Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Blog Alert - The Case For Writing Poorly, Or Using Straightforward Prose - ILBNH

Blog Alert - The Case For Writing Poorly, Or Using Straightforward Prose - ILBNH

Peta at Insert Literary Blog Name Here* acknowledges herself a literary snob. She says: "I am irritated by clunky prose, drawn out of stories by dry dialogue, and find words like “ain’t” only a few ellipses short of repulsive. I pride myself on being able to craft a good sentence. I’ve also been known to spend hours crafting that one sentence."

So it's a delicious irony that she devotes a powerful and persuasive post to the importance of connecting to a mainstream audience through a straightforward and unpretentious style.

Her motivation is at least in part commercial (a personal irony for me, as I'm non-commercially oriented - but I largely agree with her advice in any event. I think accessible writing is good writing).

In her intro she says: "Writing is a numbers game–the more books you sell, the more money you make. If you write fast, it’s even better. Getting a book out every year for ten years (Jasper Fforde’s goal), if you sell enough, could be quite lucrative (and your hourly rate might actually approach positive numbers). Yet writing, good writing, takes time to craft. Story, characters, and prose itself do not happen overnight, particularly if you’re fond of tight dialogue and polished writing. But here’s the secret: not all readers are writers, and a lot of them don’t care about your perfectly polished prose."

Me, I could care less about money numbers or books per year. But audience accessibility is important apart from all that. More readers = more impact. If I'm writing to tell a story, I want the story heard.

Peta develops a provocative case for an accessible style, along with tips.
Check it out.


Major Life Changes - Blog Changes

My apologies for being gone these past weeks. I've been in the hospital with a major medical issue. For the moment, I'm back in reasonably good health. But this is a serious condition and I'm going to be on a schedule of follow=up treatments to try to prevent a recurrence - but there are no assurances.

This means changes in the patterns of my work, life, and online activity. And what those changes will look like is not clear yet. I'll try to keep up the blog, but it will become more sporadic and less regular.

I'll still try to check in from time to time with resource reviews, alerts to good posts on other blogs, and maybe some of my own reflection on the game, business, recreation and/or hobby of writing. (My own orientation has always been non-commercial and non-career. This will be even more so now that I'm sick). Of course, your mileage may vary.

Hope to maintain some stimulating output.


Thursday, February 25, 2010

How to Create a Simple Writer Blog - Guide to Literary Agents - Peta Jinnath Andersen (Guest Post).

How to Create a Simple Writer Blog - Guide to Literary Agents - Peta Jinnath Andersen (Guest Post).

Twice in one day! This must-read is a guest post on Guide to Literary Agents, hosted by Chuck Sambuchino. Again, we continue the trend of "less is more". This post is a basic intro to a complex subject. Admittedly, it leans heavily toward WordPress, while I myself am a Blogger guy. But, it's all good. I would recommend anyone who reads this intro to check out available intro posts for Blogger, as well as the lesser known platforms. Sorry I don't have any links available now - but I'll be keeping my eyes open.

Within the last few days I highlighted a post by Eric on Pimp My Novel who advocated the author blog as the center of a writer's online presence. I agree with his point, though I have to admit I don't have one (yet). But I also don't have my first novel even half finished. And I have a day job.

'Nuff said for now. Check out this post here.

Check out Chuck's entire blog at


Blog Alert - Do You Own Your Characters or Do Your Characters Own You? - Nathan Bransford

Blog Alert - Do You Own Your Characters or Do Your Characters Own You? - Nathan Bransford

It's been a while since I found a "must read" on Nathan's blog, but this one is. A perennial debate on writer's forums is "Character Driven? Or Plot Driven?". The consensus (here) seems to be a balance, with a bit of a lean toward the characters. The comments are all over the map, from extreme control freaks, to extreme character-driven anarchy. But there's a nice lump about 1 SD from the mean in the character direction. (Just showing off - I really have no idea where the lump is :).

Check out the post here

Check out Nathan's blog at


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Blog Alert - Website Wednesday (Author Websites) - Pimp My Novel - Eric

Blog Alert - Website Wednesday (Author Websites) - Pimp My Novel - Eric

This is a consise and useful post about author websites - an overlooked subject in the midst of the social media feeding frenzy. Eric presents a strong case that the author website is the natural center of a writer's online presence. He gives a few good tips for making the website work and avoiding common pitfalls.

