05-23-2013, 12:06 PM #2433

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Writing is not just an art, but a craft.

I don't know if I can teach art, but by golly I can teach the craft. And yes, I believe writing can be taught. Technique is a necessary part of writing.


We can think of writing as cabinet making: Can someone learn to be a cabinet maker? Yes. Can taking a class in cabinet-making improve some person's cabinet making? Yes. Are cabinet makers born, not made? Maybe? The great ones may have a talent for cabinet making that can't be taught. I don't know. Are there self-taught cabinet makers? Yes.


Tragedy #386


Library Cartoons, Comics and Drawings


I'm bringing this here from elsewhere:


A correspondent writes:
… it occurred to me that I’ve seen many iterations of your Classic Uncle Jim Advice (Go into a bookstore and find out who publishes books like yours; figure out what agents have clients you’ve heard of; start writing another, better book while your current one makes the rounds), but when I go looking for one, it doesn’t fall into my lap. Do you have a single comment that, you feel, summarizes this, and if so, can I have the link? ….
Well, there is this post that I made many years (like, in 2003) ago (and it wasn’t new for me at the time). Here’s another example from 2005. But I’ve elaborated in other places since then, streamlined in spots, combined elements, and thought about it a bit. So I might as well go again. The question keeps getting asked. Usually it’s in the form, “How can I get my book published for free? Also, I’m 15 years old.”

Sometimes the questioner adds details about having always wanted to be a professional writer.

Well, let me say this about that. Once upon a time, I was that 15 year old. And, as it happened, I went to a presentation by a Big Name Pro about his Works (in our beloved genre, as it happens, a name you’d all recognize) for in those days there was no Internet. And, at the very end, in the question and answer section, using all of my courage, I raised my hand and asked, “How does one become a professional writer?”

He went on for quite some length about Inspiration and Art. I’m certain it was utterly true. It was also completely useless.

Here is the answer that I was looking for, that I wished I’d gotten, and that would have saved me a lot of time and confusion.

To be a writer, you must write.

Thinking about writing is not writing. Talking about writing is not writing. Researching is not writing. Pre-writing exercises are not writing. Only writing is writing.

Write every day. If you only write a page a day, at the end of a year you’ll have a novel. Read every day. If you want to be a writer, you must be a reader. If you are not a reader, perhaps being a writer is not in your future.

Write straight through to THE END.

The urge to give up, particularly in the dread Mid-Book, will be strong. The desire to go back and fix the beginning will be strong. Resist the urge. You won’t know what the beginning is until you reach the finish, and perhaps not even then.

Every synapse in your brain will be screaming “This Is Crud!” Perhaps it is. That’s okay. You can’t make a pot without clay. We’ll fix it all in the second draft. If you need permission to write badly, I grant it to you.

Besides, if you give up in the middle, when and how will you learn to write endings? One failure mode that I see all the freakin’ time is the writer who, at the end of ten years, has twenty half-novels.

Note that while you will think that your writing is crud, and it may objectively be crud, you should still write to the very best of your ability.

On the day you reach THE END, put the book aside for six weeks.

You’ll want to clear your palate before you begin to revise. You need to forget the exact words. You need to forget which parts were a struggle to write, which parts came out in a white-hot blaze. Which parts you thought were crud. If you start too soon you won’t be reading the words on the paper, you’ll be reading the words you remember being on the paper.

Start writing your next book.

The same day. Or the very next day at the latest. Here is why this is necessary: Regardless of what happens to the book you just completed, you’ll want to have another in your suitcase.

One of two things may happen. The first book may sell. When that happens your agent or editor will say, “Do you happen to have another?” Or the book may not sell. In that case, you’ll want to try again with a different book.

You want to know what’s heartbreaking? Writers who spend ten or fifteen years trying to sell their first, only, unpublishable novel. In ten or fifteen years they should be ten or fifteen books on, and ten or fifteen books’ worth of better. Maybe their second book would have sold. Maybe the third.

Rewrite and revise your book.

If the story doesn’t get good until chapter four, cut chapters one through three. (Readers need far less back story than you’d imagine.) Hold a pistol to the head of every adjective and adverb and make them justify their existence. Tie up the plot threads. Plant the clues that support the climax.

Rewrite and revise it again.

Fill in the plot holes. Add characterization to the minor characters. Improve the dialog. Check the facts. Tighten up the sloppy parts. Cut the dull ones.

Rewrite and revise it one more time.

It’s helpful to print it out in a format, and with a font, that you don’t usually use for your reading copy. It’s also helpful to read the book aloud, putting a check mark in the margin every time you stumble or find something you want to fix.

Give copies to your beta readers.

These are friends who are willing to tell you the brutal truth about your book. Ask them to tear it apart. To nitpick the heck out of it. A dirty-minded high school freshman is a wonderful thing. Pick someone who can’t count to seventy without laughing, to make sure that you haven’t inadvertently written a hilarious book. An expert in the location where the book is set would be good. So would an expert in the professions of the main characters. Don’t abuse your beta readers’ good nature by giving them anything less than your most polished final draft.

