When writers begin their careers, they are often desperate to find an agent, a publisher or people to review their book. Be aware that there are people using the Internet who are trying to take advantage of your desires.
After attending conferences, entering contests or declaring that you are writing, intend to write, or have written a book on social media, you may begin to receive Emails from people offering their services and see advertisements on your social media accounts that will claim to publish your book, review it, or assist you in selling it. I strongly advise you to be cautious with these propositions.
Here are some examples of Email letters I have received from people offering to review my books.
Subject: Review your book
I am . I organize book review tours. My tours are specifically focused on getting you the maximum number of reviews possible regardless of your genre. My network consists of around 16K book reviewers and 2K+ book bloggers. If you are looking for reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, I can help. You can contact me regarding the above on one condition: you consider yourself a SERIOUS author.
(NOTE: Inflated claims always raise a question in my mind, as does pandering to my ego by saying that I must be a SERIOUS author. Of course I am, or at least that’s what I tell myself.)
Subject: Book reviews
If you are looking for a reviewer who has professional expertise and experience in reviewing books, you may connect with me. I also offer professional editing and beta reading services.
(NOTE: Experience is the participation in events such that someone accumulates knowledge and skills. If someone has experience in a subject, they have expertise in that subject. There is no need to state both. The phase, "you may contact with me" should have been written, "you may contact me." Poor grammar and misspellings are often signs that the Email is from a scammer)
Subject: I offer 40 GARANTEED book reviews
I am of the opinion that an author’s time is best spent on writing books rather than marketing them. If you agree with me, feel free to contact me for my GUARANTEED review service for Amazon, wherein I do all the hard work of getting you up to 40 reviews while you focus on writing your next bestseller! Under my service, if you don’t get a review, you will get your money back for sure.
(NOTE: Guarantees of results is a red flag because no one can grantee outcomes or sales in the publishing world. Amazon only wants true reviews by people who have read a book and give more weight to reviews from those who bought the book from Amazon. A large number of reviews from people who obtained a book elsewhere, especially five star reviews, could result in those reviews being deleted on the Amazon site.)
Subject: I'm an Amazon book reviewer
My name is . Right now, I am studying English literature in college and love reading good quality books in my spare time. I am accepting book review requests. I read and review books from all genres. If you want an honest book review, you can contact me.
(NOTE: Saying that someone loves good books is an attempt to stroke the egos of writers. Trying to associate one’s self with a large company such as Amazon is an old marketing trick to claim legitimacy. I don’t know of many serious college students who have a lot of spare time between attending classes and studying.)
Subject: Accepting book review requests
I am studying English literature in college and love reading good quality books. I am accepting book review requests now. I enjoy ALL genres equally. If you want an honest book review, you can contact me.
(NOTE: People who capitalize words like ALL in an Email tend to demonstrate that they are either not studying English literature or that they have not studied enough.)
Subject: Want a book reviewer/editor?
If you are looking for a reviewer who has professional expertise and experience in reviewing books, you may connect with me. I also offer professional editing and beta reading services.
(NOTE: This is the same text as is used in another Email shown above that has a different subject line and sending address. Why should I be suspicious that this is a mass mailing? Hmm.)
The samples presented above are all signed with only a first name and no contact information other than the sender's Email address. There will sometimes be a first and last name shown in the sending Email address, however I have received the same text of some Emails that use different names and addresses. They often come from Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo and other online public accounts. Anyone can create an Email address on these platforms. Replying to an Email confirms that your addresses is active. The sender can add your Email address to their own mailing list and sell it to others. Selling private information is one of the largest revenue streams on the Internet.
There are many reviewers and bloggers who cover books. Their schedules are usually filled and it can take months before one of them may or may not accept your work. This long lead time and the possibility that a reviewer could reject your book creates a ready market for scammers who offer instant gratification.
I have also received Emails from purported literary agents offering to represent my book. Sometimes these will say how great a writer I am. They often contain vague praise that could apply to any book while saying nothing specific about mine.
It is tempting for writers who are starting out to give one of these reviewers or agents a try without asking the question, “How do they know of me out of the hundreds of thousands of other writers?” Praise and hope are powerful enticements that are used by scammers. The odds are heavily in favor that they have never heard of you and the letter you received was sent to thousands of others.
There are people who offer honest reviews for a fee. These reviews can be glowing or they can slam a book, the same as with reviews that are not paid for. There is a debate in the writing community as to whether or not paid reviews are worth the money. Some can cost several hundred dollars.
Assume that a paperback book sells for fourteen dollars and ninety-nine cents. If the publisher pays the standard eight percent royalty for paperbacks, the author receives one dollar and forty-four cents per copy sold. If a review costs five hundred dollars, three-hundred and forty-eight books would have to be sold just to pay for the review before the author makes any profit.
No reputable literary agent will ever charge you a fee for reading, photocopying, postage or anything else. Legitimate agents make their money by selling your book to publishers and collecting a percentage of your royalties for their services. An agent who collects fees has no incentive to sell you book and can make money by just collecting fees from hundreds of hopeful writers. If an agency asks for money, don’t deal with it.
In the world of offers over the Internet, it always pays to be skeptical. Remember the old adage, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” Of course, you could receive an Email from Simon & Shuster saying that they heard about your book and want you to contact them. Just make certain that the URL in the Email address isn’t “simonandshooster.com.”
Crafting a novel takes place through the process of rewriting the book. The first draft is only a framework of the story you want to tell. Some beginning writers run their first draft through spell check and send out the manuscript, thinking they are finished. This is a mistake.
Even this article has gone through eight rewrites. After putting down ideas I wanted to discuss, I reread and edited the first draft, changing words here, taking some things out there and adding new material where it was needed. This was followed by a second edited draft with more changes as I looked for the exact words to use while making certain that the points I wanted to express were clear. After the eighth draft, I posted the article.
Of course, you also need to check for misspellings, typographical errors, missing words and other grammatical problems. I’m always shocked by how many times I can reread a manuscript I’ve written and come across a sentence such as, “They walked into building” when I intended to write “They walked into the building.” My mind subconsciously added the word the each time I read the piece. Sometimes these things go undetected until after the manuscript goes to my editor.
