Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, January 17 & 18, 2013

A full weekend’s worth of Great Stuff reading for you! We open with opening lines, pass through structure, find information and the right (or wrong) readers, gain Facebook fans, writing tools (including a quick-ish way to publish a Word document to the Kindle), and close with a little help from our friends. Should be something for just about everybody.


This is the best piece to start out with: Zachary Petit’s Famous First Lines Reveal How to Start a Novel. Lists of great or terrible opening lines are a dime a dozen, but Petit turns the post over to Jacob Appel, who suggests seven ways to start, and we’re still talking here about the very first sentence or two. These tips are excerpted from a longer Writer’s Digest article (which the link in the post DOES NOT lead you to) but they stand well on their own.

Anna Elliott (@anna_elliott) discusses the differences and connections of Plot vs Story on Writer Unboxed, including what’s more compelling (story) and how to craft that story, whether you’re a full-out outliner or, like Anna, someone who starts from character.

You might think, then, that J E Fishman’s (@JEFISHMAN) 5 Elements of Story Structure on KM Weiland’s WORDplay blog would present a contrary view to Anna’s, but it’s complementary. Element 4 is character development (after establishing and disrupting normalcy and creating turning points, and before restoring order), so it’s just a different way of approaching the bigger problem of creating the story.


Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s (@kriswrites) Found Information has several items worth reading—on how book cover design is so important to branding (identifying the genre and series, if appropriate) of your novel, whether in print or e-book format; kids (and adults) are reading more than before, in print and e- formats, despite all the hand-wringing you hear; and the story of how persistence finally paid off for Eleanor Burford Hibbert (a.k.a. Victoria Holt, Jean Plaidy, and Philippa Carr, plus 6 other pen names). Unfortunately, you have to get past two sections of self-satisfied I-told-you-so chest-puffing first. Fortunately, you can drag your scroll bar down to that third boldfaced header.

OK, let’s assume you’ve accepted the idea that you have to market your work. And you’re trying. And nothing seems to be happening. Or not enough. Gary Korisko (@RebootAuthentic) wonders, Are You Targeting the Wrong Readers? and then offers 7 tips to fix the problem. To some extent he’s channeling Seth Godin’s “tribes” and Kevin Kelly’s “1000 true fans,” but that’s not bad at all.


So you’ve got a Facebook fan page, or think you should have one? If so, then Gillian Marchenko’s (@GillianMarchenko) 3 Top Tips to Gain Facebook Fans on your Author Page on WordServe Water Cooler could be very helpful. That tip about Facebook’s rule against advertising on your cover photo could be a page-saver, all by itself!


At first I thought Michael Hyatt’s (@MichaelHyatt) My Top 10 Favorite iPad Apps and How I Use Them wasn’t going to have much value to me (and maybe you) because I don’t have an iPad (does that make me some kind of criminal?). But it turns out many of the apps have non-iPad versions as well and I can vouch for their value: Google Calendar, Dropbox, Google Reader, Kindle’s emulator versions, and Hootsuite.

When I saw the title to Ed Ditto’s (@BooksByEd) post on The Book Designer, How to Publish Your eBook from Word to Kindle in Under Ten Minutes, I thought, Cool! I need to know that. Then I read his process: use Scrivener. Gaaah! Well, sure, that’s certainly a way to do it. And since Scrivener is famous for its format conversion capabilities, it makes sense. So, OK, let’s read through the rest of the post. The good news is that Ed’s done a nice job with step-by-step instructions and plenty of screen-shot illustrations (Mac-based, but the PC steps are similar if not identical) that really take advantage of Scrivener’s tools. If you can read and carefully follow these instructions, you can do it. “Under ten minutes?” Maybe not but that’s OK. And $40 or $45 for a copy of Scrivener and the time to climb the learning curve is A LOT cheaper than spending hundreds of bucks to have someone do this for you. I’m bookmarking this one.


Jan Dunlap’s piece, The Joy of NOT Going Solo on WordServe Water Cooler isn’t about team writing, as I thought it would be, but about the benefits writers get from joining a writers’ group that’s right for them. That last phrase is key: the wrong group can be harmful but the right group can be amazing.

