Thursday, December 2, 2010

Tips to Help You Become a Successful Freelance Writer

BrainTrack® – The Web's Most Complete Directory for University and College Search - lists more than 10,000 higher education institutions in 194 countries and is continually updated with new resources for education and careers.  Brian Jenkins, a member of the writing staff, has been contributing content on topics related to college and careers since 2008.  Today he shares some useful info for those of you who would like to get paid for freelance writing.

Are you an aspiring writer? You can increase your chances of being successful by tailoring your writing to meet the demands of potential employers. Good writers can use their talents to make money without having to sell books or write for newspapers or magazines. Writing opportunities exist all over the Web, and Internet companies are always looking for freelance writers for copywriting, business writing, press releases, technical writing, writing web content, blogging for commercial websites, and ghostwriting

Instead of waiting for potential clients to show up at your fabulous website and offer you some work, it's best you seek them out. You need to make your presence known with potential clients and other freelance writers

Let's take a look at some things you can do to become a successful freelance writer:

Beginning writers can build their portfolio by finding customers at popular freelance writing websites. Even if the writing fee is low (which is often the case), when writers bid on your articles, you'll have an opportunity to build a portfolio to impress higher paying clients

Join professional networks such as  Freelancers Union and LinkedIn at no cost. These resources provide networking opportunities, which in turn can provide job leads. Some of your fellow freelancers may have job leads that are not good fits for them but are for you

Write a few informative articles for Ezine and other similar websites. You don't get paid, but you get credible exposure. Write articles in your specialty areas. Add a link back to your website to increase traffic

Place an advertisement for freelance writing services at online classifieds such as Craigslist

Submit articles to local online newspapers and magazines. You won't get paid much, if anything, but you'll get noticed as a local writer, and this can lead to other assignments

Send a query letter via email to online writing services. Make the pitch short and catchy. Show off your writing skills. Don't be boring or modest and include some samples of your best work. You may want to copy and paste them into the email since some businesses are concerned about attachments carrying viruses

Maintain a blog. Most web hosting sites allow you to maintain a blog for free. You can also get free accounts at  WordPress, Blogger, and others. Include a link back to your website and other sites where your articles are published. Write about topics related to your writing business. Offer free tips. You may attract clients who are impressed with your writing skills

Use social media such as Facebook or Twitter to make contact with other writers and to announce new promotions or articles

Join a writers community. It's another venue for networking opportunities

Marketing your writing skills and finding networking opportunities is vital to the success of any freelance writer. Keep these tips in mind if you want to get more exposure and more assignments

Get more valuable info and follow Brian's work at

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Are Online Writing Courses Advantageous?

Carrie Oakley - an online graduate with  experience as a Math Professor in an Online School - started the website to help students find the right online school for them. is a nonprofit resource for students considering an online college for their associates, bachelors, masters or doctorate level degree. This completely non-sponsored site provides students with honest answers to navigating the often confusing world of online colleges and universities.  Today Carrie shares her views on the value of learning to write on the web.

Some people are born with an aptitude for writing; all they have to do is put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard if we’re keeping up with the times) and the words flow without end. They’re able to bring out concisely, clearly and creatively any topic they write about, and they hone their craft by reading extensively and listening to the right kind of feedback. Others become good writers through experience and practice – their skills are raw, and even though they have the potential, they need to work off the rough edges and learn how to write effectively.
It’s this second group that needs writing classes and workshops – these sessions allow aspiring writers to give form to their words; they teach them how to control their creativity and steer it in the right direction; and they teach them how to make their writing more attractive and compelling.

Online writing courses are generally not for those who prefer to interact with a group of peers and exchange ideas with their teacher and the rest of the class. However, it works well for those who:
·       Are looking for flexibility in their classes because they cannot take time off to attend them on a full-time basis.
·       Prefer to take the course on a one-to-one basis because they’re reticent about opening up before a group.
·       Don’t want to shell out too much for a writing class; however, some online courses are as expensive as the regular ones, especially if they’re offered by reputable institutions.
·       Want to sign up for classes held in locations far from where they live.
·       Don’t want to commute to and from class.
Writing courses are not for everyone; whether they’re online or conducted as offline workshops, they’re meant only for those who have at least the minimum aptitude for this creative task. While you may want to be a writer, you need to know if you have it in you to become one. So before you sign up for a writing course, it’s best to assess your ability to write. You can do this by writing a short article on any topic that’s close to your heart, and asking an established writer to gauge your potential.
In general, writing courses benefit anyone who has raw talent that can be honed to good writing. For such courses to be beneficial, they must focus not just on tapping creativity, but also on language, grammar, form and content. Good writing is characterized by near-perfect language, impeccable grammar, correct spellings, and a good narrative. Established writers know not just the right words to use, but also when, where and how to use them. They know when to tone it down and when to go all out when it comes to flowery and descriptive language, and most important of all, they know how to deal with praise and criticism in their stride.
While an online writing class can get you started in honing your raw talent, only continuous practice and constant efforts serve to bring you success in this field.

This guest post is contributed by Carrie Oakley, who writes on the topic of online college . Carrie welcomes your comments at her email id:

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Will Not Accept Electronic Submissions

Thomas White has had an interesting literary career.  A veteran theatrical director and producer, he has written several screenplays and gets extra coolness points for having directed the world tour of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles-Coming Out Of Their Shells.  His first novel, "Justice Rules," takes a fresh approach to the crime procedural and was a 2010 finalist in the Pacific Northwest Writers Association Literary Contest .  But in the search for an agent he has met a surprising stumbling block that I found interesting, and I think you will too.

As I was searching for a literary agent last year I found that an inordinate amount of agents will still not accept an electronic submission. A decade into the 21st Century, I found that to be odd. Frustrated with printing and shipping costs I quickly decided that if an agent will not accept modern technology then I was not interested in them representing me. ( I did find an agent and we do have an electronic relationship so I know that it can be done.) The unwillingness on the part of so many agents to accept technology is what astounds me.

I certainly understand the volumes of material that is submitted each year and that the ease of electronic submission only encourages those who are not ready for submission, but to totally ignore the medium is silly. To me, it is the same mentality that originally rejected cell phones, then rejected e-mail and now will not text or read a book on a Kindle. Eventually, they all come around. Why not recognize the reality of our world and join us? Why fight it? It's just a book submission and it is a lot easier to hit delete than to recycle. If an author is convinced that they have written the next great American novel making them print it out and mail it will not be a deterrent, it will only use paper resources that should, by all right, be conserved.

