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Writer’s Mail

Tuesdays with Story
February 16, 2021

The first word . . .

Whatever you’re writing today do it with the confidence of a four year old in a batman T-shirt. 

Tuesday’s With Parkas . . .

Some members of our group proved they are mere mortals this week, succumbing to illness or household calamities. Subzero weather outdoors, Covid lurking in nooks and crannies, the rest of us gathered via zoom. Here is some of what was said:

Kashmira Sheth   Kashmira will present her chapters next week as she got knocked down by her Covid vaccine booster. Fortunately she reported doing considerably better on Wednesday.

— Amit Trivedi (Poem: When I Think of You Now I Smile) . . . Poem received mixed reviews. Jack felt it did not make much sense whereas Larry felt it was simple but complex. John and Jerry mentioned a few words changes and suggested rewriting a sentence. 

Bob Kralap (Poem: Everbearing) . . . The poem “Everbearing” got a mixed reception. Jerry liked it, especially the line about a morning that hums with bees. Although Larry liked its rhythm and sensibility, he was uncertain, because of details relating to weather, whether it was set in early summer or late. Jack focused on line breaks, as well as the imagery used. 

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Writer’s Mail

Tuesdays with Story
February 2, 2021

The first word . . . Panegyric

Some of us don’t use the word blessed much anymore. Maybe too complicated, used by some, misused by others.

But I’ll use it anyway:  Tuesday with Story has been blessed to have Jerry Peterson as its leader/administrator/guru/guide/inspiration/add your own panegyric, for the last God knows how many years. 

Author of at least six novels and novellas and as many short story collections, and according to him, a suitcase full of early rejection letters, Jerry gives hope to all of us who envision invitations to book fairs once our successful book is published.  He’s been our under spoken friend, mentor, and guide.  Some of the success obtained by the published authors in the group, and those authors who have left for England or ceased attending due to age, must be attributed to Jerry.

The life of TWS has been usually friction free for the two decades or so that I have attended.  We offer each other critiques without criticism, stretch from our own literary venues into the strange worlds others are creating, to participate and email endless notes of advice and encouragement to one another.  That too is a reflection of our leader.

So define blessed:  VENERATED:  Not yet, he’s still too young.   HALLOWED: Close, but it would be an overstatement that Jerry would edit out.  OF ENJOYING HAPPINESS:  That’s a good one.   Despite our endless wrestling with words, the community Jerry has formed and fostered with TWS provides the joy of solidarity and mutual support.  We are a bit like the fraternal organizations that once dotted all Wisconsin towns, local clubs and organizations with some sort of general goal that brought together men and women of disparate employment, culture and age to form a supportive community, providing not only some attainment, but also the pleasure of each other’s company.

For the joy we need to thank Jerry, blessed as we have been by his efforts.

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Writer’s Mail

Tuesdays with Story
January 22, 2021

The first word . . .

“Don’t go into great detail describing places and things, unless you’re ­Margaret Atwood and can paint scenes with language. You don’t want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.”
― Elmore Leonard, Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing

Tuesday evening on Zoom . . .

Nine TWS writers flocked together to work through the picture books, poems, and chapters of six of their colleagues. Here is some of what was said:

Kashmira Sheth (2 picture books) . . . For Aria’s adventure Amber and John suggested to use a book with a title about an elephant. Huckle pointed out two words starting with the letter H. For Being a Baby, Jack wanted to have a cadence in the text. Amber said to add people or a dog being in baby’s face all the time. Thank you all. 

Jack Freiburger (2 poems) …Read two poems.  Evening Ski and Effigy Mound.  Comments suggested they were accessible, once I corrected the typos.  I’d spent some time on Kashmira’S Baby story and suggested cadenced reading and discussed the history of Baldwin locomotives with Jerry and suggested that having a lynching without recognizing the history of terrorism against Blacks may be an issue.

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Writer’s Mail

Tuesdays with Story
January 5, 2021

The first word . . . 

“Language is courage: the ability to conceive a thought, to speak it, and by doing so to make it true.”
― Salman Rushdie

 Six people submitted this week.