This is one of the reasons why anyone who intends to write professionally must hire a professional editor and not just have a friend or relative look over the work. Your friends and relatives may not be trained and experienced in editing manuscripts and they will usually tell you that the writing is wonderful because they don’t want to hurt your feelings. Worse yet, some writers send out manuscripts without having anyone else look at them.
Those who want to write on a professional level must invest time in rewriting. Mark Twain said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”
There are many things to consider when rewriting. In the end, the writing itself must disappear to reveal only the story and the characters. A book can present themes and ideas, but without a story that involves readers in the characters, the book becomes a lecture and not a novel.
When readers pause to say, “Wasn’t that a clever turn of phrase”, they are taken out of the story and slammed back into their ordinary lives, dispelling the suspension of disbelief that is essential in storytelling, which must immerse readers beyond distraction.
Here is a good rule of thumb. If, in rereading your work, you come across something that stands out and causes you to become conscious of the writing itself, remove that word, phrase, description, piece of dialogue or characterization. If you noticed it, so will your readers. The story will stumble and any points you wanted to make will be interrupted.
Professional writing is not an academic excursive in showing off how much you know about writing craft, it is using the craft of writing to reveal the material with such impact that the physical presentation becomes invisible. Mark Childress, author of Crazy in Alabama, says to “Kill your darlings.”
Writers may believe that they can’t remove material because they might not be able to think of something else. In truth, writers have an inexhaustible source of material within themselves and their imaginations to create new prose that describes characters and situations. Others hope to impress readers by demonstrating a command of language. This is like drawing a set of gorgeous drapes across a picture window and blocking the view from outside.
You are the first editor in a rewrite, and you must be ruthless with yourself. Fight your ego if it tells you to keep material that does not serve the telling the story or the revelation of the characters.
David A. Wimsett is the author of Beyond the Shallow, a novel of a woman overcoming prejudice and searching for herself amidst rumors of the selkies from Celtic mythology, and Dragons Unremembered: Volume I of the Carandir Saga, a fantasy epic set in a world of gender equality where women and men have the same rights, opportunities and authority. The second volume of the saga, Half Awakened Dreams, will be released on September 21, 2020. He is a member of the Writers' Union of Canada and the Canadian Freelance Guild.
People write for many reasons. Some want to publish their work professionally. Some want to share their stories with family and friends. Others want to leave a personal legacy as a history or memoir.
In non-fiction, your work can be entertaining and fun while discussing music, art, movies, vacation spots and other subjects. It can teach people important skills such as how to find a job, cook or garden. It can examine history to better understand where we came from and draw lessons for today’s world. It can document current events either in a journalistic manner or with your own opinions.
In fiction, writers can tell a rollicking tale of action or comedy, or place characters in tough situations where the way they react to pressure reveals their true nature and makes a comment on the human condition. Stories can be contemporary, historical, take place in the future or in a fantasy land.
In the same manner that an artist will use brushes to create a painting, writers use grammar to produce books and articles. It is the tool with which stories are built. You can learn grammar in high school and college courses. Another resource is to read and read and read anything you can get your hands on. Study each book. Ask yourself how the writer used words and constructed sentences. Note what you enjoyed and what fell flat.
A good book to consult for English grammar is The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White. This hundred page volume teaches grammar in a clear and understandable manner. It covers subjects such as punctuation, tense, brevity, misused words, clarity and more. The Elements of Style provides writers with both instruction and reference.
Yet, writing is more than an academic exercise in grammar. There is a second set of tools called craft. This involves skills such as developing characters, pacing the story, writing dialogue and moving the plot forward. College course on writing and journalism can teach these things. You can also find many fine books on the craft of writing. One standard for novels and short stories is The Art of Fiction by John Gardner. Another resource is Dare to be a Great Writer by my first mentor, Leonard Bishop.
Knowing the kind of writing you want to produce along with the audience you want to reach and a basic understanding of the building blocks of grammar and craft will get you ready to begin, whether you want to write something light and fun or a work that delves into the core of humanity.
Whatever you learn from classes or books, know that there are many opinions about how to write. Some of them are quite contradictory. Evaluate the advice with an open mind and apply it as you learn to write, but do not take any of it as gospel.
In the beginning, you will tend to emulate the works of writers you have read and the instructions of teachers in the classroom and from books. Over time, you will develop a sense of perspective and will accept, modify and reject some of what you have learned. You will also learn new things in the process of writing. Out of this, your own style and voice will emerge. As time passes, you may see both your style and voice change as you experience new events. Learning how to write is a lifelong endeavor. I learn something new every day.
David A. Wimsett is the author of Beyond the Shallow, a novel of a woman overcoming prejudice and searching for herself amidst rumors of the selkies from Celtic mythology, and Dragons Unremembered: Volume I of the Carandir Saga, a fantasy epic set in a gender balanced world where women and men have the same rights, opportunities and authority. The second volume of the saga, Half Awakened Dreams, will be released on September 21, 2020. He is a member of the Writers' Union of Canada and the Canadian Freelance Guild.
I listened to an extremely horrifying and enraging story on the CBC radio program, The Current (https://tinyurl.com/ycujk8dq).
Due to the Covid-19 outbreak, a woman who worked in an office could not find child care for her two children. She contacted her employer and offered to work from home. The employer told her not to worry and to just take care of her children. After hearing nothing back, she called and was told that they could not wait for her to return and had replaced her. Her employer never bothered to call. Now, she is without a job and has just bought a house.
Even after the gains of the feminist movement, women continue to experience prejudice and discrimination in the work place and are still considered to be the primary care giver for children. In the 1950s, some companies would not hire married women and expected single women who got married to leave the company because it was assumed that they would soon start a family and take on the responsibility of raising children while the men worked.
The action of the employer above has the potential to stigmatize all women in the work force. It is possible that some companies will use the pandemic as an excuse to exclude women and refuse to bring them back after the pandemic is over because of a fear that women will be pulled from work duties by family obligations. Such discrimination can be subtle, yet devastating.
As a man who raised a son as a single parent, I know firsthand that this assumption is unfounded. Men and women are both nurturing, yet we live in a society where gender roles are set in many minds that pressure men to work and women to care for the home and children. My son once fell ill during the work week and I called in sick. My employer told me to get a sitter and come to work because I was a man. The absurdity of finding any sitter who would care for a sick child is bad enough. The lack of humanity in recognizing that a sick child wants a parent, not a sitter, is worse. Women encounter this attitude constantly.
