To Outline or Not to Outline?

The practice of Outlining in creative writing strikes me as a contradiction. You’re putting formality and structure around a process which should be free and open to flow at will. You’re making it enclosing it, purposefully making it rigid.
But then I look back over the four years it took to write my first novel. I didn’t outline it. I just let my characters run around all higgledy-piggledy for at least a gazillion words until they’d decided what they wanted to do. Then there was a lot of restructuring and it became a novel. It was still twice the size of a normal contemporary romance novel that became two, then three books in a series that has the potential to infinitely grow.
And then… I look at National Novel Writing Month 2009 and the strictest outlining I have created before starting a new project. I mean serious army sergeant strict. And I remember how much Ireally hated writing that novel. Sure I wrote 50K in 23 days. But was it fun? Nu-huh! And the reason I write first and foremost is because I get a great deal of pleasure from it.
So let’s talk about something much more enjoyable; my published debut Tainted Love. It’s actually the sixth novel I’ve written and it took only two weeks to write. The difference between Tainted Love and the four year aimless marathon is that I had a good idea of where my character was going. Unknowingly, Faith is caught in progressively abusive marriage and over the course of twenty plus years the relationship succumbs to her husband’s rage and unpredictable violence. Faith expresses her deepest and most personal thoughts in letters she sends to her brother. I knew when I set out with a rough outline the couple had two children, that Calvin’s abuse was slow and would progress from verbal to physical to sexual and eventually near fatal and Faith would have to leave him. I knew she’d spend years trying to evade him until she finally rebuilt her sense of self worth to face him again.
I used to see outlining as an unnecessary evil, and it never really helped me at all. I remember feeling restricted and claustrophobic because I had a plan, a road map and I had to stick to it. But the wonderful thing about plans is they change. Well, why shouldn’t they? It’s part of the creative process. Your characters grow and develop over the course of their journey. They might develop faster or slower than you expected them to, or given a certain situation they might not act the way you expected them to. They might decide they want more than two children, or the evil one might actually have a reason for acting the way they do after all, or they might just want to break your heart.
In my opinion, one of the best things about being an author is there are no right or wrong answers. The debate about outlining will remain forevermore but the way I see it, outlining is like taking a fly-drive holiday using a Sat-Nav. It knows which rental office you’re picking the car up from and it knows where you’re supposed to be dropping it off, and it knows all the scheduled stops you want to make along the way. But who cares if you missed the last turning and got lost? Go and explore! Find out something new and exciting about your characters. Throw them into situations they might not have ended up in if you’d stuck to the itinerary! One of the most commented on plot twists in Tainted Love is ‘I didn’t expect Calvin… (To give you the rest would be to spoil it)’ and my response is ‘No, neither did I’.
By Erin Cawood
Buy Now @ Amazon & Amazon UK
Genre – Women’s Fiction / Contemporary Romance
Rating – PG13
More details about the author & the book
Connect with Erin Cawood on Facebook & Twitter & GoodReads

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The Top 10 Reasons to Self-Publish

I'm a self publisher. For me it was always Plan A and I'm happy to see that the stigma attached to this publishing route has drastically changed over the past few years. More and more authors are choosing to go the D.I.Y. route and even big name authors are dropping their traditional publishers to go it alone.

This infographic gives a nice summary of some of the top reasons to self publish:

Artisanal Publishing

Are you a self published author? Why did you choose to go this route? What do you like best about being a self published author?

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So what exactly is New Adult?

Publishers and bookstores, just like libraries, are obsessive in categorizing books. They need to be in order to file things properly so that they, and their customers, can find things. Unfortunately, this has a downside. What do you do with something that doesn’t fit?

Young Adult, or YA as it’s called in the industry, was invented when publishers discovered that kids in high school know how to read. Prior to that time, there were children’s books and adult books. With the publication of Harry Potter, many adults discovered the YA category. In addition, high school kids grow up, but continue to read.

