Posted by: J. Thomas Ross | October 21, 2014

Connections, Coincidences, and Small-World Moments

76 - Tom holding a chick, 7-18-14

Connecting with new life at the Burlington County Farm Fair, July 18, 2014

I have new neighbors. They just happen to be Italian and love zucchini. I just happen to have an over-abundance of zucchini from my garden (which won’t surprise anyone who’s ever planted it). What a serendipitous coincidence!

Connections, coincidences, and small-world moments.

I don’t go around looking for them, but I’m constantly finding them. They provide a special kind of delight, both in life and in literature.

Years ago on a visit to Disney World I ran into one of my students. Of the thousands of people at Disney World on a summer’s day, what is the likelihood that I would come across one of my students? Very slim. Coincidence, or – in Disney World – a small-world moment? I don’t know, but definitely a connection. When far from home, I’m continually amazed that I so often meet others from New Jersey. Everywhere, more often than not, I find connections with other people.

Cruising on the Seine outside Paris, May 7, 2013

Cruising on the Seine outside Paris, May 7, 2013

Looking for and forming connections with others is part of what makes us human. The longer we live, the more we read and learn, the broader our experiences, the more likely we are to find connections, and these connections add richness and vibrancy to life.

Connections also make literature resonate with readers. Readers like to make connections with a book’s characters; otherwise, reading the book is more a chore than a delight. Other types of connections also enhance the reading experience. When reading a favorite author’s books, I enjoy well-crafted and logical cameo appearances of characters from another of the author’s novels, and I get a kick out of noticing how an author has casually mentioned items of later importance and otherwise foreshadowed later events in the novel.

I started thinking about connections after attending The Write Stuff Conference in the spring. None of my close writer friends attended, so I went by myself. My innate shyness makes this hard for me, but I’ve learned not to let it hold me back because I’ve learned that I tend to meet more people when I go alone.

Writers attending The Essential Elements of Online Marketing Workshop with Don Lafferty, March 20, 2014

Writers attending The Essential Elements of Online Marketing Workshop with Don Lafferty, March 20, 2014

Making connections with other writers has so many benefits. Laboring alone – with family members who may support but often don’t and can’t truly understand – is difficult. How encouraging it is to find others who share the same problems, others who understand! In addition, each writer has his or her own unique process and experience; I love listening to the many stories of other writers. Sharing experiences, processes, news in the writing community, and writing tips enhances everyone’s writing adventure.

If you’re looking for them, you never know what connections you might discover. One evening at The Write Stuff Conference, I missed the group I had planned to have dinner with. As I stood uncertainly in the lobby, three other writers asked if I wanted to join them. I did, and during the course of the meal learned that Gerry, who also lives in New Jersey, is an immigration lawyer, while Hillary, is an immigrant from England … and I have an immigrant sister-in-law and daughter-in-law. Connections.

So, I urge you to attend a conference or convention, even if you have to do it alone. Look for those connections. You never know what might turn up.

For those introverts who have difficulty starting a conversation with people they don’t know, remember that you have two things immediately in common with everyone else at the conference: you are both writers and you both decided to attend the conference. Pretend you are a reporter and ask questions. You know the five W’s: who, what, where, when, and why (and how). Ask another writer what she writes, where he lives, where she writes, when he writes, how she finds time to write, and any other questions you can think of. Your new acquaintance’s answers can give you cues to more questions, and before you know it, you have made a connection.

What connections do you look for when reading? How do you connect with other writers?

Writers connecting at the Writers' Coffeehouse in Willow Grove, June 24, 2012

Writers connecting at the Writers’ Coffeehouse in Willow Grove, June 24, 2012

Posted by: Kerry Gans | October 16, 2014

Top Picks Thursday 10-16-2014

Welcome to this week’s eclectic mix of craft, business, and fun writing links from around the web!

Zilpha Keatley Snyder, author of 40+ books for children including The Egypt Game, has died at age 87.

Announcing the 2014 National Book Awards Finalists.

In England, a child pleads for someone to save the Liverpool libraries.