— Jaime Nelson Noven (chapter 5-6, Outsleep). . . A lot of important things to chew on this week, including illustrating what makes Rice tick, in particular why she hates outsleep and why she’s a standup. We looked at other low birthrate stories and stories where kids live their lives in the limelight and ask what makes my story unique. We wondered what the media’s and her parents’ expectations were for her, how she would have subverted them, and how that would have affected her life. I’ll be working hard at connecting all these dots! Thank you.

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Writer’s Mail

Tuesdays with Story
January 1, 2021

The first word . . .

“The dynamic principle of fantasy is play, which belongs also to the child, and as such it appears to be inconsistent with the principles of serious work. But without this playing with fantasy no creative work has ever yet come to birth.” –Carl Jung

When last we gathered . . .

That was back on December 16. A goodly number of us peered at our screens, at our colleagues, as we worked through the chapters and poems of those who had posted. Here is some of what was said:

—Kashmira Sheth (Chapter 23, Journey to Swaraj) … Kashmira shared a chapter of her novel, Journey to Swaraj.  The readers felt that the grief scene after Dadima’s death was too long. Jack wanted more details about the work Veena did with Taraben and Lalubhai. Also, most readers wanted to have Veena involved with the police after they beat up Lalubhai and other satyagrahis. Thank you all for your comments. 

—Huckle Rahr (Chapter 31, Wolf Healer)… This week most people had things to say on the first half of my chapter. The general consensus was that I needed to add more action to the argument. There was a lack of physical tension in the scene. I also needed to give more weight to Mr. Schneider’s side of the argument. The fight seemed to lack in intensity for something so serious. There were some suggestions on cleaning up some sentences and paragraphs as well as clarifying where characters were at different times. 

— Jack Freiburger (2 poems, “Barbara Salisbury” and “Burning Prairie”) . . .

—Amit Trivedi (Poem, “Looking through the Window”)… Poetry was well received by the group. A few word changes were suggested. Jack gave detailed feedback and Larry was very encouraging. Much appreciated. 

John Schneller (Chapter 32, Broken rewrite)… The discussion of chapter 32 focused on elements (music/mountain whisper occurrences….size of the character, SouthWind) that are easily interrupted by our fragmented reading schedule in TWS. Action was deemed slow by some. Can an eagle really cradle a lamb within its talons? All dynamics that earn a second look by this author.  Thanks!

— Jerry Peterson (Christmas stories, “The Christmas Angel” and “The Last Goodbye”, part 1)… The critiques were limited to “The Christmas Angel.” While Jerry thought he had posted the second story, he hadn’t. There was much discussion about whether the dishwasher at the Tiny Towne Diner truly was an angel—what caused her glow, what was the lighting like at the live Nativity, was she a miracle worker? Jack suggested a better line for Reverend Joe to The Fish. Rather than “your friend there is a miracle worker,” “your friend there has the touch.” John argued for keeping miracle worker as more appropriate to a Christmas story.

Who’s up next . . .

As, yes, January 5. Next week:

Kashmira Sheth (chapters 1-2a, Nina Soni, Book 5)

Jaime Nelson Noven (Chapters 5-6, Outsleep)

Mike Austin (???)

Amber Boudreau (Chapters 1-2, The Dragoneer 2)

John Schneller (Chapter 33, Broken rewrite)

Larry Sommers (Chapters 31-32, Dizzy on Wry)

Our editor . . .

Kashmira Sheth takes on the editorship for our two January issues of Writer’s Mail. If you have something you’d like her to include in the next issue, do email it to her.

Oh, for the really good quip or insult . . .

Few were better at coming up with them than Dorothy Parker, book critic, columnist, and writer at her peak in the 1920s and ’30s. She was a member of the then famous Algonquin Roundtable.

Literary Hub ran some of Parker’s best a couple years ago, and the article was reposted this week. It’s worth a read. Here’s the link: https://getpocket.com/explore/item/a-dorothy-parker-quip-for-every-occasion?utm_source=pocket-newtab

And now a sample, Dorothy Parker on being asked for writing advice: “If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second-greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first-greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.” (originally published in a review in Esquire, 1959)

The Book of my Enemy Has Been Remaindered . . .

