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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: writing advice, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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1. Writing Advice Database

UPDATED 4/19/14

Here is a compendium of the top writing advice posts on the blog. Of course, the best source is my guide How to Write a Novel: 47 Rules for Writing a Stupendously Awesome Novel You Will Love Forever. But these posts will hopefully help you along the way:

Before You Start

The Writing Process


Genres and Classification

Staying sane during the writing/publishing process

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2. Ask an Editor: Villain POVs

Stacy Whitman photo

Stacy Whitman is Editorial Director and Publisher of Tu Books, an imprint of LEE & LOW BOOKS that publishes diverse science fiction and fantasy for middle grade and young adult readers. This blog post was originally posted at her blog, Stacy Whitman’s Grimoire

I have to admit, I really hate reading villain POVs. There are so few villains that have any redeemable qualities, and especially starting a book out with the villain’s point of view when they’re murdering and/or plundering just makes me go, “Why do I want to read this book, again?”

This is actually one of the things I hated most about the famous adult fantasy series Wheel of Time, though I love the series in general: I hated the amount of time spent on this Forsaken’s love of naked mindless servants, and that Forsaken’s love of skinning people, or whatever. Yeah, yeah, I get it, they’re irredeemably evil. Get back to someone I’m actually ROOTING FOR, which is why I’m reading the book!

Vodnik sketch

Vodnik, the villain from Bryce Moore’s novel Vodnik

Sometimes it’s important to briefly show the villain’s point of view to convey to the reader some information that our hero doesn’t have, but I find more and more that my tolerance for even these kinds of scenes is thinning fast. Too often it’s a substitute for more subtle forms of suspense, laying clues that the reader could pick up if they were astute, the kind of clues that the main character should be putting together one by one to the point where when he or she finally figures it out. Then the reader slaps their own forehead and says, “I should have seen that coming!”

It’s a completely different matter, of course, when the whole point is for the “villain” to simply be someone on another side of an ideological or political divide where there are no true “bad guys.” Usually this happens in a book in which your narrators are unreliable, which can be very interesting. Often the villain is the hero in their own story, which is far more interesting than a “pure evil” villain—in Lord of the Rings, Sauron is much less interesting than Saruman. Sauron is the source of pure evil, but Saruman made a choice—he thinks, well, evil will win anyway, I might as well be on top in the new world order. There are complications to his motivations.

Tu Books author Bryce Moore (Vodnikrecently reviewed the first Captain America movie and had this to say about how a character becomes evil, which I think is apropos to this discussion:

Honestly, if writers spent as much time developing the origin and conflicted ethos of the villains of these movies, I think they’d all be doing us a favor. As it is, it’s like they have a bunch of slips of paper with different elements on them, then they draw them at random from a hat and run with it. Ambitious scientist. Misunderstood childhood. Picked on in school.

That’s not how evil works, folks. You don’t become evil because you get hit in the head and go crazy. You become evil by making decisions that seemed good at the time. Justified. Just like you become a hero by doing the same thing. A hero or a villain aren’t born. They’re made. That’s one of the things I really liked about Captain America. He’s heroic, no matter how buff or weak he is.

This is, perhaps, the best description of why villain POVs bug me so much: because they’re oversimplified, villainized. And for some stories, I think villainization works, but I don’t want to see that point of view, because it’s oversimplified and uninteresting. When it’s actually complicated and interesting, then it becomes less “the villain” and more nuanced—sometimes resulting in real evil (after all, I doubt Hitler was an evil baby; he made choices to become the monster he became) and sometimes resulting in a Democrat instead of a Republican or vice versa—ideological, political differences between (usually) relatively good people.

But there’s a line for me, generally the pillaging/raping/murdering/all manner of human rights abuses line, at which I’m sorry, I just don’t care about this guy’s point of view. The equivalent of this in middle grade books—where pillages/murders/rapes are (hopefully) fewer—or young adult books is the pure evil villain who’s just out to get the main character because the villain is black-hearted, mean, vile, what-have-you. Evil through and through, with no threads of humanity. (Though honestly if he’s killing people “for their own good” to protect a certain more nuanced human viewpoint, I generally still don’t want to see that from his POV.)

What’s the line for you? Do you like villain points of view? Do you feel they add depth to a story? At what point do you think a villain POV goes from adding nuance or advancing the plot to annoying?

Filed under: Publishing 101, Tu Books Tagged: ask an editor, fantasy writing, Notes from the Editors, writing advice, writing resources, writing tips

4 Comments on Ask an Editor: Villain POVs, last added: 4/21/2014
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3. Daniel José Older on channeling darkness and writing unique characters

Daniel José Older is a writer on the rise, and Tor recently published his chilling and compelling urban fantasy short story Anyway: Angie.

Daniel was kind enough to join me for a Twitter chat, where we talked about everything from channeling darkness into writing, channeling the voice of a character who is very different from you, and the importance of Twitter to the modern writer.

Check it out:

0 Comments on Daniel José Older on channeling darkness and writing unique characters as of 3/31/2014 2:23:00 PM
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4. Is My Character “Black Enough”? Advice on Writing Cross-Culturally

Stacy Whitman photoStacy Whitman is Editorial Director and Publisher of Tu Books, an imprint of LEE & LOW BOOKS that publishes diverse science fiction and fantasy for middle grade and young adult readers. This blog post was originally posted at her blog, Stacy Whitman’s Grimoire

I recently got this question from a writer, who agreed that answering it on the blog would be useful:

My hero is a fifteen-year-old African American boy [in a science fiction story]. A few of my alpha readers (not all) have said that he doesn’t sound “black enough.” I purposely made him an Air Force brat who has lived in several different countries to avoid having to use cliche hood-terminology. I want him to be universal.

Do you have thoughts on this either way?

Is there a possibility that my potential readers could really be offended that a) I am “a white girl writing a book about black people” and b) that my character doesn’t sound black enough? I’ve looked through your blog and website and haven’t found anything specific to my needs on this particular question. Perhaps I missed it?

…should I use Ebonics or not use Ebonics?

First of all, black people—just as white people or Latino people—are a very diverse group of people. There are people who speak in Ebonics (which I believe would be more accurately referred to as BVE–Black Vernacular English) and people who speak plain old suburban English, people who speak with any of a variety of Southern accents and people who have Chicago accents, people who speak with French or Spanish accents (or who speak French or Spanish or an African language). So the question of whether a particular character in a particular situation sounds “black enough” is a complicated question, one that even the African American community can’t necessarily agree on. Within the community (and I say this because I asked a coworker who is African American, who can speak with more authority on the subject than I can) it’s often a question that draws on complicated factors, such as money, privilege, “selling out,” skin tone (relative darkness or lightness—literally, being “black enough”), and hair texture, which all relate to how much a part of which community a person might be.

