Paranormal/Fantasy Romance Author

Writing Advice

Writing Advice: Reviews – Good & Bad

The question of re-posting bad reviews came up in an author group discussion and my immediate answer was why would you re-post a bad review? When promoting your work, always highlight the positive, never the negative.

That said, even a bad review will have some kernel that can be used to promote your work. That’s where ellipses come in handy. You quote the good, forget the bad, and move on. There’s no rule that says you have to tell people that the review you’re quoting was two stars (or below). And even if you link to the full review, very few people will click the link to read the rest.

When quoting the good, don’t put words in the reviewer’s mouth. Don’t splice a sentence together of all the good parts. Some bad reviews won’t have anything worth quoting. Likewise, some good reviews have nothing quotable either. It happens. Chalk it up as a loss. Think of it as free advertising (most review sites display the book cover and link to the buy page) and remember the review is one person’s opinion.

When I debuted, the authors of my first pub gave tons of really good advice. Several things have stuck with me over the years. One of those is a very simple fact that I’ve found to be true the more books I release — Readers very rarely read the book you wrote.

Everyone brings their own baggage and expectations to a story. What the author sees as heroic, the reader might see as brutish and overbearing. What the author sees as a joke, a reader might see as an insult. All that colors a person’s perception of the story and later their review.

Writing Advice: Carve Out Time

When it comes to writing and finishing books, you don’t make time. You don’t get time. You don’t fit it in some time. You CARVE out time. You draw your line in the sand and stand your ground.

Life happens. You can’t stop life from happening, but not all life has to happen to you every second of every day. Even if it’s fifteen minutes to write a few words, TAKE that time and make a point of taking it every single day.

Stare life in the face (and everyone else) and tell them point blank that this empty space you created is your writing time. Make them honor and respect that. It’s hard at first. People (you included) will need to adapt. Once it becomes familiar, once you enforce it enough, the time you carved out becomes a part of your regular schedule.

It’s okay to miss it once in a long while or even take a break from your writing. But realize that taking a break or missing your writing date is NOT a normal part of your schedule. Writing should be as much a part of your NORMAL schedule as the morning cup of coffee (if you drink it, I don’t) or waking at a certain time. Your writing should never turn into something you have to make time for or something you get around to.

This is the career you’ve chosen. You chose it because you have stories to tell and you want to share those stories with others. Carve out your time so you can achieve your goal.

Writing Advice: Self-Editing Tip #5 – Save for Later

One of the hardest things about self-editing is deleting. A word, a sentence, a paragraph, a page, a scene, a chapter — doesn’t matter how long. You wrote it and you want to keep it. Unfortunately, you can’t, not if you want your story to be better.

One of the tricks I’ve learned to soften the blow is to create a text file of deleted text. Anything over a few sentences, gets copy-and-pasted into a text file. I create one file per book and separate the passages with asterisks. It doesn’t matter about the order. My concern is keeping what was deleted on the off chance that I might want to put it back and/or use it as reference to rewrite the scene so it’s better.

Deleting a paragraph, a scene, a chapter doesn’t have to mean throwing away your work if you save it in a text file. Maybe the scene you cut didn’t make it into this book but you can use it in another book or just save it as a fond memory. Whatever the case might be, it isn’t gone so you don’t have to feel bad cutting it.

Writing Advice: Self-Editing #4 – Reverse

One of the pieces of self-editing advice several people told me, and I’ve actually used on the odd occasion, is to edit the manuscript backwards — start at the end and work your way to the beginning.

You can go paragraph by paragraph or page by page. The whole point of this is to force you to read your manuscript in a different way, which will help you catch your mistakes. Too often, when self-editing, we get caught up in the story (again) and then start to miss stuff. If you are reading the manuscript backwards, that won’t happen… much. It’s less likely if you are going paragraph by paragraph than page by page. If you’re doing chapter by chapter, than you’ll probably miss more stuff.

This was a short piece of advice, but still advice. ๐Ÿ˜›

Writing Advice: Self-Editing Tip #3 – Separation

This probably should have been the first of the self-editing tips, but it’s all good.

