On a Quest for a Good Book

About a year ago I decided to limit my reading diet to self-published books. Not forever, just until I found some new favorite authors to follow. I really want to support the self-published community as much as possible and figured I’d have a strong list of auto-buys by now. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened.

I know there are fabulous self-published authors out there because I have found some, and I must say I’ve been doing my picking based solely on blurbs, reviews and sample pages. I figured that would be enough to help me gauge my enjoyment and justify an investment of reading time.

Here’s where I went wrong: I should have asked for recommendations. I have discovered that most reviews are unreliable, both the good ones and the not-so complimentary ones. But I’m stubborn. I wanted to make my choices based on objective sources. Lesson learned.

Why have I had such a difficult time finishing these books? It’s mostly my bad luck, but I did discover structural problems in the majority of the stories I deleted from my Kindle after reading only a few chapters. Of the books I selected, the writing was fine, grammar good, voice passable, but plot and character suffered from a lack of practiced craft and developmental editing. They read like manuscripts that passed muster with a critique group, but not an editor.

They started out great or I never would have bought them. The sample pages caught my interest, the premise captivated me, so the beginnings of these books rocked. But I stopped reading somewhere between 20% and 30% of the way in. Maybe they suffered from contestitis, where the author had made edits and polished the beginning pages based on contest feedback. The rest of the story never received the same attention.

We talk a lot in RMFW about strong beginnings, effective hooks, introducing interesting characters, establishing stakes and obstacles… but it shouldn’t stop there. The strength you start with needs to carry through the rest of the book.

The problems I encountered were:

Bland characters – Characters who start out strong, then lose their purpose, or lack motivation, or just don’t care enough about the goal they had to begin with.

No tension – The story’s tension leaks out like a slowly deflating balloon. Time is spent exploring secondary plotlines instead of the main one, and the problems faced at the beginning are put on hold. Not good. Not good at all.

Disappearing characters or too many characters – It’s hard to focus on a main character when everyone in the story begins to have equal billing. Or when the most interesting person gets killed off or drops out completely, I lose interest in reading any more.

Likable characters become unlikable – It really upset me when a character I cared about seduced her stepfather about a quarter of the way into the book. I’d thought he was a nice guy, too. He’d raised her, for crap sake. They both turned out to be turds. Ugh. Those are hours I’ll never get back. I didn’t start reading another book for a couple of weeks after that.

Confusion – Mysteries I like. No, mysteries I love. But I don’t like it when things stop making sense. Confusion annoys me.

Meandering plot – Starts out heading in one direction then veers off in another for no apparent reason.

Exposition overload – I’m really tolerant of backstory, and probably enjoy reading it more than most people do, but even I have my limits.

Too many pretty sunsets – Or sunrises, or beaches, or gardens, or forests… You get the picture, which is the problem. Too many pictures. I adore good description and even teach a class on it, but too much kills the pace and saps life from your story.

Repetition – Same scene, different setting. Again. And again. It helps to change things up now and then.

Chaotic choreography – Action is a very good thing to have in your story, but it needs to be handled with a practiced hand. Fights, tangled lovers, car chases… When a lot is happening all at once, it should be clear in the reader’s mind what’s going on.

Call me picky—because I am—but I really wanted to love these books. I’m looking for an enjoyable reading experience and my goal is to find some great self-published books to fill that need.

Do you know of any self-published books you think I’d enjoy? If so, please leave the title and name of the author in a comment here. Thank you!

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Karen DuvallKaren Duvall is an award-winning author with 4 published novels and 2 novellas. Harlequin Luna published her Knight’s Curse series last year, and her post apocalyptic novella, Sun Storm, was released in Luna’s ‘Til The World Ends anthology in January 2013.

Karen lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and four incredibly spoiled pets. She is currently working on a new contemporary fantasy romance series.

 

Adventures in Genre Writing: Lesson Three – Some Rules

By Jeanne C. Stein

I know, I know. I, more than anyone else, hate it when someone says there are “rules” to writing, especially since exceptional writer W. Somerset Maugham warns: There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.

And of course, for every rule we set there will be an exception that works perfectly well. But the rules I’m setting forth here apply to ALL writing. They are basic, maybe too obvious, but worth mentioning. Think of them as a motivational tool!

