WriteTip: Advice On Why No Is Rarely Personal – Handling Rejection For New Writers

WriteTips-flatYesterday at ConQuest, a panel discussion led to talks about editors and writers and how much editors love discovering new writers and great new stories. And in the midst of it, I got reminded how intimidated writers often are by editors, especially writers who don’t know any personally. I’ve experienced this myself as a writer and as an editor. So I wanted to offer a little perspective.

The most important advice is this: “NO” is almost never personal. The only times it is personal, you’ll know it because the person will make it obvious. And this is very rare. Seriously. The reality is that hearing “No” is just part of being a writer. And saying “No” is part of being an editor. Editors take no more glee in saying it than writers do in hearing it. Unless, of course, you’ve pissed the editor off. So don’t do that.

Editors say “No” for lots of reasons, many of which have to do with factors besides simply elements of your story and certainly besides who you are. If they have a similar story already, you’ll hear “N0.” If they have too many stories with a particular theme, setting, etc., it’s “No.” If they have budget issues because of length of stories they bought–especially with the headliners whose name cache helps sell the books– then it will be a “No.”  And so on and so forth.

The only things you can do to lessen the likelihood of rejection are to:

a) respect and follow the guidelines. Doesn’t matter if they are annoying or sound stupid. Just do it. You can be rejected simply for ignoring them, because you are saying, “I’m an exception and my story’s so good you won’t care.” Well, wrong. We do ask for guidelines for a reason, and you’re not going to be that exceptional.

or b) Write an awesome story.

c) Submit early in the open reading period. This will make it more likely that if similar stories come in, yours was chosen first and you won’t be rejected for the other reasons mentioned above.

Those are the best ways to avoid rejection, honestly. Beyond that, it’s a matter of timing, luck, and finding the right market. Just like everyone tells you.

People who reject you for personal reasons almost always reveal that in some way, from comments to a later post or off the cuff comment, etc. But most professionals leave that stuff aside when choosing stories. Because all we care about is that the story is awesome and whether we can work with you in a respectful relationship. Don’t be an asshole and the rest won’t matter. If you’re an asshole to the editor, it tells them you don’t respect them and likely wouldn’t take edit notes. And it’s not worth the bother for them. It’s that simple.

So how do you respond to a “No?” Don’t email them to criticize their taste. Don’t badmouth them on social media. Don’t even graciously thank them in an email for considering the story. Chances are they are overwhelmed with emails already and won’t want to have to sort through another.

Instead, send the story elsewhere or polish based on any suggestions offered that you find useful and then send it out.

Write another story and submit to them again.

And the cycle repeats. Seriously. There’s no magic trick here. Persistance, Politeness, Professionalism — these are the keys to success. Ask successful writers.

Short but sweet, but I hope it’s helpful. Seriously. It will also help your self-confidence and morale to remember this: “No” is rarely personal, it’s just part of the process.

Now, go write more stories! And good luck!


 

Bryan Thomas Schmidt
Bryan Thomas Schmidt

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Books For Kids and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Land Of Legends appeared from Delabarre Publishing in 2012. His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthologies Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press,Beyond The Sun for Fairwood Press, Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera For a New Age for Every Day, and Shattered Shields with coeditor Jennifer Brozek for Baen Books (forthcoming in November).  His first YA anthology CHOICES will be out from EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy in 2015. He is currently working on Gaslamp Terrors, Mission: Tomorrow (BAEN) and Galactic Games (BAEN), amongst others. He has also edited novels, including the New York Times Bestseller The Martian by Andy Weir.  He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter.

WriteTip: 6 Things Any Writer Can Do To Make Science Fiction and Fantasy Better

WriteTips-flatYou may have noticed there’s a lot of yelling going on in Science Fiction and Fantasy these days. Some yell because they’re angry. Some yell because they’re sick of the yelling. Others yell to be trolls. And the cycle never seems to end. I’m not much for yelling myself. It may serve as a great vent for your emotions, but it rarely actually serves to change anyone’s mind. Instead, it often makes people tune you out. BUT on the other hand, there are things I and every writer can do to make things better. So for this week’s Write Tip, I thought I’d suggest a few.

1) Don’t Write the World as it is but As You Want It To Be. — It’s real easy to complain about the world not changing or wishing it were better. But one of the great advantages of speculative fiction is that writers can invent worlds and make them into what they want them to be. Take advantage of it. Don’t just imagine the pessimistic world in which you live. Imagine one that’s better. Write a world that models what you’d like our world’s future to be. It’s a great way to demonstrate possible viable changes in attitude, culture, etc. without preaching at people. It’s also often a lot more pleasant experience for yourself and readers. And it certainly would help avoid a lot of cliches and rehashing that so commonly occur.

2) Avoid Placing Female and Minority Characters Solely in Traditional Roles. —  Just as the world can be whatever you want it to be in your imagination, so can people. NO housewives or Mexican gardeners. Instead, you can write of black women in power or gays in a majority, etc. You can invert the norms you see around you and imagine roles for people that might not exist yet. This is another way to demonstrate a viable future without preaching, and to promote positive change in the process.

3) If You Want Diversity, Write It. — Seriously. It’s very easy to write what you know. And sometimes that means falling back into writing about people like you. But the world is full of people who don’t look and act like you, and if you’re creating a world that can be even more so the case. So if you want to see it, make it so, as Captain Picard might say. If you can imagine it, you can write it, and what a great way to paint images that stimulate the imaginations of others by doing so.

4) Don’t Preach A Message, Show It In Action. — Yep, Show vs. Tell even applies to this. People hate being preached at. Sometimes, even if they agree with you. So instead of pounding them over the head with message fiction, just demonstrate the results of what you desire to see. Not just with the setting and characters, but the actions, dialogue and culture surrounding them. Model the future you’d like to see. Write it so it’s real for readers. Because chances are, if they couldn’t imagine it before, you can enable them to. And imagination is always a key step to real change in cultures and societies. That’s one reason the arts have always been so powerful.

5) Channel Your Passions. — There’s a lot of anger going on for many reasons in our world today. And the Science Fiction and Fantasy community is certainly no different. Channel your passion into great storytelling. Worry less about preaching or arguing with people and more about telling stories that will inspire them to change themselves and want to change the world. Sounds hard, I know, but the list of books that have influenced the world for the better is a long one.  And I know more top selling authors who avoid politics and religion and instead bring out their ideas through good stories than I do who spend hours and hours arguing and angrily decrying those who don’t share their beliefs. Certainly there’s a time and place for that, but being nasty creates an ambiance, frankly, whether you’re wrong or right, and that can affect readership and publication. Readers want to read pleasant people. And publishers want to work with pleasant authors. I know you’re passionate. You’re an artist. You have to be. But just remember that the bigger the audience and outlet, the more people hear you, and it’s easier to be heard with great art than angry diatribes. By channeling your emotions into characters and story, you can add a vivid reality to your storytelling that will speak louder than you ever could alone, really affecting and connecting with reader’s hearts.

6) Be The Kind Of Citizen You Want Others To Be. — Okay, I admit, this one is inspired by my belief in “doing unto others,” a biblical notion. But it really does ring true. If you treat others with respect and kindness, most will return the same to you. If you want equality, treat others as equals. If you want respect, be respectful. If you want to see diversity, surround yourself purposefully with diverse people. Go where you can meet them, get to know them, interact and befriend them, and hang out. I could go on and on, but I won’t. I just know that some of my best friends and best teachers have been people I met in places an upper middle class white boy from Kansas would never expect to be. And those have stuck with me for a lifetime. It’s transforming to see the world through others’ eyes, but you can’t do it if you don’t take time to know others who aren’t like you and listen to them. Chances are, if you surround yourself with diversity, readers will be encouraged to do the same. It’ll also infuse your writing and worldbuilding for all the suggestions I made above. And you’ll be seen as someone who lives what they believe, not just someone who suggests it in words alone.

Well, there you have six suggestions, some easier than others, but all truly possible, for how you can make Science Fiction and Fantasy better. I hope some of you will try them. I have been and will continue to do so. I know there’s room for improvement, but I want to make change, not just talk about it. How about you?


Bryan Thomas Schmidt
Bryan Thomas Schmidt

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince (2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthologies Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012), Beyond The Sun (2013), Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera For a New Age (2013) and coedited Shattered Shields (Bean, 2014) with Jennifer Brozek and is working on Monster Corp.A Red DayMission Tomorrow, andGaslamp Terrors, among others. He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter.

 

WriteTip: The Importance Of Writing Rules As Boundaries For Learning Craft

WriteTips-flatSince December of 2010, I’ve been interviewing authors, editors and others almost weekly on craft every Wednesday for SFFWRTCHT, and one of our regular and favorite question is about Best and Worst Writing Advice. It’s always interesting the answers we get. And after hundreds of guests, only a few repeats, it always amazes me how many different answers we get.  In fact, sometimes a repeat guest will answer differently each visit.

But what surprises me sometimes are the harsh rejections of mainstays writing rules like “avoid passives,” etc. I think sometimes experienced writers reach a point where old rules seem more limiting than helpful, perhaps. But I still find and believe, as an editor and author both, that those rules have an important role to play in most writer’s development and growth with craft.

There’s another old adage in entertainment that applies as much to publishing as Hollywood. It goes like this:  “No one knows everything.”

And while it’s true no one knows everything, you do need to know the boundaries before you break them, and writing rules are a great way to learn those.

For example, passives are a weaker form that when employed exclusively or excessively weaken the storytelling and act as telling, not showing. Once you’ve learned how to construct strong sentences, yes, you can use passives effectively, but in the beginning especially, I think learning to write without them is absolutely important and even essential to success.

Another thing about writing rules is that they often outline pet peeves of various people, and some care about one rule more than others. But the value in knowing them is that they tend to help guide you to a stronger path and stronger prose. And they often identify common weaknesses and missteps writers have taken which have hurt their writing, their success, and the appeal of their work not just to publishers but to readers as well. There are differences between writing fiction and nonfiction, between journalism and fiction, and so on. And sometimes fiction rules are helpful if you’re experienced with another form of writing but inexperienced with fiction, as I was.

There’s another adage that gets trotted out too: “Rules are made to be broken.”

You hear people cite writers like Stephen King or Neil Gaiman who have broken rules. And yes, they have and get away with it. But usually they get away with it because the rules are so imbedded into their process that when they stray from them, they do it with such skill that it just works in ways a lesser writer couldn’t manage.  You see, knowing the boundaries so well that they become second nature has advantages, and one of those advantages is that you can later deviate outside them a bit without falling off a cliff.

Let me say it again, knowing the boundaries is necessary before you can risk going outside them. And teaching boundaries is what the writing rules so often taught are for.

As a professional editor of both anthologies and novels, I see people violating the rules all day long. Rarely is it on purpose. Most often it’s because they don’t know the rules or understand how to abide by them. And the result is always sloppier, weaker writer, and a less effectively told tale. ALWAYS. I can’t count how many times a day I have to correct over and over the same errors and explain the same rules. It gets tedious. Sometimes it gets annoying. But it’s the job, and it’s made up for by the pleasure and joy I get in seeing the final polished project overcome these weaknesses and really sparkle and shine.

You can’t be expected to just know everything when starting out. And you won’t learn unless someone takes the time to show you, to explain. So part of my role as editor is to do that for you, gently, but firmly. And I try and do it with a sense of humor, too, to hopefully lessen the sting. But I still have to do it, and you still need to learn the rules.

Just because they seem arbitrary doesn’t mean they are. Just because they can be annoying doesn’t mean you can ignore them.

These rules have developed over decades for good reason. And although they evolve as tastes and grammar and publishing house style guides change, most of them have remained relatively the same for a very long time.

So next time you hear or see your writing hero blow off the rules, don’t take it as an invitation to do so yourself. Your journey is not the same as theirs. In fact, your journey is not identical to anyone’s. Learn the rules, practice them until they become instinct and you can recite them by heart. Learn them until you don’t even remember them anymore, you just do it. Because you’ll be a better writer, that’s what their for. And you’ll be more successful and respected.

And once you have that respect, then you can throw caution to the wind and go crazy. But not before.

For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince (2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthologies Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012), Beyond The Sun (2013), Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera For a New Age (2013) and coedited Shattered Shields (Bean, 2014) with Jennifer Brozek and is working on Monster Corp.A Red DayMission Tomorrow, andGaslamp Terrors, among others. He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter.

 

WriteTip: On Writing What You Know As A Search For Truth

 

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First things first, it’s been a while since I wrote one of these posts. Apologies to anyone who follows the blog. I honestly ran dry in my well, because I was working on so many creative projects from writing to editing that finding energy, let alone time, for blogging was not happening. I think it was a worthwhile break for me, but I do need to reconnect with my audience I didn’t want to leave you all behind forever, and I certain value our relationship. Thanks for your patience. I am going to try and resume these once a week on Thursdays at least three times a month.

So for our first topic back, I wanted to reflect on an old mainstay, the advice to “Write What You Know.”

In a Twitter interview last night with New York Times Magazine culture editor Adam Sternbergh about his new science fiction noir novel, Shovel Ready, Sternbergh responded to my usual question about good and bad writing advice as follows: “Worst: Write what you know. Classic workshop trope. But what I know isn’t interesting enough for anyone to read.”

On the surface, I understand his sentiments, however, I’m going to disagree. Perhaps if we dug deeper into the statement with Sternbergh, he might agree with me but for now, we’ll just deal with the statement as is.

I believe the advice to write what you know is about a quest for truth. Writing what you know is easier for several reasons. The more familiar you are with them, the more realistic the characters and situations you write will be.  Assuming you only apply this advice to a few things, you might say, “Oh, I’m a journalist, it’s been done, boring,” or “Oh, I’m a housewife, who wants to read that.” However, I think the advice goes deeper.

Whether you’re writing speculative fiction or contemporary, historical or alternate history, readers will only connect with your story if they find elements they can relate with. From characters to situations, your story’s connectivity is going to come from the truths it contains. And so I think the advice to write what you know is very important because if you want people to connect, you must tell the truth, and you can’t write truth without knowing something about it.

In a far future tale on an  alien planet, what resonates with us are the emotions of characters, their relationships, how they see the world. Sometimes those are very different from our own, yes, but that very fact can be illuminating of our own experience. Other times, those emotions, relationships and views are like ours, and in such cases we can see ourselves in the situation reacting with the character.

Regardless of which way it goes, most readers ask themselves questions as they read, like: “What would I do in that situation?” “How would I react?” etc. And so the motives of the characters, their actions, and their emotions need to reflect believable truth for us to really find the story plausible. If they don’t, it doesn’t make sense and leaves us feeling unsatisfied.

So, as cliche as the advice “Write What You Know” may seem on the surface, I have to say it’s become so common because it speaks of a universal truth. In writing, one must write things that are true for his or her story to be true enough for readers to connect with it.  In a sense, writing what you know then becomes less about writing characters, settings, etc. that are based on your real world experiences and yourself, and more about creating ones that reflect reality in some familiar way that readers will relate with. And if that is the case, then writing what you know is indeed very good advice.

Giving writing advice is tough, because so much of it can vary from person to person, even conflict with that of others. You do have to use discernment in applying such advice, of course, and use what you can, ignore what you can’t. But to me, “Write What You Know” is advice we all can use to make our fiction stronger. That’s why I think it comes up so often, and why I think it’s stuck around so long.

Dig deep. Find the truth in your settings, characters, and situations. No matter how fantastical you dress it up, that truth is what will keep readers coming back and make your stories stay with them long after they’ve turned the last page. There’s truth in characters, relationships, settings, and all sorts of details no matter how smile. Find them, use them, and they will bring your fiction depth and make it pop off the page, make it come to life. That’s what good writing is all about. It’s what makes stories successful and memorable.

To me, that’s advice worth knowing. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt
Bryan Thomas Schmidt

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince (2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthologies Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012), Beyond The Sun (2013), Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera For a New Age (2013) and coedited Shattered Shields (Bean, 2014) with Jennifer Brozek and is working on Monster Corp.A Red DayMission Tomorrow, andGaslamp Terrors, among others. He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter.

Write Tip: Creating Releases To Send With Review Copies

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Okay, it’s been a few months since I did one of these. I’ll admit, my well was running dry and needed a break to refresh. But I’m going to pick it back up now with a subject that many authors and even small publishers might benefit from: creating releases to go with review copies as you send them out.

If you’re not on a list to receive ARCS from majors, you may not have seen one. But all ARCs (Advanced Review Copies) come with a press release containing key information about the book. They are easy to create. I did mine in Word. And yet, they entice the recipient to read as well as making it easy for them to find key information about the author and book in case they want to write reviews, do interviews, or more.

I recently made these for my latest anthologies and here’s what they look like for Raygun Chronicles:

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So let’s break it down. First, your header should include the publisher’s logo and primary business address.

The footer should include the meta data about the book (as shown), including page count, release date, sale price, ISBN, format, etc.

360 pages · ISBN 978-0-9881257-5-9 · Hardcover: $29.95US/$34.95CAD ·
Publication: December 3, 2013 · Paperback: ISBN  978-0-9881257-6-6 $17.95US/$19.95CAD ·
ebook: ISBN 978-0-9881257-7-3 $6.99US/$8.99CAD

Usually centered. This is the key information for both reviews and articles as well as booksellers and others who might want to order the book.

The header and footer should be the same on every page of the release. And I should tell you, two pages is usually more than enough. In fact, most are a page and a half.

Now let’s look at what lies between.

First, at the top right corner, put contact information. An email address, name hyperlink and even phone number if you want, usually for a publicist or publisher who will serve as key point of contact for inquiries about the book. Sometimes the release date is also included in bold above this information.

Next, key quotes. If you’re fortunate enough to have early reviews or blurbs back, use them. If they’re too long, trim or use judicious ellipses, but don’t change the meaning of anything. This is very important. You will be called on it and having those kinds of questions raised in the middle of a release is not advisable. It’s an unneeded distraction at the least.

Then, centered, in large text and bold, Title and author’s name as a reminder which book this release pertains to. After all, most reviewers and interviewers get many ARCs and releases and they can be easily separated and all look alike. Make it easy for them to be matched up again if necessary.

Then a brief summary about the book, using your best exciting, sales language, of course, to make them want to read.

This should be followed by a bio of the author. 100-150 words should suffice. Less if possible. Concise and quick is what matters here. You want to excite and tease them but not make them stop reading.

Then after the bio, usually on page 2 (as shown) include blurb clips from author’s previous work. Sometimes there can be images of the book, but these increase printing cost. Often a list of the author’s other titles with ISBNs and prices is included.

Regardless, this is the standard information for such releases. The purpose is to get the recipient to prioritize attention to the book in question. And so keep it concise, clean, and positive. But also be honest and don’t overdo it. After all, the book should speak for itself. Remember, with all the requests inundating them and the fact that not every book, subject or author appeals to everyone, your book may not be chosen. Sometimes they’ve reviewed too much in that genre recently or even an0ther of your books. Sometimes, there are other reasons. Regardless, getting it into their hands and getting their attention is your job. What happens after that is not.

Printing these double sided is a good idea, but stapled double pages is also common. Regardless, they are easy to make and cheap to print and they will make even your self-published or micropress book look professional alongside the books from the majors. Provided your cover design and layout can compete, that is. But that’s a different post.

So that’s how to make your own professional Release Cover Letters For Review Copies of your books. I hope it’s useful. For what it’s worth…


Beyond The Sun revised coverBryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction including the novels The Worker Prince and The Returning, and the children’s books 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Land Of Legends. His debut novel, The Worker Prince (2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthologies Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (Flying Pen Press, 2012), Beyond The Sun (Fairwood, July 2013), and Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera For a New Age  (Every Day Publishing, November 2013) and is working on Shattered Shields with co-editor Jennifer Brozek (Baen, 2014). He also hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and can be found via Twitter as @BryanThomasS, on his website atwww.bryanthomasschmidt.net or Facebook.

WriteTip: Using Assumption as a Dramatic Device

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Since I’ve talked a lot about assumption over the past week, it seems appropriate to point out how useful it can be in creating conflict and tension in your fiction. Assumption is deadly for unity and relationships, most of us have learned this by experience or will at some point. The same can be true of your characters. Nothing quite ups the ante like having characters miscommunicating about something. When readers realize they are doing so because of false assumptions on the part of one or both, it just ups the tension and desire to see not only a resolution but how they’ll get there.

As a device, this is quite common in interpersonal relationships. The wife sees the husband talking to a woman. They’ve been fighting. She begins suspecting him of an affair. Then various circumstances happen and the wife assumes the worst about each. Pretty soon she’s c0nvinced the affair is real and confronts her husband, who can’t imagine where she ever got the idea.