I have run into a similar mentality with e-books. Many people I have spoken with will not use a Kindle or electronic reader. They enjoy the comfort of holding a book in their hands and turning the page. Okay, I get that. But to turn your nose up at the alternative with stubborn indignation is also silly. I had a potential reviewer of my novel tell me that he will never own a Kindle or anything like it. He went on to say that his greatest pleasure is to travel with" a few good books in his suitcase". The image of him lugging a 49.5 lb suitcase through an airport made me smile. I responded and hoped that one day he would be able to travel with hundreds of good books in his 1 lb Kindle.

Technology has changed us and the way we lived from 10 years ago to today, heck, from 6 months ago to today. Eventually, we all adjust and respond to the changes. The adage , "If it was good enough for my father, it's good enough for me." is as antiquated as the mentality behind it. Our fathers never conceived of the technology that we take for granted.

The truly odd part of this thinking is that, more than likely, the book they are holding in their hands was originally written in electronic form. By printing it onto a piece of paper it does not magically transform it into a work of art. They are the same words that are now filling a page of parchment rather than a screen. The ideas and emotions behind those words are unaltered. If a book is in electronic form it does not become less intriguing, less exciting or less moving.

So open up your minds and accept the inevitable. It's not evil, it's just a novel in a format that allows you to adjust the size of the font. How wonderful is that?

Get a closer look at Thomas White's writing at

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Small Press Success!

Stephen Brayton is an editor at Echelon press. He is also their Short Story Marketing Director and has two novels pending publication. I considered questioning that he really was involved with all aspects of publishing (writing, publishing, marketing) but he’s also a Fifth Degree Black Belt Taekwondo instructor so instead I respectfully asked how he got in that position and what it’s like to wear all those hats. Here’s what Stephen had to say, and I suggest you pay attention.

So, last year, around this time, I was thinking of where next to because three out of the four agents I had spoken with at the Killer Nashville writers' conference had sent me rejections. When I brought up the latest emails, there was a message from Echelon Press. I had pitched to Mary Welk and, with a little help from my friends and family, put together the required submission. After I read the email from the senior editor, I stopped myself from hitting the print button to add to the pile of rejections because my brain had registered something different. This was NOT a rejection. So, I read it again, and then a third time because the brain caught something else. Not only did Echelon want Night Shadows, but they also accepted Beta for e-book publication.

A year later, I'm still riding high because the release date for the first book is fast approaching and I'm in marketing mode. Since last October, I've acquired two new hats for Echelon. Author, of course, but also Short Story Marketing Director (December) and editor (April).

Hindsight is 20/20, so if I could have pursued serious editing years ago... Well, since April, I have learned so much.

I recently interviewed Echelon's senior editor for a future blog. She affirmed my thoughts on editing. Writers write. When they think they have a decent story, they do re-writes. Edit and edit again. They pick apart the story, polish action scenes, and fix clunkers. Still, that's not enough.

Writers get so familiar with their own stories, they miss words, punctuation, grammar, and content even when reading aloud. It takes another set of eyes to pick up on these mistakes.

Some writers use professional editors. Some find friends to read the story and comment/critique/edit. Writers' critique groups are great for this. By learning the rules of editing and reading and recognizing other people’s mistakes, I can go back to my stories and realize, a little better, how many errors need correcting. My own writing can only be improved.

One example: Echelon Press is avoiding tag lines after interrogatories and exclamations. “Where are you going?” she asked. “To the market!” he shouted. The question is obvious with the existence of the question mark so there is no need to tell the reader somebody just asked. Similarly, the mood of the scene should relate the friction or the tension to elicit an exclamation point without adding the fact he raised his voice. When I was working with my editor on Night Shadows, I had to step up a level with my creativity to avoid these. Just recently, I grabbed Beta, the second book, from the 'ready to edit' file and went through it again, hopefully saving some future editor some headaches.

An amusing part of editing is now when I read my favorite authors, I pick up mistakes in THEIR books. When Mary sent back first edits on Night Shadows, she pointed out the number of instances of semicolon and hyphens (which should have been EN dashes) and told me to fix these. There were too many.

Ironically, at the same time I was starting to read a new mystery and in the first twenty pages, the author used more semicolons and EN dashes than I did in half my book. You wouldn't believe how much I howled.

That's the nature of the beast, though. Writing is difficult. Editing is difficult. Anything worth doing well and appreciating is difficult. I am so glad, however, to have the opportunity to be published and to edit and thereby assist others. I know I learn from them and I hope the benefits are mutual.

You can follow Stephen Brayton’s career more closely at 

Thursday, October 14, 2010

How to become a Speed Writer

LM Preston is a writer with a mission.  Yes, her young adult stories are thrilling and exciting, but beyond that they subtly teach kids that they have the power to overcome anything.  Writing stories for and about kids that overcome the impossible is a noble goal, but of course first you have to WRITE.  Here she reminds us of an annual event that can help you get moving at the keyboard.

Nano (National Novel Writing Month) from November 1st-30th. It’s the writing frenzy where you kick out a large number of words to hopefully finish a novel in record time. Many people start the challenge and end up with a sizeable number of pages by the end. Some are inspired to start writing for the first time. Others are inspired to finish something for the first time. Some, like me, find that writing at breakneck speed produces a lower quality of work that doesn’t reflect what is normally produced when writing within your own timing. Truth is, my natural timing is four months from start to finish. I tried to increase my speed and did it without much trouble. It increased by 3 weeks, and for me, that cooking time for a novel fits just right.

There are ways to make speed writing more effective. The overall goal, is to produce more in a shorter period of time. If you keep this up, who knows, speed writing may become a habit.

Prepare for it

When you set out to write a novel in a short period of time, outlining is your friend. Take a week to write a detailed outline of the story. It will help to work out most of the kinks before you even sit down to write. Create character profiles of the main characters and review outline before the start of your writing marathon.

Plan it

If you are going to focus on spitting out as many words as possible a day, then plan it. Block out your writing time for the month. Figure out when you are most productive. Is it in the morning, at night or midday? Make a rule – no sleep unless you have kicked out a minimum of a certain amount of words. Make sure you schedule extra time for working out of corners or temporary writer’s blocks. Make your schedule somewhat flexible so that you don’t get burned out and give up.

Write it

With a printout of your outline next to you and a bullet list of your character profile – start the race. Follow your outline. If you want to go rogue, go ahead, write until the roadblock. If you reach a road block – write anything, take some time off to think on it, then re-work your outline and get back to it. Whatever you do – don’t stop writing. Remember, you will always have to edit it.

Don’t look back

Whatever you do, don’t read over what you’ve written until you are finished. That is an easy way to get distracted. Remember, you’ll have to edit the thing many times before your piece of art is perfected. Just write forward, don’t make corrections, don’t read over it, just push forward and write.

