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What Every Writer Needs by Loren Rhoads


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

Read Your Own Work by Loren Rhoads



I love to read from my books in public. I love the silence that descends as the audience grows rapt.  More than that, I love to hear the crowd react to my words, noting when they gasp or if they laugh.  Best of all, I love to gauge the enthusiasm of the applause at the end.

The chief thing to keep in mind when you are asked or volunteer to do a reading is that – while the audience comes to be entertained – YOU are there to sell your book.  Whatever you read, make it the best advertisement for your book that you can.

I try to tailor what I read to its intended audience.  If I’m reading in a bar, I choose something sexy. If it’s a bookstore, I read an action scene. If I’m reading to science fiction fans, I pick something that’s undeniably SFnal.  If it’s a horror convention, I read something bloody.  I don’t try to stretch their tastes because I want them to buy the book.

It’s important to find out in advance how long your reading slot will be.  It’s rude to exceed your time limit, because then you’re stealing time from the other readers.

I’m a strong believer in reading a complete scene, whenever possible.  It’s good to end on a cliffhanger or some other place that will leave your listeners wanting more.  In my experience, it’s better to read one long piece, rather than too many short pieces, because it’s easier than most readers realize to overstay the audience’s good will.

I always practice before I perform, not only to time my selection, but also to see how it feels in my mouth.  Are some names tricky to pronounce?  Are there words I’m uncertain of? I’d rather make mistakes at home instead of in front of people.  Also, as I’m practicing, I sometimes add extra commas, so I remember to breathe or leave space for laughter.

Reading to a live audience can teach you a lot about your own work.  Sometimes what looks good on a page doesn’t sound good in performance.  Maybe the sentences are too long or convoluted. Scenes full of dialog can be hard for listeners to follow.  Long descriptions or info dumps can sound awkward out of context.

Another element to consider when you’re preparing for a reading is how you will introduce yourself.  Usually, you will be expected to provide the host, if there is one, with a short bio.  Crafting the perfect bio is a whole ‘nother essay, but briefly, this: Give your name, the title of the book you are selling, and your web address.  If there is more information that your audience will find useful, mention it.  Highlight your authority as an author and what you have in common with your listeners.  Keep it short.  You can be funny if that comes naturally, but don’t bring up your cat or your marital status – or any other personal information, for that matter – unless that’s what you’re reading about.  Otherwise, it’s obvious filler that erodes your audience’s patience.

Once you get up in front of the crowd, think about how well you can be heard.  If there’s a mic, lean toward it.  If there isn’t, pretend you’re talking to someone at the back of the room.  My voice tends to be soft, so I begin my unmiked readings by asking people to wave at me if I grow hard to hear.

Of course, that means that I have to occasionally glance up from my text.  Even after all the readings I’ve done, I’m still self-conscious enough that it’s hard to tear my eyes off the manuscript.  To get around that, I mark places in my scene to look up. I try not to meet anyone’s eyes because that would distract me from what I’m doing, but I want to get a brief glimpse of the audience to see if their eyes are on me, or if they’ve glazed over and I should wrap things up.  The glazing-over has yet to happen, but I always worry.

The (almost) final thing to think about is how to end your reading.  When I reach the end of my text, I let the words run out, take a breath, and then say thank you.  I feel it’s important to thank the audience for their attention.  I try to thank the host and the venue too, if there’s time and it’s appropriate.  Write what you plan to say on your text, so you don’t forget it.

Lastly, stand still a moment to enjoy the applause.  It can be surprisingly difficult to face your audience after you’ve done your bit.  It can feel like you’re hogging the attention, especially if you’re reading as part of a lineup.  I try to stand still long enough to make some eye contact with the crowd before I rush off the stage.  After all, the applause is why we do this.  That, and the book sales.

Loren RhoadsLoren Rhoads is the co-author (with Brian Thomas) of Lost Angels and its upcoming sequel Angelus Rose, about a succubus who becomes possessed by a mortal girl’s soul. Loren has read at bookstores all down the West Coast from Seattle to Los Angeles. She’s read in bars, cafes, theaters, art galleries, an antique store, a Day of the Dead tchotchke shop, a gaming store, and at a Death Salon. She still gets nervous every single time. www.lorenrhoads.com

Making a Game out of Rejection by Loren Rhoads

Rejection Letters

For ten years I edited a magazine that published true confessions. More than anything, sitting in the editor’s chair taught me that good stories get rejected for all kinds of reasons. Even if you’ve polished your work to a gleam, the piece may still be too long or too short. Maybe they just published something similar or the editor’s friend turned something in and they’re trying to make room. Could be they’re changing direction or they’ve accepted too many pieces already. Then again, maybe it’s not to the editor’s taste or you’ve hit one of the editor’s pet peeves. There’s no way to know when you receive that bland “thank you for thinking of us” note.

