Friday, September 30, 2011

Finding Critique Groups

IMS00173Many writers are looking for someone to make a read-through of their manuscript and offer feedback or constructive criticism.

The problem is, usually, finding someone to do it. Family and friends are frequently not the best choices…either they’re not big readers, don’t read the genre we’re trying to sell, or else they’re not wanting to hurt our feelings and offer genuine feedback.

Fortunately, the online writing community has blossomed. It’s now possible to find writers online to trade critiques with—you read their work, they read yours.

I've posted on critique groups before, but I've recently had a few writers ask how to find them, so I thought I'd run a post again. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in a crit group, but I do pay attention when they’re mentioned online.

Finding a Group

Clarissa Draper has been particularly good about keeping up with critique groups that are available online for writers. This post mentions quite a few of them. She also helps connect writers with critique partners, personally. Here is a post that explains how and here is where you sign up.

If you’re looking for an in-person group, it’s worth the few minutes to pop over to and type in ‘critique group’ and your location to see if there are groups in your area.

How Groups Usually Work

Usually, with online critique groups, you’re paired with one person or a small group of people who write the same genre. You email each other the work you want critiqued. Each group should operate with its own set of rules, covering how often each member can send in material to be critiqued by the others (it’s no good if one person sends a chapter every day and the others are too busy reading the one person’s work to write), when your critiques of other writers’ work is due, etc.

Other Thoughts on Making a Critique Group Work Well

I found, in the groups I belonged to in the past, that everything worked a little better if I was paired with another mystery writer, or someone who read mysteries.

It’s also good if you’re roughly at the same level of ability (otherwise it’s like playing tennis when you’re poorly matched. You either get killed each time or you’re killing the other person. Not as much fun.)

I’ve found that it’s nice to tell beta readers or crit partners exactly what you’re looking for. Are they supposed to be just looking for typos and grammar problems? Are you looking for global revision suggestions (character problems, plot issues)?

Also, it’s good to be positive. If the person’s book really needs work, there should at least be something there to comment positively on—the concept of the book, an interesting character, a cool setting, etc.

I think it might also be important to know what we’re looking for, ourselves. Are we really ready to hear that our book needs work?

Have you ever used a critique group? Was it online or in-person? How did it work for you?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Reading, as a Writer

The New Novel-- by Winslow Homer -1836-1910I read an interesting post the other day and shared it on Twitter.

The article was by Candy Gourlay on the Notes from the Slushpile blog. The post was titled “Does writing affect one’s love of reading?”

Candy states that, yes, writing will change your reading. She adds, though:

But you've got to make the time to restore your wonder. How can you hope to inspire your readers if you yourself have lost the joy? Besides, writing books is not just about writing books, it's about living a creative, writing life. And if the best thing about living a writing life is the writing, the next best thing is the reading.

The writers on Twitter who responded (and quite a few did) said that writing hadn’t slowed down their reading, but it had affected it. As one writer put it: “We spend our days looking for problems and holes in our own work. It’s hard to turn it off.”

When I was a kid, I could get completely engulfed by a book—to the point it wouldn’t hear my teacher or mother calling me.

Now, it’s harder not to analyze a book. Particularly a mystery. If I’m reading a mystery now, it’s almost unconscious…there’s a tape running in the back of my head saying, “When will he reveal the body? How many suspects does he have? What’s the means of the murder?…”

If I like a book or dislike it, I’ll figure out why. If anyone I know likes or dislikes a book, I want to know why.

I’ve found that I’m not quite as bad analyzing books when I use my Kindle or a library book (maybe because I’m not using florescent highlighters on them…even though I’ve used Kindle’s highlighting feature before. It’s just not the same.)

I’ve made peace with the fact that I’m going to keep trying to figure out what makes a good book tick and a bad book lousy. I’m not going to stop.

I’m still enjoying books…I’m just enjoying them differently. Same with films and plays and any type of entertainment. I’m more critical…but I’m still enjoying my experience (usually.)

Has reading changes for you since you started writing?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Banned Book Week

blog000Just a quick mention that September 24—October 1 is the American Library Association’s Banned Books Week.

I’ve read most of the books on the frequently challenged list. Actually, I read most of them in school (English major.) It boggles my mind to think of anyone trying to ban them. I can imagine people not wanting to read the books themselves. I can imagine parents possibly having concerns about their own child reading some of them (apparently, most of the challenges were from parents.) But I can’t imagine someone deciding that no one needs to read or study those books. The rest of us might feel just as strongly that our child *needs* to read them.

There are so many worse influences out there than books.

Here are twenty of the list of banned and challenged classics:

1. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald 2. The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger 3. The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck 4. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee 5. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker 6. Ulysses, by James Joyce 7. Beloved, by Toni Morrison 8. The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding 9. 1984, by George Orwell 11. Lolita, by Vladmir Nabokov 12. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck 15. Catch-22, by Joseph Heller 16. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley 17. Animal Farm, by George Orwell 18. The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway 19. As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner 20. A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway

Here are the top 10 most challenged books for 2010:

2010: 1) And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson; 2) The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie; 3) Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley; 4) Crank, by Ellen Hopkins; 5) The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins; 6) Lush, by Natasha Friend; 7) What My Mother Doesn't Know, by Sonya Sones; 8) Nickel and Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich; 9) Revolutionary Voices, edited by Amy Sonnie; 10) Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer

American libraries were faced with 4,660 challenges over the past 10 years. Here’s a link to the most common reasons.

I’ve thought about the way I feel as a reader when I think about banning books. But I’ve recently wondered how the authors of the books challenged in 2010 feel. Were they surprised? Defiant? Concerned? The books I write are definitely not provocative, but I’d hate to think that I couldn’t write a provocative book.

Read any challenged or banned books lately?

Differentiating Characters

blog00My 10 year old daughter met a tough challenge successfully yesterday and I told her she could choose a reward to celebrate.

She chose a Happy Meal from McDonalds. :) I got off very cheaply, and—since she’s the only member of our family who likes McDonalds —she got something she wanted, too (since who knows when she’ll get that fast food fix again?)

Her Happy Meal box was covered with gobs of marketing stuff, of course. The theme of this meal was a tie-in to a show that she watches on the Nickelodeon channel. One of the games on the box featured a list of sentences for children to connect to different characters on the show. Not catch-phrases, not quotations, but just likely things for the characters to have said.

I’m driving the car and she’s immediately assigning each character to a sentence. Right off the bat. Then she looked at the bottom of the box. “I got them all right!”

And I have to say I was very impressed…well, after wondering whether she was watching too much TV. :) The show has obviously done a bang-up job differentiating their characters.

Could I do the same thing for my own characters? It probably depends on the character. It would be easy for major or recurring characters. Secondary/supporting characters? I’d like to think so. But maybe it would take longer than the 10 seconds my daughter spent on her answers.

