Publishing Blog

Deus Ex Machina

Posted by on May 5, 2015 in Writing | 0 comments

By now, it must seem that I am easily annoyed, and that may be the case. That being said, here is another of my pet peeves: deus ex machina. Deus ex machina is a plot device where the author seems to get the main protagonist into such a pickle that they basically have to make a “God call”, introduce something that wasn’t there before, and tie everything up into a nice little bow. My favorite example of this plot device actually came from a TV series that ran for almost 10 years. There were three lovely sisters who had special powers and spent most of their time fighting demons. This is a great plot. If you add dynamic characters, and a bit of drama, to a terrific setup. The problem with the show was in the execution. The protagonists and antagonists were introduced at the beginning, as was the problem, which, again, was a great setup. Then there was drama for the majority of the hour long program and at the end, one of the three protagonists would throw a potion at the antagonist and he or she would disappear. If it was that easy, the protagonists should have done that at the beginning and saved an hour of drama that had nothing really to do with the problem presented at the beginning. There are plenty of examples of this type of plot device, but it should not be used. I repeat, it should not be used. A good setup and a good idea of where your story is going will prevent a God call from happening. If, by some chance, you write whatever comes to mind and correct later, be sure to add something at the beginning or even toward the middle that will tie into the solution at the end, and keep your readers from round filing your...

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Reasonable Suspension of Disbelief

Posted by on Apr 28, 2015 in Writing | 0 comments

I just stopped reading two books today. They were similar genre, but were very different. Neither was, however, what I would consider a good book. I finished one just to see if it got better. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t. I couldn’t finish the second one. Now, both of these books were edited for grammar and punctuation, they had compelling themes, and could have been good stories. The problem? Reasonable suspension of disbelief. The definition of reasonable suspension of disbelief is: the temporary acceptance as believable of events or characters that would ordinarily be seen as incredible. ( basically, it means that you can put a character in a lot of unbelievable scenarios that couldn’t necessarily happen in real life, and as long as you have created some authenticity, people will enjoy and continue reading your work. People will suspend their disbelief on a lot of things. People will believe that there are vampires and werewolves and zombies; they will believe that parallel worlds with magic exist, but they will not believe when people change the physics of the world that the author has created. People will believe that a magical world with no technology exists, but if we as authors end the story by bringing in tanks, airplanes, and technology, there had better be a good set up and a good reason, otherwise we’ve lost the reader. This goes for everything in that world too. If a human from this world goes to sleep one night and wakes up in a completely different world the next day, that person cannot just automatically accept that they’ve been transported to a new world. There has to be a reasonable reaction to something that unbelievable. He or she can’t just wake up, look around, and say, “Oh, I’m in a different world. Neat. Let’s go explore.” A reasonable reaction to this scenario could be anything from anger, to violence, confusion, panic, even to looking around and wondering what the hell he or she had to drink the night before. Simple acceptance would not work for that scenario. Human emotion is probably one of the most difficult parts of reasonable suspension of disbelief, especially for writers. Writers tend to live in their own worlds most of the time, so some of the scenarios that we put our characters into wouldn’t seem so weird to us, but would be peculiar to those who don’t have multiple worlds running through their heads. There are some terrific resources these days that help writers with creating believable characters. Typing “building believable characters” into any search engine will provide any number of references on the subject. I know this is a long blog post, but I did want to touch on one other thing: there is such a thing as being too real or too close to reality. People read books to escape from reality. It’s one thing to show a person’s struggles with bills and have them thinking about the possibility of selling plasma to make ends meet; it’s a completely different story to walk a reader through every last mundane thing they do in a day. Walking a person through over analyzing every single move in a day, unless the person is OCD, is too much. Walking the reader through every argument, making the main protagonist overly obsessive...