This also commonly works well in detective stories. The detectives/cops/investigators gather evidence and make certain assumptions. They choose suspects and treat them accordingly. When an assumption is proven wrong, they move on to the next suspect, but in the process, they’ve been in conflict with several suspects during the investigation as they narrow down the list.

In any scene, this device can add tension and conflict as the goals of various characters oppose each other and they begin assuming things. How they get around the assumptions and resolve the situation, creates the dramatic arc of the scene. Now, sometimes the assumptions only last for that scene, but often, it’s far more effective to have them carry over further into the story, acting again and again to misdirect and mislead the protagonist or antagonist as they work through obstacles toward their goal.

It’s a very effective device. How do you put it into action?

First, identify what each character’s goal is for a particular scene. Then identify what their goal is for the entire novel or story. All characters, even minor ones, have driving goals. Identifying them allows you to juxtapose them against each other for dramatic tension.

Second, once you’ve identified the characters’ goals, ask yourself how the goals can act as obstacles for other characters? What are some was they can lead to miscommunication, misconstruing of another character’s actions, etc.

Third, decide if the resulting conflict is just for the present scene or something to carry out over two or more scenes.

Then construct a scene wherein the character’s goals cause them to come into conflict with each other.

If supporting characters embrace the assumptions of one or the other, this can only up the tension. For example, the detective who suddenly finds himself confronting an angry crowd who support one key leader’s assumptions. Or the knight up against angry villagers when he takes on one of their own. None of the supporting characters must have exactly the same goal as either key player here, just aligning themselves on one side or another is more than enough.

The result is a rice in tension that helps pacing and drives to story forward, making readers want to know what happens, how it happens, etc.

There’s nothing quite as effective for drawing in readers as a conflict which deepens despite its apparent simplicity in clever ways due to the characters’ actions and assumptions. When they are characters we care about, especially, these situations remind us of similar situations in our own life experiences. And we feel empathy for the characters experiencing them because we know how difficult they were to deal with ourselves. If the characters get themselves into more and more trouble with further assumptions, that just makes the tension all the stronger, creating more and more questions readers can’t wait to see answered as the story continues.

This is a device which works well in any genre or dramatic setting, too. It’s often something storytellers use without being aware of it. But building awareness allows you to be more deliberate in how you employ such a tool and to use it more fully when you do so.

What are some devices you enjoy using in fiction? What are some devices you’ve discovered through another author’s work? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

For what it’s worth…


BTS author photo 2Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction including the novels The Worker Prince and The Returning, and the children’s books 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Land Of Legends. His debut novel, The Worker Prince (2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (Flying Pen Press, 2012) and is working on Beyond The Sun (Fairwood, July 2013), Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera For a New Age  (Every Day Publishing, November 2013) and Shattered Shields with co-editor Jennifer Brozek (Baen, 2014). He also edits Blue Shift Magazine and hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and can be found via Twitter as @BryanThomasS, on his website atwww.bryanthomasschmidt.net or Facebook.

Write Tip: Worldbuilding – Follow The Truth Not Someone Else’s Agenda

WriteTips-flatWant some unsolicited writing advice? Don’t let someone else’s selfish advice box you in on your worldbuilding.

Okay, perhaps an example is in order.

I recently read an article by a fantasy writer who suggested that if you create a world in which females are wives or slaves or not strong, then you are making a political decision to discriminate against women.

Uh no. I could not disagree more.

If you envision a patriarchal society because it fits your world? That’s legitimate. Especially if you’re modeling it after a historical patriarchal society. What’s not legitimate is to write the female characters in that world as if they are not leaders or given to strengths of their own, despite their political realities. Even in traditional western households where the father brings home the bacon, the mom cooks it and raises the kids, women are often very strong and influential in their households. In fact, many are domestic queens. And that is being strong. Just because a women doesn’t carry a weapon, does not make her weak.

I don’t think every worldbuilding you make should be based on a political agenda, yours or someone else’s. I think there’s a dishonesty in that at times, if it forces you to write a world that doesn’t fit your story or is forced into an unnatural formation for the story.

That’s why advice like that quoted above needs to be disregarded. It assumes that everyone who is not writing the kinds of women that author wants to see written is anti-women. That’s just not the case. Maybe she’s just not your audience.

I do think it’s important to question your motives and decisions in worldbuilding. But don’t let manipulative advice guilt you into bad decisions for the wrong reasons either. The real world should always be an influence, yes. Because it is the only example both author and readers have about what a realistic world should look like. That’s why most made up worlds have religions. We know of no culture on Earth without them. That’s why male-female marital relationships dominate. That’s the world as we know it. It’s also why we often see men as soldiers and workers and women caring for the homes. That refection of reality is honest, not a political decision to discriminate.

At the same time, any author, if he or she is being honest about the world around him/her, will write women in diverse roles, because that is also the world in which we live. And readers will notice if your world is modern and those elements are missing. But if you’re writing an authentic historical setting, you should very much make that setting feel real and honest and reflect those realities in your books. That doesn’t mean you can’t step outside the norm to create interesting characters and elements which stand our from the stereotypes. You can and you should. But someone’s political agenda shouldn’t play a part in manipulating it, period.

The same is true of writing different races and anything else. Allow your world to reflect the world as we know it as appropriate to the time, setting, etc. It also should reflect your experience. And I think that naturally occurs. For example, I tend to write women who are housewives, women who are soldiers, women who are politicians, women who are teachers and more. I grew up with strong women who did many things and were influential leaders at home and in the community, so the women in my stories almost always reflect that when I invent secondary worlds. When I am writing historical settings, I tend to write something much more a reflection of the historical record. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

If you think you’re called to write stories about strong women in non-traditional settings, more power to you. If your story comes from a different place, that should be okay, too. Even if those with a different agenda don’t care to read it. Don’t be bullied by someone else’s guilt trip. There’s a really big difference between writing the world as it fits the story, setting, etc. and forcing the world to reflect what you want it to be. Both are viable, but just because you don’t choose to write the world differently than the story dictates doesn’t make you a bad person. So don’t let the kind of advice I mentioned cramp your style. Be conscious of your decisions, but also be true to yourself and your work.

You’ll write better stories, stories that will find the right readers.

For what it’s worth…


AbeLincolnDino_CoverV2Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction including the novels The Worker Prince and The Returning, and the children’s books 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Land Of Legends. His debut novel, The Worker Prince (2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (Flying Pen Press, 2012) and is working on Beyond The Sun (Fairwood, July 2013), Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera For a New Age  (Every Day Publishing, November 2013) and Shattered Shields with co-editor Jennifer Brozek (Baen, 2014). He also edits Blue Shift Magazine and hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and can be found via Twitter as @BryanThomasS, on his website atwww.bryanthomasschmidt.net or Facebook.

Write Tip: 5 Tips For Choosing The Right Independent Editor

WriteTips-flat I get this question all the time: “How Do I Know What’s Reasonable?” about independent editors and their fees. You’d think people would consider me biased, but in truth, I’m not because although I have absolutely confidence in the quality of our work at Finish The Story and my own independent work, I understand the issue from a writer’s perspective and I want clients who hire me to be comfortable and feel they belong there, not constantly wondering if they made a mistake.

So here are some tips for choosing the right Independent Editor for you.

1) Do Your Research — Don’t take our word for it off our website or business cards and brochures, ask around. Check with people on our client list, others in the industry who might know our reputation, etc. Ask about what we do, how we do it, and the quality. Ask any question you can think of that. That’s just proper due diligence, after all, editing is an investment and your art is in the balance.

2) Don’t Be Afraid To Ask Questions — Feel free to ask us questions directly, too, about all of the same things and more. An editor who won’t answer questions is not one who values the communication necessary to work well with authors. It’s okay to be inquisitive. Better that than miscommunication that damages the relationship. Ask about past experience in your genre, for example. Ask about time frame and how they handle it when they exceed the quote: do they check with you before proceeding or just plow on and expect you to foot the bill?  (I always do the former.) Will they recommend your work to others in the industry if they feel it’s worthy? etc.

3) Ask For A Free Sample Edit — Most of us will edit 5-10 pages free as an example of our work. Take advantage of this.  You can get a sense of what we do, how we do it, and if it will be helpful to you in your process. We get a sense of whether you’re at a level that we can be of benefit. If I don’t think it’s worth the money for you to hire me right now, I’ll tell you honestly. Because I’d rather work with people for whom I can be of benefit, not people who need to spend more time developing craft. Because most writers can’t afford to come back again and again, and I don’t want to ghost write for you.

4) Compare Rates With Industry Standards — What are fair rates? Check the Editorial Freelancer’s Association’s posted Rate Standards here. You’ll get a really good sense from this if the editor you are dealing with is in line with the going rate. You’ll also get a sense of whether your expectations are realistic. In my experience, the latter is most often more of an issue than the former, because writers just don’t realize how much work goes into editing or what that’s worth, and they often undervalue it. If that sounds biased coming from an editor, so be it. But to do well, I have to make multiple passes of your document. I have to work with extreme focus, without distractions, and that means concentrating, and that can be draining. As a result, I set limits on how many hours I edit at a time and even per day. And I also only work on one project at a time, to avoid mixing them up in my mind. Not everyone works that way, but that’s how I get best results. And so I charge what I think is reasonable compensation. I’m still working on the low end of industry standards. But that’s okay, I’m new and still proving myself. But make no mistake, I earn your trust and I don’t have a single unsatisfied client yet. So check out my rates. I want you to know that I’m worth it.

5) Ask Their Prior Clients — Yes, I said this before but it needs to be emphasized again, because it’s perfectly fine to ask for references or track them down on your own. In the writing industry, people often know each other, and most are always happy to answer questions about someone they enjoyed working with or someone they didn’t. Don’t look to create drama. Tweet or Facebook or Email and tell them: “I’m thinking about hiring so-and-so as an editor for my project, and I was curious about your experience working with them.” If what they have to say needs to be kept private, they’ll let you know and find a way to communicate appropriately. If what they have to say is good, chances are they’ll be happy to say it loudly and often. But it never hurts to ask. I’ve never had someone refuse to be a reference in such cases.

So there you have it, five helpful tips for choosing the right independent editor. I hope these give some of you a better sense of what to look at and good questions to ask. Happy editing and continued success!

For what it’s worth…


Beyond The Sun revised coverBryan Thomas Schmidt’s debut novel The Worker Prince received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. His other books include The Returning, and the children’s books 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Land Of Legends. His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (Flying Pen Press, 2012), Beyond The Sun (Fairwood, July 2013), Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera For a New Age  (Every Day Publishing, November 2013) and Shattered Shields with co-editor Jennifer Brozek (Baen, 2014). He also edits Blue Shift Magazine and hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and can be found via Twitter as @BryanThomasS, or his website at www.bryanthomasschmidt.net.

Write Tip: Thou Shalt Not Sin With Commas

WriteTips-flatI know what you’re thinking: a Write Tip on commas? It’s so basic. I must admit, it’s the last subject I thought I’d ever tackle in one of these tips. But please don’t find it insulting. The more I edit, the more I find it is often the very basics of which we writers most need reminding. After all, commas matter.  It seems to be one of the more common errors my editing clients are making.  So perhaps a reminder might be helpful for us all.

Some examples:

She remained standing, firm in her resolve.

She remained, standing firm in her resolve.

Now, he knew it was over.

Now he knew, it was over.

Now he knew it was over.

Suddenly running toward the street, he realized how stupid he’d been.

Suddenly, running toward the street, he realized how stupid he’d been.

Suddenly running toward the street he realized how stupid he’d been.

She served all of his favorites: tossed salad, macaroni and cheese, and carrot cake.

She served all of his favorites: tossed salad, macaroni and cheese and carrot cake.

In each of these examples, you may notice how clearly the comma placement changes both the meaning and the pacing of reading each sentence. Commas provide separation of elements in series, separation of clauses, indications of where readers and speakers should pause in their inflection, and more. Lazy comma usage can do far more than demonstrate your lack of grammatical knowledge, it can also create real confusion in what you’re trying to communicate.

Here are 10 Key Rules for correct comma usage according to http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/commas.htm:

1. Use a comma to separate the elements in a series (three or more things), including the last two. “He hit the ball, dropped the bat, and ran to first base.”

Okay, yes, the comma before the “and” is often called the Oxford Comma, and some consider it unnecessary, which is fine when you have control of things. But some publishing houses’ style guides require it, and, more importantly, there are cases in which leaving it out can cause confusion when two list items appear to go together in ways not intended. Using a comma between all the items in a series, including the last two, avoids this problem.

Take the last two above examples:

She served all of his favorites: tossed salad, macaroni and cheese, and carrot cake.

She served all of his favorites: tossed salad, macaroni and cheese and carrot cake.

Is it macaroni and cheese being served along with carrot cake? Is macaroni being served along with cheese and carrot cake? Are there two kinds of cakes: cheese cake and carrot cake? I think my point is obvious.

 

2. Use a comma + a little conjunction (and, but, for, nor, yet, or, so) to connect two independent clauses, as in “He hit the ball well, but he ran toward third base.”

Sometimes the conjunction makes the separation clear and a comma isn’t needed. But if there is any doubt, use the comma, as it will never be incorrect in this situation. In fact, one of the most frequent comma errors is placing it after the coordinating conjunction. For example,

He ran as far as he could and, then he stopped.

or less obviously perhaps:

Her statement was obvious but, in case there was any doubt, he paraphrased for the others.

A comma before the “but” would be appropriate, but after it is unnecessary and potentially confusing. We do sometimes pause after the little conjunction when speaking, but there is seldom a good reason to put a comma there.

 

3. Use a comma to set off introductory elements, as in “Running toward third base, he suddenly realized how stupid he looked.”

Again, you may omit the comma in such cases if the statement is clear and will not cause readers to stumble, but if there is ever any doubt, use the comma. It will never be wrong.

Several examples from above may serve here:

She remained standing, firm in her resolve.

She remained, standing firm in her resolve.

Now, he knew it was over.

N0w he knew, it was over.

Suddenly running toward the street, he realized how stupid he’d been.

Suddenly, running toward the street, he realized how stupid he’d been.

I see this one a LOT in editing.

 

4. Use a comma to set off parenthetical elements, as in “The Founders Bridge, which spans the Connecticut River, is falling down.”

The term “parenthetical element” here refers to a part of the sentence which could be dropped without changing the essential meaning of the sentence, sometimes called “added information.” This can be one of the more challenging punctuation rules, as what is “added” may not always be clear.

Without hesitation, he ran.

Dropping “without hesitation” would still leave the essential meaning: “he ran.” The parenthetical, in this case, serves to add motivational i.e. emotional context to the action that follows.

 

5. Use a comma to separate coordinate adjectives.  If you can put an and or a but between the adjectives, a comma will probably belong there.

A good example of this might be:

Sarah lives in a very old and run-down house.

Instead, you’d more often say:

Sarah lives in a very old, run-down house.

Here’s a good example of an exception,  however:

That lady is old and little.

Instead, we’d more commonly hear:

That was a little old lady.

Note the lack of commas between “little” and “old lady.”

 

6. Use a comma to set off quoted elements. Generally, use a comma to separate quoted material from the rest of the sentence that explains or introduces the quotation.

This can be difficult to remember because most of us don’t use quoted materially constantly.  But in fiction particularly, it is important when using speech tags or action tags for dialogue.

“General, we have word from the Governor,” the aide reported, handing Gent a message tube and stopping beside him.

or

Gent called back to her as he ran, “Don’t let him out of your sight!”

or

When asked about the issue, Congressman Roberts replied, “I have no comment on that matter at this time.”

But this one can also be abused and confused. As I see incorrect things like this way too often:

“Don’t do anything stupid, Keely!”, he yelled as he went to open his door.

 

7. Use commas to set off phrases that express contrast.

She smiled as their eyes met,  sadness and longing shining from their depths.

 

8. Use a comma to avoid confusion. This is often a matter of consistently applying rule #3.

I think we’ve covered this but it’s a good reminder.

 

9. Grammar English’s Famous Rule of Punctuation: Never use only one comma between a subject and its verb. “Believing completely and positively in oneself is essential for success.” [Although readers might pause after the word “oneself,” there is no reason to put a comma there.]

I see this one a lot, too.

“Mark my words, all of that garbage you’re ingesting, is going to be the death of you!”

No, no, no, no, no! The comma before “is” makes me shudder.

 

10. Typographical Reasons: Between a city and a state [Hartford, Connecticut], a date and the year [June 15, 1997], a name and a title when the title comes after the name [Bob Downey, Professor of English], in long numbers [5,456,783 and $14,682], etc. Although you will often see a comma between a name and suffix — Bob Downey, Jr., Richard Harrison, III — this comma is no longer regarded as necessary by most copy editors, and some individuals — such as Martin Luther King Jr. — never used a comma there at all.

That one’s often determined by personal taste and style guides. Just be consistent within the body of your manuscript. And be prepared for editors with other preferences to raise the issue.

 

So, there you have it, some examples of sinful comma usage to avoid, and legal ways to employ them instead. I hope this is a helpful reminder, even for those of us who feel current on our grammatical knowledge. I know I need reminders myself from time to time. For what it’s worth…


Beyond Sun Cover.inddBryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction including the novels The Worker Prince and The Returning, and the children’s books 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Land Of Legends. His debut novel, The Worker Prince (2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (Flying Pen Press, 2012) and is working on Beyond The Sun (Fairwood, July 2013), Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera For a New Age  (Every Day Publishing, November 2013) and Shattered Shields with co-editor Jennifer Brozek (Baen, 2014). He also edits Blue Shift Magazine and hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and can be found via Twitter as @BryanThomasS, on his website atwww.bryanthomasschmidt.net or Facebook.

Write Tip: Using Nuances and Subtext to Bring Characters and World To Life

WriteTips-flatOkay, this week’s write tip is going to be a bit different. I want you to watch this video first before you read the rest of this post. And you need to watch the whole thing to really get what I’m saying here. Watch it. It’s not cheesy. It’s surprisingly touching and funny. And you won’t know what I mean if you don’t make it through the first two minutes. So you have your assignment. Watch and then we’ll get to the tip.

In case you have trouble with the embedded video in your browser, find it on You Tube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tcVXCeWk0PE

Now. Showing this to people I’ve gotten several varied reactions.

1) Oh, I would never make a fool out of myself like that.

2) Best dad ever!

3) That’s cute!

4) How creative and fun!

5) I couldn’t do that.

My own reaction: this is a man who loves his daughter enough to demonstrate it and celebrate it.

The typical father-daughter dance at weddings is symbolic. We all know why. It’s the passing of the torch of responsibility for the care of the daughter from father to husband. It signifies a letting go, a goodbye, an acknowledgement of leaving home and that everything has changed.

But not really.

What do I mean?

He could have just danced with his daughter. “Butterfly Kisses” is without a doubt one of the best songs written by a father for his daughter ever. It evokes memories for almost anyone who hears it. F0rget about the mention of Jesus and that it’s from a Christian singer. What makes this song work is that it paints pictures of experiences almost every father and daughter have shared and recognize instantly. And it does so over a moving melody with touching arrangement and score.

It’s the perfect tribute for a memorable moment. And in and of itself, I’m sure that it will be the song by which singer Bob Carlisle is forever remembered. So at any wedding, and it’s sung at thousands every year these days, it makes for the perfect accompaniment to this symbolic moment.

But something happens here. Something unexpected. Something that knocks us out of that moment and into another. It could have been cheesy. It could have been ridiculous. But it’s not. It’s done so well and with such good spirits that instead it is perfect. It absolutely makes for one of the most memorable and meaningful father-daughter dances I have ever seen. Because what I see here is a father who is remembering being silly with his baby girl and celebrating that by doing it one more time. He’s saying, “this dance is not for you or what you think, audience. This is for me and my girl. And it’s a moment we’ll never forget.”

It gives me chills. It’s a celebration of a father’s true love for his daughter, of the joy they find in each other. Of the magic that exists in a parent-child relationship. It’s one last chance to marvel and wonder at what they’ve found together in each other. And it’s a fearless example of self-sacrifice.

This father in no way looks like the type of guy who would just shake his booty like he does here. Now, I don’t know him. He could be a trained pro dancer for all I know. (I doubt it. He wasn’t slick enough, but it doesn’t matter.) The point is that instead of letting a moment be entirely melancholy just because it’s fitting, he decided to turn it into a celebration of the joy of fatherhood with his daughter.

Honestly, that’s love.

And to me, it’s a great example of nuances and subtext.

