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What’s right for you?

August 9, 2014

Good morning, everyone! I am so sorry my post didn’t go out yesterday. It’s been one of those crazy weeks, and I didnst didn’’t even realize until late in the day that this hadn’t been set up. That’s a topic for another post, though– Monday, to be exact.

For now, I wanted to talk about something that I’ve seen a lot of in the online world and felt the need to discuss: Crowd funding. More specifically, the thoughts and attitudes surrounding crowd funding. I’ve seen a lot posts from people who still seem to have an issue with people not going the traditional route of submitting to a publisher and waiting until one has accepted you for your work to see the light of day, as well as a general stigma on crowd funding campaigns.

Whether one personally likes it or not, self-publishing and crowd funding is here to stay and I, for one, am thrilled. I have read so many self-published books that I have loved. Without self-publishing, I really doubt I would’ve had the pleasure of reading those titles and connecting with the writers.notebook

With the stigma attached, why do some people choose to go the self-pub route instead of waiting to be legitimized by a publisher’s acceptance letter? It’s simple: freedom. You can put your story out there as you want, when you want. You can have complete and total control over every aspect and get your fans intimately involved through crowd funding campaigns.

 As long as an author (or anyone else who starts a campaign) is being upfront about their intentions, why shouldn’t people who believe in the project have the opportunity to contribute toward seeing it come to life? What it all comes down to is, everyone has their own path and what works for me (being with a publisher while occasionally putting out something on my own) might not work for someone else.

We all need to take a long, hard look at our plans and make the decision that is right for us. Let’s put ourselves in the other person’s shoes for a minute before we call them into question. Whatever path may be right for you, stick with it. Be true to yourself. I’ll be cheering you on.

Exercise Wednesday: Brawl

August 6, 2014

I don’t need the map; I’ve been there 100 times. You don’t trust me.

Unless you were a writer for Seinfeld, you’ll be told you need some sort of conflict in your story. There needs to be something driving the action–two people wanting the same thing, two desired outcomes that can’t co-exist, the irresistible force meeting the immovable object, two decidedly different outlooks on a situation.

Conflict is the oxygen of a story, what gives it life and color.

Today, we enter the conflict lab, in which two characters are required to conflict about something, but with a twist–the thing about which they conflict can’t be central to your story. That is to say, if they are both going after the same job, they should disagree about what goes on their pizza. If they hold opposite opinions on how to discipline their kid, they should disagree about politics.

The conflict can be a mask for the real conflict, or it can be real and additional to your real conflict.

The goal is to force a conflict away from the main battleground as a way to illuminate your characters, the main conflict, or both.

Time limit: 30 minutes

How to Hire an Editor

August 4, 2014

You’d like to obtain a professional edit before you submit your work for publication. Of course you’ll poll your writer friends for their recommendations, and you’ll review the experience and references of any editor you’re considering, but how else can you can evaluate a freelance editor to be sure you find the best one for you?

What level editing does your manuscript require?

It’s important to know there are a variety of editorial services ranging from big-picture guidance (developmental editing) to final polishing (copyediting).

While the same editor might be able to perform all levels of editing, he or she will more likely specialize or be more talented at one level. Additionally, levels of editing should be completed sequentially, not at the same time. (It is not effective to copyedit a manuscript that still is—or should be—in a state of flux.)

If you’re not sure what level of editing your manuscript is ready for, an editor should be able to help you determine that. In my experience, many aspiring, unpublished writers will believe they’re ready for a copyedit when they actually need broad guidance on craft and developmental issues.

What style of editing appeals to you? Prescriptive, collaborative, or instructive?

There are also differences in editorial styles. Some editors will tell you what to do and are very “by the rule.” Others tend to be more collaborative or instructive, willing to discuss possibilities or teach the whys and hows behind their suggestions. (Expect to pay a little more for a teaching edit.) What kind of relationship with an editor would work best for you?

What is included in the cost of the edit?

Ask questions about the editor’s processes. How many passes at the manuscript does she take? What style guide(s) does she use? (Chicago Manual of Style is considered essential by most publishers.)

Will you receive a hand-marked manuscript or an electronically edited one using Word’s track changes feature? Is a written summary (sometimes called an editorial letter) included in the deal? What will that cover? Will your copyeditor produce a stylesheet that documents style and formatting decisions? Do you receive a face-to-face or phone conference? Follow-ups after receipt of the edit? After revision?

Which of these elements are important to you?

Great, fast, and cheap

It’s a beautiful dream, but it’s rare to find all three attributes in one editor. You can fill your tummy at Taco Bell or in a fine restaurant, but the experience of eating in either place will be quite different. When choosing an editor, cost and speed are important considerations, but the quality of output and the total experience desired should be your bottom line.

Check out the Editorial Freelancers Association’s list of editorial rates to get an idea of the range of charges you can expect. Note that partial payment upfront is industry standard and full payment before the job is completed is not.

Good editors are busy. Plan ahead.

Interview candidates, gather bids, and compare

I see a lot of “submit your manuscript here” and “click the button to submit your payment” editorial services advertised with no “face” on the Internet. Frankly, they give me the willies. Your book is your baby; do you want to turn it (and hundreds of dollars) over to a stranger? Good editing involves conversation. Think twice (or more) about hiring a service that will not allow you to talk to the person working on your manuscript.

A caution here. There is much more to becoming a professional editor than loving words and grammar, experiencing critiquing or proofreading in a writers group, or having a degree in English. Anyone can call themselves an editor. Be sure that the editor you hire is a true professional with relevant experience and training who believes in continuing her education.

Interview several editors and compare written bids that specify cost, terms of payment, timeline, deliverables, and anything else that might be important to you before you hire someone. You should feel comfortable with your decision to hire and comfortable with the person you choose to work with. A professional editor should not be reluctant to be interviewed. In fact, she will be interviewing you to see if you are a good match for her, too.

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.

What would you ask NYT bestselling author Karen Hawkins?

August 3, 2014

Imagine hobnobbing with authors who have topped the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists. Many times.

What would you say?

In October, four such authors will be at the Orlando Marriott Lake Mary for Florida Writers events. On Thursday, October 23, Marie Bostwick will present the Florida Writers Foundation’s Celebrity Workshop “Conception to Completion: A Bestselling Author’s Guide to Writing.”

Three others will be presenting and networking with attendees Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, October 23-26, for the Florida Writers Annual Conference. Imagine bumping into Jennifer Armentrout, Mary Burton, or Karen Hawkins.

What would you say?

At the Florida Writers Annual Conference, Karen Hawkins will be on the “Let’s Talk About Sex” panel and also give a presentation on “How to Research and Write Accurate (but Never Boring) Historical Settings.” Formerly a political science college instructor, this bestselling romance author has a lot on her resume: 27 books, numerous awards, and appearances on many bestseller lists.


Karen Hawkins

Whether you’re taking a workshop, sharing a meal, or chatting at a reception with Karen or the other members of the conference’s luminous faculty, you’ll find the conference a great place to hobnob. Want some one-on-one time? That can be arranged! (Best by pre-appointment; see the FWA website for details on interview options.)

Marie Bostwick, Jennifer Armentrout, Mary Burton, and Karen Hawkins. All mega bestselling authors ready to talk to you.

What will you say?

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

Rx from the Book Doctor: Style versus Style

August 1, 2014

b. christmasI love to write about style and speak about it at gatherings for writers, but I’ve learned that some folks do not understand exactly what I mean by “style.”

The problem begins with the fact that “style” can refer to two things. The Chicago Manual of Style explains one type of style. It dictates style issues such as when and what to capitalize, how to treat numbers (write them out or use the numerals), and even where to place commas.

The book publishing industry follows Chicago style almost exclusively, because it standardizes things that grammar books do not address, and it adds consistency to books. I don’t talk much about that type of style, however. I speak prefer to write about and talk about creative writing style.

What is creative writing style? It refers to syntax, which means word choices, word order, clear writing, and more. When I speak of style, I talk about things I see in far too many manuscripts, and I tell writers how to avoid writing the same way as everyone else. Once writers become aware of their style of writing and delete the things that almost everyone else has in their writing, what remains will sparkle, have personality, and be stylish.

