Category: Uncategorized

Keeping Focus

All of us have moments when we are neck-deep in one story and have three others pecking at our hair. Keeping focus on one story at a time can be a challenge sometimes, but it’s extremely important. Think of it this way: you can’t probably play three different musical instruments at once, right? Or three songs at once? The answer to that is probably “no”. If it isn’t… email me because I must know your secrets.

The reality is we can only focus on one major project at a time and have high quality come out of it. Particularly if it’s something on the scale of a novel. Novels have a lot of moving parts, and keeping track of all of them can be a full time job for our mental processors. Putting something down in the middle of the project also means you’ll have a harder time picking it up again.

The result of switching projects in the middle often results in things lying about unfinished. Case in point: I started watching Netflix halfway through this article and lost about five hours of my life. I won’t tell you what I was watching because you, too, will be sucked into the spiral.

The reality is we aren’t designed to multitask like that. No one wants to end up with a bunch of half-finished projects with no sign of completion. That’s a bad place to be. If we want to finish a novel (and I think we all do!) then we all need to focus on one project at a time.

I know, we’re back to other stories pecking at our hair – so what do you do when they show up? You can write story ideas down in a notebook and get back to them. It’s what I typically do, and it helps if I come up with something I just can’t shake and want to save. That said – discipline is going to be your friend. It will keep you moving forward in your writing.

Just keep writing, just keep writing, just keep writing, writing, writing…! (Sing that in Dory’s voice.)


NaNoWriMo–The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

I’m going to preface this by saying I’m not dumping on NaNo or the people who participate. I’ve done it, and I had a lot of fun with it. However, there are things about it that aren’t ideal and create misconceptions and even bad habits.

Let’s start with the good, though. NaNoWriMo is great for motivating people to write. The community is full of excited, positive writers who are all working together to accomplish their goal – write 1,600 words a day. That’s awesome. Having a good, motivated group of writing partners is a fantastic thing. I am a member of several Facebook writers’ groups, and having people to talk to about writing is important. For some people, NaNoWriMo is the only time they take their writing out of the closet and dust it off. For others it’s the only time they connect with other writers. I think NaNo is an important part of our writing culture for that alone, not to mention the other positives like imposing word count deadlines on people who otherwise procrastinate.

The bad, however, is pretty bad. I’ve seen competition between writers that spiraled into absurdity. The pressure to write that much that fast is too much for some folks who then felt like they were “losers” for not finishing on time. I’ve also seen people who become so frustrated with being unable to “win” year after year that it discourages them from writing altogether because they have this (inaccurate) thought that you must be a NaNoWriMo “winner” in order to be a “serious writer”. While I think writing 1,000 words a day is important if you can manage it, it isn’t the measure of whether or not you are a serious writer. It just isn’t. The dark side of NaNo is the people who don’t quite fit into it and hover on the outskirts, wishing they could join the party. I know that many writers have the same perspective I do (it’s fun and worth it, but doesn’t mean you are a good or serious writer; the reverse is also true), but some people end up feeling left out in the cold. No one should do that!

And, finally, the ugly: the slush pile in December. So many people think that finishing the first draft of their novel (and not even reading it or self-editing it) means it’s time to slap it up on Amazon or send it to publishers and agents. Even “NaNoEdMo” in January isn’t enough to adequately prepare a book for publishing. You need to go through it a number of times – potentially rewriting it from the ground up – and really polish it before you consider publishing it. While I congratulate the winners for succeeding this month, don’t forget that finishing your first draft isn’t the end. It’s the beginning of a much longer (but worth it!) journey.

In the end I still think participating in NaNoWriMo is a good thing. If you use it to help yourself get through everything and really put pen to paper then you’re using it the way it was meant to be used.


  • Have fun with it, but don’t feel bad if you don’t “win”.
  • Don’t think your novel is finished at the end of November, because it isn’t.
  • Novels are a marathon, not a sprint. Take your time with it and make sure you’re doing it properly rather than fast.
  • You are not in competition with other writers for how fast or how well you write. Don’t get into that mindset.
  • We’re all in this together – support each other year round and spend time with other writers as often as you can. We need each other in order to succeed because that support network who understands is vital to writing.

