Monday, November 9, 2015

Why Are Today’s Critics So Defensive?

I’m always puzzled when people strike a posture of defensiveness about their own taste. It’s reasonable when a book or film or artwork you admire is under attack, but lately we seem to be in an age of ambient anxiety about what it means to enjoy things and whether or not others enjoy them, too. There’ve been a few self-scrutinizing essays on the subject pinballing around this week. When Emily Nussbaum writes, “Those of us who love TV have won the war,” I wonder, What war? And who were you fighting? Television has been the dominant medium since its inception. When A.O. Scott writes about rehabilitating the word snob, I wonder why someone who confesses to being a snob would feel any need for the crowd’s validation of his snobbery. He’s a critic of a different kind, but when Fredrick deBoer writes of feeling oppressed by an online culture that misreads James Baldwin, I wonder why he seems to invest so much authority in his Twitter feed.

I suppose I’m a snob, not that I care if anyone thinks so. But then again, I actually like a lot of trash — I listen to a lot of late Aerosmith and early Van Halen — and I don’t consider myself some kind of cop policing what others enjoy. Critics carry pens and keyboards, not guns. A critic could never force somebody to read a book rather than watch television, or vice versa. Taste, however much it feels determined by the conversations and arguments swirling around us, is ultimately a form of freedom. On the matter of television, I haven’t lived with a functioning one for more than a few months since I left home in 1994. I have a Rip Van Winkle relationship to the medium. I’m still always astonished that ads are now broadcast for pills that enable better erections, and whenever I happen to catch an episode of a television show that’s been hyped as something new, I’m disappointed to find that it’s just another sitcom or workplace soap-opera or costume drama, usually with higher production values. I binge-watched Breaking Bad last winter and thought it was about as good as one of my old favorites, Magnum, P.I. Too bad there weren’t recappers around in the 1980s, though if there had been an internet, I’m sure there would have been. In general, I think a lot less has changed about these things than people tend to think. If the lovers of TV have won a war, it’s a war with themselves, and they’ve won by giving themselves permission to take TV seriously in public.

People who enjoyed what were once known as guilty pleasures have absolved themselves of guilt. Arguments that people should be ashamed of lower-order tastes — like Ruth Graham’s attack on adults who read young-adult books — are actually quite rare. Yet anxiety about all this is pervasive, as if everyone’s high-school English teacher were lurking around the corner, ready to scold us for skipping Middlemarch on the summer reading list.

Nussbaum frets about product placement (now called integration) polluting the purity of her favorite programs. She knows TV entertainment has always been commercial at its core and dreams that it could transcend its transactional nature. But she also seems to feel a little guilty or uncomfortable, as a TV-positive critic, lamenting commercialization when she knows — and lucidly explains — that it’s basically TV’s original sin. She invokes George W.S. Trow, resists endorsing his classic essay about television’s effects on American culture, “Within the Context of No-Context,” but comes to identify with his rage about the triumph of the trivial and the celebrity of Coca-Cola. But I think her resistance to Trow is misplaced. “Much of Trow’s essay, which runs to more than a hundred pages,” she writes, “makes little sense. It is written in the style of oracular poetry, full of elegant repetitions, elegant repetitions that induce a hypnotic effect, elegant repetitions that suggest authority through their wonderful numbing rhythms, but which contain few facts. It’s élitism in the guise of hipness. It is more nostalgic than Mad Men ever was.”

It’s true that if you pluck a line or a paragraph from Trow’s essay, his abstract style defies sampling (though I’m about to do it myself). Trow’s is a difficult essay that creates the terms by which we understand it. I think it’s a misreading of Trow to call him a nostalgist, even a declinist. His project was descriptive, and he was an avant-garde unto himself. His ideas about television have a lot to tell us about life under the internet. Does this sound familiar?
The comfort was in agreement, the easy exercise of the modes of choice and preference. It was attractive and, as it was presented, not difficult. But, once interfered with, the processes of choice and preference began to take on an uncomfortable aspect. Choice in respect to important matters became more and more difficult; people found it troublesome to settle on a mode of work, for instance, or a partner. Choice in respect to trivial matters, on the other hand, assumed an importance that no one could have thought to predict. So what happened then was that important forces that had not been used, because they fell outside the new scale of national life (which was the life of television), began to find a home in the exercise of preference concerning trivial matters ... In this mist exists the Aesthetic of the Hit.
The Hit, the favorite, whatever you like. Doesn’t this sound like a description of the comfortable and comforting online cultural consensus these critics are variously uneasy about? In Trow’s last book, My Pilgrims Progress, he writes about what he calls “the Assumed Dominant Mind” of the culture, and traces its movement from the New York Times to MTV (this was the 1990s, mind you). Today, of course, the Assumed Dominant Mind has migrated online and morphed into a hive mind formed on social media. But it’s nothing new.

