Archive for the ‘On Writing’ Category

Good Editing Tip

June 4, 2011 4 comments

When I’m editing my 91,000 word manuscript (over and over and over), one thing that seems to help catch typos is changing fonts. But another tip which is said to help (and which I’ve been too lazy to employ) is to read your work out loud.

Click here for another writer’s perspective.

Categories: On Writing Tags: , , , ,

How NOT to write a bestseller

Read an interesting post this morning that I think is worth sharing. About what sells in America (and what does not). Click here for the entire post.

Social Networking and Writing

LinkedIn can be a very useful tool for writers and publishing professionals. Media Bistro lists some 45 groups that can help writers. Click here for details.

Editing: How Much Is Too Much?

When is your work absolutely, positively done? So completely edited that the next time you look at it, there isn’t a single thing you’d change?

If you are like a lot of writers (and that includes me, I’m afraid), the answer is – never. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve edited my novel. Each I read it, I find something that can be absolutely, positively changed.

There is an interesting literary article by former agent Jean Hannah Edelstein about how much is too much. Click here to read the article.

Categories: On Writing Tags: , , , ,

Career Suicide

March 30, 2011 Leave a comment

For those of you who missed this, Indie Author Jacqueline Howett lost it after a very professional review by Big Alcommented on her bad grammar as well as multiple spelling mistakes. Big Al was fair in his assessment. He said the story was good – provided one was able to get past the grammar and the typos.

After hysterical rantings by Ms. Howett demanding Big Al take back his review, this has gone viral. An important lesson for the rest of us – what goes on the internet, stays on the internet. Be very careful what you put out there.

Does Ms. Howett honestly believe that literary agents/editors will give her another chance after she publicly told multiple people to f**k off?


Categories: On Writing

Genres of Fiction

March 28, 2011 Leave a comment

Yesterday I met up with a few writing buddies when the issue of genre, and why it is important, came up.

Books are slotted into genres mostly to make marketing simpler. Even when you are shopping around for literary agents, you will find that a lot of them require that you categorize your books, mainly so they know how to pitch your book to editors.

Sometimes it is easy. Your book is clearly horror, or thriller or romance. Sometimes it is not so easy.

This is something I’ve been battling with personally too. I wrote what I thought was mainstream fiction. But my book, “Tell A Thousand Lies” was critiqued mainly by women (no issue with the quality of critiques, I got fantastic help), but my point is that it was mostly women (from my online critique group) who chose to critique it. So does that mean my book is “Women’s Fiction”? I wish I knew.

Literary fiction is another category that is hard to pin down. The definition of it is vague. It can be plotless, the book being carried along solely by the quality of its writing, or can have a plot, but still the writing is a cut above mass market fiction. That’s the best I can come up with.

A partial list of genres:

  • Romance
  • Sci-Fi
  • Literary
  • Horror
  • Historical
  • Speculative (sometimes covers science, fantasy, horror. Could be an overlap)
  • Mainstream
  • Thriller
  • Steampunk (sub-genre of science fiction, alternate history and speculative fiction, according to Wikipedia. Specifically, steampunk involves an era or world where steam power is still widely used—usually the 19th century and often Victorian Britain)
  • Young adult
  • Children’s
  • Comics
  • Graphic novels
  • Memoirs (autobiographies)
  • Religious

This list is, by no means, exhaustive.

Attention Grabbing Chapter One

Writing the first chapter of your novel can be nerve wracking – it is gripping enough, is it too slow, to fast paced, too this, too that? Writers Digest has a great article on how to write that pesky Chapter 1.


Categories: On Writing

GUEST BLOG: Terry Hayman

January 24, 2011 Leave a comment

Guest blog: Terry Hayman

Avoid or fix the most common e-book formatting problems

If you’re just getting into the e-book game, there’s a good chance you’ve encountered some problems with getting your work to appear the way you want it to in e-book form. And while there are a bunch of “How to” guides out there that go into great detail, unless you’re doing something really tricky like forcing a particular font, or inserting columns, pictures, etc. into your text, getting a cleanly-formatted e-book is easier than you think.

Biggest rule is keep it simple. Use Microsoft Word as your creation/preparation tool. If you’re a Microsoft hater (I personally prefer WordPerfect to Word), use it anyway. The e-publishing tools of Smashwords, Amazon, and Pubit! (Barnes & Noble) are all designed to work with Word documents. Yes, they’ll take other stuff too, but unless you’re a tech-head who’s into HTML and such, stick with Word.

