Tag: Writer Resources

When Are You Ready For An Editor?

When Are You Ready For An Editor?

I see this a lot. Authors regularly come to me with books that just aren’t ready for me to look at the way they’re hoping. That isn’t to say I can’t help, but they’re trying to put the final polish on a book that hasn’t yet been cut, so to speak. While I’ll do the job they ask of me if they’re sure that’s what they want, it isn’t usually the best option.

So, in order to answer this question to its fullest, let’s start with discussing the types of editing available as well as other services that are related to this whole mess. I’m going to do this in order of where they come in the writing process, earliest to latest, so that way you can gauge where you are and see what you might need.

Book Coaching

A book coach helps you find your way through the process of writing a book. I provide this service to clients who are looking for organization, guidance, and structure. While coaching is unique for each client, it often looks like us meeting every week or so and discussing where an author is, what challenges they faced that week, how much they’ve written so far, and tackling things that are keeping them from making the progress they want. I also typically give lessons on structure, critique scenes or chapters, and help them stay on track with regular check-ins, even if we aren’t meeting every week.

Developmental Editing

This phase helps you put together the bones of your story. Hiring a developmental editor is for a manuscript that is pretty early in the process. A developmental edit addresses structural changes to a story–things like pacing, characterization, character development, and other such broad stroke items. That isn’t to say a developmental editor will make chop suey of your manuscript. Recently I worked with a client who was struggling with structural problems between acts one and two, and I advised that they add some scenes. The issue for them was they weren’t super clear on where the exact break between the acts was supposed to be. I didn’t advise the client delete anything wholesale.

I had another who needed a lot of structural work for pacing because partway through the story they didn’t know exactly where they were going. They figured out the thread toward the end of act two, but there was a lot in the middle we had to work out. We cut out the chaff and zeroed in on the things that needed doing.

If this sounds like a big, scary process, I promise it doesn’t have to be. A good developmental editor is there to help you tell your story the best they can in your voice. We aren’t trying to tell it in ours. If a developmental editor feels like they don’t get your book or aren’t giving you feedback you need, it’s totally okay to cease work (though it’s best practices to pay people for their time) and find another editor who you mesh better with.

To go back to the analogy of gems, this is where we start examining the quality of a raw gem to see what we can help you create out of it. We see the promise; we just need to get out of the surrounding rock.

If this sounds like a big, scary process, I promise it doesn’t have to be. A good editor is there to help you tell your story the best they can in your voice.

E. Prybylski

Line Editing

Line editing is going through the manuscript line by line (hence the name) and looking at things like word choice, sentence structure, and clarity. This is the phase where we iron out how many adverbs you really need (yes, you’re allowed to use them), help you use stronger verbs, give you insight into how to use your voice to its fullest advantage. This is the kind of editing people usually think of when they think of editing. It typically costs more than developmental editing and copy editing because it is the most labor-intensive for the editor in terms of hours spent because we need to evaluate every single word of the manuscript.

As before, of course, the intent of this is not to sanitize the author’s voice. Your voice. I’ve done blogs on author voice in the past, though I can’t find any more recent than 2011, so it’s probably due for an update. However, the long and short of it is: your voice is the way you write that makes you unique from any other. It’s not about whether or not you use adverbs or semicolons or what have you. It’s bigger than a sentence or word.

In order to really change or alter an author’s voice, I would either have to rewrite the entire thing myself or make such substantial changes to every single sentence that it is unreadable. These changes are bigger than punctuation or correcting inaccurate grammar. They’re also bigger than helping an author avoid passive voice, flying POV changes, and other such things. Don’t fret.

In the gemstone analogy, this is where the gem is cut.

Copy Editing

Copy editing is the highest level of editing. At this point, the editor doesn’t care if you used too many adverbs, if you wrote the entire thing in passive voice, and so on. Well, that’s mostly true. It’ll still make our hair stand on end, and we might leave you a comment, but we aren’t going to fix it for you because we’re not being paid to.

While in some parts of the editing community, line editing and copy editing are smooshed into a single service (I often do both at the same time), if someone just pays for copy editing, that’s what they are going to receive. If you are hiring an editor for copy editing, a few things are expected: you have either self-edited to the point where you are confident your book says what you intend or you have had another editor(s) review the book already to your satisfaction.

As you can see, this is also pretty far down the list in order of what happens when. Hiring someone to copy edit your book too early (if you plan on adding/changing scenes or doing a line edit) will just mean having to pay for one again later. While, yes, copy editing is less expensive than line editing, I wouldn’t skip that phase unless you really know what you’re doing. I have clients who come to me just for copy editing on their fiction, and they are extremely good at what they do. They’re experienced authors who don’t really need me to go word by word to make sure everything’s where it ought to be.

If you aren’t an experienced author who really has a good handle on all the bits and bobs of writing, I wouldn’t skip around. However, you might be able to find editors willing to work with you in your price range, so if money is an issue, shop around and see who’s available and at what price. That said, editing is one of the industries where you tend to get what you pay for. If you see someone charging a fair chunk of change, there’s likely a good reason for that.

In our gem cutting metaphor, this is the polish phase.

If you aren’t an experienced author who has a really good handle on all the bits and bobs of writing, I wouldn’t skip around. However, you might be able to find editors willing to work with you in your price range.

E. Prybylski


Finally, we get to proofreading. This is done when the book is formatted to make sure everything is caught and clean. If you are doing an ebook only, it may well be done in Word, but traditionally it’s done either in print or in the software the book is being formatted in. This can include things like making sure leading and kerning are correct, catching widows and orphans, and fixing up any last-minute typos. It is the very last look before something goes to print.

Proofreading is the absolute final step in review before your book is published. This is the final pass, and the last pair of eyes. Ideally it should be different from whoever did the other rounds of editing. I always advise two editors look at a project before it goes out. Even if one has done the rest of the editing process, having a fresh set of eyes to catch typos and find last-minute errors is invaluable.

When publishing novels through Insomnia, we always pass them back and forth to another editor in the company for this final run before the book is published for realsies. While this step may not be doable for all authors, I cannot overestimate the value of it.


All of that explanation out of the way, when should you hire an editor? The real answer, at the end of the day, is: It depends.

E. Prybylski

All of that explanation out of the way, when should you hire an editor? The real answer, at the end of the day, is: It depends. Where you are in the writing process tells you what kind of editing you want and who to look for. Absent you hiring a book coach to help you get your work on track, however, you should wait until you’ve finished your first draft and done at least one round of self-editing.