In a response to Nussbaum, deBoer mourns the absence of a cultural resistance that prizes difficulty in the manner of punk or modernism. But if such cultural forces are really absent, then their return is probably, dialectically, inevitable, in fact, possibly right around the corner. Nussbaum sees signs of resistance on television in Mr. Robot. A.O. Scott cites his love of Mad Max as evidence of his snobbery, but in what possible world could enjoying Mad Max make you a snob? If actually difficult movies are being made on such a scale in the form of raucous adventures that don’t skimp on the blood and dirt, can things be so bad? In literature, difficult novels still appear every year, and many of them grapple directly with the world as it is under the internet. (Others are difficult while ignoring that world entirely.) That’s to say nothing of the perennially difficult and controversial world of avant-garde poetry. If these aren’t the sort of things everyone’s talking about, perhaps that’s because it’s easier to talk about television. Maybe that’s why all these critics sound so defensive.

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Monday, November 2, 2015

On Authorship and Authority


That "authority" and "author" share the same root is a given in publishing circles. To become an author you should have authority in your subject, and those with authority often write books. The trajectory of authorship goes like this: You work to become an expert in a particular topic. You author articles and books. The more you publish, the more you embody the very definition of authority: "the confident quality of someone who knows a lot about something." 

When it comes to how one builds authority, modern authorship (and life) may give us pause. Self-publishing has made it so that anyone can publish anything--forget the need to be an expert, or even to know a lot about anything. Our culture also celebrates people who know very little about nothing, and books about nothing regularly top bestseller lists.

There's a difference between books about nothing and books without substance, of course. Patti Smith's new (very literary) memoir, M Train, is a bit of a mediation about nothing. The opening line reads, "It's not so easy writing about nothing." Seinfeld, famously, is a thought-provoking show about "nothing." You can write novels and memoirs from a kind of authority that doesn't require accumulating years of study or apprenticeship. You can gain your authority to publish from lived experience. People even write self-help books from that place of authority. Brene Brown, Byron Katie, and Iyanla Vanzant are among just a handful of famous self-help authors whose authority lies in their willingness and capacity to write and share about their own hard knocks (and embarrassing/shameful/low moments). 

This question of authority came up for me recently because I interviewed Elizabeth Gilbert about her new book, Big Magic. I asked her if this was a book she'd been thinking about writing for a long time, and her response was yes, about twelve years. Why had it taken that long? 

I think that I honestly didn't feel that I quite had the authority yet. I needed to feel like I had a few more books under my belt, that I could really stand on my record. You know, if I was going to throw myself out there and say, I'm going to tell you how to do this thing, then I had to know that I was smoking what I was selling, basically.

Refreshing. And a model for how authors might think about what they publish and in what order. Many authors simply don't have the patience to wait to cultivate their own expertise. An aspiring author may have three or four ideas and feel compelled to write the BIG IDEA rather than the IDEA TO PUT THEM ON THE MAP because they don't fully grasp the value of planting seeds, tending to an author platform that could (and frankly will) take years and years to grow. 

Publishing in your area of (growing) expertise across multiple mediums is invaluable. This is what growing an author platform is all about. You publish guest blog posts, try to get published in print, create a podcast, write an ebook. Aspiring authors toiling away on a single memoir or novel for ten-plus years and tending to nothing else but that are not growing their expertise. And it's fine if you only intend to ever publish one book, but if this is your publishing path, you need to have very tempered and modest sales expectations. 

