Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Bear tracks, ice and beginnings . . .

As 2014 ends (and 2015 begins), I'm deep in revision for Rivers of Stone, that fictional trek across 19th Century Canada, and I'm starting to get reader feedback for early chapters.  

Let me just say that occasionally submitting my work-in-progress to The Internet Writing Workshop via the NOVELS-L list is such a treat. Writers submit a chapter at a time . . . slowly . . . and write a critique of someone else's submission. Generally, folks do a minimum of two crits a month to stay active. Most do much more.

I'm such a coward that I do submit slowly and out of sequence, on the premise that chapters must stand on their own. But the feedback is so diverse and helpful, ranging from structural to grammatical, truly informed reader response, that I continue to sub. 

The question that came with this week's crits is this: How does a writer of historical fiction stay true to the 'facts' and yet tell the story? 

The story, the characters and their conflicts, the action, the plot points -- these are all primary, front and center onstage, so to speak. But those facts, the bones that may hold the story together for setting, actual physical reality, and maybe historical persons as well, these facts need to be as accurate as possible.

The Prince Rupert, 1857
Just off Resolution Island near Baffin
So as my main characters travel by the Prince Rupert (a real barque of the period) from northern Scotland to Hudson's Bay, where they encounter dense fog and drift ice in Hudson Strait. 

After much research, I found that the peak years for drift ice in Hudson Strait were 1843-1845, not 1842. But I want those ice floes and drift ice in my story because they are so beautiful and speak to the reality of travel in a wooden ship. Is it OK to tweak the dates? 

I've never been to Baffin Island or Hudson Strait, but one of my critters has. Instead I use the internet to read academic articles, search out videos on Youtube and pictures on Flickr to get a sense of what x was like.

Which brings me to bear tracks. As my main character travels the wilderness of Canada, I want there to be bears. Shouldn't there be grizzly bears and polar bears? 

Yes, but now I need much more -- where these bears live, how they migrate, mate, and what their interactions with people are. I want more stories people tell about these bears, folklore and, yes, images. Like this one, found on Facebook (can't trace the source as it's been shared over 50,000 times on FB and Twitter), but after seeing this image, I cannot forget the awe-ful reality of the size of this Grizzly bear paw!  

I haven't answered the question. Instead, my story unfolds slowly, maybe drifting like the ice, as I continue writing and researching and revising. Each morning, I play with words and images and ideas as the 'facts' recede into the background, and, hopefully, my story comes to life.

May 2015 bring you good writing and good reading!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Ending the year . . .

Take a moment to watch Sandy Brown Jensen's beautiful poem, "Year's End, Sweet Creek," in digital storytelling mode.  

Fall into nature as you think about 2015 and what it means to you. May it be a very good year for you and all those you love.

Friday, December 12, 2014

About Websites and Last Night

Last night's panel discussion on e-publishing at our local library brought a few surprises. This group was small, just 12 folks. One was already published. Five had a draft done, and 5 were close.

But here was the surprise. All were interested in e-publishing, but none of these 12 intrepid writers had a website. None wrote a blog. None tweeted, and only 3 were active on FaceBook.

So here is my question: Do these writers who want to e-publish need an online presence? After all, once we click that "publish" button on Amazon, or Lulu, or Smashwords, or Draft2Digital, our stuff is live.

Our panel response was pretty much: 

1. Where are your readers?
2. How will they find you or learn about your books? Your new releases?
3. How will they buy your books?

Because writing and marketing call forth different activities and different levels of commitment, your first step could be to think about what your long term goals are -- as a writer. And decide how you want to promote your work to connect with your readers. 

1. Recreational writer. Maybe just telling stories is all you want. You might share copies with a writing group or send copies to friends and family. Or, maybe you just want to post your stories online for anyone to read. This article by Reid Kemper lists 25 such online communities

2. One-book/two-book newbie writer. Maybe you're just starting out, and you want to dip your toe in e-publishing to find out if anyone out there wants to read your stuff. Or you don't have time to develop an online platform. Or you want your personal life to stay private.

But you could build (or have someone create) a static website for you. For example, using a free WordPress account, you could have pages that don't require updating but that basically introduce you and your books (and links on how to buy them). Bare bones -- but an online presence that allows readers to find you, a web address that can be used on business cards and other promotions. 

A static website can be the first step to . . . a fully fledged online presence. See Standout Books neat article on "Six Essential Features of a Fiction Writer's Website" or Brian Thomas Schmidt's "Twelve Essentials for a Successful Author's Website."

3. Professional writer. These guys pull out all the stops. They're active with a truly fine website, update readers with a blog that's flavored with their personalities (their "brand" that's tied right back to their genre), chat with readers and other writers via Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, e-mail lists, and direct e-mail. And they sell books. 

What we can do is to study what these professional writers do, folks who sell books in the thousands and can show us how to connect with our readers. Why not start by checking out websites by well-established writers in your genre to push your skills to the next level or expand into new areas? Or investigate this useful resource: "The 100 Best Websites for Writers in 2014" by The Write Life.  