It’s easy to say that you are not your work. Even if you understand intellectually that you are not being personally rejected, it still stings to read a rejection slip. Anything that could salve that twinge seems like a good thing. When it came to submitting my own work, I wanted to find a way to make rejection a little more fun.

In January 2012, I read a blog post that set me on fire. Business coach Tiffany Han’s goal was to get 100 rejection letters before the end of the year. Her objective was not really to collect the rejections themselves, but to force herself beyond writing for her friends’ blogs and speaking on podcasts of people she knew. She wanted to push herself to take risks. I was thoroughly inspired, although my own efforts fell far short of 100 rejections that year.

In Fall 2014, Tiffany created the 100 Rejection Letters program. Excited by the thought of a community of writers making a game of seeking rejection, I plunked down my cash. Turns out that few of the people taking the program were actually writers. Most of them were entrepreneurs starting their own businesses. To answer their needs, the program’s focus shifted away from writing and podcasting.

The most inspiring part of Tiffany’s program was — for me, anyway — a chart that she meant to hang on your office wall. Every time someone sent you a rejection, you could reward yourself with a shiny gold foil star. The point, of course, was not to court rejection. Collecting the stars was meant to take the fear out of submitting your work.

While Tiffany’s program continues for entrepreneurs who need help kicking their new businesses into gear, I’m working on my own version of the 100 Rejection Letters Challenge. Since I’m going it alone, I’ve modified it to suit myself. One of the things I’m doing is to announce every rejection I get on my Facebook page. The purpose was originally to take the sting out of rejection (my friends have been so encouraging), but it also serves to demystify the submission process and has inspired others to face their fears and get their works into submission.

As I go along, I keep refining the challenge. I’ve had to define for myself what constitutes a rejection. When I volunteered to head up a table at a local literary festival, I felt that someone should do it, but I didn’t really want the job. I was relieved to find someone else had already spoken up. I toyed with the idea of rewarding myself with a gold star, but decided the reward for being rejected – in this case – was not having to do the job. To be able to count a rejection, I decided, it has to hurt at least a little bit.

I allow myself to count stories, poems, and essays, as well as pitches I make to public speaking gigs and podcasts. I can’t rely simply on my written work, because I just don’t have a large enough backlog of unpublished stories. Besides, the response time of most publishing venues is too long to reach my goal before the end of the year. At the same time, I really need to push myself to volunteer to speak in public, whether to appear on panels at conventions or to read my own work.

The upshot of all of this is that I’m already 14 rejections into this year’s 100. Those rejections represent both stories I’ve sent out and requests to be on programming that have been turned down. Those 14 rejections represent 45 submissions, some of which have been acceptances. Others are still awaiting response.

Don’t get me wrong: it doesn’t matter how many of them you get, rejections still hurt. Every time I open a rejection letter, I still feel a pang of disappointment. I sit with the feeling for a couple of breaths, then get up and put a gold star on my chart. Then I look around to see where else I can send my work. The sooner something is back in the mail, the sooner I will get what I really want: those magical acceptance letters.

Want to join me? I challenge you to make collecting rejections a game. You’re welcome to award yourself a gold star every time you get one. Got a list of places where you wish your work would appear? Now’s the time to submit to them!

Maybe there’s a larger reward you can give yourself after every 10 stars? After my first 10, I took a day off with my daughter to go to a museum. Every 10 stars seems like a good time to seek a little inspiration and recommit to the challenge.

If I make it to 100 rejection letters this year, I’m going to treat myself to a bottle of Lillet and another pack of gold foil stars. Then I’m going start my chart all over again.

How do you plan to get out of your comfort zone and get your work out there? You can’t get published if you don’t submit.

Loren RhoadsLoren Rhoads is the co-author (with Brian Thomas) of Lost Angels and its upcoming sequel Angelus Rose. She’s also the author of The Dangerous Type, Kill By Numbers, and No More Heroes, a space opera trilogy. She blogs at www.lorenrhoads.com.

Author Interview – Loren Rhoads

Author Loren Rhoads is the writer of The Dangerous Type, Kill By Numbers, and No More Heroes, the components of the In the Wake of the Templars trilogy. I am pleased to introduce her to you here on No Wasted Ink.

Author Loren RhoadsMy name is Loren Rhoads. I’ve lived in San Francisco since 1988, long enough to survive a major earthquake, several tech booms (and busts), and to watch the city change and change and change. I can’t imagine living anywhere else.

When and why did you begin writing?