With the beta readers’ suggestions in hand, rewrite your book again.

Take the suggestions or don’t, but thank them for taking the time to read and comment on your work. And mean it.

I’ve found that when readers say there’s a problem in a book, they’re usually right. When they say how to fix it, they’re usually wrong. Recall too that if a problem gets pointed out in chapter twenty-four, the real cause of that problem may be in chapter nineteen.

Now find a publisher

Go down to a doors-and-windows bookstore and find books on the shelves there that are similar to your book. Get the publishers’ names and addresses. You’ll find them on the back of the title page.

If a publisher can’t get books into bookstores, you aren’t interested in talking to them.

Get those publishers’ guidelines, and submit your work to them, following their guidelines to the letter. Start at the top and work down. Don’t start with the bottom-feeders. Writers usually find their level early, and stay there.

If it is true that 90% of the books bought in America come from the same half-dozen publishing conglomerates, I see this as an argument for making jolly sure that your book comes out from one of those conglomerates.

It’s possible, indeed likely, that the very top publishers on your list will say, “No unagented submissions.” That’s okay.

Get an agent

If you’ve written a publishable book, this won’t be a big problem. If you haven’t written a publishable book, then you’re already working on a new, different, better book, right?

Take that list of books similar to yours, books that you found physically on the shelves in physical bookstores. (No, “Listed at Amazon” is not the same and is not good enough.) Find out the names of the agents who sold them. (Often, an author will thank his/her agent in the acknowledgments. Or, you could try Googling on [Author’s Name] + “represented by”.)

Get those agents’ guidelines and submit your work to them, following their guidelines to the letter.

Remember: A useful agent has sold books that you’ve heard of. Any agent who charges a fee is clueless, a scammer, or a clueless scammer.

See also: On the Getting of Agents

Rejection is nature’s way of telling you to write a better book.

If/when your manuscript comes home with a rejection slip, send it out again that same day to the next market on your list. Don’t let a manuscript sleep over. And resist as the pomp of Satan that it is the desire to rewrite and revise the work before sending it back out. Remember, you already made this book the best you could make it before you submitted it the first time. Nothing’s changed. And you’re already working on a new, different, better book.

Only if the editor and/or agent says “If you make the following changes….” should you consider rewriting before final acceptance. In that case, let your conscience be your guide.

Do not engage in Rejectomancy. Anything other than “Yes” is “No.” Send the work out again.

See also: Slushkiller

The only thing worse than remaining unpublished is to be published badly

You may not believe me, but this is true. Do not accept an offer from a publisher unless you have read several of their titles (that you personally bought off the shelf of your local bookstore) and liked them. Do not pay to be published. Readers pay the publisher. You don’t.

By now the next book you were working on should be written all the way to THE END. Go back to “Start writing your next book” and repeat the steps in order.

See also: Varieties of insanity known to affect authors


Short version, to the tune of the Oompa Loompa song:

Oompa Loompa doompety doo
I've got a perfect puzzle for you
Oompa Loompa doompety dee
If you are wise you'll listen to me

What do you get if you don't write your book?
It doesn't get writ and you feel like a schnook.
Do you intend to get to THE END
Or just mess around while you play pretend?

Write some new material

Oompa Loompa doompety dar
If you keep typing, you will go far
You will live in happiness true
Like the Oompa Loompa doompety do


The only person who can stop you from writing is you.

It isn't the gender of the author that's important, its the gender of the reader.

Did you ever wonder why Dove soap features women in its ads?

Did you ever wonder why romance novels all have either feminine names (or initials) on the bylines, regardless of the sex of the author?

Wonder no more. It's the target audience.


22 Maps That Show How Americans Speak English Totally Differently From Each Other


Even though I grew up in New York, married a Texan, and live in far northern New Hampshire, my accent and word choice are basically Wisconsin (my mom's origin).


The lesson for writers: We can do characterization with word-choice alone.


Write straight through to THE END.
One note about this: I don't mean you necessarily need to start with Line One of Paragraph One of Page One of Scene One of Chapter One, then write all the scenes in order 'til you get to the climax. If that works for you, fine. If not -- if you write scenes out of order, perhaps writing the climax first -- that's okay. What I intend is you shouldn't stop writing until you have the whole thing.

Maybe you'll need to put the scenes in order like stringing beads on a necklace before your story is coherent and you can go to Second Draft. That's okay too. Just don't quit.


Quote Originally Posted by Liosse de Velishaf View Post
...we would never say "byoggles"....
Maybe you wouldn't. That's my new favoritest word!


I've recently discovered that some publishers, mostly tiny start-up e-presses, claim that they own the editing on the books they publish; thus, the author cannot resell the work in the as-published form without their permission (and perhaps payment).

This is pernicious nonsense.

Any edits were made by the author, and belong 100% to the author.

If someone tries to slip a clause like that into a contract, strike it. If the publisher won't agree -- find a better publisher.