First, Robert Heinlein’s Five Rules—

Heinlein (1907-1988) was one of the first authors of bestselling, novel-length science fiction. He was also one of the first to break into mainstream markets and is often called the “dean of science fiction writers.” He freely gave away his five rules because he said almost no one would follow them—hence he was not afraid of competition. What are they?

1. You must write.
2. You must finish what you start.
3. Your must refrain from rewriting except to editorial order.
4. You must put your story on the market.
5. You must keep it on the market until it has sold.

Did I mention they were obvious?

Let’s start with rule one. How many people do you know that have either started a novel or said that they plan to write one “someday?” They are not writers. A writer puts his butt in the chair everyday—even if it’s fifteen minutes at lunchtime, during the baby’s nap or an hour before bedtime. If you are serious about writing, you will make time. One of the participants in a past class said she wrote 79,000 words in 28 days writing just two hours a day. Some of you have participated in Write a Novel in a Month challenge held in November of every year. It can be done. It takes desire and discipline.

Rule two—another no-brainer. Yet, there are countless unfinished manuscripts floating around out there waiting for the magic moment when their authors find time to finish them. Refer to Rule one.

Rule three—This does not mean NEVER rewrite. It means don’t keep REwriting Chapter One because you want to make it perfect. If you have a critique group, let them offer suggestions as you go along, but forge ahead. Don’t get hung up on one sentence or page or chapter. When the manuscript is finished and you get an editor or agent, they will tell you what more needs to be done. A note here: I have been told by fans of Heinlein that he really DID NOT ever rewrite! I think that may be a little extreme! One of my favorite authors, though, the late Robert B. Parker also said he never rewrote anything. I wish I could be that confident in my writing!

Rule four—May be the hardest rule of all. It’s scary to launch your baby on the world, but you have to. Research markets, research agents and editors, network at conventions. Get it out there.

Rule five—I take it back. This may be the hardest rule. If you’re lucky, you’ll strike gold right out of the box. If not, take whatever comfort you can from knowing that authors from J. K. Rowling to Stephen King have faced rejection. Many rejections. It’s different when it happens to you. It’s personal and it hurts, especially if it comes in a form letter. On the other hand, sometimes you receive a real letter offering advice and extending an offer to reread the manuscript after you make whatever rewrites are suggested. This is a very GOOD rejection letter. It means you’re on the right track.

Okay—let’s move on to some of my own personal guidelines:

1. You want to write the great genre novel—read that genre. To grab an audience, you need to know what it wants.

2. Now that you are familiar with what that audience wants, write for that audience.

3. Learn about conflict—creating it, resolving it.

4. Structure your story for maximum impact.

5. Beginnings and endings are most important—learn to make them so good, your readers will not be able to put the book down once they start and disappointed when they get to the end because they want more.

Rules three, four and five will be covered in subsequent lessons.

As for rules one and two, I know the popular conception is that since it often takes two years for a book to go from acceptance by a publisher to release, if you write what’s hot in the market NOW, by the time your book is released, the wave has passed. Perhaps. On the other hand, if you write the book you WANT to write, if it’s well written and compelling, it doesn’t matter what’s “hot” in the market. Well-written stories find an audience.

Remember, the best writers are readers. They read everything…fiction and nonfiction, genre and literary works. And they write. Everyday.

One well-known and prolific writer, the late Elmore Leonard, had his own set of rules. But they can be summed up with this: If it sounds like writing, rewrite it.

Amen to that.

Next month we’ll start looking at developing our characters.

The Intangible Benefits of Having a Traditional Publishing Family

Rogue's Paradise
By Jeffe Kennedy

I’ve worked with a number of editors over the years. Many of them were one-night stands – especially back in my younger days, when I wrote mainly essays and played the magazine market. While I mostly enjoyed those passing encounters – though a few were blind dates that I couldn’t wait to put behind me – I’ve discovered the joys of the long-term relationship.

I’m in a monogamous three-way these days. I work with two editors on my novels and I’m faithful to them. At least for the time being. One, Deb Nemeth, my Carina Press editor, I’ve been with since 2011. We just completed the Covenant of Thorns trilogy with Rogue’s Paradise. And we are putting to bed the eighth book we’ve worked on together. I won’t pretend it’s always been hearts and flowers. The beginning wasn’t a honeymoon. She put me through two revise and resubmits, made me work to win her heart. Now we’re committed to each other with legal contracts. We’ve learned to work through the rough times, to remember to add compliments along with criticism, to take some time away before disagreeing.

