Tag Archives: author

14 Oct

10 Writer Quotes to Keep you Working on Your Novel

30 Days to a Stronger Novel Online Video course

Writing teacher Darcy Pattison teachers an online video course, 30 Days to a Stronger Novel. Each day includes an inspirational quote, and tips and techniques for revising your novel. Here are the 10 of the inspirational quotes.


Or sign up for more information on the availability of this course and other courses.

The titles below are the first ten entries of the Table of Contents for the Online Video Class. Sign up now for the Early Bird list. You’ll be notified when the course goes live.

Mims: Online Video Course

Sign up for information on online video courses with Darcy Pattison. Discounts, deadlines, and more.

  1. The Wide, Bright Lands: Theme Affects Setting


  2. Raccoons, Owls, and Billy Goats: Theme Affects Characters


  3. Side Trips: Choosing Subplots


  4. Of Parties, Solos, and Friendships: Knitting Subplots Together


  5. Feedback: Types of Critiquers


  6. Feedback: What You Need from Readers


  7. Stay the Course


  8. Please Yourself First


  9. The Best Job I Know to Do


  10. Live. Read. Write.


Click Here to See 22 More Quotes for Writers

18 Feb

What Next? 15 Questions to Help you Decide Your Next Writing Project

I was lucky enough to get an Advanced Reader Copy of Chip and Dan Heath’s new book, DECISIVE: How to make better choices in Life and Work. You may know the Heath brothers from their previous books, SWITCH: How to Change Things When Change is Hard and MADE TO STICK: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die. They are adept at taking massive amounts of research on topics with widespread appeal and distilling the information into something that can be used in daily life. In DECISIVE, they discuss decision-making and make it practical. Here, I have applied many of their ideas in a simple checklist: What manuscript should you write next?

Courtesy of the Heath Brothers amazing insights into the applicability of much research, these are practical ideas to help you make the best decision possible. If you want to know more, DECISIVE will be released on March 26, available now for pre-order.

You just wrote, “The End.” And you hit the SEND button. The manuscript is off to the editor.

What now? How do you decide on the next project?

Build a Career

An agent once asked this question: What is the next logical book for you in terms of building an audience that will support your career?

Do you see the criteria embedded in that question:

  • Build an audience
  • Support your career

Is that what you want? A career with a growing audience? Then, you probably need to stick with the genre of your first book, and turn out a second book that will appeal to the same audience. If you wrote a mystery and it sold well, write another mystery—different, better, but definitely appealing to the same audience.

But it may not be that easy. Maybe several genres interest you and you want to try something new. But that might risk your career, because you aren’t building a consistent following. How do you sort out all your ideas and commit to the next project? Here are 15 questions to ask yourself.

15 What Next Questions

  1. Don’t Get Trapped in Too Small a Framework. The decision is rarely one like this: Should I do Mss A or not? Instead, try to look at a range of options. Here are ideas that I have, A, B, C, D, and E. Which of these would appeal to the same audience as my first success?
  2. What else you could write in the same time period. If it takes you six months to write a novel, what else could you get written in that time period? What project deserves that time commitment?
  3. What if you couldn’t write the Mss you had planned to write next? What would you write then? For example, if you were planning a picture book biography of Shirley Temple and one was just published to great acclaim, maybe it’s not the best time for this story. So, pretend something similar just happened to your pet idea. What would you do then?

  4. Could you write the openings of several different manuscripts and THEN decide which one excites you the most? Multi-tracking sometimes allows the cream to rise.
  5. Look at the career of someone you admire and want to emulate. At a similar point in his/her career what was the next book published? Or, look at a musician or actor/actress and find parallels in their careers. For example, Sean Connery could have gotten stuck in the 007 role and never found his way to new projects. Instead, he has regularly “reinvented” himself by taking risky roles that led to an expanded career. Is it time for you to write that “breakout” book you’ve been planning?