There isn't a lot I can add. Eric's "Bullet View" (tm?) points give a good intro to a subject that could easily run much longer. Less is more!

Check out the post here!

Check out Eric's complete blog at


Monday, February 22, 2010

Blog Alert - Do Small Press Credits Hurt My Chances? - Mary Kole -

Blog Alert - Do Small Press Credits Hurt My Chances? - Mary Kole -

This is an issue I have not seen discussed much - especially as framed here. Mary addresses the issue in a succinct post which, however, carefully avoids the issue of self-publishing. The bottom line is that credits from small presses can't hurt your chances - although they may not help.

The one piece of advice I would add is ALWAYS be guided by a prospective agent's submission guidelines. His or her stated preferences about listing writing credits should always trump any general advice.

Mary hints that she may have a longer post upcoming that will tackle the general question of self-publishing. We're waiting!

Check out Mary's post here.

Check out Mary's blog at


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Blog Alert - How To Write About A Real Location If You Haven’t Been There - Joanna Penn

Blog Alert - How To Write About A Real Location If You Haven’t Been There - Joanna Penn

This post appeared today on Joanna's blog, The Creative Penn. I think some of these tips probably exist elsewhere, but Joanna's post is concise, readable, and well-organized.

Who hasn't struggled with how to get more realism into a fictional setting? I'm currently trying to write a scene that takes place in a semi-exclusive neighborhood, in a home people of my income bracket usually would not be invited to. What to do? My own bright idea was to Google and browse real-estate listings in the price range of interest. Plenty of good pics, including interior shots.

Joanna has compiled a wide ranging set of strategies for researching grographic locations.

Two I like especially:
Surf Flickr and Travel blogs.
Google Maps Street View.

Honorable mention: Interview someone who has been there.

Want to know more? Check out the post!


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Blog Alert - The Top Ten Query Mistakes - Rachelle Gardner

Blog Alert - The Top Ten Query Mistakes - Rachelle Gardner

For writers who seek traditional publication, one thing that can cause them to freeze like a deer in the headlights is the dreaded query letter. Most publishers, especially the major houses, no longer accept submissions form writers not represented by a literary agent. As these agents receive MANY more submissions than they can accept, the process of finding an agent to represent a writer's project is fraught with difficulties - not the least of which is the inevitable rejection letter(s). These can be emotionally traumatic - even heartbreaking - especially for a new and hopeful writer. The initial approach of an aspiring novelist to an agent has become formalized as the "query letter" or simp[ly "query".

Badly written queries have been more the rule than the exception and until recently, the options of the agent have been to curse, to laugh (sometimes with friends, over drinks), or to cry. (Rejecting the badly presented query goes without saying - that's not an "option" - it's a necessity of the process). The Internet offers a fourth option - to blog. The rise of literary agent blogs has empowered concerned agents to stop complaining about atrocious queries, and start doing something about them - through educating aspiring writers about what makes a well or poorly presented query. As a result, there now exists on the Internet a wealth of articles, discussions, tips and guidelines covering more than you ever wanted to know about the art and craft of writing an excellent query and avoiding total lameness.

The post I want to feature here comes from agent/blogger Rachelle Gardner, a pioneer in helping break down the institutional barriers between agents and aspiring writers by creating a lively and open community around her blog. One of her major areas of interest is helping new writers understand the query process.

This post of Rachelle's is noteworthy not because it breaks new ground, but because it covers an important piece of old ground in a concise and readable manner. The mistakes she lists are common and annoying to the typical agent. Although she will not automatically reject a query containing one or more of these if it describes a compelling story, they are all mistakes that weaken the presentation, and can be easily avoided if the writer is aware of them. (All agents have different standards, and some WILL automatically reject a query for even minor errors).

So, if you're struggling to frame a query, or just want to admire a well written set of tips, do check it out.


Monday, February 1, 2010

Blog Review - Writer Unboxed

Blog Review - Writer Unboxed

Writer Unboxed bills itself as "about the craft and business of genre fiction". I'm not sure exactly what "genre fiction" is, unless it means fiction that can be enjoyed by readers who may not be writers, don't have an MFA degree, and need not live in New York City. :)

But seriously, although the site is billed as focusing on "genre fiction" , I really believe any aspiring writer and many working writers, in whatever area of fiction, will find something of value here.

In their January 2006 Welcome statement they say

Our goal is to offer writers of genre fiction a little inspiration to help get ideas flowing again. (We could’ve called the blog, “Writer Unconstipated,” but the imagery wouldn’t have been nearly so appealing.) We’ll get things flowing for you by blogging about technique, but we’re not restricting ourselves to the world of literature; you’ll be hearing about art, music, movies…wherever we think there’s a nugget of writerly gold to steal, we’ll tell you about it.

Now I'll start out with a very minor gripe about this excellent blog. No "About Us" link. I had to hunt down the welcome post by backtracking to the beginning of the archives. Can we show blog reviewers some love? :)

I found the blog a few months back when I became an aspiring YA novelist. I immediately subscribed.

It's been a bit tricky to pin down exactly why I like this blog - but I think it comes down to a fresh, open and undogmatic attitude. So often I see writer advice sites or blogs that deliver mass quantities of hard-line attitude along with the advice. There seems to be a "this way is best" that pops up all too often. This is rarely seen on Writer Unboxed. The mood there is one of suggestions and things to try. It's a blog that makes writing seem more like fun than work.

The blog theme for January has been "voice", and it's hard to imagine that voice can be looked at from so many different angles. I won't even try to summarize - in the words of the old song might as well "try to catch the wind". You'll just have to check it out.

The blog is multi-author, and as far as can tell all of the contributors are publlished authors.

The list:

Kathleen Bolton
Therese Walsh
Allison Winn Scotch
Ann Aguirre
Anna Elliott
Barbara Samuel
Donald Maass
Jane Friedman
J.C. Hutchin
Juliet Marillier
Ray Rhamey
Sophie Masson

The links column is much too long to copy here, but here are some stats. Writer Unboxed has conducted over 80 interviews with authors, and lists over 30 "industry" interviews with knowledgeable insiders on a wide variety of topics. There are oover 70 blog links listed, and almost 40 links in the "box cutters" section of writer resource sites.

I will reproduce the "Tag list"at the end of this post. It's not too long, and gives a good summary of the kind of things that are covered. The HTML makes the presentation unwieldly - my apologies)

A couple of special mentions go out to individual contributors. Ray Rhamey, totally deserves recognition for his new novel "The Vampire Kitty-cat Chronicles". Ray's attempts to find a niche for the book are chronicled in a blog post from November 2009.

From the excerpts I've read so far, the book is adorable and fun - and I speak as a person who doesn't usually read either vampire or cat fiction :)

As Ray recounts in the post I linked to, he finally decided to self-publish. This is in the sense of do-it-yourself (DIY) publishing with the production elements outsourced, which is distinct from the subsidy/vanity publishers who sometimes refer to their own (quite different) business model as "self-publishing".

I suspect that it was the frustration of finding his work "unpublishable" by traditional standards - simply because it had no definable "niche" that led Ray to create the Platypus Fiction imprint of his FTQ micropress.

As he descrines it

The platypus breaks all the rules—it’s the only mammal that lays eggs, is venomous, has a duck bill, a beaver tail, and otter feet—and it does just fine, thank you.

Platypus publishes novels that take readers on unique paths to entertainment, truth, and most enjoyable reads.

And there's Writer's Digest's Jane Friedman. I'm tempted to say the ubiquitous Jane Friedman :). When I decided on Writer Unboxed as my latest review target, I had no idea Jane was a contributor. As fate would have it, I reviewed Jane's own blog "There Are No rules" last week. Jane, you are a busy lady, and you're doing excellent work for the community. Keep it up!


APPENDIX: The Writer Unboxed Tag List


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

On the Contrary - Salability isn't everything.

"On the Contrary" is an occasional feature in which I look at a widely accepted idea about writing and publishing and give an opposing or at least alternative view. This post was originally a commnet on another blog.

I was on Rachelle Gardner's blog, and a comment to a recent post there struck me. Cheryl Lewis, a freelance writer and editor recounted her experiences working with self-published authors. Often, she would put substantial effort into helping them create a quality work, and then watch, frustrated, as they reverted the work back to something much closer to the original.