Apparently, on this show, one character is very vain, one has an overbearing mother, one has had a long-time crush on another character, etc. Not too far off from the kinds of things we’re doing with our books. We’re just doing our showing with words…we get a strong impression of a character who opens his car door and an avalanche of papers and food wrappers occurs, for instance.

We’re giving our characters personalities by showing how they interact with other characters (they’re supercilious, stubborn, cheerful, touchy) how they react to difficult situations (they get frustrated, they become leaders, they run off and hide), and—like the Happy Meal—showing character clues through dialogue (their choice of words, speech patterns, vocabulary, etc.).

How do you help readers differentiate between your characters?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Handling Reviews


I noticed I’d gotten a really nice review of one of my books the other day.

Several books ago, good reviews really had a strong impact on me. Actually, the word ‘elation’ wouldn’t be far off the mark in terms of describing my feelings.

But the problem with putting stock in an unexpected good review is that they’re sure to be followed by negative reviews. If you’re on a high from the good ones, you’ll really crash after the bad reviews.

Plus, I realized, if I believed the good reviews, it meant I had to believe the bad ones. Otherwise, I’d really be biased.

After I came to that conclusion, I got a lot more clinical with my reviews. I appreciate them tremendously, I love that people care enough to read my books and offer feedback. But I can’t put a lot of stock in them. All I can do is take note of the ingredients of both the positive and negative reviews—did the reviewer list elements they especially appreciated or disliked? Is this a common theme in the reviews I’m reading?—and use them to help me with future books.

My approach:

I don’t read reviews when I’m writing something new. It’s just hardly ever good for a decent writing day. It tends to make me want to edit more instead of be creative.

I don’t respond to any reviews—positive or negative—on a bookselling site. If I see a nice review on a blog, I might thank the blogger in the comments or send them an email. Author intrusion on bookselling sites is almost always a bad thing.

I do like helpful negative reviews—reviewers who point to what they see as a particular problem with the book. It’s always interesting to see if the problem is something that can be addressed in future books in the series. Are other people giving feedback about the same thing?

As I mentioned above, I don’t believe my good reviews, either. I find them heartening and I appreciate them, but I try to look at them just as clinically. Did they say what they liked about the book? Is it something I can give more of in the next book?

With any review, I try to look at it as feedback. It’s a business and I’m trying to make readers happy as well as please my publishers and myself. I work hard to make sure I don’t take it personally. If I feel tempted to take it personally, I remind myself it’s a business. And it is.

So….basically, I don’t take much stock in either bad or good reviews, I just take from them whatever I can find useful, moving forward. And I remember it’s all part of the business of writing.

How do you get distance from your work in order to keep positive during either querying or reviews?

Sunday, September 25, 2011



Below are the writing-related links I tweeted last week.

The Writer’s Knowledge Base search engine, designed by software engineer and writer Mike Fleming, makes all these links searchable. Sign up for the free monthly WKB newsletter for the web's best links and interviews: .

I recently released an ebook: Progressive Dinner Deadly is a Myrtle Clover mystery, available for $2.99 on Kindle and Nook. The 3rd book in the Memphis Barbeque series will release November 1—Hickory Smoked Barbeque (available now for preorder).

Hope everyone has a great week! Good luck with your writing.

Meditation for writers: @GrubWriters

Resist the urge to quit: @JWhite

How 1 mother/writer/teacher fits writing into her schedule: @AnneRiley

Writing character sketches the modern way:

AAP Figures for June Show Dramatic Print Slump, Continuing #Ebook Explosion: @DavidGaughran

Writing life--guilt & how 1 writer spent her summer vacation:

Playing to win:

Promoting: A Guerrilla Writer's Approach: @bellastreet

10 ways for writers to network:

What's The Best Genre To Write If You Want To Get Published? @bubblecow

9 Reasons To Use Video to Enhance Your Blog Posts:

How Writing Helped 1 Writer Learn to Stop Worrying and Love Public Speaking: @YAHighway

4 Ways To Get Reviews For Your Book: @woodwardkaren

Trunk Novels Are An Endangered Species: @thecreativepenn

Talking about Talking--Thoughts on Dialogue: @V_Rossibooks

5 Elements of a Riveting 1st Line: @KMWeiland

Do you take yourself seriously as a writer? @CherylRWrites

1 writer's thoughts on dialogue tags:

10 proofreading tips to get distance from your work:

20 Ways to Promote Your Facebook Fan Page: @smexaminer

Words count: @BevVincent

Resources for online platform building: @nicolamorgan

Keeping track of characters when they're offstage: @kalayna

Tips for writing a good critique: @FantasyFaction

On obscurity:

Why Chasing a Big 6 Contract is Like Crushing on a Bad Boyfriend: @annerallen

Spoilers – missing the point; a story is more than an ending: @dirtywhitecandy

Which Crimes Do Most Superheroes Commit?

The Children's Authors Who Broke the Rules (NY Times):

Weaving elements through your plot: @author_sullivan

A Theory of the Hero: Agency, Voice, and Sincerity: @KgElfland2ndCuz

A Theory of the Hero: Story Archetypes for Heroic Characters: @KgElfland2ndCuz

What Serious Writers Can Learn from Genre Comrades in Arms: @ereads

The air of bleakness in some crime fiction: @mkinberg

Tips for finding an agent: @bubblecow

3 Steps to Creative Endurance: A Writer's Training Plan:

10 reasons SFF writers should go to conventions: @BryanThomasS

Controlling pace in our stories: @BookEmDonna

How to illustrate the theme of your novel: @TheCreativePenn

Basics of Book Marketing for the Beginning Self-Publisher: @jfbookman

The wrong and right way to promote our books: @romance_book

Romantic Nature and Sub-genres:

Picture Book Revision Takes 25 Years:

Last-minute conference tips:

A Lexicon of Speculative Fiction: @Suzanne_Johnson @roniloren

"The blog ate my book." @WriteAngleBlog

How to Avoid Over-Promoting & Under-Promoting Our Books: @JodyHedlund

Let go of high expectations & make attainable writing goals:

An agent reminds writers of the importance of likeable characters: @greyhausagency

Italy's 40K Books: No Paper, No Attention Span, No Problem: #publishing

How does a quiet book become known in a world dominated by the loud?

