Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Try and not write lightening, and other mistakes in your and your fellows’ writing

There are some errors that drive me crazy, not because they’re so terrible — anything can be corrected — but because they appear so frequently, and they’re really so simple that it’s hard to imagine how people make them.
Lightning image from Suvro Datta
on freedigitalphotos.net

“Lightening” for “lightning.” People who should know better make this mistake all the time. Even some websites where I found the images of lightning called it “lightening.”

“Lightening” is a progressive verb, meaning “making lighter”—in weight or in colour.

  • “Using bleach is lightening the colour of my shirt.” 
  • “Help from the community is really lightening my workload.”
 The flash in the sky that accompanies thunder is “lightning.” There’s no e in it.

“Try and” is another common error.
  • “I’ll try and get there before 8:00.”

It’s a childish expression. To interpret the above sentence strictly, you get two ideas: “I’ll try,” (what are you trying?) followed by “and get there.” Are these two different things? The speaker intends to say he or she will try to arrive before a specific time. Solution: “I will try to get there before 8:00.”

“Two-month anniversary.” Newscasters, who should know better, kept using this phrase as the Occupy Wall Street protests continued into their third month in November. An anniversary is something that happens once a year. The syllable “ann” comes from the Latin word for “year.” The protest may have reached the “two-month mark” or “point,” but not an “anniversary.”

The most awkward sentence construction I have ever seen takes this form:
  • “This causes problems for our and our supplier’s accounting departments.”

The first time I noticed it, in a memo brought to me by a student from her employer, I thought it would never happen again. However, I have seen this kind of phrase in a few places lately:
  • “The document must bear your or your representative’s signature.”
  • “This copy is for his and his agent’s records.”
The writers of these phrases are trying use words efficiently. The effort is commendable, but it leaves this dangling modifier: “his and ...” Read it aloud and you’ll hear how strange it seems.

The solution: rewrite the whole sentence. Start over by thinking about what you want the reader to do after reading the sentence. (That’s the G for Goal in Get a GRIP).
  • “The author and his or her agent should retain copies in their records.”
  • “Please sign this document yourself, or have an authorized representative sign it on your behalf.”
  • “This causes problems for our accounting department as well as our suppliers.”

That’s the Writing Tip for this week. Use the Comments section below to add your own!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Six sentence Sunday

I have finally done it. I have finally remembered to register in time and get myself to the computer before 9:00 a.m. on a Sunday. Here is my entry for Six Sentence Sunday.

Six Sentence Sunday is a simple blog hop for authors and aspiring authors. You sign into a Linky list at http://www.sixsunday.com/ between 6 p.m. ET Tuesday and midnight the following Saturday, including the link to your blog; then before 9 a.m. that Sunday, you put exactly SIX sentences from your novel—any novel, published or in progress—on your blog. Readers then follow the link on the home page to read the samples. If the author asks for a comment, you can leave one, but it's not mandatory.

Sounds simple, but for some reason, I've managed to let it slip past me, week after week, until now.

So, here are six sentences from Chapter 2 of The Bones of the Earth, now available on Amazon and Smashwords.  

“I can’t kill a sleeping man,” Hrech said in a very small voice.
Javor look at Hrech directly, something he almost never did. “You know what they’re going to do to the girls—rape them repeatedly. They’ll take turns with them, and when they get tired of them, they’ll kill them and go to another village and take more girls. We’ll never see them again alive, unless we do something right now. Are you with me or not?”

Hope you like it. Comments welcome!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The best and worst of being an author: Guest post by RS Guthrie

Rob Guthrie is becoming known on the Internet, not just as the independent author of Black Beast: A Clan of Macaulay novel, but also for  founding RABMAD, or Read a Book, Make a Difference, where authors donate a portion (or all) of the proceeds of their works to good causes.

I asked Rob to tell answer two questions: what's the best thing or aspect in his personal experience of being an author, and what is the biggest mistake he's made.

As you'll see, Rob, in his inimitable way, decided to answer those questions in reverse order.

In return, I've written my best and worst on Rob's blog, Rob on Writing.

Over to you, Rob:

The worst and the best of being an independent writer
As indie writers, we must carry a machete to cut through the tangled mess of the publishing world. I personally prefer two. This way I can double-fist them, cutting through twice the vine work, and also have a backup when one blade becomes too dull to be of any use.

