Friday, November 28, 2014

Cool Tools for Writers

Most writers have seen ads galore for gadgets and gizmos to increase productivity that do anything but. You have undoubtedly received endless pens, paper weights, journals, etc.

Here are a few of my favorite tools that you can ask Santa for this year. If Santa neglects to bring them, treat yourself.

1. Nuance PDF allows you turn documents into PDF documents within Word for Windows: just select Print, Save as PDF, and voila - done.

2. Word Web Pro brings up a dictionary and thesaurus within word with a click of Control-W. It includes pronunciations and usage examples, and has helpful spelling and sounds-like links.

3. Smart Edit goes beyond the many editing tools available in Word for Windows (as outlined in Story Building Blocks III) to make your prose the best it can be before you turn it over to an agent or editor. If you are an independent publisher and can't afford an editor, at least give your manuscript a run through with this tool before hitting upload.

4. Natural Reader reads your work back to you. The readback voice is not the quality that allows you to make an audio book, but it beats reading your manuscript back to yourself. You can purchase additional "voices" beyond the basic two.

5. Serif Web Plus provides website building for the HTML challenged. There is no need to learn code. If you can operate a photo manipulation program, you can build your own website with this user-friendly gem. You can utilize a template or build your own from scratch once you get the hang of it.

6. Interior Templates by Create Space creates a template based on the selected trim size. If you can use Word for Windows, you can modify the template to fit your needs. The precalculated gutters and margins keeps your text where it needs to be. You can customize the headers, footers, and fonts.

7. Cover Creator Templates by Create Space allows you to use any photo manipulation program or Adobe Photoshop to create stunning covers. It generates a template based on the trim size and page length.

8. Calibre helps you create an e-book with ease. It supports all the major e-book formats. It can rescale all font sizes, ensuring the output e-book is readable no matter what font sizes the input document uses. It can automatically detect/create book structure, like chapters and Table of Contents. It can insert the book metadata into a "Book Jacket" at the start of the book.

9. Scrivener: there is a learning curve, but it is an excellent way to organize your plot and works perfectly with the Story Building Blocks theory of story structure and character creation.

10. Story Building Blocks Series: learn how to structure a plot, build believable characters, craft believable conflict, and revise like a pro with this set. One fan called it a Cliff-note MFA.

Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflicts examines the core building blocks for plotting your book and their relationship to the different genres.

Story Building Blocks print book
Story Building Blocks for Kindle

Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict introduces you to sixteen character prototypes that can be warped and tortured to create realistic characters your readers will care about. It helps you create psychology-based conflict amongst the cast members of your story.

Story Building Blocks II print book

Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers takes you through high-low revision techniques to remove the plot holes and speed bumps from your first draft and basic editing tips so your agent and editor won't cringe while reading it.

Story Building Blocks III print book
Story Building Blocks III for Kindle

Story Building Blocks: Build A Cast Workbook uses the sixteen mannequins from Story Building Blocks II and offers a "fill in the blanks" format to flesh out your cast.

Build A Cast Workbook print book
Build A Cast Workbook for Kindle

Diana Hurwitz is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Birthday and Happy Thanksgiving

To the Chief Red Pencil who dances into her sixties.

Happy Thanksgiving to all our American friends who ate too much.

Two good reasons to shake it up good! Enjoy your day, dear readers.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanks to Baristas and the Coffee Drinkers They Serve

Richard Keller joins us at the Blood-Red Pencil today.

Photo by GoToVan, via Flickr
Not so long ago, in a coffee shop not too far away …

They wouldn’t stop talking. Talking and drinking coffee. Talking, drinking coffee, and eating. They complained about their college classes, their roommates, the people they were dating at that particular hour. And they were loud — to the point I couldn’t concentrate my writing. I think it was my science fiction novel Paradise Not Quite Lost or my erotic/mystery/horror/comedy novel based on Kafka’s The Trial. Sadly, due to the incessant conversation at the other table, and a lack of ropes and gags at my own, I packed up and left.

Fast forward a few days, or weeks, or months later, and I’m back at the same coffee shop with another group of loud, young, angst-filled college students sitting in front of me, talking, and eating, and … you get the idea. I’m about to leave, or at least scream at them to be quiet, when one of them says something which clicks in my brain. It doesn’t mean much to that person. To me, it’s a story idea. So I type up a little something and continue on my other project.