Handling editor interest: @BookEndsJessica

5 Ways to Optimize Your Facebook Page: @smexaminer

Does Studying Rejection Letters Hinder Writers? @writeitsideways

On writers' retreats: @donnacooner

Self-publishing: copy edits, tagging, & other odds and ends: @HowToWriteShop

When Self-Publishing A Book Is A Great Marketing Move: @PassiveVoiceBlg

6 story elements that can force your book to evolve: @JamiGold

Borders Employees Vent Frustrations in 'Ode to a Bookstore Death': @GalleyCat

The Grammar Hokey Pokey (With Commas):

On Bosses from Hell, Making Crime Pay, and Walking Around Your Writer's Block: @cleocoyle

External and internal conflict: @JulietteWade

Maintaining an Email List Without Pain (almost): @PassiveVoiceBlg

The Ultimate Writer's Guide to Blogging: @SeanPlatt

How to avoid avoidance as a writer: @JulieMusil

The care & feeding of a good critique group: @sarahahoyt

Publicity Beyond Your Book Launch: @booksparkspr

Hiding tidbits for readers (& when readers think writers planted tidbits that they hadn't): @janice_hardy

An agent on resending queries: @BookEndsJessica

One of Rowling's techniques for planting clues: @HP4Writers

Don't Write a Memoir to Get Revenge: @janefriedman

Creating a Long Distance Relationship With Your Manuscript: @YAHighway

Introducing backstory: @BTMargins

Do You Suffer from "Not-Quite" Paralysis? @on_creativity

Finding the Heart of Your Story: A Tip from Donald Maass: @4kidlit

Basics of Book Marketing for the Beginning Self-Publisher, Part 2: @jfbookman

What Startups Can Teach Publishers: #publishing

Flat Adverbs Are Flat-Out Useful:

Avoiding Despair at a Writer's Conference: @rachellegardner

When book promotion becomes spam: @rule17

Pacing the start of your novel:

Run an Awesome Blog Contest in 5 Steps: @problogger

Setting--adding dimension to your fiction: @KristenLambTX

Why Nouns Matter, part 1: Proper Names: @JulietteWade

6 reasons to conduct an interview--with insights from journalist @Porter_Anderson: @write_practice

10 More Lies You Tell Yourself While Editing: @elspethwrites

How small decisions in crime fiction add tension & realism & can foreshadow events: @mkinberg

Self-editing checklist--setting and description: @SarahForgrave

A Theory of the Hero--Tragic and Anti-tragic Heroes: @KgElfland2ndCuz

Create Your Own Words (and Other Uses Of the Hyphen): @write_practice

Measuring results of marketing & the nuances of long-term book marketing: @jfbookman

A video from @TheCreativePenn shows how to publish your book:

The Rulebreaker's Guide to the Semicolon: @FantasyFaction

A Hidden Aspect of Creative Life That Underpins Great Work: @JaneFriedman

Time Management—Taking Stock of Your Most Precious Commodity: @workawesome

15 Frequently Confused Pairs of Adjectives:

How to Use the Power of Silence to Boost Your Writing Career:

An agent on the importance of character motivation: @greyhausagency

The Writer's Diet Wasteline Test: @manon_eileen

Writing Tough Subjects for Young Readers: @iggiandgabi

The challenge of offering honest criticism: @WriteAngleBlog

3 Keys to a Successful Author Platform: @KristenLambTX

Is blogging dead? @RoniLoren

Benefits of outlining: @KMWeiland

An agent weighs in on prologues:

Building A Sustainable Writing Career: How To Develop Multiple Income Streams: @DavidGaughran

Delaying the answers to our story's questions:

Advice for Family and Friends of Writers: via @DorteHJ

An agent with an observation on character development:

An editorial director with a crash course in book events (including...making sure there are books to sign):

Getting started with ghostwriting: @YAHighway

12 tips for naming characters:

Marketing Your Book: Swag & Bling: @CuriosityQuills

Should Authors Charge for School Visits? @Janice_Hardy

What *not* to do at a reading: @FantasyFaction

Academic Writing Makes You a Better Writer: @jeffgoins

The legend of the movie option: @martharandolph

How Our Relationship With Our Characters Is Like Dating a Vampire: @lisagailgreen

Children's book publishers--foregoing the inherent market advantages of the basic e-book is a big mistake: #publishing

These 3 Typography Websites Will Change How You Took at Type: @jfbookman

What Is The Point Of Writing A Book If You Have No Online Presence? @bubblecow

The truth about editing: @msforster

PublishAmerica and CBA: Rowling Redux: @victoriastrauss

4 revisions 1 writer is making to her story:

Why Self-Publishing Is So Popular Right Now: @GoblinWriter

The Most Powerful Learning Tool A Writer Could Ever Have: @ollinmorales @

Quickly review industry news & views with this thoughtful digest via @Porter_Anderson for @JaneFriedman:

Joe Konrath's response to the argument that the #ebook market is glutted:

Top 5 things to avoid telling agents and editors at conferences:

Publishers Eager for Amazon Tablet: @ThePassiveVoiceBlg #publishing

Kindle Books Now in Libraries via Overdrive: @selfpubreview

Seeking an Agent Is Not Seeking a Job:

An editor with a mini-lesson on exclamation points and question marks: @LynnetteLabelle

Tips for writing a great 2nd draft of your novel: @bubblecow

Writing Integrated Love Scenes:

Become The Hero Of Your Own Publishing Story: @thecreativepenn

Advice to an aspiring writer: @CBR

Tips for dissecting your novel:

Before the Royalty Statement: Finding Out How Many Books You Sold: @BTMargins

The Verbing of the English Language:

Using an Agent to Get on Kindle: @JaneFriedman

How Self-Published Authors Get Their Covers Right:

Writers, be who you are--a process of discovery: @BryanThomasS

Set yourself up to succeed: @Mommy_Authors

You sure you want that movie deal? @bbeaulieu

Superpowers Will Not Make a Boring Character Interesting:

6 Ways to Ask Better Questions in Interviews: @write_practice

Nanowrimo Prep: First, You Need an Idea: @AlexSokoloff

Wandering in Circles – How to Structure a Story: @PassiveVoiceBlg

Why Amazon's New Tablet May Pose A Greater Threat To NetFlix Than To Apple: @PassiveVoiceBlg #publishing

The power of suggestion – what can you leave the reader to fill in? @dirtywhitecandy

Telling Your Own Author Bio Myth: @HP4Writers

5 ways to get into the writing mindset when starting a new book:

Best Articles This Week for Writers 9/23/11: @4kidlit

Building Online Communities for Teen Readers:

Does your main character get all the best lines? @jeanniecampbell

Are your characters crying too much? @lydia_sharp

Avoiding Stop-Action Description: @artzicarol

10 Tips Writers can Learn from Bad Movies: @LyndaRYoung

What makes a novel a page-turner? @jamesscottbell

Weeding or editing: @nicolamorgan

Write. Revise. Rest. Repeat. The 4 cycles of writing and links to help you master them: @bluemaven

Religion in Novels: Terrific or Taboo? @JamiGold

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Preying on Preconceived Notions by Glen Allison—a Saturday Good Read

Please join me in welcoming Glen Allison to Mystery Writing is Murder.