Before you start self-editing your finished manuscript, give yourself a cooling off period. Put the book down and step away. Don’t look at it for a day or two or three… four if you can manage it. Five if you’re really strong.

While you’re writing, you are caught up in the high of the story climax and the conclusion. It’s the writer’s equivalent of a runner’s high. You need to come down off that high before you can self-edit properly.

You can’t look at your story with a critical eye while you’re still occupying your characters’ world.

Give yourself a day or two of earned recuperation. Relax and bask in the fact that you finished a book. Once you’ve relaxed and everything is level again, open up your story and make it better.

Writing Advice: Self-Editing Tip #2 – Color Code

Every writer has a list of words they overuse:

– Just
– That
– Like
– Look
– Feel
– Was
– Even
– Still
– Of

Those are just a few but there are TONS. Some are general and apply to all of us. While some are specific to a particular writer.

One way to catch the problem words so you can weed them out of your manuscript is color-coding. No matter how many times you read or re-read (or read aloud) a passage, you will still overlook a word because you’re used to seeing it.

Most word processing programs have Find-and-Replace. Use that function to find the word you want and highlight them all and/or change the color of the text. If you use a different color for every word (hopefully your list isn’t too long), you can enjoy the rainbow effect once you’re finished finding and replacing them all.

Okay, that’s not the reason you use a different color for each word (or try to). You use a different color so you don’t start overlooking them again. If everything is highlighted in red, then you get overwhelmed and frustrated and decide not to do it after all. However, if you make must-be-chopped words red and needs-re-write words yellow, then the process becomes a little easier.

Do NOT use Find-and-Replace to remove the word. You want to make sure your sentences continue to be coherent. Sometimes that “even” is holding the sentence together and you don’t realize that until you take it out.

Not every instance of the “naughty” words has to be removed. Take them on a case by case basis. 95% of the time the word can be chopped without the sentence being affected. It’s the other 5% that you have to watch out for.

Oh and if you’re technically savvy, you can create a Macro to do all the Find-and-Replace color coding for you so you don’t have to do them one word at a time. One button click and your manuscript it color-coded. But that’s something you’ll have to do a search to locate a tutorial.

Writing Advice: Self-Editing Tip #1 – Read Aloud

One of the self-editing tips I learned about a while ago (that I use on the odd occasion) is reading out loud. If you’re like me, you probably don’t like the sound of your own voice. If you’re also like me, you probably don’t want to read your writing out loud… or can’t do it without blushing and/or giggling.

Go on. Admit it.

Anyway… putting that aside…

One of the better self-editing techniques is to read your work aloud. You don’t have to ham it up or anything like that. You don’t even have to read it aloud where someone can hear you.

I’m sure there’s a scientific way of saying this or some study or other but to put it simply — reading aloud requires a different part of the brain. It flips off the writer and turns on the reader. You’re better able to catch your mistakes when you read the passage aloud. Not just mouth the words or read over it. Physically open your mouth and speak the words written on the screen.

Does it sound right?
Are your chose of words stiff or cumbersome? Does your narrative sound like a story or a dissertation?

Does it sound natural?
This question is especially important for conversations between characters.

Did you miss a word?
I’m guilty of this more often than a little bit. Bless my editors. They don’t jump all over me when they find a sentence missing a word. I’m sure a few of you reading my blog posts have spotted sentences that make no sense because I’m missing words. My fingers don’t type as fast as my brain thinks.

Even when I read and re-read before putting up a post, I still won’t catch it. It’s only when I read the passage aloud that I catch those sentences that are missing words. The same goes for my books as well.

Another reason to read aloud is to help you write. Sometimes hearing something aloud helps you fill in the blank and move on to the next part. There is a reason a lot of writers talk to themselves… though we aren’t really talking to ourselves. We’re talking to our characters. It’s not our fault you can’t see them too. ๐Ÿ˜›

Writing Advice: Mailing Lists / Newsletters

I’ve developed a HUGE pet peeve since becoming an author and it has to do with mailing lists. I have one. Most people like mailing lists, because they are targeted promotion to people who WANT to receive news about what you’re selling. My pet peeve is when people do it wrong.

