Writers’/Critique Groups: Right for Every Writer?

My writers’/critique group, the Cochise Writers’ Group, has been going through some changes lately and that’s gotten me thinking about critique groups in general: their puCritique grouprpose, size, makeup, and so on. This post starts an occasional series as I collect my thoughts and observations about them.

One of the most argued about questions in writer-dom is whether writers should join critique groups or not. There are some people who are absolutely certain they know what the right answer is for everyone. Multi-published author Dean Wesley Smith is death on writers’ groups. I guess he had a bad experience with one once, but if he did, that’s not a sufficient reason–not a reason at all, really–to declare all groups bad all the time for all writers.

Here’s the thing. (Check out this blinding grasp of the obvious.) Every writer is different: different personality, different needs, different skill level, different… well, different everything.

So is every critique group. Some are big, some are small, some in-between. Some are made up of advanced writers, some of newbies, some a mix. Some focus on one genre, some will critique anything. Some are egalitarian, with everyone contributing to the best of their ability; some are dominated by a single individual. Some (often those dominated by one person) can be destructive; some–the best–work hard to help each other get better. Some meet weekly, some biweekly, some every month. Some meet in person, others are online.

And that’s what makes finding the right group a challenge for writers, presuming, of course, that they think they want and need such a group–by no means a given. How many groups are there close–whatever that might mean–to a given writer? Do they meet at a convenient time? How do they work? How much work can a writer submit? How quickly will it get reviewed?

Very important: What’s the personality of the group: welcoming or not, helpful or critical, constructive or destructive?

Most important: What does the writer want to get out of being a part of the group? And what do they hope to contribute to it?

There’s no “right” answer for all writers, just a “right-for-now” answer for each writer, and each writer has to figure that out for themselves.


Great Stuff for Writers, June 24, 2013

Major changes coming again to my Great Stuff posts. Starting next month, I’m going to again scale way back on these posts, for a lot of reasons:

  • Technical buffoonery on my part that made the Twitter links back to them produce “page not found” errors that I didn’t know about (but should have). I know better now.
  • Time. This is the main reason. It just takes too much time to produce these posts in the current form.
  • Others are doing it better. They have bigger audiences. Another reason why my time isn’t being well spent on these posts.
  • I need to rethink my social media involvement, such as it is.

So, July 1st, when Google Reader dies, is a good time for a reevaluation and restructuring on these posts. What will that be? Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, here’s the Great Stuff for Writers from the past week.


The unreliable narrator is one of the most interesting kinds of characters in fiction. In Who Ya Gonna Trust, editor Dave King discusses how four writers—Agatha Christie, Reginald Hill, Dorothy Sayers (all mystery writers), and J. D. Salinger—used their narrators in different ways to reveal different things about their characters.

James Scott Bell (@jamesscottbell) uses two movies, 12 Angry Men and City Slickers (now there’s a contrast for you), to illustrate how not only is conflict necessary to the story, it’s better if there’s conflict between every important character in the story. And by conflict, Bell means potential death—physical, psychological, professional. Okay, so what is A Key to Creating Conflict in Fiction? Orchestration of the suspense: will he or won’t he… survive, retain his moral values, etc.?

Since the protagonists of my first two books are both women, I was interested in Andrea Lochen’s Female Protagonists: Do They Need to be Friend Material? Now, I don’t read to find friends (is doing so “a woman thing” as Lochen seems to suggest?) and it was interesting to note that women writers are apparently taught, blatantly and subtly, that their characters, especially their female leads, “should be” friend material. Lochen closes by writing, “Maybe in the future this notion of female characters needing to be agreeable will be dispelled. Maybe their personalities will run the gamut, just like real-life women. But until then, my advice is to focus less on making your characters likeable and more on making them interesting and believable.” Sad, isn’t it, that this needs to be said.

Henry McLaughlin’s brief What Does Your Hero Yearn For? touches on a key piece of character development that gets far too little attention, I think. A yearning is a deep-seated, strongly-felt but perhaps not recognized or understood need a character has. Note—it doesn’t have to be just the hero who yearns. A yearning makes the antagonist more human too.


I’ll bet the bloggers who love to trash traditional publishing will be all over Porter Anderson’s (@Porter_Anderson) reporting in A Major Publisher Jumps the Shark what agent Brian DeFiori recently revealed: by their own presentation to investors, HarperCollins is acknowledging that their authors get less money in royalties and HC gets more in profits from ebook sales than hardcovers. Four things to note here:

  1. This data is for hardcovers only, not paperbacks.
  2. This data is from only one major publishing house. What are the other houses doing? What about small publishers? That’s all unknown.
  3. As DeFiori notes, this affects only authors whose books earn out their advances, which most don’t. Those successful authors get punished with lower royalties.
  4. The example cited above is based on a $14.99 ebook price. Meanwhile, Smashwords head Mark Coker has data that shows that the optimal prices for ebooks are 99¢ and $2.99. There are some caveats to this data that are worth paying attention to, but the gap between what HC charges and what indie authors charge is large. Is it significant, too?


