Posts Tagged 'writers groups'

Read What You Write

I read mysteries for relaxation. Even though mysteries are generally written to formula, depending on whether it’s a cozy, police procedural, hard-boiled, or whatever, I still like to see if I can figure out whodunnit.

Last week I was reading a mystery about two elderly sisters found dead and on page 2, the author named one sister as the older, but on page 4, the other sister was older. HUH? I re-read and re-read because I couldn’t believe my eyes. Yep, there it was. A simple error that ruined the author’s credibility regarding details (which is rather important in a mystery).

So what’s my point? You are the author of your book and the responsibility for the words (including errors) is yours. Granted, you need an editor because you know what you intended to say and an editor will help you determine if the words actually do. However, your name–not the editor’s–appears on the cover of your book, so your reader holds you–not the editor–accountable for the book’s contents.

Writing books takes weeks, months, or even years. It’s easy to forget details you’ve written over time. But your reader reads your book in hours or days, so everything is fresh in your reader’s mind.

Many successful authors write to a schedule, and the first thing each one does is go back and read what he or she wrote the previous writing session in order to pick up in the right spot and have the right focus.

I’m an advocate of writers groups to help you with your writing too. Writers groups can point out inconsistencies such as the one I found in that mystery.

When we were publishing books, I required all manuscripts be edited by a book editor because a good book editor will challenge the author in areas that aren’t clear or that are inconsistent.

But the ultimate responsibility for the accuracy in your book is you, so read what you write.

Happy writing!


How NOT to Approach a Publisher

Most of the time new authors approach our publishing company via email asking what we’d like to see from them. They’ve been to our website,, and they’ve made a decision to submit their work to us for consideration. We offer feedback on the first chapter of their manuscript at no charge so we can see if their book is something we want our name as publisher associated with, and they can see if they like the way we edit. It’s a win-win.

This week the phone rang and I answered it and young man asked, “Do you publish books?” Although I was thinking “DUH,” I responded in the affirmative and asked him what his book is about.

He responded that he’s a very talented writer and that he writes everything but right now he’s looking to get his novel published.  He continued, “Are you a sales publisher?”

I told him we were an equity publisher and that  I wasn’t familiar with the term sales publisher. I asked what he  meant.

“I mean, do you pay writers, ‘cuz I don’t wanna pay nobody. My stuff’s too good and I’m gonna make millions on my book.”

You can probably see where this is going. I get a couple of these calls every week. Authors imagine themselves as the next Stephen King, Joel Osteen, J.K. Rowling, etc. They’ve heard about the success of these authors’ books and believe they can do it too. Well, they can, but they’ll have to work harder than they ever imagined to make it happen.

Back to the phone call.

I told the budding author that he could indeed sell his novel to a publisher, but he’d most likely need a literary agent to do it. Since literary agents don’t make money unless they sell an author’s work, getting a good agent to represent you is almost harder than finding a publisher. One of the best ways to get an agent is to have another author connect you to his/her agent.

I asked him, “What are you doing to connect with other authors? Do you go to writers conferences? Do you belong to a writers group?”

He sounded a bit deflated and in a low voice said no.

I suggested he get the latest Writers Market and look for publishers who accept unagented fiction submissions.

He had an old Writers Market and thought he’d use that. I suggested he get a current one, but left that up to him.

He thanked me and the conversation was over.

What was wrong with how he approached this publisher?

  • He hadn’t done his homework regarding the publisher.
  • He didn’t have the basic terms mastered (sales publisher versus royalty publisher).
  • He hadn’t researched the book publishing business to see how it works.
  • He used bad grammar.
  • He wasn’t current in his research regarding customers (aka publishers) he was trying to sell his writing to.
  • He wasn’t connected to a writing community in any way.

I could go on, but you get the idea. When you decide to approach a publisher, make sure you’ve done your homework about the publisher and what they publish. Know (or connect with them to find out) what they want to see. Submit your proposal according to their instructions so you don’t give them an immediate reason to discard your submission. Publishers are bombarded with submissions, so don’t make it easy for them to say no to you.

