Monday, 8 December 2014

Punctuation Matters

The writer who neglects
punctuation, or mispunctuates,
is liable to be misunderstood.
~ Edgar Allen Poe

pronounced: pəNG(k)(t)SHəˈwāSH(ə)n

the marks, such as period, comma, and parentheses, used in writing to separate sentences and their elements and to clarify meaning.

Reflecting over this past year, one of the biggest things that stood out for me was manuscript submissions. Submissions stood out because, as a writer myself, I was trained to always submit as perfect a manuscript as possible.

Unfortunately, a majority of submissions that came in this year were disappointing from a presentation standpoint. I'm not talking about author voice or story quality. I'm talking about what the manuscript looked like when I opened the file. What I see on the screen instantly tells me a lot about the author and his/her work. Examples:

The author is lazy and/or careless

The author is sloppy with his/her work

The author is unprofessional

As a publisher, how do we invest in a project if the author is going to be lazy, careless, sloppy, and unprofessional with their first presentation? This only tells us the author will also be lazy, careless, sloppy, and unprofessional with their edits, marketing, and promotions. Publishers can't afford to invest in this type of behavior.

This is an investment. Every book, regardless of length, undergoes the same exact process: first reads, multiple edits, proofreading, cover design, formatting, submission to selling vendors, promotion, marketing, etc. This is not just an investment in time, but also a financial investment. Publishers cannot afford to invest in an author who's lazy, careless, sloppy, and unprofessional. We simply cannot afford to throw away good money on an author who doesn't care enough about their own work to present it in a professional and polished condition.

Back in August, we talked about the Top Three Things to Get A Publisher’s or Agent's Attention. Part of that piece focused on punctuation. Let's expand on that topic today.

If I were to ask you, what are the 15 basic punctuation marks, would you know them? And more importantly, would you know how to use them? Even the most basic of them: period (aka full stop), comma, apostrophe, and hyphen. This is Punctuation 101:
My teacher, Mrs. Smith-Jones, said it's sloppy not to punctuate.

Do you know the difference between a hyphen, en dash, and em dash? Do you know how to use them?
Hyphen: This is the shortest of the dashes. When you hear that someone has hyphenated their last name (smith-jones); this is the most common use of a hyphen. But it's also used to create compound adjectives, such as best-selling, man-eater, and fire-breathing
En dash: This is a medium length dash. This is used in place of the words 'through' and 'to'. It's most commonly used with dates and times: 1014–2014 and 1–2pm
Em dash: This is the longest of the dashes. This is mainly used as an interruption in thought, or change of direction in the text: "The reason I'm late is—" he started saying, but she cut him off.

Do you know what an ellipse is, or when it's appropriate to use it? Or when it's appropriate to use an em dash?
Ellipse: This is made up of three periods/full stops, and is often presented as '...' or '. . .' (notice the additional space between the periods). It's mainly used as a hesitation in speech or thought: "The reason I'm late is . . . well, I really don't have a reason." And, If I tell her why I'm late . . . Forget it. She won't believe me, he thought. 
Em dash: As above, is most used as an interruption in the text: "The reason I'm late—not that you'll believe me—is because I stopped to get coffee." Quite often, commas will work just as well, but the em dash has gained in popularity. "The reason I'm late, not that you'll believe me, is because I stopped to get coffee."

Do you know what a semicolon is, and when it's appropriate to use one?
Semicolon: A semicolon not only joins two independent sentences, but it's also used where items are listed that also include commas: Some of my favorite writers include John Steinbeck, who wrote Cannery Row; Dean Koontz, who wrote Intensity; and Wilson Rawls, who wrote Where the Red Fern Grows.

So, how do we ensure our work is properly punctuated before submission?
1) Learn what punctuation marks are and how to use them. 
2) Check punctuation within your work. 
3) Ensure the punctuation you are using is correct or in the correct context . . . and are you consistent with your usage? 
4) Don't overuse special punctuation (that which is beyond the basic period, comma, hyphen, and apostrophe).
Bonus: If you're working with a beta reader and you're using Track Changes, accept or reject all of the corrections, turn off Track Changes, and present the work clean and without those highlighted corrections.

Click image to enlarge for full descriptions of each punctuation mark.

Important to know: There are some variations with punctuation between some countries. While North America prefers a period before the end quote, parts of Europe put the period outside the quote: "We think punctuation matters." vs "We think punctuation matters".