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Instant Gratification

Posted by on Jan 30, 2015 in Writing | 0 comments

Okay, so you’ve written your book. You’ve combed over it and you think it’s ready. Your book’s as good as it can be and you’re ready to send it off to the publishers who will, undoubtedly, fall in love with it at first sight and will want to publish it immediately, no further edits needed. You send it to one publisher at a time, starting from the top. You receive your first rejection letter. No big deal, everyone gets rejected first try out. You start sending out massive query letters and follow the query guidelines to the letter for each. Finally! You’ve got someone interested and they want to see the entire manuscript. Then, miraculously, they say they are interested. You get a contract a few weeks later and stare in wonder at the contract. You pore over every detail, reading over and over, the royalty percentage. You expected this, think it’s a little low, but you researched it and it’s above industry standard, so that’s okay. Then you look at the publication date… What? Two years? Are they crazy? What would possibly take two years to get a book such as yours published? Heck, it should practically publish itself. Most reputable publishing companies require sixteen months to two years to publish, and for good reason. The editing process alone takes approximately six months, sometimes more, depending on the extent of the rewrites needed and how fast the author turns it around. In order to get it into the catalogues and to reviewers, it has to be ready for publication three or more months ahead of time. There are also a thousand other minute details that are required to give the book its best chance at survival in a world where people are being fed  books by the hundreds, even thousands. While two years may seem a long time, think about how long it takes sometimes to finish a book. Some authors take a lifetime to finish one book. Some people remain stuck for their entire lives. Even if there is silence coming from your publisher, please remember that your success is their success, and they want your story to succeed as much as you do, and please be cautious when someone promises to have the book out in less than a year. Quantity does not usually mean...

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Passive Voice Part 2

Posted by on Jan 6, 2015 in Writing | 0 comments

I must apologize, I missed the Monday deadline. However, I did write that sentence in active voice. As to the previous week’s paragraph, we’re going to dissect it here: Her eyes followed him as the gun was pointed at her chest. The chair across from her was sat on by the masked man and a chuckle erupted from his throat. It was obvious he thought the upper hand was his. She tried to pull at the duct tape wrapped around her wrists, but was unsuccessful. Her shoes were untied and her head ached. To top that off, the gun was put aside by the grease ball in front of her and suddenly, his hands were around her neck. Her breath was constricted and the struggling commenced.  The essence of passive versus active voice is whether the character interacts or the action is done to the character. There are many cases where passive voice is acceptable, most notably in dialogue, because that’s how we speak. Let’s start with the first sentence: Her eyes followed him as the gun was pointed at her chest. This could easily be written as: She looked at him, then at the gun he pointed at her chest. Instead of allowing her eyes to be the objects, we are bringing the character into the scene and making her look at both the man and the gun. The man is now active as well because he’s pointing the gun at her chest instead of the gun being pointed at her by some unseen force. Next sentence: The chair across from her was sat on by the masked man and a chuckle erupted from his throat. Not only is this passive, it’s awkward and long. We could shorten this sentence and turn it into a less awkward situation. The masked man chuckled as he sat in the chair across from her. I put the next sentence in for two reasons: First, it’s passive, second, it’s something most writers, even experienced ones, catch themselves doing.  It was obvious he thought the upper hand was his. If something is obvious, then we don’t need to write it. If it’s not obvious, we need to show the actions that will make it obvious to the reader. I’m not going to rewrite this sentence, but I will suggest if there’s something that is obvious, then delete the sentence and try to make it obvious by showing the character’s actions. She tried to pull at the duct tape wrapped around her wrists, but was unsuccessful. This sentence is fine. It is active, she’s actively trying to pull at the restraints. Her shoes were untied and her head ached. This is passive. However, since she did not do the action, and I wanted to show that it was already done to her, I would leave this sentence as is. This would be one of the few times outside of dialogue that I would allow a passive sentence to stay. To top that off, the gun was put aside by the grease ball in front of her and suddenly, his hands were around her neck. This is one of the worst passive sentences in the paragraph. In a book that requires action, and this passage would suggest the book is, at the very least, an action story, if not a murder mystery or adventure story, this...

