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Characters: Are you doing it right?

One of the number one compliments that Dissolution of Peace has received, has to do with the characters.  I even started receiving emails through this page from people asking how I made my characters so enjoyable.  That was a really tough question for me to answer, I just created them.  I didn’t set out to have excellent characters.  Let me rephrase that.  Every writer wants believable characters with a strong presence in their story.  Not all stories are character driven, but without believable characters the story always seem to fall flat.  So when I say I didn’t set out to have excellent characters, I simply mean that I didn’t actively sit down and think about how to make people love and/or hate my characters.  I just developed them into “real” people and told their story.

Character Types

You essentially have three types of character types in story.  There are the protagonists, in most stories this would be your Main Character (often abbreviated MC).  Next you have your antagonists, these are the adversary to your MC.  Finally you have you ancillary characters.  These are the other characters that support your MC quest.  Some might argue that you have a forth group her, the background character, the extras if you will.  But, if a character is not in support of the story, I find it best to eliminate them.  If you have a bustling market in a movie, there needs to be extras.  But if you describe the market in your novel, the reader’s brain provides the background characters.

Antagonist and Protagonist

The Antagonist and Protagonist are often confused with villain and hero respectively.  But this is not true.  In some stories, your protagonist is the bad guy (though they may not think so).  And his adversary, or antagonist, would be the man in the cape.    And in some stories, the label of good and evil is not so cut and dry.  In this case your MC (protagonist) might be a poor, underprivileged track star who must overcome a leg amputation to win a race again his rich, well to do, rival (antagonist).

It is better to think of your Protagonist as the main star of the show.  The person whom we might spend most of our time with.  The person who is trying to overcome some obstacle and achieve the goal that is your story.  Essentially your novel is the protagonist’s story.  You can certainly have more than one protagonist in a novel.  I feel my novel has three, and perhaps four, protagonists.  But they are also all trying to overcome different obstacles. Ask yourself whose story you are telling.  The character you choose is your protagonist.

Think of the antagonist as the person in the way.  The person who must be “defeated” in order for the protagonist to advance. In Dissolution of Peace, there is one clear cut antagonist, but I would argue there are at least two more.  But in many stories, there is no clear cut bad guy.  I’ve read some great stories where the antagonist is a faceless group.  Ask yourself who stands in the way of my protagonist and his/her goals.  The answer is your antagonist.

Ancillary Characters

These are the people that help tell the story.  They could be the protagonist’s friends, family, and allies. They can be related to the antagonists desire to stop the protagonist.  Or, they can be other characters that provide help, inspiration, or motivation for the MC.  They can also provide despair, discouragement, and other negative emotional impacts for the MC.  These are the characters your MC meets along his journey one way or another, and propel the story further in some way.

Character Development

So you know what the characters are, now what?  Well now it is time to make them real.  Real characters are what people want.  Readers enjoy character they can relate too, are comfortable with, and feel like the are real people.  That is where the real challenge comes.  Anyone can take a character, plop him into a story, and name him George.  But real characters are a lot harder to craft.  And they do take some work.  That is where character development comes into play.

You may be an outline writer, where you need to outline the specific structure of a story on paper.  Or you could be like me, and just let the story take on a life through your fingers on the keyboard.  But no matter what way you plan a story out, you need to develop the characters.  You can do that in your head or on paper but always put some thought into your characters.

Description

What does your character look like? You may not write out this description in your story, but I find it helps to have a mental picture of my character in place before I start working with the character.  Of course, many argue that leaving your character’s description vague in a story allows to a reader to better relate with a character.  The logic is that they can imagine a person who fits within their comfort zone.  Again, you may not describe the character outright in the text, but you should have some idea of the basics of your character.  If you have trouble with getting a mental picture, look at ads and other images and see if you find a picture that suits your characters just fine. (Note: I do not suggest using that image as anything more that a mental building block.  Using the image for promotional purposes such as book covers can get you into trouble.)

Name: It may seem obvious that your character needs a name, but this is often the hardest part. I find I like more unique names, and I always struggle with male character names.  Just imagine the struggle my wife and I had naming our three boys.  Find a name that works for you.  I disagree with the idea that it is okay to put any name in place and then change it when you think of one.  This is because I believe a name is an identity.  And a character with no identity is lost. I suggest Behind the Name to search for all types of fist names for your character.

Descriptors: Think how the police describe a subject: Ethnicity, gender, age.  Those are a great start.  How about height, weight, build, and clothing they like to wear.  Are they even human?  These are all important attributes for you to understand your character better. Again, you might not write these out in a text of the story, but they are important.  Besides a name, this is the second way we recognize someone.  Think of it this way, you ask a friend if they know Greg and they say they’re not sure.  What is the next thing you might say?  “You know Greg, the really tall white guy.  He always wears a tank top.  You know, with the really big arms.”

Personality

You character has to have a personality.  Everyone in real life does.  They may be outgoing, they may be a fitness nut, they may be afraid of confrontation.  Even someone who seemingly has no personality, does.  You just have to know them better.  So get to know your characters better.

Likes and Dislikes:  What does your character like?  What does s/he hate?  Do they have a fear of spiders?  Do they love to work out?  If your character wasn’t stuck in the story you gave them, what might they do for fun?  What activities would they avoid?  Not only does this build a character’s personality, but it might give you an idea to create a little tension for them at some point down the line.  Put me in a room full of spiders and tell me to go get the million dollars on the other side, and I might well wonder how important money is.

Traits: Does your character love to talk?  Are they just chatty or very charismatic?  Would your character prefer to be left alone?  Are they well spoken  or more the type to drop an f-bomb?  These are all traits readers of one type or another can relate to.  Figure out what it is about your character that makes them far more unique than every other five-eleven woman, who likes to work out, but loves chocolate more.  Dig deeper and deeper until you’ve created a monster, or a hero, or even better… an unlikely hero.

Biography

Now it is time to really make this character into someone.  Make them more than just a person in a book.  Make them someone real.  Give them a bio.

Friends: Who does the character hang out with?  What are their friends like?  Why would your character choose these people as friends?

Partner: Romance may not be a theme in your story.  Though my editor of Dissolution of Peace pointed out that he felt it was the romantic tension in my novel that would sell copies.  But not every story needs it.  But I do think it is important to take a moment to think about who your character would choose for a mate.  It may even be determined that your character has no interest in romance of any type.  But why?  If they wouldn’t choose a partner, then explain to yourself why.

Family:  Where where they born?  Who are their parents?  Where is their family now?  Siblings? Cousins? I know some authors that have an entire family tree for their characters.  But also think about how this character relates to his/her family.  Remember you can choose your friends and your spouse, but not your family.  Your character might be the black sheep of the family, or they could be the family matriarch.  Regardless of how we feel about our families, our relationship with our family relates to how we are as a person.  The same will be true of your character’s family.

The Past:  Consider your character’s past.    Where have they worked? Schooling? Did your character witness something that changed them forever?  Did they always want a certain job, but they could never have it because of some reason or another?  To know where your character is going, you have to know where they came from.

The setting:  Consider where your story is taking place.  Military and police are all unique individuals, but there are common traits among these people.  Same with regions of the world.  Where this character is at now is just as important as the past.

Growth:  Your characters, especially the MC, need to grow as the story progresses.  We all grow as our own lives progress and major events sculpt who we are.  They same should be true of your characters.  They should grow as they go through the life changing event you have set out to tell.  The growth of a your character through the story is just as important as the development you do before the story.

Tips and Tricks:

Walking Cliche: Avoid making your character a walking cliche.  The villain who was never loved by his family.  The hero who was born to be one.  The tall, dark, and handsome MC.  They nerd in glasses and a lab coat.  I could go on forever with this.  There is a world of cliche characters.  And I would dare to say there is a bit of cliche in all of us.  But, the walking cliche is not going to relate with readers.

Find Examples: Take a look and some of the books you’ve read.  What are some characters you really enjoyed?  For me, more recently, I love Kara in S. M. Boyce’s Lichgates, Sonata in Beyond the Cell by Sara Tribble, Guile and Kip in Brent Weeks’s The Black Prism, Katnis in The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, and Hank in Robert S. Wilson’s Shining in Crimson are all very strong characters for me (I could list so many more). I rooted for them, felt for them, prayed for them, and wanted desperately to see them succeed.  These are the kinds of characters that I enjoy and so when I write characters they are likely to possess some of the same traits as the characters I mentioned.  Please don’t take a Gandalf and drop him into you novel, but only call him Ron instead.  People will notice that.  But if there was something about Gandalf that you really held on to, a character trait of his you admire, then you might put that is Ron the wizard.

