Tag Archives: #writerlife

Critiques and Rejections #amwriting

Negative feedback is a necessary part of growth. When we submit our work to a critique group, we will get feedback, some of which will be perceived as unfavorable. The writing life is a rough playground. Some of us handle rejection or a thorough critique with grace and dignity, and others make an uncomfortable situation worse.

MyWritingLife2021BWe are emotional creatures. When we are just starting on this path, getting an unbiased critique for something you think is the best thing you ever wrote can feel unfair.

But it isn’t. No one writes perfect work all the time, but we have our moments of brilliance. It’s just they are moments, and some areas of a good work-in-progress will need revising and line editing to make it shine. A writers’ group can help you find the weaknesses in the overall story arc.

I have received my share of criticisms and rejections. At first, it hurt, but after a while of growing, I began to see what my fellow writers were trying to show me. I also began to understand why my work didn’t win prizes or get accepted into publications.

When I look back on my earlier work it is clear that I had no idea what a finished manuscript should look like. Nor did I understand how to get it to look that way. I didn’t understand how to write to a specified theme.

I didn’t understand how vital a strong, unifying theme is when an editor assembles the works of many authors into one book or magazine. That lack of knowledge on my part was why my work was rejected.

In those days, I always received a standard rejection that boiled down to “Sorry, but no.”

In my experience, boiler-plate rejections are bad only because they don’t tell us why the piece wasn’t acceptable. You never know whether the piece was merely not what the editor was looking for that day or if it is something they wouldn’t take for any reason.

When my work doesn’t make the cut, it’s because I have misread what the editors wanted, not quite nailing the theme as firmly as other writers did. Or, maybe what I thought was a great plot was cliched and boring, or perhaps it was too farfetched.

The key to peace of mind is to understand that most of what you write will NOT resonate with everyone you submit it to. Even if your writing group loved it.

leaves of grass meme

If you put two people in a room and hand them the most thrilling novel you’ve ever read, you’ll get two different opinions.

Good rejections offer a little encouragement. “Try us again.” That means exactly what it says, so the next time you have something you think will fit with that anthology or magazine’s editor, send them a submission.

For me, the best kind of rejections are those that follow a story being optioned for an anthology, and then for one reason or another, the editor releases it back to you. Yes, it is disappointing when a story that was optioned doesn’t get printed after all, because money is nice.  But they are good, because the editor liked it enough to option it, and if you handle that disappointment with grace, they will probably print the next story you send them.

I know it doesn’t make sense, but the more an editor writes in a letter about why they have rejected a piece, the more likely the author will be hurt and angry. This is because it’s a rejection and may contain details about why it wasn’t acceptable for that publication.

I once got a rejection from an anthology in the form of a terse note with one handwritten sentence, signed by the editor. “This subject has been done before.”

I was surprised by the curtness of the note, but after a moment, I realized that was just this particular editor’s way. He’s a busy man but took the time to send me a note instead of a form letter.

The single blunt sentence was a bit off-putting, but I learned a lot from that particular rejection. I have to try harder to imagine original situations instead of trying to write what I think will sell. I have to write from the heart and not worry about whether or not I’m writing a commercially viable story.

War_and_Peace_Franklin_Library_By_Leo_Tolstoy_First_Edition_1981I could have embarrassed myself and responded childishly, but that would have been foolish and self-defeating. When I really thought about it, I realized that particular plot twist had been done many times before. I thanked him for his time because I had learned something valuable from that experience.

I still love the concept of that story and the characters, but it’s an unmarketable story the way it was written. I have that tale in a file, and someday I will rewrite it, but with a more imaginative quest for the plot.

We must have a care about the way we behave. We are judged by how we act and react in every professional interaction. If you respond to a peer’s criticism without cooling down and thinking it through, you risk irreparable damage to your career.

You really don’t want your name to be a prominent entry on that editor’s “no way in hell” list.

An editor’s personal response that is a rejection means they have read your work and gone to some trouble for you.