In diversity news, Mitali Perkins has created a checklist to see race and culture in kid lit and YA, while Alexander Chee discusses the benefits to reading exclusively women writers.

Every writer gets asked awkward questions by friends and family members. L.Z. Marie gives us handy responses to questions people always ask writers.


It’s that time of year—NaNoWriMo approaches. As thousands of writers gear up for the long haul, veterans of the writing marathon give advice. Mia Botha shares 5 life-saving tips for writers, and Janice Hardy discusses planning your novel’s beginning.

It’s that time of year—Halloween approaches. In this season of terror, the horror genre comes into its own. April Genevieve Tucholke has 6 tips for writing young adult horror, while Emily Wenstrom gets freaky with how to write a scary story.

The start of your book is of utmost importance, so Ingrid Sundberg examines 4 types of prologues. But how do you keep the reader turning the pages? Jessica Bell shows us how to create strong chapter endings (scroll to below the contest for the article).

There is a lot prose writers can learn from screenwriting. However, prose has different requirements than screenwriting. Roz Morris discusses writing description in prose, while Dale Kutzera examines the differences in screenwriting vs. prose writing.

It’s impossible to write a story without a character. Robin LaFevers shows how to discover your character’s secrets in pre-writing, K.M. Weiland explains how to write character arcs in a series, Sharon Arthur Moore has tips to write “bad boy” characters, and if you want to kill off a character, Patti Phillips has 100 ways to die an unnatural death.

We are often told about the writing rules—and that we can break them with reason. Colleen Oakley and others discuss 5 writing rules we break—and why.

There’s a lot that goes in to a successful book. Laura Backes collects 7 things editors at children’s book publishers wish writers knew, and Karen Russell and Chris Adrian discuss digital books and story design.

When you are starting your writing career, you need a great deal of two things: practice and feedback. Melissa Cornwell shares 5 ways writing fan fiction can help a beginning writer. Critique usually goes both ways, so Cecelia Dominic shares tips for being the critiquer and the critiquee.

Sometimes the writing game can seem incredibly slow, and the goals impossibly high. Jami Gold reminds us that slow progress is still progress nonetheless, Elizabeth S. Craig recommends setting the bar low for goals, and Neal Martin shows how to use your mistakes to achieve success as a writer.

Scott Myers explores whether the creative life thrives more on ritual or routine, while Chuck Wendig tells it like it is and reminds us that nobody owes writers anything.


Amazon plans to open their first physical store in Midtown Manhattan before the holiday season.

Signing with a small press can be wonderful—or it can be a nightmare. Salomé Jones discusses the potential perils and pitfalls of signing with a small press—and how to avoid them.

If you’re self-publishing and want print-on-demand, what service should you use? Giacomo Giammatteo compares Ingram Spark vs. CreateSpace for POD. If you’ve been disappointed with your traditional publishing career, hear how bestseller Eileen Goudge revived her career by self-publishing.

Ever wonder how to register copyright on your work? Victoria Strauss tells us how to avoid getting scammed and register copyright correctly.

Marketing takes many forms. Your author bio is one of the first things many people see, so D. Jean Quarles gives us 5 tips to writing a strong author bio. Christina Hamlett lists 5 simple rules for an author phone interview, and Joanna Penn tells us how to read your own audio book and sell direct to customers.

Social media plays a large role in our business lives these days. Janet Reid lists 10 common errors in social media, Jason Matthews asks: should writers blog?, and Jawad Kahn gives us the only 3 traffic generating techniques beginning bloggers should concentrate on.


Coffee and writers go together. Many of us write in coffee shops. But are you being a coffee shop etiquette offender?

Lost stories by a young Truman Capote are published in a German magazine in the run-up to a book of them out later.

Check out this Open Road Media mini-documentary (about 1.5 minutes) about women in SF & Fantasy.

That’s all for this week!

Social media is an inescapable part of being an author these days. The question then becomes, “Which social media platforms should I be on?” With so many, many platforms out there, it makes the head whirl!

Personally, I write for 2 blogs (here and my personal blog), and am on my website, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and Goodreads. And of course once you have books out you need to keep your profiles current on the bookselling sites like Smashwords and Amazon’s Author Central. Then fellow Chronicler Matt Q. McGovern told us all about Ello, and that we should get on it.

