Thursday, March 29, 2012

Romancing the Script Contest - Scriptscene RWA

This is the ONLY RWA contest for RWA members who write scripts. 

We have a fabulous prize package and industry judges.  Check out our video. 
Then go to to enter!



Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Dialogue -- Tell it like it is

Hello, Five Scribe Readers, I'm pleased to bring C. Hope Clark to us today.  Her bio alone should inspire readers to pay attention to her very wise words.  Do your characters' personalities reflect in your novels?  Read on for some helpful advice. Please welcome C. Hope Clark to The Five Scribes.

          Evolving as an author takes intense focus on detail, serious attention to flow, and a knack to carry characters across that threshold from two-dimensional to three. We spend hours weaving plot, describing scenery, and creating remarkable hooks and cliff hangers. However, one of the most important parts of a story, frequently overlooked, is dialogue.

          I belong to two critique groups. One is online, and as a result, the members have extended time to edit pieces. They are vicious in a familial kind of way, as if saying "this spanking hurts me more than it hurts you." I adore them, and can easily claim that their bloodletting over the years has done my writing some fabulous good. Like looking back at high school English and realizing that sour-faced, ruler-whacking honors teacher actually knew her stuff.

          My other critique group is face-to-face, where the author reads aloud ten, double-spaced pages as the crowd takes notes. Afterward, the group addresses weaknesses and strengths in a round-table discussion. While I can say my first group is more advanced, there's something about the oral presentation of the second that has helped me with dialogue. All because I have to read it aloud, emulating the characters.

          I can honestly say the best and worst comments I've received about my fiction were about dialogue.

The Worst: "You try to tell too much story through your dialogue."

The Best: "I can tell who each character is without having a tag, because your players are so individualistic in how they speak."

          I'm a sucker for excellent dialogue. When an author paints a story through characters' words, I'm drawn like a bug down a storm drain into the story. I'm of the mind that the character needs to tell the scene more than the author. I'm also from the school that dialogue should be so distinct that a tag is inserted purely for beat, because the reader already knows who's speaking.

In Lowcountry Bribe, Carolina Slade is a county agricultural manager dealing with farmers who struggle to pay their loans. A particular farmer, Jesse Rawlings, becomes the focus of the book. In this scene, Jesse arrives at the office with his brother Ren, again unable to make his payment.

Jesse loosened Ren's grip on me with a tender tug and handed him a peppermint. "It's okay, buddy." Ren exchanged a grip on me for the candy.

Jesse turned back and spoke flat and cool. "Sorry, Ms. Slade. Come on outside. Got somethin' to show you."

"Somethin' to show you," echoed Ren.

"We can talk here," I said.

"Please, ma'am. Need you to see my truck. Might help you understand."

Jesse speaks in elementary language to his simple brother, rarely more than four or five words at a time. Distinct. However, when conducting business with Slade, he resorts to country talk, dropping nouns and forgetting his "g"s. Slade speaks in complete sentences, an educated lady. Ren, of course, mimes his older brother.

However, when Jesse takes Slade outside to his truck and offers the bribe, his sentence structure cleans up, flaunting a keener mind behind the good old boy persona.

Jesse drew me by my stretched sleeve to the truck bed, my face barely a foot from the nearest body. "There's ten thousand dollars in it for you," he whispered, draping his arm around my shoulders. "If you find a way to get me the Williams farm. We can iron out the details later . . . in private." He winked and clicked his tongue. "If you know what I mean."

          Online classes and workshop speakers instruct us to :

== Avoid dialogue modifiers like exclaimed, retorted, shouted, and cried.

== Avoid over-mentioning names.

== Avoid wordiness. Simplify and get to the point.

== Avoid repetition. "Yes, me too" or "We agree with Tom when he said..."

== Avoid using dialogue to insert backstory.

== Avoid long passages. Break up dialogue with narrative, or "beats."

== Avoid overdoing dialect. A little goes a long way.

These are mechanical lessons. The most important aspect of dialogue, however, is personality. When you face various races, ages, intellects and social backgrounds, the task of differentiating characters isn't hard. But in a scene full of all white, Southern men from the same community, how do you discern the voices? Or all Mexican grandmothers at a funeral? Or all black children on a playground? Actions, clothing, height, and weight are fine, but the most memorable is often the dialogue.

Go sit incognito in an environment where the people are much the same. A fast food restaurant at six AM when construction crews are grabbing breakfast. A college cafeteria. Senior day on Wednesday at the grocery store. The waiting room at the veterinarian's office. Close your eyes and listen to what they have in common, and how they differ.

