Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Art of Having Someone's Back

If I were to take a poll, I'm willing to bet we all know at least one person who is "that" guy. The one who only pops up on reader forums or Twitter to say, "Buy my book!"

Don't get me wrong: there's nothing wrong with self-promoting. Indie authors must do it to survive, and even traditionally published authors should be able to promote and increase book sales. You've worked hard and you should be able to reap the benefits.

But . . . I guess what I'm asking is this: Is that ALL you do? Or do you also take joy in promoting the work of others? Is it all about you, you, you, or is it sometimes about [insert dramatic pause here] SOMEONE ELSE?

There is something . . . call it a necessary skill, call it a natural gift, call it a learned pattern of behavior . . . that benefits everyone at a cost to no one.

S.K. Anthony and her critique partner, Brandon Ax, call it "backhaving." If you're a backhaver, you know exactly what this means. It means being supportive. It means commenting on a blog. It means sharing someone's cover reveal. It means retweeting their links, or even hitting that +1 button to share without having to type a word. It means sharing something on Facebook, such as their book release or Amazon weekend sale. It means reading each other's work, whether it's a simple blog post or a full-blown manuscript. It means being a critique partner or beta reading. It means maybe even buying their book and reading it AND reviewing it.

Granted, no one person can do all those things all the time. And no one should feel pressured to try. But there is a line that begins to draw itself when a person is never, ever a backhaver.  Here are a few of the signs:
  • He "doesn't have time" to interact on forums, whether something like Goodreads or other give-and-take conversational places, for the sake of becoming part of the community
  • He only goes to the forums when it's time to self-promote
  • He doesn't visit blogs and therefore doesn't interact by commenting on them
  • He doesn't click the "share" button on Facebook to promote another's work or post
  • He doesn't give a shout-out or promote his editor or cover designer on writers' forums to help their businesses grow
  • He may post progress reports on a Facebook author page, but only to promote his own work
Is it any wonder that the not-a-backhaver doesn't understand why his book sales aren't through the roof?

Those of us who are backhavers can't imagine how anyone wouldn't be. Of course we share in the joy and successes of others, because we realize it doesn't hurt us to do so. It costs nothing to share someone else's post, promo, or announcement of something good. In fact, it gains you something: community, support, goodwill and more.

Being an independent anything is hard work, whether you own your own plumbing business, make jewelry, are a freelance artist/editor/photographer or whatever. Being a writer, whether self-published or traditionally published, is as much work as anything else when it comes to getting your name out there. Social media is a great tool that costs little to nothing, and is a very effective way to not only get your name out there, but keep it in the forefront of people's minds. It's a lot of work that sometimes pays off. And it's that "sometimes" that keeps us working at it.

I don't know about you, but the people I follow on Twitter, for example, are those who share a little bit of everything. There's the occasional personal tweet that may be funny or ironic, and a mixture of self-promotion and other-promotion. If a person constantly spews political hatred (on either side of the aisle), I unfollow. If a person posts their own books and nothing else, roughly four to five times per hour, all day, I unfollow. (And yes, there have been a few who tweet with that constant kind of bombardment.)

But the backhavers . . . ahh, the backhavers. I remember their names, because I see them when I visit from blog to blog, and on social media in general. They comment. They promote. They have guest posts on their own blogs.

They support. And that's why I know their names, and why I'll most likely buy their books AND read them AND review them.

You may have heard it said that we make the time for that which we deem important. On a related note, if your readers and fellow authors/editors/cover designers/small publishers see you only ever promoting yourself, they'll quickly come to the conclusion that you see only yourself as important—and if they're not important to you, there's no reason for them to support you.

Are YOU a backhaver? If not, it's never too late to start!

For those who have read all the way to the end: I'm working on a future post and need your help!
What is the best and worst writing advice you've ever received?
Shoot me an email at
and tell me what it was and how it affected your writing.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Shady Publishers

So you've written a book. Good for you! You should be proud of yourself and possibly a little impressed at your own perseverance. You've written and (hopefully) rewritten at least a few times, have gotten people to beta, rewritten yet again, hired someone to edit the manuscript, gotten a cover designed, and now . . . well, the world is waiting and you need to get your book into their hot little hands.

How, exactly, does that happen?

I’m going to talk about how it should NOT happen. As in most of life, if there is something worthwhile, there will always be someone who figures out a way to pervert it to their own advantage. It's no different when it comes to the printed word.

