The Fruit of Your Labor

fruitGo buy a piece of fruit you haven't had in a while: a peach, a plum, a pear, a mango, even a carambola (starfruit, though they're not as good here on the mainland as they are in the islands.) Find a place to sit alone and close your eyes. Try to imagine you're a primitive human. Game is scarce, you've been living on insects and grubs, or bland roots. You're always on the verge of starvation, though never quite starved - a terrible state if you've ever lived through it.

You see this thing hanging from a tree. You've never considered eating it before because, well, it's on a tree. What part of a tree ever tasted good? Wood, bark, leaves... Still, finally hungry enough, you climb up, pull this thing down, you bite into it (bite into the fruit you bought now.) Try to experience what that starving primitive experienced as glorious sweetness and a flavor you've never imagined could ever exist floods your mouth and your soul soars.

Write that.

Many times I read work from writers who, in their jaded experience, seem to have forgotten that not all of their readers have read the same old tropes and traditions a thousand times. They sometimes neglect details that could enrich their story. How many times has a gun been fired in a thriller or mystery? So many times it is just accepted that readers know what it means to fire a gun, or have one fired at you. So why describe the way your nerves jolt at the sudden blast, the sound waves stinging your skin like electricity, the smell of expended gunpowder, the intense silence following the explosion, the heat you feel from the bullet as it leaves the barrel...or as it tears into your flesh?

Never forget some of your readers may be reading your genre for the first time, and you are their sponsor. Even if not, being reminded of details that often get glossed over or skipped because they are rote or common, can electrify some long-steeped and jaded readers, too. As you write such things, take a moment and close your eyes, try to experience the thing as your character would experience it (whatever it is, whether firing a gun, stealing a candy bar from a store, having sex). Is it their first time or they are old pros? How would that affect the experience.

Never let such things become rote or old hat in your stories. Always remember while you may have written/read similar scenes a million times, your character has not, and your reader is identifying with them. Always keep it fresh, as if this is the first time anyone ever wrote a scene like this. Never let the jade show under your skin.

Editorial love and the question of who hires whom … by Laura Lis Scott

So infinity scientists walk into a bar.

Editor—This is very unbelievable. Infinity isn't a real number. Nobody will believe this. And what does the bar look like? What kind of bar? Irish bar? Modern slick bar? Dive bar? Give us some details!

Version 2Are you traditionally published? Are you indie? In many ways, it doesn't matter, does it? A book is a book, isn't it? The process is essentially the same, isn't it? Well, except for the marketing budget.

I submit that there also is a difference when it comes to the editing phase. Let me explain.

In traditional publishing...

...the author-editor relationship is defined by the editor's (presumed) interest in the author's manuscript. Why else would they be working together? The relationship begins when the editor likes the author's submitted manuscript enough to deem it good enough (or salvageable enough) to potentially appeal to readers.

Under this dynamic, where the editor initiates the relationship, the author can proceed under the following assumptions:

  1. The editor is interested in her work.
  2. The notes the author gets from the editor can be read with the belief that the editor likes her work.
  3. The editor holds the keys to publication. In the case of differences of opinion, the weight of the author's opinion (right or wrong) depends on the editor's judgment, ethics, mores, and clout within the publishing organization — not to mention any policies the publisher itself may have in place (e.g., no characters who own ferrets, no portrayals of cigarette smoking).

The first scientist says, "I'll have a beer."

The second scientist says, "I'll have half a beer."

Editor—Is it possible to order half a beer? I've never heard of this. What if the second scientist orders a small beer?

In independent publishing (or self-publishing)...

...the author has the initiative. The (smart) author seeks out and selects an editor. She may or may not know the editor's work very well, aside from what it might say on the editor's website. The editor's decision to work on the book might be driven in part by schedule and financial imperatives. After all, who wants to turn away paying work? In this case, the author must operate under different assumptions:

  1. There is no reason to assume that the editor even likes the manuscript. The editor may actually hate the manuscript. Or the author's style. Or where the story goes.
  2. The notes the author gets from the editor must be read with that caveat.
  3. For better or worse, the author holds the keys, and makes the ultimate decision as to what ends up in the final published book.

A third scientist says, "I'll have a quarter beer."