Don’t be afraid the share the Great Stuff. That’s what friends are for, eh? Have a great weekend.

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, January 2, 2013

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope that whichever December holidays you celebrated, if any, brought you peace, joy, and maybe even some new stuff. And if you didn’t celebrate any holiday formally, I hope you at least absorbed the (non-commercial) spirit of the time without the religious content. It’s possible!

While I haven’t been blogging during this time, I have been reading lots of blog posts. There’s LOTS of stuff here, more than I’m sure you can absorb in one reading. Scan it, pick out what interests you and come back to the rest later—or not. That’s okay too.

One last thing before we get to all the Great Stuff below: I’d hoped to be making a Big Announcement today but alas, due to technical matters beyond my control, that announcement will be delayed by about a month. In the meantime, you’ll still find Great Stuff right here.


The holiday season is no obstacle for KM Weiland (@KMWeiland) to continue her series on scenes with Pt. 3: Options for Goals in a Scene. We already know that a story’s protagonist and antagonist need to have story-level goals and that the protagonist in each scene needs much more immediate and small-scale goals, a point Weiland reemphasizes. The important point she adds in this post is that sometimes a scene goal is actually part of a larger one that will take multiple scenes to reach or fail to reach. Thus partial (single-scene) goals build together into that overarching (multi-scene) goal.

She continues with Pt. 4: Options for Conflict in a Scene. Story is conflict. We all know that, or should, and there needs to be some kind of conflict in each and every scene. In this post, Katie discusses two key elements of scene conflict: options for the kinds of conflict the scene can have and whether the conflict is integral to the scene and the story. Terrific stuff. One subtle point worth noting: scene conflict doesn’t have to be huge but it has to be. Some of her examples illustrate just that.

With the year seemingly rushing to its end as I write this, it’s appropriate for Katie to also write about not rushing a story along in Should You Slam Your Story’s Brakes? on her WORDplay blog. While it is important to keep a story moving, there is such a thing as going too fast too, she writes, and that’s a good time to use other techniques besides speed to build a story’s tension.

Donald Maass (@DonMaass) is always good for thought-provoking columns on Writer Unboxed and The Paradox is no exception. He actually discusses two: that your story matters “more than anything, and… not at all” and that characters should both embody their conflicts and yet not be in a hurry to resolve them. The first paradox allows you to take the time you need to flesh out your story, and the second allows your characters to become rich and full. Great Stuff!

Maybe it’s not surprising but agent Paula Munier (@PaulaSMunier) of Talcott Notch Literary Services also disagrees with Dean Wesley Smith (below) on the value of writers’ groups in her Literary Agent Interview on the Guide to Literary Agents. She’s got other important advice, too, that can’t be repeated often enough. The interview’s brief so I won’t try to reprise it here.

If you’re interested in cover design and the thinking that goes into it, check out Joel Friedlander’s (@jfbookman) A Book Cover’s Evolutions—Embrace of the Daimon. This cover went through four iterations, starting in the late 1990s, one published, one soon to be, with some pretty significant changes along the way.


Mark Coker (@MarkCoker), founder and CEO of Smashwords, writes a very, very long (multiples-of-Kris-Rusch long) 2013 Book Publishing Industry Predictions – Indie Ebook Authors Take Charge on the Smashwords blog. This is by far and away the longest blog post I’ve read or written about here, but since Smashwords has become such an important player in the indie-pub world, Coker’s thoughts carry weight, even as he freely acknowledges that each and every one of his 21 projections could be wrong. Still, if you’re interested in the indie-publishing world, especially if you’re already in it or planning to/considering getting into it, this post is worth the time (plan on an hour) to study. Thanks to Joel Friedlander for pointing it out.

