Tag Archives: #amwriting

Poetry: Shape and form #amwriting

Poetry comes in many forms. In fact, Writer’s Digest University lists 100 of them: List of 100 Poetic Forms for Poets.

However enticing that rabbit trail may be, today’s post will cover only a few of the most common and well-known forms. The rhyming scheme of poetry is traditionally shown by using the first letters of the alphabet, such as: AABB

Another word to know is what we call a stanza, or how we divide our poem. Literary Devices says: In poetry, a stanza is a division of four or more lines having a fixed length, meter, or rhyming scheme.

A few of the most common poetic forms are:

Elegy  – a poem or song written to honor the life of someone deceased, such as W. H. Auden’s In Memory of W. B. Yeats, the opening lines which follow:

He disappeared in the dead of winter:

The brooks were frozen, the airports almost deserted,

And snow disfigured the public statues;

The mercury sank in the mouth of the dying day,

What instruments we have agree

The day of his death was a cold dark day.

Epitaphs – poetic writings on tombstones, such as William Butler Yeats’ epitaph, taken from his poem, Under Ben Bulben:

Cast a cold Eye

On Life, on Death.

Horseman, pass by!

Haiku – short Japanese poem, 5 syllables, then seven syllables, then 5 syllables.

I write one Haiku

Five over seven and five

Five Seven Five done.

Limericks have 5 lines, with lines 1, 2, and 5 rhyming with each other, and lines 3 and 4 rhyming with each other. The cadence ends with a stressed syllable. Limericks have strong rhymes, and a recognizable rolling verse:

The limerick packs laughs anatomical

Into space that is quite economical.

But the good ones I’ve seen

So seldom are clean

And the clean ones so seldom are comical.

Odes are poetry that praise a person or an ideal, such as this excerpt from Wordsworth’s Intimations of Immortality:

Turn wheresoe’er I may,

By night or day,

The things which I have seen I now can see no more…

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:

The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,

Hath had elsewhere its setting,

And cometh from afar:

Not in entire forgetfulness,

And not in utter nakedness,

But trailing clouds of glory do we come

From God, who is our home…

Prose poetry is written in prose form instead of verse form without the line breaks associated with poetry. However, it contains the imagery and makes use of rhyme, repetition, fragmentation (short sentences), and most other poetic devices.

Quatrain. A complete poem consisting of four lines. There are fifteen possible rhyme patterns, but the most traditional and common are: AAAA, ABAB, and ABBA. Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard is ABAB:

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,

The lowing herd wind slowly o’er the lea,

The plowman homeward plods his weary way,

And leaves the world to darkness and to me.

Rondel -13 or 14 lines in 3 stanzas. Wikipedia says:

“There are several variations of the rondel, and some inconsistencies. For example, sometimes only the first line of the poem is repeated at the end, or the second refrain may return at the end of the last stanza.  Henry Austin Dobson provides the following example of a rondel:

    Love comes back to his vacant dwelling,

      The old, old Love that we knew of yore!

      We see him stand by the open door,

    With his great eyes sad, and his bosom swelling.

 

    He makes as though in our arms repelling

      He fain would lie as he lay before;

    Love comes back to his vacant dwelling,

      The old, old Love that we knew of yore!

 

    Ah! who shall help us from over-spelling

      That sweet, forgotten, forbidden lore?

      E’en as we doubt, in our hearts once more,

    With a rush of tears to our eyelids welling,

    Love comes back to his vacant dwelling.

The last form I’m going to show you is the Sonnet, which was a favorite medium for William Shakespeare.

Wikipedia says: The Petrarchan sonnet is a sonnet form not developed by Petrarch himself, but rather by a string of Renaissance poets. Because of the structure of Italian, the rhyme scheme of the Petrarchan sonnet is more easily fulfilled in that language than in English. The original Italian sonnet form divides the poem’s fourteen lines into two parts, the first part being an octave and the second being a sestet.

On His Blindness by the English poet Milton, gives a sense of the Petrarchan rhyme scheme:

When I consider how my light is spent (A)

 Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide, (B)

 And that one talent which is death to hide, (B)

 Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent (A)

To serve therewith my Maker, and present (A)

 My true account, lest he returning chide; (B)

 “Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?” (B)

 I fondly ask; but Patience to prevent (A)

That murmur, soon replies, “God doth not need (C)

 Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best (D)

 Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state (E)

Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed (C)

 And post o’er land and ocean without rest; (D)

 They also serve who only stand and wait.” (E)

I have experimented with writing in all of these forms, but I tend to lean most toward a kind of free verse or prose poem. On Wednesday, I will feature an interview with my good friend, Stephen Swartz. He writes novels and short stories in a wide variety of genres and often leaves comments for me in the form of silly rhymes.

Silliness aside, Stephen has been known to produce some beautiful prose poems and is always willing to talk about the craft.


Sources and Attributions:

Wikipedia contributors, “Rondel (poem),” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Rondel_(poem)&oldid=925869026 (accessed May 17, 2020).

Wikipedia contributors, “Sonnet,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Sonnet&oldid=951762201 (accessed May 17, 2020).

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The Author Community, by Mollie Hunt, Cat Writer #amwriting

This is the sixth and final post in a six-week blog tour series for the Northwest Independent Writers’ Association.  NIWA serves pacific northwest writers working to achieve professional standards in independent writing, publishing and marketing.


Many creative professions have a reputation for being competitive, hostile, and dare I say, catty, toward each other. Thankfully, this tendency for animosity, for the most part, has passed the author community by. Even as a budding writer, I was treated with respect by my fellows. I have been helped when I needed help, mentored when I needed mentoring, liberally complimented on my work, and generally accepted wherever I’ve gone within the writing circle.

This didn’t happen by chance, however. I did my part. Though I’m an introvert, I pushed myself to get out and meet people, ask questions, and make contacts. One of the most satisfactory way of doing that was to join writers’ groups. Along with NIWA, I am a member of Sisters in Crime, the Cat Writers’ Association, and Oregon Writers Colony. I have belonged to a few others as well, but these are the ones that have helped me learn, produce, and promote my books. If a group isn’t helpful to your work, then what are you getting for your yearly dues besides another name to add to your list of credits?

Each of those groups I listed offers me something different.