As an editor, I’ve seen a lot of beginning writers who write transparently. They don’t know how to impart subtext intentionally. Occasionally it happens, but it’s all an accident. It’s a lesson I admit to having to learn and continuing to learn myself.  Because for a story and a world and a character to be real, we as readers need to recognize them. And real people live lives full of subtext and nuances in everything they do.

The simple act of a father dancing with his daughter is just an example. You could assume the motive is transparent. It’s tradition. It’s something you’re expected to do. He doesn’t want to disappoint his daughter or family. It’s that simple.

And if all they had done was dance to “Butterfly Kisses,” that might be all we see here. But that’s not what happens.

Instead, they break it out into something quite different and unexpected and delightful. And from their expressions, their enthusiasm, we can see that it’s about so much more. Missed it? Watch the video again. Seriously.

These are not people who have rehearsed so much that they look like robots. They clearly rehearsed. They match their dance moves too closely for that not to have been the case. But it’s clear they are enjoying it. It’s not done rotely or robotically with no emotion. They look comfortable, relaxed and happy doing it. This is from the heart.

As a result, for me, it’s magic. And that’s the kind of magic we as writers need to earn to work into our stories to make them jump off the page and come alive.

You character hugs his wife goodbye before heading off to battle. It’s what husbands do. What soldiers do. But what else could be behind it? Maybe their marriage has grown cold and routine, and they have to work harder to recapture the passion they had when they first fell in love. Maybe they don’t touch like they used to, and the husband wants to remind the wife one more time that she matters to him, that she’s in his heart.

Or maybe the husband is remembering all the previous times they’ve said goodbye, not knowing if they’d see each other again. Maybe it reminds them of the friends, other married couples, who played out the same goodbye only the warrior never came home.

All kinds of things can be going on.

Our job as writers is to figure out what those things are for these characters and find ways to evoke it through their actions, their thoughts and their words, without necessarily spelling it out directly. It takes subtlety. And it takes good set up. Little hints and moments before and after that multiply together to tell us what’s going on in that moment. But it’s these nuances and the subtext that results which add a depth and poignancy, when done well, that brings both characters and world a level of realism that makes it pop. And sells it to your readers as s0mething they can imagine really happening.

So yes, it’s a wedding video. But I hope now you can see why I’m saying this is so much more. Because I think it is. And our stories need lots of moments with so much more, too. At least, if we want to elevate them beyond the ordinary to the memorable and special, that is. And I know that’s what I’m shooting for. What about you?

For what it’s worth…


Beyond Sun Cover.inddBryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction including the novels The Worker Prince and The Returning, and the children’s books 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Land Of Legends. His debut novel, The Worker Prince (2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (Flying Pen Press, 2012) and is working on Beyond The Sun (Fairwood, July 2013), Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera For a New Age  (Every Day Publishing, November 2013) and Shattered Shields with co-editor Jennifer Brozek (Baen, 2014). He also edits Blue Shift Magazine and hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and can be found via Twitter as @BryanThomasS, on his website at www.bryanthomasschmidt.net or Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/bryanthomass?ref=hl.

Write Tips: Shortcuts For Formatting Your Manuscript To Meet Guidelines

WriteTips-flatAs an editor, I am surprised how many writers seem to struggle with manuscript formatting–either not doing it per guidelines, not making effort, etc. There are many reasons editors ask  for specific formatting. For example, when I turn manuscripts into publishers who use Adobe InDesign (a manuscript formatting software), there are sometimes issues with importing so they need things simple and formatted to make that easier and save time. Some editors find manuscripts easier to read double spaced, etc. and since they read a lot, they need you to make it easy so you can get a fair shot. These reasons may not sound compelling to some writers but the burden is on you to make the reading experience fun not just from writing a good story but also in presentation, so you should care.

To make things easier, though, particularly in Microsoft Word or Open Office, there are things you can do to shortcut formatting. Maybe you don’t want to worry about it as you write. That’s why I use Scrivener and let it do the work for me. But if you’re doing it all in a Word Processor, here’s three handy tips.

1) Converting Italics To Underlining or vice versa — Did you know that you can use the REPLACE function to change formatting? Well, you can. If you wanted to convert all italicized words to underlining, for example, a not uncommon editorial guidelines request, you simply have to pull up replace as follows:

Replace Italics Figure 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. Pull up the replace dialogue from your menu.

2. Put the cursor in the first blank and type Control-I (Italics)

3. In the second blank, type Control-U (underlining) then Control-I and Control-I again. This will tell it to remove Italics.

4. Then hit Replace All.

Yep, it’s that simple. And you can do it with converting underlining to italics, bold, etc.

Here’s another tip.

2) Select All + Set Tabs — Suppose you need to fix the tabs on your manuscript. One way ti globally fix them is to use Select All.

Select All Figure 2

 

 

 

 

1. Find Select All On Your Menu or use Control-A to select all, highlighting all the text in your document.

Tabs Figure 3

 

 

 

 

 

2) Then on the ruler, click where you want the tabs.

Most of your text will slide into position. Places where spacing or margin markers were moved instead of tabs will have to be corrected by hand but this is a big timesaver in regards to an entire document as it will keep you from having to fix each tab one at a time.

3) DocX Line Space Removal — One of the more annoying features in Word is the additional space added between paragraphs automatically. To eliminate this, you need to do the following:

Select All Figure 2

 

 

 

 

1. Find Select All On Your Menu or use Control-A to select all, highlighting all the text in your document.

Paragraph Dialogue Box Figure 5

 

 

 

 

 

2. Pull Up the Character Dialogue Box by clicking the arrow in that section of your menus.

Doc X space removal Figure 4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. Click the box next to “Don’t add space between paragraphs of the same style” and then hit OK.

This will remove those pesky spaces throughout your document.

4) Quick Styles & Templates–If there is a particular manuscript format you use a lot, you can set up a template by formatting a document with the necessary formatting, including tabs, no spaces between paragraphs, double spacing, headers, etc. To do this, use a document and go through as follows:

Applying Styles Figure 6

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. Highlight The Text you want to apply the style to.  

Note: You have to do this for every relevant style when setting up a template. It’s time consuming but that’s the only way to define the styles.

2. Click the appropriate style button.

If the default style is not what you want, then make adjustments to the text to add italics, underlining, etc. Do this without clicking a style button again for that text. We are going to reprogramming the definition of that button.

3. You can even include graphics.

This is handy if you are making a template for stationary, say, or something similar.

Saving Templates In Word Figure 7

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. Click Save as, select “Word Template” in the document type and then name your template and Save.

The next time you want to apply this format to your document, you can then take the following steps:

1. Open the document you want to apply a template to. On the File Tab, press the Options button.

2. Select Add-Ins option from the menu on the left side of the Options dialog.

3. Click on Manage and choose Templates from the dropdown list. Press Go to open the Templates and Add-Ins Window.

4. Press Attach to open the Template Attachment Dialog. Select the template you want to attach to your document and then press Open.

5. When prompted, select Automatically Update Styles to change the styles of your document to match the styles of your template. Then click OK.

Yes, I know. It sounds time consuming. But only for set up. Once you have the template created, it’s a huge time saver. You can apply any template to any document so set up templates for the markets you submit to most and you won’t have to worry about spending long amounts of time reformatting submissions before you send them out.

Those are just 4 big time saving shortcuts for manuscript formatting. I’d love to hear others in comments, if you have them. Meanwhile, I hope this is helpful in freeing you up to write! For what it’s worth…


Beyond Sun Cover.inddBryan Thomas Schmidt is the editor of Blue Shift Magazine and an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince (2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exoduswill appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Land Of Legends from Delabarre Publishing.  His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012) and is working on Beyond The Sun for Fairwood Press (July 2013), headlined by Robert Silverberg, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Mike Resnick and Nancy Kress, and Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera For a New Age for Every Day Publishing (November 2013). He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Write Tip: 8 Tips For How To Approach Editing Your Work

WriteTips-flatThere’s nothing quite as enlightening for a writer as editing other’s works. I’ve learned a great deal about what to do and what not to do from my freelance editing which has helped me grow as a writer. So here are 10 key tips I’ve learned for Editing Your Novel:

1) Preserve The Fresh Eye — This can’t be overemphasized. I am not possessed of a great deal of patience. Never have been. But I’ve been editing for five years now, and I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned that has helped me improve my work. But none of that can be applied without having proper perspective. Putting aside your work until the rush of adrenaline and accomplishment at having finished such a monumental project fades (at least 4-6 weeks) is vital. Move on with other projects after a day or two of celebration. Get your mind on other things. You’ll come back much fresher and with better distance to be objective in reviewing your own work. After all, editing requires killing babies and nitpicking your favorite words and phrases, and you can’t be emotionally attached and do that well. This is an excellent time to send the work out for beta reading or notes. While you wait for that feedback, you can’t really begin editing in earnest, right? Or at least shouldn’t.

2) Watch Out For Intruder Words — This one is so vital I did a separate post on it here, but the basics are look for words like “saw, thought, wondered, felt, knew, heard,” etc. are all ‘intruder’ words. They intrude on the action, by stating extemporaneously what can be written more actively.  They pull us out of the intimate POV of the character and throw things into telling or passiveness.  There are times when one might deliberately choose to use intruder words. But these should be done with careful thought and sparingly.   Otherwise “She felt the wind blow across her face” is stronger as “The wind blew across her face”.  Or “She heard a bang” is better written as  ”A bang thundered behind her.”

3) Don’t Abuse The Tags — Speech tags are so common that people use them without much thought, but the industry has come to lean more and more toward minimal usage. When you have two characters going back and forth, you don’t always need to identify the speaker. If one of them makes a gesture or action, you can describe that action instead, and we’ll know the dialogue in the same paragraph is from that character. Also, be careful not to use words that are not descriptors of speech patterns. “I’m coming,” Bob waved, “as fast as I can.” Uh, no. Try: Bob waved in acknowledgement. “I’m coming as fast as I can.” Which makes more sense? I’ll do a post on this later on but it’s something that can and should be looked at in revision. Eliminate as many as you can.

4)  Read Aloud — This is one I struggle with. It can feel odd to read things aloud to yourself, but it also has great value. Especially in finding run-on sentences, awkwardly paced phrasing and even repetitive words. I often read aloud when I am comparing one wording with another to find which is more natural. Just because our internal voice reads as we write doesn’t mean our words will translate the same way for others. Remember that writing is a rhythm of stops and starts. You may pause to choose words and then continue without realizing you’ve just created an awkwardly paced or long sentence, or even missed punctuation that would make it clear. Reading it aloud, or even listening to someone else do so (if you can bear it), can teach you a lot about where you need to make changes.

5) Set Daily Goals — Don’t try and edit your entire novel in one sitting. You will start skimming and skipping without even realizing it. Editing requires a very focused reading and most of the time 2-5 chapters will be more than enough to accomplish in one sitting. Finish them and take a few hours away to refresh before starting on more. It’s okay to set goals for what you want to accomplish each day, but allow flexibility that enables you to step away when you get that glossy-eyed feeling so you can preserve the quality over quantity of your editing time.  Even when editing other people’s work, I set daily goals, because I know that at a certain point I become less effective and my work suffers for it. This happens all the more so when I am editing work I’m so overly familiar with, like my own.

6) Work From A Checklist — Either based on beta reader or editor notes or you own writing experience, having a checklist can be an excellent tool. Cat Rambo provides examples here. What are the areas of weakness and strength you’ve discovered in yourself as a writer? What are things you need to focus on? Is there a particular arc or character speech pattern to examine and refine? Are there themes which you discovered as you wrote you want to work in and layer throughout? What about repetitive words? Do you need to add or trim description? Maybe you need to cut excess words? Having a checklist to refer to with each chapter can keep you from getting sidetracked by one aspect and ignoring others. It can keep you on track and remind you to address all of the issues which were on your mind when you sat down to commence the edit.

7) Evaluate Necessity — One of the most important things to do is to evaluate the purpose of every scene and character. What does this scene or character do to further the plot? How do they relate to the key conflicts? Do they advance the story? World-building is a legitimate way to advance the story but don’t overdo it. 3 pages of double spaced manuscript can be 10 pages in the finished book. Will readers really sit through that much description and detail about every day items, clothing, food, etc.? Did you really need a new character for that moment or could an existing one have been recycled allowing you to develop them further? Does that little vignette about the character’s past or emotional life really contribute to what’s going on now? If the answer to any of these questions is no, then you need to be willing to start cutting nonvital characters, scenes, words, etc.

8 ) Be Willing To Work In Stages — Sometimes, especially when an area is a particular weakness, focusing on just one issue while editing is appropriate. You can do separate passes for pacing, removing extra words, character arcs, etc. if necessary. Don’t be so rushed to get it done that you don’t allow yourself the time to get it right. It’s a natural part of the writing journey that we internalize various skills as we go along and develop, but we don’t start out with mastery of them all or an ability to use them all simultaneously. Even as a professional editor, I can’t do a serious copyedit and developmental edit at the same time. I have to do them separately. The two tasks require different types of focus and thinking and one can easily distract from the other. So be willing to break your edit into separate passes or stages when required. Your book will be much better for it.

I’m sure I could think of more tips but that’s enough for today. Those are tips I find are not often remembered because editing discussions so often focus on craft and storytelling details, but how you approach the process can be just as vital to the success of it as those technical details. So I hope these are helpful in stimulating your planning and approach. I’d love to hear your thoughts in comments. By the way, these same tips can be applied on a smaller scale to editing short stories as well. And they work for both fiction and nonfiction. I edit all three. For what it’s worth…


BTS & Friend take 2Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the editor of Blue Shift Magazine and an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince (2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exoduswill appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Land Of Legends from Delabarre Publishing.  His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012) and is working on Beyond The Sun for Fairwood Press (July 2013), headlined by Robert Silverberg, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Mike Resnick and Nancy Kress, and Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera For a New Age for Every Day Publishing (November 2013). He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Write Tip: 5 Things Every Writer Should Know About Working With Independent Editors

WriteTips-flatWith apologies, I’m a day late getting my weekly Write Tip post up.

At some point or another, all writers have to consider whether or not their manuscript could use an editor. For most pros, that’s not even a question. I’ve used editors on all novels since the beginning and all of them have brought great benefit and growth to me as a writer in improving my work. As I grew, I started editing myself and have been editing freelance since 2009. Only in the last few months has it become viable as a part time job, combined with writing to make full time. But the more I do it, the more passionate I become. I love the variety I get to experience from fiction to nonfiction, one genre to another. I love the diversity of voices and writers I encounter. But freelance life can be tough, in large part because many clients don’t really understand what we do, why we do it, and the circumstances under which we work.

So here are ? Things Every Writer Should Know About Working With Independent Editors:

1) Independent Editors are your friends. Our job and living come from helping writers make their work better, the best it can be. It’s the passion that brought us to freelance work and the risks inherent in that, and it’s what keeps us coming back for more.  We are not acquisitions editors looking for a reason to say no. We are not motivated by favoritism and we are not out to crush your dreams. We want your work to sparkle, and we’re thankful you’ve given us the opportunity to help.

2) Independent Editors are freelancers. Most of us work freelance, so what that means is, we get paid by the job, when the client gets around to it. For those, like me, who depend on editing as their sole income, that means we have to set our schedules, find our own clients and set our own guidelines. While we want to help you, we have to treat all clients the same. Your job is not more important than everyone else’s. If I am on a job, the next job I accept begins when the first job is complete. But if I complete your job and you come back to me a month later with changes, you also have to wait in the queue. I cannot drop everything and go back to work for you. I also can’t wait and not take jobs just because you expect to have a manuscript for me to edit on x-date. Turning down paid work is suicide. I can’t afford it, and I can’t afford to turn clients away. So please keep this in mind when you set your expectations.

3) Independent Editors make suggestions. We suggest changes we believe will make your work better, based on a lot of criteria and experience. For those of us who are writers, it’s often things we’ve been told by editors on our own work. There are industry standards, house standards at publishers, etc. as well. Our job is to help you be aware of potential issues. It’s your choice whether or not to take our advice. So, there’s no need to be contentious about changes. It’s just an opinion, the final decision is yours.

4) Independent Editing Takes Focus and Time. Editing is detail oriented. You want someone to read carefully and consider the big picture of the manuscript, not just each page individually, but as a whole. You want the editor’s notes to reflect that. Because it’s difficult to do line and copy edits and developmental edits simultaneously, that means we may need to read your work more than once. That takes time. Because it takes focus, we often can’t edit multiple projects simultaneously. We need to keep our head in the game of your manuscript. So when  you’re our current project, all of our focus is on yours. That means, until we’re done editing your work, we aren’t free to work for anyone else. You pay us to make time and do it right. Editing is not where you want to be cheap, folks. Professional editors at publishers get paid very well per hour. Most freelancers make much less. Keep this in mind next time you complain about how expensive independent editing is.

5) Independent Editors live paycheck to paycheck. Unless you meet an independent editor with a second job, we’re counting on you to help pay our bills. We can take limited numbers of jobs per month, based on what we can reasonably accomplish, and our editing income is a primary source for rent, utilities, food and more. That means if you pay us late, we are late on bills. This is why so many of us ask for deposits up front. I have clients who pay me a month late. Sometimes longer. When I set aside time for January income and don’t get paid until March, that really puts me in a bad position.  It creates stress. Stress hurts my focus for other work. It also requires time to keep reminding you of the payment due. Billing is a necessary evil. It’s not why I got into editing. It’s not my favorite part. I don’t enjoy it. I wish everyone paid fof work they commissioned promptly with consideration for my needs. That’s not the way the world works. But keep this in mind when hiring editors. Most of us will give you an estimate and let you know beforehand if we’re going to exceed that estimate and by how much we expect that to be. Have the money in hand to pay us and please, pay promptly. You’ll make us that much more likely to go the extra mile when working for you in the future or even recommending your work.

So, when you find yourself considering hiring an independent editor, please remember these things and keep them in mind. I strive very hard, as do most independent editors I know, to exceed client expectations. I want you to have a great experience. Most of all, I want you to succeed. I feel like when a client succeeds as a writer, it’s also my success. It feels good. All I ask in return is that we have a good, professional business relationship. That way it mutually benefits both of us. And remember, I learn as much as a writer from editing you as you do from being edited.

For what it’s worth…

Raygun-Chronicles-Make-This-Happen-Banner
My latest project:

BTS author photoBryan Thomas Schmidt is the editor of Blue Shift Magazine and an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince (2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exoduswill appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Land Of Legends from Delabarre Publishing.  His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012) and is working on Beyond The Sun for Fairwood Press (July 2013), headlined by Robert Silverberg, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Mike Resnick and Nancy Kress, and Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera For a New Age for Every Day Publishing (November 2013). He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Write Tip: 8 Good Options to Duotrope For Tracking Submissions

WriteTips-flatDuotrope’s decision to switch to paid subscriptions for their popular submissions tracking solution caused quite an uproar. So I decided to compile information on some alternatives to make available here as part of the growing Write Tips database. Now, let me be clear: Duotrope is still a viable option. They have a right to not go into debt providing their service. Running, updating and maintaining a website is not free. Throwing a fit over their changes in the face of the site’s incredible gr0wth and our failing economy is silly. You may be a poor writer but services still cost money to provide. I thought most of the uproar was pretty unreasonable. However, writers do need a way to track submissions, response times, etc. Tracking story submissions can be one of the most challenging part of the writer’s life. Fortunately, there are a lot of tools out there which can be useful in simplifying tracking. Here are some suggestions.

1) Excel Spreadsheet – For old school, Excel is the way to go. Label columns for STORY TITLE, MARKET, DATE OF SUBMISSION, DATE OF RESPONSE, and NOTES and track them. I use this. You can sort by column to see data on each market’s response times or each story’s submission records, etc. It costs nothing, since most people have MS Office (Open Office has an Excel clone you can use as well), and it’s quick and easy.

2) Card System – This is even more old school, the pre-computer age, but, as Bud Sparhawk explains, still a trusty system for many long time writers. Index Cards are cheap. So’s the shoebox to hold them in.

3) Lists – Writer’s Write offers a Triple system suggestion which is also an option to Excel or the Cards.

Don’t get bored, technophiles, here’s some options for you:

4) The Submission’s Grinder – set up as an alternative to Duotrope, it has both free and subscription options with affordable pricing, although from what I have seen, it’s a much clunkier interface.

5) Sonar (software) – Free to download and use. Now in version 3 with frequent updates and fixes when required.

6) Story Tracker (software) – Designed for both cell phone and IPad and downloadabe for $7.99 from the Apple Store, now in version 2.5.

7) Writer’s Planner -A free online database for submissions tracking. Allows exporting your data for backups.

8 ) The Writer’s Database – A second free online database for submissions tracking.

So you can see that there are many types of options available, many free. I have heard one or more writers recommend all of these methods, but have not tried them all myself, so I’d love to have people comment here with evaluations so those looking can get an idea of how things are. Whatever the case, I’m sure more options will keep popping up over time and there are doubtless some I’m not aware of. I’ll continue to update this post if it proves useful to you.

Meanwhile, happy writing and I wish you success!

For what it’s worth…


Beyond The Sun Mock Cover largeBryan Thomas Schmidt is the editor of Blue Shift Magazine and an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince (2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exoduswill appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Land Of Legends from Delabarre Publishing.  His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012) and is working on Beyond The Sun for Fairwood Press (July 2013), headlined by Robert Silverberg, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Mike Resnick and Nancy Kress, and Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera For a New Age for Every Day Publishing (November 2013). He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Write Tip: Keeping Out The Intruder Words

WriteTips-flatOne of the things you learn on the writing journey is the importance of word choice. Certain types of words have certain types of impacts on your story, not just in evoking emotions or images, but in setting the tone, creating the voice, world building, and more. Some words create intimacy and a feeling of closeness in point of view, carrying readers inside the mind of your characters, inside the world of the story. Others create barriers, distancing them. Among these are Intruder Words.

‘Wondered, felt, thought, saw, knew, heard,’ etc. are all ‘intruder’ words.  They intrude on the action, by stating extemporaneously what can be written more actively.  They pull us out of the intimate POV of the character and throw things into telling or passiveness.  There are times when one might deliberately choose to use intruder words. But these should be done with careful thought and sparingly.   Otherwise “She felt the wind blow across her face” is stronger as “The wind blew across her face”.  Or “She heard a bang” is better written as  “A bang thundered behind her.”

Can you see the difference?

One form describes something flatly, the other creates an experience of it.

One form is rather drab and ordinary, the other visceral and alive. And thus, avoiding such words can help you create prose that pops off the page, bringing your story to life for readers.

Like anything in writing, retraining yourself to avoid using Intruder Words takes practice. At first, you’ll have to go back through and weed them out, like the common passives “began to, seemed to, going to, starting to,” etc. These words are used so naturally in speech and daily living that they’ll pour out of you like maple syrup from a tree. And it will take building your conscious awareness to start relearning when and when not to use them.

Once you’re aware of the problem, however, the process of identifying and eliminating these words can actually be good practice. If like me, you struggle with descriptive phrasing and writing viscerally, they provide an opportunity to learn craft through lots of practice, because you’ll undoubtedly find these words invading your prose on every page. But over time, with practice, you’ll find your mind filters them as you write. “Stop, need a new word,” that inner voice will say. And then, after a while more, you won’t even think of them. At least, not automatically. And using them intentionally is the only way you want to do it when it comes to your prose.

Don’t worry. We’re not talking about something that will make you talk funny. There’s a difference between how people talk and how we must write, after all. As my English teacher Barbara Sackrider once said: “If you say y’all in my classroom, you get an F, but if you talk to me on the street and say ‘you all,’ I’ll look at you like a freak.” Okay, she was joking.  But her point was well taken by my 15-year-old mind. After all, English dialects are complicated and the rules of grammar are tailor-made to be broken by them.

Let’s compare two passages: one with Intruder Words and one without.

 

With

He gained consciousness sweaty and hot, lying on his back. It took a moment for the black spots to fade, replaced by the blinding sunlight and white sand stretching as far as the eye could see. Where am I?  The sandy landscape reflected sunlight and heat back at him as he sat up, shaking off the sleep. Scattered belongings—clothes, canteens, a shattered barrel and trunk, torn saddlebags—stretched off into the distance toward the remains of a wagon. He saw footsteps leading toward him, smeared and uneven as if perhaps he’d stumbled to where he lay. Sunlight glinted off flesh atop a nearby dune. Was someone else alive? Then he saw limbs scattered along the path away from the torso—an arm severed at the elbow, the hand still attached, fingers stiffened like claws, a leg severed mid-thigh, another cut off above the ankle—and he knew the answer.

Without

He gained consciousness sweaty and hot, lying on his back. It took a moment for the black spots to fade, replaced by the blinding sunlight and white sand stretching as far as the eye could see. Where am I?  The sandy landscape reflected sunlight and heat back at him as he sat up, shaking off the sleep. Scattered belongings—clothes, canteens, a shattered barrel and trunk, torn saddlebags—stretched off into the distance toward the remains of a wagon. Footsteps led toward him, smeared and uneven as if perhaps he’d stumbled to where he lay. Sunlight glinted off flesh atop a nearby dune. Was someone else alive? Scattered severed limbs—an arm severed at the elbow, the hand still attached, fingers stiffened like claws, a leg severed mid-thigh, another cut off mid-calf—provided the answer.

 

Which works better for you? Which is more powerful and draws you? Can you see the difference?

Don’t let Intruder Words intrude in your stories and on your readers. Instead, replace them with words that help bring your stories to life and draw readers in. It’s a sure sign of a writer who’s professional rather than amateur. It’ll help take your prose to the next level.

For what it’s worth…


The Returning Cover front onlyBryan Thomas Schmidt is the editor of Blue Shift Magazine and an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince (2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exoduswill appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Land Of Legends from Delabarre Publishing.  His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012) and is working on Beyond The Sun for Fairwood Press (July 2013), headlined by Robert Silverberg, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Mike Resnick and Nancy Kress, and Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera For a New Age for Every Day Publishing (November 2013). He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Write Tip: Advice From the Slushpile – Writing Lower Word Counts is a Writer’s Best Friend

I get asked a lot these days for tips on how to sell stories, etc. One tip, I’ve never heard a lot is learn to write to word counts. But I’d go one further, learn to write low word counts. Why? If an editor gives you guidelines with a range of 3-8k, that doesn’t mean the editor can afford to buy all 8k stories for a magazine issue or anthology. It means they want and need a range. It means, if everyone who submits sends in 8k stories, most of them will wind up rejected, even if their stories are perfectly good. That’s right.

My budget and my contract stipulate word count. With the magazine, I can go slightly over or under or just save a story for the next issue. With the anthology, once it’s full, it’s full. If I buy all 6k and 7k stories, the 20 I said I’d include drops to 15 or 16. That means that some writers who thought they had a chance, won’t because I can’t buy as many stories as I intended. It also means I am rejecting stories I really like.

Yes, that sucks. Not just for writers, for me, the editor, too.

I don’t like rejecting your stories. I like making you and me happy and buying them. But I do have to have standards. Quality and craft are among them, yes. But so are practical issues like budget and word count. Budgets are usually estimated on averages, too. 3-8 k, means I budget for 5500 word stories and hope I can get enough of a range to come in on budget. If I go over, I get paid less. Too far over, I’d be paying you out of my own pocket and not getting paid.

Since magazines and anthologies are hard to make money on, I usually have very tight budgets. So that means, if you learn how to write a story concisely, in the lower end of the word counts in my guidelines, you are greatly increasing the likelihood of selling me your stories.

This doesn’t apply, of course, to headliners.  If I can get 7k words from Bob Silverberg and Nancy Kress, I’ll take it any day over 7k words from John Doe writer. Why? Because the names Kress and Silverberg sell anthologies and the more words I have from them, the better quality and appeal I have overall for my project. It’s reality.

So if you’re not a headliner, writing lower word counts is your best friend. It’s an exercise you should challenge yourself to learn. Set a word count goal and write to it. Don’t give up. It’s not as hard as you think to cut 1k words from a story. That’s easy. Cutting 1500-3k is really, really hard. It gets harder the higher you go. You start to feel like you’re cutting your voice and style right out. But if you start smaller, you won’t have to worry about that.

There’s always a lot of fat one can cut from stories. No matter who you are.  And, as editor, I will mark stuff up in everyone’s document, headliner or not, if I think it can be cut. Now, many headliners know this and write so tightly it’s work for me to find stuff to cut. They know how to cut the chafe and save the wheat, and their stories come in crisp and tight as a result. You should aim to learn that,  too. It’s hard to say no to stories that are exactly the length they need to be. Unfortunately, the longer I edit, the more stories I read, the more I find that most stories don’t meet that standard. And so I either get the writer to trim them or I turn them down. Even if I think they’re good stories.

And you know where the first place to look is, besides -ly adverbs (the obvious choice)? Your favorite lines and baby moments. Yep. I kid you not. Those moments we write which give us the most warm fuzzies are the ones that most often become bloated, and we’re blinded to it by our warm fuzziness. The saying “learn to kill your darlings/babies” is about more than just cutting entire scenes. It’s about cutting vocabulary and word count. It applies on multiple levels.

Seriously.

I got into editing because I love working with writers. I love the squeeing they make when I tell them I liked their story. I love the smile on their face when I help them make it better or when someone else loves it, too, and discovers them because I bought it. I love creating opportunities for others to get paid doing what they love. I love helping people, period. So, you see, my telling you this is not coming from enmity, I assure you. I’m telling you to kill your babies because I like writers. I want you to blow me away. I want you to sell me a story. I want you to win.

But there are practical realities we all serve here. You have to write a story I can’t refuse, and while craft and storytelling may make up the bulk of that, practical matters you probably don’t give much thought to you also play a role. I want to get paid, too. And I want to honor my contracts. I want to buy as many stories as I can, sure. But I must do it within the limits of money and space.

So, you want advice on how to place more stories in anthologies and zines as an up and comer? Learn to write lower word counts. Practice telling a story well with less words. L:earn to kill your babies. Writing lower word counts is a key to success, trust me.

For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the editor of Blue Shift Magazine and an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince (2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exoduswill appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Land Of Legends(forthcoming) appeared from Delabarre Publishing in 2012.  His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012) and is working on Beyond The Sun for Fairwood Press (July 2013), headlined by Robert Silverberg, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Mike Resnick and Nancy Kress, and Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera For a New Age for Every Day Publishing (November 2013). He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Write Tip: Advice From The Slushpile-8 Common Mistakes To Avoid In Submitting Manuscripts

This week, I decided to cover something which is going to seem obvious to some but clearly isn’t: common mistakes to avoid in submitting your work. As a slush reader at Ray Gun Revival and now as anthology and zine editor, these are things I’ve seen again and again. And not just from novice writers, who might be excused for their ignorance with an over eagerness that we’ve all been through. No, I’m seeing these from SFWA and Codex members and people I know have been published and submitted a lot. And folks, there’s no excuse for them except one: laziness. So here are 10 Common Mistakes To Avoid When Submitting Manuscripts.

1) Read Guidelines-All editors have them somewhere. They exist to give you an advantage. Ignoring them is stupid. Why? a) If I’m an editor telling you what I want to see, with competition for story sales being what it is, why in the world would you not use this to your advantage? b) If I told you how I want submissions to look and be done, ignoring it is telling me you either don’t respect me, don’t care or think you’re above it. All three are the signs of not just unprofessionalism but an attitude that bodes negative things for our working relationship.

2) Use Standard Formatting-You don’t have to like it. We don’t care if you find it annoying. We don’t care if it seems old fashioned. It’s industry standard for reasons from tradition to ease of import for programs like Adobe InDesign, so just do it. Examples are rampant, but one of the most respected comes from Bill Shunn and can be found here. He even offers samples to download. Take advantage of it and get it right. Our guidelines will tell you if you except any variant, if not, show us you’re professional and at least meet the standard.

3) Use Spellcheck-Some typos fall under things we can forgive: the occasional missed word, for example. A missed period or capital letter on occasion. Words that are actual words but not the one you missed. If you read your story aloud or have betas read it before submission, you’d likely catch them, but at least they are things that can happen to anyone. In the case of words that any basic spell check ought to catch, there’s just no excuse. “Matter” and “mater” are not the same word. “Rond” instead of “round” is something that just shouldn’t be missed. If you don’t care enough to make the simplest effort to get it right, why should we read your story or care about it?

4) Keep Cover Letters Short-Folks, I am a slush reader. I get tons of submissions. I don’t want your life story. I don’t want your brown nosing. I just want good stories. Don’t write me long letters about admiring me and the zine, etc. Tell me your name, the name of the story, the word count, any relevant publications (i.e. markets I’ve heard of), thank me, sign your name and attach the file. Keep it simple. If I want a full bio or list of credits, I’ll ask for it. Unless your mother is an industry luminary, her opinion has no value to me. That goes for any other relatives or friends in your inner circle. And don’t lie about it either. I know lots of people. I can probably verify the truth of it if I get curious. Don’t make me think you’re up for wasting my time before I even get to your story. TRUST ME.

5) Include Your Contact Information-This is part of standard formatting. Again, you can find it here. But really, if I want to send you a contract, email you or mail a check, don’t make me go through twenty steps to track you down. Put it right on the story, before the title and byline. Name, Address, City, State, Zip, email, and if you’re a SFWA, Codex or other member. Phone number can be helpful too and is a good idea. That’s it. Word Count across the page. Boom. Make it easy to deal with you. We have to deal with so many writers, the ones who make it easy definitely make the best impressions.

6) Spell My Name and Title Right-Yeah, it sounds obvious but my name is BrYan not BrIan. It’s right on the guidelines. It’s on the staff page. It’s on my bio. If you don’t care to get that right, then I can assume you aren’t concerned about the details of anything else either. It’s also a sign of simple respect. Simple respect and politeness go along way in businesses where relationships and networking play a key role. This is one of them so be polite and have respect.

7) Read Up-Read copies of the magazine or anthologies I’ve edited. Read my blog. Ask writers who’ve worked with me. Find out about my likes, dislikes, etc. in any way you can. It’s probably in my guidelines, but sending me stuff that will automatically get rejected like erotica, porn, gratuitous sex and violence or often non-family friendly stuff (I state specifically for each project what the limits are) is going to waste both of our time and leave me again feeling that you’re either lazy, disrespectful or cocky. None of which makes me remember your name as someone I’d like to work with.

8 )  Use The Right Submission Address-Yes, often my personal email or editor’s box email is available. There are all kinds of reasons for this. But if the guidelines tell you to submit stories to another address, unless I specifically asked you to do otherwise, use the address as instructed. I’m a nice guy. I try and treat people the way I want to be treated. I’m not at the point where I am so tired of writers making these mistakes that I’ll reject a story out of hand for them, but I can see why editors do this. I get tons of email like anyone else. Having paths I use for various types of email help me keep it organized. Don’t think you’re an exception to the rules unless I tell you. I have the rules for a reason.

I think what makes these errors so annoying in their commonness is that they could be so easily avoided. If you writers don’t take your career seriously enough to get the easy stuff right, it’s hard to trust that you’ll be serious about the big stuff, and that tends to leave an impression that you are someone we might not want to work with. In any case, something to consider and take seriously. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is editor of Blue Shift Magazine, and an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince(2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exodus will appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Land Of Legends (forthcoming) appeared from Delabarre Publishing in 2012.  His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012) and is working on Beyond The Sun for Fairwood Press, headlined by Robert Silverberg, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Mike Resnick and Nancy Kress, a Ray Gun Revival Best Of Collection for Every Day Publishing and World Encounters and Space & Shadows: SpecNoir with coeditor John Helfers, all forthcoming. He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

 

Write Tips: Writing The Short Query Novel Pitch

Query letters and synopses are the bane of so many authors’ existence, aren’t they? I dread them and find them quite frustrating. They never seem to elicit the kind of enthusiastic response equal to that I get from my writing itself. It’s always disappointing when readers are loving a manuscript but you can’t agents or publishers to take a look. Yes, I know it’s all about numbers (i.e. percenatages) and finding the right match, but still, it’s so much easier when you can let the writing sell itself, but that’s not how the industry works.

Now, there’s good reason for that. By sheer quantity alone, agents and editors just can’t read all the millions of words that people try and put on their desks. A weeding out of wheat from chafe is necessary and there’s not a perfect way to do that. So query letters and synopses remain key elements of getting professionally published. I don’t see this changing for the foreseeable future either.

That leaves writers with one option: we must learn how to write queries and synopses. So I decided to do a series of Write Tips on related topics as I prepare for my latest round. This first one is going to deal with one of the most important but challenging: writing the short query synopsis for your book. You have to hook them in 100 words and get them to want more. It’s really tough to sum up a 130k novel in 100 words. 90k novels, too. But one of the first paragraphs and key paragraphs of any good query, research says, is the synopsis of the book. So, here’s the one I am working on for Duneman, book 1 of my epic fantasy trilogy The Dawning Age.

The Terran Lands, ravaged by wars brought on by men of faith and men of magic. As science and reason replace the now outlawed beliefs, a struggle for control of the new technologies and discoveries threatens the peace again. In the midst of this, a man of faith, Kaleb Ryder, awakens in the desert, left for dead, only to be told his wife and child are missing along with his identity and his past. Determined to save his family and recover who he is in the process, Kaleb soon finds that things are not what they seem—from himself to his world and his relationship with the kidnapped woman and child. With the child’s fate tied to the peace of the Lands, Kaleb’s life is on the line, and he must rescue the woman and child to protect their future and uncover the truth about himself. Duneman, Book 1 Of The Dawning Age, an epic fantasy trilogy.

But before we talk about that, here’s where I started and some Facebook comments that helped me get where I am. (And I am still not done.)

In a world transitioning from a war torn age of faith and magic to a peaceful age of science and reason, a man awakens in the desert, left for dead. As he begins piecing back together his identity and his past, he sets out to rescue the kidnapped wife and child who hold the answers he needs. But soon he discovers things are not what they seem—discovering skills he hadn’t imagined he had and evidence that the wife and child are not who he thought. Others are hunting them with nefarious goals and the race is on to see who will get there first. With his life on the line and the peace of their world in danger, he must rescue the woman and child to uncover the truths about himself and his past and protect his future.

Duneman, Book 1 Of The Dawning Age, an epic fantasy trilogy by Bryan Thomas Schmidt

Here are comments from my Facebook page a couple of months back when I posted this.