Those of us on the call last meeting got to hear Larry read Clive James’s poem “The Book of my Enemy Has Been Remaindered.” If you’d like to read it for yourself or pass it along to a friend, here it is in full.

Writer House Rules: Questions in Publishing . . .

Q: Should I go with Publisher A or Publisher B?

A: There are many considerations when choosing a publisher (the advance and royalties, marketing promises, etc.), but one thing you should do is check up on how they might present your book within the book industry.  

Did you know that you can look at the way your (prospective) publisher presents its books to booksellers and librarians? Log onto Edelweiss Plus (free to sign up) and do a search for one of the upcoming or recent books in your (prospective) publisher’s catalog.

Make sure the publisher is representing their books properly to the bookselling community: Do they have a full description, author bio, cover image, and comparable titles? If the listing is missing these basic things, that could be a red flag.

Do they have an illustrated banner ad above the book listing, at least for its biggest books of the season? If so, this could indicate they have some kind of marketing budget, as these placements, though not expensive, do cost money.

If you’re looking to compare publishers, have a look at their marketing plans on Edelweiss. They may even have downloadable sales material, such as a sell sheet or pop chart. Have a look at several of the publishers’ new books and make comparisons. Which publisher seems to be putting in more effort toward getting booksellers the information they need to make their purchasing decisions?

The History (and Myth) of Show Don’t Tell

An excerpt of the essay “Thoughts on Exposition” by Kim Stanley Robinson, as printed in Wonderbook by Jeff Vandermeer:

Nineteenth-century fiction contained more exposition than twentieth-century fiction. Often a prominent narrator would comment on the action, detail settings, or histories, direct the reader’s responses, ruminate philosophically, judge characters, report the water, or in many other ways generalize. One of modernism’s reaction against all this was to remove the narrator as a character and present stories without comment, as if by way of a “camera eye” (plus its audio recorder). This narrative stance meant that many kinds of exposition could not be done at all, and the usual work of fiction in this mode was made up of a string of dramatized scenes, which readers interpreted by following subtle or not-so-subtle cues. This was the moment when Percy Lubbock advocated “show don’t tell” (in The Craft of Fiction, 1921). Hemingway’s popularity might have helped spread the mode, Dashiell Hammett possibly helped it along; in science fiction, Robert Heinlein famously dismissed all the old-fashioned exposition of the Encyclopedia Galactica with his sentence “The door dilated.”

For a while after that, “camera eye” and its dramatized scenes dominated. Then One Hundred Years of Solitude, a novel with no dialogue or fully dramatized scenes, a tale told by a teller, was published and celebrated. “Show don’t tell” completely failed to account for its greatness, and there was a paradigm breakdown in that failure, and now we live in more open-minded times. Fiction still contains many dramatized scenes, but narrative methods have gotten a lot more flexible and various. Some writers have flourished using expository forms as frameworks, including Calvin, Lem, Ballard, Borges, Russ, Le Guin, Guy Davenport, Cortazar, and Coover. Stories have appeared in the forms of indexes, scientific reports, prefaces, glossaries, tarot readings, abstracts, constitutions, Post-it notes, encyclopedia entries, book reviews, racing cards, you name it.

The last word . . .

“Dialogue gives you the illusion of moment-to-moment sensual experience—after all, these are the words this character is speaking aloud in the moment—but in bad dialogue, all you’re getting is the information, exposition, or emotional declaration; and that’s where your summary, your generalizations, your abstraction, your analysis run and hide in plain sight. Beware of that as you work to get that unselected, unironic, there-for-information stuff out of your writing: it’s going to try to find a new home in the mouths of your characters.” –Robert Olen Butler, From Where You Dream: The Process of Writing Fiction

Writer’s Mail

Tuesdays with Story
December 4, 2020

The first word . . .