The question, then, is fraught with loaded meaning not only to do with stereotypes, but also socioeconomic meanings. The question can also tend to be offensive because of that diversity and the loaded meaning the question carries.

Which leads me to the question of your alpha readers. What are their demographics? Is it a diverse group? What is their experience with the military? Is more than one of them African American? When writing cross-culturally, you’ll want to be sure that your beta readers include sufficient numbers of the member of the group you’re writing about. Every individual experience will be different—one person’s opinion on whether a character reads as African American will probaThe question is fraught with loaded meaning not only to do with stereotypes, but also socioeconomic meanings. The question can also be offensive because of that diversity and the loaded meaning the question carries.bly differ from another person’s, especially if their socioeconomic background and regional experiences are different. An African American from the St. Louis suburbs will have a different life experience than someone who grew up on a farm in Louisiana, whose experiences will probably be different from a kid who grew up in Harlem or someone else who grew up in Seattle.

If your local writing group isn’t very diverse, you might need to branch out for beta readers who you can rely on to comment on that particular element of your story—perhaps through an online writing group, perhaps through the SCBWI. You might even approach a local high school and ask if any of their students who come from a similar background to your character might be willing to give you feedback on your manuscript. Do you have connections with a local Air Force base? Perhaps you might network with people you know in the military to find someone who can give you feedback on that aspect of the character building.

To answer your other questions: it’s always possible that someone will be offended by a white person writing about a person of color, but generally, most readers I’ve talked to who care about diversity in fantasy and science fiction want that diversity to come from everyone, not just writers of color. This is why I emphasized alpha readers—it’s important to make sure that if you’re not from that background, you do your research (which it sounds like you have) and then run it past someone other than yourself who understands that culture or background (in this case, you’ve got two cultures going on: African American and military, particularly Air Force, which has a completely different culture than Army).

A few someones is even better, to ensure that you get different points of view and can mesh that feedback into something that works for your particular character, who will be an individual in his own right and not a representative of a group that plays into a stereotype.

Which leads into yourPeople often have different vocabularies when talking to different groups of people...Ask yourself, What's the context my character is in? next question: should you use Ebonics? And the answer to that is: I don’t know. Do African Americans in the military use Ebonics? Do only some of them, and does it depend on their family history/region of origin? Do their kids speak to each other in Ebonics? Or do they have their own way of speaking that’s particular to the Air Force community? (My uncle was in the Air Force and I have a couple cousins who might read this who may be able to answer that question; they’ve never spoken anything but “Midwestern” to me, but they might have spoken differently to their friends who were also Air Force brats.)

And that’s important too: people often have different vocabularies when talking to different groups of people. When my roommates from Georgia talked to their family, their accents became stronger. When I talk to my rural family, the word “crik” has been known to creep back into my lexicon. So ask yourself, “what’s the context my character is in?” as well.

And of course, that’s just me spouting off from the point of view of an editor. Here are some great answers we’ve gotten from readers:


The question about Ebonics is just…. I don’t know. Being “black enough” does not mean you use Ebonics so that shoudln’t be the deciding factor. However, my guess is that as a “military brat” he wouldn’t use Ebonics. I know some African American people who were in the army and they don’t use it. But that’s the army, not the Air Force, so it could be different.

I would be offended if your black character never talked about certain issues we face like the subtle racisim, especially as a black guy. But since’s science fiction it may never come up, although if it starts out in the 21st century in America then the character should acknowledge the fact that he gets looks of suspicion in certain areas because he is an African American guy…

That is so true about how people speak differently wiith different groups of people. When my mother is back home down South, she regains her Southern accent. My father speaks Spanish with his relatives. I use a lot more slang/Ebonics with my African American friends and Latino friends. So that is a key factor. Something an African American person has to learn to do is be able to “speak two languages” in a way. Around white people and authority figures, most of us speak properly, no slang. But I know from what I’ve done myself and from what I’ve seen my parents and their friends do, when African Americans are just with each other, they loosen up and their is less of a concern for “speaking properly”


I’m an African American dad & writer, and my advice to the writer is to skip the ebonics. Not every African American speaks with ebonics, and I fear it may come off as condescending and offensive if you attempt to tell your story in such a way. “Not black enough,” is offensive as hell, wether voiced by black or white people. The character is African American, there’s nothing wrong with him sounding like an American. Period.


I believe all writers can create believable characters of another race. But to do this writers must be familiar that race.

Should I use Ebonics or not use Ebonics? – that question makes me cringe. A White author asking this should really take a look at their character and ask themselves, what do I know that will give life to this character of another race.

If they still want to do it, research. Listen in on conversations. Read books by Black authors. Ask around find out which non Black authors have created believable Black characters and read those , also read the Black characters by non Black authors people found unrealistic.


IMO, your character needs to speak based on their influences, not on readers’ opinions of the world. Where do their parents come from? How do individuals from their parents’ backgrounds, childhood neighborhoods, and social class speak? How does that influence your character? Does your character have an opinion about how their parents speak and do they make conscious decisions about their own way of talking? How can you use the character’s voice and upbringing to flesh out the character better and further serve the plot of the novel?

Readers, feel free to chime in and help out writers who write cross-culturally: what other issues should they be aware of when writing African American characters?

Further reading: 10 Great Resources for Writing Cross-Culturally

Filed under: Publishing 101, Resources Tagged: African American, aspiring authors, author advice, diversity issues, Notes from the Editors, Science Fiction/Fantasy, Tu Books, writing advice, writing cross-culturally

10 Comments on Is My Character “Black Enough”? Advice on Writing Cross-Culturally, last added: 3/27/2014
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5. Book Birthdays, Sick Kids, and Selling the House

If you don't want to listen to a writer who is completely overwhelmed go on and on about being completely overwhelmed, then stop reading now. Don't read one more word. But if you want to read and find out why this really nice writer is feeling stressed out and why she posted on Facebook, "If life gives you lemons, make lemonade or use them to squeeze into your vodka tonic," then please keep reading.

Full disclosure: I am a very lucky girl. I know this with all my heart. But sometimes, sometimes, life is so overwhelming.

On with the story. . .within one week, actually within four days, these events did and/or will occur:

  1. My 3-year-old has the stomach flu.
  2. The young adult novel I worked on for 7  years is finally born into the world. (Title is Caught Between Two Curses, and you can check it out here: http://www.rockinghorsepublishing.com/new-release.html)
  3. The closing date of the house we have been trying to sell for 3+ years is finally going to occur, and we are thankful we didn't lose "too much money."
  4. A book launch party 
 Here's the deal. I'm just going to admit it. I have a hard time with balance anyway. Being a writer and editor and a stay-at-home mom are all full-time jobs. I have help from my husband and grandparents, but it's still difficult to balance and keep the guilt in check. When I have a thousand things to do this week with the closing of our house and the book launch party--both happening at 4:00 on Friday!--I am well. . .feeling a little crazy.

