Skip to content

Exercise Wednesday: A series of words with the power to destroy

July 16, 2014

Literarily, I should have known this quote long before now, but I didn’t. Maybe you didn’t either. But it’s an amazing quote and an amazing writing prompt.

Philip K. Dick is the author of, among other things, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, a landmark science fiction novel that evolved into the movie Bladerunner.

The sentence isn’t typically just a garden-variety insult, and it’s typically not the first line that comes to mind. For most people, “you’re fat/stupid/ugly” isn’t worth bothering with. But for the person who used to be fat/stupid/ugly, and still is underneath, it could be a killer. One of the reasons I know what you did last summer is a great title–and it was a novel first–is because the name alone makes you almost cringe inside.

Maybe it’s something one of your characters did, or an insecurity buried in their soul, but if Philip  K. Dick is right, your job this week is to unearth that sentence and to unleash that destructive power and see what happens.

Time limit: 25 minutes

Why Indie and Self-Published Authors Matter

July 14, 2014

Indie and self-published authors matter yet are often ignored as viable players in the publishing industry. We matter to the big publishers and retailers because we are groundbreakers, innovators, creators and consumers. From our ranks you will find the next Hugh Howey and Amanda Hocking.  We matter to readers because from our books they will find their next favorite author and can’t-put-down series.

Yet, it is nearly impossible as an independent or self-published author to get our books into a Barnes & Noble store, even if we offer the maximum discount and the books are returnable. Some independent bookstores even refuse to stock our books. We seem to be given no thought in the current battle of the Goliaths, Amazon vs. Hachette Book Group, and in the mergers of the big six (now down to five, soon to be four?).

But we matter because we are the backbone of the publishing industry. We are old and young, workers and retirees, rich and poor, and we are readers. We write in all genres, and in different voices.  We write really good books and some really bad ones too. While we are making the publishing industry stronger by creating (mostly) friendly competition, by giving readers more choices, and by creating new genres (fan fiction anyone), we are also buying books. We matter because we know what this is really about: creating enticing fiction and non-fiction that pleases readers.

We matter because we are the brick and mortar of the publishing industry. Without us, Amazon wouldn’t have a market to play hardball with Hachette. Without us, traditional publishers and agents wouldn’t be culling Amazon to discover the next successful indie or self-published author to lure to the traditional publishing world.

Eliminate the farm workers and there’d be no tomatoes and cucumbers at our supermarkets. Remove the 12th man from the Seattle Seahawks and perhaps they would not have won the Super Bowl. Do away with independent authors and self-pubbers and say good-bye to diversity in our reading choices.

We’ve already had a world where readers were limited to authors chosen by a few publishers, and from that world the indie movements began.

For the most part our novels do not sell like Jodi Picoult’s, and it’s unlikely our books will be made into movies like Divergent and The Fault of Our Stars. However, from our ranks will come the next big thing.

Most of us who are indie and self-published authors work hard at our day jobs, write diligently when we have the time, and gather to discuss our writing and the industry. Many hold the hope that one of the big publishers will pick them up. I hope it happens. I really do. But for those that it happens for, and for those who have already made the leap from the indie to the traditional world, I hope they never forget their publishing roots.

And to the bookstores and the large and mid-sized publishing houses, don’t discount indie and self-published authors. Listen to the people who make your bottom line: the readers. They already know what you have yet to learn: we matter.


Joanne Lewis is the author of murder mysteries and historical novels such as Forbidden Room and The Lantern. Visit her website at and email her at



July 13, 2014

By Susan Boyd

Mary Lambert, Person of Renown for Collection #6 at last year's conference.

Mary Burton, Person of Renown for Collection #6 at last year’s conference.

The Silent Auction, sponsored by Florida Writers Foundation (FWF), provides a unique opportunity to shine—by giving and receiving—and YOU can be part of the show.

On the giving end, the funds realized from the Silent Auction are used to promote literacy in children, youth, and adults through writing and poetry contests, donations of books to under-privileged schools, and school reading programs.

On the receiving side, the Silent Auction is a great venue for writers, editors, and artisans to shine while promoting their works. In past auctions, FWA authors have donated their books packaged in clever baskets of goodies to mirror the theme of their novels. Editors and writing coaches have contributed gift certificates for their services. Artists, jewelry designers and crafters have shared their talents with the Silent Auction.

Attendees at the FWA Conference find the room filled with donated items a great place to shop for something special—whether it’s tickets to an amusement park, a basket filled with books and treats, or a certificate for editing services.

Your opportunity to donate to the Silent Auction at this year’s FWA conference is still open. Your tax-deductible donation benefits a cause dear to the hearts of all writers—literacy. Please contact Susan Boyd, Chairperson of the Silent Auction, at to contribute items for auction.