Joel also highlighted Free Book Promotions by James Moushon (@jimhbs) on Self-Publishing Review. Moushon offers a set of 10 planning steps authors should take before engaging in a giveaway program, plus steps to take during and after. He also includes comments from writers who have done giveaways—and not all are positive about the experience! I hope that was intentional: an expectations-management exercise. Moushon also seems to focus on using Amazon’s KDP Select distribution channel for this effort, which some (Coker among them) caution against because of Amazon’s 90-day exclusive distribution demand for participation in KDP Select. Good information here, but also some ideas to approach with caution.

I generally don’t include Porter Anderson’s (@PorterAnderson) Writing on the Ether posts on Jane Friedman’s blog because they’re so long but I’ll make an exception this time because he includes an extended set of excerpts from a discussion that begins with a Steven Levy comment in an interview in Wired magazine, in which he says, in part, “I don’t really give a shit if literary novels go away. They’re an elitist pursuit.” Besides extended excerpts from this piece, there are also extended excerpts from a November Charlie Rose Show featuring Tim O’Reilly, Ken Auletta, the other Jane Friedman (the former HarperCollins CEO) on this whole topic of elitism in publishing and the rise of e-publishing and crowdsourcing for books. I found it interesting; maybe you will, too.


Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) reissues an article she originally posted in the July/August 2011 issue of Writer’s Digest, with some edits, titled How Long Should You Keep Trying to Get Published? In this long-for-a-blog piece, she examines four things writers do that sabotage their efforts to get published; how to evaluate where you are on the path to publication, including signs you’re getting close; three signs that it’s time to change course, perhaps even away from writing; and three ways to revise your publishing plan. All good stuff, if hard truths. With one exception: one thing Jane didn’t change from the original article, I don’t think, is that she treats independent publishing as the last refuge of the incompetent and (from the perspective of traditional publishing) unpublishable. This, I think, is tremendously unfortunate and fails to reflect how the whole publishing industry is changing. Much of what she writes DOES apply to writers who want to publish independently, rather than through a traditional house, large or small, though, and this disrespect for that decision doesn’t take away from the value of her other observations.

New Year’s is a time for all those wink-and-a-nod resolutions that are forgotten by the end of the second week. But Jordyn Redwood (@JordynRedwood) on WordServe Water Cooler and Michael Hyatt (@MichaelHyatt) on his own blog take similar cuts at goal setting. Hyatt’s Do You Have a Personal Platform Plan for 2013 and Redwood’s Goals?!? are focused on slightly different things but it’s interesting how much they parallel each other. Read both for the details and the reinforcement. Hyatt also links back to a two-year-old post on setting goals using the acronym SMART: Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Time-bound.

Dean Wesley Smith (@DeanWesleySmith) continues his New World of Publishing series with a powerful and highly challenging fourth installment: How to Keep Production Going All Year. Naturally, this post builds on the previous three (which you can find here, here, and here). “Production” means writing “new” (that is, publication-ready) words and Smith offers four different ideas for how to set long- and short-term goals for the year and , importantly, how to deal with the inevitable failures to meet those goals that life is going to impose on us. Smith’s goal here isn’t to just help you be more effective, it’s to separate the pros from the wannabes and his methods will certainly do that.

There’s one piece of advice I strongly disagree with, though: not showing others your work in progress. As I noted in my comment to the post, that’s fine if you’re an experienced author, but if you’re new, you need feedback on what you’re doing wrong—and you will do lots wrong. Specific, constructive, actionable feedback is vital to the new writer who wants to get better quickly. (I should note that Dean and a group of commenters responded negatively to this opinion, particularly as it related to getting feedback from writers’ groups. That’s fine: everyone’s welcome to their opinions. But I will not be convinced that all writers’ groups are wrong for all writers. Each of us has to make our own decisions based on our own personalities and needs and what local groups can do for or to us.)


Here’s wishing you LOTS of Great Stuff in 2013.

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, December 6 & 7, 2012

Some really important stuff in the Business and Life sections today, not to mention valuable things to know about Craft and a little bit of crazy and not-for-the-squeamish Fun.