What can I do?

Here's the part of this post where I am supposed to come up with some words of wisdom for you. Something like: take care of my family first, ask for help with the closing and book launch party, do as much as I can and focus more on book markeing next week, etc. This is good advice, right? This is what I am telling myself; but really, did you come to this blog post to get advice from me? OR would you like the opportunity to give advice? How often do you really get asked for your two cents?

I am asking you for your two cents! What do you do when you are feeling overwhelmed with your writing career and your personal life? How do you manage? Please share with me. I will be forever grateful. I will try your advice! I bet others will benefit from your advice, but they are just too scared to ask.

And if you want to check out Caught Between Two Curses--well, that would just make my day. It's a young adult novel for ages 14 and up. It's about:

Seventeen-year-old Julie Nigelson is cursed. So is her entire family. And it’s not just any-old-regular curse, either—it’s strangely connected to the famous “Curse of the Billy Goat” on the Chicago Cubs.

Julie must figure out this mystery while her uncle lies in a coma and her entire love life is in ruins: her boyfriend Gus is pressuring her to have sex, while her best friend Matt is growing more attractive to her all the time.

Somehow, Julie must figure out how to save her uncle, her family’s future, and her own love life—and time is running out!

I'll owe you one! 

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6. Perfecting the Art of Interviewing

A few years ago, I received an assignment from a local magazine I write for that made me take pause. The editor wanted me to visit the home of a woman living with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and interview her about a foundation she had started after her diagnosis. I’ll admit that when I found out the woman communicated using an eye-tracking technology connected to a computer, I hesitated. I worried that I wouldn’t know the best way to communicate effectively with her. But I was also up for the challenge, so I accepted the assignment. I e-mailed her a list of questions ahead of time and arrived at her home on the day of the interview with my laptop and a notepad and pen so I could take notes.

I can honestly say that interview was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. She showed me how the device on her headband allowed her to communicate through her computer, compose e-mails, search the internet and turn everything she “typed” on her screen into speech so we could have an actual conversation. But what struck me the most was how gracious she was even while confined to her wheelchair with limited means of movement and communication. She asked me questions about my family and me and even complimented my work. It turns out she had researched me as much as I had researched her before our interview.

In my work as a blogger, journalist and magazine editor I’ve conducted countless interviews over the years. Some of them went very well like the example above, others did not, leaving me scrambling to pull together a polished article with less quotes than I had originally planned. Here are a few things I’ve learned over the years that make interviews run more smoothly:

1. Send a list of interview questions ahead of time. I always like to come up with at least four to five questions to least get the conversation started. I e-mail the person the list of the questions and tell them approximately how long the interview should last so they can plan accordingly.

2. Don’t go into an interview cold. We all have assignments that turn up at the last minute, but if you’re conducting a phone or in-person interview, spend some time researching the person you’ll be interviewing if at all possible. Focus on the areas of their life that align with what you’re writing. Is the person the head of a foundation? What other volunteer work are they involved in? How has their life path led to them to this point in time?

3. Be present and prepared. I often conduct interviews and then spend a few days soaking in the experience before I actually start to work on the article or profile. The best advice I can give here is to be a great listener. I either take notes by typing on my laptop (usually with phone interviews) and in person I use a combination of a recording app on my iPhone and notes by hand. If you are recording with a device periodically check to make sure it’s working and still recording. While it’s great to find common ground with the person you’re interviewing, strive for a balanced conversation. Try not to spend a lot of time talking about yourself and your interests unless the subject asks. If you’re interviewing in person, look around at your surroundings and takes notes on what you see. This can often provide a great introduction to your article.

4. Follow up. If you have any follow-up questions, e-mail them a soon as you think of them so your subject has enough time to send responses back to you before your deadline. And finally, be courteous; send the person a link to the article (or hard copy if applicable once the interview is published along with a “thank-you” note or e-mail.

What other tips can you offer when conducting interviews for blog posts and articles?

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and editor who also works as a blog tour manager for WOW-Women on Writing. She’s currently looking for a few more blogs to promote Frances Caballo’s book Avoid Social Media Time Suck: A Blueprint for Writers Who Want to Create Online Buzz for Their Books and Still Have Time to Write. You can contact her at renee@wow-womenonwriting.com.

0 Comments on Perfecting the Art of Interviewing as of 3/17/2014 11:15:00 AM
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7. Counting Blessings with Hannah Hall

Spring arrived a few weeks early here in my little corner of the world when I found God Bless Our Easter by Hannah C. Hall.

And no, Hannah is no relation to Cathy C. Hall. But I’d love to share a cup of tea and talk writing with her. Too bad Hannah’s all the way in Arkansas! Thankfully, her lovely book is here on my doorstep, so let’s take a look.

In God Bless Our Easter, the most adorable baby animals ever playfully romp through a spring day. The rhyming text tells of their discovery of God’s blessings in rain puddles and shady naps, in sunny daffodils and soaring butterflies. God Bless Our Easter is the perfect book for a toddler’s springtime basket, though it’s sure to find a place in your child’s heart through all the seasons.

And thanks to the blessing of email, I did have a chance to chat with Hannah and ask her a few questions.

When did you begin your writing journey?

My mom predicted when I was a very little girl that I was going to grow up to be an author. I was always, always reading. I didn't get serious about writing, however, until college. When a professor I both respected and was terrified of told me I should to switch my minor to Journalism, I did as I was told! I wrote for my college newspaper and then transitioned into freelance writing for a few small magazines after graduation.

When I started having children, my mom again encouraged me that I should write for kids. Having never taken a creative writing course, I didn't think I had the imagination to do it. However, as my kids and their imaginations grew, I found my inspiration.

My "official" writing journey began after I pitched my first manuscript for a picture book at a conference. Though that particular story has yet to be published, I met an editor at a meeting there that resulted in the God Bless series, of which I'm now in the process of writing the fourth book.

Moral of the story: go to conferences and listen to your elders!

What’s your writing process?

My process is certainly not very technical or structured. I'm a stay-at-home mom, so I do a lot of writing in my head while I fold clothes or wash dishes. I always keep a pad of paper and an ink pen by my side or in my purse. There is something about gliding a good ink pen over nice paper that inspires my creativity in a way a computer screen never can.

Since I write a weekly blog, I am always thinking on that as well. What am I learning in the day-to-day from my children or about parenting or marriage that might be useful to someone else? I would hate to have these experiences (good and bad) and someone not get something out of it. I want to be real with people, and I really want them to learn from my (many) mistakes!

How did you find your agent?

I queried many agents, and I'm not sure I got even so much as a rejection letter from any of them. They simply never responded. It was very disheartening. I stumbled on to the amazing Sally Apokedak while checking out a conference that she happened to be speaking at. (Conferences, again!) She responded to my query very quickly, and I appreciated that so much. She is a writer herself, so she respects writers and the time (and nerve) it takes to send out queries. She is down-to-earth, truthful, and truly a blessing to me.