DO NOT respond to the letter with a flame-mail, and DO NOT bad-mouth that editor or publication in your favorite writers’ forums. Editors are also authors, and they have friends who are authors. They may be involved with the same forums and all the many social platforms you are, so have a care what you say online.

They’re just like the rest of us—and they’ve experienced their share of rejection. If you respond publicly and unprofessionally, innocent bystanders will remember you and won’t want to work with you either.

But what if you received a request for revisions? Don’t be insulted! Celebrate and get cracking. Make those revisions. Do what that editor has asked and make no complaint.

When an editor wants changes, they like the work but can see how it could be made stellar. Be a professional and work with them. You might learn something.

Finally, never be less than gracious to the editor when you communicate with them.

My Coffee Cup © cjjasp 2013Treat all your professional contacts with courtesy, no matter how angry you are. Allow yourself some time to cool off. Don’t have a tantrum and immediately respond with an angst-riddled rant.

Sometimes we forget that how we interact online with others is public information and is visible to the world. When an interested reader Googles our author name, our online interactions and petty tantrums on Goodreads, Twitter, and every other public forum will be available for eternity.

Be respectful, even if the magazine or anthology you were rejected from is a minor player in the publishing world. Don’t say, “Well, that editor’s a nobody.”

Every famous editor/author begins as a nobody. All editors receive work that must be rejected.

How you respond to criticisms and rejections is where you have the chance to cross the invisible line between amateur and professional. Always take the high ground. If an editor has sent you a detailed rejection, it’s appropriate to respond with a simple “thank you for your time.”

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The Farmer’s Market, Volcanic Tofu, and Revisions #amwriting #writerlife

We had an exceptionally wet January here in my area of the Pacific Northwest. Usually, we get 8.19 inches (208 mm) of rain in January. But this year, we received 10.78 inches (273.8 mm) of precipitation. Some days, it just bucketed down.

MyWritingLife2021February here in my little town was dryer than usual, far less rainy than in other parts of the Northwest. We have seen the sun much more than usual over the last two weeks, which doesn’t bode well for the summer. I can’t help but think of the horrible heat we had last June. We don’t like it when it gets up to 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43.3 Celsius). It’s literally hell when you realize most people here don’t have air conditioning in their homes. Up through the 1980s, we never needed it, as summers rarely topped 80 degrees (26.6).

But it’s still early March, and Saturday morning was cool and sunny, and a perfect day to go to the Farmers Market in Olympia. The local farms and greenhouses had a good selection of early organic vegetables. It was crowded with folks like us, masked and keeping a respectful distance, but all of us were hoping for good bargains.

512px-Igelstachelbart,_Hericium_erinaceusEdible mushrooms of all sorts abounded. One I hadn’t seen before, the lion’s mane mushroom, was the central feature in the displays of the two local craft fungi growers. It was interesting to look at, but … no.

Not on my plate, please.

However, local wines, hothouse veggies, winter apples, baked goods, carved boxes, silk scarves and hand-dipped candles abounded—the market was full of intriguing things .

Best of all, the musician on stage in the food court was really talented, a brilliant songwriter and guitarist. Great music, and a sunny day–what could top it?

Lunch.

So, we went to our favorite teriyaki restaurant, where I ordered my usual favorite dish, the spicy tofu bowl.

They must have a new cook. I can take a certain amount of culinary heat, and the dish I have grown to love over the last ten years can be tongue-tingling and a bit lip-burning.

But, on a scale of one to five, with one being bland and five the hottest, what I received was at least a ten on the volcanic pepper index.

I couldn’t eat it. But we had fun anyway. Now that I know a different cook is working there, I’ll order the teriyaki tofu bowl next time.

Apples 8-25-2013On the writing front, last week was quite productive. I received the final chapters back for my blended novel from my editor and am now going over the manuscript one last time. This is a merging of the stories of two characters and the events of one overarching plot arc. It’s the parallel stories of two battle mages, a father and son, told from their unique generational viewpoints.