Learn more about LM Preston and her work at

Friday, October 8, 2010

Strengh -- and Promotion -- in Numbers

You would be hard put to find a more talented OR more charming collection of mystery authors than the ladies who contribute to the Cozy Chicks blog.  The blog is always a fun and interesting read but I was curious as to why these women of mystery decided to band together in this way.  I received a wonderful answer from Maggie Sefton - New York Times Bestselling author of the Berkley Prime Crime Knitting Mysteries - and am happy to share it with you.

Austin asked if I’d comment on why I chose to join a joint mystery blog like the Cozy Chicks and what benefits I’d noticed.  Having been a novelist since the mid-90s (first pubbed in historical western romance in the mid-90s), I’ve learned that there is definitely strength in numbers.  We all know about the advantages of joining large genre-specific groups like Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, Novelists, Inc.  But today’s market is different in that we’ve splintered the mystery genre in all directions.  We’ve still got the long-popular cozy amateur sleuth mysteries, detectives, true crime, and thrillers, but now we’ve also got “crossovers” like paranormal in all its fascinating forms---urban fantasy to legions of vampires, werewolves, and other menacing creatures from the Dark Side.  Romantic Suspense, a genre all its own, has spawned newer mysteries with a lot more going on between hero and heroine than solving the crime. 
I find all of this variety healthy and stimulating to me as a novelist.  But it does lead to a traffic jam of new mysteries coming out every month and competing for the reader’s attention.
How to make your mystery stand out so readers will find it?  That’s the problem not only for newbie authors but for us who’ve been in this writing game a looooong time.
That’s why the joint author blogs suddenly popped onto the scene.  I first paid serious attention to the joint blogs in 2005 when my first Berkley Prime Crime Kelly Flynn Mystery, KNIT ONE, KILL TWO, was released.  Hitting four national bestseller lists the first week definitely helped the series get noticed, but every author knows that CONTINUED sales are the key to success.  Especially long term success, and that’s what I was working for. 
So. . .in the spring of 2006, at a Malice Domestic mystery conference in the Washington, DC area, two other pubbed mystery authors and I first started Cozy Chicks and decided to use the webname:  Michelle Scott (Berkley Prime Crime Wine Lovers Mysteries), Karen MacInerney (Midnight Ink Grey Whale Inn Mysteries), and I agreed we needed to ask four other published mystery authors to join us so we’d each be contributing one day a week.  We figured we’d keep the blog fresh that way and hopefully attract readers---not only to the blog but to our books as well.
And, boy. . .has it worked.  The Cozy Chicks Blog has grown steadily in daily readership since then despite the inevitable changes in members that happen in group efforts.  The blog has enabled us to have another great promotional outlet for our individual releases in addition to our own websites.  AND. . .we help each other out with promotion by passing out each other’s bookmarks & promo items at our own individual book signings and appearances.  That increases our individual promotional reach seven-fold.  Each of us lives in separate areas of the country, and we each attend a lot of regional conferences the rest of us cannot.  Those travel dollars only stretch so far, so these “Multiplier Effect” activities are invaluable.
This past January, we decided to broaden our scope even more and joined another mystery author joint group that had recently formed---Cozy Promo.  There are 25 mystery authors in this email loop and again---we all help each other with promotion by handing out bookmarks, etc at our own events.  That Multiplier Effect got a heckuva lot more powerful with 25 authors working it.  
Plus, having all those eyes and ears out there on the Web means there’re more people finding interesting articles or book news that would be of interest to the entire group. 
And this June, the Cozy Promo group started a new blog all its own, with a  Killer Characters is where our characters do the posting---as themselves---not us.  In fact, our characters are known to chase their authors off some of the postings.  If you’ve ever wondered if we authors suffer from split personality disorders---well, you get to see it front and center on Killer Characters.  Kelly Flynn first posted on June 8th, so if you’re curious about Kelly, who she is and why she’s poking into murders in the beautiful Rocky Mountains of Colorado, check out Killer Characters.
Those promotional efforts not only help us bring existing characters to the readers’ attention, but they’re also invaluable when we’re introducing a new series with new characters, as I am.
I’ve sold a second mystery series which will be published in August or September 2012.  The Molly Malone Mysteries take place in my old hometown, Washington, DC.  There are good guys, bad guys, and politicians all mixed in with mystery and some intrigue.  It’s not cozy, but I’m hoping readers will give Molly Malone a try anyway.  And I’m definitely planning to use Cozy Chicks and Cozy Promo to help me get the word out in 2012 that “there’s a new girl in town.”   

The eighth novel in Maggie's Knitting Mystery series, SKEIN OF THE CRIME, was Barnes & Noble #5 Bestselling Hardcover Mystery after its release in June and is still on their Bestseller list.  Learn more about Maggie Sefton's work and the rest of the Cozy Chicks at    

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Insanity has Never Been so Sexy

TL James is the author of the speculative family saga, The MPire Trilogy.  James’ storyline showcases her love of research, biblical studies and literary classics from Chaucer to ancient mythology.  But since this is a character-driven saga I asked James to tell us about one of her main characters and how she writes him so well.  Her response gives us some insight into her books... and HER, as a writer.

An insane person is usually scary but Malcolm Haulm gives insanity a hint of sexual appeal. When I created this character for The MPire Saga, I removed all boundaries, reasoning, restrictions and social consciousness. Malcolm possesses a reserved animalistic demeanor - on a constant prowl. He attacks everything and everyone in sight, but his fondness of you is based on you surviving his attacks.

Malcolm Xavier is a twin and second sibling to three brothers and two sisters. As a child, he advanced in all his studies with a strong aptitude for math and music. He surpassed his oldest twin, Mallory-Paul. He was slated to take his twin’s position and lead his generation until his terrible accident at the age of seventeen.

Before joining the Family Business, he worked on Wall Street and he was noted being one of the creators of the NASDAQ. He owned a million dollar hotel where he lived on the top two floors. He was well traveled, played in a jazz band and spoke 17 languages. He had his choice of wine, women, clothes and toys. Nothing stood in the way of Malcolm getting want he wanted. If he desired it, it was his… no questions asked. And that often included lives.

Malcolm married his guardian angel, Felecia. He never wanted kids; however the board pressured him to do so. He attempted to stray from the paper bull request by staying in New York, but his efforts proved pointless. From unwanted and adversarial help from his twin brother, Felicia bore three boys.

Although he fathered only one child, Mallory Towneson, during the marriage with Felicia, he raised all four of the boys as his own. During three boys’ childhood and with the constant help from Felicia, he kept his insanity intact and closely controlled. It wasn’t until Mallory’s birth, and consequentially Felicia’s death during childbirth, did Malcolm’s bizarre behavior reared its ugly head.

