Category Archives: Guest Posts

What Every Writer Needs by Loren Rhoads

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I’ve worked on both sides of the editor’s desk, reading nonfiction, short stories, and poetry, as well as submitting both short and book-length projects of my own. I’ve edited for several small presses and for Scribner, for print and for the web. I’ve written for anthologies and magazines, published a novel, two chapbooks, and a collection of essays of my own. The one thing I’ve learned from all of that: every manuscript benefits from editing.

A good editor wants your work to shine. She wants to add polish and clarity. She’ll suggest changes and be able to give you the reasons behind them. She’ll ask you questions to open up the text so you can see for yourself what you’ve left unclear or unfocused.

The bigger publishers offer editing as part of the deal. Some of the small presses have started requiring authors to hire their own editors so that the submitted manuscript is print-ready when it’s accepted. If you self-publish, hiring your own editor is an absolute requirement.

Your writers group can help you hone your story. Your friend the English major can help you buff up your prose. You need a professional, though, to give your manuscript the final gloss, the attention that lifts it from acceptable to professional.

Every editor has pet peeves. Personally, I hate gerund constructions and passive verbs, but I’m fine with conversational writing and starting sentences with but or and. I just worked with an editor who hates dialogue tags. I worked with another who preferred academic writing. It may take a while to find an editor who meshes with your work.

It’s totally worth the search. It’s all too easy to discount a book that’s poorly written or full of typos, even if the subject matter is life-changing. Don’t give readers — or publishers — a reason to reject something you’ve labored over. If you’ve poured your heart into it, give it the best possible start and hire an editor.

Author Loren RhoadsLoren Rhoads served as editor for Bram Stoker Award-nominated Morbid Curiosity magazine as well as the books The Haunted Mansion Project: Year Two, Death’s Garden: Relationship with Cemeteries, and Morbid Curiosity Cures the Blues: True Tales of the Unsavory, Unwise, Unorthodox, and Unusual.

Her newest book is Tales for the Camp Fire, an anthology of stories written by Northern Californian horror writers, which raises money for survivors of last year’s devastating and deadly wildfire.

Rhoads Camp Fire lo-res

Self-Publishing: Is It A Viable Way To Make Money by Carmen Webster Buxton

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Self-Publishing: Is it a viable way to make money as a writer?

The answer to the question above is a resounding “maybe.” Or possibly, “it depends.” The factors involved include not only your skill at writing but also your skill at promotion. There are many reasons for that.

In the past, publishing your own book was a huge expense. In addition to the costs of editorial help, as well as page layout and typesetting, you had to pay a printer and a bookbinder to print thousands of copies, so that you would have them on hand to sell. You needed not only a big chunk of money, but also storage space for cartons and cartons of books. And once you had the books, you had to sell them yourself, either directly to readers or by persuading booksellers to do it for you.

The invention of the ereader (mostly the Kindle, frankly) and the tablet computer have meant an explosion in publishing. With print books, once a title sold out of available stock, if it wasn’t selling fast enough to justify the cost of a new print run, the book was declared out of print. In the past, most book contracts gave publishing rights back to the author after the book was out of print. Since an ebook is never in print, it’s also never “out of print.”
And in fact, another invention called the Espresso Book Machine has changed print book publishing, too. The EBM looks like an oversize photocopier, but it can bind the book as well as print it. With properly formatted PDF files for the cover and book interior, the EBM can create a single copy of a paperback book in a matter of minutes. This process is called print on demand (POD).

Between POD and the lower cost of ebook publication, a writer’s backlist has become a revenue source again—maybe not as much as his or her newer titles, but every little bit helps. Also, the creation of self-publishing platforms like Kindle Direct Publishing, Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble Nook Press, Draft2Digital, etc., has meant a huge increase in the number of titles for sale online at any given time.

This means if you publish a book, it joins the ever-growing stream of titles available for sale. Millions and millions of books, all for sale.