If you’re a self-published author, want to be, or think you want to be, and you’re on Twitter (you are, aren’t you?), you might want to check out #indiechat. Joel Friedlander (@jfbookman) introduces it and gives a sample of June 18th’s conversation in #indiechat Book Launch: An Evening in Tweets. The chat runs for an hour, starting at 9 PM Eastern.


I’ve become (in)famous within my writers’ group for my MS Word adverb-finder macro. It’s a little program that finds and highlights adverbs that end in –ly (and, admittedly, some adjectives and even the occasional noun or verb that ends in –ly that I haven’t told the macro it shouldn’t mark. Well, Katie Weiland (@KMWeiland) introduces a program called Smart-Edit, which does something like that—and a lot more. Her Smart-Edit Video Tutorial post contains her own overview—not really a tutorial—of the program. It’s certainly worth checking out. I’m going to recommend it to my group. DISCLAIMERS: (1) The program is free for a 10-day trial but otherwise costs $49.95. (2) Neither Katie nor I have an affiliate relationship with Smart-Edit.

Gabriela Pereira (@DIYMFA) presents a 12 minute video, Social Media for Writers: Interview with Dan Blank (@DanBlank) of We Grow Media. Dan’s key point: too many writers focus on the “media” part of “social media”—the technology, in other words—rather than the “social” part, the human side of the equation. He offers some practical tips for making initial connections via social media and then growing them into real person-to-person connections that have greater depth, and potentially, reach.


The bottom-line message in Sharon Bially’s (@SharonBially) Dos and Don’ts for a Good Self-Published PR Experience is that good pub—and lots of it—IS possible but only if you’re smart and realistic about what you’re going to get, from whom, and for how much effort. Thanks to the internet, “local” isn’t just local anymore. Something that’s published in Portland (Maine or Oregon) might just reach Porto, Portugal. You just never know.

Dan Holloway (@agnieszkasshoes) guest posts for Joanna Penn on something we know we should do but usually terrifies us: Performing Your Work: Reading Your Book Aloud. You mean, like, to an audience? Of real people?? Who are in the same room??? Yes, that’s what he means. Dan’s done it and not only survived to tell the tale, he’s done it enough he enjoys it and wants you to, too.


Kathryn Lilley (@kathrynelilley) leads off The Kill Zone’s Reader Friday: A Collective Noun for Writers? with a list from Quill Café and adds her own “a critique of writers” but true to our creative nature, there’s no shortage of ideas in the comments. Many are laugh-out-loud funny. Some are even thoughtful. (What’s up with THAT?)

Great Stuff for Writers, June 17, 2013

Quite a collection in today’s Great Stuff. There’s the Hero’s Journey, Niccolo Macchiavelli, who was probably not a hero, Aunt Edna, who might or might not have been one, and a cadaver or two. All in the service of writing. Plus foreign rights agents, dirty talk, and much more. Dive in!


Gregory Ciotti’s (@GregoryCiotti) Copyblogger post, What a Notorious 16th-Century Philosopher Can Teach You About Content Marketing Today, might seem to have nothing to do with creative writing, given that its target market is the business blogger. That seeming would be wrong. Niccolo Macchiavelli’s The Prince was controversial, sure, and it’s the book he’s most remembered for, but what’s important to us short story and novel writers is how he used controversy to stir—and maintain—interest in what he had to say. Thought-provoking.

Katie Weiland (@KMWeiland) on why you want to “show” and not “tell” in your fiction: “If you find yourself summarizing important or potentially juicy scenes, stop and reevaluate what you’re doing. Whatever your reason, it’s not good enough. Readers are reading your book because of these scenes. They want to experience them. They want to see your characters growing and reacting.” (Emphasis hers.) Is Your Story Suffering From the “Montage Effect”?

When Lisa Cron (@lisacron) asserts, and then explains Why the Hero’s Journey Is a Tourist Trap, she’s not ragging on Joseph Campbell, she’s saying that the Hero’s Journey, and all other story structures, are not what makes for a good story, and especially not a great one. Structure comes from story, not the other way around. By focusing on the problem the protagonist has to confront, and how he or she does that, the story, and hence the structure, will be revealed.

If you’re writing fiction, do you worry about being sued because one of your characters is based on you batty Aunt Edna? In Write Who You Know (?), Clare Langley-Hawthorne discusses the practical realities—not the legal ramifications—of basing a character on a real person. While it’s important to consider those consequences, the good news is that more than likely, your characters will be composites of many people and anyone you might have chosen as a model will never recognized the traits you chose.

Jan O’Hara (@jan_ohara) makes a strong case for closely studying well-written works—and provides the technique she used to do so—in The Cadaver Wore Text (aka the Case for Plot Dissection). What makes the case so strong? Without naming the books she studied, she shows how they failed to be perfect while being excellent and what she learned from that.


Who wouldn’t want to see their novel not just sold in foreign countries, but translated into those countries’ native languages in order to reach an even wider audience? Foreign rights agent Marleen Seegers (@2SeasAgency) discusses what she does and how she does it in Foreign Rights Agents: Everything You Need to Know (& Why You May Want One!). While her work specifically relates to traditionally published work, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the translation market keep expanding for indie publishers and ebooks too.