These examples don’t have to just come from fiction either.  I have an old supervisor of mine that has always stuck in my head.  There are traits about him that I think are great, and I use them in my characters.  When I look to create romantic chemistry between characters, I draw from real life romantic situations I have seen or been in.  In fact, I bet most of our larger than life characters came from traits real people have shown an author.

Characters Talk: One of the big benefits, in my opinion, of not being an outline writer is that I simply let my characters tell the story.  I know where the end game is, but I let the character take over the keyboard for me.  I let them tell their story through my fingers.  I know that sounds like a multiple personality disorder, or at the least the rambling cliches of a writer.  But the truth is, when I am writing in a character’s viewpoint, I simply have to become that character.  I have to let them talk.  I am telling their story, if I don’t listen to them they won’t talk to me anymore.  The bottom line here is that if you want to have a believable character you have to treat them like a real person.

Even if you do write outlines.  Don’t be so rigid with it.  If your characters tell you they want to go on a side quest, perhaps you should let them.  I have often found that my characters know a lot more about where my stories are going than I do.  And they teach me something new about themselves all the time.

Overly Evil: We often associate the antagonist with evil.  This is because if many stories they are the bad guy.  But don’t over do it.  I’ve heard it said many times, in a variety of ways,  so I’ll repeat it: Readers should love to hate your antagonist.  They should be able to connect with him on some level. S/he has to be a believable character.  They may even be convinced they are doing the right thing.  If evil is an element in your antagonist, keep it in line.  An overly evil antagonist can be believable, after all there are some incredibly evil people in real life, but too much will turn off a reader.  Use the same advice above for creating an antagonist and you will find you can create one with just as much “punch” and the diehard villain, and they will be better for it.

Summary

When you go through all these steps you will get great characters. Add some great story telling and you will have characters that are memorable, and worth every moment of the readers time.  Each character is different, and their roll in the story will determine just how deep you go into the development of them.  But the more you make them real before you start writing, the stronger they will be in the readers head.

If you are looking for more on the topic of character, I strongly suggest you check out Elements of Fiction Writing – Characters and View Point by Orson Scott Card.  I learned a lot from that book and reread it often.

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Grammar Sensitivity

handle_criticismRecently I had my first three star review for Dissolution of Peace.  There are many who believe that writers should avoid reading reviews of their work.  Of course, as a new writer that can be tough.  There is a certain quest for validity when you are first starting out.  This is especially true of independent writers, those not publishing through one of the big house publishers.  But you also have to have a certain level of thick skin when it comes to reading reviews.  It is the same thick skin you have to develop when you get those first critiques back from beta readers.  I think I am fairly good at taking a bad review or critique.  I am willing to admit that my writing isn’t for everyone.  I don’t think every story is for everyone.  In fact, I don’t think there is one story that is for everyone.  Tastes vary, and I can appreciate that.

But there is one chink in my review armor, an Achilles heal of bad reviews, and that is grammar.  Nothing makes me feel more incredibly horrible as a writer, or even as a human being, then when someone points out bad grammar.  The worst part is so many people feel compelled to do so.  I have a friend who doesn’t even like to read who will point out just about every grammar mistake I make on social media.  My sister-in-law loves to do it as well.  My wife, she can do it all the time.  She especially loves to point out bad grammar in my speech.  My mom even pointed out that she thought I had a bad editor, because of the mistakes she saw in my writing.  I found this even more disheartening because I thought my Editor did a great job helping me polish this out.  So my first thought was how horrible the original could have been without his help.

Every time someone points it out, I feel like a hack.  I have an insecurity when it comes to my grammar.  This includes my spelling, punctuation, and sentence structure.  Really any of it gets me down.  So while a three star review is decent, the text of his review got me down.  Down to the point that I nearly scrapped my current novel in progress and packed up the keyboard.  Nothing makes me feel more like a want-a-be writer than when I get hit with grammar points.

But like any Achilles heal, I’ve had to learn to deal with it. There are two reasons I never pursued my original dream career, one of them was a mentor of mine who repeatedly pointed out my horrible spelling skills.  I don’t think she ever called them horrible, but that is what I heard. So when the second thing came along, I never bothered to overcome it because deep down I was self conscious of my ability to deal with spelling.  I can’t let that become the stumbling block for my dream to write.

If it wasn’t for spell check, my spelling would be worse.  But one can not rely on spell check alone.  It isn’t a perfect system.  Sure, I could resort to blaming others.  But that really isn’t fair either.  In fact, I really haven’t found a trick to dealing with this.  I try my damnedest to learn everything I can about grammar, and do my best to catch it all.  I hire an editor to make sure my grammar is on point.  And I listen to those grammar complaints from everyone who points them out, even when it gets me beyond angry.

I also try to remember that I am not the only one.  I know others that have had, or continue to have grammar difficulties.  So here are some tips I use to help me deal with my Grammar Sensitivity:

Grammar Police1. Not everyone knows what they are talking about.

Frankly, many don’t know what they are talking about.  There have been a lot of people to point out grammar mistakes for me to spend time looking up only to find they were the ones that are wrong.  But, just because they are wrong doesn’t mean I didn’t learn a little more about grammar.

2. Learn what you can about grammar.

If you are like me, you hate learning about grammar.  I don’t like it at all.  But if you have the dream of being a writer, it is something you have to deal with.  When someone points out a grammar mistake, look it up.  And when you are not sure, look it up.  There are many ways to look it up.  A fellow author shared this site with me: http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/  It has helped me out a lot.  But if grammar is your stumbling block, learning it may not be so easy.  But you could also be making it harder of yourself.

3. Don’t over think grammar.

Once of the biggest draw backs to constantly studying grammar has been that I am now constantly second guessing myself.  I don’t know how many articles I have read on then versus than.  Yet, I still make the mistake.  And 95% of the time, I make the mistake because I spent so much time over thinking the way I was using it.  And spending too much time thinking over the grammar only slows down your progress on the story.

4. Grammar can be fixed

I believe I have said this before.  But grammar can be fixed while the ability to tell the story generally can not.  Story is much harder and sometimes impossible to fix, but changing a semicolon to a period is easy.  But only if you can catch your mistakes.

5. Hire someone to catch those mistakes

Hire a grammar cop to edit your stories.  If you know grammar is your weakest link, get a grammar strong editor.  Get grammar strong beta readers too.  And don’t restrict them from pointing out grammar issues, especially in later readings.  I’ve made this mistake before.  I’ve been very restrictive on grammar comments from beta readers and in the long run it only shoots me in the foot.

6. Have a safe zone.

My friends tend to make this impossible.  But I used to use social media as my reprieve from grammar.  That is why I have made it one of the rules on my blog that there be no Grammar policing on my site.  This is my break.  But, my mom still feels compelled to point it out.  While there is no real safe zone from grammar cops, you can do your best to make some sort of buffer area.  It is why I get so angry with my friends on social media when they get grammar crazy.  It just isn’t the place for it.

7. Grammar mistakes are not a stopping point.

Grammar mistakes should not be something that stops you from realizing your dreams.  I wish I understood that ten years ago.  Grammar mistakes can actually be a starting point.  They can be a spring board for you to learn from.  You can make yourself a better writer by getting these mistakes brought to light.  And then learning about them.

8. Watch out for the ones that point out grammar too much.

Yes, there can be too much grammar.  Those that expect perfect grammar in dialogue for example.  But it has also been my experience that many who are absolutely crazy about grammar are not exactly good with story.  I know some people are going to go nuts over that comment.  But it is still my firm belief that when you are writing a story, you should be obsessed with the story not the grammar.  If you have people around you that drag you down over grammar, they may not be the type you want to have around.  But that ones that want to build you up by helping you with grammar, those are the keepers.

Here is a trick to tell which type of person they are:  It is all in how they point it out.  If they point it out with a rude comment, then it is obvious they are the “drag you down” type.  But sometimes it isn’t so cut and dry.  The sarcastic joke, the laughing at you (even an LOL or a 😛 count as laughing at you) for your mistake, and the constant pestering of you for your grammar.  Those are all signs of the “drag you down” type of person.  And most of the time, the “drag you down” person is jealous of some other aspect of your writing, such as your story telling ability.