I admit I felt a little guilty when I started seeing another editor, too. I didn’t want Deb to feel slighted or that she wasn’t enough for me. I needed to branch out, be with other publishers. Fortunately she understood that and now I’ve been with my Kensington editor, Peter Senftleben, for two years now. He’s a different editor than Deb is, which brings stimulating variety to my life. He has his own quirks I’ve learned to accommodate and he mine. We’re working on our fourth book together and each time just gets better.

It’s not always easy, juggling two marriages like this. I sometimes have to ask – with some chagrin – if they’re the one who prefers I just accept line edits in Track Changes or to comment them out. They know about each other and, when I see them respond to the other’s tweets, I often find myself smiling at the warm feeling that inspires. I don’t think they talk about me, but I wouldn’t mind if they did. After all, it’s only fair.

I like having these two people as partners in my publishing life. They shore me up and keep me honest. It feels good to me to be part of a family. And it occurs to me that self-publishing with its wealth of possibilities – which I’ve taken advantage of with some of my back list – is a lot like single parenting. Sure you can hire help, much like a single parent can get day care, and there’s a lot more freedom, but it’s a lot of work, too. I really admire the people who can carry it off, like my best friend and crit partner, for example.

But I do think this is something that writers should factor in when considering whether to go indie. For me, having this publishing family means a great deal. It’s worth it to me to sacrifice some independence and financial gain to have it. I know not everyone needs that. At this time in my live, however, I know I do.

Pen and Paper? Are You Kidding Me????

By Mark Stevens

I recently sparked a flutter on Twitter.

I mentioned that I write by hand.

Yes, full novels—start to finish.

By hand.

I mentioned this on Twitter and I could hear virtual jaws dropping from coast to coast.

Okay, in reality, I had five or six comments along these lines: “Are you KIDDING ME??????”

I also found a few like-minded souls.

Soon, we had a club forming. Men and women of the Pen & Paper Brigade will only listen to vinyl, take pictures with film and write books by hand.

It’s the only way to go.

First, a notebook is so damn portable. No hunts for electrical outlets in the coffee shops. Trains, planes, automobiles, canoes, rocket ships. Doesn’t matter. Got a place to sit down in the woods? In the park? A mountain cabin off the grid? You’re set.

Second, that sound. I’m addicted. That faint, dull scrape of ink going on a page. It’s visceral. It’s real.

Third, less time staring at a computer screen. Don’t we all need less? And no worries about outdoor reflections, moving around so the sun is just right. When you write by hand, it’s a non-issue. Have you ever headed to the computer and waited ten minutes while updates are installed? Non-factor.

Fourth, the process slows me down. My storytelling head is slow. Fresh copy goes on the right side and then the left is open and available for inserts and new ideas.

Fifth? Well, this is kind of a stupid reason but I dig seeing the notebooks stack up. I shoot for 500 words a day. That’s it, that’s all. I try to get in five days a week of writing. It never works out exactly. Some weeks fail, others get in a groove. But I recently finished a novel in about 14 months, including uploading the darn thing to a computer. Yes, at some point there is computer involved but then it’s a solid second draft.

Here are my tools.

  1.  College-ruled, 1-subject notebooks with perforated pages, 11 inch by 8 inch. I like 100 sheets per notebook. I’m not super fussy about my notebooks, but you get the idea.
  2.  A uni ball VISION ELITE. (I think the lower-case uni ball is official and I don’t want to be disrespectful so I’m going with it.) I prefer the “bold” tip. I like blue. Black is okay. I’ve tried many other options. Nothing comes close. (Dear uni ball folks: One case may be shipped to my home address in exchange for this endorsement. Email mstevens@ecentral.com for shipping particulars.)

Any downsides? None that I know of, other than trying to decipher that gnarled-up penmanship. Man, that’s some wild stuff.

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Mark Stevens
Mark Stevens is the monthly programs coordinator for Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and the author of the Western hunting guide Allison Coil mysteries Antler Dust and Buried by the Roan.
Book three in the series, Trapline, will be published by Midnight Ink in November 2014

The RMFW Spotlight is on Christine Jorgensen, RMFW Secretary

The first Monday of the month the RMFW Blog features one of the members of the board of directors or a volunteer. This month Christine Jorgensen has agreed to answer our questions. We hope this helps members and potential members get acquainted with the incredible folks who keep Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers going and growing. And just in case these spotlights inspire other members to step forward and volunteer, feel free to email Judy Matheny, Volunteer Coordinator at volunteer@rmfw.org.