Juliet Marillier touches on an interesting but not that uncommon topic in A Dog’s-eye view on Writer Unboxed. Science fiction and fantasy authors have had to deal with the question of how you make a non-human character, especially if they’re a POV character, both comprehensible and alien at the same time. Many authors have tried it, with varying degrees of success—“success” being a very squishy concept, depending on what they were trying to do. If this is something you’ve ever tried or want to try, give this piece a look.

Danny Iny (@DannyIny) offers some suggestions on How to Write Smart, Not Fast on Write to Done. I was concerned at first when he wrote, “…you need a system…” but fortunately he doesn’t prescribe a particular system, per se, but a system for developing your own. OK, I can live with that.

Joanna Penn (@thecreativepenn) discusses her process of revising in Writing a Book: What Happens After the First Draft? While her particular technique is, of course, her own and may not work for you or me, not only does she have a few interesting twists, like editing on her Kindle for word choice, but she provides quite a few links to other posts, not only her own. For my own immediate needs, the link to her article on beta readers was helpful but there are half a dozen others as well. They alone make this post worth your while.

How Do You Know If Your Work is Any Good? It’s one of the oldest questions around, and not unique at all to writing or even the arts. Rachelle Gardner (@RachelleGardner) takes a crack at it, starting by asking how each of us define “good” and what kind of validation we’re looking for. Nothing really new or revelatory here, just good solid reminders to help you keep yourself in balance.

Along this line, check out the quote from Steven Spielberg, provided by Michael Hyatt (@MichaelHyatt) in Being Fearless Is Overrated.


I’m still having trouble with writers who slime all agents all the time because some (small? who knows?) percentage manage to screw up. But that said, when you read pieces like Dean Wesley Smith’s (@DeanWesleySmith) A Side Note About Agents you can’t help but wonder what’s up with agents like the one Smith discusses, who’s being sued for failing to do his job. At the same time, I can’t help but wonder why the competent agents aren’t (a) speaking up for their profession and (b) making a real effort to weed out the bad apples. (Mixed metaphor—sorry!)

Along those same lines, Victoria Strauss (@VictoriaStrauss) issues yet another warning on Writer Beware, this time about The Albee Agency: Book Publicity Faked. What amazes me—and her—is that this agency seemed not to think that nobody would check on their claims. So when Strauss did… I’ll let you guess what happened. “Writer Beware”: it’s so true.


With the end of the year approaching, we’re tempted to look back and assess. Gabriela Pereira (@DIYMFA) continues her Write It! Wednesday series in that vein with What Successes Will You Celebrate This Year? Celebrating, or even just acknowledging, our own successes isn’t a bad thing. I can list a few: the continued growth and success of the Cochise Writers’ Group, the creation and growth of this blog series, the fact that all of you are reading it (THANK YOU!!!), and the soon-to-happen transition of my major Work In Progress to Work Completed (for now, anyway). What are your successes?

On a much less happy but perhaps even more important topic, Kristine Kathryn Rusch (@kriswrites) continues her series on estate planning with Ghosts of Writers Future. This long as always but important piece is the first of a series on the relationships between wills and copyrights and what how long copyrights last after your death means for your estate and heirs. I know this isn’t a comfortable topic—I’m working on a change to my will and one of its charitable remainder trusts right now—but having lived through what happens when someone dies without a will, trust me, if you value your writing work and love your family, you’ll want to read and heed what Kris is writing here.


Whether you’re a mystery or thriller writer or not, check out Jordan Dane’s (@JordanDane) White Elephant Christmas Gifts for Crime Fiction Buffs on The Kill Zone. Some of them, like the outfit consisting of a horrible Christmas sweater, pink cowboy hat, and plaid shorts are funny, others, like the bleeding bath mat are just plain creepy. All in good fun, though—at least so long as the words “you have just been poisoned” at the bottom of the coffee mug aren’t true!

Have a great weekend. Happy reading and writing!

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, November 22 & 23, 2012

The Thanksgiving holiday here in the U.S. made for a quiet couple of days on the blogosphere (are the other bloggers out there in the Black Friday crowds, or still digesting yesterday’s meal?) but those who have contributed are, in some cases, really making some noise. Take a look.


