The Business Sequence for Writers, guest post by Ellen King Rice #writerlife

Today I am featuring an excellent post by my guest, Ellen King Rice, on the business side of this business. Ellen is a successful indie author of an engrossing series of mushroom thrillers set in the Pacific Northwest.

Its a BusinessShe also wrote the brilliant, hilarious standalone novel, Larry’s Post Rapture Pet Sitting Service.

So, without further yak-yak from me, here is Ellen King Rice and her advice on how to treat this business like a business.

*** *** ***

Moving from hobbyist to professional can be challenging in any field. For indie authors, financial numbers and formal paperwork matter. There are several steps, and the sequence of them can make life easier or . . . not.

The first step in finding a path through the thicket of “business stuff” is to remember past challenges conquered. For many people this may be recalling a first bicycle ride or an early cooking effort. For others there may be a wince as we remember that first round of playing “Hot Cross Buns” on an instrument. Whatever your early challenge was, you didn’t know everything when you started, but you learned quickly.

Today, let’s build a ramp up to a business set up, including tax prep work.

  1. Author’s name.

Search your name on the internet. Make sure you are aware of other writers, activists, artists and business people who share your name. In my case, there were several, including one who shared my middle initial. After some agonizing, I decided my author’s name would be Ellen King Rice even as my friends and family know me as Ellen Rice.

  1. Publisher’s Name

I highly recommend that you chose something other than your author’s name. This gives the writer flexibility to write in more than one genre. There are also times when the publishing house name gives a bit more cachet to projects. I chose Undergrowth Publishing.

  1. Tax Number

This requirement will vary by nation. In the United States, you will want an EIN tax number from the Internal Revenue Service. There is an on-line application here: IRS EIN application online.

The EIN is a Federal Tax ID number used to identify businesses.

Having a Publisher’s name and Tax number helps with getting a business license and a bank account. Of course, I didn’t know this, so I did things backwards and sideways. I tried to get a tax EIN and failed when I was faced with the question “What is your name?”  I highly recommend brisk walks and much chocolate to break up paperwork-filing sessions.

  1. Business license

Again, requirements will vary by location and jurisdiction. If you are resident of the State of Washington, you can find the details here:

https://dor.wa.gov/open-business/apply-business-license

I chose Sole Proprietor for my business, but some writers choose to form a Limited Liability Company.

Do you need city or county licenses? In my area, obtaining a state business license triggered a letter from the city demanding I purchase a local license. It took some research, but I determined that the local vendor’s license did not apply to my circumstances (I live in the county, and I sell books on-line).

It’s wise to learn about your community rules, but often these rule sets only apply to those who are selling in person (i.e., your online sales aren’t part of the local tax structure). Even then, there are times when small vendors or special events like an arts fair are exempted.

  1. Bank account

With your writer/publisher names sorted, a Tax EIN and your business license number, getting a business bank account should be straightforward. Mine is with the Washington State Employees Credit Union. I was able to open the business account with $50 and a $5 savings reserve. This gives me an account for Amazon expenses and deposits. I also asked for a dozen checks, which the credit union provided as a courtesy.

Credit card? A business debit card is easy to request once your account is set up, but a business credit card is hard to get. So far, I’ve managed without one.

  1. Spreadsheet and Tax Forms

Last steps! At this point, it is wise to print off the small business end-of-year-tax form that you’ll be using so you can see the information required.

In the United States, this is the Schedule C “Profit or Loss from Business” form from the IRS website. We can use this form to set up a spreadsheet, by category.

We want things set up so a “Sum this category” command will make it easy to fill out the Schedule C at the end of the year.

Details matter. Take some time looking over the Tax form for your situation. Think of it as your End-of-Year Party destination. A party in the tropics requires different prep than a party with penguins. Knowing the lines to be filled makes for clever spreadsheet set up. And, yes, it feels wonderful to be fast and accurate at year’s end.

For Americans, pay attention to Schedule C, Part I which asks what your “gross receipts or sales” are (line 1) and your “cost of goods” (say, printing 30 copies of your book) for line 4.

Next look at Part II. Lines 8 to 27 list different expense categories you can report. Line 8 is Advertising, so I want an “advertising” category when I set up my writer’s spreadsheet for the year. Line 11 is “Contract Labor”, so I’ll set up that category too. My book cover designer fees can go here. Line 18 is “Office expense.”  I set up Office Expense as a category and that’s the designation to house all my paper and printer cartridge charges.

DEFINITELY check in with a qualified tax advisor (which I am not!) to make sure what you are doing is correct before you file your taxes. All I’m encouraging here is to use the Schedule C as a guide to setting up bookkeeping for easy end-of-year number crunching.
Once you have slogged your way through all six of these steps, you should be well on your way as a writing professional. Be sure to celebrate!

Footnote for American tax filers: What happens if I don’t make money? After filling in Part I (income) and Part II (Expenses), I typically show a Net loss (line 31).  That loss amount will go onto a Schedule One form, and from there to Line 8 of the 1040 form as a negative number, which will lower my taxable income.


Thank you, Ellen, for a wonderful and enlightening post. If we intend to sell books at book signings and conventions, we have a business. If we want to avoid problems with our respective taxing agencies, we must jump through the proper hoops.

The next post in this series will talk about book signings and book fairs, and tracking inventory for both tax and insurance purposes. When the pandemic eases and we can go back to having signings and in-person events, we need to manage our costs and protect our investments. This something we all need to consider no matter where we live in this ever-smaller world.


EKR_author_photo_2022About Ellen King Rice:

I am a wildlife biologist who suffered a spinal cord injury many years ago. Although my days of field work are over, biology continues to intrigue me.

I am fascinated by sub-cellular level responses to ecosystem changes. I also like the predictability of animal behavior, once it is understood.

A fast-paced story filled with twists is a fun way to stimulate laughs, gasps and understanding. I work to heighten ecological awareness. I want the details and your new insights to remain in your thoughts forever.

You can find me and my books at www.ellenkingrice.com

​Please join me on Instagram at:

https://www.instagram.com/mushroom_thrillers.