Fourteen years later when Mallory returned home, Malcolm behavior erupted again. With the mood-swing pendulum swinging from super sweet loving father to violence aggressor, his erratic behavior proved to be detrimental to his existence.

How did I create him?

After I created the main character, Mallory T. Haulm, I went back over his characteristic and crafted a dark mirror image of him thus creating his father, Malcolm. They both have a love for finance and music. Their taste in designer clothes, exotic toys and beautiful women were identical. Some of their life experiences were similar, such as forced marriage and conception of child outside of the marriage bond. However, the few differences that they had, defined their character. Mallory had never deliberately intends to harm people. In fact, Mallory has to be backed in a corner before he retaliates. Malcolm, on the other hand, has no conscience or compassion. He would often inflict pain on others as easily as taking a breath.

Learn more about the MPire novels at

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Un-American Publisher

Laura Ann Ford not only completed her novel but managed to get it published!  Then, due to unresolved problems with her publisher, the contract was terminated -at her request.  Her book is no longer available for purchase, but she has agreed to share her story with you.  This is an unusually long post, but I wanted you to hear about her experience in her own words, uncut, as a clear warning to those of us who want so badly to see ourselves in print. 

It took me almost a year to finish my novel, and another year to watch it go up in smoke. I was prepared for rejection; that’s just part of the game. What I wasn’t prepared for was the devastation of realizing that I had been suckered into a scam. I’m not ashamed to admit that I was more than a little naïve about how the publishing industry works. I hadn't planned on publishing McCullen at all. It needed work and a real editor. Having heard the story, my grandmother suggested I get it published. Though I had my doubts, I did a search for book publishers. Going down the list of results, I read the guidelines and submitted inquiries to a few. Most of them never responded and others sent rejections. Since I couldn’t afford to self publish, I assumed I was out of options. Then, the call came, “Congratulations! Your work has been accepted for publication.” I nearly dropped the phone on the floor.

I figured out something was off very soon after I submitted my final manuscript. Some unnerving comments had been posted on my website. One of them has remained etched on my brain since the day I read it. “You have just signed on with the Satan of publishers.”

The second shock came the day I received my page proofs. I was given forty-eight hours to review the entire manuscript and notify them of publisher errors. Right away I noticed the title was misspelled. The title page its self was correct, but at the top of every other page it read, “McMullen” instead of “McCullen”. The rest of the manuscript was riddled with typos and grammar errors, which I later discovered were not considered to be publisher errors. I emailed the company with my list of changes, only to be informed that they would not fix those mistakes, unless I paid them to do so. It was my responsibility to ensure that all such errors had been corrected before submitting my final manuscript. Basically, they did no editing whatsoever before creating my page proofs. In fact, the proofs had mistakes that were not in the final manuscript I sent them! Nonetheless, I paid them to correct the mistakes and never received corrected proofs. I waited until my printed copy arrived to see if corrections had been made.

I didn’t even get any author copies. I had to buy my own book just to see what it looked like. I found out later that other authors were given copies of their book. The expression, “You can’t judge a book by its cover” was meant for McCullen. I was happy with the cover but on the inside it was mistakes, mistakes, mistakes. No revisions were aloud unless I bought more copies, of course. I sold a few copies to family and friends, but I was becoming more and more ashamed of the book. I defended the company at first out of pride and embarrassment, but eventually I kept quiet and removed all proof of publisher identity from my websites. However, I continued to promote McCullen and finally landed a book signing. I was so excited; I even posted a thank you on the company message board. A message they continue to use as a testimonial on their site. A month before the signing, the store manager notified me that he had been unable to order any copies of McCullen, but he would keep trying. We eventually decided to reschedule. The second date neared and McCullen was still not available. The publisher would not respond to his messages. The official release date for McCullen was August 22, 2009. It was not available for purchase, except publisher direct, until December. Even then, no bookstore would stock it because it was considered POD (Print-On-Demand).

I received email after email attempting to bribe me into buying my own book. "We’ll send copies to Oprah, Walmart, the New York Times, and even Random House Publishing." All I was required to do was buy a bunch of books I couldn’t afford.

The last straw came when the company decided to discontinue soft covers, only to turn around and create their own version of a paperback. At the same time, I noticed McCullen was no longer available on any of the online stores. That was it! I sent them an email requesting to have my contract terminated. The answer was no, unless I purchased 50 copies of McCullen! Now, I don’t have seven hundred plus dollars lying around for books I couldn’t use. I never received a dime in royalties, other than the measly one dollar they call an advance, and I had already paid for corrections, e-book format, and author copies! I emailed them again to no avail. I also reported them to the BBB, though I doubted it would do any good. I wanted out of their trap so badly. It had been fun to say I was a published author, but it was an illusion. I’d rather not be published at all than to be under their spell for six more years! And then, for some unknown reason, the certified letter came telling me my rights had been returned, and the contract terminated. My nightmare was over.

By now, some of you already know who my publisher was. I am tired of hiding behind a veil of embarrassment over my mistake. Let me make it perfectly clear, this is what happened to me. If you have had a good experience with them, I’m happy for you, and wish you the best of luck. All I know is that PublishAmerica treated ME unfairly, and I am not alone. I won’t speak for anyone else but there are many others that have had a similar or worse experience. Writers Beware! Do your homework before signing a contract with a publisher or agent. If I had only checked with the BBB or done a simple Google search, I could have saved myself a whole lot of headaches. No one goes from unknown to a bestselling author overnight.

You can learn more about Laura's journey toward publication at

Learn more about publishers to avoid from Writer Beware - a publishing industry watchdog group that shines a bright light into the dark corners of the shadow-world of literary scams, schemes, and pitfalls.

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Fearful Journey

Diane McAndrew is a brave woman.  Not only is she embarking on the journey of writing her first mystery novel, but she had the courage to talk about that experience to a bunch of total strangers - YOU.  Maybe after you read her guest blog and comment on it, you won't be strangers any more.  Here is Diane's experience in her own words.

I was recently asked what it was like to be writing my first mystery/suspense novel. My response to the question was that it was scary, exciting, intense and exhausting all at the same time. If I had an endless amount of space I’d write today about all of them. However, since I have to keep this short I want to address the “scary” part of it.

I say scary because, for me, it is one of the most fearful things I have done. Fearful because, even though I wrote my first “book” at the age of eleven and have dabbled in a lot of other writing since, this is the first time that I have attempted to do any formal writing (not counting school papers which for the most part were generally impersonal) where I have the intention of letting other people read it, critique it, embrace it or reject it. What if I found out I wasn’t quite the writer that I thought I was? I would be crushed! Writing has been one of my loves for so long that it would devastate to find out I was terrible at it!