????????????1. Christine, tell us what you do for RMFW and why you are involved.

I am currently Secretary of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. I am neither a glutton for punishment nor an avid note taker, but I do believe that if one gains from an organization and believes in it then one should give back. This is my way of saying thank you for all the support and comraderie I’ve had all the years (and they are many) that I’ve been a member of RMFW.

2. What is your current WIP or most recent publication, and where can we buy a book, if available?

My latest novel is Missing, the first Detective Casey Jansen crime novel. The author name is CTJorgensen, to distinguish it from my previous humorous amateur sleuth novels. This one isn’t the least bit humorous. Missing is a finalist in the mystery catagory for Colorado Book Awards, 2014. (MIssing can be found at online booksellers including Amazon and Barnes and Noble in hardcover and ebook.)Jorgensen_Missing

My current work in progress is Disappeared, which is being revised (or will be when I finish this task) in order to be submitted. It will be the second in this series.

3. We’ve all heard of bucket lists — you know, those life-wish lists of experiences, dreams or goals we want to accomplish– what’s one of yours?

Hmm, Bucket List. In the most distant and unlikely to achieve category is trekking in Bhutan, achieving national best seller status, getting film options on the books.

In the category of slightly more achievable is seeing my China book in print (in some form), visiting Croatia and the Greek Isles and seeing Disappeared nominated and winning the Colorado Book Award.

4. Most writers have an Achilles heel with their writing. Confess, what’s yours?

Procrastination wins in this category. Call it Spider Solitaire, playing bridge, playing golf, (actually practice ranging) or snacking, it’s all procrastination. And, I’m a champion.

5. What do you love most about the writing life?

I love those moments when I’m totally into writing and occupying a whole other world where time and space are not a factor. I’m sure most writers enjoy this strange place. If it were scary to be there I’d think it really was schizophrenia, but it’s so enjoyable and free that it is all fun and play. Untangling a situation to find the people inhabiting it and tromping around in their motivations is just so interesting.

The other truly satisfying moment is when I’ve written a scene I really like or come upon an idea that works perfectly. Then I have this high. No other way to express it.

6. Now that you have a little writing experience, what advice would you go back and give yourself as a beginning writer?

Trust yourself, get at it earlier, work harder and produce more.

7. What does your desk look like? What item must be on your desk? Do you have any personal, fun items you keep on it?

OMG, no possible way to describe this desk. What I do have that I love is a print by Salvador Dali depicting Don Quixote on his horse looking at a windmill so far away. The picture so summarizes the writing life.

The other item is an artificial palm tree right in from of my desk, just for fun.

8. What book are you currently reading (or what was the last one you read)?

I bought Julie Kazimer’s Frog Prince book and totally loved it. I gave it to my friend to read (she’s also enjoying it) so I can’t remember the exact title, but it is such a hoot.

While I’m writing I tend to read more nonfiction than fiction, then once the project is completed I dig into my TBR stack. Tainted Mountain, by Shannon Baker is top of the list.

Other favorite authors are Tana French, Minette Walters and Stephen White.

Thanks a bunch for sharing with us today, Christine.

A Writer’s Destiny

By Mary Gillgannon

When people find out I’m a writer, they often ask, “Where do you get your ideas?” The implication is that it must be a struggle to come up with things to write about. Frankly, that’s never been my problem. My problem is finding the hours and days and weeks and months (and sometimes years) it takes to transform my story ideas into books.

Even without considering my latest project, I have at least ten books waiting for me to finish them. Some are hard copies sitting in a closet in our family room. Others are gathering dust on floppy discs. A few are saved on jump drives. (Technology marches on.) And that still doesn’t count two completed manuscripts that I haven’t figured out what to do with.

Just to finish all of those books would keep me busy for the next ten years. And that’s if I didn’t get any new story ideas, which is unlikely.

My challenge has always been “what to write?” Throughout my career, I’ve vacillated between writing what I thought I should write and the books that really called to me. Right now I’m in a dutiful phase.

Last spring I sold a reincarnation romance. I pitched it as a series, so as soon as I sold it, I felt obligated to drop the story I was working on and write the second book in the series. But it’s gone very slowly. So slowly that recently I began to wonder if maybe this just wasn’t the right time to write this book. Was it really normal to spend so much time staring at the blank computer screen? Was this a sign I should be working on something else?