  6. Looking over all the possible manuscripts and ideas—what has you the most excited? Which one are you scared to write—and therefore, will push you to write your best?
  7. Ask the opposite question: if you have been writing mysteries, what if your next novel was a romance? Is this the time to make a switch or not? Can you carry any of your audience over to a new genre? Is there a way to work more romance into your next mystery, so the transition isn’t total, but pulls in readers from both genres?
  8. Could you test new waters with a short story or a short ebook? Is there a way to TRY something new, without doing damage to your current audience? Once you decide on a new mss, you’ll have to commit wholeheartedly to write the best possible. But maybe you can take a couple weeks and try out a new market.
  9. Are you too attached to the status-quo? Your publisher wants more and more of this one type story and you get paid. But somehow, you feel your passions are lessened. At what point do you need to shake up the status quo?
  10. What would you tell your best writer friend to do in this situation?
  11. What are you passionate about? What are your core values? Does Mss A or B or C or D allow you to express that passion better?
  12. If you write this book and a year from now it fails(either not published or published to poor reviews), can you think why it would have failed to reach your audience?
  13. If you write this book and it succeeds, can you discuss why it would make your readers excited about your work?
  14. Do you set goals for your books? If this mystery doesn’t sell 10,000 copies, then I’ll try a different genre for my next project. Would a goal like that help you make the next career move?
  15. Are there deadlines for this project, or can you create a deadline? You’ll devote six months to this fantasy story, and then, you must write your next mystery.

You have a choice to make and the choice will affect your future and your career as a writer. What will you write next? There are no right or wrong answers, only answers that please you. You’re in control. I know–that’s scary! But that’s another post.

Hey, Chip and Dan–What will YOU write next?

01 Feb

Health Care for Writers

If you are self-employed, you are worried about health care. I know: I had surgery in July and it took six months to get all the bills cleared up.

The new Affordable Heatlth Care plan goes into effect in 2014, with enrollment beginning October, 2013, when self-employed persons can sign up for one of a tier of products. The Small Business Administration has just started a new website and blog about health care to help educate the public. Here are some places to start:

10 Oct

Your Amazon Author Rank: Boon or Bane?

Today, I got the following letter from Amazon’s AuthorCentral service. It’s a great service that allows you to view data on all your books in a central location, including sales (as reported by BookScan, an important caveat). You can check for updated reviews, see if your visit to Kansas City last week resulted in a bump in sales there, and correct anything on the book’s listing that needs correction.

And now this:

Dear Author Central Member,
Today we have added a new feature, Amazon Author Rank,
the definitive list of best-selling authors on Amazon.com. This list makes it easy for readers to discover the best-selling authors on Amazon.com overall and within a selection of major genres.

Your Amazon Author Rank:
12953 in Teens

Amazon Author Rank is your rank based on the sales of all of your books on Amazon.com. Just like Amazon Best Sellers, it is updated hourly. The top 100 authors overall and the top 100 in selected genres will be displayed on Amazon.com. You can see your Amazon Author Rank trended over time in Author Central.

You can find your Amazon Author Rank in Author Central under the Rank tab. Historical rank data is available from September 28, 2012.

We’re always interested in feedback, so please let us know what you think.

The Author Central Team


P.S. You may have friends who are authors; feel free to pass this email along to them.
Amazon Author Rank is a feature available to all authors registered in Author Central.

Author Rank

First, let me point out that this is only an AMAZON author rank and only speaks to how well you sell ON AMAZON.

I tried to find this displayed somewhere and I’m not sure where it is. I think that when you search by category, there’s now an Author tab in the lefthand column, so you’ll show up on that list for whatever category you are searching. See the screenshot. I couldn’t get this to show up when I searched Children’s Books in any category.

I’m not sure I like this one. I know my books are ranked by how well each one sells, and that seems reasonable. And on some levels, maybe ranking an author’s overall performance isn’t all bad.

But, as authors, we know exactly where we stand in the pecking order. Try signing books at a national conference, where your line is, well, one person and next to you is Kate DiCamillo, who’s line is out the door and down the street. Oh, yes. Authors know exactly where we stand. Well, if we didn’t before–we sure will NOW!

As you see above, I am ranked 12953 in Teens. Curious, that I am in the Teens category, when most of my recent books are picture books. Who put me in that category? How can I change categories? Are children’s book authors ranked? I’ll look into that, for sure.