And, what if, by reading my book, people would actually be able to penetrate the brick wall that I’ve built around me over the years and see who I really am? That thought stopped me in my tracks! I’m a very private person (ask my mom – she hates that I’m that way) and I don’t easily let people in, and this book has a lot of me – my personality, my character traits, my thoughts, my view on the world – in it. Made me shiver just thinking about it!

And then there was the fear of not knowing what I was doing! I had never written a “real” book before and I didn’t know the first thing about it. What if I did it all wrong and got nothing but rejection letters? What if my dream died because of my own ignorance?

All of these fears paralyzed for me for a bit and almost made me quit before I had even gotten started! However, being a stubborn girl and one that refuses to quit anything (and having a very supportive husband who kept telling me I could do this), I decided to just jump in with both feet! I began reading every writing book I could get my hands on and attending as many writing conferences as I possibly could. Both were instrumental in helping to guide me down the right path. Scared or not, I was soon able to push my fear aside and just sit down and start building my book. I learned to approach it like a jigsaw puzzle – I found all the outside pieces (the bones of the story) and then I have begun filling in all the other pieces! And what a challenging but fun puzzle it has turned out to be!

Keep us posted on your progress, Diane.  We can't wait to read your novel!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

5000-Word Days—Part Inspiration, Part Determination

There's a lot I find interesting about fellow author Tielle St. Clare.  She's the author of more than 20 novels and novellas.  She writes hot and sexy romances, typically involving werewolves or dragons. She has lived in Alaska for 38 years.  And Recently she wrote 5,000 words of fiction in one day!  I asked her how one manages to do that, and she was kind enough to send an answer for my blog.  Take it away, Tielle!

I know there are some people who can sit down and pound out 5,000 words of wonderful text in a day and still be smiling when they finish.

Not me. Oh, I can make it—5,000 is such a nice round number, isn’t it?—but to get me there I need a mix of inspiration and determination.

Like many authors, I work two jobs—writing and the 40-hour-a-week day job that gives me benefits. Writing is more flexible, time-wise, so it often gets squeezed around my day job.

I’ve learned that when the day-job starts to take over my life, I get crabby. The voices in my head get louder and to release them, I need a solid, nothing gets in my way, writing day. 

Most days, I try to put down about 1,000 words. Not monumental but it keeps me moving forward.  For me, 1,000 words equals about an hour of writing—though it tends to run a bit long because I’m easily distracted by bright shiny objects like online Scrabble and hunting down book reviews.

Recently, I hadn’t been giving my writing enough attention. I cleared the decks I found a day to devote to writing.

I sat down with the intent to make some decent progress on my WIP.  I was focused on about 2,000 words. It wasn’t a goal, just a number in the back of my head. This was the determination portion of my day. It took me almost three hours to reach 2,000 (remember, easily distracted and there was free wireless at the coffee shop). In the end, I’d made decent progress, filled out some scenes and felt pretty good.

I could have stopped there but I had a bit of time in the evening and decided to spend it writing.

This is when inspiration hit. Nothing specific, no revelations, but the scene started flowing. Words tripped out of my fingers. I was happy. The story was moving, characters were behaving (or misbehaving in my case). I did a quick word count and I was at 4300 for the day.

Determination returned. I was that close?  I was going for it. I remained at the computer determined hit what had now become my goal. The last three hundred words were a bit of drudgery and might not make it in the final version but by that point, I just wanted to reach the goal. 

For me to write 5,000 words in one day is part inspiration, part determination.  Of course, that’s most of my writing days.  Determination gets me to the keyboard and I hope that inspiration comes to visit.

Learn more about Tielle St. Clare's writing at

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Life of a Happy Ficton Writer

Bryan Davis is the author of three series filled with fantasy, adventure, and mystery! He’s also one of the most dedicated authors I’ve come across. I am very pleased that I was able to get him to take a moment out of his busy schedule to tell us about his love of writing, his approach to creating, and his unusual relationship with dragons.

I am often asked what it’s like to be a writer, and I wonder if describing my life would create a false perception. Based on what I hear from others, I’m an anomaly.

Okay, that’s too formal. Actually, I’m a freak. I’m a possessed writing/promoting machine. If I’m not actually at my keyboard pounding out my third or fourth novel in a calendar year, I’m thinking about my story while driving to one of the two hundred speaking engagements I have lined up for the year.

I love doing this writing thing. It’s such a great adventure. I get to write about my passions, and people actually want to read what I wrote. And to top that off, readers write to me saying how much my books have changed their lives. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Another aspect I love is being with my family, getting their feedback, and traveling with them across the country and across the ocean as we conduct research and promote our books.

For example, with every story that takes place in our world, I have traveled to the specific locations and explored, including taking fifteen-mile hikes in the snow and walking the streets of Glastonbury, England. And I often take virtual tours through the Internet by browsing photos and reading interviews. Whenever I need expert information, I find an expert and send an email. It’s wonderful how so many people are willing to help a novelist.

One of the most rewarding aspects of writing is being able to create characters. In my mind, they come to life, and people often ask how I make fictional people seem so real. I think the secret is to write a character’s normal way of life before the story crisis strikes. Get to know the character through his or her typical activities. I might eventually cut out a lot of what I have written, but this is what helps me to learn how a character ticks.

Then, when the crisis comes, the character will react the way I have built him, and he will guide the story arc. This is why I never outline a story beforehand. I have a basic premise and an idea about where a story will go, but once I create the main character, I then sit and go on the adventure with him. This makes the story organic and alive, and the character will always feel realistic, because he is doing what his characteristics dictate, not what the preconceived story dictates.

This technique works for all my characters … even dragons. It also allows me to explore the human psyche. By allowing the story to bend to the character’s actions, the character feels truly alive, and the story isn’t harmed, because it is, after all, the character’s story. I breathe into them, and they, in turn, inspire me with their sometimes surprising decisions.

So that’s what this writer’s world is like. I bring fantasy to life in a way that allows a reader to do what I do—go on an adventure with a character who feels real, thereby becoming infused with the same passion that I infuse into the story.

In a way, since we feed each other with inspiration, my characters and I are symbiotic. And since I am symbiotic with dragon characters, I guess I really am a freak. :-)

Get deeper into the world of Bryan Davis at -;

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Silent Moments: Expressing Non-Action in Writing

I bumped into Tim Handorf on the web site for accredited online colleges where he had posted a well-researched list of search engines for serious writers. As it turns out he is a serious writer himself and has submitted this every thought-provoking guest spot reminding us that even action stories can't be action all the time.