But then I reminded myself that ideas and the beginnings of books always come easy to me. It’s the middle part that is a challenge. And while this book may take longer than I’d like, in the end, finishing it will mostly be a matter of persistence and hard work.

And patience. I have to accept that I’m notorious for coming up with story ideas that take me into realms I don’t have any experience in. I’ve been known to flounder for years. With the result that the book I’m most proud of took me nearly ten years to finish to my satisfaction. Not to mention I ended up writing about twice as many words as the final manuscript.

I guess this is just the way I have to do things. People talk about “plotters” and “pantzers”. Well, I’m a plodder. Which means that every book takes as long as it takes. It’s a nightmare career-wise. But I doubt there’s anything I can do to change it. I just have to hope that some day I’ll finish a book at the right time and all the stars will line up and I’ll finally find writing success.

And if that doesn’t happen? I’ll just keep plodding along, following my destiny, one book at a time.

TOP TEN LIST: Things Overheard At A Book Release Party

By Kevin Paul Tracy

Caricature of David Letterman

Here is a list of the top ten things overheard at a book release party.

10. “My wife loves your books! Can you sign it to her: Roger Smith?”

9. “Is the author someone famous, or just a writer?”

8. “Yes, the author signed it, we couldn’t stop him. If you can find an unsigned copy, it’s worth an absolute fortune.” (A nod to the movie “Notting Hill”)

7. “I have the best idea for a book…maybe you could write it!”

6. “Wake up, honey, he’s done reading out loud.”

5. “You mean I have to pay for it?”

4. “I’ve written a book, too. It’s a 500 page memoir of my grandfather’s struggles with gout. I happened to bring it with me. Would you mind reading it and telling me what you think of it?”

3. “I always come to these things. You never know what’s going to turn out to be priceless…after the writer is dead.”

2. “I’ve heard of door prizes, but the book’s cover imprinted on a butane lighter? Doesn’t bode well for the book itself.”

And the #1 thing overheard at a book signing party:

1. “Is this the line for the restroom?”


Check out Kevin’s latest releases, the wonderfully entertaining espionage thriller, “Rogue Agenda” and a startling and engrossing gothic thriller “Bloodflow.”

Follow Kevin at:
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The Easy Button

By Terri Benson

Benson_Unsinkable finalMy day job includes coaching start-up businesses at a Business Incubator, and as a writer, I counsel people who want to write. Recently one of my clients opened the meeting with “I’ve started on a book. What I need is advice on how to find an editor who will give me a big enough advance that I can work full time on finishing the book.”

I so badly wanted to hand him that big red button that says “EASY” on it and have him give it a whack. You know, the one we hit to find the greatest story ever written, most savvy agent, or big publishing house editor who is floored by our writing. The one that ensures we have a huge marketing machine selling the heck out of our books, royalty checks pouring in, and a personal assistant who schedules our blog tours, book signings, workshop presentations, and makes sure we have time for a mani/pedi.

I got news for you, and for him. There ain’t no easy button.

We all know this, of course. But it doesn’t stop us from wishing we could just write, and have the rest of the icky work done by someone else. Not going to happen, folks.

Instead of wasting your time wishing away the unfun stuff, embrace it (this would sound so much better coming from an inspirational speaker). Because we have to write, it’s in our blood. If we want to publish (assuming most of us do), we have to finish our work and get it into the hands of someone who can make that happen. If it’s not a traditional publisher or Indie publisher, it’s us/our hands. Never before has the concept of “DIY Publishing” been so open. It’s not seen as “vanity” anymore. Big, well-known writers are self-publishing, and unknown writers are making some substantial royalty checks doing it.