I don’t remember a time when I didn’t tell myself stories. My mom was a firm believer in naps and early bedtimes, so I had a lot of time to entertain myself quietly. Once I learned that people actually wrote stories, I asked for a typewriter for my birthday.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

I wrote notebooks full of stories, even saw some of them published, but I didn’t really consider myself a writer until I survived Clarion. That was in 1986, at Michigan State University. After six weeks of writing every single day, I knew I never wanted to do anything else.

Can you share a little about your current book with us?

No More Heroes is the final part of my In the Wake of the Templars space opera trilogy. The first two books were published in July and September of this year. While The Dangerous Type plays with the tropes of a Hong Kong revenge story and Kill By Numbers is a Philip K. Dick mindwarp, No More Heroes starts as a courtroom drama before morphing into a time travel story. My goal was to stretch the boundaries of space opera beyond military fiction or westerns in space. I’m interested in the intersection of cultures and media, prejudice and family.

What inspired you to write this book?

Although I keep being called for jury duty in San Francisco, I’ve never been chosen for a jury. I’m fascinated by the theater of the courtroom, the personas the lawyers and judges assume as they perform for the jury. I also wanted to explore shades of guilt – both in the case of the defendant (my main character) and the mercantile government that brings the charges against her. What if you really are guilty of the crimes you’ve been charged with, but there are good and heroic reasons for the things you’ve done? What if you’ve done terrible things in the past that you’re terrified the court will uncover? What is the definition of a hero – and can other people define you as one, if you reject the label?

I also wanted to examine the concept of influence. The first book in the series looks at persona and how people construct it for each other. The second book explores memory and how each person remembers the same incident differently. In the end of No More Heroes, I wanted to see how the main character inspired each character in the cast to change.

Do you have a specific writing style?

For these books, I toned down the descriptiveness of my usual writing because this trilogy is so tightly focused on point of view. The characters are more interested in people than setting, so that’s where most of their attention goes. Each of them have blindspots and preconceptions, which limit what they see and how they react. I wanted to play inside those limitations.

How did you come up with the title of this book?

All the titles in the series came from songs I loved in high school. I like that they sound like noir titles; there’s that genre-blurring again. No More Heroes is the title of a song that was playing as I was writing in my favorite café one morning. It was originally meant as the title of the second book, but that story morphed in the writing and the title didn’t apply any more.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

Love can save you, however you define it.

Are experiences in this book based on someone you know, or events in your own life?

The relationship between Raena and her former owner/lover/adopted sister Ariel was inspired by my friendship with Martha Allard. Mart and I met in 8th grade social studies, but didn’t really get to be friends until 9th grade after we’d both seen Star Wars over the summer. The movie changed our lives. Mart has been with me through the deaths of my grandparents and younger brother; she sang at my wedding and made stuffed animals for my daughter. I could call her about anything. If I was in jail, she’d bail me out, no questions. If I were homeless, she’d take me in. And I would do the same for her. I’d be honored if she considered me her sister.

What authors have most influenced your life? What about them do you find inspiring?

Ray Bradbury is my chief influence. In fact, there’s a chapter in No More Heroes that’s an homage to The Martian Chronicles. My Templars lived on the desert planet of Kai before they were wiped out by a human-engineered plague, but their abandoned homes still remember them.

I love Bradbury’s implication that living on Mars turns humans into martians. Throughout my books, people comment on the physiological similarities between humans and the Templars, even though externally they could not appear more different. I think they are on a spectrum.

If you had to choose, is there a writer would you consider a mentor? Why?

Dana Fredsti, author of the Ashley Parker Plague World series, would probably laugh, but I consider her my role model. Dana showed me how you write a trilogy, how you interact with fans, how you continually push your comfort as an author. She is an inspiration.

Who designed the cover of your book? Why did you select this illustrator?

Cody Tilson designed the covers of all three books. I really love what he did for the third book. I wanted to focus on the relationship between Raena and Haoun, the Na’ash pilot. They tell themselves that they aren’t in love with each other, but they have a fascination with each other and a deep affection. Haoun is bigger and probably stronger, but he’s a gamer, while she’s the warrior. I think Cody captured the dynamic between them perfectly. He was chosen by my publisher.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

I keep a list of things to write about, so I’m never at a loss for subject matter, and I carry about a spiral-bound notebook, so I always have a place to write. In addition, I write in a café over breakfast every weekday. No matter what other crazy thing happens in my life that day, I know I’ve gotten some work done. I find it inspirational to know that I’m going to face the blank page every morning, so my imagination better get itself primed. Find whatever process works for you, then stick to it. Writing is a process of building a story day by day.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

Thank you. I really appreciate you bringing my characters to life with your imaginations.

NoMoreHeroes coverLoren Rhoads
San Francisco, California


No More Heroes

Cover Artist: Cody Tilson
Publisher: Night Shade Books