Saturday, May 21, 2022

Can You Start Writing Before Knowing the End of a Story?

The short answer is "sure," but the longer one would be, "Start if your characters and their motives are known, as well as the setting and how it contributes to the story."

If you write series, these items would be clear, but that's not a green light to meander as you write. My suggestion would be that you know at least these four things:

1) The main characters' regular routine(s) -- because you are about to disrupt their lives. How do they spend their time? What matters to them? Who do they love or especially dislike?

2) Understanding of what will disturb their daily life. It doesn't have to shatter their routines, but it has to spur them to action of some sort. Action does not have to be dramatic -- the outcome it generates does have to matter to readers.

3) The ability to plan ahead at least a few chapters. 

4) Options for how the main characters can resolve the situation/tragedy/romantic break-up so they can get back to their routines -- even if those will be altered.

I've adapted a phrase I learned when writing nonfiction reports. It is: If you don't know where you are going, how will you know when you get there? 

In fiction, if you don't have an idea of where you are heading, how can you prepare the characters and readers for what they need to know as the book progresses? For example, you could add foreshadowing later, but that can result in choppy writing. 

I usually do these things and have at least a couple pages of notes about where I want the story to go. Sometimes an idea seems so good I jump in and start writing. That usually results in a stall after 15 or 20,000 words. Then I do some more heavy thinking.

Leaping into an idea can also lead you to think that's where the story should start. That's not necessarily so. It's where you needed to start writing, but it could end up as the middle of the book after you figure out more aspects of the story. 

I'm somewhere in the middle of the panster/outliner equation. I write a better book when I do more planning, but I'm not capable of doing a full outline. Too impatient.

When I do a post, I look for outside resources to refer readers to. K.M. Weiland's comprehensive blog and writings often have something. Lo and behold, this week she has Six Ways to Find Your Best Ideas Before You Start Writing.

It's a good approach. Most writers have lots of ideas pinging around in their brain. Weiland offers a thought process to filter through them.

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To learn more about Elaine, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.  

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Mobi is Mosey'n On

I often encourage readers do download MOBI files from Smashwords and email them (via Amazon's Kindle email) to their Kindle to read. I can thus easily give away free books even if they aren't on Kindle Unlimited.

That will be a no-no by the end of 2022. 

New Kindle ereaders will only support epub, which has become the gold standard for ebook formats. I'll have to tell readers to send themselves epub files, which they can download from Smashwords.

MOBI, which has been unique to Kindle, has been the platform's software since I started publishing in late 2009 and early 2010. It feels a bit like losing a notebook that has all the information you need for a test.

For authors uploading books in MS Word (as I do), there will be no difference. And I can still mail myself long grocery lists as PDF files (they arrive as documents, not books).

This is the email I received from Amazon. It's geared to customers who email things to their Kindle, not authors.

Dear Kindle Customer,

Thank you for using the Send to Kindle service to send personal documents to your Kindle library. We wanted to let you know that starting August 2022, you’ll no longer be able to send MOBI (.mobi, .azw) files to your library. Any MOBI files already in your Kindle library will not be affected by this change.

MOBI is an older file format and won’t support the newest Kindle features for documents. Any existing MOBI files you want to read with our most up-to-date features for documents will need to be re-sent in a compatible file format.

Also, compatible formats now include EPUB (.epub), which you can send to your library using your Send to Kindle email address. We’ll also be adding EPUB support to the free Kindle app for iOS and Android devices and the Send to Kindle desktop app for PC and Mac.

If you have any questions, please visit our help page or contact our Customer Service team.

The Kindle Team

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Tuesday, April 26, 2022

You Can't Write Well if You Don't Read

 "If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that."

--Stephen King

I wish there were a way to place that thought in the mind of every three-year-old. It's a time before the instant gratification of online and other digital games replace the love of stories to be savored. 

When adults or older siblings read to them, younger kids learn words -- stories -- go beyond the confines of their home and can be shared. I've never met a young child who didn't enjoy being read to. 

All of this leads to the ability to think about the world around them and someday helps foment critical thinking. It can start early -- watch a child's face as they try to figure out how to unlock a door or place blocks on top of each other. Eventually they find out that if they put the big blocks on the bottom, blocks can be stacked.

We don't all have to write fiction, but we have to convey our ideas whether we paint houses, build medical devices, or play the guitar. The key to doing any of this well is reading.

I have little time for pleasure reading now, so I play audiobooks in the car. I'm just getting into using earbuds to listen to books via apps on my phone.  

I feel sorry for people who don't care whether they find ways to discover new books. They won't learn to write well. And if they can't do that, it will be hard to succeed (defined in whatever way feels right) in any endeavor.

