to sell onto people? (Anything can sell if it’s done well enough. Sometimes even if it’s not.)

Telling people that won’t sell? (Is that useful in this day and age?)

Telling someone their story is fatally flawed? (All story structures have flaws.)

Anyone who’s been around the block more than a few times will have had some hard knocks along the way. They hurt, and they shape the directions we turn, because we turn to avoid the pain. Sometimes, like I did for years, we just stand frozen in place, paralyzed.

The Responsibility of Teachers

It’s the responsibility of teachers not to stomp all over fragile creative processes or invalidate them.

It’s also the responsibility of teachers to not dump so much of one’s own pain about creative endeavors that one quashes a fledgling voice.

And Now for a Word from Lady Gaga

Song starts 2:30 in.

Originally published at You can comment here or there.

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Photo by Sergey Zolkin

Photo by Sergey Zolkin

I’m extremely honored to be a guest on Writing Excuses this week, talking about the author-convention relationship from the convention programming head point of view.

So here are a few tips, in no particular order, to make it easier for programming staff:

  1. Have a website. Better: have a website with your own domain name.
  2. When contacting programming staff for a convention, don’t assume they know who you are. These are volunteer positions. I’ve been the third head of programming for a given year, as an example.
  3. What makes you interesting may be a combination of what your writing skills are plus all the other skills you have. Even though I’ve volunteered for science fiction and fantasy conventions, I’ve put together panels on things like antique motorbikes. Don’t assume you’re not interesting, and don’t limit your usefulness by saying you’re interested in speaking only about writing.
  4. Don’t claim that you can speak on any writing topic. That’s a warning sign. No one can.
  5. Don’t ask to speak on panels with the Guests of Honor unless you know them personally. This is a warning sign that you’re being a social climber.
  6. Do offer to speak at the times when a lot of people don’t want to be scheduled: early morning, especially after a heavy party night. Late at night. Opposite the masquerade. The more open you are to times when it’s hard to find people, the more likely you are to be invited.
  7. Even if you usually speak at a local convention, don’t be insulted if you’re not asked one year. It can’t be the same convention every single year.
  8. Remember: the purpose of speaking at a convention is to entertain the audience at the convention. Side effects like making yourself known and selling more books are not the primary purpose.

Audiobook of the Week

The SaintI got to pick the audio book of the week, which is Tiffany Reisz’s The Saint. Visit for a free trial membership.

Before she became Manhattan’s most famous dominatrix, Nora Sutherlin was merely a girl called Eleanor…

Rebellious, green-eyed Eleanor never met a rule she didn’t want to break. She’s sick of her mother’s zealotry and the confines of Catholic school, and declares she’ll never go to church again. But her first glimpse of beautiful, magnetic Father Marcus Stearns—Søren to her and only her—and his lust-worthy Italian motorcycle is an epiphany. Eleanor is consumed—yet even she knows that being in love with a priest can’t be right.

But when one desperate mistake nearly costs Eleanor everything, it is Søren who steps in to save her. When she vows to repay him with complete obedience, a whole world opens before her as he reveals to her his deepest secrets that will change everything.

Danger can be managed—pain, welcomed. Everything is about to begin.

My Comments About the Book

This is the fifth of Tiffany Reisz’s books about Nora Sutherlin, but the first in the prequel series. As such, it’s not intended to stand alone as the first book. If you haven’t read the first series, you may wish to start with The Siren.

Also, as you may gather from the description, this series of books gets all sorts of adult content warnings. Tiffany’s also got an interesting HuffPo piece, What’s a Writer Gotta Do To Get Banned Around Here?

Originally published at You can comment here or there.

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Romanticon Cavemen. Photo by Cait Miller.

Romanticon Cavemen. Photo by Cait Miller.

Last week, I had an “aha!” moment, finally understanding what Mike Resnick was going on about. I wrote about the cover controversy earlier this year, complete with sample covers from the genre he was complaining about.

