Friday, March 29, 2019

Publishing, publishing...

By Abir 

What’s the most important thing a publisher can do for an author?

Good question!

A publisher has the ability to change an author’s life, transporting them from the humdrum daily grind and propelling them to international stardom and the riches that go with it. The problem is, it doesn’t always work out that way, and even when it does, there’s generally an awful lot of hard work that goes into the process.

As my partners in crime have pointed out already this week, it’s hard to underestimate the importance of what a publisher brings to an author – basically everything from the editorial process, through artwork, physical production, shipping and marketing, to softer factors such as instilling self-confidence and helping a writer to craft and hone their trade. They’re absolutely right, and there’s not much I can add to that.

So instead here’s a link to a piece I wrote for the Penguin website, detailing a few things I learned as a debut author about the publishing process which I thought other new authors might find useful.

I’ll end by saying that for me, the most important thing has been the editorial process. Editors are often the unsung heroes of publishing, and I often say that my first editor taught me how to write. I handed in the first draft of my first book, thinking I’d done a decent job and was surprised when it came back covered the red ink of a million comments. Once I’d gotten over the shock, I realised just how much I had to learn, and that process, of taking her comments and recrafting the novel for the second draft, was a very steep learning curve. But the book was the better for it and I was a better writer because of it. 

Thursday, March 28, 2019

The Plover and the Crocodile

What’s the most important thing a publisher can do for an author?

From Jim

Milliners make hats. They don’t fly airplanes or sell insurance. Writers write books or stories. They’re not responsible for editing their work. They don’t design the covers for their books, and they don’t distribute them to bookstores. And they sure as hell don’t act as a marketing department for their work.

Oh, wait... Yes, they do. Never mind. Let’s start over.

What is the most important thing publishers do? There are many steps, tasks, and responsibilities involved in the production of a book. Consider the process of making a meal. You must assemble the necessary ingredients, prepare them, and cook them. Which step is most important? The cooking? Sure, but what if there’s nothing to cook? Conversely, how will your chicken Kiev turn out if you serve it raw? No, no task is the most important. They’re all essential to a successful product. 

Publishers don’t write the books they produce. That’s the author’s job. The compact between author and publisher—much like the one between the plover bird and the crocodile—requires a division of labor and responsibilities that results in a mutually beneficial outcome. The plover agrees to pick the croc’s teeth clean, thereby promoting better dental hygiene and—one can only assume—the croc’s positive self-image. The croc, in turn, agrees not to eat the plover, a concession that much improves the bird’s quality of life. It’s a symbiotic collaboration not unlike the partnership between authors and publishers.

So what are the essential tasks that publishers must perform in order to fulfill their end of the bargain? Everything the author is ill-equipped or unprepared to do, including editing, design, distribution, and promotion.

Never try to publish a book or story without a good editor. You’ll almost certainly regret it. And so will your readers. Think of an editor as a hairdresser. You grow the hair, she cuts and styles it. Even if you have a good eye and are adept at performing exacting, dexterous tasks while looking at things reversed in a mirror, you still can’t see the back of your head. That’s where your readers will find the errors slipped through the cracks: the equivalent of the back of your head. You know your own work too well. The human mind is built to anticipate what comes next. That’s why missing words such as “a,” “the”, “his,” etc. sometimes slip past us. Misspellings, too, not to mention plot holes, anachronisms, and logic errors in your stories. It’s the publisher’s job to provide that second set of eyes. A third set, too, if possible. If your publisher isn’t performing this task for you, it may be time to find a new publisher.

This includes layout, fonts, paper stock, and cover art. Most authors aren’t graphic artists and can’t produce a decent-looking cover any more than a cat can lay an egg. Publishers hire artists to create compelling covers that should inspire readers to buy. High-quality printing and professional artwork make all the difference where covers are concerned. If your publisher’s nephew is handling the book’s design, it may be time to find a new publisher.

