Sunday, July 4, 2010

Moving to Blood Red Pencil

Since I am now a member of Blood Red Pencil and contribute there, I encourage you to visit it regularly. It's maintained by a group of freelance editors and writers and offers much more information than I can here (and since it has nearly 900 followers, the debate is more lively and we'll all learn more.)

While this blog won't be updated anymore, the Write Good or Die download will remain free for download at Smashwords and Haunted Computer and for 99 cents at Amazon for Kindle. Any proceeds will still go to Literacy, Inc. Please enjoy and freely share the collection. Thanks for visiting and good luck with your writing.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

"He said sincerely"

I hate adverbs. I especially hate -ly adverbs, as you may have noticed in my "suddenly" post. They do have their moments, but in general they slow down the verb they are seeking to modify or enhance, a giant, blood-sucking leech on the butt of your brilliant sentence.

"His frown grotesquely shifted into a grin." Yuck. How about, "His frown shifted into a grotesque grin." Or, if the sentences leading up to that sentence are doing their jobs, then "His frown shifted into a grin" may well be enough. When measuring the drag factor of your adverbs, there's a simple test--cut it out. See if you notice the loss. In most cases, I'll bet you won't.

"Slowly" is about the only one I can tolerate, but even then, your prose is likely strong enough to live without the crutch. "He slowly inched his way through the drain pipe." Well, how ELSE would he inch? Quickly? Measuredly?

"The door loudly banged open." "Bang" did the job. We get it.

"To boldly go where no man has gone before." No, let's go with great timidity to giant flaming holes in space.

Used in dialogue tags, all you are doing is admitting you don't have confidence as a writer, and don't trust your reader. The only time I'll support it is in parody or humor, when the line actually jars with the character's intent--"You'll obey my every command," he said meekly.

Adverbs. Do us all a favor. Let them die. Quickly, quietly, eternally. Sincerely.

Which adverbs would YOU like to kill?


Friday, May 21, 2010

"Suddenly" never happens

One of my major pet peeves is the use of "suddenly" in fiction. I consider it the immediate hallmark of lazy writing. The word is its own oxymoron, and its mere use actually delays the suddenness of whatever action was supposed to suddenly happen.

To wit:
"Suddenly the kettle whistled."
Oh, really? It actually whistled about half a second later than it would have if you had merely written "The kettle whistled." By inserting that unnecessary word, you've caused some poor chap to go without tea.

What's even more horrid is adding it after the event in question. "She fired the gun suddenly."

Now, I have let "suddenly" go once in a while, but I can't think of any use where it adds suspense, builds plot, furthers character, supports theme, or do anything but add to a lazy writer's word count.
"The sky was clear. SUDDENLY it rained!"
"The vampire lurked in the shadows. SUDDENLY it jumped out and bit her neck!"
"The writer had a block. SUDDENLY she typed a word."

I hate -ly adverbs, too, but don't get me started. What's your literary pet peeve? What's your defense of "suddenly"?


A writing experience is posted at Straight From Hel

Saturday, April 24, 2010

He said, she said

In the guide, I contributed an article "The Seven Bad Habits of Highly Unsuccessful Writers," based on my freelance editing experiences. One of those categories is "Saidisms," the overexplanation of dialogue and the way characters speak. I am paraphrasing the novel I am currently editing, to show the intent while protecting identity and content:

Mother pulled the present from behind her back.
"Mu-mu-mother," Rick stuttered.
Mother smiled and chuckled, "It's a surprise."
Rick hesitated and then meekly asked, "Is it for me?"
"Yes," she answered excitedly.

You can see how exhausted the reader can get after a page or two of this. In general, it shows a lack of confidence on the writer's part, not trusting the dialogue to carry the action. Often such a passage spends more time talking about how the characters are talking than on what the characters are saying. The writer may be striving for realism, but fiction can't be too realistic, or we'd have major characters taking potty breaks and eating all the time.