Commas are often treated the same way. As well, some countries prefer "double quotation marks" and others prefer 'single quotation marks' around speech.

And finally, some countries prefer you abbreviate with a period, while others don't bother: abbr., Mr., and etc. vs abbr, Mr, and etc. OK there's a period after the last etc., but that's because I ended the sentence. :-)

Whatever your method of punctuation:
Use it in the correct context
Be consistent
Present a clean and professional looking submissions

First impressions really are the most memorable, so give the editor (or agent) the best first impression of your work possible. A manuscript is a reflection of the author, so it makes sense to make a good first impression. This means presenting a manuscript as flawless as it can be.

Tell the editor through your submission that you're not sloppy, you're not lazy, and most importantly, you are a professional they can count on.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

The Big Debate: Digital vs Print

Have we fallen out of love with e-readers?
The Independent UK, 6 October 2014, Caroline Cororan
I read this article last night but decided to read it again this morning just to be sure I still felt the same. I think I do. I'm sharing it with you to get your impressions on the subject of our ereaders.

My opinions --

I call bullshit on this article. Plain and simple. Here are my reasons:

1) "In 2013, British consumers spent £2.2bn on print, compared with just £80m on e-books"

That's because British (and Irish books by default) are priced through the roof. For example, an $8 paperback in the US costs consumers  around £8. Seems like like for like, right? Convert to US dollar and that same book is now over $10 usd. Ebooks are notoriously much lower in cost than traditional print books, especially with small presses which dominate the digital market. And for those publishers and authors putting out POD books, the average cost of those is higher still than mass market published books. So yes, this is why the print vs digital amounts vary so greatly. Print books cost more than digital books from the get go.

2) "adult e-book sales were up just 4.8 per cent in a year, while hardcover book sales had risen by 11.5 per cent"

Is this a comparative calculation? The author of this article pointedly said 'adult e-books' but then just said 'hardcover book sales'. Because if you add in YA and childrens books, the latter almost always being hardcover (hard vs paperback), then yeah, I can see the hardcover sales being higher. And exactly which adult books is the author talking about? Commercial mass market fiction, or erotica . . . the traditional 'adult book'? Compare like for like and see where the figure really stands. This  claim is vague at best.

3) "Nielsen BookData analysis showed e-book sales in May and June last year fell by 26 per cent from 2012."

Of course they did. Let's remember that 2013 was really the first post-recession year people started feeling free to spend money again on luxury goods and holidays. These days, there aren't a huge number of people who go on holidays just to sit and read. With people traveling again, they want to get out and explore, not spend thousands on flights, hotels, etc just to lay on the beach or at the pool and read. Also, this time of year is typically end of the school year, with kids wanting lavish graduations; and people are leaving on holidays. Readers would have made their summer reading purchased in the after-Xmas sales with all their gift vouchers. As a publisher, May and June have typically been very slow for sales, so this is no BIG revelation.

4) "One study showed that in a group reading the same book, e-readers had a lower plot recall, which was credited to a lack of "solidity".

First of all, "One study" should be telling here. Where are multiple studies?

And what is the author claiming . . . "When we can't see the pile of pages growing on the left and shrinking on the right, the book is, apparently, less fixed for us."

WhatWHAT? Readers think they can't retain a story because there's no physical paper? Readers were given a short story from Elizabeth George: half read on Kindle, half print. Maybe it was the story that didn't hold their interest and not the device. I've read George's work before. While I appreciate that she has a good following, her stories don't hold my interest. Even for the sake of an experiment, I'm not sure I'd have total recall for the questions either.

As for 'solidity', I admit when I got my first Kindle, I found it very light and thin. I was afraid of dropping it because I couldn't feel the traditional weight of the device. I think this is something most ereader newbies face. I ended up finding a great cover to protect the device in case I dropped it. I use Oberon Design covers because I love their designs, but anything like these covers offer an ereading device the weight missing from a physical printed book. It has a cover you can open to give the device more of a book feeling too. So I don't buy the 'no solidity' BS. Just like the saying, "A good bra makes all the difference," so does the right device cover.
5) "Scott Pack, publisher at HarperCollins imprint The Friday Project, isn't surprised. "I retain a very physical memory of a book for some time after reading it," he says. "I can recall whether a particular scene or quote appeared on the left- or right-hand page, towards the top or bottom, and sometimes the page number, too." "

Sounds to me like this guy has some form of eidetic memory and doesn't know it. I can walk through a shop and tell you where certain items are without having to go back and look again. Freaks out people in bookstores when I can tell a customer where a book is and the clerk can't. I can do the same thing with any book I'm interested in. Interest = caring. When you care about the story you're reading, you pay attention to details. So I call bullshit on this comment.

