As I write this I am still days away from the most traumatic experience of my life - surgery. But by the time you read this, not only will it all be over, I will be well on my way to recovery, if not fully recovered. I will know whether or not the mass they found in a CT scan one fateful day while looking for something else entirely, was cancer or not. The worst, whatever it turns out to be, will have passed.

This bifurcation of time is extremely odd to me. It is backwards from what a writer usually experiences. Whether writing fiction or non-fiction, whether writing in present tense or past, the events the writer retells have already passed for him/her by the time the reader reads their words.

It almost feels as if you, the reader, have the advantage on me. For the first time the reader has the benefit of foreknowledge of events the writer has yet to experience. Does that make any sense to you? Would that you could tell me how it all turned (turns?) out.

Honestly I'm not entirely sure what bearing this has on writing or why RMFW members should read this blog entry. There is some insight here about our responsibility to our readers, as the ones conveying to them events they have yet to experience. Something about teasing their eagerness to know what happened, and why, while at the same time respecting momentary lack of knowledge until you eventually enlighten them through prose. Something like that.

All I know is this momentary reversal of roles, me the ignorant writer, you the all-knowing reader, is delightfully disorienting, and that fascinates me.

Things I Hate to Admit to Myself

There's nothing that turns me off of a keynote speech at any gathering of writers - be it conferences, workshops, retreats, whatever - more than when the speaker starts out by telling you how impossible it is for you to become a successful writer. When they say that less than 1% of all books submitted get published, and fewer still make any profit, and yet fewer still become best sellers and launch an author's career. Or when they point out such cold hard facts as: it takes sales of 500-1000 books in the first few days of release to even get on most book-lists' radar. I could go on, but I'm guessing you hate these statistics as much as I do.

I finally sat down the other day and asked myself a very hard question: Why? Why do I hate such statistics? They are facts, after all, facts based on very real hard data, and as such they are inescapable. Resenting a fact is like hating a peach pit - you can go on hating it all you want, but every peach you eat is still going to have a pit, no matter how much you hate it. You can have someone remove the pit for you before you eat it, but this is only hiding the pit from you, not changing the fact that every peach has a pit. (Those of you who read last month's post may well wonder what's with this author's obsession with fruit. Well, mind your own business.)

We can hide from facts all we want, but that doesn't make them any less implacably true.

But I still hate these publishing statistics. And after some self-examination I know why, and why you do, too. Such statistics are like the bully who joins a pickup game of stick ball only to hit the ball over the fence and across the highway where no one can retrieve it. They are the arrogant young punk who gets on the light rail train with death metal music booming out of a portable speaker. They are the one spoiled shrimp in an otherwise delightful shrimp cocktail that makes you sick all night. They are...well you get the idea. They are spoil sports, the thorn in your side, the burning vomit that comes out of your nose as well as throat.

We hate these statistics because they ruin our fun. The fun is writing, and having others read our stories. We have been conditioned to think that we are failures if we don't have thousands and thousands of readers, and more often than not it interferes with our ability to continue writing. But is that really true? While we may dream of that, how many of us, realistically, expect to make an independent living on our writing these days? Even writers you consider quite successful continued to work other more conventional jobs during the height of their success. And many others who didn't could hardly have been called wealthy or even well off. Many more died in obscurity.

My point is, why let these statistics and reality spoil the fun? Most of us who started writing didn't do it to become wealthy (and I submit, as has been said many times on this blog, that if you did you're in the wrong business.) Most of us got into writing because we had stories to tell, we love telling stories, and we can't stop. There is nothing wrong with tracking your sales and aspiring to stardom, but for God's sake don't let lagging figures and disappointing ciphers on a page beat up on your muse. It isn't her fault readers are a fickle lot, and there's no telling what may grab their fancy at any given time. Compartmentalize your business aspirations - thousands upon thousands of sales - from the fun you have when you write. I promise you, even if you die tearing tickets at a theater, or pushing rocks with your backhoe, or building submarine sandwiches for hungry briefcase warriors, or even if you're one of those warriors yourself, you'll never regret the stories you told when you could, even if only a small circle of close friends and colleagues were your audience.

Rereading and Rereaders

First, a note, reading is my primary entertainment, I don't have cable television (I have two network channels, that's it) and I don't download and watch films.

I reread my library (not my own work) all the time. I always thought everyone did, but I was having a talk with a writer friend and found out she never rereads a book.

