How to Avoid Being Published

Here are 10 ways NOT to get published – unfortunately, most of them are tried and tested.

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  1. Stick to your first draft. After all, your writing is perfect as it is. Who needs an editor?
  2. Revise, revise, revise, revise. It’s just not 100% perfect yet. Chuck Sambuchino from Writer’s Digest suggests changing one word at a time, then rereading the entire novel aloud to see if that actually improved the book.
  3. Get creative. Cut your manuscript into a cute bunny shape. Include plastic spiders if your manuscript is a horror tale or rainbow glitter if it’s a romance. Try adding a chocolate bar bribe – especially if you’re sending the manuscript to a publisher in Florida in mid-Summer.
  4. Ignore the market. You don’t have to read in your genre. So what if the average first novel runs around 80,000 words? Yours is 500,000 words and every single one is essential.
  5. Hand-deliver your manuscript. Editors really aren’t busy. They love personal visits, especially if you show up unannounced.
  6. Blast the competition. Leave horrible reviews for every other book in your genre. Bash other writers on your Facebook page. After all, they’re the enemy, right?
  7. Get defensive. Be like The Donald and defend yourself vigorously against every critique. After all, you’re an artist. They’re just not intelligent enough to understand you.
  8. Threaten the editor. If you do get a rejection, immediately lambaste the fool who couldn’t spot your genius. Let him or her know you’re not going to stand for such humiliation.
  9. Ignore your audience. After all, everyone is your audience. Grandmothers and toddlers both will love your book. Your gun-toting Uncle Bob will give a copy to pacifist cousin Willy. Middle school kids will adore you. Who needs to specialize?
  10. Keep it to yourself. Nobody can hurt your feelings if you just shove that manuscript into a drawer and sit on it. Those nasty editors and their rejections? Who needs them?

What are some un-helpful things you’ve seen writers doing to sabotage their careers?

How to Win NaNoWriMo

I’ve finished a day early – 50,000 words in 29 days.

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Here’s how to do it:

  • Write every day – this isn’t an option during November. Even if you don’t make the 1667 words a day goal, you need to get something down daily.
  • 1667 words per day is more of a guideline, not a rule – aim for over 2000 words a day on days when you have more time. That way, when you’re busy, you can slack off a bit and only write a few hundred words.
  • Don’t wait for the muse – this is a first draft, after all. Write crap. Write anything. If you’re stuck, have your characters make out your grocery list for you, or give one of them a newspaper article to compose. Just write.
  • Turn off your editor – during November you cannot edit your work until you’ve hit your daily goal. This is also not an option. If you start erasing and changing things, you’re never going to get to 50,000.

Did you try NaNoWriMo this year? Did you win?

Organization

People have asked me how I organize my work. Do I use a stack of index cards? A cork board? Computer files?

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The answer is yes.

I do have a cork board where I keep the really important stuff that will never change for the series, like a map of the city in the 1800s and a “blueprint” of their house and offices.

I used to use index cards – until I discovered Scrivener.

This is a software program that is designed for writers. You specify whether you’re writing a fiction novel, a nonfiction book or a screenplay – and the program gives you different tools for each one.

For the fiction novel, I have a cork board with all my scenes on it – I can arrange these by chapter, or combine several scenes in one chapter, or move them around however I want to.

There’s a section for research, and you can even “pull in” websites so you can find your source material immediately.

You have another section for character notes and one for places.

Scrivener also allows you to attach a note to a section of work, like a word or phrase. The notes show up in the margin so you see them whenever you go to that scene. For example, if you want to name a character, but don’t want to bother now, you could put down “John Doe” and link a note to that saying “Look up a good old-fashioned European name for this dude!” That way, when you’re working away, you don’t constantly interrupt yourself trotting off to do research – and the notes are immediately visible when you go to that scene, so all you have to do is pull it up and the note’s right there.

What sort of organization do you use in your writing?