A big thank you to Hannah Hall for sharing her blessings with us here at the Muffin!

And P.S. Sally Apokedak is our amazing judge for the Spring Flash Fiction Contest. So if Hannah’s inspired you today, why not pick up your pen and give springtime writing a whirl? You might be blessed with a winning story!

~Cathy C. Hall

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8. Sculpting from the Writer's Block

Whenever I feel like I'm hitting writer's block I try to remember that a block is a vessel. A block of wood, a block of ice, a block of marble; they contain all the elements needed for the sculpture that awaits within. I just have to start chiseling at it. So it isn't that I don't have any ideas when I think I have writer's block. I'm not blocked by something. I'm just looking at the possibilities of everything and feeling overwhelmed by it.

Sometimes I just pound away at it. Chisel without thinking. Start writing more and more ideas, more and more possibilities. Like doing improv. Just keep acting out the situation on paper until you find the right one. (See also Jensen girls' great March 7th UCW blog post on "Facing Failure.")

I like to do that, but first I like to (if you'll excuse my using the incredibly popular phrase):
Let. It. Go.

For me, walking away helps.

Walking away doesn't mean that I'm not working on it, though. I recently read that the mind spends nearly 80 percent of its time reviewing experiences and creating hoped-for scenarios (both the way we wish things had happened in the past, and how we hope things will happen in the future).

So while we walk away, our subconscious is doing a great deal of work. (I wish it worked the same way with the treadmill.)

Ever notice that if you try to look at a specific spot at a distance when it's dark, that it is hard to see that spot? You have to look to the side of your desired object, and "see" it through your peripheral vision.

One of my favorite activities for taking my mind away from staring at that issue that I don't know how to fix, is reading poetry. The tight language, the exquisite imagery, that combination of brevity and beauty, does magical things to my brain. It makes walking to the mailbox become an internal iteration on the loveliness of nature. It's a mental breath of fresh air. A cleanse, as it were. Like blowing my nose. Except it's my mind. So, I guess I'm blowing my mind.

So, take a minute. Breathe deep. Take a walk. Read some poetry. Wander through a gallery. Take a few days to do other things. And then go back and just write. Anything. Write it all. Write a million versions of what could happen. Write it in the style of The Muppets, Andy Warhol, Republicans vs Democrats. Write it as a haiku. Write it as a poem written by each character. Blow it all out there.

Blow your mind.

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9. Freelance Writing - Giving Basic Writing Advice

By Karen Cioffi I was recently asked to look over a children’s fiction picture book manuscript. This was not a paying job, just a favor. The ‘new to writing’ authors, who are both health care professionals, had already been calling major publishers to find out submission requirements. They were told their manuscript would not be looked at without an agent. So, they went to the library to

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10. What People Think Matters (When It Comes To Your Website)

Last week, I heard an agent refer to the importance of a “thoughtful online presence” and at first, the phrase zipped right past me. Yeah, yeah, a website. Got it.

But then, I needed to check a list of author websites. And as I pulled up each name, that phrase came back to me. It was easy to see who had a thoughtful online presence—and who did not. By the time I’d finished checking a ton of websites, I’d learned a few things. But mostly, I learned that a little bit of thought can make a big difference in what people think when they see you on the web.

Like what, you say? So glad you asked:

If you want people to think you’re a dependable writer who’s on top of things, then keep your website information updated. That means posting regularly if you have a blog. If you just can’t get around to posting but once or twice a year, then do yourself a favor and take the blog off your website. (But if your blog is your website, make it static with no dates.)

If you want people to think you’re a professional, skilled writer, then keep your website free of spelling and grammar errors. It’s fine if you have a misspelling as a play on words or if your writing style is conversational in a blog post. But if you have “Welcome to This Writers’ Home’s” in your web title, in big, block letters, you might need to brush up on those pesky possessive rules.

If you want people to think you’re witty or urbane or spiritual or any number of other interesting things that you are in real life, then put your personality/interests into your website. With a blog, it’s easy for your voice to come through. But people don’t often stop to read a handful of blog posts. They will, however, click on that “About Me” tab, so there’s your chance to make a good impression. And if you’re not sure what kind of impression you’re making, ask for honest feedback from friends. (Or better yet, ask someone who doesn't know you well.)

Finally, choose the kind of writer you want people to see. When a person lands on your website, will they know instantly that you’re a romance novelist? Or a children’s writer? A poet or an essayist? Have you honed in on your niche, and does your website reflect that focus?

I think this might be hard for those of us like me, who might pen fiction as well as non-fiction, or write for children as well as adults. But it doesn’t mean we can’t keep writing whatever we want; it means accentuating what we want the world to see--and think--when they first meet us.

I suppose, then, that a website should get to the heart of the writer. That's what matters in a thoughtful online presence. So, yeah, I've got some website work to do. How about you?

~Cathy C. Hall

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11. Clyde Phillips to Aspiring Screenwriters: ‘Don’t fall in love with your first script too much’

MediabistroTV recently talked to Clyde Phillips, bestselling crime novelist and current showrunner for Nurse Jackie. He shares some advice for aspiring writers, and tells why novel writing is not that different from TV writing:

New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.

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12. Writing Advice From a 23-Year-Old Published Author


Kara Taylor is not your typical 23-year-old. While many young adults are struggling to find a job, Taylor has had the kind of early success most young writers only dream of. At 23, she has already released her debut novel, Prep School Confidential and is currently the co-executive producer and writer for the new CW show, The Revengers, created by Rashida Jones and Will McCormack.

Taylor recently spoke to Mediabistro about the pressure to churn out books, what her typical day is like (spoiler alert — she writes morning, noon and night) and how she broke into the world of TV writing:

What tips do you have for other writers who want to break into TV?
I think the most important thing — and this is hard advice because it’s not something that you can really learn — [is to] just have a voice and a point of view and focus on branding yourself, whether it’s [with] humor or whatever. Just be unique and be yourself, and write as much as you can. I obviously broke into it in a strange way because it was actually the novel writing that helped me break into TV. So I think it’s good to keep in mind that there’s not one clear path or way to break into the industry. You have to put yourself out there in all mediums and all aspects and not write anything off, and [don't] get discouraged, obviously. I was writing books for two years before I found an agent, and I heard a lot of nos. I must have been rejected by over a hundred literary agents with my first book. So if you’re expecting instant results, it’s not going to be the career for you. You just have to be patient and be in it for the long run.

To hear more about her incredible rise to success, read Hey, How’d You Become a Published Author and TV Writer at 23, Kara Taylor?

Aneya Fernando

The full version of this article is exclusively available to Mediabistro AvantGuild subscribers. If you’re not a member yet, register now for as little as $55 a year for access to hundreds of articles like this one, discounts on Mediabistro seminars and workshops, and all sorts of other bonuses.