“It is wise to write on many subjects, to try many themes, that so you may find the right and inspiring one.” —Henry David Thoreau (Journal, 4 September 1851)

December already . . .

Nine TWS writers gathered Tuesday evening—yes, December 1—around their screens and worked through the chapters of five of their colleagues. Here is some of what was said:

— Kashmira Sheth (chapters 21-22, Journey to Swaraj). . . Kashmira submitted two chapters of her novel, Journey to Swaraj. The discussion centered around how much and what to include in Veena’s time with Lalubhai, Tarben and their friends. There was also discussion about how to weave some of Veena’s thoughts in dialogues with one of her family members or friends. Many liked the language and also where and how the story was proceeding. 

— Jaime Nelson Noven (chapter 4 pt 2, Outsleep). . . We discussed the audience’s reaction to Rice’s comedy-routine-turned-motivational-speech. More thought will go into how this particular society would feel hearing her words and how they would visually react to her set. We looked at a couple ways to rewrite the description of the bottles on the ledge in the green room. Larry expects to see repercussions for Rice’s speech. Thanks, everyone!

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Writer’s Mail

Tuesdays with Story
November 20, 2020

The first word . . .

“Perhaps if we recognize the pleasure in form that can be derived from fairy tales, we might be able to move beyond a discussion of who has more of a claim to the ‘realistic’ or the classical in contemporary letters. An increased appreciation of the techniques in fairy tales not only forges a mutual appreciation between writers from so-called mainstream and avant-garde traditions but also, I would argue, connects all of us in the act of living.”

—Kate Bernheimer, writer, editor, and critic

Zooming Tuesday evening . . .

Nine TWS colleagues gathered on their screens to work through the chapters of six of their fellow writers. Here is some of what was said:

Kashmira Sheth (chapters 19-20, Journey to Swaraj) . . . Most of the comments were how to pick up pace and maybe combine the two chapters. There were some discussions about how to use foreign words. Also, there was a suggestion about providing more details about the past massacre.

Mike Austin (short story, “Hunter’s Moon”) . . . My short story, “Hunter’s Moon,” was well-received, with only few comments, such as the changing werewolves should not have enough awareness to register fear on the victim’s face. And it needs to be shown that they head him off before he reaches his vehicle. Thanks everyone for a fun evening!

Jack Freiburger (poems, “Fall Fire” and “Snow Day”) . . . Two accessible poems this week seemed generally acceptable.  Considering the simplicity of them, non-literary, I didn’t expect much comment, but it seems readers liked them, which was the goal. Spent most of my editing time on Jerry and Amit/Kashmira offering, where I feel I actually can contribute something as a reader.

Amit Trivedi (chapters 3-6, Keeper of the Keys) . . . 1. Start chapter 3 with smoke from the train. 2. Remove like ‘living in the past’ replace it with  something like ‘do we need to repay all our debts’ or let the story convey the meaning. 3. Use water in place of river. Has broader meaning. 4. Sharing food in the train—why? Does not move the story.

— John Schneller (chapter 30, Broken rewrite) . . . Several words struck people as being inappropriate for the setting—kid, crazy—better words, better story.  Jamie wanted clarity on the new hawk that flew in and out of the scene. Everyone felt that Witomzil’s discourse on when to fight needed to be shortened or broken up. I agree. And who better to break up a speech than an impatient squirrel hating dragon. The general rule of fantasy . . . never waste a dragon.

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Writer’s Mail

Writer’s Mail

Tuesdays with Story
November 6, 2020

The first word . . .

In an October 1935 article in Esquire “Monologue to the Maestro: A High Seas Letter”) Ernest Hemingway offers this advice to a young writer:

“The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day when you are writing a novel you will never be stuck. That is the most valuable thing I can tell you so try to remember it.”

Tuesday evening on Zoom . . .

A fair number of us zoomed in to work through the chapters of six of our colleagues. Here is some of what was said:

Kashmira Sheth (chapters 16-18, Journey to Swaraj). . . One of the comments was explanation of foreign words. Other concern was to show Mayur’s concerns for Veena’s wellbeing. I will work on those things. Thanks so much. 