"Ghost Writer" by Steve Petrucelli (Flickr)

Remember, writing is about the journey. We explore, we test, we write and revise . . . Shouldn't we expect to do the same for our online presence?  What do you think?

For further reading, check out this lovely article by Joanna Penn on "Should Authors Blog?"

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Self-publishing and planning ahead for 2015?

Imagine those first moments when that book you've worked so hard to write hits the web. Celebration! Excitement! You've honed the story, and you've got a gorgeous cover. You even paid a professional editor to proofread.

So when a reader and potential buyer opens that magical window, "Look Inside," do you expect any proofing errors? But there they are, laying on the page like a snake on the living room floor. Aargh!

What brings this issue up? This morning, I spent a little time editing the opening pages of a new Kindle book written by a friend. She had written to me to let me know her book was online and wanted me to look at her cover. Of course, I loved the cover, but then I clicked on "Look Inside!" to read that all-important first page and found those snakes. 

We can get overwhelmed by the scope and range of commitment when we enter the indie world of self-publishing. For inspiration and direction, read Russell Blake's end-of-the-year musings about the joys and challenges of being a self-published author. 

Before considering Blake's advice, we begin by writing the best story we can. 

Blake warns that we indie writers can't be just after the money, but if we're serious about building audience, we need to:

1. Publish regularly. Every several months?
2. Write for genres that have a high demand. Romance? Science fiction? Action/thriller?
3. Take the job of being a writer seriously. Have you mastered the craft of writing?
4. Consider writing as a business, not a hobby. Do you have a production schedule?
5. Spend money when you have to for services you need. Do you need help with editing or covers?
6. Write stories that readers will enjoy. Would you want to curl up with a book you've written?
7. Stay light on your feet. How do you stay current with market trends or new technologies?
8. Keep a sense of humor. Who can you blame if you don't?

What's not to like about Blake's advice? Read his complete article HERE.

At the end of the year, it's time to do an assessment. When I think about Blake's checklist, I have more questions than answers. But thinking about these issues will bring me closer to clarifying my writing goals for 2015. Want to join me on A Round of Words for 80 Days

For now, I will blog about some of Blake's topics in the coming week.

Blake says to publish regularly. The first challenge for me is to publish regularly. Right now, my books have a turnaround of about three years from idea through research, drafting, revision, editing, and publishing. According to Blake, that's way too slow. 

Can I do something to tighten this turnaround? I did delay publishing of my first book in the series so that Book 1: Standing Stones and Book 2: Years of Stone could be released in the same year, and I'm about 70% done drafting Book 3: Rivers of Stone. Can I commit to finishing Book 3 by September 2015?  Maybe.

Could I edit my serial killer/mystery and publish Mothers Don't Die this year instead, since we'll be travelling across Canada this summer for research on Book 3?  But that's skipping around in different genres. Will folks who love historical fiction want to read about a serial killer? 

Can't achieve that amazing goal of setting a schedule until I decide who's on first.

Aargh! What do you think about 'publishing regularly'? What does that mean to YOU?

"Writer's Block" by Nata Luna Sans on Flickr 

Friday, December 05, 2014

A month of unexpected kindness . . .

We're now in December, a month of holidays with Thanksgiving (and NaNoWriMo) just past. Just for kicks, here's my graphic for words written during NaNo.

But I'm still feeling thankful for writing friends and unexpected kindnesses.

Out of the blue, Sandy Brown Jensen, a digital storyteller and creative writing teacher, sent me a video trailer she made for STANDING STONES. 

Now I did experiment in making my own video trailer for Standing Stones and Years of Stone, using PowerPoint, images I took, and freebie music via youtube. But I love Sandy's new trailer, "Beth Camp: Writer of Forgotten Worlds."  

Another unexpected kindness: Annette Drake, author of Bone Girl and Celebration House, hosts a table at a local craft & book fair this week. She invited me to participate. Here's her table!

Baskethound Books and me
Annette has a marketing mind and inspires me to try new ideas to promote my writing. For some reason, just as many other writers feel about marketing, I'd rather be writing. I'm on the verge of trying something new that will definitely expand my marketing boundaries, but I hesitate. Why push right  now, this holiday month, for more visibility, when everyone else is out there? Accountability? Belief in my writing? 

The research for book 3, Rivers of Stone, goes well. With each detail, I'm able to imagine the life of a voyaguer crossing Canada in the 1840s. The arc of the story may not satisfy every reader, for the resolution is not traditional. But I like it, even as I wrestle with the idea of what it might be like to be a woman in that time.

I still need tenacity and courage to achieve my marketing goals, those very specific tasks that always seem to get pushed down to the bottom of the to-do list. 2014 is close to ending and 2015 is filled with promise. 

But today I'm celebrating that community of writers -- virtual and face-to-face, that encourage my commitment, that connect me to like-minded souls, especially those self-published indie authors who simply want to write their stories and poems. 

Thank you! And may your writing go well.