A fourth scientist says, "I'll have an eighth of a beer."

Editor—Nobody is going to believe this. What is the point of this scene? Things are happening very easily? Where is the obstacle? Squeeze some juice out of this scenario. Are we going to see ANY of these scientists later in the story? What do they look like? Are they male? Female? What ethnicity? Are they old? Young?

2016_Scott_cover art1Disclaimer

I expect many will object to this assessment. Generalizations are not generals. Any traditionally published author can end up with an editor who doesn't like her book. And any indie author can randomly end up with an editor who loves her book. My hope is that every author can and does find the ideal editor for her book.

But consider that in traditional publishing the vast majority of books are rejected many many times by many many editors before they finally find a home. Most editors are not likely to like any given book. That's only natural. Think about it. If you were handed a published book chosen randomly from a bookstore, how likely are you to like it?

A fifth scientist steps up, but the bartender raises his hand and says, "I understand."

Editor—This is wonderful. It builds anticipation. I am wondering what he understands!

2016_Scott-cover artWhat is an indie author to do?

First, understand that good editors are professionals. On one level, any good professional editor is going to help you by catching plot holes, grammatical errors, continuity errors, consistency problems, etc. And if she knows your genre, she will also be able to catch issues that might trip up your genre's readers.

But let's face it, readers read books for love and enjoyment. On some level, the ideal situation is to have an editor who loves your book like you do, like a reader would — not so that the editor will kiss your butt but so that she'll be able to bring an emotional dimension to her helping you, the author, achieve what you're trying to achieve.

If you're an indie writer who has hired an editor, your challenge then is to parse out the valid critiques of your own writing from the notes that might, just might, reflect only the editor's dislike of your voice, or ignorance of your story's milieu, or inability to grok your sense of humor.

The bartender pours two beers.

Editor—I don't understand this. Why is the bartender pouring two beers? Who ordered two beers?

Personally...

...I think this is a difference in the relationship, but it doesn't have to lead to a disadvantage (either way) in the outcome. It's just something to keep in mind.

As a writer, as it turns out, I'm blessed to be working with a wonderful editor who is a huge believer in my work.

As an editor, this paradigm is humbling. I feel fortunate to have edited mostly stories and novels I've chosen. My days going through the "slush pile" were only as a reader. My respect for freelance editors braving this world rises every day.

Editor—Suggest this rewrite:

Two scientists walk into a shadowy Irish pub with sawdust on the floor and dart boards across the back wall. The two well-groomed women, who wear lab coats over business suits, approach bar. The taller woman says, "I would like to have beer!"

Her friend says, "I'll have the same."

With a friendly grin, the bartender pours two tall, frothy dark ales.

Editor—Now we can get on with the story!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Laura Lis Scott is author of the feminist political satires A Spy in Stilettos and The Colonel's Secret Service. She is editor, designer, and co-founder of Toot Sweet Ink, a new indie publisher of science fiction, fantasy, historical fiction, magical realism, and contemporary fiction. Lis Scott has waited tables, delivered campus mail, driven a truck (more like a van), wordprocessed business and legal documents, written and produced videos, produced B-movie trailers, directed television, designed and developed websites, edited magazine articles, blogged professionally (and amateurishly), served on non-profit boards, co-founded a web development company, raced cars (on actual racetracks — street racing is dumb), and written a handful of stories. She has lived in New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles; now she lives in Colorado, where the sun always shines, even on the cloudy days. Laura has BA from The University of Chicago and an MFA from Columbia University of New York. She can be found on Twitter @lauras. Her website is lauralisscott.com.

 

On Writing by Virginia Rose Richter

The most important book on writing that I have ever read is by Stephen King, aptly entitled, On Writing. At times hilariously funny, King describes years spent typing, while bundled up, in his unheated freezing attic in Maine. Large nails were driven into the bare walls and onto these nails were pierced an untold number of rejection letters from publishers and agents stating their disinterest in his work. Then one frigid night he and his wife returned home with their two small children who were feverish with colds and found in the mail among the pile of unpaid bills a letter from his agent stating that his manuscript had been sold. The title of the manuscript: CARRIE. Thrilling!