Author experts are not made overnight, and getting published writing under your belt (including books, of course) is the key to true authority (and by extension success). No matter what your genre, your author trajectory is the same: Publish a lot of content wherever you can. Your first book should serve no other motive than to put you on the map. (If it does more than that, awesome. If you sell a lot of copies and get rich, you're an anomaly.) A first book's job is to establish you as a writer, to garner good reviews (and hopefully sell a decent number of copies), and to set you up for subsequent books. Keep writing, keep publishing, keep refining your ideas and opinions and thoughts. Cultivate your authority and don't be surprised or impatient if the pace of your growth sometimes feels excruciatingly slow. That's part of the journey.


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Monday, October 26, 2015

12 Ways Indie Authors Can Boost Their Holiday Sales

The holidays are almost here. Yes, if you’re in the book business, when Summer turns to Fall, you start thinking “holiday sales.”

The holidays are almost here. Yes, if you’re in the book business, when Summer turns to Fall, you are thinking “holiday sales.” For certain types of books, such as novels, children’s books, and even memoirs, biographies, and specialty gift books, the bulk of your sales for the entire year may be between Thanksgiving and December 24th, in time to give those books as a gift for the holidays.

Of course there are many, such as booksellers wholesalers, and distributors, who are thinking about, and acting on, how to increase holiday sales as early as Spring or early Summer! But since that ship has sailed, let’s focus on what you CAN you do from now till the holiday buying season is over. This article is geared to helping authors, publishers, and self-publishers to pump up your holiday sales.

Does it have to be a new book to give it as a holiday gift?

It’s obvious that books with the current or the next year’s copyright year are a preferable holiday gift for the current season. But don’t let having an older book/copyright year stop you from promoting your book as a holiday purchase. Just remember that if someone has never read a particular book, whatever the copyright year, it is new to that person. A good book is a good book, whether it’s hot off the press or it’s been around for a while. Books that were published one or more years ago actually have the advantage of having generated some positive buzz and press. So you can emphasize all those praiseworthy reviews when you’re pitching a particular book to the media, or to a buyer, for this new holiday selection.

Here are twelve ways you could help increase the holiday sales of one or more of your titles, whether you are an author, publisher, or self-publisher:

12 Ideas to Help You Boost Your Holiday Book Sales:

1. Pitch your book to bloggers and the media that are looking for books to feature for the holiday through

Sign up for the free newsletter, Pitchrate, created by Wasabi Publicity, Inc. of North Carolina. You will get a daily e-mail of the new media requests about interview opportunities as well as requests for books to be sent for holiday roundups that are still being finalized by bloggers, newspapers, and other media. Once you sign up, you can also go into the website and do a search of your own.

2. Get a stand as a vendor at your local holiday event.

Are there holiday events in your local community that rent out space at an affordable rate to local authors and businesses? Either buy the stand yourself and sell directly from your booth or partner with a bookstore or another small business who will sell for you or let you stand in the stand and sell from the booth for a percentage of your sales or for a flat fee.

3. Create a special holiday coupon offer. 

Can you send out a coupon for a holiday discount that could be used for direct sales to you or your company? There are retail stores that have built their business on offering a 20% coupon. How about offering your own 20% coupon this year? If someone buys direct from you, offer 20% off the retail list price, plus shipping and handling. Or any other discount that works for you, from 10% to 25% or even higher. How about a “two for one” deal? But one for yourself and give the other free book as a holiday gift?

4. Create a holiday package that includes your book.

Combine your book with something else so the book is just part of a gift unit. This will work especially well if you’re giving a paperback as a gift instead of a hardcover. For example, if you want your novel to be a gift this year, add to it a pair of tickets to the local movie chain, good at any time. Or a gift card to the local bookstore or a restaurant. If it’s a children’s book, how about a stuffed animal? If it’s a book on how to write better or how to get published, what about including a nice pen? How about adding a box of chocolates or putting your book into a gift basket of foods? You could sell the entire package or partner with a local vendor who offers gift baskets to include your book in their holiday packages.

5. Offer to sign the book or even personalize your autograph to a specific holiday gift recipient.

Offer to sign each book or even to personalize it by writing a personal note to each gift recipient. If you have a website, update it with your offer to autograph/personalize each book if it is a holiday gift.

