Publishing: Indie or Traditional?

Photo Credit: Laenulfean on Flickr
We are now faced with a choice. A choice that, ten years ago, wasn’t even a consideration. To go indie? Or to go traditional?

What makes the decision so difficult is that there isn’t a wrong option, per say. Both routes have significant pros and cons and regardless of which option you choose, you take a risk.

A Look at Traditional

Let’s say you choose traditional publishing. If all goes well, you get an agent, who then brings your manuscript to a publisher, who then gets it published. What are the pros and cons?

Pros:

  • Extra eyes on your work—you have an agent who looks at it first, who will likely help you edit it before you send it out to publishers. The publisher then has their own group of editors who go through it and help you improve it even further. It’s a team effort.

  • Don’t worry about covers, formatting or distribution—this one is pretty self-explanatory. If you publish traditionally, those things are out of your hands. You can focus on writing.

  • Career support—this is especially true if you have an agent (as opposed to submitting directly to publishers). I’ve never had an agent, but from what I’ve seen, agents are there to help you grow as a writer and develop your career. Many agents are in it for the long haul with their clients. They want to see you succeed.

  • Your work on the shelves—the bricks-and-mortar shelves, that is. For many writers, walking into a bookstore and seeing their book on the shelf is a dream come true.

Cons:

  • Publishing takes time—a lot of time. The average I’ve seen about is around two years, but it depends. Regardless, these things don’t come quickly. You have to be patient.

  • Advances are dropping—I’m no expert in this field, nor do I claim to be, however, from what I’ve read, it seems the advances are dipping much lower than they used to be. Blame the e-books or Borders closing, but it is what it is.

  • Low royalties—this is nothing new. Royalties for the author have always been much lower than they should be (in my opinion, anyway). This is especially true for e-books—regardless of what publishers offer you, it’s not going to be the 70% (or 35%) you can get from Amazon.

  • Selling your rights—how important this one is really depends on the person. Some people don’t blink an eye at the thought of selling their rights, while others take it much more seriously. Regardless of where you stand, when you go traditional, many of your rights are sold. Period.

  • Little control—again, some people care about this, others don’t. But when you go traditional, things like book cover and formatting aren’t up to you. It can be a blessing or a curse, depending on how you see it.

What about Indies?

Or maybe you go indie. But the DIY road isn’t all daisies and sunshine (or doom and gloom) either. Some pros and cons:

Pros:

  • Full control—this is both a pro and a con really, because everything is your responsibility. You have full control over the cover, the formatting, the editing and marketing. If one of those things are lacking, that’s on you. On the other hand, if you do a fantastic job you can pat yourself on the back because you managed it alone. And you did it exactly the way you wanted to.

  • Faster publication—once you upload you can have your book up on the e-book market in a matter of days. Viola. You’ve been published.

  • Higher royalties—how much you get depends on how you price your e-book, but the way I understand it, if you price your book somewhere between $2.99-$9.99 you get 70% royalties. Anything lower and you get 35%. Either way, it’s more than you get from traditional.

  • Never go out of print—this is something not many people talk about, but it’s a pretty big plus to indie publishing. E-books don’t go out of print, so as long as you don’t take it down, you could hypothetically sell your e-books forever. That’s a long time.

  • Keep your rights—this is also self-explanatory. Indie publishing gives you the chance to sell your books without giving away your rights. Good deal if you care about that.

Cons:

  • Full control—told you it’s also a con. Full control is great, but it can also be expensive. If you don’t have the skills, you’ll need to hire a cover designer (like me). If you have trouble with formatting, you might need to hire outside help. Editing? Editors are insanely helpful, too—and not often free. Or you can do it completely yourself. It’s up to you.

  • No gatekeepersthis may not sound like a con, but it is. It’s hard for writers to look at their own work and decide if it’s ready. Sometimes it seems ready, but it’s not until much later that you realize it needed a lot more work, after all. And if you published prematurely, it might be a little late for that.

  • Stigma—it isn’t as bad as it used to be, but it’s still there. By going indie, you have to accept that not everyone will consider it a legitimate form of publishing. The fact is, there are a lot of self-published books that were uploaded way before they were ready. Your job is to prove that you’re different—and it’s not always easy.