That means you finish it, have a celebratory glass of your favorite beverage, wait a few days, or a week or more for some folks, and then re-read what you wrote. Take notes. Outline your book again based on what you wrote (that’s a blog for another day that I’ll do) and really evaluate your novel. Then maybe send it to a beta reader or twelve. Once you’ve done that, then see where you’re at. If your story structure is solid, and you don’t think you have any pacing problems? Start looking for a line editor.

When in doubt, too, you can contact an editor to tell them where you’re at, what’s going on, and ask them what you need. Many editors perform manuscript evaluations for a reasonable fee in order to give you specific feedback about what you need, where, and why. They may pitch specific services to you, also.

I’ve had authors come to me for a line edit and I’ve told them what they really need is developmental or copy editing. It can go either way. While a manuscript evaluation may feel like an extra expense, the reality is it can save you a lot of money in the long run, and it’s worth considering if you’re feeling wibbldy about where you are in the process.

For what it’s worth, and to plug my services down here at the bottom, if you are interested in any of these types of editing, want a manuscript evaluation, or just in general are looking for help figuring out what you next step is, you can contact me through my editing website, and we can talk through what you need. If I’m not the right editor for you, I know many in multiple genres who may be able to help. I have resources to help you find what you’re looking for. That service is free. I’m here to help, not wring every penny out of you.

E. Prybylski has been in the publishing industry as an editor since 2009, starting at Divertir Publishing and eventually partnering with her close friend Richard Belanger to begin Insomnia Publishing.

Ever since childhood, E. has been an avid reader and writer of fantasy. The first chapter book she remembers reading is The Hobbit, followed swiftly by most of Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series. In high school, she perfected the skill of walking while reading without slamming into anyone. Mostly.

When she isn’t reading or writing, E. is an active member of the Society for Creative Anachronism and has a B.A. in European history from SNHU. In addition to her many historical pursuits, E. is a musician of multiple instruments, a cat mom, and a loving wife to her husband, J. E. also speaks out for the disability and chronic illness communities being a sufferer of chronic migraines and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.

Advice In Context and Style Guides

Advice In Context and Style Guides

I come across writers all the time who are bucking “the system” and posting rebellious tweets or Facebook messages about how they’ll keep their adverbs in (thank you very much) and how much they hate editors and how much they’re keeping very single dang comma. While I don’t always agree, I understand the frustration and backlash against what they see as prescriptivist, pedantic nonsense.

As you may have come to expect from me, I’m going to be straight with you here: they’re not all wrong.

The problem with a lot of the writing advice I’ve read, seen, and had given to me even by well-meaning and experienced authors has been that it lacks context. Let’s look at, for example, the injunction against using adverbs in prose. The reality is, adverbs have an important and valuable function. They’re a part of language for a reason, and I won’t tell you otherwise. The sticking point that isn’t usually explained along with the “avoid adverbs” advice is that you should avoid them when a stronger verb is available. The example I always give is: “he ran quickly” vs. “he sprinted.” In this example, “ran quickly” is redundant due to the presence of good, descriptive, solid verbs that could be used in place of it, so it weakens the writing.

As in all things here, adverbs (and pretty much everything else, if I’m honest) should be used like you use salt in cooking: The correct amount of salt enhances a dish, too much destroys it, and everyone’s taste differs. Also, certain genres are more forgiving of some types of tropes and language uses than others. YA would likely be more accepting of adverbs than, say, epic fantasy. The readership has different expectations.

Note: I am NOT in ANY WAY implying that epic fantasy is superior to YA. It’s not. They’re just different. I love both genres.

And this is just one example!

As someone who hangs out in writing circles and dispenses advice, the key for most things authors wrestle with is context. An “info dump” (aka. expositionary passage) is utterly necessary in some genres and places. There are right and wrong ways to go about it, but in SF/F you just have to get the world building out there sometimes, which means dropping it on your readers. In some subgenres of fantasy (like epic fantasy) readers live for the Tolkien-esque descriptions of kings and queens of old and historical events and so on. I think space opera sci-fi has a similar bent.

My point here is that writing advice shouldn’t be discarded wholesale, but contextualizing the rules to explain what, where, when, and why too often goes by the wayside. That’s how you end up with the idea that all adverbs are forbidden and any setting information is info-dumping and all the other misguided advice.

My point here is that writing advice shouldn’t be discarded wholesale, but contextualizing the rules to explain what, where, when, and why too often goes by the wayside.

E. Prybylski

Unfortunately, as a byproduct of that misguided advice, you end up with authors ready to heave all convention out the window and end up hateful and suspicious of editors. I’ll admit to being kinda sus, but so long as we’re not playing Among Us you’re probably okay. Probably. All joking aside, though, editors aren’t all pedants. In fact, the vast majority of the ones I know see variations in language as healthy and something to be celebrated. Also, we want to support you, not tear you down. That wouldn’t help anybody.

Another thing most people don’t tell writers is that grammar and punctuation has multiple styles. Most folks wouldn’t know AP from Chicago, and that’s why we editors have a job. Beyond that, many publishers (like mine for example) have in-house style guides that cherry-pick the punctuation norms we prefer. Oxford Comma? Style. Spaces around em-dashes or ellipses? Style. Using UK or US spelling? Style. Commas as breaks in ways other than strictly defined? Depending on their use, it could be pulling on older styles of comma usage. Also a style.

The key thing, however, is that whatever you do, do it on purpose. If you are messing up and trying to cover your butt by claiming you, uh, meant to do that, it’ll be obvious. I always advise to my clients to learn the rules first. Learn the irritating, pedantic, prescriptivist rules. Then once you know them, have internalized them, and understand them, at that point you can start breaking them. If you are doing things out of ignorance, there’s a good chance you won’t be able to back things up and will just be wrong and inconsistent. And that won’t be a good look for you.

However you choose to go about it, consider making your style guide something you codify. Do you spell it “gray” or “grey?” I infinitely prefer “grey.” I don’t have a good reason why except for the fact that I grew up reading UK authors, and some of their spellings and conventions leaked into my internal lexicon (thanks, Anne McCaffrey and Tolkein). This style guide serves two very specific purposes. The first is to make sure your work is internally consistent. If you are consistent in how you do or do not use specific linguistic tools, it shows you are doing it on purpose. Now, there’s a chance that you’ll be wrong (I have an author who struggles with terminal punctuation in dialogue, for example), but if you’re consistent it’s also easier to fix with find/replace. Second, this style guide will be something you can provide to your editor so they know what you want when they’re editing your book. While they may have feedback to give on your style guide, if they know your intent, it will require less of an attempt at mind reading.