For some reason, publishers haven’t figured that out.

One of the myths in publishing is that adults want to read about adults, and children want to read about children. Teenagers read YA because they relate to the characters. And since college-age people don’t read fiction, books with college-age characters won’t sell.

As a result, authors who write about characters between high school and their mid-twenties are told that there’s no market for their books.

In the same way, many authors have been led to believe that the category of New Adult, where the characters are of that between age, are being read by people of that between age. And so a debate rages within the New Adult community as to exactly what it is.

Is New Adult aimed at readers between 18 and 25, or is it stories with characters between 18 and 25?

I know that many authors and readers in that age group feel the books are aimed at them. But if they stop and think about it, they might have read Harry Potter, Twilight or the Hunger Games when they were much older than the characters in the books.

A couple of years ago, St. Martin’s Press put out a call for New Adult books and coined the term. Some incorrectly classify it as a genre, but it is actually a category. Within the category, books in many genres have hit the market. What do I mean by genre? Science Fiction, Fantasy, Romance, Westerns, etc., are genres.

So what exactly is New Adult?

Some in the media have labeled New Adult as YA plus sex. But it is much more than that. After a character graduates high school, they are technically an adult. Faced with a new world of jobs, college or university, and adult romance, they have different motivations and challenges than they did as a teenager in high school. They are able to explore a wider world, travel, and experiment with sex. But that doesn’t automatically mean a story about someone who is 20 includes them having sex.

In another era, such stories were often called “coming of age” novels. Think about Pride and Prejudice, Catcher in the Rye, or Anna Karenina. I’ve often wondered if The Devil Wears Prada might be classified as New Adult.

As I said earlier, often people in that 18 to 25 age group feel such books are aimed at them and identify with the characters. They therefore fall into the same trap as the publishers, thinking that age group is the only market for the stories. But a much wider audience will read such books, both younger and older.

Many authors who have unwittingly written books with characters in this age range are surprised when they are rebuffed by publishers. The reasons are always the same. There’s no market. Agents and publishers suggest making the characters younger, getting rid of the sex. Or maybe make the characters older. Change the conflict. In other words, write a different book.

Self-publishing changed that. The growth of New Adult and the fact that some of the big six publishers are now soliciting NA manuscripts is directly attributable to sales of self-published novels, proving there really is a market.

In my own case, I was told that I should make my characters younger, get rid of the sex, and perhaps include some vampires. In other words, write a different book. Thankfully, what people read is no longer exclusively dictated by six large publishing companies. I just received a letter from a fan who raved about my new novel, Succubus Rising, the third book in the Telepathic Clans Saga. He’s read all three books and he definitely falls in the age range for New Adult novels. He’s 72.

By B.R. Kingsolver. "I made silver and turquoise jewelry for almost a decade, ended up in nursing school, then took a master’s in business. Along the way I worked in construction, as a newspaper editor, a teacher, and somehow found a career working with computers.

I love the outdoors, especially the Rocky Mountains. I’ve skied since high school and I’ve hiked and camped all my life. I love to travel, though I haven’t done enough of it. I’ve seen a lot of Russia and Mexico, not enough of England. Amsterdam is amazing, and the Romanian Alps are breathtaking. Lake Tahoe is a favorite, and someday I’d like to see Banff in Canada.
I have a very significant other, two cats and two Basset Hounds. I’m currently living in Baltimore, nine blocks from the harbor, but still own a home in New Mexico that I see too infrequently."

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Becoming a Novelist

My first friends, a boy and a girl were figments of my four-year-old imagination. My mother labeled them imaginary friends, more accurately however; they served as my first push to discover a storyteller side of my personality. They were fully formed characters.  After hearing radio dramas, with my dad, I decided this would be a way to get my friends’ tales out. Using a portable tape recorder, I used to record adventures for them filled with romance, adventure, and lots of conflict.