Now, take that manuscript that has been created or ported into Word and strip out anything but the basic text done in Times New Roman 12-point. (You could instead choose another standard font like Arial. Doesn’t matter. When you put it through the Amazon or other uploaders, they’ll switch it to their own preferred font.) You can include italics, forced page breaks, and paragraph first line indenting and 1.5 line spacing selected via the Paragraph’s Indents and Spacing setup.

Take out all tabs, headers or footers, page numbers, underlines, section breaks. Oh, and don’t use more than four paragraph returns at one time because it can end up giving you an entire blank screen on an e-reader.

All these rules and a few less common ones (like how to insert pictures, chapter points, hyperlinks, etc.) can be found in the free Smashwords style guide if you want to pick your way through the process point by point, but if you’ve done the basics listed above, when you upload your book the formatting should be fine 90% of the time.

But wait! You’re not done yet. You need to check your work.

With Smashwords and Pubit!, you can download an epub file into your e-reader or a program on your computer which can read epub and check for errors. For Amazon, before you go to the second screen on Amazon’s publish site, click on Preview Your Work. Go through at least five or six pages and you’ll catch the most common errors that show up, namely weird symbols for smartquotes and weird indents when you have multiple short paragraphs for things like dialogue.

When I get weird symbols, I usually fix them in Word itself by copying and pasting the offending quotation mark or whatever into the “find” of Find and Replace, where it will show its true form. Then I put the proper symbol into “replace” and do the switches. (But be careful about doing an indiscriminate “replace all” if the symbol is something common like a capital A!)

For weird indents I’ve found I have to, from Amazon’s “preview” screen, download the HTML.  Take note of what the to-be-downloaded file is called so you can find it later. It downloads as a zip file, though it may not be identified as such. You need to unzip it, then put it into an HTML editor that lets you see the actual HTML (there are some free ones available online, but I use Microsoft’s ExpressionWeb), find the offending code that shows up just before the bad indents, and do a search and replace, changing that bad indent code to one of the good indents code strings you’ll find before a properly indented paragraph. Then save your corrected file, re-zip it, and re-upload it to Amazon. Again check the preview and everything should be fine.

(Note: Some friends of mine have recommended instead that you convert the file to .mobi format via a plugin Amazon offers for InDesign if you happen to have that program. Others say run your work through Smashwords, which tends to fix some of the problems and then download the .mobi version of your work and upload it to Amazon. The latter technique, Smashwords notes on its site, may bring about bad karma since you’re essentially using their formatting work to upload to a competing distributor.)

If all the HTML and .mobi stuff sounds too difficult to deal with, remember that the formatting problems should only happen on a few of your e-books and, as long as you tell a great story, most e-readers will forgive a few formatting errors.

Don’t let fear of formatting stop you from getting into this game.

You can learn as you go. You can go back and fix errors if you discover them later. Remember that, unlike traditional print publishing, this is a long-term play you’re making. Your books will not go out onto shelves for only one month to a year and sink or swim. You have decades for your book to find its audience.  Decades for it to earn its keep and communicate your great story to the world.

So do the best you can. Get help if you need it. Keep learning and growing. But get your stuff up there!

About the Author

Terry Hayman is a former lawyer, actor, and professional speaker who now writes full time in North Vancouver, BC. He’s actively working with Fiero Publishing to make his novel Chasing the Minotaur, his backlist of published stories, and some exciting new fiction available as e-books. You can visit his blog for some regular story ideas as well as other thoughts on the writing life.

HYPERLINKS (in case you need to add them in manually)

Terry Hayman

Fiero Publishing

Chasing the Minotaur



When Your Synopsis Has Multiple Characters

January 20, 2011 Leave a comment

How to Write a Synopsis When You Have Lots of Characters in Your Story Posted by Chuck on his blog: Guide to Literary Agents

I just taught a webinar on synopsis writing and one good question I got from an attendee was, “How do I write a synopsis if I have a lot of characters?” Obviously this is not easy. I mean, how do you write a summary for a story like Love Actually? That would take six pages, right? Not if you do it right. What makes this more difficult is I have always been a proponent of having no more than 5 character names listed in a synopsis6 at the most. By that, I mean the proper namesthe ones you capitalize and focus on.

So after the synopsis webinar, I decided to try my hand at such a synopsis. I decided on TRAFFIC, which is a film I love that has multiple storylines and tons of characters. I got the synopsis down to about 540 words, which I thought was a success. Below read the synopsis and see my analysis in italics as you read.