Catch the inflections, dropped consonants, contractions or no contractions. The condescension or intimation. Subtleties speak volumes.

Who tends to drop their voice at the end of a sentence, or always finish with a question mark? Who forgets their verbs or sprinkles the occasional "um" and "er" in their phrasing?

A lawman in a mystery might speak distinctly, with no wasted words, so that in a circle of men, his conversation is recognizable. A bureaucrat may talk around a subject, and an older brother might sound self-assured. A teacher will speak differently to one student versus another.

Develop an uncanny ear for the double entendre. Use metaphors. Develop a unique rhythm per character. Play-act and read aloud for credibility.

Talk brings a story to life. A reader should look forward to the speaking parts, much like a movie where a narrator stops and the actors take center stage. Dialogue propels a story forward, but we don't want to hear it in black and white. We expect the chit-chat to be in Technicolor as well as the rest of the show.


C. Hope Clark is founder of , chosen by Writer's Digest Magazine for its 101 Best Websites for Writers for the past eleven years. Her newsletters of advice and resources for serious writers seeking an income from their toil, reach 43,000 readers each week.

Hope is also author of Lowcountry Bribe, A Carolina Slade Mystery, from Bell Bridge Books, February 2012. Set in rural South Carolina, protagonist Carolina Slade faces crime in rural America, in stories the average urban dweller would never comprehend. Available via Amazon, B&N, on Kindle and Kobo, and through the publisher,  Learn more at

Hope is a member of Sisters in Crime, South Carolina Writing Workshop, and MENSA. She speaks around the country at numerous writers' conferences. When she's not writing, however, she's living the rural life on the banks of Lake Murray in central South Carolina along with her gardens, chickens, and three lovely roosters. She composes her tales from her back porch beside her husband, a thirty-year federal agent, overlooking the water, bourbon in hand just like Slade.

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

As I've grown in the craft of writing, I've become pickier about the books I read--as I'm sure many of you have become. If the book doesn't hook me in 50pgs--I put it down. In my capacity of Co-Coordinator of the Crested Butte Writers Conference, I'm always looking for interesting authors--preferably bestsellers who are good speakers who aren't so crazy popular and busy that they command exorbitant amounts of money to attend events.

In reading my Costco magazine, I came across this Buyer's Choice Pick--A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. A genre book. Hmm. I'm now curious. In my experience, most "book picks" seem to gravitate towards either literary efforts or suspense/thrillers. This is a contemporary fantasy with strong romantic elements--ala Twilight series only with older main characters and different "creatures". Witches, vampires, and daemons. It's a NYT bestseller. It's a trilogy. Since the Harry Potter and Twilight phenomenons had dominated the book and movie charts, I'd heard it rumored that vampires and wizards (witches) had run their course. Hmm.

Further research tells me it's Deborah's first fiction book--I try not to hate her, but succumb to the temptation to give the story a more critical read. She's sold the movie rights--and instead of stalling in pre-production hell, the movie preliminaries seem to be moving right along nicely. It looks like the movie could get made within this next decade. The main character is a scholar who enjoys researching historical documents. It is wrapped up in history and alchemy.

I don't like history much and had to look up alchemy in the dictionary. It's "the medieval forerunner of chemistry, based on the supposed transformation of matter--particularly with attempts to covert metals into gold or to find a universal elixir." If you didn't know that, then you've learned a new word today. Somehow it's wrapped up in the quest for immortality.

What's so special about this book? This LONG book. At 561 trade-paperback pages, it's a long manuscript--another thing that should have made this a tough sell. This picky writer/reader had to sate my curiosity and find out. So off to Costco I went and then I read it in a week--which is fast for me.

Happily, I really loved the story. I found myself reading as slowly as possible, savoring the book--as happens to me when I'm really enjoying a story. I don't want it to end! But the writer in me demanded to know why. So these are my reasons:
-- As a lover of classic Bewitched TV show, I enjoy the fantasy of creatures that use magic.
--There's a strong pull of elements that always compel me: love of family, loyalty, love, respect, protectiveness and honor.
--The older I get, the less patience I have for discrimination--and this is a classic Romeo/Juliet story of two people meet and fall in love and aren't allowed to be together because she's a witch and he's a vampire.
--The mystery/suspense aspects are compelling and well-done.
--The pacing is good.
--The romance is good.
--The writing is quite good.
--I loved the main characters. I really cared about all the characters, not just the main characters. Diana and Matthew, are well-drawn, sympathetic characters, although in an attempt to have our heroine be strong and save herself, I'd caution Deborah not to do this at Matthew's expense. My one criticism of the story is that near the end when Diana and Matthew are attacked by Matthew's old flame, Juliette, Matthew appears weak to me. We'd been told what an amazing fierce warrior he is, we'd been told that he killed a witch who threatened

Diana, Matthew is the head of some secret society that protects innocents, however he does a poor job of protecting himself from Juliette. He does nothing to defend himself or fight her and neutralize her threat. I was really disappointed in this and lost some respect for my hero here.