Mediocre is not “ok”.

The longer I’m in writing groups the more I detest certain behaviors, and this is one of the most insidious. I’m sure most of us have been in writing groups and heard people say “spelling doesn’t matter, just get the story out!” or “who cares about grammar; that’s the editor’s job!” Unfortunately, this attitude fosters the idea that everything a writer puts to paper is pure genius and deletes the potential for further progress.

Now, this doesn’t mean I expect my first drafts to be masterpieces. They are riddled with typos, continuity errors, and plenty of other problems. Yes, during a first draft you should just write. However, that doesn’t mesh up with the thought that spelling and grammar are irrelevant, and it’s the editor’s job to fix it. Oftentimes the people who are saying “that’s your editor’s job” are nightmare clients no editor wants to touch because they send us their first drafts with the attitude that we don’t deserve our paycheck because we are “just fixing their spelling”. (Though that’s a different discussion.)

As writers, and professionals, we should push ourselves. Write fifty drafts if that’s what it takes (my novel baby is on round three), but don’t tell yourself that it’s the editor’s job to fix your poor, sloppy mistakes. By the time you send it to your editor it should be in the best condition you can make it. And if that condition is poorly-composed and full of mistakes then you should study the craft to improve because your money will be wasted. And I don’t mean “I bought this video game and didn’t like it” wasted, I mean “I could have bought a used car for this amount” wasted. A quality editor is going to cost you probably around $1,000 or more.

As with any art, the only way to learn is to practice and study. That means you need to work at what you do and dig into it to learn the nuances. Do you think Raphael became a master of chiaroscuro by just tossing things down on the canvas? No. He slaved over his art. And by slaved I mean all day every day under his teachers until he got it right. We don’t have that kind of dedication to the arts anymore, nor do most of us have that kind of time. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t push your writing to the maximum and treat it as seriously as you can.

No, it’s not “the editor’s job” to do that learning for you. All you will accomplish is burning through your money, frustrating your editor, and not learning what you need to know. Spelling matters. Grammar matters. Craft matters. These are the foundation upon which your story is built, and without them you will have a vapid and half-baked piece of garbage no matter how good your ideas are.

Size Does Matter, But Not How You Think

In response to a lot of folks around the internet sharing word counts that would make any publisher turn pale, I wanted to give you some average word counts for various genres and explain why word counts really do matter.

These guidelines are rough estimates based on industry standards; if you are slightly longer, or slightly shorter, you are probably going to be alright. Just make sure you follow submission guidelines for each individual publisher.


Literary/Commercial Fiction: 80K – 110K
Crime Fiction: 90K – 100K
Mystery/Thriller/Suspense: 70K – 90K
Romance: 40K – 100K
Fantasy: 80K – 115K
Paranormal: 75K – 90K
Horror: 80K – 100K
Sci-Fi – 80k – 115K
Historical: 90K – 115K
YA: 50K – 80K
Middle Grade: 25K – 40K
Picture Books: 500 – 700
Novella: 20K – 50K
Non-Fiction: 70K – 110K
Short Stories: 1,000 – 8,000
Flash Fiction: Under 1,000

The reason for these guidelines is diverse, encompassing both the age bracket of each genre as well as the type of story and expected attention span of the readers. You will note that some of these genres tend to run long – that is because these genres have a target audience who expects "epics". Some of the genres run short (like YA and middle grade) due to the readers’ attention span and ability to follow a plot for a long period of time.

When looking at your own novel for publishing (whether self or traditional) word count does make a difference. On average a print book will have around 250 words per page. This is usually when printing at the 5×8 trim size, single spaced, with size 11 font, and 1" margins. If you are curious to see what your book will look like with those margins and font sizes you can adjust your page layout in almost any writing program to mirror those dimensions.

Now, yes – you can change the trim size of your book. There are multiple industry standard sizes for books in print, and you can certainly adjust your page count by employing any number of typesetting tricks. That is something all publishers of merit will do in order to make your book fit into a page count that will provide them with the best printing costs and shipping costs.

