There are a lot of writing blogs out there, and many offer great advice. However, most of the ones I’ve seen are geared toward nonfiction writers. As novel writers, we have different goals and needs. We’re storytellers. We write to entertain.
This blog is about helping you write a better novel as I pass along what I’ve learned about this crazy business. So please, pull up a chair and make yourselves comfortable. And if you see something you like, please be sure to post a comment.
Oh the silly things we authors can have major hang-ups over, such as doing revisions and rewrites. First of all, rewrites and revisions are not one in the same. They are actually two entirely different processes.
I’ll begin by saying I’ve always subscribed to the notion that the first draft is all about getting your ideas down. Having to worry about syntax, grammar, punctuation and so forth while putting your ideas on paper can thwart your creativity and may even result in writer’s block. The first draft isn’t your final edit. Get your ideas down. Worry about the rest later.
Once I have my initial idea down, I’ll go back and revise. The word revision means making an alteration. It’s changing a word here, rephrasing a sentence there, correcting grammatical and punctuation errors, or eliminating filler words. In other words, it’s editing. The story itself remains the same. Sometimes I’ll do this at the end of the chapter. Other times I may revise a paragraph as soon as I finish writing it. It all depends on what pops in my head at a given moment. I, for one, happen to enjoy doing revisions as they make my story read better. The better my story reads, the more excited I get about it.
Rewrites on the other hand, are much more involved than simply changing the phrasing or fixing a punctuation error. New ideas may come to me as I craft my story. For example, I may have created a character who I intended to be a cold-hearted villain. Then, as I got into my story, I realized he was a more complex character than I had originally envisioned. He really isn’t a bad person at all, and his motive was never to cause any harm. He simply has the same goal as the protagonist. Therefore, he has to compete against the protagonist, thus creating the conflict. This changes the entire story dynamic, so I now have to go back and rewrite some of my earlier chapters to reflect this new perspective. Instead of a minor alteration to the wording, I’m making a change to the story itself. This sometimes happens, but certainly not with every novel I write.
Revisions are part of the writing process. They help bring clarity to your story and create a better experience for the reader, but they don’t change the story itself. Rewrites, however, add an entirely new concept or dimension to your story. I do as revisions as I write, and then my editor will make even more, but rarely do I ever have to do an actual rewrite. So don’t let anyone chastise you or intimidate you for doing revisions. It’s your story. If you’re not satisfied with it because it needs more work then your readers won’t be satisfied with it either, assuming your editor doesn’t send it back because it needs more work. Trust me, no one ever writes a perfect novel on their very first draft.
The holidays are over, which means it’s time to start preparing for tax season. I want to begin by saying I’m not a tax expert, nor am I giving any kind of legal advice. However, one thing I have learned, through trial and error, is to save those receipts. Come April 15, it’s far better to have your tax preparer tell you that you can throw a receipt away because you don’t need it, instead of having him or her tell you that you won’t be able to claim a deduction you would have otherwise been entitled to because you don’t have your receipt.
Which Receipts do you need?
Generally speaking, if it’s an expense incurred in writing, publishing or promoting your books, you can deduct it. Your tax preparer will ultimately determine which deductions you can take, however he or she will want to see your documentation first. Therefore, you should keep your receipts for:
book design services
book reviewers, (if you had to pay for a review)
photographers and illustrators
Does your publisher charge you for copies of your books? If so, hang on to the receipts.
other potential deductions
Other expenses which may be deductible would include:
Book signing materials, such as tablecloths, display items and signage
Cell Phones, (if purchased for business use)
Computer hardware and software, (if purchased for business use)
Postage and shipping services, such as UPS
Do you work out of your home? If so, a portion of your rent or mortgage payments, and utility bills, may be deductible. Save those receipts.
Some authors, including yours truly, write genre books which may require special attire for book signings. For example, I write Old West historical fiction, and some venues where I sign my books require me to wear western clothing. Therefore, if I have to buy any special outfit or accessory for business use, such as a book signing, I keep the receipts, as it may be tax deductible.
