Thursday, February 28, 2008

Short Stories

If you're like me, sometimes it's nice to get in and out of a story fast. The investment of time is minimal and leaves me time to er . . . nap.

This is true whether I'm acting as a reader or a writer.

But what are the benefits of writing short stories?

The first benefit is honing your craft. You've got to jump in, get the story told well, and jump out again within a limited number of words. You learn to write tight and understand what truly is important to tell your story and what is so much fluff.

The second is that it's generally easier to break into print through a short story publication. That's no small thing when it come to putting together your resumé and bio for agents and editors.

Third, you can start to build a readership through shorts. People will begin to seek you out because they like your voice. How cool would that be?

Fourth, you get the satisfaction of completing something fast. THE END are sometimes two of my favorite words.

So, where do you start?

Target some publications and become familiar with them. Read a couple of their issues and make sure your story would be a fit.

Read and follow their submission guidelines. You never want your name to be on the wrong kind of list.

Here are a few recommendations from other writers:

Crime and Suspense Magazine is a favorite of many.

Mysterical-e Magazine has been around for a while.

Here are three more:

Mouth Full of Bullets
Spinetingler Magazine
Apollo's Lyre

And one of my all-time favorite information sites for short-story publications:

Duotrope On Duotrope you can enter whatever parameters you're looking for and you will get a list of possibilities for your consideration.

Sheesh, now I want to get to work on some of my own!

It's all better with friends.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Creating Words that Sell

Deciding whether or not to take the step to hire an editor is a big decision for every writer, regardless of genre. It's a little like moving to a country where you don't speak the language and trying to negotiate a real estate transaction. Your feet turn to clay and your decision is . . . to not decide.

Instead, you reach for the chocolate.

Today, my good friend, Susan Lohrer, is giving us some basic information about this critical element of writing.

When does someone need an editor? Actually, you don't always need to work with an editor in order to get an agent or a publishing contract. But there are a few circumstances in which you may choose to work with a professional editor. Say an agent or an acquisitions editor is seriously interested in your work but wants you to submit your manuscript once it's cleaned up-this is a great time to have a copy editor spiff up your grammar and typos. Or if your manuscripts consistently final in writing competitions or you get requests for full manuscripts, yet a contract remains elusive-this is a great time to have your manuscript critiqued or evaluated in preparation for a structural edit edit. Some people, if expense is not an issue, choose to shorten their learning curve by working with an editor the way a student works with a one-on-one tutor. Occasionally, a nonfiction writer who has an established marketing platform may make an informed choice to self-publish-in this case, working with a professional editor is essential. There are as many reasons to work with an editor-or not-as there are authors.

Should I wait to see what an agent or publisher thinks first? Why or why not? By all means. :-) Just don't keep revamping and sending in the same manuscript. Agents and acquisitions editors have excellent memories. Work on your craft and submit new manuscripts that are more well-written than the ones you submitted before. When your craft reaches a certain level, agents and acquisitions editors will take notice.

What do editors do? We help you polish your craft. From catching typos and fine-tuning grammar to refining scene and story structure, a good editor will show you what you need to to do make your manuscript more marketable.

Doesn't the publisher have an editor? Yes, traditional publishing houses have several editors working on each manuscript. If you and your acquisitions editor are happy with your manuscripts, it might be silly to spend money on extra editing. However, if you've tried repeatedly to break into a bigger market or a different imprint, working with a professional editor could be just the thing to get you past that hurdle.

How much do they charge? What if I can't afford one? Rates depend on the editor. Someone who's edited many best sellers will charge on the high end of the scale, and someone who's just starting out will charge on the low end. The old caveat applies: You usually get what you pay for. If you can't afford an editor, don't despair. Study books on writing. Dissect the novels you love and discover how the authors use setting, characterization, dialogue-and all the other components of a novel-to create a gripping story. Join a critique group. Attend workshops and conferences if that's feasible for you. Work hard. Persistence is the defining quality of the published author. (Peg, here's a link with the rate info your readers want: Christian Editor.)