  • Not in bookstores—this is a huge deal for some writers. Call it what you want, but many writers dream about the day they can walk into a bookstore and see their work on the shelves. Chances are this won’t happen if you go indie (unless you cross over, of course, but that’s another matter entirely).

Neutral Point: Marketing

Regardless of which option you choose, you’re going to have to learn how to market yourself. Publishers don’t put a huge amount of marketing into every single book they publish—let’s face it, they can’t. There are simply too many books. Some books will get more of a push than others, but either way some of it comes back down to you.

Do you have an online presence? It doesn’t matter which publishing road you choose—you’re going to need one. A blog, a Twitter, a Facebook page, whatever works for you, but you’re going to need a way to promote yourself and promote your book.

Not only that, but this starts before you get published. So if you’re planning on publishing any time soon and you haven’t started building a name for yourself online, you might want to think about getting started.

In Conclusion…

Both are great options—what you need to decide is what’s best for you. Only you can decide if you’re prepared to do everything yourself or if you need the extra help traditional publishing can give you. Only you know if you can live with the fact that your book may never sit on a physical bookshelf. Only you can answer those questions.

But don’t deliberate forever—in the end, you have to make a decision. You have to make something happen. Your career isn’t going to start itself.

What are your thoughts—indie or traditional? Have you tried either one? What has your experience been like? 

Do You Need That Scene?


Photo Credit: E. Briel on Flickr

For me at least, one of the most difficult things I had to come to terms with when learning how to edit, was cutting. In theory, it makes sense. Not everything you write in the first draft is going to be worthy of sticking around until the final draft. I understood that.

In practice though, it was a little more difficult.

You see, I didn’t mind cutting lines or even entire paragraphs—those could be easily replaced. But when it occurred to me I might need to cut entire scenes or even characters, well, that was a little more painful.

But truth be told, editing doesn't mean cutting the occasional paragraph here and there and tweaking character traits. Sometimes editing requires that you be brutally honest with yourself and answer some difficult questions.

Questions like, do I really need this scene?

Think about it. Go through your WIP and pick a random scene. Could your book still make sense without it? Is it just there for the sake of being there?  

If you answered “yes” to either of those questions, then you have two options:
  1. Cut it.
  2. Make it essential.

Both are going to require some legwork on your part, but consider this: every chapter, every scene, every page and paragraph and sentence should serve one major purpose—to keep your readers reading. The moment they reach a point in your novel that is less than spectacular, you risk losing them.

Here’s a hint: Unessential scenes are not spectacular.

Whether you decide to cut it altogether or rewrite it with purpose is up to you, but if you come across a “meh” scene in your WIP, changes need to be made. “Meh” is ok for first drafts, but it has no place in your final copy.

No one said writing was easy, but the extra effort you take to make sure every scene shines will make your novel that much better.

Have you ever had to cut a scene from your WIP? Was it worth the extra effort? 

Guest Post: Why I Switched from IntenseDebate to Disqus

I'm interrupting your normal programming to let you know I had the fantastic opportunity to guest post on BloggerJet, and the post is up today. Yay!

Some of you may have noticed that I switched  my commenting system around (yet again) and if you were wondering why you should check it out.

Or maybe if you're just interested by the title and are wondering why I made the switch or even what IntenseDebate and Disqus are, you should also take a look.

Then you should hang around BloggerJet, because it's a pretty great blog.

That is all.

Talent is Overrated

Photo Credit: The U.S. Army on Flickr (Creative Commons)
I made a statement in my last post that raised a few eyebrows, so I’d like to expand on it. When talking about whether or not you can lose the ability to write (in case you missed it, you can’t), I said this:

Don’t have the talent? Talent is overrated. You don’t need talent; you need practice.

First and foremost, I’m not denying the existence of talent. Certainly some people are blessed with an advantage that starts them further off than their peers. But talent alone doesn’t get you anywhere—you need hard work, perseverance and patience. Talent without the work is a missed opportunity. Wasted potential.