Here’s what Resnick said (click for pic of text, quoted below)

And a lot of it abounded in bare, raw, pulsating flesh, totally naked from the neck to the navel. No question about it. It’s there for anyone to see—and of course, since such displays seem to offend some of our members, to picket.
You know where I found it?
In the romance section. I’d say that just about every other cover shows a man’s bare torso, lean and muscular, usually with a few more abs than Nature tends to provide. The man’s head is rarely portrayed. Clearly these are erotic covers, designed to get a certain readership’s pulse pounding.

I’ve admitted that I haven’t spent a lot of time paying attention to Ellora’s Cave (link is to my posts on same), an erotic romance publisher, until recently.

When I was writing this post about their annual convention, something clicked.

Let’s look at their little video for BEA 2013:

Quite a different feel from the gardening book publishers, no?

Anyhow, it struck me:

Mike Resnick was trying to use a false equivalency between a professional industry publication and an erotic romance publisher’s book covers.

What’s particularly egregious about that, of course, is that Mike’s daughter, Laura Resnick, is a romance writer. You’d think he’d have seen her own book covers and know his statements were FoS.

Originally published at You can comment here or there.

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Mai Tai, Mama's Fish House, Maui

Mai Tai, Mama’s Fish House, Maui

Since my teenage years, I’ve mostly been a science fiction and fantasy reader. I’ve made several strafing runs through the romance genre through the years. However, like mystery, I’d historically found that it wasn’t a genre I could write.

There are reasons for my issues with romance in particular, many of them having to do with where romance was as a genre at the time. See: The TL;DR Erotic Romance Edition post from Love in the Margins.

After I’d written the first draft of my first (fantasy) novel, though, a project landed on my lap. Would I write porn (meaning the kinds of novels you buy in adult bookstores along with your sex toys) for money?

I’d left Scientology, I was no longer putting up with their puritanical bullshit, and I needed the income. So I pulled out my handy typewriter—yes, you heard me correctly—and wanked out a 35k book every six weeks for eighteen months straight. Well, not entirely straight. ;)

It was good money. I wasn’t overly proud of my work, but it was functional. If I ever read those fuckers again, I’d probably take to drinking. Let’s put it this way: I’ve learned a ton about writing in the interim.

I’d tried to read romance before, during, and after this period, but I just couldn’t handle the coy sex scenes with “his throbbing member” and that the sex scene had to be all metaphorical and at the end. Plus the endless “cut to black,” and the emphasis on pregnancy. Look, pregnancy and I don’t get along. Never did.

I discovered that I could enjoy writing sex scenes about bedroom scenes that weren’t my thing. And thanks to writers like Mercedes Lackey, I discovered that I could enjoy reading m/m sex scenes though obviously I wasn’t going to be having any of that.

In short, I’m more diverse as a reader and writer than I am in personal experience, and that’s okay.

So in 2009, I was having a bad time at life. It’s not my story to tell, but I wound up seeing the Twilight movie almost every day for a couple of months as a way to decompress from all the awful. I wrote this post about the book vs. the movie because I was interested in the differences as a writer.

Also in that time, I managed to write a vampire comedy erotic novel that I figured had no market anywhere.

Say What?

I know, right?

Because, you see, I really had no idea what the market for romance was like. I’d never read erotic romance, didn’t know it was a thing, didn’t know it was my thing, and just had no clue that there was an active and thriving market. Throbbing, even.

Never heard of Ellora’s Cave.

To me, it sounded like my book had “too many adjectives” and was in too obscure a subgenre.

I wrote the book longhand in fountain pen, using a different color of ink every day I wrote. I had a lot of fun with it, but I was writing for fun. I wrote it out of order (and I’m a pantser), so it’s a hot mess. I have all but one 5k excerpt in Scrivener now, though. That other 5k is in a notebook. Somewhere.

Skip forward a year-ish, I search on “vampire” in Fictionwise (remember Fictionwise?) and found Mary Hughes’s book, Biting Me Softly. Which is, I note, vampire erotic comedy.

All the dots lined up in my brain, but other shit was kicking me in life, so I didn’t have the mental space to cope. I read the other books in the Biting series, but didn’t really venture forth into reading or writing romance.