A Round of Words in 80 Days
The Internet Writing Workshop
Weds WIPpet at My Random Muse
NaNoWriMo National Novel Writing Month
Spokane Authors

Saturday, November 29, 2014

NaNoWriMo and My Heart's Desire . . .

These last few days have been crowded with family and friends, a new baby just three weeks old, and so much to be very thankful for. 

Writers face a special challenge in November IF we take on the commitment to write 1,667 words a day for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). The overall goal? 50,000 words by the end of November.

For as long as I can remember, I've wanted to write stories. This challenge, this commitment to NaNoWriMo this year, despite all else, has brought 46,814 new words to my current writing project with two days left before the end of the month. (Thank goodness for automatic word counts, for I'm not counting them myself!).

Can I write nearly 3,000 words in these last two days? Maybe, but this is the closest I've ever come to meeting that 50,000 word goal. 

On December 1, the real fun will begin. I'll start moving blocks of text and scenes into five different sections that make up the structure of Rivers of Stone. And I will have met my personal challenge to write "to my heart's desire."

15th Century tapestries: "The Lady and the Unicorn"
"To My Heart's Desire"
Cluny Museum, Paris (Camp 2004)
Writers may wonder what I gained from participating in NaNoWriMo, and, perhaps more importantly, how I achieved this goal. 

First:  What would a writer gain from this kind of writing streak?

Immersion writing for an entire month brought me closer to the story. My characters are staying with me in a deeper way, wedging into my subconscious, bringing new insights into who they really are, what they do and why.

Generating so many words has freed me up to 'kill the darlings,' cutting those scenes I might like but that don't advance the story. 

Practically, though, how on earth did I actually write this many words each day (when my usual output is 250 words a day)? What advice would I give to someone else wishing to NaNo?

1. Make a commitment. Believe in yourself. Sounds funny to say this, but start the month with a commitment to get those words on paper.
2. Tell your family and friends so they'll maybe understand your craziness (the house and all else will suffer).
3. Write 'to your heart's desire.'

I write very early and have a chunk of time of two to three hours before the rest of the family wakes. That is gold. This time, I learned to sprint, seizing those 20 minute intervals at odd moments  to just capture the story, sometimes with Twitter sprints, sometimes on my own.

Know that you will get stuck. Fine. Accept this as part of the writing process. Go for a walk, read some research. Do an info search on the internet. Talk to a writing buddy. All may help you get back into your story. But know that moment will come when you simply plop down in front of your computer, mug of coffee nearby, and you will write.

May you write to your heart's desire!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Thanksgiving and Romance . . .

Most of us are elbow- or knee-deep in preparing for that great Thanksgiving feast. But writers who are going for 50,000 words by the end of November's NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) might skimp on preparations for Thanksgiving this year.

How about a romantic break from stress? Why not put temptation between two covers -- book covers! Luckily, there's lots of temptation in this sweet romance written by Annette Drake, writing buddy, editing partner, and ongoing source of inspiration. 

Annette is offering her first ever Rafflecopter, with a $25 Amazon gift card as the prize, to promote her recently released, A Year With Geno.

Available on Amazon
The blurb: Single-mom Caroline Taylor wants nothing more than to make a home for her two young sons in Eagle River, Alaska. The only problem: an eviction notice.

When the perfect rental falls through again, she and her boys move in with Air Force Sgt. Geno D’Antoni and his two teenage sons. It’s only for a year, so she can polish her credit rating and save a down payment to buy a home. It’s a perfect plan.

Or not. When Geno stands up to Caroline’s bully of an ex-husband, he retaliates by suing for full custody. Then Geno’s ex-wife, spurned by her fiancĂ©, moves back in. She wants Caroline out. Now.

The tiny spark of passion between Caroline and Geno sputters and dies. Or does it? Maybe they had no chance with the chaos from their pasts eclipsing their future. So why does Caroline rush home to share all the details of her day with him? Why does Geno dream about her? And when exactly does your best friend become your future?

One thing’s for sure: it’s gonna be a heck of a year!

A little about Annette:  Annette Drake is a multi-genre author whose work is character-driven and celebrates the law of unintended consequences.

A Year with Geno, her contemporary romance set in Eagle River, Alaska, was released on summer solstice, June 21st.

Annette’s second novel, Bone Girl, premiered in March from Baskethound Books and is available in ebook, print and audiobook. Her debut novel, Celebration House, was published last August by Tirgearr Publishing.

Now, Annette turns her attention to regaining her sanity and writing the two sequels to Celebration House. Both books are slated for publication in 2015.

She left high school after two years to obtain her GED and attend Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri, where she earned a degree in journalism. Annette worked as a reporter and editor for newspapers in Missouri and Kansas from 1987 to 1993. After earning a bachelor of science in nursing in 1994, she worked in hospitals in Missouri, Alaska and Washington before returning her focus to writing.

Annette makes her home in Spokane, Washington. A member of the Inland Northwest Writers Guild and Spokane Authors & Self Publishers, she loves libraries, basset hounds and bakeries. She does not camp. Much.

Here's the LINK to Annette's Rafflecopter Giveaway. Entering is easy. I did it. Will you be the lucky winner???