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Writer’s Mail

Writer’s Mail

Tuesdays with Story
October 26, 2020

The first word . . .

If I don’t write to empty my mind, I go mad. As to that regular, uninterrupted love of writing. I do not understand it. I feel it as a torture, which I must get rid of, but never as a pleasure. On the contrary, I think composition a great pain.

— Lord Byron

Tuesday evening . . .

We Zoomed in from out East—Kashmira in Virginia—to west of Dodgeville—John—and points in between to talk about the works of six of our colleagues. Here is some of what was said:

Kashmira Sheth (chapter 14-15, Journey to Swaraj)

Kashmira submitted chapters from her novel. Here were some comments to make the story stronger: show more unrest in the street. show that the horse gora is on is bigger so he looks a foot taller than the Indian officer, make Veena bolder with the police officers and realize later how brave she was, have more conflict between Veena and the police officer who knocks on the door.  Thanks all for your suggestions/comments.

Jack Freiburger (long poem, “The Archeology of Light”)

Archelogy received a warmer reception than I had expected with Jerry picking up the Billy Collin feel, not that I was trying to imitate.

 Amber Boudreau (chapters 35-37, Second Nature)

Amber shared all but the last two chapters of her urban fantasy SECOND NATURE with the group. Mike wondered when Mavis picked up the phone in the final scene. There was some question of whether a character would set a bag against a freshly painted wall, but someone else thought that fit with what they’d read of the character. Jerry had a question about names and Amber had to confess she found inspiration in The Lord of the Rings. But good news. Amber has signed a contract with GenZ publishing for the book and will be submitting her final manuscript to them soon.

Larry Sommers (chapters 24-25, Dizzy)

Kashmira pointed out that Izzy’s anxiety for Christine early in Ch. 24 is not followed up later. There was agreement that the narrative of the mountain drive was tense and harrowing, bit a tire spinning in air was over the top and the snow in the mountain pass would obscure Izzy’s view. John said more word play on “resume” was possible, but Izzy would know “pyrite” was not “pie, right?” Several people thought Izzy’s advice on hope from his father needed more fine-tuning. Amber suggested the mountain-driving fiasco could be Izzy’s first hint of his father’s fallibility. Thanks all for perceptive comments.

— John Schneller (chapter 28, Broken rewrite)

I raised the question as to whether the dynamics/question of Kotel’s incomplete scar and his conflicting “Call” could wait until this late in the book. The consensus was affirmative, but this is a dynamic that no one can answer with our TWS reading pattern. Occurrences of itch or pain associated with the scar were present from page 1 on but not remembered by most. Assessment will require a reading without interruption. The beaver interactions were enjoyed, but Jerry reminded me Kotel needs to dress up the ends of his new staff.

— Jerry Peterson (chapters 10-11, For Want of a Hand). . . John and Jack suggested a way to establish in the first sentence of chapter 10 who the point of view character is—Zigman. Kashmira and Huckle said the Nurse Angel/Quinn scene in chapter 11 was useless, that it lacked a purpose that would advance the story. John said Quinn could pump Angel for information on OxyContin and addiction that others in the chapter aren’t telling her. Kashmira and Huckle felt that’s the fix that’s needed.

Who’s up next . . . 

November 3

Kashmira Sheth (chapter, Journey to Swaraj)

Jaime Nelson Noven (chapter, Outsleep)

Huckle Rahr (chapter, Wolf Healer)

Amber Boudreau (chapters, Second Nature)

Amit Trivedi (chapter, Keeper of the Keys)

Larry Sommers (chapter, Dizzy)

From Jack

I have a series of poem about the farm/refection that I may submit that have a similar, if denser feel than last nights.

 I may not make election eve but will send notes to readers in any case.

Our editor . . .

This is Amit Trivedi’s final issue for the month. We now need an editor for next month’s issues of Writer’s Mail. A volunteer needed. How about you?

A brief history of indie publishing . . .

