Posted by: Kerry Gans | November 26, 2015

Top Picks Thursday 11-26-2015

Welcome to Top Picks Thursday! It is Thanksgiving Day here in the USA, and many of us are partaking of turkey and stuffing and cranberry sauce. We here at the Author Chronicles are thankful for all of our readers here—not just today, but every day.

Jarry Lee gathers 17 literary Thanksgiving puns.

The 2015 National Book Award winners are announced. Congratulations to all, and that’s something wonderful to be thankful for today!

Writers often shy away from controversial topics on social media because we don’t want to alienate our readers. Yet many feel frustrated by having to bite their tongues. Tracy Hahn-Burkett discusses the power of a fiction writer’s pen, and her journey to deciding whether or not to engage in non-fiction political discourse.


It takes a long time to learn to write well. Like anything else, mastering the skills does not happen overnight. C.S. Lakin challenges writers to play the waiting game, and gives ideas n the most productive uses of that time.

Sometimes you can speed up your learning (and ramp up the fun) by entering into a writing partnership. Before you do, read Jennifer Hale’s 7 tips for a successful writing partnership.

Characters will carry your story. K.M. Weiland shows how to write multiple antagonists effectively, Julie Glover tells us how to use grammar to strengthen voice, and Alex Limberg shares 3 simple tricks to create a character different from you.

Writers try hard to avoid cliches and stereotypes in our work. Bonnie Randall urges us to consider the dysfunctional home your character was raised in, K.M. Weiland busts 6 strong female character stereotypes, while Elizabeth Hall Magill discusses feminist storytelling.

Our writing process and our writing tools can speed up our writing output. Molly Greene describes how a pantser outlines, and Gwen Hernandez gives a tutorial on Scrivener fundamentals: what every user should know but probably doesn’t.

The point where our writing moves from craft to business product is often stressful and fraught with angst. Paula Munier explains the big reason why agents and editors often stop reading, and James Scott Bell tells us why the writer and the market should be friends.


The Wall Street Journal writes about $1 million advances. We may all dream of getting one of those, but are $1 million advances good for the industry as a whole?

In today’s publishing world, many of us choose to self-publish—which means we need to know everything about everything. Those of us who traditionally publish should also educate ourselves, because the more we know, the better we can advocate for our career. To that end, Laurie Boris tells us almost everything we need to know about ISBNs, David Kudler explores various ebook conversion tools, and Marcy Kennedy shares 7 tips to make the most of working with a cover designer.

There’s a lot of legal stuff to deal with in publishing. Some of us seek an agent to deal with it for us. Rebecca Faith Heyman describes 3 ways you could be sabotaging your chance with an agent, and Janet Reid reminds us to clean up our web presence when seeking an agent. For those of us dealing with contracts on our own, Victoria Strauss shines a light on arbitration rights, and how you could be signing away your rights for a fair hearing, while Kathryn Goldman discusses literary trustees and author estates.

Book promotion and marketing are meant to raise discoverability. Three main ways authors look for promotion is book bloggers, reviews, and search keywords. Janet Reid parses a totally inept book promo letter aimed at book bloggers, Jody Hedlund clarifies the difference between a book reviewer and an influencer, Anne R. Allen tackles the frustration of disappearing Amazon reviews, and Jordan Smith explains how to optimize your Amazon search keywords.

Other ways authors reach out to readers are via email, newsletters, blogs, and social media. John Krone gives 6 tips to writing emails that get double the response, Michael Kelberer gives content ideas for fiction authors’ blogs and newsletters, and Tee Morris and Pip Ballantine share 5 ways authors can use Instagram effectively.

That’s it for Top Picks Thursday this week! Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving!

Posted by: Gwendolyn Huber | November 24, 2015

It Matters, But Not Right Now, Just Get to the End


I experimented with NaNoWriMo this year and, although I do like to believe that anything is possible, I’m probably not going to win this year. I’m pretty far behind.

Some “mistakes” I made.

  1. I didn’t plan well enough in October. I realized during my first writing sessions that unless I took the time to plan, I’d already failed, and so I took the first week of November to do a better job of planning.
  1. I decided to try NaNoWriMo even though 2015 is the year of listening to my body. Considering I have some health issues this year, I made the decision not to push on through when my body or mind threw up a barrier of exhaustion. I held firm to this decision, even suspecting that despite my best efforts at honesty, it’s not possible for me to be perfectly honest with myself. There are advantages to pushing through physical urges and outside responsibilities.