 6. Spend a fixed amount on holiday advertising.

Don’t go broke advertising, but put aside a certain amount of money that you will use to advertise one or more books as a holiday gift possibility [EDS NOTE: Check out exclusive ad opps via IR’s new BookShare suite of services].

Find out where your potential readers are hanging out online and if there’s paid advertising that you can afford to purchase to highlight your available titles for the holidays, give it a try. Give yourself a workable budget for this experiment. But this might just work for you this year. Look into what it would cost to place ads in Facebook, Amazon, or other sites.

7. Work together with a local business to offer your book through that restaurant, store, or business as a holiday gift.

Partner with a local business and work out a deal where they give out your book this year as their holiday promotional item instead of the same boring imprinted pen or calendar that they usually give out. For example, perhaps your local diner will buy 100-500 copies of your book if you’re open to selling it to her at a 40% to 50% discount. Offer to sign all the books so their customers can get a signed copy. If businesses give out gift baskets of food to customers, see if you could suggest adding your book to the package at a wholesale price if they buy 10 or more copies.

8. Ask your friends and family to buy your book for their family, friends, and colleagues on their holiday list.

This is not the time to be shy! Contact all your friends and family members and ask them to consider buying and giving your book as a gift to their family, friends, and even colleagues, if it seems to fit! You can offer your friends and family the 20% discount or even a wholesale price on your book, if that’s feasible. If you’re published by a company that only allows you a 40% discount on quantity sales, offer your family or friends whatever discount you can afford. The idea is to get them to buy your book and give it out as a gift. Not just for the immediate revenue that you might get, although that will be nice too, but because you are generating that all important word of mouth about a specific book.

9. Business associates are another group who could buy your book this holiday season.

Ask colleagues or service providers to consider giving your book as a gift but be careful about mixing business with such a request. While some at work might see you as a go-getter and applaud your enthusiasm as an author (or publisher) trying to make some holiday sales, others might see it as being pushy and self-serving. (Until you’re such a bestselling author that you don’t need that “day job,” you may want to keep your writing career separate from your job.)

Without being too pushy, when you go to holiday networking events, especially those during November and early December, when people are still buying gifts, make it easier for those you meet to remember your book by creating a business card with a picture of the book on it and some information about it, including where to buy a copy, that you could give out when it seems appropriate to do so.

10. Give your book yourself!

Why not give out your own book to your family and friends yourself? (Keep track of who you give it to so you don’t give it to the same loved ones two years in a row!)

You might want to include another gift, related to your book, or just another gift, even if it’s a token gift, so you don’t get labeled “cheap” by your loved ones. Unfortunately, unless someone is an author or a publisher or someone who understands the way the publishing business works, most people outside the industry don’t realize that everyone, including the author, have to pay for every single book he or she gets and gives away. Those books an author gives away are rarely free to the author, except for the small number of author copies that are given out by a publisher as part of the initial contract.

11. Go into bookstores and gift stores with some inventory just in case they’re still open to last- minute purchases.

It’s going to be tough to get your book into a bookstore or gift store for the holidays at this point since so many stores made those buying decisions six months ago, but it’s still worth a try. You might just luck out, especially if it’s a local store and they like to cultivate and promote local author. Don’t forget to approach the specialty stores, like a vitamin store, if your book is related to health or exercise. Offer to do one or multiple book signings to help move the inventory and, if necessary, be open to bringing your book to the store and letting the store sell it on consignment. (They’ll return to you any books that aren’t sold. You’ll get paid for those that do sell. Offer to pick up the unsold inventory so there won’t be a question about who covers the return shipping costs.)

12. Check HARO for holiday-related publicity opportunities.

Sign up for the three times a day free newsletter, HARO (Help a Reporter Out). Check it over for publicity opportunities specifically tied to the holidays but also any kind of publicity that’s right for your author/book. Even if it’s not holiday-related, if the online or print newspaper article quoting you or mentioning your book is published before the holidays, the added publicity might help inspire more holiday book sales. (Competition in every HARO media inquiry is fierce. Dozens of pitches are usually received for each media request so this is a long shot, but it could still be worth a try if you’re quoted.)

