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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

When a Character Speaks to Your Heart

Please welcome guest blogger Alexis Morgan

Okay, I’m going to share a secret with all of you, but please just keep it between us. Promise? Okay, here goes: I don’t feel the same way about all of my characters. Yes, it’s true. I have favorites.

Don’t get me wrong. I like all of my characters, even the villains. But every so often, one pops into my head and steals another big chunk of my heart. A few years ago, when I was still writing westerns, one of the heroes—his name was Luke—almost broke my heart. I thought he’d never find his happily-ever-after. Really, it’s true. I still smile when I think of that moment when he could finally lay his past to rest and look to the future with renewed hope.

And now I have another one of those extra special heroes in my new release, Defeat the Darkness. It’s my sixth Paladin book, and the hero’s name is Hunter Fitzsimon. Back when I was writing the second book in the series, I had the heroine caught out in the cave where a battle was about to begin. The alarms are going off and the Paladins are pouring in from all directions. She was worried about her lover, but as she looked around at the chaos, one other Paladin stood out. He was barefooted, bare-chested, and wearing flannel pj bottoms. To this day, I can see him so clearly—nameless at that point, fresh from his bed, still sleepy, but ready to stand the line with his fellow warriors.

What’s not to love? Hunter appeared in again in the fifth book, Darkness Unknown, where he barely survived a horrific experience at the hands of the enemy. Well, actually, he didn’t survive, but that doesn’t mean he stayed dead. He’s a Paladin, after all. However, this time the journey back to the living was a much harder one for Hunter. His whole life was destroyed as he struggles to regain his balance.

Simply put, I hurt for him. A lot. He’s such a good man, one with friends who don’t know how to help him. He has a job to do, but he no longer knows if he’ll be up to it. Self-doubt and physical pain have made him angry and unsure of himself. He used to laugh a lot, now with his vocal cords ruined from screaming, he will barely talk. He wants to be left alone, and the last thing he needs is a pesky landlady who invades his space and then his heart. His journey isn’t an easy one, but that just makes that happily-ever-after that much more sweet.

One more thing about Hunter’s story. I’d read a book on dealing with the emotional problems arising from severe trauma. One suggestion for regaining control was to concentrate on a physical object, something you can hold onto, thinking about the texture, the feel of it in your hands. For Hunter, this need is filled by a sword cane with a wolf’s head for the handle. When life goes spinning out of control, it anchors him in this world. By the end of the story, he realizes that he has far more to hold onto.

I love to find little nuggets like that suggestion because it helps me add layers to a character, making him just that much more real to me . . . and hopefully to my readers.

Alexis Morgan

Author of over twenty full-length books, short stories and novellas, Alexis began her career writing contemporary romances and then moved on to historicals set in the American West. However, beginning in 2006, she crossed over to the dark side. She really loves writing paranormal romances, finding the world building and developing her own mythology for her characters especially satisfying. Alexis currently writes three paranormal series set in very different worlds, which serve as backdrops for her powerful warrior heroes: The Paladins of Darkness, The Talions (both from Pocket Star), and her exciting new vampire stories for Silhouette Nocturne.

She loves to hear from fans and can be reached through her website, www.alexismorgan.com.

An immortal warrior hardened by a battle that nearly cost him his life
discovers a woman who can heal his heart and wounded soul in Alexis Morgan's sizzling new Paladin adventure

Hard-eyed and hard-bodied, Hunter Fitzsimon isn't what Tate Justice expected in a tenant for the apartment above her garage. Terse and intensely private, Hunter's mission is to protect a narrow stretch of the barrier between Earth and Kalithia against the Paladins' ruthless enemies -a job much easier done without his sexy landlady nosing around. So when she follows him into the woods late one night, he decides to teach Tate a lesson with a passionate kiss that brings her to her knees . . . and unexpectedly ignites a red-hot desire deep within his soul. But the warrior's dark and dangerous world is no place for his fiery lover. Does possessing Tate mean turning his back on his brethren . . . or will Hunter forsake the woman of his dreams for the harsh duty that's all he's ever known?

Hunter Fitzsimon’s story, Defeat the Darkness, coming March 2010.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Spring Cleaning

Please welcome guest blogger Vicky Burkholder

She walked very slowly up the steep, winding, narrow, dark staircase. Every time a step creaked, she slowed to a stop, her halting breath barely stirring in her heaving breast. The candle shook in her nervous hand. The huge heavy oak wood door loomed before her. She reached for the ornate brass doorknob…

Whoa. Wait a minute. What a mess this is. While it may evoke a certain feeling - maybe, nausea? - it doesn’t get across the menace that it’s supposed to. It’s so long winded that, by the time our heroine reaches for that handle, our reader is asleep. We need to grab our verbal dust cloths and clean out the rooms.

Many writers are guilty of this kind of lazy writing. They use adverbs to modify weak verbs - ‘very slowly’ - when a stronger verb would work better. Take a look at the first sentence: She walked very slowly up the steep, narrow, dark staircase. Instead of ‘walked very slowly’, what would work better there? Perhaps crept, trudged, plodded, danced, tripped, or sneaked. Any of them would work. Depending on the mood you are trying to create, the single verb works much better than the generic weak ones. In this instance, we are trying to evoke fear so she crept or snuck (sneaked). Let’s try ‘crept.’

Now look at the rest of the sentence, that steep, narrow, dark staircase. Again, there are too many adverbs. We’ll assume for argument’s sake that the reader knows from previous paragraphs that we’re in a castle, it’s nighttime, and there aren’t any wall torches in this part of the castle. If we have her in the passage, she could hold out her arms and touch both walls without stretching. This would tell us that the way is narrow. The candle in her hands tells us that it’s dark. And if we have the steps spiraling upward, we know that it’s winding. What we don’t want to do is put all this information in one sentence. A menacing scene should have short, menacing sentences, not long run-ons of description. In the next sentence, her halting breath is barely stirring her heaving breast. Okay, if she’s barely breathing, how can her breast be heaving? Omit that one entirely. What about that heavy oak wood door? You can pare this down to one adjective and not lose anything. Let’s keep huge. And to soothe the historians among you, we’ll get rid of that brass doorknob all together. In our fictitious historical, they haven’t been invented yet. But that’s another story.

I can hear you all crying now about word counts. If I cut out all those words, won’t I lose my count? No. By tightening your writing, you may actually find more. What you need to do is rewrite so that the passage evokes more feelings. Show us her angst.

So we’re left with:

She crept up the stairs, the candle wavering in her hands, her ears alert for the slightest sound. Her footsteps echoed in the narrow passage and she was sure the entire house could hear them. A loose stone clattered and she stopped, her breath catching in her throat. When nothing happened, she risked going on. The final curve and she was on the landing, the huge door looming in front of her. She pushed at the solid oak, but it barely budged.

Okay, this is never going to win a prize, but I hope you get the idea. By getting rid of the unnecessary adverbs, we’ve made the passage more interesting, more immediate.

Over the years, I've had several critique partners. Each one had specific things he or she tended to pick up on when doing a crit. One of my crit partners had a "thing" for the words push, pull, feel and felt, another picked up on that, it and was. And there are others. When we crit each other's work, we tend to pick up on our favorites. It's gotten to the point where I automatically go after those words before I send my work out for critiques.