Is Cousin Clarice who teaches English good enough? Or my roommate in college? If all you need is a second pair of eyes to catch a few typos, sure. But if you need more than that, look for someone who has experience in the world of publishing, someone who can guide you through the intricacies of contemporary story structure-a professional editor.

What kinds of questions should I ask when I'm looking for an editor? Ask for references from published clients and follow up on them. Authors who work with great editors are happy to give great references. If an editor can't or won't produce references, you can assume that person has either no experience or no skill as an editor. Ask the clients whether the editor delivered the level of service that was agreed upon, within the agreed timeframe, and without messing with the author's voice. Get a firm estimate on price and the level of editing required, and get a sample of the editor's work. Some editors charge a small fee for this, but keep in mind a brief critique can take several hours to prepare; a good critique also addresses your specific needs as a writer so that you can move forward with improving your weak areas even if you don't pursue further editing at this time.

What should I expect? You should expect the editor to clearly outline your writing's strengths and weaknesses and offer a plan for improving what's not working. A good working relationship is a must, so if you want an update every five minutes and your editor prefers to keep in touch once a week, or the other way around, you're not a good fit. If you need a gentle hand of correction and your editor makes excellent but blunt suggestions to improve your manuscript, you may not be a good fit. And most important, you should expect the editor to help you elevate your understanding of the craft of writing so that you can produce marketable manuscripts.

What shouldn't I expect? You shouldn't expect an editor to whip your 100,000-word manuscript into shape in three days. That kind of project often takes weeks or even longer, depending on the initial condition of the manuscript. Even the start date may not come as quickly as you'd like it to. Editors who are known to have successfully published clients tend also to have full schedules and often book projects months in advance.

What if I don't think they did a very good job? If you get references and a sample of the editor's work, this should not happen. When in doubt, ask for a contract before the work starts. Though many excellent editors regularly work without a contract, every reputable editor can provide a contract that outlines what will happen if either of you decide the arrangement isn't working out.

Susan Lohrer specializes in substantive editing of women's fiction. She works one-on-one with authors, encouraging them to learn their craft and consistently produce compelling, marketable stories. Her editing style: gentle persistence. Many of her clients have won or been finalists for prestigious awards including the Christie, Excellence in Media Silver Angel, American Christian Fiction Writers Book of the Year, National Readers Choice, Beacon, and Jessie Cameron Alison Writer of the Year.

It's all better with friends.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Book Review: A VASE OF MISTAKEN IDENTITY by Cathy Elliott

Thea James runs a little antique store in the small town of Larkindale. She and her cat have pretty much figured out their lives and are comfortable living with unfolded laundry and quiet predictability. Personal loss has a way of making "nothing new" something to strive for.

But this is fiction, after all . . .

A body turns up at the local resort and the town is abuzz. A vintage vase is virtually dumped in Thea's lap by Larkindale's favorite homeless person. Inside the vase? A list of four names. One of them, Thea's.

Sometimes we all need to just slow down and live somewhere else for a while. Forget the suspense and escape to the cozy. Leave the fast lane and take a visit to Larkindale.

I admit it took a bit for me to stop looking for the pace and start savoring the fluff. Elliott's first novel gives us a wonderful escape with an almost chick-lit feel. Even though I think there are parts that could have been cut in this story, Elliott has established characters I want to meet again. A town I kind of like. An escape from my normal escape.

For something lovely and gentle and well . . . cozy . . . get your hands on A Vase of Mistaken Identity.

It's all better with friends.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Blogs That Feed

The ease with which blogs are changed and updated make them less static than websites and much more user friendly--for everyone.

I confess I don't read every blog I enjoy. I just don't have that kind of time, but I peek in on them every once in a while.

In no particular order, these are some of my favorites:

From Where I Sit is the blog from the CEO of publisher Thomas Nelson.

Boxing the Octopus is subtitled, "Writing for Real."

The Outfit bills itself as a "Collective of Chicago Crime Writers."

Jason Pinter has a top ranked blog with good writing tips.