Quote Originally Posted by AphraB View Post
Owner was meaner than shit about the huge changes his editors (four of them in a horrible round-robin debacle) made to my story.
Editors shouldn't be making changes to start with. Editors can make suggestions. It's up to the author to agree and actually make any changes which, in the author's opinion, are needed.

Copyeditors may make some changes to bring a book into house style (e.g. serial commas, spelling out numbers, expanding "OK" to "okay") but even then, the text as-published belongs to the author and the author can STET anything; their name is on the cover, their name is on the copyright.


Uncomfortable Plot Summaries


The Secret Shortcut to Publishing Success, Revealed!


Quote Originally Posted by Scribhneoir View Post
He was reading Land of Mist and Snow and was so engrossed in it he didn't even look up when his wife joined him at the table. Luckily she had a book of her own.
I'm so pleased!

Quote Originally Posted by Silver-Midnight View Post
ETA: I found something for my question.
Hurrah! (Usually the rash clears up in a week to ten days.)


Quote Originally Posted by allenparker View Post
Making changes to the text is the sign of a new editor. Making comments about the wording or textural word is professional. I have noticed that e-book editors are quicker to jump to this than I saw with pulp work.
Regretfully, many e-book editors (particularly at the smaller start-up places) have never been edited in their lives, nor have they had a chance to be taught to edit by proficient editors.

This is a sorrow. The books suffer for it.


There's a market for everything....



From Uncle Jim's Mailbag:
Dear Uncle Jim:

Can I try to traditionally publish after self-publishing on kindle/e-pubbing?

-- Querying in Quebec
Dear Querying:

You have several questions rolled into one there. The first thing is this: If you're talking about another book, not the one that you self-pubbed, sure. Why not? Commercial publishers, from the biggest to the smallest, are looking for new material.

If you are talking about the one you self-pubbed, your question is really, "Can I sell reprint rights?" The answer is the same whether you were the publisher yourself or you were published by Dell: Check the guidelines for the publisher you're interested in. Do they say "No reprints?" Yes/No.

If the publisher's guidelines say "no reprints," cross them off your list.

That leaves you with publishers that accept reprints. Query them as you ordinarily would, following their guidelines to the letter.

Now, will your book be accepted?

Here are some considerations: How were the sales of the previous edition?

You have three possibilities:

1) Sold a negligible number. Depending on the press you're talking to, a negligible number can be a few hundred to a few thousand. That's a proven failure; no sale. Unfortunately it's also the typical sales expectation of self-published books.

2) Sold every copy that it's ever going to sell. Again, depends on the press you're looking at. Numbers I've seen mentioned for this range in the five-to-eight thousand copy mark. Again, no sale.

3) A breakout book. Sky's the limit. Sold a metric ton. Looks like it'll sell tons more. This book has a very good chance of getting picked up by a commercial publisher.

If your story falls in the sales area of Case 1 and 2 above, you'll probably have to take it out of print before you start querying it.

Are there exceptions to cases 1) and 2)? Sure. If the editor loves the book, there's always a chance. Of course, if the editor loves the book that same editor would have bought it even without your self-publishing first.

Any exceptions to the no-reprints rule? Again, yes. That'll be in Case 3 above. If the book's sales are headed for the stratosphere the publishers will come looking for you. Does this happen? Yes, but not very often. We can probably name all the titles.

So, is self-publishing first a clever plan to sell this book to a commercial press?

No. You've greatly decreased the number of markets you can even approach. And typical sales figures suggest that your book, however dandy it might be, will look like an unbudgeable turkey to the nice folks who'll have to sign off on acquiring it.

So, if commercial publication is your goal, follow the path of submitting original works in accordance with the guidelines.

If self-publication is your goal, go forth and do so boldly.

If commercial publication is your goal, self-publication first may prove, at best, a time-consuming detour.

Consider your objectives. Consider your resources. Consider which choices are more likely to lead to your objectives with the resources you have on hand.

"The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that's how the smart money bets."
-- Damon Runyon

"You've got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?"
-- Dirty Harry


Yeah, Allen. That falls under Being Badly Published is Worse Than Remaining Unpublished, and Printing is not Publishing.

Or the ever popular, "She wanted to be published in the worst way ... and she was."



Reprints happen. This should be intuitively obvious because otherwise you wouldn't be able to get a copy of Huckleberry Finn, Moby-Dick, or Macbeth today.

But reprint advances are typically lower than advances for originals.


You're quite welcome!


Heck, Allen, I think we were both messing around in Latin America at the same time. We might take one look at each other and say, "Hey, you're the guy...!"

In today's bit of egoboo, today the mail brought a contributor's copy of Oxford English 2, Knowledge and Skills (Australian Curriculum), by Paul Grover.

Yes, that Oxford.

They used portions of one of our short stories ("No One Has To Know") for the examples in Unit 8, "Actively Adverbs -- Positive, Comparative and Superlative Adverbs."

