“I’ve written a GREAT book!”


Really? You have? Well, don’t be the one to say so in your ads. One of the things that will totally turn me off a book is an ad/promo like this one WHEN POSTED TO A WRITER’S SOCIAL MEDIA AND WRITTEN BY THE WRITER HIM/HERSELF: This is a great book for horror readers! OR This is a wonderful book for children ages three to five.

When I promote other writers’ books, I might very well say the same things, but when a writer says that about his/her own book, it sounds desperate or self-aggrandising. I mean, what writer doesn’t think his/her own book is great and wonderful? Still, let others toot your horn; don’t do it yourself.

Let your readers say how wonderful, amazing, insightful, awe-inspiring, great, moving, and hilarious (all words I’ve seen just in the last few months applied by writers to their own work) your book is.

Photo credit: Patrick_Denker at

Look inside the book–and close the cover

The other day I was searching on Amazon for a good book to read. I like zombie fiction, and that’s the specific genre I zeroed in on on  this particular day. I found one that looked interesting. Nifty, though a bit crude, cover. Good reviews. An editor listed in the description.

Because I didn’t know the writer’s other work, I followed my usual procedure and clicked “look inside.” I was a bit annoyed by the way the e-book was laid out – reviews, copyright information, table of contents, and so on all at the front, thus cutting down on the amount of actual book text I’d be able to read in my “look inside.”

Then I got down to the text.

I found a grammatical error in the second sentence. I found weak writing (to put it kindly) in the second paragraph, followed by several more examples of poor grammar, bad punctuation, and weak writing in the two or three pages I slogged through.

Did I pick up this book? No. No, I didn’t. Not even at the low-low-low price of free was this book worth it. The story sounded interesting. The writing turned me right off.

Now I have to add that a perfectly grammatical story peopled with cardboard characters and weighted down with a blah or confusing plot will also turn me off. I just can’t detect those flaws in the first two or three pages of the book.

Do you need an editor? Yes. Do you need an editor who’s not afraid to tell you what’s wrong? Also yes. Do you need an editor who knows his/her stuff? So much yes.  Sometimes an editor has to be the Bad Guy and tell her client that a section isn’t working, that a word doesn’t mean what the client thinks it does, that the client is relying on the same word or phrase too much. When we do that, it’s not because enjoy crushing a client’s creativity or voice. It’s because that’s what the client is paying us for: finding those errors before they turn off the readers.

All that said, it’s also true that a lot of readers don’t know the nuances of grammar. That doesn’t mean they won’t know when the meaning of a sentence is unclear. They might not know why they’re uncomfortable, but they’ll know they are. After all, a person doesn’t have to understand music theory or be able to read music to know when someone’s singing off-key.

Indie writers have to be especially careful, I think. Readers are, unfortunately, a lot harder on indie writers than those published by Big New York Publishers. It’s like that old saying, “You have to be twice as good to get half the respect.” Is it fair? No. Will this perception change? Probably. Does that probable change matter now? Nope.


photo credit: gregparis at

But They’ll Steal My Ideas!


No. No they won’t. And if they do, chances are you won’t even recognise your idea after it’s worked its way through that other writer’s psyche.

I have heard several (inevitably new and/or unpublished) writers say things like, “I don’t want to join a critique group or give my work to a beta reader or an editor because they might steal my ideas.” I shake my head when I hear this sort of comment.

I have been in workshops where a dozen writers were given the same writing prompt (in other words, the same story idea) and produced a dozen entirely different stories. I’ve never been in a workshop where two writers wrote the same – or even a similar – story from the same prompt. Never.

The other day I was talking with a writer friend, J.M.Cornwell, and she began discussing an idea she had. Her idea sparked an idea in me which took off in a different direction entirely from my friend’s idea. I sketched out a story, and then became a bit concerned that J.M. might think I had appropriated her idea. When I mentioned it to her, she said, “For crying out loud, write the story! Your story won’t be at all like mine, and you know it. Go for it.”

So I did. The story’s still in the notes and planning stage, but when I write it, I know two things: It’ll be my story, not my friend’s; and J.M. Cornwell will be okay with my taking off on her idea.

I have never worried that my critique group, beta readers, or editors would steal my ideas. After all, how many variations on “boy meets girl, boy woos girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back again” have you read? Or variations on “guy murders other guy and detective brings the murderer to justice”? Or maybe “the zombie apocalypse erupts and only a few people survive”? Honestly, you could write variations on variations on variations of those basic ideas from now till twenty minutes past forever.

Idea-theft should be the least of your concerns. Write the doggoned story. Get it critiqued, beta-read, edited. Rewrite it as needed. Make it the best, most polished bit of writing you can. And there you have it. A finished piece worth reading.

Staking Vampires–no, not literally!


Let’s talk vampires. Not the undead creatures of the night, neither the sexy version so popular now nor the hideous Nosferatu of a hundred years or so ago. I’m talking about energy vampires, those people who drain your energy and creativity till you droop and swoon like a Victorian maiden who’s recently entertained Count Dracula at a midnight soiree.

Who is an energy vampire? It’s the person who drains you, makes you feel useless or worthless or not-good-enough. If you’re a writer and you get a good review, the vampire will have gotten a better one. If you got a bad review, the vampire will have gotten a worse one. If you just finished a short story, she finished a novel. If you signed a contract with a small publisher, she signed one with a major New York house.

Or maybe he makes you doubt yourself. He reads your story and hands it back to you with a limp, “That’s nice.” Perhaps he asks what you’re writing and, when you say, “Romance,” or “Horror,” or “Mysteries,” he blinks a few times and then murmurs, “Oh, I write real literature.”

Or perhaps she’s one of those human-shaped walking black clouds. She never sees the good around her because it’s always raining where she is. She spreads negative energy wherever she goes.

We all know these vampires. (And, yes, everyone has moments or even long stretches of time when everything we touch goes wrong. That’s not what I’m talking about here. I am talking about people who engage in this kind of behavior, often without realizing it, their whole lives.) So what do we do?

First of all, don’t even think about wooden stakes. That way lies a charge of homicide.

I’ve read articles urging people afflicted with vampires to love them and try to show them a better way. That might work. Sometimes.

My own preferred tactic is to go into non-engagement mode. Stay civil. Be polite. And don’t get into their drama. They thrive on drama and want you tangled all up in it. If you stay out of it long enough, they’ll take their fangs out of your neck and go bother someone else. Or maybe they’ll learn a less negative way to deal with their own issues. Either way, you’ll be in the clear.

Photo credit: AvinaKRSaha at

What Makes a Writer a Real Success?


Photo: singhajay at

What is success for a writer? Heck, what is success for anyone, especially anyone working in the arts?

If you’re writing and you measure your success solely by the dollars and cents or the number of books you sell each week/month/year, the chances are pretty good, you’re going to be frustrated.

It’s difficult for readers to discover a new writer’s books. So many writers, so many books. And they’re all demanding, begging, pleading for attention. Readers tune out all the promotional pleas like so many droning mosquitos – and sometimes they swat them entirely with such programs as AdBlock.

So what is success? Finishing that last draft. Working out the plot so all the bits come together in the end. Creating a cast of great, three-dimensional characters. Crafting some wonderful, singing sentences. In short, doing the work.

It’s not that much different from any other artistic endeavor. Money is good, but finding joy and fulfillment in the act of creating the work is better. And if you’re lucky, persistent, and continue to improve your craft, you might find the money follows as well.

Then you can crack open that bottle of bubbly if you want to. (Or, if you’re me, buy a pound of that ultra-expensive coffee I covet.)

champagne by Alvimann at

Photo: Alvimann at

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