Excerpted from the September issue of The KWL Quill, an e-newsletter published by Kobo:

As modern-day independent publishers, you’re in great company. Many renowned authors––from Stephen King, to Jane Austen, to Virginia Woolf––have gone ahead of you, and by now we’ve firmly established that authors can successfully take control of the publishing process and hold their own in the industry.

So where did it all begin? In the beginning, there was spoken word, and for centuries, we passed stories through generations orally. The advent of publishing began when those stories were transcribed onto papyrus and parchment, creating the very earliest iterations of books.

In 1439, Johannes Gutenberg created the first printing press, and society changed forever, as for the first time the written word was accessible to the masses.

Fast forwarding way ahead to the 1800s (in which Jane Austen published Sense and Sensibility via a vanity press); to the 1900s (when Virginia and Leonard Woolf founded Hogarth Press and published their own work), all the way to the 1961, when Margaret Atwood self-published her first title, a collection of poetry. 

We’re going to speed into the digital era in the year 2000, when everyone and anyone had a LiveJournal, and could share their writing far and wide. By the year 2000, we were starting to see the first stirrings of a publishing revolution after Stephen King struck fear into the hearts of publishers everywhere when he announced that he would be publishing his book The Plant directly to readers on the internet.

By 2010, the first eReader devices had entered the market and online retailers had grown in popularity. Suddenly, authors had direct access to millions of readers all over the world, and began to publish in droves.

Writer House Rules: Questions in Publishing (Jamie)

I’ve gotten a number of questions that are specific to editorial, so I asked my editor friend Barbara Darko if she wouldn’t mind taking a look. Here’s what she says. –Jaime

Q. How much do typeface, point size, page margins, and line spacing matter when submitting a manuscript? What is the desired font/size/etc. for each of those?

A. While manuscripts will be formatted in-house and/or sent to a copyeditor regardless, editors love a thoughtful, prepared author who knows the deal comes with a sparkling, consistent, well-set-up manuscript. The cleaner it is to begin with, the easier it is to look at, the better it is to review. Think of it like submitting a college paper, the standards are pretty much the same: Times New Roman, 12-point font, 1-inch margins, double spacing. But don’t use two spaces after a period, just use one. PLEASE don’t use a bunch of spaces for tabs either, there is a whole button on your keyboard for this! First paragraphs in a chapter or section after a line break should be flush left and every paragraph after that should be indented.

Q. What is something that I may not realize is going to get my manuscript thrown in the trash?

A. Not reading the submission guidelines. I got a lot of poetry submissions when I worked at an architecture/design/visual culture publisher. Read the guidelines and follow them.

Q. Is there an appropriate time to use italics for the character’s thoughts when writing in third person limited omniscient?

A. The use of italics for someone’s thoughts is up to the author and/or the publisher’s house style, as well as the kinds of “speech” there are in a particular book and if there needs to be a hierarchy of styles. I’ve worked on projects where we distinguished between certain kinds of thoughts so that some were roman and some were italics depending on the author’s intent with what was being said or thought. But generally they’re in italics, yes, I believe.

In this example from a 1940s Nancy Drew novel, you can see it’s a real mixed bag!

The last word . . .

I keep always two books in my pocket: one to read, one to write in.”

Robert Louis Stevenson

Writer’s Mail

A note from the Admin: Funny story. This landed in my inbox and got lost in the shuffle, but here is our Writer’s Mail from the second half of September. Thank you all for you patience and understanding. Without further ado:

Tuesdays with Story
September 15, 2020

The first word . . .

The great realities are far beyond words. Love… light…life…

–Witomzil in real life

And they gathered once more . . .

Zoom and a Tuesday evening. Here is some of what was said:

Kashmira submitted two chapters of her novel Journey to Swaraj. The main concerns were using metaphor and smiles that readers are not familiar with. Other concern was making things more clear between the servant and Mrs. Bibra. Otherwise, the chapters were well received.

Thanks!

