Chillin' in Indy

Loving my weekend in Indy! We were at the Indianapolis 500 parade on Saturday. Took lots of pictures, but will share just a few.

Looking toward the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument. Waiting for the parade to start.

Pace Car

Favorite Driver

One Fish

Two Fish

Red Fish

Blue Fish

Hubby and Son-in-Law, Don Walker, on the Walker condo terrace (way near the top).

On this Memorial Day, remembering and honoring those who have given their lives for our country. 


It's All About Publishing

It seems apropos that the final post in a series on writing is about publishing. Writers think about publishing even before they start a manuscript. Publishing is what writing is all about. Authors don’t do it just for themselves.

Before I finished my novel, I started to research possibilities for publishing. Conventional wisdom at the time was that I needed a literary agent in order to be signed by a mainstream publisher and that self-publishing was not a good thing to do.

Enter Amazon Publishing. The new Amazon model shook the publishing world to its very core and caused both mainstream publishers and self-publishing businesses to develop alternative business models. Some mainstream publishers established self-publishing divisions while self-publishing firms improved services by offering (for a charge) editing, cover design, interior formatting, and marketing.

Things are still changing in the world of publishing, so anything written about it today may be outdated tomorrow. Despite that, I’m sharing a few of the things I have learned.

  • Mainstream publishers prefer that authors to submit through literary agents.
  • Large publishers have limited the number of unknowns from whom they will accept manuscripts.
  • Royalties paid to authors are directly proportional to estimated earnings of books.
  • Large publishers assume risks and invest in marketing for well-known authors, including book tour expenses.
  • Lesser-known authors may be expected to share in marketing expenses, including assuming costs for book tours.
  • Small publishers assume publication risks, but pay smaller royalties to authors. In lieu of royalties, some small publishers provide authors with a predetermined number of books.
  • Marketing by small publishers is usually done online and authors are expected to be involved in marketing.
  • Submissions to small publishers may be limited to particular genres or to authors from given areas. They might accept fiction or non-fiction from or about a particular location (e.g. Virginia, Colorado, Illinois) a stated type of literature (e.g. women’s fiction, self-help, biographies, Christian, fantasy, poetry), or a single topic (e.g. health related).

  • Guidelines for university presses are similar to those of small publishers. However, works they publish are usually deemed to be of academic value or are written by well-known graduates.
  • Royalties are generally not paid, though the presses absorb publishing costs.
  • Marketing is limited and prices of books are usually high. 

  • Self-publishing can be contracted with an independent company or with the self-publishing division of a mainstream publisher.
  • These publishers charge authors to print books. They print manuscripts exactly as submitted by authors.
  • Most self-publishing firms sell additional services. Charges for these services are competitive with general market fees.
  • In order to publish quality books, authors need to purchase (at a minimum) conventions and conceptual editing, custom cover design, interior formatting, an ISBN number, an assigned distributor, and availability for eReaders. Additional services are related to marketing (e.g. book trailers, web sites, posters, etc.). 

  • Independent publishing is the most recent model to enter the publishing world. This type of publishing, introduced by Amazon, has both advantages and disadvantages for authors.
  • Advantages:
    • Authors determine the price of their books.
    • There is no requirement to cut word count based on editors’ preferences.
    • Books arrive on the market in a shorter period of time.
  • Disadvantages:
    • Contracting for hard copies is expensive.
    • Authors are responsible for conventions and conceptual editing. Therefore, prior to formatting and publishing, authors need at least one set of outside eyes to evaluate their writing. No matter how many times an author reviews a manuscript or reads it aloud or backward, errors will still go undetected and the story will still have “tangles.”