Happy writing!

I Write Like I Talk

Harry and I participated in an exciting business conference this past weekend. People came from the US and Canada. One man I met talked with me about his writing, and he said, “I write like I talk. I don’t know if that’s good or bad.”

Well, it’s neither good nor bad. It’s good if you write in your own voice. It’s bad if you write for ear and not the eye.

What do I mean by write for the eye? Listen to people and you’ll hear words said in ways that sound fine. Write those same words down exactly as said, and you’ll see gaps, mixed verb tenses, plural pronouns used with singular antecedents, etc. All of these are writing errors and you don’t want them published under your name.

Why do you think writers groups have someone read the writing out loud while the audience listens? Why do people attend readings by authors? We listen to writing to sample the writing. If the writing falters in beat, in word choice, in emotion, in visualization, chances are the reader will zone away from the writing and momentarily lose connection with it.

This happened to me in a writers group back in the 1980s. The author read aloud, but I lost connection and zoned away. During the oral critique of the writing, someone said, “I wasn’t terribly interested in your story until you mentioned the cook was naked.”

Well, I heard that! “What?” I said. “I didn’t hear anything about a naked cook in the story.”


The point was the author did lose me and almost lost another group member in the reading. That told the author to work some more on the story because readers weren’t engaged. Listening to the writing pointed that out.

It’s okay if you write like you talk, as long as your voice realizes the reader is reading with the eye and sometimes hearing your voice in the ear.

Happy writing!


Advice from a Literary Agent

I was cleaning out old files this week and came across a tip sheet from a literary agent. Some of the tips are so obvious (use quality paper, write a clear letter, enclose SASE–self addressed, stamped envelope), but others are a bit less elementary.

When approaching a literary agent, do:

  • Present one project at a time.
  • Submit in standard manuscript format (double-spaced, one-inch margins, Times New Roman font, your name and page number on each page).
  • Provide your project’s word count.
  • List your published works.
  • Provide pertinent information about yourself–experience, for example.
  • Expect to wait up to 120 days for a response.

When approaching a literary agent, don’t:

  • Offer an unprofessional presentation (no typos, spelling or puncutation or grammatical errors please).
  • Send your only copy of your proposal.
  • Use cliche characters when writing fiction–instead make them memorable.
  • Use exclamation points or unusual fonts–let your writing create the excitement instead.
  • Claim to be better than best-selling authors.
  • Act paranoid that everyone’s out to steal your work.
  • Use the opinions of those who love you (family and friends) as confirmation of your work.

Here are some things I’ll add to help you increase your chances of success.

  • Follow the conventions of the kind of work you’re proposing (genre fiction is formulatic, so follow the formula).
  • Do your research (both fiction and nonfiction writing require research). You also want to research your marketplace and find a literary agent who represents what you write.
  • Read as much as you can in your field.
  • Realize that publishing is business and if anyone says it’s about fulfilling your dream, run as fast as you can. There’s something not quite right going on.
  • Join writers groups. Be mindful that any critiques you get aren’t very helpful unless the one giving them regularly reads the type of writing you do. For example, a critique on a romance isn’t worth much from someone who doesn’t read romances.
  • Don’t take rejection personally. Publishing is business and rejection only means that what you’re offering isn’t a good match for what they’re needing.

You might want to print these tips off and keep them handy for future use.

Happy writing!

Can You Edit Your Own Writing?

One of the most commonly discussed issues in writing is whether or not writers can self-edit their writing.

While I truly believe writers need editors, I also believe writers can improve their writing by learning some self-editing techniques.

Your writing reflects you. You shouldn’t allow an editor to change your voice or your intent. And you should allow an editor to make you look good.

Here are some things to get you started in editing your own writing.