Some things I did well:

  1. I figured out where I was going to work and with what equipment and programs.

My equipment:

-Notebook for pen and paper for brainstorming

-Android mini Tablet with Bluetooth keyboard for writing wherever I’m comfortable

-A writing program for my Tablet with Dropbox so I can get my days writing onto the main computer. I used Plain.txt and Evernote.

-A program for counting words. I used Word Counter

  1. I’ve been writing nearly every day with a goal in mind and that’s been giving me the chance to see how much I’ve learned about writing during this past year.

My biggest takeaway so far:

Maybe I should just call it my slogan for the month. “It doesn’t matter.” (Subtext: It may matter, but not right now.) Slogan number 2: “Get to the end.”

Once I left my initial writing phase, my infant writer stage, I spent a lot of time focusing on what I didn’t know. That’s absolutely overwhelming and no fun at all, and while it’s possibly a necessary stage, in my case, it generated some habits that are crippling for a rough draft.

Writing slowly to choose a better story line or (more) “correct” words in a better order hobbles the first draft process, especially when there is a deadline.

At this time of year when the Holidays push me into greater creativity as a teacher, musician, and Crafter, I find it easier to see the correlations between my other creative acts and writing. I see ever more clearly that, it’s only natural that writing a novel might feel overwhelming when the process is dragged out over months or years (certainly all of my other creative projects have a much shorter timeline), especially during the period when a fledgling writer is decoding the writing process.

These small insights go miles towards placing my writing a novel into perspective and hardening my resolve to push as hard as I can to finish the rough draft of this novel, if not this month, hopefully this year (she says as life picks up its pace).

Posted by: J. Thomas Ross | November 19, 2015

Top Picks Thursday 11-19-2015

We’re going to start out this week’s Top Picks Thursday with celebration. The five of us at the Author Chronicles have been learning, writing and revising, and working toward publication since before we initiated the blog in 2011. One of us has finally reached that goal! Matt, Nancy, Gwen, and I would like to give a big shout out to fellow chronicler Kerry Gans, whose first novel [more info below] — a middle grade, steampunk twist on The Wizard of Oz — is now in print from Evil Jester Press. Congratulations, Kerry! We’re all so excited for you.

On a more somber note, we must mention our support for those in France after last Friday’s tragedy in Paris. Two years ago I spent a couple days in Paris at the start of a river cruise to Normandy. One of the things that impressed me most was the strong sense of gratitude and friendship the French people continue to feel toward Americans for driving out the occupying troops during World War II. Those feelings go back even further, of course, and the Statue of Liberty is a symbol of that friendship and dedication to freedom. The people of France shed tears with us after September 11, and now we share their grief. Our thoughts and concern will be with them and with all those dealing with terrorism across the world.

It’s only one week until Thanksgiving, and that means we’ll soon be reaching the end of NaNoWriMo. We hope all who are participating are keeping up with their goals, but even if you aren’t, whatever amount of writing you get done is a win. And so, we present Rachel Graves’ NaNoWriMo anti-rules.

Your NaNoWriMo efforts may not be your best writing, but that’s okay for a first draft because you can polish the manuscript during revision. To give you some help, Janice Hardy speaks about bad writing and how we can avoid it. Additional help comes from Robert Morris, with his list of the finest digital tools that make you a better writer, and James R. Tuck, who suggests small things that will make your writing easier.

Many writers rely on critique groups to help them improve their writing. Kathryn Lilley discusses what a critique group can and cannot do for you.

For writers who have problems deciding which genre their manuscript falls into, Amy Sue Nathan shares an infographic showing the difference between literary, upmarket, and commercial fiction.


Several bloggers offer tips about key story elements this week. Joseph Bates explains the basics of point of view for fiction writers, Joe Moore gives pointers on the technique of flashback, and P. J. Parrish discusses suspense — to be exciting, you need to be a little dull.

To me, characters are at the top of that list of key story elements. A good way to come up with personality traits and mannerisms for your characters is to borrow them from real people. Laurel Garver gives pointers for writers on strengthening observational skills. Kassandra Lamb lists 5 common myths about emotions, and Angela Ackerman discusses the emotional wounds a character might suffer after a home invasion. Susan P. Sipal advocates going where it’s scary — into the abyss of the hero’s journey, while Janice Hardy explains how to reveal a character’s past without falling into backstory. If finding the perfect character’s name is causing you difficulty, Jody Hedlund shares 8 tips for picking meaningful character names.