Some authors have book related travel expenses. This would include travel for book signings, research or business meetings. Whether it’s across town or across the country, you need to keep track of your travel expenses, as they too may be deductible. These expenses would include:
Hotels and lodging
Business mileage is another tax deduction many us may forget about. You can document your mileage by either keeping a log book in your car, or via websites like Google Maps. Simply enter your address and the address of your destination, and the exact mileage will display on the page. Print out the page and put it in your tax files.
Remember too that authors and writers are not immune to tax audits. You should keep your final return, as well as all of your documentation, including receipts, on file for at least six years. Rest assured, if you’re ever audited, you will most certainly need your receipts. If you don’t have them, the IRS may disallow the deduction. They may also hit you with a penalty. It’s far better to have those receipts and not need them then the other way around.
For more specific information about taxes, please consult with a professional tax preparer, or the Internal Revenue Service.
I still have the last remaining copy of my first book; a historic cookbook titled Anna’s Kitchen, which I produced and self-published back in 2005. I learned a lot from the experience, and since that time I’ve done my best to share what I’ve learned with the rest of you.
Looking back, I admit I was such a little smart-alec at the time that I thought I knew everything. Okay, so maybe having been a freelance graphic designer helped. After all, I was able to produce something that looked really cool. However, back then I didn’t know squat about editing, distribution, or marketing. So, here are but some of the lessons I learned.
A spell checker is not a substitute for an editor, or a proofreader.
If you want your book to be distributed, you really need Ingram.
500 books really does take up a lot of room in your shed.
Ah, I was so naive at the time, but it was a good, yet humbling, learning experience. The following year I wrote Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, the first of my Luke and Jenny series of historical novels for young readers. That same year I signed on with a publisher, Five Star Publications, Inc. (Now Story Monsters, LLC.) Linda Radke, the company president, was an amazing mentor. I learned a lot about the publishing business from her.
After I finished Riding with the James Gang, the final book in the Luke and Jenny trilogy, I was ready for a change. I wanted to write full-fledged novels for adult readers. In 2011, I wrote my first romance novel, The Reunion, under the pen name, Marina Martindale. Linda Radke was also changing her business model to an exclusive children’s books publisher. However, we both agreed that I was ready to go out on my own. So, that same year, I founded my own publishing company, Good Oak Press, LLC.
Writing novels isn’t a hobby. It’s a business. My advice to any novel writer, or prospective novel writer, is to treat it like a business. Kudos to you if you’re lucky enough to beat the odds and sign on with a traditional publisher. However, as I explained in my earlier post, The Three Options for Publishing Your Book, the odds of a major publishing house signing on a first-time author are extremely slim at best. Most of us will either sign on with a partnership publisher, or start up our own publishing business. This means you need to do your homework and learn as much as you can about the book publishing business.
Every story ever written has two things in common; a beginning and an ending. It’s at the end of the story where we, as storytellers, deliver the punch lines which will impact our readers.
Regardless of your genre, most readers want, and expect, a happy ending. One which ties up all of the loose ends and leaves them satisfied. More often than not, this is what they get. In my genre, romance, it’s pretty simple. Boy meets girl. They fall in love, but there are conflicts and obstacles to be overcome. Then, once the conflicts are resolved, everyone lives happily ever after. THE END. Then again, some of the most well-loved and compelling romance stories ever written didn’t end with the couple living happily ever after.
Remember Romeo and Juliet? This timeless tale of two star crossed lovers ended with a double suicide, which compelled their two warring families to put an end to their bitter feud.
More recently there was Gone with the Wind. After thinking she was in love with Ashley Wilkes for all those years, Scarlett suddenly realizes she’s been in love with Rhett the entire time. Unfortunately for Scarlett, Rhett’s response is to walk away and slam the door behind him, leaving her to ponder her next move. This ending certainly left us wanting more.