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Passive Voice

Posted by on Jan 2, 2015 in Writing | 0 comments

Passive voice is probably one of the most difficult concepts to grasp. We use it every day in our speech patterns, in our jobs, and rarely even think about it. We use passive voice so that we don’t offend people and so we don’t sound overly assertive.  Customer service is built on being passive. Passive voice is where the subject of the sentence is being acted upon instead of the subject acting on its own. Now, there are devices available that we can use to find most of our passive voice mistakes, such as adding “by zombies” to the end of each sentence we feel may be passive and if it makes sense, we know the sentence is passive. However, it doesn’t always work, and I personally wouldn’t want to go through every sentence of my novel saying, “He shouted by zombies. The chair was kicked over by zombies. She lunged for him by zombies…” It would get tedious after a while. If that was the only way I’d be able to recognize passive voice, however, I would probably use it. Mostly, though, what we want to do is be able to recognize passive voice whenever we see it, a task that takes one thing: practice, and plenty of it. So, in this blog, I’m going to write a bunch of passive voice sentences and dissect them: Her eyes followed him as the gun was pointed at her chest. The chair across from her was sat on by the masked man and a chuckle erupted from his throat. It was obvious he thought the upper hand was his. She tried to pull at the duct tape wrapped around her wrists, but was unsuccessful. Her shoes were untied and her head ached. To top that off, the gun was put aside by the grease ball in front of her and suddenly, his hands were around her neck. Her breath was constricted and the struggling commenced.  Okay, that was difficult for me to intentionally write a bunch of passive sentences. Normally, if I’m writing, I have no problem making things passive, but intentionally doing so is another story, all pun intended. All but one of the sentences in the previous paragraph is passive. Next Monday, I’ll write the corrections. In the meantime, try to recognize and correct them and we’ll see how it...

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Just Write

Posted by on Dec 5, 2014 in Writing | 0 comments

NaNoWriMo is officially over for another year. For those who don’t know what that is, during the month of November, you are challenged by…yourself…to write 50,000 words, the length of a novel. That means, in 30 days, a person has to consciously sit down and write out a novel. He or she has to sit in front of a computer and just write. What is written is unimportant, and cheating at this is irrelevant. Though I do not condone cheating at anything, were a person to think about cheating at NaNoWriMo, there are a lot less time consuming and less frustrating things to cheat at. Not only that, the only prize a person gets is a certificate of completion. About ten years ago, possibly more, possibly less, I attempted and completed National Novel Writing Month for the first time. As I didn’t know about it until almost the middle of the month, I had a lot less time in which to complete the competition. I was undeterred, however, and I began. I still worked at my regular job, still did the other things I needed to do in my daily life, though I believe I slept less. I started on November 13, and by November 28, I had 50,000 words, a smashing headache, and an amazing sense of accomplishment. One might think that because I finished so quickly, it had to have been easy. It was, in fact, one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I sometimes sat down and cursed at my keyboard. I sometimes stared at my blank screen for an hour before I could think of something to write, and sometimes I wrote about how much I hated doing this project. The last 1000 words were both the easiest and hardest words to write. I was so close to finishing and my mind was blank. I had put ideas out on paper, short excerpts from stories running around in my head, cursing and railing at the computer, and I thought I had nothing left. I closed my eyes and just started typing. Before I knew it, I had finished the last three pages and turned it in just after midnight on the morning of the 28th. One may ask, then, why do it? Two words: Just write. The entire reason behind doing the competition like NaNoWriMo is to get a person to start writing. I didn’t bring up my experiences with NaNoWriMo to brag, I brought it up to say it can be done. Writing a novel always starts the same no matter who a person is. It starts with writing one word and adding to it. It starts by just sitting down and getting it done. I get people telling me all the time that they’re writing a novel. My response is always: “That’s great, let me know when you’re finished.” I know I’ve mentioned that before, and it’s still true today. The best way to finish a novel is to just write. We have to sit down every day, make time for our craft, and just write. There will be times that nothing comes out, nothing looks good, and it’ll feel like we’re wasting time. That’s okay. If it was easy being a writer, everybody would finish the Great American Novel in a month or...