One thing to note, however, is if you are traditionally publishing, the publisher will have a house style guide that will supersede your own. You may not get a say in it at all, and at that point you’re rubbing up against the realities of traditional publishing. While it provides you with the benefits of not having to do and source everything yourself, you lose certain elements of creative control and are bound by the regulations of the publisher. The good news is, though, publishers have reasons why they want things the way they want them, so it’s not just arbitrary, and they aren’t going to ruin your book. Well, any good publisher won’t, anyway. I can’t account for jerks.

E. Prybylski has been in the publishing industry as an editor since 2009, starting at Divertir Publishing and eventually partnering with her close friend Richard Belanger to begin Insomnia Publishing.

Ever since childhood, E. has been an avid reader and writer of fantasy. The first chapter book she remembers reading is The Hobbit, followed swiftly by most of Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series. In high school, she perfected the skill of walking while reading without slamming into anyone. Mostly.

When she isn’t reading or writing, E. is an active member of the Society for Creative Anachronism and has a B.A. in European history from SNHU. In addition to her many historical pursuits, E. is a musician of multiple instruments, a cat mom, and a loving wife to her husband, J. E. also speaks out for the disability and chronic illness communities being a sufferer of chronic migraines and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.

7 Classic Query Blunders

7 Classic Query Blunders

I started my career as an acquisitions editor and still deal with acquisitions. Through that experience, I can tell you there are a few things that will always make me stomp my feet and scream. In fact, I may even throw my hands up. Queries are a hard part of writing, but there are a few things you absolutely must get correct to avoid being sent the dreaded form rejection letter. While I’m not saying you’ll absolutely be accepted if you avoid these mistakes, your likelihood of acceptance is vastly higher.

Without further ado, let’s get into it.

  1. Not following guidelines.
    While a lot of writing has things that are wibbldy and wobldy and wishy-washy, query guidelines are not. We ask for specific things because they’re what we absolutely need to know, and we need that information as efficiently as possible. For example, if someone sent my company, Insomnia Publishing, an erotica novel to publish, I’d reject it without looking at the rest of the query. No offense to erotica (I have erotica writers I’m close to, and the genre’s dandy in my book–hurr, I made a pun), but we aren’t a romance/erotica publisher. We are only speculative fiction.
  2. Writing “fun” queries.
    If you’re writing a query as the main character or trying to do something funky with fonts or images, please don’t. I know you’re desperately trying to stand out in my inbox. But making the background of your email lime green and your text fuchsia will cause me a migraine and net you a rejection out of hand. It does make you stand out, that’s for sure, but standing out doesn’t always mean good things.

    Write me a query that’s honest, to the point, contains the information I need, and is polite and well-formatted. That will make you stand out. If you want to use a font that isn’t Times New Roman, Size 12 (that’s the industry standard), feel free to use other easy-to-read fonts like Garamond, Georgia, Cambria, etc. While I can’t speak for other editors (and if they list a font requirement in their guidelines use it), so long as it’s easy to read and standard, I won’t complain.

    Unless you send me a query in Papyrus. Just. . . just don’t.
  3. Word counts outside of what we ask for.
    This won’t be an immediate failure unless it’s dramatically outside our maximums and minimums. Our listed maximum is 120k words for high fantasy and historical novels. If your novel is 130k words, I won’t burn your query in effigy. If it’s 220k words, I will probably pour myself a glass of Moscato, pop some fruit in that, drink it, and send you a rejection.

    While you can argue until you’re blue in the face that if writers like Stephen King and George R. R. Martin can do it, so can you, it doesn’t mean we can afford to take that risk at this point in time. The overheads are going to be outrageous. The cost to edit, format, and (assuming print) print and ship that is going to be horrendous. Unless you’re Stephen King magically sending me a query (Hi, Mr. King, I’ll accept anything you send me), you’re going to have to abide by what we can see as acceptable risk.
  4. You haven’t explained your genre well.
    This part is hard, and I get that. But if you send me a book and describe it as a fantasy/historical/cyberpunk/paranormal/sci-fi/romance, I am probably going to go right back to the wine. In fact, just writing that makes me twitch a little. While it’s tempting to try and label your book as every genre it might cross over into, I really just need the main details.

    If it’s a cyberpunk/fantasy? Great. I’m a Shadowrun fan. I can grok that. But when the genres don’t make sense together or you don’t explain it well, I’m just going to be confused and turn it down. I need to understand what I’m looking at immediately. If you can’t make that clear, your book is too complex and needs revision, or you don’t have a clear enough view to market it.

    Part of this question about genre comes down to: who is the target market for this book? If I can’t pinpoint a target market of people who will want to buy this, I can’t sell it. If I can’t sell it, I don’t want to publish it.
  5. Your query is poorly-written.
    If your query is full of grammatical errors and questionable word choice or excessively over-written, I am going to expect that of the book. We’re all human, and if you have a typo in there (like for some reason I write “youo” like 98% of the time I type “you”) it’s not going to break you. But if it’s written with heavily passive voice, purple prose, or an obvious and poor understanding of sentence construction, it tells me the book is going to be the same. Perfection isn’t necessary, but being solid and clear? Yeah, that’s a requirement.
  6. Your tone.
    I’ve been in this industry long enough that most of the time I can identify a nightmare client from tone. I have received hundreds of “you’re just a literary hack who doesn’t understand my genius” responses over my decade working in the industry. I can recognize the author who is convinced that they are the embodiment of Tolkien or Heinlein. If you strike me as someone who will be an utter nightmare to edit, you’ll get a rejection.

    I know that sounds harsh, but for every person who is too full of their own genius that they cannot understand why I’d want to change a single comma, there are dozens of brilliant, motivated authors eager to learn and improve and willing to work with an editor.
  7. Your marketing plan is disorganized or non-existent.
    My company has recently started requiring marketing plans from our authors in the query. It doesn’t need to be huge, but it has to show that thought has been put into it and that you’re willing to do the work needed to make your book a success. This is because we have run into situations where authors refuse to market, cannot market, or have no plans whatsoever to market, and as a result they do nothing to help move books. While marketing is a complex subject for another blog, know that coming to the table with a plan with clear, actionable steps (even if it’s something as simple as: weekly blogs, engage on social media to grow readership, blog tours) will make you instantly more appealing.

    While I have no problems helping our authors market and giving them all the tools I know of, I am not a publicist, nor does my company have the money to hire one. They’re expensive. And if we did hire one, it would be to work with us on some of our bigger titles, not every single one. (Much as larger companies only will have 2-3 major titles per quarter/period that their publicists focus on.) Marketing falls to authors a lot of the time, and there’s only so much we can do about it.

    In reality, there’s also only so much I can do for an author. I cannot build an author page for you, make your Facebook author page and populate it with content, create an official author Twitter for you, or write your blog posts and develop your email list for you. Those are things I absolutely cannot do for you even if I wanted to. So go into it with a plan if you can, and do some study ahead of time to learn at least a little about what’s needed.

