Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Publishing Etiquette

Assuming that you’ve done your homework, selected the right publisher and submitted a near perfect manuscript, there are guidelines to follow in order to maintain a good working relationship.

~ Be positive in your dealings with a potential editor or publisher. When the decision is made to acquire your manuscript, an editor is committed to working with you for as long as a year or more. So, you need to present yourself as a willing and passionate partner, according to New York Editor Nicole Diamond Austin. She advises writers to be prepared to answer questions about the manuscript and most important, to be flexible, especially if the editor gives critical feedback.

~ Be willing to share your career vision, especially if it’s your first novel. Share your expertise and how you want to be known. Compare your work realistically to other authors and explain how you plan to promote your books.

~ Explain your “platform”—anything that uniquely qualifies you to write your book or provides you with a ready audience of readers. For example, if you’re a doctor, your medical thriller will be more readily accepted than if it were written by a pet store owner.

~ Honesty will win the publisher over. Don’t claim to be Lawrence Block’s friend when you only met him once at a writer’s convention. It’s tempting to try to impress a publisher but it will come back to haunt you later, as some novelists have learned. Feel free to briefly talk about your writing accomplishments but make sure you're accurate. Publishing is a close knit industry.

~ Respect an editor’s time and realize that you’re only one of many writers in his stable. And be patient if your calls are not immediately answered. Make sure you have a good reason to call because publishers, editors and publicists are very busy people.

~ Don’t get pegged as a difficult writer to work with. You may not like your book cover or the way the publicist is handling your PR campaign but you need to trust that they have your best interests at heart. Make sure that whatever is bothering you is worth potentially damaging your relationship.

~ Always be nice to the publishing assistants. Remember their names and ask how they’re doing when you call or email. Writers are often surprised at what an assistant can accomplish and the speed with which they get back to you.

~ Keep your editor informed, both before and after publication. If you’re a guest speaker, write a magazine article about your book or appear on a convention panel, make sure he or she knows about it ahead of time. The event may serve as a good reason to reorder additional copies of your book. But don’t overwhelm your editor with details.

~ Give your publisher a list of names of people who are willing to endorse your book and make sure your memo isn't longer than three pages. Again, those who work in a publishing company are very busy, so, don’t overload them with too much information.

And, finally, always thank your editor, publicist and publisher for the opportunity they’ve afforded you as well as the hard work they’ve given your manuscript. Thank them personally as well as in your book’s acknowledgements. A little appreciation goes a long way. . .

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Which Book Cover?

Please help me decide which book cover to choose from for the second edition of my mystery novel, Diary of Murder. My books were orphaned when my publisher died recenlty and I'm trying to upload again online. Your opinions are greatly appreciated. I'll draw names from among those who comment for a free print copy when it's published next month (or a Kindle or Nook, if you prefer).

Thanks for your help!

Or none of the above. :)

If you're unable to leave a comment, you can email me at:

The Rocky Road to Publication Has Become Much Smoother

Now that there so many small presses and online writing courses, a fledgling writer has a much smoother path to publication than those of us who began writing in the dark ages (before computers). I wrote my first novel in fourth grade—a chapter a day to entertain classmates—but it was many years before I actually published one, and not before five of my nonfiction books were in print.

No novel writing courses were available when I served as editor of my college newspaper, so my logical career choice was journalism. I then wrote for three dailies, two in California before marrying a Wyomingite and moving to Casper, where I served as staff writer for the statewide newspaper. I was later editor of In Wyoming Magazine and freelanced for other publications, but what I really wanted to write were novels.

My forte has been interviews, which I still conduct to this day on my blog sites Mysterious Writers and Writers of the West. While I enjoyed interviewing interesting people, the yearning to write fiction was always there, like an itch I couldn’t quite scratch. I studied the work of Dean Koontz, whose stories horrified me (which they’re meant to do) until I read The Watchers, one of my favorite novels. I still like the poetic way Koontz strings his words together.

I spent two and a half years behind a microfilm machine during the mid-1980s to research my centennial history book, and had so many notes left over that I decided to incorporate them into an historical novel. The book, Escape on the Wind, took a number ofl years to write and rewrite, and has been published by three royalty publishers since 1999. It remains my best selling book and was retitled: Escape, A Wyoming Historical Novel. But writing the book was akin to climbing Mount. Everest.

A member of Mystery Writers of America as well as Western Writers of America, I was fortunate to have two award-winning novelists take me under their wings during the writing process. The late Fred Grove and Richard S. Wheeler read my manuscript and offered advice. Fred allowed me to send him my chapters via snail mail, and made suggestions although he didn’t edit my work. Both writers were continuing the work of their own mentors by giving me advice and I promised to pass along the favor by mentoring on my own. Now that I'm blogging and writing for more than one publisher, I regret I no longer have the time. But now there are many blogs offering writing advice that we didn't have years ago, as well as online courses. There are also numerous small publishers receptive to new writers.

The past year has seen an explosion of new ebooks on the market, now totaling over a million titles on Kindle alone. More than 70% of them are self-published and not all of them are worthy of reader’s hard earned money, but new and talented writers have been discovered and it’s an exciting time for new writers.