But the person who wants you to succeed will point out resources for you to learn.  They will explain the grammar error to you.  They will do their best to tell you how to fix it, how to learn more about that mistake, and how to keep from making it again.  That is a person that wants you succeed.  They are happy that you have all the talents for writing that you do have, and they want to help you make grammar another one of those talents.

I Don't Know9. Once it is published, it is published.

Don’t get me wrong.  If you don’t think a work is acceptable and you are self publishing it.  You can pull it down.  But, if you have been following some of my other tips and tricks, you likely did all you could to make it the best possible work you could put out at the time it was published.  Going back and changing something after every review that points out a mistake, will only lead to an inability to move on and progress as a writer.

10.  Push on.

I mentioned above that I was ready to give up on writing over the grammar review I got.  It hurt.  But I also had to recognize that it is also their opinion.  And, I think it is a bit exaggerated.  But even if it isn’t exaggerated, the point of Amazon reviews is for a person to give their honest opinion of the product.  Even if it gets all one star reviews, you have to move on.  You have to move on and start on that next project.  You have to keep pushing for that dream.  Giving up on it now will only cause regret later.  I still kick myself for giving up on my career goals.  Giving up on my writing dreams will not work.

 

If you are going to be a writer, you will have to deal with grammar.  Even worse, you will have to deal with grammar critics.  If you have a sensitivity to grammar correction, like I do, you will have to learn to work around it.  I hope with a few of my tips you can at least manage to keep writing.

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Curse Words in Writing

swearing_3421243I really have never addressed this topic.  It is funny that I have not talked about it since I quite simply love to curse. There is little else that makes certain type of point than a well placed “fuck” or a perfectly timed “bullshit.” And in the work I do, I am certainly well adjusted to hearing swear words, including some very nasty ones directed at me personally.

So when it came to swearing in writing, I never really gave in much thought.  I like to write stories with believable characters, and we live in a world where people curse.  But when it comes to telling a story, cursing can be off putting to some readers, and there has to be a balance. There are many things to consider when you type that first swear in your fiction.  Let’s take a look at some:

Audience

Who is this book intended for?  It might be most obvious to eliminate, or at the least tone down, cursing in a Young Adult novel.  You will likely have none in Middle Grade.  And I am certain your children’s book will be swear free.  But it is more then just the category of your novel.  Are you writing to diehard Sci-Fi readers? Grandmas? Church goers? Parents of young kids? Military readers? and on and on.  Each of these needs a consideration as well.  If this group of readers will be easily offended by the content of your novel, including swearing, you either need to change your audience or remove the words.

Is it Fitting?

Does the curse words fit the story, the world, and the context it is used in?  If you are writing a book about an alien world who have never met humans, I highly doubt they would use the word “shit” in any way.  If you are writing about a character that is getting shot at, I can almost be certain they will swear.  If you are writing a military or police novel, they swear.  Do they all swear?  No.  But I’ve been around enough of both to know that when things get ugly, a swear might slip out.  You have to find out if the swear belongs in the world, the environment, and the type of story you are telling.

Characters

I touched on this a bit above.  If you are writing about the military, there may be curse words.  But if your Main Character is a very mild mannered person who was drafted into the army, s/he might not be prone to swearing.  If you are writing about a priest who is trying to help a teenager get out of a bad situation, he is unlikely to swear.  But then again, he might slip in a minor curse word if the teenager has just pushed the priest too far.  Or the priest feels that is the only way to get through to the kid.  Think about each of your characters.  As you are developing your character, did you ever think of them as the type to swear a lot?  If not, then it might be best to leave them out.  Consider the character’s background.  Growing up rich with a lot of servants and proper etiquette might yield a different swear result than the inner-city bully.

Vulgarity

To some the word “fuck” is vulgar in itself.  I am sure if that is the case they stopped reading my blog a long time ago.  But to others, the way it is used determines the level of vulgarity.  There is a big difference between yelling out “fuck” in an adrenaline rush situation and saying you will “fuck” someone.  The vulgarity of the use of a swear ties in to the character, the suitability of the use, and your target audience.  I swear a lot, but there are certain words, when used a certain way, that even I take offense to.  In the end if you are going for shock value, it should be removed.  Shocking your audience in a vulgar way, will likely knock them right out of your story.  Sometimes to the point they won’t keep reading.

Is the word distracting/excessive?

When you read the text, is the word distracting to the action? Do you, or your beta readers, seem to notice the word more than the actions of the overall scene?  If so, it probably doesn’t belong.  Have your characters done nothing but curse the entire novel?  If so, you may be taking away from the character and that will only hurt the story.  The most obvious test is if you notice.  The second test will come from beta readers.

Excessive is hard to define.  You can’t say that a certain number of curse words is the limit in any novel.  You have to test it with a sample audience, the beta readers.  See what they say.  See what your editor says.  Consider all of it to decide if it works for your novel.  In Dissolution of Peace, we have a military setting, with aggressive and stressed out characters, in a world on the brink of war.  I can tell you that there is cursing in the novel.  My friend asked me if the novel would be appropriate for a 14 and 9 year old.  Before I could message him back and say, “Probably not.” He told me that he searched the novel.  The word “Fuck” came up fifteen times and “shit” twenty plus times.  When I first saw that, I was surprised.  I hadn’t thought it was so much.  And that really does seem like a lot.  But not one beta readers, or my editor, made a single comment on the cursing.  The fact that neither myself or my beta readers noticed proves the fact that it is not excessive.

Of course, others might consider it very excessive.  That goes back to audience.  So far, in both editorial reviews and customer reviews, there has been no mention of the cursing.  So far, it seems, that no one considers it excessive.  As I go back and read the novel, the curse words fit the situations they are used in.  You almost don’t notice them.

To curse or not to curse.  The debate.

Curse words are a big debate in the writing community.  I’ve not noticed forum discussion on the topic that did not have strong opinions on both sides of the debate.  Many have argued that if the right way to use a curse word is to leave it unnoticed, than what it the point of using it anyway?  I often argue that sometimes not using a curse word can be more distracting.  I read a detective novel, very well written, but I just couldn’t see this detective yelling out “dang!” when he got shot at.  To me that was deliberate censorship and it stood out far more than a “shit” or a “damn it” would have.  If the author was against cursing, simply leaving it off might have been better.

And that sort of sums up the use of curse words in a novel.  They will never make or break a story.  I’ve seen excellent novels based in various settings that both use and didn’t use curse words.  But even in those that used the curse words, it wasn’t the curse words you remembered.  You remembered the story.  Curse words are like many other character and story accents.  If used correctly, no one will remember them but they will love your characters and story.

Swears are a lot like sex scenes.  In many cases the story will work just fine without either.  So the choice is entirely up to the author.  But when used correctly, swears are no big deal either.  Only the writer can decide if they belong or not.

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Form Rejections

When I started out as a writer, I went to work with short stories.  There are tons of markets to share my stories with.  When I got my first form letter rejection, I wasn’t surprised.  I’d known rejection was part of the game and I had been warned that most markets use the Form Letter for rejections.  The question no one could really answer clearly was: Why?

I’d first been told it was because of the sheer volume of submissions.  Which I wasn’t sure about since I didn’t think it took but two seconds more to tell me why I was rejected.

I was told it has to do with editor policy.  Which is true, but doesn’t really answer the why.

I was told it was just the industry standard.  Again true, but not really why.

The point is, every writer danced around the topic because frankly none really knew why.  We just accepted it as the way of the writing world, and went with it.  After all there really isn’t anything any of us can do to change it, unless we all just stopped sending in submissions.  But I’m not going to stop sending in submissions over the type of rejection I get.

I’ve been running Plasma Frequency now for five months and we’ve put out two issues.  And up until yesterday we offered personal rejections on every submission.  Even as our large volume of submission came in, we continued to provide personal rejection letters.  Why did we do that?  I thought that was what writers wanted.  They wanted to be told why their story was rejected.  They wanted to learn from the rejections.  They wanted to know if the editor even finished manuscript.  And if not, why.  So I thought, lets tell them. 

The problem is this.  Authors don’t really want to know.  Not truly.  When they find out from the editor that the opening was boring, it upsets them more than the form letter did.  When an editor say the manuscript wasn’t formatted and submitted correctly, they get aggravated they were rejected on a technicality.   When the editor says the story was great but doesn’t fit the publication, they get mad that the publication doesn’t accept “great” stories.