    IngramSpark has a good checklist of how to handle a book release and what to do when, so I’ll leave the marketing conversation here and let you read that checklist to help you plan things out.

This is by no means a complete list of things that might turn an acquisition editor off, but it covers the big ones that come to mind when I think about queries. I know some of these may sound a little harsh, but try and remember that acquisitions editors often deal with hundreds of emails a day for larger companies. Our process is usually streamlined to be as efficient as possible and allow us to spend as little time as possible reading a query before making a decision on it.

I’ll be frank, too, I often make a decision on whether or not I want to read more of the story based on reading the query, the first paragraph or two, and then glancing at the synopsis. While I may read the whole two chapters we ask for if something grabs me (if it does, go you!), but I am operating purely on: “Does this fit? How much work would this take to publish? If we put in the work, will the author fulfill their end of the bargain?”

An author’s job doesn’t end when editing is over. In fact, it’s just beginning when you sign the contract because, beyond writing, you have editing and then marketing. It’s not all sunshine and roses to get an acceptance letter; you have to keep pushing if you want to be successful. If you don’t, nobody wins.

Also, as an aside, in case you were wondering, yes, the title of this does resemble a Princess Bride quote. Just know that Princess Bride quotes are always lurking. Waiting. Stalking me. And now you know my dreadful secret: if you think it might be a pun know that it probably is.

An author’s job doesn’t end when editing is over. In fact, it’s just beginning when you sign the contract because, beyond writing, you have editing and then marketing.

E. Prybylski

E. Prybylski has been in the publishing industry as an editor since 2009, starting at Divertir Publishing and eventually partnering with her close friend Richard Belanger to begin Insomnia Publishing.

Ever since childhood, E. has been an avid reader and writer of fantasy. The first chapter book she remembers reading is The Hobbit, followed swiftly by most of Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series. In high school, she perfected the skill of walking while reading without slamming into anyone. Mostly.

When she isn’t reading or writing, E. is an active member of the Society for Creative Anachronism and has a B.A. in European history from SNHU. In addition to her many historical pursuits, E. is a musician of multiple instruments, a cat mom, and a loving wife to her husband, J. E. also speaks out for the disability and chronic illness communities being a sufferer of chronic migraines and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.

How To Write Realistic Characters

How To Write Realistic Characters

I see it all the time on Twitter or in writing groups: people struggling with two-dimensional characters with no idea how to flesh them out. Or, conversely, people try to tell the reader literally everything about the character in an attempt to make them feel three-dimensional. That’s not how you do it. Creating a realistic character doesn’t mean you need to know their blood type, childhood nicknames, and the name of every romantic partner they’ve ever had (unless it’s relevent to the story). Creating a realistic character means they have to act like a human being–which means they’ll have flaws, strengths, and desires.

Creating a realistic character means they have to act like a human being–which means they’ll have flaws, strengths, and desires.

E. Prybylski


One thing many authors struggle with is accepting that their main character should be flawed. If the main character is perfect in every way, they will inherently come across as two-dimensional because (and let’s be frank here) everyone’s a bit of a mess. These flaws are what make characters come alive off the page. As a friend of mine commented on Facebook recently, your characters can also make stupid decisions, but they should be stupid choices based on who they are. Their fears, insecurities, things they’re ignorant of. The mistakes shouldn’t just be for plot reasons. Like Sherlock missing an important clue he should’ve seen, and the readers saw clear as day, because the story needed him to miss it with no explanation. If Sherlock missed something because he’d been hitting the opium and was high as a kite, then that makes sense. It builds toward his (very flawed) character, and while the reader might want to shake him for missing it. . .it makes sense for him.

These flaws don’t have to be crippling, but they should be more than things like minor nervous habits. Your characters might have prejudices. Or maybe they’re too proud to acknowledge that they are, in fact, not good at certain things. Or they’re too insecure to step up to certain challenges the right ways or can be goaded. These flaws can be capitalized on by enemies or by the author in order to put pressure on the character in certain ways in order to get them into the plot.

These flaws also provide the character a way to grow and develop over the course of the book and/or series. Let’s use Iron Man from the Avengers MCU movies. He starts his journey as a shallow, selfish, willfully ignorant jerk. And by Endgame, he’s become a very different character. He’s still Tony Stark and has all the panache and some of the same flaws, but he’s developed from a “genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist” into a genius, billionaire, leader, philanthropist. He battles PTSD heavily through the series and develops into someone worthy of Pepper Potts’ affection as he grapples with the realities of war and the burden of heroism. He’s not “perfect” at the end, but you can see the ways his journeys have changed him and how he’s pushed past some of his early flaws (and developed new ones) to become an individual worthy of the title of “hero.”

These flaws also provide the character a way to grow and develop over the course of the book and/or series.

E. Prybylski


So, we know what your character isn’t good at and what they’re afraid of. Those character flaws are key to creating someone realistic. But what about their strengths? Well, they can’t be good at everything, so these strengths should be focused around a few things. Going back to the example of Tony Stark, his strengths are largely his determination and his scientific genius. Unlike some of the other characters, he isn’t a particularly warm character, nor is he as calculating as, say, Black Widow. But he can think around corners and use his understanding of science to solve a lot of problems. Or at least try to solve them. This, of course, coupled with his hubris also causes major problems for the Avengers (Age of Ultron, anyone?), which allows those strengths to be used against the character for purposes of growth.

However, before we get into the way strengths can be used against the character, we also need to note that these strengths should be things the character uses to push the story forward and benefit them more than they do harm. If the character’s strengths are useless to the story or are not used in any way except to be punished, it’s going to make readers wonder why you bother having them at all. So you’ll want to make sure you aren’t just using them as foils for more failure.

Your character’s strengths should also make sense. Though be aware that not everything that’s real is believable, and not everything that’s believable is real. If I were writing my character in a novel, I probably wouldn’t make myself a pretty serious martial artist who has a genetic disorder that means I can dislocate a knee making the bed. No joke, it’s all true. There are a lot of folks who would read that sentence and do a double take and think that character’s totally unrealistic, but here we are. I have won awards for my historical European fencing, and taught Japanese sword arts for years. I’ve also been studying empty hand styles of martial arts on and off since I was four.

Be aware that not everything that’s real is believable, and not everything that’s believable is real.

E. Prybylski

And yes, I did dislocate my knee making the bed. I also dislocated my shoulder putting my violin in its stand. It’s a never-ending source of consternation and frustration.