Of course, it’s all about selling books. It’s another category for people to search and get a recommendation (read these books by this author who is the Number 4 Author in teens!). And it might actually give back list from a Top 10 author a boost.

But there could be downsides:
Editor: What’s your Amazon Author Rank? We aren’t allowed to sign anyone ranked lower than 500.

Librarian: Oh, she’s just a 1200 Rank Author, so I don’t think kids will be interested in reading her books.

Will this be yet another way to kill the Mid-List Author?
Will you fight to climb the Author Rank ladder?
Will you evaluate all publicity on how it affects your Author Rank?

What do you think about being Ranked?
Not a member of AuthorCentral yet? Click here.

18 Sep

Report on the Novel Revision Retreat

Susan Fields, YA Novelist.

Susan Fields of the Hands Off my Coffee and No One Gets Hurt: An Insomniac’s Guide to the Writing Life blog has posted a report on the St. Louis Novel Revision Retreat. And check out this Facebook album of the participants hard at work.

At the retreat, one of the informal discussions was about Social Media and what authors should be doing. Susan is doing it: creating a blog early in her career so she can find the topics she wants to talk about, so she can build an audience, so she can build momentum. They were all surprised when I said I love comments on my blog! Of course! All bloggers want comments, we want to know if you are listening or not, disagreeing or not, grumbling or not, agreeing or not.

So please go and comment on Susan’s blog. While you’re doing that, here are blogs from other participants, some well published and others early in their career. Go check them out and leave comments–lots of comments to encourage them! (Pages listed in random order.)

What tips would you give to a beginning writers about social media? What do you wish you had done early on?

Writers were sustained by coffee during the retreat.

11 May

11 Ways to Ruin a Photograph

11Ways copy

Awkward Family Photos

11 Ways to Ruin a Photograph, written by Darcy Pattison.

Holidays mean family photos, right? This children’s book shows the extremes to which a kid can go to avoid those photos. The difference is that this girl has a good reason.

THE STORY: “11 Ways to Ruin a Photograph”

When her father goes soldiering for a year, a girl decides that without Dad at home, it’s not a family photo album. Though her beloved Nanny is in charge of the album that year, the girl makes sure that photographs of her never turn out well. It results in some awkward family photos! Photos are blurred, wind blows hair in her face. April rains bring umbrellas to hide behind. Halloween means a mask. This poignant, yet funny family story, expresses a child’s anger and grief for a Dad whose work takes him away for long periods of time. This story for kids is a tribute to the sacrifices made by military families and to those who care for children when a family needs support.


In conjunction with “The Help” movie (www.thehelpmovie.com), TakePart.com (www.takepart.com/thehelp) recently sponsored three writing contests: a recipe contest, an inspirational story contest and a children’s story contest. TakePart is the digital division of Participant Media which aims to bolster a movie’s audience with a message of social change. THE HELP movie campaign emphasized the role of stories in people’s lives. After winning the contest, the story was made into a children’s book.

Notice: This site and the story are not endorsed by or affiliated with TakePart, LLC or the motion picture “The Help” and or its distributors.



THE AUTHOR: Darcy Pattison

Author Darcy Pattison

More on Darcy Pattison
Resources, teacher’s guides and more.

27 Feb

Alternate Publishing: POD to Finish a Series

Alternate Publishing Series TOC

Alternate publishing has been a quiet, behind-the-scenes subject for the last two or three years, but I keep hearing people talking about how they’ve taken the plunge. The terms vary: self-publishing, indie publishing, niche publishing. Some authors are apologetic; some are arrogant; some are business-like. But more and more, people are taking their copyright into their own hands and asking: how can I make money with what I have written. This week, we’ll look at seven stories of people who have done exactly that. For every story told here, I probably know of two or three more similar stories.

Dusting off an old publisher’s hat

Guest post by Joni Sensel

My latest book starts with a mouse-gnawed, bedraggled hat, and I found myself donning an old hat myself to get this book to readers who were asking for it.

More than ten years ago, I started a small press and self-published two picture books. One earned an award, both sold out their print runs, and I got a terrific crash-course in publishing — enough to know I’d rather write. I stuffed my publishing hat into a closet.