But that’s what talent is—potential. It’s a starting point that says, “Hey, you’ve got something here. Imagine how much better you could be with some practice.” But without the practice, guess what? You’re no better than anyone else.

The problem I have with talent is that people use the perceived lack of it as an excuse to give up. They look at others in their field who’ve taken the time to refine their skill and say, “Look at all that talent. I will never have that.”

What they don’t realize is that what they’re looking at isn’t talent at all—it’s determination. Its years of rejection and work and more work until they too can claim success. Then people look at them and call them talented.

Here’s a little secret: J.K. Rowling and Stephen King weren’t born with the ability to write great novels any more than gold medalists are born knowing how to win at the Olympics. They worked hard for years refining their skills before they made it big and people put them on a pedestal.

There is no shortcut to success and talent is no exception. Hard work, guys. That’s what talent is.

So next time you’re tempted to chalk someone’s success up to talent, take a moment to learn about who they were before they were discovered. I’m willing to bet there’s years of work, years of failures and doubts and fears that were overcome with pure determination.

And if they can do it without natural-born talent, why can’t you?

What do you think? Is talent overrated or is it more necessary than I think it is? 

Can You Lose the Ability to Write?

Photo credit: Chris Blakeley on Flickr
A little over a year ago, I hit a bump in my writing —a few bumps, actually. You see, I’d just sent out a flurry of query letters for my most recent WIP at the time after rewriting it (again), and I needed a distraction. I was ready to start a new novel.

Except I didn’t have any ideas. Nada.

I wracked my brain for possibilities until I finally landed on a decent idea. I was relieved—for a second there I worried I might not ever think of a good idea again—until I tried to write it. The voice was wrong, the character was wrong, the idea was wrong. It was a terrible idea. I needed something better.

So I tried again. And failed again. And I began to panic.

In my mind, I didn’t have an excuse for not being able to write—I wasn’t in the middle of some huge life change, I didn’t have any more stress than usual and I was perfectly healthy. Happy even, if you discounted the not-being-able-to-write-thing. And yet despite that, the desperate ideas I came up with were crap. I could barely write a few pages, let alone an entire novel.

I decided to give it some time. It’s just a phase, I thought.

Six months later, the “phase” hadn’t ended. I felt guilty calling myself a writer—after all, I hadn’t written a thing in six months. When my family asked how my writing was going, I mumbled some sort of nondescript answer and changed the subject.

I really started to wonder if maybe I wasn’t cut out for the whole writing thing, after all.

But then I imagined another six months without writing. I asked myself how I would feel if I never wrote another novel again. I thought about my characters, about the worlds I’d created, the stories that, although unpublished, still entertained my family and friends.

Could I go the rest of my life without that?

I’m not going to be overdramatic. It was certainly physically possible for me to move on. I just didn’t want to.

So I didn’t. I sat down at my computer and I wrote again. It wasn’t necessarily the best novel idea I’d ever had, but it was something. It was proof. I’m a writer.

The point of this story though, isn’t to prove to you that I’m a writer. The point is to answer the question of the title: can you lose your ability to write?

The answer guys, is no. You can’t forget how to write any more than you can forget how to ride a bicycle. Truth is, if you have the will to write, if you have the determination to follow your dreams and make them come true, then the ability on some level is there. Your skills might need some refining, but you don’t need to be a master of your craft to write a story.

All you need is will.

Do you want to write? Then go do it. It’s really that simple.

Don’t have the time? Make time. No one else is going to do it for you.

Don’t have the talent? Talent is overrated. You don’t need talent; you need practice.

Don’t have novel ideas? Then write something else—poetry, blog posts, stream of consciousness—it doesn’t matter. Writing is writing and you’ll benefit from it either way.

If you really want to write, if you really want to see your dreams come true, you have to go out there and do it yourself. Fulfilled dreams don’t just land on some lucky person’s lap—they’re chased down and snatched up by the ones who aren’t afraid to put in the extra work and won’t stop until they see them realized.

Is that person you?

Have you ever encountered a non-writing period? How long did it last? How did you break out of it? 