On more than one occasion, I’ve had an author drop me a group email newsletter sent from their mail client. Said email newsletter has every recipient listed in the CC section, which is a serious breach of privacy, AND no information on how to opt out of receiving future emails.

So here’s some newsletter rules of which some people might not be aware.

#1 – Your email contact list is NOT your personal mailing list

This is the first mistake people make. Your email client contact list should NEVER be used for promotion. The people on that list have contacted you for various reasons. That contact was NOT permission to send them mailing list notices. That also means, you can’t just add that person to your mailing list client, should you decide to use one.

People have to opt IN to receive your mailings, not OUT.

#2 – BCC is not only your friend, it’s a MUST

If you choose to use your email client to send out newsletters to people who have opted to receive them, do the people of your list the courtesy of using BCC. That stands for Blind Carbon Copy. That means the recipients cannot see each other, but you (as the sender) can.

#3 – Become acquainted with the CAN SPAM Act

The FTC will shut down your email account if they find you not in compliance with the directives detailed at the above link. Think about how much you do with your email account and how hard it would be to do all that if someone reports you and the FTC locks you out of your account.

#4 – Use a mailing list client

There are several mailing lists clients that offer subscribe/unsubscribe features. Some are free and some are paid. Here’s a few:

Yahoo Groups
Yahoo has a feature in its groups to make a list announcements only. That means only the group owner (and moderators) can post. That also means Yahoo can be used as a mailing list client. People can join and leave as they please.

Downsides :: There are no analytics to show you who opens the mailings you send out. People can join the mailing list and then put themselves on “No Mail,” which defeats the purpose of having the list in the first place.

Mail Chimp
You can have a free account with up to 2000 subscribers. There are trackers and analytics as well as opt in and out features that you can integrate into your website and/or blog.

Downside :: Has a bit of a learning curve and the templates are stiff unless you know enough HTML to fix them the way you want.

Your Mailing List Provider
This is the client I use. The templates are versatile and varied AND easy to augment. The free account allows you up to 1000 subscribers. Like Mail Chimp, there are analytics and tracking as well subscribe and unsubscribe features. Of the two clients, I prefer YMLP.

Downside :: YMLP counts messages sent. You can only send up to 1000 messages per month with a free account. Anything over 1000 messages in a month and you have to pay for extra mailing credits or get a Pro account.

#5 – Have a schedule

If you plan to have a mailing list for a newsletter, you also need to have a schedule. People like to know, before opting in, how often they will be hearing from you. Monthly, bi-weekly, weekly — whatever. Fix a schedule you can keep and then stick with it. A newsletter should be sent out at least once a month. If you don’t plan to do at least monthly, then you should take the mailing list idea off your promotions list.

On the flip side, don’t drown your mailing list in tons of emails. That’s a sure way to lose subscribers. Compile all your news into one message and then mail it out. If you have a special announcement that cannot wait because it’s time sensitive, then you can and should send it out to your mailing list. Above all else be frugal.

That’s pretty much it. When in doubt, put yourself in the shoes of the one receiving your messages. You don’t like your inbox filled up with junk. You don’t like SPAM and neither does anyone else. There’s a fine line between promotion and SPAM. You’ll cross that line if you become annoying. Cross it too often and someone might involve the FTC.

Writing Advice: Judge Not By Others

It’s called keeping up with the Joneses. Pretty much everyone knows that idiom. Using the success of another person as a benchmark for your own.

You are you. You cannot be anyone else but you… well you can be someone else, but the last time I checked Hand That Rocks the Cradle and Single White Female were horror/thriller movies. ๐Ÿ˜›

Yes, there are bestseller lists everywhere. Yes, agents and publishers want to know whose books resemble yours so they can market yours better. That’s business comparison. I’m talking about comparing your writing speed, the amount of books you put out, how much you promote, your presence on social networks, etc…

You’ll drive yourself nuts if you continue to always set your goals based on the person next to you. Know yourself and set your goals accordingly. Don’t compare the sales of your book to the sales of a book that released the same day and from the same publisher. Instead, compare the sales of this book to the books you’ve released in the past. Are the sales better? Worse? What did you do different? What could you do different? What needs to stay the same?