And then Nanowrimo Came

Fast forward to Nanowrimo 2012. I started a different novel, but then got an idea for a romance fanfic. So I started writing it and posting my first drafts. Which are first drafty, but I enjoyed the hell out of it. I’d post a chapter at night before going to bed and I’d have fan mail in the morning. It’s completely awesomesauce.

The other thing: as a new writer, I’d accepted all this bullshit about what writers should and shouldn’t do, but a lot of that was science fiction specific. So writing a different genre was like finally getting out of the straightjacket I hadn’t realized I was wearing. If you feel stuck, maybe trying a different genre or length will help.

Four months later, I was still having a good time.

So I thought, maybe I should see what the market was like.

Since I’d bought Samhain books before, I stuck with them. I searched through their site a few ways and read some samples. I read a few other authors. (I remember tripping and falling while out on a walk one day because I was reading Maya Banks. I became terrified I’d break my Steve Jobs autographed iPad.)

For those of you who’ve read her books, I bet you’re completely unsurprised to find that Vivi Andrews is one of my favorite writers. Humorous paranormal is one of my sweet spots.

Soon I found I was hunting the forthcoming books from Samhain. Every. Week.

I started keeping track of authors I liked (and didn’t like), tropes I did and didn’t like (not big on the secret baby trope).

I branched out to other publishers, too. From Samhain’s Lauren Gallagher titles, I followed her across to her L. A. Witt titles, discovering Riptide. I started perusing bestseller lists, and found Jay Crownover. A literary agent I like recommended Tiffany Reisz. A fan of my fanfic recommended Jenny Trout.

Still hadn’t heard of Ellora’s Cave.

It was my branching out, reading further markets, where I first found them, then bought some backlist titles from my favorite authors. In all but the case of a several-book series, I preferred their non-EC titles.

Dear Author

For about the last year, I’d been following Dear Author on Twitter, occasionally reading posts linked from tweets. When Jane Litte posted a review in August for Sarina Bowen’s The Year We Fell Down, I immediately went and read the book based on her review.

It’s funny how someone recommending a favorite book to you can shift how you feel about them. Right now, that title (or perhaps a later book in the series, The Understatement of the Year) is my favorite book so far this year. Which, Understatement has just been released and it’s worth reading. ::plug::

I went to grad school with a lot of romance writers, but I’ve never felt truly a part of the romance community until now. So, thank you all.

I still read and write science fiction and fantasy, and still feel it’s my primary genre.

In other news

I still fucking hate the verb “lave.” Just thought you should know.

Originally published at You can comment here or there.

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As I’ve stated before, and you’ve no doubt picked up, I’m quite the fan of Tim Grahl. I got to meet him at the World Domination Summit this year. One of his mantras is: focus on being relentlessly helpful.

He’s done book marketing for a lot of really big names, so I listen to him. He makes sense. He sounds like a really nice person (and has been in all my interactions with him).

Back when I was in Dublin, I attended one of his first Indie Secrets workshops with Michael Bunker, an indie author who writes Amish science fiction.

They are now doing that workshop again, and it now has an additional three-hour session.

The single thing that struck me the most can be summed up by contrasting it with a snippet I pulled into a post yesterday from Carolyn Jewel’s post The Flush Pile:

Do not assume a publisher has an interest in your book selling well. They should, but they don’t. Their interest is in seeing which books unexpectedly hit. That’s it. If it’s not you, you’re screwed.

Does your book make an immediate hit? Because if it doesn’t hit fairly quickly, then it’ll be brushed off the shelves to see if next month’s book offerings do better. How your last book did will affect your next book’s orders—especially for a series.

Bunker’s approach is different. Measured. Long-term. Something that seems positively relaxed given what I’ve heard about first-day craziness. And yet, he does have launch success, too.

I mention all this because Grahl and Bunker, along with Nick Cole, are running another set of the Indie Secrets Workshop on October 16th and 23rd. Check it out.

Originally published at You can comment here or there.

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I was having coffee with a friend in Ireland the other day, and he talked about someone he knew.

He makes a living, well, for being Irish.

At one point, I considered emigrating to Ireland. I had all the paperwork, but I didn’t go through with it because other things came through that would require me to remain in the states.

