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 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, 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

Write Tip: Stepping Outside The Box –Thoughts on Race, Class, Gender and Sexuality In Worldbuilding

We all live in a box. You may not be aware of yours, but you should trust me, when I tell you: it exists. It’s hard to see it when you’re inside of it, too. It’s only by stepping outside of it where, in essence, the control and comfort it automatically provides are gone that one becomes aware of its existence. It’s vital to be aware of this when creating characters and building worlds, because it can be such a valuable tool in that process. So much of our own cultural identity, understandings of race, class, gender and sexuality result from that box. It’s the lens through which we view ourselves, our world, and everyone around us. We’re all biased, even though we often hate to admit it. It’s not fun to think about, but it’s very much the truth.

A person who grows up poor and black in a ghetto and only meets white people as authority figures (cops, teachers, government officials, etc.) who treat them as lower class and tell them how to act, who control their income or access to various opportunities and goods and services, will inevitably regard white people differently than a black person who grew up in a middle class neighborhood where people of all mixed races lived, intermarried, etc. To the poor, ghetto kid, white people may be either hate or envied or both. For the middle class kid, they more likely are neighbors, playmates, friends, at least until one comes along who treats them badly for racial reasons or they step outside their box and encounter attitudes about separation of race. Because those attitudes may not be as apparent in the middle class box. I am generalizing, so let’s not debate specifics. I am aware the real world gets far more chaotic in such divisions but these are just examples, after all.

Growing up in Midwest, I had only a few friends of color (i.e. non-white skin: black, yellow, etc.). I used this term for anyone non-white to keep it simple, so pardon any offense inherent in the term. My grandparents and great uncles and aunts had often grown up in generations where segregation existed. I was born in 1969, after all. The Civil Rights movement was fresh on everyone’s mind. Places still existed with old signs about separate sections in restaurants, separate sections on public transportation, etc. Black and white churches were still quite the normal, with only a few mixed congregations. We happened to attend one, actually. Racial jokes weren’t all that out of fashion in public yet. You didn’t tell them in front of anyone non-white usually, of course. Unless they were the one telling the joke, which happened. But the older generation, in particular, had a stockpile of the jokes. As a kid, you don’t really get what’s wrong with them, because jokes aren’t something you tend to think about with much depth. It’s only later in life, when you’ve unpacked the issues surrounding race, that the obvious issues with such humor become readily apparent and you start to wonder if grandpa’s racist or Uncle Joe has issues. I never saw any mistreatment of people of other races by anyone in my family. They were invited to events and gatherings whenever appropriate like anyone else. No one made them use separate facilities or eat at different tables. No one treated them like servants or separated them in other ways. But they did have these jokes, and growing up in that environment,  one’s attitudes about class, race, gender, etc. are affected, right or wrong. I never looked at anyone by race, class or gender as less than myself. Never have and never will. But what it did do is create a sense of numbness about the pain such jokes could cause. It created a sense of ignorance about how passionately some people felt about this issues and divisions and attitudes and how strong they had to fight daily against them in other places.

When I went to college, I met people who had grown up solely in urban areas. They interacted daily from birth with people of all races. Nothing stood out to them about anyone different. And it was so normal, they hardly noticed. They didn’t like the same kinds of jokes. It wasn’t just frowned upon, it was wrong and insulting and just not allowed. They didn’t understand why anyone would tell them, and to them, it’s just a sign of deep pure hatred. How could anyone see these normal people around them as anything but equal? Who cared about skin color? It was like hairstyle and clothing–a factor of diverse humanness, not an indication of worth, value, status, etc.

Then as a volunteer I went to Ghana, and I witnessed another attitude that’s also stayed with me forever since. There are African-Americans who come to Africa with a certain attitude. You may have heard it expressed on TV: “I’m going to the motherland. I’m retracing my roots. I’m going home.” It never really occurred to me that anyone in Africa, outside of South Africa (which for part of my life had major racial discrimination in Apartheid), would take issue with this. Certainly no one black. But then I saw my Ghanaian friends get irritated with a couple African-American tourists with this attitude. “You’re not African,” they mumbled. “My people bought and sold your people a long time ago.” Suffice it to say, I was pretty shocked. These were Ghanaians who had travelled widely. Some had Ph.Ds. They lived in European-style houses in nicer areas and neighborhoods. They were not tribal villagers or particularly poor by their cultural standards.

Ironically, I later saw a similar attitude amongst some poor. And it was not every Ghanaian, but it was not uncommon either. I later talked with them about this and they said: “You’re more African than those people. You’ve taken the time to study our clothing, our history, our language, our culture. You’ve eaten our food, been to our homes, learned our customs. Those people have no identification with our ways–our culture, our traditions, our history–what makes us Ghanaian. It’s offensive for them to suggest otherwise.” Now I asked Nigerian-born author Nnedi Okorafor about this and she took great offense. She feels it’s a very pedantic and insulting attitude. So not every African or African culture may reflect this. But I bring it up because in these stories, we have several different ways people look at their world and make determinations about who belongs and who doesn’t based on race, birth, gender, etc. The Ghanaian attitude frequently extended to things like foreign adoption. White or black, they didn’t want African babies adopted by foreigners because “they would not grow up African. They won’t know who they are.” It shocked me that if a child had a shot at a much better life, they’d object to that, but they were fairly adamant that “African children belong with African parents.”

In regards to sexuality, if you grew up in the church and never met anyone who had a civil marriage or dated the same-sex, your attitude upon encountering the issue of gay marriage or gay couples will be a lot different from someone who grew up with gay classmates and had people who were civilly married. Let me be clear, I am not equating gay relationships and civil marriage as exclusively related. I am pointing out that many times, if people see marriage as strictly a sacred church right between a man and a woman, it really pushes them outside their understandings to discover some get married on the courthouse steps and that some who want to marry are same-sex.  They have so long equated marriage as a sacred act that the possibility of it being non-religious is hard to fathom and may have never occurred to them.