Inspirational Editor has wonderful writing tips. Susan's website is also shown as one of my links.

Evil Editor is another great source for writing tips.

Pub Rants belongs to a literary agent.

Edittorrent is one of my favorites.

Girls Write Out is written by four wonderful authors who also happen to be wonderful women. Or should that be the other way around?

Guide to Literary Agents is just that.

The Graveyard Shift is Lee Lofland's new blog about cops and robbers.

Keep Me In Suspense is written by several published authors, and is also on my links list.

Faith and Forensics is the popular blog of Brandilyn Collins.

I know this is a website, but I didn't include it in my website post and you should have this information if you're interested in taking some writing courses. Kat Jorgensen puts together lists of upcoming workshops. Just click on "Workshop Finder" on her homepage.

It's all better with friends.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Cracking the Major Magazine Nut

Suzanne Falter-Barns, through her organization, Get Known Now, has graciously allowed me to share this article that recently appeared in her newsletter.

How to Pitch Major Magazines

Nothing beats major magazine coverage for sheer credibility. Being able to say you've been written up in SELF, Time, or even that star of the supermarket check out line, Woman's World, helps gain client clout. And it helps you get more media, because editors and writers see one write-up as a flag that you're worth paying attention to ... and many follow suit. One client of mine actually followed a story in Time with interviews on 60 Minutes, and in at least one major newspaper.

Remember, the circulation of these publications is huge - Woman's World has more than 2.2 million readers.

So here's how you get on the radar screen of major magazine editors:

1. Understand the playing field. Position yourself as a expert they can draw on whenever they need a quote from someone in your field. Every editor in America (and beyond) needs experts - these quotes are simply part of the formula in every major magazine feature. I like a simple quarterly post card campaign for this, sent to a select 20-40 top editors and freelancers.

2. Get them to hire you to write something. After you present yourself as a quotable expert, pitch them with a piece you’d write as an expert in your field. This could be a ‘service’ (how to) article, in which you’d really be required to feature other experts primarily. You might be able to tell a few of your own stories, etc.. No need to write the piece up front – just pitch a paragraph describing it and why it’s a good fit with their readers. Mention any experts you’d feature, and anything else you’ve written that’s been published. Also, stress your expert credentials.

3. Pitch a personal essay. Tell a story that demonstrates your expertise and, more importantly, has a larger life lesson. The little bio line at the end of either this type of story or the preceding one will hopefully identify you, your book if you have one, or your website. Note: You will have to write your essay in its entirety before you pitch.

4. Get clear on what the magazine runs/wants/needs and who their reader is. Without this information, you’re simply sunk. Remember their top priority is not featuring you as expert, but feeding their reader’s need to know. To really get clear, spend a day reading back issues of your select magazines at the library. One major magazine editor I know told me her worst peeve was cold submissions from people who hadn’t researched her publication. For instance, don’t submit your idea if they just ran something on it. And do look for formulas you can fit in different sections of the publication.

5. Check out the editorial calendars on This is a valuable paid service provided by a website that serves up all kinds of helpful info to freelance journalists, editors and editorial assistants. Well worth the money to see what issues are in the works for the coming year. Use this info to pitch editors for specific topics and issues germaine to your work.

6. Network. Meet these editors, freelancers, and assistants however you can … try to somehow find them at networking events and introduce yourself. It’s tough to sell yourself at massive pitch fests like the National Publicity Summit, or after conference panels, but at least you’ll learn names and titles. Then follow up with some emails, letters or calls and try to get on their radar screen. It REALLY helps to have one or two insider contacts, so work your network – see who you know. I got in using my college alumnae list.

7. Always research who to send to. You can’t submit anything to ‘Editor’ – that will be immediately trashed. Do your homework by calling the switchboard and talking to whoever answers the phone. Get an email or at least a correct spelling of the name of the person you should submit to. (If nothing else, send to the Managing Editor.) Many publishers have very reproducible email address formats – i.e. -- check out the fine print in the publication to learn how to do it, if they won’t provide emails over the phone.