Like many, I had a dream of making a living as a writer there.

However, it turns out that the arts council only funds literature, and they don’t respect genre work at all (and I’ve basically always been a genre writer). The panel at Shamrokon about where the Irish SF was(n’t) was truly depressing for me.

In fact, the only Irish-themed SF novel I can think of that I’ve ever read is Flynn Connolly’s _The Rising of the Moon, published by Del Rey in 1993. And Flynn’s from the US.

Fantasy is more respected in Ireland, but only because it’s very tied up with being Irish. So things like not sleeping in fairy forts aren’t perceived as fantasy—rather they’re seen as common sense.

In essence, the funding, like MFA programs, is about the homogenization of taste. You can make a living, but only within a narrow spectrum. Nothing else is worthy, and the market’s not big enough to support writers (or Irish publishers) who don’t get arts council money. As one small press pointed out, if you ever take their money, you’re doomed to follow their dictates.

For the first time, I’m not wistful about not having taken that path all those years ago.

Originally published at You can comment here or there.

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For the last three months, there’s been a loophole on SFWA’s site about who qualifies for membership. Specifically, it’s Rule 3:

One paid sale of a work of fiction of under 40,000 words for which the candidate’s income equals or exceeds $2,000.00, such income to include a simple payment or an advance and/or subsequent royalties after the advance has earned out. Detailed documentation of payment will be required.

Rule 3 does not specify that said work must be sold to a “qualifying professional market”, but Rule 1 and 2, which list other ways to qualify, do.

When I questioned that, I was told that it didn’t overrule the bylaws, which still prohibited qualifying based on non-qualifying markets.

By that time, however, I’d had a lot of time to think.

This morning, SFWA sent a seven-question survey about whether or not indie and small press publishing credits should count for SFWA membership. Consider this a broader answer to those question.

Case 1: Lori Witt

In March, Lori wrote this post about writing income, which I’ve previously written about.

…whereas I’ve made over $8,000 from a novella published in 2011.

That description narrows the book in question down to two possible novellas, but I believe it’s this one. [Edited to add: I was wrong; see note at bottom.]

Riptide’s a small press, specializing in LGBT books, with around 50 authors. As is Samhain, which is a much larger digital first romance publisher that publishes both straight and gay romance.

Case 2: Michael Bunker

Michael Bunker lives off-grid and writes Amish science fiction. He makes a significant part of his income doing so.

The Point

As I’m writing this, I’m eligible for Associate (junior) membership in SFWA based on my sale of a short to Baen in 2003 (published in 2004).

Lori and Michael are eligible for absolutely no SFWA status based on their writing.

Back when SFWA was formed, essentially you sold to qualifying markets or you weren’t making significant money writing science fiction. The world has shifted in recent years, and that’s no longer true.

Any writers’ organization that privileges my one-time sale to a Baen anthology in 2003 where I’ve earned less than $400 over the last 11 years over far more significant current income from working writers—that’s an unjust system.

My opinion.

It’s frankly been idiotic for me to continue to pay for SFWA membership; I’ve essentially paid out all I took in from that one sale (so far) several times over.

Therefore, I’ll start paying for SFWA membership again when the whole qualifying market thing changes.


Well, I guessed wrong on which novella. It was this one, which isn’t sf/f.

Originally published at You can comment here or there.

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I wrote this some time ago; it’s been a draft sitting on my computer for quite a while. It’s as true now as it was then, though.

Looking at prospective panelists, I’m surprised at how many published writers trying to promote themselves do not or cannot:

  1. Have their own domain name,
  2. Have an excerpt up on their site,
  3. Write a paragraph introducing themselves,
  4. Understand what a paragraph is,
  5. Bother to mention a URL where their book is,
  6. (for the non-indies) Mention who their publisher is.

And yet want to be on a panel about building a brand or give a solo presentation about same.

Originally published at You can comment here or there.

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Photo by Lizzy Gadd

Photo by Lizzy Gadd

While I’m guilty of most of the classic bad writerly habits save for drugs and alcohol, none of those bad habits per se are the cause of my greatest problems with word count.