And on Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/mushroomthriller/

EKR_3book_covers_01162022LIRF

2 Comments

Filed under writing

#FineArtFriday: Red hollyhocks in the garden of the Ancher family at Markvej in Skagen by Anna Ancher ca. 1916

Anna_Ancher_-_Røde_stokroser_i_haven_ved_Ancher-familiens_hus_på_Markvej_i_SkagenArtist: Anna Ancher  (1859–1935)

Title: English: Red hollyhocks in the garden of the Ancher family at Markvej in Skagen.

Date: circa 1916

Medium: oil on canvas

Dimensions: Height: 63 cm (24.8 in); Width: 47 cm (18.5 in)

Collection: Unknown

Inscriptions: Signature bottom right: A. Ancher

What I love about this painting:

January tends to be dark and rainy here in the Pacific Northwest. We were snowed and iced in for two weeks, and then four inches of rain fell in one day and the floods came—boy, do I need a summer day! So, I found us this one—a perfect day in Skagen a century ago.

She is mostly known for her interiors, but Anna Ancher captured the essence of summer in this painting. Along with foxgloves, hollyhocks are my favorite summer flowers. Hers are beautiful, juxtaposed against the blue sky. Her eye for color was amazing. The yellow and red flowers perfectly complement the color of the building behind the garden.

I feel so much better for having had this glorious day in Anna’s serene garden.

About the Artist via Wikimedia: Anna Ancher preferred to paint interiors and simple themes from the everyday lives of the Skagen people, especially fishermen, women, and children. She was intensely preoccupied with exploring light and color, as in Interior with Clematis (1913). She also created more complex compositions such as A Funeral (1891). Anna Ancher’s works often represented Danish art abroad. Ancher has been known for portraying similar civilians from the Skagen art colony in her works, including an old blind woman.

While she studied drawing for three years at the Vilhelm Kyhn College of Painting in Copenhagen, she developed her own style and was a pioneer in observing the interplay of different colors in natural light. She also studied drawing in Paris at the atelier of Pierre Puvis de Chavannes along with Marie Triepcke, who would marry Peder Severin Krøyer, another Skagen painter.

In 1880 she married fellow painter Michael Ancher, whom she met in Skagen. They had one child, daughter Helga Ancher. Despite pressure from society that married women should devote themselves to household duties, she continued painting after marriage. [1]


Credits and Attributions:

Anna Ancher, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Anna Ancher – Røde stokroser i haven ved Ancher-familiens hus på Markvej i Skagen.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Anna_Ancher_-_R%C3%B8de_stokroser_i_haven_ved_Ancher-familiens_hus_p%C3%A5_Markvej_i_Skagen.jpg&oldid=616771666 (accessed January 14, 2022).

[1] Wikipedia contributors, “Anna Ancher,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Anna_Ancher&oldid=1041257716 (accessed January 14, 2022).

Leave a comment

Filed under #FineArtFriday, writing

The Author’s Toolbox: Version Control #amwriting

The new year has arrived, and we are getting back to work on our NaNoWriMo manuscripts. Over the next few months, we will generate many new files that pertain to this work. I meet many authors who don’t know how to properly save files. Unfortunately, they often lose or save over the top of important documents.

tree_of_filing_LIRFIn an instant, an entire manuscript is gone, wiping away hundreds of hours of work on their labor of love.

Hardware disasters or computer failures are unavoidable and always take us by surprise. That is why we must have a consistent system for saving and backing up the files in each project. If the computer dies, your files won’t be lost forever. You will have a backup.

Naming files consistently is a skill most people never had a reason to learn. They have no concept of how easily something that should have been simple can veer out of control.

Fortunately, I worked as a bookkeeper and office manager for many years. I was responsible for naming and saving my employers’ files in a consistent and manageable way.

I generate work in a variety of subgenres. Each project is intended for submission to different places, so I have a large number of files in my writing folder.

This is where a logical system of version control comes in handy.

“Version control” is a system that records changes to a file or set of files over time so that you can recall specific versions later. The worst thing that can happen to an author is accidentally saving an old file over the top of your new file or deleting the file entirely.

First, you must save regularly. I use a file hosting service called Dropbox. I have a lot of images on file, so I pay for an expanded version, but they do have a free version that offers you as much storage as a thumb drive. I like using a cloud-based file hosting service because it can’t be lost or misplaced. My files are always accessible even when working offline, so if the power goes out, I can access my work for as long as my computer’s battery holds out.

I work out of Dropbox, so when I save and close a document, my work is automatically saved and backed up to the cloud.

You can use any storage system for your backup—Google Drive, OneDrive, or a standard portable USB flash drive. But today, we are discussing how to name your files so they are consistent and easy to identify.

You can make many different configurations for your filing system. Your decision as to what works best for you should ultimately be based on what you’re filing, how many files you have and how many sub-categories (subfolders) your system needs to be broken down into.

Detailed below is the system I use for saving my writing files.

version_control_3A filing system is quite simple, rather like a tree from the ground up. For most documents, my system is a standard office-type system that consists of:

DIRECTORY> FOLDERS> SUB-FOLDERS> DOCUMENTS

My first draft of any manuscript will be given a Master File with a working title, a handle to carry it by, such as Ivan’s Story.

Within that master file, I have every version of the original manuscript and subfolders to contain the old versions and any research that pertains to that manuscript. One of my current works in progress is on version 18. It may never see publication.

Every version of that novel has some good things that I had to set aside for the sake of the story arc, but I never delete old files. You never know when you will need something you have already written. So, when I go back to work on that novel, I will have every version of it available in the HA_old_files subfolder because the file name of the current manuscript in the master file shows what version we are looking at:  HA_version_18 (Heaven’s Altar version 18).

I make a separate subfolder for my work when it’s in the editing process. That subfolder contains two subfolders, one for the chapters the editor sends me in their raw state with all her comments, and one for the finished work with the completed revisions. My editor copies and saves each individual chapter to a separate new document, giving them a specific name, such as RoA_edit1_IL_01-10-22. (Ruins of Abeyon, Irene Luvaul edit 1, January 10, 2022.)

