Tuesday, November 25, 2014


Thanksgiving is coming up. The day means different things to different people. To some people, it means turkey, dressing, and Mom's sweet potato casserole. For others it's a day spent in front of the TV set watching football. To many, it's a day to be with family.

Unfortunately, for some it's another day of wondering where they'll sleep, what they'll eat, how they'll stay warm and dry. We are blessed people. Give thanks, but also plan to do something for someone less fortunate. Pay it forward. You'll be glad you did.

May I wish you and yours a wonderful Thanksgiving. I'll be back next week with my usual blog post.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Writing: Interview With Ray Rhamey (Part II)

For those who missed the first part of this interview, you may wish to click here to read it. Here are some more questions I asked Ray, one of the more experienced independent editors in the business:

-What can you tell the writer who gets feedback from publishers that they’re “almost there?”

I can only guess, and it depends on what else they say. If they also say to submit a revision, then I’d say go to work. If they offer specific notes on what shortcomings are, I’d say feel encouraged and go to work. If that’s all there is, well, that’s probably someone just being polite, but you still have to go to work to figure out how get all the way there. For one of my novels, “The Vampire Kitty-cat Chronicles,” I had two literary agents rave about how much they loved it and how much fun it was and how they loved the character—and then say they just didn’t know where they could sell it, so no thanks. Publishing is, after all, a business of selling and buying.

-What are your opinions about the methods of publishing now available to writers—traditional, e-books, hybrid?

First, let’s consider the terms. “Traditional” I take to mean being published by a publishing firm. In that case, keep in mind that also includes ebooks (I like the hyphenless version of the word). The big plus for landing a traditional publisher lies in marketing. They have the machinery to put out word of your book to many thousands of outlets. Bookstores can and will order from them. I think the big minus is the small share of the proceeds an author gets, percentage-wise, at least when compared to self-publishing.

I suspect that your “ebook” category refers to self-publishers, often called “Indie writers.” Here, an author can publish in both print and ebook formats, though some go with just the ebook versions, which costs the least—the only real expense is a book cover design, and that’s something you can do for less than $50 if you have the talent.

As for “hybrid,” meaning authors who have been with traditional publishers but are now going to ebook formats for subsequent works, I figure whatever works. If an author has built up a strong brand and an automatic audience, then I think going the Indie route can generate a better income because the author keeps a much bigger percentage of the proceeds. Even if an author doesn’t have a big brand, it can be a way to extend the life of a book if they can get back the rights to the book and publish it themselves. I know authors who felt that their publisher didn’t do a very good job of marketing and have gotten their rights back to explore publishing on their own.

-I know you do more than editing. Can you tell us more about that?

I work with small publishing houses and Indie authors in my book design business, designing covers and interiors. I also help them get their accounts set up with Ingram Spark, CreateSpace, and other print-on-demand resources, and with ebook distribution through Kindle Direct Publishing and Smashwords. Almost all of them have published both print and ebook versions. I have had a couple of clients for whom I both edited their manuscript and designed their books, an ideal situation if you ask me. An aspect of “going Indie” I hadn’t thought of was brought out in a recent conversation with a traditionally published author. She hated her book cover and had no say in it. Working with me, you have total say and will love the cover.

-You are a regular contributor to the Writer Unboxed blog. Where else can my readers find you?

Well, they can find me at my blog, Flogging the Quill, wherein I “flog” first-page submissions by writers and offer links to articles of interest to writers; at my “books” website, where you can sample and purchase signed copies of my novels and Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling; and at my book design and editingwebsite that has useful information for people interested in self-publishing. Oh, and there’s a little bit of fun to be had on anotherwebsite of mine.

Thanks, Ray. It's helpful to know there are resources like yours out there for writers. I appreciate your visit.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Writing: Answers From Ray Rhamey, an Independent Editor

Normally, I post about "stuff" on Tuesday and writing on Friday, but for reasons you'll see in a moment, I'm changing that. We hear a lot about writers using independent editors. This is true whether the writer wants another set of eyes on a manuscript before submission to an agent or editor, or needs someone to polish a novel before it's e-published. I first met Ray Rhamey through his blog some years ago, and have benefitted from his wisdom. Now I want to share some of his thoughts with you.