New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.

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13. Writer Myths: Kill Your Darlings.

Hi folks, I'm continuing my series on writer myths and that is coming up, but first, I've got to mention some egg action. You may remember that once upon a time I chatted about eggs.  It's been a while since I've had an opportunity to mention this fun part of my blog. This week we are near the hatching phase of "egg-dom." So, news is to come!

Now, back to myths. Last week, I chatted about the myth of bad reviews. This week I'm moving on to the myth of "kill your darlings." Okay, it is true that you must often kill your darlings. I mean, most of us remember some relationship that just wasn't moving us forward, and it had to go. Sometimes, we write bland, flat drivel that needs to find the nearest circular file, and that's fine.

But there are times when you need to put down the murder weapon. I mean, killing some of those darlings is a crime or  at least a crying shame.

Here is my story. Once upon a time I was collaborating with another author on a project. I would write an awesome line, and the other author would love it too. Then a few days later, I'd get into slasher mode and ditch my awesome line. Delete.

My collaborator was unhappy with the slashing of "awesome" lines.

I answered, "I can always do better." But certain things slowly became clear. I can't aways do better.

My collaborator was like, "I think you are killing our story, and please stop it."

I learned something I love about writing in that moment. Every story is about a kind of collaboration. You and the reader are sitting by a fire. You are the spell maker; they are the mesmerized.  If you have created magic the first time, just let it be.

Sometimes you will get it right without trying. Don't second guess yourself. Never leave genius on the cutting room floor.

See you next week with more about writer myths, and perhaps a reason to throw a party!

And now for a mythical doodle. This one is called "Pixie."

Finally here is a quote.

I wake up to the sound of music
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be

Paul McCartney

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14. Know Your Genre

I recently created a course on prewriting for my Master's degree. I thought it would be a good thing to share with the rest of you. I'll spend the next six Wednesdays showing the course unit by unit, starting with a video, then an outline and finally some practice activities. The first part is about selecting a genre.


Know Your Genre Genre = the category your writing falls into. Bookstores, reviewers and sellers separate books by genre to help readers.
 A genre tells you what kind of conflict you will have and how it will likely be resolved.

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15. Four Questions from author Theresa Sneed

A few questions today from author Theresa Sneed. Check out her website here: http://theresasneed.com/

1. What are you working on right now?
I'm working on a few different novels at a time, that's generally what I do. I'm also working on a book that tackles bullying from an LDS perspective. My novels are all in the fantasy and science fiction genre, one about a society in which everyone votes about ever aspect of life, one about an alien whose two halves live in different worlds but have to soon come back together and choose one world to live in, and about a boy who can look at people in the moonlight and see how they will ultimately die. 

2. How does it differ from other works in its genre?
All of my books try to break away from cliches and explore characters, technology, magic systems and themes that don't feel worn and tired. I believe that speculative fiction needs to more creative in general, especially because you have the license to do so. 

3. Why do you write what you do?
I have an extremely overactive imagination. All of those ideas just don't fit in my head at once without spilling out.

4. How does your writing process work?
I do a general outline, chapter by chapter and a do a bit of prewriting on my characters. I then jump in with both feet. I wait until I'm done to edit in order to keep my momentum going and then read through it again and let others give me feedback until I'm satisfied with it. 

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16. 3 Tips for Dealing with THE EDIT LETTER

Whether you are traditionally or self-published, at some point you will receive an edit letter from either your publisher or your hired freelance editor. If you've already received one, you know why I used capital letters. Just the idea of this letter can inspire fear, insecurity, and dread. I saw writers in social media comparing the length of their letters, "Wow, yours was only five pages long? Mine was twenty-six." After reading some of these disclosures, I actually emailed my editor and told him I just needed to hear that my letter was less than twenty-five pages long. He thought I was kidding. For me, it was mostly a fear of the unknown, e.g. what if they want me to re-write the entire book, replace all my characters with new ones, and change the genre from sci-fi to contemporary romance? So yes, the fear can be irrational, but it's still there.

Anyway, after getting the letter (which, thankfully, was WAY less than twenty-five pages), and later, after finishing all of the edits and having them accepted, I thought, "Huh, that wasn't so bad after all." More importantly, I couldn't believe how much stronger my book was afterward. So, here are three things you should do after you read your edit letter for the very first time:  

1) Nothing. Seriously. Don't open your manuscript. Don't bust out the highlighters and red pens. Don't think about how you're going to address the plot issue raised about chapter seventeen. So what should you do? Take a day and let it all sink again. Then, when you're ready, read the entire letter again before you do anything. The subconscious mind is a powerful thing and I'm a big advocate for "sleeping on it." By the time I re-read my edit letter, the answer to several issues had magically appeared in my head, and I hadn't even started on the edits yet. Next, read the comments by your editor within the manuscript itself. Let these sink it as well, even if your fingers are twitching on the keyboard.  

2) Talk to your editor. Schedule a phone call with your editor after you've done Step 1, not before. This way, you can ask for clarification on any issues that you are still unclear about. If you're going the traditional route, you can also discuss the expected time frame for edits. I had one month to do my edits, so I knew I'd have to work quickly. This phone call only lasted about 30 minutes for me, and I hung up feeling very confident about what I needed to do. Excitement had replaced the fear--well, mostly.  

3) Develop a strategy. Some writers I know like to go through the edit letter and address each point in turn, so they can check it off as they go. This works great for some people. For me, after talking to my editor and reading his first few comments within my manuscript, something clicked and I went through the entire manuscript without even looking at the edit letter. When I finally went back to the edit letter at the end, I found that I'd addressed almost everything, and only had to tweak a few more minor things. I tend to be less detail-oriented and more big picture oriented, so this system worked better for me. Everyone is different, so listen to what other people have tried, but do what works best for you.

I'd say you can relax after this hurdle, but I'd be lying. I only had one week of downtime after turning my edits in before I received my copyedits to do. That's another post, but I'm finished with those now as well...hence, why I have time to do my first blog post in forever. The bottom line is that having a great editor is priceless, and the end product is totally worth all the blood, sweat, tears, and Haagen Daaz ice cream.  NOTE: If you haven't tried the Caramel Creme de Leche variety, you don't know what heaven tastes like.

In other fun news, I saw my book cover and can't wait to share it, because it's SO FREAKIN' COOL! Also, I have a shiny, new website coming soon, and I'm posting a book rave today over at the YA Valentines.

Any other editing tips you'd add to the list? Any favorite editing snacks, like ice cream?