Taking a Leap of Faith


Photo credit: jhf on Flickr

It’s easy to talk about not being afraid. To encourage others to push their fears aside and chase their dreams with the passion of a thousand suns. That part is simple. I’ve even done it myself.

Reading about it is easy, too. Nodding along and thinking yes, they’re right, I need to do that is secret and safe. No one will know if you actually go for it, and so no one will ever know if you fail.

Easy.

But doing. Actually going out there and taking a chance, actually leading by example and ignoring the resistance and the fear—that’s another matter entirely. It’s hard and it’s scary. Hell, it’s downright terrifying.

I know, because I’ve been there—scratch that, I’m there right now. But it wouldn’t be fair for me to tell you guys to chase your dreams and shove fear aside if I didn’t do it myself.

So I’m doing it. I’m taking a leap of faith. I’m going to be brave and take a risk and do something I’ve been putting off for months.

I’m going to design book covers. For you.

Starting today, I’m taking on commission work. If you’d like to see what I can do you can check out my deviantart page or the pretty new Cover Design page up top.

So there you are, guys. I’m taking a chance, a leap of faith, and I hope it’ll encourage you to do the same. Because I’m done letting fear dictate what I can and can’t do. And you should be, too.

And for that, I think we all deserve some confetti.

Photo credit: ADoseofShipBoy on Flickr

What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail? What’s stopping you? 

Unleashing Your Voice


Photo credit: JKim1 on Flickr
When I announced I’d be writing this post a week ago, I immediately knew it was going to be one of the hardest posts of the four-post series to write. But of course, I didn’t have to worry about it for a week, so I didn’t really think about it.

Until, you know, I had to actually sit down and write the thing.

I suppose what makes this post so challenging is that I don’t really have any secrets to share with you except this one: there is no secret. There isn’t a formula or a magic exercise or a yoga pose that’ll suddenly unlock your voice so that you can release it onto the page.

The truth is guys, you already have a voice.

I don’t care if you’re 13 or 57, if you’ve never written a novel or if you’ve written more than 20—you have a voice and the moment you put a pencil to paper or your fingers to the keyboard you’ve released it. You’ve pushed the first domino, taken the first step towards what will eventually be a prose that is uniquely you.

And that’s what makes writing—any writing—special. I could ask all of you to write a short story with the same characters, same plot, same settings and themes and dialogue and in the end, every single one of you would come out with something different. Why?

Because you each have a voice.

It bothers me when I read or hear advice about trying to find your voice. There isn’t a form of laryngitis in writing—you can’t lose your voice, so there’s nothing to find. If you’ve written anything at all, you have a voice. Period.

That’s not to say you can’t develop your voice. Your first WIP will sound nothing like your sixth and your sixth WIP won’t look anything like your twenty-fourth simply because your voice develops as you mature as a writer. The more you write, the better your writing will be—and the more consistent and confident your words, your voice will become.

So how do you unleash your voice? The answer is one word. Can you guess it?

Write.

That’s it. Go out there and write and your voice will come naturally. Remember that every word you put on the page is unique because you put it there.

You already have a voice. Go use it.

To celebrate the end of this voice series, there will be an exciting announcement on Wednesday. Expect lots of confetti and pretty artsy things. J

Defining Author Voice


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So now that we’ve thoroughly covered character voice and how to make them talk, it’s time we switch gears to the other aspect of voice that is key to novel-writing.

Remember the About.com definition? Just in case you need a refresher, here it is:

"Voice is the author's style, the quality that makes his or her writing unique, and which conveys the author's attitude, personality, and character."

It may only be one sentence, but that covers a lot of ground right there: writing that reflects the author’s attitude, personality and character. All three, just in the way sentences are strung together, words are chosen and paragraphs are formed. But how?

Let’s move away from writing for a moment and think about the way people speak. Even with body language and the tenor and volume of voice stripped out, if you overheard a conversation I’m willing to bet you’d probably still be able to pick out differences. Why? Because we all speak differently. Some of us prefer to use more unusual vocabulary while others rely on everyday slang. Some people speak eloquently and could go on for hours without pause, while still others prefer short, abrupt sentences.