No, for things like spending too much time on Twitter, that typically means I’ll write fewer words (unless I’m on Twitter for a word war, at which point it’s productive).

What causes the single greatest loss for me are the days on end where I’ve lost belief in my book. It happens every book. I wish I could say that I’ve learned to plan for these side trips into the doldrums, but no. I haven’t.

So here are some of the ways I work out of these issues.

But X Has a More Famous Book on a Similar Topic

This will always be true, right? Even though every book is unique, the mind can always find ways in which X’s book or Y’s screenplay or Z’s book is similar to one’s own.

Here’s my exercises for this stage of writerly despair:

  1. Name ten things your book has that X’s does not. They can be small things, e.g., you feature a coffee shop throughout your novel, and X’s does not. You love coffee.
  2. Name one person (whom you’re not related to) who you think would be more interested in the book you’re writing than X’s, and why you think that’s so. Pro tip: this can be your barista.
  3. Identify one thing you hope a reader will get out of your book that they won’t get out of X’s.

Why Am I Writing This?

At some point, my answer usually boils down to: because you started it. That’s reason enough for some people, but sadly it’s not reason enough for me.

  1. List ten things you think are cool about the book.
  2. Name three things you learned while writing or researching the book.
  3. Is there anything you found “too cool not to use” that you haven’t used yet?

Write Ten Words (or Write One Paragraph)

Instead of writing a day’s quota, I’ll challenge myself to only write a ridiculously small amount of words. Then quit.

Repeat as needed. It’s better than not writing at all. At some point, you’ll realize you’ve gone over that quota and are back in the groove. For me, this usually takes a few days.

Originally published at You can comment here or there.

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Now available on Redbubble: prints, posters, t-shirts, pillows, totes, phone cases, iPad cases, and greeting cards.

I love this E.B. White quotation.

I get up every day determined to both change the world and have one hell of a good time.

Sometimes this makes planning my day difficult.

Design element credits

Polygon background: Justin Thanks, Justin!

Pattern overlay layers: two from 2 Lil Owls (from a Design Cuts bundle) plus 2 from Joyful Heart Designs.

Font: Brave from Nicky Laatz. Post-processed with Ian Barnard’s Inkwell.

Originally published at You can comment here or there.

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I’ve been doing some tidying around the social network space and got around to looking at reviews on This Is My Funniest 2 on Goodreads.

From a one-star review of the book….

No outright guffaws but….

Big smiles:
The Robot Who Came to Dinner by Ron Goulart
Frog Kiss by Kevin J. Anderson
A Sword Called Rhonda by C. S. Moen

Hey, up there with Ron Goulart and Kevin J. Anderson, ahead of the other 26 authors?

I’ll take it.

Overall, the anthology hasn’t done particularly well, though I was happy to be in an anthology with Larry Niven. When I had him autograph my copy, he said I should autograph his. This is why I like Larry.

When I queried Mike Resnick, he said, “If I laugh, I’ll buy the story.” He must have.

At readings, there’s usually one line that does get a LOL.

Originally published at You can comment here or there.

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There was a time when I was so starved for any writing advice, I’d take whatever crap would fall in. Granted, I was a Scientologist at the time, so you could say I was particularly primed for not only sources of bad advice, but also the unquestioned acceptance of same.

Over the years, I found that my brain became so constrained by all the bullshit I’d accepted that I found it impossible to write at all. I was bound by the red tape.

If You Want to Sell a Novel, Sell Short Stories First

Look, having any kind of respectable publishing credits helps. No question.

But not all novelists can write short. Even if they can write short, they may be nowhere near as good a short story writer as they are a novelist.

So here’s my revised answer to that: Write short stories because you want to. Submit them because you want to.

If they don’t speak to you, there are plenty of other, better ways to spend that time.

You’re Never Going to Make a Lot of Money as a Short Story Writer

I heard this last weekend. Verbatim.

Do I believe it’s true? No, I do not. Edward D. Hoch made a living as a short story writer.

Do I believe the odds are against you?

Sure, if you insist on thinking of it in terms of odds, which I don’t think is helpful.

Rather, I prefer to think of it this way: if you want to make a lot of money as a short story writer, you’d likely need to have a large number of relatively uncomplicated (in the sense that it’s a “short story” idea rather than a “novel” idea) ideas that you can write and polish to professional levels.

I know me: I have a smaller number of ideas but they’re more complex, and thus I’m a novella or novel kind of writer.

There’s also the issue that how much you make from short fiction depends on what venues are available for you to sell it, including film and television. Excluding self publishing at the moment, I’d argue that novella length has new life in the digital first markets.

Case in point:

We both have short stories and novellas, which frequently don’t make it into print except in collections or magazines. Those collections and magazines tend to pay token amounts if at all — contributor’s copies are common — whereas I’ve made over $8,000 from a novella published in 2011. Aleks and I co-wrote a short story that was released last year and has made each of us just under $2,000.

(Quoted from here.)

I’d say that most people would think $8,000 was “a lot of money.” Somewhat fewer would consider $4,000 ($2,000 x 2 writers) “a lot of money.”

But $10,000? For two pieces of short fiction? That’s a lot of money.

Ahh, but she writes male/male romance, you say.

I say that’s not the point. The point is that this construction, “You’re never going to make a lot of money as a short story writer,” assumes things one cannot possibly know about me and my future. It’s a prediction that my future will suck because someone else’s past (e.g., the speaker’s) has sucked.

Besides, Clive Barker did pretty well with this one novella. There are other examples, too.

Rather, it’s more helpful to know what kind of writer you are and whether or not that road would be easier or harder for you. If you’ve got a background writing short non-fiction, then writing short fiction may be easier for you.

Just because it’s a hard road isn’t a reason not to do it. A hard road is still a path, just a difficult one.

There are plenty of kinds of writing, if writing is what you want to do. If it’s not, there are plenty of things to do in almost any field. I really wish I’d understood this early on, because I felt roles were far more rigid when I was in high school. Maybe that was my mistake.

You Should Write in Third Person Because It’s Easier to Sell

To which I respond: my favorite novel’s in second person.

You’re four hours into your shift, decompressing from two weeks of working nights supervising clean-up after drunken fights on Lothian Road and domestics in Craiglockhart. Daylight work on the other side of the capital city comes as a big relief, bringing with it business of a different, and mostly less violent, sort. This morning you dealt with: two shoplifting call-outs, getting your team to chase up a bunch of littering offences, a couple of community liaison visits, and you’re due down the station in two hours to record your testimony for the plead-by-email hearing on a serial B&E case you’ve been working on. You’re also baby-sitting Bob—probationary constable Robert Lockhart—who is ever so slightly fresh out of police college and about as probationary as a very probationary thing indeed. So it’s not like you’re not busy or anything, but at least it’s low-stress stuff for the most part.

Second is very voicey, and it’s both a boon and a bane because of that.

Write in whatever viewpoint you feel happens to fit the story best, including second if you’re so inclined. If you’ve never tried it before, consider rewriting a scene in second person. See how it feels. Try the same scene in first and third emphasizing different viewpoint characters.

There’s no single right answer, but some genres are more frequently in one or the other.

I’ll give an example, though, of where I think first person really hurt the book.


Edward hovered over Bella at night in part because he was protecting her against rogue vampires that she didn’t know existed. Because the book was written in first person, it made Edward look more manipulative and controlling (and for worse reasons) than was actually true. because the book’s POV only showed things that Bella knew, and she didn’t know the whole story.

Read the partial of Midnight Sun (Twilight told from Edward’s POV) alongside Twilight. The two taken together, plus the movie, are a rare opportunity to learn from POV choices and mistakes.

So, if the motivations of another character are important to understanding the piece as sympathetically as possible, consider writing in third. Or, you know, some other POV that’s not a single first person POV.

That Odds Matter

I know a lot of heartbreaking stories in publishing. People having solicited manuscripts lost in piles in a publisher’s office for years. People having their novel abandoned when an editor goes on maternity leave and the replacement editor quits to go into the food business.