8 Comments on 3 Tips for Dealing with THE EDIT LETTER, last added: 6/11/2013
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17. How to Plot a Trilogy: Five Tips for Writing Trilogies

We’ve invited Karen Sandler, author of Tankborn and the sequel, Awakening, to the blog to share her wisdom about how to plot a trilogy. In her first guest post last week, “The Trouble With Trilogies,” Karen shared the challenges she experienced while plotting the second two novels in her Tankborn series. Today she shares five useful tips for writers taking a stab at trilogies:



Five Tips for Writing Trilogies

  1. Keep notes on the culture, including governmental structure, societal structure, flora and fauna, religion, and local calendar. You’ll want to refer to it often. 
  2. Draw a map and keep it up to date. In my case, the Tankborn series takes place on a planet called Loka, in which there are different regions called sectors. I added sector names to a map as the stories progressed. I had to keep track of the fact that, for example, Daki sector was northwest and Sona sector southeast. 

    The continent Svarga

    The continent Svarga

  3. Keep a list of character names. I didn’t do this as much as I should have, which meant I had to constantly search the previous manuscript for a particular name. 
  4. Keep track of your invented terminology and other names unique to your story. While some of this I scribbled in a folder (for example, the names of the trinity moons on Loka are Abrahm, Avish, and Ashiv), most of my invented words were incorporated in a glossary that appears in Awakening, the second book. I’ll keep adding to this for the third book, Revolution.
  5. In the end, sometimes you just have to let story take precedence over continuity. I know some readers will exclaim, “Wait, she never talked about this in Tankborn!” But some things are just too good to leave out even though I hadn’t thought of them while writing the first book. Nothing I have added directly contradicts the Tankborn world (GENs—genetically engineered nonhumans—aren’t suddenly being genned with wings, and Svarga’s Got Talent! isn’t suddenly the new hit TV show). The additional material fits the current society/culture, it just wasn’t highlighted before. 

    A drom

    A drom, one of the fictional animals that inhabits the Tankborn world

Further Reading

How to Plot a Trilogy Part I: The Trouble with Trilogies

Filed under: guest blogger, Publishing 101 Tagged: author advice, plotting, talking shop, Teens/YA, trilogies, Tu Books, writing advice, writing tips

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18. How to Plot a Trilogy Part I: The Trouble With Trilogies

(cross-posted from Karen Sandler’s blog)

In two guest posts, Karen Sandler, author of Tankborn and the sequel, Awakening, shares her wisdom about how to plot a trilogy.

Part I: The Trouble With Trilogies

Back in my romance writing days, I didn’t write trilogies.  The love stories I wrote were one-offs. Although half of my Harlequin books were all set in the same small town of Hart Valley and had some overlapping characters, there weren’t any connections between the stories. There were two books I did for Harlequin that were part of the Fostering Family mini-series, where the second book picked up where the first left off. Characters from the first book were mentioned in the second, but the main story revolved around a new hero and heroine.

TankbornThen along came Tankborn. When I first wrote Tankborn, I had a hazy idea of possibly writing a trilogy. Then when I signed with my agents and we were getting the manuscript ready for submission, they suggested I write up short blurbs for a second and third book. When we sold to Lee and Low/Tu Books, the original contract was only for the one book, but we later sold them two other books to complete the trilogy.

So my foray into writing my first real trilogy actually commenced with the second Tankborn book. With book one, I was blissfully ignorant of how anything I wrote might have a ripple effect into books two and three. Although I’d still had that hazy idea of writing two more books, I completed Tankborn and saw it into print before I ever wrote word one of the second book, Awakening.

And that was when the hand-shackles went on. From the moment I started Awakening, I had to constantly keep in mind the Tankborn universe. The book was already printed, many, many people had already read it, and while most readers probably wouldn’t notice if some little detail wasn’t consistent, someone somewhere would.Tankborn: Awakening

So I certainly couldn’t change the planet my characters were on from Loka to somewhere else. I could not make the sky blue instead of green. There had to be two suns in the sky, not one. And seycats and droms had to have six legs, not four or eight. In other words, I couldn’t fudge or goof. The first book was already in print, there for anyone to refer to and point out my mistakes.

Still, as I wrote Awakening, I thought it was pretty cool having the Tankborn universe already defined. I didn’t have to re-invent the wheel. If I couldn’t remember whether seycats had stripes or spots, or just how tall a genetically engineered drom was, I had the best reference in the world–the first book.

So I finished Awakening feeling pretty good about things. My editor and I had a great round of developmental edits that strengthened all my characters and added some complexity to the plot. Then it was time for the copy editor.

That’s when the oopsies started. For instance, Risa, a very minor character in Tankborn, is a prominent secondary character throughout Awakening. As I fleshed out her character in the second book, I gave her red hair mixed with gray. I didn’t bother to check in Tankborn to see if I’d mentioned what color hair Risa had. But the copy editor did check. And pointed out that in Tankborn, Risa is described as having dark hair. For continuity’s sake, Risa’s hair couldn’t be red.

This may seem very minor (and it was for the most part). But I was a little sad at the necessity because Risa has a pet seycat (a wild feline indigenous to the planet Loka) and seycat coats are red (with black/grayish markings). I’d really liked the idea that Risa’s hair matched the seycat’s. That had to go away with the change of hair color, which required a bit more tweaking than a simple change from red to dark.

seycat, Tankborn

Sketch of a seycat

The second blooper was an incorrect character name. There’s an important character who plays a very minor role in Tankborn, a slightly more important role in Awakening, and will play a major role in the third book of the trilogy, Revolution. I used the wrong name for her throughout Awakening. I hadn’t remembered that one of the last changes we made in Tankborn before it went to print was to change that character’s name. Again, it was a good catch on the part of the copy editor that saved us from using the wrong name and really confusing readers.

Alas, there is an error/inconsistency that was my fault that sneaked its way into Tankborn. I only noticed it as I was working on Revolution. There’s a shrub on the planet Loka called a sticker bush. At least that’s what I was calling it all through Awakening, what I thought I’d called it in Tankborn. But it turns out that at some point, I decided to call the sticker bush a prickle bush instead. And I wasn’t even consistent at that, because while I call it a prickle bush twice in Tankborn, I call it a sticker bush once.

Sticker bush

Sticker bush, aka a prickle bush

So what to do? Prickle or sticker? I realized I liked sticker bush better and made an executive decision to call it that, inconsistency be damned.

Live and learn. Continuity in trilogies has proved to be a tricky business. I’ll have another chance to play around with this in my upcoming mystery series from Angry Robot/Exhibit A, which begins with Clean Burn. Since it’s not science fiction, it should be a piece of cake, right?


Thanks, Karen! Stay tuned next Tuesday for part II: Five Tips for Writing Trilogies.

Filed under: guest blogger, Publishing 101 Tagged: author advice, plotting, talking shop, Teens/YA, Tu Books, writing advice

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19. Happy Birthday to Me

So, today is my birthday, and this post will be short in order to celebrate properly with a playdate at the train store with my daughter and another friend and her son and then a homemade dinner at my mom’s house with spaghetti and meatballs! Can’t wait. SO I wanted to tell you about some things to help your writing and to see your dream of getting published. . .