Due to length, I won’t get into gender here, but I hope you can see how attitudes and experiences with gender roles can also be similarly impacted by environment, history and experience.

I don’t bring any of this up to debate its validity. And I would ask you to refrain from doing so in comments, because I don’t intend to engage in such dialogue. Instead, what I want to unpack is its value for us in building realistic worlds and characters. How your characters and their neighbors regard each other and others with whom they come into contact as belonging or not belonging to their group can say a great deal about the characters themselves and their culture. In cosmopolitan areas, you can create people with a variety of such attitudes, affected by their personal background and history. For example, India has the complicated class system which involves various levels, including ‘untouchables.’ And there is no sense of moving from one class to another. You can be a wealthy ‘untouchable’ and still be ‘untouchable’ just the same. Other societies allow much more fluidity based on wealth, education, jobs, etc. One can move into various levels of the socioeconomic spectrum based on where one stands in any one of more of those factors. Quality of life can be determined merely by the respectability of job class or ability to send children and yourselves to higher class schools, eat in high-class restaurants, own transportation, etc.

If you grew up knowing people of diverse race, gender, etc., you are far more likely to be accepting of that in adulthood than someone who was never exposed. Yes, there are people who are sometimes naturally accepting for various reasons. But that doesn’t make them colorblind. Those so used to diversity often don’t even notice consciously the differences anymore. Those less familiar with it will find it tends to be more often recognized and mentally noted when they encounter it. Thus, they may be more likely to make accommodations in obvious ways with obvious effort, whereas those who are colorblind just go about life as if no divisions exist and never have to make an effort to accommodate.

I hope you can see what I’m getting at here. These are all attitudes, conscious or unconscious, subtle or obvious, which can be employed to define your characters and their relationships with other characters and the world around them. Subtly interwoven into your world building, they can create rich tapestries with which readers will immediately connect and which make the world much more vivid and realistic in reading your words. They can be woven into the dynamics of world and character relationships in many ways. They can create subtleties to be exploited in building character and conflict in your storytelling which can be quite powerful and useful.

On the other hand, sometimes, they can be employed to create a world so foreign its hard to grasp. In some ways, Joe Haldeman did this by making heterosexuality forbidden in Forever War, for example. There have been alien races which had solely same-sex mating customs, etc. Mike Resnick, in his books Paradise, Purgatory and Inferno, and his Kiranyaga stories, posits futures involving aliens and even African colonists and looks at how relationships exist between them and their cultures, classes and other beings. It’s so powerful and yet subtle, and actually resulted in him oddly predicting real historical events in Africa before they happened.

In my own Davi Rhii novels, I have employed a lot of alien races and class divisions. Everything from religion to skin color to education plays a part, some more subtly than others, in societal attitudes and roles. The biggest divisions are ideological and species (i.e. aliens vs. human) but others are touched upon as well. For me, it creates a more interesting tapestry for building my world and characters and their relationships. It also affects the story itself, adding many dynamics which sometimes were unintentional or which I had to go back an exploit in later drafts for best affect.

How do you think about and employ these factors in your world building? How have you seen them handled both well and badly in books you’ve read? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on ways to explore these aspects of world and character creation. 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 has several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the new anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. His children’s book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing. 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, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. 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 Tips: The Road Back To Discipline With Social Media

Well, this is a departure from my usual Write Tips post and I hope I don’t bore everyone, but I have a writing related issue to discussed and I thought I’d include it in tips because it might be useful to others. I’ve blogged about this before in Write Tips, the need for discipline to be consistent across the spectrum of one’s life to avoid distractibility from one area corrupting the others. I’m sure I’m not the only writer who struggles with discipline, and I find myself guilty of that very issue, so I am putting myself on the road back to discipline. I have been getting less wordage in lately than I used to manage. 1200 words if I’m lucky, 700 if I’m not. When I need to be getting 2-3k words a day for all the projects I’m working on. I also need to be more focused on the freelance editing work. Right now, those gigs are temporarily on hold with other people doing their thing before they start-up again, but I have struggled through some projects the past six months and realized I needed a better work ethic to avoid stress. I haven’t seen any major mistakes, thankfully, but I don’t want to see them either. So off on the road back I go.

There are several things besides my ongoing battle with depression and my ADHD which play a part in this. I am also facing a major diet which starts tomorrow, and so the timing is good to be more disciplined as that will require it of me as well. Other factors include computer issues wherein my computer freezes for odd periods and makes it impossible to do anything, thus requiring me to wait. I think I may lose 2 hours a day on this several times a week. Also, my exercise routine with the dogs fell off, which means less energy, so I must build that regular one hour walk back into the schedule. The dogs will appreciate that as much as I will. Additionally, my social media time, which I’ve found invaluable for networking, maintaining and building relationships and marketing, nonetheless has gotten a bit out of control.

For one thing, my Facebook was unmanageable. My Twitter feed is not much better. And Google+, which I’ve never warmed to is a mess so much that I stopped adding people two months ago, plus I had some blog issues for almost a month. With the blog issues recently resolved, I decided to start with social media, so I converted my 1100+ followers on Facebook to fans by making my Facebook profile an Author Page, deleted the old author page, and am rebuilding a Facebook Profile from scratch. The advantages are: 1) no timeline. Somehow when you reset your profile, timeline doesn’t come back in the new one until you choose it. I don’t plan to do so; 2) Friend Groups. Trying to keep up with anyone in a feed from 1100+ “friends” and groups on top of that became impossible long ago.