How about some wisdom from a master? Alanna Bennett reports 5 pieces of advice Stan Lee has for creating a great superhero.

Terrific characters and story don’t do the trick alone; you have to keep the readers interested. K. M. Weiland provides tips on how to write can’t-look-away chapter breaks, and Lisa Cron reveals the inside story — what grabs readers.

For writers researching a story dealing with the legal system, Karen A. Wyle presents information for those writing about the law, lawyers, and the justice system.

At some point, that awesome story has to be finished. Is yours? Rhiannon Thomas asks writers if perfection is getting in their way.


Creating effective titles can be just as challenging as picking appropriate character names. Derek Doepker shares his A-B-C-D formula for irresistible non-fiction book titles (which can apply to blog post titles too). If you’re a blogger, Mridu Khullar Relph suggests 7 ways to turn your old blog posts into cash.

For those who write shorter pieces, Zachary Petit explains how to break into magazine writing at the very top.

Three bloggers share information about agents. Rebecca Faith Heyman explains 3 ways you’re sabotaging your chances with an agent and Janet Reid lists more ways to query badly, while Mary C. Moore writes about self-publishing and getting a literary agent.

Does what you write affect your chances of publication? Kimberley Grabas relates what you need to know if you’re thinking about writing in multiple genres and David King doubts the wisdom of writing to market.

You’ve sent your manuscript to agents and publishers and received multiple rejections. What do you do next? Catherine Ryan Hyde discusses whether rejection of a work requires a rewriting or revision of the work.

If you write non-fiction, Karen A. Wyle offers some pros, cons, and lessons learned from experience about self-publishing non-fiction.

And now for some tips on social media: Frances Caballo shares 20 facts about social media that authors should know, Sandra Beckwith gives pointers on how not to do email list marketing, Hannah Erlich looks at what social media platform best suits your personality/ time availability, and Annie Neugebauer shares 5 more Twitter mistakes writers make and how to avoid them.


Ever wonder what happens after you put a book on hold in the library? Emily S. Rueb relates a book’s odyssey — the path of a book put on hold through the public library system. Heidi Mitchell, on the other hand, wonders if there are critters and germs in library books.

Every writer in the English language has moments of frustration with the language. While Elaine Viets avers that every word is gold, John McWhorter discusses why the English language is so weird. Speaking of the English language, Jemima Skelley reports that people are mad because the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the year is an emoji. Does an emoji count as a word? What do you think?

Kelly Jensen suggests “laws” of reading you should feel free to break and Ailbhe Malone notes 16 charming bookshops in the UK that everyone should visit.

That wraps up this week’s Top Picks Thursday. See you next week on Thanksgiving Day!

text divider - blue & black

For those curious about Kerry Gans’ book:

In The Witch of Zal, the heroine, who lives on the future world Zal, runs away from home to protect her robotic dog from the oppressive Ministry and accidentally becomes trapped in the alternate dimension Oz. A Victorian gentleman Scarecrow, a clockwork Tin Man, a literally yellow-streaked Lion, and an escaped slave boy help her battle zombicorns, killer butterflies, and an alchemist Wicked Witch while overturning Oz society. But she must return home in time to save her mother from Ministry’s menace and perhaps shake up Zal the way she did in Oz.

The paperback version of The Witch of Zal can be ordered from any book seller; at present, the ebook is only available from Amazon.

Witch of Zal cover

Posted by: Matt Q. McGovern | November 18, 2015

Film festive for writing

A few weeks ago The Philadelphia Film Society (PFS) put on their annual film fest, an event they’ve been doing for over two decades. These films are on tour from film-fest to film-fest, usually going all over the world. They may not make a distribution where we’ll easily be able to rent them later. I usually take off work for this, and I try to attend as many movies as I can.

Because I take off work for it, there’s a real sense of mental disengagement that quickly converts to creativity after the first day of films. It’s challenging to keep up with the film schedule, especially if you try to see as many films as are available in that day. Eating between films or packing a lunch is a must and I see many film-goers doing it, including some I see every year.

During those moments where I can sit down at a coffee shop between films is nice. That’s when I want to write the most. Seeing as many as four or five movies a day from all over the world gives you that many different storylines, plots, and characters to fill your mind.