The next book in the series, Shadow of Night,comes out July 2012 and picks up where this one ended, plunging Diana and Matthew into Elizabethan times. It appears to have a completely historical setting. Hmm. A historical. Interesting. Will fans of her first book want to follow Diana and Matthew into a totally historical book? Ordinarily, I'd say this might be a
concern. But for this author and this story, I'm willing to bet it's not a problem.

So have you read this book? What did you think?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Author Robert Spiller discusses Radical Equations

Robert Spiller Five Scribe Readers, I’m often humbled and intimidated when I read fellow authors.  Let me say, that Robert Spiller is no exception.  RADICAL EQUATIONS is a fun, educational mystery.  But, I’ll have my revenge on Mr. Spiller for making me feel inadequate.  I’m about to ask how he does it.  Please welcome my friend and major talent, Robert Spiller to The Five Scribes.

D.B.:  Hi, Bob:  I hate having to keep interviews short. So let’s get started.  Radical Equations surrounds the irrepressible Bonnie Pinkwater.  Bonnie is, in her mind, and in the minds of the town of East Plains, Colorado, I might add, the world's greatest math teacher.   Now, maybe it’s because I write mystery that I can surmise, but you’re a retired math teacher, and Bonnie’s currently employed as a math teacher.  How much is Missus Pinkwater like Mister Robert Spiller?

R.S.:  Bonnie Pinkwater was supposed to be a clone of a good friend of mine, one Susan Smith, perhaps the finest teacher of Mathematics I have ever shared a school building with.  Sue has many of the qualities that I have infused into Bonnie:  She has a fantastic memory (which can be a real pain in the rear end); she loves teenagers; she owns a number of dogs and cats; she lives in Black Forest; she taught out on the plains of Colorado.  

Unfortunately, Susan herself had one flaw.  She was too nice.  Bonnie Pinkwater was forced to become a blend of Susan and another truly gifted math teacher…myself.  And I'm not nearly as nice.  It turns out this worked out wonderfully.  Bonnie can in turns be a saint, and then be someone you don't want to mess with.  Since I'm a mathematician, let's quantize this question.  I think Bonnie is 41% me and 51% Sue, and 8% pure invention.

D.B.:  Always boils down to math for you, doesn't it, Bob? ;) A female protagonist.  You’ve been with this woman through three novels now; is that correct?  What drove you to want to write from a woman’s POV for not only one book, but for an entire series?  Tell us how Bonnie came to be?

R.S.:  Four novels and five is in the hopper.  I only intended to write one Bonnie Pinkwater mystery and that just for a lark.  As I mentioned above, I found the character of my friend Susan Smith ideal for a sleuth, so she became one.  But before I knew it, I had written not one, but two East Plains mysteries: A Calculated Demise and The Witch of Agnesi.  By then it was too late.  I had fallen in love with Bonnie Pinkwater (considering she is part me, this revelation was a bit disturbing).  I am currently working on the fifth Bonnie Pinkwater mystery Napier's Bones. If the universe is kind and permits me, I will write about East Plains High School until I sport that most attractive of male features, clumps of old man ear hair.  

 D.B.:  Have you ever written a novel from a man’s POV, and why is Missus Pinkwater not a Mister Pinkwater?  And while I’m on this subject, I’ve noticed that several of the Colorado Springs’ authors use missus instead of Mrs.  Explain that for my personal curiosity, please.

R.S.: I have written two YA historical mysteries from a teenage male perspective, a Sci-fi YA with a male protagonist, and a Sci-fi with double perspective, male and female.  Truth is I puttered around for a short time with a male teacher but Bonnie wouldn't hear of it.  She demanded to walk onto center stage and shout her lines out loud.  Looking back, I wouldn't have it any other way.  As for Missus vs. Mrs., I learned that particular chop from one Jimmie Butler, the founder of the Pikes Peak Writers conference.  He and I were in a critique group together.  He believed Mrs. was fine for narrative but when spoken in dialogue it had a more pleasing presence on the page if written out as Missus.  Thus, whenever anyone addresses Bonnie it is always "Missus P."

D.B.:  Secondary characters.  Your cast of characters is well drawn I can picture them even now. Rhiannon Griffith, Bonnie PInkwater’s closest friend, is a Wiccan.  Deputy Byron Hickman is the law enforcement officer in charge in East Plains and who also happens to be Bonnie Pinkwater’s former student.  Then, of course, there’s the school’s administrators, one of whom is Superintendent Xavier Divine, who Bonnie labels the Divine pain in the ***, a woman pastor and her son, and a myriad cast that play critical roles in this novel. 
You aren’t afraid to add quite a list to your mystery.  How do you keep track of everyone?  Have they been with you so long you know them well; do you use charts?

Talk to us about your secondary characters and their importance to a mystery?  Also, they are each unique, how do you manage such great character traits?  Any tips for writers?

R.S.I don't keep a chart (It's an ego thing.  As I get older I won't admit that I don't have the mind and memory I once had, but I pretend I do).  I do however labor over the choice of names.  I'm a big believer in the impact of names and their sound on the reader's inner ear.  As for the secondary characters themselves, they are often asked to carry the burden of subplots.   They need to be interesting and often go through major changes in the re-writes.  On occasion, these characters are loosely based on folks I knew (and I do mean loosely).  I had a Wiccan friend out in Ellicott.  I taught her daughter and she in turn taught me a little about the Wiccan religion.  I love having Rhiannon in a scene because she brings back to my mind this wonderful woman who unfortunately died a few years back.  

TIPS FOR WRITERS:  You're going to have secondary characters.  It's unavoidable.  Consider what they can add to a scene other than mere sounding boards for your protagonist or antagonist.  Live with them as well as your main character.

D.B.:  The plot.  In my opinion your plot, is ingenious.  Without giving too much away, politics are afoot, and the story opens the day after the vice principal has gotten himself into hot water.  Bonnie and Rhiannon are on a hike, and a storm sets in.  The two friends stumble into a cave and lo and behold, they spy the vice principal, Clarence, who is very dead.  Bonnie and Rhiannon, know better than to interfere with a crime scene and they hightail it away, and barely escape a storm.  Deputy Hickman appears and takes over, Bonnie returns to the high school, and gets trapped when a tornado passes through the town.  

I have to mention here, readers, that if you ever want to read about weather being an antagonist, you must read this book.  Robert Spiller wrote one of the best tornado scenes, I have ever read.

Have I got it fairly right so far, Bob? How much fun was it to write that nature scene and what gave you the idea?

R.S.: First of all, the tornado.  In 2001, Ellicott Jr/Sr high school (the model for East Plains High) was destroyed by a monster tornado, and I mean totaled.  A beloved teacher had died of cancer and her Wake was held that night in Colorado Springs.  All school activities were cancelled, so folks could attend and therefore no one was in the building when the twister slammed into it.  

I'd always wondered what it would have been like to be in the middle of that bad boy, soooooo I did the next best thing.  I put Bonnie in there.  I loved having her, first of all tossed around by this killer storm then emerging into the devastation.  All in all it was fun as heck to write.  As an aside, I had resigned from Ellicott six hours prior to the tornado to accept a teaching position in Monument.

D.B.:  Then of course after the tornado has annihilated the East Plain school system, and Bonnie survives, while surveying the destruction, she discovers the most incredible find.  The body she and Rhiannon discovered in the cave is sitting behind a desk amid the rubble and chaos.  Great hooks by the way and so much fun to read.  This was so well plotted, which leads me to ask:  Are you a plotter, a panster or somewhere in between?

R.S.: I'm no Jeffrey Deaver, who I'm told, outlines and plots his books extensively before he ever sits down to write.  That said, I love to know some basic things: who dies?, who did it?, who will be red herrings?, and how will I kill some of them? (I know this sounds morbid but it makes me happy), what distractions and mis-directions can I add that will make my reader smile at the end of the book?  

And then something that is unique to my books, what historic mathematician will strut his or her stuff across the pages of my story, and how can these dead geniuses aid Bonnie in the solving of a series of murders?  Once again, let me quantize this answer.  I probably outline about 45% of the scenes (a writer friend of mine, Cindi Madsen calls this the spine).  That means 55% or more than half will emerge and demand to be written so the story holds together and is fun to read.

