Blogging 101—Extra questions

I have a blog site, but no one reads it. How do I attract an audience?

Read this post and all the comments.

Do you think it’s better to have a separate blog from your website or blog within your website? Or does it matter?

Whichever is easiest for you. But if your blog is separate from your website, make sure it has links back to your website that are obvious and easy to find.

Is there an advantage to blogging with others (i.e. Writers in Heels, Six LDS Writers and a Frog, etc.)?

Yes! More exposure. Their readers will read you on the group blog. If they like you, they’ll also start visiting your personal blog.

How do I [insert technical stuff here]?

With all the technical questions I’m getting, I’m starting to think maybe I should dump this blog and start one on blogging, etc. Oh, wait. That would make me a geek–a fate that should be avoided no matter what the cost. (sigh) Here are a few of the resource sites that I use:
Blogging Basics 101
Blogger Tips & Tricks
The Real Blogger Status

I’m fascinated that so many people can find time to not only write books/articles/stories, but also find the time to write consistently interesting and helpful blogs.

Priorities. It is Your Job as an author to promote yourself and your work.

I feel like I have nothing of interest to blog about. There are so many talented authors with so much more experience, why would anyone want to read something I’ve written on a blog? How can I offer anything of value to readers?

I’m sort of shocked by this question. The whole point of being a writer is that you have something burning inside, something to say. If you don’t have anything to say, then your novel won’t have much to offer either. If this is truly, truly how you feel, and not just a moment of discouragement, you shouldn’t be looking at writing as a career choice.

That’s all I have about blogs. On to the next question…

Blogging 101—Driving Readers to Your Site

I may not get all the blogging terminology correct here because I’m new to blogging myself. Also, I am not a geek—at least, not on Wednesdays. But you’ll be able to get the general concept behind these ideas.

The most important thing about having a blog is to get your name and writing style noticed. If people recognize your name on the cover of a book, they’re more likely to buy it. Also, because repeat visitors to your blog like you, when you announce your book, they’ll be very likely to run out and buy it. Or at least check it out from the library.

The blogging community is one of your biggest assets when it comes to driving traffic to your own blog site. Here are some ideas:

  1. Find bloggers you like and ask them to trade links with you. You put their link in your sidebar; they’ll put your link in their sidebar.
  2. Comment on blogs. Lots of them. And don’t do it anonymously! When you leave a comment, readers can click on your name to go to your profile and from there, they can click on your blog. That’s too many clicks for me, so I also suggest…
  3. Create a signature with a link to your blog and post it at the bottom of every comment you leave.
  4. Join blogging communities. There are gobs of things out there you can join. Some are referral blogs (what are these things called?) which are basically lists of blogs that focus on a particular topic or area, or whose writers fit a certain profile—like which Josi so graciously told us about in her wise use of the comments section on this blog. Some blogs sponsor short term programs, like a book club or something, and will let you sign up and participate. Join as many of these as you can. Post comments to all the other member’s sites. (Please post your favorite blog communities in the comments section.)
  5. Join forums. There are gobs and gobs of online forums. Join them. Post comments. Use your signature with a link back to your blog. (Please post your favorite forums in the comments section.)
  6. Personal e-mail—use your signature here too. Every personal e-mail that you send out should have a link back to your blog. Your friends want to know about your blog. They like you. They’ll support you.

All of these ideas (and many others that I hope readers will suggest in the comments section of this post) will get people to visit your blog. Keeping them as regular readers is another thing altogether.

The most important factor in building a regular readership for your blog is GOOD WRITING! Interesting, unique, entertaining, informative.

Blogging 101—Settings, Part 3

Before I start on today’s list, I forgot a setting from yesterday. It’s under “Publishing.” Send Pings—Yes. This notifies the web crawlers that you’ve added new stuff to your blog. The more often you add stuff, the higher you move in the search engines.

Template: If you are new to blogging, stick with a standard template. Find something you like, something simple and clean. Some templates let you adjust more fonts and colors than others. Edit HTML only if you know what you’re doing. (Save your code first.)