There’s an entire industry that handles the logistics of getting books into readers’ hands at bookstores, online portals, and libraries. Physical and virtual locations across the country and around the world. I wouldn’t know where to begin. A full tank of gas, I suppose. And lots of room in the trunk of my car. You’d need Santa’s sleigh and his magical supply chain to do it on your own. This is the publisher’s job, and if they’re not doing it, it may be time to find a new publisher.

You can’t sell your book if no one knows it’s for sale. Publishers typically make sure reviewers get advance reader copies. They also place adds in magazines, newspapers, and with online booksellers and bloggers.  They broker deals with bookstores, organize giveaways, contests, and carpet bomb social media. They sometimes even foot the bill for signing tours, all in attempts to create a buzz around their books. These are all activities the author can help with, of course, but publishers have the staff and contacts necessary to reach a broader audience. If your publisher isn’t willing or able to publicize your book, it may be time to find a new publisher.

Finally, I believe publishers should work as true partners with their authors. They should understand that both parties will benefit, financially and critically, from the nurturing of the author’s career. It fosters better writing from the author and, as a result, better sales of past and future books. 

If your publisher doesn’t do these things for you, the author, you’re better off publishing for yourself. After all, you’ve already written the book. That’s your biggest job in the process, and the most important one. Publishers do the rest. For that, they take the lion’s share of the revenues generated by your sales. They should earn that share. And if they don’t, it may be time to find a new publisher. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Look who dropped in

What’s the most important thing a publisher can do for an author?

Well, look who I found! Our very own Rachel (RM) Greenaway and Robin Spano. I really miss having them here, so it’s a special treat to have them both make a guest appearance and answer this week’s question. 

Robin is the talent behind the Clare Vengel Undercover novels, and she’s currently working on her fourth novel, only she claims to be doing it extremely slowly.

And Rachel’s the author of the awesome B.C. Blues crime series. The fourth one is Flights and Falls, which was just released on March 16th. Congratulations, Rachel.

Thanks, Dietrich, and thanks for inviting me back to Criminal Minds! I've missed the challenge. This week's question was more troublesome than I expected, and my answer is also a confession.

But here goes:  

What is the most important thing a publisher can do for (this) writer?

A fat advance? No. I'd rather get one I can pay out fast.

Send me on world tours? Would be nice, but I've heard those days are over. So I count myself lucky that I got sent to the NY BEA (was fab!). Any further travels are likely on my own dime. 

Provide more honest feedback? No. That's great on the upswing, but otherwise ignorance is just fine with me.

Cooperate on cover art and other visuals? Very important, but not the most ...

So what is my answer? It finally pinged this morning: My publisher should LOVE MY PUBLISHED BOOKS.

What kind of a stupid answer is that? In my case not so much, because I have this condition -- and I'm sure I'm not alone -- unofficially called finishtabookaphobia.

Strange to fear my own finished books, because the WIP is all joy and light. From conception to ISBN I love that thing to death. I edit it a billion times. I lie awake considering its width and breadth, its cadence and credibility, what pitfall to place before my hero next, et cetera.

But as soon as it's done and out of my control, this cold feeling clamps over my heart. Doubt. Even dread. It's like the child I've nurtured has become a slightly menacing stranger. 

I know that's wrong, and a bad attitude, something to do with fear of failure, and it's something I need to fix. But in the meantime, until I get some psychological help, I need my partner in creativity, my publisher, to take custody of that freshly published work and give it the unconditional love it needs to hit the market.

So in a nutshell that's my answer: Cherish and promote is the most important thing a publisher can do for its authors, at least when the author is not so great at doing it on their own. — R.M.

And here’s Robin:

Q – What is the most important thing a publisher can do for an author?

A – Help the author write a better book.

Promotional help is great too, but books sell through word of mouth. If a great book gets read by three initial readers, and two of those readers eagerly thrust the book into the hands of three more people, eventually that book will become a bestseller. If an okay book is blasted onto prime position on airport shelves and finds a thousand initial readers, but only one out of ten readers is excited enough to tell a few friends, that book's sales will fizzle and eventually die.

My goal for each book I write is simple: to take the idea I have, the character and themes and premise that are milling around in my head, and turn all that into a story that readers are excited to read.