So I started a list of words to look for. Words that can be weak when used one way, but are okay in another. For instance, I tend to pick up on the word "walk". Using the word walk is perfectly okay. But think about it - when we say that a person walked into the room, unless we know that character very well, we don't know how he entered the room. It is much more descriptive to say he swaggered, staggered, strolled, strode, tiptoed, crept or any of a dozen other ways to describe his way of walking. Each one of these synonyms is more exact and gives us a specific picture of the way the person is moving--and a specific tone to the scene.

In the same way, push or pull can be changed to stronger verbs. Push has several different meanings, each of which can be picked up from the surrounding words, but wouldn't using a more specific word be better? For instance, the sentence: She needed a push to get into the traffic. This can mean several different things. Was her car stalled and she needed someone to help her get moving? Or was she nervous about driving on a major highway and needed some "urging" to get her moving? A more specific word would give a more specific meaning.

No, you don't need to change every word. In some cases, the original word works just fine. But when doing an edit, go through your work and see if you can find a stronger word to replace the one you used. Go over something you’ve written and look for unnecessary words or phrases. See if you can rewrite the sentences with more impact. Some words to look for are:

And/but - can indicate run-on sentences That - unnecessary in most instances

That - when you mean who Which - when you mean that

Just Very

Nearly Almost

Really Seam/appear

Feel/felt few

Would/should/could Quite

Has/had - can be too passive Rather

Thing Stuff

Anyway Because

‘ly’ words so

then even

only down/up - as in sat down or stood up

get/got was/were - can indicate passive voice

begin/began - don’t begin doing something; just do it. J

any word you overuse

As her alter-ego, Vicky has multiple homes all over the universe. She looks human - for the most part - but when she starts writing about characters being able to move things or flicking fire from their fingertips, or changing the course of rivers, people tend to get a little freaked out. She found the one guy out there in the universe who loves her for who she is and they've been together forever and raised four wonderful (now) adults and are owned by a cat, Pixel. She has served on the board of directors for several RWA chapters including FF&P, PASIC, and Central Pennsylvania Chapter. Her career includes work as a technical writer/editor, a stringer for the local newspaper, and an editor and copy editor for four e-publishers. At various times in her life, she has been a teacher, a secretary, a short-order cook, a computer specialist, a DJ, and a librarian. She currently has four books with Cerridwen Press and an anthology with Draumr Publishing. Currently, she works for Aaron’s Books in Lititz, PA, where she is forced to read as many books as she wants. She can be found at http://www.vickyburkholder.com

Danger on Xy-One

Book 3 in the Hunters for Hire series

Cerridwen Press - coming January 10th

Aleksia Matthews is an asteroid assayer who would like nothing better than to be left alone. Her life is soon turned upside down when a band of ruthless pirates attack her ship. She manages to escape, but fears the worst for her brother. Ali swears revenge. Although well-trained by Fleet Security, she knows she can't do the job alone. When she literally runs into Jason Cole, a blue-eyed, raven-haired stranger, she knows she has met the perfect partner--in more ways than one.

Special agent and Bounty Hunter, Jason Cole has spent the past year tracking the pirates that killed his brother Zack and Zack's family. He's always one step behind; too late to help the victims. There are never any survivors--until now. It is up to him to keep the golden-eyed, auburn-haired beauty alive and out of trouble until the gang can be captured, and maybe longer.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Where To Start Promoting Your New Book Release

Please welcome guest blogger Marisa Chenery

Before my first book was released I really didn't know exactly how to go about promoting it. Being as how I hadn't made a name for myself as a published author, I knew I would have to do something to get my name out there and recognized. I also didn't want to spend a lot of money to do it either. Now that I have twenty-four contracts under my belt, I have certain set things I do to promote my next release.

Listed below is what I use as promotional tools that seem to work for me. And hopefully they'll take some of the guesswork away for those of you who have their first book contracts and are as clueless as I was about promoting a new book release.

    Set up a website. I think this is one of the very first things you should do as a newly published author. On your website you can list your upcoming releases, books from your backlist, etc. And keep it up-to-date. You won't encourage readers to stop by every so often if there are never any changes.

    Set up a blog. I'm not much of a blogger, but I do think having a blog can be a useful tool. I mostly use mine for posting new contracts, new covers, release dates and any contests, etc that I have going on.

    Join some social networks. I have both a Facebook and a MySpace page. I also have fan's page through Facebook as well. I don't use MySpace as much as I use Facebook. And it has nothing to do with me being addicted to FB's applications. Okay, maybe a little J. But I do find that there are more authors, and readers, networking on Facebook than on MySpace. I also use Twitter. That comes in a close second to Facebook usage for me.

    A couple other things I have done is join Coffee Time Romance's forum and have my own room set up there. I'm also a featured member at The Romance Studio. They both are great romance review sites. Having my own room on CTR's forum didn't cost me anything, and I get some good traffic there. Being a featured member at TRS isn't free, but for the small amount they charge, it's worth it. They will set up an author page for you on their website and you can announce any new releases, news, etc and they will post it on their site as well. I also pay to have the cover of my new releases to be put on their website a month after it was released.

    Interviews and guest blogging. I tend not to go overboard with these. As a new author, it's a great way to get your name out there. As for getting you more sales, I'm not all that sure it does much. But like I said, it's a great way to get your name and your books out there when you're first starting out.

    Write the next book. I think this is the best way to make sales, especially if it happens to be the next book in a series you have. Each time one of my werewolf romances in my Wulf's Den series has been released, either at Liquid Silver Books or at Fictionwise, I have seen a big jump in sales in my backlist. Plus having books released really has your name and books reaching readers.

    Newsletter. This is something new that I've just set up for myself and really haven't tried yet. The simplest way I found to set it up was to open my own Yahoo group, just to send out a monthly newsletter. Since I haven't sent out my first newsletter yet I can't say how well this one will work, but I've had a few people ask for one so they could keep track of my new releases.

    Word of mouth. This is another great way to promote your book. I've been surprised by how many people I know or associate with, on or off the internet, have bought my books because they know me and became interested in them when I told them about my books.

    As I said before these things are what seem to work for me. What I like about them is that they don't take away much of my writing time. I would much rather be writing my next book than using up what time I do have doing promotion.

Marisa Chenery always loved to read, but once her kids started coming the number of books she read a week increased. The books varied from science fiction to historical fiction. After reading a historical romance novel she found myself hooked. She couldn't get enough of them. Her love of historical romances soon evolved into wanting to write one of her own. She now mostly writes Paranormal Romance.

Marisa Chenery lives in Ontario, Canada with her husband and four children. Between looking after her kids and going to the gym a couple times a week she writes about passionate women and the compelling men who love them.

Goddess Revealed-Bast's Perfume

Trapped in the immortal realm by a vengeful demon, Bast is finally freed when a human opens the ancient jar that binds her. But he is no ordinary human; he is her mate, a fact Bast tends to conceal—for her time in the mortal world is limited.

When a cat inexplicably appears the moment he opens the perfumed jar, Slade is bemused—then stunned when the cat morphs into a stunning goddess. Their attraction is immediate, their passion unstoppable. With each blazing sexual encounter, Slade’s in danger of losing his heart. But he could lose far more, for the demon is near, drawn ever closer by the lure of Bast’s perfume…

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Supporting Role of Subplots

Please welcome guest blogger Theresa Meyers

You know how the Oscars have a category for best supporting actor and actress? Really, the book community should have one of those too. Subplots are probably one of the most undervalued, under-appreciated and hardest working parts of a fiction story.

I know, I know, characters matter. Plotting matters. Pacing matters. But the reality is subplots are tiny filaments of each of these. Subplots grow from characters, from your basic plot, from the pacing itself.