The Conference

Stars of Florida Writers:

Discover the Limelight at the Florida Writers Annual Conference

October 23-26, 2014

Orlando Marriott Lake Mary

Find out more | Register now

REMINDER: Register before July 31 and get free registration for one of the bonus workshops Thursday night. Check the FWA website for details. (After July 31, these supplemental workshops will cost $35.)

CORRECTION: In our June 29 post, “Interested in Attending a Writing Workshop Led by a Bestselling Author?” we invited everyone to attend the Florida Writers Foundation Celebrity Workshop October 23 at the Orlando Marriott Lake Mary. We hope all blog readers will be able to make it! In our bio of workshop leader and NYT bestselling author Marie Bostwick, however, we omitted some of her awards and nominations. The post  has been corrected.


Rx from the Book Doctor: Did You Say What You Mean?

July 11, 2014

How can you drop a raw egg five feet onto a concrete floor without cracking it?


Think about it. Now read my answer.


Not to worry; you can never crack a concrete floor with a mere raw egg. The floor is too hard.


What? You did not expect that answer? Were you trying to keep from cracking the egg? Well,

that’s not what the question asked. The confusion came from the misuse of a pronoun.


Because pronouns should refer to the last stated noun. The pronoun “it,” in my initial question

then refers to “floor.” Even the most skilled writers, though, forget the basic rule of pronouns,

and the result is that their sentences do not always say what the writers intended.


I’ll state the rule again: For clarity, every pronoun should refer to the last stated noun. If the

pronoun is plural, it should refer to the last stated plural noun. Here are some examples of

correctly placed pronouns: John looked for his socks under the bed. [The pronoun "his" properly

refers to John.] Daryl and Joe worked on their homework together. [The pronoun "their" properly

refers to the plural subject, Daryl and Joe.] How can you drop a raw egg five feet, without

breaking it on the concrete floor below? [See how rearranging the original question puts the

pronoun "it" clearly after "egg" and makes the sentence say what was it really meant to say?]


Misplaced, incorrect, and misleading pronouns are a major issue in many of the manuscripts I

edit. Once you become aware of pronouns and the fact that they should refer to the last stated

noun, you become an aware author, an author who writes clearly, and an author whose work says what it was intended to say.


Let’s examine the following items I’ve found in manuscripts I edited. Ask yourself if the authors

intended to say what the sentences actually say.


She heard the sizzle of fajitas being served as they followed the hostess to their table. [The last

plural noun before the pronoun "they" is "fajitas," so as written, the fajitas followed the hostess

to the table.]


Dark eyes crinkled against the sun as they trudged along. [I'm glad I didn't come upon those eyes

trudging along all by themselves. Yuck!]


He brings a fresh bag of chips, tears open the top with his teeth, and sets them on the coffee

table. [Seeing his teeth on the table would certainly kill my appetite for chips.]


In rural areas, almost every farm kept a dog to kill rats and alert them to strangers. [I’ll bet the rats appreciated being alerted when strangers came near, but I'll also bet the author meant that the dog alerted the farmers, not the rats.]

b. christmas

About the Author: Bobbie Christmas, professional editor and award-winning writer, founded Zebra Communications in 1992 to help writers prepare books for publication. A lifetime member of FWA, she oversees the Editors Helping Writers service. Because she cures ailing manuscripts, people refer to her as a book doctor. Her website is, and her e-mail address is

Exercise Wednesday: Phobias

July 9, 2014

Snakes. Why’d it have to be snakes?

I hate snakes.

It’s not a “gee I’d rather not be around a snake because they’re…you know, snakes.” No, it’s a revulsion that includes physical effort to not flee when there’s a snake around. It’s an Indiana Jones-like fear. In fact, if I were Indy, I’d have jumped from the plane at the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark and taken my chances with the Hovitos.

If you stuck a snake in my face and put your sweet grandma in the doorway of the only exit from the room, sweet grandma’s a doormat. It’s not something I’d think about. I wouldn’t even be aware of Grandma until after I ran over her and removed myself from the snake.

Snakes are relentless. You can’t stop them no matter what you do. The can go over and around anything. Hell, they can even fly, the bastards.

Today’s prompt is about phobias.

It’s not about the question what do you fear?. That’s small potatoes. I fear abandonment and having no one who loves me, but I’m not going to run over your grandmother about it.

Today your protagonist is presented with his or her phobia. For me, it’s snakes. For someone else it might be frogs, wasps, heights, or enclosed places. Whatever it is, it’s not really something they can man up and overcome. It’s truly an irrational phobia.

As you write, make the reader understand what your character feels during the encounter and what they feel immediately after. Make me feel their irrational fear as much as possible.

Time limit: 30 minutes

Does Your Author Website Need a Makeover?

July 7, 2014
1970s fashion

This used to be a groovy look.