8. Be sure to include a link in your email to your media page. Keep emails brief, to the point, and helpful. And send them to your media page for sure. What — you don’t have a media page?! Better pick up a copy of our Get Known Now Home Study Course pronto.

9. Follow up. Don’t let them forget you. Stay in touch by email one week later on email submits, two weeks later on snail mail submits. And continue to follow up about three times, every 1-3 weeks. Follow up by phone one month after submission, and be sure to remind them over the phone what you sent. Don’t give up but don’t be a pest. Be useful and charming. Get to know their assistant.

Suzanne Falter-Barns is a best-selling self-help author, and former New York copywriter, marketing consultant and freelance writer. Her articles and essays have appeared in More, Fitness, Self, The New York Times, Prevention and Writer’s Digest.

She has been featured in Woman’s Day, New Woman, SELF, The Christian Science Monitor, i-village, and, as well as more than 100 TV and radio programs. Earlier this year, SELF Magazine named her most recent self-help book, Living Your Joy, one of 9 ‘best of the best’ self help books. Her consulting clients have included Hearst, Conde Nast, and The New York Times Company. She is also the author of How Much Joy Can You Stand?, a One Spirit Book Club Main Selection. Suzanne’s website,, teaches anyone how to build platform effectively and establish themselves as a recognized expert in their field.

It's all better with friends.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Seat-Of-The-Pants Plotting

Sounds kind of like an oxymoron, doesn't it? Actually, it's a pretty good description of the way I've learned to put a manuscript together.

This is how I stumbled onto something that works for me. You will find your own way. It could be very simple--you plot. Or it could be you'll develop your own blend of things that get your from Point A to Point Z in a logical and orderly way.

For what it's worth, here's my input.

I can think an idea to death. One will come into my head with so much promise and excitement and potential. But if I push it too much by planning and plotting, I kill it. I sit around with this dead thing stinking up my office and wonder why I can't pick up a fresh scent.

Other writers can plot like crazy from the very beginning and still love their projects--and it shows in their writing.

When I first started writing seriously, I had a story idea and a few characters brewing around in my head. I planted my behind in the chair, put my hands on the keyboard and began typing away. Thank goodness it wasn't suspense--which requires clear, concise direction. My initial effort didn't have much of any of those qualities. Thanks to some gentle coaching by my critique partners, my writing improved enough to win an award, but the story left me lifeless. Like cookie crumbs in the bottom of a glass of milk. Blick.

Now what?

I took my major characters, tweaked them a bit and threw them into a suspense story that energized me and kept me interested. Phew! What a relief to be excited again.

Now what?

I began with a general idea and coaxed it along. The slightest massaging without heavy-duty plotting. I knew a couple of plot points and a twist or two. Fun. But that's all I knew. What I ended up with, for my first draft, was not much more than a fat outline--mostly dialogue and scene titles. I had created an outline without knowing it. That works for me.

Now what?

I needed clarification. Tight pacing and focus. Some . . . er . . . suspense stuff. Creating a detailed, traditional outline didn't excite me. I figured I had one I could work with--why do two? But I needed to also keep things straight. I'd played a little with 3x5 cards in the past, and they were okay, but not visually stimulating. After all, I'm a product of television and movies. Tactile is good, visual would be better. I heard about using colored sticky notes to help the plotting process. My first attempt was a mess:

It was pretty, but a mess nonetheless. I felt productive and creative while I was putting the little pieces of colored paper up, but in the end I couldn't keep them straight. Or move them around very easily.

Susan Lohrer shared the idea with me to have a little more color-coded consistency in my approach. The top photo shows my timeline in blue, different scene POV's in their own character-colors, with the plot points for each scene listed on purple. You can see a couple of little "adds" (and now there are more of those), that represent things I need to make sure and incorporate because of changes I've made elsewhere.

By jove, I think I've found something I can work with.

It's all better with friends.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Hugs are Nice, but Sometimes Links are Better

This post will have some links for you to check out. Some I use regularly, others are brand new to me. All are offered as a sort of Cyber Hug in the hope you find one or two that give you a thrill. And yeah, they're a drop in the bucket compared to my unweildy Favorites list. (I really need to clean that up.)