This got me thinking.

I know that my fans DO reread my books, and my series, and I asked them why on Facebook. I got 128 main comments and comments on the comments...

And they reread for the same reasons I do.

1) Sometimes I read a book fast, just zoom through it, and I go back and re-read to savor, pick up details I miss. This is particularly true if there's a mystery or suspense plot and I missed a clue.

2) The book is part of a series and I reread one or more previous books to recall what's going on in that particular world at that particular time.

3) I know a book explores a particular emotion/topic/character that I want to think more about and I reread for that.

4) I know I'll see something new in the plot or the characters, in the STORY when I reread.

5) I am deep in deadline or my mind is tired and I don't want to plunge into the intellectual stimulation of a new world or story question but want some entertainment.

6) And, as far as I'm concerned, the best: Comfort. I like the world, I like the characters, I like the story and I want to settle in and visit them again. There are good lines I want to savor, there are laughs I want to recall and laugh with again. Or I want to be on that spaceflight and look out the portal at the stars, or journey with the drovers in nineteenth century England, or see, once more, how love unfolds between these two very disparate people.

One that doesn't apply to me:

My favorite authors don't write fast enough and I read fast and I'd rather reread a good story than try new authors.

One that applies to writers more than rereaders:

I want to see how that writer pulled a certain technique off. One of my favorite books is Northern Lights by Nora Roberts. I think it is a fabulous example of how to have a deeply depressed hero in the beginning and keep the reader not-depressed, interested, and reading.

So, as a writer, there are several ways to consider readers who do and don't reread.

First, from the point of view of voracious readers who don't reread. They will try and will buy a lot of books, probably zoom through backlists if they find something they like. Yay!

Rereaders will be loyal fans, they'll wait and anticipate your next book. They'll know what you're talking about when you reference the Hawthorn-Holly Feud, the intelligent Turquoise House, when the flying horses (volarans) deserted the Marshall's Castle, the size of Brownies... etc. If you're on social media, you can interact with your readers, and build more of a following. Since they reread your books, they're interested in your characters and stories.

I'll talk about how readers and fans can help you out (non-promotional-wise) in some other blog, but now I think I'll head back to that werewolf challenge scene I particularly liked....


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Getting to Know You, Getting to Know All About Your Readers

As a writer, we research. It’s what we do. We research settings. Disorders. Things that go bump in the night. Urban and suburban legends and the occasional garden gnome murder spree. We know what the height of fashion was in 1723 and who wore it best. We know our guns. Our poisons. And the quickest way to a man’s heart, which is usually a knife and not food as we’ve always heard.

We KNOW this because we’ve researched it.

Okay, maybe not the last thing, but the rest of it.

So what do you know about the/your reader?

The being a general reader in your genre, and then more importantly, the reader of your books. How old are they? What do they do for a living? How do you gain more of people like them and keep those you have?

Now many authors might not care, but not you, you smart and very attractive author. You know that the reader is the very reason you publish books. Without him or her, you might as well daydream, and avoid those pesky plot holes and dialogue tags.

The best way to research who your reader is and where to find them is by asking your current ones. I have a survey on my monthly newsletter. I can change it depending on what sort of marketing I’ll be doing and what burning questions I have about my readers. This works two-fold, I get promotional insight and I also invite my readers to engage with me.

It shows that I am genuinely interested in them. In who they are and how we can interact. Basically, I am totally nosy. If you aren’t or you don’t have this kind of time, which is fine as you can still gain the insights you need, I suggest sticking with the more generic version of demographic stats each genre has on the reader. Just google Romance reader statics and you’ll find plenty of info.

We have the how, but what about the why? How does knowing what platform a reader prefers will sell more of my books? If you’re self-published the answer might be apparent, publish to that platform. If you’re traditionally published, it’s a little harder to see.

According to Nielsen data, Amazon holds a 61% share of the ereader market. Now you as an author don’t have much say in where or the platform your publisher chooses. But you can use this information to limit your marketing scope. Why not try placing ads targeted to your reader demographics on a Kindle? I don’t suggest it though, as another stat comes into play. Most people aren’t reading on the ereader itself, but using an app on a mobile device. Wasted ad dollars, all found out because of reader research!

See, I saved you a few bucks right there.

I hope you see the value of reader research and will become a fellow stats geek with me, as I hate to geek out alone.