Links: In your sidebar, link to your website and any other blogs you participate in. You can also link to blogs of friends and other authors and often they will agree to link to you as well.

Labels: This feature works like an index. It lets you create topic categories. It invites visitors to read all your posts on a particular topic. If you’re doing a personal/slice of life blog, limit your labels to a dozen; long lists are just…too long. Post them in your sidebar. (My list is too long, but I don’t care. I’m not doing this for promotional reasons but to make it easy for you to read about particular topics.)

Pictures: Use pictures in your posts and in your sidebar as much as you can. Pictures invite people to read your blog. Some people do a “Picture of the Day/Week” which they change daily/weekly. This keeps your site active and invites the web crawlers. (See note on Pings above.)

Other pictures that are a must on your sidebar are:

  • a profile image—an attractive photo of yourself, or at least a cute icon.
  • covers of your books—WITH LINKS to where they can be purchased.
  • icons for any programs/rings/circles/whatever that you are a member of (discussed in more detail tomorrow)

Archive: There are several ways you can set your archive. Some are space savers and you may be tempted to use them. Don’t. Use the hierachical method because it shows your Post Titles in the sidebar, at a glance. Like the title of your book, the titles of your posts are important. They should stimulate curiosity, interest, invite readers.

Hit Counter: There are several free hit counters out there. I recommend adding one early on. This helps you track visits to your site so you can know if what you’re doing is effective. You can have it be invisible or you can display it on your blog (as I do; scroll down to bottom of my sidebar). Set it to count unique visitors, not page loads. Set the interval to 24 hours.

Blogging 101—Settings, Part 2

I’m using Blogger as my resource for the order in which I talk about settings. I am only discussing the ones that directly effect using your blog as a marketing tool for your writing. In Blogger, many of these settings have a question mark beside them that you can click on for more info. If you use a blog host other than Blogger, it probably has similar settings, but they might call them something else.

Add your Blog to our listings?
Yes, you want to do this. A reader may find you by browsing Bloggers list.

Show Email Post links? Yes. This allows readers to easily e-mail your blog to their friends, making it more likely for them to come read other posts on your site. (If you’re worried about someone stealing your stuff, put a copyright notice at the top and/or bottom of every post.)

Show # posts/days:
Set this to at least 7. Visitors to your blog are a lot more likely to scroll down to read additional posts than they are to click a link.

Convert line breaks: Yes. This helps keep your post from running all together. In fact, do a double return at the end of each paragraph. This makes it nice and clean and easy to read.

Yes. Invite comments to your blog. People like to share their opinions. In fact, one of the best things that can happen is when your readers start a conversation between themselves in your comments section. That means they’re coming back, over and over again.

Who Can Comment? Unless you’re having a real problem with vicious posters, set this to allow everyone the ability to comment. You want to invite participation on your blog, not exclude people.

Backlinks: This allows people to link back to your blog from their blog. You very definitely want this; it increases your sphere of influence. Readers are much more likely to find your blog through a backlink than they are by simply surfing the Internet.

Show comments in a popup window? Yes. If a reader has to keep clicking to return to the main page, they will stop.

Enable comment moderation? Again, unless you are having trouble with vicious or nasty posters, this is not necessary. People want to see their comments posted immediately, not wait several days for you to check your e-mail, notice there’s a comment waiting, and approve it.

Show word verification for comments? Start your blog with this turned off. It’s annoying to have to type this stuff in and some people will not go to the trouble. If you start having problems with spammers, then you can turn it on.

Show profile images on comments? Yes. It’s fun to see the photos or icons that people use to represent themselves.

ARCHIVING Enable Post Pages? Post Pages give each of your posts their own unique web page, in addition to appearing on your blog’s front page.* YES! This makes it much easier for people to include links to a specific post on your blog within their blog. You want this.
*quoted from Blogger

You want people to subscribe to a feed from your site. This makes it much easier for them to see when you’ve added something new and they are much more likely to come back when you do.

Also, it lets people put your site feed on their blog, for example, in the sidebar. That allows visitors to their blog to see the title and/or first sentence of your newest post. This is a good thing.

I have three more posts about blogging and then I’m done. Tomorrow I’ll do Settings, Part 3, and talk about templates. Next I’ll talk about driving readers to your site. Last I’ll answer the questions I’ve received that don’t fall into these categories.

Blogging 101-Settings, Part 1

If you’re blogging for promotional reasons (and if you’re an author or wanna-be, that should be your #1 focus), there are a few settings and other things that will make this easier for you.

Domain name: Choose your domain name carefully because you cannot change it later. Most people will come to your blog through a link. If they like what they see, they will bookmark it and return that way or via RSS feed. But for those few who will be typing in your URL (like a publisher or agent), please pick something that is easy to remember and at least slightly professional—like your name. Or if your blog focuses on a theme, something that reflects that. is not a good idea.

Blog Title: This may or may not be different from your domain name. It’s the same here on my blog. The title is what appears in the header of your blog. You can be much more creative with your title than with your domain name. Still, you want to present a professional image.

Description: This is where you explain what your blog is or why you are doing it. For example: Dedicated to helping LDS authors successfully navigate the LDS publishing world.

Profile: Your profile shares with the world some of the details of who you are. A lot of people are hesitant about including these details and you do need to be careful. But anything that you would include in the author bio of your book would be just as safe here.

I suggest posting your photo because people like to see who they’re “talking” to. It makes you seem friendlier and more approachable—both attributes you want to cultivate as an author. If you really don’t want your photo there, use the cover of your book or an attractive icon or a piece of clip art (like mine).

Take advantage of the “Extended Info” to invite readers most likely to relate to your site. List areas of interest that correlate with the focus of your books. When they visit other blogs, readers will click on the key words that correspond with their personal interests and your blog will show up on the list.

Blogging 101-Getting Started

I’ve been inundated with questions about blogging, so I’ll be doing a short series of posts about where and when and how and all that jazz, with an emphasis on how best to use this to promote your writing career. This will be old hat for some of you who are experienced bloggers but I’m hoping you will jump in with your comments, opinions and tips.

Where to Blog:
If you have not yet started a blog, do a little research. Look at the blogs of people you know. Click on their blog roll (links to other bloggers) and notice what you like, what appeals to your eye.

There are several free or inexpensive blog hosting sites. The most popular are Blogger (this one; it’s free), LiveJournal (free), Word Press (free and subscription versions) and Typepad (starts at $4.95/month). [If you know of others you’d recommend, please post the URL in the comments section.]

Each of these blog hosting platforms have their advantages and disadvantages. I chose Blogger because it was free and easy, and because several friends used it and were willing to help me get going. [Comments on which host you chose and why would be appreciated.]

Start Simple:
Most blog hosts have a variety of templates you can use. Pick one that is clean and attractive. Stick with the basics while you’re learning. You can always fancy it up later on.

Blog Content:
There are many types of blogs, from a simple online diary to a full-fledged promotional focus. Here is a list of some blog types. Choose one that appeals to you or mix and match. It doesn’t really matter what type of blog you choose, as long as you remember that people will be judging you and your writing abilities by your blog. If you want to promote your writing, I’d suggest a slice of life, general interest or a blog about writing and/or books, rather than the online diary or rant style. You might also consider doing book reviews.

Before clicking “Post,” check spelling and grammar. Think about how your reading public and/or potential agents and publishers might react to what you’re saying. Are you projecting the image you want to present to the world? Will a publisher reading your blog see you as professional and careful with your words? Easy to work with? Positive attitude? Interesting? Will your readers find you friendly? Fascinating?

Be very careful not to plagiarize. If you “steal” from someone else’s blog, be sure to give them the credit and plenty of links back to their blog.

Be consistent. Post on a regular basis—daily or weekly. If you go too long between posting, readers will stop checking back.