Seriously, how many pre-published indie writers understood the magnitude of marketing that would be required to make even a cursory attempt at reaching the masses of readers? Not I. In my deluded mind, I envisioned an endless supply of readers, just waiting for the next great book. I was realistic: I knew that eventually the work would have to stand on its own merit. But I never dreamed it would be such a challenge to reach the readers.

That was my biggest mistake. Not figuring out the marketplace—and more importantly, the level of effort required to make a go of book promotion—before putting out my first book. The reason I consider that a mistake is that I feel I have more or less sacrificed my first work to the altar of acquiring marketing base. In other words, I sell diddlysquat while learning how to sell more than diddlysquat.

Which is okay, because I think that is part of the equation for any writer, indie or not: you have to get something out there. A sacrificial novel, as it happens to be in my case. I just think I would have put something a little less involved. Perhaps a collection of short stories or a novella. I put a lot of work into my first novel and I fear by the time I have finished honing my marketing plan, achieved my true rhythm, and established my reader base, the first book will have become a giveaway to enhance interest in the second, third, and so on.

In a short time I have learned one incontrovertible fact: writers need each other. I never would have guessed this maxim beforehand. I likely wouldn’t have believed it, even if someone had shared it with me. But the best decision I made was to join the Twitter and Facebook writer communities and to saddle up with a collection of likeminded indie writers. 

Cross-promotion. That is the way out of the forest. 

As one, we are weak—as many, we are a force.

Too many writers still don’t get this concept. I think the biggest misconception is also the one that keeps many writers from joining forces: the idea that we are competitors, not allies. If this were, say, the auto industry, that might be true. Readers, however, unlike drivers of automobiles, have a unique qualifier (particularly in the digital “99-cent” age): a turnover rate that approaches the relative speed of light.

A consumer keeps a car for a minimum of three years. The average is probably more like five. A reader, depending on speed and time available, can read up to a book a day. And I think there are more readers today than ever, probably in no small part due to the lowering of price by the digital market (not to mention the ease of access—literally press a few buttons and your book is at your disposal).

My point is, there are plenty of readers for all of us. There really are. That our biggest task is grabbing market share is a false challenge. The mirage in the distance. As indie writers our biggest challenge is NOT ensuring enough consumers for our product. It is NOT creating the best product we can (although that is a close second). The biggest roadblock for the indie writer, by far, is getting his or her work out to the readers. Period. Nothing else comes close. 

Call it what you will: getting noticed, finding a readership, showcasing your product. If you have not yet realized how deep in the jungle an indie writer is, you haven’t really tried to sell your book yet. We indie writers are half a world away from our audience: 

The readers are THERE…they just don’t know you are.

The good news is we can help each other send out the word from the mountaintops. We can build buzz, product, credibility, and most importantly, we can leverage our collective reach to establish an audience. Think of it this way:

Bill writes a great mystery. So does Suzy. If by helping each other, they can reach 1,000 people they would not have had access to alone (all, presumably, mystery lovers), what do you think the chances are that the majority of readers will read both books? Why wouldn’t they? Assuming they are both entertaining, well-written, engaging mysteries that is (remember, I said before that eventually your work has to stand of its own accord).

Another example. Say you are a reader. You aren’t going to attend a mystery writers' conference only to pick one excellent author or book. In a perfect world they would all be great and you’d have an endless supply of reading material, right?

I’ll repeat it one last time for effect: the best decision I ever made was to join with other likeminded authors and to cross-promote. It is through writers helping writers that we will walk from the darkness of obscurity into the light of a hungry, awaiting marketplace.

You can find Rob's books on Amazon and on his site, RSGuthrie.com.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Guest post: Alan McDermott on being an author

I've asked some bloggers to contribute guest posts, where they answer two questions:

- what's the best thing you've done, as a writer?
- what is the hardest thing, or the biggest mistake you've made?

I am contributing posts on the same subject to their blogs.

The responses have covered topics from the kind of writing they do, when they write, their writing process and even managing their personal lives.

The first is Alan McDermott from the south of England, author of Gray Justice (which I reviewed on this blog last week). His blog is Jambalian.

Take it away, Alan!

The best and worst of being an author

The best part is easy. You might expect me to say it’s looking at those sales figures and seeing them tick over, but to be honest the thing that pleases me more is when I get a review from someone totally impartial. There haven’t been that many (I think around 16 in total, spread over a few sites such as Amazon, Smashwords and Goodreads), but each one gives me the determination to keep going on the next book.