In a lot of ways I tend to think of an overall story like a big spider's web. You've got the business part, where your readers get hooked into the story and stuck there, unable to pull away. Those are the sticky cross threads in a web. You've got the characters and the story arc happening, which are kind of the circles that start in the middle and becoming bigger and bigger, all interlinked, but totally separate. But what holds it all together? Those threads that connect to all of it. The threads that weave in and out, starting at the center and pulling out to stick to the most odd angles and places to hold the whole thing up. I like to think of those threads as subplots.

Now just like there are hundreds of thousands of different kinds of spiders who all build their own unique web designs, there are an infinite number of ways to construct a story. But somehow they all work! So my method of story construction might not be just like yours. Sometimes if you watch a spider just starting out building a web it looks like the little sucker is hopping randomly from place to place. It isn't until you start to see the web more than half way complete that you can really see it's got any organization at all.

But keeping track of subplots does take organization. My favorite tools of choice include a massive plotting board with a multitude of different colored sticky notes, but then I'm a very visual person (if you haven't already noticed that). Some authors like to use collage boards full of images and words. Other authors need detailed character sketches or use spreadsheets. I pull subplot ideas from characters. I pull them from a running list I keep along side the main story. Sometimes I string them along from story to story, connecting characters and stories from one book to the next. Sure organization is important, but so is being willing to stretch yourself just a bit further than you thought you could.

If you're up for looking at your writing in a whole knew way, I hope you'll consider joining me for a two-week class here at the FF&P chapter on subplotting using a spider's approach. During What A Wicked Web We Weave, we're going to cover not only how to find and organize subplots, but how to strengthen them and weave them in so they support the whole story and virtually disappear rather than stand out. We might even get into how to arc them from one story to the next...depending on how adventuresome people are. Why not, I'm always up for a party.

In the meantime, Happy Mardi Gras! Go out there and grab yourselves some beads and King Cake while you can.

Always a lover of books and stories, Theresa was a writer, first for newspapers, then as a freelancer for national magazines.  She started her first novel in high school, eventually enrolling in a Writers Digest course and putting the book under the bed until she joined Romance Writers of America in 1993.  In 2005 she was selected as one of eleven finalists in the nation for the American Title II contest, which is the American Idol of books for her Scottish historical.  Her most recent book, a Nocturne Bite titled Salvation of the Damned was released by Harlequin/Silhouette in March 2009, with another Nocturne Bite out in Oct. 2010 and two more full length paranormal romances to follow from Silhouette’s Nocturne line in 2011. Find her online at Theresa Meyers.

What a Wicked Web We Weave - A Spider's Approach to Subplots in Storytelling runs from March 29, 2010 - April 11, 2010.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

New York Times Writing

Please welcome guest blogger Margie Lawson

Margie Lawson —psychotherapist, writer, and international presenter—developed innovative editing systems and deep editing techniques for writers.

Her Deep Editing tools are used by all writers, from newbies to NYT Bestsellers. She teaches writers how to edit for psychological power, how to hook the reader viscerally, how to create a page-turner.

Thousands of writers have learned Margie’s psychologically-based deep editing material. In the last five years, she presented over fifty full day Master Classes for writers in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

For more information on lecture packets, on-line courses, master classes, and her 3-day Immersion Master Class sessions offered in her Colorado mountain-top home in 2010, visit: www.MargieLawson.com.

New York Times Writing

By Margie Lawson

A big THANK YOU to two FF & P’ers!

Sharon Pickrel for inviting me to be your guest blogger today—and Jennifer Ranseth for setting up the blog. I’m pleased to be here.

Today I’m diving into how to write so well, that your strong writing craft and fresh writing boosts you toward the New York Times Bestseller list.

NOTE: I included a promo piece for Brenda Novak’s Diabetes Auction below the blog. You’ll see my diabetes auction donations – that include:


I do like to have fun!

Check out the fun cartoon Dare Devil Dachshund Contest on my web site. You could win one hour of my Deep Editing brain. www.MargieLawson.com

New York Times Writing

By Margie Lawson

If you’ve taken some of my editing focused courses on-line, you may recall I recommend adding NYT to your margin tracking list for your WIP.


Because when your writing is powerful, it gives you a boost toward the NYT Bestseller list.

How do you learn how to strengthen your writing? How to make it fresh?

I developed four editing courses – and each are loaded with dozens of Deep Editing techniques that teach writers how to add power to their writing. One of those techniques is the EDITS System.

When creating the EDITS System, my goal was to determine what components of a scene set the strongest emotional hook.

I wanted to know what made a book a page-turner.

I dissected hundreds of scenes. Hundreds.

Dissecting scenes means breaking down a scene by what function a phrase or sentence or paragraph serves. What did the writer accomplish by including that piece?

I created categories – and assigned a highlighter color to each category.

I had fun creating MY SYSTEM. I had no plans to turn it into a teaching tool.

I developed MY SYSTEM to help me be a better writer. To help me capture emotion on the page.

To help me hook the reader.

To help me write a page turner.

A propitious thing happened in the process of developing and validating this highlighting system for me. I realized the system could help all writers understand what they have on their pages, if the passage or scene contains the optimal components to hook the reader . . . and a gazillion other feedback points.

My Ah-ha was so strong, I had a visceral response. :-))

Plus – here’s a fun piece. I also realized I could make the name of the system spell EDITS.

Ha! I did the Snoopy Dance!

Okay. I’ll quit with the how-it-came-to-be piece, and tell you what it is.

The EDITS System is the ultimate SHOW DON’T TELL power tool. Writers use the EDITS SYSTEM to analyze scene components. It shows writers what they have on each page. It shows writers where to add power. It shows writers what’s working, what’s not working, and what’s missing.

When writers use this highlighting system, patterns emerge for each scene. They may be surprised to see that in an emotionally-driven scene, they kept the POV character in their head, locked in internalizations. All thoughts, no visceral responses.

If the writer slipped in a few visceral responses, they’d take the scene from the POV character’s head, and the reader’s head, to the reader’s heart.

The EDITS System helps writers find a compelling balance of Emotion, Dialogue, Internalizations, Tension/Conflict, Setting, as well as dialogue cues, action, body language, senses, and more . . . that works for their specific scene dynamics.

Given that the story is compelling, the plot is strong, and the characters live in your heart or dreams or nightmares – what writing craft processes could make the difference between a skimmer and a winner?

What can writers do to keep the reader so committed to the read, that they’d rather finish your book, than sleep in, eat chocolate, or have sex?

The answers?

Write fresh.

Add psychological power.

Include the incontrovertible power of the visceral response at emotionally heightened points– accelerated heart rate, sweaty palms, dry mouth, tight chest, clenched stomach, weak knees, blood rushing to chest, neck, and face, adrenaline pumping, heart pummeling rib cage . . . and WRITE THEM FRESH!


In the EDITS System, VISCERAL RESPONSES are the only things highlighted in PINK. Not a kick in the shins. Not an expletive. Not watching someone get shot.

Everything can carry emotion but the only component of the scene highlighted in PINK is a visceral response.

Dialogue, action, facial expressions, thoughts (internalizations) – all may carry emotion. But it’s the visceral response that carries the biggest emotional punch.

If the writer neglects to have the POV character experience a visceral response after an emotionally-loaded stimulus – the passage is not as powerful, not as credible.

Not a page-turner.

Here’s a passage from MARCUS SAKEY that includes fresh writing and an empowered visceral response.