Seriously? Another platform to spend time on instead of writing?

I already feel like I am everywhere and nowhere. As a writer I have to squeeze my writing around my child’s schedule, so my time is already constrained. I touch base on many social media platforms during the day, but I know I m not as deeply engaged as I probably need to be in order to be effective. I am spread so thin, I don’t think I can add another network.

So what can we beleaguered writers do? We know we must have an online presence, so our audience can find us. But where is the best use of our time? There are 2 answers to that question:

1) Where your audience is

2) Where you enjoy being

Obviously, the best use of your time online would be to be on the social media platform where your target audience plays. This differs for every demographics, so you need to do your homework. You want to be where your audience can most easily find you.

However, if your needed social media platform is not the same as your favorite, then make sure you also spend time on the social media you enjoy. Why? Because being online shouldn’t be all a chore. You need to have some fun, or you’ll get burnt out. And if you are online somewhere you’re comfortable, chances are good that your audience will find you there and engage with you where you are obviously enjoying yourself.

For a while, the advice was for authors to be everywhere on social media. We’ve all found that in reality, this doesn’t work well—it eats up too much precious writing time. So now the advice seems to be shifting: focus on one or two social networks—the one where your audience lives and one that you enjoy. If you are very lucky, they will be one and the same, and your social media “chores” can turn into fun and relaxed interaction with your readers.

What social media platforms have been your most successful ones?

Posted by: Kerry Gans | October 9, 2014

Top Picks Thursday 10-09-2014

We welcome you to another round up of writerly links from around the internet.

For those interested in history, Cartridge Discount has put together an infographic of the history of printing.

Moving on to ebooks, a number of literary lions including Philip Roth and Ursula K. LeGuin have joined the protest over Amazon’s ebook tactics.

Shannon Hale wonders if having age ranges for children’s books encourages exclusivity and cuts writers off from potential readers.

Thinking of starting a podcast? Ellen Britt tells how to build buzz for your podcast.

In the writing community, November is becoming synonymous with massive amounts of writing. Marissa Meyer says if you have an inspiration emergency, write an author manifesto. Nina Amir doesn’t see why fiction writers should have all the fun, and started Write Non-Fiction in November.


Stephanie Burgis talks about chronic illness as a reader and as a writer.

In genre writing, Shallee McArthur discusses the perils of near-future science fiction—and how to write it anyway, while Kira Peikoff shares 5 tips for writing suspense.

Jonathan Hunt writes about the problems of writing in present tense, and Ken Hughes explains why your scene needs a problem.

Dialogue makes your story pop. Roz Morris shows us how to get characters talking, and K.M. Weiland tells how to avoid repetitive dialogue.

One reason writing is so difficult is because so many elements must be strong for the story to work well. John Mauk lays out 3 things your novel’s narrator needs to accomplish, Shannon Donnelly explains how to write satisfying endings, and Janice Hardy counsels when to revise what in your novel.

Jane Smiley shares 5 writing tips, and Sherry Ramsey explains how to write the all-important blurb.

Glimmer Train extols the benefits of procrastination and distraction, while Lauren Schmelz examines instant gratification and asks: what’s the hurry?

Jordan Hamessley London describes life as an editor married to an author, Liam Lowth lists 3 ways travel makes you a better writer, and Chuck Wendig has a tough love talk for writers.

Most writers need to work a day job while writing. Lori Rader-Day explains why writing with a day job can be a good thing, and Patrick Ross celebrates creatives who work a day job.

Even if you have a day job, writing is a full-time business. Joanna Penn describes developing a writer’s production plan, and discusses 5 aspects of your writer business to consider. And for those writers running their full-time business on part-time hours, Ali Luke explains how to stay sane while building your writing career part time.


Every writer wants to earn a living from their writing. Joanna Penn gives us 7 smart ways to earn multiple streams of income from a single manuscript.
In publishing, print books outsold ebooks for the first half of 2014. Also, Lloyd Lofthouse examines how Amazon changed book cover design and why authors need to pay attention.