Readers might think that the book in their hand was written by someone spending hours at the keyboard in an idyllic mountain retreat, but I’d bet that 90 percent of the time the author is like me, working a day job and coming home to a family. As any parent knows, that leaves very little time for anything, never mind writing a novel. This means I have to get up at dark o’clock every morning in order to scrape a couple of hundred words together before setting off for the office. When I get home there are three lovely ladies waiting for me, and they all want a piece of Daddy, and when I get an hour to myself in the evening I am so worn out I can just about say Hi to my friends on Twitter before the sandman comes calling. Weekends are not much better, but at least I can manage a thousand words over the two days.

It’s a tough regimen, but every time I see a new 4- or 5-star review it tells me that someone got a lot of pleasure from my book, and that makes it all worthwhile.

The hard part about being an author? To be honest, I don’t think there is an easy part. Notwithstanding the above routine, I had to come up with a storyline which gallops along at such a pace that the reader cannot put the book down. Having written that story, I then had to tame the beast that is impatience. The beast rears its head as soon as the last word has been confined to the page and screams “Publish it NOW!” I succumbed with my first novel and boy, did I pay the price. I’d given copies to friends and family the day before I published it on Smashwords and the emails soon started coming in, mostly entitled “List of errors.” I cringed as I realized I had given away over a hundred copies and all of these readers would have their reading experience ruined by needless typos. Even after fixing these errors, I got feedback from customers telling me they had found even more! Lesson learned, and for the next instalment I will be doing a heavy re-read and passing it to a few friends well before I publish it.
The next hurdle is probably the hardest to overcome. You now have a perfectly-formatted, error-free book, you think it’s a fantastic read, but how do you get it into the hands of readers? Sure, I’ve got a few friends on Facebook, but when I announced the release I got a couple of responses, both saying “well done,” but neither offering to read it. So I went back and told everyone they could have a free copy, and six people took me up on the offer.
Next came the Google search performed by all new authors: “How to sell my ebook?”

Up came about 150 million results and I started scrolling through. Most of the links took me to writer blogs and the general consensus was that I should get a Twitter account, which I duly did. I signed up and began telling the whole world about my book. After no sales that week, I discovered that people had to be following me in order to hear what I was saying. So I went in search of authors and the numbers began to rise, but still no sales. As I started clicking on blog links in the tweets of others, I discovered some of the cardinal rules of Twitter: don’t just tweet about your book; don’t send new followers direct messages asking them to buy your book; do always thank people who retweet your words; do try and make genuine friends rather than just potential customers. The list goes on, but these are the ones I have concentrated on.
One of the last things I ever considered was having my own blog. With no time to eat, never mind write, how could I begin to pile more work on myself? Nevertheless, it was seen as an essential part of the whole writer-selling-books deal. I already had Jambalian and I added a few posts about the book, but I realised that a proper blog was needed and created a free Jambalian blog on Blogger: http://jambalian.blogspot.com/.

I have tried to keep the focus on writing without saying “BUY! BUY! BUY!” but I find it hard to get time to even think of a topic, never mind commit one to pixels. I’m getting better, though.
At the moment, things are moving slowly, but having stuffed impatience back in his box, I am prepared for the marathon.

Now to get some writing done…

Monday, November 21, 2011

Writing tips: don’t try to be a writer

Some readers have told me they like writing tips. Here’s the most important: keep it simple.

Too many people try to be writers. They get stuck trying to construct new kinds of sentences, trying to shine or to equal Shakespeare or Fitzgerald. Or worse, they try to write like a business person speaks—or worst of all, like a politician.

Instead, try to tell your story or get your point across.

Some writers and editors recommend writing without any revising. Just get the words down, worry about grammar, spelling, tense, voice or anything but the ideas. That requires knowing clearly what those ideas are. (See my previous series of posts, “Get a GRIP” for more about making sure you have a clear idea of what you’re trying to write before you start writing). Just state as simply and as bluntly as you can what you want to say. Almost always, that’s the most effective—that is, that kind of writing achieves the goal you started with.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes; you can always go back and fix them. Writing means re-writing. Once you have a draft, you can move sentences and paragraphs around, change words and clarify your expression. But you can’t do that until you have something written down.