After four traditionally published middle-grade novels, however, I dusted off my DIY cap. Having published THE FARWALKER’S QUEST and its sequel (which were contracted individually), Bloomsbury didn’t even want to consider the trilogy’s finale. Though the books earned good reviews and even a little award notice, sufficient copies didn’t sell for the company to invest in the third.

Farwalker’s Quest was a 2009 Cybil Award finalist and a 2010 Bank Street College ‘Best Book’.

  • This is a solid and well-paced fantasy in which the journey is more important than the conclusion. The theme of finding and accepting one’s true calling resonates. –School Library Journal
  • [T]he book is at once elegant and lyrical, while also offering an intensely paced and action-driven plot for readers who are seeking adventure along with poetic contemplation.
    The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
  • This stand-alone fantasy has a unique setting with an intriguing history and a suspenseful plot. –Booklist
  • The story offers crisp dialogue, an exciting plot, and strong secondary characters. –Kirkus

Yet readers were asking for more. So I finished it myself.

I did plenty of homework, including talking with others who were self-publishing to finish a traditional series. These included Book 6 in Kevin Emerson’s Oliver Nocturne series (Scholastic) and Book 4 in Chris Eboch’s Haunted series (Aladdin). (Chris has since self-published several books, though not that one yet, I think. Kevin’s series finale came out last May.)

One thing I did differently was to hire my Bloomsbury editor, partly because I wanted more third-party sanction (and more confidence in the work). I got lucky; her moonlit editorial notes came dirt cheap. Since I couldn’t afford the busy illustrator who did the first two covers, I paid a friend, Kirsten Carlson — who’d previously helped with marketing materials — to create the cover. For middle-graders, I wanted a physical book, so I used CreateSpace. (Next time, if there is one, I’ll look at Lightning Source for their distribution options, or the new Apple app.) I formatted the book and did my own ebook prep, too. The latter took the most effort.

Pulling my print-on-demand (POD) proof from the mail was as thrilling as getting an ARC from New York — just with more proofing pressure! THE SKELETON’S KNIFE was published in November, and readers I’ve heard from so far have loved it. Yahoo!

My marketing plan is, frankly, minimal. I didn’t do this to sell lots of books, and I haven’t—about 100 copies in three months, though that’s still more than I expected. Really, I just wanted closure and something to offer fans who asked for more (without mailing them pages in a three-ring binder!).

That said, I did the same social media, blogger outreach, and announcements I would’ve done if someone else had published it, but at a lower volume, in part because my audience is mostly those who’ve read the first one or two, anyway. I’m pleased to have gotten a great review from a recognized kidlit blogger, Charlotte Taylor at Charlotte’s Library, as well as several on the book’s Amazon page. My attitude hasn’t changed, though — I’d rather write. Yes, I know marketing is part of the writer’s job. After four traditionally published novels, however, with equal effort on my part and distinctly different sales results, I’m not convinced there’s much relationship between the author’s efforts and sales. (And none of my editors have thought so, either. Others, of course, disagree.)

I’m not planning to self-publish again soon. I think there are good reasons and bad reasons to do so, and I’m leery of the bad reasons. I still want the experts’ imprimatur and thus the confidence that I’m not embarrassing myself before my peers and readers. I also want to spend maximum time writing (regardless of the results).

I’ll keep my worn publisher’s hat handy, though. Whether I like it or not, it probably won’t be another 10 years before I need it again!

11 Oct

Advice to a Beginner

Writing for Kids? It’s easy, right? Recently, I’ve talked to several beginners and here’s some of the most common advice I give.

Main Character to Relate to and Identify With

What age are you writing for? Adults? Then, you need an adult main character. Teens? Then, you need a teen main character. Elementary age kid? Then you need. . . In other words, your audience needs a main character they can relate to and identify with.

Yes, I know. Fairy tales are about old dudes like Rumpelstiltskin. And Pooh Bear is, well, a bear. Yes, there will be an odd book about a grandparent as a main character. But those are harder to pull off and best left till later in your career. Create a main character a bit older than your audience. It can be an animal–which is generally a kid in animal clothing. But any time you move far off from your audience’s age and general characteristics, you will have to work harder to make the audience care.

