Posted by: Kerry Gans | March 23, 2017

Top Picks Thursday! For Writers & Readers 03-23-2017

Welcome to this week’s Top Picks Thursday! We had our worst snowstorm of the season 4 days before the first day of spring, and now it is in the 30s. I hope your spring is warm and sunny!

In author news, author Paula Fox, best known for her award-winning and emotionally complex children’s novels, died on March 1.

In happier author news, check out the cover reveal and excerpt from Ursula K. Le Guin’s new novel No Time to Spare.

Here’s a guide to the upcoming changes to the New York Times’ Children’s Books coverage.

Want some good books to read? The Man Booker International Prize longlist has been announced.

Since we’re also readers, Roni Loren shares her favorite podcasts about reading, for when you can’t actually read but want that reading feeling.

SCBWI is combining the best of both worlds with SCBWI Books for Readers program. If you are an SCBWI member, check it out—your favorite book organization might win a ton of books.

Getting kids to read can sometimes be tricky, but these two people have found a way. One teacher is using graphic novels to turn non-readers into readers, and an 11-year-old boy starts a club for young black boys to see themselves in books.

Classic books are woven into our culture. S.E. Hinton’s beloved novel The Outsiders turns 50 this month, and white Southerners in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s time claimed Uncle Tom’s Cabin was “fake news”—so she wrote a fact check key for it.

If you love to have the Oxford comma argument, consider this—an Oxford comma just changed the course of a court case.


Not finding inspiration for a new idea? Jann Alexander has 3 surprising sources for writers in search of ideas.

Some writers struggle with the big picture. Mary Kole warns of the perils of starting a novel with the aftermath, Jami Gold explores balancing writing rules with our writer voice, and Daphne Gray-Grant explains 7 vexing habits guaranteed to wreck your writing.

Structure carries readers through your story. K.M. Weiland gives us 8 1/2 tips for how to write opening and closing lines readers will love to quote, and Jami Gold lists 3 steps to raising story stakes.

How do you “show” something internal to your character? Kristen Lamb shows how to manifest inner demons outwardly.

Once we have written, writers must revise. Shay Goodman lays out steps to revising your manuscript, and Lauren Schmelz explains why we can’t trust spell check to catch everything.

Life can get in the way of art. Martina Boone explores what to do when the real world is so emotionally draining that you can’t write, and Sue Weems shares 5 sneaky ways to steal time to write.


Writing is an art, but publishing is a business. Carla King compares Ingram Spark and Createspace royalties so you can make an informed decision.

If you are traditionally published, you always have sales numbers hanging over your head. Janet Reid discusses staying published with lackluster sales.

Ever thought you wanted to be an agent? Janet Reid tells you the first thing you need to understand if you want to be an agent.

Many authors want to maintain some privacy even while their career takes them into the public eye. Janet Reid explains whether or how a pseudonym can help you stay private in public.

Marketing is everything you do online and in public. Your author photo is a big part of that marketing—but they can be so expensive. Sandra Beckwith gives tips on how to get inexpensive author photos that wows. If you can hitch your wagon to someone else’s horse to improve your sales, so much the better! Joan Stewart explains how to hitch a ride on someone else’s holiday to sell more books. And Maddie Dawson looks at the answer to the often-fraught question: What kind of fiction do you write?

Online is the main place to meet your customers these days. Anne R. Allen discusses what an author should blog about, while Andrea Dunlop shares 5 better approaches for social media use.


Amy Krouse Rosenthal writes a heartfelt column on why you may want to marry her husband 10 days before she dies of cancer.

Beauty and the Beast is lighting up the silver screens right now, but Beauty and the Beast has a storied, international folk history.

At one time in history, bookstores did not exist. James Lackington changed all that with The Cheapest Bookstore in the World in 18th century London.

Letters are voices from the past. The many letters of Abigail and John Adams shows their mutual respect, and the new website Epistolae shares Medieval women’s letters.

Explore the Book-of-the-Month Club’s beginnings, and it’s recent revival.

Check out the Aberdeen Bestiary online, and the first 100 Polonsky pre-1200 manuscripts.

The BBC investigates: Did Jane Austen become virtually blind because of arsenic poisoning?

Amanda Nelson brings us a literary map of the world, and Courtney Gorter has every author on your English syllabus, summed up in a single sentence.

If you are reading this blog, you love books. Here are 20 problems only book lovers understand, and 20 quotes from children’s books every adult should know.