A subsequent trip to my favorite coffee shop results in an additional story idea derived from another conversation. Soon, I no longer have the urge to ask other patrons to shut up. Quite the opposite – I want them to speak clearer in order to cull more story ideas. There comes a point where I have enough ideas for a book. And that’s when Coffee Cup Tales is born.

I think that’s all I’ll get, yet the story ideas continue to amass. And not just from my favorite coffee shop. Other locations I visit have their fair share of folks, angst-driven and other, who say or do something which results in a creative ping, subsequent creation of a story title, and a few sentences of plot. I now have enough stories to produce Coffee Cup Tales 2: Extra Foam and release it on New Year’s Day – a time when people crowd the coffee shops to drown their hangovers with intravenous caffeine.

Coffee Cup Tales is becoming Chicken Soup for the Soul … well, in my head. There’s always a story or two created by people who don’t realize a writer sits in the same room as they do. Is it snooping? Absolutely! But it’s creative snooping, which is okay, at least according to my attorneys.

And this is why, as we enter the period of giving appreciation by eating a dead bird, I thank the baristas who work tirelessly to caffeinate a public ready to spill their guts in raised voices. Without their assistance, Coffee Cup Tales wouldn’t have been born, exist now, or last into an unknown future. Okay, there’s one known thing – it’ll be full of coffee and stories.

Richard Keller is the founder of Wooden Pants Publishing and Assistant Director of Northern Colorado Writers. Coffee Cup Tales 2: Extra Foamis scheduled for release on January 1, 2015. In the meantime, pick up his eBook Santa is a Stalker! And other modern holiday stories on November 28 and THE Book About Squatin December. Follow Rich at and The Writing Bug.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Being Thankful

Looking ahead to Thanksgiving in two more days, I have spent some time considering all that I have to be thankful for. First and foremost, is my family. I am blessed with terrific kids and grand-kids who have been so good to me in a most difficult year. So have all my brothers and sisters and cousins and nieces and nephews. What would we do without family?

Next I would have to say I am most thankful for all the friends I have; those here in my small town as well as those in the larger arena that is the Internet and social media. Who would have thought that one person could have thousands of friends on Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest and Google+. It boggles the mind and thrills me to hear from readers who have enjoyed my books.

I am also thankful for the advances in publishing that have opened so many doors for writers. When I started my writing career, back when dinosaurs typed on old Royal manual typewriters, there were few choices for places to submit a book, and most of those choices were in New York. A hard nut to crack back then, and still a hard nut to crack.

With digital publishing, the choices are myriad. The giant in the business, or course, is Amazon, but there are many other avenues, too; Nook, Kobo, Google and Apple. And one of the best things about these avenues is the control that authors have over publication, from the written word to the finished book ready to go into the hands of a reader. You can hire your own professionals to edit and create book covers. You can set your own prices. And you can take advantage of promotional opportunities by choice.

I still like some of the perks that come with traditional publishing, primarily the opportunity for reviews from Publisher's Weekly, Library Journal, and Kirkus, and I was thrilled to get reviews from them all for Open Season and Stalking Season, the first two books in my Seasons Mystery Series. Both books are available for all electronic reading devices, and I self-published the e-books.

One of the downsides of traditional publishing, however, is the length of time it takes for a book to come out once it is accepted. Sometimes it can be two years from the date of the contract. That was one of the major considerations I had when I decided to self-publish the mystery series as e-books, as well as my most recent mysteries, Boxes For Beds and Doubletake.

That dinosaur and I are not getting any younger.

Along with the higher royalty rate, another advantage of being an independent, is the opportunity to do promotions that help create some buzz about the books. Through the Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing program an author can set days for a book to be free, as well as Kindle Countdown days, and both programs have been successful for me.

Last year I offered Boxes for Beds free a couple of times, and then did a Kindle Countdown deal, and the book reached over 30,000 readers, and picked up over 100 reviews.

This year, I am offering Doubletake free from November 28, Black Friday, until December 1.

There are some pros and cons for giving a book away, and Terry Odell covered some of those very well in her post last week, To Free or Not to Free. One of the most important points she made was that the free book promo works best if you have other titles so happy readers can purchase your other books.

That is what I'm hoping for with this latest campaign. I hope you will take advantage of the opportunity to get Doubletake free, and maybe even help me spread the word. You can go to the book page on Amazon and share. I would be most grateful.

Wishing all the readers in the United States a very Happy Thanksgiving.