Guess what? Author voice is the same way.                                                             
If you’ve been reading my blog for any amount of time, you can probably tell that I like brevity. I aim for short paragraphs and occasionally throw in one or two-word sentence fragments just because I can. Like this. I take a conversationalist tone because this is my blog and it flows naturally that way. If you looked at any of my WIPs, you’d probably see similar themes.

Especially the short paragraphs. I love short paragraphs.

Read someone else’s blog and you’d find different patterns, because they have a different voice—and it works the same way with books, too. J.K. Rowling’s novels read differently than, say, William Faulkner’s. Likewise, no one will ever mistake Shakespeare’s writing for anyone else and I’m sure you could pick out your favorite author’s voice in a heartbeat.

If you write even once in a while, you have a writer’s voice. It may not be developed to a point of consistency yet, but it’s there.

And we’ll talk about nurturing it on Monday.

Naturally your favorite author voices are likely going to be from your favorite authors, so let’s hear them! Who are your favorite authors? Mine are Ted Dekker, J.K. Rowling and Eoin Colfer. Share yours!

How to Make Your Characters Talk

Photo credit: ntr23 on Flickr
So now that we've defined character voice, it’s time to talk about how to put it into action.

How do you make your characters talk?

Let me start by saying I’m no expert—this is something I’m still learning and improving myself. But getting your characters to speak to you, to your readers, in their own unique voices is essential.

Confession: the number one reason I don’t continue with a WIP idea (even one I’ve fully plotted out with something like fifty flashcards) is because the voice isn’t right. This is also the number one reason I start with a WIP idea I hadn’t planned at all after plotting out a completely different WIP—in my search for the right voice I found one…but for a different story.

Confessions aside, here are some steps to uncover voice:

  1. FIRST, get to know your characters. I can’t stress enough how important it is to get to know your characters before you attempt to discover their voices. The only exception to this rule is when you stumble upon the voice before you know the character, which does happen, but in that case you don’t need this blog post. You need to read Getting to Know Your Characters.

  2. For the rest of us, however, you need to know details about your character first. Their fears, opinions, how they were raised, education, age—all of those little tidbits (and more) play a part in voice.  Do you know your characters? Are you sure? Ok, then let’s move on. 


  3. Pause. Now that you know your character, take a moment to reflect on their personalities. Run over your list of details (whether a physical one, or the one in your head) and close your eyes. Pretend, for a moment, that you are your character. What’s it like to be them? How does it feel? Is it exciting? Scary? Difficult?

  4. Once you’ve sat in your character’s mind for a few minutes, open your eyes and get a piece of paper (or a Word document) ready.

    Now…


  5. Let them rant. Choose something your character is passionate (or frustrated) about and let them run loose. Maybe your character lives in a time of war and is sick of the violence, or maybe it’s something as simple as your teenage protagonist pissed off at his lazy brother. Whatever it is, make sure they care and go for it.
  6. Finished? Great.


  7. Now repeat…for a different character. I recommend you do this for at least two characters—even if you’re writing a first-person or limited-third-person novel. Why? One of the best ways to discover the quirks and eccentricities in your character’s voice is by comparing them to another character. What makes their voices different? How are they similar? What can you do to make them more unique?


  8. Finally, push the boundaries. Maybe your rant was slightly amusing. Write it again and go for ridiculous.

  9. Maybe your rant was angry. Go for enraged.

    I challenge you to emphasize whatever emotion you pulled from your rant and multiply it. Don’t worry about going overboard, this is a discovery session. The goal is to discover the limits of your character—the quirks, the weaknesses, the phrases he likes and passions he hides. You want to find the core of your character and lather it over the page with a knife. Don’t hold anything back.

Finding your character’s voice is key. Don’t worry if you don’t get it right the first time, that’s what rewrites are for. What’s important is that you take the time to uncover and nurture your character’s voice. Your readers will be glad you did.

What are some of your favorite voices in literature? I’d have to go with Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye. How about you? 