Planning ahead is the best way to avoid stress. It is prudent for authors to research and meet publication requirements while writing.
  • Formatting: Using a style manual, appropriately formatting headings and chapters, double spacing the document, and using an accepted font will save on frustration at publication time. 
  • Word Count: 1) Some publishers set minimum word counts. It is appropriate to provide approximate acceptable counts for children’s and young adult literature, but these guidelines are based on how much can be handled by an age group rather than being a requirement for starting the presses. A minimum word count of 80,000 for a publisher that accepts books written for adolescents is unrealistic. Some middle level students might look at a book with that many words and decide it is too hard. (Reading specialists refer to this as the “Charlie Brown Effect,” referring to Charlie’s aversion to large books – once even fainting at the mention of one). 2) I feel that stories written for adults should not have limits. They end when they end. One best selling work of fiction, Bridges of Madison County by Robert Waller, has approximately 38,000 words (I have not read this book). Another best selling book, Mary Called Magdalene by Margaret George (which I have read), has somewhere in the neighborhood of 160,000 words. Most publishers want fiction to be in the range of 70,000 - 80,000 words. This suggested range has more to do with publishing costs than it has to do with stories.
  • Author Visibility: Publishers are more likely to accept manuscripts written by authors who have visibility, and they research to determine how well authors are known. In other words, they want to know how much influence an author might have on sales.
  • Author Credibility: 1) Credibility is important for writers of non-fiction. Credentials are needed if authors write on specialized topics. 2) Fiction writers who are graduates of well-known MFA programs are considered to have more credibility than are authors without prestigious degrees. 3) In the book publishing world, fame, fortune, and heroism are equivalent to credibility.
  • Author Reach: Some editors require proof of an author's reach. In order to confirm reach, they look at e-mail newsletter lists, website traffic, blog traffic and comments, and pre-publication reviews by recognized individuals.

  • Good editing leads to being an admired author. More than once I have removed a book from my eReader before finishing it because I was annoyed with errors and/or a nonsensical plot.
  • Strive to make your book error free.
  • Start your publishing strategy now.

Happy Writing!

Previous post about changes: Change, Change and More Change 


Developing Believable Characters

When I was young my older brother used most of his spending money for books. Because those books were in our home, I wanted my mother to read them to me. She agreed, but on the condition that after she read a few pages, I would read a page. This no doubt accounts for my early reading and comprehension abilities. I think it also was the beginning of my love affair with strong characters.

One of those early books was The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain. Tom was all of the things I admired: free-spirited, mischievous, clever, manipulative (in an endearing sort of way) but also respectful, courageous, and heroic. What more could I ask of a protagonist?

Twain not only created strong protagonists, but he also developed convincing antagonists with solid character traits. His antagonists always acted in ways that challenged the abilities of his protagonists.

Following are just a few of the ways authors can develop strong story characters:

Be a people watcher who focuses on things that might be missed during casual observations. Every person has a unique way of positioning in a space, interacting with others, and using the senses. Understanding the established behaviors of others is helpful to writers when they are developing characters.

Be sure characteristics are consistent. While physical appearance will change over time, character traits will not. If a protagonist is known to be kind, loving, and honest, it will not ring true for readers if that character attempts to acquire something in a dishonest way. Altering character traits mid-story causes discomfort for readers.

Be careful not make the protagonist perfect. Everyone has faults. If the protagonist is described as flawless, he or she will not seem authentic. Even fictional characters need to seem genuine.

Be certain characters are realistic. All characters need to be “real.” A fantasy character, such as Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia ( C. S. Lewis), is just as real to readers as is Emma Woodhouse in Emma (Jane Austen). When skillful authors imbue them with human traits and emotions, readers connect emotionally with fantasy characters in the same way they relate to human characters.

Anyone who doubts the “realness” of fantasy characters needs to watch a child cry with Wilbur, the pig in Charlotte’s Web (E. B. White), when his spider friend, Charlotte, dies.

Be aware of character conflicts and resolutions. Stories are presented in various ways, but all should have an effective, easy-to-follow, storyline that functions as the framework for characters’ actions.

Main plots, as well sub-plots, include protagonists, antagonists, conflicts, and attempts to find resolutions to those conflicts. In order to hold the interest of readers, protagonists need to be portrayed as effective problem solvers. A character attempting to solve a continuing problem in the same way each time the problem is encountered seems neither creative nor intelligent to readers.