Enjoy the holidays!

One last thought word. It’s great to work hard between now and the end of the year to increase books sales by cultivating holiday sales, but don’t forget to still enjoy the holidays. Avoid getting so caught up in generating more book sales that you forget to make the time to enjoy the annual fun of getting together with family, friends, and colleagues. Yes, holiday sales are important for authors and publishers, but there’s always next year if your holiday sales fall short of your expectations. However, if you try one or more of the above twelve suggestions, at least you’ll feel like you gave it more effort this year rather than leaving better holiday sales just to chance.

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Jan Yager
Jan Yager

Monday, October 19, 2015

Some Like It Hot: The Literary Function of Sex Scenes in Romance

One-handed reading. Mommy porn. Naughty books. Guilty pleasures.
As a romance reader I’ve heard it all. I wonder if critics realize how those terms demean women’s sexuality and (further) colonize women’s fantasy lives. Or if they understand there’s no sex in a lot of romance fiction. Or that it’s 2015 and if a woman wants porn she’ll get, you know, actual porn. Or that if some readers do use romance for stimulation, it’s zero business of theirs.

All of those are important things to say. But in this post, I want to focus on how sex helps fulfill the genre’s literary aims. How does it make for a better book?

By popular romance fiction, I’m talking about a commercial literary genre that focuses on a central love story and ends in an emotionally satisfying, optimistic way. Typically, that means the main protagonists are in a positive, committed relationship at the end. There can be other key characters, other significant plots, but the development of the romantic relationship is the most important. If the whole novel is the Himalayas, the romance plot is the Everest.

Given what the genre is, the argument for including sex in romance should be obvious but I’ll state it anyway since so many people focus on the imagined effects of sex scenes on the reader instead of their literary function. Romance novels are about romantic relationships. A significant part of romantic relationships for most people is sexual attraction leading to sex. Therefore, it makes sense to include sex in popular romance fiction.

Like any novel, a romance is supposed to connect you to a narrative outside of your own life. Making fun of romance readers for having feelings when they read makes about as much sense as making fun of horror readers for feeling scared or thriller readers for feeling thrilled. You can’t be aroused, horrified, or thrilled unless you care. Making you care about things that aren’t happening to people who don’t exist is the magic of fiction. It’s what all good writers do, and what all readers expect.

But isn’t the sex in romance novels just ridiculous? Over the top? No. And to see why, you have to stop looking at romance novels as some weird alien entities and start seeing them as, you know, novels. It is definitely true that the sex in romance fiction, whether it’s a kiss or a detailed explicit bedroom scene, is intense. Author Sandra Brown calls the connection between the protagonists “exaggerated awareness.” Recalling the connection in romance fiction between love and sex, the characters feel every look, touch, and, yes, thrust, to an unusual degree because the person who’s looking, touching or thrusting is (or will be) someone they connect with more intensely, and more permanently, than anyone else.

But “sex” shouldn’t be interpreted narrowly. Some of the sexiest scenes in romance are the least overtly sexual: a dance, a heated stare, a brush of hands, a first kiss. The significance of sex in romance has very little to do with how detailed or explicit it is. The question is how much the sensual moment means to the protagonists and the plot.

Is the sex in romance fiction the best ever? Usually, yes. We can talk about whether true love and great sex go together in real life, but romance is built around the idea that they do. Like lots of genres, romance is part fantasy. Complaining that the sex in romance is too good is like asking whether Harry Potter really has to be that talented a wizard or Robert Langdon really has to be so clever. Or think about fight scenes in superhero stories. It’s pretty hard to find combatants who are too out of shape or inept to have a thrilling go at it. This stuff is a great pleasure to read, and we respond to it viscerally, but like all good fantasy, it tells us something about ourselves and the world in which we live.

In porn, depictions of sex are meant to quickly and intensely arouse the reader/viewer and that’s about it. The situation is very different in romance fiction. In romance novels, sex should do something literary. It might reveal something about the characters, move them to the next stop on their journey, or further the plot. Great sex can symbolize how wonderful the relationship could be if the characters overcame the barriers they face outside the bedroom. And unsatisfying, awkward or angry sex can highlight the character’s helplessness or isolation. Sex can help a protagonist understand herself, surprise herself, see himself as worthy or beautiful. In romance, sex is never just physical, even if the characters believe otherwise. 