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Six Rules on How to Query

Posted by on Nov 1, 2014 in Writing | 0 comments

Okay, so about a week (and a half) ago, I posted a blog about how not to query. I think it’s only fitting that I write a post about how to write a query letter. Start off with a question that the book will answer. If you have a post-apocalyptic thriller about undead clowns coming back to life and terrorizing coulrophobics (yes, it’s a real word, and yes, there are people afflicted with it), you could start with a question like: What do you fear most? Answer the question in the next paragraph. Introduce the main character. Maybe your hero is afraid of clowns. This paragraph is basically what you would see on the jacket of the book. You want to entice the publisher to read whatever else they required you to attach with it. In this paragraph, though, please make sure you tell us how it’s going to end. I know I said that it should be like the book jacket, but since you’re submitting to a publisher, we need to know what’s going to happen at the end. Don’t worry, we can take the ending, we’ll be okay if we’re not surprised. Details of the book. This is somewhat subjective where publishers want it put, but I prefer it after I’m enticed. Here, you will put your word count, your title, whether you are sending out multiple submissions and if the book is complete (please make sure your book is complete). Your credentials. Here is where you can brag. If you went to school for writing, if you used to write for The Tattler magazine, if you’ve previously published another book, if you’ve won any awards for your writing; all of that goes into this paragraph. What you don’t want to do with your credentials is in the previous post. Alternative to credentials. If you’re not sure about what to put for credentials or haven’t done any writing professionally, you might consider telling the publisher why you chose his or her company or how you heard about them. If you have professionals who have reviewed your work, this is where you would put the reviews. Finish with a “Thank you.” By the time you’re ready to submit a query letter, you’ve created your baby; you let it grow up; you’ve cleaned it up and made it shine. It’s ready to go out and make you money. Your query letter is your book’s resume or cover letter. In a cover letter, you thank the employer for taking the time to consider the applicant. You want to do the same with a query. Make sure that your contact information is in your query, and that you show the publisher that you have done your research. See the previous post again for what not to do with query letters, and good luck with your...

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Five Rules on How Not to Query

Posted by on Oct 22, 2014 in Writing | 0 comments

I’m somewhat surprised that I haven’t talked about this particular subject before.Writing the query letter is one of the most difficult jobs a writer has to do, and one of the most important tasks as well. We have to try to sound interesting as well as professional, humble as well as confident, ambitious as well as nonchalant. There is a delicate balance that can be easily upset when we are attempting to write a query letter. So, let’s start with what not to do: 1. Don’t tell me how much your friends like your book.  This is probably my biggest pet peeve. Telling a publisher how much your friends love your book, is like telling your friends how much your mother likes your books. Friends and family are supposed to love your book. They’re supposed to encourage you and tell you that you need to send it to a publisher, just like they’re supposed to tell you that you need to write a book in the first place. Don’t tell me how much complete strangers loved it either. Unless those complete strangers are reviewers or critics, it’s not relevant to put into a query. 2. Don’t ignore instructions. This one should be simple. If you go to the publisher’s website and they don’t take mystery novels, don’t submit your mystery novel to them. Find another company. If they ask for ten pages, don’t give them twenty. Please don’t ever start your query with “I know you don’t accept mystery novels, but you’ll change your mind after this…” If you know that a publishing company doesn’t want something, don’t try to tell them that they’re going to want it. If they ask for 10 pages, don’t send them the first hundred. Read the instructions and follow them. 3. Don’t beg! Nothing spells amateur more than a query begging the publisher to pick up their novel. Now, don’t get me wrong, a well placed “please” or “thank you” is welcome, but if you put more than one “please” in a sentence, you may want to reconsider. Desperation isn’t pretty on anybody. You want your book and your talent to shine, not how desperate you are to get it published. Please don’t tell the publisher that you will do anything to get it published, that usually only leads to trouble. 4. Don’t tell me how much I need you. Authors are the backbone of any publishing house. Publishers know that. If there were no authors, there would be no publishing houses. However, and I don’t mean to be mean or rude here, there are A LOT of people trying to get their works published. You won’t be the first to try, and you certainly won’t be the last. That being said, publishers want to know where you would fit in their company, but don’t need to be told that they can’t live without you. Demanding to be published will get your query round filed faster than walking up to a publisher, dropping your book on their desk, and saying “Publish this, now!” We know we need authors, but telling us that we need you and would be (insert adjective here, i.e. stupid…) if we didn’t pick up your novel, makes a publisher think that you would be difficult to work with, no matter how good...

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Guest Blog by Jodie Cain Smith: Book Promotions:  Plan Your Attack!