After raising my family and having a career as an audiologist, I had a chance to explore two life-long goals. One, learn to play the piano. Two, write a mystery. With a degree in Music under my belt, I couldn’t bear to leave the campus of Metropolitan State College of Denver. In the English Department, I signed on for a beginning class in creative writing.

In a genuine stroke of luck, I discovered that the person teaching the class was Larry Bograd. Larry was a published writer of both plays and fiction. With a dry self-deprecating wit, Larry kept us laughing. But, about writing, he was very serious. His opening salvo was: “I’ve had hundreds of people go through this class. Only two of them were ‘natural writers’. Before you start writing, you have to learn the craft.” Rules? This was beginning to look like work.

And so it began. Action moves the plot. Don’t be obscure when you can be clear. Reveal descriptions through dialogue. Avoid back-stories, information dumps, coincidences and duplicate words in the same paragraph.  BEGIN with a question that needs to be answered. The MIDDLE shows a complication. The END is a result of what happened in the Middle. Strong plots result from a character’s flaws (jealousy, temper etc.)In life-psychology defines actions. In writing-actions define psychology. And of course, POV, POV, POV! Best of all: “If there’s a shotgun over the fireplace in the opening, it better have been fired by the end of the scene.” (Larry was a playwright at heart.)

In Larry’s next class, ‘Writing for Children’, I found my niche. Our assignment was to read currently popular Middle Grade works. I could not believe the intense sibling rivalry and even hatred portrayed in these books. I wrote a scathing critique of one and, with a sly smile, Larry read it to the class. I was basically set-upon by my classmates, many of whom were elementary school teachers. “Why, Virginia,” they chorused, “children love these books.”

That did it. I decided to write in this genre and create a mystery within a less dysfunctional family where my central character might not need a live-in psychiatrist by the time she was fifteen years old. Thus began ‘The Willow Lane Mysteries’ series.

I didn’t have nails on my walls but I did have a large accordion file to hold the rejection slips. By the time I’d completed the second book, I decided I would never be published so my writing changed. Now I included events that I hadn’t considered before. My main character began piano lessons with all classical pieces, which I named. She fell for a new neighbor, a handsome boy who was an accomplished violinist and wasn’t embarrassed to show it.

Then, in an experiment, I had the first book set up as an eBook with an attractive cover. I compiled a list of relevant agents and publishers and my clever daughter sent out a release, via ICONTACT, of the cover with excerpts from the book. Several fellow writers let me know that this was not the way to go. I should keep sending standard submission letters, they cautioned.

Two publishers contacted me, one traditional, representing print works and one larger and strictly an eBook publisher. EBooks were suddenly everywhere. I signed on with the eBook publisher and this wonderful team gently eased me through the intricacies of publishing. Thanks to OverDrive, my ebooks are in libraries all over the world. Last year the publisher expanded to print. Now the series of four books (going on five) is available in that format. It isn’t Stephen King or Carrie. But it’s pretty thrilling all the same.

 

ginnyVirginia Rose Richter grew up in Central Nebraska. Inspired by rippling wheat fields, golden wildflowers and endless bright blue skies, Ms. Richter has written the Willow Lane Mysteries for middle grade and early-teen readers of suspense. Ms. Richter attended the University of Colorado and received a MA degree from the University of Denver and a BA degree in music from Metropolitan State College of Denver. Presently, she resides in Loveland, Colorado

 

 

Judging Books By Their Covers by Joshua Viola

2016_Joshua ViolaThey say you should never judge a book by its cover. But we all do. And you should -- especially when you're in the business of selling fiction.

All marketing techniques begin with the visual presentation. The most aggressive campaign will fail if the product lacks the right aesthetic. In fact, beautiful covers can give otherwise inferior books a marketing edge over better-written novels with mediocre exteriors.

A good cover should hint at the story within. That doesn't necessarily mean lots of details. Sometimes the simplest design is the most effective. A professional cover artist should be able to capture the book’s mood in a single frame while employing intriguing design elements.

The Internet makes the task of locating an artist easy. You can find websites with affordable options like Fiverr and those with a huge list of portfolios, such as DeviantArt. They’re both great places to start, but you’ll likely find more amateurs than top-level professionals.