Even though two income households have become a necessity in our current economic reality for many just to make ends meet, women still suffer unequal treatment, a lack of opportunity for advancement and make $85 for every $100 a man earns for doing the exact same job, according to figures from the United States Census Bureau, even though women have proven, time and again, that they are capable of performing the same duties as men, including in strenuous professions such as firefighting, for which some men once argued, falsely, that women did not have the required strength. The gap is even greater for women of color.
Covid-19 is exposing many broken aspects of our society and economy, from hellish conditions in long term care homes that have existed for decades to homeless people incapable of escaping the virus and for people in the lower socioeconomic strata who have been affected in disproportionate numbers. Now, a roll back of the gains for women in employment could become the latest casualty.
Governments need to enact legislation immediately that protects workers affected by unforeseen disasters like pandemics so that they will have jobs to return to when the crisis is over. This is becoming its own crisis, on top of Covid-19. The jobs of both men and women are threatened, and women may experience the greatest impact.
David A. Wimsett was the head of a computer consulting firm for several decade and managed many women and men over the years. He is the author of Beyond the Shallow, a novel of a woman overcoming prejudice and searching for herself amidst rumors of the selkies from Celtic mythology, and Dragons Unremembered: Volume I of the Carandir Saga, a fantasy epic set in a gender balanced world where women and men have the same rights, opportunities and authority.
No one likes to be rejected.
It has a string. People are social and want to be accepted, yet in relationships, business and school, everyone has experienced rejection. It can feel like a personal attack on ourselves and our values.
But, artists, writers, film makers, composers, actors, musicians and others who create and present works to the public must break past this concept and recognize that a rejection or criticism by an individual is just that, one person’s opinion.
For writers, they may feel that rejections by agents, editors, publishers or magazines are a comment on their character. This is not the case. The people you send your queries to are publishing professionals. Though they love books, they are running businesses whose existence and viability are the mechanism by which books reach the reading public. If a publishing house or magazine prints too many stories that don’t sell, they could go out of business and the authors they represent would be left with no distribution. These companies must select material that is not only the best writing, it has to sell and satisfy readers.
There are many reasons a book, short story, poem or article might be rejected. It may not fit the style of a particular magazine or publishing house. Many agents, editors and magazines work in specific areas. A great book about winter vacation spots in the Caribbean will not be picked up by an agent or editor specializing in children’s stories. That’s why it’s so important to research the kinds of work each magazine and publisher accepts.
Another reason is that they may already have too many similar works at the time or they may have a backlog of stories and are not looking for more.
It may also not be that your submission is not written at a professional level. In this case, the rejection is for the work, not you as person. The story or article may need to be improved or you may need to enhance your writing skills.
Most rejections tell you little or nothing as to why the work was not accepted. You will see phrases like, “this does not fit our current needs.” You will often be wished good luck in placing your story somewhere else. Neither of these things do you much good. Sometimes, however, you will get feedback. This can be a gift, and you should consider it carefully.
When I began writing, I was not producing award winning material. Very few beginners do. Writing involves craft that has to be learned and practiced constantly, often over many years.
One agent did me the biggest favor ever when he rejected my submission. He said that I included too many step-by-step descriptions of action that did not move the plot forward.
For instance, I might have once written something like, “George received his bank statement and saw that the service charge was double what it had been the month before. He walked out of his house, got in his car, and drove downtown. After parking his vehicle, he got out and walked into the bank with the statement in his hands to confront the bank manager.”
The only point of this little scene is for George to see his bank statement and to then go to the bank to discuss it.
Today, I would write, “George received his bank statement and saw that the service charge was double what it had been the month before. He went to the bank, statement in hand, to confront the bank manager.”
That agent told me something about my writing that I did not realize. This allowed me to examine my own skills and improve them. Some people would be angry that they were rejected. I can never thank this agent enough for his rejection because it allowed me to become a professional writer and author.
I have had writers say to me that their material was “Their baby” or “Their blood upon the page.” It is neither. What you write is just a piece of work and it either communicated your ideas effectively of it didn’t. If it didn’t, it needs to be fixed. Still, writers can expose themselves in their work. Even if a piece of writing is not autobiographical, the emotional reactions of the characters are often drawn from the writer’s own life experiences. Still, it is the presentation of the art that has been rejected, not the artist.
Don’t think of rejections as an attack on you. Try to learn from them. However, don’t make changes to a manuscript based on every rejection or comment. Examine each and determine if they expose a problem in your writing or if they are just personal opinions based on someone’s taste.
Certainly, there are individuals who make personal attacks on creators. The best thing to do in those cases is to ignore the comments. The same thing applies to people who criticize your themes and ideas that they don’t agree with. Those themes and ideas belong to you and you have to accept that anything you write can create controversy. Never reply to a negative comment on social media or elsewhere and never respond to anyone in defense of your writing. It can only start a war. Just let people say what they say and go on working. However, in instances of slander and liable, you may want to seek legal advice.
A very good book for writers is Rotten Reviews
by Bill Henderson. This little collection of negative reviews covers works by authors such as Leo Tolstoy, Jonathan Swift, Virginia Wolf, F. Scott Fitzgerald and others. The book is not only amusing, it is an assurance to writers that not every opinion or rejection is well placed.
David A. Wimsett is the author of Beyond the Shallow, a novel of a woman searching for herself amidst rumors of the selkies from Celtic mythology, and Dragons Unremembered: Volume I of the Carandir Saga, a fantasy epic set in a gender balanced world where women and men have the same rights, opportunities and authority. Half Awakened Dreams: Volume II of the Carandir Sage will be released at the end of Summer, 2020.
I just finished a personal branding workshop by Jeniffer Thompson from Monkey C Media (https://jenifferthompson.com/) that was presented through the Independent Book Publishers’ Association. The seminar consisted of six, one hour sessions plus homework to hone in on each student’s strengths, weaknesses, audience and underlying goals in being authors. She stressed the importance of establishing a personal image and presence on the web. One of her suggestions was to establish a unique author’s website in addition to social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Amazon author’s pages.
All of her advice was excellent. Up until now, I have pointed readers to my publisher’s website to see my books. I now have my own author’s site where I not only showcase my works with details and links as to where they can be purchased, I get to speak directly to readers about who I am as a writer, my own values and why I want to write. You can see what I put together at http://www.davidawimsett.com.