Posted by Maryann Miller - novelist, screenwriter, editor and sometimes actress. Her most recent mysteries are Doubletake and Boxes For Beds Stalking Season is the second book in the Seasons Mystery Series, hardback and digital, along with Open Season, the first book in the series. For her editing rates, visit her website. When not working, Maryann likes to take her dog for a walk and work outside on her little ranch in East Texas. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Fun With Palindromes

Here's something to spark your Thanksgiving dinner conversation!

Palindromes are words or phrases that read the same in both directions, e.g. EYE,or RACECAR, or MADAM I'M ADAM. Here are a few good ones:
  • Do geese see God?
  • Was it Eliot's toilet I saw?
  • Murder for a jar of red rum.
  • Some men interpret nine memos.
  • Never odd or even.
Palindromes have been used for centuries, going back to the ancient Greeks and Romans.

Here are the top 30 from the website Fun With Words

Don't nod
Dogma: I am God
Never odd or even
Too bad – I hid a boot
Rats live on no evil star
No trace; not one carton
Was it Eliot's toilet I saw?
Murder for a jar of red rum
May a moody baby doom a yam?
Go hang a salami; I'm a lasagna hog!
Satan, oscillate my metallic sonatas!
A Toyota! Race fast... safe car: a Toyota
Straw? No, too stupid a fad; I put soot on warts
Are we not drawn onward, we few, drawn onward to new era?
Doc Note: I dissent. A fast never prevents a fatness. I diet on cod
No, it never propagates if I set a gap or prevention
Anne, I vote more cars race Rome to Vienna
Sums are not set as a test on Erasmus
Kay, a red nude, peeped under a yak
Some men interpret nine memos
Campus Motto: Bottoms up, Mac
Go deliver a dare, vile dog!
Madam, in Eden I'm Adam
Oozy rat in a sanitary zoo
Ah, Satan sees Natasha
Lisa Bonet ate no basil
Do geese see God?
God saw I was dog
Dennis sinned

Do you have a favorite palindrome?

A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in North-central Arizona where she blogs, teaches writing, and edits. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreamsis based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, won the national WILLA Award. The next book in the series, Dare to Dream, and a non-fiction book Cowgirl Up! A History of Rodeo Women, have just been released. Heidi has a degree in journalism and a certificate in fiction writing.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Skimming Stones (or The Art of Omission)

Photo by Killy Ridols, via Flickr
In the real world, we are all slaves to linear time. Waking or sleeping, whether we like it or not, we have to live through every minute of every day.

Only a relatively small proportion of what we experience on a daily basis is interesting enough to make it worth remembering. An autobiography detailing every moment of the writer’s life would make excruciatingly dull reading. If I were going to write my “life’s story”, I’d focus only on the high spots.

Much the same principle applies in fiction. Writing your first draft is a bit like “living” the plot a day at a time. But when it comes to Draft Two, what you leave out can be as significant as what you put in. Like a kid skimming stones across a pond, sometimes you want your story to leap from point to point.

The actor Robert Morley (1908-1992) used this “shortcut” technique to comic effect in his various memoires. In Around the World in 81 Years, he sums up his early career with droll brevity.
I spent a year at the Academy of Dramatic Art in Gower Street behind the British Museum. There was a final meeting with the principal

“Tell me, Morley,” he enquired, “do you have private means?”
These three short lines speak volumes.

This “skipping” technique is doubly effective in more substantial narrative contexts. One of the most masterful examples on record can be found in Wilkie Collins’ blockbuster epistolary novel, The Woman in White.1

Artist Walter Hartright comes to Limmeridge House to give drawing lessons to the beautiful Laura Fairlie. Inevitably, he falls in love with Laura, despite the fact that she is engaged to Sir Percival Glyde. Glyde is under the baneful influence of a criminal mastermind calling himself Count Fosco. Between them, Fosco and Glyde plan to defraud Laura of her inheritance.

Laura’s redoubtable half-sister, Marian Halcombe, harbors well-founded suspicions concerning Fosco and Glyde’s intentions. We follow her investigations via her personal diary. One night Marian crawls out onto the roof in a heavy rainstorm to evesdrop on the villains’ plans, and learns they mean to commit Laura to an insane asylum and replace her with a look-alike. Before she can act, however, she is stricken with fever. Her last journal entry records her lapsing into delerium:
Nine o’clock. Was it nine struck, or eight? Nine, surely? I am shivering again – shivering from head to foot, in the summer air….Oh, my God! am I going to be ill?

Ill, at such a time as this!

So cold, so cold – oh, that rain last night! – and the strokes of the clock, the strokes I can’t count, keep striking in my head –

At this point, the journal breaks off. The next voice we hear is a man’s:
The illness of our excellent Miss Halcombe has afforded me the opportunity of enjoying an unexpected intellectual pleasure.