Writing and publishing novels has never been easy but it's now a far cry from the days of typewriters, carbon copies and white-out. I can’t imagine what writing a book was like with quills, inkwells and foolscap. We novelists have come a long way . . .

Monday, September 19, 2011

Your Own Manuscript Critic

William G. Tapply wrote an interesting article about acquiring a personal critic to read your work—someone you can trust who is well read--a spouse who may also be a writer, a literate friend who won’t just tell you what you’ve written is great, or someone who can “read your manuscript with fresh eyes and give you straight-forward feedback that will help guide you through the vital process of revision.”

Even well-established novelists such as Stephen King rely on others to look over their work. Fortunately for King, his wife Tabitha is also a writer. He’s been quoted as saying that his wife has always been an extremely sympathetic and supportive first reader . . . but she’s also unflinching when she sees something wrong. “When she does, she lets me know loud and clear.”

Tapply says that sympathy and support as well as unflinching honesty is what you need from a personal critic. He suggests the following guidelines:

~ Don’t expect your critic to be an editor. Simply ask for an impartial read.

~ Have your critic read the manuscript with a pen in hand and write his or her views in the margins. Don’t expect the critic to censor himself, but simply write down whatever comes to mind.

~ The most useful feedback is what doesn’t work for the reader.

~Tell your critic not to worry about hurting your feelings. You want candor, not kindness.

~ You’re not asking for solutions because repairing what’s wrong is your responsibility.

~ However, if your critic has ideas about how you can handle something differently, you should be receptive to suggestions.

~Ask your critic to note her emotional responses to the story, both positive and negative.

~ Ask that notations be made if a passage is boring. All your critic has to write in the margin is “Ho, hum,” or if confused, “Huh?”

~Did your reader skip parts or an entire scene? Have him note it in the margin.

~Did anything in the story contradict itself or seem inconsistent?

~Were any of your characters or events unbelievable?

~ Were there any factual errors?

~ Ask that any words or punctuation marks be circled that don’t quite ring true.

And because criticism is much easier to give than take, ask that your critic write you a letter that points out and explains the most important observations and overall responses to your story. When you receive your marked up manuscript, give yourself at least a week to absorb the comments. Then, if you feel like screaming, hopefully no one will hear you.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Writing for Middle-grade Children

Plotting a children’s chapter novel is easy, right? All you have to do is chart a path from the beginning  through the middle to the end while filling in significant events.

Plotting is actually hard work, even when writing for kids. You need settings, situations and the kind of people that children can relate to. However, even the most talented writers often fall by the plotting wayside. Some start a manuscript with a great character who has a problem but the writing project often loses momentum and is never finished. Why? Because of plot problems.

You need more than a strong central theme, memorable characters and a problem that can be solved over the course of the book. I write middle grade mystery novels in addition to my books for adults, so I’m referring to the 9-12 age group although plotting techniques apply to all novels. Plotting for middle graders, especially when writing mysteries, requires technique.

Aristotle’s three-act structure has been used since the Greek philosopher lived during the 4th century BC. Plots are structured around three acts, the first and third comprising half the work.The second act comprises the other half, which is the middle, where most novels seem to fall flat. So you should plan to introduce your character(s) and the problem at hand in the first 25% of your novel.

The middle half is when you make things more difficult for your protagonist by placing more barriers in her path. And the remaining 25% is when you present the climax and resolution. Decide on setting. Most middle graders’ lives are centered around school so you have to decide if your plot takes place during those hours or during vacation or after school.

You need to develop a time schedule when events are going to take place. That means outlining. (I hear groans from the pansers). The outline doesn’t have to be detailed, but it should include events that are going to get progressively worse as the plot continues.

Otherwise you can paint yourself into a corner, which I’ve done in the past. Then decide which activities you need to write that will complicate your character’s problem. Kids are well aware of stereotypes, so make sure your characters are unique  Your protagonist will interact with her friends, teacher, principal, school librarian , bus driver and parents, among others, so decide which ones to include and keep them to a minimum. Unless characters are directly involved in solving your protagonist’s problem, they shouldn’t appear in the book.

Middle graders don’t require complicated plots so it’s usually best to concentrate on one powerful theme in a simple plot line, such as bullying, teasing, losing a best friend, etc. And don’t attempt to write only from experience. Do your homework and as much research on the subject as time allows. Talking to your children and grandchildren about problems they currently face will help tremendously. It also helps with learning their language.

Saturday morning childrens' programming is also a great resource. And be sure to check out Penny Warner's terrific site for kids:

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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Converting Your Blog Articles into a Book

I never dreamed of converting my interviews at Mysterious Writers into a book when I started the blog site two years ago. But such good advice and life stories evolved that I couldn’t allow the material go to waste. I recycled a great many interviews and decided that saving them for posterity was the right thing to do, especially after Carolyn Hart and Jeffrey Deaver agreed to contribute to the series.