We often think about emotions as psychological, but romance fiction recalls us to our lived bodily experience, and nowhere more so than in sex scenes. Emotions in romance aren’t private mental entities that one can choose to share or hide. The body doesn’t “reveal” emotions locked up in the head. Instead, emotions reside within and between bodies, forming the stickiness of our connections with each other. A character becomes aware of herself as a subject and an object. She sees herself both from her own point of view and through her lover’s eyes, and she knows her partner is doing the same. Sex is an integral part of the attunement and mutual recognition that constitute a successful and convincing romantic relationship.

Of course, some writers do this well and some don’t. Sex scenes in romance can be boring, cliched, repetitive, ridiculous, pointless, offensive, or ineffective. Avoiding badly written books and finding great ones is a major reason I hang out in the bookish internet. But I’ve tried in this post to talk about the big picture, at least as I see it.


You can find the original article at:

Monday, October 12, 2015

Simplify Your Writing to Attract More Business


The purpose of writing is to inform, entertain, persuade and inspire. Does your writing -- be it an email, blog post or social media update - do that? Does it attract more business?

Compelling writing captures readers' attention. It is clear, concise and flows very smoothly. Use these tips to simplify your writing and attract high quality leads (especially the elusive Internet ones!).

Practice economy:
  • Use shorter, simpler words
  • Pay attention to distinct meaning of words
  • Always try to make a sentence shorter for more punch
  • Any word that can go, must go

Avoid repetition:
  • Ruthlessly delete any ideas that are repeated
  • Aim to make a unique point in every sentence
  • Use synonyms to help avoid repetition

Don't overcomplicate things:
  • Don't make simple points sound more complex than they are
  • Avoid double negatives
  • Don't force your reader to unscramble what you've just said
  • Use clean formatting to help readers work their way through your content

Appeal to the common denominator:
  • Aim to keep your writing as personable and universally understandable as possible
  • Be acutely aware to what your audience cares about

Avoid using weak words:
  • don't use: somewhat, somehow, a little, arguably, rather, it seems, it appears as though, as it's often said, notably (these words take away power and authority)
  • avoid weak words that don't say much, redundant words that don't say anything and hedging (or semi-commital) words that soften your tone and sap authority

Don't overstretch thoughts:
  • watch out for run-on sentences
  • avoid using too many sub-clauses when possible

Use active versus passive voice:
  • active sentences make comprehension easier
  • active sentences also make the author sound more authoritative

Keep in mind: a confused mind always says 'no'. People with clear, simple and elegant writing always win. Think deeply about every single word and have a strong intention to connect with your audience. In other words, keep it real.

What is your advice about writing effectively? Share in the comments below.


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Monday, October 5, 2015

What Are the Qualities of Good Fiction Writing?

By Quora Contributor


Can anyone be a good writer?

This question originally appeared on Quora, the best answer to any question. Ask a question, get a great answer. Learn from experts and access insider knowledge. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus.

Answer by Graeme Shimmin, author of A Kill in the Morning:

Anyone can be a good writer. Most people have imagination, and most people have an idea for a story. What most people can't do is tell the story in a way that people want to hear.
Unlike a lot of writers, I take the view that anyone can be taught to write at least reasonably good fiction, because getting to that level is largely a matter of avoiding “schoolboy errors” that are easily understood. It takes a lot of work, but if you're prepared to work hard and listen to feedback, then you can be a good writer. If you aren't prepared to work hard and listen to feedback, then you may as well stop reading.
I tend to divide writing that I review into four levels: beginner, amateur, intermediate, expert. To me, if your writing is at the expert level, then you are good writer, though that sure as hell doesn't mean you don't make mistakes or you've got nothing to learn.
I'm going to try to distinguish in practical terms what makes a good fiction writer stand out from a beginner or amateur—and it's all down to what kinds of mistakes they make. 
Beginner-level mistakes 
Beginner-level issues are things like not being able to punctuate properly, overusing exclamation marks, shifting tenses, and not formatting paragraphs properly. I won't consider these further. When I see issues like that in someone's work, I normally advise him that he needs to get Self-Editing for Fiction Writers or a similar guide to grammar and editing. 