Making that happen is not quite so simple. By the time I'm finished working those characters and themes and premise through their first draft, multiple revisions, and final edits, I'm so close to the story that I can't possibly see the forest for the trees.

A good editor will clean up the messy parts, help tighten and polish the book on a sentence level, and  identify the loose ends the writer should tie up in the plot. A great editor will see what the author is trying to say and help them say it better, more clearly, more compellingly. They will help the author nail the big picture and fine tune the microtension to make sure the book will have emotional resonance for the reader.

Yes, it's the writer's job to write a great book—both in the plotting stage and in the revision. But a writer's career is a lifelong trajectory of learning. I don't know a single writer who doesn't push their limits and try to make each book better and different from the last. (If we were looking for a career where we could do the same thing over and over again for easy money, we would have become brain surgeons.) 

The best gift a publisher can give an author is an editor who is also a great writing teacher, who challenges the author to get better at her craft from one book to the next, who can take those ideas that are milling around in her head and turn it into a book that readers are excited to thrust into the hands of ten friends. — Robin 


A big thanks to both R.M. Greenaway and Robin Spano for dropping in and answering this week's question.

And if you're attending Left Coast Crime you can catch all three of us on the Vancouver Noir panel, Friday morning at 9:00 AM in Regency A. Drop in and say hello. 

And you can also find R.M. online here, and Robin here

Monday, March 25, 2019

The Publishing Partnership - Brenda Chapman

Question: What's the most important thing a publisher can do for a writer?  

The publisher does many important things for a writer, but if I had to pick one that I'd rate as the most important, I'd say validation not only on a personal level but also in the industry.

Back when my first book was accepted back in 2002, self-publishing was not as prevalent or considered as good an option as it is today. The advice from many was to write the best book you could and to work equally hard at finding a publisher. I took on both challenges with gusto.

Like most writers, I wasn't certain of the quality of my work and kept the fact that I was spending my free time writing a secret for the most part. I went through the usual rejection first time around, but also received requests for my entire manuscript from two publishers and their feedback about what I needed to improve. I reworked my manuscript both times and this led to another publisher accepting the book two weeks after submission.

My feeling was that people in the industry knew what would sell and could be objective about my submission. They didn't have the vested interest in the story that I did. To be accepted by them was my first step toward feeling like a real author ... even though I know that this is not the litmus test for many writers.

Having my books published by a respected publishing house meant that media and industry publications reviewed my books and they were entered in contests that back then did not accept self-published books. Bookstores readily sold the books through already established distribution channels.    I got invited to events and speaking engagements based on reviews and the fact that I had a publisher. The publisher was a foot in the door.

Standing in bookstores at signings or speaking at events, I've met readers who ask if I have a publisher. Often, they show interest in my book after they learn that I'm not self-published. For many readers, the knowledge that the book was good enough for a publisher means that the book has met a standard because most readers know how tough it is to get published by a bona fide publisher. They also accept the validation that only a publisher can bring.

Over the years, I've had a few publishers, editors, publicists and marketing teams who believed in my books and supported me through the ups and downs that invariably happen. I've relied on them to be objective and honest about each project. This openness and trust has always led to a feeling of  validation after each book is edited, packaged, and out on the shelves. I like being part of a team, something I would miss if I'd self-published.

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Friday, March 22, 2019

To Prologue or Not to Prologue

Which writing advice tropes do you follow, and which do you ignore in your books and short stories? 

by Paul D. Marks

Before I get to this week’s question: I did a post for SleuthSayers, the other blog that I write for, that’s very personal to me. The post is “Sometimes The Big Sleep Comes Too Soon”. And it’s something a little different. More personal. But something everyone can relate to. Friends. Friendship. Regrets. Mortality. I lost two friends recently, I talk about them there. I don’t usually tout another post here, but this one is close to my heart and I hope you’ll check it out. Thanks.  


And now for today’s question:

There’s all kinds of writing advice tropes. People tell you to write what you know, don’t use flashbacks, don’t use the word “was” or “is”. No prologues. Don’t use adverbs. Don’t open on the weather. Don’t end on a preposition. Don’t use a thesaurus. Stephen King says, “Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule.” I find that sophomoric – and yes I got that from the thesaurus when I really wanted to say absurd. But it’s not a word I would use generally. The thesaurus is a great help. Of course – I also tend to use ‘of course’ a lot – you don’t want to get those hundred dollar words when a two dollar word will do. But the thesaurus is extremely helpful in helping you see things a little differently. But then he’s a lot more successful than me so maybe he knows something I don’t.

I follow or ignore any particular writing advice, depending on the story I’m working on. It’s not that I set out to be transgressive and break rules as an act of rebellion. I just do what works best for a particular story. I’m going to focus on one of those elements here: prologues. Personally, I find this one especially annoying. I like prologues…sometimes.

I’ve heard all the advice about not opening with prologues. And I think that might be good advice sometimes, but not all the time. And people who stop reading when they see the word “Prologue” might be missing out on some good stuff.

In my novel White Heat I open on chapter one – no prologue. Things get moving right away when a potential client comes into private eye Duke Rogers’ office with a job for him. In the sequel, Broken Windows, I start with a prologue.

If the prologue is simply to give backstory and exposition then maybe it’s not a good idea to open with it. But if the prologue opens on action, as it does in Broken Windows, which opens with a woman climbing to the top of the Hollywood Sign and jumping to her death, then it’s a different story. This prologue, which doesn’t involve the main character, hopefully intrigues the reader to want to find out who she is and why she jumped. And, once we get into the main story in chapter one, how she ties into that story.

In my World War II homefront mystery that I may have mentioned here previously, which will be coming out in, I think, 2020, I have both a prologue and an epilogue. I think they’re both appropriate to that story because those two sections take place in the present, whereas the body of the story takes place during the war. So they set up the action with characters that are related to or were in the main story. But they’re not exposition dumps. I think they frame the story and give it a certain perspective that just opening in the war years wouldn’t do.

Back in the day, when I was doing a different kind of writing, there was a producer who said if he saw ellipses in a script he would stop reading. Maybe he had a good reason for doing that. On the other hand, he may have missed out on some pretty good scripts, maybe even something he would have wanted to produce. Being so rigid, whether it’s ellipses or prologues – or other things – limits your possibilities. The key is whether those things work in the context of the story.

So that’s the bottom line for me. There are rules. And sometimes rules are made to be broken. As long as what you do works, go for it and be true to yourself and your story.

What do you think?

And now for the usual BSP:

The third story in my Ghosts of Bunker Hill series, Fade Out on Bunker Hill, appears in the March/April 2019 issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. If you like the movie Sunset Boulevard, I think you'll enjoy this story. In bookstores and on newstands now:

Please join me on Facebook: and check out my website

Thursday, March 21, 2019


by Catriona (kind of)

Craft: Which writing advice tropes do you follow and which do you ignore?

Okay first: I'm going to finish my book on Friday. It's Wednesday. On Saturday, I'm setting off on a book tour/road trip en route to Vancouver and Left Coast Crime. And there's something else happening on Friday that I can't talk about (yet).

That's my excuse for what follows.

The worst writing advice I ever hear - and I hear it a lot - goes like this:
  • 2nd draft is 1st draft minus 10%
  • Omit needless words
  • Editing is cutting
  • etc etc see what I did there?
And the best riposte to it I've ever read came from the blessed Nick Hornby in one of his BELIEVER columns, which I read in a collection called TEN YEARS IN THE TUB.

I highly recommend it. Hornby wallows in these great books for 464 pages, listing the books he reads every month (as well as the books he buys), critiquing, appreciating, and puncturing pomposity while never compromising. The first chapter - to give you a taste - is called "Some ground rules; predictions for a baby's future employment; the opinions of grown-up critics; Legally Blonde". Who could resist that?

Over to Nick . . .