6) "In September this year, The Bookseller conducted research that found nearly three quarters of 16- to 24-year-olds preferred print to e-books and when asked why, the sentence "I want full bookshelves" cropped up"

That's fine. Some people like to see books on the shelves. The number of those books staring back somehow gives certain readers a feeling of accomplishment in SEEING all the books they've read, or showing off to their visitors . . . "Look, I've read AAALLLLL these books." And some have found some great, creative ways to display them.

For others, we don't need that back-pat, so it's unfair to say this statement is the coming trend. I have books on my shelves . . . rather in storage getting ready for our move. I love hard cover versions of my most favorite books. More so these days are cookbooks and knitting books, a few Irish history books.

IMPORTNAT NOTE: For others, especially those of us with allergies, digital books are a blessing. No more dust, no more paper eating insects, no more smell of cheap paper breaking down over time. The yellow on the pages isn't just age. It's a chemical reaction that aids in the breakdown of the cheap newsprint mass market books are printed on. Most books are not printed on acid free paper! Mass market books have and will continue to be 'throw away' books. Buy them cheap, read, and recycle was the order of the day since the 70s when they were introduced.

When I moved to Ireland in 1997, I brought over with me 40 cases of paperbacks I'd been collecting. I'd reread them all many times. Some were falling apart but I couldn't bear parting with them. But they were killing me. There's no way anyone can reread that many books while buying more to read. Unless you're dusting them every day, stuff in the air settles, and the slightest breeze scatters the dust back into the air. Then come the pests and the bug 'dirt' behind them (they defecate in the books, have their offspring in the books, use the books for food to have more offspring). And of course, the acids breaking down the paper can be noxious. Oh, and let's not forget mildew. Paper soaks up moisture in the air like a sponge.

Don't get me wrong. I love the smell of new books . . . the new paper, the fresh ink . . . but give it 20 years, and if you have allergies, your collection could be what's making you sick.

7) ""I believe the reader of 2020 or 2030 will have two libraries, print and digital, with different types of books and publications in each," "

NEWSFLASH, Scott. The reader of 2014 already has two libraries, and have since day one. And we all have varied collections. Do your research.

8) ""While I have no qualms about trying out a debut author on e-book or loading up some holiday reading on to my Kindle, when it comes to my favourite authors I have to own the print edition, and I remain a sucker for a beautifully designed and printed book." "

NEWSFLASH again, Scott. We all feel this way. You're not telling us something we don't already know or practice.

AND are you saying that only new-to-you authors and book are the ones you'll put on your device? Are you saying that only branded authors are worthy of your physical shelves? If books were people, you'd start sounding a bit racist with your comments, Scott. Like ebooks are 'back of the bus' reading. Hmm . . .

In conclusion --

- Want solidity? Buy a heavier cover for your device.

- If you want to collect titles in print, go for it.

- If you only want books in a digital format, go for that too.

-- Whatever you do, be happy in your choices, but let's stop comparing which format of a story is best -- digital vs print. Don't revert to being 6 years old and trying to convince your friends your house is better than theirs. Let's focus on the story!

There are some awesome stories at Tirgearr Publishing. And now we've launched print editions. Drop over and try a few. Grab the digital and print of a book or three, and tell us which version helped you better retain the story. We love hearing from you!

PS . . . Whatever format you read, don't forget to leave the author a review. How else are we to know if we're doing something right? ;-)

As always, we welcome comments to our posts.

Most titles under $5 -- Every month offering new bargains for 99c

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Top Three Things to Get A Publisher’s or Agent's Attention

Have you written the next best-seller but are struggling to get it published, or even picked up by an agent?

Is each submission being met with rejection?

Are you at whit's end trying to figure out why your work isn't getting an offer, even though comments are good about your story?

Or is your work just simply not getting a look-see?

It might not be editing, plotting, characterization or anything to do with the book itself, but it could have everything to do with presentation!

Here are some suggestions that may help your work get the attention is deserves.

1)     Following Submission Guidelines
·        Why are guidelines so important?
§  Publishers receive hundreds of submissions ever month, and because they each have their own unique needs, guidelines have been established to help their offices expedite submissions more effectively.