A Bouquet of Words

Do you ever receive manuscripts that have such “flowery language” that it feels like the author is intruding on the story? Do you ever read manuscripts where the language gets in the way of the story and it feels like the author is trying to impress you with his/her writing instead of simply telling a story? Do you publish them? What’s your preference?

As a publisher, whatever is currently selling best. As a person, there is a time and a need for both–sometimes I want to soak in beautiful language. Sometimes I want a quick escape.

The technical term is “literary novel.” It’s hard to do well.

Blogging for Readers

When do you think it’s important to establish a web presence? Before you ever have hope of being published, after acceptance of your manuscript, or when the book comes out?

Do you think a blog is sufficient for a web presence?

When do I think wanna-be writers should establish a web presence? YESTERDAY.

If your plan is to publish, start marketing yourself now. When I have an author tell me he/she has a blog that’s getting 100+ hits every day (that’s unique visitors, not page loads), and hosts a forum with over 100 members, and has a monthly newsletter that her loyal following subscribes to, I sit up and take notice.

Anyone who reads your blog (and returns to read again) is a potential book buyer. If they have a relationship with you–even a virtual one–they are more likely to buy your book. In fact, I was at the local LDS bookstore today and bought two books, neither of which I would have ever purchased had I not already read and liked the authors’ blogs.

A blog is sufficient up until your book is accepted. At that point, you’ll want to create an official author website.

Utah Residency, Optional

An LDS publisher recently requested to see a rewrite of my novel. (Hang on. Is that “An” or “A” LDS publisher? I’m going with “An” since it sounds better.) [Say it aloud and use the one that fits.] Obviously they haven’t offered a contract, but for the sake of fantasizing, I’m going to pretend they will. Since I don’t live in Utah, how will this affect the marketing of my book? For example, book signings, school visits, etc. Also, are LDS publishers wary of taking on authors who live outside of Utah for this very reason? Thanks in advance!

Since the huge majority of LDS books and products are sold in the Utah/Idaho corridor, living somewhere else means you won’t have easy access to multiple promotional signings. It also means you won’t be able to do co-op events with other LDS authors–like workshops or community events or Ladies Night at Deseret Book before conference. Unless, of course, you’re willing to drive/fly out for a week or two and hit all the bookstores who’ll have you. (That will probably not be paid for by your publisher, so think about taking a working family vacation.)

If there’s an LDS bookstore in your area, we will set up a signing for you there and at any other local bookstores that will let us in. If you’re going on vacation to an area that has LDS bookstores, we can try to set up a signing. You can also do RS workshops or firesides locally and within neighboring wards/stakes.

You’re on your own with schools, as is every author. Living in Utah doesn’t mean an automatic pass into the schools. It depends on the type of presentation you’ll give, the content of your book and your connection with the school.

Pretty much anything else can be done regardless of where you live–thanks to the magic of telephone, fax, Internet, and good ‘ole USPS. Radio shows, book reviews, websites, blogs, online interviews, press releases, postcards, catalogs, etc. can all be done no matter where you live.

So, no. Publishers won’t turn you down if you live outside Utah as long as you’re willing to make the effort and do what is within your ability and budget to help promote your book.

Dizzying POVs

Do you have a POV preference? Do many authors still use omniscient POV? Is there a proper way to use multiple POVs (or is it PsOV?) so as not to confuse the reader? I’ve read a book that jumped from POV to POV, sometimes in the same paragraph or sentence, and not only did I feel dizzy, I felt schizophrenic!

The story determines the POV. Some stories need to be first person, others need to be third. If you’re not sure which your story needs to be, rewrite a couple of chapters in various POVs. Which one works? When you hit the right one, you’ll know.

Yes, there is a proper way to use multiple POVs but I don’t recommend it unless you know what you’re doing. Someone help me out with examples–the only ones I can think of right off are ones that I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve read.

You cannot change POVs within the same sentence or paragraph. If you’re going to do multiple POVs, you need to give some indication that you’re changing, like a new chapter (my preference) or a *** or even an extra paragraph return.