The reason these page counts and word counts matter so much (beyond the expectations of the genre) is twofold:

The first reason is that printers charge by the page, and the more books they can fit in a box to ship the less it will cost them. That’s a fundamental reality of putting a book in print, and whether you are publishing by your own means or through a traditional publisher this will be a reality for you.

Secondly, even if you do not put your book into print, editing and typesetting is charged by the word. This means the longer the book the higher the cost and the longer it takes an editor to work through it. Again, fundamental realities you will face no matter what route you go through with publishing. If I have to edit a 150,000 word book it will cost thousands of dollars more than an 80,000 word book. A 150,000 word book, based on the Editorial Freelancer’s Association rates would cost almost $4,000 to do line editing. A 75,000 word book will cost around $2,000. Literally half the cost because it takes half the time. (Assuming the writing is clean etc.)

Finally, if your word counts are reaching the high hundred-thousands there may be several things happening, and you need to consider them.

  • Are you overwriting your story and adding in scenes, characters, and description that is not necessary?
  • Can you cut your book into two or three shorter books to create a series rather than trying to fit it all into one story?
  • Why does your book need to be this size? What is the goal and purpose?

Having a large word count is, to some people, like a badge of honor. It shows that you can write that much, and it displays creativity. Unfortunately, word count is not a badge of honor. The number of words in your book doesn’t really make a difference in any way other than financial. Write what the story requires, not because you are self-conscious.

Like so many things in life, remember: It’s not the size that counts; it’s how you use it.

Publishers Won’t Steal Your Ideas

The number of writers I see on the internet who think people are out there to steal their ideas is staggering. I have had authors try and force me to sign NDA’s (for mediocre books) and contracts in big, bold print saying I’m not going to steal their ideas.

Reputable publishers and editors aren’t going to steal your idea.  A publisher receiving a manuscript doesn’t mean they have rights to it nor would they try. At that point the manuscript is likely unpolished, so they will have to invest thousands of dollars of work and time into it in order to publish it. At that point, if they would have stolen it, the author would sue them and they would lose everything.

A publisher also wouldn’t steal your idea. They do not have stables of paid writers they keep on hand for this purpose; it would cost them thousands of dollars to have the manuscript written and then more thousands to have it edited and so on. It just wouldn’t make business sense.

While I can’t speak for the integrity of all editors out there, I can say that any halfway decent editor isn’t going to want to steal your idea or book. Chances are we have our own that we’ve been working on and polishing; why would we need to steal yours? And, the same as assuming a publisher is going to steal your manuscript, it would be nonsensical and disastrous. There’s no point to doing it.

Instead, if a publisher really likes your novel they will send you a contract that both parties sign, and everyone goes home happy. They can publish the book, you have your book published, and everyone succeeds. Even better, they will (hopefully) receive more books from you and make even more money for everyone involved.

I am not going to tell you idea theft doesn’t  happen in the industry. However, the culprits are not likely to be business entities because they have too much to lose by engaging in such tactics. Even the most inept business owner would know that theft – and this would have to be blatant theft – is going to end poorly. A key principal in theft is the ability to sell or dispose of the “hot” item in a way that isn’t going to attract attention. Publishing it and trying to sell it would attract a lot of attention, violating this rule.

Think of it this way: If someone stole the Mona Lisa they would not put it up for sale on Amazon. The piece is far too recognizable and well known to be sold without being caught. “But I’m a nobody writer!” you say, and that may be true, but the same principal applies. You don’t sell stolen goods in public to thousands of people.

I hope this puts some of these fears to rest about whether or not an industry professional is going to hijack your idea and fly off to Mexico City with it. While there are some sharks out there, most of the don’t try and pull this kind of nonsense for the reasons I stated above.

Don’t believe me? Moira Allen, the editor for has an article on the same topic:

Adverbs. Again.

I recently had someone get in my face, proverbially speaking, because I quoted so many other writers and greats in saying you should avoid using adverbs as  much as possible. The writer made a valid statement, saying adverbs aren’t all bad – everybody uses them. He had a point, but he missed the big picture. Since I keep encountering the opinion  “golly gee, adverbs aren’t so bad, you’re just a stick in the mud” I thought I’d explain in more detail why adverbs are, in fact a problem and why you hear writing mentors and editors saying to never use them.