Amateur-level mistakes

These are the kinds of issues I often see at my writing group or on YouWriteOn. They're easily done and pretty easy to fix. They include:

  • Unclear speaker attribution
  • Using clichés and hackneyed phrases (e.g. "knife through butter").
  • Run-on sentences
  • Too many adverbs and weak verbs
  • Strings of adjectives
  • Too much internal monologue 
  • Too many passive sentences
  • Using obscure tenses
  • Unnecessary explanation ("As you know, Bob ... ")
  • Using superlatives rather than more precise descriptive words
  • Not controlling point of view
  • Commonplace dialogue ("Hi, how are you?" "Fine.")
  • Telling not showing ("Bob was a funny guy.")
  • Too much dialogue, not enough description
  • Flowery writing or overwriting
  • Repetition of words or phrases
  • Mixed, forced, or jarring similes and metaphors
  • Too visual or audio, not enough of other senses
  • Authorial intrusion or bald exposition

Once you've got past those kind of issues, you can write stuff that at least some people will want to read. The writing will flow to an extent. The reader should be able to suspend disbelief and engage with the story without being stopped by the writing.

Intermediate-level (and above) mistakes

The next step is to take your reader on a worthwhile journey. Here's a list of possible problems to check your story for that might make that journey an unsatisfying one for the reader:

  • Too much backstory before the inciting incident (this is the No. 1 problem I see in otherwise good stories)
  • Protagonist too eager or things being too easy.
  • Lurching tone ("Is is a comedy or a thriller?")
  • Loose ends ("What happened to Joe? He just disappeared in Chapter 10.")
  • Saggy second act
  • Digression
  • One pace (nonstop action)
  • Relying on deus ex machina to resolve the plot
  • Plot unfocused or the premise is unclear
  • Characters don’t change.
  • Weak themes
  • Weakly defined characters
  • Stakes too low or characters too dull
  • Setups not handled correctly ("Where did his radio come from?")
  • Plot too obvious ("I saw the ending coming miles off.")
  • Plot too convoluted
  • Believability ("It seemed a bit crazy.")
  • Character motivations not personal enough
  • Plot and character not entwined
  • Lacks emotional highs and lows
  • Unoriginal or clichéd plot
  • Stereotypical characters.
  • Plot holes

At this level, the issues are a bit subjective. For example, the line between being “too obvious” and “too convoluted” is more about the reader than the writer and more of a question of what audience you want to appeal to.


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Monday, September 28, 2015

Dealing With Editors and Mentors


First four words about editors and mentors...They are not God...

Now a few more words...Working with editors and mentors (E/Ms) can be confusing and on occasion filled with frustration. I've worked with good and bad E/Ms, and - thankfully - one great E/M. 

Good E/Ms are the most common of the genus éditorus rex. These, generally kind examples of the species, understand what you are trying to accomplish with your novel/story, but only work with you if your manuscript is - short of a copy edit - publication ready. They are pleasant enough, but harried and easily distracted by their own problems or workload. They are like parents who raise free-range children, allowing them to run wild, hoping they will eventually turn out okay.

Bad E/Ms are like weeds in the flower beds of your prose. They are noxious, prevalent, and can choke the life out of your manuscript. Sometimes, you can feel as if this species of E/M is reveling in picking your manuscript apart, insisting on changes from left field, and they can leave you having no idea what they are talking about (I did mention frustration above). In general, these sour individuals are simply not a good match for your particular manuscript.

Bad E/Ms may actually be good editors when working in their favorite genre or with important authors - as opposed to working writers. However, when faced with being assigned to edit a manuscript from a genre with which they are not familiar - or simply don't like - they can become as difficult as a four-year-old having a meltdown in the middle of the cereal aisle. 

They may even view your manuscript as beneath their own literary aspirations. They believe they should be editing Thomas Wolfe or F. Scott Fitzgerald - you know, authors worthy of their attention - instead of wasting their time with you. 

Yikes. If this happens to you escape while you still can.

The problem is, beginning writers often confuse the above editorial species. You have to be objective when working with an E/M. Are they helping you make the manuscript better, or are they undermining the power of your words? 

