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.