Every time you hear a child dismiss the idea of reading, ask them what they'll do if the power is out for a few days. If they have books, they'll never be bored.

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Sunday, April 10, 2022

Subscription Services and Libraries Can Save Money for Readers

 Everyone is trying to squeeze an extra quarter from a dollar these days. For me that means nearly all books have to come from the library or the used books in my library's small cafe-bookstore. I make exceptions for reading for my book club (if I can't get a book another way) and books of close friends.

Someone may say, "But why don't you want the new book by [insert name such as Tess Gerritsen, James Patterson, Daniel Silva, or Carolyn Haines). I do want them. But do I need them right this minute? Probably not.

In fact, some terrific authors make their ebooks available through subscriptions services such as Kindle Unlimited or Scribd. For a fee of $9.99 (Kindle) or $11.99 (Scribd) a reader has access to millions of books at no added charge. 

The sign-up and selection processes are simple. Scribd includes audiobooks.

These services have fees, but the ebooks borrowed from your library are free -- for the cost of a (free) library card. Local librarians can guide you through their processes. For background information, head to Overdrive, one of the best-known services. 

Libraries have access to some of the more popular authors who don't place books on commercial services. As with paper copies, libraries have a certain number of each ebook or audiobook, so you may encounter a waiting list. Isn't that better than paying $28.99 for a paper copy?

Subscription or library services don't keep income from authors. For example, Kindle Unlimited (KU) pays authors by pages read. Via Smashwords, my books are available through Overdrive and Scribd and I'm paid monthly.

I keep certain box sets and a few other books on KU, and all my books can be borrowed via Scribd and Overdrive.

Mostly, I read audiobooks. I have to be in the car at least 45 minutes per day, and that's a lot of reading. I save money by borrowing library CD books or getting ebooks via CHIRP, which always has a few for $1.99 and $2.99.

You may be saying, "But what if I want books not available through a service." You can buy them or go to the library. The big question, for me, is "How many books can you read in a year?" I bet the various bargain or free services can keep you in books for a lifetime.

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Monday, March 28, 2022

Words Matter

I put this on Twitter this morning.

Mean humor is an oxymoron and has no place at the Oscars or anywhere else. People like #ChrisRock and #RickyGervais should try FUNNY jokes. We could all ask ourselves why we laugh at mean 'jokes.'

I certainly don't think we should hit one another when we disagree. But I get standing up for someone who is pained by an illness or disability. It is never humorous to mock someone. Ask any kid who's been bullied.

Largely in America, mean and mocking humor has been more popular than true humor, but the Internet has helped spread the habit.

As long as we laugh at meanness, people will continue to tell those 'jokes.'

To be clear, Chris Rock was not paying a compliment to Demi Moore, who was gorgeous in GI Jane -- as she always is. He was saying something unkind about Jada Pinkett Smith, who has alopecia, an auto-immune disease that makes hair growth difficult and spotty. You had only to watch Jada's face as he said it to know it was mean.

Some may say it's political correctness to object to mocking people with an illness. I disagree, as many did a few years ago when a presidential candidate made fun of a reporter with cerebral palsy. Why is Chris Rock's mockery of Jada Pinkett Smith any different?

Think about it. Words matter.

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Saturday, March 19, 2022

Getting to the Point

I've been told that at times my writing is too sparse. A reader won't want to know only that a sleuth walked into a large room with antiques from several eras, they'll think I should describe several of them. 

I can see doing that if it relates to the plot. I think it was one of John Sandford's Virgil Flowers books that featured a large antique desk. Fortunately, someone knew the design well enough to know that if you pushed a button, it could reveal a secret compartment. Thus, the detailed description of the desk was very relevant. Otherwise (to my way of thinking) who cares how many drawers were on the left or right?

Readers. Especially in historical fiction. How else can one know about a style of carriage or what a Victorian house looks like?

I like to let readers know things that reach the point-of-view character's senses. Are there odors in a house? Do the dead flies seen on a windowsill say something about how long a house has been vacant? If it's really cold out, it matters if the sleuth wears a sweater or a parka.

It matters if a character is tall or short, black or white, or if they speak with an accent. And many other things. If someone is a fastidious dresser, then they'd never pair a brown purse with blue shoes or a patterned tie with a striped suit. But if fashion choices aren't integral to the plot, how much does a reader need to know about an outfit?

I do mention a character's clothes some because color gives a good image. Also, the ghost in the Family History Mystery Series (books 2 and forward) can change clothes by thinking about it. His wardrobe choices add humor or occasionally let a reader know something before the sleuth (Digger) knows.

