Posted by: Kerry Gans | January 26, 2012

Top Picks Thursday 01-26-2012

Time for another jam-packed Top Picks Thursday!

What is writing all about? For Julie Musil, writing is all about communication. For James Scott Bell, writing is all about connecting to the readers.

James Scott Bell will be the keynote at this year’s The Write Stuff conference (March 16-17), sure to be a great experience for all comers. And for those lucky writers who can manage six weeks away from the world, the 2012 Clarion West Writer’s Workshop runs June 17 through July 27.

Also, Strange Chemistry is having an open submission for unagented authors of YA speculative fiction (SF, fantasy, horror or some combo of those).


We have all been told, “show, don’t tell.” Roz Morris gives a wonderful example of how to show something rather than tell. Donna Cummings, on the other hand, admonishes us to tell, don’t show—as in, tell the story as it needs to be told.

There are a thousand underlying structures in your novel that the author needs to consider but that should be invisible to the reader—even though they impact the reader profoundly. Mary Kole points out that the most basic is to deliver the type of novel you promise. Mary also cautions against making the stakes in your novel TOO high to make the reader care. C.S. Lakin admonishes that we do need a theme in our work. Danyelle Leafty lays out the basics of world building, while Edittorrent shows how to use the tools at hand to add coherence and connectivity to your ending.

Character carries the story. Jenny Hansen shows how to put the reader in your POV character’s skin, Linda Clare tells us how to know if our characters are quirky or mocking, and Jonathan D. Allen examines how characters can reveal the psyche of the author.

Memoirs are flourishing these days. Marion Roach Smith advises all potential memoir writers to ban all writing exercises and prompts immediately. Anne R. Allen gives 12 Dos and Don’ts to writing a publishable memoir. Adair Lara lists 10 ways to know if your story should be a memoir or a novel. If you opt for a novel, Harlow Coban tells how to write a novel based on a true story.

Every novel teaches us something. John D. Allen gives us 3 lessons learned at the finish line; Joanna Penn gleans 7 lessons for writers from Leonardo Da Vinci; and Livia Blackburne tells what she’s doing differently while writing her second novel.

Sometimes knowing what not to do is important, too. Nicola Morgan lists 5 ingredients of poor writing, while Ciara Ballintyne looks at 17 stories by Tobias S. Buckell that failed and why.

K.M. Weiland suggests we write our own bad review before we send our book out into the world; Mich Walkden tells non-fiction writers that the key to effective communication is to write as you would speak to your target audience; and Warren Ellis explains what a comics script is supposed to accomplish.

Everyone fears something, and sometimes those fears hold you back from reaching your goals. Tonya Kappes talks about being a fearful writer and how to get past the fear. Cara M. O’Brien explores her own fear of writing and her solution to overcoming it.

In a similar vein, Jenn Greenleaf explores why writers often avoid identifying themselves as writers; Erin Blakemore wonders if this is because we feel we need permission to write; and Jami Gold tackles the perennial question: do you call yourself a writer or an author?

Once you get past your fear and decide to write, the search for inspiration begins. Stephanie Burgis found inspiration from the biographical sketches in THE HEROINE’S BOOKSHELF: LIFE LESSONS FROM JANE AUSTIN TO LAURA INGALLS WILDER by Erin Blakemore; Tim Kane follows Salvadore Dali into paranoia and creativity; Joanna Penn draws strength from Michelanglo’s Slaves sculptures; Jody Hedlund gives tips on finding original ideas when you have none; Tracy Brown advises finding what refuels you; and for good measure we have the Atlantic’s Unexpected Inspirations Behind Beloved Children’s Books.


Agents are important for those of us seeking the traditional publishing route. Chuck Wendig brings us 25 Things Writers Should Know About Agents; agent Sarah LaPolla of Curtis Brown reveals her data on her year in queries 2011; and Molly Ker Hawn has joined the Bent Agency and is looking for authors.

Agents immediately bring to mind the dreaded query. Agent Jennifer Laughran lists the sweet spots for word counts in various genres; Brian A. Klems tells us what writers need to know about formatting manuscripts; agent Carly Watters answers the question, “When is it time to retire your query?”; agent Jill Corcoran reveals her formula for a query letter; and Janet Reid admonishes us not to waste space on the obvious in a query, never to give up trying to make the query better, and most of all, proofread your query.

Whether you’re traditional or self-published, there’s a mountain of work to do that has nothing to do with the writing itself. Jane Lebak shares an anecdote that illustrates the importance of organization and record keeping, while Matthew Ashdown gives tips on how to take the busyness out of the author business.

Publishing A Book Is An Adventure concisely discusses SOPA and what it means to writers. And since piracy and plagiarism is always a worry, Jane Friedman answers the question, “When can you use copyrighted material without permission?

Once you’ve sold the book, you’ve got to promote the book. Publishing Is An Adventure begins a series on 40 book-promoting sites. Jeff Bennington tells you why no one is buying your book. Bryan Thomas Schmidt shares 9 free ways to market your book, and The Chick Lit Club examines the beneficial relationships developing between many authors and book bloggers.

If you’ve got a blog, Katie Lewis lists 3 ways to get your blog noticed, while Neil Patel shows us 8 things your blog readers want more than good content. Molly Greene explains how to move a free WordPress blog to a self-hosted website.

Apple has launched iBooks Author and iBooks 2. iBooks Author is a program for creating interactive books, which is great—but Victoria Strauss of WriterBeware warns that using iBooks comes with a hidden exclusivity clause that you agree to simply by downloading the app.

Meanwhile, Jen Miller discusses the eternal conflict of genre vs. literary fiction, and asks if the divide between the two is real or imagined in this new publishing landscape.


Jennifer R. Hubbard brings us the amusing “You might be a writer if…

In other interesting articles, we found an introduction to webcomics, an analysis of 14th through 19th century paper, and the art of Victorian eye flirtation.


  1. Have a Rock and Roll Thursday.


  2. Reblogged this on The Book of Ascension Blog and commented:
    Sharing the goodness from another nifty blog! So much goodness in one post here people need tips and info on certain aspects of writing then check this out!!


  3. Thank you for including my blog post. I’m delighted to be mentioned along with so many wonderful writers. 🙂


    • Thanks for writing such a good article! It was a good reminder–sometimes we as writers get so caught up in trying to write “what will sell” we forget to listen to the heart of the book and tell it the way it needs to be told.


  4. What a comprehensive round-up. Lots of fantastic links. Thanks much for the shout-out!


    • You’re welcome! It seems like more and more people are interested in memoir writing, so we were happy to find your article and spread the word.


  5. Thank you for including me! 🙂


    • You’re welcome! We enjoyed your article, because it is so true. Society doesn’t always value what we do, so a lot of us are wary of revealing what we do. But a friend of mine said that only when you think of yourself as a writer and identify as one will you be able to really get serious about your career, and for me at least, I am finding that he was right.


  6. Belated thanks for the link! 🙂


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