  • Be honest about what your writing weaknesses are. If you know you go comma crazy, learn the rules for inserting commas (“because this is where I took a breath” is not a rule). If you know you’ve got spelling issues, use your spell checker but understand spell checkers don’t catch every error, which means you need a dictionary too.
  • Put yourself in your reader’s position, then ask if what you wrote is clear to the reader. Ask if what you wrote clearly says what you intended the reader to know.
  • Make sure you include only one idea per paragraph. I wrote on topic sentences in an earlier post, so won’t belabor the issue here.
  • Look for redundancy. Check to see if you unnecessarily repeated yourself or if you overused a favorite word or phrase.
  • Analyze your sentence structure. Do you have some short sentences and some compound sentences? Do you always start with I or The or do you vary how you begin your sentences?
  • Look for parallel structure in your sentences. Here’s an example of parallel structure: Jimmy went skiing on Friday, swimming on Saturday, and sailing on Sunday. (All the verbs are “ing” verb.) Here’s an example of a sentence that doesn’t have parallel structure: Jimmy went skiing on Friday, to the beach on Saturday, and he decided to sleep all day Sunday.
  • Buy and use a grammar book. Browse your writing reference section of your bookstore and find a grammar book that’s friendly to your preference of looking things up.  Since we’ve become PC (politically correct), we’ve made it harder to write with subject/verb agreement. That is, we use the gender neutral, plural subject (they, for example) with the singular verb. Every grammarian knows that’s incorrect English, but it’s easy, so writers do it anyway. There may be a time when it’s acceptable, but we’re not at that time yet. Better to rewrite the sentence and assure you have subject/verb agreement.

Can you edit your own writing? Yes, you can, but it’s a lot of work. It may be easier to get someone else who loves the language to help you. As always, you have a choice, so make it a good one.

Happy writing!

The Last Thing A Writer Should Do

Harry picked up a voicemail last Monday morning. It was left at 9:30 Sunday night.  The person asked if we were publishers since he was looking through the phone book, then said something about wanting us to call him back with some tips on how he could sell his writing. He left his name and phone number–then repeated it to make sure we got it okay.

After listening to the message, Harry asked me to listen to it. We both agreed that while the person was probably sincere about wanting us to give him tips, the call left much to be desired.

The first thing the caller needed to do was research–research the company he was calling, research writing sites (both on the Internet and local establishments/courses), read blogs, subscribe to Writer’s Digest magazine (and read the articles), and learn all he can about his customers (publishers he wants to sell to).

The last thing the caller should have done is call a publisher outside of business hours and ask the publisher to educate him.

Publishing is business and publishers want to deal with professionals. There are myriad of classes on publishing. There are websites and blogs filled with information for writers. There are writers groups, writers conferences, and writers organizations all ready to help fledgling writers learn the publishing business. And, finally, there are books and periodicals (many are available free at libraries) to help.

Any writer who’s serious about writing for money should invest in himself or herself by learning as much as possible about the opportunities and options available. But don’t pick a publishing company out of the phone book and leave a voicemail asking to be called back and provided tips on selling your manuscript. That’s the last thing a writer should do.

Happy writing!

What’s Your Point?

Several years ago Harry and I were both members of a writers group.  Our group’s model had the writer read his/her own stuff to the group. We’d listen and make notes. After the reading, the listeners took turns offering feedback.

One writer went on and on about the negatives of society and its leaders–criticism without answers or solutions.

After a couple of folks offered their feedback, Harry looked firmly at the writer and asked, “What’s your point?”

The silent stare of the writer, followed by a shrug, said a lot more than words could have at that point.

The writer never returned to our group.

A couple of years later I placed a call to our local state sales tax folks and that very writer answered the phone. I didn’t recognize his voice and he didn’t recognize mine.

When he asked my name and I responded, he identified himself and mentioned our writers group and Harry’s question to him and said Harry changed his life.

He told me that Harry gave him something to think about and he realized he was writing to vent, to argue, to make people uncomfortable. And that wasn’t a good enough reason, so he quit writing. He said Harry did him a big favor because his life was more full and positive.

Most of us writers can ask ourselves the same question Harry asked.

What’s your point (in writing your novel, in writing your poetry, in writing your memoir, in writing your  self-help, in writing your article, etc.)? If the answer has merit in your perspective, go ahead and write it. If it doesn’t, consider writing something else.

Happy writing!