What type of reader research do you do? How have you used it in the past? I have plenty of ideas, so let’s talk readers!

Hook me, baby.

By Robin D. Owens

Hook me, baby

Occasionally I pick up one of the unread books I've purchased and say, "hook me, baby." Most of the time I realize why I didn't read the book right away, and often I just go to something else. The amount of time I can spend reading is extremely limited, and if there isn't a good hook, I'm gone.

My bias: I am a firm believer in getting the hook in the first line, and if not the first line, then the first paragraph. I think the longer you take to set the hook, the more likely it is that the reader will skip to the next book in the pile (or on their device). I believe that no matter your status as a writer – unpublished or New York Times #1 Best Seller, you should attempt to hook the reader as soon as humanly possible. Don't expect the reader to have read any other books of yours, especially if you write series. Work your hook, always.

Like I said, this is my bias and this is the point of view I'm coming from in this article. And as a reader, I want to be drawn into a story quickly. (I once had an agent turn Heart Thief down because she "liked to sink into a story.")

The following are some openings that DON'T work for ME. These are true examples, pretty much as I flicked through my electronic library, but the authors will remain anonymous.

1) Starting with the weather. I don't care if it's hot and sultry, or if a thunderstorm is raging. Why, if your hero is making a pact with the devil at the end of the paragraph, don't you put that in the first line? Or if your heroine senses danger outside in that storm, you wait until the end of the second paragraph before telling me? Use it up front to get me interested in your story.

2) Five people named in the first two pages. What? Who? Why? What is going on that there are so many people? Who are they, and who of these five are important? Where are they? You have to keep track of them all, what they look like, their ages, and who moves where. This was especially necessary in the mystery I'd started. This becomes less of entertainment and enjoyment and more work for me, the reader.

3) Ten pages of standing and looking out the window and thinking about backstory, or driving somewhere and thinking of the past. When will the action/story actually start?

4) The hero or heroine embarrassing himself/herself or acting stupid in the first scene. If I'm putting myself in that person's skin, I don't want to feel embarrassed or stupid, I can do that just fine on my own in my own life, thank you, I expect more of my protagonists. At this point, unless I know and trust the author, I don't know if the character will really improve or not.

5) Point of view of a wonderful person, an obvious victim who will die before the end of the first scene. I especially don't like to be tortured to death. You had better have a very good story reason for this, and you had better not have been manipulating my emotions gratuitously. This is a cheap-shot to try and get me involved without giving me information on your main protagonist.
Note: I finished this book, but am still irate that the New York Times best-selling author didn't find a better way to give us information that the main characters didn't know. S/he should have mastered a better technique to do so, and if s/he doesn't know a better technique his/her editor should have. I reread the books I buy often. I have never reread this scene.

Other ways of opening that may or may not work, depending upon the reader and/or the technique of the writer. These you should consider.

Starting with a dream. Conventional wisdom states this is a no-no. I can't say "never," since in my twenty-four published books, two have started with a dream, including the latest, Heart Fire, which begins with a nightmare of a past event. Two pieces of advice: Make sure readers know up front it's a dream, and keep it as short as possible.

Single character on stage. I've also used single character on stage; again, keep the backstory to a minimum, keep the time the person is solo as short as possible, and make sure the character's voice is engaging, or the events s/he's immersed in are active -- fast action and/or a dangerous situation.

Tense and/or Point of View, for instance:

First person present tense. I, personally, have a problem with reading this. It makes my head ache. If there isn't something especially wonderful about the book, I close it. Be aware of tense and point of view with regard to the genre you're writing in and your audience.

With regard to point of view, I like deep third person past tense. I don't particularly care for omniscient point of view as it seems distancing to me as a reader and the less engaged I am in the story, the more likely I am to put the book down. Again, some genres and readers accept this better.

And that's my two-bits on hooks and hooking me to read your work. Other people might have other sensitivities, but I will say that I try my best to stay away from what bothers me as a reader as I craft my own work as a writer.

Be aware what hooks YOU and keeps you reading, study the books and the openings that particularly worked for you as a reader and figure out if you can use the same technique.

May all your writing dreams come true,

My List of Writerly Thanks-Giving

By J.A. (Julie) Kazimer

Through the span of my writing career, which started in 2006 when I started pursuing the dream of fame and fortune based solely on my ability to make shit up (yeah, I quickly realized my mistake) I’ve been given so much. And this post is a thank you for so many things, and for so many people.