Wherever possible, use verbs instead of strings of nouns and adjectives.

Instead of:

“On issues related to ...”—write “about”

“in the six-month period” of “over the course of”—write “between Date 1 and Date 2”

“expressed discontent with”—write “were dissatisfied”

“taking a leadership role”—write “leading”

“relates to the fact that”—write “because”

“in recent years”—write “recently”

“would expect to”—write “expects”

“these measures enabled management to discern any areas in which improvements can be made by operations”—write ”management could identify improvements operations could make ...”

“the regulated firm is typically given 30 days to respond”—write “the regulated firm usually has 30 days to respond”

“X achieved high rankings for new online presentation of resources and tools”—write “X revised its website, making online tools and resources easier to access.”

I recommend dropping the phrase “achieved high ranking,” because that focuses on the organization’s goals, not the reader’s. Why should they care about the company’s satisfaction rankings? What they care about is what it does for them. Yes, there may be some value perceived in the testimonial aspect of high satisfaction ratings, but still, what is important in that example is the new functionality of the website.

See how much shorter and clearer the revised messages are?

The next post on writing tips will focus on what to watch for when you’re re-writing. In the meantime, tell me about your own pet peeves—what phrases or styles of writing bug you the most?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The message of Occupy Wall Street

“Protesters and Officers Clash Near Wall Street and in Zuccotti Park”—NY Times

“Dozens arrested in Occupy Wall Street march in New York”—Globe&Mail

“Occupy protesters march on NYSE”—Chicago Tribune

From the Guardian - OWS protesters re-entering Zuccotti Park Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images
I had expected to read a lot of negative reaction and analysis about the Occupy Wall Street movement in the major mass media. I was wrong. MSNBC continues to portray the protesters as unable to articulate a single message. But most of the other major media present credible, balanced and even sympathetic coverage. CBC radio has repeatedly made this point.

Today, November 17, 2011, the state apparatus in the US is moving in concert to shut down the protests across the country. In several cities, they appear to have succeeded. By latest accounts, the protesters have been pushed out of Manhattan’s Zucotti park but are now disrupting the streets in other parts of the city, and they haven’t been defeated nor have they surrendered, yet.

Still, it looks like the movement is reaching a turning point, one forced on it by the government. So I thought I would blog about my thoughts on the movement and its portrayal in the media.

First, I should state that I’m largely in favour of the movement. It’s fundamentally democratic. This is a broad-based group of people gathering in public areas around the world to voice their opinions. Whether you agree with them or not, in democracies, they’re allowed to speak their minds.

It’s not surprising that the state would oppose their ideas. It’s not a conspiracy, but it does prove the theory that the government apparatus of the US, at least, is controlled by the wealthy elite.

However, the elite’s and the state’s response has not been effective. From the beginning of the protest, the elites and the mass media have tried to portray the movement as disorganized and incoherent, without a clear message.

That argument against the OWS protests is an illustration of the “Big Lie” school of propaganda: repeat an untrue statement loudly enough, often enough, and people will believe it.

Actually, I find the message is pretty cohesive. Lately, the “99 percent” mantra has come to sum it up. Yes, the protesters represent a number of different causes: financial and tax reform, eradication of poverty, reduction of unemployment, elimination of debt, even environmental protection.

But this is not incoherent. What ties these causes together is that, if successful, they would benefit most people, at least in the West. However, they’ve been blocked for decades by the corporate elite that controls the politics of the developed democracies. The message is simply that the 99 percent are fed up with the way the wealthiest 1 percent blatantly abuse their power to benefit themselves at the expense of the majority.

The movement has broad support: professionals, trades people, teachers, professors, even airline pilots have demonstrated. The behaviour of the protesters have been exemplary. Until today, there have been no real problems (notwithstanding two deaths over so many thousands of participants). There has been no looting, no rioting, no bad behaviour. In Ottawa, for example, the Occupy protesters moved their tents and other effects to make room for Remembrance Day ceremonies.
The only disreputable behaviour has been on the part of the state against them, pepper-spraying seniors, bludgeoning people, making mass arrests people for walking on the street.

Things are starting to look ugly in New York now. But it’s still a good time to ask: has Occupy Wall Street succeeded?

Superficially, no. Debt and unemployment are still high, the financial system has not been changed, the rich are getting richer, wealth continues to concentrate in fewer hands and the middle class continues to see its position erode.