She does this because she edits one or two chapters a day and sends it to me that evening. I make the revisions she has suggested and save the chapter into a new file, such as RoA_chapter_1_cjj_revised_jan-11-22. (Ruins of Abeyon, chapter 1, Connie J. Jasperson, revised January 11, 2022.)

We don’t lose the order of chapters because we have a reliable system for naming files, and we ALWAYS use it.

One thing to be aware of is to save it as an actual Word DOCUMENT and not a Template. If you save it as a template, you will get a warning the document is read-only, and it won’t let you save it.  That is quite frustrating but is simple to resolve. Just make sure you are clicking on .docx instead of template.

Libraries’ is the screen that opens when you click “Save As” and is where you go to manage your documents, music, pictures, and other files. You can browse your files the same way you would in a folder, or you can view your files arranged by properties like date, type, and author.  These pictures, above and below, are of File Explorer libraries.

version_control_4Name your files consistently and save each version in a separate folder within the master folder. Below is the master file for Valley of Sorrows.

version_control_5You may create many versions of your manuscript. YOU MUST manage your versions with meticulous care, or you will lose files, have to rewrite sections you just wrote, and which were brilliant, or any number of horrible, irritating situations.

These tragedies are not caused by your word processing program, so don’t blame your computer. They are caused either by you not knowing how to prevent them from happening or inattentiveness when saving files.

But now you know how to avoid the heartache of version control disasters.

12 Comments

Filed under writing

The author’s website #blogging #amwriting

January is a good time to think about your career as an author, even if you must still hold down a full-time job. Authors who want to find readers should have a website and perhaps a little blog. The website is more than just a pain in the neck that you haven’t figured out yet.

blogging memeIt’s a platform where you can advertise your books and discuss your interests, and most importantly, talk about what you are writing.

If cost is a problem, don’t sweat it. WordPress offers free blogs and free theme templates, so with a small amount of effort and a little self-education, you can have a nice-looking website. I began in 2011 with no website skills whatsoever, but I can hold my own now.

I have made a personal commitment to post three times a week on this blog. This allows me to rant about the craft of writing and gives me a place to talk about my growing love of fine art.

My first blog failed in 2010 because writing about current affairs has never interested me. Journalism is not my strength, but my unlamented first publisher wanted me to write about politics, etc.

Meh.

What I learned from that otherwise-negative blogging experience is important. When I stopped trying to fit into a mold someone else had designed for me and began writing about my interests, I learned to love blogging. When I made that connection and commitment to writing about what I enjoy, I began to grow as a writer.

This blog never fails to provide me with a sharp dose of reality. I proofread my own work, run it through Grammarly, have the Read-Aloud function of my word-processing program read it back to me, and then publish it.

Still, I drop words, phrase things incomprehensibly, and misspell things.

Nothing bursts your bubble of self-importance like discovering gross errors and bloopers several days after you published the post.

powerwordsWordCloudLIRF06192021Writing blogposts requires me to become a thinking author, as well as a pantser. I can write using the “stream-of-consciousness” method or from an outline of whatever interests me at the time. I do the research, and the post begins to write itself.

Readers like short articles. I have found that a reasonable post length varies from about 500 words to not much more than 1,000. Having that limit forces me to keep my area of discussion narrow. Also, topics that try to sidetrack me in the writing process often become posts in their own right.

This constraint helps me when writing flash fiction. Most publishers of flash fiction only want stories that top out at no more than 1,000 words in length. When I first began writing flash fiction, telling the entire story in so few words was often an issue. Writing blog posts really helped me learn that skill.

For me, writing blog posts isn’t that difficult per se. If I’m fired up about the subject, I can knock one out in less than an hour.

Finding new and interesting content can be a challenge. Sometimes, I consider cutting back to publishing only on Mondays and Fridays. I have written posts on nearly every aspect of the craft and worry about repeating myself.

But then, a complex subject is raised and can’t be dealt with in only 500 – 1,000 words, and I get fired up again.

strange thoughts 2I love to see what questions people might want to have answered. Sometimes topics crop up at my writing group that no one has an answer to, and then I get to do a little research—my favorite thing. Other times I find interesting questions in the writers’ forums that I frequent.

During the week, I make notes as I come across topics that might make a good blog post. The only day I write blog posts is Sunday. Usually, writing the posts for the week only involves the morning.

If you are a blogger who only posts once a week or once a month, writing your blog post should only take an hour (or less).

I spell-check and self-edit my posts as well as possible. Then I go to my website and preschedule them.

You can do this too. Use the tools that WordPress or whatever platform hosts your website offers to schedule your posts in advance. They will post without your having to babysit them.

Prescheduling allows me to work on my real job the rest of the week. (Writing novels, baking bread, cooking, and doing laundry.)

If you are an author, you might consider having a little blog as part of your website. You don’t have to blog as frequently as I do.

Your website is your store, your voice, and your public presence. We write novels and want people to find and read our work. Readers will find you and your books on your website. It’s your job to give them a reason to come and look at your books.

Authors regularly complain that it’s hard to gain readers when you first begin to blog. That is true but if you keep at it, you gain readers. If you write it, readers will come.

When we have a limited audience, gaining readers can feel like climbing Mount Everest.

In the world of blogging, as in everything else, we start out small and gain readers as we go along—but we gain them more quickly if we keep the content updated at least bi-monthly.

My advice is to write short posts, schedule them for a particular day and time and not worry about how many hits, likes, or comments you get. That’s a stress you don’t need. Instead, write your posts as if every person on the planet is going to read them. Just post them and forget about them until it’s time to post the next one. Don’t even look at the stats.

Once you’ve been at it for six months, you have a history of stats to look at. THAT is when you gauge what topics do best, and make sure the time the blog goes live is a good slot. You want to post it when people are looking for something short to read, like when they’re riding the bus/train to or from work.

Readers will find you, and you will be doing one positive thing to advance your career during this pandemic.

Authors want to gain readers, so we must use every opportunity to get the word out. Updating your website twice a month to discuss what you’re writing and how life treats you is interesting to readers.

softwarewordcloudIf you feel that it’s too much work, consider how you update your other social media. Try posting a haiku, a tweet-length post, or an Instagram-style post once or twice a week. Any social media platform post can be converted to serve as a blog post.