“I heard someone was asking about you.”

Old instincts tightened Danny’s skin. “Who’s that?”

    Patrick looked up at him, the joking in his eyes replaced by something more serious, like he was watching for a reaction. “Evan McGann.”

    Danny’s mouth went dry, and he felt that tingling in his chest, the sense of his heart beating hard enough to rattle his ribs. He scrambled for his game face, almost got it.

Marcus Sakey makes it look easy. Note the two STIMULUS / RESPONSE patterns.

Since Danny learns critical information in this passage, Sakey gives us VISCERAL with each response from Danny. Plus—the reader is treated to fresh writing in a BASIC response with the ‘old instincts’ line. Five words, and they carry visceral power.

After Danny hears “Evan McGann,” he experiences an EMPOWERED response. Sakey loaded that response set with SIX EMOTIONAL HITS:

1) dry mouth

2) tingling chest

3) sense of heart beating harder

4) amplifies by adding his heart could rattle his ribs,

5) Danny tries for ‘game face’ to block his reaction from Patrick

6) ‘almost got it’ -- Danny failed.

Danny knows his facial expression tipped Patrick that Danny had a history with Evan. And we all know it wasn’t a happy history.

NOTE: Sakey uses some clichéd visceral responses: dry mouth, tingling chest, heart-pounding. And – it works.

Writers have to fall back on some clichéd viscerals, but stacking several together in a creative way, building a COMPLEX or EMPOWERED response, makes it an interesting read. It carries power.

Now – We’ll have some fun with dialogue cues.


Here’s another Deep Editing goodie that can boost you on the NYT Bestseller list.

I coined the term DIALOGUE CUES to describe the phrases and sentences that inform the reader HOW the dialogue was delivered. Dialogue Cues share the RATE, TONE, QUALITY, VOLUME, or PITCH of speech.

Dialogue cues are easy to spot in my EDITS System, they usually come right after the dialogue. If the POV character is describing how he/she is trying to alter their voice when they speak, that dialogue cues is before the line of dialogue.

Writers may write short dialogue cues that describe the voice in a standard way:

    • His tone was rough.
    • Her voice jumped an octave.
    • His voice had a sarcastic edge.
    • Her words sounded more harsh than she intended.

The first three examples above are basic dialogue cues. They provide one piece of information regarding how to interpret the dialogue. The fourth example includes two hits of information regarding the dialogue delivery.

Writers can also write dialogue cues in fresh ways. Here are five dialogue cues from BLACK OUT, by Lisa Unger:

1. I snap back to the conversation and listen for signs of skepticism in her voice. But there’s just her usual light and musing tone, the wide-open expression on her face.

2. I kept my voice flat and unemotional. I didn’t want him to know my heart---how afraid I was, how much I needed him.

3. “You promised me,” I said, my voice sounding childish even to my own ears.

4. Something in his tone chilled me, even as I felt a little lift.

5. Her cell phone rings, and she looks at me apologetically as she answers it. I can tell by the shift in her tone that it’s her husband. Her voice gets softer.

Ten Dialogue Cues from THE LIKENESS, by Tana French:

  1. A guy’s voice in the background, a firm, easy drawl, hard to ignore: familiar, but I couldn’t place it.

  1. “No,” I said. My voice sounded wrong, somewhere outside me.

  1. All the laughter and façade had gone out of his voice, and I knew Frank well enough to know that this was when he was most dangerous.

  1. Maybe it was seeing him again, his grin and the fast rhythms of his voice snapping me straight back to when this job looked so shiny and fine I just wanted to take a running leap and dive in.

  1. “Hey, fair enough,” Frank said, in an equable voice that made me feel like an idiot.

6. There was a different note in his voice, and not a good one.

  1. “Rafe,” I said, hurt. I was mostly faking it: there was an icy cut to his voice that made me flinch.

  1. “Yeah,” Rafe said, but the anger had drained out of his voice and he just sounded very, very tired.

  1. Her voice sounded fine—easy, cheerful, not even a sliver of a pause—but her eyes, flicking to me across Daniel, were anxious.

  1. “Don’t you want to hear what I’ve been doing with my day?” That undercurrent of excitement in his voice: very few things get Frank that worked up. “Damn straight,” I said.

An example from Dennis Lehane, SHUTTER ISLAND:

    “Yes, well,” he said, his voice stripped of life, “all I can say is that I will do all I can to accommodate your request.”

He could have said, HIS VOICE FLAT, but he wrote it in a fresh way.

Here’s an amplified example from Harlan Coben, LONG LOST.

My Deep Editing Analysis is below the example.

    I was about to crack wise—something like “tell all your friends” or “sigh, another satisfied customer”—but something in her tone made me pull up. Something in her tone overwhelmed me and made me ache. I squeezed her hand and stayed silent and then I watched her walk away.


    1. Showed WHAT WASN’T HAPPENING, what he didn’t say

    1. SPECIFICITY – throughout the passage

    1. Rhetorical Device – A DOUBLE. I made up that term – DOUBLE. SOMETHING IN HER TONE is an intentional echo. It’s almost the rhetorical device, anaphora -- repetition of first word or phrases of three phrases or sentences in a row. Powerful.

    1. Second part of the DOUBLE – goes DEEPER. Taps emotion.

    1. TONE is used as a STIMULUS – and the reader gets FIVE RESPONSES from her TONE: pull up (stop), overwhelmed, ache, squeezed hand, stayed silent, watched her walk away (did not follow her)

    1. POV character shared what he intended to do, but didn’t – because of her TONE.

    1. Rhetorical Device: AMPLIFICATION: developed emotion and showed all those responses

    1. COMMUNICATION with HAPTICS – touch

    1. Rhetorical Device: POLYSYNDETON – Last sentence uses multiple conjunctions and no commas. Makes the read more imperative.

    1. CADENCE – strong.


I’ll wrap this blog with an example from the late Robert B. Parker. A genius with putting the fewest words together to empower a novel.

Most people are so immersed in Robert B. Parker’s stories, they don’t notice the power of his writing craft. But his words had the power to drive the reader through page after page—and chapter after chapter—until they read the last brain-picked word.

Robert B. Parker, SCHOOL DAYS:

His voice was so thick, he seemed to be having trouble squeezing his words out.

NICE! Robert B. Parker did not say the character’s throat constricted. But, he conveyed strong emotion.

I can’t resist sharing one more example – a description.

SPARE CHANGE, by Robert B. Parker

He was dark-haired and taller than I was, with dark eyes that looked tired, and a little pouchy. I though he looked like a boozer. Some women might think he looked soulful.

Whew! Lots of reading! I loaded this blog with examples.

FYI: Keep in mind – what I covered in this blog is a bite of the smorgasbord of what I cover in my on-line classes and Lecture Packets.

Consider the full alphabet, A-Z. In the Margie-Deep-Editing-Alphabet – the ideas presented in this blog are 1/20th of ‘A.’

Most of my Lecture Packets have over 300 pages of lectures. ;-)


Post to the blog – and YOU COULD WIN A LECTURE PACKET!

1. You may share your analysis of any of the examples in the blog.

2. You may post an example of fresh writing from your WIP or fresh writing from one of your favorite authors.

3. You may post a comment -- or post ‘Hi Margie!’

For every 25 people who post a comment today, I will draw a name for a Lecture Packet, a $22 value.