Having trouble connecting with readers or imagining who your readers will be? Toni Tesori (@duolit) suggests in How to Connect With More Readers in Just 5 Minutes that you focus on just one (ideal) reader. The idea isn’t new but the point behind it is simple: out of the hundreds of millions of potential readers out there, there won’t be just one reader who is like the one you imagine, but many. But imagining one is far easier than trying to imagine a lot, so this technique will help you focus your efforts better.


While I think—I think—Keith Cronin (@KeithCronin) was writing tongue-in-cheek when he offers a formula for calculating your work’s Potty Mouth Index in Talk Dirty to Me, the piece really isn’t about his, or his characters’ language, or yours, or even about whether strong language is necessary and appropriate in any particular piece, but about how readers react to it and whether or how writers should react to their reactions. It’s a question that has no single right-for-everyone answer, just your own decision and your willingness to live with the negative feedback it’s sure to bring if one of your characters says a naughty word.

If you’re the kind of person who thinks, Does a bear shit in the woods?, when you’re asked by Katie Weiland (@KMWeiland), Are You Over-Thinking Your First Draft?, then her post is for you. You probably know this intuitively already: thinking too much about a first draft is a sure way to produce a crappy one. Giving yourself permission to produce a less-than-perfect first draft—to NOT think too much about it as you’re writing it—knowing that fixing it is what editing is for, will not only end the pain and make writing fun again, it’ll make the quality of that first draft better too.


I could have split Gabriela Pereira’s (@DIYMFA) Book Expo 2013: Trends and Highlights into two pieces, one up in the Business section and the other down here, but since I like to put these things in just one place, and because the part I want to emphasize is the fun part, it goes here. The fun part is Gabriela’s description of meeting former US Poet Laureate Billy Collins and the links to two of his poems, “Introduction to Poetry” and “Workshop.” “Introduction” is just that, and easy and friendly. “Workshop” is a wry take on one workshopper’s review of a poem that exists only in Collins’ mind. Anyone who’s critiqued poetry—or tried to—will get it, and smile.

Great Stuff for Writers, June 10, 2013

From characters to research to finding an editor to doing your own editing (both necessary!), to more besides, we’re covering quite a waterfront today. Let’s dive right in.


An editorial style sheet isn’t something most writers pay attention to, do, or even know what it is. Rachelle Gardner (@RachelleGardner) makes a case for creating one in How to Create a Style Sheet for Your Manuscript. The bottom line for this thing is consistency—in spelling, grammar, punctuation, relationships, physical characteristics, basically anything that you could not keep straight over the course of writing a novel. And which, count on it, some reader will catch.

Donald Maass (@DonMaass) draws an analogy between your characters’ journey through a story and his own family’s hikes in and map study of the mountains of northern New Jersey in The Map and the Trail. In both cases, Don’s family and your characters get lost and have to find their way to their destination when their maps (or lack of maps) fails them.

One way to have characters, especially ones who are romantically connected, to get lost is to create conflict between them, says Katie Weiland (@KMWeiland) in The Secret Ingredient of Can’t-Look-Away Fictional Relationships. Of course, conflict is the engine of story anyway, but if there’s romance and conflict, well, that’s just more interesting, isn’t it?

In Honoring the Backstory, Kill Zone author Clare Langley-Hawthorne wrote about the need to do research to get the details right, particularly in genres where the readers are likely to be experts themselves. James Scott Bell (@jamesscottbell) replied with How Important is Research and Authenticity in Fiction? Interestingly, for a former lawyer, his answer was, “the appearance of authenticity is what we’re after. If a made-up detail can suffice for effect, why not?” (Emphasis his.) Some very successful authors (e.g. Tom Clancy) do (or did) intensive research, others (Lee Child, Lawrence Block) not so much. What do you think?

Katie Weiland (@KMWeiland) shares her entire editing process in How I Self-Edit My Novels: 15 Steps From First Draft to Publication in her latest post. FIFTEEN steps? Yes! And it’s a multi-year process. No shortcuts here. My biggest takeaways were her FOUR sets of different beta readers and her technique for final proofreading. Keep in mind, this is one writer’s technique. What works for her may not work for you, but the care and attention she pays to her work matter.


Last week I posted an article by Stacy Ennis (@StacyEnnis) on selecting an editor. This week, Therese Walsh (@ThereseWalsh) continues that conversation in What Should You Expect from a Freelance Editor? (A Timely Debate), recapping the posts by various members of the Writer Unboxed Facebook group, then adding an extended comment by Ennis. Having recently had by own WIP professionally edited, I can vouch for the value of this conversation.

Is giving e-books away a good marketing strategy? Joel Friedlander found James Moushon’s (@jimhbs) Free eBook Promotions Can Be Pure Gold for Authors on Self-Publishing Review. The key phrase in the title is “can be,” not “pure gold.” Many of the almost two dozen authors who provide comments for the post note that book giveaways are not an unalloyed good—there are pluses and minuses to the concept—but nearly all agreed that giveaways are a net positive.


In The Barrel Test, Michael Swanwick’s son likens the critiques his dad gives to “being put in a barrel of gravel and rolled downhill.” But as Swanwick pere says, the purpose of criticism and correction for a new writer is to give them the information that will help them make their fiction better. I’ve certainly seen that in my own writers’ group, and it’s a real pleasure to see a writer get better from draft to draft.

The lessons may not be new, but Lydia Sharp (@lydia_sharp) puts a new spin on them in Everything I Thneed to Know About Writing and Publishing I learned from THE LORAX. Her baker’s-dozen-plus-one lessons should bring a smile to your face, and maybe an “aha” to your lips.


Bonnie Trenga guest posts on Grammar Girl why the advice, Don’t Worry, Be Gruntled is actually good. And that it IS possible to be sheveled (use a comb) as well as disheveled. And yes, you can be “in whack”—“in fine whack” as a matter of fact, as well as out of whack. You’ll be well gusted with her explanations of how these terms, and others, came to be.

Great Stuff for Writers, June 3, 2013

Heroes and protagonists, money matters, freelance editors, and Google+: you’ll find all that and more in today’s Great Stuff. Let’s get started, shall we?


Do “hero” or “heroine” mean the same thing as “protagonist?” In Why Your Protagonist Might Not Always Be Your Hero, Katie Weiland (@KMWeiland) explains the distinction and how you can identify who the protagonist really is. (Note that this character is not necessarily an anti-hero, either.) Katie suggests that you ask three questions to identify your protagonist:

  • Who is most important to your plot?
  • Who has the most dramatic character arc?
  • Who has the most at stake?

Katie also continues her Most Common Writing Mistakes series with A Surefire Sign You’re Over-Explaining. This is something I see in the new writers in my writers’ group all the time, and I absolutely agree with her that the source of the problem is lack of trust—in their own ability to get the point across and that the reader will get what they’re trying to convey. Less really is more in most cases.

Robert Lee Brewer (@robertleebrewer) calls them 30 June Writer Assignments but they’re not really assignments. Some are prompts, some are technique reminders, some are reminders that may help you keep your sanity. You can also follow them at #writerassignments.


Joe Konrath published a Guest Post by Robert Swartwood (@RobertSwartwood)—let’s be clear right up front, a really, really long guest post—on his (Swartwood’s) recent self-publishing success. Now, you could take this as a lot of self-congratulation, but if you dig deeper, you’ll learn a lot about how Swartwood used the Bookbub e-book publicity service and what I’ll call “tactical pricing” (99¢ for a limited time) to sell over 5,000 copies of one book over the space of just a few days. Okay, Swartwood’s already got a following and multiple books published. The point is this: learn the business, learn how to make good use of the resources that are available to self-published authors, make some well-considered decisions and, as you may know, luck favors the prepared.

In a happy coincidence, Gabriela Pereira (@DIYMFA) has a similar post, Why Writers Need to Think About Money, in which she posts some survey data from Digital Book World on the priorities and expectations of traditionally, hybrid, and self-published authors. It may be revealing (Gabriela thinks so) that self-pubbed authors put a much lower priority (4th of 6 choices) on making money than the other two categories do (2nd place for both). Can this hurt a self-pubbed writer’s business/career? She thinks so. Check out the post for the full discussion.

I try not to beat up on traditional publishers the way some bloggers do, but when the injury is self-inflicted…. Dean Wesley Smith (@deanwesleysmith) writes in Traditional Publishing And Their March to the Future about a post by Kevin J. Anderson (@TheKJA) about his (Anderson’s) fight with his publisher to remove from his contract requirements to submit two typewritten copies of the manuscript (one a carbon copy) plus an electronic file on a floppy disk. It took his agent eight weeks to get these requirements taken out, Anderson says. Really? I can only hope someone’s leg is being pulled. If not… sheesh.

On a happier note, Jane Friedman posts an excerpt from Stacy Ennis’s (@stacyennis) book The Editor’s Eye on her blog. The subject is 5 Ways to Find the Right Freelance Book Editor, a topic every long-fiction writer faces, whether they want a traditional publishing contract or intend to go indie. The keys include looking in the right places, interviewing the editor and some of their past clients, and judging a candidate’s experience and energy level. It’s a long post but contains a lot of good information.


OK, I admit it, I’ve been avoiding Google+. But maybe now it’s time to rethink that. Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy) guest posts on Jane Friedman’s blog with 6 Reasons Google+ Beats Facebook for Author Platform Building. I’ve seen some of Marcy’s reasons before and some torque my jaws in a way—if you want to be part of Google Authorship, you have to have a G+ account (yes, it’s a business, I get that, but still…), but the key point is that G+ seems to be better at building communities of interest than Facebook. Check out the post and make your own decision.


Great Stuff for Writers, May 27, 2013

Today is Memorial Day in the United States, one of the two holidays (two!) in which we honor and remember our military personnel, those serving today and those who have served in the past, especially those who were injured or killed in combat. As a veteran myself, I’ll be participating in a ceremony this evening. Courage in the face of mortal danger and sacrifice to it have long been—and should be!—staples of literature. James Scott Bell’s (@jamesscottbell) Of Miracles, Sacrifice and Story speak to this better than I can, so that’s where we’ll start this week’s Great Stuff.

And to my brothers and sisters in arms, thank you.