These strengths–assuming they’re for a major character–should be pertinent to the plot. If your character is an expert at folding origami, but that never gets mentioned in the story or used once in any way, what’s the point? If you mention it as characterization to show aspects of the character, but it doesn’t impact the plot, that’s all right. But at least some of your character’s strengths should benefit them through the story somehow, even if it’s not in the ways readers expect.

Also, subverting expectations that the character’s strengths will always benefit them is a good thing, also. Tony Stark’s brilliance and over-reliance on technology created Ultron, and ultimately this same brilliance that allows him to see all the angles cripples him when he is trying to deal with the visions Scarlet Witch gave him because he doesn’t know how to think his way out of the problem.

Character strengths can always be turned on their head and can be used to lead characters down the wrong paths just as easily as they can guide them down the right ones. As people, we tend to rely on our strengths to navigate life, and if we encounter a situation where our strengths aren’t helpful we might well try to use them anyway and bungle it or break down because we have no idea what to do. Character strengths are absolutely not exclusively positive traits.

For example, personally, I tend to be very cerebral. I think my way through things and analyze them to death. This has not served me well during times when I instead should be allowing my feelings to come out and accepting them. I dislike leading with my emotions because they are often very messy and terribly complicated. And I don’t like messy or illogical (and feelings and logic are often on very different wavelengths). So I can identify with Tony trying to think his way out of all his problems and being led astray by over-reliance on his intelligence to solve everything when, in fact, if he led with his heart a little more he might find solutions.

It also left him quite lonely since his tendency to not think about the emotional end of things makes him quite a prickly and unlikable person. I’m lucky enough that I’m not cerebral to his extreme by any sense (nor am I some kind of super genius), but it just goes to show the downside of strengths can absolutely be something used to fuel your story.


As the brilliant Kurt Vonnegut famously said, “Every character should want something, even if it’s only a glass of water.” They might want multiple things, or maybe the thing they want is fleeting and temporary (like the glass of water). But your character should have a goal and a need. This goes for side-characters, too, and anyone on the proverbial screen long enough to get mentioned directly. These wants tie into developing a realistic character. Having desires (and those desires being logical and realistic) means the character will likely act in service to those wants.

“Every character should want something, even if it’s only a glass of water.”

Kurt Vonnegut

You should also keep in your mind what your characters want at all times. This understanding of what they want and what they’re willing to do to accomplish that will provide you a great deal of fodder for understanding their mindset. If your character would stab someone for a Klondike Bar, well then you know what they’re willing to do in order to accomplish their ends. This will give you insight into not only your main character but into your antagonists, who should also be fully-fleshed characters. Even if the reader never learns about them.

A large portion of the MCU focuses around the fact that Tony Start wants to protect humanity. Desperately. Fiercely. He goes to some terrible ends to accomplish it, causing the crash and burn of the Avengers (in Civil War and Age of Ultron), but his desire, his want, is to protect people. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but what he’s willing to do to accomplish that end provides a great deal of plot fodder.

Conversely, Thanos wants to protect all life in the universe as well. While his understanding, views, and means are twisted, his ultimate want is to protect the future of life by preserving resources. And he’s willing to go further than Tony is to accomplish that. Tony and Thanos are, in a way, reflections of each other, which is one of the reasons the story is so compelling and why the two make such good foils for one another on screen.

In the end, developing a realistic character is all about understanding human nature. There are, of course, nuances to various cultures, races, times, and so on, but humans gonna human, more or less. We all have the three components of strength, weakness, and desire, and those are the quick and dirty keys to making a realistic character.

In the end, developing a realistic character is all about understanding human nature.

E. Prybylski

Does it help to have as much data about the character as possible? Yes and no. If you’re drowning in superfluous nonsense, you’re not going to be able to pull out the important parts, and all the data points in the world won’t help you if you don’t know what the character wants or is afraid of in that moment. Knowing the basis of why your character has these traits is valuable (for example, I tend to be kind of flighty and unfocused due to ADHD), but it won’t make or break a character to not have every single aspect of their life outside the story mapped out.


Did you know I have a Patreon? My patrons have monthly access to editing advice, coaching and, now, podcast-style readings of my weekly blog. For just five dollars a month, you can receive my blog as a podcast instead. At this point, that is going to be exclusive to my patrons with the exception of making the podcast-style reading available at no cost to anyone who is visually impaired.

As a disabled person, myself, I believe strongly that accessibility should not cost extra, so if you would find that audio helpful to you, please contact me, and we will make arrangements.

The Fine Line: Description

The Fine Line: Description

Many writers struggle with description. I recently had a manuscript that, in the same chapter, suffered from over-description and under-description. The author told the reader every inch of the main character’s morning routine in intimate detail and then didn’t describe the setting whatsoever. The balance of describing things is difficult because we are told over and over that we need to move the plot forward. Everything we write should push the story onward. And then we read big name authors like Tolkien and Martin who describe everything in complete, intricate detail.

In the end? It comes down to taste. Do you prefer Hemmingway’s stark writing style that doesn’t spent words describing something so trivial as a character’s hair color unless it’s important or do you want to be Tolkien who filled his world with so much detail it took forever to dig through it to find the plot? While, by my writing style, you can probably guess my preference, it’s important to know what your style is.

For me, I’m somewhere in between. I like to give readers information that might not be directly plot-related but fills out the world, but I don’t want to drown my readers in it because it, to me, destroys the pacing. Finding this balance in your own writing is tough because you never know how much is too much or how little is too little until you read it. You’ll also hear conflicting stories at every turn. Some writing coaches will tell you one thing, and some will tell you another.

Ultimately, it’s your choice how much description you want to use. Choose one and stick to it, though you can experiment a bit with short stories and essays to decide which is going to be your personal style. While your style won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, you should take the time to learn and understand it.

Now, let me pull back a little and say there are empirical points where there can be too much or too little description, or where you might be using description improperly. These points aren’t a style choice; they’re places where you may be using things wrong.

How do you describe things poorly? By using a “laundry list” of adjectives or using adverbs unnecessarily, you’re not providing rich description. Let me give you an example of poor description and then an example of good description to show you what I mean.

Poor Description:
The bright, clear, yellow sun slowly rose over the tall, snowy mountains.

Good Description:
The morning sun spilled golden light across the snow-capped mountains like honey, clinging to the stark edifice of the ragged cliffs.

The reason the first description is poor because you can see a laundry list-style list of adjectives at the beginning, an unnecessary adjective, and another short list of adjectives following. It’s childish writing which might work for a children’s book (whose limited vocabulary means limited description), but for adult fiction it’s weak.

The key here is going to be to use description well in your writing. The amount of it is going to vary from person to person, but make sure you aren’t using it improperly and poorly, regardless of how much or how little you may choose to employ.