Winners may choose a Lecture Packet from one of my six on-line courses:

1. Empowering Characters' Emotions

2. Deep Editing: The EDITS System, Rhetorical Devices, and More

3. Writing Body Language and Dialogue Cues Like a Psychologist

4. Powering Up Body Language in Real Life:

Projecting a Professional Persona When Pitching and Presenting

5. Digging Deep into the EDITS System

6. Defeat Self-Defeating Behaviors

I teach Empowering Characters’ Emotions on-line in March through PASIC. You can access the link to register from the home page of my web site. www.MargieLawson.com

    For writers who are interested in learning more about my deep editing systems and techniques, but cannot fit Empowering Characters’ Emotions in their schedule in March, the Lecture Packet can be ordered through PayPal from my web site.


NYT Bestseller, Brenda Novak, donates an amazing chunk of her life to fundraising for diabetes research. She selflessly gives months of her energy, creativity, and what would have been writing time, family time, self-time to her DIABETES AUCTION.

For writers – it’s a warm-your-heart win-win. Bid on one of the hundreds of items – support diabetes research and you may win an experience that changes your life. A plotting lunch with an agent or NYT bestseller at a national conference could contribute to a contract for you.

If you're not familiar with this auction -- it's a gold mine for writers!

My husband and I love to support the Diabetes Auction. With over 1000 donations, if I don’t mention our donations . . . you might miss them.

Yikes – a Missed Opportunity!

Margie’s Donations:

1. A set of six Lecture Packets

2. A 50 page Triple Pass Deep Edit Critique

3. Registration for a Write At Sea Master Class by Margie Lawson on Deep Editing Power, April, 2011. Donation by Margie Lawson and Julia Hunter


You select the destination – any place within 600 nautical miles from Denver.

A weekend, you and a friend, plus my pilot-husband flying our four-seater plane, me, a night in a hotel, and a two-hour deep editing consult. The consult is on the ground, not while we’re flying. ;-))

5. Registration for an IMMERSION MASTER CLASS session!

A $450 value . . .

The three-day Immersion Master Class sessions are designed as a personalized, hone-your-manuscript experience focusing on deep editing. The sessions are held in Margie’s log home at the top of a mountain west of Denver. Participants will concentrate on transforming their manuscript into a page-turner. The winner may attend a session in the fall of 2010 (depending on availability), or one of the four sessions offered in 2011.

THE DIABETES AUCTION runs from MAY 1ST to MAY 31ST. You can tour the
Diabetes Auction site now. http://brendanovak.auctionanything.com/

Brenda Novak is my hero. What a way to give back.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Synopsis Queen

Please welcome guest workshop blogger Kara Lennox

When I finished my first novel, I had never heard of a synopsis. I mean, I was familiar with the word, but I didn't know what it meant in the publishing world. So when I set out to sell my masterpiece, and I saw that certain publishers required me to send a synopsis along with my query letter or my manuscript, I gamely sat down to write one.

(This was in the dark ages. Not only before the Internet, but before home computers, RWA, and libraries, apparently, because I could have found the correct way to do this at the library.)

Anyway, what I did was I wrote one paragraph covering each chapter. To this day, there are probably a few former editors still in comas. That's how boring it was.

Later, older and wiser (and a member of RWA), I learned that a synopsis for a novel isn't a mere summarization. It is an art form in its own right. It seemed everyone hated them, everyone feared them, and it was hard to find an example of a good one. Despite formulas published in the RWR and workshops detailing the process, the synopsis remained a mysterious, daunting THING.

I sold my first book without one. I pitched the book at a conference, sent in the whole manuscript, and sold it. Hah, I thought, that's the secret to never having to write a synopsis. You just write the whole book. Right?

Wrong; chances are your publisher will want a synopsis anyway.

Then, I learned more horrible truths. My shiny new publishing contract specified exactly what my next submission should entail. Three chapters and a synopsis. What, write a synopsis when I hadn't even finished the book? When I didn't even know how it was all going to work out?

I decided the only way to deal with this was to write the whole book, then the synopsis, then send in the three chapters with the synopsis. (Did I mention that I was a major doofus?)

Eventually common sense won out. My editor told me not to worry too much about the synopsis, that I didn't have to follow it to the letter when I wrote the book. She said it could be a bit sketchy; she just needed an idea of where the book was going and what sort of conflicts would drive the story.

This eased my mind a lot, so I sat down to write "the dreaded synopsis" as it was now called by writers far and wide. To my surprise and delight, I found that I love writing a synopsis. At no other time can I see my book so clearly and in such perfect form. It's like having a child in the womb and seeing him or her all grown up, perfect in every way.

Writing a synopsis doesn't have to be horrible. Even pantsers (seat-of-the-pants writers) can learn to master this art form. Please join me for two weeks of strategies and tips, practice and feedback all focused on writing a compelling synopsis. I promise to make it as painless as possible, and maybe even a little bit fun.

Bestselling author Kara Lennox, who also writes as Karen Leabo, has written more than 50 contemporary novels of romance and romantic suspense for Harlequin/Silhouette and Bantam Loveswept.  Her books have finaled in several romance industry contests including the RITA, and she has won an RT Bookclub Reviewers' Choice award.  Kara loves writing synopses and has sold several books on synopsis alone, some as short as two paragraphs.

The Synopsis Queen Tells All runs from March 15 - 28, 2010

Monday, February 8, 2010

Why Do We Need Publishers?

Please welcome guest blogger Gail Dayton

We don’t, actually.

The world doesn’t NEED publishers any more than we NEED, say, recording companies.

Every person out there who has written a book is welcome to go to Lulu.com or another self-publishing company, upload their book, create cover art, buy an ISBN number, have it typeset, printed and bound, and sell it at whatever bookstores will accept it, or out of the trunk of their car. They can even simply put it into Kindle format and post it at Amazon. There are plenty of companies out there willing to help you get your book into print, whether electronic or hardcopy. This is a legitimate avenue to publication (if you keep ownership of your book and profits, and don’t pay excessive amounts for things that should cost little or nothing—in other words, avoid the vanity presses and go for one that is legitimately a self-publisher) for those who have done their homework and know what they’re doing and why.

But publishers do have a role to play, especially in the world of fiction, and it’s a pretty big one.

First off, publishers employ people to do the other jobs involved in producing a book, once it’s written—those things like editing, creating covers, designing the book (which actually takes a lot of fiddly work, making the ends of the chapters fall right, and the margins work), and then marketing the book. One of the biggest jobs is actually getting the books into the bookstores, despite the advent of ebooks (I love my Sony reader.), because 80% of books sold are still paper copies.

If I had to do all of that myself, I wouldn’t have any time to write the next book. It’s all I can do to take care of my family, work at my very part-time dayjob (eight hours a week, total), promote my books by blogging and such, and write 15 to 25 pages a week.

(PROMO Pause: Oh hey! I have a book out. HEART’S BLOOD is a Victorian steampunk fantasy romance from Tor Paranormal Romance, available anywhere but on Amazon. Unless the MacMillan-Amazon quarrel has lightened up. I’ve received some nice reviews and a Top Pick! from RT —it’s a good book. Promise. :) End of PROMO)

The other big thing publishers do—whether they are small press or the biggest of the bigs—is that they, well, hold auditions.

You know how on American Idol, Simon, Randy, Kara, and this year, a series of guest judges, sit through hundreds of thousands of auditions, listening to people sing? And some of those people really can’t sing. Some are pretty good, but not quite there yet. And some are fabulous.

Some of them have tried out before and didn’t make it, only to come back again (and again) and try again. Some of the returning people still can’t sing. But some have improved, learned how to play to their voice, and they’ve won the “golden ticket.”