-What does an independent editor do?

I can only testify as to what this particular editor does. My editing is a combination of developmental editing and intensive line-editing. That is, I look at storytelling issues such as plot, structure, character, the effectiveness of scenes, etc. I have reorganized a client’s manuscript, suggested new endings, etc. I also look for “speed bumps” that slow the pace of a story.

On the language side, I do line editing to clarify the narrative, to make the “staging” of action work—you’d be surprised at how often it doesn’t; there’s a chapter in my book on watching out for the “incredibles”—and to catch grammatical, spelling, and other errors. Besides clarity, a constant issue, I help with description, setting the scene, transitions, and other aspects of narrative craft. I do not bill myself as a copyeditor, but I will catch 95% or so of what a good copyeditor will see. I also offer a critique service, which is a read-through of a manuscript and extensive notes on strengths and shortcomings. The critique fee applies to a full edit if that seems like the right thing to do to the writer.

-Is there something you’ve observed in your editing that might benefit the writers who read this blog?

Perhaps the failure to exercise the delete key often enough. Too many times I find a narrative that is “overwritten,” that includes micro-details that fail to contribute to the story or characterization. A couple of simple examples: He reached out with his hand. “With his hand” is absolutely not necessary as people don’t reach out with anything else. Or: She tucked her hair behind her left ear. Unless it matters to the story which ear holds the hair back, this is a useless detail.

-For years you’ve been “flogging” submissions online, and that experience is reflected in your new book, Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling. Can you tell us a bit about the book?

Full disclosure: this is a “sorta” new book. It takes the content from my now-out-of-print book, Flogging the Quill, Crafting a Novel that Sells, and reorganizes it, fleshes out some areas, and adds new content such as an examination of “filtering” and my new “First-page Checklist” for creating a compelling narrative.

The book is in four sections: Wordcraft, which digs into what you put onto the page at a granular level, dealing with such things as “waste” words to watch out for and the secret to using adverbs productively (hint: it isn’t to modify verbs). The second, Technique, covers the “how-to” of storytelling (show versus tell, point of view), description (using experiential description to characterize), and dialogue (using dialogue tags, beats, internal monologue). The third section, Story, goes deeper into how to create tension, “connectable” characters, and story questions. The last section, Workouts, provides first pages submitted by writers to my blog for the reader to analyze and edit using the things learned from the book.

Ray has more thoughts to share, so he'll be back on Friday. I hope you'll come back to read what he has to say. 

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Friday, November 14, 2014

Writing: Character Description

There are all kinds of rules for writers--avoid passive voice, describe action without depending on adjectives and adverbs, keep point of view consistent. One of these rules is to describe your characters so readers will get a firm mental picture of them. After all, how can they identify with your hero, heroine, villain, or other character if they can't picture them?

I've been re-reading the novels of the late Robert B. Parker, enjoying them as I always have. You may not recognize his name, but Parker was responsible for at least a couple of lead characters who have made it to TV--the Spenser For Hire series and the Jesse Stone TV movies. If I emulate the work of any writer, it's Parker.

I'm in his series of westerns about Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch, reading through the books for probably the fifth or sixth time, and it only dawned on me yesterday--Parker is writing in the first person (tough to do, but that was his style) and yet he's never described either of his two protagonists. The same thing applies in his series about Spenser, the tough private eye with a social conscience.

I've heard some people say they prefer to form their own impressions of characters, rather than have them described. Others want the writer to give them a picture. That leads me to ask today's question--do you prefer a description of a character or would you rather craft your own image? I look forward to your responses.

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(Image via FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Veterans Day, 2014

Today is Veterans Day, a holiday once celebrated as Armistice Day, the anniversary of the declaration of a cease-fire on the Western Front in World War I. Now it's a day set aside to honor those who have served or are currently serving our nation in the uniformed services.

I'm proud to say that I am a veteran, having served three years in the US Air Force. I salute my fellow veterans, and give special thanks to those currently serving. Sometimes that sacrifice seems so little. Sometimes it's the ultimate sacrifice.

Today I'm going to do three things:
1) Fly the American flag
2) Thank a serviceman for his or her service
3) Pray for our nation

I hope you'll do the same. God bless America.