“Character Autonomy”

“Character Autonomy”

I’ve been gone awhile due to my health, but I’m hopefully back now. I’m going to write once or twice a week until I find my stride again, but I haven’t abandoned the blog. Life has just been distracting me from my work here.

So, this particular subject created a hotbed of contention in a writing group I’m part of today, and it’s one I’ve seen all over the place. When a writer says, “My character did ‘x’, and I had no control over it at all! I had to write his story that way,” most of the rest of us head for the hills because the belief that your characters have a complete life of their own, over which you as the writer have no control whatsoever, is a sign of mental illness. Now, that isn’t to say our stories can’t surprise us, or our characters might go in ways we hadn’t initially planned, but suspend your judgment until I have a chance to explain my assessment of both sides of this coin.

So, on one hand, our characters are creations of our mind. We made them. We chose their parts (even if it was an unconscious decision which I will get to later), and they do not exist outside our heads. At least not in their entirety. On the other hand, our characters are comprised unconsciously out of bits and pieces of people or other characters we have seen or encountered in our lives. We are, after all, repositories of information. People whose characters just sort of appear in their heads fully formed (rather than created deliberately) are accessing their memories in a less structured manner, though they are doing similar things. Even when we choose attributes, we often are creating mirrors of people we’ve encountered in our lives. The reflection is unconscious in either case, and the only thing that differs is the method.

I am, perhaps, somewhat unique in the sense that I experience both methods of character creation. Sometimes, I build a character with each aspect intentionally designed for a purpose or chosen with care. Other times they walk out of my brain and onto my mental “stage” fully formed.  Neither method is more valid than the other, but they both stem from the same places.

Now the big difference in “my character dictated the scene” and “I dictated the scene”—not counting mental illness—is that in the first scenario the writer’s subconscious or unconscious mind is writing the story. They might not know it at the time while they daydream about their characters, world, and plot, but that’s what they’re doing. Their mind is chugging away and utilizing their memories and experiences to create stories based on things they’ve read, seen, or experienced. They are also extrapolating what could happen next. Usually, this takes place while the writer is daydreaming or letting their thoughts wander rather than dictating the exact details of a scene.

The other scenario means the author is constructing the scene like an architect. They plan every aspect of it and write each word with intent and deliberation. While they often have lines or details that come to them while they write, their experience is rather different from those who just have experience of everything appearing in their head as though by magic. The architect is drawing from the same well of inspiration; they are just accessing it through different channels.

When it comes to writing a book, both methods are important. Being able to unchain your thoughts and let your imagination wander and paint pictures you may not have expected is a valuable tool. When we daydream we are at our most creative. We are letting our mind roll over what matters to us, and come up with all kinds of different possibilities. On the other hand, being able to plan and construct our scenes and characters as needed is an important skill as well. In the end, a blending of both of these tools will make you a powerful writer. Both have their time and place.

Returning to the “my character did ‘x’” and “I made my character do ‘x’” conversation, what we are seeing is a lack of realization on both sides of what the other is saying. Not counting the potential mental instability where delusions are a condition, we need to recognize what is being said because in some ways, both are right and have merit. Most of us are very aware that our characters don’t exist outside our sphere of control and outside our minds. And yes, we have control over them. At the same time, many writers (particularly those young in their journey) don’t know how to access their creativity without daydreaming. Being able to do that and willingly create in that way is a skill that is learned rather than daydreaming which is instinct to us–most folks do from the time we are children.

Also, learning to articulate the differences and understand exactly what’s happening with each style of writer requires a little more understanding of both writing and of the way we think and process information. If I know someone to be mentally stable, and they talk about how a scene wrote itself, or a character “made a decision”, I usually chuckle with them. Largely because I know what they’re trying to communicate. I can also bemoan alongside the architects when a scene just will not congeal the way we’re trying to write it. Or rejoice when something comes together exactly as it was planned.

We really are all doing the same thing; we’re just approaching it from different angles and using different language to describe the same process.

Writing Effective Combat Scenes

Writing Effective Combat Scenes

My triumphant return commences today. I’m sorry I’ve been gone so long, but between my husband’s health and my health we had the snot kicked out of us the last week. The good news is my husband is recovering, and I’m just waiting for the weather to break so I can return to my normal activities.

A friend recently messaged me about writing a combat scene. She had three good guys and three bad guys all involved in a melee and was struggling with figuring out how to make it make sense. Writing a large combat scene is challenging, and writers often stumble with combat in general, so I thought it prudent to address the issue.

Let’s start with the basics of writing combat, shall we? This is a cross-genre reality, by the way. It doesn’t matter if your characters are using swords, fists, firearms, or futuristic laser weapons, these will apply.

1) Do not give a blow-by-blow.

I don’t need to know every single movement to understand what’s going on. Unless there’s a theatrical reason to show a specific aspect of a motion, don’t detail it. I’ll show you what I mean:

Jon lifted his hand, pulling it to his side and setting his weight before driving it into Paul’s face, stopping before he over-straightened his elbow so he didn’t hurt the joint.

Jon punched Paul in the face.

The difference between the two should be apparent. The first would work in, perhaps, a training scenario where the character is really analyzing every movement he’s making to study it. In that moment, the reader is focused on all those little details along with Jon. They’re part of the flow of narrative. In a real combat situation, however, we don’t stop to think about all those things. We just punch our enemy in the face. You can specify the location of the hit (the nose, the mouth, the gut, whatever) if it’s important, but don’t over-complicate each action. If you do it will lead to a thirty-second fight going on for fifteen pages, and the readers will have fallen asleep by then.

As a martial artist, I can tell you it’s tempting to give a full, rich description of every blow, but as a reader I know they won’t care about that unless you’re reaching a very specific segment of the population who enjoys that kind of thing. If those folks are your demographic then all the more power to you. In the real world (unlike the world of theatrical combat and cinema), fights are usually over in about thirty seconds for close quarters combat (knife, sword, open hand). And thirty seconds is actually a pretty long fight. Firearms confrontations can last longer with the addition of cover and movement, but at that point the emphasis is less on the shooting than it is on the hunting and tactics.

2) Focus on one set of combatants at a time.

Imagine you’re watching a wide-angle shot of field combat with no one as the “main character”. You just sit up in the clouds, watching a group skirmish. It’s chaotic, it’s hard to follow, and unless you’ve got the camera focused on a specific set of combatants you aren’t going to see a whole lot other than the general gist of the conflict. Much like with dialogue, if you have too many characters acting at once it becomes chaotic fast. If you have three good guys fighting three bad guys, and two sets of fighters are not the driving factors of the story—have them as background. You can comment that they are, in fact, fighting. You can even say when one of them wins or loses if it’s important. However, keep the camera on the main character(s). Whichever fight is the most important should be what’s on screen.