Sometimes the stories went so long, I’d talk all the way to the end, and then have to flip the cassette over to continue. I was never savvy enough to realize when space was running out on a side, so the transitions were constantly rough. Though this was a concern of mine, but I chose not to talk to my classmates or anyone else about this activity, so the recordings remained flawed in execution. However, the passion of exploring motivations and minutiae of life through storytelling has stayed with me my entire life.

The passion for creating scenarios took on a new level one afternoon a year later because of a stomachache. My kind father took me to the movies to try to help me feel better. At the multiplex, I cried and couldn’t sit still, but somehow the visuals stirred my mind. I became convinced my destiny was on the screen. While I had remained silent about the auditory adventures I had conceived, my voice was a permanent marker to inform others becoming a film director was going to be my life’s work. I convinced myself nothing would ever sway me from it. 

My goal of a future career in the film industry became all-consuming. However, when I learned through various film magazines and behind the scenes specials, how long a film took from page to premiere, I never thought I’d have the patience for it. I had quit little league baseball, soccer, and various other activities so trying to convince others and myself the practicality that somehow being a filmmaker would show them I turn this lack of perseverance thing around was an exercise in futility. 

The answer to all the worries came to me when I decided learn the martial arts to defend myself against a growing number of bullies. From the very first day, karate started to awaken a new part of me. I was never the most skilled student, but I enjoyed every minute of class. Just learning how to use my mind and find balance on one foot and within myself. It also planted the seeds of confidence and patience to improve. The determination for self-improvement had gone from foundation, to a place filled with walls to protect me from others’ opinions. Two years in, my mind had built a place where there were windows to see my future, and a door to venture out and grab it.

A decade later while a college junior at Franklin Pierce, I had invited a friend, a flesh and blood one this time to help me tell a story. We had worked well together on a documentary for a class project, so I asked him to join in my quest to make a feature film on our campus. Eventually, we recruited two hundred and twenty-five other people to help us deliver a movie that we felt could move others. It took two years of hard work, and a lot of patience that I had learned in karate to take us ‘from page to premiere’. The greatest moment in my life up to that point was watching the end result play with a full audience in the school cafeteria.

The film never got into any film festivals, and Hollywood didn’t come knocking on my door. Instead, I took a job at a video store to work while I figured out my next move. Not long after I started, I made friends with a co-worker named Rob. When I told him that I was a filmmaker, he wanted to see the movie. I must admit I was pretty nervous feeling that he wouldn’t like it. When he brought it back, not only did he enjoy it, he convinced me to make another.

With him starring, and one-hundred and sixty plus people from across New England performing in front of or behind the camera, I directed this second film. At the premiere years later, one of the people in attendance was a singer on the soundtrack. We struck up a friendship and some time later, he introduced me to an editor via the web. I sent a query to her for a screenplay I had written. She immediately took a liking to it and invited me to send the script on as well.

She enjoyed the story greatly but encouraged me to turn it into a novel and promised to guide me through the process. I realized that writing a novel did share some traits with filmmaking. Laying out a scene on a page was like figuring out where the camera or the focus would be, how you would direct your characters’ actions, and the general mood of each moment, etc. Over the course of the year that followed, we worked on seven drafts of the story. Plus it was very beneficial to have someone reining me back in when I’d go off too far on a certain aspect of a story, as I had on those cassettes many years earlier.

Eventually, the manuscript went out into the world to find a home. While the rejections started to pour in, I got involved with yoga. Similar to karate, with the use of balance and focus, I was centered once again. Though the rejections pile was growing by the day, I never let it get me down for too long. Ultimately, the novel found the perfect place to launch from, MuseItUp Publishing. Being an author for them has been one of the greatest experiences of my life. I like to think those three sides of my personality; my love for storytelling, abilities as a filmmaker, along with patience brought on by karate and yoga helped me to become a novelist. This equilateral journey of self-discovery led me to give you Isosceles.    