NIWA is a fellowship of local independent authors. Though I’m both self- and press-published, this group is extremely helpful. They put together communal bookselling events, host an impressive website and booklist, and offer a members Facebook page where I can communicate with others about anything and everything book.

My local faction of Sisters in Crime has information geared specifically for the mystery writer. They offer presentations from police, detectives, pathologists, and other professions we see a lot of in mysteries. One time, our group took the Ghost Tour of Fort Vancouver, because you never know when a ghost might come up in your novel.

Oregon Writers Colony supports members in all phases of writing, from “I want to write a book but don’t know where to start” to famous authors like Jean Auel. They have several different programs throughout the year, both to teach and inspire, as well as promote and sell members’ books.

The Cat Writers’ Association is the cat’s pajamas if your stories involve felines. They also have a stunning list of members from all branches of creativity. Bloggers, artists, photographers, as well as fiction and non-fiction authors make up this international organization.

There are many more writers’ groups, both national, international, and in your local area. I encourage you to look into them to see what they have to offer.

Besides writers’ groups, Book Faires and events are a great way to get to know other people in your author community. The more you participate, the more your circle of will grow.

Online and Facebook Groups offer another way of relating to those in your field and well and an opportunity to gather fans. Some groups allow you to advertise your work, where others are strictly for conversations about elements of craft. Try NIWA FANS AND FRIENDS to get started.

Once you begin to look for and engage with your author community, the possibilities open up exponentially. Good luck! And thanks for reading.


Thank you for following the NIWA Blog Tour. Let’s do it again soon!

Check out this week’s other participating NIWA blogsites:

About Mollie Hunt: Native Oregonian Mollie Hunt has always had an affinity for cats, so it was a short step for her to become a cat writer. Mollie Hunt writes the Crazy Cat Lady cozy mystery series featuring Lynley Cannon, a sixty-something cat shelter volunteer who finds more trouble than a cat in catnip, and the Cat Seasons sci-fantasy tetralogy where cats save the world. She also pens a bit of cat poetry.

Mollie is a member of the Oregon Writers’ Colony, Sisters in Crime, the Cat Writers’ Association, and NIWA. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and a varying number of cats. Like Lynley, she is a grateful shelter volunteer.

You can find Mollie Hunt, Cat Writer on her blogsite: www.lecatts.wordpress.com

Amazon Page: www.amazon.com/author/molliehunt

Facebook Author Page: www.facebook.com/MollieHuntCatWriter/

@MollieHuntCats

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Reading to Impact Your Writing: Writing Books, Inspirations, and Beyond by Joyce Reynolds-Ward

This is the fifth in a six-week blog tour series for the Northwest Independent Writers’ Association. You can catch up with them at https://www.niwawriters.com/.


Generally, when the discussion about reading to impact your writing begins, many people’s thoughts turn toward writing references and guides. That’s good for a beginning. But reading books about writing mechanics, process, and the like should not be the only things you read as a writer. Part of developing yourself as a writer includes expanding your reach as a reader—after all, growth arises in many ways, and reading something for the purposes of growing your awareness of style, idea usage, and the like. Picking up a challenging new book in a genre you don’t normally read can often provide insights on your own writing. Or reading a favorite author’s journal or memoir about writing process may help you past your own struggles. It all really depends on what resonates with you. Here are some of my favorites.

 

For myself, reading journals, letters, and memoirs/autobiographies (not biographies!) of my favorite authors has been a good source of writing inspiration and development. I was an early fan of John Steinbeck, thanks to one of my high school teachers. As a result, one of the earliest writer reads that has stuck with me over the years is John Steinbeck’s Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters. While writing East of Eden, Steinbeck would start every writing day with a short letter to his editor and friend Pascal Covici. It was part of his warmup process and a means of separating from daily concerns to developing the focus needed for the day’s work. In a similar vein is Working Days: The Journals of the Grapes of Wrath and Steinbeck: A Life in Letters. Because Steinbeck often used letter writing as a tool for warming up, his letters frequently reflect not only what was going on in his life at the moment but what was happening with his writing process—a valuable insight into the struggles that all writers have.

I tend to prefer journals and letters to memoirs and autobiographies because writers can and will embellish later accounts while journals and letters reflect the writer’s state of mind at the time they were writing. May Sarton’s Journal of a Solitude is billed as “the intimate diary of a year in the life of a creative woman,” and it does not disappoint. While ostensibly a book about the process of writing, Jay Lake’s Process of Writing 2005-2010 is a collection of blog posts Jay wrote about writing organized into topics which—really—tells you as much about Jay’s daily struggles with the writing life as it does anything else. Also, given Jay’s reputation as an extremely fast writer, he gives a breakdown of exactly what that looks like and what it means for him economically as a writer. His analysis of his differing rates of writing speed is something that I recommend every writer read.

And then we get to memoir and biography. One book that I think every writer should read is Anthony Trollope’s An Autobiography. Trollope wrote over sixty books over the course of his life, in part by exercising the discipline of rising early and writing 250 words every quarter of an hour for three hours before going to his day job with the British Post Office as a surveyor. His observations of the mid-19th century writing world (hint: Trollope does not like Dickens) are priceless and, if you have read Trollope or watched productions of his novels, you gain insights into how he built his characters. Ursula K. LeGuin’s essays on writing, often found mixed in with her other essays, are definitely worth considering.

And then there are the books explicitly about the craft of writing. Oh, the many books about writing techniques. I own a lot of them, and have bought and discarded many others. For me, the problem with many craft books is that they often speak to me at a particular stage in my writing or process. But as I progress beyond what they have to offer, I end up walking away from books I once loved. The reality about many books about the writing process is that they are often limited to a particular time and market. There’s nothing wrong with that, but if you pick up an old Writer’s Digest book about writing, you need to crosscheck it to ensure that certain things about the field have not changed. Heck, that is true of any book explicitly about writing technique, because the techniques change and evolve.

Furthermore, while I know of many writers who cling to their favorite writing advice book over the course of the years, for me, the books that have resonated the most are those where the writer speaks candidly about the struggles they face in the writing life. The letters. The memoirs. The autobiographies. Those details where the struggle of the creative life is chronicled without whitewash or embellishment. The advice books often move on, except for a select few…but oh, the value of a chronicle of a writer’s struggle. At least that is what works for me.

And what about you?