I was lucky enough to get a web address that matched my name. I also purchased the address davidwimsett.com without the middle initial and linked it to the main site. This increases the chance that people will be able to find me. If you are an author, I encourage you to claim your own personal brand by putting up a website just for you.
The business of writing requires marketing skills. You have to get the word out to sell books. Some writers only want to deal with the art and leave the business aspects to a publishing house. Small publishers and university presses often have little or no budget for marketing. At one time, large houses provided marketing such as advertising and paid book yours. Not anymore. Unless you're John Grisham, a very good author who sells millions of books, even the largest publishers are not going to promote the books of most authors beyond perhaps a mention in Publisher's Weekly. To sell books, all authors need to hone their marketing skills. They need to participate in social media and make public appearances.
When giving a lecture, book reading or signing, authors must engage with readers and bring their message forward. They will never sell books by quietly sitting behind a desk at a bookstore while waiting for someone to approach them. Reach out, look people in the eye and say "Hello" to everyone who walks through the door. In smaller communities, most people will say, "Hello" back. In larger settings it can be a different story. One problem is that when too many people live too close together they tend to look on those that they do not have a close relationships with as if they were trees deserving no notice. If you are noticed, you might be thought of a trying to get something out of them. There is also the worry that if they talk to you they become obliged to buy something.
Don't let these people deter you. Keep a positive attitude. Be genuine in your greeting. Don't think of others as possible sales. Your inauthentic attitude will be telegraphed. Know in your heart that you are giving people an opportunity to learn about a book they might enjoy or that could change their lives. You have to believe in yourself and your work.
When you do catch someone's attention, have a 10 second elevator pitch ready to deliver. That's as much time as you will have. Boil down the 200 or more pages in your book to a single sentence. Bring out the main theme of the book and why people will want to read it. For a detective novel you might say, "Police detective Joe Doe must expose a crooked police commissioner with ties to the mob before he has Joe killed." An author of a non-fiction book about elementary school education might say, "My book reveals ways to teach your children how to excel in school with proven techniques that I have used in my career as a principal." The shorter the better. Don't go into long details or explanations yet. Get them hooked. Fans of detective stories will want to learn more about Joe Doe and his plight. A parent with young children who are having trouble in school will be enticed by the principal's message. If the people you are talking to show no interest, don't try to convince them. Thank them for stopping by and let them go. You will never sell a book to them. Concentrate on the next person.
If the people respond to your short pitch, give more details. Demonstrate how the book is different from others, how it will help them, how it will entertain them.
For fiction, talk about the main characters, overviews of the plot and themes. If appropriate, give the age range. Don't go into too much detail. Give a feel for the work and leave questions unanswered that readers will want to discover. In the theater we say, "Always leave them wanting more."
For non-fiction, you will need to present your credentials as to why you are the perfect person to write the book. If it is a book about politics, are you a journalist or politician. If it is a method of raising children are you an experienced parent or child psychologist. If it is a memoir cover what is unique about your life experiences and why people might identify with them. Potential readers will want to know that you can speak about the subject with authority and that it is something they are interested in. Describe key points that readers will want to know. Provide one or two solutions or answers, no more. You want to show that your book will serve them and you want them to buy the book to learn the rest.
Once you see that they understand what the book is about, ask them to buy it. You have to be polite and direct. Say something like, "Does this sound like a book that you would enjoy? I am here signing copies today. Can I sign one for you?" Don't wait for them to ask you to sign a one, but be careful not to sound like you are only seeing them as a sale. Always remember to present yourself and your book as a service. You have to know this to the core of your soul because people can detect disingenuousness.
If you are in the middle of giving your pitch and the person says, "I'll take one," Stop selling. Continuing can only ruin the deal. Just ask, "To whom should I delicate this copy?"
This will be difficult for some authors who fear public speaking and are terrified by rejection. You have to get past that if you want to make sales. Most people will not stop when you say hello. Most of those who stop will not buy. That does not matter. You are not actually selling books, you are selling your brand and you are the brand. If you can be personable, honest and present your book as a service, you will be remembered.
Don't be put off with responses like, "I'm fine" , "Not now", "I don't read (which is obvious because they couldn't read the sign over the door that said ‘bookstore' and probably thought they were in a pizza parlor)" and "I'll come back." Most people who give the last response never will, but some do after thinking it over. One person who came back said that he had looked me up on the Internet and was impressed with my bio. You never know, so be polite to everyone. Some people will come back to the store after you leave and purchase the book because they just didn't want to feel pressured. Those who you talk to might tell friends and family.
If you establish a solid brand that people find informed, authentic and pleasant, you and your books will be remembered.
David A. Wimsett is the author of Beyond the Shallow Bank, women's literature with a hint of magical realism, and Dragons Unremembered: Volume I of the Carandir Saga, an epic fantasy novel set in a gender balanced world. His articles have appeared in newspapers, magazines and online. He is a member of the Writers' Union of Canada, the Canadian Media Guild, The Professional Writers Association of Canada and the Writer's Federation of Nova Scotia. He is a professional photographer, a film maker and an actor.
There are a wide variety of processes that different authors use to create their books. I can’t say that any one is better than another. Everyone has to choose the way they work best. Here is a little insight as to how I create stories.
One thing is universal. Writing any fiction, especially a novel, requires dedication, time and perseverance. Most successful authors will advise that you write every day, even if you only produce a paragraph. If you write a page a day, in a year you have the first draft of a novel. You are also intimately immersed in your story and charters. This allows you see the relationships of story and people clearly so that the work remains consistent.
Writing every day is good advice, and it is best to strive for as a goal. Of course, very few writers work every single day. We take vacations, enjoy holidays and spend time with our friends and family. I do take breaks. We all need them. Still, I work almost every day on articles, blogs and books. I take a paper notebook and a pen with me everywhere I go and write when I am waiting for a plane, a bus or a meeting. I began my fantasy novel Half Awakened Dreams: Volume II of the Carandir Saga on a spiral notebook in a restaurant when I was having dinner after a pod cast conference.
Some authors outline their stories in generalities or details. This can be especially helpful when writing mysteries or thrillers because these kinds of stories contain puzzles and the author has to organize all the pieces.
I have never worked from an outline. An outline can be used to assemble thoughts and elements, but it can also be restrictive. My preference is to start with an idea and perhaps a vague sense of where I’m heading, though none of my novels have actually opened the way I initially conceived them or finished the way I envisioned.