It’s not working as separate books, and in the final book of that series, the protagonists join forces to work together anyway. Since being an indie means I can do whatever I think will improve my product, I decided to put their concurrent stories into one book, telling the story with no repetition of ground already covered.

When deciding whose point of view should be primary in each chapter, I chose the character with the most interesting angle on the action. For the first half, it’s more from John’s point of view, but Edwin’s story kicks into gear in the middle, and they join forces at the end, preparing for the final book. It’s epic fantasy, so it’s big and sweeping, but still less than half the length of a Robert Jordan or Tad Williams book.

The whole series is getting a facelift. I’m always learning, always trying to improve myself and my work. So, when something doesn’t work, I’m not ashamed of admitting I was wrong and changing it up.

Author-thoughtsThis merger of two novels into one involved cutting a number of chapters out of each and layering the stories so that the timeline moves forward at the right pace and doesn’t repeat what we already know.

I think that with my editor’s sharp eye pointing out the rough spots, we’ve achieved a smooth narrative, but time will tell. I will have the book professionally formatted for paperback, as I just don’t have the patience for that anymore.

So, that’s how I’m spending my spring afternoons, re-editing old works, and putting the final polish on Bleakbourne on Heath, the novel that began life as a weekly serial for a now-defunct website.

It has an actual ending now. Once the final chapters have been run by my writing group, I will publish it as a standalone novel.

Writing and publishing a chapter a week seemed so easy back in 2016 when I had the idea.

It’s not.

Oh, how foolish I was to commit to that! Writing the words is one thing. Words I had in abundance. But I had to edit them, revise them, and proofread them–which left me no time for writing anything else.

I couldn’t keep churning chapters out that pace, and then I didn’t know how to end the thing. So, I ended it with a wedding and left several threads dangling.

This last November, my writing group came through, helping me brainstorm it. With their help and the impetus of NaNoWriMo, I managed to pull off a credible ending.

So far this year, I’ve submitted a short story to the Masters Review short fiction contest. I did this hoping to at least get a critique of some sort. I don’t expect much as fantasy never does well in that particular contest, no matter how deep the themes and ideas presented. They say they want fiction in all genres, but really, they lean more toward literary fiction. The reason I took such a perilous plunge was to get a critique of that story by people who hadn’t read parts of it before, and who don’t know me.

magicAlso, I submitted my 2020 NaNoWriMo novel to PNWA’s literary contest in the category of fantasy and science fiction. All entrants will receive two critiques from that contest, which is why I sent my work in. The readers are people who read fantasy for pleasure. They have never seen my work, and my name isn’t attached to the manuscript. So, their insights will be unbiased, with no need to sugarcoat them.

And finally, on Friday, I had an epiphany. It occurred to me that I’ve been approaching one of my stalled works-in-progress from the wrong angle. This is a story that begs to be told from the first-person point of view. Once I did that, the words flowed.

The way I structure my writing day is to write new words in the morning and make revisions on other works in the afternoon. I don’t stagnate that way, and I feel like I’m making progress.

So, that’s the news from Casa del Jasperson. Fresh veggies, sunshine, and a lot of progress in the writing department.

I hope your winter has gone as well as mine.


Credits and Attributions:

Media:  Lion’s Mane Mushroom, Lebrac, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons.

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Igelstachelbart, Hericium erinaceus.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository,  https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Igelstachelbart,_Hericium_erinaceus.jpg&oldid=490095032 (accessed March 6, 2022).

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Food, culture, and what your characters eat #amwriting

I write books set in fantasy environments. An important part of worldbuilding includes the appropriate food for your level of technology.

feeding your fictional charactersSeveral years ago, I read a fantasy book where the author clearly spent many hours on the food of her fantasy world and the various animals. She gave each kind of fruit, bird, or herd beast a different, usually unpronounceable, name in the language of her fantasy culture.

The clumsy way she inserted the information into the narrative ruined what could have been a great book for me.

The book started out well, and I really liked the characters. It was a portal story, and the group had been dropped into a strange world. One of the local farmhands agreed to be their guide.