There are all kinds of narratives about publishing, and one of the ones I want to address is this: that there is such a thing as odds that determine whether or not you’ll sell a story or whether it’ll do well.

When I receive, say, 100 submissions for BayCon, the odds that I accept your story is not 1 in 100. I don’t roll any dice. Did you write the best story I received? Does your story mesh with my taste? Does it fit the theme better than other stories? (We don’t require that it fit the theme, but it doesn’t hurt.) That’s not a matter of odds.

More than half the time, I reject a story on the first page. I’m sure every writer did the best they could on their first page. Sometimes, it’s a matter of fit. I’ve said that the story we buy has to be family friendly, so “fuck” on the first (or any) page is a non-starter. And yes, I’ve rejected more than one story for exactly that reason.

It’s entirely random that I once, back in the Abyss & Apex days, received two short stories in a row with first sentences that had unintended flying trees. Yay misplaced modifiers. (Both of those were rejected on the first sentence.)

So you’ve survived the first page. Does your piece plunge immediately into backstory on page 2 or 3? That’s probably the single most common reason I reject stories on pages 2 or 3. And yes, this can be done right, and it so frequently isn’t. I’ve done it badly myself. Recently. (First draft, so there’s that.)

Let’s say I get to the end. More than half the time, I’ll still reject the story. Most frequently, it’s one of: the story you started isn’t the story you finished, or you didn’t nail the ending.

Another common failure is what I call the “this feels like a novel chapter” problem. I didn’t really understand this phrase until I saw it a few times as an editor. If you’ve raised more interesting questions/problems/plot points that are referred to in the narrative but don’t happen in the narrative present, it’ll feel like it’s a piece of a longer work. The only way I know of to fix one of these babies is to trim off the glittery parts that point out to other plot lines and story arcs until it feels like the story is resolved in the short form.

But selling a story? That’s not a matter of odds.

Let’s say the first page is solid and interesting, and pages 2 and 3 are strong enough to keep me going, and I finish the piece, and you have a great ending. You’ll likely wind up on the short list.

If anything in the process involves odds, then it’s what happens on the short list, because generally there are more pieces than there are slots we can publish. Since we’re picking newer writers, name isn’t a consideration. It’s just which stories the various people like the best. (I pick the short list, but that’s winnowed down by a small group.)

If I Had to Give Advice…

Three little things.

  1. Is this beginning actually the best entry point for your story for a reader? Not just where you started writing.

  2. Love your piece for what it is. Every piece has issues. Do what you can, then move on. I remember going over another author’s piece in a critique session. The author was worried about how it would be received because of a structure issue. I thought it was fabulous as it stood. It was later nominated for a major award, pretty much as I read it.

  3. Don’t overwork a piece in response to critiques. One of the death knells of an opening is often over-response to a critique like: “I wanted to know more about X in the beginning.” Then the writer edits it in, destroying the opening. Someone wants to know more about the character? Good. Read on.

Originally published at You can comment here or there.

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Several times over the last month-ish, I’ve been told or heard some variant of: “If you want to do X, you need to [do it this way that I'm not].”

I call bullshit.

I don’t write longhand on top of a refrigerator, write with a fountain pen using an oil lamp for illumination, or other variations on the extreme no-computer end of things, but those are valid processes for those writers.

As is wherever you happen to fall on the plotter vs. pantser spectrum of pre-writing organization.

Every writing process has flaws. Every. Single. One.

Many of us have had the outline where the book takes a sudden hard turn into unexpected territory. I’ve heard the writer whose shorts I love but whose novels always seemed flat to me say that she makes her characters adhere to the outline.

Many of us who write without an outline have had the book proceed neatly into no-story land, never to return. Or veer off onto story B, leaving us with half of story A and half of story B.

I was told over the weekend that I needed to decide in advance how long a story would be, then write that.

I’m sure that does work for some people, but I generally only have a vague sense of how long something will be when I start. Basically, I know how complex the idea I have is, and I write it to what I think is the natural length. Sometimes, it winds up being several orders of magnitude more complex, sometimes less complex.