    • Tim Ward I’m not really one to judge query letters, but it looks like a story I’d want to read.
    • Charles P. Zaglanis I would suggest using their names. Even as an introduction, I want to get a feel for the people in the story. Also, maybe excise the bit that sounds like Total Recall, the movie didn’t do well.
    • Chelvanaya Gabriel Ooooh – I really like the sound of this! 🙂 Might I suggest: “In a world transitioning from a war-torn age of faith and magic to a peaceful age of science and reason, a man awakens in the desert, left for dead and his wife and child kidnapped/missing/lost/gone/taken. Setting out to rescue them, he soon discovers things are not what they seem – his family may not be who he thought, others are on the hunt for them and he possesses skills previously unknown to him. With his life on the line and the peace of their world in danger, the race is on for him to rescue his wife and child, protect their future and uncover truths about himself.”
    • Cindy Koepp Neato! That sounds like one I’d want to read.
    • Jay Werkheiser Here are a few tweaks I might recommend, but bear in mind that I’m no expert on writing query letters! I’d drop “back” from piecing back his identity. You use forms of the word “discover” twice in the same sentence; I would change one of them. Also in that sentence, I would drop “he had” after skills he hadn’t imagined. In the next sentence, I would drop “with nefarious goals” and “to see who gets there first;” I think both are already implied by the context. Like I said, take my suggestions with a large grain of salt; use what you like and ignore the rest! In any case, it sounds like a cool novel!
    • Bryan Thomas Schmidt Jay, Chelvanya, helpful thanks. Thanks Tim and Cindy and even Joe. Charles, honestly, which part sounds like Total Recall? I am missing it…
      Also the problem with names is his identity changes over the course of the story. So it’s hard to know which name to use.
    • Chelvanaya Gabriel I like the idea of using his name but I can see why it would be tricky. If you want to use a name, maybe you could use whatever name he starts out with? I feel like using a name works best when the name is unique (even if it is going to change). OR maybe to get that same connection to the story via a name, why not give us the name of the world?
    • Guy Anthony De Marco Any time I see “In a world”, the voice switches to the guy who does voice-overs for movie trailers and I get distracted 🙂
    • Ann Leckie Ditto on using names, at least your MC. I have the same problem with my MC, and I chose one for the query. Which was very successful. I’m in agreement with the “In a world where…” being maybe not the best approach. I also think that “transitioning from a war torn age of faith and magic to a peaceful age of science and reason” is a bit awkward–I had to take a couple runs at it to separate it out. And I’d suggest that it’s information that doesn’t need to be in the first sentence. It should be there, just not right up front like that, IMO.
    • Bryan Thomas Schmidt ROUND 2: Kaleb Ryder awakens in the desert, left for dead, his wife and child missing along with his identity and his past. Determined to save his family and rediscover who he is in the process, Kaleb soon finds that things are not what they seem—from skills he hadn’t imagined to questions about his relation to the kidnapped woman and child. The Terran Lands have transitioned from a war-torn age of faith and magic to one of science and reason where the former are now banned. Now, with Kaleb’s life on the line and the peace of their world in danger, he must rescue the woman and child to protect their future and uncover the truth about himself.
    • Lauren ‘Scribe’ Harris his wife and child missing along with his identity and his past. Determined to save his family and rediscover who he is in the process, Kaleb soon finds that things are not what they seem—from skills he hadn’t imagined to questions about his relation to the kidnapped woman and child. <–there’s a contradiction here. You tell us his wife and child are missing, then he has questions about his relationship to the kidnapped woman and child…but you’ve already told us what that is. I’d recommend introducing the kidnapped woman and child as unknowns (and telling us why he cares about rescuing them), then raising the question of how they might be related to him. I think we need to know more specifically what the conflict is and how it relates to the peace of their world and Kaleb’s personal quest to find out who he is.
    • Bryan Thomas Schmidt The challenge is he starts out believing one thing and so do we as readers, but it gets twisted and changes over the course of the story. How to convey that in a way that won’t have someone who accepted a query feeling deceived is difficult.
    • Bryan Thomas Schmidt ROUND 2b: Kaleb Ryder awakens in the desert, left for dead, his wife and child missing along with his identity and his past. Determined to save his family and recover who he is in the process, Kaleb soon finds that things are not what they seem—from himself to his world and his relationship with the kidnapped woman and child. The Terran Lands have transitioned from a war-torn age of faith and magic to one of science and reason where the former are now banned. Now, with Kaleb’s life on the line and the peace of their world in danger, he must rescue the woman and child to protect their future and uncover the truth about himself.
    • Lauren ‘Scribe’ Harris I’d say “apparent relationship with the kidnapped woman and child”, and make the things he discovers about his world and himself a little more apparent. Also, if he doesn’t remember who he is, how does he know his wife and child are missing? Is there evidence that’s been planted to make him think that? If he doesn’t remember and doesn’t feel anyhting for them because of that lack of memory, why does that draw him through the story? (these are just questions I’ve got, which an agent might also have. I’m still trying to figure out why his quest has anything to do with the conflict between magic and science, war and peace. Can you tie that more solidly together? At the moment, I can’t figure out why he cares about the woman and child or the transition of the government from magic to science, because what you’ve given is still a bit too vague.
    • Lauren ‘Scribe’ Harris I’d also just say that all your secrets don’t have to be saved until later. Sometimes you have to spoil the plot a bit in order to show off the main conflict.
    • Bryan Thomas Schmidt The Terran Lands, ravaged by wars brought on by men of faith and men of magic. As science and reason replace the now outlawed beliefs, a struggle for control of the new technologies and discoveries threatens the peace again. In the midst of this, a man of faith, Kaleb Ryder, awakens in the desert, left for dead, only to be told his wife and child are missing along with his identity and his past. Determined to save his family and recover who he is in the process, Kaleb soon finds that things are not what they seem—from himself to his world and his relationship with the kidnapped woman and child. Now, with Kaleb’s life on the line and the peace of their world in danger, he must rescue the woman and child to protect their future and uncover the truth about himself.
    • Lauren ‘Scribe’ Harris I like that a lot better! I think it explains more. What’s still missing is what this has to do with the peace of their world. What role will Kaleb play?
    • Bryan Thomas Schmidt The Terran Lands, ravaged by wars brought on by men of faith and men of magic. As science and reason replace the now outlawed beliefs, a struggle for control of the new technologies and discoveries threatens the peace again. In the midst of this, a man of faith, Kaleb Ryder, awakens in the desert, left for dead, only to be told his wife and child are missing along with his identity and his past. Determined to save his family and recover who he is in the process, Kaleb soon finds that things are not what they seem—from himself to his world and his relationship with the kidnapped woman and child. With the child’s fate tied to the peace of the Lands, Kaleb’s life is on the line, and he must rescue the woman and child to protect their future and uncover the truth about himself.
      Duneman, Book 1 Of The Dawning Age, an epic fantasy trilogy.
Okay, that gives you a sense of where I started and how it evolved. What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear in comments. Next we’ll discuss the rest of the query before we move on to the big synopsis.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince(2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exodus will appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Books For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Land Of Legends (forthcoming) appeared from Delabarre Publishing in 2012.  His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012) and is working on World Encounters and Space & Shadows: SpecNoir with coeditor John Helfers, both forthcoming. He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

#Write Tip: Why Do You Write? Knowing Yourself Is Key

Recently, Writer’s Digest posted a contest based on Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk’s 2006 Nobel Prize acceptance speech in which he addresses the questions: WHY DO YOU WRITE? Now normally I ignore such things, but I’m in a very contemplative mood today. And it’s a very valid question, one I think many writers may not be asking themselves enough.

We all do what we do for various reasons, but, in my experience, understanding your motives is a key factor to great satisfaction and success. It allows you to focus and to fine tune decisions. It keeps you pressing on when obstacles and frustrations arise. And it gives you a sense of purpose, which, as writers know, can be hard to hold onto and easily lost in the midst of  the labor of creating a manuscript.

Pamuk’s reason is quite compelling and worth looking at (use the link above), but what it did for me is cause me to reevaluate what my own answer might be. So here’s what I posted at Writer’s Digest’s site:

WHY DO YOU WRITE? Love to hear others’ answers but here’s mine: I write because I can’t NOT write. It’s a compulsion, an addiction. It’s not about money or fame. I write because there’s stuff I need to get out there into the world. I hope people are moved by it. I hope they’re entertained. I hope it makes them think. But I’ll still write regardless, because I don’t have a choice. At least the writers will understand that, I think. It’s a way of processing the world, understanding the meaning of life, making decisions and striving to grow to be a better man. It’s a way of exercising demons, demonstrating better ways and exploring human nature. I write because there’s a voice inside me crying to break free. I write because it’s who I am. That’s why I write. The question becomes how can I NOT write?

You hear a lot of arguing these days about people who “sell out” by  using various antics. The guy who made himself into a bestseller via paying reviewers and other dishonesty or the person who leveraged hundreds of thousands of twitter following strangers into decent sales. But to me my mind, these are gimmicks that mean very little for the long run. They may make a big splash for a moment, but what happens in twenty years? Will the fame still exist? Will they still be writing? Will they still be getting bestseller rankings? Will they come to realize the fleeting satisfaction was empty and couldn’t last? Only these people probably will know the answer and not for a couple of decades.

Whether you believe in a Higher Power or not, you are the decision maker for your destiny in so many ways. You are in charge of who you are and who you become. You may ignore concern for it. You may just pretend to go with the flow. But the act of deciding to do that is choosing your destiny, in every sense. “Damn the consequences, I’ll deal with it later” is a decision. It may be a decision to deal with regrets some other day, but it’s still a choice you’re making.

For me, I prefer to have more direction. My SFFWRTCHT friends will mock me as being anti-chaos. But I’ve had my share of chaos in life, especially the past three years. Anyone who’s ever dealt with unemployment and a mentally ill spouse and all that comes with them at the same time, constantly, will understand what I mean. If you haven’t been through that, you really don’t. But even before all that, I’ve always been a purpose driven person–wanting to do things for a clear reason and with certain deliberation. It doesn’t mean I can’t be spontaneous. For example, I rarely do much outlining for novels or short stories and I am really good at improvising as a musician. But both of those have an overarching framework that gives them a sense of boundaries and structure. In one case, it’s the story idea, characters and/or setting. In the other, western musical theory. And I don’t think that means I can’t live in the moment at all, frankly. I just may put more thought into than some. Is that really so wrong?

You have to do what’s right for you, of course, but I do think asking yourself the questions to have a sense of boundaries–knowing where you want to be, where you are and how you plan to get there is helpful, especially for writers. Most writers will never achieve stardom and wealth. Many will toil in full time jobs and lives, while writing on the side, for their entire lifetimes. Others strike lightning. Good for them. I don’t know which I’ll be, and, honestly, I don’t care. I’d like to make a living from this. This month I will likely make half of what I need to live from freelance writing and editing. Full time would only put me mid-20k per year, which is not rich. But what it is is satisfying, and I can’t tell you how valuable that is.  After 29 months of unemployment, my wife’s illness, divorce, cross country moves, near bankruptcy, unemployment problems, and more, to be doing something I enjoy sitting down to do and earning my living from it is such a blessing.

In my 43 years, I have worked many jobs that didn’t satisfy me creatively or fulfill my goals. I did it for the paycheck. I did it because I had to. I sacrificed stability to found a non-profit and teach the arts in developing countries to people who couldn’t afford or get that training any other way. I worked freelance so I could do fundraising and take time off to travel. I loved every minute, but it gave me no financial stability and benefits to help me through the crises I now face. What it did give me was a longing to be doing what I love, to chase my passions. And that I am being blessed with the opportunity to do that now is so gratifying.

But I know why I write. Why do you write? What keeps you going? Where do you want to be? How will you get there? I’d love to hear thoughts from fellow writers and readers.  I hope this encourages yet challenges you. Most of all, I hope it makes you ask those questions to be reminded there’s a motive and reason that drives you. We all need that from time to time. I know I did.

If you’re interested in the Writer’s Digest contest, enter here with a comment: http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/there-are-no-rules/why-i-write-one-of-the-best-things-weve-read-all-week. Click here for Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk’s 2006 Nobel Prize acceptance speech.

I wish you happiness and continued success. May you live your dreams. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince (2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exodus will appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Books For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Land Of Legends (forthcoming) appeared from Delabarre Publishing in 2012.  His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012) and is working on World Encounters and Space & Shadows: SpecNoir with coeditor John Helfers, both forthcoming and Beyond The Sun via Kickstarter. He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Write Tip: 7 Things You Should Never Do After Getting Revision Notes From An Editor

Getting a personal response on a story you’ve submitted from an editor is a big deal for most writers. At least those of us in the early years of our career. To have gotten a personal response at all puts you in the elite. After all, writers spend years getting form rejections and some never get over the hurdle to a personal response. It means your story was good enough to get past slush readers or first readers to the editor themselves. And it means that it impressed them enough–i.e. you impressed them enough–they felt you deserved the respect of a personal reply. When that reply is not a rejection but a request for revisions and invitation to resubmit that’s even better. It’s okay to be excited. It’s okay to be terrified. Such events rightly provoke both. But before you respond, you should think carefully about your next move. Here’s some things I’ve learned as both editor and in discussion with other editors and writers that you shouldn’t do:

1) Tell People You Have A Story Sale – You don’t have a sale until you get a contract, or, at the very least, a note from the editor saying he or she wants to buy the story. So don’t jump the gun. It can not only be embarrassing but it’s unprofessional. Do it more than once, not only will your friends not take you seriously when you tell them the next time, but fellow pros may not take you seriously in other contexts as well. It’s okay to be excited. It’s okay to tell people you got a personal note. But represent it for what it is and don’t jump the gun.

2 ) Send Back a Rant – This may seem obvious but writers often have a range of reactions to story notes. Sometimes, especially when the notes are simple, they’re pleased and relieved. Changes can be made quickly and easily, with no stress and hardly any effort, and the story sent back. But other times, and usually this is the case when an editor asks you to revise and resubmit, there may be substantial changes requested. Some may even seem to take your story in a different direction than you’d planned. Some may make you think the editor missed what you were trying to do. If the changes are unclear, contacting the editor is okay, but never in anger. Even if you think the editor’s stupid or wrong, that’s information best kept between yourself, your mother, your lover and your pets. Don’t discuss it on Twitter or Facebook. Don’t mention the editor by name if you don’t have to. Keep it to a small, close circle.  Sharing that with anyone else is bad news, especially the editor and other pros. It will never bring good results. It can only bring trouble. Save the Rant. Trust me.

3)Rewrite From Scratch – Sometimes the changes are overwhelming, either because they require a lot of work or restructuring, even a completely rewritten section, perhaps, or because you don’t know how to do them. Once you get past the “OMG, a professional editor liked my story enough to write back personally” phase and the “OMG I’m on the verg of a sale” phase, stop and think. By all means, reread the story carefully to see what’s asked for. Jot down notes if ideas come to you on some of the changes.  By all means make the changes that seem obvious and simple. If an idea comes to you for the more complicated ones that seems to get it where the editor wants you to go, make it. But the one thing you shouldn’t do is start over from scratch. Undoubtedly the notes will ask for changes. But along with that, they likely mention things the editor liked. If they didn’t see potential for a sale, you’d have just gotten a rejection, after all. So be sure you preserve what they liked about the story while fixing what they don’t. I had a writer almost rewrite himself out of an anthology I was editing because he took his story back with my notes and trashed half of what I loved about it in a complete rewrite.  This was a friend. And it was my first anthology as editor, so I called him and we discussed it. With a few more changes, I bought it anyway, but most editors would just pass. They don’t have the time or personal interest to put in that effort, so don’t over complicate it for yourself.

4) Bombard The Editor With Endless Questions – It’s okay to ask for clarifications if there’s something you don’t understand when an editor sends notes. It’s also okay if word changes are asked that you’re not comfortable with to explain the original choice and then ask if you can keep it. Editors send lots of changes. Not all of them are deal breakers. They know which ones they are but they might not spell it out. Wait until you’re reread the story and reviewed all the notes. Make the changes you’re comfortable with right away before contacting the editor. Then ask the rest in a clear manner, one at a time, noting page, etc. Don’t call the editor unless they invited you to do so. Do this by email or letter, depending on how they contacted you. Editors get lots of phone calls and have lots of obligations. Calling uninvited is a bit like demanding attention right now. Unless you’re a regular contributor or friend to the editor, you don’t want to send that message yet. And if you get to three emails with such questions all initiated by you, don’t hit send. Instead, stop and find someone else to bounce it off of. Trust me. Unless the editor shows clear interest and willingness to make time for ongoing discussion, you risk making yourself a pest or coming off as needy and difficult. Neither will endear you to the editor. They may pass on not only your story but you.

5) Rush Through The Tweaks Asked For Without Careful Reread And Consideration Of How They Affect The Rest – If an editor has taken the time to send notes and encourage you to resubmit, they’ve probably read your story more than once. They’ve given careful thought to what you’re trying to accomplish, how it fits with what they’re trying to accomplish and how best to get you there. But they’ve also likely read the story more recently than you have. Don’t send in revisions without a complete, careful reread of your story. Do not skim. Sit down when you can relax and consider every word. The last thing you want is a hasty rewrite that messes up other elements of the story. Make sure it’s right before you resubmit every time.

6 ) Send The Story To Another Market And Ignore The Editor – You should always respond to the editor with at least a short “thank you.” Even if you decide the changes requested are not something you’re comfortable with. It is your story, after all. It’s okay to thank them for their interest and the kind time they took to read the story and offer notes. You can tell them you’d prefer to send the story as is to other markets first. But be sure and let them know one way or the other whether they can expect it. Especially with anthologies, the editor may be holding other stories to wait and see yours. They have deadlines, too.  Trust, it’s very frustrating as an editor to be waiting for a resubmission that never comes. Be Professional. Communicate. If you don’t and they later see it somewhere else, you have made a bad impression it’ll be hard to shake.

7) Throw The Story In the Circular File – This one I always thought was obvious but I’ve learned it’s not. Just because the story was not perfect does not make it a failure. Throwing out stories in haste is a fool’s game. It’s wasting potential. Even if you don’t want to make the requested changes, maybe another editor will like it. After all, if your story made it past the slush and first readers to the editor him/herself, then that’s saying something. If they made time to personally respond, that’s saying something else: they respect your talent and like your story. Even if they don’t accept it, this is not the time to give up on it. Get what you can from their notes and get it back out there. The next editor may buy it on the spot.

Okay, there’s 7 Write Tips For What Not To Do After Getting Revision Notes From An Editor. Love to hear comments if you have any more. Meanwhile, hope this is helpful. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince (2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exodus will appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Books For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Lost In A Land Of Legends (forthcoming) appeared from Delabarre Publishing in 2012.  His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012). He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Write Tip: Collective Nouns And Impracticality For Writers (aka Word Choice Matters)

An “eloquence of lawyers?” Who comes up with these? Seriously. Have you ever run into collective nouns lists? Some of them are hard to believe. What were they thinking?

“A parliament of owls.”
“A covert of coots.”
“A murder of crows.” (You may have seen the meme on this one.)
“A pace of asses.”
“A pomp of pekingese.”
“A blessing of unicorns” doesn’t seem as bad, I mean, come on, unicorns are a blessing!
“A disguising of tailors” though is damned odd. And you already saw the lawyers one.

For more, Tiny Online has a great list divided by category here: http://users.tinyonline.co.uk/gswithenbank/collnoun.htm

Looking at the list made me ask a very simple but important question: Are these usable?

Some are known, so no issue. But others, like the examples, not only do you risk not being understood, but you risk taking people out of a story by either laughter or just the double take they do. What would you do in such a case? Use the correct term or stick with a generic like “a gathering of owls,” “a forest full of owls,” “a tree full of owls,” or even “a group of owls?” I mean, do you want to have to explain that the owls are not a) politically organized into structured bodies with a voting system and role in societal lawmaking? or b) explain they have no official capital and building where they hold chambers?  This comes, of course, from the images and questions the term “parliament” used in this way evokes.  But let’s look at a definition via my old friend: Dictionary.com.

par·lia·ment

[pahr-luh-muhnt or, sometimes, pahrl-yuh-] Show IPA

noun

1.

( usually initial capital letter ) the legislature of Great Britain,historically the assembly of the three estates, nowcomposed of Lords Spiritual and Lords Temporal, formingtogether the House of Lords, and representatives of thecounties, cities, boroughs, and universities, forming theHouse of Commons.

2.

( usually initial capital letter ) the legislature of certain British colonies and possessions.

3.

a legislative body in any of various other countries.

4.

French History . any of several high courts of justice in France before 1789.

5.

a meeting or assembly for conference on public or national affairs.
Origin: 
1250–1300; Middle English:  discourse, consultation, Parliament <Anglo-Latin parliamentum,  alteration of Medieval Latin parlāmentum < Old French parlement  a speaking, conference ( see parle-ment); replacing Middle English parlement  < Old French

Related forms

an·ti·par·lia·ment, adjective
in·ter·par·lia·ment, adjective
sub·par·lia·ment, noun
Example Sentences
  • Nobody can expect a parliament to stablish what is good and what isevil.
  • The interim government will have to contend with the same cantankerousparliament that made life miserable for the old leadership.
World English Dictionary
parliament  (ˈpɑːləmənt)
— n
1. an assembly of the representatives of a political nation or people, often the supreme legislative authority
2. any legislative or deliberative assembly, conference, etc
3. Also: parlement  (in France before the Revolution) any of several high courts of justice in which royal decrees were registered
[C13: from Anglo-Latin parliamentum,  from Old French parlement,  from parler  to speak; see parley ]
Parliament  (ˈpɑːləmənt)
— n
1. the highest legislative authority in Britain, consisting of the ouse of Commons, which exercises effective power, the House of Lords, and the sovereign
2. a similar legislature in another country
3. the two chambers of a Parliament
4. the lower chamber of a Parliament
5. any of the assemblies of such a body created by a general election and royal summons and dissolved before the next election

Hmmm, no mention of owls in any of those. But plenty of mention of terms like “legislative authority, “assembly,” and “courts.” Do you see where readers might be confused?

I think word choices matter. They should fit the world, the time setting and the context without being showy or standing out.  Don’t show yourself in your work. You want readers to forget the writer and be immersed. I like learning new words, but novels aren’t the main place I go for it. If I can understand the word in context and continue reading, I’m fine with it, but if it pulls me out of the story by forcing me to seek a dictionary before continuing, I consider that bad writing. I know some will disagree, but one of my definitions of good writing is something seamless and flowing that challenges the reader without making them feel like they’re working hard. So words like these must be used with care. the argumeent “but it’s the correct term” does nothing to address the qualifications I just laid out nor the fact that if it’s obscure and rarely used, by using it, you are pointing out its oddity in a way and letting the more important goal of communicating with your readers fall by the wayside in the process.

I come from the school of readers which is more impressed with how immersed I get in your story and world than by your vocabulary. For me, the main value of diverse vocabulary is to have better words to paint pictures and vary the phrasing in descriptions as well as create dialogue unique to characters, not to show of your intelligence. But there have been many times I have read a book and wondered which goals the author had in mind. When fiction reading becomes work and not fun, I quickly lose interest, no matter whose name is on the cover. As usual, I know some writers will disagree with me, but I make this Write Tip anyway because it’s worth thinking about the choices you make, why you make them and how they affect readers.   Readers and critiques will overlook a lot of flaws if they enjoy your book. On the other hand, if you force them to work harder and look more deeply, or, even worse, annoy them, you may be in for more than you bargained for.