Think about what you do every day. You probably wake up, engage in some sort of hygienic routine, eat, go to work or school, eat again, hang out with friends, maybe read or watch a bit of TV. Whatever it is that you do on a daily basis, whether it's humdrum or more exciting, you probably perform repeated actions that you don't really think twice about anymore.

When we are asked by friends or family members what we did during the day, we either gloss over these routines or describe events that were more out of the ordinary--the break-up of a relationship, a boss giving you a difficult time out work, a flat tire, or whatever. The one thing common to communicating life's events to others is that we are always describing action.

As fiction writers, especially if we are writing novels, we are charged with the task of recreating life as it is actually lived. Although we don't often really think about it, life is not simply always doing. Whether or not we realize it, we spend a lot of time not doing anything, no matter how busy we are. We spend a lot of time thinking and processing information about our surroundings. And these moments are difficult to pin down because they are often short, fractious, and they occur in silence.

Charles Baxter, a renowned novelist, essayist, and critic, described this quality in an essay entitled "Stillness", which was included in his collection, "Burning Down the House: Essays on Fiction Writing". In the essay, Baxter noted that contemporary writers, whether published or not, have begun to avoid these moments of non-action. He explains that this phenomenon may have much to do with the fact that we live in a hyper-connected, attention-deficit age in which doing or saying nothing is considered almost sinful.

Baxter warns, “If, however, we have truly lost the ability to be interested in stillness, we will have lost the capacity to be accurate about an entire dimension of our experiences.” I think that this is very wise assessment, and since reading “Stillness,” I've begun to watch out for those moments in which nothing much is going on to take note of my surroundings―the sound of a brewing coffee dripping into the pot, the way a particular room smells, what's going through my mind when a friend I haven't seen in awhile rings the doorbell.

Observing these details, however, is only the beginning. While it's not all that difficult to become aware of these moments if you try, it is difficult to be able to describe these moments in writing. One way to do that is to see how other writers have fashioned silence with the written word. In my own reading, Marcel Proust is particularly adept at recreating stillness. It's not only the words he uses when putting silence on paper that I find remarkable, but also the places he chooses to insert these stillnesses. Stilness, as Baxter explains, if placed correctly, can serve to make those moments of action that propels our stories along much more intense and meaningful.

For more information on Baxter's conception of stillness, check out his essay collection or read this recent Rumpus interview.

Tim Handorf regularly writes on the topics of online colleges and universities. He welcomes your comments at his email Id:

Friday, September 3, 2010

Who has the Rights?

By now I’m sure you’ve heard about Andrew Wylie, the literary agent who decided to start his own publishing company to produce e-book editions on He started with 20 books which were published before e-books were even thought of. Despite that fact, Random House thought IT had the electronic rights to. This prompted Random House to declare it would no long do business with Wylie’s agency. This was potentially bad news for Wylie’s 700-plus clients, among whom are the estates of such literary giants as Norman Mailer, Vladimir Nabokov, Philip Roth, Ralph and John Updike.

The real question is obvious: who owns the rights to publish the e-book versions of books that were bought by publishers before e-books existed? Wylie was saying that those rights have not been sold and so belong to the author. And if a publisher holds those rights, what kind of royalty should authors get? These days 25% is common for e-books, although if you do it yourself on Amazon you can get 70%.

I can see how this can impact the survival of publishing companies. A lot of money is made from backlist books like Portnoy’s Complaint, The Invisible Man and the Rabbit books, and those books cost the publisher almost nothing to publish now. A couple of classics can make up for a new title that flops.

But as an author, I can’t accept a publisher making green off rights it didn’t pay for. And sometimes I think big publishers miss the point. They are no longer the only game in town. They don’t get to make all the rules as they did a couple of decades ago when the only way to get your book in front of buyers was to either invest tens of thousands of dollars to self publish or to accept whatever deal a publisher offered.

Regardless of how you feel about e-book rights, the unavoidable truth is that if publishers want to stay in business they have to attract good writers and if they hope to do that they will have to make a radical change. They will have to actually be NICE to authors and treat them with a little respect. They may even have to (gasp!) deal with them fairly.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Big Kindle Price Experiment

The most successful author I know of in the world of ebooks is J.A. Konrath. Joe and I go way back, to the first Love is Murder conference I attended, and he blurbed my first novel in print. His blog, A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing is a bottomless font of valuable information. And Joe is paying his bills with ebooks, mostly for the Kindle. So, yeah, I pay attention to what Joe says when it comes to selling novels.

Konrath has created an interesting model for ebooks sales: publish several titles, sell them cheap, and promote them like crazy online. Sounds like something someone like me should try.

So I did.

My five mystery novels and two thrillers were already available for the Kindle, but prices varied. The Intrigue Publishing titles sold for $6.99, while the Echelon Press book (Blood and Bone) was priced at $2.99. Each was moving at the rate of 2 or 3 each month, so price didn’t seem to matter. But I had not explored the third leg of Konrath’s plan, so I figured I would give it a shot.

Two mystery-writing pals of mine, Debbie Mack and Rob Walker, had had success chatting with readers on forums. Since both were on the Kindle Korner Yahoo group that seemed like a good place to start. But if you’re going to be there you need to have something to talk about. They don’t allow you to just pop up and start talking about your books. I needed a news hook.

Well, that seemed obvious. I dropped the price of my first novel (The Troubleshooter) to $2.99 to match Blood and Bone. And since the moderators wouldn’t let me start the conversation about the change, I asked a friend to mention it in a post. That got people asking questions, which it was then okay for me to answer. Here was an unexpected happy result of this sly marketing approach – I got to have serious, honest conversation with readers about my books and others. I gained priceless insights, received valuable feedback and became part of a community of people who love books! It was already worth the effort.

But, did it result in my book becoming a bestseller? Maybe not yet. But when I checked the stats yesterday I was stunned to see The Troubleshooter ranked #6901 of all Kindle books. With 690,419 titles available for the Kindle, that put my novel in the top ONE PERCENT of Kindle titles. If that wasn’t enough of an ego boost, Amazon breaks titles down by genre. In the hard-boiled mystery category The Troubleshooter was #88. I don’t know how many hard boiled mysteries there are on the Kindle, so I choose to believe there are tens of thousands. (If you happen to know there are only 90, please keep that knowledge to yourself.)

So one Kindle copy of the Troubleshooter sold last month, and 40 sold in the last week. I guess I have to declare the experiment a success. How long will it last? Who knows? But you can bet I’ll try the same approach with another book next month!

Have YOU had a moving Kindle experience? As a writer or a reader?

