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.

Posted by: J. Thomas Ross | March 21, 2019

Top Picks Thursday! For Writers & Readers 03-21-2019


The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, yellow crocuses

Yellow crocuses


Welcome to the first Top Picks Thursday of spring! Our crocuses are finally blooming. Let’s hope the snowy, wintery weather is behind us.

In additon to being the first full day of spring, today is National Common Courtesy Day, a gentle reminder to us all to make courtesy a good deal more common.

Next Monday, March 25th, is National Tolkien Reading Day, so dust off and reread your old copy of The Hobbit—or cheat and binge on one (or all ) of the movies this weekend.

Most writers do not make their living as authors, but a few make a very good living. Emily Temple reveals, year by year, the 25 authors who’ve made the most money in the last decade.

Coming up in April is National Poetry Month. Roz Morris interviews Joe Nutt about how useful poetry is in a prose world.

Libraries always seem to be struggling for funds, but now Susie Dumond reports that President Trump’s 2020 budget proposal threatens to defund libraries. We readers and writers need to work to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Kudos to: Bridge to Terabithia author Katherine Patterson, who won the E. B. White Awardfor literature (reported by Brent Hallenbeck in the Burlington Free Press); to the eight winners of the 2019 Windham-Campbell prizes (reported by Corinne Segal for Literary Hub); and to Arte Público Press, which has been honored by the National Book critics Circle with the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award for its significant contributions to book culture (reported by Rigoberto González for NBC News).

In memoriam: Craig Morgan Teicher reports on the death of former U.S. Poet Laureate W. S. Merwin at age 91.


The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, leafless trees reflected in vernal pond

Vernal pond



For writers seeking to improve their craft and professionalism, Diana Hurwitz lists writing workshops from April to June 2019. Lisa Cooper Ellison goes into schmoozing for introverts: how to network like a pro.

Mason Curry shares the daily writing routines of famous women authors. Part of that writing routine might include a specific place to write. Susan Haught considers setting up a writing space, while Daphne Gray-Grant asks: is it worth having a tidy place to write?

Sue Coletta lays out 7 hard truths about working as a professional writer, while Bill Ferris stresses 12 things you have to give up to be a successful writer.

Roz Morris highlights 7 ways to write a novel with confidence, while Jim Dempsey focuses on how to find inspiration, and Kathryn Craft ponders when to let go of your original inspiration. In addition, Jordan Peters asks: are you a hoarder (of ideas)?

Check out these storytelling tips from the writer of Blade Runner, Hampton Fancher.

Novelists, have you ever thought about writing a short story? Sarah Dahl considers the benefits of writing short stories. If you do decide to try your hand at short stories or a new genre, Jami Gold addresses how to set goals when trying something new.

David Corbett clarifies the differences between a crime novel, mystery novel, and thriller novel, while Janice Hardy suggests we all need a little mystery in our lives.

Do you know your story’s theme? Stavros Halvatzis examines theme as the controlling idea, and K. M. Weiland expounds on how to find your thematic principle.

If you’re working on your story’s plot, John Gilstrap outlines scene construction, and Jami Gold examines story threads: fixing rips in our story.

A number of bloggers offer tips for characterization: Laurence MacNaughton reveals the secret to creating characters in 60 seconds; Juliet Marillier takes a look at naming characters in historical fantasy; Anne R. Allen spells out why Mary Sues will kill your story; Melissa Donovan provides writing tips for creating a complex villain; and Victoria Mixon writes about layering character for believable fiction.

With more on layering, Vaughn Roycroft discusses layers of antagonism and why you should embrace them.

Grammar, grammar, grammar—it’s important! James Scott Bell concludes: get grammatical or get lost. Providing some tips, September C. Fawkes explains how to punctuate dialogue, while two bloggers address modifiers: Zoe M. McCarthy avers that misplaced modifiers confuse your readers, and Ann Parker cautions writers about misplaced modifiers.

Finished your book? John Doppler goes into how to find the perfect title.

Maryann Miller advises don’t let plagiarism kill your career.