Characters are the order of the day in the Craft section. The Kill Zone’s authors ask their readers to name their Favorite Minor Characters. Over on the WORDplay blog, KM Weiland (@KMWeiland) continues her week of promoting her new book by “letting” us Meet Dreamlander’s Cast of Characters. OK, so this is a bit of marketing (more on that topic below), maybe more than a bit, but it’s clearly part of a strategy on Katie’s part to engage potential readers (that’s not a bad thing) and at the same time, illustrate a clever technique she used to bring her characters to life in her own mind: imagining who would play them in the movie version of the book. Adding snippets of scenes in which each of the four major characters figure, along with their relations to secondary characters or to each other, is another marketing tactic—and a good one. Take note.


Marketing is mostly the topic du jour over here on the business side but I’m going to start with Ed Cyzewski’s (@edcyzewski) Grinchly post on Rachelle Gardner’s blog, Are You Ready for the Pain of Publishing? I suppose the best way to look at this post is as a case of tough love. Cyzewski pulls no punches on the pitfalls, land mines, and roadblocks that lie in the traditional-publishing (and, to some degree, self-publishing) path between “finished manuscript” and not just “published” but “successful book.” This post is one of those things that weeds out those who think they want to be published and successful from those who are determined to be. Do you have the right stuff to read it?

Over on Writer Unboxed, Dan Blank (@DanBlank) asks, Do You Cringe When Authors Market Their Books? I’ll bet you do, at least sometimes. A lot depends, of course, on how that marketing is done. Dan discusses how to make marketing less painful for those of us who aren’t naturals at it (make it about communication and trust, not selling selling selling, for one thing) and, citing Tad Hargrave, four reasons why marketing is valuable, even if you’re not trying to make a gazillion dollars. This is a fairly long post but if marketing is something you dread, or just don’t know how to do, it’s definitely worth a look.


Today’s final item is one that I honestly haven’t made up my mind about yet but am willing to call it to your attention so you can decide for yourself on whether or how to respond to it. Former publisher Michael Hyatt (@MichaelHyatt) is making A Black Friday Special Offer for Get Published 21 audio presentation set (plus four “bonus” downloads) for $147 (claimed retail value for all of it $548) today, or $197 through midnight at the end of November 26th. Note that the offer is not for the CD set nor for the bonus item CDs or hard-copy books: the presentations are online access only and the bonuses are downloads only. A summary of the contents of each of the audio sessions plus the bonuses is available here, after the sales pitch. Is this worth you money (or mine)? As I said at the beginning, I haven’t decided. Check it out and decide for yourself.

Like what you’re reading here? Please share it with your friends. If you’ve come across something worthwhile elsewhere, Great Stuff’s other readers would like to know about it. Share it in the comments below.

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, October 2 and 3, 2012

LOTS of stuff on craft, the last couple of days, plus some keepers on The Writing Life. Off we go…


Robert Bruce (@robertbruce76) of 101 Books uncovered a 1955 interview Ralph Ellison did with The Paris Review on Writing for an Audience. While the specific question and answer Bruce quotes are couched in terms of race, Ellison makes the case against writing for an audience, especially a general one, when he says, “If … any … writer, is going to do what is expected of him, he’s lost the battle before he takes the field. I suspect that all the agony that goes into writing is borne precisely because the writer longs for acceptance—but it must be acceptance on his own terms.”

Speaking of audiences, Joe Moore’s (@JoeMoore_writer) excellent plea for Making an emotional connection on The Kill Zone is a strong reminder that all of our characters—hero, villain, walk-on, or someone in-between—has to be a person who readers can connect with if we want our stories to be read and appreciated.

Freelance editor Jodie Renner’s (@JodieRennerEd) examples of and exercises in producing Uncluttered Prose on The Bookshelf Muse are both fun and revealing. Give ‘em a try.

KM Weiland (@KMWeiland) discusses (gasp!) When Not to Show the Action. Would you believe, there are times when action would actually slow down a story. That’s when you want to do a quick summary and get everyone on to the next important conflict.