10 Steps to Writing a Travel Article

(And a Bonus Step to Boot!)

One of my Works in Progress is a travelogue for “I Must Be Off!”

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Here are some of the tips I’ve learned about writing a travel article:

  • Write a snappy lead-in. Hook your reader’s interest early.
  • Have a clear storyline. Not everything on your journey will be interesting to your readers. It’s your job as a storyteller to decide what makes a good tale and leave out the rest.
  • Have a goal. Not every story has a definite goal like swimming the English Channel. Most are about the journey, the discovery. You’re meeting new people and learning their history and culture. Make it clear to your reader which type of story you’re telling early on.
  • Chose one moment. Instead of a chronological catalog of everything you did, pick one experience and expand that into a great story.
  • Show yourself. Let the reader see your unique voice in your writing.
  • Edit, edit, edit. Most travel articles are from 1,000 to 2,000 words, so you’ll have to pare the story to the bone. Drop anything not essential.
  • Add dialogue. It makes the story more vivid, more memorable.
  • Use vivid language. Avoid cliches and trite descriptive phrases. Try to portray how you felt as you experienced this journey.
  • Aim to entertain, not to impress. This isn’t the place to use big words and literary terms. Your goal is to tell the reader a great story.
  • Leave a signpost. Keep your reader with you by periodically reminding them where you are and where you’re going.
  • Ask yourself the 5 W’s: Where? Who? When? Why? and What?
    • Where? Quickly ground your reader so they know where they are and where you’re going.
    • Who? Introduce yourself to your readers as well, so they want to follow you on your adventures.
    • When? Make sure the reader knows when the story takes place.
    • Why? Explain why you took this journey and why it made an impression on you.
    • What? Include the facts: anecdotes, details, quotes and interesting tidbits of information. Involve as many senses as you can to create vivid impressions.

Mindful Writing

I found this interesting article on mindful writing that might interest my readers.

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Mindfulness is a technique that focuses on the “now” of your life – paying attention to what is going on around and within you at the moment, rather than worrying about the future or dwelling on the past.

Here are the steps to the mindful writing exercise:

  • Set a timer for 30 minutes – the first few times you try this, you’ll be releasing a lot of what the writer calls “superfluous thoughts” – stuff like “This is stupid” or “I’m just wasting time” – stick with it and keep going for the full half hour
  • Try keeping your eyes closed – if you can’t touch-type, then leave them open – but do the exercise with pen and paper instead
  • At the end of each sentence, stop for one deep inhale and exhale – don’t try to think “positive thoughts,” but focus on a feeling of warmth and friendliness – the writer suggests aiming for that feeling you get when you look at a cute baby animal – if you fall asleep, don’t worry, you must have really needed the rest!

For this exercise, don’t begin with any concrete outcome in mind. Just sit down and start writing and breathing. You might try starting a gratitude journal or mindfulness essay.

As you become adept at this mindfulness exercise, your mind will stop feeding you useless thoughts like “I should be working on the novel” and start producing some real creativity for you.

Writing Advice: The Top 10

When you’re a writer, everybody you know seems to have some bit of wisdom for you – most of it wrong. Here are 10 of the best tips I’ve ever gotten:

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  1. Give yourself permission to write a piece of crap. The number one reason for “writer’s block” is fear – fear of writing poorly or fear of having “nothing to say.” Just allow yourself to write something – anything! – and tell yourself it’s OK if the thing stinks. You can always cut it out later. Just keep writing. Many an author has gotten to the end of their first draft and said “Crap, now I see how to tell this story!” Don’t waste time getting to that point. Just get it written.
  2. Write what you know. It’s overused, yes, and many people misinterpret this, but it’s great advice nonetheless. “What you know” means several things: what you’ve directly experienced, what you’ve learned from watching another’s experiences, and what you’ve researched and learned. Trust me – if you’ve done enough research, you definitely know that subject.
  3. Write like you speak. Don’t try to make your words sound like “real writing.” Your readers will be turned off by your stilted and stuffy sentences! Instead, allow your unique voice to come through. Imagine that your biggest fan is sitting next to you, and just type what you’d say to them as you tell your story.
  4. Keep it short. It’s tempting to go on and on about a subject, or to try too hard to give the reader the perfect mental image of a scene. Get to your point quickly, and use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.
  5. Cut the cliches. A cliche is something that has been said or written so often that your brain skims right past it without noticing it. That’s not what you want from your readers. Try to consciously discover new ways to describe familiar things or events. If anything you’ve written sounds familiar, change it.
  6. Write less, not more. As you grow as a writer, you’ll learn that your biggest chore is not writing that draft – it’s editing the damn thing! One of the points to keep in mind as you write, and as you edit, is “less is more.” You want to pare your writing down to the bare minimum needed to tell your story. Cut the elaborate descriptions and unnecessary scenes. If it’s not absolutely essential, it doesn’t need to be there.
  7. Keep reading. Not only will you see what’s working in your genre, but you’ll learn almost without your realizing it from the professionals – how a good sentence sounds, how to capture an audience, and how to keep a good story going.
  8. Keep something on the back burner. Always have something you can work on cooking away in the background. If you get stuck on a plot point in your novel, switch to a short story, an article, a blog, or even another novel. Don’t stop working.
  9. Remember the trick. Writing is a magic show – you’re showing the reader only what you want to show, trying to trick them into thinking you’re going one way, then surprise them by heading in the opposite direction. Keep this in mind as you write, and it’ll be easier. This isn’t lying – the reader expects a good show! – it’s a necessary part of storytelling. In order to accomplish this trick, you’ll need your bag of tools: grammar, spelling, storytelling technique, and everything that makes you a writer instead of someone who just sits down in front of a keyboard every now and then. Get up on that stage and wow ’em!
  10. How do you get to Carnagie Hall? As with everything else, the answer is practice, practice, practice! If you don’t write every day, you’re not going to grow as a writer. Unplug the internet, switch off the cellphone, shut your office door – whatever you need to do in order to get the job done. Set a daily word count and keep it, even if it’s only a few pages or a thousand words. So long as you’re writing, you’re improving.

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Book Titles, Part 2

Now that you’ve had the serious advice, here’s some fun with book titles!

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  • Martin at the NY Times suggests Noun + Number of Nouns or Somebody’s Something
  • Promise how to change something
  • Use satisfying numbers: 3, 7, 10, 99
  • Hyatt offers four choices: Make a promise, Offer intrigue, Identify a need, Explain the content
  • Some say you should use alliteration or spoonerisms

And here’s a fun little Best-Selling Title Generator

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Try one of the following cliche titles:

  • The Art of ______
  • ______ For Dummies
  • Transforming _______
  • The Joy of [something not usually thought of as joyful]
  • The End of [something people don’t usually want to end]
  • Extreme _______
  • The [something important] playbook/guidebook/handbook
  • Breakthrough _______
  • How to [verb] {adjective]
  • [Outrageous Claim] – how something will do something
  • The [number} Sins/Secrets of Something
  • [Made-up Word You Sincerely Hope Will Become a Meme]

And once you’ve picked a title, just for fun here’s a Title Scorer to see if your title will hit Number One!

How To Title a Book

I get this question all the time over on WikiAnswers … “What is a good title for a story/book about _____?”