I realize this is an over generalization.  I get upset at personal rejection from time to time, but I really appreciate that they took the time to tell me why.  And in the end, like most writers, I just move on.  I fix the problem, or don’t, and send it off to the next place.

The problem is that there are a significant number of authors who are not professional enough to move on.  They have to say something back.  Those authors should read my blog post, “Inside an Editor’s Mind (Tips for Writers)”.  The problem is they are rarely correct in their anger, and it is almost always misplaced.

My staff and I have been threatened, cursed at, CAP LOCKED, and cyber bullied.  I already nearly lost one editor because of it.  Here are some of the things we’ve gotten back from authors.

“Well you would know about “overly sexual” you whore.”

“I will find everything any of you have ever written and I will ensure everyone I know rates it as poorly as possible.”

“You can suck my dick!”

“I consider myself above your petty opinions.”

“You must be sleeping with the Lead Editor to get your job.”

“I will tell everyone about your lack of professionalism.”

“YOU CAN ALL EAT SHIT!”

“You are by far one of the UGLIEST people I’ve seen.”

“I will find you and you will regret rejecting ME.”

Your first thought might be that we are doing something wrong.  That we are rude in our personal rejection.  But I discovered I am not the only one getting this behavior, we just rarely talk about it.

John Joseph Adams, editor for Lightspeed, and in my opinion one of the better editors in the business recently tweeted: “This week, have been both called a “tool” for rejecting someone & had a writer reply “FUCK YOU!!!” Still so surprising when people do this.”

While he is one of the only ones I know to publicly say so, many other editors have privately shared the same types of stories.  Writers who complain about how unprofessional we are, while writing to us in an unprofessional manner.  Frankly it is embarrassing to writers as a whole, and if we editors wanted to be truly unprofessional we’d share with you their names so you could rise up against them.  Because the fact remains that the main reason editors stop providing personal rejections is because of the abuse that writers like these give us.

The problem here is the professional divide.  There are many websites warning writers of bad editors.  Editors that take advantage of writers.  There should be.  There are also plenty of people who take to the internet in persecution of an editor or a company simply because of a rejection letter.  That is not right.  I personally have yet to find a website that warns editors of unprofessional writers.  Writers who say things that I’ve mentioned above.

Why?  We have to take the high road.  We have to be professional and accept that is is part of our job.  We are trying to give our opinions to help you understand why your story didn’t make the cut.  They are our opinions.  We are then persecuted, bullied, and abused for giving those opinions.  We just wanted to help.  It makes many editors quit.  And as their boss, I can’t really allow it to happen.  We can take limited steps to protect ourselves, such as switching to form rejection.  That is why we, at Plasma Frequency, stopped providing personal rejections to first read rejections.  We hope to continue to provide them to second and third read rejections.  Hopefully the writers at that level can handle our opinions.

Once again, I recognize that most writers don’t behave this way.  This might come off as a bit of rant.  And in a way it is.But the point is, it is my opinion that many publications use form letters simply because of the abuse the get if they used personal rejections.

Of course, as an editor I still very much respect writers.  I am thankful for the submissions we get.  I couldn’t run my magazine with out them.  I’ll likely still send out a few personal rejections to those who might appreciate the opinion.

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Editing (and why you need an Editor)

I am blogging a lot later tonight because I spend my day time editing Dissolution of Peace.  Though I finally went through all my editors notes, I am not finished.  My editors made nearly 3,000 line by line comments on my manuscript and also provided me with four full pages of comments and suggestions.  I still have 70 to correct, but I made the decision to fix what was easiest first.  The points of story and character, I’ll go back and review.  It was a lot of work just to correct those other 2930 comments, but many of those were punctuation mistakes, grammar mistakes, and typos.

Grammar is a touchy issue with me.  It is also a pit fall of mine.  I’m not afraid to mention that.  But I do become incredibly grouchy when grammar mistakes are pointed out to me, especially in social settings.  And while a few simple mistakes may not ruin a story for a reader, major slip ups will.  And a pile of minor slip ups can make a mountain that becomes distracting.  But that doesn’t mean I have to like it, and for that reason I dreaded reading these comments.

But if grammar bothered me, I was more worried that the editor would have listed a huge amount of plot problems.  Or tell me he hated the story line all together.  Thankfully I didn’t get that.  There were even some plot points I was worried about that my editor made no comments on.

But in the end my editor caught 3,000 mistakes (in his opinion) that my three beta readers missed.  That is 3000 things that were not brought to my attention before I hired an editor.  And this is exactly why you need to hire an editor, especially for your longer projects.  I don’t hire an editor for my short stories, it doesn’t make financial sense to me.  But I will hire an editor for all of my novellas and novels.

Beta readers help you find those plot mistakes, story flow problems, and gauge overall reader enjoyment.  Editors break out the find tooth comb and check for all the little mistakes (and even some big ones).  Think of Beta readers as sand paper, they smooth out the story.  And Editors are polish, they make the story shine.

There are some things you have to look for when you hire an editor:

First, do they have any editing experience.  Don’t be afraid to ask them what they have edited.  Don’t be afraid to ask other writers for recommendations.  And do a search for information about that editor.  Check out their website and other people’s posts about them.  Ask for references.  Remember you are hiring them.

See if you can get a sample.  Many editors will provide a small sample of their work.  Some won’t but I’d suggest they do.  Even if it is just a few pages.  If not, but you know they are a good editor.  Find out what you get for the money you are paying.  Some editors charge a lot of money just to give you a summary of thoughts.  While others will offer line by line edits.  Always ask if it includes proofreading.  Some editors don’t consider proofreading part of editing.  It is semantics if you ask me, but that is why you should always check.

Find out a deadline.  Make sure the editor gives you a timeline.  Don’t dump hundreds of dollars on an editor that plans to take an excessive amount of time on your manuscript.  You may have to pay more if you want a rush on your edits, and you may pay less if you allow the editor some extra time.  Again, establish that up front.

Last find out if your editor will continue to help you if you fail to understand his notes.  Some editors charge for the markups and a separate fee if you want further opinion later.  Others are willing to help you through the whole process up to publication for no extra charge.

Tips for handling editor markups:

Just like when you get feedback from Beta Readers, the feedback from an editor does not mean you have to change something.  There were a number of suggestions my editor made, that I won’t be changing.  Most of these are a simple matter of opinion.  But, remember you are hiring an editor to provide you a professional opinion.  So if you are not sure you agree with an editor remark, look it up for yourself.  For example, my editor marked that “sickbay” should be “sick bay”.  I won’t be changing that because my research shows that many naval traditions refer to it as one word, sickbay.  So I will keep it that way.  My editor is not wrong for marking that, I just prefer it the one way.  The plus side is that by him pointing it out, I realized that in some parts of my manuscript I had it as two words.  So for consistency I fixed that.

That being said, never ignore an editor’s comments.  They marked it for a reason.  Good editors will also explain why they marked it that way.  Mine did.  I was also able to research it myself.  I learned from it and now I know a lot more than I did in the beginning.  There were a few times I thought I had done something right, but when I went and looked it up I was wrong.  Don’t ignore a comment, learn from it even if you don’t change it.

Next, bit of advice is not to be overwhelmed.  It is pretty scary when you see all those red markups on your manuscript.  At first I didn’t really want to move forward on the edits.  I was intimidated by the volume of notes.  But I told me self I’d start working my way down.  Anything that required extra thought I would skip.  I would fix all the typos, punctuation, and grammar errors and other simple fixes.  That got the ball rolling.  And soon you realize that you repeat a lot of mistakes.  For me, punctuation at the end of dialogue was a pit fall for me.  That was probably the number one punctuation fix for me.  A few spelling errors.

And a lot of repeated words.  When I started to find out my editor was marking repeated words, I was a bit mad.  I didn’t see the importance in it.  I thought it was something trivial and a matter of opinion.  But when I got back my manuscript I found that my characters “smile” a lot.  They “stated” everything.  And they “look” all over the place.  And a lot of the time I used all three of those words as a filler.  Something a simple “said” would work for.  Or sometimes the sentence could be removed with no effect on  the story.