About the Author: 
While this is his first novel, he wrote and directed a dramatic feature, co-wrote and directed a documentary and wrote for an online magazine. He’s also a trained voice, stage, and screen actor. In addition to his creative pursuits, he is passionate about healthy living. He follows a mostly self-directed fitness quest consisting of weight training, walking, swimming, yoga, and hula hooping. When not working out, he also enjoys cooking healthy gourmet meals as well as playing board games with family and friends with plenty of coffee brewing to keep the fun going until the wee hours of the morning.

You can find out more about Scott R. Caseley, his novel and World of Ink Author/Book Tour at

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To Series or Not to Series?

When I started sending around my first mystery-thriller at the end of 2011 to a few friends and relatives in preparation for public release, I had no intention of continuing any of the characters in a second or third book.  To be completely honest, I was modeling my work very much after early John Grisham and, as far as I know, he creates new characters for each book.  At least that was the case for his earlier ones (The Firm, Pelican Brief, etc.).

So, I was immediately thrown into a conundrum when the first readers (other than my wife who had read chapters as I wrote), assumed that subsequent books would be based on the same main character.  Once that book, Project Moses, hit Amazon and started to get readers, this became a familiar pattern.  Readers assumed, in fact, that I had written in certain aspects of the plot so that the protagonist, a San Francisco newspaper reporter named Enzo Lee, would be free to live, love and solve mysteries again.  Also, people fell in love with a secondary character, an African-American lesbian detective, and made it clear they hoped to see more of her. 

I was pleased in some ways.  Obviously, many readers felt attached enough to Enzo and the detective, Bobbie Connors, to want to read more about them and future adventures.  Chief among my worries when I started writing was that I wouldn’t be able to draw convincing characters.  I tend to be very analytical so I thought my main strength would be architecting plots that held together, seemed credible and didn’t leave loose ends.  Most of my rewriting focused on refining the characters, making them believable to me so they were acting and interacting in ways that didn’t seem false or contrived.  I would write elaborate back stories and then delete them, convinced they had too much detail.  But, often I would return a third time and drop in a detail or suggestion of the more elaborate back story. For instance, a key part of Enzo’s past – what happened to him earlier in his journalism career that almost cost him his job and drove him back to reinvent himself in San Francisco – went unexplained until the middle of the second book, Divine Fury.

And, of course, there were the marketing aspects.  One of the first concepts I learned in the crash course on self publishing that I began when Project Moses went live in January 2012 was the supposed power of multiple books, particularly in a series.  The conventional wisdom is that if you can get people hooked on one of your books, particularly if it’s part of series implying even more consistency, readers will likely buy the rest, giving you a powerful multiplier effect.  I guess the same wisdom would say that this effect is most powerful when it comes to true sequels (say, Hunger Games or Harry Potter), with the next level being an ongoing main character (like Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch books).    

So I decided not to buck what seemed to be both the popular choice (per Amazon reviews) and the business choice.  I stuck with Enzo.  I’m working on my third book now, and it is another Enzo Lee mystery thriller.  However, I’m thinking very much about taking a break from Enzo after this one.

As I plan my books, I find myself operating at two somewhat contradictory levels because of the series approach.  At one level, I’m thinking about Enzo’s life, career and relationship. Permanent relationship?  Kids? Discoveries about his family’s past that are troubling?  At the other level, I’m thinking somewhat abstractly about possible conspiracies or suspenseful themes. A political thriller? A science-driven plot?  Massive corruption on Wall Street?  I think of Michael Crichton’s work in this vein – very much concept driven.  (Jurassic Park.  Andromeda Strain.  Disclosure. The Rising Sun.)  The first path (character development) gives me a more Enzo-centric story.  The second may require almost stuffing Enzo into the plot, but gives me a bigger overall story in a sense.  Personally, I enjoy a good local crime story but the ones that stand out for me have bigger actors and forces involved. 