·        Why is it important to follow the guidelines?
§  Show’s the publisher you can follow instructions;
§  Following instructions means you pay attention to detail;
§  If you can follow instructions, chances are good you’re easy to work with;
§  No matter how good your book might be, if you’re a difficult author to work with, the publisher won’t contract the book.

·        Where can you find submission guidelines?
§  All publishers’ sites have submission guidelines. Look for links for ‘submission guidelines’, ‘submissions’, or even ‘for authors’. When in doubt, go to Google and search ‘submission guidelines’ and the publisher’s name. A direct link will usually come up. * If you can't find submission guidelines for the publisher, query them; make it short and simple -- "Dear editor, I'd like to submit my completed novel to you. Please tell me where I can find your submission guidelines. Thank you." and sign off.

2)     Effective Cover Letters, aka covering page or query letter
·        Must contain vital information about the book and the author
§  Salutation – Always use the editor’s Mr./Ms. Name (only use Mrs. if you know for sure the editor is married and NEVER just use the first name. Ever. Even if you met them at a conference);
§  Short Blurb – Stick to 1-2 short paragraphs about the story;
§  Introduction – Tell the publisher about yourself; stick to salient points;
§  Writing Credits* – Included any previous credits (publishing, awards, regular blogs, newsletters, writing clubs, etc);
§  Thank you – Be polite. Always thank the publisher for his/her time to consider your work.
·        Try sticking to one page — Because of the number of submissions annually received, publishers must stick to time schedules. With the salient points on the one covering page, the publisher has an instant glimpse about you and the story.
·        *If you have a lot of writing credits or your cover letter exceeds one page, put writing credits onto a separate sheet — NEVER just list web addresses and tell a publisher to go look. Everything must be in the submission.
·    Be sure to list all of your social media sites — Be sure to give links to your pages (don't just say Facebook and make them look; give the full URL to your page, and be SURE your author page is not set to private so the publisher or editor can see how active you are for promotions) * If you have a lot of social media sites, you can list them on a separate sheet also.
·        Note: Don’t forget — In the header section, include your name, address, phone number, email and web addresses.

3)     Overall Presentation, including editing, formatting, etc
·        Cover Letter — See above. Make it neat and clean. Avoid word overuse; don’t embellish or overuse adjectives.
·        Synopsis —
o   What is a synopsis? — A synopsis is your book's summary.  It introduces your protagonists in greater detail and to some extent the most important secondary character(s). The synopsis should tell the concise plot of the story, and if a romance or thriller in particular, tells how your hero and heroine or protagonists work together to the ‘happily ever after’ or solve the crime by the end of the story.
§  We must know the end . . . no cliffhangers.
§  Keep it within the publisher’s guidelines, usually 3-5 pages depending on book length; for short stories and novelettes, 1-2 pages.
§  In the header, put the title of the book and author’s name.
§  Include your contact details in the body at the top of the first page, including title, series title if applicable, author name or pen name, word count and genre
§  Page numbers not required
§  Single line spacing OK
·        Sample Chapters — Read the publisher’s guidelines thoroughly. Some want the first three chapters, some the whole book, some just chapter one and the last chapter. Include exactly what the publisher asks for.
§  Like the synopsis, your header should have the book title and author name;
§  Include page numbers in the upper right corner of the page;
§  Contact information in the body at the top of the first page, like on the synopsis;
§  Under your contact information, you can include your blurb but not required;
§  Use page breaks between chapters (hit ctrl and enter);
§  Use Word’s paragraph option to set page style for auto indents, as well as line spacing (right click on a new document and chose Paragraph and set parameters there, including auto-indent on every new first line, etc);
§  Most publishers require double spaced pages, which can be set by the above method;
§  Start Chapter One on the next page;
§  Start chapters 6-7 rows down from the top of the page.
·        Editing — This is very important, not just for your book, but also your cover letter and synopsis.
§  Be sure your spelling is correct — Donut relay on Word. Line edit yourself, as Word can miss correctly spelled words that air used in the wrong content. (example given here!);
§  Be sure your visual formatting is consistent — If you italicize chapter headers, for example, be sure they’re all italicized, etc.;
§  Use proper grammar;
§  Use publisher’s suggested fonts and font size.

A last bit of advice   If the guidelines say to ONLY send Word Doc or RTF, then send that. Do not send PDFs. If you only write on WordPerfect or another program, you can do a "save as" and chose Word. Some publishes do not want DOCX extensions so be sure the document you save is for DOC only. * Most editors, freelance and with publishers, use Word's Track Changes option for editing, so Word is the preferred word processing program today.