I gave a talk at Saturday Writers last week about writing and everything you need to know, you learned in elementary school. This talk covers the 6 plus 1 traits of writing and how to apply them to your WIP as a writer. My wonderful friend and blogger, Donna Volkenannt, attended the meeting and re-wrote what she learned from it. I thought you might enjoy the write-up. So, here is the link: http://donnasbookpub.blogspot.com/2013/01/writing-is-elementary-with-margo-dill.html

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Create Your Writer Platform: The Key to Building an Audience, Selling More Books and finding Success as an Author -- Chuck Sambuchino


I’ve read several books on author platform but have to confess never fully grasping the term until reading Chuck Sambuchino’s CREATE YOUR WRITER PLATFORM. At its simplest level, a platform is an author’s visibility and reach -- the framework an author has and continues to build that let’s others know of his or her work.

Sambuchino describes his book as “a guide for all the hardworking writers out there who want a say in their own destinies.” Though there is no one-size-fits-all approach to establishing a platform, Sambuchino says the need for platform cannot be ignored, even for those of us who write fiction. The book is divided into three sections: The Principles of Platform, The Mechanics of Platform, and Author Case Studies. At the end of each chapter, literary agents weigh in on the chapter’s topic, giving readers perspectives outside of the author’s. One of the most helpful aspects of the book is the Case Study section, where twelve different authors from a variety of genres (memoir to self help, fiction to reference) reflect on the choices they made in building their platforms -- what worked, what they wish they’d done differently, what they believe makes them stand out from others in their field.

Sambuchino is also quick to say “this is a resource for those who realize that selling a book is not about blatant self-promotion.” It is more about relationships, the sharing of expertise, and supporting others along the way. Though written for the aspiring author, a lot of things resonated with me, a newly published author, such as the wisdom behind an author newsletter, establishing an “events” page on my blog, and always, that kindness and generosity go a long way.

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21. Dealing With Rejection

Here's a post about rejection that orriginally appeared here: http://mormonmommywriters.blogspot.com/2013/02/saturday-so-what-spotlight-michael-young.html?showComment=1360078358572#c2208889451602631540

You could say I’ve asked for it.

Someone who doesn’t like facing constant rejection should probably not go into writing, acting, singing or missionary work.

I’ve done all of the above. I’m practically a human pincushion. Editors and agents have rejected my writing, directors have rejected my auditions, and, oh, so many people (especially Germans) have rejected my attempts to talk religion. Despite this, nine out of ten people who know me would likely say I’m a happy guy, who continues fighting all of the above battles.
How do I still have a shred of self-esteem?

For starters, I should say that some days are better than others. My self-esteem does go through highs and lows, and sometimes I do feel like giving up on the things I’m passionate about. I have, however, experimented in my life with the best coping mechanisms for me. They may not be the same for everyone, but I’d like to share a few that have gotten me through the less-than-rose-colored days.

1. Allow Some Time to Mourn (But Not Too Long)
 I don’t think it’s to hold things in. Trying to pretend that something didn’t affect you when it did serves no purpose. Feeling a little genuine grief can actually be a cathartic, healing experience. But do put a cap on it. If you languish with a bag of Oreos for a week after every time you get a rejection, you might be overdoing it. I usually allow myself 24 hours to feel bad about a rejection, and don’t feel guilty about mourning a bit. Then, however, I honor my agreement with myself and set it aside.

2. Remind Yourself of Your Successes.
It can be easy to focus on the negative after a rejection. Sometimes, it dredges up all the memories of past rejections, and these start to seem like a mountain whose shadow you might never escape. It does me so much good in these times to remember the things I have succeeded in. A few years ago, I fulfilled my lifelong dream of becoming a member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. One of my personal mantras when faced with rejection is “that one success can cover a mountain of failures.” Your successes need not be large things, but I promise you, if you peek out from behind the cloud of pessimism, you will find them.

3. Take Time to Appreciate the Success and Effort of Others.
 Rejections can hurt especially bad when observing the success of others around you. It is easy to forget all the time, struggle and anguish another person in a similar situation had to invest before achieving success. I remember once reading a quote from the famous basketball player Michael Jordan, in which he expressed his regret that at the height of his career that he made playing professional basketball look so easy. So many young boys thought they could be just like him, but didn’t understand all of the practice, the failures and the immense amount of time it took for him to get to where he was. After a rejection, I make it a point to spend a little less time on social media, where people most often display their best news, so that I am not tempted by jealousy. If I do see something, however, I give my best effort to appreciate that person’s effort and to remember that it might very well be me someday.

4. Get Back in the Saddle.
In my book, I believe persistence will take your farther in life than even talent. Talent without persistence is hallow. No matter how hard it seems, you need to launch into your next project and keep revising and submitting. I often remember that Abraham Lincoln ran for many public offices and lost all of the elections until the big one. He’s now so famous that his face gets to be on both a bill, a coin, and a Steven Spielberg movie. Did I mention the big shrine in Washington DC? Maybe that won’t happen for you, but one thing is for sure—you definitely won’t have anything like that happen to you if you quit.

5. Look at the Big Picture. 
The truth is, most books get rejected many times before finding their place. What may seem like a tumble from a cliff may really be only a minor speed bump. Even sore bruises heal with time. Remember how far you have come, and don’t take your eyes off on where you want to end up. And while you are getting there—enjoy the ride.
Above all, I realize that rejection is a part of life. Sometimes, I even find the audacity to smile at them. A rejection means that you overcame your fears of trying. That is so much farther than most people go. For every writer, singer, actor, or whatever, there are thousands who wished they had the courage and patience to be any one of those things. A rejection then, is not a black mark on your record, but a badge of honor.

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22. Writing Advice in Tweet Form

I've written lots and lots of writing advice tweets over the years. Here they are, all in one place!

I will keep adding to this list as I tweet them out and as Twitter allows more access to older tweets:

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23. Writing Links

Romancing the Writing/Sabbatical Update #3 :: Sara Zarr

7 Things I’ve Learned So Far - Augusta Scattergood :: Guide to Literary Agents

Why “oh well” should become an author’s favorite words :: Lisa Schroeder
Written in January 2011. Still one of my favorites.

Golden Advice: The Wisdom of Solomon :: Molly Blaisdell

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24. March Madness...

It's been a while since I've posted, and that's because I've been busy with editing one novella and finishing up the other one. 

I've also been reading other authors blogs. Eating up advice like mixed M&M's and popcorn. So what have I learned you asked? Well, let me just put it like this.  I'm confused. 

Here is a list of advice from authors: (Just some examples so you can see my dilema.)