What sort of things am I talking about? Creative writers know they should not unintentionally use the same word too often, especially close together, yet almost every writer in the world has favorite words that show up time and again in their writing. While we cannot avoid duplication entirely, we often do not realize how often we use certain words. A good editor will point out overused words in your manuscript, or at the very least, have someone read your manuscript and let you know if any words stand out as overused. Sometimes we can discover this truth for ourselves by reading our manuscript aloud.

Once you know which words you overuse, use the Find function on your computer (Ctrl+F) to find how many times you used that word and where it appears. Next address each usage and reduce the repetition by half or more.

In addition to word repetition, strong writers avoid sentence-structure repetition. I recently edited a manuscript that was about 220 pages long, and on almost every page in the manuscript,four or more sentences began with an introductory phrase. Of those, two or more began with a gerund or participle (word ending with -ing). While nothing is incorrect about using introductory phrases, gerunds, or participles, the overuse of them grew repetitious. Changing a few of those sentences improved the writing style. To give some made-up examples, let’s say the following sentences appeared scattered about on the same page:

Hopping into the car, she said hello.

Leaning on a tree, he surveyed the campground.

Having nothing left to do, she packed her bags.

While the sentences are grammatical, the repeated structure can be distracting. I would recommend revisions that might read this way:

She said hello when she hopped into the car.

He leaned on a tree and surveyed the campground.

Once she determined that she had nothing left to do, she packed her bags,

Voila! Repetition gone; strong writing prevailed.

Avoiding repetition is one way to improve your writing style. Attend my sessions at the FWA conference in October, and I will give many other ways to improve your creative style.

Yours in writing,

Bobbie 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: The first day of college

July 30, 2014

It’s the end of July, which means that in a few short weeks the interstates will include familiar sight of crammed-full cars driven by young men and women going back to school. It’s tempting to concentrate on what the students are feeling as the promise of a new year opens in front of them like a grassy field on a summer Saturday morning.

Today, however, we look at the other side of the equation. For every excited, carefree student heading off to fun, challenge, and free access to girls or boys, there are parents whose houses–and wallets–just got a lot emptier.

This week’s prompt is about what’s euphemistically called Empty Nest Syndrome. But it’s more than the empty and amazingly clean bedroom left behind or the empty spot at the table or on the couch when the NCIS reruns are on. It’s the presence in the house of someone else, and the purpose of much of the last two decades–removed.

What’s it like that first morning after they leave? That first weekend? What’s missing and what’s new for those left behind? How do they deal with the free time and the relative privacy? Is it a good thing? Or do the people left behind find that, having poured so much into their children, they don’t really know each other?

Time limit: 35 minutes

Sister Counties Score High in FWA’s 2014 Collection Winners!

July 28, 2014

– by Su Gerheim

Kudos to east central sister counties Seminole and Volusia! Seminole County scored the highest number of winning authors in FWA’s Collection #6 – The First Step. Of the sixty winners, nine of them live in Seminole county! Woohoo! And one of those nine made it to the top ten! Mark McWaters (WGL) ranked second in Mary Burton’s Top Ten Picks! Congratulations, Mark. The other eight Seminole winners are Dawn Bell, Fern Goodman, John Hope (WGL), Beda Kantarjian (WGL), Joan Levy (WGL), Olive Pollak, Kate Maier (writing as Katherine Starbird), and Tom Swartz (WGL). And look – there are five, count them, five Writers Group Leaders in that winning list as well.

Cake for FWA Blog Post

They celebrated with cake on their Tuesday night meeting. Way to go WINNING AUTHORS! Their sister county, Volusia, gathered the second highest number of winning authors, with eight! Kudos, Volusia County! And they, too, had a winning author hit Mary Burton’s Top Ten Picks. Congratulations to ninth-ranked Charles Harris! The other seven winning authors are Laura Andrews, William Dempsey, Barry Dimick, Walter Doherty, Bob Hart, Veronica Helen Hart (WGL), and Christine Holmes.

Some pretty focused writing must be going on in those two counties. Great work and CONGRATULATIONS to all the winning authors in this exciting Collection Contest year!


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