I allow the plot and the characters to grow organically. As I write, the process of creating the plot and characters suggest things to me that I had not thought of when I began. A plot can take off in an entirely unexpected way. As I become more familiar with the material, characters can expose aspects in my mind that were not thought of before. I usually have no idea of what will happen until I come to that part of the book. It’s like I’m watching a movie in my head and am constantly surprised by turns of events. If I had started with an outline, I would either be restricted in letting my imagination expand so that I would be forced to follow the outline or I would have had to constantly adjust the outline which would be double the work. I’m a little lazy, so I just write it once.
There is a symbiotic relationship between plots and characters. Plot places characters in situations where they must make decisions that expose their essence and the changed character’s subsequent actions alter the plot. For instance, say a character is planning to paint the kitchen on a Saturday. A call comes from a long lost relative. This causes the character to realize the lack of time spent with an aging parent. The character abandons the idea of painting the kitchen and pays a visit on that parent, an action that can bring about more character revelations and plot elements.
Now, I just created that on the fly. I knew I wanted to demonstrate the relationship between characters and plots, but I didn’t know how I was going to do it. I started with a character planning to do something, then the notion of an interruption by a forgotten relative came to mind, followed by the idea that this causes an emotional dilemma in the character who reflects on a neglected parent and that causes the character to abandon the original plan. In other words, I just made it up as I went. It was an exercise in discovery. If this story were to continue, it could offer the ability to explore any of the characters and dig deeper into their thoughts and emotions. The plot would unfold as the characters interacted. Poof. You have the beginnings of a novel. If anyone wants to take this idea and run with it, please feel free to do so.
Some writers work in chronological order starting at the beginning of the story and continuing until they reach the end. I initially start my books this way, but as soon as I have a foothold, I often realize that there are scenes I will need, though I may not know where they will be put. Instead of continuing ahead, I will stop from time to time and create those scenes out of the chronological timeframe.
They may be small, standalone plots that I will insert in whole someplace during the first draft or even in subsequent drafts. They may also be entire subplots that take place over an extended period of time. I might insert these in full or break it up and place the pieces in different spots as they are needed to move the plot forward or give insight to characters and their motivations. As I move through discovering the story, I will see where a previously written piece should fit in. Not all of this material will be used. Nothing can go into the finished book that does not move the story forward and enhance the characters. No matter how well written something is, if it does not contribute to the book it has to be left out. Be prepared to rewrite your novel in multiple drafts and allow yourself to change anything during the process.
This can be difficult for many beginning writers. They see the time and care they took and are afraid that if they discard any material they will not have enough to fill up their novel. Everyone who wants to write on a professional level must realize that all authors have an inexhaustible source of material within them. Their imaginations can manufacture new plot devices and new character interactions with just a little concentration. At 320 pages, Dragons Unremembered: Volume I of the Carandir Saga is 100,000 words in length. I threw out over 700,000 words of material. Entire plot lines, lands, peoples, legends and more sit in file folders that no one will ever see. Some of the material was just plain bad and had to go. Some of it bordered too closely on Tolkien’s elves and dwarves. I wanted original material without either. Other scenes were very well written but did not fit into the story.
Mark Childress, author or Crazy in Alabama, says to, “Kill your darlings.” If it stands out, if it draws attention to itself and takes attention away from the plot and character, get rid of it, no matter how much you love it. Remember, there’s always more where that came from.
For several decades, writers producing technical and nonfiction material have struggled with how to compose gender neutral prose. Before the 1970s the word “Man” was often used to mean all people, male and female. Likewise, the word “He” was used to mean a specific person who was either female or male. Instructions in manuals would read, “When the operator sees the red light flash they must press the blue button.” This created a fender imbalance in the language and implied that women were merely extensions of men.
Since then, society has looked for ways to be gender inclusive in writing. The first attempt was to write, “he or she.” Alternatives have been “she or he” – “he/she” – “she/he” and “s/he.” These were often rotated so that each gender reference alternately appeared first in sentences .
Not only are these phrases awkward, they persist in pointing out gender inequality by making a distinction. In addition, there is the question of who goes first, the male or the female reference.
Some people have suggested introducing new pronouns that are gender natural. None have been adopted. Even though the English language is very malleable and changes occur frequently, there are some words that are highly resistant to change. Those words include pronouns.
Others have suggested that the plural pronoun “they” be use in a singular sentence, such as, “When the operator sees the red light flash they must press the blue button.” This is simply not grammatically correct. Mixing singular with plural in a sentence sounds and reads wrong.
So, what is the solution? I have wrestled with this for years in writing articles, business documents and technical manuals. I suggest that writers always make their sentences plural unless they are speaking about a particular person, as in, “When operators see the red light flash, they must press the blue button.” There is no need for the ungainly “he or she” or to break grammar rules by combining plural and singular in a sentence. This is simple, flows seamlessly and does not bring up images of gender imbalance because there is no gender reference when writing in general terms.
If writers speak of a particular person, they may use "he" for males and "she" for females, as in, “Mary drove her car to work” or “Tom picked up his dry cleaning.”
There can be cases where a specific person being described does not want to be associated with a gender at all. A sentence could read, ”Feglarglata got into the car and drove to the store.” A problem arises if you want to say that a specific person drove to the store in a car owned by that individual.
This is simple when writing in first person. “I got into my car and drove to the store.” Pronounce such as ‘I’, ‘me’, ‘you’, ‘us’ and ‘them’ are gender neutral.
In the third person you might say, “Feglarglata got into the car owned by Feglarglata and drove to the store.” Repeating the individual’s name avoids any gender specific pronouns, but it is a little long winded and a bit awkward.
The sentence could also be written, ”Feglarglata got into its car and drove to the store.” This works, but addressing a person as ‘it’ sounds harsh and impersonal.
It is possible to write a complete story without any reference to gender and not get bogged down. Consider this tale.
Feglarglata owned a car and drove it to the store. It was a short trip and the scenery was pleasant. After finding a parking space near the front door, it was a quick walk into the store to buy some bread and vegetables for the party that evening. Feglarglata was looking forward to seeing new and old friends alike. There would certainly be an enjoyable game of charades.
The trip home passed the old city hall that had been converted into a community center. Childhood memories surfaced of days spent playing softball and making crafts.