The InformationistA review of The Informationist by Taylor Stevens 
Expectations are a funny thing. And by funny, I mean they are like that dog with the wagging tail that, soon as you look away, bites your ankle. Or, conversely, they can be like the mean-looking mongrel who merely wants a pat on the head.

Example: You read a novel about a woman who goes into dangerous situations throughout the world to gather information. In the process, she is forced to kill people. Not anyone who doesn't need killing, mind you. When she does it, it happens so fast that she's on to the next challenger with her knives before the blood from the first one spatters on the wall. And, even though the people deserve it, the slayings stir blood lust in the killer. She fights it, but it's there.

You can't help expecting the author of such a story to show signs of inner turmoil. To show it in her eyes, somewhere deep.

But, no. Taylor Stevens, author of The Informationist, is nothing but pleasant here at Bouchercon 2011 in St. Louis. Fans drift to her table in the book signing room, each receiving a smile and kind words from the author. She takes time to encourage a young author who is suffering prepublication jitters. No sharp edges here. Her kindness is genuine.

Not so with her protagonist, Vanessa Michael Munroe, in The Informationist. Oh, Munroe might be smiling. But she is watchful for any preconceived notion on which she can prey. And her knives aren't far away from her fingertips.

She'll need them. And you won't blame her for using them.

“Some people have said it's gratuitous violence,” says Stevens, “but I say no. She doesn't seek it out, but it's always necessary.”

I agree. The story is more than the violence, however. Munroe, a young woman with a tortured past, usually travels the world on info-gathering missions for big business or other organizations. She uses her innate ability to learn languages rapidly to reveal choice nuggets of insight for her clients. In The Informationist, she is presented a different mission: Find out what happened to a missing American teen girl who disappeared while she traveled through Africa four years previously. Many have failed to find out what happened to the girl. Her father wants to know, to rest his mind.

Munroe rejects the offer, at first, shunning the millions in compensation. But that phrase plays in her mind. “Many have failed....” She is hooked. And so are we as readers. And thus begins a tale of one of the toughest – and most beguiling – protagonists I've run across in a while.

If you love thrillers featuring a character whose inner battles rival her external challenges, read The Informationist, which came out earlier this year. Her next Munroe novel, The Innocent, comes out at the end of 2011.

What I've intentionally left out, until now, is Taylor Stevens's background: She was raised in a communal apocalyptic cult which took her to four continents, including Africa – where much of The Informationist is set. That experience, and her familiarity with the setting, give this novel an authentic feel and emotional depth that grips the reader.

I stand next to Taylor as we gaze down through the windows of the 22nd floor of the conference hotel. A reception honoring another author swirls around us. She speaks of her past, neither embracing nor ignoring its reality. “It's not who I am; it is merely what I experienced.” On one hand, she wishes her novel could receive recognition on its own merits (and it definitely is being recognized). On the other hand, she is practical about how the publicity machine rolls on.

Though I do not press her for the kind of details for which today's inquiring minds lust, I sense there is much this woman endured as a child as she panhandled along dirty third-world streets. She has spoken of the closed-off nature of the cult, how it has left her, to this day, feeling like an outsider. Earlier in the day, while participating in one of the many author panels, she hushed the crowd by revealing that her education stopped at the sixth grade, and that she didn't read novels as a teenager. It wasn't allowed.

Her imagination, however, was not handcuffed. “I sometimes think of a time when I was 19. My privileges had been taken away for some minor offense. I had to go to bed at 8:30 p. m. with the younger children. I woke every morning at 5 a.m., which gave me two hours before reveille at 7. And every morning, for months, I'd walk around the compound for those two hours, just thinking. Just me and my imagination. Nobody could keep me from doing that. That time alone is my happiest memory in the cult, and perhaps paved the way for me to start writing this book over ten years later.”

That kind of persistence in the pursuit of a dream is inspiring for any would-be writer. It drives her protagonist, Munroe, in her mission to discover what happened to the lost girl. And, it has given us one of the best action/suspense novels of the year.

Glen C. AllisonGlen C. Allison is the author of the Forte suspense series of New Orleans.


Interested in writing reviews?  I’ll be running guest reviews for my Saturday Good Reads  series on Saturdays.  Contact me for details: elizabethspanncraig (at)

Friday, September 23, 2011

Getting Into the Writing Mindset

hardhat0001I came across a fun post from Clarissa Draper yesterday. She mentioned that designing a cover for a WIP can put her in the mood to write it.

I think designing a cover would be an exercise in frustration for me, since I’m graphically-challenged (I picked the ‘minimalist’ blog theme for this blog, for example.) :)

But there are other ways I put myself in the mindset to start a new project:

Put a deadline on my calendar—I have an official deadline (publisher-set) and I have an unofficial one that I shoot for.

Write the back cover copy for the book. Can’t imagine why, but the copywriting department never seems to use my copy! I enjoy writing it, though, and it helps remind me where I’m headed with the plot.

Come up with a title for the book. Even if it’s changed later, it makes the project more real for me if it has a title.

Make an official home for the book on my laptop. I have a folder with the working title of the book. In that folder goes a cast of characters document, a document of brainstormed ideas, and the WIP itself.

Start thinking of it and referring to it as a real book. Even if I’ve only finished the first two paragraphs. Because it is…it’s a book in progress.

How do you make your WIP real? How you put yourself in the mindset to write it?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Do You Take Your Writing Seriously? Do You Take It *Too* Seriously?

IMS00173One interesting blog post that I’ve recently come across was on Cheryl’s Musings, writer Cheryl Reif’s blog.

In the post, Cheryl explains how she decided to start writing. Actually, her story is a lot like my own, which might be why I identified with it. We both enrolled our small children in preschool and started taking our writing seriously.

Cheryl lists some ideas for respecting yourself as a writer, including protecting your writing time and realizing that just because you’re unpublished, it doesn’t mean your writing is unimportant.

I tweeted a link to the post and quite a few people connected to the topic and retweeted it.

One person tweeted back, though, saying that she thought she took her writing too seriously.

I’ve done both, I think. I know the biggest gain in my writing career was when I decided to take my writing seriously. I set an attainable goal, and things started clicking into place.

But I’ve also taken my writing too seriously sometimes. I’ve let deadlines stress me out, I’ve concentrated too much on writing and let other things slide that needed attention in my life.

It looks like, as in so many things in life, that moderation or balance is key.

For me this means making sure I eke out writing time each day (lately it’s been in the 30 minutes in the carpool line outside the high school), but it also means that I put my laptop away when members of my family are trying to have a conversation with me.

I also make sure I plan time in my day for reading (which is both enjoyment and craft-building time for me) and time for connecting online with other writers….the network of writers on blogs and Twitter, etc., who provide so much information and encouragement. But then I make time to play a card game with my kids or talk about the news of the day with my husband.