If nothing else, I certainly understand now why some writers who do focus on a particular main character sometimes make a switch.  Connelly comes to mind as he sometimes takes a break from Harry Bosch and has attorney Mickey Haller as his main character. 

We all need vacations.

Robert B. Lowe is a Pulitzer-prize winning author whose fiction is based in San Francisco, his adopted home. The author’s latest Enzo Lee mystery thriller is Divine Fury. 

His past experiences – a 12-year career in investigative journalism and a Harvard Law School degree – enable him to write gripping mystery thrillers in both the legal and journalistic fields. Lowe draws his inspiration from John Grisham, Dick Francis and Lee Child and adds his own San Francisco twist. Readers will enjoy his references to the city’s landmarks such as Chinatown, North Beach and Pacific Heights  and the Bay area’s foodie culture.

Robert will be awarding a $25 Amazon Gift Card to a randomly drawn commenter during the tour so I e
ncourage you to follow the tour and comment; the more you comment, the better your chances of winning. The tour dates can be found here:

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Connecting with an Audience

The first time I had to preach a homily on a Sunday morning, I thought I was going to puke.  I was an ordained Catholic priest who had been through all the mandatory public speaking courses my master’s degree required.  I had studied the scriptures; I had consulted various homiletic services that point out interesting stuff about the scriptures -- but looking out on the congregation that first Sunday morning, I felt woefully underprepared.  And after I presented the product of all my slavish work, the verdict was clear:  Quite frankly, I sucked. 

I realized quickly no matter how much exegetical crap I threw out at the congregation, they still looked bored as hell.  Somehow, I don’t remember exactly why, I shared my struggles with my shoot straight from the hip Grandma Margie.  She boiled it down best and gave me great advice – “We’ve heard it all before.  Tell us a good story!” 

That’s when I realized that if I was going to be a communicator, I had to think in terms of what makes a good story.  I had to think about what takeaway I wanted to leave with an audience – did I want them uplifted or challenged?  Was I appealing to their hearts and their heads? 

I thought about favorite movies and books – how did they open?  With a conflict! – Something big happens and it propels the story forward.   My homilies would do the same.  I learned I had to keep the story moving, keeping the conflict central and pushing the homily through acts.  I decided since movies and plays were generally five acts, my homilies would be the same.  And I learned the more authentically I could connect with my own feelings about the central conflict, I could engage the congregation at a gut level as well.

Now that I write books and articles, I think about the lessons I learned as a preacher.  You need to take take your reader on a journey of emotion and discovery.  They are your partner as you reveal the mysteries of your story.  If you are to move them in any way, tell them a good story.

Guest post by Alan Oakes. Alan Oakes is a Graduation Coach and Counselor at a Texas High School.  He is a featured writer for Green Building and Design magazine and a contributor to other magazines including Texas Architect and New American Luxury.  In the past, he served as Associate Pastor of Saint Austin Catholic Church and Director of Catholic Campus Ministry at UCLA.  

Alan holds a Bachelor of Science degree from the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas and a Master of Arts degree from the Washington Theological Union in Washington, D.C.

To learn more about the author, feel free to go to his website: 

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Trusting the Process

One characteristic most writers can identify clearly with is self-doubt.  No matter how successful or how far we’ve come on the writing journey, there are days when nothing seems to flow and when “everyone else” is out performing you with productivity or sales.   It’s times like these when the best thing you can do is trust the process.

As creators, our process differs individually.  That’s what we need to embrace--our unique way of creating.  It truly doesn’t matter whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, the mental process can easily be disrupted when our mind becomes cluttered with nonsense like what your peers are accomplishing or what you feel you “should” be producing.  Perhaps your readers are on your mind...or the book reviewers...or your mom...whatever those voices are, tell them to shut up. 

To be a good writer, you need to be true to your voice.  If you’ve had some success and have a following, remember that those fans weren’t there before that first published novel but they’re there now because of it.  Why?  Because for that first book you were writing because you had a story to tell, you were being true to you, you honored your inner voice. Those reasons are still there, but perhaps they’re hidden beneath expectations or comparisons. 