By starting over, I am admitting only a few “friends” at a time and grouping them as “Family,” “Close Friends,” “Friends” and “SFF People.” I also allow no subscribers. This will allow me to control my feed by posting to each group or to everyone. I can talk politics and religion with those whom I enjoy that interaction and stop having the frustrating and often irritating, meaningless debates with others with whom I don’t enjoy the interaction on those topics. I have stopped discussing them to a point in general, but I’m rather tired of having people feel the need to lambast my views or blast me with theirs, especially total strangers who subscribe, so I am putting the brakes on that and reining it in. Additionally, publishing and SFF business can be restricted to the group who care about such things without bothering others. I still have my author page which many people will follow, and my fans, old classmates who never speak with me, and strangers can either stay with that or leave. Someday, that page may reflect popularity if I succeed as editor and author but for now it frees me up to keep people informed of what I want and reserve privacy for what they don’t need to know.

Because I can only add people a few at a time, it will take me a while to sort through and reassemble my profile “friends,” but at least I already am enjoying the easier walls for each group and feeling less out of control. I lost all my games in progress but many of the ongoing ones had reached the boredom point. Scrabble can just pick up with new games, so I’m fine with that. Other than Scrabble, they’re all probably just distractions I don’t need anyhow.

I will maintain the SFFWRTCHT group and The Saga Of Davi Rhii page as well as my new author page. I will update them as appropriate and run contests, etc. But my more personal or controversial posts will stay with the new profile and the select groups I wish to share them with. I hope then less time can be spent in meaningless debate and  going-nowhere discussions and thus more time productively elsewhere.

This will be a good step in the right direction toward greater writing productivity, I hope. After all, I still have Twitter Lists to tackle to try to manage that feed. And I will have to sort out whether Google+ is part of my future or my past. I refuse to join Foresquare and Pinterest because I just don’t need another time swallowing social media outlet. I know some people love them, but I think no one really needs to know where I am all the time for one (Foresquare) and Pinterest looks like a lot of work I just don’t need at all.

I still have my regular blogging duties her, at SFSignal,  Grasping For The Wind, Ray Gun Revival and Adventures In SF Publishing, and with another blog tour coming up, and many Cons, I just don’t need to be scrambling or wasting time. I need to be focused. So I’ll report back on the results of my new strategies and how my routine falls into place. I am a creature of habit, and I really to work better with routine. Just in case, I also downloaded Cold Turkey, a program which allows you to lock out various programs to avoid being distracted. Once it’s initiated it cannot be reset, so if you change your mind when Facebook or Twitter are blocked, tough toodles. You’re stuck. Have to put that energy elsewhere. I know other writers who use it and I want it on hand if I find I might. I wonder if they have something similar for cable TV. I have had to stop watching my morning routine, including The Price Is Right and Live With Kelly, because that’s my prime writing time. Now if I can get off Facebook and use that time to write, I might actually be productive again before noon. Wouldn’t that be grand?

How do you discipline yourselves? How do you handle social media time? What would you do differently? Has anyone tried my approach? What path have you taken on the road back to discipline? I’d love to hear your thoughts. 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 has several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the new anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. His children’s book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing. 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, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. 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: 7 Things I Learned About Working With Editors From Editing SPACE BATTLES

In Spring 2010, I got the chance to pitch publisher David Rozansky of Flying Pen Press some anthology ideas I’d been developing and wound up hired to edit the next installment in the publisher’s long running Full Throttle Space Tales anthology series, Space Battles, which release last week, April 18. After three years now of significant work editing books, stories and now an anthology with authors, I can tell you I have come to the conclusion every writer ought to get experience being an editor. There’s so much helpful stuff to learn but this was particularly true from editing an anthology. Here’s 7 things I learned:

1 ) Meet Deadlines — As an editor, there’s nothing worse than sitting around waiting on writers. If you set a deadline, particularly as I did, many months out for your project, and hardly any stories come in by deadline, you start to worry. I had invited 37 people and needed 17-19 stories, and I had 6 come in by deadline. Unsurprisingly, two of those were by my headliners Mike Resnick & Brad R. Torgersen and Jean Johnson. There’s a reason Mike Resnick gets so many awards and has such a body of work: he’s a pleasure to work with. He’s a professional. He’s reliable. You never appreciate that more than when you’re editing something like this.

2 ) Be Courteous — I invited you to submit to my anthology, in many cases because you’re friends or I like your work. Some of you expressed an interest beforehand and I honored that. Okay, then how come I can name at least 10 “friends” I’ve never heard from since? They didn’t thank me for the original invite. They didn’t respond to the reminders as deadline approach. Not a word after the post-deadline pleas for more stories. I have heard nothing. How do you think that makes me feel about their professionalism and their friendship? How likely do you think I’ll be to invite them to my next project? I leave it to you to figure that out but I’d bet it’s pretty obvious after what I said about Resnick. Resnick’s already invited to my next project.

3 ) Work With Me — Editors edit. It’s what we’re employed to do. My job is to help both your story and the anthology as a whole be the best it can be. I want us all to win. I don’t want to ruin your story, so don’t be difficult. Yeah, I’m not perfect. I don’t know everything. But neither do you. When I ask for changes, I expect you to discuss it yes, but I also expect you to make the changes. If there’s something you feel strongly about, I am fair. We can discuss it. But don’t make me do it for you from stubbornness and don’t nitpick every single minor change. I had some authors who asked to keep a couple things for various reasons and I agreed because they willingly made every other change I asked for. I didn’t ask for a lot. I hate asking people to change their precious words. But sometimes it’s necessary for good reasons. One of my authors wrote enough backstory to fill several novels and his story dragged and suffered for it. He refused to make changes, even after I went through and marked stuff out for him. Most editors would have just rejected it, but I went the extra mile. I wanted to help him make it work. Then this same author kept bragging about how this was “the most brilliant story” I’d gotten of all of them. I passed. And I won’t be inviting him to future projects. I asked for a couple tweaks in Resnick & Torgersen’s story and had it back in less than 24 hours. Who would you rather work with?