[POV is Point of View. If you don’t know the difference between various POVs, go to the library and find a writing book that talks about it. Study it until you can tell in the first sentence what a book is written in.)

I was talking to some friends last night and they reminded me of a couple of YA titles that handle changing POV well:
Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen
My Angelica by Carol Lynch Williams
The View from Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg

Also, you can read some discussions of changing POV here and here. If you know of others, post them in the comments section.

He Said, She Said

I’ve been told that I over-use “said” and should use other words for variation. I’ve read LDS fiction that uses various speech tags. Yet, I’ve read and heard that “said” is the best tag to use because it’s almost invisible to the reader and doesn’t break the flow (the dialogue itself should “show” the mood, etc.). What’s your opinion?

Just because other people do it, doesn’t mean it’s right.

With really good writing, you almost don’t need speech tags because you can tell who’s talking just by the words they use and how they put them together. But we use them anyway because we don’t want the reader to get lost.

You can use “asked.” You can use an occasional “yelled,” “screamed,” or “whispered.” But please, please, please do not use “whimpered,” “simpered,” “laughed,” “teased,” or any of those other types of words. Unless you’re writing a Harlequin Romance. Then I guess you can do it.

If you want to be taken seriously, use “said” as your speech tag 99% of the time and let your dialog or the movements of your characters show their emotions.

Publishing on the Internet, Take Two

I was just thinking about authors’ websites and the practice of them posting the first chapter of their books on their sites (or not,) when I remembered the Baen free library. Sci fi publisher Jim Baen has encouraged “his” authors to let him take their out-of-print books(1) and put them up on his website in their entirety for anybody to read. You don’t have to pay anything or even sign up. The premise is that this is free advertising. You can read an author’s older works for free and decide if you like his or her style before buying something that is current. According to author Eric Flint, this actually works great. I was wondering if this would be a viable option in the LDS market.(2) Because I live far away from any LDS bookstores, I rely on the web to give me the information I need to help me choose the books I buy. Is there anything in the dreaded contracts that would prevent authors from putting an entire, out-of-print book up on their personal websites?(3) Better yet, is there anything stopping a publishing company from making their own free library?(4) Or is there anything stopping them from putting up as many as three chapters from each new book on their website, so that readers outside the range of brick and mortar stores can browse and make better-informed decisions?(5) (I just checked a random Baen book, new for April, and there were seven chapters free for perusal!)

Check it out at to see how it works. In my opinion, it really is the next best thing to being there.(6)

I’ve already discussed this before, here and here. But this practice is becoming more and more common, so I’m revisiting it. Also, there is a difference between a publisher and/or a published author (with their publisher’s permission) choosing to post excerpts of out-of-print books on the Internet, and non-published authors publishing works on the internet for critique.

1. If a book is out of print, there is nothing wrong with the publisher and/or author (with their publisher’s pemission) posting it in its entirety on the Internet. I think it’s a great idea, for the very reasons you listed. As a publisher, I’d also make it available as a POD title, if someone wanted to order it after reading it in electronic format. The only caveat is, make sure you plaster copyrights all over it. Many people assume that if it’s on the net, it’s public domain and they are free to re-publish and sell or distribute it as they wish. This is not true.

2. Of course it’s viable. And again, a great idea. However, it’s probably a low priority for many publishers because it won’t be a big money-maker and there will be some expense involved in setting it up. (Hmmm, I think I’ll bring this up at our next staff meeting.)

3. Depends on the publisher and their contract. If you’re an author with an out-of-print book, make sure you get permission from your publisher before doing this. And if they’re fine with it, make sure you put links to your in-print titles at the end of each chapter, something along the lines of “If you’re enjoying this book, check out the author’s other titles at…)

4. No. (See answer #2)

5. No. In fact, that’s a very good marketing idea. However, if the publisher has more than just a few titles in print, they’ll probably have their authors do it on their own websites, just because of the time and web space involved. Publishers should provide the files for the author to upload to their sites.