Some beginning writers have a hard time overcoming the blinkers of their own writer's narcissism. They are like mothers who believe their fat, spotty, rude child - otherwise known as their manuscript - is perfect, and woe be to anyone who doesn't lavish praise or who dares to change a word. Writer's like this can't recognize when the suggestions and changes offered by a good E/M are pertinent and needed. Unable to distinguish between the bright plumage of a good E/M and the black belly feathers of a Bad E/M, they rant and rave and become their own worst enemy. Unless they really are the equivalent of Thomas Wolfe or F. Scott Fitzgerald, they will not find the welcome mat out next time they want to submit a manuscript.

There is another breed of beginning writer at the other end of the spectrum. They can't imagine ever disagreeing with an editor. They often end up butchering their fragile bonsai tree of a manuscript trying to please an E/M who may (good E/Ms) or may not (bad E/Ms) have the best interest of their manuscript at heart.

Great E/Ms are rare and magical beasts. They are actually able to see what works and doesn't work in your novel. They make considered and constructive suggestions, help you find solutions to manuscript problems, encourage you through the hard process of making changes, and become a true partner in the publishing process. If you ever come across a great E/M, protect them with your life. 
They will make you a better writer and a better person. They might not turn your manuscript into a bestseller, but they will ensure it will sell better than it would without their input.

But let's get back to the point of this diatribe - E/Ms are not God. 

As a writer, I've long believed the myth that most E/Ms are trolls living under their desks snatching at any winsome manuscript trying to pass across their desk. I am loath to give up that unreasonable impression, even though I now find myself turning into a troll as my role of E/M expands.

Remember, an E/M's comments on your manuscript are opinions. We may be wrong (but probably not). Comments on your manuscript are not judgements of you as a person or even as a writer. I wrote a lot of bad crap before the scent of my pros began to become more acceptably aromatic. 

Speaking for myself I am completely capable of getting things wrong. If you send me a historical romance to edit, my tendency would be to strip down your flowing prose, excise all of the yucky moony-eyed stuff, and editing you by the standards of another genre with which I am more familiar. 

Hopefully, I have evolved as an E/M to the point where I don't do this. I have grown to understand the tropes of many other genres beyond my own. I could be a good editor for a historical romance or sweet romance or even an erotic romance - but I will never be a great editor in those genres because I have nothing to add to make a manuscript better other than the generic literary conventions. I could make such a manuscript better, but I most likely couldn't help make it sing.

So, what does all of this mean when you submit a manuscript or work with an E/M? First, when your chosen E/M makes comments and suggestions don't take them personally. Try to be objective about them. Do they make sense? Do they make your manuscript stronger? Don't be obnoxious, but neither be afraid to disagree. I personally am open to a back and forth literary relationship. I may not get what you are trying to do until you explain it to me. Once I understand, I can tailor my advice and encouragement. 

I am certainly not the final word on the worth of a manuscript or even the changes I think should be made. No E/M is. This is about your writing, not a troll's editing. Still, as a writer, you need to be open and prepared to learn from an E/M's experience, while not allowing an E/M to derail your vision. 


E/M shopping can be a dangerous path. After offering advice, no E/M likes to be told be told, "But that's the complete opposite of what E/M so-and-so said." E/M shopping will only lead you to a cornucopia of conflicting advice, causing utter confusion and frustration for a beginning writer.
An E/M offers advice and opinions. Throwing up your arms and telling an E/M another E/M gave the total opposite advice is the quickest way to make the current E/M abandon you in midstream. If an E/M's advice is conflicting with what you've been told, keep your own counsel, consider the advice, and make a decision about which E/M is right. Then - most importantly - stop shopping around and stick with the E/M who serves you best.

ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER: Novelist, screenwriter, and television personality, Paul Bishop spent 35 years with the Los Angeles Police Department, where he was twice honored as Detective of the Year. He continues to work privately as an expert in deception and interrogation. His fifteen novels include five in his LAPD Homicide Detective Fey Croaker series. His latest novel, LIE CATCHERS, begins a new series featuring LAPD interrogators Ray Pagan and Calamity Jane Randall.