I was moved to respond to her as reproduced below. It seemed to me that my thoughts on commercial salability versus integrity of voice would be worth posting here. So enjoy:

Cheryl, my first impulse is to say that I think you were wrong and your clients were right. But my second thought is to frame the issue in different terms. I think you and your clients may have had different goals.

Let me give my own perspective. I'm an aspiring novelist, and I came to that highly unlikely role because I conceived of a story that I thought needed to be told. It was the story that drove me to write - not the desire to write that led me to seek a story. My goals in this story are to construct it so that it will (hopefully) touch the lives of its readers. This is not necessarily compatible with a maximum degree of salability. The audience to whom I want to speak is unknown in numbers, but I expect it to be a relatively small niche audience. It is quite possible that the work as I have conceived it will not be viable as a commercial product.

Should I then allow it to be edited for salability? I'm completely okay with editing that will help the work be more effective at what I intend it to accomplish. I would not be okay with editing it into a different work, even were that edited work to become a best-seller. (I would even be okay with editing for salability as long as the character of the story remained intact. More audience is good.)

I think what I'm addressing here may be that elusive quality caled "voice". It sounds, from what you recount, like you were editing your clients' work for a more salable voice. I suspect the problem they had was that the resulting voice was no longer theirs.

People who approach writing from a commercial or "business" perspective may overlook the reality that there are other reasons for writing. I think the proper role of an editor is to assist the client in realizing their goals for the work. Those goals may not necessarily include a spot on the best-seller list. If the goals of the writer and the professional standards of the editor are incompatible, I think it's best to get that out in the open up front. Not every writer and editor are a good partnership any more than are every writer and agent.

I hope you don't see this as a hostile response. I'm reacting in part to the substantial amount of story constructing advice I've seen on various sites which, if I tried to follow it, would change my novel into something I would no longer consider worth writing.

Best wishes for your work,



Monday, January 25, 2010

Blog Alert - Do You Make These 8 Mistakes When You Twitter?

Myself, I'm not a huge twitter fan - although I'll stop short of declaring it totally for the birds. A lot of my own disembrace of Twitter is due to my personal circumstances. I have internet access only in the evening, and generally in the context of a day job. I don't use portable networking appliances, and don't even have text enabled on my cell.

But for people whose circumstances allow them to participate in the tweeting world it appears to have its uses. And for those who wish to use twitter as a tool to become more widely known, this recent blog post by Michael Hyatt offers some excellent tips for the novice tweety-bird.

Michael is CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishing, a prominent Christian publisher with an Evangelical orientation. Although I sometimes feel that his embrace of the social media trend borders on the cultish, his depth of involvement seems to generate some interesting and useful insights, which he frequently shares on his blog.

If you're an aspiring tweeter, check out the post.


Blog Review - There Are No Rules - Jane Friedman

Blog Review - There Are No Rules - Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman is Publisher & Editorial Director of Writer’s Digest, and I would love her blog for the title alone. I'm one of those people who always looks for the exceptions.

Jane's blog is diverse, and regularly presents thought-provoking topics. Although she doesn't post daily, she is a frequent poster. I would say she averages about 4-5 posts per week.

Recently she has been hosting a guest post series by Jim Adam. In "The Strengths of the Potter Series" Jim uses the Harry Potter books as a springboard to discuss a wide variety of issues relating to the craft of storytelling.

One of my favorite recurring features is Best Tweets for Writers.

She describes it as follows:

"I watch Twitter, so you don't have to. Visit each Sunday for the week's best Tweets. If I missed a great Tweet, leave it in the Comments. Always welcome your suggestions on improving this weekly feature."

A "Best Tweets" blog post is divided into sections, as listed below.

Best of Best
Stand Alone
Getting Published, Agents/Editors
Craft & Technique
Publishing News & Trends
Twitter, Blogs & Social Media
Marketing & Platform Building
Self-Publishing and E-Publishing
Resources & Tools
The Writing Life & Fun Stuff

"Best of the Best" is an "all-star" listing drawn from the other categories. If you;re not a twitter user, you may be surprised, as I was, about the high number of tweets that are links to articles or posts of subtance. The only tweets on Jane's list that are genuinely aimed at the ADD audience are those in the "Stand Alone" category. But beware - when you read one of Jane's "Best Tweets" posts, be prepared to overstay. The wealth of quality links assembled there can be overwhelming.