And…it’s tough. Some days I’m not sure I’m handling the balance at all well. Occasionally I feel distracted, too, when I’m supposed to be focused on what I’m doing at the time. But I’m trying.

How do you balance your time? Do you take your writing seriously? Do you take it too seriously?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Delaying the Answers to Our Story’s Questions

melodi2 4.25pmJust a quick post today on a discovery I made with my manuscript. One of the revisions I made to my Quilt or Innocence manuscript ended up making a big difference to the plot.

It involved a scene with a particular suspect who was behaving in a suspicious manner. The questions that arose from the scene were: why was the suspect behaving in this manner? What was she trying to hide?

A couple of chapters later, I had an answer for the reader. I showed the sleuth and the reader exactly why the suspect was behaving in that way.

The revealing moment did, actually, also serve to spur some additional questions about the suspect and the suspect’s motive…so it had originally served a purpose.

But I found when I revised the section and delayed answering the question I’d posed in the story, the tension was increased.

When I finally did reveal the answer to the question, the scene had a more climactic feel to it. Plus, I think it will make the reader scramble a little toward the end…so, if that’s true, then this must mean that…

I’ve used this trick before in my writing, but usually for something either really big or a small subplot that I’d woven into the book. But I liked making this change for a medium-sized plot element…because, in doing so, it actually made the plot point bigger and more important.

The only thing to be careful with, if you’re making this change in the revision process and not as you’re writing your draft, is that you clean up any references to the revealed answer in between the question asked and the problem solved. I was surprised how much I’d mentioned it. Still, it’s a pretty easy change to make.

What kinds of questions are you raising in your story? When are you answering them? Can you delay answering them for a bigger effect?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Thoughts on Publishing and Bookstore Troubles


I do think this is a great time to be a writer. We’ve got options and possibilities and an exciting future.

But the publishing industry (including the retail end of things, bookstores) are having a rough time.

My Borders recently closed. And Borders was a bookstore I visited about once a week.

Fortunately, we do still have Barnes and Noble here (our independent bookstores are too far from me). I was there on Saturday evening with my husband and we bought three books.

My membership with Barnes and Noble expires at the end of the month. The associate was explaining the renewal terms to me and I thought, “Uh oh. This isn’t good.”

That’s because they were decreasing the amount of the discount you’d get on a hardcover book from 20% off to 10% off (this is just the regular hardcovers, not the bestsellers, where you still get a substantial discount.)

The associate explained that, since they’d decreased that discount, they were offering renewing customers $25 off Nook Color e-readers and $10 off regular Nooks.

So…basically, they were rewarding readers who want ebooks. The bookstore was, actually, encouraging readers to get ebooks.

I thought about this a little more (and, I’m a Kindle person…I don’t have a Nook.) My teenage son—an avid reader—is one of the reasons I’m at a bookstore once a week. He wants YA books constantly thrown his way (and the library isn’t able to acquire them at the pace they’d like.) I’m buying brand-new hardcover books for him. They are not on the bestseller list, but they’re hot books.

So, the YA books he likes won’t be out in paperback for a while…maybe a year? And the bookstore’s discount has gotten punier for these hardcovers that cost an arm and a leg.

But, on my Kindle, I can immediately purchase these books without driving across town (spending precious and costly gasoline), and at a discounted price. And, unfortunately, without going through Barnes and Noble (since I have a Kindle.)

This worries me a little. Because you know what I’m probably going to do? Buy my son a Kindle. In the long run, we’ll save money and he’ll get all the books he wants. Bottom line, I want him to keep reading and that means supplying him with a steady stream of the books he wants (without going broke.)

But what will happen to the bookstore? And the publishers who aren’t rethinking pricing and formats?

I think we may already be seeing some of that. Publishers Weekly reports that ebook sales for June rose 167% while print declined sharply:

E-book sales rose 167% in June, to $80.2 million, at the 15 houses that reported figures to AAP’s monthly sales report and closed the first half of the year with sales up 161%, to $473.8 million...
...Trade paperback sales had the largest decline, down 64%, while children’s hardcover sales were off 31%. Adult hardcover sales fell 25%, mass market sales were down 22% and children’s paperback was off 13%.

I have several books for sale at the Barnes and Noble, myself. I’d like for the store to keep selling books and I’d like for my publishers to keep thinking of me for projects and putting physical books out. I’d like for them to do well. They’ve been good to me.

But I worry over some of these decisions I see being made—the pricing of different formats (publishers) and fewer discounts for hardcover formats (booksellers.)

What are your thoughts on the ebook revolution and what it means to publishing and book retail? (Again, I think it’s a great time to be a writer and a reader…it’s just the other side of the industry I’m concerned about.)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Integrating Research into a Novel

blog20My daughter has just started taking horseback riding lessons.

The lady who’s instructing her wants to loop me in on what’s going on. I appreciate this, but I have no idea what she’s talking about.

She said, “Your daughter will come in and will put the harness on the horse….blah blah, brush…blah blah, saddle blanket and bumper and saddle, blah blah, girth…blah blah, bridle and bit…”

I listened politely during the first lesson, but at the second lesson I said, “I’m sorry—I’m not an equestrian.” Plus, I didn’t think I really needed to know about all the equipment. We’re not buying a horse (thankfully) and I’m not planning on buying the tack.

I was reminded of this on Thursday when I had an talk with one of my editors about my first quilting mystery, Quilt or Innocence which is coming out next summer. Y’all might be shocked to hear this, but I’m not a quilter. :)

This means I’ve done a lot of quilting research. That’s because we have to know a lot to be able to convey a subject seamlessly.

But if I write about all the details of quilting, that’s going to make the readers feel like I did with the riding instructor. Besides, I don’t want to bring my readers out of the story and mystery plot. And I’m not writing a quilting how-to book.

What my editor wanted more of was the texture and colors and patterns—things that many readers would appreciate—the art of the quilts. What she wanted less of was quilting terms (or more quilting terms in context.) Because once or twice I dropped in a quilting verb and didn’t really put it into context (not wanting to over-explain...but under explained, instead.) Her ideas seemed like excellent suggestions to me…that I was able to convey the feel of the quilting world and not do a research dump on the unsuspecting reader.

Other ways I added quilting to the book:

I’ve got a novice quilter in the book who occasionally needs pithy explanations of quilting techniques.

There are a couple of scenes where quilting terminology and fabrics are naturally integrated—in a quilt shop.

There were some quick mentions in dialogue. I tried to indicate a little bit about each character when they discussed quilting. (Confident, reticent, boastful, etc.)

I think the balance between the craft and the mystery worked out pretty well in the book…although it was a real challenge for me. Do you have to research for your books? How do you integrate your research in a natural way?

Sunday, September 18, 2011



Below are the writing-related links I tweeted last week.

The Writer’s Knowledge Base search engine, designed by software engineer and writer Mike Fleming, makes all these links searchable. Sign up for the free monthly WKB newsletter for the web's best links and interviews: . .

I released an ebook recently. Progressive Dinner Deadly is a Myrtle Clover mystery, available for $2.99 on Kindle and Nook. The 3rd book in the Memphis Barbeque series will release November 1—Hickory Smoked Barbeque (available now for preorder).

5 tips for using Outlook Calendar to manage your work day:

Amazon and Lightning Source: The End of an Era?

How to Get Your Book Reviewed: @bookmarketer

3 types of responses you might get when you tell people you're a writer: @bookviewcafe

The key to writing a fast 1st draft: @LiaKeyes

Do Spoilers Really Spoil Anything? @janice_hardy

Emotional Freedom Technique For Writers:

Cutting Unnecessary Characters: @charissaweaks

How Pets Can Help With the Creation of Compelling Characters: @kselliottwriter

Your Public Persona - Proudly Wearing the Author Badge:

5 Free and Easy Ways to Become a Savvy Author: @bookmarketer

Have You Written Your Million Words of Dreck Yet?

Kurt Vonnegut on the shape of stories:

5 Stress-Busters to Beat a Deadline:

5 Things Self-Publishers Shouldn't Worry About (But They Do): #ebooks

Are writers running out of titles? (Guardian):

How to rescue a stalled plot:

8 tools for using humor in your fiction: @BryanThomasS

Why 1 writer doesn't autofollow on Twitter and 10 reasons she might not individually follow back: @katdish

Freelancers--How to Convince Prospects You're a Pro Writer: @TiceWrites

A review of verb tense:

The big tent of reading: @BTMargins

The cult of SF: @MarkCN

Their Cheatin' Hearts: Infidelity in Women's Fiction: @heroesnhearts

An Agent on Authors and Magical Thinking: #pubtip

Social Media Etiquette – Good Intentions or Not, Spam IS Spam: @carlayoung

Word misuse:

1 writer's marketing plan: @Ghunibee

The 5 Most Important Things Authors Should Know About Book Promo: @CathyStucker

5 ways to promote your book months—or years—after the initial publication date:

10 Helpful Uses of RSS Feeds for Marketing:

3 core roles needed in running your own creative business:

One author urges Nano wrimos to take Oct. to plan your story: @Murderati

How industry insider @michaelhyatt unfollowed 108,698 people on Twitter and reclaimed his inbox:

5 tips for creating an effective villain:

10 Badass Women from Fantasy Literature: @ToplessRobot

POV & characterization mean divorcing from yourself: @JulietteWade

Knowing and finding your readers is critical:

How to prepare your Kindle text for a print edition: @dirtywhitecandy

What makes a zombie a zombie to 1 writer:

How much work is self-publishing? 1 writer's list of tasks: #ebooks @cathryanhoward

1 writer's love/hate relationship w/ storyboards:

7 Principles of Pitching Articles:

Fear is the downfall of publishing: @bob_mayer

Is there a template for creativity?

How story questions hook readers and drive character and plot forward: @HP4Writers

6 ways to tame writers' public speaking fears:

The rise of the indie author: #ebooks @tglong

The good, the bad, and the ugly of historical research: @kbowenwriter

A character interview that focuses on what made them who they are now:

The self published author has no one to tell him no: #ebooks

3 tips for correct dialect in your writing: @4kidlit

15 reasons writers love libraries:

A writer's thoughts on signifying length of an #ebook to a reader (so they won't feel cheated by a short read): @rule17

How 1 writer applies structure to a story:

9 Forms of the Past Tense:

Chapter-by-Chapter Critique Tips: @marybaka

To make money with #ebooks, you must have a good number for sale: @DeanWesleySmith

An attorney answers questions about the use of lyrics in a novel: via @PassiveVoiceBlg

Amazon Considers #eBook Rental Service: @galleycat

Tips for writing believable dialogue:

What authors can learn from the bestseller lists:

The Art of the Picture Book: @fuelyourwriting

Tips for faster paced novels: @SarahAHoyt

Are Publishers Unwittingly Responsible For 167% Surge In #ebook Sales? @ChandlerWrites

A discussion on fantasy subgenres: @FantasyFaction

How to build a writing team: @jhansenwrites

Research--too much and too little: @authorterryo's worth the trouble: @JeffGoins

How to Find Clich├ęs in Your Writing: @BTMargins

14 Dos and Don'ts for Introducing Your Protagonist: @AnneRAllen

Contrasting character traits:

When an editor's or agent's personal politics changes a story: @sarahlapolla

The art and craft of fantasy writing:

Composing composition: @RavenRequiem13

Don't Use "The" Before Kindle or Nook?

Thinking Outside the Computer: Longhand and the Brain:

Dealing with bad direction in critique groups: @dirtywhitecandy

Bloom's Taxonomy and New Authors:

A writer's main objective:

Deadly Sin of –Treating the Reader Like a Moron:

3 elements of a well-written debut novel: @mkinberg

10 lies you might tell yourself while editing: @elspethwrites

7 Ways to Develop Dazzling Dialogue: @JodyHedlund

When you want to change agents: @4Kidlit

A look at the history of food & incorporating it into our books: @GeneLempp

Archetypes in writers and gender differences:

How to write a query letter: #pubtip @BubbleCow

The YA Author's Complete Guide to Acceptable Characters: @BTMargins

6 Compelling Reasons for Authors to Blog: @jfbookman

5 tips for a stronger novel: s @catewoods

75 Contronyms (Words with Contradictory Meanings):

Putting Creatives in a Box: @on_creativity

Should you hire a book publicist? @GalleyCat

When the going gets tough: @MsAnnAguirre

Will my agent rep a different genre? @RachelleGardner

Deciding on device: @Mommy_Authors

Ebook Cover Design: Context Creates Possibilities: #ebooks @namenick

Amazon Looking for Tablet Content: @PassiveVoiceBlg

2 Words That Can Change Your Writing Career: @writeitsideways

An editorial director on the "no response means no" policy:

If you can't describe your story, there probably isn't a story, states an agent: @greyhausagency

A character's behavior reveals underlying power assumptions: @JulietteWade

Using more than 1 POV character: @JulietteWade

Authors Guild And Others Sue Universities for Copyright Infringement: @victoriastrauss

"Look Inside" for Kindle Books – 3 Tips for Authors: #ebooks @namenick

The 3-Step 3-Minute Writer's Workout Warm-Up: @YAHighway

Lessons of letting go--the author and his babies: @BryanThomasS

3 tips for becoming a better writer: @TheCreativePenn

Part of the creative process is creating a mess: @bookviewcafe

Resources that protect writers:

1st v. 3rd person POV: @Janice_Hardy

Fanfiction & Original Fiction: Similarities and Differences:

5 tips to jump-start a stalled novel: s

Not Every Ebook is a Success, But it's Always a Lesson: @problogger

The real gatekeepers in publishing now? Authors. @bob_mayer

How to self-promote without selling your soul: @lkblackburne

The Translation Continuum – Speaking Across the Divide: @BTMargins

Vocation vs. Avocation:

Quick tweaks can fix revision smudges:

Defying Digital, Airport and Transit Bookstores Gain Ground at Home and Abroad: #publishing

Elements of religion, with cautions, for worldbuilders: @JulietteWade

Is media tie-in writing right for you? @jameslsutter

How the Crowd Is Shaping the Future of Storytelling: @mashable

5 tips 1 writer has learned from her 2 year old: @buriededitor

The future of #publishing--retail? @nicolaz

4 ways to build a writer's platform: @JodyCalkins

What Writing and Ghost Stories Have in Common: @YAHighway

The Writing Life Vs. the Married Life:

An Agent on Looking Around While Still Represented: @Kid_Lit

The art of the subplot: @FantasyFaction

How to write effective dialogue: @BubbleCow

6 reasons an agent or editor may say your story is "not for them":

How to Write A Wildly Successful Web Series: @ollinmorales

Reselling digital products: @TheresaStevens

The importance of giving yourself challenges with your :

Nice collection of industry news, views, & trends by @Porter_Anderson for @JaneFriedman :

How Rowling revealed backstory: @HP4Writers

When novel ideas masquerade as short stories: @bluemaven

All my tweets are archived and searchable for free at the Writer's Knowledge Base:

Best Articles This Week for Writers 9/16/11: @4kidlit

Pseudo Dialogue Tags: @TaliaVance

Research for Writers: In Defense of Wikipedia:

Why your hero must pet a dog: @KMWeiland

Dated writing:

Voice begins with word choices:

Voice Is Not Everything (but it is vitally important):

14 authors explain how they learned to read their work aloud:

The Submission Process: One Author's Perspective:

The Deadly Sins of Romance Writing:

Book Cards Work: @DeanWesleySmith

White-Knuckling Your Author Platform: How to Rein in the Social Media Pressure: @RoniLoren

5 ways to tackle beginnings: @fuelyourwriting

Tips for earning a living as a writer: @BubbleCow

The Art of Naming Your Characters: @Sarafurlong

Writing lessons from the playground: @CateWoods

The importance of word choice:

Book Trailers — worth the effort? @George_Ivanoff

Tips for writing a good critique: @FantasyFaction

Tips for researching your novel: @BubbleCow

How Battered Paint Pots & Writing Haikus Taught 1 Writer To Be More Creative: @coachcreative

Promoting science: where is the next Asimov, Sagan and Gardner? @jamietr

1 writer's thoughts after 10 years of using e-readers: @robertjsawyer

How to be tough with yourself as a writer:

Resources to help journalists with accuracy and verification: @stevebuttry

What makes up a chapter and a scene:

Real Life Diagnostics: Am I Grabbing the Middle Grade Reader? @Janice_Hardy

A character questionnaire with some deep questions for your character to answer:

To Be, Or Not To Be, A Writer Of Short Fiction:

How to self-publish your ebook (PBS): @MissAdventuring

Why persistence matters: @Shelli_Johnson

A linguist's thoughts on word choice and diction's role in novels: @mkinberg

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Writing—Some Things Get Easier as We Go Along

005-imageSometimes I go on bike rides with my children. We start out in the neighborhood, then head to a nearby greenway.

The only bad thing about biking with my ten year old daughter is that she scares the crap out of me.

I review safety before we start biking, but one thing happens every time. We’ll cross a road in our neighborhood and she’ll look carefully to the right and left, but never behind her. Not until I start doing my alarmed mother bird squawk, that is.

This is, I know, because she’s a child. She’s looking for danger that’s ahead and to her sides. But what about a car coming up from behind her and making a turn?

My 14 year old son, I’ve noticed, does make a quick check behind him. This has only happened for the last few years, though…and I think he’s consciously thinking about it.

For adults, it comes naturally. I’ve watched adult pedestrians in downtown Charlotte turn to look for cars from any direction they might be coming from…without even pausing in conversation.

How many hours does it take before something we once had to think about comes naturally? I’m not sure. But I know the more we practice anything, the better we get.

This has most recently come to my attention as I’ve revised an old book of mine. I’ve noticed bits of wooden prose, stilted dialogue, and distracting paragraphs that went off on tangents.

My edits these days are for totally different things…for the most part I’ve figured out the stuff that used to trip me up so badly five years ago. That’s totally due from frequent writing. We naturally improve. Some of the writing craft that we have to constantly think about at first, becomes second nature.

As a writer, do you notice your improvements? Do they help you stay motivated?

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Importance of Word Choice

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         My son recently brought home an English worksheet that had denotation and connotation on it. As the sheet pointed out, “a word’s connotation can give it a negative or a positive spin.” {Scope, Teacher’s Edition.}

The worksheet had word pairs with the same denotation but different connotations. I had a lot more fun with the sheet than my son did. :) Clever--sly, strange--unusual, childish--youthful. It was like a cheat sheet for spin doctors.

One of my favorite poems is T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. You realize this isn’t an ordinary love song when Prufrock observes that the evening “is spread out against the sky/like a patient etherized upon a table.” The word choice, or diction, isn’t what you’d choose for a romantic poem or song. It sets the stage for the rest of the poem.

What if you’re having trouble finding the right word? You can mark the spot in your manuscript and just keep going. When you’re editing, though, you can check out this post on the Bluestocking Blog. Bluestocking mentions a lot of useful resources, including a reverse dictionary, a visual thesaurus, and WordWeb software.

What should you consider when you’re choosing a word? A great post by Juliette Wade on the I Like a Little Science in my Fiction blog offers four questions you can ask yourself when considering a particular word.

The Grammar Divas blog has an example of how word choice can show character.