6. I agree.

Review Copies

Realistically, how many copies of a book does a publisher give away for possible reviews? Does the author have any say or input in these decisions?

And the definitive answer is: it depends.

It depends on the type of book (fiction vs non-fiction), the genre, the initial buzz and excitement about the book, the budget, how many copies we printed in the first print run, the number of reviewers we have a positive relationship with, the number and size of papers/local magazines in the authors home town, when the book is released (near Christmas or other related holidays or events), how much energy the author is going to put into promoting the book, what kind of mood the marketing department is in, whether it’s raining outside,…

The author may or may not have a say in it. We make up our list and if the author wants us to add to it, they have to make a good argument for it. For example, let’s say the author lives in Kaysville, UT. We would send review copies to the Salt Lake City papers. If the author wanted us to send a review copy to his/her local Kaysville paper, we’d probably decline, UNLESS a bookstore in Kaysville was going to do a launch party/signing for the author and the paper was agreed to do a timely and positive review in connection with that launch.

Another issue we have with review copies is when authors want us to send them to bloggers. (I’m not talking about online reviewers, such as Jennie Hansen at Meridian. I’m talking about non-professional bloggers.) We only consider this if the blog is targeted to our audience (LDS readers) AND if they get a respectable number of hits per day AND if we get pre-approval/kill vote on the post.

If an author wants to send the book to more reviewers than we’re willing to send to, they’re always free to do so using their own comp copies.

If You Call a Rose an Onion, It Will Stink

I worked for an LDS publisher who claimed you had seven words or less (preferably less) to grab a reader’s attention. The title was one of the key reasons buyers picked up a new book and we spent hours retitling purchased manuscripts.

Now I wonder–how important is a title during the submission process? Does a title ever grab your attention and cause you to lift a manuscript out of the ‘slush pile’? How do you feel about those manuscripts which are submitted simply as “Untitled”?

Seven words, huh? That sounds about right. And you’re right, a good title piques interest and will get a buyer to take the book off the shelf. I’ve toyed with the idea of hiring someone solely to generate titles. That would be nice. But in reality, it’s a group effort. We often run a list of titles by our readers and employees and see which one appeals to the most people.

As to how important your title is to the submission process–not very. Yes, sometimes an interesting title will invite me to read that mss first, but it’s the story and the writing that make the final decision. It’s a somewhat different skill set required for creating titles and for writing stories. Kind of like the difference between writing a novel and writing poetry. I never turn down a book based on its title. And I always reserve the right to change the title–it’s in my contract.

I have used author’s original titles before. Some of them are great. Sometimes I’ve tweaked them a little, or used them to start the brainstorming process. Sometimes they’re really, really bad–but a bad title is better than no title.

I really hate mss submitted as “Untitled.” A title brings focus to a story. A story without a title says to me that you don’t know enough about your story (bad news) or that you’re too lazy or that you’re expecting me to do all the work. My experience tells me that Untitled manuscripts are going to need lots of editing in other places as well.

So–brainstorm titles. Test them out on your friends and family. Pick one. Put it on your manuscript and submit. Keep your list of brainstormed titles so that you can offer other suggestions when the publisher asks for them. (Sometimes they will, sometimes they won’t.)

Quoting Church Leaders

This does not apply to most LDS fiction writers, but non-fiction writers–HEADS UP!

The Church is tightening up their copyright permission policies. Actually, they’re not really changing their policies, rather, they’re tightening up enforcement of the policies that have been in existence for years. The number of books and other products that are using copyrighted, intellectual property without permission is off the charts. It’s been a long time coming, but I personally think it’s an appropriate step for the Church to take–even if it makes my job a little harder.

Each project requesting permission to use copyrighted materials will be evaluated on its own terms, but here are a few general tips.