Friday, August 13, 2010

A Real Blockhead

Richard Gazala is NOT a blockhead. He IS a pal and the author of an excellent thriller entitled Blood of the Moon. When we talked about his writing a guest blog for me about the experience of being a writer he said he'd like to give a somewhat different view of that author nemesis, writer's block. The impressive bit of creative writing below is the result.

Call me Blockhead.

It’s not my real name. I don’t have a real name. I get called plenty of other names, always by frustrated writers thinking I’m the enemy I’m not. Just about all those other names are unprintable in a family-friendly blog like this one, though. So we’ll keep it clean, and go with Blockhead.

You can’t understand me, unless you understand writers. I understand writers. I spend a lot of time tormenting them. I torment them, because I respect them. Sure, I delight in agonizing writers, but I know without them I wouldn’t exist. And without me, they wouldn’t write as well they can. We need each other. Of course it’s twisted and codependent. However, unlike other spheres of human endeavor, in the arts twisted and codependent often produce stellar results.

I understand writers, but they usually misunderstand me. There’s no number high enough to count the times I’ve been damned as an unfeeling and unyielding monster, content to sup on the misery of a writer stuck for a word or a plot twist or even an entire storyline. Unfairly cursed, I hasten to add. I do what I do out of love for literature, and the literate. All the bedeviling I do is with clearest conscience and purest heart.

Look, to me, writers are superheroes. They willingly confront a barren page and out of nothing more than their inherent creative powers concoct memorable characters and compelling stories in places familiar or strange to amuse, inform or shock us.

Think about it. Leaping over skyscrapers and running faster than a speeding bullet are astounding feats, no doubt. So is dressing like a giant bat and ridding our streets of psychopaths. Yet even those superpowers are unimpressive next to the indefinable creative brawn necessary to wrench Superman and Batman from sheer nothingness and propel them to global sociocultural immortality.

Still, what is Superman without Lex Luthor? What is Batman without the Joker? Inarguably detestable as Luthor and the Joker are, they are the indispensable nemeses that make Superman and Batman worth embracing. Without their supervillainous banes, these superheroes would have no reason to be either super, or heroic.

Enter Blockhead. My writers are superheroes. I am their supervillain. They struggle mightily to create. I use my power of writer’s block to stop them at every turn. True, I can be a tad sadistic from time to time, and I can’t recall ever being accused of understaying my welcome. To write their best my writers have to battle me knowing I never fight fair. When they persevere and overcome every obstacle I hurl at them, their writing is sharp, clear and far more worthy of reading than had I failed to make them suffer and sweat. I’m not their enemy. I’m their ally. I just don’t dress the part too well, and my P.R. team does an abysmal job trumpeting my invaluable contributions to authorial achievement.

Call me Blockhead. Or call me those other words unfound in respectable dictionaries. Sticks and stones. The only way a writer can hurt me, is to let me win.

You can see more of Richard Gazala’s creativity at

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Why I Blog

Author Ann Simon has recently become a regular blogger so I thought it would be nice to have her tell us how she feels about that. In the process I think she offers an interesting perspective on what makes a writer write anything.

Some time ago, I went to see my Perfect Grandchildren. I slept on the spare bed wedged next to my 18-month-old grandson’s crib. I was awakened in the middle of the night by Alan sitting straight up, singing to himself. I opened my eyes, and he grinned at me. I thought, “Oh, boy. Now he’s going to want to get up and play.” I shut my eyes quickly, but I needn’t have worried. He continued to babble happily and then, being almost two, practiced saying no in various pitches and inflections. Satisfied with his own performance, he lay down and returned to sleep.

The exact impulse that stoked Alan’s middle-of-the-night performance impels me to write. If there’s an audience, fantastic; if not, I still find myself up in the middle of the night putting on the show. In fact, the only way to get the stuff out of an endless loop in my head is to write it down.

The middle of the night show is just a metaphor (you knew it was, didn’t you?). There’s plenty of middle of the night rumination, but the show is often my Blog. I’ve been a technical writer and teacher for most of my professional life, and the “show” for my writing has been published as articles and poems. I’ve tried to get my book published, but its cross-genre world (modern-day thriller with Shamanic spirit animals racing around all over the place) seems too risky for agents and publishers despite their compliments on my writing.

I had a Blog a few years ago when we lived in Moscow (yes, Russia, although Idaho would have been pretty foreign to me, too). It was a great way to convey my experiences and observations to friends and relatives. Its purpose faded on our repatriation.

About couple of weeks ago, though, I was trying to drift off to sleep when I felt the old writer’s curse return: sentences, topics, phrases were racing through my mind, demanding to become real. I resisted the urge for at least three days – for me that’s the epitome of patience -- but I couldn’t quell it entirely. During those three days, I kept a list.

By the fourth day, I couldn’t contain myself. I chose my venue by the highly scientific method of asking a friend which site she thought was good. I set up the background, lay-out, etc., and narrowed my focus (retirement, aging and membership in the sandwich generation). I wrote in my first entry, a sort of general hello. Now I sign on, babble on my chosen topic until I’m satisfied and then hit “publish.”

“Publish”: is there a more satisfying word in the English language? Please, visit me at, and maybe Austin will write something for me there, too.

That last bit I can guarantee. Keep an eye on Ann's blog...

Friday, July 23, 2010

The League of Phantom Authors

Would it surprise you to learn that half the best selling authors in the country aren’t writers? It seems absurd, but I recently read that as many as 50 percent of all New York Times bestsellers are ghostwritten. I’ve also heard that there is great demand for ghostwriters for other types of books and in businesses of all sizes.

This legion of behind-the-scenes writers has been scattered and isolated until now. But an enterprising author has now launched a new trade association designed to help professional writers and authors interested in finding and landing more ghostwriting work. Bestselling author and experienced ghostwriter Marcia Layton Turner ( has founded the Association of Ghostwriters ( to help us all tap into the growing demand for ghostwriting services.

Why are talented ghostwriters in such demand? For one thing, professional speakers, consultants, business executives and coaches want the credibility that comes from having a book published. They know a book will give their business a boost, but either don’t have the time or the skills to write one.

In addition, business people have learned that sharing their knowledge online through blogs and articles helps highlight their expertise and they need help from professional writers. The growth in self-publishing also presents opportunities for subject matter experts to reach a wider audience, if they can present their expertise in a well-written book.

And don’t overlook fiction possibilities. Do you really think James Patterson can write half a dozen novels a year in 7 or 8 different genres? Not by himself he can’t. He employs five full-time collaborators that he pays out of his own pocket. He provides the elaborate outlines and story editing but they provide the actual text. I sure wouldn’t mind being on that team, even if I only got to write the manga version of the next Maximum Ride book.