Just because Author A can write a full length novel in a month doesn’t mean you need to stress yourself out — and possibly burn yourself out — trying to do the same (NaNoWriMo excluded from that, though that’s only once a year).

Everyone’s situation is different. Some people are full time writers while others have a day job and can only write part time. The sooner you come to terms with what you can and cannot do, the sooner you can set more realistic goals to help you improve.

Writing Advice: Muse Is Always Right

In retail, the customer is always right. In writing, the muse (or voices in your head or inspiration or whatever you want to call it) is always right. To put it another way — when you muse says write something, WRITE IT.

Don’t argue with your muse. Seriously, you’re going to lose. And if you argue with your muse long enough, you’re going to get writer’s block. Your muse is always right. Just do what your muse says and your story will be happier.

If your muse decides to cook up an action scene that isn’t supposed to show up until the end of the book and you’re on chapter one, WRITE IT ANYWAY. Get it down and out of the way. Don’t put off inspiration because of some silly notion of the “right way” to write. The right way to write is to WRITE.

If your muse tosses a plot bunny at you for a book you aren’t even working on, open up a text file and jot down enough notes (even write a few scenes) so you can go back to it and know where the story was headed once you finish the current WIP. Don’t depend on your memory. The very things you say you won’t forget (the idea is too good. There’s no way you’ll forget) are usually the first things you do forget.

Create an ideas folder on your computer and stick all the text files of your notes in there. That makes it easier to find them later.

As with all things on your computer, MAKE BACKUPS. The same thing that can eat your manuscript will eat your notes too. Or you could always keep handwritten notebooks. Up to you. But remember to OBEY THE MUSE.

Writing Advice: Become an Author

I’m thanking Flash for this week’s topic. People keep asking her how to become a writer. My immediate answer to that — you don’t BECOME a writer. Writers write. We have stories we want to tell. Correction, we have stories we HAVE to tell or else they won’t leave us alone.

If you’re a writer, you know you’re a writer. Writers write.

The question those people are really asking is how to become an author. Simple answer — get published. Writers write. Authors are published writers who wrote.

Pick your poison:
A – Land an agent who will farm your work out to the Big6 publishers
B – Send submissions to small press publishers (no agent needed)
C – Self publish

This the hardest of all the options. Agents are the gatekeepers to Big6. They know the trends and what sells. If your manuscript doesn’t fit into their definition of a viable manuscript (one they can sell to an editor), you’ll get rejection letters. Be prepared. However, landing an agent who gets you into Big6 means having your work receive a wide distribution that MIGHT lead to a nice royalty check. I say might because nothing is guaranteed.

There are a handful of Big6 publishers that take unsolicited manuscripts (that means you don’t need an agent to submit to them). If you happen to get an acceptance from one of those pubs, I would HIGHLY recommend having a literary lawyer (yes, there are literary lawyers) help you negotiate your contract. Several literary lawyers and agents are willing to handle contract negotiations for a fee.

Small press publishers are willing to ignore trends and take chances on new authors and/or weird ideas. So long as the story is good, you’re sure to get a contract. While that sounds easy, you have to be careful with this option. There are hundreds of small press publishers out there. Some are good. Some are not. Check out places like Absolute Write Water Cooler or Piers Anthony’s “Publish on Web,” which features a write up about most of the publishers out there. Also, you need to know how to read your contract since an agent won’t be there to help. There are plenty of sites out there that give explanations about what a contract should and should NOT have in it. Remember to protect yourself and your work. Don’t be so eager to be published that you screw yourself over. There are plenty of horror stories (from Big6 and small publishers alike) of people who didn’t read and UNDERSTAND their contracts and then paid the price for that later.

Self publishing has gained a TON of momentum since places like Amazon and Barnes & Noble have started programs where people can put up their own books. Anyone can put up a book and sell and most everyone has. Be aware that EVERY book needs an editor. Don’t ever think you are above being editing. That’s a stupid career move no matter what option you choose. Editors help strengthen a story by pointing out weak points and things that need to be fixed. They are the second pair of eyes that catch things you might have overlooked. They are a new perspective who might see something you didn’t intend.