Every so often, there are articles posted about this (and I’ll give you plenty of links at the end), but it never hurts to put it out there again for those who may not be aware. What am I talking about?

Shady publishers, that's what.

They prey on the newbies, the eager, the naive. They know you want to see your book on the virtual shelves of Amazon and the physical shelves of Barnes & Noble, and they're counting on your eagerness to translate into ignorance in the rush to become famous.

Bottom line: you can self-publish through a variety of avenues (and I'll cover that in a separate blog post someday) but if you're looking for a publisher, you need to know one basic fact, and this is it—getting a publisher should not cost you a penny.

There are so-called publishers out there—vanity presses—who charge authors to publish the work, do their scam thing for a while, disappear, and then come back under another name to do it all over again with more unsuspecting people. Often they'll charge more than it would cost to self-publish, and my guess is that people fall for their deception only because they're fearful of the unknowns of self-publishing.

Part of what may drive some to go for the scammers is that self-publishing involves doing all the steps on your own, and all the research that accompanies those steps. Seeking out an editor, a good cover artist, formatting, etc. is such a hands-on thing. I can see how it would appear to be easier to allow a publisher to do all that legwork. All the promotion is your own as well when you self-publish, and scam publishers will try to convince you that your book will be promoted for all the world to see, buy, and love if you sign with them. Instant fame and fortune.

In addition to the appeal of the work being done by others, I think a good number of newer authors may lean toward vanity presses because . . . well, let's just think about the name of a vanity press. Their actions appeal to a person's vanity—the need to be liked and to feel approval. Though there's nothing wrong with being proud of your work and wanting others to enjoy it, the scammers count on that being a driving force in your choice of how to publish.

Vanity presses don't have the same criteria that traditional publishers follow (whether large publishing houses or small presses). Publishers who are on the up and up must be careful to only accept those manuscripts they believe will earn money for them. Their profits come from book sales, and their investments must be wise. Vanity presses, on the other hand, accept pretty much any submission because the money is flowing toward the press, not the author. Scammers have nothing to lose when you say yes to them. And those who don't know better are excited and flattered that a "publisher" is interested in them. Wiki even mentions that “a vanity publisher's intended market is the author and a very small number of interested members of the general public.” Ah, vanity.

As a musician, I can understand this completely. If someone doesn't like what I'm doing, that means, of course, that they don't like ME. Never mind the fact that perhaps they don't like the song itself, or the style in which it was performed. Or maybe they don't like my voice. Does that mean they don't like me as a person? It shouldn't. And yet, we tie our art so closely to ourselves . . . because displaying our art—whether it's music, writing, photography, drawing—often means we've revealed something very deep and personal. Rejection of that "something" is all too easy to link to rejection of "inner me."

And that may be the biggest factor of someone succumbing to the “oooh, shiny” appeal of a vanity press: they love you . . . the inner, personal you! They can make you rich! They won’t be able to stop themselves from bringing up your name during business dinners! The world will sing your name to small children in lullabies!

[Please note that vanity presses are NOT the same as small presses. There are plenty of legit, wonderful small presses out there that may be a good fit for you and your book-publishing needs. I may feature those in a future post.]

Thankfully, there are watchdogs out there. Even if there weren’t, a simple Google search would give a solid heads-up as to who’s been complaining about whom in the publishing business. Here are a few good places to check out, and some interesting blog posts on the topic of how to tell one type of publisher from another:

Absolute Write: Bewares, Recommendations & Background Check —Exactly what it describes, and one of the most useful forums on Absolute Write.

Predators and Editors —This site's listings have temporarily been removed (P&E has called them "stale and outdated") until they can find a new caretaker to update the site. However, they still have a few good links to other resources such as SFWA's Writers Beware.

Scammers (and How to Avoid Them) —Author Megan Morgan put together a helpful post about a year ago with good advice about this. If you have time, check out her 2017 A to Z Challenge posts (which was how I found her in the first place). The woman is hilarious and her theme, 26 Things to Hate About Writing, had me laughing every day in April.

Self-Publishing & Vanity Publishing: Confuse Them and Pay the Price —This is an older post but covers things thoroughly, and reading through the comment section gives almost as much insight as the post itself.

For those who have read all the way to the end: I'm working on a future post and need your help!
What is the best and worst writing advice you've ever received? Shoot me an email at
and tell me what it was and how it affected your writing.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Editor's Notes #32: Inner Dialogue & How to Punctuate Thoughts

Punctuating dialogue has so many rules, depending on whether there are dialogue tags, split sentences, spoken words, or internal thoughts. Most of the rules are hard and fast, but there can be a little bit of flexibility when necessary.