Other posts in this series by Joyce Reynolds-Ward (note: each website owner will post at some point during the week listed).

March 29-April 4th—Organizing Your Plot www.joycereynoldsward.com

April 5-11—Self-editing, grammar, and beta readers https://authorwilliamcook.com/blog/

April 12-18—Genre and cross-genre https://tanstaaflpress.com/news

April 19-25—My Approach to the writing process https://varidapr.com

April 26-May 2—Reading to Impact your writing www.conniejjasperson.com

May 3-9—Advice for new writers https://lecatts.wordpress.com


Joyce Reynolds-Ward is a speculative fiction writer from Enterprise, Oregon. Her short stories include appearances in Well…It’s Your Cow, Children of a Different Sky, Allegory, River, and Fantasy Scroll Magazine. Her agripunk thriller trilogy, The Ruby Project: Origins, The Ruby Project: Ascendant, The Ruby Project: Realization, are due for release in November, 2020. Her books include Shadow Harvest, Choices of Honor, Judgment of Honor, and Klone’s Stronghold. Joyce has edited two anthologies, Pulling Up Stakes (2018), and Whimsical Beasts (2019). Besides writing, Joyce enjoys reading, quilting, horses, and hiking, and is a member of Soroptimist International of Wallowa County.

You can find Joyce’s books at her website, Peak Amygdala or on her author page at Amazon.com.

 

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William J. Cook, Advice for New Writers #writetip

This is the second in a six-week blog tour series for the Northwest Independent Writers Association. You can catch up with them at https://www.niwawriters.com/