So I guess the moral of the story is: just because a word exists and is technically correct doesn’t make it the best word to use in your prose. Give thought to other factors before you finalize the choice. What are your goals? What are your motives? What are the possible results? Will the choice get you where you want to go with all of them?

That’s the bottom line for me. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince (2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exodus will appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Books For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Lost In A Land Of Legends (forthcoming) appeared from Delabarre Publishing in 2012.  His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012) and is working on Beyond The Sunforthcoming. He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Write Tip: The Power And Value Of Discretion For Writers

I love this quote from The Guardian

The novelist China Miéville said self-censorship was both inevitable and desirable. “There are millions of things we shouldn’t say. We self-censor all the time, and a bloody good thing too. Our minds are washing machines full of crap that we pick up over our years on this earth.

“One of the problems [in this debate] is the elision between having the legal right to say something (and I don’t trust the state to tell me when I can and can’t say something) and having the moral right not to be told off for saying something objectionable.

“This is why the free speech warrior who thinks they have the right to say what they like and then complain when someone complains – that’s not censorship. Censorship is when the police come round.”

This ties into something I’ve been saying about social media and Facebook for a while now. I learned a long time ago to use discretion. In part, because as an ADHD person, I tend to be blunt and just blurt things out. But I also have learned that picking one’s battles is important. Even the most seemingly innocuous comment these days can be taken out of context and blown into major drama, but comment about politics and religion and forget about it!

For writers, being creative people of passion, it can be hard to exercise this important tool. Discretion can feel like censorship but it really isn’t. Discretion, like many rules and laws, is a tool to enable people to live civilly side by side despite their differences. Some people have good judgement, some don’t. So some need these tools more than others.

I don’t subscribe to the school of “say whatever the hell you want, damn the consequences!” and most authors can’t afford to either. For widespread success, at least, one’s writings need to cross boundaries, which means appealing to a lot of different people of varied backgrounds, beliefs, cultures and understandings. It’s hard to do that if you’re constantly throwing out there shocking statements, bold statements, etc. Yes, there are times to rock the boat. There are some issues one pursues with passion because it has to be done. But even then, choosing how you say what you say is an important consideration not to be taken lightly. Few of us have the audience of Stephen King, Orson Scott Card, John Scalzi, Charlaine Harris, etc. Those are authors who can (and sometimes do) get away with saying things most of us could not. But even they exercise discretion, I’m sure.

Let’s look at some definitions from www.dictionary.com:

dis·cre·tion

noun

1. the power or right to decide or act according to one’s own judgment; freedom of judgment or choice.
2. the quality of being discreet, especially with reference to one’s own actions or speech; prudence or decorum.

 

Compare that with:

 

cen·sor

5. to ban or cut portions of (a publication, film, letter, etc.)

6. to act as a censor of (behaviour, etc.)

I think it’s clear they are not exactly the same thing. One involves a decision to act in a certain way out of wisdom and a desire to be appropriate i.e. prudent. The other is a decision to conceal, ban, etc.

Why is discretion both necessary and valuable for writers? In part, I suppose it depends upon how sensitive you are to negative energy. I find it both very distracting and very discouraging.  So much so that I converted my old, longstanding Facebook profile to an author page and selectively re-added “friends” to a new private profile, organized in groups I can use for sorting my wall when I need to. That may seem extreme but a side advantage of it was to give me a huge author page following right off the bat. If saying whatever you want whenever you want is going to lead you to feel irritated, distracted, depressed, etc., then you should carefully consider discretion as a change of course. At the same time, if watching other people say whatever, whenever is causing you to feel those things, you have to consider the value of “friending” and “following.”

For me, I learned my lesson when I was told by a few friends whom I considered real world friends, not just online friends, told me I was too political and open and that it was making them uncomfortable. I started looking at what I was saying and why and realized there were ways to say what I wanted without being as snarky or blunt. I also realized I could choose the best times to comment publicly and leave others for private discussion. So I exercised discretion. The irony is one of the “friends” unfollowed anyway and never made any effort at discretion herself. But you can’t control what other people do, only what you do. And, for me, as one who is kindhearted and focuses on helping and encouraging others, I don’t think the value of saying those things outweighs the value of having those friends to support and encourage. And so I use more discretion. And I don’t feel censored or oppressed because it’s my choice.

It’s similar to how we often deal with loved ones. If you want to stay married, you have to learn not to just blurt out whatever you’re thinking or feeling whenever you want t. You have to learn to control that impulse. The same with raising kids, dealing with siblings, parents, etc. It’s necessary to be discreet sometimes in order to live with others. If you aren’t, you set yourself up for a ton of distracting drama.

So for writers, I believe discretion is both valuable and powerful. It can be empowering. For one, by using discretion, you allow your voice a larger audience and build up a great opportunity to truly have impact by what you write and say. One of the great tools of writing is letting characters speak for you. Let the characters be outrageous and say those things that you don’t. After all, they’re just characters. They’re fictional. It’s a tool used by Aaron Sorkin all the time in his successful movies and TV shows. And he’s not alone. Novelists do it, too. And so can the rest of us. There’s something far more threatening about a real person voicing something than a character or actor playing a part.

It’s valuable to maintain the opportunity and audience to be heard and to sell your work. And it’s valuable to use discretion as a part of cultivating that audience. It’s not about banning your values or thoughts or ideas. It’s not about changing how you think, believe or feel. It’s about finding ways to do all of that productively. And productivity is a key to success.

In our modern world, so is discretion.

I welcome your thoughts in comments. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince(2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exodus will appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Books For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Lost In A Land Of Legends (forthcoming) appeared from Delabarre Publishing in 2012.  His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012) and is working on World Encounters and Space & Shadows: SpecNoir with coeditor John Helfers, both forthcoming. He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Write Tip: 10 Tips For Getting Past Writer’s Block

I did a Write Tip before on Fighting Off Writer’s Block in which a lot of published authors offered their advice. But the other day a friend told me she’s been stuck forever on her book, and I realized there are some tricks I can suggest as well, so here are my 10 Tips For Getting Past Writer’s Block.

1) Identify What Went Wrong. If you’re stuck, it’s usually because something went astray at some point. You’ve either tried to push the story where it doesn’t want to go or taken a wrong turn that your subconscious can see but your conscious can’t and thus are having trouble moving on. It may not be in the previous scene you wrote or even the previous chapter. It may be a little further back, but it’s in there somewhere and so the best way to get past it is to identify it.

2) Know Your Plot Points. Whether you write it intentionally or not, Western storytelling tends to be structured around three acts and key plot points. Your first act is your set up and then a major turning point happens that requires action from your characters and propels you into Act Two, the longer middle of your book. A second major turning point happens propelling you toward your conclusion and Act Three. In screenplays, the first turning point is around page 30, and the second page 90. But novels are a little different in page count. Between each major plot point (about every 15 pages in a script) are minor turning points. Also, each storyline will have this same structure, so turning points for subplots may occur in different places as well). The trick is to find these turning points and make sure they are paced correctly and that each propels your story on toward the next, keeping the momentum. If anything pulls it off track by slowing it down, taking it on a detour, etc., that may be why you’re blocked and you can fix it. Often times, writers have not formally studied this but do it on instinct, having learned it from their reading, etc. I don’t even think about it anymore but just write it. I studied it to death in college though. Yet if you don’t realize you’re doing it, you need to be aware and finding these plot points can help you get unstuck when you experience a block.

3) Rewrite From Page 1 To Where You Are. This may violate your “that’s not how I work” sense of craft, I realize, but truly, going back to reread and then polish from the first page through where you are stuck is a great way to not only identify plot points but find inconsistencies and issues you don’t even realize are there. It also gets the whole plotline and all of the arcs fresh in your mind, making it easier to figure out where the story wants/needs to go next. It really works. And often, along the way, whether conscious of it or not, you’ll fix that issue which caused the block. In the process, you’ll also rediscover your enthusiasm and momentum for writing the story.

4) Outline Your Plot and Character Arcs. I get it. You’re a pantser. But your story takes on stucture as you write it regardless. Taking a moment to go through and write out the outline as it now exists on what you’ve written so far doesn’t mean you have to outline the entire book, just what you’ve got on paper. In the process, you’ll find those pesky plot points or realize where they’re missing and probably figure out what works and what doesn’t to remove that block. It doesn’t have to be a lengthy outline. Just identify which scenes go with which plotline and character arc and write a one or two sentence description of events that move it forward.

5) Give Yourself Permission To Write Crap and Write Anyway. Even Robert Silverberg has told me he writes junk from time to time. It’s okay. Everybody does it. No one has to see it but you, but if you don’t give yourself permission to write, exercising your muscle, releasing your creativity, you might stay stuck. Write anyway. You might actually write past the junk and start producing good stuff again.

6) Skip To The Scene And Come Back Later. Paul S. Kemp doesn’t write linearly anyway, which amazes me. K.D. McEntire starts with the ending then goes back. There’s lots of ways to do it. I tend to write in chronological order or what I think it will be. But sometimes, a particular scene just isn’t coming along, and one way around that is to skip it for scene you can picture more clearly and write that first. In the process, sometimes things will come out that steer you in the right direction for the scene where you’re stuck and allow you to write it. It’s jogging the muscles a bit, perhaps, but it can definitely work.

7) Work On Something Else To Clear Your Head. Taking a walk, doing dishes, playing with the kids, watching TV, reading—all kinds of activities can be used for this. OR you can switch to another writing project and fiddle with that until your head clears. Often the worst thing you can do is to sit there and stress out, trying to force it. Release the tension, take a break, switch gears and see if the block resolves itself. Often by going off to something else, I find my mind working 0n the story anyway and, in the process, discover how to write the scene which had me stuck. Earlier today I did that and plotted out the scene, came back, and wrote 2000 words in a straight shot. Give it a try.

8 ) Don’t Be Dismissive. It happens to most writers from time to time. I’ve had writers tell me they don’t believe in writer’s block and I laugh. It’s a silly thing to say. Writer’s get blocked. We all deal with it differently, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It’s like someone who’s rarely been sick saying they don’t believe in disease. No, you’ve just been really lucky. Don’t insult everyone else. So don’t be dismissive. Admit you’re blocked. Admit it happens. It doesn’t mean your story is crap or that everything you wrote is worthless. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer or won’t succeed. It has happened to many writers who are NY Times Bestsellers. They got over it and so will you.  But know this: the way to get through it is not to deny it and do nothing. Like anything else, it takes work. And you may have to try several things to find the right path through.

9) Deal With Life. Sometimes your creative blocks come from external sources rather than within your manuscript. When I wrote The Worker Prince, I wrote 2-6k words a day for four months straight. It was great. Then life fell apart and got stressful with work layoffs, my wife’s health issues, marital issues, money issues, etc. From January 2010 to July 2012, I struggled and felt lucky to get 1000 words a day. 12-1500 was a great day. Then July 30th, as I started The Exodus, my third Davi Rhii novel, I started having 2500 word days again regularly. I’ve had a few 1k days in there but I also had 3k. I’ve written 57000 words since then. The life issues which affected me were a big part of the problem. The unemployment issue is still a problem but the marital and health issues went away. I found my focus again and it’s made a huge difference. Sometimes living life takes priority and you have to surrender to that.

10) Journal It Out. I am not a journal writer myself. Instead, I blog a lot. But I know many writers who’ve told me that writing it out is a great way to work through these types of issues. Just sitting down and writing about their day, their thoughts, their struggles—anything that comes to mind—can be a huge release for writers. For one, it gets them writing which helps keep the writing muscles and creative muscles in shape but also allows them to clear their minds of pent up junk that might be inadvertently blocking them. For another, it provides a way to emotionally release stress and feelings that they’ve been carrying around, which might also be part of a mental block. You don’t have to start a formal journal to journal through troubles like this. You can throw it all away when you’re done but just get it out there.

So there you have it, 10 Tips For Getting Past Writer’s Block. Not all of them work for everyone because every writer and every block is different. But like any tools, having an arsenal at your disposal gives you options to find a way through that wouldn’t be there otherwise. Please let me know how they work for you. And, by all means, if you have other tips, share them in comments so we can all benefit. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince(2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exodus will appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Books For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Lost In A Land Of Legends (forthcoming) appeared from Delabarre Publishing in 2012.  His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012) and is working on World Encounters and Space & Shadows: SpecNoir with coeditor John Helfers, both forthcoming. He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Write Tip: Top 10 Practical, Everyday Money Saving Tips For (Starving) Writers

Okay, who am I kidding, the average writer’s budget is mostly provided by a day job. But let’s say, for whatever reason, you need to cut costs, like me. Who doesn’t have a limited budget, right? And most of these have the added benefit of being better for the environment too. Here are some tricks I’ve learned which can really help cut down on expenses and save on sanity and stress:

1) Make Your Own Coffeehouse. I hear lots of writers talk about going to the cafe or coffeehouse to write. Although I suppose part of this is the jolt they get from being around people going about their day, but I’m sure another part of it is very much the coffee. Yet Starbucks and those places aren’t cheap. You can buy quality coffee (or beans should you have a grinder) and make coffee cheaper at home. Then fill the thermos and take it out on your patio or porch to write. If you have a breakfast nook, you could go there. I’ve even taken the laptop and my caffeine to the park in an early morning and let the dogs run around while I enjoyed the coolness and created. My point is you don’t have to go to the coffeehouse daily to get the effect you need to write. Instead, you could limit it to a few times a week and find other ways to stimulate a similar environment with less expense. You might even find you prefer the self-made route more anyway.

2) Print Double-Sided. Double-sided printing is fairly standard for printers these days. I don’t print everything I write but before I make a second pass, I like to print it out and make editing notes then go back and polish. For one, it’s harder to take in the whole page on a screen (you mostly can’t unless it’s small), and, for another, I spent hours on the computer writing, editing, marketing, and hanging out. My eyes need a break. I find that time away refreshes me and allows me to read differently with a new energy. But paper and ink cartridges are expensive and you can go through them fast, so double-sided printing is one way to at least save on paper. I also use cheaper, thinner paper for drafts as well to save, although one must take care to maintain your printer and be sure you don’t use paper that might wear it down.

3) Recycle Ink Cartridges. Speaking of ink cartridges, recycling them has come a long way. Now Office Depot, Office Max, Kinkos, and other stores like Cartridge World specialize in this and you can get new cartridges at half the cost by turning in the used ones in exchange for refilled ones. If you think it matters, save an original new cartridge to print anything you have to send out for business–manuscripts (rare these days), letters, contracts, etc.–and use the recycled ones for every day use. This is the majority of your printing and, believe me, over time you’ll save hundreds of dollars a year. Of course, printer companies make their fortune on cartridges, so beware they sometimes send software updates that disable the use of these cartridges. You have to be very careful which “upgrades” especially FIRMWARE that you install. But I have been doing this for two or three years and it’s really cut down my expenses.

4) Recycle Scratch Paper. Speaking of recycling, if you don’t print double-sided or you have stuff you printed one-sided that’s still in enough shape to run through the printer, consider using the back side and running it through again. Yes, I realize this can get confusing, especially if the stuff printed on the other side is a double-spaced manuscript page and you put a new manuscript on it. Easy fix: Make a pencil or pen ‘x’ on the old page before printing on it so you’ll know which. After all, this time it’ll be full an unusable so it won’t matter. You’ll use the non-x side until your done then put it in the recycling for the city. But you can get a lot of extra use these way for things you don’t need to send out. It’s like doubling the life of your paper, in a sense.

5) Library, Library, Library. Okay, we all love to read and do research. We’re writers, after all. But buying books gets expensive. Trust me, I’m an addict and really have to fight the urge. Libraries are often free and located in various places throughout the city. In fact, they often have free Wi-Fi too, so you can take your laptop along, do research, and refill your TBR pile all in one run. The environment doesn’t allow coffee, but it can help get that coffeehouse fix if you go at a busy time of day, too. As a bonus, by supporting the Library, you encourage the funders to recognize that people still value what it has to offer and you can build relationships with library staff which will benefit you later on.

6) Walk & Bike. Writer’s spend a lot of time sitting on our butts. And, if you dislike exercise, like me, you probably need an extra “kick in the butt” (so to speak) to force yourself to get physical. One great way to do it is to walk animals, but in lieu of that you can also walk or ride a bike to local places within a few miles of your house. Many cities have bike lanes or safe back routes to avoid heavy traffic and, thankfully, motorists in many places are more and more used to sharing the road with cyclists. There are also bike racks in a lot of places to lock up your bike. Ride to the library, ride to the park, ride to the grocery store if you just need a few things, or walk to any of these. You don’t have to ride or walk fast to get benefit. Yes, a certain pace increases the benefit, but just getting out and doing it can make a big difference that will ease the way toward steadier habits.

7) Antennas Work. It seems old-fashioned in the modern age, but I recently had to cut expenses and paying $35 for basic cable when I can get most of the same channels for free via an antenna seems ridiculous. Even more than that though, the digital signals are cleaner direct than run through the cable companies compressors and sent out over wires. That’s right. You can get the most amazingly clean tv signals you’ve ever seen with an old-fashioned antenna. And at a cost of $100-150 for a decent antenna and $50-100 for an amplifier if you live in a valley, like me, you save a lot of money in the long run. Be sure and remember that digital band is narrow. You need to take time to play with antenna placement to maximize. Literally millimeters can make the difference between getting 20 channels and 5. With digital, the signal is clear or absent. You don’t get those half-fuzzy channels like the old days, so it’s worth taking time to set it up right.

8 ) You Only Need One Phone. So why pay for two? Seriously. With unlimited plans and satellite signals, why not just cut back to a cell phone and forget the landline? Phone companies and cable companies offer discounts if you get phone with your DSL or cable internet, yes. But in the long run, how much do you really save once they take on all the fees? You pay monthly for unlimited long distance. Why pay for it twice? If you do your research and pick the right company, you can get a good deal even without a contract. Stuck on your phone number? Porting it over is usually free. I have the same home phone number I’ve had since 2000 when I moved to Saint Louis. I’ve ported it several times now and it’s great because wherever I go, even old friends who lost touch can find me. You can put your cell on the donotcall.gov list too, so don’t worry about those pesky sales calls. I’m still careful whom I give it to but it does save me a lot of money just have the one phone and it’s all I need.

9)  Hang Out At Home. Many writers are introverts. It’s common with creatives. But after spending so much time alone creating, we all need fellowship. It’s tempting to go out to restaurants, clubs, movie theatres, etc., but these days, all of those option have gotten expensive and the bills can add up fast. You can make your own fun, too by staying at home with friends to cook or barbecue, play board games, watch DVDs, listen to music and talk, dance, etc. In our fast-paced world, it’s often easy to forget the fun times we had as kids just playing games, chatting, etc. Unless you’re an RPG player, you might not bother at all anymore. Goodwill, Dollar Store, etc. all have board games cheap these days. Why not buy a few favorites and use them with friends to create your own hang out at much less expense? Unless you invite jerky friends, it’s a lot less hassle and often a lot more fun than a club. You can even buy cheaper booze elsewhere than across a bar, too.

10) Buy Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLS) aka Energy Saving Bulbs. Folks, they cost more in the short term, but these bulbs last for years. I have them in every socket in my house and I am paying less for utilities now than I was when I lived in a one bedroom apartment with no CFLs. When we switched, our utility bills dropped immediately. A few months later, we upgraded from the one bedroom to a two bedroom and our utility bills stayed the same. And I have moved several times with the same bulbs and have yet to have one burn out. These things make a huge difference in energy use without requiring you to sacrifice light levels. And some energy companies will even give you some free for the most used lamps in your house. It’s worth checking into. Try one or two if you don’t believe me, but trust me, this is a worthwhile investment that will provide savings for the long run.

Okay, those are 10 great money saving tips for everyday use. Yes, some of them are for more than just writers, but then writers, I know, are usually living on small budgets, so they’re especially appropriate for us. Maybe you know some others. We’d love to hear about them in comments. I hope you can use these to save money for more important things and still enjoy a productive, writing life. I know I do. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011  Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. A freelance editor, he’s edited novels and nonfiction and also hosts Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter under the hashtag #sffwrtcht. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Write Tip: Building A Larger World Using Bit Characters

All too often in worldbuilding, it’s easy to believe that the bigger you get, the more realistic your world will be, but, at the same time, the bigger the world, the more complicated it becomes for the writer. So I am always looking for ways to simplify that process by making the most of elements I create for multi-purposes. And one of those involves utilizing bit characters to add depth to my world.