I underwrite the first draft (I think overwriting is more common). In part, that’s because I have open questions that I haven’t resolved yet, so don’t have those details to fill in during the first draft until toward the end of the draft.

Karen Joy Fowler on Her Process

I went to the Maui Writer’s Conference in 2007, and went to this lecture by Karen (who was one of my Clarion instructors in 2002). I bought the CD for the lecture also, so I’ve transcribed the first few minutes for you.

If you haven’t heard of Karen Joy Fowler, she’s a New York Times bestselling author, and most famous for her book The Jane Austen Book Club. She recently won the PEN/Faulkner award for her most recent book, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. My personal favorite of her books, though, is Wit’s End.

The page one that I start with, when I’m first beginning to start writing the novel, is rarely the page one that I have when the novel is finished.

I think that you come to conferences like this, and you hear a lot of writers talk, and you hear a lot of writers explain their own methods, and how they create the books that they create. It sounds often like things that you should be doing.

You’re told to outline, you’re told to not outline…that’s probably the major one.

What I have come to believe, after several years of taking classes, and several years of teaching classes, is that your own working method is your own working method. In fact, I don’t think that you can alter it greatly. Or I worry if you try to alter it greatly. I think that we all start this enterprise because we love to write. Because there’s something about the process of writing that is actually fun for us, and something that at least has parts that we very much look forward to doing. And if you make your method something more efficient, something more reasonable, something smarter—what I worry is that what you edit out of the process is the thing that you loved. So that you’ll be working in a much more streamlined, much more reasonable way, but you won’t be having fun with it any more.

I’m going to talk to you about my working method, therefore. In no way is this meant to suggest that this should be your working method. In point of fact, my working method is a very silly, an inefficient, and stupid one, but it is mine. And I do have fun doing it.

So, I am not a writer who outlines. I am not a writer often who knows much about the book I’m going to write when I start writing the book. The whole process of writing the book is a process of making decisions, and hopefully finding different things that will surprise me as the writer—as well as the reader of the book.

This means that the first draft is kind of an intensely painful one step forward, two steps back sort of process for a long, long time until decisions are made. I probably spend half the time I spend on a book writing the first fifty pages as I am just feeling my way into the book, making the decisions that seem best, then questioning those decisions, and going back and making other decisions, getting to know my characters.

So, just as you often have a working title for a book, I have a working first page. When I am first starting, I do not know where the book is going to go. All I want is a page I can proceed from. Something that, for me, has enough energy, and enough pleasure in it as a writer that I want to write the next page.

I spend a lot of time rewriting—experimenting—with writing the first page. Trying it one way, trying it another way.

When I have actually finished the book, and I know how it ends, is the only time that I confidently know what the first page should be, because you always want to finish the same story that you started.

Here’s My Process

I’m a pantser. I don’t just write without an outline, I write out of order, too.

For books, I write in order until I get stuck. If I have a part later in the novel that’s clearer, I’ll write that because it gives me something to work toward. If not, then I look at the decisions I’ve made recently, because I’ve possibly worked my way into a corner.

If that doesn’t unstick the writing, then I ask myself three things I’d like to have in the book. Maybe I want a big set piece wedding that goes horribly wrong. I keep a running list of these things in the front of my working document. The first section will have a list of those things where I have an order to them. Like: I know they’re going to do A before B. Then I keep a second list for unordered items. Like: I want someone to order a frou-frou coffee drink with whipped cream at the worst possible time.

At any point during the book, I can use an unordered item if it makes sense. (Sometimes I’ll use one even if it doesn’t. Writing should be fun.)

When my writing unsticks, I generally go back to the main working narrative, continuing forward.

One book I did write almost completely out of order, and it’s fascinating to see what sections I completely managed to skip over. (It doesn’t help that I have this sinking feeling that I’m missing one of the notebooks for that book, either.) But it’s largely a first draft that, save for a few gaps, is a mostly complete first draft I wrote when I was having a really horrible few months and needed to write something.

So I mostly organize my book as I write it, and I write mostly in order except when it helps to do it otherwise.

Originally published at You can comment here or there.


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February 2017

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