Since the interviews were accepted for publication by Poisoned Pen Press, I’ve seen Internet ads offering to turn blogs into books for $14.95. A great idea for a blogger’s memoirs but it's not very profitable for resale. I offered my book to three publishers, all of which accepted, so I was faced with a dilemma. Do I go with PPP, which only offered to publish for Kindle, Barnes and Noble and Sony readers? Two small, well respected presses also offered a print version but wanted to make changes. I finally decided to accept Poisoned Pen’s contract with the hope they would also publish a print edition or sell the print rights to another publisher. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. The next edition, however, will also appear in print.

Interviews that only feature unknown writers usually don't sell well, and I found that the best time to approach a bestselling author is just before a new release, which is probably why Sue Grafton agreed to an interview when V is for Vengeance hits the market in November. Embolded from acceptances from Elmore Leonard, Lawrence Block, Nancy Pickard, J.A. Jance and other publishing giants, I ask Janet Evanovich for an interview. So far I haven’t received an answer, but you can’t win them all.

I’ve featured quotes from interviewees at my Facebook sites to advertise the book. Among my favorites is one from Nancy Means Wright: "Vermont writer Howard Frank Mosher nails up rejection slips and adverse reviews on the side of his barn and shoots holes in them. I just leave mine in a cardboard box and let my Maine Coon cats make a nest or pee on them. So send that manuscript out again!"

And from Louise Penny: "Finish the book. Most people who start books never finish them. Don't be one of those. Do it, for God's sake. You have nothing to fear--it won't kill you. It won't even bite you. This is your dream--this is your chance. You sure don't want to be lying on your death bed regretting you didn't finish the book." Lawrence Block was more succinct with his advice: "Write to please yourself. And don't expect too much."

If starting that first novel has you discouraged or you think you'll never get it finished, read what some of these writers have also gone through. Their stories are not only inspiring, they'll make you laugh and you'll wonder how the publishing business ever survived. (We writers must have inspired the invention of the straight jacket.)

I’ve had so many good interviews since Mysterious Writers was accepted that I plan to publish another collection next year. I’d really rather be writing mystery novels but I began my writing career a news reporter, so interviewing is second nature. And the rewards are immeasurable.

It doesn't matter what the subject of your blog posts are, including potpourri, there's a niche market for it. Small presses are receptive to various subjects, especially if you tell them about your target audience and the number of blog visitors to your site. And, if all else fails, you can go the indie route with Amazon Kindle, B&N Nook, Smashwords and Createspeace, among others. There's never been a better or easier time to publish.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

How to Rescue a Stalled Plot

We’ve all been there at one time or another. Your story’s going along great and all of a sudden you come to a complete stop as though a stone wall stands in your path. Surprised and a little fearful, you can’t seem to get going again. You either abandon the project or put it aside, hoping you’ll eventually come back to it.

A good plot is like a good marriage. It begins with plenty of enthusiasm and energy, but after that first rush you have to settle in for the long haul. Your story has to deepen and acquire rich details so that your reader doesn’t lose interest. Sometimes, when you’ve run out of action and detail you might begin to hate your story and wish you’d never started it. That’s when you’ve run out of what William McCranor Henderson calls “character knowledge.” He says, “When you hit that wall and don’t know where to go next, the best solution is to dig deeper.”

Start by digging up intimate facts about your characters. Not everything about them, just the things we really need to know. Ideally, this includes the two or three key nuggets of personality or character history than can make you fall back in love with your story.

An example of character knowledge may be that Terry likes ice cream and is allergic to chocolate. These facts don’t necessarily add up to character knowledge unless they cause something crucial to happen in the story. If Terry is investigating a murder case and eats a dish of ice cream containing white chocolate that he’s unaware of, he may wind up in the hospital just as he’s about to crack the case. Or Julie comes down with a bad case of poison ivy just before her wedding because her jealous rival puts snippets of the woody vines in her bouquet.

One way to dig deeper into your character's past is to interview yourself. In a focused freewrite, you jot down a few lines and answer the questions honestly. Such as:

Q. Why would Johnny marry a girl he doesn’t love?

A. Her father owns a large company and will offer Johnny a management job. His wife will inherit the company some day, making Johnny a wealthy man. Maybe the old man will have an unfortunate accident and Johnny won’t have to wait that long for the money.

Q. But won’t his wife know that he doesn’t love her.

A. He’ll shower her with gifts and pretend that she’s the love of his life.

Q. But everyone thinks he’s a great guy.

A. So did I until I started digging into his character.

If you’re not getting the right answers from yourself, interview your characters.

Q. Why were you involved in the accident?

A. The road was slick and I lost control of my car.

Q. Weren't you paying attention to your driving?

A. I overcorrected because Sara distracted me.

Interviewing characters can reveal traits and faults you never knew existed, which can lead to various plot complications and solutions. Then, when you rewrite that blocked scene, you can take a new run at the wall and watch it disappear because you have character knowledge that allows you to view the scene through new eyes.

~Jean Henry Mead

Thursday, September 1, 2011

And the winners are . . .

Congratulations to William Cook, Angela Guillaume and Richard Mabry, who each won a copy of MURDER ON THE INTERSTATE. Please email me with your mailing addresses at: Thank you to everyone who entered the drawing. I hope you'll get a chance to read the book as well as the rest of the series.