Other authors whose works are used as examples in this volume include J. R. R. Tolkien, J. K. Rowling, and Ray Bradbury, so we are well pleased.

978-0-19-552247-1 if your life isn't complete without it. Or the story itself is in Vampires, edited by Jane Yolen, (HarperCollins, 1991, multiple reprints over the years). Also available as part of our collection, Witch Garden and Other Stories, multiple electronic formats.


We'll be at Readercon this weekend. If anyone is there, or in the Boston area, here's my sked:

Friday July 12 8:00 PM CL Kaffeeklatsch. Debra Doyle, James D. Macdonald.
9:00 PM E Autographs. Debra Doyle, James D. Macdonald.
Saturday July 13

8:00 PM RI The Xanatos Gambit. Jim Freund (moderator), Yoon Ha Lee, Scott Lynch, James D. Macdonald. The tangled webs of schemers both good and bad have always had a presence in imaginative fiction. There are the wily king-killers, the intrigue-fomenting spinsters and widows, the bard who hides the knife beside the harp, the indispensable keeper of secrets, and more. What are the challenges in writing an especially clever character? How has the role of the schemer evolved, and what versions do we no longer see?

Suggested by Josh Jasper.
Sunday July 14

2:30 PM VT Reading: James D. Macdonald. James D. Macdonald. James D. Macdonald reads an excerpt from a forthcoming work.


What is English?


Ms. Gardner seems to represent romance and non-fiction. Maybe that's the way it is over in romancelandia.

I note that several of her clients have Youtube videos. I note that none of them (of the ones I checked) were uploaded before the author had a book for sale.


I don't believe that any publicity is good publicity.

But I don't believe this campaign will have any effect, either.


I could handle that too.


Why fact-checking is important; or, we all need copy editors:

Alas, Stephen King!

I'll never forget the botched opening lines of A. E. Van Vogt -- a German science fiction writer, long dead, who liked to effuse a little bit. His book Slan was actually the basis of the Alien films -- they basically stole them to do that, and ended up paying his estate some money -- but he was just a terrible, terrible writer.
Opinions on Van Vogt's writing may differ (though he was immensely popular at the time), but facts ... don't.

1) Van Vogt was Canadian.
2) Slan does not resemble the Alien films in any way whatever.
3) His estate didn't sue.

The Van Vogt story was "The Black Destroyer," which later became part of a fix-up novel, The Voyage of the Space Beagle. His estate didn't sue because Van Vogt himself was still alive--he did sue and settled out of court.


Originally published elsewhere at AW:

Okay, time to talk about what packagers are and how they work.

You know those annoying people at conventions who come up to you and say, "I have a great idea for a book! You write it and we'll split the money!"

That's what packagers do.

Except that packagers really do have an idea, and there really is money, and the book really will be published.

Packagers approach publishers with (wait for it) packages of cover art, fully edited text, and a guaranteed delivery schedule. All the publisher needs to do it put their logo on it, print, and distribute it. These are often, but not always, series. So the publisher knows that they can have a new book every month for six months or a year, usually under the same author name, and not have to worry about authors being late and throwing the entire schedule out of whack.

After the packager sells a package to a publisher, then they go out and find writers (who can write fast to specification) and cover artists (who can paint fast). The publisher gives the packager the same advance that they'd give some other book of the same kind -- call it $5K/title -- and pays the same royalties -- call it 10% of cover. The packager gives half of each to the actual author, and keeps the rest. So the author gets a $2.5K advance and 5% royalties.

What the author also gets is a "bible" for the series, which can be surprisingly slight. The author often gets to come up with their own outline for their book, though it will have to be approved by the packager. Deadlines can be quite tight. Six months is common, though I've seen twenty days (that was an odd case, where the editor at the packager who was supposed to assign the titles to authors went on maternity leave, and it fell through the cracks). Six authors working on six books for six months gives you six books for next year.

Suppose that concept that they sell is a series called Chess Camp by "Brixton Mays." The pitch: "Teens learn about life, love, and the Nimzo-Indian Defense at Chess Camp!"

HarperCollins thinks this is a swell idea, and buys a six-book series, to be published two years from now (which is the schedule they're working on this morning). The packager rounds up six authors--often writers who they've worked with before and know can reliably turn in a professional-level manuscript on time and on length, or sometimes newcomers who have published a few stories in magazines or anthologies (and thus are known to be able to write on a professional level), and look like they might be hungry. This is work-for-hire; the copyright is in the packager's name.

Each author gets assigned one particular chess gambit, and some one-page character sheets detailing the kids who are at Chess Camp. Say Roxie Romaine (writing as Brixton Mays) gets the first volume: The Four Knights Game. The characters she has to work with are Chrissy, a sassy black teen from inner-city Detroit, her goal is to go to New York and become a model; Franz, the stoic German, blond, who keeps his feelings under wraps; Genevieve, the redheaded hippy-dippy back-to-nature free spirit who finds the discipline of Chess Camp doesn't fit with her life-style; and brown-haired Claude, the studious, brilliant, but achingly lonely child whose father insisted that he come to Chess Camp even though his heart is really in woodwinds. Chess Camp, set high in the Berkshires, has a staff of world-champion chess players, led by Madame Zughoff, whose crusty exterior hides a heart of custard.