The Association of Ghostwriters helps members tap into this expanding market for their services. Members get access to monthly teleseminars on marketing, project management, outsourcing, time management and other relevant subjects. There’s also a newsletter, a private forum and most valuable, job postings for ghostwriters. So if you’re more concerned with getting paid for writing than seeing your name in big letters on the cover, this might be the group for you.

Monday, July 12, 2010

A Writing Guide Only an Idiot would Pass Up

It has happened to all of us. You’ve read hundreds of thrillers and finally you decide you could write one as good as that last one. You’re ready to try your hand at creating a bestseller, but you don’t know where to start. The answer may be to pick up a copy of the newly-published second edition of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Writing a Novel by Tom Monteleone.

This book is perfect for the first time novelist because it covers all the basic elements of the novel, plus the various tactics and processes to make it happen. And when it comes to writing what sells, Monteleone knows what he’s talking about. He’s published more than 100 short stories and 25 novels, including The Blood of the Lamb which was both a bestseller and a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.

“Regardless of how many novels writers produce, the real barometer is whether people like reading them,” Monteleone says. “As far as that goes, I’ve had my share of rave reviews and dedicated fans over the years so, yeah, I’d say I’ve been doing the job well enough to qualify to write an Idiot’s Guide.”

Clearly one of the acquisition editors for the Complete Idiot’s Guide series agreed, because he asked Monteleone’s agent to put him on the case. And the first edition was a hit, remaining one of the ten most popular Idiot’s Guides for the last five years. Despite that success, Monteleone felt the need to freshen the book for a second edition.

“I had to go through the entire book and do a lot of updating—economically and culturally, and even technologically,” he says. “That part of the job makes you realize how fast things can change. I added a section to examine the new arena of e-publishing. And I included more interviews with some of today’s best-selling writers - Dean Koontz, Lee Child, Heather Graham, and a few others.”

The book also includes tons of advice on agents and editors, illustrated by clever stories and anecdotes with an informal approach that seems perfect for beginners.

“I wrote the book in a very informal, conversational style so it would be accessible and easy to read,” Monteleone says. “I wanted it to sound like the reader was sitting with me on the steps of the front porch just talking writing. And I get letters and email every week from people who’ve bought the book—from high school kids to doctors and lawyers to retirees - who claim to have gotten tons of great advice, info, and encouragement from my Guide.”

But Monteleone is quick to add that this book’s value is not restricted to rank beginners.

“I honestly feel that writers who have never written anything longer than a vignette to those who’ve pounded out several novel-length manuscripts are all going to get something out of my book, because I cover a lot more than just the essential mechanics. Lots of people who want to write have little understanding of how the publishing industry works, or things like time-management, subsidiary rights, trade shows and literary agents.”

This book is filled with the wisdom of those who have been there and done that, like Thriller Master David Morrell who said he believed he could teach you how to write clean, grammatical, stylish sentences, but he could never teach you WHAT to write well—that has to come from that dark well of imagination and need.

However, Monteleone says that the single most important thing anyone should derive from his book is that writing a novel has to be fun.

“The need to write may come from any number of magical psychological sources,” he says, “fired by engines of fear or love or even a simple sense of wonder about the world. But I honestly believe you can’t really be a successful writer if you do it out of obligation. If you approach it like that, it becomes a job, rather than a joy. And your lack of enjoyment will show up in your prose.”

While interviewing Monteleone about The Complete Idiot's Guide to Writing a Novel I couldn’t resist asking (with tongue in cheek) if his guide to writing a novel was actually written for the complete idiot. He replied that in fact the opposite was true.

“Even though I’ve written my book in a most easy-going style, I think it’s for people who have intelligence, wit, and imagination. Even the clumsiest of novels were written by people with an earnest belief in their abilities, a determination that remained undaunted, and one more thing: a mind fueled by curiosity and the need to create the same in others.

Nothing idiotic about that.”

Monday, July 5, 2010

Stretching Exercise

Elizabeth Flaherty is a rarity in my experience. When I critique manuscripts I often end up teaching new writers the very basics of pace, structure, voice, and dialog. When I read Elizabeth's writing sample at the Bay to Ocean writers' conference I had to dig a bit to find things to correct. Her prose was strong, fresh and stylish. I did make some recommendations and she took them well. Recently she wrote to me about her active response to one of my suggestions, and agreed to let me share it. Writers who are stuck on one form take note!

I met Austin this past February at a writers’ conference and he made a strange suggestion. Or at least it seemed strange to me at the time. He asked me if I’d written any short stories. My memory may be wrong about this, but I’m pretty sure I laughed at him. I write thrillers and mysteries, typically with a psychologically damaged protagonist. How, I wondered, was I supposed to wedge that into 15 pages?

But, there I was, talking to another writer in a similar genre and he was suggesting I do just that. I was skeptical, but I’m also pretty competitive. He’d laid the gauntlet – told me I’d be a better writer for it – I had no intention of backing down.

The result was surprising.

For me, the process of writing a short story wasn’t really any different than my usual process. I’m not an outliner; so when I first start writing, this is all I typically know: Who is the main character or characters? What’s their internal conflict? What’s the twist we’re heading toward? Where’s the end of the story? To be clear, I don’t always know what the end of the story will be, just what issue needs to be resolved.

In this case, after a couple weeks of kicking ideas around in my head, I’d come up with this: Our hero would be a female detective; she was an alcoholic; her partner had just died. As for the twist, I knew that I wanted to introduce a man on the first page, who was a shadowy figure and I knew that his identity would be a primary “mystery” for the reader. And I knew the end would have to be the revelation of what happened to Stella’s partner.

Armed with my basics, I booted up the laptop and settled in. My personal rule is two pages a night; don’t think; just write. I began - Detective Stella Ortiz sat alone in her car, a cold cup of coffee untouched by her side.

Within two weeks, I had a story. It needed work, of course, a good amount of it, but it had a beginning, a middle and an end. On top of all that – and this was the big part – I’d managed to cram it all into less than 15 pages.

The lesson I learned in all this was unexpectedly simple. Writing a short story isn’t any different than writing a “long” story. Every writer has a different process, a different way to organize and prepare to write their book. My thought, for what it’s worth, hold your process steady and just write. The only change, simplify the story. Typically, when I write I’m looking for new conflicts to beef up that original list. With the short story the challenge was to make sure there were no new conflicts, to just focus on the original list, resolve, write to the end. Actually, it’s not all that different than the mindset I have when I’m hitting those last couple chapters and pushing to the finish line in a full length novel.

Oh, and I should mention, Austin was right. It was a good exercise - kind of like yoga. In some ways it’s nothing more than simple stretching, but when you’re done you realize you just got a really awesome workout.