Finally, Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) points us to Josh Swiller’s short and fun Twelve Tips on Writing on Glimmer Train Stories’s web site. There isn’t anything new here, really, but his take on these basics is original. And it provides a good transition into some pieces on…


Platform, platform, platform. Oy! How many times do we have to hear about platform? It’s gonna take so much stinkin’ time to do. I need time to WRITE! Dena Dyer (@motherinferior2) hears you. In part 3 of her “15-Minute Writer” series, she offers lots of hints to busy people about Building Your Platform a little bit, and just a few minutes, at a time.

Speaking of social media, Angela Ackerman (@AngelaAckerman and @WriterThesaurus) reveals, among other things, how she finally “got” Twitter in Twitter, Writing Resources & Clichés.

Next up is an 18-minute Michael Hyatt (@MichaelHyatt) video interview with John Maxwell. While Maxwell is a leadership coach, he’s also a prolific author and this interview includes some great information that’s applicable to writing. His thoughts on which weaknesses we should and should not work on is particularly insightful.

And finally, via Nathan Bransford’s blog, is Navigating the World of Literary Agents, a long August post on a site called The Millions by Michael Bourne on the life of a literary agent, the odds writers face of getting the positive attention of one, and what it takes to beat those odds.

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, September 29-October 1, 2012

Lots of Great Stuff showed up over the weekend, so let’s get right to it.


One of the on-going problems I see with the new writers in my writers’ group is punctuation. This isn’t a “kids today don’t know how to…” rant, in part because some of these writers haven’t been kids for a while. Harvey Stanbrough (@h_stanbrough) provides a one-post summary of most of what writers need to know in Punctuation for Writers. Here’s the one-phrase summary of  the summary: it’s all about the pause. Check it out.

I announced a while back that Angela Ackerman (@AngelaAckerman) and Becca Puglisi (@beccapuglisi) of The Bookshelf Muse were starting yet another thesaurus, this one on physical attributes. Their first sample from this one, Hands, appeared over the weekend. If you haven’t checked out any of their thesauri, take a look at this entry. It’ll grab you.


Jael McHenry’s (@jaelmchenry) Show Me the Baby on Writer Unboxed starts out with what seems like a rant but its real focus is on professionalism: how to be one in query letters, conference pitch sessions, and author interviews. Her point is that “the baby”—how much time and effort we put into writing our book—is of little or no interest to many people, including agents and interviewers/listeners, so we need to minimize how much time we spend talking (or worse, whining!) about that.

James Scott Bell (@jamesscottbell) addresses a question we all wonder about these days: How Will Your Book Get Discovered in The Roiling Sea of Digital Publishing? This is, of course, an important question and Bell takes a long time answering it, in part because as his first of six points notes, “There is No Consensus on What Works.” No surprise if you find that unnerving—the entire publishing industry is in such a state of flux right now—but Bell’s suggestions provide a sense of direction and a reason for hope.

Joel Friedlander’s (@jfbookman) Author Bloggingg [sic] 101: The Evolution of Spam is, to be clear, a little mistitled. Better than being just a dry piece on how spam (in this context, the phony comments on blogs) has evolved over time, it offers at the end several ways we bloggers can block, filter, and mostly avoid spam comments, while providing the important reminders that no anti-spam method is perfect and spammers are always coming up with new methods and approaches.


Here’s a new category of columns for you, with four entries today.

Lucille Zimmerman (@LucilleZ) guest posts on Michael Hyatt’s blog on something we all need to know how to do from time to time: How to Avoid Procrastinating When You Feel Overwhelmed. You don’t have to follow all six of her suggestions—in fact none of us probably will—but I’ll bet there will be at least a couple that will click for you and bring your stress level down. “Break assignments down,” her first one, works for me.

What cued me to create this category was two closely-related posts that appeared over the weekend. Kimberly Vargas’ (@_KimberlyVargas) Ever-Increasing Returns on WordServe Water Cooler and Vaughn Roycroft’s (@VaughnRoycroft) The Mentor/Mentee Benefit on Writer Unboxed (isn’t “mentee” an awkward word?) both talk about how we writers benefit by giving and receiving help from others. Finding a mentor, or being one, or giving critique as well as receiving it, help us not only become better writers but get us out of that writer’s garret syndrome it’s so easy to fall into.