It’s a time to review what themes of the world the movies are covering, if any. It’s also a time to reflect on what films I lean towards, perhaps based on those themes. Why do I lean away from some movies? What taboos or storylines am I avoiding? There have been occasions where I’ve challenged myself to see a movie I normally wouldn’t have.

All of this combines in such a way that really gets the creativity stirring. I’ve found that it’s almost imperative to write several scenes of anything, whether it be pieces of a short story, a novel fragment, or even a scene from a screenplay (perhaps one from one of the movies).

Every writer I know is busy and can never get away from the daily grind. Seeing films like a festival is a luxury most cannot afford to devote the time to. That said, I would encourage any writer to visit their local independent film house or organization soon just to get a schedule booklet. Seeing just a few films are often mentally rewarding and sometimes inspiring.

In Philadelphia, the PFS run films all year long.

Posted by: Kerry Gans | November 12, 2015

Top Picks Thursday 11-12-2015

As mid-November creeps up on us, we welcome you to this week’s Top Picks Thursday!

Halloween has passed, but these articles caught our eye this week: What if your favorite books were Halloween candy? and A Halloween Cocktail Recipe from Shakespeare Not Stirred.

For those participating in NaNoWriMo, Shaunda Kennedy Wenger reminds you to consider your setting, and Katharine Grubb lists the top 10 NaNoWriMo emergency prompts for the overwhelmed.

Check out the New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books of 2015.

For all the talk of diversity in the arts, Anna Holmes wonders: Has “diversity” lost its meaning?

The value of good writing communities cannot be overstated. Social media makes it easy to find them, but Nancy J. Cohen reminds us of an often overlooked resource—the value of listserves.

In dark news, 4 Hong Kong publishers known for books critical of the Chinese regime are missing.


We focus mostly on fiction and prose here, but there’s more to writing than fiction. Greg White reveals how to write for television, and Lisa Lepki shares 11 things you need to know about writing a memoir.

Connecting with our readers is the key to hooking them. K.M. Weiland has 6 steps to creating a fantastic narrative voice, and James A. Rose lists 12 techniques for emotionally connecting with your readers.

Sometimes the small things—little writing techniques or details of a setting—make or break a story. Janice Hardy points out that those pieces of prose that just feel “off” may be the result of faulty parallelism, James Royce Patterson has 5 ways to improve your writing’s flow, and Karen A. Wyle gives us the details on juries: how they work, how they’re chosen, and what lawyers handle them best.

There are many ways writers endear their characters to the reader. Donald Maass shows how positivity and protagonists combine to inspire readers, Steven James lists 5 moral dilemmas that make character stories better, C.S. Lakin tells us how to show through your character’s senses, and K.M. Weiland shares how to write funny dialogue.

Editing is a part of writing—sometimes it’s editing our own manuscripts, sometimes we edit for other people. Anna Elliott tells us the do’s and don’ts of editing for ourselves, while Janice Hardy shows us the difference between a writing problem and a “not for me” issue when editing for others. Steven Gillis explains that the art of writing is rewriting, and Sherry D. Ficklin reminds us to never, ever, turn in an unedited first draft to an agent, publisher, or any other publishing professional.

Writing can feel like a miracle—or it can feel like pulling teeth. Scott Myers discusses what to do when you feel out of touch with your creative energy.

We writers face a long list of unique career issues, some internal, some external. One is the inability to let go of what’s already published—we always fret about the mistakes we made. Huma Qureshi reflects on the pain of hindsight in publishing. Another issue is when you’re writing something…and something just like it comes out. Mary Kole explains what to do when someone is publishing your idea. And sometimes the pressure comes from people thinking the genre you write in is not “real writing.” Author David Mitchell discusses genre snobbery as a “bizarre act of self-mutilation.”

James Scott Bell tells us how to be a prolific writer, Jan Ellison shares 9 practical tricks for writing your novel, Tracy O’Neill gathers best writing tips from multiple authors, Sophie Masson explores getting the most out of mentoring from both sides of the fence, and Chuck Wendig cuts to the chase and reminds us that writing advice is bullshit.


If you are self-publishing, it’s all on you. Jami Gold asks: What’s your release plan?

Are you trying to break into literary magazines? Lincoln Michel has the ultimate guide to getting published in a literary magazine.

Ever wonder about those books selling for a penny on Amazon? Dan Nosowitz explores the world of penny booksellers.