So, in the absence of an easy button, here’s the scoop:

  1.  Write a great book (good isn’t good enough); use contests, critique groups and beta readers to get feedback on your writing – and listen to what they say!
  2. As you are writing (not after the fact), put together a marketing plan – know who will read your book, where it would go in a store, the cover it needs; write a great back cover blurb; brainstorm writers/reviewers who could review for you.
  3.  Set a timeline for finishing the book, edits, having it read by critique groups and/or beta readers and/or professional editors; have all the details covered BEFORE the book is ready to publish, not once you think it is.
  4.  Get a cover done – check out the local talent; you don’t have to pay huge fees to get a great cover (don’t do it yourself unless you really can).
  5.  For traditional publishing or an agent, list your top 10 choices, and stalk the heck out of them – follow them on twitter, subscribe to their newsletters/blogs/websites, get your submission in PERFECT condition, read every article you can on query letters, FOLLOW THE SUBMISSION GUIDELINES, put on your big girl panties (or boxers, whatever) and send the sucker out. If you never send it, you can’t blame anyone but yourself for never being published. Be ready for the rejection letters and read every word they send you, because you can learn from them. Writers are so close to what we write that sometimes we can’t see the forest for the trees; kill your darlings and make the book better – then do #5 all over again.
  6.  If you don’t feel the need to go traditional, and you’re positively sure your book is ready to see the light of day, get your manuscript correctly formatted and get it posted.
  7.  Then (better yet, while) doing #6, refer to #2, and market your book and yourself in every conceivable way possible. There are millions of books and writers out there – if you want to sell your book, you need to stand out.
  8. And do all this while you’re working on your next book. And attending conferences and workshops to hone your skill and learn new and different marketing ploys. And dealing with your other life – the one where you have to work a day (or night) job, that includes family, friends, mortgages, crashing computers, and your mother-in-law calling to mention she noticed your house wasn’t very clean and asking if you’ve been sick.

No, there’s no easy button. But hey, it’s not like you picked an easy job, either.

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Terri Benson1As a life-long writer, Terri Benson has one published novel, award winning short stories, and over a hundred articles – many award winning – in local and regional magazines and on-line e-zines. She has been a member of RMFW and Western Slope events are hosted by her employer, she also belongs to RWA. Benson currently promotes Western Slope events for the RMFW Publicity Committee, pelts RMFW with articles for the newsletter, and randomly blogs.

Her historic romance, An Unsinkable Love, a truly Titanic love story, is available from Amazon.

Guest Post from A Beer for the Shower: The Ten Commandments of Writerly Collaboration

By A Beer for the Shower

Hi folks. We’re Brandon and Bryan. We co-write a lot of things together. Sometimes it’s web-comics. Sometimes it’s novels. And sometimes it’s a product dissatisfaction email for that Pineapple Slicer-N-Dicer 3000 that only succeeded in coring a left arm down to the elbow nub.

But whatever the writing project may be, we often work on it together. No, it’s not because we’re co-dependent man-children; that’s just a coincidence. It’s because we find that collaboration in writing has helped all aspects of our lives, and as self-proclaimed experts who’ve been doing this for longer than some folks have been married, we’ve got plenty of insights on this topic. And so we proudly present to you: The Ten Commandments of Writerly Collaboration.

I. Thou Shall Not Butter Thy Partner’s Biscuits – Wow, that sounds dirty. Well, don’t do that either. But what we really mean is not to be a suck up. If all you do is nod and say “this is great” when it’s really not, without giving any form of constructive criticism, then you’re not helping yourself or your writing partner. Collaboration is all about honesty. You have to be able to tell your partner the truth – even if it’s not always what they want to hear. After all, bad writing doesn’t just make your partner look bad, it makes you look bad, too.

II. Thou Shall Not Take the Name of Thy Work in Vain - Well, not more than one or two dozen times a day. Any more than that and it’s pretty clear you should have chosen a better topic/genre/storyline to begin with. Don’t start having buyer’s remorse when you’re 80K words into your intergalactic space opera. Pick something you’re going to love until the bitter end and stick with it. Inconsistency is the killer of collaboration. Which leads us to our next Commandment…

III. Thou Shall Remember the Brainstorming Day, and Keep it Holy – Once a week we get together to work on new story ideas. Some people might call those meetings “the creative process,” but we like to think of them as “a mildly legitimate excuse for midday drinking.” Coming up with ideas is the most fun part of the collaborative gig, so don’t cut yourself short and really spend some time using your double brainpower to not just pick out an awesome story to tell, but to continue working on it as a team.

IV. Thou Shall Not Bear False Copyright Against Thy Writing Partner – This one’s pretty easy. Sometimes in a collaborative project things just don’t work out. Some people just aren’t meant to work together. Don’t be a dick. Don’t go on and finish the project without your partner’s explicit consent. Unless you scrub out all of their writing and do it all over again… In which case, you’re still a dick.