For the genre fiction I write now, I think I'll stick with more minimal description. More may come later...

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Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Start a Book -- Even if You Don't Know How

Authors can be asked what got them to take the idea of being an author to the reality of a published book. My standard answer is that you have to stop thinking about it and start writing -- write anything related to the story.

What does "write anything" mean?

You may have ideas for scenes, a conversation, or even the ending -- the latter is good to know, but not necessary when you start a book. What stops many writers is seeing how to build from scene to scene to something cohesive. 

Just write the scenes. They don't need to connect, you can change a character's name later, and you can reorder scenes. You can't do any of that until words go on the page.

The one thing you need be certain of is whose story you are telling. If you write mysteries, is it the sleuth's story or that of the murderer? You may have both points of view, but one is likely more prominent, and that determines a lot.

Do remember you aren't writing a screenplay in which the camera bounces from person to person. If you think you need ten points of view, you likely don't. It does depend on the story, but keep in mind that the more points of view you express the less there is to reveal over time. After all, the reader knows what most of the characters are thinking.

Here's a helpful article by Angela Ackerman on K.M. Weiland's blog. Ms. Ackerman tackles writing when you have no idea where to start. We've all been there and may stray back to that position from time to time.  

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Monday, February 28, 2022

From Resolving Childhood Conflict to Peace

My parents made many smart decisions about how their kids should behave. They were the opposite of mellow in many respects, but they approached parenting calmly. They were also older when they had their first kid (29 and 36, which was almost elderly in 1951). That maturity may have been their guide.

Their egos weren't involved in parenting or our behavior, they just figured out the best way to do things. They may not have always agreed, but they didn't argue about it in front of us.

Their best decision? If we squabbled, my mom would say, "Oh, brothers and sisters don't fight." Then she'd point us to a way to resolve what we were arguing about. 

A child psychologist might say she reduced our ability to resolve conflict, but that would be incorrect. We all talk first, no matter the life situation. And we five are close friends.

Since I can't clone my parents' philosophy (or insert it in the parents of political leaders) I've done what I always do when I have a problem. I look to books.

Here are some articles or books about helping children resolve conflict and, more broadly, talking about what peace looks like.

Say What's Wrong and Make it Right    Amazon    Barnes and Noble

Please feel free to put other examples in the Comments section. 

Peace be with you.

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Friday, February 25, 2022

What Does a Publisher Do With and For You?

If your knowledge of the publishing process comes from television shows or reading about book publicity tours, you know something about how publishers work with authors who sell a lot of books. Not everyone gets those services, though publishers always want an author to succeed.

What are some things a new author can expect? Publisher's wear a lot of hats. I divide them into acquisition, production, and marketing.


  • Read a draft your agent submits.
  • Let the agent know they are interested.
  • Present the contract for your agent and you to review.
  • Negotiate to get to a contract that the author and publisher agree on in terms of – royalties, submission deadlines, author input to final product and cover, publisher contribution to marketing, number of (free) copies to the author, foreign rights negotiation, and more.
  • Let the literary world know you are under contract and when your book will appear.


If you think your work is done when a publisher accepts your book, think again. Among the things to expect are requests for:

  • Revision, usually with detailed information on what the publisher believes will improve quality and marketability.
  • Information needed to fact-check your book. Or, the publisher could ask you to submit this material. (More for nonfiction)
  • Contact information if others need to sign a release saying it is okay to quote them or refer to them in any way.
  • Consultation on cover design.
  • Review of galleys – edited copy the publisher has prepared.

Publishers spend a lot of money to get your book to readers, and they want it to be perfect. It may seem that some requests detailed, even picky, but authors need to remember that they are one of many.


A contract specifies what the publisher will do to promote a book.
Ultimately, authors do much promotion. A publisher will do more when the book is released, and an author wants readers to be continually aware of their books.

Try to get the publisher to agree to at least do the following:

  • Send press releases to trade publications or local media, with follow-up calls from the publisher’s representative.
  • Give you well designed bookmarks and/or other marketing tools, preferably well before a book is out.
  • Provide you with author’s copies that you can use for marketing. Ask for fifty and be prepared to receive fewer.
  • Send copies to book review publications or websites, including review writers in local media.
  • Maintain an active social media campaign through at least Twitter, Instagram, BookTok,and Facebook posts.
  • Create a short video and load it to You Tube.
  • Talk to you a few times a year about how well the book is selling and if there is more promotion they want you to do. 