My last tip for handling big project edits is not to read while you edit.  If I had reread my entire novel while working on the edits it would have taking far longer.  I simply went from comment to comment and corrected what was wrong.  I only read the area of the comment to get the context.  It helped me power through those thousands of comments leaving the real meat of the edit there.  I will now read through the novel and as I hit the comments left behind I can decide how to best correct those.

I don’t need an editor.

If you are writing a novel (or even a novella) you are wrong.  You may plan to publish the traditional way, or you may plan to self publish.  Either way you need an editor.

If I was submitting my manuscript to an editor at a publishing house, I’d have just submitted them a manuscript with 3,000 errors on it.  That is 3000 things the publisher will notice.  I think my current manuscript would have a better chance of being picked up simply because I correct so many errors.

If I self published my manuscript, it would have went to readers with 3,000 mistakes on it.  That could very well add up to low sales.  And the number one way a self published author gets (or loses) sales is word of mouth.  There is rarely a large marketing budget for the self published author.  So hiring an editor is the best way to invest what little money you have available to improve your work.

Every writer needs an editor.  At least one.

Who did I use?

I am sure you wonder who I used for my editor.  I used Robert Wilson, editor for Nightscape Press.  Robert is a self published author of multiple top rated novels and novellas, including the only Vampire novel I have truly enjoyed: Shining in Crimson. Robert was also an editor for Horror for Good: A Charitable Anthology and is a freelance editor.  His rates are reasonable (you can contact him about that).  His work is very in-depth.  He even took time to look up facts about how military ranks are capitalized, since this was his first story that dealt with so many ranks.  I think that speaks volumes right there.  He took the time to make sure he has it right.  He provided me broad notes and line by line edits/proofreading.  As I mentioned he took the time to point out repeated words.  He did this by highlighting them a different color than the comments, and that was really helpful.  It made them stand out and I really saw how much I was using some words.  Overall, I highly recommend him.  And I will use him again (provided he can stand working with such a needy writer again).

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Making SOME Money in Writing

I briefly touched on this in an early blog post.  Writing is really about more than making money.  If you are a short fiction writer you’d have to do a lot of work to make a good salary.

Where you live will depend on how much you need to survive.  But lets assume you’d be happy with $35,000 a year.  Out in California that is a small amount of money and barely scraping by.  But, if I was doing it as a writer, I’d be happy to scrape by.  If you stuck to short fiction, you would need to sell 700,000 words a year at pro rates (5 cents a word).  That is a lot of words.  And that is words to sell, not write.  You’d have to write roughly 1,900 words a day that are publishable, with no days off.

Most of us don’t put something on paper and it is instantly publishable.  We need to spend time editing.  We need to send it out to and listen to our Beta Readers.  Now back to editing.  And there is always the time it sits on submissions.  But, lets assume you work part time at it.  Say three hours a day, five days a week, for a year.  Or 780 hours a year.  And you manage to get an average of 5,000 words a month published at pro rates.  You’d make roughly $3.85 an hour.  Federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour.

You might argue that if you really did spent 15 hours a week on writing, they could put out more that just 5,000 words published each month.  But the truth is you won’t make a lot of money publishing short stories.  You will get paid in a different way.  You will get paid with recognition, reader enjoyment, positive feedback, and much more.  This is why I fail to understand writers who believe anything less than 5 cents a word is beneath them.

They are measuring the payment of writing in dollars and it really needs to be measured in other ways.  And, in many ways the payments you gets from writing can’t be measured.  Reader enjoyment is hands down my favorite method of payment.  Each time a reader comments on my story, enjoys a plot point, or loves a character I feel like I have been paid again for that story.  Each time some one clicks the like button for this blog, I feel like I got another payment.  And when someone says they have heard of me and my writing, I feel like I hit the lotto.

Don’t get me wrong, I like a pay check too.  But I don’t write for the money, I write for the enjoyment.  So I wonder how can we make some money in writing.  The trick is that it is a process.  Just like most jobs, you start at the bottom and work your way up.

I still strongly urge anyone who writes to start with short stories.  Even if you have a novel in the works, starting with short stories really puts a feather in your cap.  It gets your name out there to a community of readers both before your novel hits the shelf, and after.

Now, lets talk about novels.  When I release Dissolution of Peace, I have no intentions of making millions in the first release.  Let us say that I  sell my novel for $2.99 on Kindle.  And, I doubt I would start there.  But lets say that I do.  I get 70% of most sales.  So I would need 16,750 downloads in a year to hit that $35,000.  That may not sound like a lot, 17,000 downloads, but when you are trying to market that book by yourself, it really is a lofty goal.  And lets not forget that you might be more inclined to start your novel off at $0.99 or $1.99 because you may be lesser known.

But, lets consider something a bit more realistic here.  Lets say you really buckle down and dedicate yourself.  I don’t believe it is impossible to turn out two novels in a year and six short stories sold.  I work full time, run a magazine, and volunteer a bunch of hours to Youth Soccer, but that is my goal.  A goal I won’t achieve in 2012, but only because I just made it this month.

Let me assume that I sell $300 in short stories (5,000 word average at 1 cent a word for six stories).  And, in those sales I get to make a quick blurb about my novels and this website.  I think realistically I could expect 3,000 downloads a year per novel at $0.99 price point.  So I’d get $4,200 there.  For a total of $4,500 a year not counting other expenses such as marketing.  So, I may not be making millions as a writer.  But I think that is a good goal for 2013.  And $4,500 a year to do something I love isn’t bad considering the other things I love to do, watching hockey and playing video games, don’t make me a cent.

And, if you keep building from there, soon you have more sales and more works in circulation.  It is a slow process, but I do believe that eventually it can be possible to make a decent amount of money as a writer.  The process takes time, you have to build a readership.  But remember all the other rewards you get for your writing.  The ones that can’t be measured in dollars and cents.

Now some might say that I sound like I am trying to dissuade you from writing.  This is not true.  Don’t be discouraged by this post.  If you sole goal in writing was to make money, you might want to try your hand at different types of writing.  But if you have bigger dreams than money, carry on with the craft.  I firmly believe that if you write for the love of story telling, the rewards (and even the money) will follow.

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Dry Spells

We writers often talk about writer’s block.  I even had a blog post on the topic.  But sometimes we just have dry spells.  They can be caused by different factors, including writer’s block, lack of time, and lack of motivation.  For me it has been the motivation mostly.  The ideas have been flowing free in my mind.  Both for a sequel to Dissolution of Peace and the current novel I am working on have been very active in my mind.  But I just don’t sit down and write.  So for today’s blog I thought I would talk about how to ride out these dry spells and even do a little rain dance to get things going again.

The first step is recognizing the dry spell.  That may seem easy enough, and for some it is.  But for me it wasn’t so easy.  I only just started thinking about how little I have written.  And when I look at my work in progress, I see the file hasn’t been modified since May 10th.  That is nearly two months ago, and I wasn’t aware of it.  This is by far the longest dry spell I have had in some time.  The only saving grace is that I have still been writing in this blog on a weekly basis.

In fact it was this blog that made me recognize I was in a dry spell, and at the same time it was what made me not realize it for so long.  Each week I sit down and put together a blog post for you.  I’m writing, and perhaps writing these blogs kept my ‘writing sense’ working.  Blogs are great ways to keep people aware of your existence, and to break down writing blocks and walls.  But, in this case it tricked me into thinking it hadn’t been so long since I wrote.  But, when I only wrote a short ‘Happy Independence Day’ blog last week, it clicked to me how little I have written.

You may not blog, so you may see you haven’t written in a matter of weeks.  Or, it could take you some time to recognize it for other reasons.  The point is you have to realize you’re in a slump before you can move on to the next step.

The next step is identifying the cause of the dry spell.  Again this may seem easy, but that is not always true.  Writer’s Block is often the first thing to blame.  But, if your ideas are still percolating in your head, as mine were, writer’s block is likely not your cause.  You have things to write about in your head, you’re just not sitting at the keyboard and doing it.  If you think it is writer’s block, dig deeper.  If you find no other causes, then revert to the steps to break down writer’s block.

The next most common thing to blame is time.  That is what I blamed.  I told myself I haven’t had time because I have been running a magazine.  I’ve been trying to get the first issue ready for print.  But that wasn’t fair.  Sure, running the magazine has taken up a lot of my time, but so does work, and my family.  All valid things to be working on rather than writing, but I’ve worked around all of them before.  But if you work through all this and find that time really is the issue, then you need to revert to the steps to find a time to work on your writing.