I refer to the perusal (which I have just completed) of this interesting diary.
The signature attached to this entry is Count Fosco’s. When we realise he’s read everything we have, the effect is like touching a live electric fence.

These are just a few examples of the art of hitting the high spots, but the principle is one worth remembering.

1 First serialised between November, 1859 and August 1860 in All The Year Round.

Debby Harris is an independent editor living in Scotland. Please visit her website for more information about her editing services and fees.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

To Free or Not To Free

I recently attended the Novelists, Inc. (NINC) Conference in St. Petersburg, Florida. This conference is one of the few devoted totally to the business of publishing. Members are all authors who have published at least 2 books, and they're a savvy group. Industry professionals—editors, agents, lawyers, publishers, as well as representatives from the big e-tailers, aggregators, marketing experts, cover designers … well, it's a wealth of information sharing.

One topic that came up frequently was whether authors are "cheapening" the reader perception of what a book is worth by selling their wares for deeply discounted prices, or even—gasp!—giving them away. If you're an indie author, you have the right to set prices for your work that make sense for you. While traditionally published authors bemoan the $3.99 e-book, those indie authors are making more per sale than those with traditional, mass-market paperbacks. If you can attract readers to your series with discounted books, or free books, it might be worth a shot.

I've never been big on bouncing my prices around, but I had the opportunity to take part in a "First in Series Free" program at Kobo Books, and then another one at iBooks.Was I satisfied? Very much so. What I've learned:

First, not all channels permit indie authors to drop a price to free. To have a free book at B&N, you'd have to go through one of the aggregators, such as Smashwords, and since I prefer to hold control of my work, I don't use Smashwords to get to any of the major stores. I do use Draft2Digital to get my books to iBooks, because Apple has more hoops than I care to jump through. I also want my books everywhere they can be (something stressed as very important at NINC by everyone other than the Amazon reps), so I don't play the Amazon Select game. However, so far, Amazon has price-matched my free books, at least in the US and UK.

Free, or deeply discounted pricing--loss leaders--are marketing tools used across the board, not just for books. A lot of readers are willing to take a chance on a new author if they're not investing a lot of money. For the author, it's a discovery tool. For it to work, there are some caveats.

1. You have to have more than one book. Getting your first book published, then setting the price to free, might get you a blip in the rankings, but what happens when the readers finish the free book. Where do they go next? Not to another one of your books, because you don't have one.

2. Even better than several books: have a series. Offer the first one at a discount, or free, and if readers like it, they're going to want to continue reading that series because you've earned their trust. In fact, many best-selling indie or hybrid authors have their first books in their series perma-free.

3. Take advantage of sites that promote free books to get the word out beyond your own circles. BookBub is good, but it's a tough nut to crack. Others include eReader News Today, eBookSoda, The Fussy Librarian, and Bookli, and there are many, many more. There are blogs, Facebook pages, Genre-specific newsletters that exist to get the word out on free or discounted books.

What can you expect? In general, your sales spike at the beginning when your book is free. Sales will drop, but they'll level off at a higher rate than before the promotion. Only a teeny-tiny fraction of the people who grab your free book will even open it. But of the ones who do, and who finish reading it, about half will buy your next book. And that "halo effect" is what free can get you.

There's also the consideration of what your goals are. Boxed sets for 99 cents were/are popular, but the goal of the authors who participate is not to make money; it's to make a NYT or USA Today best-seller list so they can proclaim themselves best-selling authors. But that's a whole 'nother topic.

Deadly Secrets, A Maplton Mystery, by Terry Odell
For those of you who might be interested, Deadly Secrets, the first in my Mapleton Mystery series is currently free. You can find it at the iBooks store, Amazon, Kobo, and Smashwords. It's 99 cents at B&N.

What are your thoughts on free? On discounted books? Have you discovered authors and gone on to buy more of their books?

Terry Odell is the author of numerous romantic suspense novels, mystery novels, as well as contemporary romance short stories. Most of her books are available in both print and digital formats. She's the author of the Blackthorne, Inc. series, steamy romantic suspense novels featuring a team of covert ops specialists, the Pine Hills Police series, set in a small Oregon town, and the Mapleton Mystery series, featuring a reluctant police chief in a small Colorado town. To see all her books, visit her website. You can also find her at her blog, Terry's Place, as well as follow her on Twitter, or visit her Facebook page.


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