Your role in marketing is key. Suggest local media to notify, visit local bookstores, and encourage local libraries to purchase your books. If you stress your willingness to work hard to keep the book in front of potential readers, it could help you secure a publisher.


Don’t be a pain in the tailbone to work with. You want to be firm when needed, but mostly you want to be a joy to work with. Whiners don’t get a second contract.

It may sound corny, but the fictional author Jessica Fletcher (played by Angela Landsbury) in Murder She Wrote, is a good example of a no-nonsense author who is pleasantly businesslike. 

For every author selected there are thousands who would love to work with a publisher – whether one of the big five, a university press, or a niche publisher. If you are a royal pain but your book sells well, you may get a second contract. You’ll also get a reputation for being difficult. 

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Monday, February 14, 2022

Varied Types of Publishers

When an author says "my publisher" it's a great feeling. If you're considering whether to seek a publisher or self-publish, it helps to understand the different types of publishers and how the process works. For any method or firm, ask other authors to share their experiences or at least get information through a Google search.

I recommend Writer’s Market, an annual publication. It has good overview articles and describes many publishers. If you aren’t sure about spending money on the book, examine a copy in your library. 

Major (Trade) Publishing Houses. Termed the “Big Five,” all are in New York. The are:

  • Penguin/Random House
  • Hachette Book Group
  • Harper Collins
  • Simon and Schuster
  • Macmillan

They have absorbed many smaller publishers, so some of their imprints will sound familiar. For example, St. Martin’s is part of Macmillan and Little Brown is within Hachette.

Small Presses, which often cater to literary fiction or specific genres. Jane Friedman's blog has a good article about them.

University Presses, which publish more nonfiction than fiction, and generally the latter only if it has some ties to their school or region.

Textbook Publishers. Their contacts and contracts with school systems make them important to deal with if you want to publish a text.

Independent or “Really Small” Presses. Some are newer and use print-on-demand technology. Others have been around for years, but publish only a few titles per year.

Hybrid Publishing Firms. These help an author with some of the steps, for a fee. They may sell authors’ books on their website and place them on other retail sites, but authors usually do most marketing. If you don't intend to publish a lot of books or really don't want to tackle self-publishing, these could be an option. 

Vanity Presses. They are essentially printers who, for what I consider a large fee, print books and mail copies to the client. The author promotes and distributes the books. Avoid them. (Some now call themselves hybrid publishers, so you need to watch for this.)

The major publishers give an author the visibility most dream of and can get books in any bookstore. Don’t give up if your agent can’t get you a Big Five contract. Some of the best authors will not make it to these ranks, but their books are well read.

And there's the important word -- agent. All of the major publishing houses require them. Essentially, an agent separates the wheat from the chaff for them. At the Writer's Market site there is also a book on literary agents, and Poets and Writers has a good list. Agents have to be picky. They don't represent all kinds of books, and they only get paid if they sell your work.

I sound like a broken record sometimes, but you only get one chance to make a first impression. Whether you're submitting to an agent or publisher, make sure you have a polished product. Equally important, follow their guidelines.

The next article on publishing will focus on issues to consider as you consider a publisher.

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Thursday, January 27, 2022

The Many Hats of a Self-Published Author

You can choose to try to find a traditional publisher or put your work out there yourself. If you want to do the latter, it helps to know what is involved before you make a decision.

Whether you submit to publishers or not, you'll need to work with a professional editor at some point. You don't want to send anything but your best work to a publisher or readers.

If you plan to do one book, hire people to do much of what is described here. There's no need to learn most of this, and some editors and formatters are reasonably priced. (Check the Smashwords List.)