Defining Character Voice


I don’t know about you guys, but one of the most important aspects of a work of writing for me is voice. It’s a rather broad subject, however, so rather than slam you with one hugely enormous blog post; I’ve split it into four posts: 

Today: defining character voice



Monday (a week from today): unleashing your voice

So! Here we go!

Because voice is one of those more difficult things to define, I cheated and used the internet to get a better definition than what I could give you. So from About.com, here is the definition of voice:


In case you can't read it (I'm aware the picture's a little small, sorry), the definition I'd like to focus on is: 

Voice is the characteristic speech and thought patterns of a first-person narrator; a persona. Because voice has so much to do with the reader's experience of a work of literature, it is one of the most important elements of a piece of writing. 

I write in first-person a lot. It’s not that I have a problem with third-person (I really don’t, third-person POV is great), what appeals to me is that first person emphasizes character voice—something I treasure in novels. Despite that though, I’d like to revise the About.com definition:

Voice is the characteristic speech and thought patterns of a narrator; a persona.

See what I did there? My problem with the definition is that it insinuates that character voice only emerges in first-person POV novels, which is certainly not the case. You see, first-person draws attention to voice and uses it to string together the story, but that’s not to say that third-person POV novels are void of character voice. The difference is in the manner character voice is expressed.

In first-person POV, character voice emerges organically. It’s the way words are strung together, what the character focuses on and his opinions and beliefs revealed through his thoughts, biases and desires.

A great example is the opening of The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. I’m sure most of you know what I’m talking about, but in case you’ve missed it, here it is from allgreatquotes.com:

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.”

I don’t need to give you an entire paragraph so you can get a feel for Holden’s voice—one sentence is all it takes. That’s the power of character voice. You should be able to take one sentence from your first-person novel—any sentence—and give the readers a good sense of character voice.  

Third-person is much the same, although it varies depending on how close to the character we are—omniscient POV, for example, will have a higher degree of author voice than limited third-person. Nonetheless, character voice is usually sprinkled in throughout the prose.

Here’s a great example from Showdown by Ted Dekker:

“Cecil Marshal shifted his seat on the town’s only public bench, shaded from the hot midsummer sun by the town’s only drinking establishment, and measured the stranger strutting along the road’s shoulder like some kind of black-caped superhero. It wasn’t just the man’s black broad-brimmed hat, or his dark trench coat whipped about by a warm afternoon breeze, but the way he carried himself that made Cecil think, Jiminy Cricket, Zorro’s a-coming.” (pg. 1)

I highlighted the two sections in that paragraph that really emphasize Cecil’s voice. Obviously his thought beginning with “Jiminy Cricket” comes directly from his mind and thus is 100% his voice, but the comparison of the stranger to a “black-caped superhero” also reflects voice—after all, would the stranger define himself as a black-caped superhero? How about someone else who saw him? Maybe, maybe not, but this is Cecil’s interpretation of the stranger.  

I can’t emphasize enough how important voice is in a novel—to me at least, it makes or breaks the prose. But maybe I’m just picky.

What do you think? How important is voice?

How to Make Your Readers Run


Photo is author's own
It’s happened to most of us—you’re cruising along the web, opening and browsing through blogs, websites, or randomness you just happened to stumble upon when BAM!—your biggest web pet peeve slaps you in the face with the force of an angry kangaroo on speed.

What happens from there depends on you level of tolerance and self-control. Some of us instantly close the tab and block the trauma from memory. Others ignore it and continue to enjoy the content of the page despite the screaming pet peeve alarm. You can probably guess which camp I’m in.

So after a quick survey on Twitter and reviving repressed trauma (the things I do for you guys), I have compiled a list of five ways to make your readers run from your blog faster than a cat from a bubble bath. 

Ready? Go!
  1. Really long paragraphs. Readers like short paragraphs, especially online. Why? Honestly, it’s just easier to read. It’s light on the eyes and it feels faster while you’re reading. Not to mention the increase of reading on mobile devices. Ever try to read a long paragraph on a cell phone? Not pretty.

  2. Light text on dark backgrounds. People tend to make this mistake because they think it looks cool. You know what’s cool? Being able to read without feeling like the words are glaring at you.