When you’re in a full melee, you can narrate things happening around the main character—and you should—but don’t lose your focus. To take an example from cinema, the photo below illustrates what I’m getting at. The medium is different, of course, but we should be doing the literary equivalent of this:


The Hobbit: Battle of Five Armies,Copyright by Warner Bros. Entertainment


As you can see from this still shot of “The Hobbit: Battle of Five Armies”, Bard (the man without the helmet whose face we see) is in the middle of a melee with a whole host of terrible, faceless orcs all dressed in almost the same armor. Visually, they did this to make sure he (the main character of this shot) stands out. You can have action happening all around the main character and their conflict, but their personal struggle should take center stage. We can see that there is other combat happening around and behind him, but he is the one our eyes are drawn to.

3) Do at least a cursory study of whatever art you’re portraying.

Yes, watching YouTube videos at 3am counts as cursory study. I cannot tell you how irksome it is to read a book where it is clear the author has never even held (or seen outside of cinematic use) the weapon their character is using. People forget to count the number of bullets their character’s gun carries until a crucial moment where they pull the trigger and click ! (As a side note, semi-automatics don’t do that!) While I by no means expect anyone to study and grow proficient in an art before writing about it, I recommend at least watching enough videos or reading enough information that you know these few things. If you have weapon-specific questions regarding firearms, swords, or open hand please feel free to drop me a line through a comment or send me an email. I’ll be happy to talk to you about it until you don’t want to hear about it anymore!

These quick studies are surprisingly important. Say I’m writing a medieval story, and I have no idea how crossbows work (as most people don’t), I might not realize that the crossbow heralded the end of the plate mail period because it rendered plate mail useless. Crossbows (which required far less training than a long bow) could kill a man wearing full plate armor from a long distance away. They were hated weapons because they revolutionized the playing field and gave an unwashed peasant the same killing power (or more) than a Lord. If you have a world where crossbow bolts are bouncing off plate mail, you’ll give every historian who knows the reality of that tidbit a twitch. I have similar reactions to unrealistic portrayal of most combat. It’s not personal, but when you know what it’s supposed to be, you have to try very, very hard to suspend your disbelief when someone is using it improperly.

4) Make sure you address the characters’ emotions during combat.

While, yes, your characters are swinging swords or firing pistols or what have you, those aren’t the only things happening in a fight. Their emotions are probably all over the place (unless they’re trained killers—then note that!) and their adrenaline is pumping. Chances are their hands might be shaking with the adrenaline rush, or they’ve got tunnel vision. You don’t need to spend a great deal of time on these things, but tossing them in here and there makes sense. It evokes feelings. In cinema we can see a character’s hands shake, their facial expressions, hear the tremor in their voice, but in literature we need to show those things to the reader. It’s an important part of a fight, so don’t forget it!

5) Keep your setting straight.

Wasn’t that table on the other side of the room? Wait, I don’t remember there being stairs here! Writers sometimes jumble up settings during a fight for the purpose of drama. Make sure you keep them consistent and mention important set pieces before they come into play. If your character is going to be thrown through a plate glass window make sure the reader knows there is one before the big moment because otherwise it will, to them, be a magically-appearing set piece, and those are a huge faux-pas.

What one of my editors at Insomnia Publishing, Joshua Quivey, suggests to authors is that they do a quick sketch of the environment. You can do this in any program resembling MS Paint or even on graph paper if you aren’t artistically inclined. For us nerds out t here, we’ll recognize it like a D&D map of the dungeon with the author knowing what goblins and kobolds lie around the next corner and the readers (adventurers!) creep along, hoping their torches stay lit and that the chest in the corner isn’t a mimic.

The Spark of Life: Character Development

The Spark of Life: Character Development

I recently had a friend contact me about how to develop characters. He was worried all his characters are too much like him, and what he does to divorce them from him turns them into a farce of themselves. This is something writers struggle with, I’m sure, and character development and growth is tough. It’s not something that comes naturally to most people, and creating “real” characters is a challenge.

So how do you do it? How do you breathe in that spark of life? The first part of that is to make your characters real people. I don’t mean that in a creepy way, but give them hopes, dreams, flaws. These flaws should be real to them—just like ours are to us. My main character in my fantasy series, Archimedes, is stubborn to a fault. He’s pushy and overbearing sometimes when he wants to get his way. At the start of the books, he’s also a bit of a coward and is running away from his obligations rather than fulfilling them. He’s also loyal, honest, and kind. He really wants to do the right thing, but he’s having trouble making it happen.

Regardless of whether your characters are in an alien world or a mundane one, fantasy or reality, they need to be relatable. They will contain archetypes that humanity posses. There are many theories of archetypes out there floating around in the study of psychology (which I recommend researching, by the way—it’s going to help you create more believable characters), but I tend to lean toward using the Jungian archetypes when writing if I need to categorize my characters. You can start with these archetypes because they are based on real people. These are common types of people throughout the world and throughout history. You aren’t limited to them, but they should help you as a place to start.

The second key is to give your characters places to grow. Archimedes, through the novel, faces some of his fears and stands up for what’s right, becoming stronger and driving away his cowardice and fear. He transforms over the course of the novel because of what he experiences. As with real people, we encounter things in life that change us. A loved one’s death, a lover who sees things in us we don’t, war, poverty, fear… all kinds of things change us as we go through life both good and bad. Your novel will, naturally, have these experiences in it for your character. Let them grow and change organically as they faces these trials.

I know many people say their characters take on a life of their own and so on, but that’s only partially true. While, yes, our characters do sometimes reveal themselves in unexpected ways the person ultimately controlling your novel and your characters is you. I do not ascribe to the theory that characters do their own thing because, frankly, they are nothing more than imaginary creations of the writer. While our imaginations might run away with us, our characters are entirely of our own design. To think otherwise is, frankly, verging on mental illness.

As far as divesting our characters from ourselves goes, that’s harder. Each character we create is a mirror for some aspect of ourselves, however small. We wouldn’t have invented them otherwise. These characters collectively are reflect slivers of our souls. If your characters aren’t doing that, and they’re coming out flat, that may be why. I feel for and with my characters as I write. When they suffer pain, so do I. When they feel triumph, I feel that rush. That flow of emotion is something readers pick up on, also. Assuming your writing is good, that is.