I’m thankful each day for the books I’ve loved and hated over the years. Each and every one has given me more than I can ever say. In many ways, I don’t think I would be who or where I am if I hadn’t been given the gift of being a reader.

I’m thankful for the writers who put their words on paper/computer screen. Whether they are published, pre-published, or write in a journal daily. Each time someone writes, I am thankful (as long as they don’t become famous and rich, those ones I really hate).

Aaron Ritchey recently posted a comment on my facebook saying, “What we do matters”. Until that moment I hadn’t realized how right he is. Can you think of all the ways in which writers impact you daily? How your life would be different if books didn’t exist. Terrifying, right?

So thank you, you wonderful wordsmiths.

Thank you also to my tribe(s). I joined RMFW in 2008. I’ve met wonderful writers from every genre and walk of life. We are a group built on the love of words. What more could you ask for in your friends?

I’m thankful for those editors and my agent for believing enough in what I write to keep me doing so. And for making me sound so much better than I do in the draft I send them.

Thanks to this RMFW blog. I enjoy every post by our fabulous regular contributors: Karen Duvall, Mary Gillgannon, Jeffe Kennedy, Katriena Knights, Liesa Malik, Pamela Nowak, Colleen Oakes, Robin D. Owens, Aaron Michael Ritchey, Kerry Schafer, Susan Spann, Jeanne C. Stein, Mark Stevens and Kevin Paul Tracy. They all rock. But none of this would be possible without the most awesome Patricia Stoltey. Pat is not only editor extraordinaire for this blog, but the founder too. Without her we would never have learned so much about writing and living as a writer from the contributors.

Thank you to the readers of this blog too. You all make me so happy. I love reading your comments, love learning more about you. So thank you to those who comment and to those who read us. I hope you will continue to so we can all learn how to be even better at what we do.

And finally, I am most thankful for readers. I’m not just talking about my readers, though you all are the best, coolest, smartest readers around…No, I’m talking about everyone who loves books. Who loves to spend their time lost in another world. Who would eat cat food in order to afford the newest release from their favorite author.

Who and what are you thankful for this writerly thanks-giving?


Come visit me at or better yet, friend me on facebook.

Honoring Your Contract

By Katriena Knights

One of the most important things you can do is a writer is honor your contracts. I’m not talking about your contracts with your publishers. I’m talking about your contracts with your readers.

Wait, what? Authors don’t sign contracts with readers, do they? So what am I yapping on about this time?

Readers have expectations. These expectations vary depending upon what kind of book you’re writing. Or, in some cases, the kind of book you claim to be writing. Violating these expectations can lose you your readers—sometimes permanently.

Of course this is more true with genre writing than literary. Most mainstream books have some built-in expectations, as well, but they’re a bit more fluid. Still, when you move from writing for yourself to writing to an audience, it’s a good idea to keep those audience expectations in mind. Most of these expectations have to do with the book’s ending.

For example, in a romance, your reader expects a happily-ever-after ending—an HEA—or at least a happy-for-now—HFN. If your romantic couple decides to go there separate ways, or if one dies horribly, your book isn’t a romance. If you market it as a romance and it lacks the HEA or HFN, your readers will discover you’ve violated that contract and probably won’t come back.

Mystery readers expect the crime to be solved, whether it’s a murder or petty theft. The solving of the crime should drive the plot, and the solution should drive the climax. Loose ends might be left here and there, but the main crime should be wrapped up. If you decide to be extra “edgy” and “realistic” and leave the crime unsolved, you’ve violated your contract. (There are mystery writers who’ve successfully published books that don’t wrap everything up, but they were long-time, established authors with a fan base willing to go along for the ride.)

With any book, of any genre, readers expect a conclusion of some sort. If too much is left hanging, plot points are tied up, or characters are left without resolution, you’ll lose some readers. This is why my copy of Trumpet of the Swan fell apart after about ten readings, but I only read Stuart Little a couple of times. Louis got a nicely constructed happily-ever-after, but poor Stuart didn’t get a nicely tied-up ending. I suppose maybe it was appropriate for his story, but I’m still bitter about it.

However, that’s an example where the genre didn’t dictate the ending. It wasn’t a violation of a genre contract, but it didn’t live up to my personal expectations. As a writer, there’s nothing you can do about that, so there’s no point trying. But do keep in mind the expectations of your genre and of your average reader when you’re stitching that plot together.