V. Thou Shall Not Covet Thy Neighbor’s Prose – As you’ve probably already guessed, consistency is key in forming a collaborative voice. Instead of trying to mimic one another’s already established “voice,” sit down and create the theoretical style of prose you both want a specific project to have before you start writing. And if possible, try to compromise on something that’s common ground between your writing style and your writing partner’s.

VI. Thou Shall Not Restrict Collaboration Just To Writing Novels – One of the big things we always hear is, “Well, why do I need to collaborate? I write novels on my own just fine.” But collaboration is good for more than just passing off half your work to a warm body. It’s a great way to familiarize yourself with someone’s writing style (and vice versa) so that you have the ultimate critique partner. Or maybe it’s just a way to write a few short stories together and get yourself familiar with someone else’s writing process. Collaboration isn’t just about output, it’s also about learning.

VII. Thou Shall Not Kill… The Written Word – Come on, when you’ve got two brains instead of one, there’s no excuse for pumping out some awful fad novel just for the sake of an easy sell. Put some real brainpower into your collaborative idea and make that sucker as clever and well-written as possible. Well, unless that easy, brainless sell makes you both millionaires.

VIII. Thou Shall Honor Thy Father And Thy Mother… And Thy Writing Partner – In other words, if you feel stuck or you get suddenly busy (as things happen), just keep your writing partner in the loop. Don’t blow them off and hope they won’t notice those last 10 text messages they sent are all un-replied to but each have a status of ‘Message Read.’ Just tell them it might take a little more time. Or, one of our favorite tricks is to tell the other person, “I’m a little bit stuck on this part. You mind taking over for now?” It’s a great way to shirk responsibility temporarily but in the most thoughtful way possible (no, really).

IX. Thou Shall Not Murder Thy Writing Partner – No, seriously guys. You will go to prison. And you’re too pretty for prison. Trust us. But in all seriousness, collaboration can be pretty damn stressful. Which is why you’ve got to find the right person: one that you can work well with. It’s a trial-and-error process, unfortunately. There’s no way around that. And both of us have plenty of horror stories from our sideshow selection of failed collaborations past.

X. Thou Shall Get Jiggy Wid It – We just really wanted to say that statement as a Commandment. But kidding aside, the last, and possibly most important Commandment of all just means to have fun. If you’re not having fun, it will show in the writing. And while some see collaboration as a stressful stranglehold over who gets to butcher what, it’s important to see it for what it really is – a thrilling opportunity to explore a new story from two perspectives.

So even if you don’t aspire to be the next Stephen King and Peter Straub or the next J and K Rowling, we think it’s worth it for every writer to collaborate at least once. Not just because it’s a rich experience that allows you to see something you love through the eyes of another, but because if you should fail, you can at least say, “Hey, it was his fault, too.”

Brandon and Bryan are a pair of fraternal, non-related twin brothers who draw and write politically incorrect things on the popular web comic/blog A Beer for the Shower. Their published works include the novella collection The Graveyard Shift, and the novels Dead and Moaning in Las Vegas, The Missing Link, and The Sensationally Absurd Life and Times of Slim Dyson, all of which have great reviews from people that are not their mothers. Brandon’s solo novels include Lovely Death, and Chasing the Sandman. Bryan’s most recent solo novel is Demetri and the Banana Flavored Rocketship. Maybe some day they will grow up and get real jobs, but until then, you can find them over at www.abeerfortheshower.com doodling, writing, and generally not taking anything all that seriously.

Our solo Amazon pages are:
http://www.amazon.com/Brandon-Meyers/e/B009KXWSEO/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_2

and here:
http://www.amazon.com/Bryan-Pedas/e/B00A71IYS2/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_1

So You Want to Publish An Anthology? Read On…

By Nikki Baird, Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Anthology Chair

nikkibairdAnthologies have experienced something of a renaissance, thanks to the indie publishing market. Lots of writers have short stories that they’ve written over the years, and in a lot of cases, the publishing rights to those stories revert back to authors fairly quickly, so there aren’t a lot of legal reasons that get in the way of republishing.

Plus anthologies can be great marketing tools. They can help promote a collection of authors by making the workload something you can share, and they can provide a way for readers to try a lot of new authors for a low entry price. For single-author anthologies, they can also serve as a “try before you buy”. Anthologies are also great books to give away for free when promoting a new novel, especially when they are stories you’ve already written.