Today’s guest post is by Indie author William Cook. William writes mysteries, set in my part of the world, the Pacific Northwest. I’ve enjoyed his work in the anthologies we have both been featured in and look forward to hearing what he has to say!

~~~~

Let me begin by saying I still consider myself a new writer, even though I have several books under my belt. Although I’ve “written” all my life, I only got serious about producing books when I retired in 2011. I hope I’ve continued to improve my craft since then, but only my readers can judge that. What follows are only my opinions, and I’m sure if you polled all our NIWA members, you’d find a hundred more.

Number One: Please don’t quit your day job. Truth be told, most of us are only meagerly supplementing our incomes, not debuting on the world stage of #1 Bestsellers. Although some of us have been quite successful, there are very few, if any, Andy Weirs among us. The fortune and fame that showered The Martian are akin to winning the lottery or being struck by lightning—it happens, but the odds against it can be astronomical.

So why do we write? We write because we have to—it has to come out of us. We write for the sheer joy of seeing our creations on paper and on a digital screen. If we make a few bucks, that’s frosting on the cake. Knowing we have family and friends who read our work and like it is reward enough. No, we never stop trying to be successful—taking courses in marketing, scheduling book signings at local bookstores and conferences, begging reviews from readers and local media outlets, doing whatever we can to improve our craft—but we also accept that we are very likely not the next John Grisham or Dean Koontz.

Number Two: Should you try to get an agent or should you publish independently? This is a complicated question. I have never had an agent, so I can only repeat what I have heard from others who have.

Potentially, getting an agent can give your book wider exposure. Your agent gets you a publishing company, and you have the support of that company behind you, hopefully helping you with advertising, book tours, media outlets, etc. On the down side, you may lose a lot of control over your book—content as well as cover. I spoke with one author who told me her company insisted she change one of her characters or they wouldn’t publish her novel. Another said her company just sat on her book and did no promotion at all. Of course, there are other situations where the agent is perfect for the job, establishes a trusting relationship with the writer, and both go on to be very successful together over the course of several books.

Bottom line: decide at the outset whether you want to try to get a literary agent BEFORE you go ahead and publish independently. Once you’ve published independently, it’s much harder to get an agent for that same book, or for a book that comes later in a series. It’s the proverbial Catch-22: your prospective agent will ask, “If your book is successful published independently, why do you want me? If it’s not successful, why should I take the risk?”

Anyway, an excellent resource is https://querytracker.net/ Two essential books are How Can I Find a Literary Agent and Step by Step Pitches and Proposals, both by Chip MacGregor with Holly Lorincz. Also, a better way to land an agent than sending out proposals cold, is to buy face-to-face time with an agent at a literary conference. The biggest one in Oregon, the Willamette Writers Conference, will be in Portland in August (depending, of course, on the pestilence situation at the time).

So far, I have opted to publish independently. Although there are many independent platforms out there, such as IngramSpark, Draft2Digital, Bookbaby, Smashwords, and Kobo, I’m a bit of a dinosaur and have done all mine through Kindle Direct Publishing. That means I can only sell my books on Amazon, and that most bookstores don’t want my paperbacks because Amazon has no return policy for them. Some stores will do it on consignment, and I am fortunate to have a local store that is very kind to independent writers.

What I like about being an indie author is the freedom it gives me. I control everything—content, cover, timing of release, the works. The only deadlines I have to meet are my own. Self-publishing has introduced me to a thriving community of authors who have been extraordinarily helpful. In short, it’s fun!

Number Three: Should you look to see what’s trending and write to that? My answer? Please don’t pimp your writing. Write your own story, not the one you think other people may want to read because it’s currently fashionable. If you don’t write from your heart, you probably won’t survive the dark periods when you’re afraid the Muse has abandoned you and you’re only a hack who shouldn’t have started writing in the first place. (Yes, those days will come.)

Number Four: Should you write every day on a regular schedule? Writing is not “one-size-fits-all.” If you can write every day, that’s wonderful. I know there are many writers of great discipline (and success!) who write four to six hours every day, like clock-work. Hats off and more power to them. But I have a rich life away from my computer, and I can’t. For some people, writing is like fishing. The old adage, “Any time you can get away is a good time to fish,” can be applied to writing as well. Any time you can squeeze in an hour or two is a good time to write.

But you may ask, “What if I get stuck? What if the dreaded Writer’s Block hits me like COVID-19?” Then make a covenant with yourself: you will write one sentence every day—good, bad, or indifferent, however long it takes. If more comes out of you, fine, but your commitment is for one sentence only.

Number Five: Join writing groups. Like good parenting, good writing takes a village. At the very least, join a critique group. This should be small enough (maximum 5 people?) to afford each writer plenty of time to strut their stuff and get the honest feedback he or she deserves. Some groups email their pages in advance, while others bring printed copies for everyone to the group. By all means, read your work out loud. That’s the quickest way to spot the awkward sentence, the overly stiff dialogue, the plot hole you’ve missed. Other groups are available as well. In Oregon, Willamette Writers has local branches throughout the State. In Salem, Writers Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow (WYTT) meets weekly. NIWA is a Facebook group that has been enormously helpful to me.

Number Six: Beware the perils of self-editing! I will write more about this in a future blog, but for now, always be aware that your brain operates like the autocorrect function on your phone. It will fill in the missing word, remove the repeated word, fix the misspelling. Make sure other eyes get to look at your work before you publish it.

Number Seven: The necessity of marketing. Ah, the dreaded M-word. I have found that marketing is an entirely different skill-set from writing. And I’m not very good at it—yet. When your book gets published on Amazon, it will be the proverbial needle in a haystack, lost among the millions of volumes already there. Good advertising makes it stand out. Unless you can afford to pay someone to do it for you, you’re going to have to learn how to advertise on Amazon, Facebook, Instagram. But you can take it a little at a time. Get that book written first!

So there’s my two cents. I hope I haven’t been too negative. The truth is, holding that book in your hands, whether it’s your first or your fifth, is a thrill like no other. Go for it!


Thank you for those excellent words of wisdom, William!

If you want to read other posts in this series by this author, go to https://authorwilliamcook.com/blog/   “Reading to Impact Your Writing (And Can Watching Movies be a Business Expense?)”

Watch for the next post in the series by this author:

https://lecatts.wordpress.com/   “My Approach to the Writing Process”

About William J. Cook:

William Cook moved to the Pacific Northwest from the East Coast in 1989, and worked for a total of 37 years as a mental health therapist until his retirement in 2011. He splits his time between writing, babysitting for his 15 grandchildren, and sneaking off to mid-week matinees (when theaters are open!). The Kindle edition of his latest book, Dungeness and Dragons: A Driftwood Mystery, is available now for pre-order and will be published on April 24. Find all his books at:

https://authorwilliamcook.com/

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Formatting the Final Manuscript #amwriting

I’m in the process of formatting a manuscript for publication, both for the paper version and the book version. While there are significant differences between the layout of the two types of documents, some fundamental things remain the same.

I create three manuscripts. Before I embark on making mobi files for Kindle or designing the interior of my paper book, I create a base manuscript, one which has been thoroughly combed by my writing posse. At this point, it is as well-edited as we can get it.

Name it as the BookTitle_Final_.doc