I am a big opponent of "-ly" adverbs (another one of the seven bad habits), and I find them especially intrusive in dialogue tags. In this example, Rick's "mu-mu" already shows the stutter. Mother can't chuckle a full sentence, or even a word (try it sometime!). Rick doesn't have to meekly reply; if the character is firmly established, we may already see he's meek, or it may be unimportant. He also doesn't need to hesitate. It adds no realism besides making the reader have to plow through a couple of extra words. If it's critical to create a pregnant pause, use a brief bit of action or business instead, such as: Rick touched the red ribbon. "Is it for me?"
Finally, we should hope Mother is excited. Let the scene show it. If it's a make-or-break moment of the story, I MIGHT forgive an exclamation point, but if the scene is well written, all the appropriate emotions will be clear.

What's wrong with:
Mother pulled the present from behind her back.
"Mu-mu-mother," Rick said.
"It's a surprise."
Rick touched the red ribbon. "Is it for me?"

Not award-winning prose, but it is brisk and fluid and allows the scene to move along. If Rick is already established and they are the only two people in the scene, we can even forgo the "Rick said."

Interestingly, Write Good or Die is rated #1 in the "erotica writing" category at Amazon. While there's no specific erotica guidelines included, good writing is good writing, and some people thing the thesaurus is sexy. Our intent was to help writers of every interest, so we're pleased. Happy writing, we say supportively.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Free download now available

The manual Write Good or Die is now available for free download in numerous electronic platforms at It is also available through Amazon (at 99 cents) and Scribd, coming soon to Mobipocket, Nook, and iPad, and as a PDF through numerous sites, with a print-on-demand version through Amazon and other retail outlets on the way.

And as it rapidly got downloaded this morning, it took all of an hour for someone to post a review and observe that the correct grammatical usage is "write well." I knew that was coming! But sometimes you have to break the rules, or go around the crowd, or follow unconventional advice. All I know is our contributors have sold millions of books, been on best-seller lists all over the world, and are having a lot of fun being successful. Hopefully you'll get something out of it. Please feel free to spread the book around.


Friday, April 9, 2010

Social networking for writers

1. Get a blog if you don’t have one. and Wordpress both have free ones that are very easy to use. Try to get your name if you can (i.e. A Web site is essential but a blog is a lot easier to update if you are technologically challenged. Be easy to find.

2. Facebook, Twitter, and Myspace are useful—they aren’t great places to find readers but it helps keep you plugged in. YouTube videos and podcasts can expand your audience if you have the skills.

3. Look for book bloggers, magazines, Webzines, and places that will feature or review your book, or let you guest blog or do an interview. Don’t forget your local press. Write a great two-paragraph description of your book, both for use as your “product description” and to give outside observers the “hook.”

4. Participate in the customer/public forums at,, and, as well as genre message boards—stay positive, don’t get caught up in personality conflicts. Don’t just dump your plug in there—be a member of the community and engage in conversation.

5. Cross-promote with your fellow writers. Pick an “official release date” for your book and have others mention or plug it on their blogs, Facebook, etc, and in their online communities. It really helps the other writer, and it helps you, too. Work together to offset the lack of a big advertising budget.

6. Be a student of the game—continue learning, be inventive, look for good opportunities, don’t make enemies. Use your new works to promote the older works. Think of yourself as a “Brand,” don’t think of your book as one product—it’s just a part of your overall brand. Build on what you have, and make sure your foundation is solid.

7. Offer freebies or other incentives to get your fan base to help promote you. Make it fun. Give away signed art, sketch cards, silly little things that are unique, even extra books by other authors in your own collection (I firmly believe you shouldn’t hold contests to give away your own books—never give away what you are trying to sell.)

8. That said, consider giving away some short stories, reprints, articles, etc. on Scribd or Smashwords or through your newsletter, ezines, or magazines that may take your short work and need content. Those freebies increase your exposure but don’t diminish your worth.

9. In the digital era, there is really no extra cost to add some advertising or extra content to a product—think about trading space in each other’s newsletters, banner ads, story collections, etc., or swapping guest blog entries with each other. Stick to people whose audience realistically will be interested in your work—romance readers probably won’t dig serial-killer horror, and high fantasy fans probably don’t want mystery novels.

10. Think long term—in the digital era, there’s no reason why your content shouldn’t be out there for an audience for the rest of your life. Slow and steady wins the race.


Thursday, April 8, 2010

Pen names?

The traditional considerations for using pen names? A) You were a respected professional in your "day job" and didn't want your fantasy dabbling to detract from your standing; B) publishers, for their own reasons, wanted you to only write one book a year and let you slowly starve; C) your sales had tanked and you needed to ditch yourself; D) you were writing in vastly differently fields and styles and needed a clear distinction so as to not upset fans; E) there was the real possibility that someone would shoot you if they knew who wrote that book.

The mainstream publishing industry wants you to stick to one type of book and easy-to-shelf brand. The advice you get from editors is solely for their convenience--and it makes good business sense, because a single book is hardly worth building a campaign around, because its useful life is too fleeting. But if it's only a mild stretch, you should stick to your own name whenever possible, because ultimately you are your brand, and you should always care more about yourself than you care about the industry, or the industry cares about you. If Stephen King can do It and Misery, The Shining and Dolores Claiborne, and Koontz can do all his stuff, it's perfectly acceptable for you to just write You Books.

Publishers have legitimate logistic reasons for carefully controlling the flow of product, due to inventory issues, bookstore needs, production considerations, and marketing concerns. But in this new digital/POD era, it's actually smarter to have everything out at the same time--there is very little reason to dole out content in measured paces, unless you have a specific gimmick or campaign that requires timing. That's true for authors as well as publishers, though authors have the ability to react more quickly and with less to lose. And your books cross-promote each other, building your brand, which more and more is something that can last a lifetime rather than popping up in three-month bursts in the middle shelves of a bookstore. Be yourself whenever possible, and when you're not, make sure you have a good reason.


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Kevin J. Anderson

Kevin J. Anderson is the author of more than one hundred novels, 47 of which have appeared on national or international bestseller lists. He has over 20 million books in print in thirty languages. He has won or been nominated for numerous prestigious awards, including the Nebula Award, Bram Stoker Award, the SFX Reader's Choice Award, the American Physics Society's Forum Award, and New York Times Notable Book. By any measure, he is one of the most popular writers currently working in the science fiction genre.

I first met Kevin in the 1998 Writers of the Future workshop, where he was serving as instructor. He provided me one of my first cover blurbs and our paths frequently cross at conventions, various projects, and WotF business. From the "writer with no future" with 800 rejection slips to one of the most successful and hardest-working writers in genre fiction, Kevin to me is the definition of "professional." He contributed an article, "If I Only Had the Time." You can imagine what it's about.


Sunday, March 21, 2010

Brandon Massey

Brandon Massey has come on board with a few articles. Massey self-published his first novel, built his own audience, and parlayed it into a career writing thrillers for Kensington Books. Since the aim of Write Good or Die is to offer different perspectives, here's one of a self-pubber made good (though he will be the first to tell you you probably shouldn't try it!)

Massey is the award-winning author of several thrillers and story collections, including Dark Corner, The Other Brother, Don’t Ever Tell, and Vicious. He lives with his family near Atlanta, GA, where he is at work on his next suspense thriller. Visit him online at and sign up for his free newsletter, The Talespinner, to receive book news updates and writing tips.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Harley Jane Kozak

Okay, I now have all three of the Killerettes in Write Good or Die...which was the REAL mission of this project! (For those not aware of this obscure pop-cult reference, we were in the Killer Thriller Band that performed at the first Thrillerfest awards ceremony--I guess that was 2006).

With thirty-some plays to her credit, Harley Jane Kozak at age 19 headed for the Big Apple and into the professional acting program at NYU's School of the Arts Join the mailing list! (now Tisch School of the Arts). After completing the program, she was cast in the feature film The House on Sorority Row. This enabled her to retire her waitress shoes.

Then came a trio of principle roles in soaps—Texas, Guiding Light and Santa Barbara—that came to a smashing halt when Harley's final character (a nun) was crushed to death by the giant neon letter "C." But that "C" gig had gotten her to L.A., where she went on to star in feature films and prime time television programs. Ten years later she began to write novels, have babies and acquire dogs, cats, fish, and rabbits—and the rest, as they say, is history.

Harley currently lives with her family in Southern California, where she's working on an international thriller. Meanwhile, she's added teaching, blogging and public speaking to her resumé, exploiting her checkered past.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Heather Graham contributing

Bestselling novelist Heather Graham, who also writes as Shannon Drake, is contributing a cool piece on what it takes to be a writer. As a mother of five, she downplays excuses and encourages dedication and persistence.

New York Times and USA Today best selling author Heather Graham majored in theater arts at the University of South Florida. After a stint of several years in dinner theater, back-up vocals, and bartending, she stayed home after the birth of her third child and began to write, working on short horror stories and romances. Her first book was with Dell, and since then, she has written over one hundred novels and novellas including category, romantic suspense, historical romance, vampire fiction, time travel, occult and Christmas family fare. She wrote the launch books for the Dell's Ecstasy Supreme line, Silhouette's Shadows, and for Harlequin's mainstream fiction imprint, Mira Books.


Monday, March 8, 2010

Clarifying supporting clauses

Clarity is one of the keys to effective writing. Confuse the reader once and she glances over at the television set, the XBox, the iPod, or the romantic interest. Confuse the reader two or three times and you might want to reconsider your future career as a the next Dan Brown or J.K. Rowling.

Stray clauses are one of the killers of awkward prose, and I've always preached that if you can function competently at the sentence level, all the rest can be learned through study and practice. We'll get to comma usage later, but for today, let's take a look at descriptive clauses.

I recently edited a manuscript sample that contained a sentence "He killed his wife and children as they were asleep in their beds with a shotgun." I can't be sure, but I assume the killer used a shotgun, not that the warm-and-fuzzy family cuddled up with shotguns and teddy bears at night. The sentence could be made clearer either by shifting the descriptive clause closer to the "acting agent" (the man who used the shotgun) or totally restructuring the sentence.

One possibility is "With a shotgun, he killed his wife and children as they slept." Simple and effective, though not very artful. Personally, I would build a little suspense and use a series of short sentences--"The shotgun was cold in his hands, but warmth radiated from his sleeping wife..."

My first draft of a newspaper story I wrote this morning contained the sentence "Watauga County Republican Party chairwoman Pam Blume encouraged her fellow party members to work hard during Saturday's meeting..." I immediately caught the error, because she wasn't asking conventioneers to work hard just for that hour on Saturday, she wanted them to work hard during the entire election year. I moved the clause to the beginning of the sentence and ended up with "During Saturday's convention, Watauga County Republican Party chairwoman Pam Blume encouraged her fellow party members to work hard in the election year."

The basic lesson is to place the supporting or related clause as close the the subject as possible. An ancillary lesson, learned through years of mistakes and revisions, is simply to not write anything you have to revise later. Leave out the bad parts. Write good.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Your friend, the compound modifier

In my freelance-editing work, one of the most common mistakes I see in all skill levels is confusion over compound modifiers. Believe me, it took me years before I understood them--luckily I had professional copy editors on my early novels. As with comma usage, it's still an imperfect art, no matter which style book you use.

I lean on Strunk and White's "Elements of Style" when in doubt, but even that sacred tome is fairly vague, calling them "compound adjectives" instead of "compound modifiers." The rule is pretty basic, though. When using two words working together to describe or modify a noun, they should be hyphenated.

A fine example is the title of the Hemingway story "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place." If he had used "well lighted," we might have wondered if the light had radiated from a well, perhaps by someone dropping a lantern down it. You may say it doesn't matter, because the meaning will always be clear, but why not help the reader as much as you can? After all, you have given her a very hard job in the first place, stringing a bunch of glyphs across a page or screen and expecting it to be translated just as you have imagined.