Another famous ending comes from the movie, Casa Blanca, which was actually based on a play called, Everyone Comes to Rick’s. It too is a love story with a twist. Boy meets girl. Girl ditches boy. Boy meets girl a second time, only now she’s brought her husband along. So, along with some unforgettable dialog, (“Of all the gin joints in all the places in the world, she had to walk into mine.”), we all root for Rick to get Ilsa back. Instead he puts her and her husband on the plane and sends them away for good. The final scene ends with the plane taking off while Rick walks away with Louis Renualt saying, “You know, Louie, this could be the start of a beautiful friendship.”
Good stories aren’t always about happy endings. Sometimes they’re about doing the right thing, even when doing the right thing isn’t so easy to do. The same can also be said of real life.
There are times when I get a little weary trying to explain to newbie authors why they need to have their manuscripts professionally edited. Sometimes they get it, other times they don’t. (Sigh.) So, if for no other reason, have your manuscript professionally edited and proofread so your readers won’t go onto forums and rip your book to shreds.
Never, ever assume your reader is stupid. They’ve just paid good money for your book. They’re used to reading well edited books, and they expect your book to be well edited too. If it isn’t, they will be disappointed at best. At worst they’ll feel like they’ve been ripped-off. They may write you a bad review, or they may go on-line to reader’s forums and point out your mistakes. Either way, your dirty laundry just got hung out to dry, and your career as an author may have come to an untimely end. That said, I’m going to paraphrase some of the avoidable errors I’ve seen mentioned in online forums.
A leading lady gets into a Handsome Cab. (As opposed to a hansom cab. Perhaps the cab driver was handsome.)
The leading man is locked in a dudgeon. (That must be where the threw the stupid prisoners. No doubt the others were locked in the dungeon.)
He wrapped his arms around her waste. (Yuk! I’m seeing a really nasty visual here. Hopefully the next time he’ll wrap his arms around her waist.)
During a sex scene he’s having an organism. (There’s an interesting twist to a love scene. After his tryst is over he’ll need to see a doctor.)
He would gather her up in his arts. What? You mean he put her body parts into his sculptures? Sounds like that old Vincent Price movie about the wax museum. I’d much prefer that he’d gathered her in his arms.)
What do all these faux paus have in common? According to the forum I was reading, they all came out of self-published books. Yes, it’s funny to us, but not so much to the authors who wrote them. What’s sad is that these are just a few of the kind of mistakes that a good editor will catch, and correct.
Still think you don’t need an editor? Well, if you don’t mind being laughed at on a public forum then maybe you don’t. However, if you want to be taken seriously as an author, and if you want your book to be successful, you’d better find yourself a good editor.
It’s one of my all time biggest irks. Seeing so-called “job listings” for creative services with such caveats as, “we can’t afford to pay at the present time,” or, “no pay but we’ll provide food.” Then there’s my all time favorite. “We can’t afford to pay you but we’ll give you free exposure.”
Wow. Some things make me so angry it’s hard to find the right words.
I get it. We all have dreams. Whether it’s writing and publishing a book, producing a film or recording a CD, we all want to get the best professionals we can to give our project everything it needs to get it off the ground. But here’s the rub. These professionals spend years learning their craft, and, depending on the project, they may have to use their own equipment as well. So makes you think you’re entitled to get it for free? Think about it. Your doctor doesn’t work for free. The mechanic who works on your car doesn’t do it for free. So what makes you think your editor should work for free?
We don’t have the money because we’re just getting started.
That’s the same lame, tired, worn out and overused excuse that everyone uses whenever they want something for free. “We just don’t have the money.” Well, too bad, because in the real world people expect, and deserve, to be fairly paid for their time and labor.
Any kind of creative business venture, whether it’s writing and publishing a book, making an independent film, or recording a music CD is just that. A business venture. Any business venture, whether it’s creative or not, requires a certain amount of capital upfront. Fortunately, there are places where you can get the money. If you’ve ever registered a business name then you know your mailbox will soon be filled with all kinds of offers for business loans. Here’s an idea. Apply for them. Even if you can only qualify for a small amount, it might be enough for you to pay your people.
Same goes for grants. There are all kinds of grants out there for creative projects. Apply for them. Yes, it can be time consuming, but you just might get the funding you need to get your project off the ground. Another option is crowdfunding through Kickstarter, GoFundMe, or other crowdfunding platforms.
If all the above fails, then do it the way our parents and grandparents did it. Put a little money aside from each paycheck until you save up enough to pay for the services you need. Sure, it’ll take some time, and in the interim it won’t hurt to go out and start promoting your project. Who knows? You might get lucky and find yourself a sponsor.
Here’s the bottom line. Unless you’re a 501(C) 3 nonprofit, and the people providing their services can provide them as a tax deductible donation, then you frankly have no business asking a professional to provide you a service free of charge just because you want it. Not only is this demeaning to the service provider, it’s also insulting. If you can’t afford to pay your people then you can’t afford to do the project. Nuf said.
I’ve finally completed my latest Marina Martindale novel and now I’m ready for a much needed break. In fact, I typically go on a long hiatus after a new novel is published.
While writing truly is one of my life’s passions, I’m also aware of the thin line between creativity and burnout, also known as the dreaded writer’s block. Burnout can happen when we overextend and push ourselves too hard, but sometimes we’re so into what we’re doing that we’re not aware we’re overdoing it.
By the time I finish one novel I’m already formulating the next one in my mind, and that’s okay. What’s not okay is starting page one of that new novel the day after my current one goes to press. Like the tide, creativity ebbs and flows, and none of us want to ebb unexpectedly. I’ve learned, through experience, that for me the best thing to do after finishing a novel is to put my creative writing muse on the back burner, even as ideas for the next book pop into my head. Or, should I say, most especially when those new ideas are popping into my head. I’ll jot them down, but I won’t take them any further anytime soon.
I enjoy my down time between novels. It can last for a few weeks to a few months because I’m no longer on a time schedule. Then, when I feel I’m ready, I’ll start my next book. Until then, however, it’s my time for me.
So you’re a new author and you’ve just completed your first manuscript. Congratulations. This is a big accomplishment. However, it’s only the first step for getting your work out there, and one of your next tasks, if you haven’t done so already, is to decide how you would like to have your book published. You have three options; traditional publishing, partnership publishing, or self publishing. Each has their advantages and disadvantages.
Let’s begin with the option most people are familiar with, traditional publishing. Some of the most well known traditional publishers in the United States include Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins and Penguin Random House. No doubt you’ve heard of them as they’re part of a group known as The Big Five. This is certainly the big leagues, so you may be thinking, “Yeah, I’d love to have them publish my book. I’ll send them a copy of my manuscript and wait for them to call me.”
If only it were that simple. In reality, getting onboard with one of the Big Five publishers is about as easy as going to Hollywood, walking into a major motion picture studio and telling them that because you were the star of your high school play, you’re now ready to become a movie star, and would they please sign you up. Signing on with a major publisher, especially when you’ve never been published before, is a long, complicated and daunting process filled with rejection. Even if you have a good literary agent and a well written manuscript, there is no guarantee they will accept your work, and even if they do, they will drop you if your book sales don’t meet their expectations.
This can be a viable alternative as partnership publishers provide many of the same services as a traditional publisher. They produce, format and distribute your book, and they pay you a royalty. However, unlike a traditional publisher, they don’t buy the rights to your book. You keep the rights, and you pay them for their services.
There is, however, a huge difference between partnership publishing and vanity publishing. A vanity publisher will produce your book, usually for a hefty fee. However, they don’t distribute your book, and your printed books are often poor quality. A partnership publishing company on the other hand will distribute your book, typically through Ingram. It is up to you, however, to do the research and find out if the company is indeed a legitimate partnership publishing company. Most importantly, before signing any contract, ask if they distribute through Ingram. If the answer is no, walk away.
For the record, I started out with a very reputable partnership publishing company, and my books did quite well. I did have to pay them for their services, and they took care of the cover design, the printing, and the distribution. Like a traditional publisher, they paid also royalties, but unlike a traditional publisher, I retained the rights to my book, and I could leave them at any time.
Self publishing has lost much of the stigma it once had, and, on rare occasions, a traditional publisher will pick up a self published author.
The big advantage to self publishing is that the author has complete control over all aspects of the publishing process. This includes editing, proofing, typesetting and ebook formatting, printing and distribution. In other words, it’s a lot of work. However, Amazon has made this process somewhat easier with their self publishing tools; CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing. Even so, editing and proofing are still the author’s responsibility.
I was lucky. I was a graphic designer for many years before I became an author. In 2011 my partnership publisher decided she wanted to change her business model and specialize in children’s books, while I had switched genres and had started writing contemporary romance. She was, however, a mentor as well as a publisher, and I learned a lot about the publishing business from her. So I started up my own publishing company. For me, this was the perfect choice. With my graphic design background, I’m able to format and design my own books. My company is an LLC, registered in the state of Arizona, so I was able to distribute through Ingram. However, after I started up my own company, Ingram created a division called Ingram Spark, which caters to self publishing authors. That said, I still recommend setting up an LLC if you’re serious about self publishing. Not only will you come across as more professional, an LLC can help protect your personal assets if you should ever experience an unexpected legal challenge.
Marketing Your book
Please note that regardless of which option you choose, it is up to you, the author, to promote your book. While book distribution is the publisher’s responsibility, selling the book is not. That is on you, even if you’re a traditionally published author. Like publishing a book, marketing a book can be daunting, but there are resources out there to help you. Again, it’s up to you to find those resources and use them.
Good luck with your book. If you would like to see my company website please click on the link below. I’m including it as an illustration of what you can accomplish if you’re willing to invest the time and effort.Please note, however, that I am unable provide publishing services for other authors.
Whether we write fiction or nonfiction, all authors want their books to be read, and reviews are an essential marketing tool. This is why authors ask other authors for reviews.
A good review is like gold. The author may include it on his or her website and media kit, or even as a back cover blurb. This can benefit the reviewing author as well, as his or her name, and book title, may get a free mention. Most of the time, it’s a win/win for both. Most of the time. However, there are times when it can be problematic.
Authors often post review requests on online forums, and back when I was a newbie author, such a request caught my eye. It was for a nonfiction book about UFOs and aliens, and he wanted someone to write a review on Amazon. While not my writing genre, I grew watching Star Trek, and I’ve always been interested in UFOs. So I contacted the author, and he mailed me a copy of his book..
It wasn’t what I expected
I eagerly opened the envelope as soon as it arrived. However, once I started reading the book, I realized it wasn’t at all what I expected. While I make no claims of being an astronomer, I’m well aware of the fact that we live in a vast universe. New solar systems are being discovered. I’m hardly a mathematician either, but I do know that we live in a galaxy with trillions of stars and perhaps billions of planets. Therefore, it seems logical to me that a certain percentage of those planets would have life. Maybe not life as we know it, but if I were a betting person, I would say yes, there is life on other planets. This author, however, didn’t think so.
The author turned out to be a born again Christian who didn’t think life on other planets existed. He also believed that what we may see as UFOs and aliens, such as the grays, are actually demons.
Okay, we won’t be having a religious debate here. I’ll simply say that while I believe in God, I also believe in science. (Many people believe in both.) However, until life on other worlds can be definitively proven, (if ever), people will have their own opinions and beliefs on the matter. I happen to believe that extraterrestrials, if they do exist, are not demons. A demon is a spiritual entity. An extraterrestrial is a living being with a physical body, even if that body is only a single, microscopic cell.
In the meantime, the author is waiting for a review, and I honestly don’t like his book. So, what do I do? Do I decline? Do I write a bad review? Or do I try to come up with a different approach?
Declining to review a book is awkward. It’s even more awkward when the author and I are on the same forum. Writing a bad review can have unintended consequences as well. I don’t want to make enemies or risk getting retaliatory negative reviews, nor do I want to earn a reputation as someone who only writes bad reviews.