Nancy J. Cohen (@nancyjcohen) offers a veritable plethora of tips on how to make On-Site Research trips worth your time and expense. She has specific examples of how to engage each of your—make that your character’s—senses and what tools to bring to make sure you capture what you detect.

Katie Weiland’s (@KMWeiland) Are Your Multiple POVs Killing Your Story’s Suspense? was an uh-oh moment for me, because my WIP has six! Certainly, too many POVs can kill the suspense—or it can maintain or increase it. It all depends on the story. Her point is a good one: beware of the trap and be willing to revise if necessary. Some of those darlings may just have to go.

Grammar Girl Mignon Fogarty excerpts a section of Marcia Reifer Johnston’s (@MarciaRJohnston) new book Word Up! for a discussion of How to Use Hyphens—including when to use them, when not to, and why (or why not) as well has how to. The main purpose of a hyphen, like much other punctuation, is to make meaning clearer, and this piece, though long, should help you get a clearer idea of how to use hyphens for just that purpose.

Repetition can be a tricky technique: used well, it can drive a point home in surprising and subtle ways. Used poorly, it can drive a reader away. Elizabeth Craig (@elizabethscraig) describes 3 Ways to Add Repetition That Pleases Readers in a guest post for Katie Weiland’s WORDplay blog.


What to put into a query letter is something new writers always wonder about. Chuck Sambuchino (@ChuckSambuchino) covers the do’s and don’ts of one piece of the query in What to Write in the “Bio” Section of Your Query Letter. If this is something you’re looking for guidance on, check out this article.


John Vorhaus’s (@TrueFactBarFact) The Kings’ English Dethorned is absolutely writers’ humor. You might—might—share it with new-writer friends, but only if they’re sharp enough to catch all of John’s intentional (I think) misteaks. For your non-writer friends who can’t spel or puncturate so good, consider sharing only if they’re a friend you’re not intent on keeping.

Great Stuff for Writers, May 20, 2013

Wow! TONS of Great Stuff this week, in just about all categories. Titles, critique groups, emotions, made-up words, publishing paths, “scarcity thinking,” and dogs reading books! Even a traditional/self-publishing poll. Something for everyone.


Right up there with a great cover, a great title is critical to getting a potential reader to consider your book. That’s why Katie Weiland (@KMWeiland) provides 17 Steps to a Reader-Grabbing Title. Seventeen sounds like a lot, but she breaks them into 5 elements, 7 questions to ask, and 5 brainstorming tips, to make them easy to digest.

There are writers out there who hate critique groups. HATE ‘em. Sometimes there’s plenty of reason to. But sometimes not. Kris Montee, one of the sister pair who write as PJ Parrish, discusses this in Getting pecked to death: Are critique groups worth it? Her answer, not surprisingly, is “it depends” but she does a good job describing how to select a group that will meet your needs and how to get value out of it. Definitely worth checking out if you’re considering looking for some help and support.

To Be Great, Strive to Be Ordinary. Really? Elizabeth Sims’s (@ESimsAuthor) guest post for Jane Friedman isn’t as counterintuitive as it might seem. Her point is that trying too hard to be great is a sure way to be awful, to stifle your natural writer’s voice, or at least to end up with writer’s block. Relax and be you, especially in the first draft, and you’re on the road to something special.

If you’re really a writer, you just can’t get upset by a post like Demian Farnworth’s (@demianfarnworth) 11 Compound Word Errors that Might Make You Look like a Numbskull (and the three other posts it links to on similar topics) on Copyblogger. These are basics every writer needs to know—cold.

Super-agent Donald Maass (@DonMaass) knows a thing or two about writing, so Angela Ackerman’s (@AngelaAckerman) notes from a workshop he led, Donald Maass Wisdom: Cultivate Reader Interest Through Unexpected Emotions, is something I’m going to pay attention to. The exercise he had attendees do was to have a character from a scene in their work feel an emotion that they would never dare to voice or show.

Here’s an interesting question: Are Your Bad Guys Dying in the Right Order? That’s the question Katie Weiland (@KMWeiland) answers in this week’s vlog. So what’s the right order? The one in which the most important antagonist—the one the hero has the largest personal investment in—dies last. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

Speaking of dying, Joanna Penn (@thecreativepenn) thinks Dan Brown’s enthusiasm for his work is dying in Inferno. Her spoiler-free review in What Writers Can Learn from Dan Brown’s Inferno discusses not the plot or characters but what happens when (1) an author isn’t writing what he or she loves, (2) the resulting book’s title, marketing, and theme don’t work together, and (3) the writing confuses the reader (which means, my opinion, the author didn’t get well edited—or edited at all). Joanna’s still a fan, but….

It takes a while to get to the point (to say nothing of the title!) of Jan O’Hara’s (@jan_ohara) Linguistic Quirks: What Wordbirthing & Name-Nicking Can Do for Fiction, but that point is an excellent one. Namely: the unique twists of language characters use, especially couples with each other, reveal lots about them, their culture, and their relationships, in ways that are both economical and effective.


Nathan Bransford (@NathanBransford) has an interesting poll question in How Do You Plan to Publish Your Work-in-Progress? After a week of polling, almost half (45%) of the 721 respondents consider traditional publishing their first preference. Almost quarter each consider self-publishing their first choice or will ignore it completely. Less than 10% intend to ignore traditional publishing. What about you?