–Amber Boudreau ( Second Nature) . . . The next two chapters of Amber’s urban fantasy Secod Nature were pretty well received. The group seemed to speed through these chapters without difficulty. However, they did note some slowing down of the tension with exposition when things should have been off and rolling. Amber learned that not only should chapters end with a hook, but they should start with a hook as well. As someone pointed out, just make it all hooks and then people won’t want to put it down.

Larry Sommers . . . Dizzy, Chapters 21-23:  Mom was too laid back about the arrival of Izzy’s chem lab equipment, opportunities for further conflict missed. A dress form would be too lightweight to need three people, even kids, to move. The point of the whole church scene, especially the Jonah story, mystified more than one reader–and somewhat mystifies the author also. Yet another mystery of the faith. Amber reminded me of the excellent coming-of-age books by Gary D. Schmidt–one of which I have read and the other will look up. Thanks all for valuable insights.

— John Schneller (chapter 26, Broken) . . .Training of mind and spirit slowed down the action but found appreciation by most readers. Details of the shooting star was the highlight for those who recognized the flower. It was interesting that Witomzil’s six sentences of teaching at the close of the lesson came across as much too long. 

Who’s up next . . . 

October 6

 List of submissions is incomplete. If you know you are on schedule, please submit.

Mike Austin (short story)

Huckle  chapter Wolf Healer

John Schneller (chapter, Broken rewrite)

Jamie chapter Outsleep chapter

  • Amber held a successful virtual book launch at A Room if One’s Own on September 22nd. Along with writer Tracey S. Phillips, she talked about her fond bond with Moria, The Dragoneer, and all things dragon. A great evening.

Our editor . . .

John Schneller continues this month as our editor for Writer’s Mail. You have something you’d like him to include in the next issue, please email it to him.

Writer House Rules: Questions in Publishing . . .

Q: Should I self-publish?

A: Everybody has their opinion, and mine is certainly biased, but I invite you to ask just one question:

Do I care about distribution? If you want your book in national bookstores like B&N or BAM, and you want a shot at getting it into Walmart/Target/Costco, you need someone who knows the buyer at each franchise in your genre. That is, you’ll probably need a sales rep for each of those accounts. If you want to get your book into indie bookshops nationwide, it’s going to be a beast unless you have a field sales team who can pitch each one. However, if you are content with posting your book to Amazon–because most of your sales are going to come through Amazon anyway–and you’re not so concerned about having your book in stores (unless you’re able to do considerable legwork), consider self publishing. To me, distribution is everything, but you may have different priorities.

Beware of scammers: Do not settle for one of these clowns who pretends to be a publisher but all they do is handle production and then post it to Amazon. You could do that and not have to give anyone a cut.

Promotion: You may have heard that you should only self-publish if you’re willing to put the time and energy into promoting the book all yourself. Yes, you should promote it like crazy–why waste time writing, editing, getting it copyedited, designed, and produced if it’s just going to sit there?–but you need to do that if you are published by a traditional publisher, too. Some perfectly reputable houses don’t have much budget for promotion. Some may not even assign you a publicist. Be prepared to wear your marketing hat for a few months no matter what route you go with.

Self-publish = Self-sabotage: When self-publishing started taking off, publishing gurus warned writers that if they self-published a book, traditional publishers would not be interested in publishing their books in the future. This is mostly not true. If your self-published book flops, they’ll ask you to publish your next book under a different name so that you don’t have a bad sales track. If your self-published book succeeds, it could actually help you get a publishing contract. I have an author now whose first three books were self-published and they did really well, so we’re publishing his fourth.

The last word . . .

Passive voice from Bob Hostetler at Steve Laube Agency newsletter

Another client asked me to define passive writing and establish some boundaries. Sure, okay. Here’s the short version: “passive” is; “active” does. See how easy that was? “It was a dark and stormy night” is passive writing. “Thunder rolled and lightning split the sky” is active. It’s all in the verb choices. As far as boundaries, you don’t need to use only active verbs; the words is, was, and so on are in our language for a reason. But in my writing classes and coaching, I’ve found that most writers, once they identify their passive verbs in a first draft, can enliven their writing by replacing 50-75% with action verbs.