This list is websites, but be looking for one on blogs coming up. PUHLEASE remember to confirm information if you have any doubts.

Booked TV is fun for crime writers and readers alike.

Common Errors in English is there, ready and willing to help you get smarter about your choices.

How to Detect Lies is one of those sites we can all use.

The Nonverbal Dictionary is a great resource for showing instead of telling.

Phobia List will either make you feel incredibly normal, or give you something to worry about. Or your characters.

Police Jargon is a wonderful site put together by Lynda Sue Cooper. is one of those I haven't actually played on very much, but for some incredibly valid reason (which I can't put my finger on at the moment), I bookmarked as a favorite. is great if you need some quick, or different, suggestions.

The Write Attitude Need some inspiration? Feeling a little icky as a writer? Check it out. You can thank me later.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

What Kind of Reader are You?

How many books do you read a year? A month? A week?

Do you plow through them lickity-split with a goal to read a gazillion books this year? Do you feel compelled to read everything ever written?

By the way, this is a picture of some of the books lined up in our guest bedroom. It's highly unlikely, but who knows when someone may cross our welcome mat without a book of their own to read?

Anyway, I'm a member of several writer/reader online groups. A couple of them post their recent reads. It's not unusual to see someone report that they've read four, five, six books in one week. Just the thought of that many words piling into my head makes my eyes ache and my nerves get all jangly-tense.

When I read, it's this intensely personal, almost intimate thing. It's like I put my outer life on either "Hold" or "I Don't Care" and escape to another world. If there were music, it would be a symphany orchestra playing their Best Of just for me. I have absolutely no desire to skid through leaving only exhaust fumes in my wake. I want to languish. I want to stop and smell the word-daisies. I don't want to make a list.

Is there anyone left who agrees? Or are we all on this giant treadmill of which I have no understanding?

It's all better with friends.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Delicious and Devious

Do any of you have motion sickness?

Before my husband and I took our first cruise, I got those little wrist bands with buttons in them that you place over the pulse-points in your wrists. People have always asked me whether or not they work. All I can say is, I didn't get seasick. (Well, not as much as my history has shown.) Whether that's based on physical science or psychological phenomena, I really don't care. I had a great cruise.

That leads me to brainwaves.

I ordered the CD from Writer's Mind on January 30th. It arrived in my mailbox on February 2nd. Talk about fast. I decided it was an omen.

Here's what happened on Sunday between our regular Sunday Brunch and heading out to watch the Super Bowl with friends. I played with my brainwaves.

. . . (and the raging question is, "Would this have happened anyway?")

Broken Bones's (my work in progress) next scene is an inserted one and not a re-write. My planning process called it "Bond and partner discuss deaths" a scene culminating in Bond deciding to investigate on her own.

I sat looking at a blank computer screen (save for my scene title) and feeling icky. Zonked. Incapable of moving forward and decidedly short of any imagination. I recognized a complete lack of conflict (my critique partners have trained me well), which would undoubtedly lead me to poor scene structure and forced results. I needed help. I needed a jolt of creativity.

Determined, or at least desparate, I plopped the headphones onto my head and put my new CD on Track 1. Track 1 is called "Inspiration" and is supposedly designed to use Alpha waves to kick both sides of my brain into "relaxed mental awareness, reflection, visualization, and creativity." I threw on a jacket and pulled on some gloves (winter in Colorado) and kicked myself out the door for a little walk with mental exercise as my goal.

I started trying to force myself down the planned route of a discussion between partners. I mean, it must be in my plot plan for a reason, right? I'd gone maybe a block when I finally allowed myself to look at other options.


Bond is gonna come upon her partner doing something suspicious (I haven't quite figured that out yet--but it will implicate her) which will spur her to look into what's going on, increasing her personal danger. No boring discussions. Just subterfuge, pure and simple.

Science or psychology? I really don't care.

Delicious and devious.

It's all better with friends.