If you don't want to sort through digital portfolio after digital portfolio, consider attending an art convention. Denver hosts a number of them -- many of which are comic book-related. We have the Denver Comic Con, D!NK, and Comic Fest. Comic book artists have a great sense of visual storytelling and presentation. If you do go with a comic book artist, make sure they have the ability to jump between art styles. You don’t want your new literary novel to look like the latest issue of The Amazing Spider-Man.

If conventions aren't for you, visit an art gallery or attend the First Friday Art Walk.

When you do find an artist you’re interested in working with, research their portfolio and résumé to determine their level of expertise. It’s easy to fall in love with a single piece, but it’s important that the rest of their work also hits the mark. If it doesn’t, keep looking.

Once you’ve found a prospective artist, send them samples of other book covers you like and decide whether or not they can provide something comparable to the look, feel and genre you’re going for. Then have the artist provide some basic mockups (this may not be an option until a contract is signed).

Before you sign a contract, find out what rights you'll be purchasing. Much like writers, artists are hesitant to give up the rights to their creations. Oftentimes they’ll license the work for use as your cover, but keep the rights.

Given the subjective nature of art, the artist determines the work’s value. There is no set rate. Typically, quality covers will cost between $300 and $1,000.

If you don't have the money for original art, you might find something worthwhile in the public domain. For those unfamiliar, public domain refers to content that is not subject to copyright and is legally accessible to everyone. Art typically falls into this category 120 years from the date of creation, but you’ll need to do your homework before slapping something on your book.

Public domain artwork is becoming a popular trend in publishing. For example, Tracy Chevalier's book, The Girl with the Pearl Earring, uses Johannes Vermeer’s famous painting of the same name for its cover. It’s standard practice nowadays and costs the author absolutely nothing. The New York Public Library recently added 180,000 images into the mix. If you have financial constraints, give this option some real consideration.

Remember, never underestimate the importance of a compelling presentation. It's your first and (oftentimes) last chance to reel an audience in. A professional cover will make the difference when you’re trying to convince those who don't know who you are to give your work a shot.

Now cross your fingers and hope they like your writing as much as they do your cover.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Joshua Viola is an author, artist, and former video game developer (Pirates of the Caribbean, Smurfs, TARGET: Terror). In addition to creating a transmedia franchise around The Bane of Yoto, honored with more than a dozen awards, he is the author of Blackstar, a tie-in novel based on the discography of Celldweller. Viola is the editor of the Denver Post number one bestselling horror anthology, Nightmares Unhinged, and has published Bram Stoker, Hugo and Nebula Award-winning writers. His next anthology, Cyber World, co-edited by Jason Heller, will be available this November. Blood Business, co-edited by Mario Acevedo, will be available in 2017. He lives in Denver, Colorado where he is chief editor of Hex Publishers and vice president of Frontiere Natural Meats. He can be found on the web at www.joshuaviola.com

Cybernetics. Neuroscience. Nanotechnology. Genetic engineering. Hacktivism. Transhumanism. The world of tomorrow is already here, and the technological changes we all face have inspired a new wave of stories to address our fears, hopes, dreams, and desires as Homo sapiens evolve—or not—into their next incarnation. Cyber World presents twenty diverse tales of humanity’s tomorrow, as told by some of today’s most gripping science fiction visionaries.

“Cyber World gives the cyberpunk genre a much-needed reboot.”
—Chuck Wendig, New York Times bestselling author of Star Wars: Aftermath and Zer0es
Featuring stories by Mario Acevedo, Paolo Bacigalupi, Warren Hammond, Angie Hodapp, Stephen Graham Jones, Cat Rambo, Alyssa Wong, E. Lily Yu, and many others.

Edited by Hugo Award winner Jason Heller and Joshua Viola. Foreword by Richard Kadrey.

Soundtrack of Humanity's Tomorrow featuring Celldweller, Circle of Dust, Mega Drive and Scandroid.

Available this November from Hex Publishers.

The Freedom to Write

Happy Memorial Weekend!  So many things to celebrate—the beginning of summer, the joy of family, our gratitude to veterans and those who lost their lives in war.