A lot of those who are told “No,” don’t want to hear it. They get angry. They want to try again, or sing another song. They might curse at the judges. Or maybe, they go away, and record a song at a local studio and post it on MySpace.

Obviously, I'm published with a New York publisher, but I've been in the trenches. I had books with fly-by-night e-publishers that collapsed. I struggled when my friends sold, and I still sat there, right on the verge. That's the hardest point in the journey--when it comes down to your book and one other, and they buy the other one. I've been there. Everything isn't roses once that first book is sold, either. Contracts get canceled. Options don't get picked up. Stuff happens. Publishing is a tough business--just like any of the arts.

I’m not saying anyone shouldn't self-publish if that's what they want to do, and I'm not saying all those self-published books are on the level of the people who didn’t make the first American Idol cut.

Nor am I saying that only the Big Six publishing houses perform this audition role. Every publisher out there chooses to publish the best books it possibly can, whether they are e-book publishers or small press print publishers or one of the Big Guys.

All I'm saying is that while publishers may have to find different ways of doing business as technology changes, I don’t think they’ll be going the way of the dinosaur.

Gail Dayton currently writes steampunk fantasy romance for Tor Paranormal Romance. She lives on the Texas Gulf Coast with her husband of 30+ years, their youngest son, who will eventually graduate from college, and a granddog.

AWARDS: 2007, 2008 Prism awards for Best Fantasy

Heart's Blood

Master conjurer Grey Carteret regains consciousness in a London gutter next to a concerned street urchin and not far from the body of a man murdered by magic. Some fool is hoping to use murder to raise a demon. Arrested for the crime, Grey must rely on the street urchin for help. But the lad turns out to be a comely lass, and she wants something in exchange.

Pearl Parkin, a gently reared lady struggling to survive in London’s slums, sees magic as a way out of the life she finds herself trapped in. But blackmailing Grey into making her his apprentice has unexpected consequences. As they plunge into the hunt for the murderer, Pearl discovers that the things she once desperately wanted are not as important after all, and that she must risk her blood, her heart and her very life to grasp the love she needs.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Legend of the White Wolf Is Out!

Please welcome guest blogger Terry Spear

We don’t get to choose release dates for our books, but this one was perfect—a wintry wonderland in Maine, just in time for the winter weather in the northern states to get everyone in the right mood. I have to say that when I wrote this story, it was cold in Texas. And when I did revisions, it was cold again. Some might ask how I can write a story set in a snow-filled setting when I live in hot, hot Texas. But I’ve lived in cold wintry places before—Madison, Wisconsin, skied in Colorado, lived there too, skied in Killington, Vermont, the coldest place I felt I’d ever been as I rode in a gondola to the top of the slope, freezing to death all the way, skied in Pennsylvania and New York. And I lived in other places where we had major snowstorms—Maryland, New Jersey, Oregon, and even Oklahoma. And even in Texas, it was sixteen degrees the other day, although a flurry of snow is our claim to a snowstorm of “blizzard” proportions!

There’s something about the pristine snow-filled landscape that can be deadly also, that lends well to a story of mystery and mischief and murder. Yet what better way is there to get warm than to start a fire and snuggle up with a hot-blooded male, of the werewolf variety?

For this fourth book in the series, I wanted to include Arctic wolves. With this pack, the situation is different, once again. They live amongst humans, flaunting their wolf coats at will, but serving as companion wolf pets. So it was fun creating a new scenario for this latest release.

The story starts out with a couple of PI partners on a bear hunt in Maine. Their guide uses Arctic wolves to help track the bear. Did you know that dogs are used to hunt like that? But when one of the men has a medical emergency, the partners soon learn not all wolves are the same.

Being stuck in a cabin during a snowstorm might make some claustrophobic. But with the right hunk of a guy, the isolation can be downright romantic and appealing! However, what if that guy isn’t quite what he seems?

So if you love the paranormal, mystery, adventure, and romance, and you want to try out a werewolf or two…check out Legend of the White Wolf where Arctic wolves rule! And check my terry-spear blog where I’ll be posting links to free book give-aways for the next 5 weeks!

Terry Spear




Terry Spear has published in many genres, including romantic suspense, contemporary, paranormal, and under the name Terry Lee Wilde, young adult paranormal and fantasy romances. She's the author of Winning The Highlander's Heart, The Accidental Highland Hero (Vintage), The Vampire...In My Dreams, Deadly Liaisons (Samhain), Heart of the Wolf, Destiny of the Wolf, To Tempt the Wolf, Legend of the White Wolf, Seduced by the Wolf, Wolf Fever, Taming the Highland Wolf, Dreaming of the Wolf (Sourcebooks), Deidre's Secret, Relative Danger (Wild Rose Press). She also writes nonfiction for numerous genealogy, WWII, teen, and family magazines, and has had romantic fiction published in magazines.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

We can build the character…We have the technology

Please welcome guest blogger Mechele Armstrong

In my opinion, one of the most important elements of writing is building characters. Give readers a great story, they might come back. Give them a character they fall in love with, they will come back. Give them both, and you have them hooked.

But how do you build characters that people want to live with? Characters who stick in someone’s memory long after they’re done reading?

Well, there is one thing that I’ve found that makes characters stick with me. The little things. Little actions. Small pieces of dialogue that reveal without being overwhelming. These things reveal so much about the character without swatting you over the head with it. They make a character become real to me.

Whenever I talk about this subject, I use the movie, Aliens as an example. Aliens has a marine squadron going onto a planet against the aliens. They have multiple characters and a short span of time to make you care about these people. And you have to care about them before they start fighting the aliens, otherwise what is the point?

You have little pieces of dialogue and actions that reveal the characters. Apone (the sergeant) says, “All right, sweethearts, what are you waiting for? Breakfast in bed? Another glorious day in the Corps! A day in the Marine Corps is like a day on the farm. Every meal's a banquet! Every paycheck a fortune! Every formation a parade! I LOVE the Corps!” as they are waking up from stasis. He’s a marine through and through, with a lot of spirit. Hudson, a male marine, asks Vasquez, a female marine, has she ever been mistaken for a man? Definitely reveals his jokester behavior. Vasquez fires back, “No. Have you?” She shows she can take it as well as dish it out. There are many more instances that make us start to like this group as a whole. So when the aliens are found and attack, we are invested in this corps’ fates. There is no wasted dialogue or action. Everything reveals something about a character.

Hicks is the character who probably benefits from his characterization through small events the most. When Ripley is talking to the squadron about the aliens, they are all joking around. Hicks asks, “What are we dealing with?” He’s the one to take this seriously and try to find out what’s to come. On the way down to the planet, they are all tense and shaking on the chaotic drop. As they are about to land, Apone says, “Someone wake up Hicks.” He’s a calm character to fall asleep during this hectic time. When they find a child, Hicks is the one to realize what they are dealing with and keep the others from shooting her. He pays attention more than the others and doesn’t shoot first. After the aliens attack, there is a scene where they are all looking at screens. The little girl they rescued is trying to see what’s going on but she’s too short. Hicks picks her up and sets her up so she can see what’s going on. It’s never mentioned, brought up, or highlighted. But it tells us so much about the character of Hicks. It’s why Ripley calls to him when she and the little girl are in danger. It’s why we care so much when Hicks is in peril later in the movie. We like him, yet his screen time in the whole film isn’t a great amount. They made the most of when he’s on screen and everything he does tells us about him without even calling attention to the revelations.

