The answer to the question

face-questions-1567164As a fiction writer, I have always wondered how to break into the publishing companies that announce on their manuscript submission guidelines:

“We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. We only look at manuscripts through an agent.”

Then when trying to find an agent — a legitimate agent — the agents are only looking for established writers. Published authors.

It’s a vicious cycle.

But I think I found an answer the question that has plagued me as long as I have considered becoming a published novelist; a way out of the publishing labyrinth; a solution to the book marketing problem.


It used to be looked down upon. But now thousands of people are doing it and saying things like:

“Have more control over your book.”

“Get more sales profit.”

“Why put up with the (insert profanity) of publishing companies?”

It’s true. We live in an age where it’s easier to publish our own books without going through a traditional publisher. It’s an age of social media (which helps with some of the marketing that wasn’t available outside of a traditional publisher). There’s print on demand (which means a book doesn’t have to be printed by the thousands and it doesn’t have to go out of print). And anyone can learn to make an e-book out of their manuscript.

Traditional publishing has it’s own merits, but to answer my earlier question: how can I get an agent? Well if you self-publish you don’t need an agent. And you can establish a platform, an audience, and show potential agents that you are published and already have a built-in following.

So if one can successfully self-publish, why even think of going the traditional publishing route? Publishing your own books through Amazon or SmashWords is part hard work, part luck, but the potential for success outside of traditional publishing is better than in past decades.

One argument I’ve heard against self-publishing is:

“There’s so much garbage out there thanks to self-publishing.”

Here’s what I say:

“There was already plenty of garbage being put out by traditional publishers.”

So I say go for it.

Go for it.

The answer to the question

Exposing “exposure” for what it is: an insult

artist-palette-1172463As much as I love designing book covers, I don’t have time to do it for free.

Last year I designed book covers for a couple of different small publishers. I figured out one publisher would not be paying enough for the time I put into the projects, so I told the publisher I quit. She understood and we parted on good terms.

I had already started several cover options for one author, Jeff, who pulled his project out of this company and went with another. I told him I’d finish the cover for his book for free, which I did. The original publisher would have paid me, but I didn’t think that was going to happen,  so since I quit, I didn’t think it was fair to the author to charge him an unexpected fee.

Anyway, the point is, it was my decision to not be paid for the project.

So when I read Wil Wheaton’s post on his blog on this subject, it reminded me that if someone thinks my talent is good enough to use, it’s good enough to buy. With money.
If some company making millions and billions of bucks every year ever called me and asked to use something I’ve written or designed and tried to convince me that the exposure alone, and no compensation whatsoever, was all I’d get, I’ve decided I would them down politely. On the inside I’d be imagining myself ripping them a new one and planning how to badmouth them on social media.

I mean, I hate that. I hate when an organization like The Huffington Post which has enough money to pay even when they say they don’t (it’s called budgeting, folks), asks a well-known celebrity like Wil Wheaton to use something he’s written but not pay for it? Jerks.

I would never ask a professional in any other field to work for free. “Hey, doctor, can you give me a free prostate exam?” or “Hey, counselor, can you psycho analyze me just for fun?”

It reminds me of a similar situation I read about last year in which a mainline cable network asked graphic designers to donate their work for a contest. What is that? It’s insulting, demeaning and patronizing, that’s what it is.

I plan to publish four mini-novels soon, and a local graphic designer/illustrator who’s done work for me before says she will illustrate the covers. She’s fantastic. Now I don’t have as much money as the Huffington Post or Showtime, but I still plan on paying her. And yeah, I hope she does get some exposure, but she’s still getting paid for it.

Saying that, I do believe there are times when it’s okay for a person to not get paid for their creativity—but only on rare occasions:

  • When that creator, not the client, decides to do work pro bono for whatever reason;
  • When an established non-profit is the client (occasionally);
  • When the creator does just want the exposure;
  • Special circumstances, whatever they may be.

Okay, I’m done pushing venom. Got it out of my system.