It’s those expectations and comparisons that can creep in and cause self-doubt.  When you sit at the keyboard, shut out those voices.  Do what you do the way that you do it.  Period. 

For me, my process is putting on head phones, listening to my favorite songs on iTunes, lighting a candle, turning off my cell phone and shutting out the world.  If I’m still a bit blocked on my work in progress, I bring out an old manuscript and revise.  I write.  I sit. I shut out the world.  I write.  Do I think of the reviewers or the fans at this point?  No.  I immerse myself in my own world and let myself enjoy the process. 

We creators are incredibly lucky. We have characters to entertain us and worlds waiting for us to expose them.  When we’re in our bubble, none of that outside stuff matters.  It honestly doesn’t.  We are masters of our own empires--at least while we’re sitting at our desks. 

Whatever your process is, trust that it works for you.  It doesn’t matter if a fellow author is producing a book every two months and bragging about her prolific nature.  If that’s not your style--not your way--then don’t try to change.  At the end of the day, quality matters...your voice matters...your story told the way you need to tell it matters.  Trust your process and let it flow.  

By Amber Lea Easton
Amber Lea Easton is a multi-published fiction and nonfiction author. For twenty years, she's worked in the fields of journalism and advertising with a brief detour into the financial industry.

Although she holds a BA in Communications & Journalism, she is a perpetual student of life who enjoys taking classes on a wide variety of subjects when time allows.

Smart is sexy, according to Easton, which is why she writes about strong female characters who have their flaws and challenges but ultimately persevere.  She currently has two romantic suspense novels out in the world, Kiss Me Slowly and Riptide, with four more slated for publication in 2013.

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Self-Publishing Ain't For Sissies!

During a period of unemployment in 2004, I did a lot of soul-searching about my career and a lot of reading for pure escapism. It was at this time that I read Nicholas Sparks’ Three Weeks with My Brother, and I tried to absorb the fact that he received a million-dollar advance for this book. After I got over the initial shock of that fact, I remember thinking, “Holy cow! He’s a good writer, but I know I can do this, too.” I’ve been writing since that day in 2004.
When I finished my first novel, my wife and I spent a great deal of time and money printing off complete manuscripts and mailing them to agents and publishers. This went on for months with no results. We struggled with the disappointment we felt from the countless rejection letters.

As this went on (and on and on), I began working on my second novel. I felt it was much better than the first, and I was very hopeful. We finally realized that it wasn’t necessary or practical to mail the entire manuscript to agents and publishers (in fact, most of them don’t want it as the initial contact), and we began querying and sending synopses, chapter outlines, and excerpts. Still no results. A few nibbles, but no bites. Again, much disappointment.

In the meantime, I had taken a job in another state, and we moved. I continued writing novels while working full-time, and my wife took over some of the marketing aspect of this endeavor. Nine novels later, we had nothing to show for our efforts with traditional agents and publishers but frustration.

Through some chance or perhaps through diligent research (I don’t remember which.), we discovered the world of self-publishing and Amazon’s self-publishing ebook program. We were so excited to have another avenue to explore, and we were sure that if we published the books ourselves, at no cost to us (thank you, Amazon), we would certainly sell books and become rich and famous. How naïve we were!

The one thing we have discovered about self-publishing, apart from the fact that getting the books formatted correctly to upload to Amazon’s program is very tricky, is that ALL the marketing is totally up to the author (and his trusty sidekick/spouse). We were stymied. How does one go about marketing one’s own book? What avenues are out there for this purpose?

Again, through trial and costly error, we discovered that advertising in national newspapers and on BookPage was an exercise in futility. We got NO sales from the several ads we placed in print. Likewise ads placed on Facebook and Google and bookmarks printed and passed out at bookstores and book festivals. By this time, we were beginning to make some contacts online with other authors, and we decided that having a website might be a good idea. It’s amazing how inept we were in trying to create our own “free” website; it really looked like an amateur had done it, and the sales results, again, were nil, even though we had a store right on the site.

It was not until we hired a web designer who also redesigned the cover of my first published book that we began to see sales. Just a few at first, of course, but by then we had begun to “work” the social media, created a blog, and tried to figure out just who the market for this book was and to send them announcements about the book’s release. We also discovered the value of reviews, we began contacting reviewers both on Amazon and on blog sites, and favorable reviews started coming in. This boosted sales, though they were still modest.

The benefits from creating a network of contacts (writers, readers, bloggers, reviewers) was so much more than getting good reviews or word-of-mouth advertisement. They supported and encouraged me to pursue this dream of writing and publishing my books.

I am now in my eighth year of writing, revising, editing, marketing, and selling novels. Progress has been slow but steady, and I am proud of the work we’ve done. I will continue to write and market my books, and one day, I know, we really will become rich and famous! That’s the dream, and I know it can come true.

Guest post By Joseph M. Rinaldo 

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Evolution of Story

I don’t ever want to die. Beyond the normal fear of no longer drawing breath, I live in fear that when I die someone will inevitably need to clean out my office. They will probably go through my computer and my notebooks.

Give me a second so I can calm myself.

It’s not that I have something incriminating on my computer, aside from my solitaire score which will out me on how much time I wasted when I was supposed to be writing. I do have things that are embarrassing that I don’t ever want anyone to see though; manuscripts in various states of undress. There are short scenes, rough first drafts, and rambling attempts to capture a fleeting idea.

There are some that are so rough and embarrassing that they make me squirm when I think of them. The thought of someone reading one of those gives me heart palpitations.

There is an evolution to writing that begins with a crappy first draft.  I write very fast, so the first draft is beyond rough. Rough for me is a third draft. The first one is like driving down a non-graded dirt road in a 65 Chevy pickup truck without shocks while sitting on a 40 grit sandpaper seat cover being licked by a cat rough.

Stacy Verdick Case
One of the jewels sitting in the the drawer manuscript horrors is a manuscript that changes from first to third person halfway through because I thought the story would work better that way.  Another has all the characters named John 1, John 2, and John 3. I couldn’t think of names as fast as I was writing, and didn’t want to lose the story.

The second draft crew in the drawer are a little better. The structure problems are fixed. I’ve given all the characters their semi-permanent names, but overall it’s still bad. There’s no sky in my worlds at this point. By that I mean there’s no texture or depth. Some critics say my books have very little depth anyway, but in draft two it’s even worse.

Around draft three I might be comfortable with dying and letting people invade my space but even the third draft isn’t done. There are a few sharp edges that need to be sanded off and knocked down. Some flesh that needs to be wrapped around some boney areas.

The fourth draft is close to looking like the final product. At this point, I’m willing to open it up to my family and critique partners, but not before.

As a writer, I don’t think I differ in this process from the writer down the street. Good enough takes a lot of time, and if there’s a writer out there with perfect first drafts, I don’t want to meet them. I have enough complexes about my undressed manuscripts.

Please, if you hear that I’ve shuffled off my mortal coil, tell my family to build a bon fire with my unfinished work and chuck my hard drive on top for good measure. It’s what I would have wanted.

Guest post by Stacy Verdick Case, the author of the Catherine O’Brien mystery series. The second book in the series A Luring Murder was released in December. She still lives in terror that someone will see her undressed manuscripts and hopes to live long enough to finish them all. Visit Stacy on the web at

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Videos for Social Media Marketing

Video is big news this year and social media is the driving force for online marketing. The combination of the two is therefore an essential part your promotional strategy.

This infographic by Films About Me gives a nice overview of how you can use video content for social media marketing

How are you using video in your marketing efforts?