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Friday, November 07, 2014

Writing: A Visit With Author Billy Coffey

Today author Billy Coffey shares some answers about writing. His fifth novel, In The Heart Of The Dark Wood, has just released. I've had the privilege of reading the book, and it lives up to the reputation Billy has created with his previous ones. Now, here's Billy:

1. In The Heart Of The Dark Wood is your fifth published novel. How many books did you write before your first contract?

Several. Three or four at least, all of which currently reside in an old steamer trunk in my office. I started off as a memoirist, writing personal essays. A lot of those old manuscripts aren’t worth the paper they’re written on, but more than a few have been bent and twisted into fiction and have made their way into my published books.

2. There are lots of ways to learn writing. What do you think are the important ones?

My shelves are stocked with books about how to write and they’re all great, but I’ve always thought the best way to learn writing is to read great writing. That’s how I learned. I never made it further than a high school diploma, but the great books have given me a pretty good education as far as fiction goes.

3. Which comes first for you—characters, plot idea, incident to open or close, what?

With me, it always begins with a character. Usually the protagonist, but there have been times when the antagonist came to me first. Everything else follows from that. I’ve always thought if you get the players right, everything else falls into place. Plot is simply the characters bumping into each other.

 4. Authors are warned about the “sagging middle.” Do you consciously plan a mid-manuscript incident to avoid that?

I do. I really try to follow the basic rules of screenwriting when it comes to what goes where, having a turn at the middle and ends of the first two acts and then the climax at the end of the third, every turn moving the story in a different direction. Life is so busy for readers now. Rule number one has to be holding their attention.

5. Some publishers prefer books to be series, some want all the books by an author to be stand-alones. This one is a sequel of sorts. What are your thoughts about that?

The majority of my books take place in the same small town, which kind of gets me the best of both worlds. They’re stand-alones but also sequels that tell a larger story about the same group of people, and that’s how I like it. The hopes are a new reader will read one book and be led to read the others.

6. What’s the most important marketing tool you’ve discovered?

I enjoy social media a great deal, though I don’t really have the time necessary to use it as often as I should. I’ve found that conferences are a great way to market yourself, and I’ve had a lot of success there in the past few years. But by and large, I’ve always thought a writer’s best marketing tool is the last book he or she wrote.

7. What advice do you have for someone who’s frustrated because they haven’t been published yet?

It took me close to twenty years to be published. I’d never want to relive those years again—the mounds of rejection letters, the dark nights of the soul, the feeling that you’ll never get there. But I’m a firm believer in that the best writing will always find a spot in the marketplace, somehow and someway. If your end goal is to be published, you’re going to have a tough time. You have to write because it’s who you are and because if you don’t—if you never pick up a pen again—you understand that your life will somehow suffer for it. If you’re one of those people, chances are good you’ll find a measure of success. So put your head down, grit your teeth, and try again. Everything I’ve managed to accomplish is owed to God and the fact that I tried one more time.

Thanks, Billy, for dropping by and sharing your thoughts with us.If you'd like to learn more about Billy Coffey, check out his website. And if you're interested in reading In The Heart Of The Dark Wood, you can purchase it here or through your favorite bookseller, both brick-and-mortar and online. 

If you have any questions for Billy, please leave them in the comments. And if there are other aspects of writing you'd like covered here, please let me know.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Election Day 2014

Today is Election Day. Kay and I have already cast our ballots. If you haven't done so, please do it before the polls close today. I won't tell you how I think you should vote (although I have definite opinions on the subject). I'll just encourage you to exercise your right to participate in the choice of those who'll lead our nation, state, county, city, whatever as we move forward in these difficult times. That's what living in a democracy means.

God bless America.

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Saturday, November 01, 2014

Time Change: Fall Back

Tonight we say farewell to Daylight Saving Time for another year. To me, it's always seemed like cutting an inch off the bottom of a piece of cloth and sewing it to the top to make it longer. But, I digress.

As a public service, this is a reminder to set your clocks back an hour before you go to bed tonight. Other than getting to church earlier in the morning, what will you do with that extra hour? A recent survey shows that only a few of you will sleep longer. So, what do you plan to do with your twenty-five hour day?

See you Tuesday with my regular post.

(image via FreeDigitalPhotos.net)