We need 80,000 words. Go, young writer!

This doesn't save the publisher any money -- they're paying the same advance they'd pay to a first-time author, and paying the same royalties. But it does save them the hassle of finding the books to keep their pipelines full while waiting for works of heartstopping beauty to come in from agents or over the transom. They only need to send one royalty report, and they only need to deal with one person. What they're buying is ease, reliability, and scheduling.

Suppose, then, that some other writer comes up with a brilliant idea about four teens who learn to play chess together. That book isn't going to get bought, because it's too similar to something they've already got in the pipeline.

The odds that the editor who bought the packaged series and the editor who saw the author's submission are the same person are small. The odds that the packager saw the author's submitted story before pitching the series are smaller still. That the actual author had seen the other author's work the odds are essentially nil. The authors working for the packager are lucky if they see the manuscripts of the other authors working on the same series they are.

In the current case, the one who came up with the concept for the series was undoubtedly the packager. How long they'd been shopping the series around I'm sure they could prove from correspondence.


Dunno, Greg.

There's a good argument that Star Trek was based on inspired by The Voyage of the Space Beagle.


Back to packaging for a moment: From Varieties of insanity known to affect authors we find this item:

Picking up a quickie work-for-hire gig writing a media tie-in novel isn’t going to affect my productivity on the ongoing series I have under contract at another house.
Also, this (archived by the Wayback Machine) dealing with the bizarre intrusion of packaging into the Kaavya Viswanathan scandal.


When you need to increase length, add plot.


Hi, sussura.

Keep writing! Keep submitting! Those are the two secrets. Everything else is commentary.


A sonnet is a limerick ... with an army!

Anyway, if y'all want to thank me, read one of my books and recommend it to your friends.


We have a story in this anthology (publication date 15 August). Buy one! Better still, buy a dozen! They make excellent gifts....


Remember to add the reverberations of that new beginning all the way through to THE END.


A post on pitches, including a Pitch Generator Template.


Thanks, Panda.


I'll keep it going 'til people stop being interested.

You know how you keep seeing articles (sometimes by famous best-selling authors) complaining that now publishing is a business, and it's all about money, unlike the happy days when it was folks who were interested in books and literature and good writing? Have you ever noticed that, whenever the author was writing, that golden age was about ten years before they sold their first book?

You can find examples of that complaint for every decade for the past century. What does that tell you about the publishing business?


The novel considered as a roller-coaster.


The smartest thing I ever heard about style is this: "Style is what you can't help doing."

You might find yourself writing in short, descriptive sentences. That doesn't mean that you'll sound like Hemingway. You might find yourself writing mile-long paragraphs. That doesn't mean you'll sound like Faulkner. In the process of writing-and-revising you will inevitably wind up sounding like yourself.

If the problem is that you're imitating the voice of various writers the solution is generally to read more, and read widely.

Mostly I'd say not to worry about it so much. Style -- your style -- will exist. If you can see the influences of other writers, don't concern yourself. Other readers won't. (Either that or they'll see the influence of writers you've never heard of. You can't win.)

Read a lot. Write a lot. All will become clear.


This sounds very much like a personal tic. All I can tell you is that your writing will have your style, regardless of how much influence you see in it from other writers. Recall that all art is in conversation with all other art, and do not let it overly concern you.

I find that both my first-person work and my third-person work contain great heaping chunks of me. Embrace this fact. Having your writing be personal is a plus.


Write in first, re-write in third (or vice versa) and see which version reads better. Nothing's finished until you put it in the mail (and even then it isn't finished).


Speaking of style, as we just were, yesterday's Language Log had a post,
"What can you ever say to Polonius?"

Much of it is an extended quote from Richard Lanham's Style: An Anti-Textbook (1974).

Lanham, it seems, doesn't think much of composition instruction books. Fair enough. Alas, at this point he wanders off into an extended Strawman Fallacy by lumping them together as "The Books." If he has a problem with a book, then name the book and quote it accurately. Instead, he produces lists of what he claims The Books teach in an attempt to make The Books look silly. Tell you what, I can make anyone look silly if I get to write their arguments for them.

His major complaints seem to be with books dealing with high school and college essays. Recall that, as a whole, school essays are written by people who don't want to write them, and read by people who don't want to read them. Thus facilitating both composition and correction are virtues.

Here in the world of fiction, even the worst of the slush-puppies are writing because they want to. Readers are reading because they want to. The famous Strunk & White started life as a handout for a Freshman Composition class at Cornell. But when E.B. White wrote Stuart Little and Charlotte's Web he violated Strunk & White all to heck. And why should he not? His books weren't freshman essays.