 D.B.:  Robert Spiller does internal narrative just about better than any author I’ve ever read.  You are so in Bonnie’s head.  You have one POV throughout the book, which is highly effective.  Was this a conscious choice; did you try multiple point of views?

R.S.: The one POV is a definite choice as is the internal dialogue.  I noticed early on in my teaching career certain teachers could smile at demanding parents and disrespectful students and even say pleasant things.  Later when I would talk to them I'd find out that behind this fa├žade, they were thinking how nice it would be to drag these unreasonable people behind a horse.  

This constant reminder of what Bonnie is thinking (which sometimes is the opposite of what she is saying) is my way of having my cake and eating it too.  I get to be in third person but by staying deep in Bonnie's thoughts I get to have the flavor of first person.  It works for me.  As for multiple points of view, I do use it in sparingly as in the rare moments when the reader gets to peek in at the villain.  That doesn't happen in Radical Equations but it does in other pieces I've written.

D.B.:  Since the school is in turmoil, Superintendent Divine farms Bonnie out to a middle school? Holmes in Colorado Springs, I believe.  Such fun reading about our stomping grounds, but what was even more fun was watching Bonnie in action with these students, one in particular, a boy named Isaac who was injured and sentenced to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.  As one, who doesn’t understand math, I found myself wishing I had a teacher like Bonnie PInkwater.  Was this your objective all along to show how math can be fun and to pique readers’ interest?

R.S.: Having taught Mathematics for 35 years, I was fortunate in that early on I discovered several important truths.  Math can be deadly dull.  I was in control of the environment of my classroom more than anyone else.  That teenagers will only be unruly if they aren't being engaged.  And lastly, if you can get people (and contrary to popular belief, teenagers are people) to laugh, you can get them to find value in what you're trying to teach.  Bonnie and I share one important trait.  We are stupidly fond of the younger members of our species.  Bonnie loves her students with a fierce and terrible love.  She will stand between them and harm's way.  And gosh darn it, she thoroughly believes that math is definitely fun.  But then again, I'm sure everyone believes that.  Don't they?
D.B.:  I believe it would be if we'd had Missus Pinkwater or Robert Spiller.  Character drives this book.  The plot is great, but you are definitely character driven.  Who inspired you to write?

R.S.: If we're talking about writers who inspired me, the list is long: Orson Scott Card, George R R Martin, Tolkien, Terry Brooks.  All these Fantasy and Sci-fi authors have characters that breathe on the page.  A lot of their characters come alive even in their short stories (Song for Lya by Martin I've read a half dozen times).  In mystery and suspense there's the famous Donnell Bell, but that goes without saying.  Other mystery authors who used extremely textured characters are Jeffrey Deaver, Michael Connelly, Lee Child.  I know their protagonists inside and out because these authors are so good at drawing them.  Truth is, I listen to books in my car, and often as I'm driving, I'll hear some word the author puts in their hero's mouth and think, "Brilliant!  In a few words you captured the essence of this person's character.  I think I'll steal that."

D.B.:  (Thanks for the compliment, Mr. Spiller.) You had two other books in this series with Medallion.  Now you’re with Courtney Literary.  Please tell us about this transition, and the pros and cons of continuing a series with a different publisher.
R.S.:  Actually, Donnell, I had three with Medallion: The Witch of Agnesi, A Calculated Demise, and Irrational Numbers.  In 2008 we parted company and as far as I was concerned the TRANSITION sucked.  I went on to write other things, but I had what I considered the tastiest Bonnie Pinkwater mystery ever on tap but couldn't find a home for this infant of mine.  Nobody it seemed wanted to take on the risk of the fourth book in a series.  Then I had lunch with Deb Courtney, of Courtney Literary.  We discussed managed self-publishing and I haven't looked back.  In the past months I have chosen a cover, created a trailer, intelligently self-promoted, and watched in delight when in December, Radical Equations came out in e-book format (print version in March).  I am jazzed every day in a way I wasn't when someone else was making all the decisions.
D.B.:  Five Scribes is geared toward writers.  You are seeing massive changes in the industry.  What advice would you give to writers who are seeking publication today?

R.S.:  First and foremost remember this.  There are tons of lawyers, doctors, and policemen who want to be writers.  I've never heard of a writer saying, "Doggonnit!  I want to be a lawyer."  We are, all of us writers, in the best field of endeavor in the world. 
Now on to practical advice.  You must above all create something that you are proud of.  READ, READ, READ your genre.  Be entertained by those that are already traveling the path you want to be on.  Learn from them.