Agent Janet Reid addresses the problem of revising a novel for one agent and getting a request from another agent at the same time. If you are searching for agents, check out Lana Popovic of Chalberg & Sussman and Kristin Vincent of D4EO.

Victoria Strauss tells us how to request a rights reversion from a publisher.

How do you create successful marketing? Angela Ackerman has 10 tips to organizing a kickass online book event, Lynn Bouchard explains how to weave your uniqueness into your marketing to connect with your readers, Chuck Wendig keeps it real on social media, and Sophie Kinsella shares top 10 tips for being a best-selling author.

The internet is an important tool for writers—but how can you know what’s working? Michael Hardach has tips for getting the most out of Google+, and Frances Caballo discusses AuthorRise, a powerful analytics tool for writers.


Halloween is approaching. Check out these 14 amazing bookish Halloween costumes for children.

Did you know these 10 hit Broadway shows were inspired by bestsellers?

Edgar Allen Poe had a love-hate relationship with his native town of Boston. As of now, Edgar Allan Poe’s feud with Boston is nevermore.

Sara Gentry passes on timeless lessons we’ve learned from Jane Austen.

Check out Macbeth in the digital age.

It’s time to get Medieval. Erik Kwakkel explores 16th century censorship using a paper snippet and the Spanish Inquisition, and he also discusses Medieval doodles on NPR (the second item in).

That’s it for us this week! Enjoy your weekend!

Posted by: Gwendolyn Huber | October 6, 2014

Writing Lessons From Free E-books

When I had to purchase a new phone last year I fortuitously hit a “buy a phone get a tablet” deal so I’ve taken to reading e-books this year.

Naturally that means I’m taking advantage of free e-book offers, which means my reading material has diverged from my usual – those weeded out by bookstores and libraries, and favorite authors I’d follow anywhere – to authors I might not otherwise have read.

I can tell you that offering a free e-book can work very well for an author.  I got hooked so deeply on book one of the Shadow Unit by Emma Bull that I couldn’t stop until I’d read number 14.

The truly interesting thing for me as a fledgling writer is that in reading such an extreme variety of writing levels, mediocre to expert, I’m seeing more clearly the contrast between where I am and where I want to be, between what makes me want to read the next book and what makes me not care, between what I’m willing to forgive in a story and the things I find unforgivable.

Posted by: Kerry Gans | October 2, 2014

Top Picks Thursday 10-02-2014

Posted by: Matt Q. McGovern | September 30, 2014

Channeling your inner librarian

When I first started writing in earnest, I found that my reading increased significantly.

I would target genres that I wasn’t familiar with, writers that I didn’t know but whose style I felt I needed to experience, books from writers I met at a convention and whose books I bought in person, books I had already read but wanted to read again with a perspective that had now changed.

I even started an annual tradition of picking a new sub-genre to read. I did this at a convention that had a book trading room. I would pick a couple of subjects and try to combine them. Then I’d tell a book seller what I was thinking. Sometimes I’d change it, depending on what they came up with. Sometimes, I would just point to a picture on the cover of one book, and say something like “let’s combine this with mystery”. But every year, I was able to discover something new.

From all of that, I have more favorite authors, as you can well imagine. And, a LOT OF BOOKS. More than I can fit on the various bookshelves I have at home.

Or in the boxes I have at the foot of the bookshelf in my bedroom.

Or in the crates I have on a second desk in my office.

Or in the closet, my bureau, or…the floor. Sad smile

I must say at this point, that while this sounds like quite a mess (and it kinda is), I love it. If I’m going to be or have a mess anywhere I love this one.

One problem, though, is that not all of these books are read yet. I’ve gotten to the point where I need to catalog all these to see what I’ve read and bring the catalog with me whenever I find myself in a position to buy books next (thank all deities I follow some semblance of a budget).

Being a software developer, I know this will end with me creating a database on my home computer, and then arguing with myself on how much time I want to spend on the project of making a mobile phone solution so I can synchronize between the two automatically, etc. etc. etc.

All so I can conveniently have some management of the books I have, categorized by title, author, maybe genre, if I’ve read it, etc.