However, every time the protagonists halted their journey, they pulled some random fruit with a gobbledygook name out of the bag and waxed poetic about it. As they passed each field or forest, their guide would stop and explain the various fruits, herbs, and creatures in nearly scientific detail.

As a reader, I think Tolkien got the food right when he created the Hobbit and the world of Middle Earth. Food is an essential component of a culture but should be only briefly mentioned. Whether commonplace or exotic, it should be similar enough to known earthly foods to create an atmosphere a reader can easily visualize.

Plow_medievalAs many of you know, I have been vegan since 2012. However, during the 1980s, my second ex-husband and I raised sheep. Most of the meat we served in our home was raised on his family’s communal farm. Our chickens and rabbits roamed their yard and had good lives, and our family’s herd of twenty sheep was managed using simple, old-style farming methods.

We were self-employed in the photography industry and were able to rotate whose turn it was to spend a week caring for the animals. Fortunately, my sister-in-law’s husband was Palestinian. He ensured our sheep were raised and butchered according to halal dietary laws.

I could write a book about those five years, but no one would believe it.

I grew up fishing with my father and have a first-person understanding of what it takes to put meat, fish, or fowl on the table when a supermarket is not an option.

Take my word for this: getting a chicken from the coop to the table is time-consuming, messy, and stinks. We had as many vegetarian meals as we did those featuring meat of some kind.

Village_scene_with_well_(Josse_de_Momper,_Jan_Brueghel_II)

Village Scene with Well, Josse de Momper and Jan Brueghel II PD|100 via Wikimedia Commons.

That experience taught me many things. As far as food goes, in a medieval setting, meat, fish, and fowl won’t be served every day in the average person’s home.

Yes, it is a real job to slaughter and prepare it for the table, but other, more subtle factors come into play, things that affect the logic of your plot.

In the Middle Ages, the wool a sheep could produce in its lifetime was of far more value than the meat you might get by slaughtering it. For that reason, lamb was rarely served. The only sheep that made it to the table were usually rams culled from the herd.

Chickens were no different because you lose the many meals her eggs would have provided once a chicken is dead. Young roosters, however, were culled before they got to the contentious stage and were usually the featured meat in any stew that might be on a Sunday menu. Only one rooster was kept for breeding purposes and if he was too ill-tempered, he went into the stew pot and a young rooster with better manners took his place.

Cattle and goats were also more valuable alive. Cows were integral to a family’s wealth as they were milk producers and sometimes worked as draft animals. Only one bull would be kept intact for breeding purposes in a small herd. The others would be neutered, made into oxen and draft animals that pulled plows, pulled wagons, and did all the work that heavy farm machinery does today.

In medieval times, it was a felony for commoners in Britain to hunt for game on many estates. Poachers were considered thieves and faced hash penalties, horrific by our standards if they were caught.

However, most people were allowed to fish as long as they didn’t take salmon, so fish was on the menu more often than fowl, sheep, or cattle. Eels were a menu staple.

Pieter_Bruegel_the_Elder_-_Peasant_Wedding_-_Google_Art_Project_2

Pieter Bruegel the Elder – Peasant Wedding (1526/1530–1569) via Wikimedia Commons

Therefore, eels, eggs, dried beans and peas, grains, and vegetables were easy and figured most prominently on the menu. Pies of all sorts were the fast-food of the era, often sold by vendors on the street side or in bakeries.

Wheat was rare and expensive. For that reason, the grains most often found in a peasant’s home were barley, oats, and most importantly, rye.

Common vegetables in medieval European gardens were leeks, garlic, onions, turnips, rutabagas, cabbages, carrots, peas, beans, cauliflower, squashes, gourds, melons, parsnips, aubergines (eggplants)—the list goes on and on. And fruits?