Next, join a critique group.  Put other authors eyes on your work.  Gather with other authors at conferences and workshops.  Here you will learn that others are struggling with issues that you thought were yours alone. Be bold!  After making the best piece of art you can create, send it out to agents and publishers (I know I didn't do this with Radical Equations but sue me.  Get professional eyes on your work).

D.B.:  Mr. Spiller, it’s been a pleasure.  Not only did I learn a lot about school politics, I learned a tremendous amount about a teacher’s passion.  Will you be giving a book give away today?  Are you doing any signings soon?  Tell us what comes next for Robert Spiller and the world’s greatest math teacher, Missus Bonnie Pinkwater?

R.S.: I would love to give away a copy of the new book, Radical Equations. As for what I'm up to now, as I said I'm back in East Plains in Napier's Bones as Bonnie discovers a thirty-year-old corpse and is forced to re-visit a murder from her past.

Did you hear that, readers?  Robert Spiller is giving away a copy of RADICAL EQUATIONS.  We'll be drawing the winner on March 17th.  So now's your chance to win a great who-dunit.
To learn more about RADICAL EQUATIONS check out the trailer!!!



Also, please visit Robert Spiller's Facebook page where once a week he provides a math puzzle.

Are Reviews Really Worth the Effort?

It seems like the one scary constant that keeps growing like college costs keep rising every year, is the need for published authors to promote themselves. Promotion, promotion, promotion is the steady mantra. Buy the book, blog, tweet, Facebook, review. . . and the list goes on.

Since I want to do everything I can to support my published friends, I buy their books, but that isn't enough these days. They've never asked me to review their books, but I try to remember to review them on Amazon because I've heard that honest reviews can help them sell more books, but I wonder if they're really useful or even read. I couldn't help but wonder if reviews were really worth the effort. I turned to some publishing professionals to ask their opinion.

Helen Breitwieser agent with Cornerstone Literary: “Yes of course! Lots of enthusiastic reviews will generate interest. A reader who is browsing titles is more likely to linger on a page if the book has a unique cover, an intriguing title, and/or lots of praise. All those elements influence a potential reader's decision to buy a book, especially by a new author.”

Marisa Corvisiero: L. Perkins Literary: “The answer is a resounding YES. I think that many readers buy from Amazon because of the reviews... sort of an assurance that they are buying something worth reading. I'm personally one of them. I've often found myself at B&N looking at a book and waited to get home to check out the review on amazon.”

Michael Braff—editor Del Rey: “I have mixed feelings about Amazon reviews. On the one hand, we have seen some titles that get amazing reviews but don’t really sell, but the inverse is also true, with poorly-reviewed books selling well. Personally, I don’t think that any reviews really sell a book in today’s market: relatively few readers actually read book reviews (there are exceptions, of course, like Romance Times), and I feel like they mostly come off as “white noise” for potential buyers: it is assumed that every book is going to feature some fantastic quotes so they just don’t even register with the reader, like a commercial or a pop-up ad.
But that’s just my personal take. I think that the place where Amazon reviews are especially helpful is actually in the realm of social networking, allowing authors to read exactly what their readers think, and opening up a dialogue between the two. With more and more authors relying on their social connection with fans, this is perhaps the one area where Amazon reviews are indispensable.”

Sue Grimshaw past Borders romance buyer , current editor at Ballantine, Bantam, Dell: “Thinking of when I was on the bookseller end of the biz it always seemed beneficial to have as much exposure to a book - good & bad --- so yes, it builds awareness, and the average consumer does use these suggestions & reviews to make their buying decisions.”

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

How to build a dream Author E.M.S.

Five Scribes Readers, I’m in awe of our guest today.  Not only is she one of the most generous women I’ve had the pleasure to meet, she’s savvy in the world of IT and marketing, she's an award-winning author, and her newest venture is to—get this—make all of our lives easier.  See if you don’t agree.  Please welcome the extraordinary and talented Amy Atwell.

First off, a very hearty thank you to Donnell and the rest of the Scribes for inviting me today. It’s great to be back!

I recently launched a new website called Author E.M.S. (Entrepreneur.Management.Solutions.).  It’s a dream I’ve had for about a year now.