Basic Writing Skills

Yes, there are basic writing skills and you need to master these. They include sentence structures and punctuation. For this, I suggest you work through The Art of Styling Sentences. It’s a simple, fun way to review basic writing.

Basic Fiction Skills

Ah, but after you brush up your basic writing skills, you need to learn some basic fiction techniques. Do you know how to punctuate dialogue correctly? Do you know how to Show-Don’t-Tell a story? Do you understand that fiction is about conflict, that you can’t create a plot which has no obstacles and simple obstacles makes for a simple, but boring plot?

I always recommend two basic texts for writing fiction:

If you study these two books on fiction writing, you’ll be far ahead of the gang.

Ask for and accept help!

Advice from the Sage One

I’ve read that a career in writing often comes with an apprenticeship of twenty years. Sigh. Learning to write great fiction can take time. But there are many people willing to give help. (No–I can’t read your story; I can and do read stories from those I know personally–as time allows.) There are many conferences, retreats, classes which can help. I strongly recommend you ask for help. And then, take the advice, practice, try it out. You can always go back to the original version, but you should try doing what they ask. If you don’t understand something–ask! Please. Ask! I can’t answer questions you don’t ask. I can cut five years off your learning curve–if you let me.

Worry about the words, not the art.

Finally, if you are writing a picture book, worry not about the art. Worry only that your words soar.
The publisher, editor and art director will match you with a fantastic illustrator. You don’t have to find an artist, indeed, it will cut your chances of a sale in half if you do. They WANT to and EXPECT to contract an illustrator for a picture book. Worry about the words. That’s your job.

30 Sep

Shrunken Manuscript X-Treme

Guest post by Carol Fisher Saller

Writing Eddie’s War, which consists of 76 prose-poem vignettes, wasn’t easy. I’ve chronicled elsewhere the trouble I got myself into by writing the scenes every which-way in random order without first outlining a plot or getting to know my characters. I’d think of a scene and write it—mostly little slices of life. Here’s a short one:

May 1939
Sarah Mulberry
In the first grade
she was Sam,
not even all that much
a girl.
Smile as wide as her feet were long,
feet made for puddle-jumping,
running from boys.
She could bat a ball and fling a cob
with the rest of us.
In junior high, though,
she became Sarah,
still flashing that smile,
but avoiding the cob fights.
Unless she was

Sometimes I’d think of a new character and write a scene for him or her. Sometimes I’d build a scene around something that happened in the 1930s or 1940s, like the crash of the Hindenburg, or the invasion of Poland, or the movie Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

This is a terrible way to write a book. But I did have a few characters who kept coming back to me, and two or three story lines that began to emerge. The character of Eddie started speaking in the first person. And I at least had some historical facts in the background that forced a measure of chronology.

And that’s when my group came up with the sentences. (Actually, as I remember it, I was the one who thought it up, and since I’m the one blogging here today, I’m sticking to that.)

The idea is to write a single sentence for each scene or chapter in your book. Include the main plot point and the name of every character who appears in a memorable way:

January 1934, Eddie learns to read newspapers at the library.
May 1937, Eddie and Thomas find some baby foxes and Dad tells them to kill them.
July 1938, Eddie and Gabe argue a moral point.
July 1938, Gabe becomes a hero when Curtis Ray falls out of the tree fort.
September 1938, Dad tells a story about an early experience with a shotgun.
September 1938, Eddie remembers Grampa Rob in the duck blind.
(and so forth)

My list took a couple of pages. Then, in order to see the organization more clearly, I used a different color to highlight each character’s name. (I didn’t color Eddie, since he’s in every scene.)

Plot with summary sentences.

Standing back a little to look at one color/character at a time, I could see where there were gaps if a character had been away too long. To fix it, I could either move the scenes around or write new ones. And I started marking other things.

  • I put a * in front of any scene that included historical or farm-season facts, so I would be mindful of that when rearranging scenes.
  • I put an H in front of scenes that had some humor so I could inject some into the dry spells.