With self publishing comes a financial investment on the part of the writer. You need to get the book edited and you need a cover. Both of those cost money. There’s also the time consideration. As a self published author, all of your manuscript formatting for the different venues where you plan to sell (every place has their own set of rules that MUST be followed) and ALL of your promotion is your responsibility.

Writing Advice: Business Cards

Since I talked about websites last week, I figured I should mention business cards. You know, the second thing you as an author need. It’s the one bit of promo you should have on you at all times.

Bookmarks come and go, just like books. Your business card is the one thing you can make a whole bunch of and it’ll never “expire” (unless you change email addresses or website URLs or something). My favorite question to ask people when they design their business card is this: if you ordered one million copies of your card (for whatever reason), would you be happy that you never have to order them again or frantic trying to figure out how you’ll get rid of them all in the next few weeks/months?

If your answer is frantic, then your card design is probably wrong. I’ve had the same card for almost five years (the length of time I’ve been published). Only in the last few months have I changed that card and that was to add my Twitter IDs to it.

So let’s get to it…

What should a business card have on it?

– Author Name
– Email
– Website URL
– Twitter / FB (optional)
– Brand (phrase that defines your books and you)
– Genres (this is helpful so people know WHY they have your card. Don’t just put “romance author,” put “fantasy romance author” or “erotic scifi romance author” etc. If you write more than one sub-genre, then putting “romance author” is easier. However, if you are firmly in one sub-genre, then say so.)
– Title (such as NYT Bestselling Author and the like. Though it’s tempting, don’t mention minor awards. The average reader won’t recognize it which means they won’t care.)

You can actually shorten the above list if you create an About.Me page (which is like an online version of a business card. This is one of mine). Then you can list one URL on the business card and that one URL will contain your email, website, Twitter, FB and most anything else. It’s a handy way of keeping the card short but also, if you need to change anything, you can change the About.Me page instead of the card.

What shouldn’t a business card have on it?

– Your physical address
– Your phone number (home or cell)

Think of it this way, if someone left a stack of your business cards in a public place like a busy mall, would you be happy for the promotion or scared a bunch of crazies now know where you live? Remember your safety first. These cards go to anyone and everyone.

Another thing you can leave off your business card is a list of your publishers. You don’t know what the future holds. That list could change, either from adding publishers or losing them. If you want to list your publishers, then do that on your website.

Now that you know what to put on the card, how about the card itself. Of course you want a design that’s eye-catching. My card was designed by my best friend, using the avatars depicted on my websites. Because I write under two names that I don’t hide from one another, my card is double-sided. That saves me from having to carry around and hand out two different cards. The only downside is that the card has no room for someone to write on it. But the pretty characters depicted on it more than make up for that.

If you can swing it, go for an original design. I know there are a lot of online print shops that offer great deals on business cards featuring stock photos/art. There’s only one problem with that. The design you pick is probably in use by a bunch of other authors (and other businesses) as well.

Your card is officially not unique, thus it isn’t memorable. There is an online print shop with this picture of a hunky guy’s chest grey-washed. I saw that on no less than five different erotic authors’ business cards when they sent them to me for a promotional opportunity. And after all this time, all I remember is the picture of the guy, not the authors who used him.

The other author favorite was a single red rose. It’s cheaper to use the stock photo and I don’t fault anyone for trying to save money, but realize that your card will look like 5 others (at least) if 30 authors laid their business cards on a table.

Which leads to my next point. Covers on business cards = No. But that would make it unique. Yes, it would. That would also guarantee you’ll have to change out your business card when your next book comes out. For short promotion, a cover on a business card is a good idea, but you shouldn’t order more than one box. Not unless you have a solid plan to get rid of them all, like in the registration bags of a large convention. Save the covers for bookmarks.

Other little tidbits…

– Stick to standard. Don’t try to be “unique” when it comes to choosing your business card size or shape. Stick to the standard 2×3.5 rectangle. People have business card holders that fit STANDARD business cards. Anything else will get put in a place they might never look again, thus your card is lost.