I strongly suggest you save it as a Word 97 – 2003 compatible document (NOT a template) rather than as a .docx. Saving as a compatible document ensures fewer problems in the upload.

I have made several screenshots with the following steps highlighted for you, so if my instructions aren’t clear, my garbled artwork can confuse you even more.

I open my final base manuscript, and using select all, I highlight the entire thing. I have a list of things to check for.

First up is the Font. Go to the font group, on the left-hand end of the ribbon. Unless you write with a particular font, the default font, or pre-designed value or setting, will probably say ‘Calibri (Body),’ and the size will be .11.

You can change this on the home tab by clicking on the little grey square in the right-hand corner of the font menu and accessing the drop-down menu. Scroll down to Times New Roman or Garamond and set it to .12. A standard serif font is easiest on the eyes. Clicking on that will change the font for the whole thing (if you used select all to highlight the entire ms).

Next on the list is eliminating the random extra spaces that somehow find their way into my work as I go. Extra spaces interfere with formatting for eBooks and other electronically uploaded applications. Other than at a few specialty printers, ALL books and magazines are uploaded electronically nowadays, even printed books.

Extra spaces are most frequently found at the end of sentences, or where you have cut and pasted a passage. For older authors, there may be two spaces at the end of every sentence. When I was learning to type in school, they taught us to hit the space bar twice (two spaces) between sentences, for the sake of readability.

That was a difficult habit to break, but it must be done.

The simple way to hunt for extra spaces is to use the “find function” in the upper right corner of your toolbar:

  1. Open Find, click on “advanced find.”
  2. In the “Find what” box, hit the space bar twice.
  3. Then click on the replace tab.
  4. In the replace with box, hit the space bar once.
  5. Click “replace all.”
  6. Click that twice, to make sure there were no places where three spaces had been inadvertently inserted.

That will eliminate all the extra spaces.

I use “control-F” to open the Navigation Pane because it highlights the spaces in yellow, making them easy to see. The instructions are the same as when opening Find by using the toolbar. But for people who are new to word processing programs or who don’t use MS Word, using the toolbar on the ribbon is the simplest method.

Next, I make sure my paragraphs all look the way I want them to.

Some authors still use tabs to indent their paragraphs.

Don’t do it.

If you used the tab key to indent your paragraphs, the indents fail when the ms is uploaded. This creates a wall of words with no way to tell where one paragraph ends, and another begins.

Publishers hate it when that happens.

If you have done that, you can fix it by using one of the two following ways. The first set of instructions only work if you have a ten-key pad on your keyboard.

To remove tabs from a manuscript in Word or most other word-processing programs, open the “Find” box (right side of the ribbon on the home tab). In the “Find” field, type in ^t. (press the alt key 94 to make ^ and key the t) This only works if you have a ten-key (number pad) at the right side of your keyboard. ^t.

Then click “Replace.” In this field, type nothing. One click on “Replace all” will remove every tab.

That will leave you with no indents whatsoever.

If you don’t have a ten-key pad on your keyboard, you will have to remove each one by hand, which is a daunting task no publisher or editor has time for. Beginning with the first paragraph on the first page, scroll down and use the backspace key to remove the tab indenting every paragraph.

This will temporarily make your ms look like a wall of words, but you are going to resolve that the right way.

Once the tabs are all removed, use the following instructions to format paragraphs.

There are two ways to do this.

The easiest way is to open the “home” tab, click on “select all,” and with the manuscript highlighted, choose “normal” from the “styles” tab on the ribbon.

If your word processing program doesn’t have that option, you can format the paragraphs by using the simple formatting tool:

Step 1: On the Home tab, look in the group labeled ‘Paragraph.’ On the lower right-hand side of that group is a small grey square. Click on it. A pop-out menu will appear, and this is where you format your paragraphs.

Step 2: Justify the text. In justified text, the spaces between words and letters (known as “tracking”) are stretched or compressed. Justified text aligns with both the left and right margins. It gives you straight margins on both sides, but remember, this type of alignment only comes into play when a manuscript is being made ready for publication.

Step 3: Indentation: leave that alone or reset both numbers to ‘0’ if you have inadvertently altered it.

Step 4: Where it says ‘Special’: on the drop-down menu select ‘first line.’ On the ‘By’ menu, select ‘0.5.’ (You can specify a different number, 0.3 or 0.2, but 0.5 is standard.)

Step 5: ‘Spacing’: set both before and after to ‘0.’

Step 6: ‘Line Spacing’: set to ‘single.’This kind of formatting is not for work you are submitting to an agent, editor, or publisher. This is for a finished product that you intend to publish yourself.

You can get fancy with your layout, but remember, when it comes to eBooks, simple is better because it’s less distracting and less likely to fail in the upload.

I take this finished base manuscript to Draft2Digital and create my eBook and Mobi files there. As a member of Myrddin Publishing Group, I have all the ISBNs I need, but you can use theirs at no cost if you choose.

I use an old CreateSpace template to make my paper books, and even with that premade template, it’s a bit of a hassle. But that is part of the fun of publishing your work.

Next up, on Wednesday, I’ll begin a 6 part series that will post on Thursdays, featuring five guest authors and publishers who will discuss various aspects of Indie Publishing and how they negotiate the sometimes rough waters. I’m really looking forward to hearing what they have to say!

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Revisions and Self-editing: repetition and inconsistency #amwriting

I just finished reading book two of a three-part sub-series, set within a larger 21-book series. I enjoyed it but would have liked it more had the protagonist not repeated his back story aloud every time he was asked. That was a flaw that ran deep into book three. All that repetition just padded the word count.

All through this 21-book series, numerous proofing errors and random cut-and-paste-mistakes make it clear to me that few people other than the author see these manuscripts, and they aren’t professional editors. Yet, his work sells because he has marvelous characters and compelling storylines. He is now putting out four or more books a year and is published by TOR.

The Big 5 publishing giants are just as tempted to rush a manuscript to publication as we indies are, and editing sometimes falls by the way. However, if an indie publishes work as badly edited as that, the entire indie community suffers abuse.

Since the large publishing houses aren’t doing editing the way we always thought they did, it’s up to us to find the flaws before we submit our work to them or publish it ourselves.

When we lay down the first draft, the story emerges from our imagination and falls onto the paper (or keyboard). Even with an outline, the story is forming in our heads as we are writing it. While we think it is perfect as is, it probably isn’t.

The revision process is about far more than merely grammar and word placement. It is about making sure the story arc doesn’t flat-line.

Those who regularly read my blog know that I frequently repeat an idea, phrased just a bit differently further down the post. My elderly brain seems determined to make that point, no matter what. We all do this in our first drafts, and very few things are more “first draft” than a blog post.

Inadvertent repetition causes the story arc to dip. It takes us backwards rather than forward.  What I have discovered in my own work is that the second version of that idea is usually better than the first.

Last week, in my post called Revisions: Self-Editing, I talked about the way I do my revisions, how I try to get an unbiased view of my work. Basically, I print out each chapter. Beginning with the last paragraph on the last page, I work my way forward with a yellow highlighter.

Then I put the corrected copy on a recipe stand beside my computer and make the revisions in a new file. (I never delete the old files, because we never know when we might need something we have already written.)

Here are a few things that stand out when I do this:

  • Repetition of entire ideas, each instance worded slightly differently.
  • Inadvertent shifts in the spelling of names for people and places, such as Dyljan becomes Dyjan. (Keeping a style sheet of how names and created words are spelled and doing a global search for each before publishing resolves that.)
  • Places where I have contradicted myself, such as a town being north of the main character’s location, but they travel south to get there. Making a simple hand drawn map resolves the location problem if you remember to look at it.
  • Punctuation errors and missing quotation marks also stand out when printed.

The style sheet can take several forms, but it is only a visual guide to print out or keep minimized on my desktop until it’s needed. I copy and paste every invented word, hyphenated word, or name the first time they appear in my manuscript, and if I am conscientious, I’ll be less likely to inadvertently contradict myself later on in the tale.

My editor is grateful that I make this list so that she doesn’t have to.

All the lists of words and things to look for, all my knowledge comes from having worked with editors who are passionate about writing. Many years ago, Maria gave me the list of weak words to watch for.

Carlie trained me out of using “that” as a crutch word.

Irene trained me to notice my inadvertent shifts in spelling and to love how grammar works. She kindled my desire to learn more about the craft.

Alison trained me not to be so thin-skinned and self-important.

If you have the resource of a good writing group, you are a bit ahead of the game. I suggest that you run each revised chapter by your group and hear what they have to say. Some of what you hear won’t be useful, but much will be.

And yes, you will have to make more revisions. I have discovered that the real work of writing comes after you have written the story.

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The Author’s Voice: Word Choice and Placement #amwriting

We are drawn to the work of our favorite authors because we like their voice. An author’s voice is the unique, recognizable way they choose words and assemble them into sentences.

With practice, we become technically better at the mechanics (grammar and punctuation) but our natural speech habits shine through. Voice is how we bend the rules and is our authorly fingerprint.

When we begin the editing process with a professional editor, most will ignore the liberties we take with dialogue but will point out our habitual errors in the rest of the narrative.

Many times, what we want to say is not technically correct, but we want that visual pause in that place, in that sentence. Casual readers who leave reviews will have gained some understanding of grammar but if your voice is consistent, they will accept your choice. However, they will notice inconsistencies and illiterate writing.

This is why the process of editing is so important. Knowledge of the mechanics of writing is crucial. If you don’t understand the rules, you can’t break them with authority. (For the first part of this series, see my post Revisions: Self-Editing.)

Consider Raymond Chandler’s dismay when he discovered his grammar had been heavily edited by a line editor and then published without his input in the corrections:

“By the way, would you convey my compliments to the purist who reads your proofs and tell him or her that I write in a sort of broken-down patois which is something like the way a Swiss waiter talks, and that when I split an infinitive, God damn it, I split it so it will stay split, and when I interrupt the velvety smoothness of my more or less literate syntax with a few sudden words of barroom vernacular, this is done with the eyes wide open and the mind relaxed but attentive. The method may not be perfect, but it is all I have.”  – Raymond Chandler, in a letter to Edward Weeks, Editor of The Atlantic Monthly, dated 18 January 1947. (Read the letter in its entirety here.)

When we self-edit, we don’t have to wrestle for control of our work, true. But I have to be honest—I have worked with many editors over the past ten years, and only one tried to hijack my manuscript.

What is the mood you want to convey with your prose? Where you place the words in the sentence greatly affects the mood. Active prose is Noun-Verb centric. Compare these sentences, two of which are actively phrased, and two are passive. All say the same thing, and none are “wrong.”

I run toward danger, never away.

I never run away from danger.

Danger approaches, and I run to meet it.

If it’s dangerous, I run to it.

Can you tell which are passive and which are active? Which phrasing resonates with you? Could you write that idea in a different way?

Where we choose to place the core words, I run to danger, changes their voice but not their meaning. The words we choose to surround them with changes the mood but not their meaning.

Other ways to use the core concept of I run to danger:

Danger draws me. I race to embrace it, to make it mine.

If it’s dangerous or stupid, I will find it.

Danger—who cares. Running away is stupid; it always finds you. Meet it, grab it, and make it yours.

I saw him, and in that moment, I knew I’d met my destiny. He was the embodiment of danger, and I wanted him.

We could riff for half an hour on just four words, I run to danger. Each of us will write that idea with our own brand of brilliance, and none of us will sound exactly alike.

One of the things we must look at in our work is consistency. Is our narrative comprised of a smooth pattern? We don’t want our work to be jarring, so we want to think push, glide, push, glide.

Once you have established the mood you are trying to convey, look at how you have placed your verbs in the majority of your sentences.

Some are: noun – verb – modifier – noun. I run to danger when I see it. (Active)

Some are: infinitive – noun – verb –  modifier – noun. When I see danger, I run toward it. (Passive)

NOTE: PASSIVE VOICE DOES NOT MEAN WRONG!

Good writing is about balance. How we combine active and passive phrasing is part of our signature, our voice. By mixing the two, we choose where we direct the reader’s attention.

Some work you want to feel highly charged, action-packed. Genres such as scifi, political thrillers, and crime thrillers need to be verb forward in the way the words are presented. These books seek to immerse the reader so more sentences should lead off with Noun – Verb, followed by modifiers.

If you clicked on the link and read Raymond Chandler’s letter in full, you will see it is aggressive and verb-forward, just the way his prose was.

In other genres, like cozy mysteries, you want to create a sense of comfort and familiarity of place with the mood. Perhaps you want to slightly separate the reader from the action to convey a sense of safety, of being an interested observer. You want the reader to feel like they are the detective with the objective eye, yet you want them immersed in the romance of it. To do that, you balance the active and passive sentence construction, so it is leaning slightly more toward the passive than a thriller.

Weak prose makes free with all the many forms of to be (is, are, was, were).

  • He was happy.
  • They were mad.

Bald writing tells only part of the story. For the reader to see and believe the entire story, we must choose words that show the emotions that underpin the story.

To grow in the craft, we learn to convey what we see through words.

Passive voice balances Active voice. It is not weak, as weak prose holds the reader away from the immediacy of the experience, and when active prose is interspersed with passive, it does not.

Voice is defined by word choice, and Passive or Active prose is defined by word placement, not how many words are used.

Weak prose usually uses too many words to convey an idea. So, we want to avoid wordiness no matter what mood we are trying to convey.

  • One clue to look for is the overuse of forms of to be, which can lead to writing long, convoluted passages.

How many compound sentences do you use? How many words are in each sentence? Can you see ways to divide long sentences to make them more palatable?

A wall of words turns away most readers. Look at your style, as you work your way through your revisions, and see what positive changes you can make in how you consistently phrase things.

Take a short paragraph from a work in progress and rewrite it. Try to convey that thought in both passive and active voice. Then blend the two. You might learn something about how you think as a writer when you try to write in an unfamiliar style.

The following is a  list of words I habitually use in a first draft and then must look for in my own work. I look at each instance and decide if they work as they should or weaken the sentence. If they weaken the prose, I change or remove them.

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The Quantum Mechanics of Conversation #amwriting

The supermassive black hole known as Sagittarius A Star gives the spiral shape to our galaxy and keeps it together. Gravity keeps what goes into it from flying out.

All around us, gravity works in less massive, unobtrusive ways. Here on Earth, gravity on a small scale keeps everything securely stuck to the surface.