You might find it is depression, lack of motivation, or you have something new in your life that you’d rather be doing.  You may even find out that writing isn’t what you want to do.  But chances are that if you’ve realized you’re not writing, and are looking for ways to start again, you genuinely miss writing.  Once you find the cause, you need to dig deeper and find the true cause.

For me, I found it was a lack of motivation.  The ideas were there, but I wasn’t writing.  I dug deeper to find the cause of my lack of motivation.  That was a series of bad news in my writing.  I have received five rejection letters in those two months.  Three of those were for a story I have really felt confident in.  It has been stacking up the rejections and it has started to take a toll on my confidence.  In fact I have two short stories that are not selling despite approaching a year in circulation.  I’ve reminded myself that my first stories sold remarkably fast.  I’ve also reminded myself that I have not turned out a short story in almost eight months.  That is not a bad thing though.  I’ve been focusing on putting out novels.  When the right idea hits me, I’ll write another short.

There have been other delays in my novel as well.  I still don’t have cover art.  The edits may be delayed.  That coupled with the lack of sales of my son’s children’s book, has me worrying about my ability.  I get frustrated when people are not as excited about something as I am.  I feel as though they don’t approve of it, or even thing it not as worthy of their time.  I am a pessimist by nature, so I see all these things for the worst rather than the possible truth.  I see cover art delays as an artist who is disinterested in my story.  I see edit delays as an editor who thinks my work is so bad it needs more time.  And I see lack of sales on my son’s book as validation of my worst fears (that I can’t do this).

Long story short the reason for my dry spell is a lack of motivation because I am suffering from the “I can’t do this” and “I’m not good enough to do this” mentality.  We all hit this.  Everyone, in anything they pursue, hits a point where they think they can’t continue.  But if you stop, you are only proving yourself (and your critics) right.  It is the people that continue and refuse failure, that make it to their goals.

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.” – Henry Ford

Next, you need to break past your road block.  You have figured out what the cause of your dry spell is, but now you need to break on through and keep working.  For writer’s block, it may be as simple as sitting down and typing until you get something going.  For a lack of time, you can schedule in writing time.  If it is more complicated, break it down into simple ways to motivate yourself.

For me, I inflated my ego a bit.  I went to the reviews of my short works that are previously published and saw what they had to say.  Reminded myself that people do enjoy what I write, and that eventually an editor will.  I also recognized that not everyone is able, or willing, to fall into finite deadlines.  I either need to live with it, or only work with people who will follow deadlines (likely a mixture of both).  Last, I think I am good with marketing.  But I had to recognize that when it comes to books, I am new at it.  And when it comes to Children’s Books, I am unsure where to start.  So I’ve started asking around for help on that.

The point is whatever is holding you back needs to be addressed.  You need to either make peace with it, or solve it.  Either way you have to get those things out of the way before you can start writing again.

Last, perform a rain dance.  You will never get past a dry spell if you don’t start getting things going.  If you have a work in progress, open it up and get working.  You’ve worked past all your issues, but your desire to write won’t magically spark up.  You need to start writing.  You might find that you will jump right back in.  Or, especially in the case of writer’s block, you will struggle to start up again.  But after a little time at the keyboard you will find the rains will fall again.  And hopefully once you get going again your next dry spell will be a long way off.

Some people hit dry spells and give up.  For some people they simply don’t feel the need to write anymore.  But, chances are they would not be interested in finding a way to start writing again.  If you have the desire to keep writing, but you just can’t seem to do it, you are a writer in a dry spell.  Don’t give up on it.  Clearly writing is something you enjoy doing, or you wouldn’t seek out advice on how to end your dry spell.  Now get to work on fixing it, and get those words on paper.

 

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Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover… Wait

We all know that saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”  We hear it all the time.  But, we rarely hear it applied to actual books.  That is because we all judge our books by the cover.

In a Disney’s Phineas and Ferb episode, “The Chronicles of Meap”, there comes a very funny scene (at least to me the author).  In which Candace is with her Mom (Linda):

Phineas: Yeah, it looked way outside, but then it was right in the zone. There’s a lesson, baseball fans: never judge a book by its cover.

(scene flips to Candace, looking at a row of books)
Candace: Boring, dull, stupid, lame— heavy-handed and derivative.
Linda: Oh, thank you for those insightful reviews of books you haven’t read.
Candace: Mom, that’s why books have covers: to judge them. I mean, why did you choose these books from the library?
Linda: They looked interesting.
Candace: So…

Linda: Point taken.

Every time I see that scene (and I watch a lot of Phineas and Ferb) it makes me smile.  Because it is so true.  Books have covers to entice us to buy them.  When I am in the book store (yes they still have those,) I browse the rows of books until I see a cover that jumps out at me.  I pick it up, look it over (including the back) and I decide if I am going to buy it based solely on the cover.

This is why cover art is so important.  Once you get them to pick up the book, you need to get them to turn it over and read that all important “sales pitch” printed on the back.  Only after you get past that will you be able to get them to buy the book.  Even if the person thumbs through the first few pages, they have to pick it up off the shelf first.

That is why covers are important in the store, but what about online.  Do people still browse the virtual aisles of Amazon.com?  I think they might.  Even if they know exactly what they are looking for, they may browse more.  For example, go to Amazon.com and search Richard Flores IV… no wait that sounds vain, search Robert S. Wilson instead.  If you were specifically looking for his book Shining in Crimson because you saw my post about it (vanity again).  How would you recognize it instantly in the scrolling list of results.  THE COVER.

Now, if you click on the link to his novel.  You will see Amazon puts that “People who viewed this also viewed:” on the bottom.  Now all you see there is the cover, the title, and the author.  Now, you may not ever use that (I have), but people do that.  Otherwise, Amazon wouldn’t use it.  Again, they will make the choice to click on the novel, based on the cover.

So the cover is important in store or online.  If you go with a big publisher, chances are they will have someone take care of the cover art for you.  But, if you decide to self publish you will need to deal with cover art on your own.  Perhaps you hire somebody, or you can do it yourself if you choose.  But be prepared to spend some time on it.

A good cover needs:

  1. To have the title on it.  That seems obvious enough, but the title should be the dominate text on the cover.  I have seen books where you could easily mistake the Authors name as the Title.  Or even a tag line.  You don’t need to place the Title on top, but you do need to make it the most eye catching thing on there.  Use easy to read, but stand out fonts.  Make sure the title contrasts with the rest of the cover art, you don’t want it getting lost in the artwork.
  2. To have the Author’s name on it.  Believe it or not, I have seen covers with no Author’s name on it.  If I want to find a book by Robert S. Wilson, Lee Gimenez, or even a blockbuster like Orson Scott Card; you need to have the name on it.  I am not going to spend time looking to see who the book is written by.  You may not think you are worth looking for, but if you are marketing your book, someone is looking.  Even me, the twice published author of two short stories, gets a hit to this site based on a search for my name, an average of once a week. Again, stand out font that contrasts with the artwork.
  3. The artwork itself.  Many would argue this should have been number 1 on this list.  Sure the art may be what catches the eye first, but title is what always hooks me in to reading more.  So as far as importance goes, you decide.  There are several ways to get artwork for your cover.  There are plenty of stock photo/artwork sites.  You can buy the artwork per piece or you can pay a monthly fee and get all the artwork you want.  Some are even free.  Always check the terms and conditions carefully.  You may not be able to use the stock art commercially.  The other down side to stock is that your image could be used by some one else  not giving you exclusive rights to the art.  If that is the case, you may want to commission an artist to do your cover art.  It will likely cost you (unless you are connected) and it will likely be more than the stock art sites.
  4. Relevant artwork.  Artwork is important enough to get two bullet points (that I didn’t want to turn off my bullet point format).  Make sure however you get artwork it is relevant to the story in some way.  It should be eye catching as well.  The artwork should not be overwhelming either.  It is not an art gallery exhibit.  Just enough to entice the readers to pick it up off the shelf.
  5. The sales-pitch.  Typically this is on the back cover.  Not seen right away.  But you got the book off the shelf (or they clicked on the link).  Now you need to get them to buy it.  If you buy paper books like I do, the first thing I do after looking at the front cover, is turn the book over.  This is where the author now has a chance to tell me why I should buy the story.  Online they have a section for the Book description or synopsis.  There could be whole blogs on how to write that.  The main issue is you want to have a quick sales pitch about what your story is going to offer.  And then, if you have them, some quotes for fairly well known (or just known) reviewers.  This is your chance to get them to check out with your book.  A poorly written sales-pitch will result in them putting the book down.  Of course, they may also put the book down because the story isn’t what they like to read.  That’s okay though.  You’d rather have them not buy it then get it thinking it was something else and hate it (and possible tell a lot of people they hate it).