Annette's Website:

And, all of Annette's books are available on Amazon!

Happy reading and happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Cover Reveal: "The Fifth Watcher"

As a writer, one thrilling moment in the long journey from idea to actual book-in-the-hand is the day the cover jells.

Today's blog celebrates the cover reveal for Melissa Barker-Simpson, an energetic writer of science fiction and fantasy. Her latest book, The Fifth Watcher, will release on November 21.

Is that a gorgeous cover? 
Are you ready for another good read?

Here's the SYNOPSIS for The Fifth Watcher.

At the moment of Audrey Montgomery’s birth, a new world came into existence -- a barren place, a catalyst for the darkness spreading through the multidimensional system. The shift in power makes Audrey an invaluable pawn in a war between those who want to protect her and those who will go to extraordinary lengths to eliminate her.

As a result, she has spent her life on the run, unaware of her true origins. When her father dies and leaves her with a shocking legacy, her life is irrevocably changed. If she has any hope of surviving, Audrey must embrace her new reality and trust a man who is as dark and uncertain as the future itself.

Lieutenant Keith Delany, an Interdimensional Officer of the Law (IDOL), is tasked with bringing her in. It is an assignment his entire team are invested in, having spent years searching for her. As a senior member of the squad, Keith is charged with protecting her, with showing her the truth about her past, and with preparing her for an unknown future. As an IDOL he is responsible for every life, for every traveller who navigates the system.

But his connection to Audrey is unprecedented, and he soon discovers she alone holds the power to prevent the continuum’s collapse.

Here's a taste of Melissa's writing style in an EXCERPT:

I shook my head to clear the hum in my ears. The sounds were duller now, my vision blurry. I was looking through some kind of membrane and it was closing in on me. It pulled me further and further inside until I wanted to scream for it to end.

My father hadn’t prepared me for this. If I could see the enemy, I could fight, but I had no way of defending myself against this.

Heat travelled along my skin, but it didn’t burn. There was no pain. I held onto that as everything faded and I was engulfed by a shocking blast of light. It was everywhere. Even when I closed my eyes, it pierced right through me.

I couldn’t deny the strange pull; a demand in my blood that told me to let go. I had little choice but to obey.

In the next moment, a wave of nausea caught me unaware, and I clenched my teeth to control it. The light receded, little by little, and my skin felt clammy now, rather than hot.

The silence was deafening, and though I was afraid, I opened my eyes, holding my breath until the spinning stopped. The world settled around me slowly, sharpening as I exhaled the air caught in my lungs.

I was no longer at home. I was out in the open, somewhere strangely familiar.

Melissa currently writes from England where she balances writing, parenting two teen-aged daughters, and working as a sign language interpreter. I first met Melissa as part of two online writing communities: A Round of Words in 80 Days and WIPpet Wednesday (both incredibly helpful sites for indie writers). She was kind enough to answer a few questions for today's big cover reveal for The Fifth Watcher:

1. What led you to become a writer? Have you always known or did something happen along the way? I’ve always been a writer; I’ve certainly been creating worlds for a long as I can remember. It is a part of who I am, a part I’m grateful for.

2. What do you want the reader to take away from reading your stories? I want my readers to have fun, to care about the characters as much as I do, and to feel a sense of connection. Entertainment is my main goal, to give back, because I gain so much pleasure in reading and it has helped me throughout my life. If I can do that for others – well, that just fills me with joy.

3. What's your next big step? I’m working on a Fantasy romance at the moment, which is a first for me. I love the characters, which makes it really hard to take a step back! I need to write the third in the Morgan and Fairchild series, or my readers won’t be too happy with me! The Fifth Watcher is also the first in the Worlds Apart series, so at some point I need to start thinking about that. I really should concentrate on one thing at a time, but I learnt long ago it’s not how my mind works and we have to be true to ourselves.

Melissa ends by reminding us to be "true to ourselves." I respect her commitment, her energy, and her sheer writing creativity. You can read about her other books on Amazon HERE.

Connect with Melissa on:

Her blog:

Go ahead, check out her book on November 21. Make an indie writer happy!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Historic Fact or Fiction?

Last week, I really enjoyed talking with writers at the monthly meeting of Spokane Authors about writing contests. I'd been invited to talk on this subject because I'd "won" two literary competitions. So I did a little homework and had fun in the process.

One writer asked a few questions as just now, I primarily write historical fiction. He wanted to know if I used footnotes when I wrote and how I separated historic fact from my fiction.

My automatic response is that writing historical nonfiction is about information. Yes, to avoid plagiarism, I would use footnotes, and the emphasis is on the what, how, and why.

When I'm writing historical fiction, though, my emphasis is on my characters, their conflicts, their motivations, their personal successes and failures. The 'facts' are deep background, buried in a telling image, or a historical personage, or the setting.

The telling image. The truth is I read and study, and then, maybe because I'm an older than average writer, I forget. Except a telling image will float in when I need it or just stick in my mind. 