At home, the groceries were put away. A quick inspection of the kitchen and living room showed that everything was ready for the party.
The doorbell rang and Grylke walked into the living room sporting a wide smile. The old friend said, “I have been looking forward to this. I saw the others at launch and they are all coming”.
The two of them shook hands. Feglarglata said, “Can you help me bring some chairs in from the kitchen. We should be able to finish before anyone else arrives.” As soon as they were done, the doorbell sounded again.
Today is my 65th birthday and I missed a call this morning.Every year on my birthday, my mother would call at exactly 8:05 AM and say that so many years ago, at that time, I had wakened her and she was calling to wake me up. Then she would laugh. She had that sort of sense of humor. She died a little over two years ago just 10 months before I published my first novel, Beyond the Shallow Bank. It is an extreme regret for me that she never lived to see this. She would have shown the book to everyone in her retirement village and said, “My handsome and smart son, David, wrote this.” That would have made her so very happy.
Historical fiction requires the same command of writing craft as is found in any genre. In addition, writers of historical fiction must conduct intense research into the people, objects and locations of the time being written about. Authors must become immersed in the subject while building stories and characters that create unique books.
Research can take many forms; books, newspapers and magazines from the period, lectures, museums, videos, archival films, interviews, search engines and physical journeys to the places where the book takes place. I used all of these in researching a historical novel. Traveling to the actual location and visiting museums gave me the feel of the place and provided context to period exhibits. Travelogue lectures and videos were like guided tours. Archival films documented specifics about clothing, transportation and current affairs. The Internet gave me details about temperature, population, landscape, customs and festivals. Original and microfilmed copies of period magazines and newspapers filed in gaps concerning everyday life, anxieties and hopes. The advertisements were very interesting because they highlighted desires and morals of the time.
If done thoroughly, research will produce volumes of notes. Yet, authors will only want to use a fraction of the facts they gather. Some might question this after making such an investment in research and think that they need to include everything they have discovered because it is so interesting. This is a mistake. A historical novel is not a text book. It must contain just enough details to set the novel in the time period without overwhelming the reader. Too many facts distract the reader from the plot and character development. It’s important to reach a balance.
Consider a paragraph that uses extensive historical facts, such as, “Aaron opened the door of the 1962 Chevy Impala and sat in the driver’s seat. It had C pillar styling that was not offered in the 4-door hardtop. The engine was a 409 cubic-incher that only came with a standard transmission. It was a true legacy to Swiss race car driver Louis Chevrolet (1879 – 1941) and his partner William C. Durant (1861-1947) who started the Chevrolet Motor Car Company on November 3, 1911. Aaron knew this car would win the race and save the orphanage.”
All of these fact are real, and may be of interest to car enthusiasts, but it is far too much information for the majority of readers. That Aaron has found a fast car that will win a race to save the orphanage is lost in the words. It would be far better to write, “Aaron opened the door of the 1962 Chevy Impala and sat in the driver’s seat. Surly, the big 409 cubic-inch engine would win the race and save the orphanage.”
That is not to say you should leave out all the facts you discover. One of the things readers seek in historical fiction is a sense of the time and place. Descriptions of houses, rooms, clothing, transportation and implements create the feeling of a time gone by, but you should be selective in what you include. I wrote a historical novel in which I needed to get some lye that would be used in a future scene into a character’s pocket. This was both setting and foreshadowing, so it needed it to be memorable but subtle. I choose to have another character make soap while the main character helped. I researched soap making and learned many details. I used very few of those facts in the scene. The description of soap making consists of a general overview that gives the sense of making soap in the time period while leaving out detailed specifics, except for one. The character making the soap uses one type of lye over another, explaining that it makes softer soap but has a more violent reaction when exposed to water. The main character ties some left over lye in a handkerchief and puts it in a pocket. The fact that the lye was more active was very important to the plot a few chapters later.
When writing about actual historical figures, you cannot change known, historical facts. Marie Curie discovered radium and died from radiation poisoning at the age of 66, but an author can’t have her stop experimenting and live to be 100. Harriet Tubman was an abolitionist who was a former slave. She organized the underground railway to help other escaped slaves, but a historical novel cannot have her become president of the United States. Whatever documented actions a historical person took cannot be changed in a book. However, the author has complete leeway to explore the private moments in their lives when there is no known record of what they did or did not do, say or think. These unknown emotions, dreams, desires, etc. are fair game. Pablo Picasso’s painting Guernica is a passionate condemnation of the Spanish civil war. The intent and result are evident, yet, who has crawled inside the mind on Picasso to know exactly what he was feeling and thinking at the time? Authors of a historical novel can do this.
Historical fiction can be entertaining, informative and thought provoking. It can also shed light on our contemporary world by showing us what has changed and what has not, thus giving us the opportunity to grow as societies and individuals. Authors can do this by choosing the right details, creating memorable characters and telling great stories within the chosen time period. thin the chosen time period.
No matter the career path people pursue, they start off knowing next to nothing about it. Carpenters must learn how to pound nails. They may have watched every episode of a particular home improvement show, but until they gain the experience of actually doing it, they will hit the wood as much as the nails and half of those will be bent. The same is true in other professions. Initial exposure is a good grounding, but there is a difference between knowing a thing and knowing the experience of a thing.
This includes writing. It takes time to learn the nuances of the craft; language, characterization, dialog, plot, suspense, comedy, drama and so forth. We all begin by imitating the styles of writers we have read until we develop our own unique voice, much as art students copy masterpieces to get the feel of how the original artists captured light or expressed an emotion. Through this process, writers accumulate techniques they will continue to use. There are those who do pop onto the scene with works of brilliance, however, for most it can take years to master the craft.
Even after reaching that professional level, you will discover that the process of learning never ends. There are always new things to discover. This requires a willingness to continually evaluate yourself as a writer and to examine critiques. They could come from other writers, Professional or learning, or a critique group. A major difference between professionals and neophytes is the ability to override their egos and commit themselves to improvement.
A critique is an examination of how effectively themes or points was expressed. When writers examine critiques about their works, they can gain a better understanding of how to best communicate to readers.