Like most of us, I hate the idea of war.  I know what it’s like to lose a loved one suddenly, and to have my child killed in action in a place far away under conditions I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy would be a trauma I don’t think I could endure.  It all seems so senseless. But wars have been fought since humankind first began to gather in tribes across our world. We are a violent species, and our children of 18, 19, 20 years pay the price for this.

Photo for the freedom to write.
Thank you to all our service personnel who protect our right to write.

What soldiers do, though, is bring you and I as writers a solemn and precious gift—the gift of a free press. The gift of being able to say and write what we feel is important.  The US Constitution in the first amendment recorded under our Bill of Rights guarantees our freedom of expression.  Our military personnel protect that freedom in a very real way.

I don’t know if my uncle worried about the specifics of a free press when he went to war in the 1940s, or when he had to shoot or be shot in the South Pacific.  He was just a kid who did what he was told. In all the years I “knew” him, Uncle Jack only talked of his military service once. That was just a year or two before he died, but the stories he told were frighteningly vivid even after almost 70 years had passed.  Uncle Jack’s service and the service of his buddies in WWII guaranteed that a book like Arthur Miller’s The Crucible would be published and not burned as so many books were by the Nazis. Thank you, Uncle Jack.

And even when journalists and soldiers come in principled conflict as happened in the 1960’s, our freedom to write, to challenge our mores and common thinking are protected.  While young men and women sailed across to Vietnam to, as the posters said at the time, “meet new people – and then shoot them,” our journalists at home and in the rice paddies far away were protected and even encouraged to write, to discover, to unearth the important stories.  That’s how we ended up with such classic writing as the Watergate investigations by Woodward and Bernstein, published in the Washington Post, Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin, and the television show, M.A.S.H. that criticized American involvement in foreign wars.

Today, journalists travel with armies, report in countries about political and human rights violations, cover our world with information.  According to the website cpj.org (Committee to Protect Journalists), there were 73 journalists killed in 2015, and so far in 2016 there have been 10 killed as they did their jobs of writing.  Today, people still sacrifice their lives so that crucial truths have the chance to thrive.

This leaves you and me with an important role in the story of human history.  If we have the freedom to write whatever we want, we have the obligation to write and reflect our world passionately in our stories.  Whether we write romance, or crime, fantasy or creative non-fiction, let our writing be from our hearts, and be as honest as possible.

This Memorial weekend, as we acknowledge our fallen soldiers who protect our freedom of expression, perhaps we can also spare a moment for the journalists who exercise that protected freedom. And in the process of remembrance and gratitude we can encourage our own growth as humans and writers.

And Aaron Michael Ritchey Waves His Magic Wand! Poof!

I am going to wave my magic wand, and I am going to make all your writerly dreams come true.

Yeah, my magic wand. No sex jokes.

Like Sigmund said, sometimes a magic wand is just a magic wand.

Here I go.

Do you know that story you were so excited about but every single short story market rejected you?

Poof.

You sent in query letter after query letter on the short story, and bam, a total acceptance for professional rates, ten cents a word, and you were included in a “best of” anthology. Suddenly, a hundred literary agents are knocking on your door wondering if you have a novel they can represent.

You can thank me later.

What about that cover you weren’t quite thrilled with?

Poof!

You have the ultimate cover drawn by either Frank Frazetta or Michael Whelan. Your book cover could be a movie. No, seriously, and not a movie released in January to a limited audiences, but a movie released in July with Florence +t the Machine on the soundtrack. It’s such a great cover.

You can thank me later.

What about that agent who loved your story idea, asked for the full manuscript, then eighteen months later rejected you because the market changed?

Poof!

Ten minutes after reading the full manuscript, that agent immediately called his go-to guy at HarperCollins and you are offered a six-book contract including a movie deal, and you get to meet Joss Whedon who is interested in the project.

You can thank me later.

What about that time you Indie published a book you loved more than life, more than sleep, more than donuts? It sold five copies and a week later its Amazon ranking sank into the low two millions. It’s still falling and threatens to become Amazon’s least sold book of all time.

Poof!

The day after you published the book, the Amazon ranking shot into the top one hundred. By noon? The top ten. By twilight, it was number one across all of Amazon and across all of the major categories. Suddenly, there’s a Huffington Post article on your book! How can this Indie book be dominating Amazon for weeks on end? Someone from Amazon calls you to apologize because they don’t have enough money to pay you. They’ve never seen such a book break those records. A month later, Joss Whedon calls you, personally, to ask if he can turn your book into a Netflix series.