  1. Put yourself in a chair and finish the first draft of your book.
  2. Obtain feedback from several sources and revise the book.
  3. Let the work sit for enough time to gain a fresh respective when you reread and revise again.
  4. Work with at least a proofreader (and an editor if you can afford one) to make your book the best it can be.
  5. Decide where to initially publish the book – Amazon only, all major online retailers, paperbacks at one or multiple sites?
  6. Determine whether you need to register as a publisher with Bowker and buy ISBNs
  7. Understand the copyright system. (Note: Under the laws of most nations, your work is copyright as soon as you put it on paper.)
  8. Decide whether to do all steps yourself or work with a hybrid publisher, who assists with self-publishing steps. If you choose this route, do your research and have a lawyer review the proposed contract. The following steps assume you will do all the work yourself, or contract out a few steps and oversee the work.
  9. Begin work with a cover designer by first expressing your ideas for a cover in a paragraph or two. Allow the designer to be creative, within some basic parameters.
  10. Develop a marketing plan, for online and real-world marketing.
  11. Develop a master digital file by stripping the formatting and reinserting it. (Or hire someone to do the formatting. If you do that, only hand it over when you have no more editing to do.)
  12. Approve the cover.
  13. Adapt the master digital file (by saving it with a different name) for each website that will sell your book.
  14. Load the digital book first to Amazon, and carefully review its presentation in the digital previewer. You are not editing text, simply looking at format (such as text size).
  15. Make formatting or layout changes as needed and reload the book.
  16. Choose a date for final publication, preferably in two to three months or longer. (This gives you time to garner sales throughout the preorder phase, thus giving the book a higher rank when it is available for purchase.)
  17. Load the final version of digital book to Amazon and other sites, possibly using an aggregator such as Smashwords or Draft2Digital, so you load fewer times. 
  18. Begin or continue formatting the paperback. 
  19. Load the paperback to a site such as Amazon or Barnes and Noble Press (both free) or IngramSpark (some fees). Proof the paperback, using a paper copy at least once, and digital copy for paperback revisions. Formatting only -- editing is finished!
  20. Consider publishing the paperback two weeks or so before the final digital release date, so you can order copies for the press and bookstores.
  21. Include in initial marketing an email blast to friends and fans who you know will make early purchases. 
  22. Follow this with massive tweeting, and other social media posts (Facebook Groups, Instagram, Pinterest, TikTok, even You Tube).
  23. Implement the rest of your marketing plan (which you have already started). Work in the real world of local and (if appropriate) national media. 
  24. Encourage readers to leave reviews for your books online and try to get local media to review online or in print versions.
  25. Start your next book.
  26. Never stop marketing this one, even if you don’t work on it every day.
Ready to tear your hair out? Don't, you want to look good if you're interviewed on local media. 

The next post on this broad publishing topic will discuss the varied types of publisher.

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Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Thinking Through Self-Publishing

Over the next few weeks, I'm going to write posts on the benefits of self-publishing and working with a traditional publisher -- whether a large one or a small press. All methods to reach readers can work, but the author's work (when you have your best draft) is different.

This piece deals with the advantages of self-publishing. 

Self-publishing permits an author to control book content and production, as well as how a book or other product reaches readers. It is a weighty responsibility, though if you share it with others – critique groups, an editor, a cover designer – you are not working alone.

Don’t think of it as what to do if you don’t find a publisher. You may want to find one, but I suggest that you set a time limit on your search. You decide when to stop looking – not your spouse or best friend, perhaps not even your agent. 

If you have an agent, listen to them carefully. They know the markets.

Though you want to be aware of available books on a topic, you have an advantage a traditional publisher or small press does not. You are not comparing your work to twenty proposed manuscripts on their desks. 

You present your idea or story directly to readers who will be interested in it. You won’t have invested tens of thousands of dollars in market research, printing costs, or advertising. It costs little to no cash to self-publish – even paperbacks. (You do want an editor -- hold a rummage sale if you don't have the cash.)

The final point in your favor is that the income from your books will be yours. You’ll do some extra work at first, but it will be worth it over time.

Always keep in mind that you don’t want your book in print, whether digitally or on paper, before it is polished. You worked on your book, article, essay, or short story for a long time. Let it be a quality product.

You only get one chance to make a first impression.

The next article will deal with some of the work involved in self-publishing. The one after that will talk about advantages of working with a publisher.

Don't stop writing!

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Saturday, January 15, 2022

Shortening Web Addresses

Web address are long and who wants to look at a 50-character (or longer) link in a tweet or email? You can now use one of several services to shrink them.

I use Bitly -

Another good one is

There are others, but most authors I know use these two.

Both have a free option. At Bitly, you can pay to tailor your Urls so they have your name or publishing company in the shortened url. In fact, if you create a Url for a book listed at Amazon, the tiny url will start with amzn. Others (for your free Bitly account) will be a mix of letters and numbers, though all with start with

 The basic steps are:

1)      Create an account

2)      Click something that will say “Create” or “Add long Url.”

3)      Enter the long url.

4)      Press something that will say “Create Link” or “Continue.”

5)    Copy the link and enter it in a tweet or save it to a document on your computer.

6)      Edit the link name if that is an option.

I edit all my shortened Urls so the list that Bitly automatically creates for me is easy to use. You could name them so they all start with the name of a site (Nook Least Trodden Ground) or start with the book name (which you would likely abbreviate (Least for Nook, Least for ibooks).

It may seem like a pain to create a separate document to store these when they are stored at the site where you make them. I don't, but what I do have is a list of tweets I will reuse. That way I don't have to retype them. Those tweets store the shortened urls.

Anything to save time. 

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