So, writing the book takes time, but not that much money. Getting an already edited book ready to publish takes some level of technical skill; if you have the skill, the task can take more time than money. If you don’t have the skills, you can hire folks to do it for you. The one task that’s beyond most people (unless you’re a graphic designer) is the creation of your book cover; for that, you will need to spend money. But once you’ve got that book created and into the online marketplace, what is going to let readers know your book is out there?

A big part of the answer is promotion. If you self publish, promotion is entirely up to you. And promotion can take a huge amount of both time and money. Again, the question of skills is part of how promotion will work for you. Are you someone who is comfortable going to conferences and talking about your book? And are there venues where you know you will find an audience that would like your book? If you’re not comfortable with in-person promotion, there are other things you can do. You can pay for advertising, either the kind that appears to users on platforms like Facebook or Amazon, or you can pay to have your book featured in one of the many email newsletters that ebook readers sign up for, like BookBub, Ereader News Today, Robin Reads, The Fussy Librarian, etc.

Generally, the bigger their subscriber list is, the more expensive the service is, and the more stringent are their requirements for inclusion. As an example, some email services require a minimum number of reviews.

Another consideration is genre. Some categories of books sell much more than others. Remember that “marketable” and good” are not actually synonyms. It’s worth it to research the ebook best sellers in your genre and see if your book is anything like them. Self-publishing with POD is helpful, but the overwhelming volume of self-published books are sold as ebooks, and some genres are more popular in ebook format than others.

A handful of self-published authors have broken through with very successful books, like Hugh Howey with his post-apocalyptic Silo series, Amanda Hocking’s paranormal romances, and the huge hit Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James.
A good number of writers make a living self-publishing, but by far the huge majority don’t support themselves from writing. You don’t want to quit your day job until you get a really good multi-book contract or a movie deal.

What it all adds up to is, self-publishing can work for you, if you have the right book(s) and the right skills (or a willingness to learn), but it’s by no means an easy way to make money.


Author Carmen Webster BuxtonA voracious reader since childhood, Carmen Webster Buxton spent her youth reading every book published by Ursula LeGuin, Robert Heinlein, and Georgette Heyer. As a result, her own books mix far-future worlds, alien cultures, and courting customs.

Sometimes a specific event from real life will trigger a story idea for her, but she always works it into a science fiction or fantasy setting. When her parents divorced after 28 years of marriage, this led her to ponder the nature of marriage and create a species that mated for life, in her novel Alien Bonds. But most of her books began merely as an image in her head of someone in a specific situation—a thief selling stolen goods to a fence, a man hunting game in a forest, or a young woman walking behind her father while he looked for someone to buy her. The urge to find out who those people were and what happened to them would almost always result in a book.

Carmen was born in Hawaii but had a peripatetic childhood, as her father was in the US Navy. Having raised two wonderful children, she now lives in Maryland with her husband and a beagle named Cosmo.

Carmen’s blog
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Alien Bonds on Amazon

Book Cover Alien Bonds

Ideas For Stories. Where Do They Come From? by Catherine E. McLean

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Image by 453169 from Pixabay

When I first began attending workshops for writing fiction, there would be a question-answer session after the presentation. Invariably someone in the audience would ask the author-speaker, “Where do you get your ideas from?” The reply was basically “If you have to ask that question, you aren’t a writer!”

At first, I agreed with the assumption that you’re not a writer if you can’t come up with ideas because I never lacked for ideas. Then it dawned on me that the people asking the question of where do you get your ideas from, didn’t know how, or had never been taught, how to look for and be aware of ideas with story potential.

To be aware is to have or show knowledge or understanding or realization or perception. So, in a nutshell, the secret to generating story sparkers (ideas) comes from awareness—either on a conscious or subconscious level.

Awareness is also about sensory perceptions coming into play. For instance, take the sight perception of seeing and reading a newspaper headline at the bottom of page ten: “Bank Safe Explodes.” The awareness factor strikes, you pause and re-read the headline. The mind begins to extrapolate— what caused the vault to explode? Who would put a bomb or chemicals, or explosives in a bank vault box? What if instead . . . maybe after the bank was evacuated because of a wild fire, thieves came in, robbed the safe, tossed in explosives, then got away.