Some new writers can be hypersensitive to accepting critiques. Suggestions may be considered attacks on their character. They may think of their stories as their babies and each word their blood on the page. I have actually heard these words used. Some writers might say that their mother liked their manuscript or their friends enjoyed it. These attitudes are a great impediment to becoming a professional writer. Mothers like everything about their children and friends may not want to point out faults. Writers must look to people involved in writing who are willing to comment on how effective their work is.
Many beginning writers fear that they will run out of material and, therefore, they must jealously guard what they have. In truth, authors have an inexhaustible source of new ideas that they can draw on by just sitting down, writing them out, seeing how they read, and following threads that are suggested by the material. I threw out five times as much text as that retained in one final manuscript. Entire characters, cultures, locations and plot lines were removed because they did not serve the book.
There is a standard answer people in the arts give when a beginner asks about how to break into the business. It goes something like, “Do your best. Send your material out, and if you don’t make it in five years move on.” This is nonsense. What of you needed five years and a month to get you book accepted by a publisher? If you have the determination to work on your material, improve yourself and learn from other writers, continue in your day job and write in the morning or evening. Tom Clancy was just a middle aged insurance salesman while he worked on Hunt for Red October. J.K. Rowling submitted Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone to over 20 publishers. What if she had stopped after 19? Keep writing and learning. What do you have to lose?
Apprentice carpenters begin in near ignorance. They get experience on the job, go to training courses and proceed through the ranks to become master carpenters. There is no shame in not knowing everything at first, but we humans are impatient, even more so in this wired world. We must all be willing to swallow our egos long enough to listen to others and profit from their views and experiences to become masters.
The effect of sexual harassment and assault on individual women in the work place has been studied and the pain and trauma of these victims recognized. But, what about the effect on the companies and their employees where sexual harassment takes place. An article by Marcel Faggioni (B.A. (Hons), M.I.R., CHRP, Q. Med. ) released by Integrity Management Consulting Group, a division of M.C. Faggioni & Associates-Associés Inc., discusses a study conducted by Jana Raver, Associate Professor & Distinguished Professor of Organizational Behaviour of the Smith School of Business at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada and Michele Gelfand, Professor of Psychology and affiliate of the RH Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland that documents the link between sexual harassment in an organization and the impact on the bottom line.
Mr. Faggioni writes, “The results of the study reveal that there is a strong link. It found that sexual harassment is associated with appreciably more conflict in work teams. Additionally, it was discovered that teams showed less cohesion and less success in meeting financial goals on an organizational basis.”
The researchers state that businesses must “make it clear that all sexually harassing behaviors are forbidden, even mild behaviors that perpetrators think are ‘just good fun’.”
Faggioni concludes with, “… it is clear that eliminating sexual harassment is wise not only from a moral, ethical, and legal perspective, but it also makes good business sense.”
There are many factors that contribute to harassment in the work place. One of these is the company culture within an organization as established by management and practiced by all employees. It is an expression of a company’s values and goals.
Some company cultures establish policies to prevent sexual harassment and support women in their careers. Others might make no mention of harassment, thus leaving a void. Company policies can block women or take the side of perpetrators. As well, employees can bring discriminatory practices that are drawn from outside influences in their own lives. Without specific guidelines, these attitudes can spread unchecked within a company and directly impair women in hiring, work assignments, equal pay for equal work and advancement. If management is to create a workplace free of sexual harassment and assault toward women, it must mandate cultural changes from the top that require gender equality to override hidden agendas.
People can be resistant to change. It might seem a threat to the status quo, a person’s personal authority or an ideology. As a result, changes can take time and effort to implement. Still, change can succeed if management establishes gender parity as a top goal and works to enforce it.
Whereas company cultural changes come from the top, they must be implemented from the bottom. In some cases disciplinary actions may be required to correct undesired activities. This might mean termination of an employee who refuses to follow new policies. However, discipline alone runs the risk of driving the sexism underground where resentment can fester as individuals continue to covertly disrupt the work place.
Education is vitally important in changing attitudes. An organization can implement their own programs or hire outside consultants trained in addressing sexual harassment. Some men may think their actions are not harassing even though they are. Education has the ability to change such outlooks. Companies must continually to emphasize the importance of gender equality with individuals and groups and monitor behavior to make corrections where necessary.
This is a beginning. To bring about true change, management and employees must confront those who act in a harassing or bullying manner. The tide will turn when enough individuals stop laughing at insulting jokes and call out those who harass women. This must be done in a non-confrontational, but firm way. It was once acceptable for people to smoke in the office. It no longer is. Even though there was great strife over this, change did come. Yet, it is easy to slip back into old, familiar ways. We must continue to think and demand that everyone be treated equally.
David A. Wimsett
Beyond the Shallow Bank
At one time, there were only two ways for an author to get a book in print; through a traditional publishing house that covered all the costs and paid writers royalties or by paying a company to print copies for a fee.
Traditional publishers offer important services such as editing, cover design, marketing and distribution to book outlets. Authors are paid up front with an advance on royalties, which is important cash for writers. Large publishers also have resources to broker movie deals. But, it is difficult for a writer to get a publisher to accept a books or to convince a literary agent to represent it. New books must be written to the highest level of quality. That has always been true. There is now a new consideration, return on investment. It takes the same effort to publish a book that will generate $50,000 in profit as it does to publish one that will bring in $1,000,000. People working in the publishing industry have a deep love of books and delight in discovering new authors, but it is a marginal business and economic factors influence the decisions of publishers.
Before her death, literary giant Ursula K. Le Guin was honored at the National Book Awards. In her acceptance speech she said, "Right now, we need writers who know the difference between production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximize corporate profit and advertising revenue is not the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship."
For decades, the only alternative to traditional publishing houses was for writers to pay companies a fee ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars to have their book printed. This was not publishing, just printing. Editing, marketing and advice were not included. Writers had to do all this themselves. Many people used this service to print personal memoirs that were given away to friends and family, though there were writers who distributed their own books, sometime door-to-door, because bookstores would not stock them and reviewers ignored them. Such writers may have had 4,999 books in their basement because their mother bought a copy. As a result, these book printing companies came to be referred to as Vanity Presses. Few writers who used these services employed professional editing. As a result, quality suffered.