Lets take a look at the cover of Shining in Crimson and The Nanotech Muders.

Cover design by CL Stegall of Dark Red Press.

On SIC we see a large red eye.  That certainly will get you a second look.  The eye is not just some red circle.  It is very detailed eye that almost starts to tell the story itself.  The title is a unique font, but very readable and stands out.  The author name stands out from the cover art, while not taking over the cover.  The book description from Amazon provides a brief sales pitch and some praise:

Set in a dystopian, religiously-demented American Empire, the city of Las Vegas is no longer a city of sin. Now called Necropolis, it is a city that eats sin. The vampires of Necropolis wait patiently for the Empire’s weekly drop off of guilty Penitents; sinners and criminals full of fresh blood.

Hank Evans is one of those Penitents and he would gladly let the vampires take every drop of his blood if it weren’t for one detail: Toby. Toby is Hank’s only son. Now, Hank must do whatever it takes to escape the city of the dead and save his son from an Empire as bloodthirsty as the vampires it uses to keep its people in line.

Praise for Shining in Crimson:

“A big-scale vampire thriller that changes the rules.”–Scott Nicholson, author of Liquid Fear, The Red Church, and They Hunger

“One of the best surprises I’ve had in a long while. Writing with a smart, self-assured ease, Robert S. Wilson has given us a gift with Shining in Crimson. Part Underworld, part Escape From New York, Shining in Crimson is genuinely frightening, genuinely thrilling, but above all, first-rate storytelling. I’m a Robert S. Wilson fan from now on!”–Joe McKinney, author of Flesh Eaters and Apocalypse of the Dead

“Robert S. Wilson shows a lot of promise here with this debut novel. Now it’s time to see where that promise will take him.”–Ray Wallace, The Chiaroscuro

“You’ll not find some glistening torsos and smouldering eyes in this book. What you will find is a brilliantly thought out society of Vampires.”–Jim Mcleod, Ginger Nuts of Horror

“The Mesh of Religious symbolism and political commentary tucked neatly between pure horror and suspense is superb.”–Lisa Lane, The Cerebral Writer

Cover art by Deron Douglas

On The Nanotech Murders we have a beautiful woman standing in front of a detailed back drop, holding a gun.  Let’s be honest here, it catches your eye for several reasons.  One you have an attractive woman, two you have interesting shading, that almost implies she might not be all human, and last you have that gun.  The cover certainly catches the eye.  The font on the title is unique while readable and the authors name is prominent but not overwhelming.  The book description from Amazon offers a brief sales pitch:

The year is 2071 and there’s a serial killer loose in Atlanta. Lieutenant Jak Decker, a homicide cop, is on the case but is getting nowhere. As the body count mounts, his boss assigns him a partner, the smart and beautiful Detective Cassandra Smith. Decker, a tough, wise-cracking loner, doesn’t want a partner, especially when he finds out she’s an android.

While I am no expert in Book Covers, I do understand that we judge books by their covers.  If you want to sell some books cover art helps a lot (and it certainly doesn’t harm anything).  We must also remember that your cover art will become that books brand.  And we all know how powerful branding is.  Just think about golden arches.  So consider your cover art carefully.  I can’t wait to get some cover art for my first novel.  Please comment below with your cover art tips and tricks to help others learn from your own experience.

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“The End” Doesn’t Really Mean The End

So many of you made a point of letting me know that I forgot my weekly blog post this past Sunday.  I didn’t forget, in fact I let my Facebook and Twitter followers know exactly why I didn’t post.  I was finishing my novel.

Of course, by finish I mean putting ### (The End) on the first draft of my novel manuscript.  It is in no way finished.  But it sure felt nice to say it was finished.  I let myself bask in the fact that I had completed my novel for a few days.  And now, reality has struck.  “The End” on paper doesn’t really mean the end.

Many of us can write.  Most of us can write enough to create a short story.  A few less can write enough to create a novel.  But far fewer can keep following though on all the steps after “The End” to really finish a novel (or even a short story).  I’d like to see a few more people reach the real finish line.

When it comes to writing works for publication (even self publication) there are steps you have to take to reach the finish.  I’m going to clue you in on some steps so that you know what to expect after you type “The End” on your manuscript.  I’m new to the Novel steps, but they are the same as those for a short story, just longer (and maybe harder).

Let it Rest

You have to let the story rest in your head for awhile.  That is, you have to forget about it a little.  If you finish the first draft and then start edits the next day, you’re bound to miss things because the ideas and words you typed are still fresh in your head.

How long is enough time?  Well that is really up to you.  I know fellow writers who wait months to touch a short story and years for a novel.  I know others who can wait a week on a short story and two weeks on a novel.  There is no right answer when it comes to time.

For my short stories, I post the first 13 lines (or the hook) in my writer’s group.  I give them a week to ten days to share their thoughts and offer to read the story.  After that I move to my second step.  With this novel, I plan to wait until March to start the next step.  I think it will be enough time for me.  If not, I’ll give myself more time after the next novel.

You don’t need to forget the story as a whole.  If you are like me that could be impossible.  It’s just enough time to allow you to forget enough of the gritty details that you will see things like inconsistencies, grammar errors, missing words, POV errors, and other things.

Self Edit

Next, you will need to read your entire manuscript and self edit.  Check for errors that don’t fit the story line.  Maybe you typed a chapter thinking you’d go one direction and now it no longer belongs in the story.  Perhaps another area needs more development to increase the story.  Go though and edit all these things.  If you find grammar errors, punctuation mistakes and typos fix those too, but that isn’t the main focus here.  They point here is to begin to smooth out the story.  Cutting out unneeded areas, and beefing up areas that need it.  Once you are done with that, you’ve got a second draft.

Trial Readers

Once you are done with that second draft you need some trial readers.  You need someone who will give you HONEST thoughts on your story.  This isn’t likely to be a family member or even a close friend.  No one wants to hurt anyone’s feelings, especially not those of a friend.  Friends and Family are best left to read the final product, not your drafts.

This is where a writers group is very handy.  You can get honest thoughts and critiques on your work from other trusted readers who also know a bit about the business.  I’ve planned a blog post for later this month on critiques.  Watch for it.

Now, you are likely to get responses at different times.  One reader might be done in a week, the other might take two.  Since you definitely need to have more then one trial reader, here in my suggestion:  Don’t read any critiques or change anything until you get a response from all your trial readers.  Otherwise you may change something one reader hated, but the other four readers loved.  So save yourself the extra work and go through each critique after you have them all.

Self Edit: Part 2

Look at all these suggestions your trial readers gave you.  Some of them you will find completely useless and you should ignore those.  However, if all the readers point out the same trip up, you might want to fix it (even if you think it is fine the way it is).  But remember, this your work not theirs.   And only you know what is best.

You may really like a scene, but your readers have trouble with it.  Rewrite it then, or cut it.  That is up to you.  But again, this isn’t about grammar and punctuation.  You will be polishing this into a even better story.  Soon, you will have something resembling a third draft.

Proofreading

Unless you made major story changes, it is time to move on to the final draft.  I am a firm believer in four drafts and done (the done being the fourth).  It keeps you out of the endless rewrite circle.  I have a friend who is on their twelfth draft of a novel.  As I have told that friend, that novel will not be published.  They have become obsessed with making it perfect.  It won’t happen.

Now, with my short stories my proofreader is my wife.  She catches most, if not all, my typos, grammar mistakes, and punctuation screw ups.  And for a short story that is enough.

There are proofreading services out there.  I haven’t use any, but I may use one when it come to my novel.  I miss things, and a professional shouldn’t.  Now, some people don’t feel comfortable with that.  It is entirely a choice that is up to you.  I see no reason to do it for short stories.  But, my novel is 67,000 words.  So after my wife reads it she may miss some things.  If the rate is reasonable I will use one.  Otherwise, I am an author that has no money.  I won’t spend a lot on it.

However, no matter how you do your proof reading this is the time to go grammar cop.  Fix all those little mistakes.  Look for those rather then anything to do with the story.  Fix them.  Once they are fixed you have your forth draft and your completed manuscript.