If you are looking to find new books to read, especially books outside your normal groove, Frances Campbell suggests some ways to turn over a new leaf.

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

Posted by: Gwendolyn Huber | March 21, 2017

Can A Tough Time Be A Great Time To Write?

I’m starting 2017 with another health challenge, the kind of thing where the treatment can be all consuming. This time I am resolved to use this difficult time as a reason to write, a reason to do what’s important.

Yeah, this is a disaster, and there’s all those stages of grief to go through, all seven of them, and tests and treatment which inevitably suck the life out of the patient.

On the other hand, writing is healing and creative, and creating is life.

Posted by: Kerry Gans | March 16, 2017

Top Picks Thursday! For Writers & Readers 03-16-2017

Welcome to this week’s Top Picks Thursday! Who else is going green tomorrow for St. Patrick’s Day?

It’s tax time again! Can’t you feel the joy in the air? Writer and CPA Lisa London has tax tips for writers.

L.J. Alonge discusses the struggle to write past the white gaze as a black author.

More good news for readers! Science says book readers live longer.


Mary Jaksch has advice about how to fire up a stalled novel, but her idea could easily help in the brainstorming, pre-writing phase—which might keep you from getting stuck in the first place.

Writers understand using story structure as we write, but Jami Gold examines what story structure means from your readers’ point of view.

Which comes first, the character or the plot? Kristen Lamb investigates using a paradigm to create your character, and how that character paradigm then determines plot.

Writers obsess about overall word count, but what about scene word count? How scene word count can help in your big-picture editing.

Creativity is a writer’s life blood. Jami Gold delves into brain science by exploring right brain vs. left brain vs. creativity, and Clive Thompson shows how being bored out of your mind makes you more creative.


For literary writers, Mike Sahno shares 5 pieces of bad advice literary fiction writers get about publishing.

For self-publishers,  Joel Friedlander introduces The Book Makers, a new full-service book design and production service.

Authorpreneurs take note: Stephen Mansfield discusses 10 warning signs of a leadership crash (and how to avoid them).

Agent Janet Reid answers the perennial question: Should I query young agents?

Professional writers need a lot of skills to write and market their books. Heidi Fiedler lists the professional writer skill sets, Chris Syme notes 3 skills every author needs to sell more books, and Amy Collins urges us to seek professional, expert advice on our marketing journey.

Almost all authors have a website these days, but how many of us know how to maintain it? L.W. Linquist shares 10 must-know website tips and tricks for writers.


If you love your libraries, check out Book Riot’s library gear.

On the romantic front, Dana Rosette Pangan has 7 reasons you should date a reader.

That’s all for this week’s Top Picks Thursday! Have a great St. Patrick’s Day!

Posted by: Matt Q. McGovern | March 15, 2017

winter muse

We had snow yesterday, though not as much as everybody had originally forecasted. I live in south Philly, where any snow accumulation at all makes life difficult. The streets are tightly situated already, and the parking challenges are well known enough to have had several reality shows on TV devoted to it. Getting snow plows through all of it is a challenge for the city, so we can very easily become stuck in place if there were a storm with any real heavy accumulation. The snowstorm that started Monday night through yesterday turned to sleet before it could add on much more than about five inches, which was plenty for us judging from the morning commute challenges.

I’ve read before that winter (and its snow accompaniment) is a strong catalyst for writers. Perhaps winter naturally implements an environment to open a writer’s mind in some way. People often speak of curling up with a good book when stuck indoors during a snowstorm. Maybe we associate our need to let our imagination go free when we are restricted otherwise.

I’m curious what many of my writer friends that are not fans of the winter think about this. I’m sure they can be productive with their writing without having to enjoy the snowy circumstances, of course, but I’m wondering if they would agree with the assertion that wintertime can bring it on.

For me, I love this weather and there’s a big part of me that yearns for the paralyzing snowstorm, despite the fact that as I and my family get older it’s not a very practical yearning. It’s the little kid in me wanting to crawl back into my favorite books, selecting the winter scenes where I get to be with Boromir and the gang in Lord of the Rings, or maybe Jack London’s To Build a Fire with an alternate ending. Memories of camping with the scouts when I was a kid resurfaced, including times when I wasn’t up to the challenge of dealing with the cold. It still stays with me.

Monday night was glorious for me as I saw the first snowflakes coming down at night. I was drinking tea, reading and writing as I prolonged my bedtime. I made sure to restock the little cat shelter I have in my backyard with fresh food and water, and extra coverings (South Philly has lots and lots of feral cats) and wondered if it would be warm enough.