It’s your opportunity to connect with people who want to read your work. But beyond that, I’ve met wonderful people from all over the world through this platform!

10 Comments

Filed under writing

#FineArtFriday: Sunshine in the Blue Room. Helga Ancher Knitting in Grandmother’s Parlour by Anna Ancher 1891

Anna_Ancher_-_Sunlight_in_the_blue_room_-_Google_Art_ProjectArtist: Anna Ancher:

Title: Sunshine in the Blue Room. Helga Ancher Knitting in Grandmother’s Parlour

Alternate TitleSunlight in the Blue Room

Date: 1891

Medium: oil on canvas

Dimensions: w58.8 x h65.2 cm (Without frame)

Collection: Skagens Museum

Inscriptions: A. Ancher 1891

What I love about this painting:

It is a painting that must be viewed from a distance, as only then does it come into focus. I love the way the light falls on the wall, the shadow of a plant silhouetted there. Helga’s golden hair stands out in contrast to the blue of the walls and matching blue of her dress. Who is the woman in the image on the wall? Is it a picture of grandmother?

This is definitely a blue room, a shade of blue with a kind of depth and boldness to it. It must have been a colorful home.

I love all of Anna Ancher’s work. She painted the humanity in the small everyday things, such a daughter sitting near a window, crocheting. She melded art with homemaking, proving that even in an era of oppression women could be artists to be reckoned with.

About this painting, via Wikipedia:

As indicated by its full title: Sunshine in the Blue Room. Helga Ancher Knitting in Grandmother’s Parlour (Solskin i den blå stue. Helga Ancher ved strikketøjet i bedstemoders stue), the painting depicts Anna’s daughter Helga knitting in her grandmother’s room. With her back to the observer, the child is busy crocheting. Despite its everyday subject, the painting is one of Anna Ancher’s most captivating masterpieces with its many shades of blue and the sense of tranquility it conveys. Devoid of action, the theme is essentially the play of light in the room. The only indication of the outside world is the light streaming through the window. Mette Bøgh Jensen, curator of Skagens Museum, explains that Anna Ancher’s interior paintings are “more about the colour and light than anything else”. The artist’s main interest is “not in replicating the reality of the room or wall, or even the light, but rather what is left when these things are stripped away and all that remains are colour and form”. Bøgh Jensen continues, “Anna Ancher’s art is unlike that of anyone else. In its essence it is tied to the special world of motifs in Skagen: the fishermen’s families, the harvesters, the heathers, the special colours, and the brilliant summer light.”

In her Concise Dictionary of Women Artists, Delia Gaze assesses Anna Ancher’s achievements as remarkable “in the modernity of her idiom, with its reduced, abstracting forms and bold expressive colours, singling her out as one of the most innovative painters of her generation, exceeding most of her male colleagues, including her husband” [1]

About the artist, via Wikipedia:

Anna Ancher (18 August 1859 – 15 April 1935) was a Danish artist associated with the Skagen Painters, an artist colony on the northern point of Jylland, Denmark. She is considered to be one of Denmark’s greatest visual artists.

Anna Kirstine Brøndum was born in Skagen, Denmark, the daughter of Ane Hedvig Møller (1826–1916) and Erik Andersen Brøndum (1820–1890). She was the only one of the Skagen Painters who was born and grew up in Skagen, where her father owned the Brøndums Hotel. The artistic talent of Anna Ancher became obvious at an early age and she became acquainted with pictorial art via the many artists who settled to paint in Skagen, in the north of Jylland.

While she studied drawing for three years at the Vilhelm Kyhn College of Painting in Copenhagen, she developed her own style and was a pioneer in observing the interplay of different colors in natural light. She also studied drawing in Paris at the atelier of Pierre Puvis de Chavannes along with Marie Triepcke, who would marry Peder Severin Krøyer, another Skagen painter.

In 1880 she married fellow painter Michael Ancher, whom she met in Skagen. They had one child, daughter Helga Ancher. Despite pressure from society that married women should devote themselves to household duties, she continued painting after marriage. [2]


Credits and Attributions:

Image: Sunlight in the Blue Room by Anna Ancher, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

[1] Wikipedia contributors, “Sunlight in the Blue Room,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Sunlight_in_the_Blue_Room&oldid=1047381792 (accessed January 6, 2022).

[2] Wikipedia contributors, “Anna Ancher,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Anna_Ancher&oldid=1041257716 (accessed January 6, 2022).

Leave a comment

Filed under #FineArtFriday, writing

Identifying Tropes and Subgenres part 2 – Crime, Thrillers, Historical, and Westerns #amwriting

Last week, we began discussing how to identify tropes and subgenres when you are trying to sell a short story (or novel). We need to know what our product is if we want to find a buyer. Identifying the Tropes of Genre and Subgenre #amwriting

Tropes-writing-craft-seriesToday, we continue that discussion with four more genres, each with many subgenres. First up is westerns. This is a popular genre with several common tropes and can be tricky to write respectfully and find a publisher for.

I grew up reading my grandmother’s Louis L’Amour novels, so westerns are in my blood. The common topes of the classic western are evolving, but they still follow this pattern:

The setting will be the frontier of the old American West, set in the years after the Civil War and before WWI.

Our protagonist is likely to be the lone cowboy – who doesn’t love the handsome loner who rides into town and saves the day? In many stories, his trusty steed is also a character, as a good pony is critical to the hero’s ability to go places. At times, the horse is his only companion.

the-woman-who-built-a-bridgeHowever, more and more, we are finding stories with female protagonists. An excellent example of this is the novel, The Woman who Built a Bridge by C.K. Crigger. I found this novel on the Wolfpack website and loved it. Wolfpack Publishing offers a great article on the tropes that have historically characterized the genre of classic westerns.

The conflict between cowboys and Indians. This particular trope must be handled with care and an awareness of stereotyping and glorifying cultural oppression. Westerns are historical, so accuracy and research are required.

Also, one must avoid committing cultural appropriation. Cultural appropriation is the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc., of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or culture. Talk to the tribes in your area if possible. They will help you find ways to portray your indigenous people with respect.