The problem with adverbs is they often indicate lazy writing. They “tell” rather than “show” and are unimportant to the story, characterization, or prose 95% of the time. They are also a symptom of someone struggling with vocabulary and lacking strong verbs to replace the modified verbs. While not every adverb is bad, it’s where you want to start cutting. You’ll find things like:

He ran swiftly.
He planted his feet certainly.
She drank her drink slowly.
They spoke loudly.

All of those adverbs can either be removed without hurting the sentence or replaced by a stronger verb. Taking them in order, here are the changes I would make and why I would make them.

1. He ran swiftly.

Well, you don’t run slowly – that’s a jog. If he’s really putting on the steam he’s probably sprinting. Or, depending on the circumstances, he could be charging. You could also go with “he hauled ass” if you want something with a little spice to it. Any of these replacements would work, depending on context. Pick one that really fits there, and run with it. Besides, which is more interesting? “He ran swiftly across the parking lot to confront his nemesis,” or, “He charged across the parking lot to confront his nemesis”?

2. He planted his feet certainly.

This is unnecessary – if you plant your feet that means you are very certain of your footing and are dropping your weight into them. It is, by nature, a move that says you’re sure. Modifying it guilds the lily.

3. She drank her drink slowly.

She sipped her drink. Now, in a case like this I would also want to know if the pace at which the character imbibed their beverage makes a difference to the story or the characterization. If it isn’t important to the scene, remove or replace it with something better. If it isn’t the drink but the pace that’s important you could say “she lingered over her drink in the café,” or something similar without resorting to adverbs.

4. They spoke loudly.

They shouted. They hollered. They yelled. They argued. All of those verbs in that list convey an emotion or a response. They can shout, holler, or yell because of noise levels or distance, or they might be doing so because they’re emotional. Arguing is also clear. Any of those words does a better job depicting what you’re trying to capture as well as omitting an unnecessary word from your sentence.

Each of these examples shows a way to remove the adverb and provide greater depth and meaning to the sentence provided. That’s what removing adverbs will do – it will deepen meaning and provide you with focus. Also, removing excess descriptors is important to pacing. If the item you are writing about isn’t crucial to the story, characterization, or setting don’t describe it more than you have to. Brevity is the soul of wit – don’t forget that!

To address the “every professional uses adverbs, why can’t I” argument, the answer is simple: As children, our parents tell us we are never allowed to touch steak knives. They don’t allow us to cut anything in the kitchen because the chances are we will hurt ourselves as well as be unable to accomplish the task.

Later on, when we are old enough to hold one safely, our parents teach us to use one and show us how. They watch over us and make sure we don’t do anything stupid, and as we do that, we learn. We hurt ourselves a few times, but we know why our parents wouldn’t let us touch them when we were younger.

Finally, as adults, we are allowed to do whatever we want with them because we know the rules. And if, by then, we don’t know the rules and cut our finger off then no one will feel sorry for us:

This story about knives could be replaced with “adverbs”. Parents can be replaced by mentors, and growing up references our journey as an author. When you first start writing, you are told never to use adverbs because it’s too easy to develop bad habits that will haunt you forever. Then, after awhile you learn adverbs aren’t all bad, but you need to be careful with them, and you understand how to use them. Finally, as a seasoned writer what you do is your own problem. You have, theoretically, learned the rules by now and are free to succeed or fail on your own merit.

People telling you not to use adverbs aren’t coming up with arbitrary rules. They aren’t blowing out their ears to  hear themselves whistle. What they’re telling you is you aren’t ready. They’re telling you that you’ve got some time to develop before you can use them effectively and to not jump the gun.

Fears and Practice

So I’ve recently started up a novel on Wattpad as a writing exercise. It’s going to be a long writing exercise, but that’s what I’m viewing it as. To be completely honest I’m nervous because I’m throwing out unedited chapters of raw writing coming out the minute I’m finished. It’s challenging for me to want to release these things live because, as an editor, I’m petrified of being judged for my errors. It’s also in a genre that I’m somewhat new to writing: Cyberpunk thrillers.