Think about your day-to-day life. You have family. You have a circle of friends. You have coworkers and associates. You have workers at places you regularly patronize like the grocery store. This is your world, in a sense, at least the immediate part of it with which you regularly interact. And it’s like that for pretty much everyone I’ve met all over the world from the U.S. to Africa, Brazil, Mexico and beyond. So when writing a book and creating a world, it’s helpful to consider the immediate, day-to-day world of your characters and to think about who inhabits it.

I have very few throwaway characters. There are always some, most unnamed or referred to simply by their occupation “guard,” “paperboy,” “knight,” etc. They are created for various reasons: to add atmosphere, for a brief scene where the protagonist or antagonists seeks something for their larger quest, or for other reasons. They appear, say a few lines, then disappear, forgotten. And sometimes, particularly in epic fantasies where the stories frequently involve travel and long distance journeys, it makes sense. But other times, when characters are moving around within a particular world again and again, these characters can be utilized to add greater depth and reality to your world by becoming part of the day-to-day circles of characters, to add a sense of community and realness.

If you look at any group, there are people who show up again and again in particular locations. Those are the people who can add texture and richness to your story if you use them well. Usually they refer to the protagonist and each other by nicknames or first names. They are close contacts, see. People who are used to each other and know each other well, even if they don’t get along. They interact so often that it’s just naturally developed and, as such, they tend to have a level of intimacy in how they refer to each other. These types of characters can add great meaning to your story and be created for that purpose, but you can also find them in characters you’ve written as throwaways.

For example, when I am looking for a character for a new situation, I always think through whom I have already created that can be pulled in. In The Worker Prince, I created a Major to take Davi Rhii on a tour of his first planetary military assignment. Later, I decided to utilize this character to work with Davi’s rival Bordox in tracking him down. By the end of the book, the character also led forces against the attacking army Davi led. Because this character inhabited the same circles as my protagonist (Davi) and antagonist (Bordox), having him recur added a sense of the circles they inhabit and how they interconnect, which just makes the world seem more real.

In writing the sequel, The Returning, I found myself in need of characters to accomplish various things. A throwaway member of the Borali Council, Lord Qai, then was given a major role. And Major Zylo wound up coming back as an interrogator and conspirator to great advantage for readers. One advantage of using such characters over and over is that you don’t have to build them from scratch in their history and their personality. That adds emotional depth to their interactions with your main characters because of things we’ve already read elsewhere in the stories, and, again, emphasizes the circles our leads inhabit in this world, making the world feel much more like the world we ourselves inhabit.

Screenwriters and movie directors have learned this trick. For many years, while I was in film school I’d count the cast list at the end of films and find that invariably, 33 characters was a common number. Looking at the number of one shot characters, it usually numbered 10 or less out of the 33. The rest tended to appear in multiple scenes, even if they only spoke a line or two each time. Why? because filmmakers know that people interact with a common circle every day and by including that circle, their story becomes more real and pops off the screen, even when viewers don’t notice all the details. Subconsciously, they grasp it and that behind-the-scenes experience, informs their opinions of the story and their involvement with it and ability to accept it as “realistic.”

So every time I create a character, I think about the characters I’ve already created who are still available to return. Can one of them be used instead of a new character? How can I add depth to that one-off character in both scenes by combining the two? Automatically, if the character occurs in different situations, it’s not only creating a sense of every day circle, as mentioned, but building a deeper character despite the small part they play, because you are showing another aspect of who they are in a way that makes them not just the flower shop girl, but also a neighbor, or a fellow parent, etc. There are all sorts of possibilities.

How much thought do you put into these types of characters? Do you just create them when you need them and forget about them? Or do you find ways to utilize them well and make a more memorable, powerful story? Remember the throwaway art gallery employee Serge in Beverly Hills Cop? Bronson Pinchot turned a bit part into a series regular, and the filmmakers found other scenes to utilize him in, not just at the gallery, but elsewhere. He was so popular that he returned in the film’s sequels. This is the same kind of thing that you can do in your novel and readers will enjoy it just as much. Especially if a character is well drawn and memorable. They may start as the stereotypical smart mouthed butcher and evolve into so much more.  If your protagonist walks past the same market again and again, why not have that passerby character be the storekeeper he interacted with before? It saves you the need to introduce and describe a new character and also accomplishes so much more.

Consider your current project. Are there characters you could utilize in this way to make the world bigger and the story more interesting and real? How do you handle these bit-part characters? How has it enriched your worldbuilding and storytelling? I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas in comments.

For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011  Honorable Mention, andThe Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter under the hashtag #sffwrtcht. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

WriteTip: Diligence Pays Off-Success Equals Talent Plus Work

Okay, this isn’t the usual steps process for sure, but I still think it’s appropriate for a write tip. A few months back I posted about the power of diligence quoting from a Steve Martin interview with Charlie Rose where the comedian/actor talked about how importance diligence has been to his success. Pretty much everyone in the entertainment/media business I’ve met who’s had a career of more than a decade has mentioned the importance of diligence to me, and, in an age where e-publishing has become the rage and feeds our cultural fixation with instant gratification, I think a reminder about diligence is important. In fact, the key lesson is in bold later in this post, but first a little about how diligence has paid off for me.

I started writing fiction prose in summer 2008 with a love story about a divorced couple who fall in love again. My first novel started as a novella then grew. I finished it at around 65k words but it sucked. Or at least, it was’t ready for prime time. So, I went back to school, reading, studying craft, learning, practicing, and about a year later, I started writing my first science fiction book–a Moses-inspired space opera I’d dreamed up as a teen. The Worker Prince, as it’s called, was my debut novel, released in October 2011 and made Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011, quite an honor for a micropress book. Sales are steady but slow and I’ve earned back my advance or am close at around 650 copies. Book 2, The Returning, came out last month and now I’m writing Book 3.

But those novels are far from the only thing I”ve had going on. In 2008, when I started writing fiction, I knew no one writing books besides an old friend, a historian named Leon C. Metz. Now Leon is no slouch. He’s published over 20 books on history, his most famous being a biography of John Wesley Hardin, famous gunfighter. But I didn’t know anyone in science fiction, had never been to a convention, had not taken writing workshops and no one knew who I was.

Now, to be fair, I had been writing nonfiction, screenplays and plays for twenty years, since high school. I’d had some limited success with a script in development at Disney that never got made and a couple of co-written produced plays. I’d sold some nonfiction articles to magazines and such. And I’d had devotionals published. But still, I was unknown in most regards, particularly in the area of fiction books and especially in science fiction and fantasy.

But as I met writers, Ken Scholes being one of the first and I met him on Facebook after reading his wonderful Lamentation,  they always talked about how important it was to write every day. If you get stuck, write anyway. If you’re frustrated, try something else i.e. switch projects for a bit or give yourself permission to write crap just to get words down and exercise the writing muscles. As my friend and fellow novelists John A. Pitts says: “Concert pianists at the height of fame have to practice every day, why shouldn’t writers?” And that’s the truth of it.

So I wrote. I worked on a few novel ideas. I wrote a lot of short stories. And I rewrote The Worker Prince, also starting two fantasy novels, including Duneman, which is in beta reading right now and will hopefully land me an agent and traditional publisher later this year. The main thing was that I wrote, continued studying craft, read a lot, and started going to Cons to meet writers and others. Now, I have a huge network of contacts and friends, and looking at my Goodreads and Amazon author pages, there are 7 titles listed. By the end of the year, there will be 8 and maybe 9. Of those, only 2 are self-published: The North Star Serial, Part 1, which collects a series of flash fiction episodes I wrote for Digital Dragon Magazine and Rivalry On A Sky Course, which is an ebook only release of a prequel story to The Worker Prince which first sold to Residential Aliens before I released it as an ebook. Everything else has been paid for by a publisher and put out, including the anthology I edited and others in which I have stories appearing. (Wandering Weeds comes out any time now.)

What’s my point? Well, I’ve dedicated a lot of time to writing. I’ve treated it like a job, even though it doesn’t pay the bills yet. And I’ll tell you that my total income for writing expenses last year was close to $2000 when you add print cartridges, Cons, travel, paper, supplies, postage, etc. But this year, my expenses are going to be less, but my income should be close to $3000. It remains to be seen and that estimate encompasses four book advances (two pending) and some sales income (still coming in), as well as a few sales, but it’s definitely progress in the right direction. And last year I only attended 3 Cons and 1 Workshop. This year I have attended 4 Cons with 2 more planned, done 4 signings so far and have 4 more planned–all of which involved at least some travel (shortest 10 minute drive, longest airplane, including a couple 6+ hour drives). What’s my point?

I am acting like a full time writer even though I am not one. I am also spending several hours a week on blogging, social media marketing, networking, promotion and reading and running #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat, Wednesday at 9 pm EDT on Twitter). I typically spend 2-3 hours a day writing, 2-3 editing (mostly for other people) and 2-3 on blogging and social media, plus any other work I need to do. (I am seeking full time employment and do freelance gigs from time to time.) Once I get a full time job, my goal will still be to do the 6-9 hours a day devoted to my writing career.

Why? Because I am getting somewhere, not just with the earning income progress but with the amount of material published. My third Davi Rhii book will come out sometime next year and I hope to sell a couple more novels, including Duneman. My first kid’s chapter book is going to come out this Winter (late 2012 or early 2013). I just got asked to do more joke books after my first released today which means nice advances, and I have a celebrity bio contracted, two half novels done, and several short stories, including 10 more North Stars to finish the cycle left to write.

Diligence.

Diligence matters.

dil·i·gence

   [dil-i-juhns]  Show IPA

noun

1.

constant and earnest effort to accomplish what isundertaken; persistent exertion of body or mind.
So if your passion is writing, storytelling, etc., be diligent. Make the effort to do what you love and follow your passion. Treat it like work, without discipline it won’t happen. But know that if you have the talent and you apply the work to it, things will happen. After all, talent is like 2×4 boards, it takes some tools, nails, effort, etc. to build something with it. But it can be done and will be done if you’re diligent. You may not get rich. You may not become that famous. But you will become very satisfied and you will have a body of work that shows you’re more than just a person who dreams of being a writer. You’ll be a real, published writer, and whether that ever pays my bills fully or not, to me that’s saying something.
For what it’s worth…

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011  Honorable Mention, andThe Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter under the hashtag #sffwrtcht. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

#writetips: Public Vs. Private-Finding The Fine Line Dichotomy Of Your Passions

Okay, dichotomy, a big word. Yeah, yeah, I’m a writer and every once in while I have to prove it. So there. But seriously, passion and artists go hand in hand. Creative people are driven people and our passions drive us as much as any other force, often more. Passion is good. It provides energy, focus, and adrenaline. It gives you enthusiasm, drive and a compulsion to get what you have to say out there into the universe. But passion also has its downfalls, and in the increasingly digital age, which is also an increasingly public one, those downfalls can be pitfalls to successful writing careers. Readers love passion on the page. They love passion on your blog and in your attitude when they meet you or see you in interviews, etc. But readers come in all shapes and sizes, show your passion too much about the wrong subject, they can flee like leaves on a wind or seaweed on a wave. And they may not come back.

That’s why I think we all need a dichotomy of our passions, a divide between public and private that creates clear boundaries to help us channel our passions productively. It’s not censorship, it’s discretion and discernment. It’s knowing that in the public age of the World Wide Web, not everyone needs to know everything about your business, and conducting yourself appropriately in regards to expression your passions. There are a number of tricky subjects. Some are obvious: politics and religion, for example. Others are trickier: personal lives, kids, job talk, etc. Also important is the dichotomy of how you express yourself in public and in private. Some choose to just shoot off in whatever language they want. As smart as the advice those folks offer may be, some people will turn away from them for it. Maybe they don’t care. I personally do. It’s not that I think everyone will like me. But I don’t want to create barriers where none need to exist. And I think that chasing off potential readers is bad business. So I watch what I say and how I say it. Yes, sometimes I screw up, but it’s a journey and, like everyone, I’m learning as I go.

It’s a really good idea to sort out what you’re comfortable sharing and what you’re not. A lot may depending on audience and genre. For example, a writer of devotions or spiritual life books or even a Christian writer will likely share more about religion than someone whose work does not touch on those areas. There is a certain expectation from their work that takes them there. Still, how they express it, when and where is something to consider. A political writer, of course, will talk politics, and parenting writers about kids, etc. But for Average Jill and Average Joe, there’s a choice about these topics. Do you want to talk about things which may alienate or divide readers and lead to lots of heated discussion and potential conflict or do you prefer to focus on topic which will be more broadly acceptable and stimulate productive discourse? Do you want to share your private life, work life, family life, etc. with readers or do you prefer to keep it to yourself? How much is too much? And when do you start feeling you’ve said too much?

One challenge is that once you open the door, it can be hard to close it again. Readers who have read blog posts about your family or issues at work or health issues will want to know the latest and may not hesitate to ask. How do you then tell them: “Sorry. I said too much and realized I don’t want you to know all that so I’m not going to post it anymore” without hurting feelings or making people feel cut off or defriended? Because, like it or not, readers or fans who regularly read what you put out there are looking for a personal connection, some sort of bonding or feeling intimacy with the storyteller and voice which has touched their lives so much. Which is why you really need to know what you’re looking for, too, and what you’re offering and how far you’ll go in that pursuit. The lines of the dichotomy between public and personal are your decision and can be drawn any number of places, but once you draw them , they can be hard to change, so they must be drawn with care.

For me, I’ve learned the hard way that politics and religion must be handled with care. It’s hard because for much of my life my faith and politics have been so importantly intertwined with my work in foreign countries, in churches, etc. But as an artist they are not so deeply infused with my work. Do they influence them? Of course, absolutely. But I’m telling stories, not writing propaganda. While the themes and even morals I use in stories may speak to my worldview, that’s not the same as attempting to convert others to think the same way I do, and anything I post which expresses strong passion will likely be interpreted by many who read it as doing just that.

For example, one of my pet peeves are celebrities who talk down to the public as if they are more informed and smarter than we are. Yes, because I am a moviestar, my views should be yours. I strongly disagree. For one, having worked in Hollywood, those people don’t occupy the same every day world most of the rest of us do. They live with wealth, fame, power, and even entourages of people who take care of them, unlike that of any normal person. It’s not that they aren’t smart and talented. But that alone doesn’t give them the right to be political pundits and lobbyists who try and bend others to their will. So I tend to0 ignore what they say, knowing not only that their sense of normal and their values don’t match my own but that their sense of how Americans think is skewed. Plus, I’ve always been one to make up my mind for myself anyway.

Don’t get me wrong. Readers will invest themselves in caring about your opinions on all sorts of things. They will give incredible weight to your opinions, in fact, and the power of that can be intoxicating. But with such power comes responsibility. Don’t be like the American press, so stuck on its power that its ethics have disappeared as it twists stories and coverage to match its own politics, etc. If you value your readers and care about them, you should exercise your power responsibly and with great care. Allow them to be who they are and think for themselves. Be thankful that your books have affected them so and that your messages are being heard but don’t abuse the privilege.

In the end, finding the dichotomy of your passions is for you and the fans and readers both. You need to protect yourself and your privacy so you can feel safe. But you also want to maintain perspective about your level of influence and how you exercise it, too. At least, that’s what I believe makes for responsibly artistry and a more healthy writing life. How do you seek to balance personal and private in your interactions with the world outside? What goals and restrictions do you self-impose, if any and why? I’d love to hear about your dichotomy of personal and private as we each consider our own. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter under the hashtag #sffwrtcht. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

 

Writetips: 10 Most Creatively Inspiring Places In The World I’ve Visited So Far

I love to travel and I love to learn. So, to me, one of the greatest things about trips is getting to discover  things:  new places, new languages, new cultures, new people, new points of view. It energizes me. That’s one reason I’ve dedicated so much of my life to travel. From 2000 through 2010, I visited Africa, South America, Central America and Europe, some more than once the same year, donating time as a teacher and mentor in exchange for learning and discovering. I learned as much as any of my students did, and it’s forever changed my life and writing.

This may seem an odd subject for writetips, but hang on. When I was first starting out, I got accused of cliche and predictable writing and one agent said “live more so  you’ll have stuff to write about.” So, I quit Hollywood and went off to be  a singer and travelled the world. I got a Masters degree, founded a leadership development training non-profit, and spent the next decade travelling three times a year to learn  cultures and help them learn the arts, etc. in places where such training is either unaffordable or available only to the elite.  I and my world are so much broader because of that, and I have so much more to write about.

So here’s my Top 10 Most Inspiring Places I’ve Visited (so far–I’m not done by far):

Life in mud huts and people often seemed more content and happy than I’ve been a day of my life.

1) Ghana, West Africa — From the urban sprawl of Accra, its capital, to the slave castles of its Atlantic Coast, to the humble traditional village of Mesamegor where I spent a blissful New Year’s Day 2004 learning  about traditional dance and village life, my four trips to Ghana have been some of the most enriching of my life. I miss it daily and long to go back. For those of us fortunate enough to be born in the First World, a visit to the Third or Developing World is life changing, if you allow it to be. From the ways they view the world differently, to the joys they find amidst such poverty and want, you realize not only how lucky you are but how much you have and how little you appreciate it. It’s reminds you that there are things far more important than possessions, status, money, etc., and it teaches you how to slow down and live by relying on each other and making the most of every moment in ways that forever transform the way you see the world.

2) Dacchau and Bavaria, Germany — A line of bullet holes along a wall, an ashy oven with a distinct smell, barracks with bunks resembling those on slave ships of  Roots from TV at a famed WWII concentration camp built for killing, and  all of this because of a race/religion and one man’s call to hate.  I went there at 16 and images are indelibly burned into my brain. I don’t have scanned pictures but I can call them up whenever  I  want to in my mind. You can’t deny it when you’ve seen the evidence for yourself.  I also floated over the Alps on  glider, a plane shot up into the air by bungee with no engine. It was so quiet, peaceful and amazing. I felt like a bird.

3) The Favellas (slums) of Rio De Janeiro, Brazil — In both Rio and Belo Horizonte, the third largest city to the north, I visited famed hillside slums, places where the murder count

Slums stretch across hillsides throughout Brazil’s cities. Believe it or not, they started as squatters with no infrastructure, stealing electric by cutting into lines, etc.

each month exceeds that of the whole U.S. in a year at times. These were the people who would rob tourists, ran the drug trade, and  acted as maids, servants, bus  drivers, etc. Their lives were hard and lacking, yet when you were  invited in as a guest, no one treated  you better. I never once felt any sense of danger or worry. And it was humbling to be so appreciated by people who have such hardships that I can’t even begin to understand. You can  read about poverty and violent lives, but only by seeing it for yourselves can you begin to try and understand.

4) Venice Beach, California — In many ways, the quintessential California beach, at least as far as Los Angeles goes. From surfers  to street performers (some of whom make 50k tax free or more  year) to  beach volleyball, rollerblading, and lots of hot, fleshy bodies, not to mention sunsets and even whales  and ships, Venice Beach has it all and it’s an experience to be remembered. I went several times during my time  in L.A. I’ll never forget the 300 lb woman in the thong (I wish I could) but I’ll also never forget the night I went there after a day spent skiing in  the nearby mountains and sat in shorts to watch the sunset over the mountains to the north. Whenever I think of California life, it comes back to me so clearly.

5) The Florida Keys — I wish I could afford to live there, because the Florida Keys remain one of my all time favorite vacation spots. From standing in Hemingway’s home to lighthouses, jetskiing, petting sharks and whales, collecting sea shells, waterskiing, and glass bottom boats, I just love what Southern Florida and especially the Keys have to offer. I move from relaxed to excited in waves and go home exhausted but yet the next day I’m ready to do it all again.

My parents on the streets of Ouro Preto, winding hills with amazing architecture–note one of the many churches up at the top

6) The Gold Cities of  Minas Gerais, Brazil — Brazil is huge and rich  and walking through these cities  with their hundreds of churches, often slave built, with elaborate interiors, exteriors, and gold embossed finishes, amazing Portuguese style Colonial buildings and streets, etc., felt like stepping back in time and into history. I’ve visited them three times  and still find myself in awe and discovery every time. From the old mine you can ride down into on an old fashioned car system, to panning for gold, to horseback rides, to mountain  scenery, to amazing cuisine, to the museums (including an amazing mineral museum with specimens from all over the world), Minas’ gold cities truly are wonders of the world.

7) Amish Ohio, Iowa and Pennsylvania — They may thrive on simplicity of life, but there’s something truly inspiring about people so devoted to their beliefs  that they’re willing to ignore the obvious benefits of so many technologies and possessions in  order to cling to a way of life. Some look at them as odd annoyances, but, to me, they’re fascinating and an example of the kind of  integrity and  discipline many of us can and should learn from. In a world of backstabbing, mind games, and soundbyte thinking, these people preserve a lifestyle they’ve cherished for hundreds of years undisturbed by our distractions, stresses, etc. Their Ohio and Pennsylvania neighbors have told me of their kindness and of admiration for  them. And from my few encounters, I can say, the admiration and respect is well deserved.