Romance – enter the beautiful woman/handsome ranch hand. Often these characters will have a mysterious and tragic past.

Revenge – the redressing of wrongs is often a significant plot driver. The need to avenge a wrong becomes a character’s obsession, and murder frequently ensues.

A Sheriff becomes involved when a murder happens, and this lawman/woman is frequently the protagonist or love interest.

And finally, when the law catches up to the criminals, a shootout ensues.

Two subgenres of Westerns are Alternate World Westerns and Sci-fi Westerns. The setting may be a different kind of Old West, but just as in a classic Western, there is always a moral for the reader to take away. The action and mystery are sometimes accompanied by a star-crossed romance. The emotional stakes make these stories popular.

Next up, we will look at the genres of Crime Fiction and Thrillers.

The Crime genre is comprised of two main categories, true crime and fictional crime. Crime fiction has several subgenres, but I’m going to talk about only a few of them here.

The Crime Noir is set in dark, gritty urban environments. It often features hardboiled men with anger issues and alcohol problems who work as private detectives. Women are often portrayed as repressed sex objects. The protagonists are usually divorced ex-cops with a nasty reputation. Female protagonists have been making inroads in this genre, with some success.

A modern subgenre is a cyber-punk crime noir. These stories are set in a dystopian high-tech society but with all the tropes of a traditional crime noir.

True Crime sheds light on the sensational crimes that made headlines in real life. These are meticulously researched, and the authors work closely with law enforcement as they detail the events and personalities of the people involved.

nemesis agatha christieThe Agatha Christie / Sherlock Holmes style of novel is the classic whodunnit. They feature a private detective with close ties to law enforcement but who is still an outsider. The detective sometimes has a sidekick who chronicles their cases. At times, the detectives butt heads with the police as resentment of the protagonist’s stepping on their turf crops up. This jealousy hinders the investigation. Clues are always inserted so that the reader doesn’t notice them until the denouement, and the sidekick never guesses right either.

An excellent analysis of Agatha Christie’s writing style and work can be found here: Analysis of Agatha Christie’s Novels.

Thrillers are a complex group of subgenres. Wikipedia says:

Thrillers generally keep the audience on the “edge of their seats” as the plot builds towards a climax. The cover-up of important information is a common element. Literary devices such as red herrings, plot twistsunreliable narrators, and cliffhangers are used extensively. A thriller is often a villain-driven plot, whereby they present obstacles that the protagonist must overcome. [1]

  • Political thrillers
  • Legal thrillers
  • Medical Thrillers

Then, there are Supernatural Mysteries, stories dealing with the paranormal. They may be gothic and dark.

One of my favorite genres is Romantic Mystery. I love a good mystery and a happy ending.

All crime novels and mysteries have common tropes: they involve a puzzle that the protagonist must solve, usually placing themselves in great danger in the process. Good mysteries have small clues embedded along the way for the reader. They also include many false clues that keep the reader on the wrong track. Mystery readers want to solve the puzzle—that’s why they buy these books.

Finally, we must look at Historical Fiction, which I don’t write. However, I can quote from the fount of all knowledge, Wikipedia:

An essential element of historical fiction is that it is set in the past and pays attention to the manners, social conditions and other details of the depicted period. Authors also frequently choose to explore notable historical figures in these settings, allowing readers to better understand how these individuals might have responded to their environments. Some subgenres such as alternate history and historical fantasy insert speculative or ahistorical elements into a novel.

440px-Brock_Pride_and_PrejudiceDefinitions differ as to what constitutes a historical novel. On the one hand, the Historical Novel Society defines the genre as works “written at least fifty years after the events described,” while critic Sarah Johnson delineates such novels as “set before the middle of the last [20th] century … in which the author is writing from research rather than personal experience.” Then again, Lynda Adamson, in her preface to the bibliographic reference work World Historical Fiction, states that while a “generally accepted definition” for the historical novel is a novel “about a time period at least 25 years before it was written,” she also suggests that some people read novels written in the past, like those of Jane Austen (1775–1817), as if they were historical novels. [2]

When you know your story’s genre, you know what publication might be interested in it.

More importantly, you know where NOT to submit it.


Credits and Attributions:

[1] Wikipedia contributors, “Thriller (genre),” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Thriller_(genre)&oldid=1061575069 (accessed January 4, 2022).

[2] Wikipedia contributors, “Historical fiction,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Historical_fiction&oldid=1063618945 (accessed January 5, 2022).

10 Comments

Filed under writing

How to find a writing group that fits your needs #amwriting

I’m in the middle of preparing a submission to a literary contest, and as part of this, I must turn my 95,000-word manuscript into 600-word synopsis that tells the whole story.

Which is a lot harder than it sounds.

MyWritingLife2021The rules of the category I am entering (Genre Fantasy/Sci-Fi) are clear: submissions must be of new, never-before-published novels. You can include only the first 25 pages of the manuscript, which will follow the synopsis.

In other words, the synopsis first, sample of the novel second.

The rules are:

  • Must be no more than 27 pages, including the synopsis. If the entry is longer than 27 pages, it will be disqualified from the contest and only receive one critique.
  • Must be single-sided.
  • Page one must begin with a synopsis (no cover page, please.)
  • The synopsis must be 1 to 2 pages.
  • It must be in 12-point font.
  • The entire document must be double-spaced.
  • Separate scenes with marks, ie. * * * or # # #.
  • Must be in Times New Roman or Times font.
  • Have one-inch margins.
  • Indent the first line of each paragraph.
  • No illustrations or images of any kind can be on the entry.
  • The title, category, and page number must be on every page on the top right-hand side of the header. (Does not need to fit in the 1-inch margins.)

So, what is a synopsis? It is an entire novel boiled down to its barebones and laid out in two pages, double-spaced. That totals about 630 words.

With the help of my writing group, I have managed to write the first two drafts of my synopsis. I will have the whole thing ready for submission by Wednesday.

One of my fellow writers had a bullet list for writing a synopsis, and she was kind enough to share it with me. Having an organized list to follow was invaluable when I crammed the entire novel, including the ending, into 600 words.