You can thank me later.

What about that book where you did your homework, sent out review copies, made people sign blood oaths, all to get at least fifty Amazon reviews on the release day? Then? Yeah, you had two reviews. Amazon removed one, and the other was a one-star review that confused your book with the latest from Chuck Tingle.

Poof!

Not only did you get fifty five-star reviews, no, you got a hundred reviews total. And more are coming in each day. Joss Whedon left a review. And the bots working the interwebs saw all those reviews and emailed everyone across the globe—anyone with an email address—a “Buy Me” promotion about your book. You sold gazillions.

You can thank me later.

What about yesterday, when you promised yourself you’d get up early to write that one scene, which you were originally excited to write? Instead of getting up, you slept in, then wasted what little time you did have on Facebook, and then the day hit and you won’t be writing a single thing.

Poof!

Wait…

Dammit. Nothing happened?

Let me try again.

Poof!

Still nothing?

Let me check out my magic wand for a minute (no sex jokes). It’s working. I mean, it did all of that other stuff.

Oh, wait. That’s right. I can’t magic you into writing your book. That’s something firmly in your control, and yeah, it can be rough, life is busy, and dude, the Preacher comic has its own AMC show. I know. How cool is all that?

The magic wand only works on things outside of your control.

All of the wonderful things I’ve done on this blogpost are possible. They happen all the time. Magic happens to writers who finish books and get them out into the world. Sometimes great big magic. Sometimes teeny-weeny magic. But magic happens.

So do what you have control over. Write those books.

No need to thank you. You know what to do.

Terri Benson Sets Fire to Words Along with Genre Con (Literally)

I’m coming out of the closet. Yep. I’m an…introvert. What, you already knew?

That’s a pretty simple reveal. Most writers are introverts, and since writing is a fairly lonely job, it can have theWhy-Introverts-Are-Like-Cats makings for hermithood (you know, like motherhood—no wait, it’s not at all like motherhood unless you’re a mother and don’t have any friends with kiddies). Anyway, you know who you are, and what it’s like to try to network in a busy room, or to stand in front of a group and say things that make sense: right up there with a trip to the DMV.

I’m learning to come out of my shell. And the major reason is that I volunteer for RMFW. It started perfectly innocently, helping Vicki Law with the Western Slope workshops. Then, when Vicki decided to run for President of RMFW, she asked if I’d be willing to step in to run the W/S workshops, and be the Education Chair. Innocent that I was, I accepted, thinking it would be a piece of cake. Hmmm, maybe an upside down cake. I quickly realized I would have round up speakers, arrange a venue, stand up and talk in front of large groups, and all kinds of scary things.  And guess what? I survived. OK, except for the fire alarm and smoke and firetruck at the annual event last month in Golden. But there was that hunky fireman….which sort of made up for it. And despite rumors, I DID NOT set e fire. So our romance workshop got a little hot…it wasn’t my fault.

Anyway, what I’m trying to say (oh, no, there goes that song again) is that to grow as a writer I believe you have to do two things: learn to do new things, and get yourself out there. Become an ambivert - that’s someone with a little of both introvert and extrovert. The perfect place to debut the new you is at Colorado Gold. It’s too late to present, but you can still submit your story to the contest (until the end of May), which can be a little scary, but might get you a read by an agent or editor, or at least will be a good learning experience. And then there’s the Gold Conference itself. Three days of non-stop immersion in writing. You’ll be surrounded by other intro/ambi/extr-overts, all of whom are writers like you. THEY have the same worries, fears, and interests you do. They want to talk about their WIP just as much as you do. They want to discuss genres, protagonists, POV and all that ad naseum, just like you.

Take the plunge. Go to Gold. Don’t make excuses. It’s the best money you’ll ever spend. You will learn more than you ever imagined about the craft of writing and marketing, you’ll make friends that will last as long as you do (and if they put you in their book, longer), and you’ll have a chance to strut (or show) your stuff to agents or editors, but only if you DO IT.