Finally, we’ll circle back around to interviews, or in this case, a correspondence. The first writer was in unidentified college professor. The second, Flannery O’Connor. In Flannery O’Connor Gets Snarky, Robert Bruce (@robertbruce76) shares a part of the professor’s letter to the author, seeking, let’s be honest here, confirmation of his and his class’ literary “interpretation” of A Good Man is Hard to Find. O’Connor’s reply reads, in part, “Too much interpretation is certainly worse than too little, and where feeling for a story is absent, theory will not supply it.” Yowch! You can read the entire O’Connor reply here, on the web site Letters of Note.

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, August 23 & 24, 2012

A 60/40 mix of craft and marketing posts today, with a final just-for-fun piece. As usual, we’ll start with craft.

  • Kim Weiland (@KMWeiland) offers suggestions for how to Strengthen Your Writing by Listening to Pet Peeves on her WORDplay blog. Every writer, reader, agent, or editor has things they just hate in writing. While you might not agree with all of them, you can improve your writing, Kim says, if you listen to those gripes, consider them with care, and adjust your writing wherever you see the value behind the complaint. James Scott Bell (@jamesscottbell) asks Kill Zone readers to list their faves (or maybe these are their anti-favorites) on Reader Friday: Stop It!
  • Martha Alderson (a.k.a. The Plot Whisperer; @plotwhisperer) means to describe what she considers to be the Benefits of Plotting in Scenes on The Bookshelf Muse. Frankly, I’m a little torn about including this post today because, while she succeeds to an extent, I felt this post and this concept could have been much more fully developed. Still, there is value here.
  • Finally for this section, John Vorhaus (@TrueFactBarFact) reminds us that The Practice of Writing requires just that–practice–and offers 9 ways to ensure you can and will do it.

These next two posts have to do with getting your work in front of readers’ eyes.

  • Dan Blank (@danblank) asks on Writer Unboxed, Do You Know Who  Your Audience Is? No, Really: Do You? It’s a many-times-asked question, which means lots of would-be published authors haven’t got this one figured out yet. While this longer than necessary article could have benefited from some editing, it does eventually get around to the steps to take to identify who your target audience/market is.
  • With your target market identified, Michael Hyatt (@MichaelHyatt) offers his steps for How to Launch a Bestselling Book. This post is focused more on non-fiction than fiction, and Hyatt notes that what worked for him won’t necessarily work for you, but the steps are practical and specific. That’s different from saying they’ll be easy, especially for those not comfortable with the whole idea of marketing.

And finally, and just for fun, the winners (?) of this year’s Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest have been announced in Publishers Weekly. In case you’re not familiar with this contest, it’s run by the English Department of San Jose State University in California in honor (?) of Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, the British novelist and playwright who began his novel Paul Clifford with, “It was a dark and stormy night;…” You can read the full list of winners (?) in all the various categories, if you can, if you dare, here. (To his credit, EGB-L is also the creator of the terms “the pen is mightier than the sword,” “the great unwashed,” and “the almighty dollar,” although given the prolix nature of Victorian prose, one shudders to think what verbiage these phrases might have been embedded in; or if you prefer, in what verbiage these phrases might have been embedded.) Thanks (?) to Nathan Bransford (@NathanBransford) for reporting this on his blog.

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, August 8, 2012

Happy Hump Day, everyone. Just one post on craft today, a couple or three on the business side, and one on food and books, just for fun.