I would make my life easier if I skipped the database and just made a big spreadsheet. I could put that on my phone with some cursing.

How do YOU all manage this insanity? Smile

Posted by: Kerry Gans | September 25, 2014

Top Picks Thursday 09-25-2014

As always, we welcome our readers, new and old, to our weekly round up.

If you enjoy children’s literature, check out the 2014 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature longlist.

Authors Josh Weil and Mike Harvkey recently completed a cross-country book tour, and found that the rumored death of indie bookstores is premature.


If you write short stories, Dr. John Yeoman shows how using deep structure can help you write contest-winning stories.

Do you ever find yourself stuck in your writing? Lynette Eason tells us how we can use social media for brainstorming.

If you want to write a great bad guy, check out Adrienne deWolf’s 10 tips for writing bad guys readers love to hate. And C.S. Lakin reminds us to bring settings to life by showing settings through the eyes of your characters.

Revising is essential, but it can be very hard to revise your own work. Jami Gold lists 5 ways to see our story objectively, Carly Sandifer advises that we think big while revising with these 9 steps, and Janice Hardy lays out the benefits of doing an editorial map.

There are many different paths to success. Kristin Lamb says that to succeed, we must learn to quit. But sometimes we need to get started in order to succeed. In that case, Jenna Avery has 7 ways to beat procrastination.

No matter where you are in your writing career, there’s more to learn. Anne R. Allen notes 10 things that red flag newbie novelists, while Gene Doucette shares some really good bad advice for writers. The psychology of a writer is a mysterious thing. Lauren Sapala discusses the difficulty writers have with identity.


Lawyer Helen Sedwick tells us how to use real people in our writing without getting sued, and Penny Sansevieri shares the secret formula of a bestselling book.

Marketing is not a passive activity. Jason Kong explains how to be active in our marketing. To that end, Molly Greene shows how to vet book blogging sites, Naomi Blackburn lays out how to create a blog strategy, Anne R. Allen urges us to find success partnering with other authors, and S.R. Johannes lists 8 marketing don’ts.

That’s it for us this week! See you in October!

Posted by: Nancy Keim Comley | September 24, 2014

Soothing The Savage Kindergartener

This fall our son started kindergarten. He enjoys school but, as the week progresses, the tiredness builds until he has a stunned hit-by-a-brick look about him. By Thursday he stumbles into the house and loses his temper at me, the dogs, his sister, chairs, and dust particles. Or at least that what it feels like.
Last week, in a desperate attempt at stemming the tiredness-fueled temper I downloaded the audio book of SWALLOWS AND AMAZONS by Arthur Ransome. I put on the story during snack and he immediately calmed down. After he finished eating he began building with Legos.
After SWALLOWS AND AMAZONS he asked that we listen to an old favorite, FREDDY AND THE SPACESHIP by Walter R. Brooks. More Lego contraptions followed. He even asked me to build with him (I made a flying machine piloted by a dog).
Most days, as soon as we walk in the door, even before he eats his snack, I turn on an audio book. After an hour of listening and building he’s still tired, yet calm. After that down time I can get him to go for a walk with me or play on the swings outside, things that before he hadn’t been able to find the patience to do. And then he tells me stories.
FREDDY AND THE SPACESHIP led to him to build numerous Lego rockets and then inspired him to tell me a long story about going on a rocket and exploring space. With a pig, a cat, an old lady and a bad guy who is actually good. I had to listen very carefully becausehe then asked me to tell the story back to him and corrected every deviation from the original.
I am delighted that as his life changes and expands he can find comfort in beautifully told stories. Long may it last.

Posted by: Kerry Gans | September 18, 2014

Top Picks Thursday 09-18-2014

Welcome to another week of craft, business, and fun writing-related links!

Speculative fiction author Graham Joyce died in the UK this week.

Also in the UK, the Man Booker Prize for Fiction 2014 shortlist came out—but John Dugdale asks: Has the Man Booker Prize really opened up?

Friend of the blog Jonathan Maberry reveals his key to social media success to Porter Anderson.

Lizzie Skurnick explains why she started an imprint to reprint classic YA novels.