Quoting Lanham here:
Students of style are bombarded with self-canceling clichés. Here’s a quintessence taken from The Books published in the last hundred years:
My comments interpolated.
Be plain; Avoid “fine writing”
Unless "fine writing" (whatever that is) better advances the plot, reveals character, and supports the theme.
Avoid bluntness; Articulate your sentences gracefully
Unless "bluntness" (whatever that is) better advances the plot, reveals character, and supports the theme.
Make your writing spontaneous
Always be sincere. Once you can fake sincerity you're golden.
A darned good plan.
Be yourself
You can scarcely avoid doing so.
Imitate the masters
Consider that the masters might know something you don't. There's a saying in the fire service: "A guy who only learns from his own mistakes is dead."
Write from your own experience
All fiction is, at base, about people. You're a person. You have lots of experience there, if you think about it.
Read widely (“A man will turn over half a library to make one book,” Samuel Johnson is repeatedly quoted as saying)
A darned good plan.
Make an outline
If it help you get words on the page.
Don’t over-outline
If it doesn't help you get words on the page.
Be serious without being stuffy
Unless being stuffy without being serious better advances the plot, reveals character, and supports the theme.
Study spoken speech
A darned good plan.
Writing and Speaking are different things
Very true!
What the prose writer needs is a temperament nicely balanced between the sprightly and the phlegmatic, a lively mind and a deliberate judgment. His ideas will flow easily, but not too impetuously.
Or, if your goal is to fill the blue book before the bell rings, a temperament nicely balanced between terror and despair will work equally well.
Style books meant for high school students are tools; perhaps not the best for the fiction writer, but tools nonetheless. If what you need is a hammer but what you have is a wrench, the wrench will work lots better than your bare hands when you're driving that nail.


For those who haven't read it, OH JOHN RINGO NO.


"Commonly, students' ability to see their errors and technical failings increases faster than their ability to correct them. Then the instructor faces the problem of discouraged students who believe they are actually getting worse through training rather than better.... An analogy that may help the intermediate student is that of 'carving a cube into a sphere'. Training is the process of chopping off corners. Initially, the corners are large and easy to see--as is progress. Later, each corner cut off reveals three new corners, albeit smaller ones. This process is endless, and while an advanced student may appear to others of lesser experience to be a perfect sphere, the individual is often painfully aware of the many corners that still need polishing."
--Elmar T. Schmeisser, "The University Dojo" in Martial Arts Teachers on Teaching, Carol A. Wiley, ed.


For writing in first you have to get into someone's head and live there a while. It's method acting with a typewriter, that's all.


Are your books your babies?



I have books, and I've raised children, and I have no difficulty at all in telling them apart.


Writing considered as a text adventure game.


There's a lot of talk these days about Fifty Shades of Grey, how it came out of fanfiction, went to a very small press, was bought by a very big press, it sold a ton of copies, and now a movie's being made. CNN has speculation about who's going to star as one of their top stories.

But the "nothing new under the sun" clause kicks in. Fifty years ago there was another book: The Harrad Experiment.

It was first published in the mid-sixties by a small house, and at the beginning was only available by mail. (Those were the days when some books were quite literally unprintable. In 1969 a British printer named Arthur Dobson was sentenced to two years in jail for publishing the century-old memoir, My Secret Life.)

Then, in the late sixties, a major house bought the rights to The Harrad Experiment and ... it sold. It sold very well. Millions of copies. Thirty-three editions. Over seventy printings in paperback. A movie. The movie had a sequel.

Up to that point the popular view was that white covers didn't sell. Harrad had a white cover, and suddenly you couldn't walk into a bookstore without being blinded by the light reflecting from the white covers on every shelf.

Why did it sell so well? Dunno. Same reason as Fifty Shades. It had a reputation for being woo-hoo-hot-smexy, and you didn't have to have it delivered to your house in a plain brown wrapper, or go to a part of town where the pavement is sticky and the shops smell like Cthulhu's gym shoes to buy it.

Why this one, and not one of the dozens--hundreds--of others that are equally woo-hoo-hot-smexy and that were written at the same time? For the same reason that hula-hoops were popular, or coonskin caps, or pet rocks. Fads. Who can figure 'em?

Have I read it? I started to. Didn't finish, because it ... wasn't that well written. Was it super hot? Maybe for 1966 it was, but right now, today, you can find hotter in the women's magazines beside the checkout line at the grocery store.

A work of its time. As are all our works.

Now, moving along slightly, here's an incredibly snarky review of the movie.


Outlines: Heck yeah I make 'em. Sometimes 3/4 of the length of the final work. Very detailed outlines.

If the story takes a new direction I write a new outline. The thing I do (which may or may not work for you) is that I start the new outline at the point of departure, not back from the beginning. I continue on as if the new opening had already been written, without actually writing it anew. That maintains my momentum.


BTW, everyone at Harrad College was lily-white and straight as a string. They might have been progressive but they weren't that progressive....

A book of its time.


Try Heinlein.


First posted elsewhere at AW:

Option clauses favor publishers, which is why I recommend that authors strike them, or write them as narrowly as possible.

You can see why publishers favor them, though. The publisher nurtures a young author, supports them through perhaps dismal early sales, builds the brand, and when the author becomes popular/profitable -- that author jumps to a bigger house? How is that fair to the first publisher?


From the ever-interesting HapiSofi (and posted elsewhere at AW):

A new scam aimed at writers.

About blog tours as a means of promotion I have no opinion (never having done one). Nevertheless, some folks do 'em. And a small industry of arranging blog tours has sprung up. And it must follow, as the night the day, that some scammers have latched on to that industry, separating authors from cash in return for ... nothing.


This is National Banned Books Week. Read a banned book today!


There have always been snake-oil salesmen.

These days, any time someone says to an author, ".... pay me," the author needs to look very closely at what they're actually getting in return, whether others have received positive results by similar means, and so on.

Remember, at a game of three-card monte, you may be the only person in the crowd who isn't a shill.


My thought is, why are the agents limiting themselves to one format? Suppose there's a non-digital-first publisher that would be a better fit for the book? That's like going with an agent who says they'll only submit to paperback-original houses. Why?

Those guys are advertising, "Our business model is to leave money on the table!"

I doubt you'll find many (if any) top-tier agents in their ranks.


Peru makes book writing into a spectator sport and invites desperate writers into combat

It's just like real publishing: ten go in, only one comes out.


Quote Originally Posted by katsincommand View Post
My approach is this: for the next six weeks, I am going to ignore everything anyone has ever said to me about this novel. Every last word. And I'm going to write it for ME. And I'm going to come back in six weeks and tell you it's done.
That is an excellent plan.


Nuts and Bolts: Jump-Starting Stories


The Andrew Wylie Rules



Meanwhile visitors to the WHSmith.co.uk website were greeted by a holding page statement.
The retailer said it had taken the site offline "to best protect our customers and the public".
Visitors to the WHSmith.co.uk website see this holding page statement instead:
"Our website will become live again once all self published e-books have been removed and we are totally sure that there are no offending titles available", it said.
A bigger problem than the porn, though less talked-about in the self-publishing world, is plagiarism. WH Smith may be the first, but I doubt they'll be the last.


Heck yeah, plagiarized books on Amazon. This has been a scandal for years.


Yep, WHSmith reacted to claims of Pr0n.

I'm just saying that the bigger problem waiting in the wings is the plagiarism scandal-in-the-making.


I've got a signing this weekend: http://toadbooks.com/event/peterboro...utors-are-here

Peterborough, NH, 2:00 pm Saturday at the Toadstool Bookshop.


Kaleidoscope submission guidelines. Short YA SF. One week from now.


Break the chapters by ear.

Where you feel there's the need for a break that's bigger than a scene break but smaller than a volume break.

Some books have no chapter breaks at all. Others have chapter breaks every three pages. This is part of the art.


You aren't going to find an agent for a collection of unpublished short fiction.

No one says that you have to write a novel if you don't want to.

So: Where do you find the short fiction that you yourself read?

Go down to Barnes & Noble and look on the magazine rack there. Which publish fiction?

Go to your public library and look in Writers' Market (WM) and Literary Marketplace (LMP) for short fiction markets. Get and read several issues of each magazine to get a feeling for what they take.

Ask your local librarian, "What are some magazines that publish _____________?"


Just send the agent the full as it now stands. You can put in the cover letter "I've made a few revisions since you saw the partial...."

Or not. Your choice.


Novellas are the same deal as short stories.

Some publishers do books consisting of two or three novellas, but those generally a) come from the publisher, not the author, and b) are pretty much limited to the romance and horror markets.

Yes, there are e-publishers that accept novellas. Same question: Where do you find the novellas you yourself read?


Take very full notes, including as many sensory details as possible. Take photos. Eat something local.


From Uncle Jim's Mailbag:
Dear Uncle Jim,
Can men write convincing female characters?
Wary in Webster

Dear Wary,
Uncle Jim


Dear Uncle Jim,
Can women write convincing male characters?
Suspicious in Schenectady

Dear Suspicious,
Uncle Jim
Gentle readers, the question you should ask yourselves is, as an author, can you write convincing human characters? If so it follows, as the night the day, you can write convincing male and female characters.


Not, however, a character we should emulate.

Meanwhile: Happy Thanksgiving!

Soon it will be time for the Christmas Challenge!


The exclusive period from first publication being over, I've uploaded our story, "The Clockwork Trollop," to Smashwords. Our steampunk horror erotica ghost story. Available in a variety of formats.

This was our Christmas Challenge story from a couple of years back.


This week only: The Clockwork Trollop is free (with coupon) at Smashwords.

Coupon code: KU63G

Download it, read it, review it, tell your friends, don't tell your friends, don't review it, don't read it, but download it anyway.


Minor brag: Another short story sale.


The secrets: 1) Write. 2) Submit what you write. 3) Go to step 1.


Readers skip blurbs all the time. Readers skip prologues all the time. Readers skip introductions all the time. If you have something that you want readers to know, put it somewhere after the words "Chapter One" appear on the top of the page.