Your submission is the first impressions you give a publisher.
Make it a good one and a contract could be yours!

Friday, 23 May 2014

How to Think Like a Writer

To anyone who ever said writing was easy . . . {blowing rasperries!} If it's so easy, you try it.

For those of use who make our livings doing some form of writing -- creative writing, poetry, journalism, etc . . . we must engage in some practices others don't readily understand.

Read. A lot!

Read a lot. Read everything. Read outside your comfort zone, especially when you feel blocked. You're not looking to copy anyone else or to try emulating their success. Reading opens creative channels in your brain. Reading stimulates the imagination, as new ideas ping and clash into each other until you see a clear path in your own work. Reading classics is a great way to see how some of the greats because 'the greats'. You'll not only read some amazing stories, but also see how literature has changed over the decades, and how your work is part of that change. And you'll also see what's in those books that makes them classics today. Learn from the greats and maybe your work will be classic one day. So read.

Be observant

Watch things. Watch everything. Watch people, animals, nature . . . Take in emotions, scents and taste, sounds, and touch everything. Okay, maybe not touch everything. You don't want to get arrested! But use all of your senses (and there are six of them -- touch, taste, sights, sound, hearing, and intuition), as well as some you may not know about or understand. Essentially, people-watch and go inside yourself as you do. Awaken an emotion and ask yourself how it's affecting you personally. Find words to describe it. By doing so, you'll find ways to incorporate those things into your work. So observe.


Go inside yourself. Let your mind wander. Try taking yourself to that place between sleep and wakefulness, where your subconscience and reality blend, where you're susceptible to suggestion and influence, where your creative side can soak up your dreams and weave them into a rich tapestry through your written word. Allow yourself to stare out a window and only see what's in your mind's eye. Turn on some music and drift into the world created by the melody and lyrics, being observant of the emotions it inspires. Allow yourself to drift.

Only you know it

You've heard the age old saying: Write what you know. This goes beyond researching a new topic and 'knowing about it.' If you're an adult, you've had a certain number of experiences that have increased your knowledge without really knowing you have. These are things you can draw on in your writing. Chances are good you've lost a love one, or beloved pet, and have suffered the pain of loss. Draw on those feelings. Chances are good you've been in love -- first love, first date, first kiss, first time you made love . . . Draw on those firsts. Draw from the good and not-so-good in your life to enrich your writing. Only you know what it felt like for you in certain experiences. Write what you know. It's in the palm of your hand.

Stop juggling

Make writing and writing tasks the priority in your life. Okay, I hear you saying: 'What about the kids? My spouse? The dogs? Who's going to vacuum the floor or wash the dishes or cook dinner?' If you set aside time to write, when those around you know this is your writing time, you can make writing a priority. Stop trying to juggle it all to fit in writing. Enlist in help if needs be. And remember, the world won't end if you put off the vacuuming and dish-washing for a couple hours. Making writing a priority in life doesn't mean giving up or pushing off everything so you can write. It means finding ways to fit writing into your day rather than making excuses why you can't write. Be a writer by prioritizing. Don't be an excuse-maker.

Find ways to inspire your writing. Visit an art gallery, go to a concert, hike in the mountains, or walk in the park. Get out and feed your mind. More so than daydreaming and gaining knowledge, getting inspired is a conscious effort to feed your mind with everything from interacting with people from different cultures, to eating different foods that wake up your tastebuds, to listening to different music than you normally prefer, to challenging yourself personally -- try skydiving! Find ways to fill your life with things that make you sigh or gasp, make your heart pound a little harder, make you exclaim: 'Damn, that's cool!' Get inspired.

Man, this is hard!

Keep your wits about. While writing can take you, in your mind, through fantastical places, there is a reality to the craft. You must treat writing like a business. Writing is your job. As a job, certain responsibilities come with it, like promotion and marketing. Your stories may seem to come from no where, as if your muse has given you some amazing gift. Perhaps he/she has. But there is a real side to the business. Writing is hard work. It's not for the faint of heart. Either write for you because you love it, or write for a business because you love it. The reality is, no matter which you decide, 99% of us won't get rich doing it. Some of us will do well, some will just get by, some will probably never see our work published. Be realistic of your expectations and what's expected of you. Go into the business with your eyes wide open. And never compromise who you are as a writer or how you see yourself in your craft. In everything, be real.


If you're feeling 'writer's block' remember one important thing -- There is no such thing as Writer's Block. If you've stumbled in your work and can't find a way forward, you've missed the above advice. Unblock yourself by using the writer's sledge hammer -- see above! Knock those blocks!!

You are your only competition

Look around you to determine who is your competition. Competition 101: YOU are your only competition. Stop comparing your work to others. As above, only you have had certain life experiences. Equally, only you interpret what life throws at you in different ways as everyone else. You are unique in every way, just as your mother told you long ago. It's time to remember this. And in your uniqueness, your only competition is you. Challenge yourself in different ways, but never pit yourself in a competition against someone else's work, or their work habits. Be unique, but don't compete.

Get a hobby

Make time for you. In today's life, we're always pulled every which way. From the 'day job' to family, from friends to social obligations, from kids to pets, and everything in between. With all of our life responsibilities, we most often forget that the #1 thing we're responsible for is ourself. We all need 'me time.' That's wholly different from the above (prioritize). 'Me time' is doing things outside of writing that keep you emotionally and physically healthy. This means find another hobby. Writing is your job, not your hobby. Paint or draw, play the guitar, learn to run, get a dog and teach it some tricks. Whatever you do, take time for YOU!
Be Nike


Stop making excuses. Just do it.


Take joy in writing. If it's not fun, why do it?

Take joy in writing

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

20 Rules for Writing

"On Writing" by Stephen King
When looking for writing advice, it's usually best to consult a master. Like his work or not, Stephen King's advice is sound for every writer, and for anyone who wants to publish. 300 million books can't be wrong!

1. First write for yourself, and then worry about the audience --  “When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story. When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story. Your stuff starts out being just for you, but then it goes out.”

2. Don’t use passive voice --  “Timid writers like passive verbs for the same reason that timid lovers like passive partners. The passive voice is safe. The timid fellow writes “The meeting will be held at seven o’clock” because that somehow says to him, ‘Put it this way and people will believe you really know. ‘Purge this quisling thought! Don’t be a muggle! Throw back your shoulders, stick out your chin, and put that meeting in charge! Write ‘The meeting’s at seven.’ There, by God! Don’t you feel better?”

3. Avoid adverbs -- “The adverb is not your friend. Consider the sentence “He closed the door firmly.” It’s by no means a terrible sentence, but ask yourself if ‘firmly’ really has to be there. What about context? What about all the enlightening (not to say emotionally moving) prose which came before ‘He closed the door firmly’? Shouldn’t this tell us how he closed the door? And if the foregoing prose does tell us, then isn’t ‘firmly’ an extra word? Isn’t it redundant?”

4. Avoid adverbs, especially after “he said” and “she said.” -- “While to write adverbs is human, to write ‘he said’ or ‘she said’ is divine.”

5. But don’t obsess over perfect grammar -- “Language does not always have to wear a tie and lace-up shoes. The object of fiction isn’t grammatical correctness but to make the reader welcome and then tell a story… to make him/her forget, whenever possible, that he/she is reading a story at all. “

6. The magic is in you -- “I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing. Dumbo got airborne with the help of a magic feather; you may feel the urge to grasp a passive verb or one of those nasty adverbs for the same reason. Just remember before you do that Dumbo didn’t need the feather; the magic was in him.”

7. Read, read, read -- “You have to read widely, constantly refining (and redefining) your own work as you do so. If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.”

8. Don’t worry about making other people happy -- “Reading at meals is considered rude in polite society, but if you expect to succeed as a writer, rudeness should be the second to least of your concerns. The least of all should be polite society and what it expects. If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway.”

9. Turn off the TV -- “Most exercise facilities are now equipped with TVs, but TV—while working out or anywhere else—really is about the last thing an aspiring writer needs. If you feel you must have the news analyst blowhard on CNN while you exercise, or the stock market blowhards on MSNBC, or the sports blowhards on ESPN, it’s time for you to question how serious you really are about becoming a writer. You must be prepared to do some serious turning inward toward the life of the imagination, and that means, I’m afraid, that Geraldo, Keigh Obermann, and Jay Leno must go. Reading takes time, and the glass teat takes too much of it.”

10. You have three months -- “The first draft of a book—even a long one—should take no more than three months, the length of a season.”