One of the on-going problems with indie publishing is that it’s been all but impossible to get print copies of your book into bricks-and-mortar bookstores. That appears to finally be changing. Kristine Kathryn Rusch (@kriswrites) reports in The Business Rusch: Shifting Sands that the two major book distributors, Baker & Taylor and Ingrams, have now put together processes for getting print-on-demand books into stores. Unfortunately, to get to the key news, you have to wade through a lot of other stuff first. To save time, search for “Createspace” [sic] and read the four paragraphs starting at the first hit. Then search down for “Earlier this year” and start reading there. This is great news!

Casey Demchak’s (@caseydemchak) guest post on The Book Designer, 7 Secrets to Writing Persuasive Back Cover Sales Copy, might seem to apply only to print authors—ebooks don’t have back covers, after all—but it doesn’t. Think about the book summary on Amazon.com or bn.com. Same thing, same purpose, different location. After the cover, this is what makes the reader look inside and maybe, just maybe, make the decision to buy.

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has created an Infographic: 5 Key Book Publishing Paths that nicely consolidates a lot of information on methods of publishing and their characteristics, values, and risks and then adds a few special cases. You can download it directly here but reading the post will provide a lot of additional information and depth.


Thanks to Copyblogger, we jump over to The Orbiter to find Andy Crestodina’s (@crestodina) Email Signup Forms: 4 Things That Lead to Huge Success or Total Failure. Those four things are: prominence (visibility on the page), promise (of what will be delivered), proof (how many follower/subscribers you already have), and privacy (you’ll protect it). The examples illustrate each point, and the last example—of a really bad form—shows how not to do it.


This post could have gone in the Business section, but it’s really about you, not business. Orna Ross (@OrnaRoss) asks Should You Self-Publish? 15 Questions on Jane Friedman’s blog. For starters: are you brave, hard-working, entrepreneurial? Have you made plans for all the things that go into self-publishing? Plus nearly a dozen more. Self-publishing isn’t for everyone. What about you?

What? STOP writing? Yes, sometimes it’s necessary—for your craft, for your sanity, or just because life demands it. That’s why Katie Weiland (@KMWeiland) and written 5 Reasons You Should Stop Writing—to let you know that it’s okay, even necessary. And that, as she says, just because you have to stop for a while doesn’t mean you’re not a writer.

“There isn’t enough (whatever).” That “scarcity mentality” is what Rachelle Gardner (@RachelleGardner) says is a hurtful falsehood in Letting Go of Scarcity Thinking. There is enough time to get things done, there are enough readers for your book to find its place, there is enough room in the market for it. If we believe there is enough (not too much, but just enough), we’ll do fine.


Definitely just for fun: Robert Bruce’s (@robertbruce76) 12 Photos of Dogs Who Love to Read.

Great Stuff for Writers, May 13, 2013

A double-13 day today, but you should feel lucky because there’s so much Great Stuff waiting below. Techniques for getting started or keeping going, for pulling in the reader, setting mood, and more. News about Smashwords and indie publishing. Making better use of social media generally and Goodreads and Twitter in particular. Even a link to an old video game based on The Great Gatsby! Check it out.


Just in case you don’t already have enough to read, or you’re looking for something specific that you haven’t found yet, Katie Weiland (@KMWeiland) lists 10 of My Favorite Writing-Craft Sites. Two you see mentioned a lot here—Writer Unboxed and The Creative Penn—are on the list, plus others I hadn’t heard of.

Not only is James Scott Bell (@jamesscottbell) an excellent writer, he’s an excellent teacher. In 11 Keys to Making a Novel a Page Turner, he examines, of all things, a 1953 novel by John McPartland (Never heard of him? Neither had I. Or Bell) titled Big Red’s Daughter and uses what he learned by doing so to show how McPartland used basic techniques to suck Bell so deeply into the story he forgot he was reading. Isn’t that what we all want to happen to our readers?

Katie’s back with the next installment of her Most Common Mistakes series, this time on The Do’s and Don’ts of Dialect. More than just a list of do’s and don’ts, Katie explains why each is what it is, and following those thoughts will keep your reader engaged in the story, rather than in trying to translate the gibberish of phonetically spelled out dialect.

Despite the title, Jan Drexler’s (@JanDrexler) Are You In the Mood? has nothing to do with either sex or waiting for the muse. It’s about setting the mood for a particular scene in a story through the use of both word choice and sentence length. Simple but effective advice.

Most of Boyd Morrison’s (@boydmorrison) Hunting Down the Muse would fit better down in Writing Life but there’s a little technique called The List of Twenty for generating story ideas near the end of the piece that’s very crafty—in more ways than one—and that’s why I’ve put the post here. Ella Mei Yon (@EllaMeiYon) takes a similar list-based approach in Finding a Way In in Glimmer Train, via Jane Friedman’s blog.

Professional editor Dave King introduces some much needed sanity into the craft with Rules and Tools on Writer Unboxed. His core point is that guidelines followed too closely—as iron-clad rules, in other words—are more likely to hurt than help your writing. Treat those guidelines as tools, and use the right one for the job at the right time, and they will help.