  • Kim Weiland (@KMWeiland) brings us the craft piece on her WORDplay blog with her advice on how to Improve Your Character Instantly: Just Add a Ghost. Now, this ghost doesn’t have to be a literal ghost, it can be, and often will be, a figurative one–something from the character’s past that haunts her. As Kim points out, the haunting adds back story and voilá, the character’s more interesting.
  • On to business, now. Michael Hyatt (@MichaelHyatt) presents the first in a multi-part series of My Best Advice for First-Time Authors. The post itself contains just a thumbnail summary of the contents of the 38 minute podcast, but you can also download a PDF transcript from a link at the bottom of the blog page. The value in this piece isn’t that there’s a lot of new information–at least not if you’ve been working on learning about the business for any time at all–but that it’s all in one convenient package. And since Hyatt is a former publisher, this information is credible. One last note, this material is focused more on non-fiction than fiction, but substitute “query” for “book proposal,” for example, and it fits the fiction-writing world, too.
  • Nick Thacker offers advice on How to Build the Writing Platform of Your Dreams Using Social Media on Write to Done. This, of course, is a topic of interest for everyone who’s trying to figure out how to do this without “platform” and social media becoming massive time-sucks, so most of Thacker’s suggestions have to do with software tools to automate various processes. I haven’t used (or even heard of) any of the tools he suggests, so I can’t comment on them. And, of course, automation is only one part of building a quality and time- and effort-reasonable platform.
  • Michelle Griep (@MichelleGriep) lists three Author FAQs she gets from people when they find out she’s a writer. Her commenters add more. Many of them are surprising. Some are quite revealing. This list could grow and grow.
  • And we’ll finish with something funny, Robert Bruce’s (@robertbruce76) When Books Make You Hungry on 101 Books. Why yams got so many mentions, I have no idea. Because they sound funny? Why not kumquats, then? Or rutabagas? It’s a mystery.

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, August 6, 2012

A couple of themes in today’s posts–most of them, anyway–stepping into the abyss, and words. And they can be related. (Well, of course, they can! Don’t words push us writers into the unknown every day?) So, let’s see…where shall we start? Where…shall…we…start?

Into the abyss!

  • Michael Hyatt (@MichaelHyatt) explains Why Frequent Trips Outside Your Comfort Zone Are So Important. Like, that’s where the growth happens, where the solutions are, and where fulfillment resides. Good reasons, but how do we take that first step, and how do we ensure we gain from doing so? Hyatt offers 7 tips. While his post applies to life in general, it sure applies to writing. Take a look.
  • Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has a brief post in which she uses excerpts from Carol Shields’ book A Year of Writing Dangerously and a quote from Ann Lamott to answer the questions, What Does Your Mother Think of Your Writing? Does It Matter? The point of both pieces is to live “dangerously” and not worry needlessly about others, including those close to you, might–might–think of your work.
  • Jael McHenry (@jaelmchenry) continues her “Flip the Script” series on Writer Unboxed by discussing why, while you can Start Anywhere, you should understand why authors, agents, and editors so strongly advise against prologues or starting with waking up, dream sequences, weather, etc.
  • Robert Lee Brewer (@robertleebrewer) welcomes poet Khara House (@ourlostjungle) to his My Name Is Not Bob blog, where she writes about The Importance of Word Play and how she uses it in her poetry classes to take her students way beyond their comfort zones–and what they gain from the experience. Let the words play. See what happens.
  • That lets us finish the second theme–words–with Rachelle Gardner’s (@RachelleGardner) encore list of Confusing Words. As she acknowledges, this is hardly a complete list, but her definitions and examples make the post valuable.
  • Stepping out of the “themes,” Lisa Cron’s (@lisacron) 7 Ways to Use Brain Science to Hook Readers and Reel Them In on Write to Done might sound intimidating, but especially for new writers, this information is vital, and far easier to understand than it might sound. “Curiosity is the trigger.” “Surprise us.” How hard is that? Of course, there’s much more. I’ll be recommending this piece to the new writers in my writers’ group.
  • Finally, Clare Langley-Hawthorne wonders about whether the balance between quality and quantity is being lost in the apparent push for Prequels, Sequels, and Novellas–the E-book Deluge on The Kill Zone. I can’t help thinking of the saying, “If you want something badly, that’s how you’ll get it.” Low-quality work, produced fast, can lead to near-term sales but long-term no-sales.