1.) Write what you know.
2.) Write what you "don't" know.
3.) Don't self-publish. Editors don't like self-published authors.
4.) Do self-publish.  Editors like a track record.
5.) Blog - To gain readers.
6.) Don't blog - Readers don't read them. Writers do. (Um. I'm a reader too.)
7.) Don't promote your book on Twitter or FB.
8.) Promote on Twitter and FB and everywhere else.  (To me, this is a fine line to walk, but if you do it often, it is annoying and I will unfriend you and never buy your book. Well, unless you are Kenyon, Ward or Shayne.)
9.) Interviews are a waste of time.
10.) Put your name out there.  Do interviews, etc.
11.) Make your book free on Amazon.
12.) Don't make your book free. People will think the book is bad.

The conflicting list goes on and on. Which ones are right? Crap. I don't know...but who does?

It seems like a lot of authors are trying to find that special magic formula that turns you into an instant hit.  Sorry, I wish I had the answers.  I can only share with you my journey and the bumps along the way, what worked and what didn't. Everyone has a different path. So you have to find yours. 

It could be just being in the right place at the right time with a great book ready to go.

Do what feels right.  Even if you fail at first, don't give up. Try a new angle.

I would love to hear some positive stories on how you found a home for your book(s) or if you are still looking for a book home, how are you going about it? 

~ Dawn

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25. David Farland on Outlining and Resonance

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David Farland is an award-winning, New York Times Bestselling Author with over 50 novels in print. He has won the Philip K. Dick Memorial Special Award for "Best Novel in the English Language" for his science fiction novel On My Way to Paradise, the Whitney Award for "Best Novel of the Year" for his historical novel In the Company of Angels, and the International Book Award for "Best Young Adult Novel of the Year" for his fantasy thriller Nightingale—among many  others.
Recently Dave released a book geared toward writing titled Million Dollar Outlines. In it he discusses how to write a novel or screenplay that has a wide readership, giving it the potential to become a bestseller.
Some of his past writing students that have gone on to success include #1 New York Times Bestsellers such as Brandon Mull (Fablehaven), Brandon Sanderson (Wheel of Time), James Dashner (The Maze Runner) and Stephenie Meyer (Twilight).
Along with providing writers with outline and audience analysis methods, Dave also offers 28 “plotting tools” in Million Dollar Outlines. A plotting tool is basically a technique that can make your story more exciting, interesting, satisfying, or complete.
Today, Dave is going to share one with us:


When we talk about writing, there are three kinds of crucibles—crucibles of setting, relationship, or condition. We’ll talk about those in a moment, but first we need to define, “What is a crucible?”
In metal-smithing, a crucible is a container used to hold metal or liquid as it boils. For example, to melt gold, one takes a heavy bowl made from steel and sets it in a fire. The steel, which can withstand higher temperatures than gold, doesn’t melt. But the small container quickly becomes super-heated, so that the gold liquefies in moments.
In fiction, a crucible is any setting, condition, or relationship that keeps characters (such as a protagonist and an antagonist) from splitting apart.
By forcing these characters to remain together, we may sometimes create an almost intolerable atmosphere. It allows us to super-charge the relationships, raise the heat.
For example, imagine that John and Mary have been married for years, but have grown apart. They decide that they don’t love each other anymore. The logical thing for them to do would be to divorce and split up, right?
But there’s no story in that! The characters could easily resolve the situation by leaving—so as a writer you need them to stay together.
So imagine that John and Mary have grown apart, but both love their six-month-old daughter. Neither is willing to end the relationship so long as they risk losing the child. Now you have a crucible, a binding force that keeps the two together.
But there are different kinds of crucibles. Maybe it is a child. But maybe you could do the same by putting them both in a car and having them get stuck in a snowstorm. The car is a different kind of container from the relationship, but both work to keep the couple together.
So here are the three different types of crucibles.

Crucibles of Setting

A setting may act as a crucible. You’ve all seen comedies where several people are stuck in a cabin in a snowstorm, and each of them is at the other’s throat. You will also quickly remember the movie “Snakes on a Plane,” even if you’ve never seen it. A crucible of setting might be a story set in your characters’ workplace, on a ship, or in a small town. The important point is to keep the characters together as much as possible, and to let personalities rub against one another until their tempers boil.

Crucibles of Relationship

You can never escape your family. You might try, but often the family relationship is a crucible. A child wanting to leave home is in a crucible in the same way that a father who must pay child-support is in a crucible. Any two people who are married are in a crucible, as are any two people who happen to just be in love.
I recall a fine western when I was young about two heroic cowboys who are both in love with the same woman. They are forced to band together to rescue her from a kidnapper. The men hate each other, and as the audience gets to know each man better, they both come to vie for our affections.
Soldiers in a squadron will find themselves in a crucible. For example, in The Lord of the Rings, those who had joined the Fellowship were thrust into a crucible—a small band of men forced to band together for their own protection.  It may be that your character finds himself fighting beside someone he detests—a murderer or a rapist—and yet he is unable to walk away from the conflict.
A crucible may also be your conflict with your culture. We’ve probably all known various folks—Catholics, Jews, Muslims, etc., who try to leave their religion behind but can never stop talking about it. But it doesn’t have to be your religious culture. My father ran away from the Blue Ridge Mountains to escape the hillbilly lifestyle. I had a girlfriend who left her fine home in Southern California because she despised her family’s wealth. In the movie My Big, Fat Greek Wedding, we have a girl whose main conflict comes about when she is embarrassed by her ethnic roots.

Crucibles of Condition

An intolerable condition may also be a crucible—such as an illness that two very different characters may join forces to beat. We see this type of crucible used every week as Doctor House tries to solve the latest medical mystery. But you can also set your characters up to fight an economic or political condition—the hunger in India, the tribalism of North Africa.
The condition might be something as mundane as crime in the streets. Policemen who despise one another are often found joining forces to fight drug lords, rapists, and other types of crime.
So as you form your story, consider how you might strengthen your conflicts by developing one or more crucibles.

To learn about the rest of Dave’s plotting tools, or how to write for a wide audience, you’ll have to check out his book: http://www.amazon.com/Million-Dollar-Outlines-ebook/dp/B00B9JYJ6W/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top
Here are some of the reviews it’s received so far:
“Mr Farland didn't write a book about outlines; at least not only outlines. This book shows you how to write a book, story, and screenplay from blank page to your first million. I can only imagine better instruction from Mr Farland in person, and plan to take one of his workshops based on the strength of this work alone.”
—Big Nate, Amazon

Actually, I have a book on novel outlining which has like 5 stars ratings. It is way boring. I just couldn't get through it. So when I learned David had written a book on outlining, I knew he could do the topic justice...and make it interesting. . . . Since David wrote this, I KNEW he had something UNIQUE to teach, that is, his viewpoint, his experience and his SYSTEM. Plus, I knew his conversational, no fluff way of writing/teaching would drive me, compelling me to devour it. And it does.”
—C. Jack

Can you think of any more examples of crucibles? Can you see a way to strengthen your own story by adding a crucible? Leave a comment and let us know!

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