But they did succeed in raising the issues and increasing awareness of the concentration of wealth. People — voters — are now more sensitized to these issues.

The test will come not in the next election, but in the next scandal where the top 1 percent are caught with their hands in our pockets, again. What will the state do? What will the people do?

What will you do?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

So much for a writer to do ...

It’s almost time to launch Part 1 of The Bones of the Earth, the first novel I have actually finished writing. But while I could post the EPUB on Amazon and Smashwords tomorrow, there are still so many tasks that I have to do as a publisher.

I have already done a lot. I have written the book, then read it, rewritten it, edited it, re-edited, re-written, re-read and re-written again.

I have given it to two different editors and accepted most of their advice. I have found a terrific cover designer in Lisa Damerst, who has given me a dynamite cover.

The publisher’s job

As an independent author, the publisher’s job is my responsibility. There is so much advice to follow from blogs, websites, books etc. — too much to read it all, let alone implement it. But it seems that most agree on one thing: the importance of the author’s “platform.” All the book-promotion pundits make it seem deceptively simple, if time-consuming.

I started building my “platform” with this blog; I also have a presence on Twitter, goodreads, LinkedIn, Google+ and, of course, Facebook. I know I have not done enough to take full advantage of social media yet, but I am working on it.

At this point, I have to do the following at least:

- make more friends on goodreads (hint!)

- create a fan page on Facebook

- expand my Google+ page and Circles

- join writer-specific social networking sits like the Independent Author Network and Scribd, and possibly paid promotion sites like Book Buzzr

- start a blog tour.

Then, I must follow the advice of last month’s guest blogger, marketing expert Becky Illson-Skinner:

- join some writing groups where I would meet real, live people in the flesh, as opposed to online.

- set up some events such as book signing or library reading.

I have been fortunate to receive a number of positive reviews for my short stories. Those for Dark Clouds, my little Hallowe’en story, were completely unlooked-for; I also got some unsolicited and very positive reviews for my benefit story, Sam, the Strawb Part; even the reviews I requested were all positive. I feel good about that.

In the meantime, I keep blogging (see?), commenting on others’ blogs, reviewing books, tweeting and reading; and of course, I’m working on my next work for NaNoWriMo. Doing that requires writing 1,700 words a day — not a huge amount, but making sure that I do it every single day is a challenge.

Then, there’s life to live: a family, events, and of course, work. Did I mention that this blog is not my day job?

Time to revise the old saw: an independent writer’s work is never done!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Indy book review: Gray Justice, by Alan McDermott

Tom Gray has a cause. It looks like revenge, but it’s more than that: he wants to change a system that he thinks is rotten. He’s sure that most of the people of his country think it is, too, and the government is just too hidebound, incompetent and cowardly to do anything. So he takes matters into his own hands and uses terrorist tactics to bring about that change.

That’s the premise of Alan McDermott’s Gray Justice, a novel that reads like a season of 24.

His action sequences are great. They’re fast, gripping and lucid. I can tell exactly what’s going on, I can picture where every character is and where they’re moving. The plot is strong, with no excess details and no dangling subplots. McDermott, like his main character, knows how to focus.

The characters have clear motivations. We readers know exactly why every person in this story does what he or she does.

Overall, I liked this novel, independently published as an e-book by the author. A portion of the proceeds from sales of the book go to two British charities: the British Heart Foundation, and Barnardo’s the leading children’s charity in the UK.

The book is not perfect. While the main character is nominally Tom Gray, it seems to me that more pages are devoted to Andrew Harvey, the special security agent tasked with stopping him. There are sections that are information dumps, especially when the author introduces new characters and tells their back-stories. It could have used a friendly, but firm edit early on.

Some of the dialog is a little forced, but most is believable. I can hear people speaking that way.
Another problem is that Tom Gray is just a little to capable, cool and calculated for me. I have trouble believing that anyone could plan a caper down to this level of detail, calculating every move his opponents will make (with one major exception that drives the second half of the book). But that’s the only credibility stretch in the book, so we can forgive the author. My book, after all, breaks credulity from the get-go.