4 ) Editors Want Your Story To Be Good — Not only is hard to ask writers to change their precious words, but it’s really hard to reject their stories. It broke my heart. The first story Jean Johnson subbed, I rejected. It didn’t have a core ship on ship battle in space. I did the same with trunk stories from Jay Lake, Kevin J. Anderson and Chuck Gannon. The stories were all brilliant. I’m sure they will find homes. They just didn’t fit the guidelines for this. Yes, I couldn’t believe I was rejecting stories from such talented people. But then I also rejected a couple off sub-par stories as well. And one of them was by a good friend. That was really hard. It hurt me to say it. I didn’t want to be another rejection for any writer. We get enough. I wanted their stories to be good. I wanted them all to be ready and right for the anthology. They weren’t. Thank God I chose not to do an open call. Imagine how many more painful rejections I’d have had to make? As it was, at least I could personalize and praise the good along with saying “no.” And although I know I did the right thing by saying “no,” I still wish I could have said “Yes!”

5 ) Editors Have Deadlines Too — Yeah, I set a deadline for story subs, but you know what, your missing that deadline creates issues with my deadlines for having stories picked and submitting a manuscript to the publisher. I actually had to push it back waiting for stories. How does that make me look professionally? Oh, the publisher was gracious. He understood. But if you continually put me in a spot where I can’t meet deadlines, how likely am I to want to work with you in the future?

6 ) Editors Work Hard — I don’t think you realize how much work it takes to edit until you do it. I’m not talking revision passes on your manuscript. I’m talking editing someone else’s precious work so that it comes out shiny and make everyone get the praise they deserve. It needs to not just fit with the stories around it and flow well, but you need to polish it for typos, get their name right, format it, polish it. It takes a lot of passes reading the stories and it takes a lot of time nitpicking little details. Sadly, I just the other day found a typo in one story near the end of the anthology which I should have caught. I am going to be kicking myself about that forever. I let those writers down. It’s a lot of pressure and work to not just sell the anthology to the publisher, but figure out the best story order, manage the budget wisely, recruit writers, control deadlines, meet deadlines of your own, etc. It takes work to keep fresh eyes rereading the same stories over and over because of all the details. You want to make sure they’re as good as can be and yet you’ve read them so many times it becomes a bit like editing your own work. So writers, don’t think editors have the easy job, because they don’t. And they’re reputations are dependent not just on picking great stories but lots of other factors too.

7) It Feels Just As Good — The sense of pride and accomplishment you get from seeing an anthology you edited published is not that different from that you feel when your novel comes out. It feels really good to help fellow writers achieving career goals even as you achieve your own. It feels really good to know someone finally made it into print with you. It feels good to see them published alongside respected colleagues like Mike Resnick, Jean Johnson, or David Lee Summers. It’s not entirely your own work, gestated for years, pounded through many drafts, yes, because it’s a community effort, but that doesn’t make the success of that any less different. Especially when, having finished, you feel like the writers have become better friends and people you’d welcome working with in the future and who would welcome the opportunity to work with you. And when the publisher asks you ‘what else have you got?’ Boy, that’s a great moment, too. I never looked down on editing as lesser–less of a craft, less significant than writing– but I also never realized how good it could feel to do it and see the end result published professionally. I’ve been proud of the books I edited which got published and were well received, but this pleased me more because I really played a more significant role in its creative design and overall final form by choosing stories, cover, writing intros, bios and the cover copy. It’s a really good feeling and I doubt anyone who takes it on would disagree.

Well, there’s 7 things I learned from editing Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6. What lessons have you learned from editing, working with writers, or editing others? I’d welcome 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, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, the children’s book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing and editor of the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 which he edited for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  An affiliate SFWA member, he also hosts Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter and is a frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and Hugo nominee SFSignal. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via

Write Tips: The Power Of Diligence

In a recent interview with Charlie Rose, Steve Martin talks about how important diligence has been to his success. And the website Study Hacks, which explores how some people succeed and others don’t explores his comments. I also recently read that a high percentage of Robert Frost’s most acclaimed poems were written after he’d reached the age of 50. That got me thinking how important diligence is to the writer’s journey.

If anyone hasn’t figured it out yet, the writing life is a lifelong journey. The day you stop learning new things or striving to get better, you might as well close up shop because that’s what it’s all about. Through all the rejections, all the bad reviews, all the starving days, all the tribulations of artistic life, only one thing is sure: you can always get better. You’ll know know everything.

That’s why diligence is so vital for success as a writer.

If someone as respected and famous as Robert Frost did his best work in his later years, if someone like Steve Martin values diligence, how can we not ask ourselves to be diligent too?  You can only be the best you can be at any moment. But if you continue to grow and learn, i.e. through diligence, you can get better and better. And, like Frost, the highlights of your career can come later in life. Martin won two Grammys for his banjo albums, both well into his career as movie star, post-career as standup comedian. He’d been playing banjo for 50 years when he won one of them. Now that’s diligence.

How successful do you want to be? Do you want a career or just a hobby? One requires diligence, one doesn’t. Period. To do anything artistic well, one must constantly reexamine and strive to improve technique, craft, etc. No one’s perfect and there’s always room to grow as an artist. There’s a reason writers talk about the “writer’s journey.” There’s also a reason you don’t hear successful authors say “the journey is over.” In fact, many would say “my writer’s journey’s just begun.”

Think of writers like George R.R. Martin, who is writing a 7 book series but taking more than a decade to do it. The gaps between books are years, not because he intends to drive readers and his publisher to distraction, but because he’s diligent. He wants to get it right. Would anyone begrudge him that? To me, there’s something to be admired in that kind of dedication. It’s a level of intensity I sometimes wish I could match. On the other hand, GRRM has more financial security as a writer than I do and I wonder if I’d survive such long periods between paychecks. Still, I admire his dedication and diligence in writing it the best it can be and doing it the way he needs to in order to get there.