The next morning I saw that my shelter had several visits during the night and day, though I can’t be sure it had an inhabitant during the whole night (if I go out to check it scares them away), but I do know that he/she seemed content when they left. I suppose my writing will have to include this sort of thing sooner or later as I can easily see half of the characters in my novel doing the exact same thing.

By the end of the day, the weather was still icy cold but the super-storm feeling had passed, and the knowledge that the next day would be back to work had the effect of lifting the spell I was under.

I’m back at work today, and during lunch it was snowing outside. Guess where my mind was?


Posted by: Kerry Gans | March 9, 2017

Top Picks Thursday! For Writers & Readers 03-09-2017

Welcome to this week’s Top Picks Thursday! More roller coaster weather here, but the cold days keeps us inside sniffing out writerly links for you.

Philip Pullman asserts that “children need art and stories and poems and music as much as they need love and food and fresh air and play.”

You can help transcribe World War I love letters.

Stephanie Young takes us inside the world of feminist bookstores.

Learn about Library Hand, the fastidiously neat penmanship style made for library card catalogues.


Beginning are tough. Chuck Sambuchino gathers advice from literary agents on how to start your novel.

Once you’ve gotten started, Jami Gold shows how to achieve story immersion for your readers.

Erika W. Smith has praise for the bossy big sisters of fiction.

Casey Griffin urges you to push your boundaries and write outside your box. If you do, though, Natalia Sylvester discusses using sensitivity readers—what they are and how to hire one.

Jane Friedman reminds us that we don’t have to finish every story we start, and Nathan Bransford asks us to ponder if we even want to win the game we’re killing ourselves playing.


Smashwords CEO Mark Coker identifies 10 trends in publishing.

If you are seeking an agent, beware these 34 agent pet peeves. Janet Reid discusses what counts as a substantial revision. And agent Carlisle Webber of Fuse Literary is looking for high-concept commercial fiction in middle grade, young adult, and adult.

Everything we put online or on our book jacket is part of our marketing effort. Anne R. Allen asks if your author bio helps your book sales or stops them dead, and Lisa Tener shows how to get bestselling authors to write blurbs, forewords, and Amazon reviews.


Do you love all things Seuss? Meet Dr. Suess’ imaginary daughter named Chrysanthemum-Pearl, and visit the original Lorax tree in San Diego.

Read the final letter written by poet John Keats.

A picture is worth…  Check out how A Wrinkle In Time looks as a map, a photo of 16-year-old future author Agatha Christie on a visit to Paris in 1906, and the absolutely essential Oxford comma.

Researchers get to the bottom of mysteries. A multi-spectral analysis of the manuscript of Margery Kempe’s autobiography reveals a recipe that likely treated the Medieval mystic’s symptoms, and nosy researchers are trying to re-create the vintage smell of the Morgan Library and Museum in New York.

What’s this? An abandoned Hobbit castle in rural England? Or is it the world’s most eccentric sheep barn?

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

Posted by: Nancy Keim Comley | March 8, 2017

Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover

Last month, as Valentine’s Day approached, I wondered what small present I could get my mother. I knew other family members were going to give her flowers and candy, cards and hugs. I wanted to find something cheerful that she never has to dust.

I’m very fond of Valentine’s Day. To me it’s a cheerful holiday. More relaxed than Christmas, it brightens a time of year when even my bones begin chill. I like giving out and getting small presents and lots of hugs. I’m not fond of dusting which is why, unless specifically asked for something, I always try to give presents that will be used up.

In early February I stopped at the Doylestown Bookstore. All through the store they had tables with signs reading “Blind Date with a book. Do you judge a book by its cover?” On the tables were books wrapped in brown paper tied with string; basic information about the book written on the front in black marker. England, Blind Date, Thriller, Childhood in Brooklyn, Mystery, Africa, were just a few of the lines I read on various books. Seeing books wrapped up like mystery prizes made me want to buy all of them (me wanting to buy all the books isn’t a new phenomenon. Me standing next to a book, seeing a book, thinking about a book or talking about a book can also inspire me to want to buy a book).


On average my mother reads a book everyday, long ones may take two days. If she doesn’t get them from the library she usually gives them to the library book sale once she’s finished (this is a good idea, if she kept all the books she read she’d have to have a separate house just to hold all of them).