For example, for Rivers of Stone, when the men of the Fur Brigade Express were trekking across Canada in the 1840s, of necessity they traveled so light, they would run out of food. I read one man's memoir to find this statement: "I can't tell you how many times I had to eat my moccasins."

Native American Moccasins
Kim Alaniz (Flickr)
That writer at Spokane Authors raised his hand and said, "That's a story right out of my family tradition." Turns out he was descended from those French Canadian voyageurs and had heard the "eat my moccasins" all the years he was growing up. I love this image and have already used it.

A historical personage. Even with a historical person, my approach to writing historical fiction is rather dreamy. I read as much as I can about the person, those physical details that mark the 'reality' of who that person was, what they did, how they acted, and, if possible, their manner of speaking. 

I want to be true to the person, but keep the focus on the story. For example, when writing about the intrepid Lady Jane Franklin in Years of Stone, I was shocked to discover her class bias. She never called her maid by anything other than her last name, Stewart.

The setting. Finally, while this is not always possible, I like to call on my personal background to transform what I read into fiction. 

My current draft for Rivers of Stone has me writing about the voyageurs and their incredible skill in navigating nasty rapids in fragile canoes at all times of the year -- for an average of fifteen hours a day. It helps that I've been white water river rafting and have stared down into great sucking whirlpools.

You may know this is NaNoWriMo month. So far, I'm making my word count every day, but this morning, I woke up wanting to blog about how I write historical fiction in hopes it will clarify the process of writing or help you achieve your writing goals. My tips simply are:

1. Do the deep research to find those images that speak to you.
2. Work to be true to the essence of any historical persons who are in your story.
3. Call on personal experience to transform what you read into what you know with your own five senses. 
4. Try to avoid information dumps. Historical fiction is always about the characters, their conflicts, their hopes and dreams.

And may your writing go well.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Indie Writers and Mail Chimp?

Image by RaHul Rodriguez (Flickr)
Everyone seems to say one of the most important early steps an indie writer can take is to develop a mailing list and send out newsletters to your fans. 

After I thought about the purpose behind my newsletter (to connect with fans), I was ready for the technical side. 

Two steps are involved:

  1. Make a launch pad from your website and/or blog so that readers know where to go to subscribe.
  2. Set up an account that will allow you to create, send, and track e-mailed newsletters. 

I decided to try MailChimp because they offer:

  • Templates to personalize for your website (a launch page) and for the newsletter itself,
  • One-button mailing, once you finalize that newsletter template (which can include photos and a banner, if you like),
  • Free storage and tracking of subscribers and newsletters (what they call 'campaigns'), and
  • Reports on how your mailing performs.
So I wondered:  How difficult could this be? Well, it only took me five months to actually get up the courage to send out my first e-mailed newsletter. Hooray! Did this last night while waiting for kids to ring the doorbell on Halloween.

I'd like to compliment MailChimp for its many HELP features (posts and videos) that walk a newbie through how to make most effective use of their services.

I also found this post by Steena Holms for the Writers in the Storm blog especially useful in simplifying the steps I needed to take. Steena says to remember that everyone starts out with zero subscribers. Check out her timely advice at: "The How and Why of Writer's Newsletters."

So, if YOU would like to subscribe to my newsletter, just go HERE to subscribe to Beth's quarterly newsletter Or, drop me a line. 

"Spicy Spam" by (Flickr)
My newsletter will go out quarterly (thus avoiding that nasty label, spam), promises privacy for my subscribers, and hopefully will give my readers a few extras -- early release announcements, discounts, and a little back story along the way.

Please comment if you would like to share your experiences in reading, writing, or managing your writer newsletter. 

May your own reading and writing go well. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Writers Need Cats!

"Computer Cat" (Pat Kight, Flickr)

Today I'm sharing a post I wrote for A Round of Words in 80 Days, an online community of writers who set goals, check-in with progress reports, and encourage each other to persevere. Thank you, Kait Nolan, for leading the way.

"Writers Need Cats!"

You may think that writers work in isolation, hunched over the keyboard, and requiring absolute quiet. But I recommend, for the most consistent kick-in-the-pants, inspirational writing companion, you should adopt a cat.

Before Tiger went to kitty heaven, I had the means to closely observe the links between cats and writerly creativity. 
  1. Cats know when we should stop working at the computer. Not only will they tread lightly over the keyboard and drape themselves gingerly upon it, but should that not be sufficient, they will leap upon your amassed rough draft and mark selected pages with muddy prints, ensuring you take appropriate breaks from intense writing sessions. 
  2. Cats inspire thoughtful analysis. Who has observed a cat gazing into what we cannot see and not realized their attachment to issues far grander than a plot hole – and our own need to think of unique alternatives beyond the outline? Our creativity is enhanced when we explore different perspectives. Cats ensure our connection to the infinite. 
  3. Cats model confidence. They move with distinction, poise, and know with certainty that their needs will be taken care of. They do not fear public speaking nor doubt their writing skills. 
  4. Cats prompt a range of emotion useful for character development. What cat owner has not received tender gifts from the garden? My Aunt Tessie escaped upstairs in terror after attempting to pick up the ‘toy’ snake Tiger had been playing with in the living room. This gave me a powerful lesson in the physical and emotional reactions characters have to stress. 
  5. Cats show us that important fictional and real relationships require love, compassion, and trust. I yet remember that fateful night when I awoke to find my cat nestled next to my tummy, ready to give birth. I learned inventiveness that night as well as respect for the unexpected, useful for plot twists and heightened tension. 
  6. Cats nurture the pleasure principle by allowing us to pet them, rewarding us with a low-throated purr, encouraging us to pamper ourselves when we achieve our writing goals. 
  7. Cats teach tenacity. When a cat hunts, sneaking forward slowly on unsuspecting prey, no matter the outcome or how many times the goal remains out of reach, a cat will persist. As should we in our story-telling skills and ruthless revision and editing. 
And so, my writing friends of ROW80 fame, once a cat is added to your life, I believe your writing will improve, even if you already have a dog leaning on your knee for attention.

"My Office Cat" (Jenny, Flickr)

Friday, October 24, 2014

Potential Self-Publishing Mudholes

Writers fantasize about quitting the day job, readers falling in love with their stories, and 5-star reviews. Today, I'm thrilled to introduce multi-talented, award-winning, and prolific writer of fantasy and science fiction, Ruth Nestvold, and her forthcoming YA novella, Island of GlassRuth points out four potentially messy issues to consider when we are poised on the brink of self-publishing. 

"Potential Self Publishing Mudholes"

by Ruth Nestvold

The last couple of months, I’ve been writing a series of blog posts on “Starting Out as an Indie Author.”  

I began it because a good friend of mine, another writer who was with me at the Clarion West Writers’ Workshop in Seattle many years ago, got the rights back for a traditionally published novel and now wants to self-publish. With all the questions she was sending me, I realized that I couldn’t really do the subject justice in e-mail, so I started “answering” them on my blog.

In my series, I’ve talked a lot about what authors should do leading up to self-publishing their work, but I’ve said very little about the mistakes they can make along the way. 

Perhaps this post will help some of those who are considering self-publishing to weigh the risks against the advantages when making a decision about how to move forward.

Needless to say, these “mistakes” are a subjective list of things I have noticed in myself and others on the road to indie publishing. 

The beauty and the curse of self-publishing is that it is so much easier and faster than going the traditional route, which can take years and (most of the time) still result in nothing. A fact that is often ignored is that self-publishing -- while faster -- most of the time also results in nothing. Which leads me straight to the first mistake made by indie authors.

Great Expectations

Most writers considering self-publishing have heard the stories of outliers such as Amanda Hocking, Hugh Howey, and H. M. Ward, authors who have landed bestsellers with self-published works. Of course, we would all like to think that we could be one of those outliers, but the vast majority of us never will be. More ebooks are being published every day, and that means that there are more works competing for the attention of readers, while the market itself isn’t getting any bigger.

The indie authors I know personally who are having the greatest success are publishing several books a year, sometimes even one a month. And most of those successful authors are publishing in some kind of romance-related genre, such as erotic, paranormal or new adult. Authors publishing in niche genres such as Arthurian fiction or literary time travel (that’s me, folks!) have little chance of hitting the bestseller lists, no matter how good their work is. 

Underestimating the work needed

Like any other art, writing is a craft that involves practice and training: learning the essentials of plot, characterization, setting, etc.; developing a regular writing routine; learning how to revise and edit your own work. As opposed to many arts, writing is something you can teach yourself, although most writers can benefit from taking courses in writing and/or workshopping their fiction. Critiques from other writers not only help in catching problems in your writing, they can help prepare the beginning writer for the reviews of readers who have paid for the published work -- and which can be merciless.

All of this, however, takes a lot of time and dedication. The advent of self-publishing has made learning the craft of writing unnecessary in order to publish. But the vast majority of those who have never spent much time honing fiction writing skills will most likely end up with scathing critiques and few sales.

Spending too much

This mistake goes hand in hand with the first two mistakes I mentioned above. An inexperienced writer who has not spent much time learning the craft and/or researching the ins and outs of self-publishing can be tempted to put all their faith in “packaging” -- i.e. hiring professional editors and cover designers to hopefully make their work into a bestseller.

While I am a proponent of making your book as professional as you can, there are a number of questions a writer needs to ask herself before she plops down hundreds of dollars for self-publishing services:

- Have I run the work through a critique group, writing workshop, or beta readers and seriously weighed the issues they found and tried to revise accordingly?

- Do I feel insulted/misunderstood when someone I have shown my work tries to provide constructive criticism? A writer who feels this way may not be able to recognize when editorial advice is justified.

- Am I writing in a niche/genre which has little chance of ever making back the money invested in expensive editing services or high-priced cover art?

Spending too little

In my experience, this tends to be a mistake more often made by experienced writers who have been published in traditional venues. Unfortunately, having already received one or more checks or Paypal payments for your fiction does not make you immune to mistakes. Nor does it make you a graphic designer. But as numerous bad self-published covers show, many writers prefer to believe the old adage, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.”