Another character who I find very intriguing is in the Harry Potter series and I think benefits from small revelations. Neville Longbottem. He starts out as the student who loses his toad on the Hogwart’s express. Across the books, he’s mentioned, sometimes only briefly, yet has a huge part in the final book. His character arc is a wide one, yet he’s not even one of the main characters. Everything about him is revealed in snips and bits of pieces. He’s forgetful. You find out a secret about his parents that tells you so much about his character. And slowly he transforms from a goofy boy into someone willing to stand up to Voldemort for what he believes in. All in all, I doubt there is one book’s worth of information on him. Yet, he’s a character who stands out to me in this series.

So how can you integrate this into characterization? I think there are a lot of ways to reveal things in small pieces that reveal over time and also make a character very real.

--favorite words. One thing I try and do in my books is the characters have words they use and no one else uses them. Some of my characters have favorite words to curse with. Some do not curse at all. Makes it easier to tell who is speaking and also give insight into characterization

--particular way of speaking. Saying, “How are you doing?” versus “How you doing?” They both say the same thing but in different ways. And each way of speaking tells us something about the character.

--a small action. Opening a door for a woman. Or an older lady. Looking down when a lady is getting dressed or sneaking a peek. Each of those actions tells us something about the person doing them. Neither of them is huge in the grand scheme but they build up like with Hicks to make a reality based character

--reactions. How do your characters react to others? A belligerent tirade against a man for doing her wrong or a blank stare in reaction to the same tells us much.

--Facial expressions. A smile or a frown can tell how a character is feeling but also tell us about them. Maybe they are stoic and never laugh. So when they finally giggle, it means a lot. Or they giggle all the time so when they stop laughing, we know it’s serious.

--a tic. A character might drum their fingers. Or shake their leg. Depending on the character, it can say a lot about them if they have a characteristic action.

There is so much you can do with characterization this way. I say, to make your character stand out, focus on the little things. Because they do mean so much.

Mechele Amstrong aka Lany of Melany Logen



Settler's Mine 5: The Man

Colton returns to Settler's Mine searching for his mate who he'd abandoned years before. He'd been on his way earlier, but once he and Larkin mated, they couldn’t keep their hands to themselves and it delayed his trip.

Michipi has made a new life for herself at Settler's Mine and doesn't want to trust Colton again, no matter how sincere he seems. Especially with his new mate receiving all the perks of the heartstone glow that she never got.

While Michipi enjoys being the subject of being two men’s desires and what they have to offer, however good they both are she can't get past Colton’s past betrayal and denies the future of their mating. When an old enemy resurfaces to make an attempt on Colton's life, Michipi is forced to realize that she needs both men in her life. But has the knowledge come too late, and at too high a cost?

Mechele Armstrong lives in Virginia and writes while technoing with a computer geek hubby, listening to piano from one child, debating Harry Potter with another, ball throwing to a spaz cat, playing psychiatrist to a neurotic dog, and serving one diva kitty. She loves open bedroom doors and things that go bump in the night, which is why she probably writes what she does. She's always looking for new worlds to play in so she never knows what will come up next. Her world is where sensuality and wonder collide.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Submissions: The Inside Scoop

Please welcome Kelli Collins, Raelene Gorlinsky, and Meghan Conrad from Ellora's Cave Publishing Inc.

We were asked to provide some insight on what editors really look for and consider in submissions. Something more detailed than the standard checklists. So we decided to give you a look into the editor’s mind about cover letters, the first page, “clean” submissions, and an author’s public image.

We welcome questions and comments. And do check out our editorial blog for authors and aspiring authors: http://redlinesanddeadlines.blogspot.com

Cover Me

First Impressions Part One

by Kelli Collins, Editor-in-chief, Ellora’s Cave Publishing Inc.

I read dozens of submission cover letters each month. Well…from those who care to include them, anyway. (Tip #1: Do!) And while the information contained within can be an endless source of amusement, there is such a thing as TMI. (Tip #2: Just because you’re submitting an erotic romance does not mean I want to read scintillating tidbits about your personal sex life. Gah!)

The first and best piece of advice I can offer in regards to cover letter: Keep it simple. I’m looking for specific things in your letter, which include:

Your real name

Your pen name

Book title

Word length

Genre (Tip #3: Know your publisher! EC publishes erotic romance and erotica. Please don’t send me your book of first-person inspirational poetry.)

Short blurb

And that’s it. No, really. An intro is nice, but keep it short. A mention of memberships to writers’ groups is fine, but keep it short. A list of previously published books isn’t necessary, though some authors like to mention other houses that currently publish their work, which is fine by me. And while authors absolutely love to include every contest they’ve entered for the last five years, this is another piece of information most editors skip over. I’m sorry; it’s true. If you must include contest details, limit yourself to first-place wins only. (Tip #4: That fifth-place win might seem impressive…until I discover there were only five finalists. Which means your book was—that’s right—last place.)

Short, sweet, to the point. If you want to make an impression, show me that you appreciate my valuable time by not sending a three-page cover letter intimately explaining how your backyard garden inspired your food-fetish erotica novel. My visual imagery works too well for those kinds of details. J

Oh, and Tip #5: Spellcheck. No matter how short and sweet that cover letter is, if it’s filled with errors…I might not bother with the submission.

See you in the slush pile.

Turn the Page

First Impressions Part Two

by Kelli Collins, Editor-in-chief, Ellora’s Cave Publishing Inc.

So you’ve sent your cover letter and it was short and sweet and contained a blurb that has me jumping up and down and squeeing like a fangirl to read your submission. I open the submission doc—delighted and impressed that you’ve read our guidelines and sent exactly the chapters we required—read the first line, which is appropriately enticing because you’ve read all about the importance of first lines and spent months dreaming up just the right one…

Only to come to a screeching halt at paragraph two—where you proceed to tell me the heroine’s name, age, height, weight, eye and hair color, distinguishing features, boob size, job title, hometown, names of her brothers and sisters, and how she used to be a Wiccan but gave it up when she couldn’t find the nerve to go skyclad during solstice gatherings.

Oh sure, you laugh…but it happens all the time. I routinely read books in which every detail about a character, or details about the room/house/town/state/planet in which the story opens, are all crammed into the first page. Some authors like to call it “setting the scene”.

Editors call it infodumping.

And infodumps aren’t reserved for first pages only; that just happens to be where they regularly appear.

Let me set my own scene for you: Editor X has 3 minutes to spare before she boards a plane, or attends a meeting, or gets to her stop on the subway. Though she’d rather whip out her iPhone and send a few tweets into the ether, she decides to use the time more wisely and takes a peek at your submission. And instead of being instantly caught up in the action of the story, she spends that precious time wading through details she could have learned anywhere in the book (preferably spread thoughtfully throughout), but instead the author decided to chunk it all on the first page, boring Editor X to tears and ensuring the first page she reads will also be her last.

That’s the reality of submission reading. It takes just a few minutes to read that first page, and if you haven’t hooked me immediately, there’s a great chance you never will. Sure, I’ll read several more pages, just to give you a fair shot, but I’m already suspecting the subsequent pages are going to be as ho-hum as the first, and already I’m not looking forward to them.

Leave routine details for later. Yes, I want to know what your heroine looks like so I can visualize her, but I don’t need to know from the first page. It can be discovered more naturally in her narrative later, spread throughout at the most appropriate moments. Or perhaps I’ll learn how lovely her deep red hair looks with her dark green eyes from the hero’s POV, when they first meet, etc.