– Multiple colors for wording = NO. Think of a book. Would you keep reading if halfway down the page the font and font color changed and then did it again on the very next page. No. You expect the font to be uniform and consistent. The same goes for business cards and websites.

– Cute, scrawling fonts = NO! Your card needs to be legible or else it serves no purpose. It may be boring, but pick fonts that are easy to read — Times New Roman, Verdana, Tahoma, Courier, etc. Use bold and italics if you want to emphasize something. You can choose something fancy for your name but everything else needs to be a basic font. Make sure the lettering isn’t crowded. Ink spreads in printing. You don’t want your URL or email address looking like one giant smudge.

– LARGE TYPE. What looks big on your computer is going to be tiny on your card. There’s a reason 12pt font is the norm for printed material. It’s easy to read. Your font shouldn’t go below 10pt and even that is pushing it. If you aren’t sure your design will work, waste the ink and print it out. Sure it won’t look the way it would if a professional print place did it, but you’ll get a good idea how your card will look with a subpar print job. As well, your name should be the BIGGEST thing on the card. You want your name to be the first thing people see.

– Black/dark backgrounds and light text = No. Just like websites, it’s hard to read.

– Glossy. My personal preference is to skip glossy. It costs less to omit it, number one. Number two, having a matte finish (papery texture) means people can write on your card. At conventions/conferences, I write notes on the cards I receive so I can remember why I have the card when I get home. Short stuff like “check vampire book” or “contact about agent” and stuff like that. Don’t ever think you’ll remember something after a convention/conference. It’s not going to happen, but that’s a topic for another time.

– Do-it-Yourself Cards = be cautious. Your business cards represent you. Don’t hand out something that looks like garbage or else that’s where the person will put it. Make sure your printer and ink inventory is up to the task of handling 250+ cards. Also make sure the DIY cards you choose don’t have frayed/jagged edges when you pull them apart. You think it might be cheaper but, in the long run, it’s not. You have to buy the paper and the ink. My ink cartridges cost $23 a pop, and those packs of cards start at $4 for 100 and go up from there. Then you have to factor in wear and tear on your printer. Places like Got Print offer 5000 business cards for $50 (also free art uploads).

This post got way longer than I intended it to be, but all this stuff needed to be said.

Writing Advice: Websites

In this internet day and age, YES YOU NEED A WEBSITE!

I have run across several authors that don’t have one. I can only shake my head. That is Promotions 101. The very first thing you, as an author, should have is a website. It can be a blog site or a regular website. Pick your poison so long as you have one and keep it updated.

Tips for your website:
#1 – KISS :: Keep It Simple, Stupid
This is the best advice you’ll get and, for some, the hardest to follow. You don’t need to trick out your site with bells and whistles. People are going there for information about you and your books. They don’t want to wade through a bunch of crap you thought was cute (like music or fun flash effects). Matter of fact, music (especially automatic music) tops the list of the most annoying things people find on websites.

#2 – URL
Your URL should be your NAME. Yes, your name. You are advertising YOU not a book. Books come and go. You plan to have several, I hope. So why name your site after a book that was released a long time ago? You want people to remember your name so use it as much as possible — user IDs like FB and Twitter. Buying a domain is cheap and costs nothing to have that domain pointed at whatever site you are using. Yes, even a free site. A short URL is easy to remember. If that URL is your name, all the better. PLUS, if you decide to change site providers, your domain name stays the same.

#3 – Dark with Light Writing = NO
Black backgrounds with light writing is a great mood setter. It’s also really harsh on the eyes and hard to look at for an extended period of time. Frame any and all text with a lighter color and use dark font to make it easier on your readers, if you insist on using a dark/black background.

#4 – Bookshelf
A book page is a necessity to list all your books and the buy links. This is the MAIN purpose of your website. Your books. Everything else is EXTRA. Whether you choose to have an individual page for each book is up to you and the constraints of the site provider you choose. But you should, at the very least, have a page that lists ALL of your books — titles, covers AND buy links. Don’t make readers hunt thinking that will keep them on their site longer. They’ll leave and you’ll lose a sale.