While that might be true, very few readers will be tempted to buy a book with a cover that looks thrown together by someone who has no idea of graphic design -- and little knowledge of standard programs like Photoshop or Gimp.

And while a multi-published author is unlikely to make the same mistakes in the text as a less experienced writer, we all miss typos, etc., in our own work -- which is why we all need either proofreaders or very dedicated beta readers, who are willing to take the time to point out the kinds of boo-boos we were unable to catch because we were just too close to what we wrote.

As with many things, it can be much too easy to overestimate our own editing and design skills. We all need reality checks at times, and those can be provided by critique groups or cover uploads to Facebook or blogs.

In conclusion

Writers considering going into self-publishing should do their best to research the market, read articles and books on the subject, and develop a plan. I highly recommend KBoards as a place to start. Do your best to have fun along the way. Self-publishing is challenging, but if you can develop strategies you enjoy, that will help a lot in getting you to your goal.

Ruth Nestvold's latest book, Island of Glass, will be available on Amazon on October 28, 2014.  

Seventeen-year-old Chiara Dragoni is a master glassmaker of Venice, a position that is both a privilege — and a trap. For the glassmakers of Murano are forbidden to ever leave the islands of the Venetian lagoon.

When Chiara's uncle is caught on the mainland and thrown into the dungeon of the Doge's Palace, she must use all her talents, including magic, to help free him. But the gift she creates for the prince of Venice has unintended consequences, and now Chiara must decide whether to give up everything  — and everyone  — she knows and loves in order to save her dream.

Set in an alternate historical Venice with alchemists, witches and magic, the story uses familiar motifs from the beloved fairy tale "Cinderella" to tell a tale with a very different message.

Island of Glass is a Young Adult fantasy novella of approximately 25,000 words, or 100 pages. It is the first book in The Glassmakers Trilogy. Now available for pre-order for an introductory price of only 99c!

A bit of background on Ruth: Ruth Nestvold’s short stories have appeared in numerous markets, including Asimov’s, F&SF, Baen’s Universe, Strange Horizons, Realms of Fantasy, and Gardner Dozois’s Year’s Best Science Fiction. 

Her fiction has been nominated for the Nebula, Tiptree, and Sturgeon Awards. In 2007, the Italian translation of her novella “Looking Through Lace” won the “Premio Italia” award for best international work. Her novel Yseult appeared in German translation as Flamme und Harfe with Random House Germany and has since been translated into Dutch and Italian. It is now available as an ebook in the original English.

Find Ruth Nestvold on the Internet:

Twitter:  @Ruth_Nestvold

Ruth's books are available on:
Barnes & Noble:

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Build Your Author Platform: One Step at a Time

We self-published authors often struggle with how to get the word out about our books. The internet is full of writing gurus who offer very helpful advice, 10 steps to get started, 15 steps to develop a fan base, 20 steps on marketing more effectively, 100 steps to . . . meltdown!

In fact, developing a platform that fits your market niche, your readers, and your personal style is rather like searching for the perfect shoes. Sometimes they pinch. But, that old saying perseverance furthers can work for you.

If you can identify the three or four steps you'd like to take in the next several months, why not minimize that learning curve, reduce stress, and avoid overwhelming yourself by picking just one aspect to work on.

What do YOU want your online platform to include?

* a website?
* a presence on Twitter, Pinterest, or Instagram?
* an author page on Facebook?
* author pages on your book outlets -- Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords?

Each of these hotly debated "planks" in your platform suggests a different set of skills and raises new issues, not the least being potential costs, how much time you want to invest, and your very own learning curve.

If you are at the planning stage, how do you know you are headed in a good direction for you?

Consider subscribing to e-mailed newsletters from trusted experts in the field. It may feel like a detour before you actually move ahead, but studying the craft of marketing, especially from writers who have already successfully tested their ideas, can be an excellent starting point.

(Note: I have no affiliate links on any of my sites. Below are listed a few of my favorites).

Why not just check out ONE?

  • Joel Friedlander's The Book Designer gives "practical advice on building better books." Latest post: "Thou Shalt Blog!"
  • Joanna Penn's The Creative Penn (includes podcasts). Resources on writing, publishing, AND marketng.
  • Anne R. Allen's weekly posts. Latest: "Do Authors Obsess too Much About Reviews?" 
  • Writers' Digest's weekly newsletter on "free writing advice." Includes a free download of the 101 best websites for writers.
If you are happy with your 'platform,' what has been your greatest success? What would YOU recommend a newbie start with?

A personal note: I made a commitment to post about writing strategies here each week, while writing a poem a day throughout October on my travel blog. I'm currently revisiting France, if you want to take a look. My primary writing project is researching and drafting Rivers of Stone, historical fiction set in Canada and the Pacific Northwest in the 1840s.  Sometimes I think I go rather too slowly on marketing issues, but I'm looking forward to your comments.