To some degree, I think diction comes naturally to writers. Sometimes, though, I’ll make a lot of changes in my edits because I’ll realize I’m not quite conveying what I want to put across. And because I enjoy fiddling with words. :)

Do you spend much time on word choice?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Resources to Protect Writers

Preditors and EditorsEvery once in a while I want to point out a couple of important resources for querying writers. These sites frequently don’t get the mentions that other sites do.
These two resources help writers protect themselves from scammers. It’s an unfortunate fact that there are people out there posing as agents or legitimate publishers who are targeting unsuspecting, hopeful writers.
Many writers are fairly easy marks. Many of us have wanted to be writers for most of our lives. We’re eager to share our work with others. We want to be published.
These scammers pose as a legitimate business, which means writers may query them. Posing as real agents or publishers they may say something complimentary about a writer’s query (or maybe it won’t even be the result of a query—it might be a random email sent to the writer that compliments their blog, etc.). They’ll butter them up a little. Then they’ll take their money.
You shouldn’t have to pay an agent anything upfront. They’re paid when you’re paid. My agent makes a 15% commission from what I bring in and she earns every bit of it. There should be no reading fees or critiquing fees.
Publishers should pay you. If you’re paying them, then you should realize that’s not a traditional arrangement. (If you’re fine with it, that’s okay. Just be very careful and realize there are other options.) If you’re wanting to self-publish, consider less-expensive methods like e-publishing directly to e-readers or print on demand services. Be the publisher, yourself. I did it recently, myself—my ebook lists the publisher as Elizabeth Spann Craig.
There are two excellent free resources for writers. One is Preditors and Editors. (Note 2018: Preditors and Editors is unfortunately defunct. Another good resource is Reedsy's Author Scams Resource.)
Another is Writer Beware, which warns writers about various scams. It’s run by A.C. Crispin and Victoria Strauss who do a fantastic job as watchdogs. I’ve even emailed Victoria Strauss before and she very graciously checked into something for me.
You could also search forums like Absolute Write where writers frequently discuss their experiences with different publishers and agencies. Obviously you’ll sometimes come across a writer with a grudge there…just weigh what people say carefully.
If there’s a red flag that comes up somewhere in your research…well, naturally there are two sides to every story. But if the agent or publisher you’re in contact with has red flags flying everywhere…it’s better to just keep on searching.
It’s exciting to get an offer from an agent or editor…but it’s important to make sure they’re reputable and not someone preying on writers.
There are plenty of other resources, of all kinds, available for writers. What are some of your favorites (forums, sites, etc.?)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

What Type of Promo Should You Try? Whatever Makes You Comfortable.

blog88I’ve had a couple of questions lately from writers who are just starting to dip their toes into social media promoting.

They asked me which social medium I recommended. I think they were hoping that there was one main application that would cover everything that they needed to do for promo.

But I don’t think there is one application or platform that is The One. I think it depends on what each writer feels comfortable with.

If we don’t enjoy something, we’re not going to be in any hurry to use it.

Here are some popular ways to network and build a platform online.

Blogging. Blogging is a great way to become part of the writing community. It’s a good way to find support and information, too. Plus, it’s a way to build a daily writing habit/warm-up into your writing routine. There is definitely some work that goes into it, though. You’ll need to be prepared to post on a regular basis and visit other blogs to build readership and forge online friendships.

Facebook. Many writers find Facebook very addictive (which can be a downside.) But it’s a good way to interact, on a more casual basis, with other writers…and there are plenty of readers on Facebook, too. Consider having 2 accounts—a personal and professional one. That way old high school friends can’t post pictures of you on your professional account’s wall.

Twitter. Twitter, for me, is all about sharing resources and information and links to interesting posts. Some people do use Twitter to hang out and interact—but to me, this isn’t its strong suit, since the conversations are so fragmented there, as opposed to seeing a whole conversation on a ‘wall,’ like Facebook. Some writers have mentioned to me that they found Twitter difficult to learn.

Google Plus. Google+ is a new application that’s a lot like Facebook. One reason I’d recommend that everyone spend at least a little time on Google+ is to claim your name there. Google will make sure that their listing for your name is near the top of any search engine results (an easy way for readers to find you and your books online.)

But please—don’t force yourself to do something you don’t enjoy. There are so many different applications you could try, instead.

Got one type of promo you favor over others?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

15 Reasons for Writers to Love Libraries

September is National Library Card Sign-up Month here in the States.

I remember my first library card…I felt like such a grown-up. And I knew it was opening up a whole world of reading to me.

I’ve spent much of my life in a library—reading and writing. It’s pained me recently to see libraries fall victim to budget cuts. In honor of libraries and what they’ve given me, I’m re-running my library post on how writers can gain from using their public library.

15 Reasons for Writers to Love Libraries

You don’t have to spend a lot of money to become a better writer. That’s a good thing because most writers don’t have a ton of money to throw around.

The library has all the resources a writer needs. It’s always been one of my favorite places on Earth. Here are the reasons why libraries are writers’ best friends:


*Researching your book: Libraries have computers with internet capabilities. They have books and periodicals on a multitude of different subjects. They also have research librarians/information specialists who can help you with research and find reference materials to help you in your search.

*Researching your genre: You can easily check out a dozen recently-published books in your genre. It’s a quick way to see what publishers are looking for.

*Need help with grammar and writing style? The library will have reference books to help you. My favorite style book is Elements of Style by Strunk and White. It’s been around for ages.

*Books on the writing craft? Different libraries have different books, but there are some that will be in nearly every branch: like On Writing by Stephen King, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, and On Writing Well by William Zinsser.

*Some libraries will have subscriptions to helpful periodicals like Writer’s Digest.

*For writers, reading is not only fun—it’s essential. Sometimes, though, we might struggle to find time to fit it into our day. The library can help with this. With a library card, you can check out books on tape and “read” in the car during a commute. Or download audio files to an mp3 player to read while doing housework.

A Place to Write

*Has your house gotten crazy? Kids/spouse driving you nuts? Is a coffeehouse too expensive? The public library is a great place to write.

Help With the Submission Process

*Looking for an agent? Look at the acknowledgements page in one of the recent releases in your genre. Agents are nearly always thanked.

*Another great way to find agent and editor names is by using Writer's Market and Literary Market Place. Using these books at the library means saving lots of money—these books are expensive.

*Need help quickly summing up your book in a query letter? Look at back cover copy of novels in your genre.

*Don’t have email and you need to email some queries? You can set up a Gmail or Hotmail account that can be accessed from a computer at your local library.


*Libraries are major book purchasers. Find out which libraries have your book. Go to, which searches libraries for content worldwide. You just plug in your book’s name, hit the search button, and find the results. For a listing of public libraries, go to Public You’ll get physical addresses, phone numbers, and websites (from which you can get the library’s email address).Send the acquisitions librarian an email or postcard with your cover photo, ISBN number, title of the book, publisher’s name, your name, release date, short summary, and any good review snippets.

*The librarians at my local branch are my friends, too. They’ve been incredibly supportive—my book is nearly always checked out of the library or on request because of their generous recommendations of my book to patrons. They’ve also put my book on a display with other regional authors.

*If you’re looking for a place to give a writing workshop or talk, your library usually has a meeting room that’s perfect for your event. Many of them will allow you to sell your book as well (it’s nice to give a donation to their Friends of the Library program if your signing is for-profit.)

*Libraries also provide locations for writing groups and book clubs to gather. For some writers, meeting with other writers and readers is a great way to network and find support and encouragement.

There are many expensive paths a writer can take toward professional development. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Writing shouldn’t have to cost more than the pen and paper you’re writing on.

Do you remember your first library card? How have you enjoyed your library over the years?