So what goes into making an anthology? Well, a lot, trust me. But I’ll give you three big ones, with a primary focus on multi-author anthologies, since that’s where my experience lies.

A Theme. An anthology needs something to hold it together. For single-author anthologies, the theme is simple – it’s the author! However, even then, you might want to think about selecting a collection of short stories that relate to each other.

When you come up with a theme, probably the biggest challenge is to make sure that it is rich in possibility. The core conflict or tension needs to be easy to grasp and yet also deep and/or broad. Also, the theme should relate to your group. Sometimes this means genre – for example, you wouldn’t really want to throw a blood-and-guts zombie story in with a bunch of regency romance. But if you’re looking at a collection that crosses genres, then a core subject or theme becomes particularly important in helping readers understand what to expect from the book.

For the RMFW anthology, particularly because we chose open submissions, we put theme front and center: Colfax Avenue. We could’ve chosen Sunset Boulevard, or Madison Avenue, or some other historic/infamous street in America, but as we are the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, keeping the location close to home seemed important. Plus I was dealing with a precedent set by previous RMFW anthologies. Dry Spell and Tales of Mistwillow were both based on themes important to the Rocky Mountain region – water, and life in a (made-up) mountain town. RMFW’s third anthology deviated from this theme (Broken Links, Mended Lives), and we may stray from a Rocky Mountain angle again in the future, but this year the Colfax idea quickly took hold and became a slam-dunk.

 A Submission Process. If you’re soliciting submissions, you need a well-defined submission process. We had to navigate several choices. Do you want to invite specific authors to contribute? Famous authors, when you can get them, can help sell the book. But their time is very precious, especially writing time. If you’re looking to hook a famous author, it helps to either have an existing relationship or to have a cause that they support as a beneficiary for anthology proceeds.

For Crossing Colfax, we opted to not pursue specific authors. One, people like Carol Berg, Mario Acevedo, and Jeanne Stein have already been very generous in the past. Two, we specifically opted to open submissions only to RMFW members in order to feature and promote the writing talent within RMFW. So it didn’t seem quite right to hold spaces in the anthology for select authors when what we really wanted were good stories no matter who they came from within our community. In the end, we had about the right mix: 3 stories from established authors (Linda Berry, Warren Hammond, and Thea Hutcheson) and 12 from newbies.

We held open submissions with only the membership requirement. We also had a blind reader panel, rather than a committee. There were a couple of reasons for that. One, not everyone was co-located, so trying to have meetings was going to be difficult. Two, and this one’s all on me, I liked the idea of getting basically as much reader input as I could. A small selection committee can fall into group-think mode, where everyone ends up reinforcing each others’ opinions, and radical new ideas get lost. With blind readers, this was in some ways like stopping people on the street who like to read and asking their opinions. Stories that I didn’t particularly like at first came back with thumbs up from readers, and stories that I loved didn’t do nearly as well as I thought they would. In the end, we ended up with a collection that I think is the better for it – with a wider appeal, and a more varied set of stories than we otherwise might have.

A Contract. This one’s always the fun part. The last RMFW anthology was published in 2009. That contract included no provisions for e-pub. In fact, that is why you don’t see any past RMFW anthologies in e-pub format in the market today, because we only have print rights to those books. Someday I’d love to go back and get the e-rights to bring the past anthologies online, but that is work for another day. Since we are writers helping writers, it seemed silly to have the kind of contract that makes agents wince, so we tried to be very open and fair. We asked for exclusive rights for one year, and perpetual rights to the story as long as it was published in the anthology. Outside of the anthology itself, RMFW has no rights. So after the year is up, the authors are welcome to publish their stories in other anthologies or stand-alone or however they choose. I will say, though, that we had our contract reviewed by Susan Spann, who volunteered her considerable legal services. And I would not recommend skipping that step!

Is it all worth it? From an editor perspective, you bet. It’s hard work, and multiplied because you’re working with multiple authors, but I get a smile on my face every time I see the Crossing Colfax cover. I’m so proud of the variety, the freshness, and the imagination that sits within those pages. Over the next year, I hope I’ll also be able to say that it was a valuable experience for our authors too – because, while a lot of the work is over, a lot more work has only begun!

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Originally published at Patricia Stoltey blog September 18, 2014

You can find out more about Nikki by reading the RMFW Spotlight post from the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Blog.

Crossing Colfax is available at amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.