As with any guidelines that allow for exceptions, the key is to be consistent. There's nothing more confusing than a lack of consistency, and nothing that will turn your readers off more quickly by pulling them out of a story.

My partner in crime, S.K. Anthony, covered all the how-tos of punctuating spoken dialogue in her article "How to Correctly Punctuate Dialogue for Novels" (aptly named, eh?), so if you'd like to know how to . . . um . . . correctly punctuate dialogue for novels . . . then pop over to Writers After Dark and read all about it. As for me, I'm going to tell you what to do if the dialogue is all in your character's head.

So here are the basics, and the POV you're writing from can help you decide which is best for you with relative ease:

Most people will write a character's thoughts in italics, either with or without a dialogue tag. It makes sense because the italics set off a visual cue in the reader's mind that we're hearing thoughts, not spoken words. The sample using omniscient POV uses a dialogue tag, since the reader needs to know who's doing the thinking, and the omniscient point of view gives you a little bit of everyone while keeping the author as the dominant voice.
I don't understand, Lynda thought as she looked around the kitchen in a panic. Why would Kat have eaten all my brownies without telling me? And to think I was going to surprise her with them for breakfast! 
Kat walked in, empty coffee cup in hand. "Heyyy, 'sup? Any of those brownies left for breakfast?"
You don't need the dialogue tag for regular third-person POV, since it will be clear who's speaking and whose thoughts are happening.
"G'morning." Kat yawned, holding out an empty coffee cup and glancing around the kitchen. "Any brownies left? I couldn't stop thinking about them last night."
Like you don't know. Unless you're a sleepwalker . . . and a sleep-eater. "Well, I was going to ask you the same thing." 

You could also do this exact exchange with no italics, and it would still be clear because of the POV. All it needs are a few tweaks in the verb tense.
"G'morning." Kat yawned, holding out an empty coffee cup and glancing around the kitchen. "Any brownies left? I couldn't stop thinking about them last night."
Lynda looked as baffled as she felt. Like Kat didn't know. Unless she was a sleepwalker . . . and a sleep-eater. "Well, I was going to ask you the same thing." 
There's an additional complication, though, in certain instances when characters communicate telepathically. In Alex Cavanaugh's CassaSeries (CassaDawn, CassaStar, CassaFire, CassaStorm) the Cassans have the ability to communicate this way. Cavanaugh does a nice job of differentiating the types of thoughts. If a character is simply in his own head, then there are no italics or dialogue tags. If two characters are sharing thoughts with each other, italics come into play.

Two important things to remember:

  1. NEVER use quotation marks for internal dialogue of any type. They're reserved exclusively for spoken words and will only confuse the reader if you add them anywhere else.
  2. Be consistent, whether you're using italics with a tag, italics without a tag, no italics and no tag, or a mixture as in the book series mentioned above.
So what do you think, folks? Did you learn anything today? Did you already know it? It's entirely possible that you just don't care, because you're never going to use ANY dialogue in your book—and I would love to read a book that used only clicks, grunts, shrugs, eyebrow raises and elbow nudges to communicate, don't get me wrong—but I doubt any of you currently have that as your WIP. 

I hope.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

What's Your (Tag)Line?


noun \ˈtag-ˌlīn\

Definition of tagline

  1. 1:  a final line (as in a play or joke); especially :  one that serves to clarify a point or create a dramatic effect

Have you ever had an "off" season? A terrible month, or—worse yet—a terrible year?

Those are the times when you need your friends the most. But you're kind of screwed if they're also going through an awful time . . . unless your friend is S.K. Anthony. Then your friend comes up with a tagline you both can live with until saner times prevail. And yes, the following screenshot is typical of our conversations. Off-the-cuff genius, says I.

So far, 2017 has not proven itself to be our friend. We've complained, we've laughed, we've cried, and we've gotten belligerent about it. But somehow, having a tagline/punchline to perfectly sum up the joke that passes for each of our lives right now has brought the humor back to where it should be. There's something to be said about being able to laugh at something so awful that it borders on the ridiculous. That, I think, is a superpower unique to certain individuals, and I'm glad I'm one of them. It doesn't make the garbage go away, but it reminds me that someday I will look back at this bump in the road—and maybe not laugh, but at least realize it didn't kill me.