In Zest + Small Things = Great Writing, Elizabeth Sims (@ESimsAuthor) discusses how focusing on small pieces of your overall story—one detail that isn’t yet fully developed—can be the door to greater or continuing enthusiasm (zest) for the enterprise of writing: for not only getting the writing done, but getting it done well.


If you’re an ebook author, you either know about Smashwords, the free ebook formatter/distributor, or should know about it. One of the service’s best features is that it allows you to create reduced-price coupons for your books when they’re sold through the Smashwords site (but only there, unfortunately). K.S. Brooks shows how to set this up in Getting the Most Out of Smashwords on Indies Unlimited, courtesy Joel Friedlander.

Also courtesy of Joel is Mark Coker’s (@markcoker) New Smashwords Survey Helps Authors Sell More Books, the blog version of a presentation he’s made recently at the RT Booklovers convention in Kansas City and the Oklahoma Writers’ Federation conference in the Oklahoma City area. Bottom lines (pun fully intended): a $2.99 price points for indie-published books sells better than others (except free) but $3.99 produces more income, certain book lengths (~110,000 words) sell better than others, and there’s a power-law distribution of ebooks, just as there is of traditionally published. This is a long piece, and the slide show on Slideshare is 74 slides, but it’s well worth your time if you’re considering indie publishing.


Martina Boone’s (@MartinaABoone) Four Questions to Define Your Social Media Presence on DIY MFA should probably be required reading for anyone who’s just beginning to dip their toes into the social media waters or anyone who’s dissatisfied with their social media presence. He four questions center around goals, inspiration, viability, and enjoyment. Those things aren’t new but deserve repeating and refreshing. I’m marking this as a favorite.

Last time I mentioned an article by Mayor Lan on making the most of Goodreads. Unfortunately, it assumed you already had an account and knew the basics. Along comes Kimberley Grabas (@KimberleyGrabas) to the rescue with How to Market a Book and Strengthen Your Author Platform with Goodreads on Your Writer Platform, courtesy Joel Friedlander. This long but thorough article takes you through the basics of getting set up and working on this important site. Another definite keeper.

If you’re not totally down with Twitter, you may not know the etiquette for retweeting someone else’s tweets. Annie Neugebauer (@AnnieNeugebauer) to the rescue with Everything You Need to Know About the Retweet on Writer Unboxed. For just one example, did you know that there are proper and improper ways of adding your own comment to a retweet? To learn the whole panoply of do’s and don’ts, check out her post.


Nathan Bransford’s (@NathanBransford) wry How to Do Your Chores in 12 Easy Steps begins with “Start a novel.” Enough said. *grin*


There aren’t many video games based on great literature but Robert Bruce (@robertbruce76) has found one for Nintendo that dates back to the 1980s! Yet there’s a playable version of it available on line. Check it out via Gatsby for Nintendo, Old Sport!

Great Stuff for Writers, May 8, 2013

Hey! What happened to Monday? I was traveling, that’s what. And Tuesday? Trying to catch up. And Wednesday? STILL trying to catch up. I’m almost there. So, herewith is an abbreviated and tardy version of Great Stuff: outlining and word choice and beginnings and endings; branding and Goodreads and mastery and saving your work on the cloud.


If you’re an outliner, you understand that your outline is a fixed thing, graven in stone. In What Comes After Once Upon a Time, Robert J. Sadler describes how a little item he threw into a story, not thinking it was going to turn out to be important, instead became a key element in getting his latest novel to its conclusion by a path he never intended. But he trusted his storyteller’s instinct and good things happened.

We all know that we should only use the best words in our writing. See Ernest Hemingway. Poets and their close kin song writers know this better than novelists do. So Joe Moore’s (@JoeMoore_writer) tribute to the just recently passed George Jones, What novelists can learn from song writers, is no surprise but makes the point with economy and clarity.

Super-agent Donald Maass (@DonMaass) has a brief but excellent piece on Beginning and Ending on Writer Unboxed. The beauty of this piece is its simplicity: the story begins when the protagonist knows something’s changing; it ends when they know that the change is complete and they’ve entered a new world.


Okay, so we’ve all heard about needing to have an “author brand.” What the heck is that? Melissa K. Norris (@MelissaKNorris) explains it in Why Ignoring Your Author Brand is Career Suicide (now that’s a headline that’ll catch your attention!) and goes on to offer a link to a brand development workbook if you subscribe to her and partner Janalynn Voigt’s newsletter.


To be honest, Goodreads has been a mystery to me. I have an account but haven’t spent enough time there to understand the site. So along comes Mayor A. Lan (@TheSavvyIndie) to The Creative Penn, where he provides The Ultimate Guide To Goodreads for Authors, and this is a gold mine. Lan lays out the half dozen capabilities Goodreads provides to its registered Goodreads Authors, including the ability for readers to see excerpts of your ebook, buy copies, write reviews, participate in giveaways, and more. I’m marking this post as a favorite to come back to.