At the bookstore I looked through the books and found one I thought looked perfect for my mother. I can’t remember what exactly was listed on the cover but I do recall Mystery and Celtic Gods. On February fourteenth I gave Mom her present. She loved the idea of a mystery book and unwrapped it immediately.

On February fifteenth Mom told me how much she loved the book and asked if I wanted it to read.

Posted by: Kerry Gans | March 2, 2017

Top Picks Thursday! For Writers & Readers 03-02-2017

Welcome to the first Top Picks Thursday of March! Is March coming in like a lion or a lamb where you are?

Many of us read to escape for a while. Jessi Lewis looks at how re-reading a book brings comfort.

Some books worth reading: Tor announces the 2016 Nebula Award nominees, and Imogen Russell Williams lists a children’s book roundup of books to look forward to.

Australian children’s book writer Mem Fox is detained at the LA airport, and has something to say about it.


Let’s be honest, sometimes we writers avoid the elements or parts of the process that we find hard. Roz Morris talks about conquering your fear of the blank page, and Jami Gold asks if there are story elements you avoid writing.

Kristen Lamb looks at beginnings, with 3 ways to hook a reader and the 7 deadly sins of prologues.

Writing emotions can be difficult. Mary Kole examines what feelings feel like, and David Corbett discusses emotions vs. feelings and how to evoke more from readers.

After we’ve written something, we need to make it shine. K.M. Weiland shares 8 ways to troubleshoot a scene and 5 ways to make it fabulous, while Martina Boone explains how to let IBM’s Watson artificial intelligence analyze your story for free.

Ruth Harris parses the difference between stress and burnout, Claire Swinarski explores the use of essential oils to inspire writing, and Adrienne Proctor reveals how to stay positive on the path to getting a book published, Nicole Valentine advocates taking your characters to work, and Kate Brandes discusses how her science work informed her writer’s voice.


Writers have to find support where we can find it. Jane Friedman advises writer not to look down upon the Mall of America writing residency and others like it—they may not be right for you, but they will be a perfect fit for someone. If you are looking to try out a new genre, Emily Grosvenor suggests crowdfunding to allow you to experiment with new works.

Getting a publicist is not a bad idea, but Janet Reid stresses things to consider before deciding what to pay a publicist to do.

Marketing is everything. Karen Woodward walks us through 7 ways to write an effective book description to turn browsers into buyers.

Frances Caballo has her indie author apps, tools, and plug-ins 2017 (part 2), and Jami Gold shows how to make out blog images tell a story.


You’ll soon be able to read a long-lost novel by Walt Whitman.

You can also play the new Walden-themed video game.

You can delve into the 90-years-in-the-making encyclopedic dictionary of the dead Assyrian language.

Or, you can find out why Lord Byron was a staunch defender of the Luddites.

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

Posted by: Kerry Gans | February 28, 2017

Revision: When are you done?

20170223_084210_1487857403123_resizedSo I am reaching the tail end of a major revision. To that end, I printed out my nearly 100,000 words and am now staring at this huge stack of paper. The sheer weight of the manuscript is daunting.

Still, what I am about to do is necessary. I recently finished going through each chapter and identifying the chapter conflict, as well as tracing character arc through the story. In doing so, I found places where the conflict or tension needs to be clarified or ramped up, although thankfully the character arcs came out clean.

So now I have printed the manuscript (note to self: buy more ink). Since I have tortured myself by writing three different POV characters in this novel (what was I thinking?), I am going to separate the manuscript into the three POVs and work them individually. I will clean up the conflict/tension issues, then go back and do a voice sweep to make certain each voice is both unique and consistent.

I will also do one final “sensory” check, because I tend to not put in enough sensory information to immerse the readers.

And then I will be done.

At least, I will be as done as I can make it. My next step (which always comes around what I consider revision 5) will be to send it to a professional editor to make sure that what I think I did, I actually did. The manuscript has been through my critique  partners already, so I need new, professional, eyes.

When I get it back from the editor, I will do another edit based on those suggestions.

And then I will be done.

At least, I will be done enough that I will feel confident to start querying. Once I get an agent or publisher, I will likely be facing more revisions prior to being published.

And then I will be done.

At least, I will be done with major changes, because it is unlikely that I will revisit that book in any meaningful way once it’s out in the world.

How many revisions do you do before sending a story out into the world? How do you know when you are “done”?




Posted by: Kerry Gans | February 23, 2017

Top Picks Thursday! For Writers & Readers 02-23-2017

Welcome to the last Top Picks Thursday for February! I know February is a short month, but wow, it has flown by.