One unique aspect of Jane's blog is that her professional position is that of selling support services and information to writers via
Writers Digest. These include not only the magazine but also books for writers, conferences, and a variety of online classes, workshops and webinars.

This reminds me of the story told about the gold rush days. Individual miners might become fabulously wealthy, or go flat broke. But the steady reliable profits went to those who sold supplies to the prospectors. This observation may sound cynical, but that's not how it's intended. Jane is obviously a dedicated and talented individual, and I do not believe that she would be associated with an organization that did not deliver good value. Seeing the quality of what she gives away freely, one can only imagine what the paying customers get!

My reason for mentioning Jane's niche within the writer-advice community is that it frees her from dependence on any particular business model within the rapidly changing publishing landscape. Often I see opinions on major issues - traditional publishing versus self-publishing, for example, and the advice-giver, even when doing their best to be fair and even-handed, is nonetheless biased by the particular niche they occupy professionally. Jane has no built-in professional bias. Her niche is one that will flourish as long as there are aspiring writers. It gives her the freedom to take a truly open and unbiased view of the various controversies of the publishing world.

The wide variety of topics Jane covers is suggested by her sidebar list of blog categories:

Best of Twitter
Building Readership
Craft & Technique
Digitization & New Technology
F+W Life
Getting Published
Guest Post
Industry News & Trends
Marketing & Self-Promotion
New Titles From F+W
New Titles From Writer's Digest
Sneak Peek
WD Magazine

Check out Jane's blog. And get ready to get hooked!


Monday, January 18, 2010

Blog Review: Nathan Bransford - Literary Agent

Blog Review: Nathan Bransford - Literary Agent

What do you say when superlatives are inadequate? I continue to be amazed that this blog can exist. Judging by this blog, Nathan appears to have the kind of energy that people write superhero comics about. Not only does he put out quality posts on a daily basis,but he has assembled an archive of useful content that would easily be priced at the high end if assembled and published as a book. Other people are making good money packaging and selling the kind of advice Nathan gives away.

As well as maintaining the quality of his own posts, Nathan has attracted a huge following of active commenters that provide not only support for his efforts, but also debate, counterpoint, added insights, and occasional outright drama. He is clearly a "people person", and even when ticked off by a commenter, he manages to maintain a basic aura of fairness and good nature - no mean trick.

In the wake of a recent blog format update, there is now a forum site associated with the blog. I haven't had time to check it out, but it is reputed to be an arena of lively discussion among friendly people.

Aside from reflective posts about current issues in publishing, anecdotes from his work as an agent, etc. Nathan has a couple of recurring features. One is his weekly "This Week in Publishing" which has brief reports and links to significant events. The other is the irregular "You Tell Me" in which he throws out a topic and lets the commenters have their own field day giving their views. (If I'm put ever so slightly in mind of how Tom Sawyer got a picket fence whitewashed, I surely would never let on :)

Aside from the daily posts, the blog site is resource-rich and well organized. Featured prominently on the blogs home page is a box of links titled "The Essentials (please read before you query)" On many agent blogs, such a title would link to one or two articles and/or a set of query guidelines. But Nathan has assembled what is essentially a mini-course on what writers need to know about the publishing processs. There are 13 articles, not counting links to the FAQ and Writing Advice database. The list of topics begin with "How the Publishing Process Works" and proceeds through "When in Doubt, Query Me".

There are also link boxes for Author Resources, Agent/Editor Blogs, Writer Blogs, Book Blogs, Publisher Blogs and Lit Journals. If you begin at Nathan's blog and start clicking, you will find yourself encountering more resources than you could ever imagine. In fact, one of the dangers of this blog is that the process of learning about publishing can become so addictive that it may threaten to crowd out writing. Not to worry - writers notoriously seek and find excuses not to write. As excuses go, you could do way worse :)

Needless to say, as Nathan is an agent, much of the content on the blog revolves around query letters - a topic not without its contentious moments. While some agents respond to inadequate queries with what we call on the streets "Attitude" ('tude for short), Nathan's approach is to cut down the number of bad queries by teaching people to write good ones. (I'll emphasize again, this is the kind of stuff you can go to other places and pay the big bucks for.)