11. There are two secrets to success -- “When I’m asked for ‘the secret of my success’ (an absurd idea, that, but impossible to get away from), I sometimes say there are two: I stayed physically healthy, and I stayed married. It’s a good answer because it makes the question go away, and because there is an element of truth in it. The combination of a healthy body and a stable relationship with a self reliant woman who takes zero shit from me or anyone else has made the continuity of my working life possible. And I believe the converse is also true: that my writing and the pleasure I take in it has contributed to the stability of my health and my home life.”

12. Write one word at a time -- “A radio talk-show host asked me how I wrote. My reply—’One word at a time’—seemingly left him without a reply. I think he was trying to decide whether or not I was joking. I wasn’t. In the end, it’s always that simple. Whether it’s a vignette of a single page or an epic trilogy like ‘The Lord Of The Rings,’ the work is always accomplished one word at a time.”

13. Eliminate distraction -- “There should be no telephone in your writing room, certainly no TV or video games for you to fool around with. If there’s a window, draw the curtains or pull down the shades unless it looks out at a blank wall.”

14. Stick to your own style -- “One cannot imitate a writer’s approach to a particular genre, no matter how simple what the writer is doing may seem. You can’t aim a book like a cruise missile, in other words. People who decide to make a fortune writing lik John Grisham or Tom Clancy produce nothing but pale imitations, by and large, because vocabulary is not the same thing as feeling and plot is light years from the truth as it is understood by the mind and the heart.”

15. Dig -- “When, during the course of an interview for The New Yorker, I told the interviewer (Mark Singer) that I believed stories are found things, like fossils in the ground, he said that he didn’t believe me. I replied that that was fine, as long as he believed that I believe it. And I do. Stories aren’t souvenir tee-shirts or Game Boys. Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world. The writer’s job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible. Sometimes the fossil you uncover is small; a seashell. Sometimes it’s enormous, a Tyrannosaurus Rex with all the gigantic ribs and grinning teeth. Either way, short story or thousand page whopper of a novel, the techniques of excavation remain basically the same.”

16. Take a break -- “If you’ve never done it before, you’ll find reading your book over after a six-week layoff to be a strange, often exhilarating experience. It’s yours, you’ll recognize it as yours, even be able to remember what tune was on the stereo when you wrote certain lines, and yet it will also be like reading the work of someone else, a soul-twin, perhaps. This is the way it should be, the reason you waited. It’s always easier to kill someone else’s darlings that it is to kill your own.”

17. Leave out the boring parts and kill your darlings -- “Mostly when I think of pacing, I go back to Elmore Leonard, who explained it so perfectly by saying he just left out the boring parts. This suggests cutting to speed the pace, and that’s what most of us end up having to do (kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.)”

18. The research shouldn’t overshadow the story -- “If you do need to do research because parts of your story deal with things about which you know little or nothing, remember that word back. That’s where research belongs: as far in the background and the back story as you can get it. You may be entranced with what you’re learning about the flesh-eating bacteria, the sewer system of New York, or the I.Q. potential of collie pups, but your readers are probably going to care a lot more about your characters and your story.”

19. You become a writer simply by reading and writing -- “You don’t need writing classes or seminars any more than you need this or any other book on writing. Faulkner learned his trade while working in the Oxford, Mississippi post office. Other writers have learned the basics while serving in the Navy, working in steel mills or doing time in America’s finer crossbar hotels. I learned the most valuable (and commercial) part of my life’s work while washing motel sheets and restaurant tablecloths at the New Franklin Laundry in Bangor. You learn best by reading a lot and writing a lot, and the most valuable lessons of all are the ones you teach yourself.”

20. Writing is about getting happy -- “Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink.”
"On Writing" by Stephen KingGet your copy on Kindle here

Monday, 3 February 2014

Debut authors: K.I.S.S. Me

What I see a lot of lately, in writer’s groups and submissions, is debut novelists trying to ‘break’ the rules

Keep it Simple, Silly (K.I.S.S.) Write the simplest story you can. In other words:
to be unique. This is my advice:
  • Simple plot. Use the common ‘three act method’ or a similar simple structure. Simple story arc (man in hole, boy meets girl, etc). The plot still needs to be well developed, but don’t try to pen The Stand or other complex, twisting plots for your first work.
  • Simple language. No long words, no wordy and flowery description. Show us with your first work that you can write well without any tricks.
  • Simple punctuation. Almost zero exclamation points. Use only commas, periods, and question marks. Avoid semicolons, em-dashes and ellipses unless absolutely needed to tell the story.
  • Simple, but not simpleton characters. Give them depth, but make them someone we can either admire, relate to, or both. Too complex or odd, and you will lose us. At the same time, don’t make them stereotypes. Absent minded detectives/professors/geniuses? Hunky and loving men with amazing endurance in bed an out? We’ve read that. Give us something unique, and show it your way.
  • Simple POV. Use as few POV’s as possible. One or two at most, and never change during scenes. Use chapter or scene breaks ‘***’ to change character voice. Just like TV, when the camera POV changes, let us know somehow. On screen this is done with fades, music, establishing shots, etc. Apply similar methods to fiction writing.