I’m in the process of making over my website. (Don’t look now, the new stuff isn’t up yet.) The refresh is overdue and that’s kind of embarrassing. I’m like the plumber with a leaky faucet. Although I’ve let some things slide,  I’ve never really let it go fallow, because my website has proven over and over again to be key to my marketing efforts.

Many authors have virtually abandoned their websites in favor of social media. That’s risky, because you can never control what Facebook or any other social  media site does with its interface and functions–or your followers. These days Facebook wants Page owners pay for reach.  Only some of your followers see your posts unless you pay to promote them.

Social media sites go out of style. (Look around and you can see that Facebook isn’t the draw for the younger crowd it once was.) When the social media site where you’ve put all your eggs loses popularity, you’ll have to rebuild your presence somewhere else.

Unlike social media, you always have total control over your website (and your mailing list) and you can make them stronger and better over time.

Make an honest appraisal of your website. Is it showing signs of age?

1) Outdated content

Your blog hasn’t been updated in months; you’ve got a notice that your book is “coming in 2013″ and it’s 2014; and many of your links are broken. Why should a visitor stay—or return—if it looks like you’ve abandoned your site?

2) Doesn’t play well with mobile devices

Nearly two thirds of cell phone owners use their phone to go online, and one in five cell owners do most of their online browsing on their phone.   If your website doesn’t look good or function as well on a mobile device (smartphone and tablet) as it does on a desktop computer, you’re missing out.

3) No content management system (CMS)

You shouldn’t have to pay a website designer to make routine changes to your site. A CMS  (such as WordPress) makes it easy for you to create and update content, add images, and blog.

4) Old-fashioned elements

Is your design clean and modern-looking? Details such as a guest book, visitor counter, animation, flash introduction, and auto-play music or  auto-play video date your website and you look out of touch.

5) You aren’t being found by search engines

Search engine algorithms change. If you want to be found and draw traffic to your site,  you need to optimize your site’s content,  images,  links, and more.

6) No interactivity

It used to be that websites were a one-way conversation. Now, visitors expect clear invitations to interact with you by doing such things as leaving a comment, signing up for your mailing list, participating in a contest, or buying your books.

Your website is the foundation of your web presence. Technology changes rapidly. Even if your website is only a few years old, it could be old fashioned, poorly optimized, and ineffective. Perhaps it’s time to bring your website up to date?

What do you enjoy seeing on an author’s website? What features make you want to return or stay connected to that author?

Mary Ann de StefanoMary Ann de Stefano is the editor of The Florida Writer (the official magazine of the Florida Writers Association) and MAD’s Monday Muse. She is also a writer, editor, and organizer of writing workshops with 30+ years experience in publishing and writing consulting. Besides working one-on-one with writers who are developing books, she designs author websites. Mary Ann does business at MAD about Words, named as a play on her initials and love for writing.

Shy about sharing your work? How about a private professional critique?

July 6, 2014

Shy about sharing your work? How about a private professional critique?

One of the hardest things that you may ever have to do as a writer is to share your work. It looks great on your computer and as you read it to yourself, it sounds like an amazing story. That doesn’t always translate well when you go to sell it, which is why it’s important to get a critique.

There are many ways for you to go about such a thing. A common way is to join a critique group. These are found online as well as in many of the writer groups around the state. You share your work with a close group of people and they provide you with insight and critiques. Then, to be fair, you do the same thing for them.

However, you may be a little shy. It’s understandable. You don’t want people talking about your book in a group. Opening up and sharing a story that you have poured your heart and soul into is not easy by any standards.

A private, professional critique can be scheduled. This allows you to sit one-on-one with someone who has knowledge of your genre. He or she will have read excerpts from your book ahead of time and have a critique prepared for you. During this session, you can get valuable feedback about your story and your writing style – and ask some questions as well.

These critiques can be found in various places. For your convenience, they are available at the Florida Writer’s Conference in October for the low price of $40 – which is incredibly low in comparison to what you would find online.

Three critiquers can be found at the conference:

• Dr. Douglas Houck works with historical fiction, adult nonfiction, and virtually any adult genre. Dr. Houck has a bachelor’s in speech and communication and a master’s in public policy as well as a doctorate in English. He teaches English at Edison State College and Barry University.

Houck, Doug 2

• Dianne Ochiltree works with picture books, chapter books, and middle grade/YA novels. Diane is a children’s author and received the Florida Book Awards Bronze Medal for children’s literature in 2012.

Ochiltree, Diane

• Peter Gordon works with poetry. Peter’s own poems have been included in various collections and reviews. He is also the president of the Orlando Area Poets. You can read their bios as well as the bios of other presenters here.

Gordon_Peter_2014 headshot

Sign up now!

You can pay online

Deadline is September 15.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,569 other followers

%d bloggers like this: