Posted by: J. Thomas Ross | May 16, 2019

Top Picks Thursday! For writers & Readers 05-16-2019

The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas, spring flowers, flowering bushes and dogwood

May flowers at dawn


Welcome to this week’s Top Picks Thursday! We’re half way through May, the month of flowers … and rampant weed growth. (Anyone else falling behind in the battle?)

It’s felt like winter here the past few days, but swimsuit season is just around the corner. For those who like to plan ahead, Roni Loren lists 15 tips to read more this summer.

If you enjoy nonfiction, pick up a biography today in honor of National Biographer’s Day. Since it’s also National Love a Tree Day, whatever you read, sit outside in the lovely spring weather and enjoy your book under the shade of a tree.

Writers and pets are often found together. Juliet Marillier investigates the relationship between the writer and the writer’s dog.

In memoriam: Alvin Sargent, Oscar-winning screenwriter, died May 9 at age 92 (reported by Peter Debruge in Variety).


The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas, bee on pink flowers

A bee visits my flowers



Having doubts about your craft? Kerry Schafer shares five steps to embracing your identity as a writer.

Creativity is a cornerstone of any art. Marc Graham shows us how to unlock creativity and end writer’s block for good, while Jess Costello sets out five simple tips for conquering creative burnout.

Seeking to improve your skills? K. M. Weiland looks at 5 ways writers (try to) fake their way to good storytelling, and Shaunta Grimes focuses on how to be a better artist (there is only one way).

Sometimes writers have too many ideas. Rose Andrews discusses choosing the right idea.

Writing comedy can be a challenge. Jess Zafarris presents Jerry Seinfeld’s 5-step comedy writing process.

For writers confused about POV, Janice Hardy clarifies the difference between a limited vs. a tight point of view.

Conflict drives plot. Vivian Otoo tells us how to create more conflict in our stories, Kathryn Craft gives us 6 tips for creating good bridging conflict, and Stavros Halvatzis asserts that conflicting story characters make for better tales.

If you’re developing characters, Kristen Lamb delves into crafting the perfect ‘unlikable’ character, while Piper Bayard discusses backstory: the more I know, the less you have to.

Suyi Davies Okungbowa looks at worldbuilding from the inside out, and Elaine Viets suggests authors do “road work,” using streets to give the story real direction.

Terry Odell shares information about writing suspense (part 2), and Laurisa White Reyes mentions five things to avoid when writing a real page-turner.

When you’re ready for revision, Stephanie Chandler lists five common editing mistakes and typos found in manuscripts, and Brian Rowe explains why your novel now needs to be aimed at an ideal reader.

For those writing chldren’s books, Darcy Pattison and Leslie Helakoski demystify how you can tell if you’ve written a picture book.


The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas, book and notebook with pencil and phone and laptop

Photo by Aleks Dorohovich on Unsplash



Is your manuscript ready for publication? Sophie Masson gives her take on big publishers, small publishers, and contract negotiations, while Meg LaTorre answers the question: how should I publish my book? Plus, Melissa Donovan gives suggestions on how to publish your poetry, and Jami Gold discusses self-publishing and entrepreneurship.

Cassie Lipp tells us what it feels like to get your first book advance.

Agent Janet Reid gives advice on writing for a packager and advises writers to always be ready to pitch. Jami Gold offers insights on pitching from movie trailers.

Tamela Hancock Murray shares book proposal basics—competitive titles.

Ready to market that book? Brian Jud creates the equation for book-marketing success, The Indie Reader staff examines how book pricing is a powerful strategy to sell more books, and Mark Cavannagh looks at marketing a book series: the power of read-through.

Tara Alemany uses the “Dear Reader” exercise to focus book writing and marketing, and David Gaughran addresses how reader targeting influences everything in writing.

Before you start marketing, check out Hayley Milliman’s how an author platform helps promote your work, and Anne R. Allen’s your author persona: how to be yourself online, only better.

James Navé and Allegra Huston detail how to plan a book reading that will delight your audience.

For those looking for help with social media, Frances Caballo reveals 4 dirty little secrets about social media marketing for authors, and Cristian Mihai shares 90 super easy tips that will turn even a novice blogger into an expert.

Nate Hoffelder lays out 9 reasons authors need newsletters, and Shelley Sturgeon offers 72 free images sources for authors.


The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas, book and book shelves

Photo by Jaredd Craig on Unsplash



Literary Hub‘s David K. Randall writes about how the bubonic plague almost came to America.

Anne Valente wonders why it’s so hard to write about music in fiction.

Arundhati Roy asserts that literature provides shelter and that’s why we need it.

Gabrielle Bellot reveals what The Great Gatsby reveals about the Jazz Age.

In The New York Times, Ratha Tep retraces Truman Capote’s moment in the Mediterranean sun.

Electric Literature‘s Erin Barnett shares great authors’ letters to their long-suffering mothers.

Samantha Leach asks how Danielle Steele has managed to write 179 books.


The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas, red honeysuckle



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


The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas, noght sky and evergreen trees

Photo by Ryan Hutton on Unsplash



Posted by: Kerry Gans | May 9, 2019

Top Picks Thursday! For Writers & Readers 05-09-2019

Welcome to this week’s Top Picks Thursday! Enjoy the links we’ve rounded up for you.

The publishing industry mourns the death of Rachel Held Evans at age 37.

Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi wins the 2019 PEN/Faulkner Award.

Writers always want to know what makes certain books irresistible to readers, and what makes readers walk away from others. Here with some hard data, Barbara Linn Probst has results of a survey asking why do readers love some novels. On the other end, Sandra Beckwith explains why she won’t buy you self-published novel.

Diversity is a goal for many writers and publishers. Natasha Tynes discusses the complicated reality of a  minority writer.

We love our libraries. BookMarks looks at an experimental library growing in Brooklyn, and click on over to The Open Library and see what they’re all about.

Winning a writing contest is a thrill, but beware! Anne R. Allen has 8 red flags to suss out bogus writing contests.


Getting started is half the battle. Rose Andrews talks about choosing the right idea, Scott Wilson says to think outside the books by writing the query letter first, and K.M. Weiland has 8 quick tips for show, don’t tell.

Once we’ve started, the characters take the readers along for the ride. Mary Kole advises avoiding one dimensional characters, Savannah Gilbo shares questions to help you write compelling characters, and Janice Hardy discusses how to mix character actions and internal thoughts.

Who is in the story is very important, but where the story takes place can be just as vital. Jami Gold explains that worldbuilding is for every story, while Kyle A. Massa shows how and why to treat your setting like a character.

Once we’ve got a draft, the editing begins. Richard Bradburn teaches the basics of editing terminology, Mary Norris and Benjamin Dreyer talk grammar and style, Kyle A. Massa tells us how to identify sticky sentences in your writing, and Michael Gallant has tips for the final edit. Writing groups can be a great place for feedback. However, Kathryn Craft gives us 5 reasons it may be time to leave a writer’s group.

Meg Dowell discusses what a “flow state” is and how it helps us write more, faster, Ivi Jayde has 5 self-care tips for writing with a chronic illness, and Paulette Perhach explains how to bring value to your readers.


Authors can publish traditionally or self-publish. If you have a health-based book, Mayo Clinic is launching its own publishing imprint. If you are self-publishing, Lindsay Buroker explains the Amazon conundrum otherwise known as Kindle Unlimited.

Debbie Young explains why we need to drive readers into bookstores, and Joel Friedlander walks us through everything we need to know about our book’s back matter.

Agent Janet Reid answers some reader questions. First, what to do if an agent that passed on your manuscript then requests it during an online pitch contest. Then, she discusses how to deal with Hollywood if someone expresses interest in your unpublished manuscript.

Marketing is all about spreading the word. Stephanie Chandler explains how to build your tribe of influence (even if you think your platform is small), Amy Collins suggests exploring all the display options in bookstores, and Sue Rovens has tips for a successful author fair.

Online is a good place to spread the word. Carl Pritzkat announces that BookLife offers free book reviews for independent authors, Cristian Mihai has 12 questions you should ask yourself before hitting that blog publish button, and Nate Hoffelder tells us how to find free and legal images online.


Reading is integral to most writers’ lives. But what happens when you over-read…or under-read? Lyndsie Manusos discusses overcoming her postpartum reading slump, and Ankita Devasia asks: Can you read too much?

Jonathan Bate explores why Shakespeare was wary of writing about religion.

Mervyn Horder delves into the life and writing of Dorothy Parker: political activist, melancholic, and bootleg scotch drinker.

In England, fire breaks out in Ashdown Forest, the iconic woods of Winnie the Pooh.

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

Posted by: Kerry Gans | May 2, 2019

Top Picks Thursday! For Writers & Readers 05-02-2019

Welcome to the first Top Picks Thursday of May! It’s a shorter link list this week, but that just means you have more time to savor each entry.

The writing world can be cutthroat. Nora Roberts is suing the Brazilian writer who allegedly plagiarized her work, while Victoria Strauss warns writers to beware of award profiteers and how we can avoid them.


If you write personal essays, check out Tammy Delatorre’s article on how she won her third essay contest.

Plot, character, and voice all weave together to pull the reader into your story. Bridget McNulty has 4 ways to create tension in your story, Jami Gold examines the power of character arcs, and Dan Brotzel shares 9 ways to bring the funny in your fiction.

Once we get the words on the page, we still have a lot of work ahead of us. Jami Gold wonders if it is better for the learning curve to revise or start fresh, Lisa Bubert discusses leaving your critique group, and Janet Reid has insight into the editorial letters from publishers.

Productivity is the holy grail of writing these days—getting more quality work out in less time. Meg Elison tells us how to write a book in 10 days, Kristina Adams explores what “write what you know” really means, Dave Tile explains how to write like an expert even when you’re not, and Diana Kelly Levey advises us to stop being a perfectionist—it’s hurting your freelance career.


Productivity can make or break our career, but why is it so hard to achieve? Ruth Harris delves into the good news about the psychology of procrastination—and it’s not what we might think. Kristen Lamb joins in with 3 ways we sabotage our own success and how to change that.

We talk a lot about fiction on this blog, but what about non-fiction? Jami Gold helps us find our non-fiction voice, and once we’ve found it Janet Reid discusses querying for non-fiction.

In the digital world, David Kudler revisits all the online ebook conversion programs and rates them, while Ari Meghlen explains what the newest Facebook and Instagram changes mean for authors.


We all sometimes suffer from reading burnout. Laura Marie tackles reading fatigue and reminds us that not every minute needs to be productive.

Looking for ways to help the people devastated by the California wildfires? Jason Boog follows one author who collected donations to help rebuild libraries in Paradise, California. The effort is ongoing, details in the article.

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

Posted by: Kerry Gans | April 25, 2019

Top Picks Thursday! For Writers & Readers 04-25-2019

Welcome to the last Top Picks Thursday of April! Looking ahead, Saturday, April 27th, is National Tell a Story Day and Sunday is National Great Poetry Reading Day!

Ed Nawaotka reports that Independent Bookstore Day gets even bigger this year. If you want to buy something at your local bookstore, check out NPR’s Book Concierge’s Best Books of 2018 for suggestions.

Jennifer Baker highlights new literary festivals that lead the way by celebrating diversity.

As book coverage in major media outlets is declining, Bookmarks has a letter from Laurie Hertzel, the president of the National Book Critics Circle.

Wondering how American reading stacks up against other countries? Andre Calilhanna has an infographic of reading habits around the world.


Do you like to read or write essays? Jamie Canaves lists 21 of the best living essay writers.

Playwriting is an art form in its own right, but it can also provide cross-training for fiction writing. Sharon King-Campbell shares 5 ways playwriting improved my fiction.

Sarah Ditum explores why authors are still sniffy about sci-fi.

Big picture craft elements drive a lot of your story. Audrey Wick and Julie Sturgeon discuss the anatomy of Chapter One, Roz Morris describes how to discuss brilliant ideas without killing your story, Jordan Dane shares tips on writing believable conspiracies for thriller fiction, and Lisa Cron examines plot, inner change, evocative writing and what really rivets readers.

Character pulls in readers. Janice Hardy brings a trifecta today: 2 reasons why your protagonist isn’t driving your plot, raising your stakes by narrowing the focus, and how your setting can affect your characters. Jodi Turchin talks about writing realistic teenagers in YA, and Kathleen McCleary looks at the flip side of your characters emotions.

Creativity comes to us in many ways. Scott Hale explains why writing yourself into a corner can improve your writing, Savannah Cordova weighs the pros and cons for writing prompts, and Sherry Howard discusses maximizing your author senses.

All writers are trying to reach that next level of artistry and craft. K.M. Weiland aims to help authors become artists, Mary Kole examines 3 writing motivation flags and what to do about it, and Kim Bullock looks at the positive side of envy.

Writers tend to focus on the negative when it comes to our writing. Colleen M. Story discusses the one thing writers miss when trying to improve, and Janice Hardy advises to make note of what’s good in your writing.

We’re all looking for ways to work with less stress and better health. Judith Briles urges us to not reinvent the publishing wheel and discover the freedom of repurposing, and Melissa Donovan gives us health tips for writers.


Michael Kozlowski explains the big reason we don’t own ebooks.

When choosing fonts for your cover and marketing material, consider this: Helvetica, the world’s most popular font, just got a facelift.

Authors do a lot of marketing writing for their work. Bill Ferris shares the hack’s guide to writing a synopsis, while Stephanie Chandler lays out how to write sales copy for the back of your non-fiction book.

Confused about what exactly you should license when you sell a short story? Janet Reid explains the licenses short story publishers should ask for.

In an interview with Sangeeta Mahta, two agents discuss what matters most beyond good writing.

When writing a query to an agent or a publisher, it can be hard to know exactly what to say about your qualifications—especially since most of us suffer badly from Imposter Syndrome. Katherine Swarts tells us how to make ourselves look good without lying, while Janet Reid stresses that when you query be very clear about what you want or why you are writing, otherwise you may not get a reply.

Marketing our books takes us far from the comfortable world of the printed page. Brian Jud explains how to get your words’ worth when being interviewed, D.J. Williams shares how to pitch your book for TV and film, and Sandra Beckwith lays out how to get around the “we don’t review self-published books” roadblock.

Our social media is often our marketing portal to our audience. Anne R. Allen has 10 tips to use social media and avoid the cesspool, Camille Franc lists 6 effective ways to brand yourself on social media, and Rachelle Gardner urges us to look at what your online activity says about you.

Blogging is a popular way for writers to stay in touch with their readers, but Steven Spatz asks: does an author need a blog? Meanwhile, Cristian Mihai reminds us that blogging is all about adding value to people’s lives, and Jenny Hansen gives us 5 easy steps to improve your SEO.

Instagram is another high-powered outlet for reader connection. Scott La Counte shares tips for Instagram for authors, and Frances Caballo has 7 simple secrets to totally rock your Instagram account.


Why you should always be willing to help clean out the in-laws’ attic after they pass away: A woman on Antiques Roadshow discovers she’s found a ring with a lock of Charlotte Bronte’s hair.

And look inside picture frames: two previously unknown poems by Daphne du Maurier were discovered hidden in a picture frame.

The good people of Literary Disco discuss Jane Austen’s enduring genius.

Debbie Burke discusses another enduring female—Nancy Drew, immortal female detective.

A messy legal battle in Switzerland could reveal long-lost Kafka works. Because our world isn’t absurd and dystopian enough.

That’s all for this week’s Top Picks Thursday! Join us next week for the first Top Picks Thursday of May!


Posted by: J. Thomas Ross | April 18, 2019

Top Picks Thursday! For Writers & Readers 04-18-2019

The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, spring flowers


Welcome to this week’s Top Picks Thursday! We hope you’re enjoying the warming weather and spring flowers.

April is National Poetry Month—or, as R. J. Crayton says, NaPoWriMo. Yesterday was National Haiku Poetry Day and today is National Poem in Your Pocket Day. If you’re thinking about trying your hand at writing a poem—and why not?—Melissa Donovan delves into reading, writing, and reviewing good poems.

This sounds like it might be fun: next Tuesday, April 23, is National Talk Like Shakespeare Day. Let us know if you give it a try.

Nate Hoffelder writes that screenwriters are firing their agents at the request of their union. In addition, for those reading or writing ebooks, if you’ve heard about (or were part of) the disappearing ebooks on Amazon, Nate explains what happened.

For readers who preorder books, Janet Reid answers a question about picking up the book at a bookstore before the proclaimed release date.

Lee Wind shares the American Library Association’s top 11 challenged books of 2018.

Kudos to: the 2019 Pulitzer Prize winners—Richard Powers (fiction), David W. Blight (history), and Jeffrey C. Stewart (biography), Forrest Gander (poetry), Eliza Griswold (general nonfiction), and Carlos Lozada (non-fiction book critic) [reported in Publisher’s Weekly‘s by Calvin Reid].

In memoriam: reports on the passing of science fiction and fantasy author Gene Wolfe at age 87, and The Washington Post writes about the death of novelist Warren Adler at age 91.


The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, late afternoon clouds, inspiration



To set the record straight, Carrie V. Mullins examines the myth of the consistently great writer. Julie Glover shares 10 things learned from 10 years of writing, and Eugenia Lovett West, age 96, avers that it’s never too late to create and publish.

If you’re embarking on your writing journey, Sarah Callender reminisces about learning the writing craft.

For those experiencing difficulty writing, Cristian Mihai warns writers about 10 things that might be blocking their creativity, and Laurence MacNaughton offers tips to never suffer writer’s block again.

E. J. Runyon recommends using what you know rather than writing what you know, and Jami Gold examines the pros and cons of trying something new.

How fast do you write? Kristen Lamb considers how writing faster can improve your storytelling, while Martine Fournier advocates slow writing.

If you write nonfiction, Mariah Fredericks addresses writing the historical novel, and Stephanie Chandler clarifies how to cite sources in your non-fiction manuscript. For novelists and narrative nonfiction writers, here are a few tips on writing chapters.

Beginning the first draft of your novel? K. M. Weiland tells us how to use your outline when writing your first draft, and Becca Puglisi takes a look at first pages and character emotions.

Conflict generates the action in a story. Janice Hardy examines the four classic conflict types and elaborates on why conflict is so hard to create in romance.

For storytellers creating their characters, Savannah Cordova shares 5 character tools you need to know about, Melissa Donovan investigates what makes iconic characters unforgettable, Jim Dempsey writes about discovering your character’s goals, and Diana Hurwitz explores crafting the con man.

Creating a believable setting can take a lot of work. Jami Gold considers worldbuilding in a series when writing without a plan.

Ready to revise? James Scott Bell suggests you smell your story, and B. D. McClay writes a defense of the thesaurus.

New ideas come to writers all the time. Debbie Young takes a look at how many books you should write at once.


The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, pencil and notebook, writing, craft

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash



For those following the traditional path to publication, Rachelle Gardner discusses writing a one-sentence summary, Janet Reid zeroes in on how to properly query multiple manuscripts and clarifies an author’s rights when selling the first chapter of a book as a short story, and Steve Laube reminds us that even the best get rejected.

Loriann Oberlin recommends pursuing small projects for profit spikes in short bursts of time.

Ready to launch your book? Scott Semegren offers self-publishers a book launch guide, and Pauline Wiles lays out how to promote with your posse.

Lee Foster adds more information on book marketing in 2019 with part 2.

Some writers find social media overwhelming. Charity Bradford ponders whether juggling two author platforms is worth it, and Roni Loren decides to reclaim and respect time—hers and yours.

Timothy Lewis explains how to run a Twitter chat. And for authors who aren’t fans of Twitter, Daniel Berkowitz says it’s okay to say no to Twitter.

Frances Caballo suggests writers get to know these Instagram apps.

For those who have author blogs, Cristian Mihai offers tips on using blog categories and tags, while Sandra Beckwith advocates selling more books with guest blogging.


The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, person writing with cup in background, business

Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash



Jason Boog reports that Netflix is on a book-buying spree to acquire content for its growing subscriber base.

In the School Library Journal, Carrie Russell writes about tackling copyright concerns when taking storytime online.


The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, bird in tree with sunset clouds in background, inspiration


That’s all for this week’s Top Picks Thursday. Have a great weekend, and join us next week for another roundup of writerly links.


The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, golden setting moon through tree branches, inspiration


Posted by: Kerry Gans | April 11, 2019

Top Picks Thursday! For Writers & Readers 04-11-2019

Welcome to this week’s Top Picks Thursday! This is National Library Week, and today is National Support Teen Literature Day. So go to the library and check out some YA books!

Speaking of reading, studies show that print story books encourage more meaningful interactions between kids and parent than digital books.

The writing world lost two writers this week: author of feminist science fiction Vonda N. McIntyre died at age 70, and experimental novelist Jonathan Baumbach died at age 85.

As the writing world expands to include more diverse voices, Rheea Mukherjee discusses what it means to be a bi-cultural writer.


For the memoir writers out there: Anne R. Allen has 14 tips to write a compelling memoir, Beth N. Carvin tells how to collaborate with others on your memoir in 6 easy steps, and Tim McConnehey explains how to tell a true story in a creative way.

Children are drawn to the rhythm and rhyme of poetry. Penelope Lively discusses the elements of a good children’s poem, and Mary Kole explores syntax in poetry and poetic voice in rhyming picture books.

There are many intertwined elements that propel our story forward and keep readers turning the pages. Jami Gold looks at drive vs. focus to define our story, Roz Morris has tips to write a brilliant novel by asking the right questions, J.J. Hanna suggests letting your antagonist drive the plot in the saggy middle, K.M. Weiland untangles the relationship between plot and theme, and Janice Hardy explains why the word “conflict” frustrates so many writers.

Worldbuilding is a huge part of keeping readers intrigued. Donald Maass discusses how soon to introduce and how little to tell about the extraordinary world, and Jami Gold walks us through worldbuilding 101.

Characters are the bedrock of most stories. But how do you handle having a large cast? And how do you know you have the right POV telling the story? So many character questions to get right! Sarah McGuire shares 5 ways to create a memorable and distinguishable cast of characters, Jordan Dane uses 12 archetypes as a framework for creating a memorable cast, Debbie Burke explores using the Myers-Briggs personality types to build character conflict, James R. Preston runs us through Points Of View, and Janice Hardy tackles the age-old question of how to show your character’s age smoothly.

Just when we’ve reached “the end”…the editing begins. Melissa Donovan schools us on how to use a semi-colon, and Sara L. Foust explains how to cut useless scenes.

Want to get productive? Maria Popova delves into the psychology of writing and the cognitive science of the perfect daily routine, Emily Temple shares writing advice from Saul Bellow, and Nancy Johnson takes us on a quest for the Muse.

Some writers have philosophical questions about writing. Michael Gallant extols the literary merits of not showing off, and Mary Laura Philpott asks: why, exactly, do we have subtitles on books?

There is a huge emotional component to writing. Tamar Sloan examines the emotionally intelligent writer, while Colleen M. Story advises that the best writing decisions are made using all three brains (yes, that says three).


Anne Armistead looks at the pros and cons of joining a professional writers organization.

Jim Milliot and Claire Kirch give us the heads up on fast-growing independent publishers in 2019.

Many writers have multiple books on the go at once. Rachelle Gardner discusses how to decide which book should be the next you try to publish. And whichever you choose, you will need a strong elevator pitch, so Beth Barany has tips to write a great one.

We’ve written a great book and gotten it out there, but how do we move units? Marketing. David Gaughran explores the many avenues to selling books in 2019, Stephanie Chandler shows how to buy your way into a larger author platform and bigger book sales, Laura Benedict talks swag, and Jessica Kaye has 5 ways to market audiobooks without ads.

We mostly connect with readers online. Pat Stoltey tells us how to enjoy using Twitter, Cristian Mihai discusses interlinking blog posts and 5 simple steps to editing your blog posts, and Rachel McCollin walks us through how to set up automated emails for reader magnets.


We all know writing can be therapeutic, but CM Hamilton explains how to use writing as a meditation technique.

There are some authors that you read everything they wrote. But how about everything they’ve read? Alan Gribben has spent 45 years reading Mark Twain’s entire library.

Salvador Dali had a side gig—illustrating books, including the Bible.

The Broadway version of To Kill A Mockingbird went after community theaters doing a different version of the play, and that did not go over well. Kyle Jayner explores how the Mockingbird spat shows the benefits of a light touch on copyrights.

That’s all for this week’s Top Picks Thursday! See you all next week for more literary links.

Posted by: Kerry Gans | April 4, 2019

Top Picks Thursday! For Writers & Readers 04-04-2019

Welcome to the first Top Picks Thursday in April! Today is National School Librarians Day, so thank a school librarian for all they do. Looking a little bit ahead, April 9th is National Library Workers Day, and the 10th is Encourage a Young Writer Day. So let’s get to some encouraging links!

The first modernist poet of Anglophone Africa, Nigerian literary icon Gabriel Okara, has died at 97.

The Cooperative Children’s Book Center has released their 2018 Diversity Publishing Statistics.

This infographic looks at the surprising reading habits of Millennials.

No matter what your reading habits, you can probably find what you want at a library. Sue Halpern writes in praise of public libraries.

Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware issues a caution about Turkish publisher Mavifil Publishing.


Although we focus on fiction here, there are other types of writing out there, such as nonfiction and memoir. Stephanie Chandler has a checklist of key components to include when writing your nonfiction book, and Nancy L. Erickson discusses writing your own life story.

Most people are familiar with craft elements such as plot and character, but there are other less obvious elements that can impact your story. Mary Kole talks literary themes in your writing, Jane Alison examines story structures beyond the narrative arc, Stavros Halvatzis discusses the basics of scene description, and Janice Hardy explains how to use story archetypes to find your plot.

Characters do, of course, carry the story load, because if the reader doesn’t care at least a little about the character, they will put the book down and not read on. Shirley Jump tells us how to create a compelling character, Juliet Marillier looks at naming characters in historical fantasy, and KM Weiland has 5 ways to use theme to create character arc (and vice versa).

Editing and revising can cause blood, sweat, and tears in some writers. Kelly Notaras tells us how to overcome “death by editing”, Janice Hardy shows how to eliminate often-used words in our writing, Zoe M. McCarthy explains that dangling modifiers don’t have the right word to modify, Jordan Rosenfeld lists 8 mundane elements you should cut from your story, and Jami Gold discusses how to keep track of story revisions.

Sometimes revisions are really rewrites. Janice Hardy explores salvaging half-finished manuscripts, and Dawn Field gives us 5 questions to avoid having your reader ask as they read your book.

For those who write legal or police stories, Stephanie Jo Harris explores how Les Miserables created a model for police procedures with Inspector Javert, Mark Alpert shares 5 tips for legal thrillers, and Clare Langley-Hawthorne shares her experience with a police ride-along.

Most writers are searching for ways to stimulate creativity and productivity. Ruth Harris tells us that new research reveals a formula for creativity, Evan James writes in praise of the “how to” creativity workbook, Paul Bonea advises using writing sprints for consistent results, and Rachelle Gardner says that sometimes drastic measures are required to make time to write.

Writing is as much a mindset as a profession. Marissa Frosch asks: do you struggle with these 5 common writing fears?, and Charlotte Leiberman examines why you procrastinate (it has nothing to do with self-control).

Jael McHenry has writing advice for fools, Nathan Scott McNamara spends an afternoon at Maria Gainza’s Buenos Aires home talking about art, criticism, and autofiction, and Bonnie Randall explores what you can learn when fiction doesn’t work.

More and more writers are writing in collaboration these days. A.E. Lowan defines what collaborative writing is, and Dan Brotzel, Martin Jenkins, and Alex Woolf share 7 tips for collaborating on a novel.


In the publishing world this week: LifeWay Christian Stores will close all brick-and-mortar bookstores by the end of the year, and 12 agents talk about writing trends to watch for at the 2019 Bologna Book Fair.

Submitting your work, whether to publications or agents, is part of the writing life. John Sibley Williams simplifies submissions to literary journals, Shana Scott reminds us that it’s okay if we are not yet ready for rejection, Janet Reid says that “start over” does not mean “you failed”, and that writing your bio section is not as hard as you think.

While our bio section might be easier than we think, marketing often isn’t—or at least feels that way. Penny Sansevieri shares the top book marketing complaints she hears, Devin at BookBuzzR  tells us how to connect with clients in the book market, and Brian Jud explains how to relax during a book sales presentation.

There are many elements of successful marketing. Lily Ugbaja gives us 3 pillars of email marketing to skyrocket subscriber engagement, Amy Collins discusses Amazon reviews, and P.H. Solomon has how to hone your elevator pitch.

Social media and blogging are prime ways writers and readers connect these days. Eevi Jones lists 5 ways to stand out as an author on social media, while John Gilstrap lays out his social media rules. Meanwhile, Jordan Peters reveals a long-forgotten technique that will vastly improve your blog, and Cristian Mihai shares 11 techniques she used to go from 0 to 25,875 readers in eleven months and reminds us that your blog is your personal brand.


William Bryant Logan walks us through a brief history of a beautiful word: spring.

As if real life isn’t scary enough, Steph Auteri lists 8 horror novels that are based on real historical events.

We know van Gogh as an artist, but reading was as compulsive as painting for Vincent van Gogh.

Take a tour through the best bookstores in all 50 states.

That’s all for this week’s Top Picks Thursday! Enjoy the spring weather and we’ll see you all back here next week.

Posted by: Kerry Gans | April 2, 2019

3 Needs to Decide How Much Description to Use

How much description and other information do we need to put into any given scene? Too much and it becomes a sleep-inducing info dump. Too little and the reader is lost and confused. So how do we find that perfect balance? How do we know what to put in when?

In a discussion at the Liars Club’s Willow Grove Coffeehouse yesterday, we discussed this very topic. The answer lies in three Needs that converge at the point of perfect balance.

  • Needs of the genre
  • Needs of the reader
  • Needs of the Point of View (POV) character

Needs of the Genre

Every genre comes with content expectations. While a Tom Clancy espionage-thriller is expected to be heavy on technical details, a romance is not. And while romance carries an expectation of a happily ever after, many horror stories do not. Knowing what your genre expects can help guide you as to how much description and/or backstory to put in.

Needs of the Reader

Knowing when to place the information is as important as how much information to release. A guiding principal is to insert just enough information so the reader is not confused. Ask yourself: what does the reader need to know right now to understand what is going on? Then give the reader just that much. By parceling out only what the reader needs to know at the moment they need to know it, you can increase your suspense factor and keep readers turning pages.

Needs of the POV Character

The final piece of the puzzle is your POV character. Your POV character is only going to notice things that are either unusual or meaningful. So stopping the forward momentum of the story to describe every detail of a room when the POV character enters is unnecessary. Decide what that character, given her frame of mind at that moment, would note about the room, and describe only that. Likewise, there is no need to say anything beyond, “She grabbed a cup of coffee on her way out the door” unless when she sips the coffee she finds she put in salt instead of sugar. Then it becomes important enough to note, because it forces her to make a decision: Dump the coffee and do without? Go back inside for a new cup and maybe be late for work? Or drink the salty coffee because what the heck it still has caffeine? Her decision will help define character and may also advance the plot if the change in her routine then puts her in a place she normally wouldn’t be.

So let those three Needs guide how much information to put into a scene: Does the genre need this level of detail? Do the readers need to know this now to understand? Does the POV character need to note this detail for any character or plot reason?

Do you have any further suggestions for finding that information/detail balance?

Posted by: Kerry Gans | March 28, 2019

Top Picks Thursday! For Writers & Readers 03-28-2019

Welcome to the last Top Picks Thursday of March! March is going out like a lamb here, and while we are enjoying some warm spring weather we can peruse this week’s literary links.

This week we lost author of books for children and young adults Marjoire Weiman Sharmat at age 90 and poet Linda Gregg at age 76.

We had lots of award announcements this week: the Lukas Prize Project Awards were announced, novelist Tommy Orange wins the Pen/Hemingway Award, and an interview with the winners of the National Magazine Award for fiction.

Are you wondering what’s in your future? Jeanna Kadlec has spring 2019 horoscopes for writers.


Writing for audio is a little different—Jules Horne discusses attunement.

Stephanie Cowell shares the ghost worlds within: a novelist’s journey.

We learn from everything we read and write. Dave King reveals the lessons of genre.

Big picture craft elements can be hard to work with, as they intertwine every scene. William L. Hahn reminds us to be sneaky with world building, Janice Hardy wants us to understand and control our pacing, and K.M. Weiland lists 4 pacing tips to keep readers’ attention.

As important as the large elements are, the small elements can also have a huge impact. Kristine Kathryn Rusch explores punctuation, voice, and control, Chris Winkle looks at novelty in storytelling, Sara Lettourneau  uses the P.A.S.T. method of flashbacks, and Janice Hardy tells us to make readers care by defining the stakes of your story.