Wikipedia says:

Fruit was popular and could be served fresh, dried, or preserved, and was a common ingredient in many cooked dishes. Since sugar and honey were both expensive, it was common to include many types of fruit in dishes that called for sweeteners of some sort. The fruits of choice in the south were lemons, citrons, bitter oranges (the sweet type was not introduced until several hundred years later), pomegranates, quinces, and grapes. Farther north, apples, pears, plums, and wild strawberries were more common. Figs and dates were eaten all over Europe but remained rather expensive imports in the north. [1]

For the most part, my characters eat a medieval/agrarian diet. In medieval times, peasants ate more vegetables, grains, fruits, and nuts than the nobility. The primary source of protein would be eggs and cheese, and fish. Herbal teas, ale, ciders, and mead were also staples of the commoner’s diet because drinking fresh, unboiled water was unhealthy. Medieval brews were more of a meal than today’s beers.

In my world of Waldeyn, the setting for Billy Ninefingers, when food is mentioned, it’s likely to be oat or bean porridge, soup or fish stew, ale or cider, or bread and cheese.

Billy is captain of a mercenary company and an innkeeper, and for most of his story, he does the cooking. I keep the food simple and don’t make too big a deal out of it. The conversations that happen while he is trying to feed the Rowdies are more important than the food. The food is the backdrop.

avacado dinner saladKnowing what to feed your people keeps you from introducing jarring components into your narrative. In Mountains of the Moon, set in the world of Neveyah, my people have a melding of familiar New World ingredients for their diet and do a lot of foraging. For a good list of what this diet might entail, go to this link: Indigenous cuisine of the Americas. You will be amazed at the variety of common foods that originated in the Americas.

When it comes to writing about meals, I feel it’s best to concentrate on the conversations. The food should be part of the scenery, a subtle part of worldbuilding. The conversations that occur around food are the places where new information can be exchanged, things we need to know to move the story forward.


CREDITS AND ATTRIBUTIONS:

[1] Wikipedia contributors, “Medieval cuisine,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Medieval_cuisine&oldid=896980025 (accessed Feb 06, 2022).

The Medieval Plow (Moldboard Plow) PD|100, File:Plow medieval.jpg – Wikipedia (accessed Feb 06, 2022).

Pieter Bruegel the Elder – Peasant Wedding (1526/1530–1569) PD|100 via Wikimedia Commons.

Village Scene with Well, Josse de Momper and Jan Brueghel II PD|100 via Wikimedia Commons.

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Agency and Consequences #amwriting

In my previous post, Agency and Character Development, I briefly mentioned the importance of consequences. It is a word with many uses and connotations.

WritingCraftSeriesAgencyLIRF01302022Let’s look at both the meanings and synonyms for the word consequences.

Consequence (noun)

[kon-seh-kwens]

consequences (plural noun)

[1] The result or effect of an action or condition.

“Many programmers were laid off from work as a consequence of the failing economy.”

Synonyms:

Result, upshot, outcome, sequel, effect, reaction, repercussion, reverberations, ramification, end, end result, conclusion, termination, culmination.

[2] Importance or relevance.

“That’s of no consequence.”

Synonyms:

Importance, import, significance, account, moment, momentousness, substance, note, mark, prominence, value, weightiness, weight, concern, interest, gravity, seriousness.

[3] Social distinction. (Slightly dated usage. Its synonyms are more commonly used.)

“Adelaide Brown was a woman of consequence.”

Synonyms:

Fame, distinction, eminence, preeminence, prominence, repute, reputation, prestige, acclaim, celebrity, note, notability, mark, standing, stature, account, glory, illustriousness.

For today’s post, let’s consider agency and the importance of choice. How will the results of their decisions affect our characters’ lives? After all, a story isn’t interesting without a few self-inflicted complications.

Once again, we will go to J.R.R. Tolkien and look at Bilbo’s choices and his path to becoming the eccentric eleventy-one-year-old hobbit who vanishes (literally), leaving everything, including the One Ring, to Frodo.

ConsequencesLIRF07122020In the morning, after the unexpected (and unwanted) guests leave, he has two choices, to stay in the safety of Bag End, or hare off on a journey into the unknown. He chooses to run after the dwarves, and so begins the real story—how a respectable hobbit became a burglar and became a hero in the process.