A point here about the political dimension of the book. The main character proposes changes to the UK’s criminal justice system with much stricter sentences and prisons and even the reinstatement of corporal punishment. I could point out the practical futility of many of the proposals. On the other hand, [SPOILER ALERT! IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW THE END OF THE STORY, SKIP THE REST OF THIS PARAGRAPH], the story itself does show how some of the ideas backfire. Personally, I think that the reasons for crime are deeper than the punishments for them.

The point is that McDermott tells a compelling story. I read this book in record time because I wanted to find out what would happen next. And that’s the mark of a successful novelist: he makes you want to read more.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Word of the year: “bailout”

What does it mean to “bail out” a business or a country?

Italy is going to get a financial bail-out from the taxpayers of the rest of the world. A lot of that will come from countries that have managed to stay out of financial trouble, but a lot will also come from taxpayers in countries that are facing their own financial challenges, including unemployment and government austerity measures.

Just days ago, Greece’s bailout was settled—although it’s still uncertain that the Greeks will accept it and avert worldwide financial chaos. Portugal and Ireland have received bailouts recently.

Three years ago, taxpayers in Canada, the US and elsewhere bailed out automotive manufacturers, at the same time that the whole world, it seemed, had to bail out the banks and other financial companies. And what did taxpayers, the source of all this money, get in return? Job security? Housing security?


We seem to be caught in a never-ending cycle of crises and bailouts that spark more crises. We taxpayers have to bail out these companies, and now whole countries, because not doing so would cause the end of the economic universe we now inhabit, according to the powers that be.

(It’s interesting that the men—and it’s overwhelmingly men—who warn about doom and make the decisions never suffer from the chaos they preach. But that’s the subject of a whole different series of posts, or probably more fitting, a completely different blog. Or may a movement that would involve occupying public spaces near stock exchanges ...)

The different meanings of “bail”

The current usage refers simply to “rescuing,” but it comes from a different source. Which one applies most closely to this situation?

  • “Bailing out” means parachuting from a doomed plane. But that doesn’t fit—we are not getting out of failing economies, but getting more committed to them by pouring resources into them.
  • It can also mean scooping water out of a sinking ship—this is closer, but what we’re doing is putting something INTO the economy, so that doesn’t fit, either. 
  • “To bail out” means to pay money to get out of jail pending trial—this may be the closest meaning to the current situation, but it raises questions: will there be a trial? Of whom? 
  • According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, “bail” also refers to detaining with intent to rob. Is that what the financial elite is doing to Greece, Italy and other countries? What are the strings attached to the rescue plans?
Which image comes to your mind when you read “bailout” of a failing economy: a falling plane, a sinking ship, getting out of jail or robbery?

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Two reviews of independently published novels

Dead Heat
By Richard Sanders, 2011

Richard Sanders is a pro. Even if you don’t read the introduction/foreword, where he tells the reader of his time at People magazine and the low points in his life, the tight and clear style of his writing tell you: this writer knows what he’s doing, and he does it very well.

There are a few typos and a missing word or two in this e-book, but no more than any commercially published novel.

Dead Heat, a political thriller, proves that independent authors measure up to the best of commercially published titles with a fast-paced plot devoid of any holes. There’s action almost from the first page, and at no point does the story risk losing the reader’s interest. There is only one coincidence, which comes in at the beginning and launches the story. After that, the plot moves logically. As I said, Sanders knows what he’s doing.

On the other hand, Sanders threw in quite a few red herrings. Several times, I thought I had the killer worked out, thought “oh, no, he’s going that way?” But Sanders proved me wrong. I did not see the ending coming, and the resolution made perfect sense.

The strongest point, though, are the believable characters. Most of them are likeable, in some way, but the real test is that I feel like I have met most of them at some point in my life. I’m sure I’m related to some of them.

From the details and the emotions Sanders describes in his characters, it seems he also has been around at least one political campaign. He captures the political reality in the US today in all its pathetic, aggravating, exhilarating, tawdry, shameful and inspiring highs and lows.

I also have to wonder how much of an investigator he was: all the details rang true. Thankfully, the hero does not exhibit any outstanding heroics. He’s not Superman or Bruce Willis, which is a relief—there are way too much ridiculous heroics in this kind of literature.

I literally could not put this book down. Here, again, is an independent author that the big publishers should be looking for.

Xannu - The Prophecy
By Paul Dorset, 2011

Xannu - The Prophecy is further proof that commercial publishers have no monopoly on writing talent or writing quality. This is a good read with believable and entertaining characters, and a plot that pulls you along.