Posted by on Sep 8, 2014 in Writing | 0 comments

“Just let me write!”  One of the voices in my head wants me to scream this out loud from the nearest mountaintop.  The thought is just so damn romantic – type away furiously at a laptop, hair twisted on top of my head with a pencil, three-day-old lounge pants and coffee stained t-shirt.  If I stop writing in order to market my book, then my muse may silence herself forever.  Do I risk it?  But if I don’t market my book, no one will ever read it.  Step away from the keyboard, sister.  It’s time to sell. Whether I think of it as marketing or publicity or promotions, it’s all the same – I must sell my book.  After all, there is a self-promotion clause in my publishing contract. Unfortunately, I do not have a degree in business.  So, I have forced myself to become a self-taught expert in the world of marketing. Fear not, fellow self-promoters.  My journey to world domination started with a few simple steps. Step 1:  Research! For months I scoured the Internet soaking up any marketing information I could click on and then finally decided to focus on information geared toward small businesses.  Two sites proved especially worthy of my dedication:  and  Both sites offer marketing plan templates and information that can be applied to promoting a book. I also attended every event I could find that centered on marketing and book promotions.  Scour your local area for book festivals, free library classes, public book events, and community education opportunities.  There are nuggets to be found at every event.  Observe table displays, party themes, and sales logistics.  Steal the good ideas.  Make a note of the bad ideas so that you do not make the same mistake. Step 2:  Whittle down the excess! After completing my research, having fully splayed the dark underbelly of the book promotions world, I decided to concentrate my efforts in a four key areas:  social media, website development, traditional media, and a grass roots campaign. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google Plus, and guest blogging would all be included in my attack.  A strong online presence through social media can only boost sales.  But developing a following takes time.  Plan accordingly. A fully developed author website with interesting content will hopefully engage my social media subscribers and Internet passerby’s alike.  The days of the stagnant author website are long gone.  No longer will a head shot, lead banner, and link to Amazon suffice.  Readers want content:  a journal into the soul of the author, writing samples, quirky content such as writing playlists, influences, and inspiration. The grass roots campaign is all about boots on the ground.  Launch parties to empower my inner circle must be thoughtfully planned.  Networking events to put my business card complete with website link in the hands of potential customers must be attended.  Schedule signings, festival appearances, vendor opportunities, and book club Skype chats. Step 3:  Construct the Battle Plan! Step 2 seems daunting, doesn’t it?  My first instinct when I looked at the jumbled marketing notes I had assembled over a year of research was to hyperventilate.  But having a panic attack will sell books almost as well as hiding in my writing cave.  So, I flipped on the left side of my brain...

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Be Kind to Your Publisher

Posted by on Aug 28, 2014 in Writing | 0 comments

This is a subject that’s been broached before, and I know I go on and on about being kind to your editor, your agent, your publisher, but it truly is something you need to do if you want to get your book out there. If you’re self-publishing, be kind to yourself. It works just the same. Just like any other profession or any other person you talk to, kindness will get you further than pretty much anything else you try. A lot of small publishers, myself included, publish not because they want to make money at it, but for the love of words. If I had been doing this for money, I probably would have stopped trying 4 to 5 years ago. On average, it costs approximately $1500 per book to go from submission all the way to publication. That does not include the amount of time spent with the authors, the editors, the artists, the agents, the computer, the bookstores, the businesses where book shows will be held, the advertising, or the research. Sometimes it’s more, sometimes it’s less, but this is simply the amount of money it takes to publish a book. Many small publishers also have a job, a spouse, kids, etc. On my lunch breaks at work, I’m usually focusing on my business. After I get up in the morning and before I go to work, I’m focusing on the business. After I get home and sometimes eat, I’m focusing on the business. When I take my child to the park, go to the store, check my emails, talk to friends, I’m thinking about the business because there is no option to fail. If I fail, it’s not just me who fails. I have authors who want to get their books out and I fail them too. I have built a rapport with agents. If I fail, I fail them too. I have editors and cover artists to pay. I have to pay the people who do my advertising. If I fail, they lose too. All of the money that has been sunk into the business, which is quite a lot, would be lost. This is the difference between a small publisher and a big publisher. One book may not make or break a large publisher, but it can a small one. Lately, I’ve had a lot of comments from authors asking why they need a publisher when they can put their own stuff online and eliminate the middleman. It’s a worthwhile question. To many, I tell them if they believe they can do a better job, by all means, eliminate the middleman. I don’t say this to be malicious or rude. In fact, I’ve known a few success stories with people who have self-published their books. However, self-publishing can be a nightmare. A self-publisher has to take the entire financial burden on their own shoulders. They have to know what copyrights are and how to obtain them, what International Standard Book Numbers (ISBNs) are, what the Library of Congress requirements are, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are a million tiny details that a publisher or publishing company has to go through to make sure that everything is properly set up before ever sending a book to press. There are things that...

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