Hi, dirtroadfilms:

Beta readers. Yes.

When you have your entire work finished, and you've made it the best that you can, you approach your friends (and other writers who you know personally and are working on the same level you are, or maybe one step above) and say, "Hey, I've written a book. Would you like to read it and make comments on it?"

Those who say yes, send them copies of your book. (Those who actually do respond with comments, keep them on your list for your next book.)

You send your very best, because to do less is to abuse your readers. That means you've finished the final draft and this is your polished work.

You draw your beta readers from among your friends. With any kind of luck one of your friends is a dirty-minded and completely disrespectful teenager. (How else will you learn about your unsuspected double entendres?)


Oh yes ... and if your beta reader has missed every point you were trying to make, and gave you nonsensical -- in fact, stupid -- suggestions, what you say is, "Thank you very much!" and mean it.


Ten days 'til Christmas! It's time for the Christmas Challenge.

This year we're going to try to write 500 words/day. (Not so bad; that's just two pages.) The goal is to have a 5,000 word short story to read to our friends and family at Christmas Dinner. So the theme is: food.

Since food is a big part of everyone's life, this is your change to write Food Porn. A story with a beginning, a middle, and an end, where the climax is at dinner.

Okay, folks, start your typewriters!


And to you, Liam.


One of the games we play around here is "would you turn the page?"

Here's a retrospective with links:

Volume 1 page 103
The Street Lawyer by John Grisham

Volume 1 page 105 & 127
Oath of Swords by David Weber

Volume 1 page 141
My own "A Tremble in the Air"

Volume 1 page 188
The India Fan by Victoria Holt

Volume 1 page 191
Sam's Letters to Jennifer by James Patterson

Volume 1 page 192
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

Volume 1 page 204
The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain

Volume 1 page 213
My own Land of Mist and Snow

Volume 1 page 228
Paul Clifford by Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Volume 1 page 258
Bacchus and Me: Adventures in the Wine Cellar by Jay McInerney

Volume 1 page 259
Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney

Volume 1 page 293
Nurse Kelsey Abroad by Marjorie Norrell

Volume 1 page 295
Doctors' Wives by Frank G. Slaughter

Volume 1 page 298
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Volume 1 page 341
Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

Volume 1 page 352
Ghost Story by Peter Straub

Volume 1 page 358
My own The Price of the Stars


No matter what book, someone doesn't like it. The Cat in the Hat has 2,725 one-star ratings at Goodreads.


Ten typos in a book? No biggie.

Ten typos on a page? That... might slow me down some.

I find is off-putting if the feeling rises in my heart that I'm putting more work into the book than the author did.

Yes, stuff will sneak through. But do try to give your betas a finished version.


The person you bounce ideas off while in the process of writing is usually called a writing partner, crit partner, or, sometimes, alpha reader. A writers' group can serve the function.

For me, a beta reader gives me the reaction of the person-on-the-street to the final product.

From the film making perspective: think of the difference between the daily rushes and the test audience/focus group.


Yes, there is a rule: Ships' names do not take a definite article. They're names. When you're talking about your friend Bill Rogers you don't call him "the Bill Rogers," do you?

(Exception to this is when you want to emphasis that you're talking about a particular/famous one:
"I learned guitar from Charlie Manson."

"The Charlie Manson?"

In the same way:
"I served on USS Forrestal."

"The Forrestal?"

(For the benefit of the civilians in the audience, the USS Forrestal is the one that had the fire.))


Short version: Authors! Have some pride!


So, folks, how many of y'all did the Christmas Challenge?


The Cool Bits Story Generator


Quote Originally Posted by dinrao View Post
I mean, is it better to start and finish one storyline before the next one, or write it like I envision it in the book with alternating storylines?
I generally write it in the order I envision the novel, with occasional extra scenes as they occur to me, but that may not be the way that works for you.

What works for you is the major consideration. Try, see if one way works. Then try the other way. See if it works.

There is no right way. There's only what works for you.


Where I'll be this weekend: Arisia

Time Travel, Therapy, & the Quest for Redemption Faneuil Literature Sat 1:00 PM 01:15
Description Time travel allows writers to explore a fundamental human longing: to change what cannot be changed. Protagonists go back in order to fix the crucial moments that shaped their lives. Usually these attempts backfire - sometimes the past does not allow itself to be changed, sometimes changing the past creates a new range of problems, and sometimes changing the past does not cure the ache in the protagonist's soul. Is time travel a parable for the therapeutic mining of our personal histories?

Reading: Doyle, Macdonald, and Nelson Hale Writing Sun 10:00 AM 01:15
Description Authors Debra Doyle, James Macdonald, and Resa Nelson read selections from their works.

Autograph - Kimmel, Macdonald, & Nurenberg Galleria - Autograph Space Writing Sun 11:30 AM 01:15
Description Autograph session with Daniel M. Kimmel, James Macdonald, and David Nurenberg.


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