Dorset sets up a YA fantasy that follows many of the conventions of the genre: an invented world where countries have strange names, technology is at the level of the middle ages and magic works. Strange monsters plague humanity. At first, that was a turn-off for me. I am looking for something different. But I found that right at the beginning of the novel, when the main character has a conversation with the Power Almighty.

Dorset also inserts another twist on the fantasy trope with characters who travel between his invented world and a very prosaic, middle-class suburban reality. That's not really new, of course---think CS Lewis---but I really identified with Dorset's homey characterizations. He is very good at breathing life into his characters.
All his characters are fallible and funny, even the Power Almighty and his opposite, the power of evil.

There's a lot of humour, from the personality of the bumbling warrior-hero, to the frustrated ire of the Power Almighty (not so almighty, it seems), to the name of the tall quasi-humans, "Upthairs."

Personally, I was a little dismayed by the appearance of the princess and other royalty in this book. Maybe that's just me, but I enjoy stories about regular people far more. Still, in this plot, the royalty makes sense. And again, they are believable characters in their roles.

The quality of writing is very high in this e-book. There were no more typos or formatting errors than I have seen in typical print books from the biggest publishers. With books like this available on e-bookstores, there's no way that the big publishers can claim to be better than any independent author.

There is only one drawback: to get to the end of the actual story, I have to buy the next book in the series!

Friday, November 04, 2011

Guest post: author and blogger Becky Illson-Skinner

Becky Illson-Skinner is an author, blogger, sister, lover and more. Her blog, Mystery Writers Unite, is an online community where writers can meet to talk about the art, joy and passion of mystery writing.

Thank you, Becky, for this guest post today on selling written words.

Increasing sales of the written word

Probably one of the biggest challenges for any new author, regardless of the genre of their book, is to build a fan base and reach their sales goals. I’ve always loved marketing and graduated from Business Marketing with top marks. I understand how to market a product—I know marketing, but that is only part of the equation and probably the smallest part.

The biggest challenge is that the average person is bombarded by approximately 3,000 ads per day, all vying for their spending dollars. In addition, most people won’t buy something the first time they see it or hear about it unless the product is a name brand and the buyer is motivated (i.e., they need it). All of these things work against the new author.

By now, you’re thinking “Tell me something I didn’t know.” I respect that and I’m relieved you already know the things that work against you in getting yourself known to the masses. Don’t give up hope! There are things you can do to get yourself known and increase your sales. Also remember that the first book will be the hardest to market and subsequent releases of your work will be easier.

Here are some avenues that you can utilize that won’t cost you a fortune:


1. Host a book event in your area—Find other authors in your area that you can team up with and plan a fun, interactive book event with things for visitors to do. Don’t jump into this head-first; instead, do some research like you would for your book. Check out other book events that happen in your area to see what has worked and what hasn’t.

2. Have a book signing—There are many different types of venues (craft sales, flea markets, festivals, coffee shops, mall kiosks, etc.) that writers can capitalize on and be a part of to give readers a chance to meet the author in person and obtain a signed copy of a book. Believe it or not, having a signed copy of a book adds prestige to the book for the readers.

3. Approach your local library—Ask if they would support a “Meet the Author Day” that would consist of live readings from your book and prizes. You could even see if some other local authors would like to join you and partake to cut down on the costs.

4. Join groups—Find out what kind of interest groups exist for your book genre (e.g. book clubs). Ask if they would like to have you attend one of their meetings to do a reading, and offer signed copies of your book for sale at a discounted price. Make sure you have a prize to offer and a small thank-you gift to the organizer.


5. Social networking—Make sure you are signed up to all the social networks and make connections with other authors, bloggers, writers, media gurus, etc. The more people you know…the more people know you.

6. Book reviews—Try to have at least three people a week read and review your book. Make sure that they are willing to post a review of your book either on Goodreads or Amazon. Once they have provided their written review, make sure you thank them and then link to that review and get the word out about the review. People tend to be more likely to buy something that someone recommends as opposed to being approached by the author of the work.

7. Links, links, links—please don’t undervalue links! These are the life-blood of the Internet and the more you have the better. The only way to climb the social net ladder in search engines like Google and Firefox is to have other pages pointing back to you. The more you have, the faster you will move up in the page ranking and the more visible your online presence will be. It takes time but it is time well spent.

8. Use a signature in your emails and always include a link to your book—this may sound simplistic but many people miss doing it.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Apostrophes and pronouns: a confusing combination

I don’t like to rant about little things, but I’ve seen too many instances where supposedly professional writers and editors use “you’re” when they mean “your” and “it’s” instead of “its.” So, I'm dedicating this post to my quasi-regular "grammar tips" feature in hopes of clearing up the confusion.

Most writers, editors and readers I know are willing to forgive the occasional typo, even if it shows a misunderstanding of the right way to do things in English, as long as the overall quality and meaning of the content is good. But little errors erode your credibility, and especially for new writers or those striving to establish a “platform,” that can be a killer.

The source of confusion, I think, is that in English, apostrophes are used for contraction as well as possession, and sometimes, also, for plurals.

I have two proposals to dispel this confusion.

First proposal: discover the consistency

Consistency in spelling is rare in English, a language that seems to have more exceptions than rules. But when it comes to pronouns, the apostrophe always indicates a contraction. In other words, the apostrophe replaces a letter or two.

It’s = it is—“It’s cold in Winnipeg in January.”

Who’s = who is—“Who’s at the door?”

We’re = we are—“Open up! We’re freezing out here! This is Winnipeg, and it’s January!”

They’re = they are—“You better let them in. They’re confused about the date.”

You're = you are—"You're right. It's November, but it's still cold."

That means the respective synonyms without apostrophes are possessive.

Its = belonging to it—“The cat lost its toy under the couch.”

Whose = belonging to who—“Whose cat is that, anyway?”

Their = belonging to them—“They left their cat here because they didn’t want to bring it back to Winnipeg in January.”

Your = belonging to you—"Your cat is very fat."

Second proposal: eliminate the use of apostrophes as plurals

At one time, the apostrophe was used to pluralize single letters or symbols used as words in text and other unusual cases. For example, “The x’s in the expression represent unknown quantities.” “Make sure you dot your i’s and cross your t’s in the contract.”

While this makes sense when you listen to the pronunciation, it leads to confusion. How often have you seen an apostrophe used for plural on signs and even in ads?

When I first became an editor (not long after Caesar conquered Gaul), the new idea was to use italics to set off characters used as words and eliminate the apostrophe. To wit:

- “The xs in the expression represent unknown quantities.”

- “Make sure you dot your is and cross your ts in the contract.”

The change will take some getting used to, but I think it will reduce confusion among non-professional writers.

What do you think? By being careful about using apostrophes in combination with pronouns, can we writers bring about change and increase understanding, at least in this small way?

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Don’t carve your outline in stone

Of all the tools and techniques for writers that I have written or spoken about, the outline gets the most resistance. Students, bloggers, aspiring writers and tweetmates argue “I like to write by the seat of my pants” or “I can’t use an outline.”

But I have yet to find a professional writer, one who has been published and earned a living from it, who objects to outlines.

Remember, you’re writing your outline on paper or a computer, not carving it in stone. You can change it after you write it. The idea is to get all your ideas onto paper (or screen). Then you can move them around, change them, add some, take others out—whatever makes sense to you.

Once it’s written down, the outline will show you the logic of your argument, proposal or story—or the lack of it. An invisible outline, one that’s only in your head, just doesn’t make these errors visible.

Don’t like the order? Change it! Even after you start writing the draft, you can change the order of ideas. It’s your work, after all.

I do this all the time, with every document. In fact, I did it with this blog post. I jotted down a scratch outline of words, short phrases and the occasional full sentence. I thought about my outline, moved some ideas around, then started adding words to turn those phrases into full sentences and paragraphs. Even while I was writing these paragraphs, I reordered the ideas and moved a couple of paragraphs around.

I cannot imagine writing something as long as a novel without an outline. How else can you make sure you get your hero from the introduction to the conclusion without skipping over something important? Especially with the current trend to non-linear storytelling, where the plot is not chronological but rather thematic, I cannot see how anyone could tell a coherent story without following an outline. There’s just no way to make sure you’ve covered everything you have to cover.

I know this is still going to raise some objections, and I invite you to argue with me. You know you want to. Yes, you do!

Post your objections or different perspective in the Comment box. Tell me about your outline.

And you “pantsers” out there: tell me all about your novel written without the outline. How long did it take you?

Hieroglyphics image courtesy www.copyright-free-images.com