You then read the news item and become enthralled by other possibilities—ones based on the reality of the situation. And so the what-ifs multiply and the idea blossoms and intrigues even more. This is exciting stuff that stories are made of.

As to awareness on the subconscious level, remember the subconscious is always in the background recording and noticing things. Therefore, anything noted by the subconscious might trigger a heightened reaction of awareness that sparks an idea for a story. However, when it comes to outside-the-box concepts and ideas, the subconscious mind is an innovator. The subconscious has a penchant for randomly mixing-and-matching things or relishing in the juxtaposition of elements and concepts. Good fodder for stories.

The hard part about getting ideas is determining if the idea has merit enough to spend the time and energy writing the story. It’s about asking “will this idea sell?” That is, is there a market for such a story? Another problem with vetting an idea is figuring out what kind of length the story will end up as—flash fiction or a novella, novel, or saga. In truth, a story will end up being whatever length it is when drafted. It’s in the revision process that length can be adjusted, or not.

It’s also important to reflect on the idea and ask “Has anyone else beaten me to this story idea? If so, how can I make mine unique and more appealing?”

Even though anything can spark a tale, the bottom line is that to become a producing writer of worth, you need ideas—lots of ideas. Generating more ideas means becoming far more aware of possibilities and to actively look at your environment with “new vision” and a “new sense of touch or taste” or listen for sounds or snippets of conversation. What follows is a list of 12 possibilities for increasing awareness and generating story sparks:

1. reading newspapers, especially headlines on interior pages because truth is often stranger than fiction
2. driving down a road, you see a sign or billboard, logo on a truck, a sticker on a vehicle, etc. that leads to a story spark (pull over to the side of the road and write the idea down, or dictate the gist of the idea into a voice recorder—but avoid texting and driving)
3. beginning with a crime. What is the crime (murder, theft, etc.)? Who would commit such a crime? Why would they commit such a crime? Who must solve the crime or seek justice?
4. looking at a landscape picture (on a calendar or from a magazine, newspaper, Pinterest, etc.) and asking— Would this make a setting for a story? If so, what kind of story? What kind of person or people could live on such a beautiful/harsh/exotic/sparse landscape?
5. reading poetry and discovering a zinger of an image or wording that awes
6. browsing the Internet (searching for something but coming across an interesting aspect that might spark a story)
7. being on the lookout for an animal that fascinates you *
8. being on the lookout for a flower or plant that amazes you *
9. being on the lookout for a fish that astounds you *
* these can be real (alive) or prehistoric, even drawings of the mythical
10. being on the lookout for a little-known ship or plane that had an amazing or unusual voyage in space or underwater
11. listening to snippets of conversation at parties, restaurants, etc. Ask: Who would say such a thing? Why?
12. visiting your local library and browsing the stacks for interesting titles or book covers, or looking through magazines you normally would never notice

Lastly, truth is often stranger than fiction. So, start with a reality and let your imagination ponder a fantasy worthy of a story.

Post Script — the list above is taken from “Story Ideas—32 Ways to Find Them,” which is available as a free “Writers Cheat Sheet“.

CEM Sweater mini pixAs one reviewer put it, Catherine’s stories are “brain candy for anyone liking action and character-driven stories.” Catherine writes lighthearted tales of phantasy realms and stardust worlds (fantasy, paranormal, and space opera/soft science fiction). Her stories are adventure-quests where characters are like real people facing real dilemmas. It’s where their journey (with or without a romance) has a satisfying ending.

Catherine began her writing career as a journalist and earned Pennwriters Published Penn status from articles and short stories. Her short stories have appeared in hardcover and online anthologies and magazines. Many of those short stories are in her anthology ADRADA TO ZOOL.