Try this one. You're in a science fiction story (or is it a "science-fiction story"?), and the orbital and rotational periods of the Earth have been altered. But you write "He walked under the late afternoon sun." You might very well mean the sun is arriving several hours behind schedule. But if you use "He walked under the late-afternoon sun," we know the two words are joined. Make sense?

Friday, March 5, 2010

Gayle Lynds, Queen of Espionage

We are pleased to have two contributions from author Gayle Lynds, whose advice has some weight--she's a professional journalist who turned her sights to fiction. Gayle has contributed two articles.

New York Times bestseller Lynds is the award-winning author of nine spy novels and has been called the "Queen of Espionage." Her newest, THE BOOK OF SPIES, is due in stores March 30 and is the beginning of her first series. Lee Child writes she’s “today’s finest espionage writer,” while BookPage claims: “Lynds has joined the deified ranks of spy thriller authors like Robert Ludlum and John le Carre” and the London Observer says simply she’s “a kick-ass thriller writer.”

I met Gayle through the Killer Thriller Band at the inaugural 2006 Thrillerfest, when she was helping organize the awards ceremony and musical presentation of The Killer Thriller Band, in which I was participating as bass player. (Alex Sokoloff, one of our singers, is also in Write Good or Die). Thanks, Gayle!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Rusch, Smith, Rose in the house

Two wonderful additions to the guide, as Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith have contributed use of two articles each. Smith is author of 90 books and Rusch is not far behind, and she's also written numerous award-winning stories. Both work in a variety of genres. Their blogs are highly recommended for the practical-minded writer, as they have been surviving and even thriving off of freelance fiction for 20 years. They also tend to shoot down conventional wisdom, or at least offer sound reasons why convention only works for certain people.

And international bestseller M.J. Rose has walked in as well...welcome, MJ! She's owner of AuthorBuzz and also created "The Reincarnationist" series, which you can find on your television as soon as you tear your eyes away from the computer...

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Why writing advice is

I was writing on my personal blog about Laura Miller's Salon article on "Reader advice," and ended up musing about how most of the writing advice I gave was either wrong, or I refused to follow it, or both. Luckily, there are wiser people than me giving advice, which is why I sought a collaborative project that can really help writers in this rapidly changing era. To fit the times, the book will be organic, so look for a cute little "V.2" for Version 2 and so on as it develops in the months and years ahead.

Because even good advice can get dated (see: Ribbons, typewriter--buy in bulk), the worst advice can be cut out and more timely advice introduced. For example, with ebook prices shooting all over the map, you will not get any sensible advice on royalties or contract clauses for them, because nobody knows. Like all free advice, it's worth what you pay for it. Take what you need and leave the rest. And pass it on.

Some outlets, such as Amazon, don't allow free downloads unless you're a major publisher swinging some sort of deal, so the download will be set at the lowest possible price in those outlets, with any revenues donated to First Book, a non-profit organization that buys books for disadvantaged children.

Set-up is simple right now, with three sections: Craft, Business, and Art. I'm not sure there's much else a writer needs to know, except to ignore everything and write.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Douglas Clegg and Alexandra Sokoloff on board

I am very pleased to have two brilliant and generous folks joining the project. Douglas Clegg practically co-invented (with MJ Rose) the Buzz Your Book concept and will offer tips on querying and promoting. Alexandra Sokoloff is a screenwriter and novelist with a great insight on storytelling.

Clegg is the author of more than 20 books, including Isis and the Vampyricon series, and was an e-book pioneer with the release of several e-serial novels in the late 1990s, and is a personal inspiration to me.

Sokoloff's books include The Price, The Harrowing, and The Unseen, and she's also the author of Screenwriting Tricks for Authors (And Screenwriters!). I taught with Alex at Deborah Leblanc's Pen to Press (a great workshop, by the way) and I learned more from her in a week than in the previous 10 years on my own.