Lots of WordPress sites have been under attack of late. Nate Hoffelder has 5 steps you can take to secure your WordPress website today.

Do you know a bookseller who deserves to go to the Turin Book Fair? Enter them to win the International Book Fair Scholarship for US Booksellers 2017.

Susie Rodarme has 7 ways to support your local library right now.

Aimee Louw uses Handbook for Dragon Slayers by Merrie Haskell to show how to properly write someone with a disability.

Is serialized fiction making a comeback? This app to turn more readers on to serialized fiction is betting “yes.”

Penguin Random House celebrates America’s literary spirit and local history across 50 states with its #UnitedStatesOfBooks social media campaign.

No matter where you fall in the political spectrum, the climate lately has been stressful for many people. Roni Loren discusses self-care in stressful times for the Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), Ines Bellina talks self-care and reading, and Andrea Judy shows how to write when the world is overwhelming.


Dr. Richard Mabry ponders: what makes a story great? A gripping beginning is one element, and Shaila Patel shares the EGG method for engaging readers immediately.

Jami Gold talks story structure options for trilogies, and Laura Drake has tips for organizing your novel.

Jennifer Swanson reminds us that science writing is not just for non-fiction, and the Writer’s Relief Staff share 5 tips for writing a slice-of-life vignette.

Once writers get to the nitty-gritty, we have to pay attention to the smaller elements. Kristen Lamb discusses description and how to get it right, and Word Wise Tips shows how to find and fix passive voice in your writing.

Character is usually what sticks with the reader long after they close your book. Mary Kole warns about accidentally writing a wedge between your reader and your character, Diane O’Connell has a round-up of character development advice from multiple authors, Gillian Baker shares how to create a cozy mystery protagonist that readers love, The Script Lab gives us 5 keys to genius dialogue, Laurie Calkhoven uses meditation to uncover character, and L.E. DeLano explains how to use theater techniques to write better emotion.

Editing can be rough. Roz Morris shows how to kill your darlings with one question, Anne R. Allen lists 7 ways betas can improve your book, and Ruthanne Reid tackles the devastating realization that sometimes you simply have to start over with a manuscript.

Writing can be a mentally and emotionally grueling journey. Kristen Lamb explores how to deal with and learn from setbacks, Elizabeth S. Craig has time savers for writers, Chuck Wendig urges us to write unafraid, and Jennifer Brown advises treating your rocky path to publication as your MFA.


Lots of writers struggle to make ends meet. Eric Maisel shows how to find opportunities to teach to supplement writing income, Jane Friedman has tips for building an online writing course, and Elizabeth S. Craig has 10 tips for making a living writing fiction.

If you are self-publishing, there’s a lot you need to know. Jane Friedman gives us 9 Amazon statistics writers should know, David Kudler continues his detailed look at CSS and ebook formatting, and Cate Baum explains the pros and cons of POD vs. offset printing.

Agent Janet Reid takes exception to agents who charge for query or page evaluations.

Marketing starts with the people you know. Melinda Marshall Friesen lists 9 places to meet writers and start building your network.


In case you need a laugh: If Literature’s Biggest Romantics Could Text and 10+ Hilarious Reasons Why The English Language Is The Worst.

Blast from the past! Janet Burns brings us 15 mysterious facts about The Hardy Boys.

Take a tour of the Smithsonian’s love letter collection (video).

A Canadian professor discovers what could be the only moving footage of Marcel Proust.

Science says reading Harry Potter makes you a better person.

How many of you remember bookmobiles? (video)

In a Mission Impossible-style heist, thieves rappel into a London warehouse and steal rare books.

That’s all for this week’s Top Picks Thursday! We will see you in March!

Posted by: Gwendolyn Huber | February 20, 2017

You Get What You Get and You Don’t Get Upset

I prefer to write in longer stretches of time. I also prefer to write every day.

Life doesn’t cooperate. Life is very uncooperative. Most days I’m in survival mode and survival mode doesn’t allow for habits and rituals. However, If I break writing tasks into small enough pieces, I can occasionally tuck things into unexpected corners of some days.

I choose a goal.

Break it down into its smallest part.

Put it on my to-do list and make a plan for getting it done.

When it is finished

I make sure I know what the next step is and write it down.

…And on into infinity.

It’s not ideal but it does allow for progress.

As I tell the kids, you get what you get and you don’t get upset.

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