To the author’s credit, the book was well written and professionally edited. His argument went well beyond simply quoting Biblical scripture. In other words, he didn’t come across as some hyped-up preacher screaming hellfire and damnation in a Sunday morning sermon. He had his own hypothesis, and his theory, while rooted in his faith, was well thought out. I just didn’t happen to agree with it. So, I tried to come up with a way to write a fair and honest review. Then, it hit me. Why not address the review to the people he wrote the book for? Christians. After all, Christian books are a recognized genre.
I gave the book a four star review, and mentioned some of the things I’ve mentioned in this article. The book discussed the UFO phenomenon from a Christian perspective. It was well written and edited. Christian readers might find it an interesting read. I didn’t go into my own opinion or debate the author on the subject matter. Again, the subject matter has yet to be proven. All we have at the present time is speculation, conjecture, and opinions, and opinions are like a certain body cavity. Everyone has one.
Book reviews should be honest and fair. If for any reason you decide you don’t want to review a book you can certainly decline. Had his book (or any other book for that matter), been poorly written, I would have declined it for that reason and told the author it needed more editing. However, that option didn’t apply in this case. So before writing a bad review, consider doing what I did. If possible, try writing a review for the author’s intended audience, and tell that audience why they might find the book interesting.
After I posted my review on Amazon I got a nice thank you note from the author, and while I certainly won’t be reviewing any more of his books, it was nice for both of us to walk away happy.
I’ve just received my weekly newsletter from a fellow writer. In this issue, he discussed his technique for naming his characters.
Naming your characters is something all fiction writers must do. However, coming up with the best names isn’t as easy as some may think. In fact, it can be downright challenging. I think we all have different ways of doing this. In reading my friend’s article, I noticed his way of coming up with character names is very different than mine.
My approach for naming my characters is simple and straightforward. I create names which are reasonably common and that most readers can relate to.
Choosing with the right surname
I don’t use Smith, Jones or Johnson as they’re so common they’re almost a cliche. I prefer using familiar surnames, such as Palmer, Campbell, Bennett, and Walsh. One of my friends once told me her maiden name is Bennett. I really liked the name, so I asked if she would mind my using it for one of my lead characters. She was certainly flattered, but I highly recommend asking before using a friend’s surname, even if theirs is a common one. You don’t want anyone getting the wrong idea.
There have also been plenty of times when I’ve gotten stuck trying to figure out the right surname. This is why I keep an old white pages phone book by my desk. I’ve been known to open it to a random page and skim through the listings until something pops out at me.
Finding the right first name
For me, this is where it becomes a lot more fun. I write contemporary romance, and my novels are much like the soap operas I watched years ago. Therefore, I’ll sometimes give my characters the same first name as a favorite soap opera character.
For example, two of the characters in my Marina Martindale novel, The Stalker, are named Rachel and Alice. I grew up watching the now defunct soap opera, Another World. It was famous for its ongoing feud between two characters named Rachel and Alice. Their feud began while I was in grade school, and it lasted all the way through college. So, to pay homage, I named my leading lady Rachel, which is also a popular Millennial generation name. I then named her sister Alice. However, unlike their Another World namesakes, the two characters have a close relationship. As a footnote, because the name Alice is less common today, I also named their grandmother Alice, as parents oftentimes name their children after their grandparents or great-grandparents.
I also invested in a baby name book. It contains hundreds, if not thousands of names, including many different ethnic names. It’s a handy tool that I often use.
Naming fictional businesses and places
Naming a fictional place is just as important as naming your characters. Again, you want names that are reasonably common that readers can relate to. Another Marina Martindale novel, The Reunion, is set in Denver. Jeremy, a supporting character, works as a bartender at a sports bar called O’Malley’s Grill. When I was a kid, we had next door neighbors named O’Malley, and I always thought it was a cool name. However, before using it, I did an online search to make sure there were no bars or restaurants in Denver with that same name. Whenever naming any fictional business always make sure there is no business with that name in the location your using.
And finally, a disclaimer
With over three hundred million people living in the United States, and billions more on the planet, it really doesn’t matter how you create your character’s names. There will be real people out there with the same names. This is why you need to include a disclaimer in the frontmatter of your book. Make sure you clearly state that your story is a work of fiction, and that any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.