In writing, punctuation serves the same function as gravity, keeping our sentences from flying apart.

Even if you aren’t writing science fiction, your work must obey certain fundamental rules, or it will be unreadable. But in this case, the physics that constrain the chaos are the laws of grammar and punctuation, the quantum mechanics of writing.

The one place where the fundamental laws of grammar are allowed to deviate from the norm is in conversation.

Creating memorable characters is the goal of all authors. After all, who would read a book if the characters are bland or uninteresting? But what is it that makes a character interesting? Is it only witty conversation and great scenery?

When you envision your characters in conversation, you must think about what the word natural means. People don’t only use their words to communicate. Bodies and faces tell us a great deal about a person’s mood and what they feel.

You want to convey those visual cues in small, unobtrusive ways by picturing your conversations and the characters who are having them.

Beats or actions serve to punctuate the dialogue, to give the scene movement, and to maintain a strong mental picture in the absence of description.

These small actions can show the mood of a character and are often best placed where there is a natural break in the dialogue. When done unobtrusively, beats allow the reader to experience the same pauses as the characters, without stopping the action. They’re an effective tool and are essential to good dialogue, but don’t overdo it.

Otherwise, just use a simple dialogue tag, like said, or replied.

Don’t make the mistake of getting rid of speech tags and attributions entirely. Even with only two characters in a scene, the verbal exchanges can become confusing. Use speech tags every third exchange or so to keep things clear for your reader. Nothing is worse than trying to figure out which character said what.

Even worse, the action takes over. The dialogue fades into the background, obscured by the visual noise of foot shuffling and paper rattling. For this reason, we don’t want to inject an excess of flushing, smirking, eye-rolling, or shrugging into the story. Each of those actions has a specific use in conveying the mood, but anything used too frequently becomes a crutch. We must be creative, the hardest part of being an author.

What about exclamations and verbal tics? We frequently speak this way  in real life, but we don’t want it in our work, so I recommend you avoid using them.

When an author employs exclamations and verbal tics to excess, it is exhausting for the reader to wade through. Paragraphs peppered with instance after instance of “Ahhhh…” “Ugh!” “Yuck!” and  “Blech!” are too distracting.

Have you ever met a person who habitually holds conversations hostage, not allowing others to speak? They open with a meaningless syllable, such as “Aaahhh…” and continue droning on that syllable while they gather their thoughts.

These are ‘thinking syllables.’ This is what is known as a ‘verbal tic’ and can be such an ingrained habit that the speaker is unaware of it. The guilty party may suffer hurt feelings if you try to hurry them along.

These are difficult speech behaviors to convey. They are supremely annoying in real life and are excruciating to read in a book. Therefore, we don’t want to read them in a story or novel. I recommend you don’t begin your sentences with thinking syllables like  “Ahh…” or “Hmmm….”

As a reader, I’ve come to feel your best bet when dealing with verbal tics is to give a brief instance of their speech pattern. After that, if it is important, occasionally mention the way their habits annoy other characters.

I don’t enjoy reading heavy accents and am leaning away from writing them into my dialogue.

More and more, I try to limit the use of misspellings, bad grammar, and vulgar accents, especially when trying to point out that the character is uneducated or from a rural background.

Writing their dialogue by using common words and employing a few vernaculars conveys the sense of who they are, where they are from, and allows the character dignity.

It’s far too easy to go over the top, and turn the character into a parody, a cartoon of a person, instead of someone who feels real.

Use only a few well-chosen words to convey the idea of the accent. Use those words in a consistent manner for that character in such a way that it isn’t incomprehensible.

I have discussed conversations at length before, so I won’t bore you with repeating myself. Instead, I will list the peeves I have with the work of even the most famous authors:

  1. The exposition dump: “Bob, remember how I told you (blah blah blah)?”
  2. Repetitively naming the characters being spoken to: “Bob, remember how I told you (blah blah blah)?”
  3. Bizarre speech tags such as ejaculated or spewed.
  4. Internal dialogues that are a wall of italics going on forever.
  5. Spelling out accents to the point they are visually incomprehensible. “Oive got a luverly bunch uv coconuts…”
  6. Leading off with verbal tics. “Aahhh…ummm…”
  7. Never resort to writing foreign languages by using Google Translate (or any other translation app). A single word used consistently here and there to convey the sense of foreignness is one thing, but in general, if you don’t speak the language, don’t write it.

The word-pond of Story is like a supermassive black hole.

Grammar and punctuation serve the same purpose as gravity, giving shape to the Story, forming it into a familiar, identifiable structure.

Conversations, both spoken and internal, light up and illuminate the individual corners of the story, bringing the immensity of the overall story arc down to a personal level.

Good conversations and mental dialogues bring characters to life and turn them into our  closest friends. The laws of grammar sometimes break down on the quantum level when our friends are speaking naturally.

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The Indie Cooperative #amwriting

In May of 2012, the indie publishing cooperative that I am a part of, Myrddin Publishing Group, was formed. As a group, we originally met through a now-defunct literary contest. We have members all across the US, the UK, and Australia.

The way we communicate is through a private group page on Facebook. We numbered twenty-five when we first began, and while we have lost a few members to traditional publishers, we have also gained a few.

Membership in our group is closed at this time. We don’t seek new authors, and as a company, we do not control any author’s royalties.

Each of us is an indie, in that all funds earned by our books go directly to the author from the point of sale.

That storefront could be Amazon, Kobo, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Books2Read (Draft2Digital’s storefront), or Ingram Sparks. The individual author uploads their books to the sales outlet of their choice.

I publish through both Amazon KDP and Draft2Digital. Amazon is the big kid on the block, and so far, I’m satisfied with their print book services. Some in my group use Amazon KDP for print, and others use Ingram Sparks for their print books.

Draft2Digital partners with a wide variety of digital storefronts, including Bibliotheca, which gets my books into libraries around the world.

Each member author has sole responsibility for their book. They must pay any local or federal taxes owed on their royalties and are responsible for marketing their own work.

The publishing co-op model we use is quite simple. We pay $25.00 a year to be a member.

One of our members lives in Wales, and her husband is employed in internet security. She manages the website and he is our IT man.

  • Each member author is each responsible for creating their own author page on the website, listing their books, and keeping their author page updated.

We have a nominal leader since every group needs a person in charge. She manages our tiny bank account and makes a full report of how the money was spent every year. Usually, our funds are spent on services the group can use and benefit from.

For us, the main benefit is low cost ISBNs that are not provided by Amazon KDP. Some people don’t mind using Amazon’s ISBNs, but we like having our own.

When we first started in 2012, we bought 1000 ISBNs. A member who is a retired bookkeeper in Essex, England, manages those for us.

In 2012 those ISBNs cost us $1000.00, and we divided up the costs ($40.00 for each of us). I believe the cost for ISBNs has doubled since then, but don’t quote me on that.

All our financial transactions are through the Myrddin PayPal account to our leader, and each Myrddin member can ransom back the  requisite number of ISBNs (Kindle, Draft2Digital, and Print, etc.) for $1.00 each.

We have enough ISBN’s for all of us to create books for many years to come.

  • We trade services within the group.

Several of us will edit or beta-read as needed. I and several other members do book covers, digital maps, banners, bookmarks, and logos as needed.

There are some things to consider before you start your own publishing cooperative:

  • Member participation is what makes the group functional.

Not every member will be an active participant. As time goes on, you may find yourself doing more work than you want and getting little in return from some.

  • At the outset, the group should develop and vote on a list of member responsibilities ( a group charter).

This list should detail what sort of behavior is expected or discouraged in online interactions.

That charter should also explain clearly what the group will do for its member authors, and how membership is obtained.

You will need two Facebook pages. One should be private for group discussions. The other should be public for posting entertainment pieces, such as memes that relate to writing and books.

  • The public page is where book launches can be advertised.
  • Also, the public FB page is where you publicize information about events individual member authors will be at or forthcoming book releases.

I suggest that you have two or three people in charge of posting things on the Public Facebook page and several other people in charge of your group’s Twitter and or Instagram account.

  • Someone with good bookkeeping skills should act as a financial officer.

This person manages any funds generated by member dues or anthologies and pays for the group’s website hosting.

  • The financial officer should have two assistants to review the financial records and ensure transparency.

Financial reports should be posted regularly, so the member authors know how the group is doing. The assistants should be authorized to step in if the financial officer is unable to fulfill their duties for any reason.

  • All decisions should be voted on by the group.

When things need to be discussed that affect the group as a whole, my co-op will hold a “meeting thread” over the course of a week on our private FB group page. That is where we decide what we want to do with the fee-money.

  • Google any publishing names you might want to use before you settle on one.

Don’t choose a name that is already in use as it may be trademarked. Be unique and be clever, but be careful.

Editing, beta reading, proofreading—these services are why a co-op is a good thing and should be traded freely.

Some members may have skills in graphic design and will design book covers, or logos.

  • You must be able to politely express that you can’t use a service, such as a cover design you don’t like. At that point, be prepared to quietly seek and pay for professional services outside the group.

Remember, all of these are time-consuming services. When you trade services, those who provide them for you are not earning money. Be gentle with those who are helping you.

I can’t stress this enough: Even if you don’t use a service that a fellow member offers to you, be a good friend. Give back to the group and help them when it’s their turn to seek services and help.

There will sometimes be rough patches in the group’s overall Zen.

I mentioned that each member of our co-op is responsible for listing their own books on the website and keeping their author page updated.

Sometimes we have problems with people who are less website savvy not being able to figure out how to update their books on the website.

Also, people get sidetracked by life and forget what they’re supposed to do for the group.

Those are minor irritations.

Overall, I have found this publishing model to be the best fit for me. I write short stories and submit to traditional publications, but I prefer to go indie for my novels.

As group, Myrddin certainly doesn’t have all the answers. We have evolved more independently than from where we began, but we are all still good friends. This is not a one-size-fits all kind of thing.

Use the internet and research other small press models.

If you are considering forming an indie publishing cooperative, I hope this has answered some questions you might have had.

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The path to becoming an author #amwriting

People often say they want to write a book. I used to say that too.

In 1985 I came across my first stumbling block on my path to becoming a writer. I didn’t know it, but to go from dreamer to storyteller is easy. Anyone can do it.

But if we choose to become an author, we’re taking a walk through an unknown landscape.

And the place where we go from dreamer to storyteller to author is the hardest part.

At first the path is gentle and easy to walk. As children, we invent stories and tell them to ourselves. As adults, we daydream about the stories we want to read, and we tell them to ourselves.

That part of the walk is easy. At some point, we become brave enough to sit down and put the story on paper.

The blank screen or paper is like an empty pond. All we have to do is add words, and the story will tell itself.

The first impedance that would-be authors come to on their way to filling the word-pond with words is a wide, deep river. It’s running high and fast with a flood of “what ifs” and partially visualized ideas.

If you truly want to become a writer, you must cross this river. If you don’t, the path ends here. While this river flows into the word-pond, the real path that takes us to a finished story is on the other side of this stream.

Fortunately, the river has several widely spaced steppingstones. Landing squarely on each one requires effort and a leap of faith, but the determined writer can do it.

The last thing you do before you step off the bank and begin crossing that river is this: visualize what your story is about.

The first stone you must leap to is the most difficult to reach. It is the one most writers who remain only dreamers falter at:

  • You must give yourself permission to write.

We have this perception that it is selfish to spend a portion of our free time writing. It is not self-indulgent. We all must earn a living because very few writers are able to live on their royalties. If writing is your true craft, you must carve the time around your day job to do it. All you need is one undisturbed hour a day.

The second stone is an easy leap:

  • Become literate. Educate yourself.

Buy books on the craft of writing. Buy and use the Chicago Manual of Style. You can usually find used copies on Amazon for around $10 – $15, passed on by those who couldn’t quite make the first leap.

I freely admit to using the internet for research, often on a daily basis, and I buy eBooks. However, my office bookshelves are filled with reference books on the craft of writing. I buy them as paper books because I am always looking things up. The Chicago Manual of Style is one of the most well-worn there.

Most professional editors rely on the CMOS because it’s the most comprehensive style guide—it has the answer for whatever your grammar question is. Best of all, it’s geared for writers of all streaks: essays, novels, all varieties of fiction, and nonfiction.

The third stone is the reason we decided to write in the first place:

  • Good writers never stop reading for pleasure.

We begin as avid readers. A book resonates with us, makes us buy the whole series, and we never want to leave that world.

We soon learn that books like that are few and far between.

The fourth stone is an easy leap from that:

  • We realize that we must write the book we want to read.

As we reach the far bank, we climb up and across the final hurdle:

  • We finish the work, whether it’s a novel or short story.

Over the years since I first began writing, I’ve labored under many misconceptions. It was a shock to me when I discovered that we who write aren’t really special.

Who knew?

We’re extremely common, as ordinary as programmers and software engineers. Everyone either wants to be a writer, is a writer, has a writer in the the family, or knows one.

Even my literary idols aren’t superhuman.

Because there are so many of us, it’s difficult to stand out. We must be highly professional, easy to work with, and literate.

Filling the pond with words and creating a story that hooks a reader is as easy as daydreaming and as difficult as giving birth.

Because writers are so numerous, every idea has been done. Popular tropes soon become stale and fall out of fashion.

A study by the University of Vermont says there are “six core trajectories which form the building blocks of complex narratives.” These are:

  1. Rags to riches (protagonist starts low and rises in happiness)
  2. Tragedy, or riches to rags (protagonist starts high and falls in happiness)
  3. Man in a hole (fall–rise)
  4. Icarus (rise–fall)
  5. Cinderella (rise–fall–rise)
  6. Oedipus” (fall–rise–fall)

No stale idea has ever been done your way.

We give that idea some thought. We apply a thick layer of our own brand of “what if.”

It’s our different approaches to these stories that make us each unique.

Sure, we’re writing an old story. But with a fresh angle, perseverance, and sheer hard work, we might be able to sell it.

And that is what makes the effort and agony of getting that book published and into the hands of prospective readers worthwhile.

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