  1. An opening image/setting/concept that sets the stage (a tag line of sorts.)
  2. Protagonist intro
  3. Inciting incident
  4. Plot point 1
  5. Conflicts, Character encounters
  6. Go easy on names. Use job titles instead of multiple character names (“the daughter,” etc.).
  7. No going back point.
  8. Winning seems possible but . . .
  9. Black moment
  10. Climax – the fight is on
  11. Resolution
  12. Final Image

When I started, I knew that I wasn’t writing a blurb and that I had to include all the spoilers. So, I wracked my brain and managed a 2-page breakdown of the book that read like a laundry list.

Several writers in my group pointed out that I had named too many characters in the first draft of the synopsis. That was easily fixed. Another mentioned that I had three characters that begin with K—something I hadn’t noticed, nor had my beta readers or my editor. That was also easily fixed: Kai became Cai. Same name and pronunciation, just with the Saxon spelling instead of Norse.

My Coffee Cup © cjjasp 2013This is a task I would have found far more daunting without the support of my Tuesday morning writing group.

As a group, we have brainstormed every aspect of writing with the aim of helping each other along the publishing path. From plots to covers, to maps, to making your advertising work for you—we help each other find the way through the challenging world of indie publishing. Adversities and successes have forged strong bonds among us, and we’ve become close friends over the years.

So how do you find your group, the safe place where you can grow as a writer and develop confidence in yourself?

My group formed about ten years ago as a regular NaNoWriMo write-in that somehow morphed into a weekly “writers’ therapy” group. With the pandemic, we continue to work and meet on Tuesdays via Zoom.

We have all maintained connections with other writing groups too. I am familiar with and have participated in a formal critique group, which I needed at that point in my development. In this sort of group, one has rules to follow. It’s a large group, and each member submits a sample of their work-in-progress. Two are selected to be read aloud. A roundtable discussion follows, dismantling the work and pointing out each area of concern.

In any writing group, rules are necessary. Authors should be aware that their manuscript’s flaws will be pointed out, which can be painful but essential to a publishable novel. An excellent article on forming a critique group can be found here: Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers.

Your area may have established writers’ groups, and some may be able to accept new members. In a meeting, more than twenty-five people can be tricky to manage. Most groups will close to new members if the number of members reaches a certain amount. The best way to find out is to google writer’s groups in your town and make inquiries.

ICountMyself-FriendsAttend a few meetings as an observer to see if this group is a good fit for you.

If you don’t find any group meeting in person or via Zoom, see what online writers’ forums might fit your needs. For several years, I participated in an excellent online group, Critters Workshop.

So now a new year has begun, and possibly this will be the year we get back some sense of normalcy. I wish you a productive pen, witty words, and may all your words find readers who appreciate your style.

10 Comments

Filed under writing

#FineArtFriday: Han van Meegeren: The Men at Emmaus

The Men at EmausVanMeegeren1937

Han van Meegeren: The Men at Emmaus

Genre: religious art

Date: 1937

Medium: oil on canvas

Dimensions: Height: 118 cm (46.4 in) Width: 130.5 cm (51.3 in)

Collection: Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

Normally, I begin the Fine Art Friday articles by discussing what I love about a particular painting. Today, I want to begin with the artist, Han van Meegeren  (1889–1947), also known as Henricus Antonius van Meegeren. He was a 20th-century Dutch painter, drawer, aquarellist, and (most importantly) a forger. Van Meegeren’s story is complex and dramatic.

Wikipedia tells us:

In this Dutch name, the surname is van Meegeren, not Meegeren.

Henricus Antonius “Han” van Meegeren (Dutch pronunciation: [ɦɛnˈrikʏs ɑnˈtoːnijəs ˈɦɑɱ vɑˈmeːɣərə(n)]; 10 October 1889 – 30 December 1947) was a Dutch painter and portraitist, considered one of the most ingenious art forgers of the 20th century. Van Meegeren became a national hero after World War II when it was revealed that he had sold a forged painting to Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands.[3]

As a child, Van Meegeren developed an enthusiasm for the paintings of the Dutch Golden Age, and he set out to become an artist. Art critics, however, decried his work as tired and derivative, and Van Meegeren felt that they had destroyed his career. He decided to prove his talent by forging paintings by 17th-century artists including Frans HalsPieter de HoochGerard ter Borch and Johannes Vermeer. The best art critics and experts of the time accepted the paintings as genuine and sometimes exquisite. His most successful forgery was Supper at Emmaus, created in 1937 while he was living in the south of France; the painting was hailed as a real Vermeer by leading experts of the day such as Dr. Abraham Bredius.

During World War II, Göring traded 137 paintings for one of Van Meegeren’s false Vermeers, and it became one of his most prized possessions. Following the war, Van Meegeren was arrested, as officials believed that he had sold Dutch cultural property to the Nazis. Facing a possible death penalty, Van Meegeren confessed to the less serious charge of forgery. He was convicted on falsification and fraud charges on 12 November 1947, after a brief but highly publicised trial, and was sentenced to one year in prison. He did not serve out his sentence, however; he died 30 December 1947 in the Valerius Clinic in Amsterdam, after two heart attacks. It is estimated that Van Meegeren duped buyers out of the equivalent of more than US$30 million in 1967’s money, including the government of the Netherlands. [1]

What I love about today’s painting: This image has the feel and flair of a masterpiece created during the height of the Dutch Golden Age. It is easy to see why the experts were duped. Despite van Meegeren’s duplicity, he was a master.

Van Meegeren educated himself before he began working on a painting. This diligence shows in the finished product. The picture’s subject is precisely the kind that renaissance artists of all levels of skill painted. The genre of religious paintings earned them the most coins.

We know that Vermeer was influenced by Caravaggio’s treatment of light in his paintings, so it seems logical that, as a young artist just learning the craft, he would attempt a fanfiction to learn and practice the master’s techniques.

The painting depicts the moment when the resurrected but incognito Jesus reveals himself to two of his disciples (presumed to be Luke and Cleopas) in the town of Emmaus. He will soon vanish from their sight, according to the Gospel of Luke 24: 30–31.