The consequences of his decision will shape his entire life afterward. Where he was once a staid country squire, having inherited a comfortable income and existence, he is now expected to steal an important treasure from a dragon. At the outset, that particular job doesn’t seem real. He is beset by problems, one of which is his general unfitness for the task. He’s always been well-fed, never had to exert himself much, and suddenly, his opinions carry no weight.

Bilbo’s hidden sense of adventure emerges early when the company encounters a group of trolls. He is supposed to be a thief, so he is sent to investigate a strange fire in a forest. Reluctantly, he agrees. Upon reaching the blaze, he observes that it is a cookfire for a group of trolls.

Bilbo has reached a fork in the path of life. He must make a choice: the smart thing would be to turn around at that point and warn the dwarves. However, his ego feels the need to do something to prove his worth. “He was very much alarmed as well as disgusted; he wished himself a hundred miles away—yet somehow he could not go straight back to Thorin and Company empty-handed.” [1] Bilbo feels the need to impress the Dwarves and makes decisions he comes to regret.

In the process of nearly getting everyone eaten and having to be rescued by Gandalf, he discovers several historically important weapons. One of them is Sting, a blade that fits Bilbo perfectly as a sword.

At first, Sting has no name, a long knife that the hobbit Bilbo Baggins discovers in the cave of trolls. Gandalf and the dwarf Thorin also find their respective swords, Glamdring and Orcrist.

Although it is only a dagger, its length corresponds to a short sword for a creature the size of the hobbit. It turns out that, like the swords of Gandalf and Thorin, this dagger was forged by the elves of Gondolin in the First Age and possesses a magical property—it shines with a blue glow when orcs are close.

the hobbitThe blade does not acquire its name until later in the adventure, after Bilbo, lost in the forest of Mirkwood, uses it to kill a giant spider and rescue the Dwarves. This is when Bilbo’s decisions become more thoughtful, and his courageous side begins to emerge.

Decisions and consequences shape Bilbo’s character and force his growth. His experiences and bad choices along the way have consequences that shape how he thinks. As the Dwarves continue to get into trouble, he makes plans for their rescue and considers what may or may not go wrong before implementing them. He doesn’t know it, but he thinks like a warrior instead of a staid country squire.

Consequences force the character arc. Sometimes the decisions our characters make as we are writing them surprise us. But if those decisions make the story too easy, they should be discarded.

We, as their creator, must take over, cut or rewrite those scenes, and force the story back on track.


Credits and Attributions:

[1] Quote from The Hobbit, or There and Back Again, by J.R.R. Tolkien, published 1937 by George Allen & Unwin, Ltd.

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The Business Side of the Business, part 2: Inventory #writerlife

The pandemic will end someday. Whether you are traditionally published or indie, if you intend to make personal appearances at local bookstores, fairs, or conventions, you will have an inventory of books on hand to manage and account for at the end of the year. This can be quite a headache if you have more than one or two books to cart around with you.

Its a BusinessBut more importantly, even if you are traditionally published, you pay for the books you sell at shows. 

The good businessperson has a spreadsheet of some sort to account for this side of the business, as it will be part of your annual business tax report. An excellent method for assembling the information you will generate for your tax report is discussed the previous post, The Business Sequence for Writers. Ellen King Rice has given us a great framework for keeping our business records straight.

There is only one more skill to have, and this is only for those who intend to sell books in person. A wise author understands that good records ensure a successful business and sets up the bookkeeping system before they go to book fairs. They have a list of the stock on hand, what books are on reorder, the day they were ordered, and how long it takes for them to ship. Also, you should keep an account of your cost for each book, both for tax purposes and insurance purposes, if the stock of books is lost or damaged in a house fire or flood.

You can do this on notebook paper with a pencil, a ruler, and a calculator. However, a green or yellow ledger book with eight to twelve columns is already set up for you to begin using.

I began working as a bookkeeper in 1982, using the industry-standard tools of the trade for the time. We noted each transaction with a red or black pencil in a green or yellow ledger book of varying sizes (2 to 32 columns). Then, we used rulers or yardsticks to ensure that we tracked a particular item on the correct line across all the columns. The handiest electronic device on my desk was the calculator with a printout tape.