My sentences were becoming an outline! Once I had an improved plot summary in front of me, I decided to make use of the character names in another way. From the sentences, it was easy to make a list of all the scenes a character was in. I called these threads:

  • Sarah
  • Junior High
  • In the Ditch
  • Typing Contest
  • The Date
  • The Hat

In the case of Sarah, by studying her thread along with the SENTENCES, and I could see that she was important but underwritten and that her scenes were clumped awkwardly. I saw that there was nothing about her early on, when she was small, and that I needed some scenes of tension between her and Eddie—I couldn’t let love run smooth!

I added plans of scenes to my list of sentences, like “November 1938: Toddler Sarah dazzles toddler Eddie,” and “May 1944: Sarah and Eddie, tense but funny; he tells her about Jozef.” I used square brackets [like this] to indicate scenes that weren’t written yet.

I have to say, it felt great to come to the laptop every morning and have an assignment waiting between those little brackets instead of just a churning feeling that I would never be able to finish the book. Quite honestly, I’ve never been drawn to writing exercises, but approaching my writing problem as one of organization, I surprised myself by finding that organization can lead to inspiration.

I’ll stop here, but if anyone has questions about this technique, I’d be happy to try to answer them. And if anyone would like to know more about Eddie’s War, I hope they’ll visit my website.

Carol Fisher Saller is a senior manuscript editor and assistant managing editor at the University of Chicago Press and editor of the Chicago Manual of Style Online’s Q&A. She has also worked as an editor of children’s books at Cricket Books (Carus Publishing) and has published several books for children. In addition to Eddie’s War, she is the author of The Subversive Copyeditor: Advice from Chicago (or, How to Negotiate Good Relationships with Your Writers, Your Colleagues, and Yourself) (University of Chicago Press, 2009) and currently writes for the Lingua Franca blog at the Chronicle of Higher Education.

28 Sep

Kiki Hamilton: 2k11

Debut Novel: Spreadsheets Used for Plotting and Revising a Novel

Introduced first in 2007, debut children’s authors have formed a cooperative effort to market their books. I featured Revision Stories from the Classes of 2k8 and 2k9 and this feature returns this year with the Class of 2k11.


Guest post by Kiki Hamilton

Revision is hard work. There’s no two ways about it. But it is necessary to improve the story – sometimes it’s the way the writer finds the real story. Though there can be times when it feels like the process of revision never ends – it doesn’t have to be overwhelming.

I like to think of it as making a cake. You have to work in layers.

The first layer is the plot structure. There are lots of different ways to draw out the plot or story arc of your novel. I use a color-coded Excel spreadsheet, others use sticky notes – either way is fine – as long as you have some way to see the overall scope of the story.

Divide your story into acts:
• Act 1 is the set-up: identify your characters and the conflict.
• Act 2 begins with a Turning Point which results in rising action.
• Act 3 the conflict increases until it reaches a Point of No Return. This is where we know what the character wants.
• Act 4 begins from the Point of No Return and we rise to the Crisis, which is where we learn what the character needs. From there we move to the Resolution and The End.

The second layer includes: characters, theme, emotions, plot. Once you’ve got your structure in place, take a look at the elements that create your story: Characters, Theme, Emotions, Plot.

Are your characters three dimensional? Is your protagonist well-developed? Do we care about them? Is there a theme present in the story? Here’s a big one for me – is the plot believable? Do the protagonist’s choices make sense?

The third layer contains the supporting elements. This is the time to look at side characters, dialogue, scene transitions, and pacing. Are the side characters necessary? Do they get enough time on stage? Do your characters speak in a believable way? Cliffhangers are great but make sure that when you move from one scene to the next, or one chapter ending to a new chapter, that you do it in a way that your reader can follow the timeline and sequence of events. Also, it’s hard to look at your own work objectively, but try to see where the pace of your story drags and where it might move too quickly.

The final layer is the details. This is my favorite part of the revision process. I like to think of it as putting on the beautiful sparkly frosting.

Make sure you’re showing and not telling. Show us what the main character is thinking and feeling through description and actions. Provide fresh, original details. Use vivid verbs and phrasing so that when the character’s heart races, ours does too. And finally, drop in those last little details that will set your work apart from others.

Revision is hard work but it is this part of crafting a story that will make the reader remember your characters long after they read ‘The End’.

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