Come on, if I can do it, so can you. It’s much more difficult to take that first step than it is to be there, in the moment. Trust me. And Write ON!

Yee Shall Not Judge or Should Yee?

Recently I’ve struggled with writing, publishing and the whole caboodle (yes, caboodle is an actual word though it shouldn’t be). I am not complaining, not in the least. No really. I swear

My issue is a matter of self-doubt. Which is my problem and mine alone. Or so I tell myself when caught whining to uninterested family members or friends. Nobody cares about how hard it is to publish or gain new readers. How the deck seems stacked against you. That is, nobody but your fellow tribe members suffering similar self-doubts and annoyances.

I love you guys!

While I am not turning this into a whine-a-thon (yes, again an actual word according to word), I wanted to preface my post with the above.

My post is about judging. Not being judgey (Caught me. Not a real word, but a good one that should be). I’ve long judged contests for various organizations. Every time I’m asked it brings up this issue of self-doubt. Who am I to say if a submission is good? Or more importantly, what it is about said submission that makes it worthy of a high score?

Yes, I’ve gotten books published. People have read them. Some liked them. Some didn’t. But I’m pretty much a hack. It was a fluke. 9 times over. I won’t ever see another word in print…

See how self-doubt derails me? It makes me feel unworthy of making simple contest judgments.

And they are simple. It’s about engaging me as a reader, not as a writer. The writer in me has a list of do’s and do nots. A bunch of reasons for every writerly action, and the consequence of opening a scene with the weather. But the reader in me doesn’t. I like certain styles more than others, sure. But any voice can engage me. Every well crafted scene can make me gasp in surprise.

I might have points to make for the writer, things I’ve experienced in my own publishing journey, but those are asides. If a writer opens with the weather, and makes me a believer in the reason for it, I, as a reader will be just fine.

Do you judge contests? If so, do you feel differently? What about critiquing? Do you read as a writer or reader? And hell, let’s open this up to self-doubt. What’s your greatest downfall when it comes to self-doubt?

3 Quick Tips to Avoid Dumb Mistakes with Writing Contests

The 2016 Colorado Gold Writing Contest is still accepting entries.  (Hot tip: the romance category needs entries—this is your chance to shine!)  It is the contest that led to my first published novel, so I’m thrilled to pass the information on to you. The contest accepts the first 4,000 words of your fiction manuscript (and 750-word synopsis) in the categories of action/thriller, mystery suspense, romance, spec fic, YA/middle grade, and mainstream/other.

Here are some tips so you can avoid some of my past mistakes.

1.  Remember the rules. Find them at rmfw.org/contest. There are just seven of them. I made a ColoGoldDeadlineJune1dumb genre mistake with my first novel. I had no fiction writing experience, and had just joined RMFW. I wrote a romance in which the hero died.  It’s amusing in hindsight, but just a reminder, be sure you’re entering in the right genre. Be attentive to format requirements, too. At the contest preparation workshop in March, Pam Nowak pointed out that you can guarantee yourself something like 9 or 10 points just by being certain the basic formatting and genre requirements are met.

2.  Don’t fudge on entry length. Way back in another century, I read on a writer's loop about circumventing contest length requirements. I thought I could fudge on the line spacing and submit a skosh more than the maximum number of pages. The contest is now run with a maximum word count, so this strategy of jiggling the line space settings is no longer an option. However, there are always some who think they can duck under the boundary rope and send more than allowed.

The contest folks note on the entry where the maximum number of words are reached. The judges are advised, and entries are not read past that point. If it’s blatant the entry may be rejected. Play it safe and follow the rules.

3.  Avoid eleventh hour panic. It’s easy to be overly confident and wait until the day before the deadline to review the entry. After all, it’s perfect as is—isn’t it? There’s an old joke about parents. When children are in their teens, their parents are really stupid. As those teens enter their twenties, their parents aren’t quite so stupid. By the time the children enter their thirties, their parents are pretty darned smart. This same focusing mechanism applies to writers as they look at their work just before a contest deadline. Their vision improves, and flaws can suddenly be seen that weren’t there before. This eleventh hour editing session quickly becomes a nightmare. In the panic that ensues as midnight approaches, massive cutting occurs, leaving hastily chopped gems lying on the cutting floor. Give yourself adequate polishing time before sending your entry.