The tools for this method of accounting are still available in the stationery section of any store and are quite affordable.

I use Excel for all my accounting purposes, but no matter how you create your spreadsheet, each title you have on hand to take to book fairs or shows has several costs associated with it. What follows are several screenshots of a simple way to organize a spreadsheet:

Picture1

The first column contains the heading Titles: under that heading, list each book you take to shows by the title. We will use Huw the Bard as our example book.

On the same line as the title, working to the right in column 2, write unit cost. This is the price you pay for each copy you must take to a show and varies from title to title by the length of the book and the trim size. On the same line as the book’s title, write the cost you pay KDP or Ingram Sparks or your publisher for that book: $4.69

Column 3 is the current stock-on-hand at the end of the taxing quarter: Quantity in stock: 19

Column 4 is the sum of column three times column two: Inventory value: $89.11. That is what you would have to pay to replace those books. It is also what some Departments of Revenue may tax you on at the end of the year if the value of that stock is over a certain limit, say $5,000.00. My stock on hand never exceeds that limit.

This is why retail stores have end-of-the-year sales. They need to offload their inventory to keep their taxes low.

Column 5 is the retail price. This is what the book sells for at bookstores: $12.99. You set your retail price to cover the cost of replacing the book, with some revenue to cover table and vendor fees at shows and conventions, and still allow for a small profit.

Column 6 is the special show price (if you discount your books at shows): $12.00.

Column 7 is the retail value of your stock on hand. It is the sum of column 3 times column 6: $228.00.

Did you have to collect sales tax from your customers? When you apply for your business license, you will receive a pamphlet with all the taxing jurisdictions in your licensing area and their tax rates. These range between .08 and .11 here in Thurston County. Washington State has no income tax, so all our state’s revenues come from businesses and sales taxes collected at the time of purchase. Make a note of the city or county where the books were sold, as you may be required to forward the taxes collected to the Department of Revenue. If you are smart, you will make another page with these columns:

Picture2

At the bottom of the page for both spreadsheets, total each column. That will give you the stock expenses for all your titles. There will be no scrambling at the end of the quarter for Business and Occupation taxes if you live in a state like Washington State or at the end of the year if you live elsewhere. Be smart and set the money collected as sales tax aside because it is not yours and shouldn’t be considered part of your income.

That way, you will have it at the end of the year if you only do a few shows a year like me, or quarterly if you are out there doing shows and signings every week.

The bookkeeping side of your business should take less than an hour after each show. If you have kept your spreadsheets updated, filling out annual business tax forms for your state and federal agencies will go quickly. You will have all the numbers you need to back up your reports if you are audited.

Also (and this is important), you will know the exact number of books you have on hand in each title. You will know when it’s time to reorder more stock. There is a two-to-three-week lag in printing and shipping time, so ordering books in advance is critical. You don’t want to waste money on stock you have plenty of, but you need to have a supply of your better sellers.

My personal spreadsheet is a little more detailed and is saved in the cloud as are all my business and other records. It looks like this:

Dummy_Inventory_Spreadsheet

Something we rarely consider is the random natural disaster, but we must be prepared. If something should happen to your stock of books due to theft, fire, or flood, you will be able to claim your business loss. Many authors are more prolific than I am. I have only 12 titles, including several anthologies that my work was published in. For most of us, replacing the stock of 1 to 30 titles is an expense that is difficult to carve out of the family budget unless we have sold enough to cover that cost.

Theft is rare, as people are usually quite decent at conventions and trade shows. I’ve only had one book stolen from a table at a show in all these years—a $15.00 (show cost) loss (or $6.80 my cost).

While it disturbed me on one level, I was a bit honored that someone wanted my book that badly. The experience left me confused as to how I was supposed to feel. But on the good side, it was nice to know that shoplifters are readers too!

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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

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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, as illustrated in the previous graphic, the short-story story arc.

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.

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