Back to the key: K.I.S.S. Show your fancy moves later, when you become a literary legend. For now, just write a damn good story, and do it well.

* Article contributed by Troy Lambert, (c) Troy Lambert and Tirgearr Publishing

• • • began his writing life at a very young age, penning the as yet unpublished George and the Giant Castle at age six. He grew up in Southern Idaho, and after many adventures including a short stint in the US Army and a diverse education, Troy returned to Idaho, and currently resides in Boise.

Troy works as a freelance writer, researcher, and editor. He writes historical site characterization reports for those performing remediation on former resource extraction sites, software instruction and help guides, and edits the research of others as well. His true passion is writing dark, psychological thrillers. His work includes Broken Bones, a collection of his short stories, Redemption the first in the Samuel Elijah Johnson Series, Temptation the sequel to Redemption, along with the horror Satanarium, co-authored with Poppet, a brilliant author from South Africa and published by Wild Wolf Publishing. He has stories in several anthologies including the partially for charity Happily Ever Afterlife published by Untold Press.

Troy lives with his wife of twelve years, two of his five children and two very talented dogs. He is a skier, cyclist, hiker, fisherman, hunter, and a terrible beginning golfer.

Troy is also a Senior Editor at Tirgearr Publishing.

• • •

Stray Ally
Released: 4 March 2014
Tirgearr Publishing
A strange accident on the freeway, accusations of murder, and an encounter in the Idaho wilderness all propel Todd Clarke into a new friendship with a dog named Sparky. But Sparky is no ordinary dog, and there is more going on than Clarke could have imagined. 

A military commander he investigated for Aryan activity and links to domestic terrorism is after him, and he’s not sure why until another chance encounter provides the answer.

With Sparky and the help of his canine friends, will he be able to figure out the Colonel’s plan and stop him in time? All Clarke knows for sure is none of it would be possible without the help of his Stray Ally.

“Tyler? Tyler?” The cop shouted the name over and over. I didn’t understand why. I watched, my mind far away.

Far away.

“That’s my boy! That’s my boy! Tyler wake up! Wake up!”

The other driver tried to hold the cop back, but he kept shaking the skater. It was in that moment I realized he was dead. I didn’t realize I had killed him, understand?

I didn’t know.

The cop stopped shaking the boy. Distant wailing grew louder as other sirens approached. More help.

The stale unmoving air was reluctant to enter my lungs. I struggled for oxygen in silence. Then his eyes met mine. The driver tried to stop him, I’ll give him that. But he couldn’t. I couldn’t stop myself. He came at me.

He came at me.

“You killed my boy!” his shout filled my world, shattering the bubble I’d been in. “You piece of shit, you killed my boy!”

“Stop!” a voice, the Good Samaritan driver.

The cop launched himself at me, hands outstretched, as if to strangle me.

My body didn’t consult my brain. It rose from its sitting position in one smooth motion. As the incensed father approached, it moved on its own, spun away from him, struck him on the back as he roared by, increased his momentum, and watched as he fell awkwardly onto the asphalt. He wasn’t done.

I’d killed his boy.

He rushed back at me, and my body once again responded as I had trained it to. All of those hours. Strike, twist, pull, strike.

My fist impacted his side, then his chest. My foot lashed out, struck his knee with an audible crunch. He half fell again, and drew his gun.

Another cruiser rolled onto the scene.

An ambulance.

A fire truck.

A supervisor.


Model citizens.

They all saw me do it.

He raised the gun. I spun inside his aim. My hands went to work, striking his wrist, breaking it.

Grabbing the gun. Turning it in my hand.

Firing. Not once, but twice.

Double tap. Fighting like I was trained.

Just like that, I was a cop killer.


I killed a cop’s son. Then I killed a cop.

Self-defense sure, but unreasonable force used in response to a threat.

And I was trained.

It was my training that caused the judge to lock me up. I went to jail. Marsha paid my bond, I jumped bail, and went on the run. That’s when things went from bad to worse.