We're assembling the initial version now to release through Haunted Computer Books, and since it's organic, we'll update and revise as the 21st Century unfolds.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

More contributors on board

Two new additions to the line-up...Mur Lafferty of podcast fame and Robert Kroese, an independent author who knocked the socks of the ebook market with Mercury Falls. There will be a David Morrell interview from David J. Montgomery and Jonathan Maberry has contributed four articles, including actual query letters that led to major sales. Authors are amazing!

No decent writing blog would be complete without musing on the effects of the Macmillan vs. Amazon tiff currently brewing, and while those impacts will directly affect writers of the future, I have my personal opinion on my regular blog and also recommend JA Konrath's blog for coverage. of course, also check out Macmillan's statement. Amazon is mum so far.

I will point out the only way Write Good or Die could exist is through the ease of digital distribution and the generosity of successful authors. If this had to be printed, it wouldn't get funded, because I'd have to make the money back, and it would be too much work, and you'd have to pay for free advice. That speaks to the power of ebooks and the digital age, and I fully embrace it.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Konrath/Kilborn rockin' the Casbah

JA Konrath just announced a slew of big news/breakthroughs on his newbie blog. He talks a lot about luck--but he's the kind of hard-working guy that always has time to help people. That's part of his charm, and part of his success--the heart.

I was putting together a comic anthology, a small project by any stretch, and asked Joe to contribute because his name would help sell the project. It ended up in the "Little Shivers" comic for 8-to-12-year-olds. Joe donated his cut of proceeds to promote the book.

When I approached him about contributing to "Write Good or die," he said, "Sure, grab my newbie guide and use anything you want." He talks about luck, but he makes luck. I am thrilled to have him as part of this experiment. When you look for writing role models, this is where to look.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Beyond inspiration

There are plenty of writing books out there intended to make you feel good while you're sitting in a coffee shop thinking about writing. I know, I have a few. Inspirational books are pretty much useless. If you need to work to be inspired, I suggest you stick with your beret and your analysis of Joyce and Faulkner.

All the writers I know, the real ones, ooze sweat and blood and ink, and when they're not working, they're thinking about the fact that they're not working. It's another reality of my experience that these hard-working writers are typically among the most generous. They are so busy that they can't NOT help writers. It's part of their world, an ingredient in their winning formula, and a symbol of their gratitude for all who have gone before. Yeah, I know, it doesn't make sense--never give away what you get paid to do.

Yet the contributors to "Write Good or Die" are doing exactly that. Even more incredible, they are basically creating competition for themselves. No matter how many times you tell yourself that more and better books means more and hungrier readers, you are still encouraging the creation of new successful writers. Given the realities of the publishing business, there is not room for everyone on those bookstore shelves or publisher rosters. The last thing established writers should want is for new writers to learn from them, their mistakes, their triumphs, their career paths, their techniques. But here they are, with more arriving as we go. I think all these people are crazy, and I love them for it.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

final cover art

Something to do while finishing the novel...

cover art

Here's the cover art for "Write Good Or Die," a composite of pieces by Kewber from the Dirt comic book series. Lettering and color to follow.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Write Good Or Die

This is a blog to support the ever-changing, evolving downloadable writing guide "Write Good Or Die: Survival Tips For 21st Century Writers." The free ebook will offer insight from a number of established writers, including Kevin J. Anderson, Jonathan Maberry, J.A. Konrath, David Montgomery, Elizabeth Massie, and more, with a focus on succeeding in the modern publishing environment and the electronic age.

Since the book can easily be updated, the plan is to release in the spring of 2010 and continue adding material to it as more authors join the ranks. The blog offers a chance to discuss some of the issues that arise, including hot topics such as "When Is A Book Finished?," "Getting An Agent" (yeah, that's still #1 of the most-asked writing questions),"Should I Self-Publish?" and another biggie, "Should I Write Or Should I Just Be Happy?"

Stay tuned for more information as the book evolves.

Scott Nicholson
Editor, Write Good Or Die