TRAFFIC involves three story lines featuring characters involved in the War
on Drugs. The story lines sometimes interconnect.

A synopsis can or cannot use an opening establishing paragraph. I rarely write one, but did here to explain that this is a complicated story that jumps between storylines, but everything focuses on one central theme: The War on Drugs.

In Mexico: Police officer JAVIER RODRIGUEZ stops a drug transport and
arrests the couriers. The arrest is interrupted by a high-ranking Mexican
GENERAL, who decides to hire the resourceful Javier in a quest to wipe out
the deadly Tijuana Drug Cartel.

I called the general “General” because I did want readers to get confused later between the names Javier and Salazar. This simplifies things. Also, you can see here that I immediately decided to cut out mentions of Javier’s partner as well as the hitman Francisco Flores. When dealing with stuff like this, just ask yourself: “Does it really matter?” For example: The General hires Javier to take down the Tijuana cartel. That’s what matters the most. The fact that Javier’s first duty is tracking down a hitman, so the hitman can give up information, and he only does this through torture, and the torture upsets Javierthat stuff does not matter. Stick to big picture happenings.

In Ohio: ROBERT WAKEFIELD, a conservative state judge, is appointed to head the President’s Office of National Drug Control, taking the title of Drug Czar. In DC, Robert is warned by his predecessor that the War on Drugs is unwinnable. Unbeknownst to Robert, his teenage daughter, CAROLINE, an honors student, has been using cocaine and develops a drug addiction.

You see that I am telling the story prefaced by the location: “In Ohio.” This will cut down confusion. I took out the character of Seth (Topher Grace), because, like Javier’s partner, you can explain the main plot without them.

In San Diego: An undercover DEA investigation led by MONTEL GORDON leads to the arrest of a powerful drug lord. The drug lord’s wife, HELENA, only now learns of her husband’s true occupation. Her days go from fundraisers and fine wine to talking to her husband through phones at prison.

There were actually two cops part of the DEA investigation, but since they’re a team, just mentioning one (Montel) is as good as both. Also, to avoid another proper name to simplify things, I call Carlos Ayala simply the “drug lord.” Helena’s story, which has an arc, is much more important to focus on than his. Also, you see Dennis Quaid’s character is removed. If you think about it, Quaid’s character could have been removed from the entire film and little would have changed.

In Mexico: With Javier’s help, numerous members of the Tijuana Drug Cartel are arrested, and the cocaine outfit is quickly crippled. But Javier soon discovers the entire anti-drug campaign is a fraud, as the General is wiping out one cartel because he has aligned with another for profit. This deeply disturbs Javier, who, as a rare honest cop in Mexico, has virtually no one to trust.

In Ohio: Robert realizes his daughter is a drug addict and is caught between his demanding new position and difficult family life. He tries to have Caroline rehabilitated, but his attempts fail and she runs away. In the city, Caroline steals for money and prostitutes herself to procure drugs.

A lot gets left on the cutting room floor in a synopsis. In this section of the film, Robert heads to Mexico and meets with General Salazar. It’s one of the cool points where the storylines cross and Robert’s job gets fleshed out, but there’s just not enough time to talk about it here. The objective of a synopsis is not to show the cool writing or nifty story ideas; it’s simply to lay out your structure.

In San Diego: Helena quickly comes to the grips with her new situation and what it demands. She hires a hitman to kill the key witness against her husband, but the attempt fails, and Montel’s partner is killed instead.

In Mexico: Javier, who can no longer stomach working for the corrupt General, makes a deal with the American DEA. Javier’s information leads to the General’s arrest. Javier enjoys a kids baseball game in a park at night. The electricity necessary to run the field lights was his desired payment for his testimony, as an way to keep kids out of trouble with gangs.

Javier and the baseball game is actually the final event of the film where the credits roll, but to stick to the flow I’ve set up, I have to put it here. Ultimately, where an agent reads a novel, they will not be upset or anything if a few events are out of order in the synopsis.

In Ohio: Robert’s search for his missing daughter takes him to the ghetto, and he is nearly killed by a drug dealer. His resolve strengthens, and he finds his semi-conscious daughter in a seedy hotel downtown. Robert returns to D.C. to give his prepared speech on a “10-Point Plan” to combat the War on Drugs. During the speech, he falters, then tells the press that the War on Drugs implies a war on our own family members, which he cannot endorse. Robert quits his position. He and his wife go to a Narcotics Anonymous meeting with their daughter to support her and others.