THE END

You are done with your novel, right?  Well not exactly.  You want to see it published.  That involves a lot more work.  It is really a blog topic in itself.  But you have already accomplished much more then the average person who sets out to write.  You have a completed manuscript.  Pat yourself on the back.  Go get a snack, and then start working to get it published.

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Multiple Projects

Working on multiple at one time is something I am very accustomed too.  Having worked as a manager and business owner for many years, I am well aware of the difficulties involved in multitasking.  However, until this month, I wasn’t aware of how hard it would be to do that with my writing.  You see, before this month, I had only one work in progress at a time.

I think more of my problems come because I am typically not an outline writer.  I don’t create and outline to work from, I just type.  Well, that also makes the ideas stored in my mind a bit harder to track.  There where a few things I was already doing that helped dramatically and there are some things I learned recently.

Juggle

Being an writer, and doing it a lot, is like juggling chain saws on a unicycle while up on the tight-rope.  If you don’t know what you are doing someone is bound to get hurt, and it will likely be you.

You may be planning to only work on one project at a time.  That you will complete one manuscript and move on to the next.  While, I don’t think you should do that, I can respect that.  But, there are still some other things to consider.  Lets look at what I juggle right now (and this is just writing related).

  • Novel A
  • Ideas for Novel B
  • Ideas for Novel C
  • Short Story A
  • Ideas for Short Story B, C, D, E, F, and G
  • Critiques and edits for Short Story A
  • Copy editing for Children’s Book
  • Keeping track of illustrator’s progress on Children’s Book
  • Researching best publishers for Children’s Book
  • Writer’s Group meetings
  • Critiques and edits for the works of writers in my writing group
  • Self Publishing research
  • Weekly Blog Updates
  • Webpage Management
  • Twitter Updates (to promote myself)
  • Facebook Page Updates (to promote myself)
  • Self Promotion
  • Planing to see if I can attend OSC’s Boot camp
  • Submission tracking
  • Short Story Market research

I am sure I have already forgotten a few things.  But, that is a lot.  Most of it has little to do with writing multiple projects at once.  The funny thing is, it didn’t become overwhelming until I tried writing my short story while working on the Novel.  The fact of the matter is that I refuse to trim back on any of this (and I still have personal obligations as well).  Each of these things is enriching and rewarding to my craft and my future in the craft.

So, let me share with you what it is that I have learned.

Organize

Organization is absolutely key to surviving the onslaught of things I need to do.

Schedule. I use my Google calendar like crazy.  It links with my android phone and my wife’s Google Calendar.  Aside from the list above, it keeps track of my kids’ appointments, my wife’s appointments, my personal appointments, my volunteer appointments, and my writing appointments.

Story notes.  I know I said that I don’t outline.  But often while I am writing one scene an idea comes up for a future scene in the same work.  So I have a file on my computer called “Story Notes” and on it I keep track of my daily word count, ideas for future scenes, characters (and their quirks), and much more.  It helps me to refresh my memory when I open my novel, especially after working on another project.

Ideas notebook.  Every good writer needs an ideas notebook of some type.  Maybe its a file on your phone.  Maybe it is a little notepad.  Whatever it is, you need to be able to carry it with you everywhere.  Ideas hit me at the weirdest times, from the middle of the night to the drive to the kids’ schools.  This gives me the ability to write them down.  Many of them don’t work out to a story right away, but recently two separate ideas merged when I was flipping through that notebook.  That became Short Story A that I mentioned above.

Submission Tracking.  If you are not tracking your submissions, you will be in big trouble.  I currently have two short stories out at different markets, and one more that will be going out soon.  The worst thing that could happen to those would be for me to forget about them or to even confuse them.  You might forget you sent one to a market already and resubmit it to them (wasting your time and theirs) or you might skip a market thinking you already sent it there.  I use Duotrope, it’s free and it works well.

Folders.  Organize your computer’s writing folders in one spot.  This keeps your works together while also making back up easier.  I have one folder called “writings” (original I know).  In that folder, I have a folder for novels, short stories, contracts, and the miscellaneous files.  I can drag and drop the ‘writings’ folder onto my Passport hard drive for simple back up.  Also, when I decide I want to write on a particular piece, I find it quickly.

Project Tracking.  It might be a cork board in your office.  It could be a program on your computer.  But you need to keep track of what projects are where and when was the last time you worked on them.  Set up three categories for your works in progress:  Writing, Editing, and Submitting.  Each project should be under one of those categories.  And, keep a date attached to it.  Otherwise, you may keep writing the newest thing while your other piece sits and collects virtual dust waiting for the edits.

Time Management

Time management is important.  You can’t expect to get everything done in every day.  There are only so many hours in a day.  I don’t plan out every hour of every day.  Life with three little boys doesn’t work like that.  Instead, I only plan for a few activities each day.  If I can get more done then great.

Check the Calendar.  Don’t tell yourself you will write for three hours today, when the Calendar says you have to be at the Doctor’s at noon, take the car in for an oil change at three, and you have a volunteer meeting at six.  With everything else you have to do, three hours of writing is not practical on that day.  But, perhaps you can fit in some smaller activities in between.

Know what fits.  I can’t write for one hour.  It’s just not how I work.  I have to write out a whole chapter and once I get going, there will be no stopping me.  So I know that I can’t sit down and write during the hour between when my two older kids get out of school.  I’m setting myself up for failure if I do that.  I do know, that I can read during that time.  So, I often sit in the car and read.

The point is, the first step to failing at multiple projects is assigning the wrong projects for the wrong times.  For example, my wife has the kids today.  She handles getting them to school and home.  That means I can focus on my writing today.  You won’t see much from me on Facebook or Twitter.  But, Wednesday through Friday you will see a lot more for me on the social networks because I can easily squeeze in a quick tweet or post while I am making lunch or entertaining the kids.  Every day you should work on your craft, but that doesn’t mean that everyday you have to type in a manuscript.  Take your weekly writing to-do list and plug it in around your life.

The best-laid plans of mice and men.  Plan on forgetting something.  Listen, you are human.  I know that may come as a surprise to you, but you will forget something you wanted to do.  Yesterday I forgot to write this blog post.  Even with all the plans in the world, something will be forgotten.  If it was a crucial line in your manuscript you can go back and add it.  If it was to even write, there is always a chance to make up for it tomorrow.  When I first pledged to write 1,000 words a day no matter what, I knew I would miss a day or two.  So, I have revised that plan to be an average of 1,000 words a day.  Much easier to manage.

Just know that you can’t do it all in one day, or even in a week.

Priorities.  Get your priorities down now.  And writing shouldn’t be number one.  Your life should be first.  Once you know what is important to you, you can better plan what needs to go where in your schedule.  Writing is very important to me, but my family is always first.  My own sanity is next.  So on a busy day, I may not plan to write in the hour I have to myself.  I may plan for a game or to zone out on the TV.   I won’t be writing anytime my kids deserve my attention.  I won’t be writing anytime the San Jose Sharks are playing.

Writing can’t be number one in out lives.  Recognize that, and place it where it really falls.  Then plan around that.  Your priorities change daily depending on what else needs to be done that day.  Once you get into a rhythm of your own priorities and schedule you will quickly realize there are certain days you won’t be writing in that manuscript but you may have time for reading, editing, promotions, and of course ideas come at their own times.   But, you will also see when you can maximize the writing time you do have with minimal distractions and without letting it consume your life.

Know your own limits

If you can’t juggle two tennis balls on the ground, I don’t recommend the tight-rope stunt above.  I know that I am just getting started in this multiple writing projects realm.  So, even though I have an idea for the next novel, I won’t start writing it until this current one is at least into editing.  I did put together a short story while I was writing this novel.  It is still waiting for it’s first round of edits.

I knew that one novel at a time is my current limit.  I also knew that I needed to push myself just a bit and try writing a short story while I was still working on another project.  It’s okay to push those limits just a bit from time to time.  But over doing it will result in burn-out and the possibility of dropping the craft all together.  That is something to be avoided.

Summary

In the end, I can’t tell you what will work for you.  You may not like my ideas, but I can hopefully point you in the right direction.  If you organize yourself, manage your time, and know your own limits; you can juggle all that life has to offer and still get your writing done.

As always share your ideas in the comments section below.  Let the readers know what works for you, and I am always willing to learn something new myself.

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