Exposing “exposure” for what it is: an insult

Quense tells how he writes his books and doesn’t apologize for it

Here is my review of Hank Quense’s Planning a Novel, Script or Memoir as it appears in Goodreads and Amazon:

I’ve read many books on writing fiction and after a while I see the same theories and best practices over and over. This is not necessarily a bad thing because a reminder is always helpful. However, when I come across some new best practices for writing a novel, I feel like I’m getting the most out of my time and money spent.

2940151898539_p0_v3_s192x300In his Planning a Novel, Script or Memoir, which is part of his Fiction Writing Series, Quense offers practical tips on how he writes his novels. That’s what I want—something I haven’t heard before, and that’s what I got with this book. At the beginning, he suggests the reader to just take what he or she needs.  Good advice. Not everyone thinks the same way, and, also, who wants to read the same thing over and over? Quense’s recommendation to use Scrivener, his practice of mind-mapping, and the idea of a plot cloud gave me some new techniques to incorporate into my writing disciplines. Of course, he also touches on fiction elements I’ve read elsewhere, but his succinct style on concepts like  “character arc” proved to be a great review and motivator.

So if you are looking for some fresh ideas on writing fiction, I recommend this book. He includes lots of resources in the Appendices. The reader may or may not decide to use Quense’s ideas, especially if the person prefers to write without planning, but as he says about his mind-mapping technique, “Ultimately, you have to decide whether to use this method or not.”

I’m definitely going to check out his other books in the series.

Quense tells how he writes his books and doesn’t apologize for it

How to Hack a Flashback: Secret Shortcuts of Bestselling Authors


Great article on writing flashbacks by author Christopher Kokoski.

Originally posted on Christopher Kokoski:

Flashback Hack Blog Courtesy of Drew Coffman, Flikr – modifications mineLicenseTo Flashback like a bestselling author, you have to know the tools, tricks and “hacks”of how they translate the concept of a fuzzy literary device to the reality of words on the page. Bestselling authors know and use these hacks, and so can you – as soon as you know the secret sauce.

First, here is the Flashback Formula explained in a previous post. Keep this formula in mind as you continue to read the specific mechanics of bestseller flashbacks.

Flashback Formula

No time to read the whole article now? No problem. Save it for later, then glance at the infographic at the bottom of the article. It’s like your personal Cheat Sheet of Flashback Hacks.

Let’s get into the meat of the article. Here are the specific hacks that show you how authors who have consistently published 14 + bestselling novels craft…

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How to Hack a Flashback: Secret Shortcuts of Bestselling Authors

Those Extra Chunks of Time

time-1191842-640x480Don’t wait for just the big chunks of time to write. Use little chunks of time throughout the day: 15 minute breaks; 20 minutes here; even thinking about your story while you drive home from work counts. Those little chunks of time add up. When the big chunks of time arrive –say a whole Saturday morning with nothing on the schedule– use it. But if something happens and the Saturday morning gets interrupted, it’s okay, because you’ve been using little chunks of time. However, a regular time on your daily schedule –say, either getting up a half hour earlier to write, or writing an hour before you go to bed– can get you in the habit of writing on a regular basis. Then you take those extra chunks of time, both big and little, when they are gifted to you.

Those Extra Chunks of Time

Whoa, an epiphany in writing dialogue

116564_6429In one of my favorite books on graphic design, The Non-Designer’s Design Book, Robin Williams presents the concept of being able to name something so that you can own it. A person may recognize good design in a poster or a brochure, but not be able to know why it’s good design. In her book, she claims to present four basic design elements to master–contrast, repetition, alignment, and proximity–so that a potential graphic designer will understand why an item has good design.

The same thing sort of just happened to me when it comes to writing dialogue.

Author K.M. Weiland recently posted an article on her blog, Get Rid of On-the-Nose Dialogue Once and For All. In this article she presents three ways to make boring and obvious dialogue more interesting by including subtext, irony and silence. I already knew about these methods, but Weiland presented them in a simple way and even used one of my favorite–if subtle- scenes from the movie Gladiator as an example. Now I feel like I can own these methods when writing dialogue for my own fiction and point out when they are and aren’t being used in novels I am reading.

Weiland has great resources for honing your fiction writing skills. Check out her website for writers.

Whoa, an epiphany in writing dialogue