Posted by: Kerry Gans | April 6, 2017

Top Picks Thursday! For Writers & Readers 04-06-2017

Welcome to the first Top Picks Thursday of April!

In author news, Colin Dexter, creator of Inspector Morse, dies aged 86, and Robert Silvers, editor of the New York Review of Books, dies at age 87.

The Tome Society has their 2017-2018 “It Lists” out. Congratulations to all the nominees, especially friends of the blog Jonathan Maberry and Tiffany Schmidt.

“A lie travels around the globe while the truth is putting on its shoes.” Libraries and universities are working to improve digital literacy and combat fake news.

Jen Campbell discusses the time-honored trope of pairing villains and deformity.

Michelle Dean explores the importance of writers not looking away.


Ideas come in all shapes and sizes, but agents and publishers often want “high concept” ideas. Jeff Lyons defines high concept, and shows how we can create it in our ideas.

Alison Weiss has 8 ways to become an even better writer—and who doesn’t want that?

Never open with setting description, right? Well… Mary Kole tells us how to open with setting description the right way.

Shannon A Thompson talks character motivation vs. morals, while Jeff Lyons shows how to create a strong moral premise for our story.

Getting the details right is important. Alex Acks examines the “hollow woman” problem in science fiction, and Fred Johnson offers 2 ways to get violence right in fiction.

Writing takes great emotional stamina. Jessica Strawser lays out 5 reasons fellow writers are essential to your writing life, Ray Shepard reminds us that you’re ever too old to write, and Nell Boeschenstein ponders if “taste” is static or malleable.

Kathleen Jones has 6 ways to prepare for being a novelist as a retirement career, Jason M. Hough gives us musings on co-writing a novel, and Jed Herne tells us how to use active reading to become a better writer.

Balancing the writing with the business is difficult for all of us. Janet Reid discusses quitting your day job, Kim English wonders what success in publishing looks like, Melissa Febos asks if you want to be known for your writing or your swift email responses, and Nathan Bransford explores balancing writing to the market vs. writing what you love.

If you want to be a professional writer, Chuck Wendig has some things for you to consider, and Anne R. Allen tackles the myth that slow writers are doomed in the digital age.


There’s a lot authors need to know these days, and if you are self-publishing, you need to know even more. Joel Friedlander talks interior design for genre fiction, Chuck Wendig shares caveats around work-for-hire book publishing, and Marie Lamba has 6 “To Do’s” if you write.

If you are going for an agent, you need a query letter. Nathan Bransford discusses summarizing through specificity. Janet Reid gets optimistic and tells us what to ask an agent after you get an offer, and also discusses why agents try to keep subsidiary rights for their clients.

Marketing can be mind-numbing. Jami Gold addresses the boogeyman of struggling to gain reviews, Sandra Beckwith breaks down Facebook advertising for authors, and Frances Caballo gets serious with Pinterest.


Some of us find writing to a deadline stressful. How about writing when you’re dying? George Orwell wrote 1984 while dying of tuberculosis.

If you like The DaVinci Code, check out these 9 weird conspiracy theories about art.

Heavens to Darcy! Jane Austen has alt-right fans.

Take a look at 20 fantastic edible books from the world’s biggest edible book festival.

The first Texas style novel was written by…a Frenchman in 1819.

A look at Jennifer Crandall’s documentary project, Whitman, Alabama, in which “the citizens of Alabama use Whitman’s most famous poem as a way to speak about themselves.”

Here are 43 of your favorite books about complicated families.

The largest collection of Saul Bellows papers is now open for research at the University of Chicago.

A tribute to Terry Pratchett, with appearances by Terry Pratchett.

And in the latest things-you-find-when-you-clean-out-your-attic story, a Shakespearean notepad stuns an Antiques Roadshow expert.

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

Posted by: Nancy Keim Comley | April 5, 2017

Hooray For the Written Word

A couple of months ago a friend from college sent me a letter. A real letter on paper in an envelope and everything. After looking at it in mild surprise I opened the envelope and took out the page. She wrote that she appreciated the missive I had written and put in with our Christmas card. It made her realize just how much she misses letters. So she decided to put pen to paper and write.