    Don’t believe me? Let’s do a quick experiment. Which is easier to read?

    This gorgeous neon text on awesome black background of emo-ness?

    Or this normal black text on a light background?

    It doesn’t look cool, ok guys? It drives readers away from your blog en masse.

  3. Teenie, tiny font size. This is hard to read. If your blog looks like this, you're giving some poor far-sighted person a migraine. Worse—you’re making normal people squint and feel like they need glasses. Make your font bigger. Like, at least 13 (though I’ve read that font size should really be larger than that, so I’m being nice with 13). Larger font = happy readers.

  4. Auto-playing music. I know why people do this, really I do. Setting the atmosphere of your blog with some music sounds like a good idea. But guess what? Some people like to listen to their own music while browsing the web, then when the auto-playing music starts playing all of a sudden two songs are playing at the same time fighting for your attention and I don’t know about you guys, but I go crazy finding the tab to SHUT OFF THE FOREIGN NOISE.

    You know, so I can listen to my music in peace.

    Then there are other times when music just makes reading difficult. The idea is to appeal to as many readers as possible, and playing music is a guaranteed way to alienate some readers. I’m not saying they’ll all care (there are plenty of people, I’m sure, who don’t really mind), but there will be some who leave just because there is music playing. And you really don’t want that, now do you?

  5. Terrible spelling and grammar. I have a feeling this annoys writers more than anyone else, but numerous grammar and spelling errors on a blog makes it look highly unprofessional. I’m not saying the occasional typo will kill you (it won’t, we all understand you’re human), but when your blog reads like a 14-year-old’s text message, there’s a problem.
So there you are, my fair readers—five ways to turn your blog into a nightmare. But I’m sure there are plenty of other methods that have slipped my mind.

What are your worst blog or web design pet peeves? 

Guest Posting: Is Fear Holding You Back?


Hello, everyone! I know I don’t usually post on Thursdays, but I’m guest posting about fear on Susan Sipal’s wonderful blog, Harry Potter for Writers, today. I’m very excited about it—so excited, in fact, that I decided to post today just to let you guys know.

It’s pretty fantastic.

So! You should definitely check out her blog (which has some really awesome insight, by the way) and follow her on Twitter because she retweets awesome links like a boss.

Enjoy! 

My (Short) Review: The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass


Let me start off by saying I need to find some books that are less than five-star amazingness, because you guys are going to start to think I’m a softie that gives everything five stars. I’m not. I promise.

But guys, The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass deserves those five stars.

I’ll admit that I caved into buying this one because it was one of those books I suspected I should read and never really got around to picking up, but now Borders is going out of business and I figured well, what better time than now? So I bought it. And I read the first chapter. And I had a serious facepalm Why-did-I-wait-so-absurdly-long-to-read-this-book?-moment.

So without further ado, this is the Goodreads summary:

“How do widely published authors keep their stories burning hot? Learn how to supercharge every story with deep conviction and, conversely, turn fiery passion into effective story. The Fire in the Fiction shows you not only how to write compelling stories filled with interesting settings and vivid characters, but how to do it over and over again. With examples drawn from current novels, this inspiring guide shows you how to infuse your writing with life.”

I mean it when I say my only regret was not reading The Fire in Fiction sooner. The advice is fantastic and the exercises at the end of the chapter are more useful than I can even describe. I haven’t done all of them yet, but I definitely will.

So if you’re looking for a good writing book, I highly recommend this one. It covers everything from deepening characters (yes, even your moustache-twirling antagonist) to writing interesting description to weaving tension throughout your prose. It’s a fantastic read, and one I intend to go through again with a highlighter or two.

So there you are, another book on craft to add to your TBR pile. What are some of your favorite writing books? 

The Prologue War


Photo credit: tonyetone on Flickr
If you’ve been paying attention to the realm of writing for any lengthy amount of time, I’m sure you know about The Great Prologue Debate. It’s a war that’s been going on for ages and undoubtedly has many casualties.

To prologue or not to prologue, that is the question.

So before we start throwing punches and whipping out weapons of mass destruction, let’s take a look at the core of the matter: What is a prologue?