"Anyone and everyone taking a writing class knows that the secret of good writing is to cut it back, pare it down, winnow, chop, hack, prune and trim, remove every superfluous word, compress, compress, compress. What’s that chinking noise? It’s the sound of the assiduous creative-writing student hitting bone. You can’t read a review of, say, a Coetzee book without coming across the word “spare,” used invariably with approval; I just Googled “J. M. Coetzee + spare” and got 907 hits, almost all of them different. “Coetzee’s spare but multi-layered language,” “detached in tone and spare in style,” “layer upon layer of spare, exquisite sentences,” “Coetzee’s great gift—and it is a gift he extends to us—is in his spare and yet beautiful language,” “spare and powerful language,” “a chilling, spare book,” “paradoxically both spare and richly textured,” “spare, steely beauty.” Get it? Spare is good.
Coetzee, of course, is a great novelist, so I don’t think it’s snarky to point out that he’s not the funniest writer in the world. Actually, when you think about it, not many novels in the Spare tradition are terribly cheerful. Jokes you can usually pluck out whole, by the roots, so if you’re doing some heavy-duty prose-weeding, they’re the first things to go. And there’s some stuff about the whole winnowing process that I just don’t get. Why does it always stop when the work in question has been reduced to sixty or seventy thousand words—entirely coincidentally, I’m sure, the minimum length for a publishable novel? I’m sure you could get it down to twenty or thirty, if you tried hard enough. In fact, why stop at twenty or thirty? Why write at all? Why not just jot the plot and a couple of themes down on the back of an envelope and leave it at that? The truth is, there’s nothing very utilitarian about fiction or its creation, and I suspect that people are desperate to make it sound like manly, back-breaking labor because it’s such a wussy thing to do in the first place. The obsession with austerity is an attempt to compensate, to make writing resemble a real job, like farming, or logging. (It’s also why people who work in advertising put in twenty-hour days.) Go on, young writers—treat yourself to a joke, or an adverb! Spoil yourself! Readers won’t mind! Have you ever looked at the size of books in an airport bookstall? The truth is that people like superfluity. (And, conversely, the writers’ writers, the pruners and the winnowers, tend to have to live off critical approval rather than royalty checks.)" Hornby, N. (2004), Ten Years in the Tub, Believer Books, San Francisco.
And now back to Catriona, who will get this book finished and isn't sorry. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

You've got to pick a pocket or two... by Cathy Ace

CRAFT: Which writing advice tropes do you follow, and which do you ignore in your books and short stories?

“A literary trope is the use of figurative language, via word, phrase or an image, for artistic effect such as using a figure of speech. The word trope has also come to be used for describing commonly recurring literary and rhetorical devices, motifs or clichés in creative works.” Wikipedia


These days the word “trope” is often used to mean “cliché”, so I’ll take it in that form for the purposes of today’s post, which is therefore going to be all about this: it’s important to know what the clichés of your sub-genre are, so you can use them, play with them, or avoid them. Rather than talk about lots of them (and there are a good number, whatever your sub-genre) I’m going to pick on one, and talk about that in depth. It’s close to my heart, having been one of the pivotal factors when I was writing THE WRONG BOY, my most recent novel.

Having become “known” for writing a traditional whodunit series and a cozy PI series, it was a bit of a risk to write a psychological suspense standalone. I know this. So why on earth did I do it, instead of just writing another Cait Morgan Mystery, or another WISE Enquiries Agency Mystery? In all honesty, because I HAD to do it. The story had been squirming around inside my head for some time, but I had to fulfill contracts before I could focus on it…then I did.

If you’ve ever read (or even heard of) Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train, etc. etc. you’ll know that the concept of “the unreliable narrator” is all the rage!  I've loved that premise since I first read THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD, so decided to read across the sub-genre of psychological suspense for about nine months, and found myself an entire football-stadium full of these liars…but have to admit I got a bit fed up with them all, having seen too much drug-taking, alcohol consumption, somehow-induced amnesia, pure willfulness, and some truly bizarre physical and mental illnesses being employed to make the unreliability “play” better. 
Hallie Ephron's favorite book by Agatha Christie!
You see, for me as a reader, I began to open books expecting unreliability, and then the trope loses its edge. 

So – how did I plan to deal with it? Use it? Ignore it? Well, my approach was to write THE WRONG BOY from five distinct viewpoints – each one being “unreliable” in their own way, because each person possessed different knowledge about the facts, and none could see the whole picture not only of what was going on around them, but also of themselves.

I also enjoyed playing with the other key trope in this area I knew readers would expect – twists, turns and reversals. That was great fun! 

Oh, and one other thing, I called it The Wrong BOY, despite the fact the three core characters are female…because…well, you know, there are a LOT of books with girl, woman, wife, sister, daughter, mother etc. etc. in the title, and that was another trope I didn’t want to use – so I played against that one from the start, with the titular “Boy” only being shown to the reader through the eyes of other characters until the end of the book. 

Maybe you'll consider reading my work? You can find out more about me, and it, here:

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Advice or No Advice?

Advice or No Advice—that is the question! 
Terry Shames here:

I have a sneaking suspicion that Steven King doesn’t keep handy little post-it notes to remind himself of writing advice. I suspect he just starts writing and writes until he gets to the end. But I’m not Stephen King, so I’m always finding little “reminder” notes to myself, cryptic things like:
                    "Deep POV" or  "Action/Reaction/Emotion/Action"
Yes, these are two actual notes I found on my desk just now.
I’m always reading articles and books about “how to” do some aspect of writing—how to approach your writing (by the seat of your pants, or by outlining) how to build a great plot, how to make your characters come alive, how setting can enhance your story, how to write a great synopsis. I attend workshops and always think I’ve finally found exactly the right writing advice. I write down the information and sometimes type it out….and then never look at it again. Last fall I went to a workshop where the writing advice seemed brilliant. I wrote it all down. And occasionally I think about it—usually when I’m stuck. But do I go back and read my notes? Not really. I can only hope is that some of it took root deep in my lizard brain.
There is a whole lot of advice I TRY to follow, such as:
-Start the book with a punch. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a murder, but it should be something intriguing. (I recently read The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith, and I think it’s a perfect example of this.                                                     
-Leave the reader hanging at the end of each chapter so they want to read “just a little farther.”
-Be fair to your reader: Give the reader enough red herrings to fool them, but also enough clues to figure out whodunnit.
And there is some advice I don’t think is very useful:
-Write what you know. I do think it’s good advice, but “what you know” is misleading. You can learn a lot of stuff. I think what the advice actually means is to write what comes viscerally to you. Write what feels like your true self coming out.
-Don’t start with the weather. Pah! “it was a dark and stormy night.” is a wonderful line. It has been maligned all of out of proportion because the rest of the book is so bad. My advice would be, start where you want to. You may not end up keeping the lines, but you have to start somewhere, and weather can be a great metaphor.
Here’s some basic advice I follow:
1) Dig deep, and find the story that only you can tell. I suppose this is some version of “write what you know,” but when I finally listened to the advice and followed it, it felt much bigger than that. It felt like I began to understand the story I wanted to tell and the way I wanted to tell it.
2) Write the damn book! There are lots of ways people can get to that. Some write a few chapters, then revise thoroughly before they move on. Others charge through full-tilt, wanting to get the story down on the page before they attempt to revise. Whichever method works, the important thing is to actually do it. Writing the same fifty pages again and again for five years won’t get the book written.
There is one other bit of advice I’m trying to follow this year. It isn’t actually writing advice, but life advice"
      In 2019 there are 365 days, 8,760 hours. Use them wisely.

To me, that doesn’t mean I have to spend every moment writing or marketing books. A wise use of my time may be to go to an art gallery or take a walk. It may be having dinner with friends and really being present instead of thinking about my book. I think the advice works on many levels, and can be useful in writing, as well. What it means to me is to be aware of how I am spending my time. Even if it’s frittering away an hour, I’m not just frittering mindlessly. I’m giving myself permission to use the time in a way that best serves me in the moment. I can’t think of any better advice for a writer!