Her books include JEWELS OF THE SKY (sci-fi adventure), KARMA & MAYHEM (paranormal fantasy romance), and HEARTS AKILTER (a fantasy/sci-fi romance novella).
She has been giving online and in-person workshops and courses for more than two decades. At https://www.WritersCheatSheets.com, she offers free Writers Cheat Sheets and maintains a blog for writers at https://writerscheatsheets.blogspot.com/. Some of her courses are available as 1-on-1 Fiction Writing Courses (information is at https://www.writerscheatsheets.com/1-on-1-courses-for-writers-authors.html
Also available is “Terrific Titles—an all inclusive guide to creating story titles.” Her nonfiction guidebook for writers is REVISION IS A PROCESS – HOW TO TAKE THE FRUSTRATION OUT OF SELF-EDITING.

Join her Reader or Writers Bulletin List.

Catherines Books 

Life Plus 70 by Ethan Ellenberg

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Photo by StartupStockPhotos on Pixbaby

I’m sure you recognize the provenance of that title—current Copyright law grants authors a term of the author’s life plus seventy years.

It’s an extraordinary grant by any measure and I can’t think of anything comparable in patents or any other system that governs intellectual property.

Copyright, however, is only part of what governs the working lives of authors. Far more consequential are the actual contracts and licenses authors enter into, which, as a practical matter, are the real governors of their creative and financial lives.

In ‘the old days’, when, for the most part, an author’s only recourse was a print book publishing contract with an established book publisher, there weren’t a lot of choices to make. Your income was tied to the success of your book that was in the hands of a traditional book publishing company. When it went out of print, its active life was essentially over.

More choices emerged as authors and their agents gained power and agents began selling translation and movie rights on the author’s behalf, in addition to negotiating the book publishing agreements seeking better terms and fostering competitive bidding.

Now we are in a whole new world. There are different ways to be published and author incomes are coming from a far wider range of sources. The standard book agreement that routinely grants the mainstream book publisher a license for the ‘term of copyright’ has to be reconsidered. If an author can make more money, have more control, and work with many more customers, his/her career decisions are more attractive, but also more complex and consequential.

The first issue to consider is whether mainstream book publishers will consider altering their traditional demand for a license that exists for the term of copyright. There’s no reason for optimism here, but Authors should start thinking about this. It won’t change without awareness and effort. I don’t like to use the word fair, but is it in an author’s interest to license their work for the rest of their life plus 70 years? Wouldn’t a change in this contractual term be hugely significant?

Beyond the term of license itself, one has to consider the Out of Print clause and the behavior of the publishers adjudicating it. I won’t explore all the intricacies at this time, and there has been good progress in this area, but more needs to be done. When small quantities of ebooks or a translation license are the only things keeping a book ‘in print’ and hence not eligible for reversion to the author per the terms of the agreement, things need to change. Publishers have to be more responsive to Out of Print requests. They also need to be more flexible in application of the rules. Books that are no longer performing for them should not go through long periods of decay as they age out, but should be reverted to their authors.

Additionally, as a traditional book contract ages, the original subsidiary rights granted to the publisher should be eligible for reversion, even if the book itself is in print. Whatever the subsidiary rights are, if they are moribund in the publisher’s hands, they should be eligible for reversion to the author.

Beyond what I believe are healthy, necessary changes in the basic terms offered by traditional book publishers, authors need to continue to evaluate the new paradigms that are available to them. These paradigms are already successful and there is reason to believe they will be even more so in the future.

Authors can self publish and having retained all the subsidiary rights, license rights to their books to audio publishers, foreign publishers and film/t.v. companies. There are challenges here to be sure, but the self-publishing paradigm has been proven successful and the most successful self-published authors have sold their rights in all these other formats. Here is where there is a radical change in the legal status of an author’s rights.

If they publish an ebook there is often no term of license and the author can change his/her plans at will. Audio licenses vary in length, with licenses of 3, 5, 7 and 10 years being common. Translation licenses also vary in length, with licenses also of 3, 5, 7 and 10 years. With talent available worldwide, authors can commission their own audio books and translations. Breakthroughs in print on demand technology may someday soon see printed books available inexpensively at all kinds of locations including coffee shops and salons.

To recap, there are a number of key ideas here that every author should be cognizant of in all of his/her dealings:

–Copyright is life + 70. Your work is protected, its value will last longer than your lifetime. Plan for it.