In San Diego: Thanks to Helena, a second attempt to kill the key witness succeeds, and the charges against her husband are dropped. Montel visits Helena’s home and starts a fight with people as a ruse to plant a surveillance bug in her house. Montel is now optimistic about a future to put the drug lord behind bars.

Notice how there were nine paragraphsthree for each storyline, representing the three acts of each story. Each final paragraph shows the climax and the resolution. You’ll see that when you cut the number of main characters down to six, telling a complicated synopsis becomes a lot easier.

If you’re confused as to what a synopsis
should look like, seek out the formatting
guidebook Formatting & Submitting
Your Manuscript, 3rd Ed.

Categories: On Writing

Writing is Serious Business

January 2, 2011 Leave a comment
Organizing: Your Business Plan
By Randy Ingermanson

If you're writing fiction with the hope of getting it
published someday, then you're in business. If you're
in business, then you need a business plan. If you have
a business plan, then it needs to be updated annually.

I like to update my business plan every year at the
tail end of December. Not much else is happening then.
I've usually got time to think about what went well
during the past year, what went badly, and what went

It's not uncommon for a lot to go undone in a year.
When you've got a lot of big plans for a year, you'll
do well to get 20% of them done by the end of the year.
A successful year is one in which you got the most
important 20% done.

I hope that's an encouragement to you. Your life can be
successful if you only get the most important 20% of
your projects done.

What goes into a business plan? I like to include the
following major sections:

* Introduction. A one-page summary of where things
stand, highlighting your long-term goals and your major
achievements of the past year. If you're just starting
your business, you won't have any achievements yet, but
you can still summarize your major goals for your
business (Example: "I want to publish a novel with a
traditional royalty-paying publisher.") You can also
summarize where you are  on the road to reaching your

* Business Details. Several pages that define those
pesky details about money. If your business is earning
money, how much did it earn in the last year and what
were the main sources of revenue? What were the costs
of doing business in the past year? What major projects
do you intend to take on in the next year? What
expenses will you incur and how will you pay for them?

* Detailed sections on each of the major activities of
your business. If you've got only one major activity,
that may be good -- it means you're focused -- but the
hazard is that all your eggs are in one basket. If
you've got several major activities, that means you're
diversified, which is good, but the hazard is that you
may be spreading yourself too thin. This is a good time
to ask yourself the hard questions about whether you're
too narrowly focused or spread too thin. Which of your
activities generates the most revenue? Which creates
the biggest costs? Which gives you the most personal
satisfaction? The answers to these questions will give
you ideas on what directions to take in the coming
year, and on what to prune out of your life.

* Summary. Make a list of the main projects you want to
work on in the coming year. These should be fully
actionable projects -- by which I mean they should be
things you can take action on AND things you can
completely control. "Sending out queries to at least 20
agents" is actionable and you have complete control
over whether you do it or not. "Signing with a major
agent" is not fully actionable because you can't make
an agent want to sign you on. "Polishing my manuscript"
is fully actionable. "Selling my novel" is not.

My business plan for 2010 was fairly long -- eleven
pages. Because it was a modification of the business
plan for the previous year, it took me only one
afternoon to write -- about three hours of actual

I didn't accomplish even 20% of my goals for 2010. I
did hit my #1 most important goal, and I got about
halfway through my #2 most important goal. I didn't
even make a start on two other goals that I considered
very important at the beginning of the year.

In looking back, I can see two important reasons why I
got less done than I'd planned. Neither of them was
something I could have foreseen. I don't think I
handled either of them as well as I could have.
Sometimes, all you can do is muddle on.

I would judge the year moderately successful because I
did get my #1 project done. (Achieving my #2 goal would
have made the year a smashing success.) 

What about you? Do you have a business plan for your
writing business? How many hours would it take to write
a five page document that spells out where you are now,
where you want to go eventually, and your actionable
projects for the coming year? 

Which 20% of the things that you want to do in the
coming year are the most critical to your ultimate
success as a writer? Are there one or two items on your
list that would make the coming year a success -- even
if you achieved only those?

Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, "the
Snowflake Guy," publishes the Advanced Fiction Writing
E-zine, with more than 23,000 readers, every month. If
you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction,
AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND
have FUN doing it, visit

Download your free Special Report on Tiger Marketing
and get a free 5-Day Course in How To Publish a Novel.

Categories: On Writing