That emotion, and that reflection of the soul, is what creates the spark of life. I identify with Archimedes’ struggles, to some extent. While I don’t face the same things or react the same way, he show some of the things that I want to be at my best. He also faces some of the fears I have at my worst. Other characters in my world are similar. That includes the villains. Of course, that doesn’t mean that I am secretly an evil person, it does mean that there is a piece of humanity in that character. A fragment of a soul that the reader should, hopefully feel.

Stories That Matter

Stories That Matter

I’m broaching a controversial and sticky subject in this blog, and I want you to stick with me. This post isn’t going to be political because my opinions aren’t something I want to breach on this blog. However, it will touch the subject, and I know this is a difficult subject for us to discuss in the world.

So why am I writing about this? Well, every few weeks I see someone posting a question about whether or not writers (as a whole) have a responsibility to write about “x” or “y” socio-political subject. These discussions are valid and include a lot of useful and important conversation regarding said subjects. Like I said, the specifics aren’t something I’m here to blog about. But the concept of social responsibility of writers comes up over and over again, and it’s something I think is important to address.

What kind of responsibility do writers have? Well, we all know that writers can change the world. They can bring to light tough issues that are under-represented or change perspectives on other ones. Writers have power, and it’s only right we should consider how we use that power to inform the world of our moral views. But should we be required to do so? I think the resounding answer on that is: no.

If writing about a specific subject, or incorporating specific elements into your story is in your heart then go forward with it and change the world. Fight for your beliefs. Sway hearts. Use the power of your word to speak on issues that are important to you, and make your voice heard. But if you “just want to tell a story”, that’s okay, too. I put that in quotes because there’s no such thing as “just telling a story” to some extent.

Good stories in every genre connect to parts of us and parts of the human condition. I know I sound like a snooty literary teacher, but those connections are what make them so powerful and why we crave them. Romance, adventure, coming of age, fear, excitement, loss… all of these themes can (and many are) present in many different works and genres of writing. My novels so far have largely displayed the theme of coming to terms with something in yourself that you have previously avoided. I make characters go through hell to face their inner demons. It’s an inner journey that I have taken, myself, so it’s natural that would be reflected in my writing.

All that said, I don’t think writers should be “required” or “forced” to incorporate any particular elements in their work. I encourage people to use the power of their words to reach out to others, but the best way to encourage change is to be the change you want to see. If you want to see more (or less) of a certain story element in writing then reflect that in your writing. You can encourage people to confront certain issues and discuss them in their work. Those conversations, as I said previously, can be valuable. But required? That’s going into bad places.

Outside of the fact that it treads on our individual artistic expression, forcing or shaming someone into including certain story elements means those story elements will not be represented in the strongest or best way possible. “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still,” as the old adage goes. They might provide lip service to whatever it is they’re being pressured into, but it won’t spring from a place of authenticity. Without authenticity, writing means nothing. It’s just words on paper.

Authenticity is a vital part of writing. I don’t mean the accuracy that comes with research. I mean the author’s emotional investment. If you aren’t feeling what you’re writing (overall, not that moment where you’re writing because you have to power through the mid-manuscript blues) then it’s not worth writing. It’s not worth publishing. It’s not worth reading. Requiring people to do things without authenticity will result in worthless work that is more of an insult and liability than it is an asset.

In the end, yes—writers are responsible for telling the world stories that matter. Stories that move people. Stories that reach them. However, every writer needs to write for themselves. They need to speak on what makes them lie awake at night. Those are the stories that will shake the world.

Playing Nice With Others

Playing Nice With Others

A dear friend of mine recently had an experience at a bardic circle (a musical event where folks sit around a campfire and perform to each other) where a group of semi-professionals who didn’t care that it was someone else’s turn decided to shout her down and sing over her. Now, my friend is a wonderful singer (you can’t tell me  otherwise—I know you’re going to see this, too), and she is working to overcome dreadful stage fright. These people, on top of being unthinkably rude, could have damaged a less confident person’s sense of worthiness to perform. Luckily, my friend is as stalwart as they come and recognized these folks were just being horrid; it had nothing to do with her.

So how does this relate to writing? Well, I’ve seen authors do this exact thing. We live in an over-saturated market where, despite ourselves, we jockey for positions of dubious merit. We fight for review time, advertising space, interviews, and any other scrap of exposure we can collect. Unfortunately, that kind of pressure often brings out the worst in people. There is also, at times, an inherent egotism that comes with the status of “author” that leads others to think their opinion is somehow more valid just because they’ve been “published”.

Let me pop that bubble right now: at no point are you ever more valuable than someone else. Your opinion may be better-informed and worth more in that regard if you have experience and study, but that doesn’t mean you deserve to treat others like crap. In fact, it will only harm you to treat others like that. Could I walk up to a newbie author or editor and tapdance on them with my five years of experience and several publications? Sure. It wouldn’t make me any better than them, though. It also wouldn’t endear anyone to me because, frankly, who likes a bully? Instead, I’d rather encourage, mentor, and inspire other people. It’s similar to the difference between being a “boss” and being a “leader”.

I also want to note that, while I am technically in competition with other publishers and editors and writers… I’m not really. No matter how much I want to, I can’t publish all the books in the world. I can’t edit all the books in the world. I can’t write all the books in the world. I might be publishing science fiction right alongside other presses, but you know what? Good for them. I’d rather support their sales and develop a good rapport. Particularly in the indie game, that networking can be a huge help. The same goes with author-to-author relationships. There might be another fantasy author whose books are technically in direct competition with mine, but I’d much rather be friends with them than try and sabotage them.

We can all win this race. It’s not as though we’re competing to have someone purchase our car. After all, with cars you only really need one, and it’s a huge investment. Books? Well… if the number of books I own is any indication, I’m probably going to be buying and reading books for a long, long time. That also means that if I see an author I enjoy recommend a book (or a movie, or…) I’ll probably check it out. If I like that author I’ll read what they recommend and so on. You can see where I’m going with this.

Now, in addition to just being jerks, how many of you have seen (or, be honest, done) this: Join a group on social media, drop an advertisement for your book, and leave? That’s kind of like trying to sing over everyone else at the campfire. Particularly since, most of the time, the rules say differently. It’s disrespectful to the people who are there because, in essence, you’re saying: I don’t care what you have to say, just listen to me! You aren’t contributing anything; you’re not even really participating; you’re just throwing out your piece to the detriment of the group as a whole. Don’t be that guy (or gal).

The only way authors, publishers, and editors are going to succeed in this increasingly-hostile landscape where we have to fight for every shred of recognition we receive is to do it together. You can all sing at the campfire. We will all applaud and be happy you joined us. We’ll pass around the marshmallows and moonshine and have fun together. I’d rather eat s’mores with my friends than shout them down because if we’re all yelling no one is heard.