Judith Rosen takes a look at how indie bookstores are faring amid a summer of Amazon/Hachette battles. Across the pond, French bookstores find the fun in failing to stock a bestseller.

Does the fluctuating use of words in English drive you crazy? Ammon Shea makes a plea for linguistic tolerance. And you can comfort yourself with Robert Beard’s 100 most beautiful words in the English language.


Sometimes getting started is the hard part. Many writers do research prior to writing, some do it as they go along. Donna Bowman Bratton compares research to scavenger hunts, while Janalyn Voigt gives us a simple way to research a novel.

Some writers need to outline before they can start. Kiki Sullivan explains why outlining helps and how you can do it, and K.M. Weiland shares a 5-step game plan for outlining your novel.

If you write picture books, Mary Kole suggests that rhythm is more important than rhyme. Whatever you write, pay attention to what Theodor Adorno calls the art of punctuation.

Revision is the bane of many writers, but it is necessary. Jami Gold discusses finding problems vs. fixing problems, Marcy Kennedy shares a simple grammar trick that will clean up your fiction, and Katherine Pickett describes what to expect from a developmental editor.

Characters can give us headaches, but they are the heart of our story. P.J. Parrish advises listening to your characters, K.M. Weiland shows how to use reward and punishment to get your characters to change, C.S. Lakin discusses how setting and locale shape us and our characters, Julie Musil has 4 tips for writing about unfamiliar character issues, and Mary Kole reminds us never to save the villain’s motivation for a “big reveal” at the end.

We all want to be more productive, right? Michelle Krys has 3 tips to increase productivity when working from home, Nalini Singh shares 5 tips for writing faster, George Luke talks about NaNoWriMo skills that might help, and Andrea Merrell reminds us that being ergonomically correct can increase productivity by relieving strain and pain.

We are often advised to “write what you know.” Drew Chial explores the pros and cons of mining life experience for fiction, while Jenny Martin explains how reality inspires science fiction.

Sometimes writers wrestle with doubts: am I a “real” writer? Is what I write “worthy”? Kristen Lamb says that it’s time to stop worrying about defining a “real” writer, while Daphne Shadows dissects the attitude that genre fiction is the scum of the literary world. As Patrick S. Tomlinson reminds us, no one coasts to the top.

Creativity comes in all forms. Zadie Smith describes the micro-manager writer vs. the macro-planner, Marianne Evans finds inspiration in baking bread, and Ingrid Wickelgren proves that brilliance often springs from boredom.

Feeling disheartened because you are over 30 and not published yet? Never fear! Brandi Megan Granett has 6 pieces of writing advice from first-time writers over 40, and Rincey Abraham discusses 8 authors who had their biggest success after 50.


If you are pursuing traditional publishing, Cindy Jones thinks she might know why the agents aren’t biting.

Marketing includes many, many avenues of publicity. has a podcast with 5 keys to working with bookstores, before and after you’re published, Den Patrick explores whether or not you should display your book when on a book panel, and Neil Gaiman does a clever twist on video and book club promo.

Nina Amir has 4 ways writers can make money from a blog, and Jane Friedman explains what self-hosting is and when and why you should do it.


What if your favorite author’s next book was slated for release…in 100 years? That’s what’s in store for many authors who have signed on with a Norwegian library that is creating a special collection of books by current authors to be printed in 100 years—when the trees to print them with have matured.

For Harry Potter fans, see the magic behind the new Harry Potter covers.

If you are looking for inspiration for your title page, Joel Friedlander has 500 years of book title pages to stimulate your imagination.

A new Sherlock Holmes adventure by Arthur Conan Doyle will be published. This story was one of the tiny books housed in the Windsor Castle Doll’s House.

Bram Stoker’s handwritten manuscript for the stage version of Dracula will go on display at the British Museum.

Monday, 9/15/2014 was James Fenimore Cooper’s 225 birthday! He was born in Burlington, New Jersey.

And now for some silliness: Taylor Mali’s performance of The The Impotence of Proofreading, and the parody fantasy writing Twitter account Awful Fantasy.

That’s all for this week!

Older Posts »



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 130 other followers