And, it doesn't hurt a thing that Nathan is a writer as well as an agent. It was an amusing irony for Nathan's audience to watch him blog about his YA book JACOB WONDERBAR AND THE COSMIC SPACE KAPOW, (to be published by Dial Books for Young Readers in 2011.) One is reminded of an obstetrician awaiting the delivery of his firstborn. Being an agent clearly provided Nathan no immunity to "writer nerves", but suffering through the travails of becoming published has inevitably made him a better agent. In an industry where the roles of writer and agent are all too often framed as adversarial, Nathan has situated himself squarely in the middle of the disputed territory and planted a fruitful garden.


Saturday, January 16, 2010

Blog Alert - How to get a Small-Press Book into Barnes & Noble

One thing which no aspiring novelist should overlook is the growing number of alternatives to traditional publication by a large publisher. One alternative which has been around for a while is the world of small presses - a world which is very much on the radar of the blog Inde-Debut 2010. Their "about" page describes them as "... a group of first-time authors who've joined together to spread the word about their books that hail from small presses."

A recent post written by Scott Heydt explains what a small press author may typically go through in the process og getting their work to appear on the Shelves at B & N.

I was struck by Scott's down-to-earth style and his nuts-and-bolts focus. He's not talking generalities, he's talking what you would actuyally do - right down to the level of who to call on the phone and what to say to them. If you've been published by a small press, or are contemplating it as an option, this article is a should-read, and the blog is a check-it-out.


How to get a Small-Press Book into Barnes & Noble | Indie-Debut 2010

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Hello World

Welcome to my blog.

Why the Contrarian Novelist? The quick answer is that Aspiring Novelist and Novelist in Training were already taken :) But "contrarian" was already going to be an important part of the blog description.

When I decided to write seriously, I soon came across all the great and some of the not-so-great free resources for writers on the Internet. And, as I worked my way through the endless articles and posts of advice for new writers, one thing that kept appearing repeatedly was the advice to establish a presence online. A blog seemed possible.

But it's hard to find time to do a blog well. I already spend so much time reading other people's blogs that it's cutting into my writing time and my day job. Besides, what could I write about that would draw and keep an audience?


I suddenly realized that the problem was the solution. If I'm spending mega-amounts of time following writing advice blogs and similar resources, I must be accumulating a lot of knowledge about those resources. That's got to be of some use to people who might be too busy actually writing to go all those places themselves. So I figured that a blog of resource reviews and writing advice comments would be doable, fun, and useful to others.

But why contrarian? I did say contrarian, didn't I?

Well, the blog is going to be contrarian because I'm contrarian. For me, it's always more fun to look for something that all kinds of people believe that's wrong, misleading, or just plain dumb and poke holes in it. Or maybe fill in some of the holes that are already there, depending. Demolish or rebuild. Or maybe more than one of the above.

Not to say that I disagree with everything. There's a lot of really good advice out there, and a lot of great resources. I've learned a lot. And if I pick a blog or website to review, it will usually be because I really like it and want to share the good stuff I've found there. I already know that my first review will be Nathan Bransford's blog. Nathan is a San Francisco based literary agent with the Curtis Brown agency, and a heck of a nice guy. He's got the best agent blog I've seen so far, and surely one of the best on the Internet. If a you're looking to be published in the traditional way, and get on bookshelves, and only have time to read one publishing-related blog regularly, that would be the one.

They say it's best to blog on a regular schedule. I have a TERRIBLE time keeping to a schedule, but I figure one review per week is doable. My target will be late Sunday night, so anybody that takes in interest should find a blog or resource review waiting Monday morning.

Between reviews, I'll post as the spirit moves me. Usually I get inspired to write when I see a post on somebody else's blog that strikes a chord, or discord, as the case may be. And some of the rants I inflict on these good folks' comments pages are probably worth posting here. We'll see.

I'll also talk about my own novel-to-be, Dandelion Lawn, and all the interesting stuff I've learned trying to write it.

Okay, first post is done. I have a blog (yay!) . Now, you guys can come find it. Read, leave comments, tell your friends. Let's party! (or whatever)