The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, man holding business section of newspaper

Photo by Adeolu Eletu on Unsplash




For those pursuing traditional publishing, Becky Tuch give 8 reasons your submission strategy sucks and what you can do about it, Janet Reid makes sense of parsing subjective vs. objective assessment from agents, and agent Rachelle Gardner insists there is no time for despair.

Lee Foster examines changes in book publishing, and Steve Laube analyzes who gets paid in publishing.

Five seems to be a special number this week. Carol Tice lists 5 ways to double your freelance writing income, Jules Horne offers 5 tips for better audiobook narration and performance., and Reedsy sets out 5 tips for better book cover typography.

For those selling on Amazon, Melissa Bowersock delves into tracking Kindle sales with the Book Report app, and Dave Chesson takes a look at changes to Amazon advertising.

Marketing is vital. Sandra Beckwith debunks 3 book marketing myths.

If you’re interesting in trying something different, Paul Sating explains how to grow your readership through podcasting.

With tips for bloggers, Bryn Donovan gives 25 ideas for your author blog, Dana Fiddler tells us how to format your blog posts to keep your readers engaged., and Cristian Mihai advises writers to keep your blog content fresh and asks: are you sabotaging your blog?

Frances Caballo looks into Instagram for authors: how to use hashtags.


The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, robin

Spring robin



Andrea Smith reports that the house in England that inspired Wuthering Heights is for sale.

Rohini Chaki reveals that Alexander Dumas (author of classics like The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo) thought his magnum opus was a massive cookbook, while Emily Temple delves into Honoré de Balzac’s legendary love affair with his anonymous critic.

Alison Flood tells us that Joni Mitchell’s hand-drawn book written for friends in 1971 is to be published.

Roy Christopher says literary allusion runs deep through the history of hip-hop.

Even great writers can get bad reviews: Tina Jordan shares scathing reviews of classic books from the NY Times’s archives.


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

Late afternoon sun


That’s all for this week’s Top Picks Thursday. Join us again next week for another roundup of writerly links!


The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, full moon, night clouds

The last winter full moon


Posted by: Matt Q. McGovern | March 19, 2019

binge-watching habits of writers

Back in the day, this would have been called TV watching and for many still is. Nowadays, most of our viewing content is available on demand and as such allows for our habits to develop trends towards anything our heart desires, including binge-watching whole seasons of series in short periods of time. Each service offering up our content is quick to suggest and serve up what else we’d like to watch next.

I’m wondering what these choices are for writers, and it’s effect on writing if any.

Since my television’s main input is a computer and has been for many years, most of my viewing comes through a standard web browser. My main “channels” are youtube, amazon, netflix, and occasionally the web pages for the channels of my cable service – if I happen to currently have a subscription to one.

Several months ago I caught up with my favorite shows: Blacklist, Criminal Minds, Elementary. So, needing something to binge watch, I’ve watched entire series of shows/documentaries relating to FBI files, forensics, CIA, true crime, serial killer, and mafia investigations. I noticed that this started with the FBI and after I ran out of available shows to watch, I started looking for the subject of the investigations themselves. The most popular FBI investigations over the last century are serial killer, mafia, and things of that nature of which there are plenty of documentaries.

The serial killer documentaries grew morbid after a while, as I was more interested in how the FBI caught them as opposed to seeing more about the killer. There’s a funny meme that’s gone around social media saying something to the effect of “I’m a writer not a serial killer” when remarking on the contents of one’s browser history.

My current work in progress involves the world we live in today but featuring some paranormal fantasy. The investigative division in my book is right out of Criminal Minds at a much younger age – with a paranormal element. I think I could say the same of everything I’ve been watching. I can see the mafia, serial killer, regular police work, etc. – with a paranormal element.

This isn’t to say that I’m trying to write all that, just that my mind can easily drift there. The subjects upon which the investigative divisions direct their focus are all secret societies in some way or other, whether centered around a single individual or a group. It’s easy to add a paranormal element to it.

I always liked the paranormal and some horror/dark fantasy entities like vampires, witches, etc. This features in my writing and is influenced by my separate interest in investigation, police forces both local and federal, secret societies that may or may not be involved with organized crime, etc.

Thought for the day, how is your writing shaped by your television/binge-watching/browsing habits, or is it the other way around?


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