View from a Crofter's Cottage, Lerwick, Scotland (Camp 2009)


Thursday, October 02, 2014

5 Ways to Get Feedback on Your Writing

You’ve thought about your overall plan, where you want to go as a writer, and what you’d like to accomplish long term. You already know what you’re writing about and probably have a writing routine that works for you. You have identified your writing strengths and areas that need work – whether that be revising or editing skills.

Photo by Ivanneth, "The Writer" (Flickr)
But I have one question for you. 

After you have revised and edited your story so many times you can't really look at it one more time, how do you get critical feedback?  

First, consider what you want feedback on: A chapter or two? An entire rough draft? Are you looking for quick feedback or do you want ongoing relationships with other writers that will help you strengthen your writing? Consider these options:

You could take a creative writing class. This more structured approach with assignments, deadlines, and accountability will still push you to share your writing and polish your critiquing skills. Check out your local community college or community center to find out what’s available.  Online workshops, like those offered by Holly Lisle, are another fine option.  Downside: Cost? Weekly commitment?

If you are just getting started on outlining or drafting and don’t have a finished rough draft, you may be most comfortable joining a small face-to-face writers' group that meets routinely. Such writers’ groups can accommodate a range of skills, genres, and styles. It may take some time to find a good fit with a face-to-face writers’ group, but the rewards are many in being able to talk with other writers about the craft of writing and sharing your work. Downside: The shoe may not fit if other members are defensive or too critical. Don’t stay in a small group that makes you feel uncomfortable or doubt your writing.

If you’re not able to find a small group in your area, why not try an online critique group. I’m most familiar with the critique group called NOVELS_L, a part of The Internet Writers Workshop.  Here, writers need to submit and/or critique two chapters each month, posting their critiques to the entire list of some 85 writers who currently active members of the list. Other IWW groups exist for short fiction, poetry, nonfiction. Downside: The volume of e-mailed submissions and critiques can be intimidating, but you will gain wonderful feedback and learn from writers who care as much as you do about the quality of your writing.

If you are tearing your hair out and just want a workbook approach to critiquing your writing, two of my favorites are Elizabeth Lyon, Manuscript Makeover, and Donald Maass, Writing the Breakout Novel. Both books provide extensive checklists and worksheets as well as discussing the art of writing and revision by emphasizing positive actions to take. Downside: It may be easier to start than to finish, even when each chapter is helpful.  

A very helpful option once you have that rough draft finished is to find a writer you trust to be a beta reader. Your beta reader will read your entire mss and give you critical feedback at the micro and macro level. Downside: Many writers pay for such critiques. This could be expensive. Some writers worry that their precious mss may be stolen (it does happen). But if you know your beta reader, his or her comments can make all the difference as you polish your rough draft. 

How do you “know” your beta reader or find her? Perhaps through that face-to-face writers’ group, or that creative writing class, or that online writing group you’ve joined.

Photo by Nana B. Agyei, Flickr

One last question: What do you do consistently to improve your writing craft? 

Besides writing!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Writer's Construction Zone: Part 3

Oregon coast (Camp)
After the day's writing is complete, most writers have some discretionary time. Without a plan of some sort, many of us will vacillate between what we want to do and what might be the next best step. 

For example, I'd rather do research for my current work in progress (WIP), than critique someone else's rough draft. But one of my goals is to be a part of a larger writing community. So, I put that reader/editor hat on and start reading.

Especially when writers spend full-time at another job, we can be overwhelmed in choosing what we really do need to work on next. With so many choices ahead, why not begin with an assessment of your writing and storytelling skills?

Writing skills:  Take a moment to assess which of the following you are particularly good at. What writing skills would you like to improve? 

  • Planning to sketch out ideas (from simple to elaborate)?
  • Outlining to more formally map out what you wish to write?
  • Drafting to get those words down on paper reasonably efficiently?
  • Revising of content and structure?
  • Editing for exact expression at the paragraph, sentence, and word levels?
  • Copy editing for grammar, punctuation, and spelling?
  • Word processing skills that support all the above?

Storytelling skills? Imagine you are a kid, sitting around a campfire. The grandfather spins a tale, and everyone leans closer. How does he do it? The audience is riveted to his next words, his hand pointing to the stars, and the exciting conclusion that makes it hard to go to sleep in the tent with the firelight flickering low and the rumble of adults still talking. Are you comfortable with these storytelling skills:

  • Fully-developed and empathetic characters that involve the audience? 
  • A consistent point of view that keeps your audience engaged?
  • A setting that brings the story to life?
  • Rising and falling conflict? 
  • Pacing appropriate for the genre and style of your story?
  • A story arc that reaches a satisfying conclusion and resonates with your theme? 

When we can identify more precisely what we want to work on next, we can then find resources to help us -- whether through an article in a writer's magazine, a creative writing class, participating in a online writing community, or simply reading/studying a book.

For example, to work on that slippery skill of matching your characters to an appropriate point of view, I can recommend Orson Scott Card's classic Characters & Viewpoint, an Elements of Fiction Writing put out by Writers Digest (2011).

Next Saturday, I'll be sharing some thoughts on building that professional development plan. 

Meanwhile, may your writing go well!