I want to be in the middle of a breathless foot chase on the first page. Or in the midst of a screaming match between a sassy heroine and her soon-to-be ex. Or trepidatiously walking down a barely trodden path through a moonlit wood on the way to a séance that will hopefully unleash some sexy ghost. Or in a rodeo ring on the back of a bucking bronco with a thousand people cheering my name. Or in bed, the springs squeaking loudly, shouting someone’s name and just on the verge of…

Drop me in the middle of the action, and make me want to keep reading to see how that chase or fight or séance or bronco busting ends. Starting your book with an exciting scene straight from the guts of your plot not only keeps me moving forward—it keeps your story moving forward. And if you’re talented enough, it’ll scarcely stop long enough for readers to catch their breath.

And what reader doesn’t love being breathless?

Respect Yourself—And Me

by Raelene Gorlinsky, Publisher (and editor), Ellora’s Cave Publishing Inc.

Always on the checklist for submissions is “Proofread; make sure there are no typos, misspellings, grammar errors.” Seems simple and clear, a no-brainer. So why do so many authors get sloppy about this? (“Well, I spelled most of the words right.”) Do you not realize the message you are sending? Errors in your submission tell an editor two very clear—and very unpalatable—things that will get you the form rejection letter in three minutes or less.

You don’t respect your story.

If you are a skilled and professional author, you want your submission to absolutely shine, to be the very best you can do, to have the best chance of catching an editor’s attention. If you don’t care enough to proofread and self-edit, you are telling me that either this story or your writing career are not important to you. If you can’t take the time to round up several people to help you make your submission completely clean, I’m not going to have any faith in your willingness—or ability—to spend the time on revisions and editing. Bluntly, it tells me you are lazy, stupid and unprofessional. Make your submission an example of your pride in your story and yourself.

You don’t respect editors.

So you believe that your time is more valuable than mine, that I should be your typist and proofreader? That I should waste time slogging through this mess you sent in? You need a reality check. A professional and experienced editor is focused on story development—working with the author on plot, character growth, relationship development. NOT wasting editorial time on things the author should be responsible for, like spelling, grammar, punctuation, sentence structure. Yes, an editor may (maybe!) choose to contract a fantastic book even though the author needs a little help with one or two specific writing mechanics—maybe the author doesn’t quite understand how to use dialogue tags or is choppy about POV switches. The editor may feel this is something they can teach the author—but will then expect that the author learns this and the next submission will not have the problem.

Let’s be frank about this: Great story ideas are a dime a dozen. Yours just is not unique. I can open the next ten submissions and find something just as good or better than yours, no problem. So it is how you present your great story that counts. Gee, would I contract the wonderful story concept that will require massive amounts of effort trying to teach the author how to write cleanly, excess copy edit/proofing time, and will involve working with an author I suspect is unprofessional and unskilled? Or should I contract the equally great story that obviously has been through multiple self-edits and much proofing and is nearly 100% “clean”, allowing me to focus my editorial skills where they should be? That’s not a hard choice.

How many errors are acceptable in a submission? Every error an editor hits is a black mark against you. I was on a conference panel with a group of editors from many publishers, and we were asked this question. Most of us came up with some figure. “Three”, “One per thousand words”, and so forth. But then we all applauded our fellow editor who honestly and bluntly stated, “I stop reading when I hit the first error.”

(Remember that a publisher may be more lenient with, more willing to work with, an author who is already published with them and has shown very good sales numbers on the previous books. But if you are just trying to get in the door, you have to meet much higher standards to prove you are worth our time and effort.)

Bad Blog! No Cookie for You

By Meghan Conrad, Editor, Ellora’s Cave Publishing Inc.

When we were asked to write something about submissions, I had lots of great ideas: write a strong cover letter, follow the submission guidelines, proofread, have an engaging first page… Then I found out what Kelli and Raelene were writing about and realized I’d have to do something a little different.

So instead, I’m going to talk about what may be the least-known aspect of the submission process—the part where we Google you.

I realize that some of you are probably looking at me in shock. Yeah. That’s right. We Google you.

We might not Google the author of every submission, but every submission that I’m serious about gets the Google treatment. I search for the book title, the author’s pen name, and the author’s real name. If you have a blog, I’ll read that; if you’re posting on message boards, I’ll read that, too. Does your LiveJournal or fanfiction.net account mention your real name? Because if it does—you’ve probably guessed—I’ll read that, too.

And, yes, what I read is going to influence my response to your work. If you’ve written the next Harry Potter, it’s unlikely anyone’s going to reject you because you present yourself badly online, but for the rest of us, it’s something to keep in mind. I’ve rejected one or two good books because the author behaved so badly online, we decided we didn’t want to work with her. I’ve rejected a great many more books I was on the fence about after the author’s online presence ultimately convinced me the author probably wasn’t worth the effort.

What are we looking for? In general, we’re looking for signs that you’re relatively normal, literate, and reasonable, which is admittedly sort of difficult to quantify. A well-written blog is a great sign, or a Twitter account with hundreds of followers. This is fiction, so you don’t need to have the platform that would be expected for nonfiction, but having followers is an indication you write well enough that people find your posts interesting and useful—points for you!

It’s easier, though, to talk about what might put an editor off. Posts slagging off publishers or editors are big red flags, especially when you’re criticizing several companies (indicating that the problem is maybe you, not them) or resorting to over-emotional rhetoric like name calling. It’s normal to have problems from time to time, and even to talk about those online, but there’s a big difference between “I’m not getting my royalty statements on time” and “I never get paid on time because those greedy jerks are trying to screw us over and take all our money to feed their crack habits”. (For added realism, please add several vulgarities to that last bit.)

Similarly, trash-talking about other authors is worrying. We’re not talking about disliking a book, we’re talking about personal attacks and flat-out nastiness—things that make you look immature and petty.

Complaining about low sales, especially if you’re blaming someone else for them, is probably best avoided, as well. It’s one thing to say “My last book didn’t do so well—I guess the trend for dark YA fantasy involving elves is waning.” It’s another thing entirely to say “My last book totally flopped, and I’m so angry. I can’t believe that my publisher didn’t send me on the fifty-city tour that I demanded! And the cover they made me was totally fugly—it was blue, not black, my heroine’s eyes were the wrong color, and they had gold foiling instead of silver! They ruined it!” Not only do you look like sour grapes, but you also look very, very unrealistic.

Maybe this is too obvious, but it seems like every few months, there’s another author behaving badly on Amazon or Goodreads. There’s a lot to be said for taking criticism—even the one-star-review kind of criticism—gracefully. Which is to say, of course, that it may not be in your best interest to start arguing with people who leave bad reviews of your book. I promise you, the editors and agents out there will be far more bothered by angry flame-outs than they would by the odd bad review.

Also worrying are blogs—or, worse, short stories or writing samples—with horrible grammar, punctuation, and spelling. No one expects you to be perfect, but I do tend to assume that the writing on your blog is a representative sample. If you’re missing three periods and have seventeen misspelled words in a five-hundred-word blog post, what’s your submission going to be like? Even if your submission’s in great shape, a blog riddled with errors will throw up red flags, making us doubt your abilities. After all, why would you choose to write “I cant wait for you’re book 2 cum out!” if you know better?

This is one of those lists that could go on forever. The point, though, is probably obvious by now—if you don’t want your mother, grandmother, and editor reading it, don’t put it on the internet.

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Over 400 authors choose to publish with us; we have released over 2800
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