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5 Things to Ask Your Freelance Editor So You Don’t Get Suckered


Finishing a book is a huge accomplishment. You’ve invested time, emotion, and tears for months if not years on end, and the fruit of your labor is now complete. Now, what do you do with it?

Whether you traditionally or self-publish, your book needs professional editing. Without it, your chances of success in the marketplace are very slim.

Why Your Book Needs Editing 

It's rough out there for new authors. Publishing houses have less and less money to spend, and it's absolutely crucial to put your best face forward and show the publisher that it won't have to invest in heavily developing your manuscript.

And wouldn't any author want to show his or her work in the best shape it can be, under any circumstances? The amount of submissions publishers receive every day is astronomical. Don't give them an easily avoided reason to pass on yours.

What to Ask Your Editor

When you both know what to expect of each other, the writer–editor relationship can be a beautiful thing. But the Internet is crawling with scammers trying to make an easy buck, and finding a freelance editor without a recommendation is daunting.

To help you sort through all the posers and find the legitimate editors, here are 5 questions you can ask so you can find a qualified editor who can take your book to the next level.

1. “Can you give me a reference?”

Not every editor has been in the game for decades, and most authors needn't expect this. But it shouldn't be difficult—or unexpected—for your editor to furnish you with the names and numbers of people familiar with his or her work.

If your editor cannot offer you a single professional contact from his or her entire career, it’s due either to a lack of experience or a lack of favorable review. Take your manuscript elsewhere. 

2. “What style guide do you use?”

With novels, The Chicago Manual of Style is industry standard. But this isn't a deal-breaker; a skilled and knowledgeable editor will be able to work under another style guide's conventions with little difficulty.

But while there isn't necessarily a right answer to this question, there certainly is a wrong answer: "Huh?"

Don’t write off a qualified editor who is more familiar with AP than CMOS. Do write off an editor who can’t tell you what they are.

3. “Where do you fall on serial commas?” 

This is, admittedly, a bit of a trick question—but I wouldn't ask you to push your editors any harder than I would expect to be pushed myself. And I’ll talk about serial commas any day.

Serial commas are universally cherished among both Chicago enthusiasts and the word-nerd population at large. They look like this:

Kirk, Spock, and Bones remained on the bridge.

There's a comma before the “and”—you know, showing that “Spock” was just another list item like any other. As is logical.

But don’t worry. You don’t have to give your editor a written exam on serial commas—you just have to make sure the understanding is there. The consistency of your manuscript depends on it.

4. “Can you give me a style sheet?” 

Quick disclaimer: "style sheet" isn't necessarily CMOS terminology, so don't slam any doors if your editor doesn't recognize the phrase. But it should eventually be determined that your editor can provide you with a list of notable words, phrases, and style conventions he or she encountered in your manuscript.

Basically, a style sheet is a list of terms the editor refers to while working through the manuscript: hyphenated terms, proper nouns, special rules pertaining to numbers, and other editorial shorthand.

Whatever your editor calls it, it's important that there is some sort of a system by which terms in the manuscript can be checked for consistency on the editor’s way through.

5. What do you charge? 

Editing is a valuable skill that deserves professional rates. It takes focus, concentration, an excellent grasp of grammar, sensitivity to an author’s unique voice and perspective, meticulous care, and vast patience. I speak to people who shudder in horror when I tell them what I do for a living; it’s not for everyone.

There will always be someone who can do it cheaper. But those who fall over backward to meet a price far below professional rates only reveal that there are no more tempting offers for them on the horizon. Smart authors ask why.

Go Forth and Prosper

These are just five arbitrary questions that can help a new author wade through the sea of potential editors out there and settle on one that is qualified, experienced, and professional. Make sure you prepare a list of your own, and make sure you’re comfortable with your final choice!

A good editor won’t make your writing career. But a bad one just might break it.
Guest post by Sarah Kolb-Williams, a writer, editor, and serial comma enthusiast from the Twin Cities. Find her at
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