At its heart, Author E.M.S. is designed to be a one-stop resource center for all questions relating to the business of being an author. From understanding how to build your Amazon Author Central page to how to manage your Twitter feed through TweetDeck, from where to find book reviewers who love steampunk to whether you should use Smashwords or distribute directly with PubIt, we hope you’ll find Author E.M.S. is helpful in providing information, education and perspective.

Where did I come up with such a crazy dream? It’s not what I’d planned on years ago. I’ve been writing with an eye toward publication for over ten years. In the past five years, I’ve watched the publishing industry undergo changes that rival the motion of tectonic plates. I don’t know about you, but my gut knotted when I realized that my cherished dream of being published was in danger of being swept over by a tsunami of digital books and self-publishing options.

I had to come to terms with these changes, these new options, redirect my focus and decide how to steer my writing career. And I do still want a writing career—and more.

Over these past years, I’ve been lucky to make some wonderful friends with other writers. I started the WritingGIAM communities in 2004 as a place where goal-oriented writers could connect and share their progress, successes and challenges.  We got into a habit of helping each other with all sorts of crazy questions from craft to formatting tricks in MS Word to how to figure out social media. I didn’t need every tidbit of this information, but I started storing them “for a rainy day” or whatever.

As my collection of tidbits started to grow, I had emails, Word docs, bookmarked URLs, spreadsheets and more. And then I sold my first book in 2010, and suddenly I did all this info. Only, it was a garbled mess. So I sorted it by topic. I tossed stuff that was now out of date. And my system became so easy to use, I started collecting more tidbits from anywhere and everywhere and tucking them into place.

The offshoot of this was that when people on loops asked questions and I had an answer tucked away, I would grab it, copy it into an email and send it along. Many were surprised and grateful that I had this info so readily at hand.

A year ago, it occurred to me how helpful it would be if there were a library or something where everyone could access these types of little tidbits for themselves. Every author goes through a learning process. Thousands of us are asking the same questions, retracing each other's steps around the Internet, around Google searches, around various loop archives. Thousands of authors spending ten minutes each looking for an answer to the same question is tens of thousands of wasted minutes. If one person found the answer and placed it where others could easily retrieve it, think of all the time saved.

It took a few more days for me to connect the dots. I had a good start on the information gathering, and I had a vision of what it could mean as a tool for others. Therefore, if I wanted to see it done, I had to do it. Deep breath, and last March I pushed my fiction writing aside to build an online library.

So, what's in there?

The Resource Library: Sections of information that are updated and curated regularly. Our sections range from Amazon to WordPress. See them all that our Site Map.

The database of online reviewers (DOR): a fully searchable database (come on, isn't it what you wanted?) of online book reviewers. Search by genre, then drill down by format, release date, publishing platform and more. Watch our video.

Discussion Forums: reserved for authors only, these are broken into topics so you can easily follow just the discussions that interest you. Set the forums to deliver updates to you via email, if you like.

How much?

 Many areas of the Author E.M.S. Website are free to all visitors. We have public pages and a Daily Tips blog (Mon-Fri).  Registered guests gain access to the introductory pages to each of our resource library sections plus our full section on WordPress websites/blogs—all free.

Access to our full library and database is reserved for paid members. We're offering an introductory rate of $36 for a full year of access. $3/month for a full year. We hope the time you save is worth that much!

We are still in the start-up phase. Right now, it's just my husband and me gathering and vetting materials. We plan to grow and grow big. I’m committed to continuing to serve writers as they build their careers.

Amy, thank you!  Social networking for many authors is intimidating and overwhelming.  Not only is Author E.M.S. designed to make our lives easier, it's  an extraordinarily manageable cost compared to what we might pay to join a chapter or enter a contest.  Best wishes on your start up.  Readers, any questions for Amy? 


Amy Atwell worked in professional theater for 15 years before turning from the stage to the page to write fiction. She now gives her imagination free rein in both contemporary and historical stories that combine adventure and romance. When not writing, Amy runs the WritingGIAM online community for goal-oriented writers and has recently launched the Author E.M.S. online resource library. An Ohio native, Amy has lived all across the country and now resides on a barrier island in Florida with her husband and two Russian Blues. Visit her online at,  Magical MusingsFacebookTwitter and/or GoodReads.

Interview with Hannah Bowman, Agent at Liza Dawson Literary

Hannah Bowman joined Liza Dawson Associates in 2011. She has a B.A. from Cornell University, summa cum laude in English and magna cum laude in Mathematics. While a student, she spent four summers working in particle physics at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, before eventually deciding her true interest was books (after side-trips into poetic theory and dead languages, among other things!). Hanna will be attending the 2012 Crested Butte Writers Conference, June 22-24, 2012.