Both men are dressed as pilgrims, and the rough seams of their garments are a well-researched detail. Van Meegeren was meticulous in his research of an entire painting, from authentic pigments to handmade brushes, to historical consistency in depicting garments. The woman in the background is not mentioned in the Gospel, but in Caravaggio’s second composition of the Supper at Emmaus, she is assumed to be the innkeeper’s wife.

The muted colors, the way the hands and garments are portrayed, and the soft light entering from the window—van Meegeren knew his craft.

It’s too bad that he could only see his way to fame by cheating us. A true Vermeer is priceless as much because of the man who painted it as it is for its craftsmanship. Learning a piece is a forgery stabs the art lover in the heart.

Van Meegeren was exceptionally talented. It’s too bad that he stooped to forgery, believing it was the only way his skills could be recognized. The quest for validation took him down some dark paths.


Credits and Attributions:

Today’s image: The Men at Emmaus, by Han van Meegeren. Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:EmmausgangersVanMeegeren1937.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:EmmausgangersVanMeegeren1937.jpg&oldid=605192378 (accessed December 29, 2021).

[1] Wikipedia contributors, “Han van Meegeren,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Han_van_Meegeren&oldid=1061907711 (accessed December 29, 2021).

Leave a comment

Filed under #FineArtFriday, writing

Writing Drabbles and Exploring Theme #amwriting

I think of writing as a muscle of sorts, working the way all other muscles do. Our bodies are healthiest when we exercise regularly, and with respect to our creativity, writing works the same way.

WritingCraft_short-story-drabbleDaily writing becomes easier once you make it a behavioral habit. The more frequently you write, the more confident you become. Spend a small amount of time writing every day and you will develop discipline.

If you hope to finish writing a book, personal discipline is essential.

Every morning, I take the time to write a random short scene or vignette. Some become drabbles, others short stories, but most are just for exercise. Writing 100-word stories is a good way to create characters you can use in other works.

Some of the best work I’ve ever read was in the form of extremely short stories. Authors grow in their craft and gain different perspectives with each short story and essay they write. Each short piece increases your ability to tell a story with minimal exposition.

This is especially true if you write the occasional drabble—a whole story in 100 words or less. These practice shorts serve several purposes, but most importantly, they grow your habit of writing new words every day.

Writing such short fiction forces the author to develop an economy of words. You have a finite number of words to tell what happened, so only the most crucial information will fit within that space.

Writing drabbles means your narrative will be limited to one or two characters. There is no room for anything that does not advance the plot or affect the story’s outcome.

The internet is rife with contests for drabbles, some offering cash prizes. A side-effect of building a backlog of short stories is the supply of ready-made characters and premade settings you have to draw on when you need a longer story to submit to a contest.

Below is a graphic for breaking down the story arc of a 2,000-word story. Writing a 100-word story takes less time than writing a 2,000-word story, but all writing is a time commitment.

short-story-arc

When writing a drabble, you can expect to spend an hour or more getting it to fit within the 100-word constraint.

To write a drabble, we need the same fundamental components as we do for a longer story:

  1. A setting
  2. One or more characters
  3. A conflict
  4. A resolution.

First, we need a prompt, a jumping-off point. We have 100 words to write a scene that tells the entire story of a moment in a character’s life.

Some contests give whole sentences for prompts, others offer one word, and others may offer no prompt at all.

Orange_Door_with_Hydrangeas_©_Connie_Jasperson_2019A prompt is a word or visual image that kick starts the story in your head. If you need an idea, go to 700+ Weekly Writing Prompts.

If a contest has a rigid word count requirement, it’s best to divide the count into manageable sections. I use a loose outline to break short stories into acts with a certain number of words for each increment. I’ve included that graphic at the bottom of this post.

A drabble works the same way.

We break down the word count to make the story arc work for us instead of against us. We have about 25 words to open the story and set the scene, about 50 – 60 for the heart of the story, and 10 – 25 words to conclude it.

If you are too focused on your novel to think about other works, spend fifteen minutes writing info dumps about character history and side trails to nowhere. That is an excellent way to build background files for your world-building and character development and keeps the info dumps separate and out of the narrative.

Also, you have the chance to identify the themes and subthemes you can expand on to add depth to your narrative.

Theme is vastly different from the subject of a work. Theme is an underlying idea, a thread that is woven through the story from the beginning to the end.

An example I’ve mentioned before is the movie franchise Star Wars. The subject of those movies is the battle for control of the galaxy between the Galactic Empire and the Rebel Alliance. Two of the themes explored in those films are the bonds of friendship and the gray area between good and evil—moral ambiguity.

The best way to begin building your brand as an author is to submit your work to magazines and anthologies. But writing for magazines and anthologies is different than writing novels. Some aspects of short story construction are critical and must be planned for in advance, important elements of craft that show professionalism.

When you choose to submit to an open call for themed work, your work must demonstrate your understanding of what is meant by the word “theme” as well as your ability to write clean and compelling prose.

For practice, try picking a theme and thinking creatively. Think a little wide of the obvious tropes (genre-specific, commonly used plot devices and archetypes). Look for an original angle that will play well to that theme, and then go for it.

Most of my own novels fit in epic or medieval fantasy genres. They are based on the hero’s journey, detailing how events and experiences shape the characters’ reactions and personal growth. The hero’s journey is a theme that allows me to employ the sub-themes of brother/sisterhood and love of family.

These concepts are heavily featured in the books that inspired me, and so they find their way into my writing.

To support the theme, you must add these layers:

  • character studies
  • allegory
  • imagery

These three layers must all be driven by the central theme and advance the story arc.

Drabble_LIRF_1_jan_2018_cjjapWhen you write to a strict word count limit, every word is precious and must be used to the greatest effect. By shaving away the unneeded info in the short story, the author has more room to expand on the story’s theme and how it supports the plot.

Save your drabbles and short scenes in a clearly labeled file for later use. Each one has the potential to be a springboard for writing a longer work or for submission to a drabble contest in its proto form.

Good drabbles are the distilled souls of novels. They contain everything the reader needs to know about that moment and makes them wonder what happened next.

Write at least 100 new words every day. Write even if you have nothing to say. Write a wish list, a grocery list, or a sonnet—but no matter what form the words take, write. The act of writing new words on a completely different project can break you out of writer’s block—it nudges your creative mind.

14 Comments

Filed under writing

Identifying the Tropes of Genre and Subgenre #amwriting

I always suggest that authors build a backlog of short stories for submission to contests and various publications. But how do you know where to sell your work?

Tropes-writing-craft-seriesTo know that, you must know the genre of the work you are trying to sell. So, what exactly are genres? Publisher and author Lee French puts it this way, “Literary genres are each a collection of tropes that create expectations about the media you consume.”

So, genres are categories the publishing industry developed to enable shoppers in bookstores to quickly find what they are looking for. They’re like a display of apples at the grocery store – many baskets of apples are situated there, but each variety is a little different from its neighbor.

The difference in taste (tart or sweet) and texture (firm or soft) are what we gravitate to when we shop for apples.

In novels, the different flavors within a genre are created by the tropes the author has chosen to include in the narrative.

When you open the Submittable App and begin shopping for places to submit your work, you may find the list of open calls confusing. Many times, contests, publications, and anthologies are genre-specific. However, sometimes they don’t clarify which subgenres within that overarching category they are looking for.

Writers of nonfiction and poetry have no problem because their work is targeted to a magazine with a specific readership.

How do you decide who will be most receptive to your story? You must look at the tropes you have included in the narrative.

This list of genres and what they represent has appeared on this blog before. Genre is determined by the author’s intention, approach, how resolutions happen, and the ideas explored. The various tropes the authors employ form these industry-wide distinctions.

Nine_Perfect_Strangers_Liane_MoriartyMainstream (general) fiction—Mainstream fiction is a general term that publishers and booksellers use to describe works that may appeal to the broadest range of readers and have some likelihood of commercial success. Mainstream authors often blend genre fiction practices with techniques considered unique to literary fiction. It will be both plot- and character-driven and may have a style of narrative that is not as lean as modern genre fiction but is not too stylistic either. The novel’s prose will at times delve into a more literary vein than genre fiction. The story will be driven by the events and actions that force the characters to grow.

Science fiction—Futuristic settings, futuristic science and technology, space travel, time travel, faster than light travel, parallel universes, and extraterrestrial life are the core of science fiction. BE WARNED: if you use magic for any reason, you are NOT writing any form of sci-fi. The tropes that define subgenres are:

  • Hard Sci-fi is characterized by rigorous attention to accurate detail in physics, chemistry, and astrophysics. Emphasis is placed on accurately depicting worlds that more advanced technology may make possible.
  • Soft Sci-fi is characterized by works based on social sciences such as psychology, economics, political science, sociology, and anthropology.
  • Other main sub-genres of Sci-fi include Space-operasCyberpunk, Time Travel, Steampunk, Alternate history, Military, Superhuman, Apocalyptic, and Post-Apocalyptic. Go to the internet and look up the typical tropes of these subgenres. Then write me an awesome Space Opera – my favorite subgenre of sci-fi.

The main thing to remember is this: Science and Magic cannot coexist in the genre of science fiction. The minute you add magic to the story, you have fantasy.

Green_Angel_Tower_P1Fantasy is a fiction genre that commonly uses magic and other supernatural phenomena as a primary plot element, theme, or setting.  Like sci-fi and literary fiction, fantasy has its share of snobs when it comes to defining the sub-genres. The tropes are:

  • High fantasy is defined as fantasy fiction set in an alternative, fictional world, rather than the real, or “primary” world, with elves, fairies, dwarves, dragons, demons, magic or sorcery, wizards or magicians, constructed languages, quests, coming-of-age themes, and multi-volume Often the prose is more literary, and the primary plot is slowed by many side quests. Think William Morrisand J.R.R. Tolkien.
  • Epic Fantasy is often serious in tone and epic in scope. It usually explores the struggle against supernatural, evil forces.Epic fantasy shares some typical characteristics of high fantasy and includes fantastical elements such as elves, fairies, dwarves, dragons, demons, magic or sorcery, wizards or magicians, constructed languages, quests, coming-of-age themes, and multi-volume narratives. Tad Williams’s Memory Sorrow and Thorn is classic Epic Fantasy.
  • Paranormal Fantasy–Paranormal fantasy often focuses on romantic love. It includes elements beyond scientific explanation, blending themes from all speculative fiction genres. Think ghosts, vampires, and supernatural.
  • Urban fantasy can occur in historical, modern, or futuristic periods, and the settings may include fictional elements. The prerequisite is that they must be primarily set in a city.

Horror—Every genre has a subgenre of horror: Wikipedia says, “Horror fiction, horror literature and also horror fantasy are genres of literature, which are intended to, or have the capacity to frighten, scare, or startle their readers by inducing feelings of horror and terror. Literary historian J. A. Cuddon has defined the horror story as “a piece of fiction in prose of variable length… which shocks or even frightens the reader, or perhaps induces a feeling of repulsion or loathing.” In Romance, the horror subgenre might be Gothic or Paranormal, but the focus must be on a developing romance. The roadblocks will not feature blood or gore, but terror and a perception of danger will be a feature the pair must overcome.

Romance—Novels of this type of genre fiction place their primary focus on the relationship and romantic love between two people and must have an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending. The story will be character-driven, and the roadblocks must be believable but surmountable.

I mention Literary Fiction last because it is the most complicated and least understood genre of all.

Ulysses_(1967_film_dvd_cover)Literary fiction can be adventurous with the narrative. The style of the prose has prominence and may be experimental, requiring the reader to go over certain passages more than once. Stylistic writing, heavy use of allegory, the deep exploration of themes and ideas form the core of the piece.

Be careful when presenting yourself and your work to the prospective publisher. Never submit anything that is not your best work, and do not assume they will edit it because they won’t. No publisher will accept poorly written work or sloppily formatted manuscripts.

Read a sample of the work they publish and only submit the work that best fits their publication.

And most of all, good luck! May your work land on an editor’s desk the day they are looking for a story just like that!

13 Comments

Filed under writing