Katie Shea Boutillier shares what she has learned in the last 4 years as an agent.

Many writers shy away from marketing. Ed Cyzewski shows how to promote a book without making yourself miserable, Diana Urban gives us marketing tips for sequels, and Lynn Griffin tells us how to help your fiction find an audience.

Paul White reveals the websites no writer or author can do without, and Anne R. Allen shares 5 more delusions that can block writers’ careers.


Many people like to write in libraries when I don’t write at home. Lucy Mangan lays out some rules for working in a modern library.

Author’s houses can give a glimpse into their minds and personalities. Terri Windling explores Agatha Christie’s spacious Devon estate, while Barry Yourgrau digs into the clutter Ernest Hemingway left behind.

Did you know that Oscar Wilde had a short stint as editor of a high-end women’s magazine that supported women’s rights and female contributors at a time when that was not looked upon kindly?

Letters are a window into their times. First is a Medieval love letter (with a man urging his love to eat her meat), and second is Mark Twain’s first letter composed on that “new-fangled writing machine”—a typewriter.

Setting is so important to a story. See how London fog seeped into fiction.

Doing research for a book? Now you can Ask Smithsonian. This person asked: How do you make a mummy?

Sometimes it’s the details of bookmaking that make a book memorable. Here is a lovely example of marbling in a 19th century book. And then there is a spider embedded in a math book from the year 1650.

That’s all for this week’s Top Picks Thursday! Join us next week for more writerly links!

Posted by: Nancy Keim Comley | November 11, 2015

Going To The Closet

Have you ever watched the TV show Zaboomafoo? It’s a turn-of-the-century children’s show that my first child adored. Whenever the Kratt brothers went on one of their adventures they would sing a ‘Going To The Closet’ song, open the closet door and immediately the entire contents would rain down upon their heads.

This morning I had my own going-to-the-closet moment. I opened the kitchen cabinet where I keep spices, calendars, pens, etc., and most of the paper contents gave an ominous shift. I quickly closed the door and opened another cabinet whose contents are of the paper and pens variety. There was no prescient rumble, everything in the cabinet simply fell out onto my feet and, briefly, onto the head of my very surprised dog.

I sighed and cleaned out both cabinets.

That wasn’t an easy thing for me to do. Not because I am organizationally challenged (which I am) but also because it means I only had time to write two hundred words today. My daily goal is at least five hundred to a thousand new words as well as editing, etc. It might not sound like not much and on some days, golden days, I can pound out one to two thousand words with ease. Words that I like in a WIP I’m excited about. But most days aren’t golden days and the words hide.

When my second child was small and reliably napped I had a five hundred words a day goal (I even blogged about it here) that I usually hit. Then he stopped napping and writing became a haphazard affair that I did when I could. Last year he started school and I looked forward to all the writing time I would have while he was out of the house.

Which never happened. Like everyone I have a busy life. Mouths need to be fed, work needs to be done. After a full day I would drop down into my seat at my laptop twenty minutes before I had to leave for pick up and write something that ended up being on the lines of: “They did stuff. It was fun and exciting. Emotional development.”

This summer I spent time working on OUT OF TUNE VOL II. I had to, there was a deadline to be met. Afterwards I reorganized my thinking and returned to my five hundred a day habit. When this worked well I upped my word count. Now my priorities are: 1) Family / anything that eats and breaths (i.e., children and the dogs). 2) writing 3) everything else in life.

This is working well on the writing front, it’s easier for me to settle in and concentrate and the words come faster. On the everything else front things are going downhill. Never an enthusiastic house keeper my home now appears to have a permeant grittiness and I’m not sure if I should clean the floor of my car or use it for compost. But the words keep flowing. The only reason I took time to clean out the cabinets was I was afraid of braining my small child the next time he went in hunt of a pencil.

Now – time to get back to my words.

Posted by: Kerry Gans | November 5, 2015

Top Picks Thursday 11-05-2015

Welcome to our weekly Top Picks Thursday link roundup! I still can’t get used to writing “November” on things.

For those of you caught up in the NaNoWriMo whirlwind, Stop Procrastinating created a NaNo advice infographic from 2,000 authors, and Adrian Faulkner shares 10 things they never told you about NaNoWriMo.

You may have heard that Amazon is suing over 1,000 reviewers over fake reviews. Saundra Beckwith examines Amazon’s case against fake reviewers and what it means for authors.


Before you start writing, you need a killer idea. Larry Brooks tells up how to write a compelling novel concept. Once you start writing, you want to finish. Kristen Lamb reveals the single best way to finish a novel. You want to write well, so Jody Hedlund explains how to learn fiction writing techniques with less pain and frustration.

NaNoWriMo is all about writing a first draft at high speed. Roz Morris shares 5 tips for writing a useful draft at speed, Tosca Lee gives us the #1 rule of first drafts, and Jael McHenry sends a love letter to a sloppy first draft.

Your readers need to relate to your characters. If you are worried your characters are too abrasive to be liked, K.M. Weiland shares a trick to bring your characters instant adoration. If your characters are too perfect, Janice Hardy has 5 ways to fix your too-perfect characters. All main characters have a story arc, and Larry Brooks looks at the evolution of your hero.

Dialogue is key to a gripping story, but sometimes the tags that trip us up. Jen Matera revisits a dialogue tag primer, and K.M. Weiland explains why avoid “said” can be a big mistake

Sometimes it is the small things that make or break your work. Marcy Kennedy has 5 tips for finding point-of-view errors, and Becca Puglisi examines the art of turning a unique phrase

Monica Leonelle shares tons of tips on how to dictate your book to increase your productivity.

Once the book is written, we need to edit. Sometimes we need to trim word count, and we always need to polish. Liz Michalski shows us how to lose word weight by putting our manuscript on a diet, Corina Koch MacLeod and Carla Douglas explain how to get ready for an edit and save yourself some money, and Janice Hardy gives tips on copy editing your own work.

No matter what we write, no matter what our process, we are all writers pursuing this often odd craft. Barbara O’Neal shares some positive thinking for writers, Chelsey Pippin has 21 invaluable writing tips from renowned British writers, and James Scott Bell encourages us to embrace our weirdness.


Ebook giant Amazon had opened its first bricks and mortar bookstore in Seattle. Kristen Lamb explains why this is a good thing for readers and authors.

If you are looking to go ebook rather than print, Jane Friedman compiled a list of resources to publish an ebook.

Some unlucky authors have their books trapped with unscrupulous subsidy publishers. Judith Briles tells us how to avoid getting caught in the scams that subsidy publishers (vanity presses) run.

Sometimes the hardest question to answer in your pitch is “why?”. Mary Kole explains how to answer “why did you write this book?” in your pitch.

Perhaps you are looking for ways to make some money while waiting for your books to hit the big time. Leslie Truex explores freelance writing for online markets on the less glamorous end of the spectrum.

Much of success is mental. Anne R. Allen discusses 5 common delusions that keep writers from professional success.

Marketing largely consists of social media these days. Frances Caballo shares social media guidelines for newbie and experienced authors, Joleene Naylor explains what she learned about Facebook parties, and Thomas Umstattd gives us 7 ways author websites irritate readers and what to do about it.


Problems only book lovers understand, with LeVar Burton.

That’s all for this week’s Top Picks Thursday! See you next week!

Posted by: J. Thomas Ross | November 3, 2015

Writers: Eliminate Your Pets – Pet Words and Phrases, That Is

The Internet abounds with advice for writers of all levels. Scores of paper and e-books about all facets of writing have been published. Sooner or later all writers come across the advice that during revision they should “kill” their “darlings.” That advice has been attributed to a number of well-regarded authors, but the source is not as important as the advice itself. Basically, established writers recommend that novice writers delete their most treasured passages when those passages do not contribute to the good of the work as a whole.

In other words, writers should get rid of what doesn’t belong in the story, no matter how much they love it. (It can be saved in another file, though; that passage might be just perfect in another work.)

In addition to taking out passages that don’t work in the story, I urge writers to identify and eliminate their pet words and phrases, those default words and phrases they fall back on and use frequently without thinking.

We all have some – don’t deny it. Pet words and phrases abound in first drafts, but because of authors’ familiarity with their own stories and because of authors’ tendencies to mentally see what they meant to say, pet words and phrases can go unnoticed by the writer. This same blindness does not, however, apply to readers. Thus, a manuscript benefits from a reading by eyes other than the author’s. Critique groups and beta readers can prove most helpful in spotting what authors miss.

(Yes, editors can do this as well. If you want to send out or self-publish your best possible work, you’ll need a top-notch editor, and established top-notch editors generally charge by how long it takes them to edit a page. So, unless you have a hefty bankroll, making your manuscript as flawless as you can before sending it to an editor can save you money.)

Of course, every piece of writing has a number of repeated words. Frequency alone does not make a word a pet word. Articles, such as a, an, and the, as well as conjunctions, such as and and but, occur frequently in writing, but they don’t qualify as pet words. So what precisely are pet words?

As a critique group member and as an editor, I’ve run across several pet words that most writers seem to use, words such as move, turn, pull, and push. These words are action verbs, but they are vague action words. While there are places where they may be the best choice, for the most part, choosing a more specific substitute has greater effect (and is less noticeable) than repetition of these vague verbs.

Let’s look at some examples.

The verb move would be the correct choice if your character is changing her place of residence.

Abby moved to North Dakota last week.

However, if your character is changing position in a room or other location, a more specific verb is preferable and will avoid repetition.

Rachel moved to the window.


Rachel raced [or strolled/scrambled/staggered/etc.] to the window.

You can see how the revision gives the reader a stronger image of the action.

When the verb move is used as an introduction to the real action – as a type of filter that distances the reader from the action and slows the pace – it should be eliminated altogether.

Sam moved to intercept the pass.

When revising a sentence like this one, you have to decide which action – the moving or the intercepting – is the important one. If the point is that Sam intercepts the pass, then move is not necessary and should be taken out. However, if the point is that Sam’s movement is an attempt to intercept (which, by the wording, we would assume he fails to do), then moved should be changed to a more specific verb.

So the sentence would become either:

Sam intercepted the pass.


Sam attempted to intercept the pass.

Not all pet words are verbs. Adjectives, such as uncomfortable and nice, can also be pet words. Each writer has an unique set of pet words and phrases. To recognize yours, have others read your manuscript and point them out. Then you can not only search out and change or eliminate those pets during the revision process, but you can also watch out for and avoid many of them as you write your next manuscript.

Do you know what your pet words are? Have critique partners or beta readers helped you identify them? What do you do to avoid such repetitions?

Posted by: Kerry Gans | October 29, 2015

Top Picks Thursday 10-29-2015

Welcome to the last Top Picks Thursday of October! Let’s dive into the spooky world of publishing…

#WeNeedDiverseBooks is sponsoring a mentorship program. If you are interested, the application deadline is October 31st.

Speaking of diversity, Sharanya Sharma discusses diverse depictions in South Asian literature and author James Dawson comes out as transgender.

Google won its latest court battle against the Authors Guild. Pamela Samuelson explains why Google’s court victory is good for scholarly authors

A new Pew survey shows that young adults are reading more than older adults

NaNoWriMo insanity is only a few short days away. Janice Hardy shows how to plan your novel’s ending, and Rochelle Bradley lists 10 things NaNoWriMo taught her

Halloween is upon us! It is Horror Week on Goodreads, with authors and contests, and Jeanette Solomon shares 3 creepy books for the faint of heart.


The opening of your story is a hugely important part of your book—it’s what draws the reader in and makes them want to read to the end. P.J. Parrish generates her opening using pictures, and Sally Apokedak explains how to hook your readers in three easy steps.

Julia Rosen dissects multiple stories to examine narrative, the structural skeleton of story.

If you want to write, Asma Elgamal has 26 reasons to get up and do it. If you want to keep writing, Jami Gold explains why a long-term plan is necessary, and Janice Hardy shows how to stay motivated with writing goals.

We all feel for a hero who sacrifices for others. K.M. Weiland shows us how to make your hero’s self-sacrifice even more heartbreaking, and James Scott Bell reveals the one thing every protagonist must have.

So many times writers need to trim their word count—an agonizing prospect. Diana Urban shares words you should cut from your writing immediately, and Jody Hedlund explains how to balance showing versus telling.

Do your hands hurt from typing or eyes ache from staring at a screen? Try talking! C.K. MacLeod lists 5 tips for dictating your writing

Kathleen McCleary discusses a feeling most writers know all too well: writing as a juggling act

Almost every story requires some research. Jami Gold warns that when researching, especially for diversity, consider the source before using the information. 

Sometimes the words won’t come. Susan Reynolds gives us 5 reasons for writer’s block, and Emily Wenstrom shares the 4 faces of writing fears.

We all have stories that we hold dear from our childhood. When a new story is added to that canon, it can be disconcerting. Chuck Wendig gives advice on how to view those new canonical stories as a win-win situation.

Every writer’s path is different, and we should remember that when we start thinking that we are not on the “right” path. George Saunders gives us a look at his in: My Writing Education: A Timeline.


Wizards in Publishing talk about the state of the publishing world today.

Sometimes we have a great book, but the market timing is just wrong. Kim English explains what to do when publishing just isn’t into you.

If the big publishers aren’t interested, try the small ones. Michele Barrow-Belisle shares 12 rather random reasons to publish with small publishers.

Jen Minkman discusses how indie authors can get their books into global markets.

Many authors market their books using price promotions—but those promotions don’t always work. Diana Urban of BookBub gives 8 reasons your ebook price promotion didn’t work.

The Internet is the primary way we connect with our readers. Frances Caballo lists the 5 basic elements of an author website, Cynthia Herron shares 5 ways to rock your author newsletter, and Kristin Lamb has 3 ways to fire up your writing career today.


Check out these 17 beautiful rooms for the book-loving soul

Shakespeare spans the ages. Erik Didriksen’s book Pop Sonnets translates Top 40 tunes into iambic pentameter.

Allen Ahlberg receives a special Shoestring award—a book by top illustrators paying homage to Ahlberg.

Every wonder where certain phrases came from? The Vocabularist traces the evolution of the phrase “pushing the envelope.”

Animal stories have been with us as long as we’ve been human. Julian Harrison shows us some animal tales and illustrations from Medieval manuscripts.

Andrew DeGraff helps you understand your favorite books with amazing literary maps.

That’s all from us this week! Have a safe and spooky Halloween, everyone!

Posted by: Kerry Gans | October 27, 2015

3 Tips to Increase Your Knowledge Without Losing Your Mind

As authors these days, we need to know a tremendous amount. Just learning our craft is a never-ending process, but now we also have to understand marketing and the business of publishing as well. All that information can seem overwhelming.

I attend the Liars Club Writers’ Coffeehouse every month, and we ask a lot of questions and share a lot of information. I have watched as new writers’ eyes glaze over after the first hour, because the writers have reached their information intake limit. In the beginning, grasping the craft itself, let alone all the business and marketing surrounding writing, can feel impossible.

I can relate. About 4 years ago, I was the one with the glazing eyes.

I would sit listening to the experts talking and at times it sounded like they spoke a foreign language. And I guess in a way, they did. When people discuss things you have no context for, it sounds like nonsense. The only thing I knew for sure was that I was NEVER going to understand all of this.

Now it’s 4 years later, and people are asking me for advice and asking how I got to know so much about all this publishing stuff.

It’s no great mystery how I learned what I know: I spent 4 years listening and learning and doing.

Still seem overwhelming? These tips can help get things under control.

1. You cannot understand everything all at once.

Give yourself a break. You cannot learn everything at once. Trying will only lead to being overwhelmed. So pick whatever topic you want or need to know about at this time and focus on that. There are plenty of people willing to share what they know with you. Find blogs or people who are experts and follow them. How? See whose names pop up over and over when talking about that topic. See whose blog posts are linked to most often. Ask writers you trust who they listen to. After 4 years of helping write this blog’s Top Picks Thursday links roundup (a good place to start your search), I have found many blogs that consistently post high-quality information on many topics.

2. Don’t forget the big picture.

Even while focused on a particular topic, you should keep an eye on the big publishing picture. Things change mighty fast these days, and you should keep up. Again, blogs can be a good source, but so can groups like the Coffeehouse, which is led by published authors who are immersed in the day-to-day reality of publishing.

3. This is a process of accretion.

You will understand one thing. Then another. Then another. And suddenly Piece A connects to Piece G and the bigger picture comes into focus. It’s like gathering pieces of a scattered puzzle—you find each discreet piece on its own, but eventually you have enough pieces to start linking them into a whole. It takes time, but it happens.

So be patient with yourself and just stay open to the information. Slowly, the knowledge—craft, marketing, business—will build upon itself and you will see the landscape whole. You will understand how things fit together and how the machine works.

BONUS TIP 4 In the meantime, you will be doing—writing, revising, submitting—and that experience adds to your knowledge.

Keep going, and someday a new writer will come to you and ask for advice from an expert. And, just like me, you will look over your shoulder to find the expert…before realizing that they mean you.


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