Now, this is HUGE. What would happen if your computer crashed? Or was stolen? Or run over by a dump truck? Think it can’t happen? It can and it does to someone every day. EVERY day. So Rachelle Gardner (@RachelleGardner) offers two sets of tools for protecting your work in Never, Never, Never Lose Your Work! First,  use a service like Mozy or Carbonite to do regular (like multiple times a day) backups. Second, use a service like iCloud or Dropbox to hold all of your important files—on the cloud (storage on the web) instead of on your hard drive.


Here’s a thought that can be both depressing and encouraging, depending on how you want to approach it: “mastery is an asymptote…you can get closer and closer to it, but you can never reach it.” That comes from an interview with Daniel Pink (@DanielPink) done by Ken Coleman and included in Jeff Goins’ (@jeffgoins) Everyone’s an Expert, But Not Everyone Is a Master. I take this as good news: one can always get better if you’re willing to do the work.

Great Stuff for Writers, April 29, 2013

Frantically trying to get caught up after spending the last 3 days volunteering with the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon, something I do every year to honor the memory of a friend of mine who was killed in the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building here. I’ve been a part of the event every year, as a volunteer, runner, or both, and this year was even honored with a profile interview in The Oklahoman, the city’s newspaper, even if the writer did misspell my name.

But enough of that! This is a writing blog! There’s lots of Great Stuff included this week: foreshadowing, characters who pop, pitching, the benefits of writing short fiction, book marketing, the value of reviews, burnout, learning from writing, and even some fun: one 2-year-old’s takes on books based on their covers. All that and more is waiting for you below.


We all want our characters, especially our protagonist and antagonist, to stand out. But how to do it without going over the top or descending into cliché? Katie Weiland (@KMWeiland) offers A Simple Trick for Making Your Characters Pop: add one or two details that contrast with the rest of his or her personality. They don’t have to be huge but so long as you can show that they make sense in the context of the character’s overall life and personality, you’ve just made them memorable.

We all want feedback that helps us get better, and that’s what Kathleen Pooler (@kathypooler) got, from perhaps the best but most intimidating sources: real agents, editors, and publishers. Still, How Practicing My Pitch Helped Me Write a Better Book on DIY MFA illustrates how the right attitude can turn a not-ready-for-prime-time draft into something that just might make it.

“The biggest thing I’ve learned from writing short stories,” writes Suzanna Windsor Freeman (@Writeitsideways) in What Novelists Should Know About Short Fiction on Writer Unboxed, “is the art of subtlety: how to be less obvious with symbolism or themes, how to choose subtle titles, and when it’s better to leave things unsaid.” She says more, but that’s enough.

Before you can know How to Use Foreshadowing, you have to know what it is, what its component pieces are, and how it differs from telegraphing an event and from foreboding. Katie Weiland (@KMWeiland) takes care of all of that in this post, which, by the way, is an example of telegraphing.

Yikes! Michael Swanwick isn’t kidding when he calls the following A Brutal Test for Your Fiction. It comes straight from early 20th Century humorist Stephen Leacock, who was, as best I can tell, dead serious when he wrote this: “Remove a page from the middle of your work.  Set it aside.  Then read the page before it and the page after.  Can you reconstruct what happened in that page?  Then your work is mediocre at best.” (Italics Swanwick’s.)


Think book reviews don’t matter… or don’t matter much? Angela Ackerman (@AngelaAckerman) traces how they influence future purchases in Book Reviews Matter: Thank You For Taking the Time. Long story short: they matter—a lot.

We haven’t talked about press kits much here, at least not recently, so Nigerian-born British author Tolulope Popoola’s (@TolulopePopoola) Book Marketing: Creating Your Author Press Kit on The Creative Penn provides a handy summary of the four parts of a good kit. One note: Popoola says the press release should be “brief and sucking”! Must be a British-ism. I presume that means attention-getting or informative.

With the success and influence of Guy Kawasaki’s book Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur, you’d think Gabriela Pereira (@DIYMFA) was being a crazy woman when she writes Why You Don’t Need to Be an Author Entrepreneur. She’s not. She’s acknowledging that complete entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone, but at the same time, we all do need to be entrepreneurial, that is, looking for—and taking advantage of—opportunities to get our work in front of more people through partnerships, new business models, and new technologies.


I hope this never happens to you, but Barbara O’Neal’s (@barabaraoneal) Boundaries and Burnout hit really close to home. I’ve been feeling that burn and not in a good way. Fortunately, some tasks I’ve been working on are now done but others await. And there will come a point where, like Barbara, I have to say no or stop doing certain things or save them for later.

In Here’s What I’m Learning From This One, John Vorhaus (@TrueFactBarFact) announces he’s conquered his fear of writing, and encourages you to do the same. A few truths stand out: “The more words I write, the better I get at writing more words” and “To be a writer is to be emotionally authentic on the page.”


In Robert Bruce’s (@robertbruce76) My 2-Year-Old Judges Books By Their Covers, that’s exactly what we get… but that’s not all. Of course, a 2-year-old isn’t going to get all the symbolism and summary and meaning that a cover artist tries to fit into a cover and still have it make sense; this piece isn’t about that. It’s about the cute things kids will say when given an unusual prompt. But it does also make the point that a puzzling, unclear cover doesn’t help a prospective reader decide to read the book.