These are the mistakes I made in my early contest career. Well, all the mistakes I’ll admit to having made, any way.

Get your entry ready, and good luck to you!

What Should an Author Expect from an Agent?

In the months between now and Colorado Gold, my guest posts here at the RMFW blog will take a lawyer's eye view at some issues that may be relevant to authors trying to choose a publishing path or figure out who (and how) to pitch their work at conference. Today, we'll kick that off with a little introduction to some the things agents do...and a few they don't.

Mismanaged (or mismatched) expectations are a fundamental cause of problems in the author-agent relationship. Before signing an agency contract, authors should understand the business and try to establishrealistic expectations about the author-agent relationship.

Know What Agents Do … and What They Don't.

A literary agent can fill many roles in an author’s world. Some of the common ones include:

- Line editing client manuscripts ("editorial" agents do this, but not usually at the first draft stage).

- Pitching manuscripts to publishers, and negotiating contract offers.

- Consulting with authors about new ideas and series development.

- Discussing short-term and long-term plans for the author’s writing career.

- Marketing advice (but they don't do the marketing - that's the author's job).

- Mentioning clients' work on the agent’s social media feeds.

- Acting as an intermediary between the author and publisher (especially when conflicts arise).

- Selling foreign, translation, and other subsidiary rights, either directly or through sub-agents.

Not all agents fill all of these roles. Investigate agents before you query, and talk with an agent who offers representation (before you sign!) about his or her preferences and business practices.

All agents should review client’s manuscripts, pitch and negotiate deals, and act as an intermediary with publishers on some level (some do more, and some do less). Beyond that, your mileage may vary.

Know What You Want YOUR Agent To Do (Within Reason)

Consider the list in the heading above. Do you want an editorial agent? Someone who’s active on social media? How involved do you want the agent to be in your long-term plans?

Beware the temptation to say “I want it all” (or "I don't want any of this") without more thought. Publishing is a business, and authors need both a business plan and a solid concept of how an agent fits (or, in some cases, doesn't fit) within it. Make a list, and be reasonable...it doesn't much matter whether or not you want your agent to give you a magical glitter-and-book-deal farting unicorn. You're not going to get it. 

Do Your Research, and Find an Agent Who Matches Your Expectations

After you know what you want from your agent, you need to focus on finding an agent who matches your expectations. If you only query agents who aren't editorial, you have only yourself to blame when the agent you sign with doesn't edit your manuscript.

It can be difficult to determine, with certainty, whether an agent's business model matches your own before you receive an offer of representation. That’s okay. “The call” is a perfect time to talk about expectations—the agent’s, as well as yours.

Obviously, authors only get to choose from the agents who actually offer representation. That’s why "doing the research before you query" is such a critical step.

If you're planning to pitch agents at conferences (including this September's fabulous Colorado Gold - registration is open now!) do your research in time to choose your pitch appointments wisely. Don't limit yourself to the conference website. Google the agents and editors, visit their websites, and find the ones who seem like a match for your preferences and your work.

Realize: There is No Magical Ring to Rule the Publishing World. You Won't Get One - And Your Agent Won't Have One, Either.

No matter how well an agent matches the author’s business expectations, we have to remember that no one can guarantee an offer, a publishing deal, or a place on the bestseller list. Sometimes a manuscript doesn't sell, no matter how hard an agent works. Sometimes publishers drop a talented author.

Publishing failures often aren't the agent’s fault - and the possibility of failure even if you do everything correctly is a sad but real expectation authors need to manage.

On the other hand, if the agent isn’t living up to the author's expectations, authors have the right to consider a change. Just make sure, if you make the decision to terminate an agency contract, you make it on the basis of an objective, honest evaluation—what the agent has done (or not), in comparison to industry standards—not on the basis of emotion or unreasonable expectations.

Managing expectations in publishing is a lot like herding cats or nailing Jell-o to a tree. It's a constant process, and it's going to get away from you at times. 

Even so, it’s worth the effort. The better you know the industry, and treat publishing as a business, the more likely you are to find an agent who meets your needs and becomes a beneficial partner in your publishing career.

What do you expect your agent to do for you? How do you manage your "agent expectations"?