Stakes have no meaning without the characters they matter to. Angela Ackerman shows us how to create characters who clash, Maria Staal lays out how to make flat characters real, Margot Kinberg examines the relationship between characters and the houses they live in, and Diana M. Pho explains how to write characters whose experiences are outside your own.

All characters have to do something for a living, and they have to be knowledgeable about something. Angela Ackerman uses the Paleontologist entry from the Occupation Thesaurus to illustrate how occupation and character traits entwine, and Piper Bayard and Jay Holmes give expert testimony on firearms: what can’t be silenced.

Editing your work is tough. Barbara Lynn Probst delves into the use of beta readers to help raise the level of your writing. Hearing your writing read aloud is also an excellent way to catch mistakes, but who will read it to you? Daphne Gray-Grant suggests having your computer read your writing aloud, and Don Massenzio gives detailed instructions on how to make your computer read your work to you.

Write more, write faster, write better! Writers are always seeking the Holy Grail of productivity. L. Penelope advises bullet journals and planning, Janice Hardy tells us the secret of how to get an extra novel written in a year, Dale Berning Sawa examines how to work from home and stay healthy, and Steven James has tips to boost your creativity.

We all can learn from other writers. Jordan Dane shares 8 key questions for every writer, Emily Temple shares writing advice from Philip Roth, and Pamela S. Thibodeaux lists 9 writing tips.


Erica Verrillo has 3 publishers looking for authors, no agents required. If you already have a career going, Pro Writing Aid suggests you supercharge your author career with a series. And if you self-publish, take a look at the best tools to self-publish a book on a budget.

The online world can be confusing and rough for authors. Judth Briles demystifies the ecosystem of Amazon book review policies, and Susan Spann explains how to prepare and use a DMCA takedown notice for pirates.

Janet Reid lets up peek into the life of an agent with reasons why she passed on manuscripts and how agents prioritize their communications.

Marketing is a beast with many arms—face to face, email, and the press, to name a few. Lisa Cooper Ellison discusses schmoozing for introverts at conferences, L. Penticoff explores what swag works best as author giveaways, Ann Marie Nieves has 9 tips for the art of the book event, Janet Reid shows why authors need a mailing list even before they are published, and Brian Jud tells us how to write a press release.

A major marketing channel these days is online. Kas Szatylowicz has 5 ways to build an engaged community on social media, Jess Zafarris gives us 47 writing Subreddits to explore, and Frances Caballo advises using Instagram stories to pep up your Instagram account.

Blogging is a favorite way writers connect with others. Nina Amir explains how to use blog-book synergy to reduce content creation stress, Jordan Peters asks: are you creative enough? And Cristian Mihai tells us how to get people to read every single word you write.


Margaret Leslie Davis follows the quest to acquire the oldest, most expensive book on the planet.

Are you a TV fan? Matthew Komatsu explores why Tim O’Brien agreed to write for “This Is Us”.

Franco Moretti discusses Western vs. noir: how two genres shaped postwar American culture.

We’re used to paper books and ebooks, but Andrea Oh shows us 6 books made of weird materials.

That’s all for this week’s Top Picks Thursday! See you next week for the first link-fest of April.


Posted by: Gwendolyn Huber | March 26, 2019

Are Book Reviews Useful?

I used to buy a book based on the cover and story description but lately I’ve been adding Amazon Kindle reviews into my decision mix.  It’s been an interesting exercise.

Some reviewers write more TO THE AUTHOR than to the READER using their knowledge and high standards. An author could improve his manuscript with their advice. A reader / writer could get a better understanding of what creates a good story if they read the book with the review in mind.

Some write more to the potential READER and then the advice is about what they liked or didn’t like. They are warning the potential reader or gushing over an enjoyable story.

So what have I really learned from reading these reviews?

  1. Spelling, punctuation, correct word use and a sentence structure that doesn’t confuse are important.
  2. Endings are important. Is the ending satisfying or is it a “sorry you don’t get an ending unless you buy the next book” kind of an ending?
  3. Characters that are likable and who act with sense, but whose movements I can’t predict are important.
  4. A good story is important, one that makes the reader curious about the ending.
  5. Not even the writers I’ve enjoyed best get all five star ratings – so I try to take critical reviews with a grain of salt.
  6. I’ve noticed that even a half star can mark the difference between a pleasant book and a book that I love.

The book description is still most important to me. If the story doesn’t pique my imagination, I don’t bother, and truly, I’m not sure how important reviews should be in choosing a new story. I’ve read enough books that received “lower” reviews that I’ve enjoyed enough that I’m not sorry I’ve read them and some “higher” reviewed books that I haven’t bothered to finish.

The greatest thing I’ve learned from book reviews is how to look more critically at my own writing. The thing I hope to learn from book reviews is that criticism (imperfection) doesn’t mean something is all bad. It could mean there’s something to learn. It could also mean we all are different and not everyone will love every good book.

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