Two decades ago, a new form of publishing emerged, self-publishing. There have been self-published books before, but they were rare. Self-publishing to the mass market began when Amazon introduced its Kindle eReader device and began accepting manuscripts directly from authors. Amazon does not charge fees to writers. Authors simply uploaded their manuscript and cover art. Amazon takes care of formatting. listing and distributing books. Amazon pays up to 70% of a book's retail price to the author. Self-published authors do not pay fees to literary agents, which can be up to 20% of the author's royalty. Perhaps the most alluring thing is that self-published authors have complete control over their books. Amazon now sells Kindle, paperback and hard cover books from self-publishers. Other bookstores, even chains, have begun to accept self-published books and reviewers are looking at them.
But there is a stigma associated to self-published books. They are not taken seriously by some. Many literary awards will not consider them and grants that are available to authors whose works are represented by traditional houses are not given to self-publishers. There is the impression that writers self-publish their work because they are not good enough to attract a publisher. That perception is not necessarily true. Established authors, such as David Mamet, now self-publish. If readers do not know that a great novel is self-published it would compare favorably with volumes from big name houses.
Still, there is some ground for concern. Far too many self-published books are poorly written. They are not professionally edited and contain typographical and grammatical errors. Plots can be inconsistent and even incomprehensible. Dialogue may be unbelievable or juvenile and characters can be shallow. Such books and authors serve to reinforces the prejudice and stereotypes around self-publishing. Grant providers and contest judges dread the idea of slogging through poorly written material.
Today, a new movement is forming, independent publishing. Sharing many of the aspects of self-publishing, independent publishers take on the same roles practiced by traditional publishers. They assume the risks of hiring professional editors, cover designers, printers and distributors. They market the book or hire people to do so. Like self-publishers, Independents do not pay agent fees. Some independents only publish their own work while others publish the work of many writers as well as their own. The main difference between self-publishers and independent publishers is the degree of commitment and professionalism they exhibit. The books are not released until they pass rigorous quality checks.
Independent publishers heed the advice their editors, cover designers and other professionals they hire. These people know their jobs and bring an objective perspective to the project. My editor doesn’t just check spelling, missing words or wrong words. She performs fact checking and examines the structure and logic. In one scene, a character opened a window. Two paragraphs later the already opened window was opened again. My mind had looked at that scene dozens of times and missed this mistake. My editor caught it and much more. She suggested better ways to say things.
Even though I was the author and the publisher, my editor had the final say as to when the manuscript was complete. That was our agreement, the same as at any traditional press and was absolutely necessary if the book was to meet professional quality standards. This didn’t mean that I automatically accepted every suggestion. We had several discussions where I had to defend a phrase or a scene or a character. An editor's job is not to change the author's themes. Rather, it is to point out how writers can express those themes more effectively.
I also had to contact bookstores (chains, independent and online) and libraries to make the book available. I had to organize book readings and signings and place advertising in newspapers and social media along with blog posts. I was responsible for setting up an author’s page on Amazon and Goods Reads. I established Twitter and Facebook accounts. I put out ads on Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook.
That is what an independent publisher must do in order to produce world class quality. Nothing else will do in the marketplace.
Independent publishing is not for everyone. It is a full time job to get a book in print and requires a willingness to be involved in the business end of publishing. Some authors just want to write and let others handle the details. For them, a traditional press is the best solution. Writers who are willing to get fully involved can find greater monetary rewards and satisfaction in making the decisions.
There are two basic kinds of fiction stories, character driven and plot driven. Every story has both elements to one degree or another. Stories of character need plot to test and challenge the characters. Stories of plot need characters to advance the story.
Using emotion in writing is specific and unique to each character. “A man walked into the room. A scar ran across his left cheek. Sometime in the past his nose had been broken. He sneered as he surveyed the room. ‘Has anybody seen Barty?’” This is a dangerous man who has led a hard life. There is no need to rely on cliché references. The reader knows what kind of character this is. Such details are tags that quickly identify characters and remind the reader of who they are. It might be a voice pattern or a food they like or a mannerism with their hands. All main characters need unique tags to differentiate them in the story.
When writing depends on sentiment, it draws from general clichés. It stays on the surface and lacks specifics, relying instead on shared cultural experiences for reference. It uses generalities, such as, “A man walked in the room. He looked like Humphrey Bogart. He said, ‘Has anybody seen Barty?’” Those who have no experience with the twentieth century tough guy actor would have no idea as to how the character looks or what his attitude is. Even those who remember Humphrey Bogart will form different images in their minds from different performances, or from fogged memories.
Consider a group of refuges escaping to a new home. We could write the story from a sentimental viewpoint using common clichés as in:
"The crowd of refugees walked along the hot, dusty road. There were men and women and children fleeing a war they had not started. There were shop keepers and doctors and taxi drivers and artisans all driven out by the bombs dropped on them. Adini, a dark haired boy of six, trudged next to his twelve year old brother. Their father walked slowly in front of them. He would turn around at times and urge them forward.
"All three were hungry and thirsty. Adini wanted to stop, sit down and cry. His feet hurt and he was tired. He thought back to the day a barrel bomb had exploded in the apartment above them, killing his mother. He had cried as his father dragged him into the street just before their apartment caved in. Now, the only hope they had was to reach a safe haven."
Now, let's get emotional and specific.
"Adini’s stomach cramped as he forced himself to place one foot in front of the other on the dust laden road. He ran his tiny hand over his dark hair and his tongue along his parched lips. He was only six and didn’t fully understand why they were fleeing. He remembered the bombs being dropped on the buildings. He saw, in his mind, his mother laying under a slab of concrete and his father dragging him from the building as he screamed and fought to run to his mother’s side. Two hundred others marched with him in the heat – men, women, children, infants. They moved at a somatic pace. He heard moans and sobs, but no one spoke. Some limped. One man helped support a pregnant woman, though Adini was too young to understand why her belly was so large. His father had carried his sister after her legs were crushed in the collapse of their apartment building. One morning, she didn’t wake up and they left her body at the side of the road. It was the first time Adini had ever seen his father cry.
"His older brother had told him that they were going to a place where milk and honey flowed and they would be safe forever. The thought of food made the cramps grow worse. His feet hurt and he wanted to stop walking, sit down and cry, but he knew his brother would hit him if he did because everyone’s feet hurt, everyone wanted to sit down and everyone wanted to cry. He pursed his lips together and continued walking."
Which version had more impact? Which reveals the character of Adini more powerfully for the present and the future? Drawing specific emotions out of your characters creates memorable stories that stick with your readers and solidify your themes.