She and I were close in college and have remained friends ever since but with children, work, family and the half continent between us we fell out of touch. In a three page letter she caught me up on her life and through her words and humor I was reminded why I like her so much. She is fun, irreverent, book-obsessed and writes a great letter.  A few days after receiving her letter I sat down and wrote back (I put fingers to keys instead of pen to paper, I have terrible handwriting).

Since then about every week we write to each other. Most nights I write a paragraph or two before I sleep. I sincerely hope we keep it up — there is something very satisfying about getting a letter in the mail.  Texts and email are immediate and demanding but a letter is something to be savored.

Posted by: Kerry Gans | March 30, 2017

Top Picks Thursday! For Writers & Readers 3-30-2017

Welcome to the last Top Picks Thursday of March! Our March is going out like a rainy little lamb, but I think we have finally expelled winter and are ready to welcome spring!

Non-fiction authors often wonder about liability. Lawyer Brad Frazer  lists 5 things nonfiction authors can get sued for.

Looking for something diverse to read? Here are 10 teen books that offer different perspectives on autism.

Kathryn Craft reminds us that although we can do it all, that doesn’t mean we should. If we do get in over our heads, Ruth Harris has some stress busters and burnout beaters.


Sometimes getting from the idea to the page is the hardest part of writing. Kristen Lamb shares signs that you don’t really have a story, Jeff Lyons defines the difference between story and situation, and Casey Griffin has 5 steps to building an outline.

Once we start writing, there are big ticket issues to worry about. Mary Kole explains how to direct reader attention, Donald Maass shows how to produce an emotional response from your reader, and Angela Ackerman explores the character motivation of overcoming abuse and learning to trust.

Tina Radcliffe walks us through the process of writing a scene, and Julie Anne Long looks at using the ordinary to create the extraordinary.

Nathan Bransford tells us how to know if you have a good editor, Jen Matera lets us know how to edit dialogue, and Janine Savage lays out how to write numbers in writing.

So how does one become a successful author? Kristen Lamb discusses if some people lack the talent to be authors, Ivy Sheldon distinguishes between writer’s block and perfectionism, and Diane O’Connell lists 8 things successful authors DON’T do.


Self-published authors have to know a lot about a whole range of subjects. Dave Kusek and Joanna Penn discuss what authors can learn from the music business, while David Kudler gets into the nuts and bolts of editing your ebook.

To agent or not to agent? Jane Friedman talks about how to land an agent for a self-published book, while agent Janet Reid shares 6 reasons your manuscript got rejected.

Branding and marketing is essential to any author’s success. Jami Gold looks at how to keep your sanity while building a brand, and Jane Friedman shows how to improve book sales through better descriptions and keyword targeting.

That’s it for this week’s Top Picks Thursday! We’ll see you in April!

Posted by: Kerry Gans | March 28, 2017

The Duality of the Writing Mind

I seem to exist on two planes of consciousness at once sometimes, and I have found from other writers that I am not alone in this duality. Sometimes I am in a situation that should be all-consuming, yet there is a part of me that is aloof, watching, observing, recording. I do not know if other artistic people experience this (perhaps they can comment) but it has happened to me frequently enough that I accept it as a fact of the writer’s life.

For example, when my best friend was dying of cancer. Kind of a big deal. Lots of strong, deep emotion. An awful, terrible time. But I remember one moment, clear as if someone else was speaking to me, having the thought, “This would make a good story.”

Of course, I felt super-guilty for thinking that. I mean, I should have been completely immersed in the present, where my friend was dying. And most of me was—except for that little writer part of me.

I have had the same sort of duality with the political situation in America. While a large part of me is overwhelmed by the sheer sur-reality of the current political atmosphere, I cannot help but be fascinated how two people can look at the same candidate, and one see a savior and the other see a snake-oil salesman. An object lesson in point-of-view writ large in the real world.

So what accounts for this double-consciousness? I believe now that this duality is actually my empathetic side coming out—it’s me realizing that I am in a moment that is of universal human significance. A moment or situation that highlights some deeper aspect of human nature.

Recognizing this, I no longer worry that it means I am not “connected” enough to the present. In some ways, I may be more deeply connected than I can articulate. I hope that someday I can use what my duality has observed to write stories that matter—that speak to the humanity in all of us.

Do you find yourself feeling this duality?

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.

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