So why am I writing about this on here? Well, partially because I’d love for you to share feedback on what I’ve written, but more because I’ve noticed that many writers are afraid of this kind of exposure. We guard our writing with more jealousy than Smaug guarding the Arkenstone.

Image (c) Warner Brothers, Smaug

It’s not that this is wrong, I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t share the most polished and focused work possible, but at the same time if we are too afraid to ask for feedback and share our writing then we aren’t really benefiting ourselves.

Now, I don’t think what I’m doing on Wattpad is for everyone. If you are sharing your unedited works with the world you are bound to have critique, and even harsh critique. It’s not going to be easy and with something like Wattpad there’s always the fear someone could steal it. That and the fact that you’re giving it away for free so probably won’t be able to publish it. There are a lot of things to consider in regards to that, so don’t mistake me as saying you should work on your Magnum Opus in public. You shouldn’t. But what I am saying is that we should be a little less afraid to show our work to others.

It’s snowing like crazy here, so I’m going to retreat to my couch with a mug of tea, but I thought I’d stop by and let you know about my new project and my thoughts on the matter.

Cheers, friends!

Bridge Pyromania

One of the things in the publishing industry that frustrates me the most is when people burn bridges with industry professionals. The most common form of this that I experience is the rude response to a rejection letter. I was the acquisitions editor for an indie publisher for several years, and far too many authors had the irritating habit of replying to rejections with taunting or insulting remarks. Some of the most common included them saying they’d be laughing at us from the top of the NYT Bestsellers list. (Hint: Guess whose names I’ve never seen on the NYT Bestsellers list?) Those folks typically couldn’t write out of a paper bag let alone make us regret passing them up.

This habit of venting your frustration or sorrow on the messenger isn’t okay. It burns bridges something fierce, and publishing is a small world. Burn enough of them and you will find yourself unable to be picked up. You’ll be toxic, and no one will work with you.

This kind of thing also covers editors, cover designers, typesetters, and other industry professionals. If you treat them well they will speak highly of you and think well of you. That’s a good thing. There are authors I’ve worked with that I remember fondly, and whom have gone on to do well for themselves. They’re wonderful people and skilled writers. They have moved on to other editors, other publishers, other stories, but I still remember them and know their names. That kind of networking can make or break you because if you develop a reputation that people like, that people want to work with, then you are going to find yourself in a better position to develop your book and sell it.

Another things I want to comment on is that you will burn bridges if you do not respond to a professional. If you are in that situation where you are rejecting an offer or contract then be upfront about it and honest. You can be tactful and polite, but you shouldn’t leave the publisher in limbo indefinitely. It’s a poor way of handling the situation. It’s unprofessional to make them chase you down to figure out what is happening so that they can move on. If you make them do that they aren’t going to be happy about it.

Finally, don’t badmouth people in public. While it may be tempting to talk trash about other professionals in public groups you never know who might be watching. If you need to vent or make fun of someone (or something that happened) then save it for closed doors. I had a client (whom I dropped like a hot iron) who continually posted work up for critique without taking my editing advice. Then, when the writer was critiqued by folks telling them to change things I had already told them to change, they blamed me. Once I discovered that was happening I dropped the contract. That person has developed a poor reputation after that incident.

When you choose to become a professional writer you are entering into a rather small world. A world where networking is going to make or break you, and a world where it is important to not destroy your bridges because you never know when you are going to wish you hadn’t. That isn’t to say you shouldn’t turn things down, or warn people of a genuine threat (if a company is truly taking advantage of authors, or if they are known for poor behavior), but you shouldn’t be so quick to set fire to places you will need to walk on in order to become successful.

Writing Through Depression

This is a little more personal than I normally get in this blog, but I think it’s something many writers struggle with. Given the title, I think you can probably glean that I have depression. It’s a chronic thing tied into a bunch of other nonsense, but when it hits I feel like I’m in a fog. I can’t focus, I don’t have any great ideas, and I can’t seem to get words on the page.