#5 – Keep it Up to Date
You set up the website. Now you need to keep it up to date. There is nothing more frustrating to a reader than to visit an author’s site and not find the information they are looking for. And that information is usually about a book. The second you announce a book on places like FB and Twitter, you need to have that same information available on your website for people who go there looking for more details.

#6 – Images
The larger the image, the longer your site takes to load. If you take a 1600×2400 image (print size) that is 500Kb and have the website size it down to 200×300, IT IS STILL 500KB! You haven’t changed anything about the image or the size of the image except how it is viewed. Size your images down (standard is 200×300 72DPI). If you don’t know how, ask the publisher’s art director to give you a smaller size.

That’s the basics. There is tons more about websites, but I’m not going to go into that here. It pretty much all amounts to get a site, keep it updated, and make it easy to load and navigate.

Writing Advice: Follow Directions

One of the greatest skills any person can have, whether they are a writer or not, is the ability to read, understand and follow directions. Agents, publishers, editors and blogs — you’ll find instructions for submissions pretty much everywhere you turn.

I run two promotional blogs and out of hundreds of submissions I still get the occasional email from a person who can’t be bothered to read and follow the simple instructions I have listed. It drives me up a wall. Now imagine the editor you just submitted to, the agent you just submitted to, the publisher you just submitted to having my same reaction. The difference between their reactions and mine is that I would email for a correction. The agent/editor/publisher will just send along a rejection letter and move on to the next person who CAN read and follow instructions.

Every agent/editor/publisher has a different set of submissions procedures. You can’t assume because you’ve sent in a few that they will all want the same thing. Some want a query letter. Some want a query with a synopsis. Some want the query, synopsis and sample chapters. And some don’t want anything but the full manuscript.

Everybody is busy and trying to cram as much work into a day as possible so they can get it all finished. Agents/editors/publishers use that first contact submissions email as a way to weed out people they don’t want to deal with. If a person can’t be bothered to follow simple instructions from a website, then that same person might turn out to be a pain to work with. Word one of your submission wasn’t read because you got eliminated on a technicality.

Read, reread and double check.

Writing Advice: Cliched Openings

As it was told to me, so I pass it on to you. Okay… I admit that sounds a little more epic than it actually is but that doesn’t make this topic any less important.

Openers are hard. You want to snag the reader’s attention and keep them reading. The first chapter, the first page, the first paragraph, even the first sentence can be the deciding factor between an impulse buy or a dust collector (as it were).

I admit that I’ve fallen into each of these traps. However, I’ve made strides to eliminate them since learning they might be holding back my writing and/or my writing career. An agent told me to look at the top sellers and how they start their books. Very rarely do they start with anything listed below. Those who do have usually been writing so long that they could put out their grocery list and it would be an instant bestseller.

Here are the top three cliches to avoid when starting your story.

#1 – Mirror, mirror on the wall…
Raise your hand if you look in the mirror and take note of every single feature of your face in glorious detail — the shape and color of your eyes, the size/shape of your nose, the shape of your lips, the shape of chin, etc. I know I don’t do that.

I look at my reflection and immediately notice if I have a crumb stuck to my face or if my hair is out of place. That’s it. It’s my face. I know what it looks like. I don’t have to describe it to myself.

Think of your character looking in the mirror and describing their looks to the reader the same you would if you did the same. It’s silly and one of the things that marks a writer as amateur.

#2 – Rise and… ohhh what’s that?
The first sentence in your story involves your character waking up. Congratulations. You’ve just written the most boring and overused opener in the history of writing. To continue this trend, your next book should start with it dark and raining.

Nine times out of ten you can kill the first paragraph involving your character waking up and still have a decent opener.

There are ways to use this cliche without it being cliche. Finding those ways, or just avoiding it, will keep your story from losing the reader in the first sentence.

#3 – “What do you mean don’t use this?”
While you do want to pique your reader’s interest in the first paragraph (sometimes in the first sentence) of your story, dialog isn’t the way to do it.

This particular practice is usually a single sentence said by a person the reader hasn’t met yet and meant to make the reader curious enough about the conversation to keep reading. It might work. Or it might turn them off because they are sick of seeing that cliche.

Again, nine times out of ten, you can delete that first sentence of dialog and just start the story.

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