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So how do you find a good title for your book? Here are a few tips:

  • Finish the book first (unless the perfect title “just comes to you” along the way) – the best titles come from something within the work, so unless you’ve finished, you might miss the perfect line or phrase that creates your title
  • Try a double meaning – the most memorable titles are ones that can mean several things depending on how you look at it
  • Be sure the title matches the story – sometimes you have what seems to be the perfect title, then when you’ve finished the story, the title doesn’t fit any more. Be sure to check the fit before you slap the title onto the cover
  • Make it short – your title should be short enough to type, tweet, or say easily
  • Remember your voice and POV – if you’ve written in third person point of view, don’t title the book “The Day I Learned The Truth”
  • Use precise nouns and active verbs – while there’s no actual algorithm for writing book titles, you can be sure that “Desire Under the Elms” beats “Love Under the Trees” as a title
  • Grab their attention – your title should be something that “hooks” a passer-by and interest them enough to make them pick up the book and check it out
  • Give an idea of what’s to come – your title should hint at what’s in store for the reader inside your book, but not give away any important plot points
  • Make it easy to say – the title should be simple, easy to remember and say, and not something that would embarrass your friends to ask about in a bookstore
  • Make it something you can say 1,000 times – you’re going to be saying your own title thousands of times, so make it something you don’t mind repeating

Hillerman Convention: Day 2

Here are some of the highlights of today’s convention:

Claim It, Rename It, or Throw It Out – Steve Brewer

“Your manuscript is not ready – go look at it some more. You owe it to your agent, your editor and your future self.”

“We’re all in love with our books while we’re writing them.”

“Come in late and get out early – all we really want is the drama in the middle.”

“Everything you write teaches you something.”

“If you’ve written the best book you can write, roll the dice. Try to get an agent and sell it in New York.”

“It’s a typical newbie mistake to think of writing a trilogy or a series – just write one freaking book!”

“Write what you want to write, what you’d like to read.”

“Are you eager to start the next book? You’re probably a writer.”

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C.A.R.V.E. Your Platform to Snag Agents, Publishers and Readers – Bill O’Hanlon

You have three audiences: the agent, the publisher and the reader.

C = channels. How many places can you get the word out?

  • social media connections
  • blog views, readers and subscribers
  • podcast listeners and subscribers
  • email list open and click-through rates
  • media appearances and interviews
  • public speaking
  • partners
  • where your book’s audience hangs out or pays attention

A = accomplishments.

  • previous publications and sales
  • previous media experience
  • previous public speaking experience
  • academic degrees or positions
  • awards
  • life accomplishments
  • partners

R = relationships.

  • within the publishing industry
  • other authors, agents or editors
  • well-known people for blurbs
  • people with large followings for getting the word out
  • co-authors
  • media people and podcasters

V = visibility.

  • regular activities to get your book or yourself seen or heard about
  • website visitors
  • social media followers and connections
  • media appearances
  • reviews and bestseller lists

E = evidence. Keep everything to prove your claims.

  • take screenshots of Amazon ratings or email lists or followers
  • collect records of appearances
  • scans or photocopies of reviews
  • keep programs from your speaking engagements
  • keep previous publications, magazine covers, etc.
  • no lying or exaggerating!

 

Western Fictioneers Convention: What I Learned

Here are some of the gems of wisdom from the convention.

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From the Living Legends panel:

 

“Write every single day. It doesn’t matter how you feel or what’s happening. You’ve got to do it all the time.

~Bob Randisi

“I get up in the morning and take the dog out for a necessary poop. Around lunchtime, I take him for a recreational poop. In the evening, I take him for a courtesy poop. In between poops, I’m writing.”

~Dick Vaughan

“I don’t have a dog…”

~Dusty Richards

“It’s a great and wonderful gift. I do a lot of my work with my eyes closed, before I get out of bed.”

~Frank Roderus

“I know I’ve been writing when I get to a break and can’t remember what music I was listening to.”

~Dusty Richards

“I don’t think there’s a lot of what we do that can be learned … it just comes naturally. I’ve listened to dialogue all my life so it’s easy for me.”

~Bob Randisi

“I was supposed to be a professional football player…”

~Dick Vaughan

“I get brain dead on one book after a chapter or two … switch to a new book with new characters and it’s fresh again.”

~Frank Roderus

“I’m a real estate agent for books.”

Agent Cherry Weiner