What would be your perfect tagline? Whether you're going through a good season or a bad one, do you have a one-liner that would perfectly sum things up for you? I'd love to hear it. And if you don't have one, I have this really creative friend who pops 'em out like Pez from a dispenser.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Editor's Notes #31: My Role as the Enforcer

For those of you who have editors you love (or at least love the quality of their work): how much control do you give them over your manuscript?

I find myself with a multitude of "control levels" when I edit, depending on the author. I tend to be rather tentative when working with an author for the first time, for a number of reasons. I think part of it is that I don't want to scare anyone before they get to know me. I believe (and please correct me if I'm wrong) that most authors are a tiny bit possessive of the manuscripts they've worked so hard to polish. By the time they give it to an editor, they're about as ready as they can be, but they're probably apprehensive of what the editor will tell them. [Love it? Hate it? No affirming comments whatsoever? And what does that mean?] 

My job is to correct what's wrong, yes. But my job is tricky, because I need to do these corrections in such a way that I don't break anyone's spirit or cause discouragement. Make no mistake: there are some things that are black-and-white wrong or right, and those things need to change no matter what else happens. But there are other items that often need attention, and tact is the name of the game.

When I'm working with someone new, I tend to leave a lot of margin comments. Sometimes I do this to explain why I've changed something—such as when there's a common error that "everyone" assumes to be correct, or there's a situation where I appear to be inconsistent but am actually correct. For example, the average reader isn't aware that the word after a colon isn't usually capitalized unless what follows the colon is a question. There are, of course, exceptions, as there always seem to be, but that's the basic rule. So if I have a capped word after a colon in one spot but not in another, the author may think I have no idea what I'm doing. Many authors do know this particular rule—but just in case, I figure it's better to be safe than sorry, so I'll add a margin note to explain the edit.

My basic premise when editing (and I tell people this up front) is that I correct and approve all changes that are nonnegotiable. I'm not going to take the chance that someone will either a.) undo everything I've worked on by hitting the wrong button, or b.) think that proper punctuation is optional and only a suggestion.

I once edited someone's short short (nonfiction) story about her husband's descent into Alzheimer's-induced dementia, and each time she sent the paper back to me, all the changes I'd made were gone. Now, I need to clarify that she was not a paying client—just a friend—and is an elderly lady who admittedly was "just dumb sometimes" (her words) when it came to word processing programs. I must have edited that thing six times for every one time the changes stayed put. She kept saying things like, "I thought I'd mentioned that I wanted to add such and such," and "What happened to the section on so and so?" and I would point out that I'd already added such and such, and the section on so and so was right where we'd left it. In my copy, that is.

Lesson learned. I ended up making all the corrections one final time, approved every dang one of them, relabeled the document, and sent it to her with strict instructions to DELETE every other copy she had in her possession. I told her I still had her original if she needed it, but that the final copy with all the corrections was the only one she needed to keep and/or read through. It was frustrating and funny at the same time, because she was obviously not an experienced writer and couldn't figure out what she was doing wrong.

My tentative attitude goes away bit by bit as I work with an author more often. Those authors I've worked with multiple times trust my judgment on what needs to move along and what can stay, and it makes my job easier with each subsequent book.

Each author has his or her own preference, though, and I will abide by their wishes if the reasoning makes sense. Otherwise, I will of course tell them why they are wrong and need to obey listen to me. S.K. Anthony is a classic example of someone I trust completely when it comes to doing the right thing. She trusts that I know what I'm doing, but she wants to approve all changes herself (even the nonnegotiables) because she uses the read-through as a teaching tool. Her theory runs along these lines: if she has to approve every change, one by one, then she will know what she did wrong for next time, and there will be fewer errors. She also describes herself as a control freak when it comes to her manuscripts, and though I won't argue with that (there really is no winning an argument with her), she is a lovable control freak so I go with it and she approves all changes.

Other authors run the gamut from "this is what I pay you for and if you do it wrong, your name is on the editing credits for people to blame" (fair enough) to "we've worked on enough books that I trust your judgment even on the subjective stuff; just do it and I'll be fine with it." The cool thing about the latter sentiment is that the author gets back a pretty clean-looking manuscript and has the ego-boost moment of "hey, there weren't many changes to be made . . . I rock." Of course I'm always quick to wipe the (fake) sweat off my brow and talk about how hard I worked to make it look that clean.

Overall, the important part is to have an ongoing communication between an author and me so we're all clear on what responsibilities fall on which side of the table.

What is your preference?