–Non-traditional publishing, retained rights, re-sale of reverted rights, and monitoring your publisher are essential. The active life of your book is no longer a year or two and you are key to managing this part of your career, whether you work with an agent or not

Authors need to organize all their contracts and licenses and realize they are in the intellectual property business, and not just book authors. With ebooks easy to publish and Audio rights in demand, the opportunities are ongoing and inheritable.

lit agent ethan ellenbergEthan Ellenberg opened his literary agency in late 1984 after holding jobs at both Bantam and Berkley/Jove. He is an acknowledged expert on the practical aspects of publishing including the publishing agreement and royalty accounting, and a long time industry observer and author advocate. His opinion and educational pieces have appeared in the newsletter of Novelists, Inc., the Romance Writer’s Report, and a number of F&W guides to publishing. His new venture is called Royalty Reminder, an author services company that helps writers and their heirs to store, manage, and monetize their intellectual property.

How to Deal with Writer’s Block by DG Kaye

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Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

A common problem many writers encounter is the dreaded writer’s block. It can hit us smack in the middle of our writing. We’re happily writing along until, boom! The creative well runs dry.

Because our craft is guided by mental focus and inspiration, it’s not difficult to imagine that sometimes we might get shut out from our creative energies. When life issues get in the way, I know I’ve certainly fallen victim to this freeze out of creativity while life is testing me with unforeseen circumstances that can take the wind right out of my writing sails.

When we implement self-imposed deadlines for our work, the mental pressure we put upon ourselves to accomplish our goals often have us scrambling to force our creative abilities.

Many writers have found their secret formulas for helping to get the creative juices, or their muses and mojos flowing, but many others struggle when the well of creativity begins to evaporate. So, what’s a writer to do?

Don’t change course by slacking off completely. Keep your imaginations open. There are many things we can do to re-ignite our creativity, often when we least expect it.

Read
Get newly inspired by reading a book or an interesting article or blog post. If you’ve allotted this time for writing, do something else to keep your mind in the creative realm. You will be surprised to find the ideas that float into mind while our concentrating efforts are focused on something else.

Write

Yes, you may get stumped on your current WIP, but working on another writing project will often summon up some new ideas for exactly the project you’re taking a breather from. If you don’t have another project to work on, use writing prompts to get the juices flowing again. Writing of any sort is a stimulant to our creative centers. Often, writing about a completely different topic will spark an idea for something else we’re working on.

Walk Away

You heard me correctly. When our heads are crammed with worry, doubts or blanks, forcing ourselves to remain at our keyboards staring into space looking for words to further our stories, it becomes an indicator that a timeout is warranted. Walking away doesn’t mean we don’t have to be thinking about our WIP; we’re merely changing the scenery and focusing on something else. If our WIP remains on the back burner in our minds while busying ourselves with a different task, something is going to give and eventually the flow of ideas will come back when we alleviate the pressure off ourselves.

Go Outside
Taking a walk while taking in the sights of people and nature surrounding us is a good way to calm the mind, which inadvertently allows creativity to brew again. Driving has the same effect for me, especially if I’m listening to music. Just be prepared to make notes about your new ideas or they may disappear into the ethers as quickly as they’ve sprung up.

Be prepared for those glorious moments when inspiration returns. Have journals or notebooks handy to write down those precious newly inspired ideas because if you’re anything like me, they’ll be forever gone if we don’t write them down. Nothing to write with? Keep your mobile phones handy. With the various apps available, such as Voice Note, you can record your ideas, so they are there when you’re ready to go back to your stalled WIP. Heck, I’ve even whipped out a lipstick and wrote on a napkin a few times while out at a restaurant. Whatever works!

I like to think of the blank out moments while writing as merely a delay rather than a block. Where there is a will to write, sometimes a diversion is all it takes to bring us back to inspiration.


Debbie GilesDebby Gies is a Canadian memoir/nonfiction writer who writes under the pen name D.G. Kaye. She writes about real life experiences and matters of the heart sharing life lessons in hopes to empower others.

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