According to dictionary.com, the definition of a prologue is this:

Since we’re talking about writing, the definition I’m most interested in is number four: “an introductory scene, preceding the first act of a play, opera, etc.” (emphasis added)

The keyword there (as I’ve emphasized with certain slanty letters) is “preceding.” Prologues, by definition, happen before the action—before the story really starts.


So now you’re thinking, yes, ok Ava, we know what a prologue is—what’s your point? Well, my point is pretty simple: most of the time, the story should start where the story starts. You’d think that goes without saying, but prologues break that rule.


I’m not saying that they never work—in fact I'm guilty of writing a prologue myself (albeit, in my first ever WIP) and I've read prologues that I liked. But prologues are used and abused and oftentimes they aren’t necessary.


Sometimes they give the readers valuable background information or set the mood or a dozen other functions. And sometimes the only way to accomplish that goal effectively is indeed through a prologue.


However. If you have a prologue and there is any other way to get that information in, to set the mood, whatever you’re trying to achieve by writing a prologue, then you don’t need it. Could you conceivably tell the reader that your story's version of magic only works during the day and that faeries are actually fatally allergic to mushrooms within your prose? Yes? Then cut the prologue.


Maybe you need the prologue to slap some tension in the beginning of your novel because your first chapter starts off a bit slow. In that case, yes a prologue works, but it’d be even better if you inserted tension in your first chapter instead of relying on a prologue. Just a thought.


So, to prologue or not to prologue? Truthfully, it’s up to you. But if you must include a prologue, my advice to you is simple: make it snappy, make it interesting and make it important. Then finish writing the rest of your story.


Now it’s your turn to weigh in, my lovely readers. To prologue, or not to prologue?

How Important is Loving Your Novel?


Photo credit: quinn.anya on Flickr
So not too long ago I read this post from fellow writer Ara Grigorian (@araTHEwriter on Twitter) in which he made an interesting statement:

If you don't have a passion for your story, you'll get sick of her, before she's had the chance to evolve and shine into the beauty you know she will become.”

He argued that you need to love your story if you hope to reach a fully completed manuscript, then went on to ask if he was being overdramatic.

I don’t think he was being overdramatic—in fact, I think he was right on.

The thing with writing a book is it takes a long time—more than time, it takes a huge amount of effort. It’s emotionally draining and exhausting work that often requires huge amounts of rewriting after you’ve already poured your heart and soul into the story. And no, I’m not being overdramatic, either.

Seriously guys, if you don’t believe 150% in your novel, who else is going to believe in it? If you aren’t absolutely sure that you love your characters, your story—then guess what? Maybe you shouldn’t be writing it at all.

I’m going to push further. Maybe you love your story, but there’s this one character you aren’t so sure about. That iffy feeling you have about that character shouldn’t be ignored. That’s a sign, guys. That’s your subconscious telling you, “Hey, you could probably do better with that character.” Do NOT ignore the iffy feeling!

Here’s a homework assignment: if you have a completed manuscript and you feel “meh” about one of your characters—scrap them and rewrite them completely. It’s a scary thought, I know. It’s a lot of work. But it’s absolutely worth the effort, trust me. I’ve done it myself.

Maybe it isn’t a character you feel iffy about, maybe it’s a scene, or a chapter, or a paragraph or a sentence—hell, maybe it’s even a word. Point is, if you don’t love it, then chances are you could make it better. So what are you waiting for?

Because the truth is guys, you need to love every aspect of your story. How will you endure reading it 10-15 (or more) times if you don’t believe in the words on the page? How will you survive a review that points out the flaws in your story if you weren’t sure about it to begin with?

You need to be passionate about your story—there’s no way around it. Writing a novel isn’t easy. There will be times you’ll be tempted to give up, moments when you’ll glare at your manuscript and swear that if you’d rather be mauled by a pack of rabid ferrets then read it one more time. And when you reach that moment, you’ll have to make a choice—do I continue, start over or give up?

And there isn’t a wrong choice, really. It just comes down to how much you love your story.

What do you think? Are we being overdramatic? Is loving your story really that important? 
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