1.Which categories do you currently acquire? Which category has a special/constant place in your heart? 

Answer: I'm looking for all kinds of commercial fiction, especially science fiction and fantasy, romance, cozy mysteries, historicals, women's fiction, and young adult. I'm also looking for nonfiction about science or religion. Science fiction and fantasy (YA or adult) will always have a place in my heart!

2.What length synopsis do you prefer to see with a partial? Single spaced or double?

Answer: I think a synopsis should be 2-4 pages single-spaced. Shorter is fine, as long as it covers all the major plot points (but it should have more detail than a query!); longer than 5 pages usually isn't necessary.

3.In terms of submissions, what are you sick to death of and what would you like to see more of?

Answer: I see a lot of similar stories in YA: not-well-fleshed-out dystopians, fantasy where the main character discovers they're really the prince/princess of a secret world, etc. I'd love to see more YA secondworld/high fantasy, YA contemporaries a la John Green, and true YA science fiction. On the adult side, there's nothing I'm sick of, but I would love to see more funny, high-concept women's fiction and upmarket romances with a strong sense of place (whether contemporary, historical, or fantastical).

4. What are the most compelling elements you feel are necessary for a good 
 read? What particularly grabs your attention?

Answer: I'm a very plot-driven reader. I love twists and turns, revelations of secrets, betrayals by trusted characters, unlikely redemptions, and good, tragic characters forced to make bad decisions by circumstances. Not that all (or any!) or these elements are necessary in every project, but they tend to be elements I gravitate towards.

5. For you, which elements in a fiction submission are terminal problems garnering automatic rejections and which are tempting and fixable meriting a look at a revision if a talented author is willing to accept your advice?

a. Voice--Terminal. The voice has to be there, and right for the book. It's hard to fix.

b. Weak Grammar--Depends on how extensive it is. Occasional mistakes are no problem, but major grammatical problems usually come with other signs of weak writing..

c. Common plot--I'm willing to work with the author on plot changes, but if the premise doesn't excite me, I won't take something on.

d. Poor character development--The characters have to be sympathetic and interesting so the reader can relate to them. More specific changes/character arc issues I'm willing to work on.

e. Story is too controversial (ie rape, politics, religion—what else?)--I'm skeptical of projects that have an axe to grind. Controversial elements have to serve the story first.

f. Mediocre / uninspired writing--Terminal. I have to love the writing in projects I take on.

g. Excessive use of violence or cursing--I'm willing to work with this. It's fairly easy to fix, if the author is willing.

h. Lacking genre –specific requirements like, suspense/sexual tension/ world-building--Unless a project is really exceptional in other ways, I usually won't take something on which is missing a key element of its genre. I like genre tropes and seeing how they play out in different projects, and generally speaking they're common tropes because they're effective. But of course it depends on the particular project!

i. Pacing is off—plot is too slow--I'm willing to work on this. It's usually fairly easy to fix.

j. Story starts in wrong spot--I'll definitely work on this. It's easy to fix.

k. Ending is unsatisfactory--I'll take on a project and work on this.

6. Does meeting an author face-to-face at a conference make a difference in your response time, the submission process, or the rejection process (ie. Form letter vs a few sentences of advice)?

Answer: Yes, I try to respond more quickly to submissions from conferences and I offer feedback if I can. But it doesn't make a huge difference.

7. Besides the writing, the story and the talent, what are the most important elements you look for in an author, ie. contest wins, cooperativeness, affiliations to writers organizations, knowledge of publishing industry, promotability, etc?

Answer: For me, it's really mostly about the writing itself. But I also need to get along well enough personally with the writer that we can work together. And since I'm an agent who tends to be very hands-on and editorial, I tend to "click" better with writers who are interested in that sort of agent.

8. Do you have any pet peeves?

Answer: Not really!

9. What are you addicted to?

Answer: Tragedy, in the Greek sense. Not necessarily sad books, but great characters forced into impossible situations. I can't get enough of that.

10. What have you always wanted to do?

Answer: I would love to travel north of the Arctic circle at midsummer to see the midnight sun. And in the winter, to see the Northern Lights!

11. Do you have a favorite quote?

Answer: I don't really. But my favorite literary concept is Tolkien's idea of "eucatastrophe": the happy ending that occurs only when all hope is lost and things are at their absolute worst.