To do anything well, one must be willing to work hard. Some times working hard means different things for different people. For some, certain things come more easily than for others. I have writer friends like Jay Lake who turn in what they call “clean first drafts.” Others of us spend days going over copyedits. I think these are things one can improve on with time. I know some who struggle with POV and description, while others roll intricate flowery emotional prose off their keyboards like breathing air. (I hate them for it, don’t you?) Some are stronger on science than character. Some are stronger on dialogue than plot. Part of being human is to be imperfect. It’s not a crime. It’s a challenge. But it’s a challenge that can be overcome with diligence.

It’s a cliche, I suppose, to say anything worth having is worth working for, but in a sense, that’s just truth. The writers whose careers last decades are known for diligence: Robert J. Sawyer, Robert Silverberg, Mike Resnick, Anne Rice, Orson Scott Card, Ben Bova, Stephen King, Peter Straub, etc. All have worked hard to perfect their craft. All write with great discipline and take advantage of every opportunity. All produce multiple books and stories every year. And all will tell you it’s hard work and that they are always seeking to improve.

For me, part of following their example is modeling myself after their efforts. I am diligently blogging, writing, and networking. I am diligently educating myself about this business. I am diligently reading to be aware of what’s come before and who’s writing what. And I am diligently studying storytelling, craft, prose, etc. to understand how others do it well and improve my own work in the process.

How’s your diligence? Is it a priority for you? Are you in it for the long haul or short run? Good questions to ask, I think. For what it’s worth…

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012 along with his book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing and the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 which he edited for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As  a freelance editor, he’s edited a novel for author Ellen C. Maze (Rabbit: Legacy), a historical book for Leon C. Metz (The Shooters, John Wesley Hardin, The Border), and is now editing Decipher Inc’s WARS tie-in books for Grail Quest Books.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SF Signal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

19 5-star & 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $4.99 Kindle or Nook $14.99 tpb


Write Tip: How Screenplay Structure Can Help Plotting & Pace In Your Novels

I am a film school grad of California State University, Fullerton. I spent several years working in TV and film and had a script in development at Disney. It never got made. I never got rich and famous. But the lessons I learned from film school and, particularly, the books of Syd Field about story structure have stayed with me. In Screenplay, field presents the standard for screenplay structure: 3 acts, the first and last of 30 pages (a page equalling approximately a minute on screen) and the middle being 60 pages. This is called the Three Act Structure.

On a basic level, it works like this:

The First Act sets up the setting, characters, etc. We are introduced to our protagonist, antagonist and their problems, i.e. the issues which will cause them to clash later on. Around page 30, a major plot point occurs, called a turning point, where something happens the compels the protagonist to react and takes the story in a new direction. He or she must respond and struggle to save the day, solve the problem, win over the girl, or otherwise deal with their life being turned upside down in a major way to get back to happy again. This act tends to move fairly tightly and concisely. And a good steady pace is helpful to get people into the story and make them want to stay for the rest.

The Second Act is the middle. The first major plot point has happened and the character must now respond, going on an adventure or quest to solve the problem. The antagonist, meanwhile, is working to get there first or keep the protagonist from succeeding. Act Two is full of complications. The first half propels us toward a middle plot point which in some way turns the story and compels them to action toward the second major plot point at the end of the act, around page 90. Although pace is important here, at times, in Act Two, one can slow down a bit and develop characters, etc., allowing the story to breathe.

The Third Act is the wrap up dealing with the results of major plot point two and all the loose ends from throughout the story. Like Act One, this act moves quickly, and more quickly than any of the others because it needs to feel driven to carry us to the climax.

Those are the basics of Three Act Screenplay structure, but further breaking it down is where it really becomes useful for us as novelists. In screenplays, stories consist of beats.

There are three types of beats:

1. Story Beat (Plotting) — these are action points upon which the story is framed. They build together like a puzzle. These include the major turning points at act breaks and usually the halfway beat for Act Two. But many smaller beats occur as well (we’ll get to that shortly). Major Story Beats typically include:

Opening (Normal World)
Inciting Incident (Act One midpoint)
Act 1 Break (Plot Point 1)
Midpoint (Mid-Point of the Act 2, takes us into the second half of Act 2)
Act 2 Break (Plot Point 2)
Climax (Resolution)

2. Emotional Beat (Character Arc)–We’re all familiar with “character arcs.” These are made up of emotional beats: events wherein the physical action of story creates an emotional reaction within your character. These show us what motivates the next action within the character. By connecting the emotional beats, you see the character arcs.

3. Reversal (Emotional Beat Within a Scene)–Unlike the others, this refers to specific moments within a scene where a character undergoes an emotional reversal. Example: Bob confronts Joe who killed his mother. Bob wants to kill Joe. But then Joe explains Bob’s mom viciously murdered his mom years before. Not only that but Joe is Bob’s half-brother from his father’s affair. Now Bob is reconsidering his initial emotional reaction.

Something major happens every 15 pages. While the major act turning points occur at page 30 and page 90, these in between breaks matter too. They are beats. And some are emotional, some story and some reversals. Reversals are powerful and must be used with care, but you can use more than one to provide some mystery and twists and turns to your story as long as you use them wisely.

How can this help novelists?

By thinking of your story with this framework, you can make sure you keep your plot moving at a steady pace. You can avoid long periods where “nothing happens” and, instead, focus in on beats and plot points which push things forward. It doesn’t matter if you’re a pantser or an outliner, this can work for you. I tend to be a pantser and that’s how I write. I ask myself: what could happen next that would surprise the characters and take things in unexpected directions? Sometimes, I surprise myself. The Returning, my second Davi Rhii novel, is full of moments like that. The Story Beats lead to Emotional Beats as characters affected by the events of the plot react emotionally. Examples: A friend’s life is threatened, the protagonist takes action to protect and/or save the friend. A secret past is revealed and the protagonist struggles to come to terms with it and redefine who he/she is. See how it works?

Novels don’t share the same paging as screenplays, so you have to set aside the specific 15,30,60,90 pages marks in this case. But screenplays consist of sparse description/action and lots of dialogue, so thinking through this structure should still make things come out fairly close to the same as you write. By incorporating these beats and plot points, something many of us do on instinct, you can be more deliberate about arranging your story so it moves at a good, even clip and avoids needless sidetracking or lags. The end result will be a tighter, better paced story which hooks the reader and keeps them interested to the end.

How do you structure your novels? I’d love to hear your thoughts in comments. For what it’s worth…

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012 along with his book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing and the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 which he edited for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As  a freelance editor, he’s edited a novel for author Ellen C. Maze (Rabbit: Legacy), a historical book for Leon C. Metz (The Shooters, John Wesley Hardin, The Border), and is now editing Decipher Inc’s WARS tie-in books for Grail Quest Books.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SF Signal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.‎ Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Write Tip: The Necessity Of Discipline

Okay, it’s an old topic, I know, but discipline is so vital to your writing success. And if I’ve learned anything about discipline over the years, it’s that to be disciplined in any area of life, you need good discipline in all areas of life.

There’s nothing that bleeds from one area of life into others faster than lack of discipline. If you want to succeed at your work as a writer, you have to dedicate time to it regularly. Whether it’s an hour a day, fifteen minutes a day or five hours a day, you have to set aside time and do the writing. If you miss a day, it’s easier to miss another day and so on. If you’re only going to write five days a week, okay, fine, if that works for you. But don’t take off an extra day. It’ll be that much harder to get back to your regular schedule after.

When you diet, you can’t have a cheat day. One cheat can blow the whole week’s diet. When I lost 66 pounds in ten months on Weight Watchers in 2003, I didn’t have cheat days. I couldn’t. I counted calories every day and if I wanted a special treat, I just had to compensate with low calorie foods for the other meals that day or the next two days, period. Cheat days just made it harder to get back into the discipline, and, early on, I discovered without that discipline, my diet wouldn’t succeed.

For me, this is true in other areas of life.

The times I’ve been successful with exercise have been times when I’ve made it routine. Four to five days a week, forty-five minutes to an hour every day, period. No excuses. Once I start skipping days, pretty soon I just stop exercising. It’s happened time and time again. I find a similar thing with writing. One reason blogging helps me so much is that I am forcing myself to make content daily. I am doing my warm ups for other writing, in essence. I blog twice a week at least for my blog, but then I do guest posts for other sites on other days. Sometimes I blog in advance and save them up (Saturday I wrote my Valentines Day post), but by blogging almost every day (I skipped Friday for example), I get my writing chops working automatically and it’s easier to do other writing I need to do for the day. Similar perhaps to warming up before a jog or a game.

I do the same thing with my reading time for SFFWRTCHT, dividing a book into daily goals by page count to make sure I get the books read. Sometimes I fail because I often have more than one book to read at a time. And some books are longer than others. But I still push myself to meet the goal, and most weeks I succeed. It’s why I’ve read so many books in the past year, per my 2011 reading post.

When it comes to writing, I have to set clear goals. Without goals my discipline waivers. For me it’s a word count of 1200-3000 words a day, when I’m working on other jobs and 3-5000 words a day when I’m not. I also set goals to do a certain number of scenes or a chapter each day. Sticking to it, the work gets done. Not sticking to it, and pretty soon I’ve gone weeks with no output.

It’s ironic that the fun part of writing isn’t the task of putting words to paper. Editing and polishing is a lot more fun for me, but the really joyful part is the daydreaming when I think up ideas. I could sit and do that all day, couldn’t you? But making those daydreams work on the page is tough sometimes. Yet in 2008 I decided to write a novel and by the end of 2009 I’d written two. By the end of 2011, I had my first published novel and I already know that by the end of 2012 I’ll have two more published. Imagine what will come in 2013 if I keep working?

Right now I have two half manuscripts to complete and one that is ready for second draft. If I get all of those done this year, and that’s a goal, I will have three more books to sell for 2013 but in addition, I need to write the finale to my Davi Rhii saga which is due to be published in 2013. So I could end up with as many as four books coming out in 2013. That would be doubling my publication output every year. Pretty cool, huh? Even if it doesn’t happen, what a worthy goal, right?

In 2012 I have Davi Rhii book 2, The Returning, coming out, along with 102 More Dinosaur Jokes For Kids, the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales 6, which I edited for Flying Pen Press, and the episodic novel based on a flash fiction series The North Star. I have stories coming out in Tales Of The Talisman and the anthologies Space Battles and Wandering Weeds: Tales Of Rabid Vegetation.

None of this would be possible without the discipline of regularly sitting down to write.

Am I rich yet? No. But in 2010 and 2011 I spent more on writing than I made. In 2012, I have already made 50% of what I spent on writing last year and I still have a bunch of stuff to come out and advances, etc. to receive with only a month gone in the year. That’s what I call progress, the good kind. It can only get better.

This year I am disciplining myself to eat better regularly and exercise at least four days a week. I am getting a used elliptical machine to make sure I have no excuse to not do it. It’ll be staring me in the face and with my e-reader, I can read while I do it. I am reorganizing my grocery shopping to plan healthier meals. Cutting out some of my unhealthy snacking and replacing it with healthier choices. All of this discipline will help me keep discipline high in my writing and other areas of my life. I’m sure my reading goals will be easier met, too. And I’ll bet I can meet that 2013 goal.

So when you think about your writing, ask yourself about your discipline. How does your discipline or lack of it contribute to your writing success? In what ways can you do better? In what ways are you already doing well? Where have you made progress? Where does progress need to occur? Adjust your goals and discipline accordingly. Don’t forget to look at other areas of your life.

I wouldn’t be where I am if I hadn’t started disciplining myself, but I know I can do better. What about you? How’s your discipline? For what it’s worth…

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SF Signal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.‎ Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

4 5-star & 13 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $4.99 Kindle or Nook $14.99 tpb

Write Tip: 9 Free Ways To Market Your Book

By now most writers are realizing that in the face of the changes in the publishing business, marketing is an area which falls more and more on their shoulders. For newer writers with untested track records, this is especially true. I’ve had writers tell me they don’t believe in self-promotion. Not only is this foolish (sorry but it is denial of reality) but it’s often based on being overwhelmed and not knowing where to begin or how to promote one’s self without being obnoxious or coming off arrogant. I could speak volumes on those topics and probably will sometime but first, let me demonstrate some easy ways to promote which don’t cost anything and are abundant. All you have to do is pay attention to what other writers are doing and do a few simple web searches to find them. Then just follow simple instructions, send a few emails, and you’re good to go.

1 ) Author Site/Blogs — I’ve already blogged about how important these are in previous Write Tips, but for the modern author your website is your number one most important marketing tool. No one can keep readers up to date like you can and readers want to connect and get to know the author behind the books. Blogs are often free on sites like Blogger and WordPress. Websites may cost more, although mine is set up using WordPress with the help of a friend. I pay for hosting and domain names, something I also suggest in my prior post, but if you can’t afford that just yet, you can probably do it simple on your own. Check my article for the essentials but the most important is to offer insight into yourself, your books and regular updates. Even if it’s once a month, giving them something new to keep them coming back is so important.

2 ) Author Profiles/Blog Interviews — There are tons of bloggers looking for authors to profile and interview. Some are authors themselves, some are not. Some interview specific genres and some cover anyone and everyone of interest. To find them, see where authors you admire are being interviewed. Look at what authors you know from Twitter and Facebook post. Do web searches on terms like “author profiles, author interviews, blog profiles, writing blogs, etc.” You’ll find more than you know what to do with. Many/most have guidelines posted. Read them. Follow the instructions. They’re usually fairly simple. Most provide a list of questions to answer in advance and an email to send them to. Fill them out, keep a list and do them one by one until you’re done. Then make a new list. Don’t get overwhelmed by doing them all at once. Try and change the wording in your answers a bit. Don’t just cut and paste. It makes each interview feel unique and keeps the bloggers feeling like they got an exclusive. I just answer them from scratch each time. I may say the same things but it always comes out differently.

3 ) Goodreads/Library Thing — There are other sites but these are arguably the biggies. Joining is free, so it becoming an author and building your profile. You can enter your own books and list them. Then you can join book clubs, interest groups, vote in polls, etc. You can review books you’ve read or are reading and you can interact with tons of readers and authors who love writing and books as much as you do. This is a no brainer and can take as little or much time as you’re willing to put into it. You can do giveaways, interviews, connect your blog, do Q&As, etc. The audience is already focused. It’s truly a nobrainer.

4 ) Press Releases — There may be an art to writing them but there are plenty of examples online and frankly, plenty of newspapers, magazines and sites which allow you to upload them for free. My latest is posted on the Kansas City Star, the biggest newspaper in my local region, and all I had to do was upload it on their webform. Within 48 hours, it was searchable for all to see. You used to have to work a lot harder and pay a lot more money for publicity like that. Asking around or simple web searches can find not only tons of examples but tons of outlets for them. Don’t miss this opportunity to let people know what you’re doing and when: every book release, every award, every signing or appearance, every new contract–put out a release and let people know. It builds your reputation, name recognition and audience. It might even get you interviews in newspapers on Tv, radio or blogs.

5 ) PSAs — Public Service Announcements are offered free by radio and TV stations to organizations and individuals and businesses announcing events of benefit to the community. Writers talking about writing should qualify, even if you’re paid. As long as you can convince them you’re running an event with public benefit and which doesn’t charge for tickets, PSAs should be available. You have to write them up yourself, per the station’s standards, and submit according to their deadlines. But they will announce several times on the air and get your event a lot more notice. Free advertising is priceless.

6 ) Signings — The average number of books sold at signings: four to seven for non-celebrities, according to a recent survey. The average number of books sold after signings? Immensely more due to word of mouth from bookstore employees and customers who attended the signing. In fact, the friendlier and more supportive of staff you are, the more you pay attention to other people, i.e. the more fun you are to have around, the more successful you’ll be, and they’ll invite you back again and again. The more signings before the same crowd means what? Increased sales and recognition. Recognition always builds word of mouth. See what I’m going for? They may sometimes seem a lot of effort for little return, but I think signings are very important. Anywhere and anytime you can appear in public is.

7 ) Appearances — So appearances: readings, book clubs, libraries, literary festivals, conventions, schools, you name it, are key to your success and marketing. If people like you, if you seem knowledgeable and like a friend they’d enjoy spending time with, they’ll want to read your book. They’ll want to know you better through your words. You can’t do enough appearances and most will not cost as much money as a con or fesitval. Most will be free. Be creative in coming up with ideas. Work with local nonprofits, schools, etc. There’s automatic prestige wo writing a book. Often you won’t have to work hard to convince people to invite you…as long as you’re not a jerk.

8 ) Book Clubs — Book Clubs, online and off, are a great resource. Offer them a discount for quantity, send them your sell sheets, send them arcs, send them press releases. Smooze them like old friends. You get in with them, you have a ready made word of mouth machine to sell a lot more books because Book Club people are book people and book people know other book people. And what do book people talk about with each other? Books. Books they like. And if they’ve met the author, all the cooler. Not everyone gets to do that. Built in free word of mouth sales.

9 ) Reading Group Guides — Yes, you can get a lot of sales and word of mouth by networking with Book Clubs and other Reading Groups. Not only can you use your Book Sell Sheet to get them interested but you can make reading guides to offer free as well all by yourself. Penguin Group has examples on their website here: The basic idea is to assemble questions and examine themes which prompt discussion about your book, its characters, meaning, etc. Fairly simple to put together for most authors. After all, who knows your book better than you?

Well, there’s 9 free ways to get started with marketing your books. I’m sure there are more. Which can you suggest? Please add them in the comments so we all can learn from each other.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SF Signal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.‎ Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

4 5-star & 12 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $4.99 Kindle or Nook $14.99 tpb


Write Tip: Get In Late, Get Out Early

When I went to screenwriting school, the key thing they taught us about writing scenes was to enter a scene as late as possible and get out as soon as possible after that. Forget the niceties. None of this:


Bob walked in the room to find Guy sitting on the couch, chilling.

“Hey, dude, whassup?” Bob asked.

Guy shrugged, not even glancing over. “Nothing. You?”

“Meh. Me either.”


No. You’d better have something more interesting. We can assume they’re nice, normal people but we don’t need to see their mundane, routine, room entering banter to prove it.  Show us that and you’ve lost our interest. Why? We can see that every day. And when  you write it out, it’s quickly apparent how boring our lives have become.

Instead, you want to start with as dramatic a spot as possible.


           “Why am I here?” Hachim choked out. Sweat dripped off the arms of the chair as it soaked through his robe. After twenty minutes alone in the interrogation room, he looked like he’d fallen into a lake. Tarkanius and Aron shook their heads, and Aron was thankful he wasn’t present for the odor. They watched through the one way glass as the Major Zylo stopped across the table from the sweaty Lord, staring at him.

            “You know why you’re here,” Zylo said.

            Hachim coughed. “I’ve done nothing wrong.”

            “So you always sweat this much when you’re innocent?”

            Hachim grabbed the towel Zylo tossed across the table at him and began wiping the exposed flesh of his face, brow, neck and arms. “It’s hot in here.”

            “I’m perfectly comfortable.” Zylo sat in the seat across from him and leaned back, watching as the Lord cleaned himself. “You’re gonna need a new robe.”


Are you hooked yet? I hope so. This scene should be a lot more interesting. If not, go back to your boring life. I hope you’re very happy there.

The difference between scene 1 and scene 2 is that when scene 1 starts, nothing is happening. The characters aren’t even all that interesting. In scene 2, the drama has started before we’re allowed in the room. Hachim’s already sweating, Zylo’s already hostile. It’s obvious right away Hachim is guilty of something, at least as far as Zylo’s concerned, and Zylo intends to get to the bottom of it. We’d like to as well. To me, this illustrates well the craft of getting into a scene as late as possible. Something interesting is already happening. No wasted space. No chit chat.

Now let me show you the rest of the scene so we can talk about point two: getting out as soon after.

  “What is this about? You have no right to detain me without cause!”

            Zylo nodded, then slid a datapad across the table, watching as Hachim set down the towel and began to read.

            “Conspiracy? Assassination?” Hachim’s eyes darted up from the screen. “I had nothing to do with it.”

            “You knew about it.”

            Hachim shook his head. “If you could prove it, you’d have already arrested me.” He smiled smugly.

            Zylo laughed. “The Alien Leadership Summit.”

            Hachim’s eyes raced to finish the charges. “What about it?” Hachim slid the datapad back across the table and shot him a confused look that wasn’t very convincing.

            “What’s the location?”

            “That’s classified for the Council.”

            “I have clearance, trust me. I’m on the security team.”

            Hachim hesitated, then melted under Zylo’s stare. “Idolis.”

            Zylo shook his head. “Buzz! Wrong answer. And it was all over the news.”

            “So? I am not the only person privy to that.” Hachim leaned back in his chair, attempting to appear bored, but Aron saw the fear in his eyes. And Zylo saw it, too.

            Zylo chuckled. “Yes, you were.”

            Hachim looked at him again, startled. “What?”

            Zylo nodded, smirking. “Each Lord was given a different location.”

            Hachim frowned. “A different location? They can’t hold the Summit in more than one place…” His voice trailed off as the implications sank in. Zylo raised a brow as their eyes met. “Lies? A trap?”

            “A security precaution. How many people did you tell?”

            Hachim shook his head. “No, I’m innocent. I’m not going to tolerate this abuse.” Slowly, he stood from his chair and took a step toward the door.

            Zylo shoved Hachim back into the chair. “Sit down and start answering.” Hachim looked offended at the treatment. Zylo wasn’t even phased. “Now!”

            Aron looked at Tarkanius, wondering if it were time for them to join the interrogation. Tarkanius shook his head. “No. Let him suffer.”

            “Then their fate will be yours.” Zylo shrugged and turned to casually stroll toward the door. Hachim’s eyes widened.

            “It was Niger’s idea,” Hachim began. Zylo turned back as Hachim’s shoulders sank with his weight in the chair.


Can you see how fast it moves? And the whole thing is fairly dramatic. In fact, you don’t even get to know what he tells him. Why? Because talk is boring. It’s more interesting to show that in the scenes that follow. In context, this opens Chapter 12 in my forthcoming novel The Returning, so readers will actually know more coming into it than you did. They’ll know, for example, that Hachim has been betraying his trust as a public servant. That people’s lives are at risk if he’s leaked the data as suspected. People we care about’s lives. Still, it illustrates my point well. It’s tight. It’s dramatic. It sets up the character’s relationship quickly. The characters are revealed through action and dialogue. There’s tight pace. And it holds your interest. Plus, even both pieces combined, it’s short. In late, out early.

Try it. Not only will your pacing automatically be better. Your readers are likely to turn pages faster. And your writing is even going to be more fun. Yes, this is an interrogation scene. But you can do the same thing with any scene where there’s conflict, and, frankly, most of the time, if you scene doesn’t have conflict, you shouldn’t be writing it. Seriously. Conflict is the heart of good fiction. If you don’t have conflict at the heart of a scene, find a way to dismiss it with a couple quick telling sentences and skip to the next dramatic moment. Your readers will thank you for it.

In any case, that’s how you get in late, and get out early. I hope it helps you improve your craft. Feel free to comment, ask questions, dialogue about it. I won’t bite…well, then, part of the dramatic tension is your not knowing for sure if that’s true. For what it’s worth…

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. He’s also the host ofScience Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.