8 ) The Birmingham, Alabama Civil Rights Museum — Sit on a bus and hear the white driver berate you and send you to the back; witness the church where two young girls died at the hands of bombers in the name of hate; this amazing, fantastic museum chronicles the history of Civil Rights in the U.S. powerfully and provocatively and my visit  there has remained one of the most powerful museum experiences of a lifetime  full of them. Between the hands on recreated experiences there and my own times standing in  slave dungeons on Africa’s Gold Coast, amongst others, my understandings and views of tolerance, commonality, and the dignity and value of humans and human lives are forever informed and reformed by such amazing experiences.

9) The New Mexico Museum of Space History and International Space Hall Of Fame, Alamogordo, New Mexico — This museum in this small New Mexico city was something I’d driven by several times and thought meh. But just before relocating, I  went there with my parents. Want to try and land a space shuttle? Try the simulator here. It’s incredibly hard (my dad and I each crashed, although I almost made it). Space suits, launch sounds, equipment, meals, and photos of key figures in space  exploration history plus real ships on display, including a simulated Gemini capsule so you can see if you’d fit. Truly amazing! And they’ve got an Imax theatre and planetarium as well. Well worth  a trip. The emergency shuttle landing zone which  was used once or twice is also here along with the amazing White Sands missle range and original ground zero from the first nuclear bomb test, and white sand dunes where  you  can sled in boiling summer heat. From SF writers like Asimov to scientists, the hall of fame alone inspired my imagination and encouraged my dreaming.

10) The Colorado  Rockies — Majestic, mighty, beautiful:  there’s nothing and no place quite like them. I loved the Alps, especially the Matterhorn, but from a young age, the Rockies captured my heart, reinforced my belief in a higher power, and reminded me that when God paints, it out shines anything man can do or imagine. The breeze off the mountains tingles my skin like the breath of heaven blowing down.  It’s a spiritual experience for me and my own love of and passion for the Rocky Mountains is part of what bonded me with John Denver and his music so much and still does.

Well, in no particular order,  those of 10 places which have inspired me greatly in  my life and creative work. As we all know, inspiration and experience are key to good writing. So what’s the writetip for this week? It’s to live a little, explore, discover, and learn whenever and wherever you can. Your readers will thank you  for it. Your editors, too. But no  one will be enriched by it more than yourself. Where have you gone or always wanted to that inspires you and why? I’d love to compare notes in comments. And Friday, I’ll be guest posting on my blog tour about how my world travels have informed my world view and influenced my writing. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011  Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter under the hashtag #sffwrtcht. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Write Tip: Top 10 Writer Lessons Learned From Cons & Appearances

Love it or hate it, for the modern author Conventions and Appearances come with the job. These can be a great deal of fun or  a great deal of stress or both. I’ve done 9 Cons since 2010, 5 since March 2012.  (You can check out my appearances here.) I’ve enjoyed them all for different reasons and yet some were better than others. Still, overall, the contact with fellow creatives and the public is a stimulant to creativity even if it drains time away from writing while I’m there. The biggest strain, of course, is budget. Cons are not cheap. But still, if you take the time to learn how to maximize them, there can be great benefits. Here are Ten Lessons I’ve learned from Cons and Appearances so far:

1) Selling Books Is Hard. A good signing/appearance tends to be around 12-13 books for me so far. As a new, relatively unknown author, it’s really hard to get people to try out your stuff. You do readings at which 4 attendees is a good turnout. You do bookstore appearances/signings and are happy if three people an hour actually stop to talk. At Cons, you do tons of panels and hand out info cards and are happy if people take them with any enthusiasm. In dealer’s rooms, if 5% of those who stop to look buy your book, you’ve done well. If you are a writer thinking selling the book is the easy part, think again. It’s hard. I don’t know how this compares with those whose publishers have thousands to spend promoting their books, but for micropress writers like me with promotion coming from my own time and money, selling books is hard.

2) Face-To-Face Matters. I realize many authors are socially awkward. We spend so much time alone by ourselves writing that social skills are not being developed. And many of us started out socially awkward in the first place. Thus, public appearances can be nerve-wracking and stressful. Still, nothing gets people’s interest like a face-to-face encounter. If you’re nice, funny, interesting, etc., people take notice. They realize you might be someone whose voice they’d like to spend time with listening. And this leads to sales and word of mouth. It’s a slow process, in my experience, but I’ve definitely seen it enough to know it’s true.

3) Most of Your Sales Come After Cons Online Or In Stores.  No matter how few or many books sell at a Con or appearance, I always know more a week or two later by looking at online sales and Author Central. Almost always we see numbers increase from people who met me or saw me at a distance and went to buy my books. I don’t know if this is because they don’t trust buying from you, worry about pressure sales if they approach or what. PayPal is secure, people. Whatever the reasons, I do see most sales coming from online or stores, even when I offer discounts through my website store, which I still can’t figure out.

4) Partnering With Dealers Has Advantages And Disadvantages. If you’re going to a Con, it’s always good to check out the dealers and see if you can find someone to either order copies of your book to sell or accept them from you on consignment. You will be expected to offer 25-40% of the price to the vendor, but I have still been able to sell books at a slight discount off retail when doing this. The bigger issues come from expectations. One, you should expect the vendor to display your books in a way that customers will see them, but not necessarily center stage and upstaging the vendor’s own wares. Two, pairing with a bookseller for books is better than pairing with another type of vendor. Vendors selling gadgets and toys will get customers who are easily distracted from books by their other wares. Clothing vendors have customers who aren’t looking for books. And so on. Booksellers are the best bet, but regardless of the vendor’s product, all of them expect you to get people to the table and come by to help sell your book. Working with booksellers makes this easier because they know how books sell, even those by unknown authors. Their expectations will therefore be appropriate. A toy vendor I worked with complained that I didn’t jump up and run out to pitch every customer who touched my book. My experience is that having a table between you is less intimidating than standing next to them on the sales side of the table and that being pushy is less effective than being casual and nice. Offer to answer questions, tell them a little about it, and even offer to sign it, yes, but being pushy is something to do at your own risk. Vendors don’t always understand because you are taking table space from their wares and sometimes the stuff they sell is sold well with a bit of push.

5) Plan Time To Be In The Dealer Room. If you have product for sale, it’s a really good idea to plan time to be at the dealer table greeting customers, signing, etc. Not just because of what I said in item 4 but because not everyone will see you at panels, readings, etc., and sometimes knowing the author is there makes buying a book more enticing. So check out the dealer room hours, compare it to your schedule for panels, etc., and plan some time. Remember: dealer rooms keep daytime hours. They will close at night, even when panels are still ongoing, so if you can, use the gaps during dealer room hours to be present and save your alone time, etc. at night for the much needed breaks. One good way to do this is to plan to bring carryout food to eat in the Dealer’s Room and eat behind the table so you can jump up and greet, etc. when customers stop by. Also, be sure and help sell the vendor’s other items, too. It shows a commitment to team and partnership that vendors will really appreciate.

6) Learn To Set Limits. Cons and appearances are tiring. You can only do so much. Overcommit at your own peril.I’d say 2-3 panels a day is a pretty good chunk, especially if you have readings and signings on top of that. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but when you wind up doing two morning panels and then two late a night, you will realize your day has gotten really long quick. Also, being on panels requires a lot of focus. You have to be cheerful and nice and smiling, and you also have to try and give intelligent output, which also requires energy. Plus, banter with fellow panelists is also important. I did 4 programming items a day at the last Con and after the first day felt like I’d done the whole Con already. I was so tired. And I still had another day and a half to go. Some have more energy than others. But this applies especially if you are staying at a cheaper off-site hotel and you don’t have a room to run back to for a nap or recharge. Big Cons, especially, have no quiet corners for that much needed Introvert recharge either. So you can find yourself stuck in crowded, noisy areas for whole days with no real breaks and it wears you out. Also, if you actually plan to attend panels, parties, etc., the more tired and overcommitted you are, the less able you will be to not only participate in those activities but enjoy them.

7) Preparation Saves Stress. Think up questions which you might ask on a panel or might be asked and practice answers. They won’t come out exactly the same way at the time, but at least you’ll have some coordinated, coherent thoughts already floating in your head to pull out and use. If you do get asked to moderate, you’ll have some idea how to approach it. With readings, you need to practice reading slow, at a good pace. If you can read with some character voice changes, it makes it far more interesting than reading with the Ben Stein-drone. At least know which passages you plan to read and how long it takes to read them. And have an idea what you’ll say to introduce the scenes and your book as well as yourself for panels and readings. Keep it short but don’t be afraid to highlight your credentials. And if you’re new, holding up a copy of a book or two is perfectly fine. It creates a visual memory for panel attendees who might later see it in the dealer room and consider buying it.

8 ) Spread Them Out. Doing a Con every weekend may sound fun in theory if you like Cons, but in practical fact, besides being expensive, it’s quite tiring and stressful. Sometimes it will be unavoidable. But most of the time, you can alternate Cons with local signings, readings, etc. in such a way to give yourself time to rest and recover in between. I also think you benefit from geographically spreading out appearances. I blocked out a number of driving distance cons this year and prioritized based on location, cost, guest list, expected attendance, etc. to determine which I should aim for and which I could skip or leave for “if I have time.” If you have books to promote, you can’t really show up last minute and expect to do signings, readings or panels. But if you’re well known or just going to network and participate as a fan, you can definitely just make last minute choices. I like to vary Cons in size a bit but generally Cons of large attendance numbers are easier to get lost and forgotten in than smaller Cons. You also have better chances to do panels at smaller cons, although there are exceptions.

9) Take Pictures.If you have publicists you work with, they will constantly nag you about this. My publicist friend does. If you don’t have that, you should remember and find people to take pictures for you. In every panel, if you get there before hand, you can find a fan who’d be willing to take a few pics. Remember, you get what you get. If you’re anal about pictures and how they’re framed, etc., it’s better to bring your personal photographer along. Otherwise, ask them to shoot several and hope you get something you can use. But pictures are helpful for blogs, PR, websites, and more, so having them is really helpful and if you’re by yourself, you want to be in them, so you’ll need help.

Here Dana, Michael and Doug demonstrate how tired we all feel, while Kelly and I fake alertness as we answer a question. Beware overcommitment–10 p.m. Panel Friday night, 12 hours after Dana, Michael & I started our day at a signing

10) Take Handouts. Have business cards, info postcards, book sell sheets, etc. and make use of the free literature tables scattered throughout Cons. Some have one, most have several. Put your stuff out and stop by from time to time to see if anyone’s taking them or to replenish the stack. Be sure and pick up extras before you leave, although I always leave a few behind for last minute people to take in case. Business cards will be helpful for fellow authors, editors, artists, etc. Postcards with book cover info, your website, a few blurbs, a small bio, etc. are good to hand to fans at panels, signings, etc. I use sell sheets at my book tables for people to take even if they don’t buy the book on the spot. Many people come back Sunday to make their purchases, browsing first to decide where they want their limited funds to go. So don’t miss the chance to give them something which might bump your book up on the list.

I’m sure I’ll do plenty more Cons and appearances this year and beyond, as my career is only just beginning (I hope). So there’ll be more lessons learned by this time next year, but for now, I hope these are helpful. Love to hear your thoughts and lessons learned in comments, too. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter under the hashtag #sffwrtcht. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

 

Guest Post: Writetip-Writing Suspense In Science Fiction and Fantasy by Linda Rodriguez

Today’s guest is one of my favorite people, a local friend who’s talented and writes both mystery and speculative fiction as well as poetry. Her debut mystery novel Every Last Secret was published this Spring by Thomas Dunne and tells the story of a college police chief and Cherokee Indian investigating a murder on a college campus. Linda agreed to join us today to talk about writing suspense in Science Fiction and Fantasy. Recently I did a guest post for www.sfsignal.com identifying 15 Science Fiction and Fantasy Thrillers That Are Worth SFF Fans’ Time and mentioned that my second novel,The Returning, book 2 in my space opera epic The Saga Of Davi Rhii, is written like a Ludlum thriller in pacing and surprise plotting,  so her topic seems particularly appropriate.

Writing Suspense in Fantasy and Science Fiction

 by Linda Rodriguez

Suspense is not only the province of thriller writers, and some of our techniques can be useful to science fiction and fantasy writers. Every novel needs suspense elements to keep the reader turning the page. At its simplest, suspense consists of making the reader want to know what happens next. At its best, suspense is making the reader worry that his beloved protagonist will never reach his overpowering need or goal and what on earth is going to happen next! You will find this kind of suspense in all kinds of good novels. Will Atticus Finch be able to save innocent Tom Robinson’s life in To Kill a Mockingbird? Will Scarlett O’Hara save Tara in Gone with the Wind? Will Paul Atreides be able to become the Kwisatz Haderach to defeat the evil Harkonnens and the Emperor in Dune? There are a number of ways to provide suspense in a story. I say “provide” rather than “insert” because the suspense needs to be integral to the story and not just something added on.

One of the most important ways to increase suspense is to make it clear to the reader at the beginning of the story just what is at stake. It must be something that threatens to devastate the protagonist’s self-image, life or world, and he must be willing to make any sacrifice and go to any lengths to keep this from happening. However, another fine way to keep the reader wanting to know what happens next is to open your story or book deep in the action and explain it later. Although these strategies seem contradictory, they can be combined to add powerful elements of tension and apprehension to the reader’s experience of the book. If you start in the middle of some strong action scene, and then in the next scene or chapter, establish the background of your characters and the situation, you can delineate the high stakes that are involved for your protagonist here. These combined strategies can be used in almost any kind of story.

An alternative to this kind of two-part opening can be a first scene or chapter that establishes the protagonist within her everyday world but buries hints of impending change or danger within these ordinary moments. This is foreshadowing, and it has been misused often, but when the hints are subtle enough (while still being apparent to the attentive reader), foreshadowing can build excellent suspense. Movies have it easier here because they can use the background music to warn the audience that something wicked this way comes. Writers must try to create that same kind of atmosphere with sharp dissonant details and atmosphere.

One of the key ways to ensure that your book has the kind of suspense that keeps the reader saying, “Just one more page,” is to offer the reader the viewpoints of both the protagonist and the antagonist. This way the reader can see the problems the antagonist is planning for the protagonist long before the protagonist is aware of them. The reader can see what the protagonist cannot—that he’s on a collision course with disaster. This is a very powerful tool for suspense in all genres of novels, but is unavailable to those of you with a first-person protagonist-only viewpoint.

In the case of the first-person protagonist viewpoint, you can avail yourself of some of that reader foresight of disaster by stealing a trick of the traditional mystery writer. In the traditional mystery, as opposed to the suspense novel or thriller, the reader is in the dark and trying to figure out what happened and who the villain is at the same time as the protagonist does. Write in details that plant questions in the reader’s mind about the various characters, about what really happened in the past, and about what might happen in the future. Mystery writers call these “clues” and “red herrings.” Clues are actual evidence of what has happened or might happen, while red herrings are false harbingers, leading the protagonist and the reader in the wrong direction. Either of these can increase the reader’s need to know what’s going to happen. All characters have some secrets, even from themselves. Something that reveals one of these secrets, perhaps one that someone has lied about, will build suspense. When using clues and red herrings to increase suspense, keep the ratio of clues to red herrings high in the favor of real clues to keep from annoying the reader.

Another way to use clues is to plant some detail that brings uneasiness but is made to seem innocuous at the time. Later, this detail will turn out to be an important harbinger of some violence or problem. This stems from Chekhov’s gun on the wall which must go off before the play is over, or Brian Garfield’s famous dictum—“Plant it early. Pay it off later.”

A great technique to ratchet up tension in a book or story is to use a deadline. Time becomes the enemy and is working for the villain in this technique. The bomb is ticking and our heroine must find it and disarm it while that clock on it is inexorably ticking down to explosion and other obstacles are thrown in her way inevitably slowing her down. It needn’t be an actual clock or bomb, and it needn’t be minutes counting down to disaster. It could be years if we’ve been given a large enough view and long enough timeline at the beginning of the book, perhaps with a genetic time bomb ticking away.

Suspense is always present when the reader knows the protagonist is fighting seemingly overwhelming odds. The reader wants to see him stretched to the breaking point as he tries to prevent the feared disaster (remembering that this is a disaster in the protagonist’s eyes, not necessarily a “blow-up-the-world” disaster). Your character must learn new skills, access new abilities, overcome old flaws in ways he never thought he could in order to save the day. This kind of determination will keep the reader turning pages to find out what happens to him next.

We’ve seen how important the protagonist’s character is to reader suspense. He or she has to be earning the reader’s backing. But the antagonist’s character is just as important for true suspense. The antagonist must be worthy of the hero and capable of providing clever and devilish problems for the hero that will really stretch the protagonist. Unless you’re doing first-person narration by the protagonist, allow the reader to know the antagonist’s motivation and make it strong, so the reader will believe that he’s dedicated to what he’s doing to undermine or destroy the protagonist. If your story is a first-person protagonist narrative, once again you can attempt to let the reader know the villain’s motivation through dialogue overheard or another character telling the protagonist or some other bit of news that will tell the reader why the antagonist is determined and just how very determined he is.

An important but often overlooked way to ratchet up tension and suspense is to allow daily life to throw extra obstacles in the protagonist’s way. She’s trying to get to the old house where her child’s been left by the bad guy before the flood waters drown the kid, but it’s rush hour and there’s a huge accident and traffic jam, or she runs out of gas on the deserted creepy road to the house, or the flood waters have brought out alligators or poisonous snakes, or the street she needs to take has been blocked off for road repairs, or her ratty old car that she can’t afford to replace refuses to start, or… None of these are things the antagonist did, but they impede her nonetheless. This technique also has the positive effect of increasing reader identification with the hero. The reader knows what it is to be in a hurry to get somewhere important and encounter a traffic jam or blocked-off road. It also helps with the writer’s most important goal—verisimilitude. We all want to make our story-world become so real to the reader that he will never wake from the story-dream.

Suspense is a technique every writer can use. It’s a matter of creating a steam engine with no whistle, so that the steam builds in pressure, and at any time there could be an explosion. As a writer, in a thousand ways, great and small, your job is to keep turning up the heat under that engine.

In my own mystery-suspense novel, Every Last Secret, I can show some of these techniques right in the jacket copy. I’ll bold them. Marquitta “Skeet” Bannion fled a big-city police force and painful family entanglements for the peace of a small Missouri college town and a job as chief of campus police. Now, the on-campus murder of the student newspaper editor who traded in secrets puts Skeet on the trail of a killer who will do anything to keep a dangerous secret from being exposed. While Skeet struggles to catch a murderer and prevent more deaths, a vulnerable boy and ailing father tangle family responsibilities around her once again. Time is running out and college administrators demand she sweep all college involvement under the rug, but Skeet won’t stop until she’s unraveled every last secret. Secrets, high stakes, motivated and strong antagonist, overwhelming obstacles, everyday difficulties, a deadline, and dedicated protagonist.

You might take your book’s synopsis/summary and try bolding or underlining all the various techniques of suspense you find in yours. If you only find one or two, perhaps you’ll want to rethink your story so it will include more elements of suspense to keep your readers turning the page.

Thanks, Bryan for having me here today. I’ll be happy to answer any questions anyone might have. Suspense is one of those fundamentals with lots and lots of different applications.


Linda Rodriguez’s novel, Every Last Secret, won the Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition, was a Barnes & Noble Mystery Must-Read, and was a selection of Las Comadres National Book Club. Julia Spencer-Fleming, New York Times bestselling author, said, “Every Last Secret is a triple crown winner; superb writing, hell for leather plotting and terrific characters.” Criminal Element said, “Every Last Secret by Linda Rodriguez is a dark, twisty, turny tale of love, lies, loss, and murder on a quiet college campus.” Publishers Weekly said, “Fans of tough female detectives like V.I. Warshawski and Kinsey Millhone will be pleased.” As a poet, she has won the Thorpe Menn Award for Literary Excellence, the Elvira Cordero Cisneros Award, and the Midwest Voices and Visions Award. She blogs about books and writers at www.LindaRodriguezWrites.blogspot.com, reads and writes everything, including science fiction and fantasy, and she spends too much time on Twitter as @rodriguez_linda. Every Last Secret can be obtained at http://www.amazon.com/Every-Last-Secret-A-Mystery/dp/1250005450.