The good news is that when I do get something down it helps. I feel better. Many people will tell you to write essays about your feelings and all that to help get it out of your system. Sometimes it helps, so I’m not going to judge people who do it. But for me that type of writing ends up making me feel worse because I wallow in whatever upset me in the first place (if anything), and pontificating on how I don’t feel like getting out of bed that day won’t help me get up.

Instead I focus on my writing. I have a few pieces that are “comfort pieces” for me. Things I’ve been tinkering with or working on for years that I return to when everything new hits a wall for whatever reason. It helps me continue to write while distracting me from whatever woes I may be enduring.

Regardless of the subject of your writing, however, writing at all while depressed is a trial. Staring at your screen for hours while you pretend to write and actually watch Netflix is something I think we can all relate to. I do it often. Heck, I’m doing it now while I write this blog. I’m kind of embarrassed how long it’s taken me to write this much. Of course – Bones is an awesome show. So I could blame it on that, too.

Either way, it’s tough. And it’s often fruitless because the writing that does come out isn’t great. But the point is that it comes out. You can force yourself to write and keep yourself going through the depression. It’s rough, but you can do it. It also means you need to do something really tough when you’re down: you need to exert willpower.

I know, that word is miserable to hear when you’re feeling icky. I know that willpower is on the bottom of my list of “things I have when depressed” but it’s a truth.

One of the things we writers know is that many of us have struggles with psychological problems. It’s a common trait of artists. It’s not true of all of us, and being perfectly healthy and happy doesn’t mean you can’t write effectively. However, many of us do have struggles whether it’s traumas we’ve gone through in life, issues we may have with psychological problems… There are an infinite number of possibilities.

I know it’s corny, but when you’re going through these struggles you aren’t alone. Most writers can relate to the feeling of depression, isolation, and the difficulty of putting words on the page. The good news is that it’s possible even when you’re struggling; the bad news is that it isn’t going to be easy even if you know you aren’t alone, and there’s no quick fix.

The best advice I have is this: You can do it. Just keep trying, and be patient with yourself.

“Free Publishing Contracts”

I recently saw someone talking about how one of “NaNoWriMo’s Prizes” was a “free publishing contract”. I wanted to start by saying there aren’t really “prizes” for winning NaNoWriMo. There are offers made by NaNo’s sponsors, but they aren’t what one would traditionally call prizes. NaNo’s only real prize is the sense of accomplishment you get if you win and some banners that you can post on Facebook or your website. I have concerns that people might think otherwise, so I wanted to speak up on the subject.

Secondly, a “free publishing contract” isn’t on the list of prizes, for one, and for two all real publishing contracts are free. Discounting the world of self-publishing where you have to pay for service, if you are signing a contract with a publisher to publish your book it should not be costing you money; if it is you are likely falling prey to a vanity press. The only reason vanity publishers exist is because people don’t know how publishing actually works, and it is a constant heartache every time I hear about someone who has been picked up by a vanity press. What is even more tragic is that most of the people being published by a vanity press don’t succeed and either stop writing or never reach their potential.

Many people make the mistake of not knowing the difference between a vanity press or a self-publishing press. Self-publishing presses offer services to authors, things like editing, cover design, etc. for a price. Insomnia Publishing offers these services in addition to providing traditional publishing to authors who are looking to walk that path. Vanity presses, however, tend to be a little less honest about the subject. They offer to “publish your book” and will typically do little other than format and print the book and attempt to sell you copies. They will also want rights to the work, too, so you can’t get out of a contract to them. By contrast, self-publishing services don’t ask for rights to the book because they have already been paid for their services.

I do not take issue with those offering self-publishing support. If you are self-publishing you aren’t an island and should not be trying to do everything yourself. It isn’t a good idea, and you will produce an inferior product that way. Buying the services of an editor, artists, typesetters, etc. is a valuable thing for any writer, and I would never say otherwise!

Vanity presses, on the other hand, are never good for anyone; they provide nothing but heartache and misinformation.

The focus of this post? Make sure you research and read up on everything before you even consider signing a contract with anyone. Research the industry. Knowing how publishing works is as simple as doing some reading of blogs or purchasing a few books. It will also be immeasurably valuable and save you a great deal of pain and frustration.