No dull protagonists please.

Observe – Write – Make It Real

Happy Writing!

While reading back over this document, I noted all of the “Be” advice and was reminded of a book my mother read to me when I was a toddler. I think it was called the “Be-Attitudes.” I remember some of the page titles such as, “Be Kind,” and “Be Loving.” Much better advice than was given here!


Temptations Writers Face

Writers face many temptations. Unfortunately, yielding to some of those temptations will cause problems with manuscripts. While there are many temptations, only a few are discussed in this post.

Temptation 1: To overuse adjectives and adverbs

Carefully chosen adjectives and adverbs serve to make dull sentences impressive. Conversely, the overuse of adjectives and adverbs often produces lackluster sentences.

The following is a partial sentence from a novel I recently read: “…long black hair pinned back in a bun at the top of her long, slender neck.” The fix for this type of awkward description is to fold details into the moment. How about, “As she removed the pins, her dark hair uncoiled from the bun and tumbled down her back.” (Challenge: Respond with a better sentence.)

Adverbs are overused in everyday conversations, and it’s easy for writers to write what they hear. The fix for overusing adverbs is to choose strong verbs. One might say, “Patricia really likes Persian cats.” Using a stronger verb, this sentence could be written, “Patricia adores Persian cats.” By using a stronger verb, the pesky -ly adverb can be eliminated.

Temptation 2: To over-write

In an effort to construct convincing scenes, writers often “over-write”. Unfortunately, rather than promoting clarity, too many details or too many plot twists can cause confusion for readers.

Some authors over-write when they are endeavoring to meet high minimum word counts set by publishers. It is always tempting to take the easy way out and add minutia rather than expanding and developing the story.

In general, “adding to” causes confusion and boredom, while “subtracting from” leads to clarity and enjoyment.

Temptation 3: To assume readers’ knowledge

When readers are transported to places yet unknown to them, it is important to write in a way that assists them in developing schemas (schemata) needed for story understanding.

Barbara Kingsolver’s novel, The Poisonwood Bible (1998) was, in my opinion, a great read. I could fully appreciate the story because I had an understanding of the era and a good feel for the circumstances that affected the plot. Many who read the book felt that the female characters in the story should have solved the “lack of respect for women” problem. Their judgments were based on the stature of American women in the 1990’s. Had Kingsolver developed concepts with relationship to time, culture, and circumstances, younger readers would have had a better understanding of the characters and the plot.

Temptation 4: To write backstory

Backstory is history. Nothing is more annoying to a reader than suffering through multiple pages of being brought up-to-date on what happened before. Before what? Before anything.

In an effort to clarify, writers are often tempted to educate readers concerning things that happened in the past. An author might present a review of the Civil War or give an account of something that happened during the protagonist’s childhood. If not an integrated part of a story, both are backstory.

Backstory can be presented either as narrative or as dialogue.

(Narrative example from a winter read.)
     “… It was true. A few months ago she had on a whim attended a masquerade party at the church hall, an event held to raise money for the very choir robes to be previewed at the upcoming performance.
     She’d dressed as an angel on a lark. She thought there’d be no harm in going in disguise. She’d donned a gold silk mask and a long, white robe with flowing sleeves bound by one of her gilt-tasseled drapery cords. She’d made ostrich feather wings out of a feather arrangement she kept in an urn near the fireplace.
     From the moment she’d stepped into the hall she’d been uncomfortable.
     When three liquored-up cowhands began to stare, she realized she had made a terrible mistake. She gave them an icy glare and their attention turned to A­­­­­_____. When H___ L______ came to his sweetheart’s rescue, a fistfight broke out. Then La___ slipped out a side door and hurried home.”           

(Dialogue example from a spring read.)
Character 1: Mentions the beauty of the new area where she just arrived.

Character 2: Responds by giving the history of the community (132-words total).
I never figured out why this information could not have been woven naturally into the story.


 Happy writing!

Previous post about my temptation while writing: Gummi Bears and Writing