  • Fair use laws apply when quoting commercially published materials (ex: book written by a General Authority). Each publisher will have their own interpretation of fair use, so contact them for permission.
  • You must have permission to quote living General Authorities. This includes articles in the Ensign and Conference talks, as well as quotes from their published books. As Church leaders are often traveling, it may take as long as two months for a response.
  • Deceased General Authorities and other Church leaders may be quoted according to existing copyright laws. (You probably need permission for anything published after 1923.)
  • Guidelines for quoting Church Handbooks are generally included in the handbook itself.
  • Art, music, and other works have specific guidelines and need permission to be used.
  • Scriptures may be used without permission, with the exception of the headings, footnotes, Topical Guide and Bible Dictionary, which are copyrighted.
  • Generally, the Church does not give permission for compilations and quote books to use the words of General Authorities and other Church leaders, although the individual may be willing to do so.
  • Permission must be given in writing. You may submit your requests or ask questions via email at cor-intellectualproperty[at]ldschurch[dot]org. (Sorry, I can’t get the link to work.) Give specifics about your project.
  • As might be imagined, the Church’s permissions department has been swamped with requests, so it may take some time for a response. Some items will get a quick response in a matter of days, but longer projects (like books) may take up to two months to receive a response.

It is your responsibility as the author of the book to get written permission for quotes BEFORE you submit your manuscript to a publisher. If you’re having trouble getting those permissions, your publisher may be willing to help you, but be prepared to rewrite if the answer is no.

Subplots–What’s the Magic Number?

Is there a general rule of thumb for how many subplots should be in a novel? How many are too few? Too many?

You want enough to keep your story interesting, but not so many that the reader can’t remember what’s going on with who. How’s that for a definitive answer?

I’m gonna’ go out on a limb and really commit myself here and say between two and ten. Part of it depends on how complex your main plot is; how complex the subplots; whether the subplots are needed to move the story forward (good), or if their main function is to add pages (bad); if the subplots involved the main characters or side characters; etc. etc.

Here’s my general rule–if I’m bored, it needs more complexity, which can be provided by subplots. If I have to read with a pencil and paper to keep all the characters and plots straight, then you’ve got too many.

Grammar and Writing Resource Books

What writing books would you recommend? I’ve heard that some rules of grammar have changed/are changing–how do we keep up?

Much as I personally hate it, grammar rules change over time (ex: lit vs lighted). Even the experts disagree about what is correct grammar and they will argue over something as “simple” as comma placement, each absolutely certain that they are correct and fully supported by other experts. To someone unfamiliar with the history of language and basic grammar rules, it may seem that there are no rules, or that rules can be broken at will.

This is an incorrect assumption. There are rules, and there are acceptable ways to break the rules. Editors know both. We can tell if you’re breaking a currently in-vogue rule because you’re following a different rule, or if you just don’t know what you’re doing. Unfortunately, there is no one, generally accepted, definitive grammar rule source book.

I prefer more traditional usage over the modern, but I’ve argued with many of my colleagues about what is correct, and we can all defend our own stance. You’re never going to guess what a particular publisher uses/wants, so don’t bother trying. Even if you know what a publisher usually wants, the grammar rules may change slightly depending on the style of book.

The key to grammar is to select a good source book and be consistent. You need to understand enough grammar that you know why you’re following (or breaking) a particular rule.

Here’s a pretty good list of sources. You’re probably safe with the current edition of Chicago Manual of Style (although I don’t agree with all of their rules). I like Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynn Trus as a punctuation manual. If you’re writing LDS, use their Style Guide to Publications.

Now, for writing books in general, there are so many good ones I hardly know where to start. I have about 40 on my shelf that I really love, and almost that many that I’d like to get. Some of my favorites are Julia Cameron’s books on writing, Natalie Goldberg and Annie Dillard. I also have a lot of books published by Writer’s Digest that are pretty good. The best way to find good books on writing is to just go spend a day at the bookstore and browse. Or ask a writer you know and respect what their favorites qre.

So how about it readers? What are your favorite writing books?

How to Spot an Amateur

What are some common mistakes that a first time or amateur author makes, that an experienced author does not? This can be both in writing and/or in submission.

Sometimes even experienced writers make these mistakes, but these are the ones that immediately pop into my mind.

Writing Mistakes:

  • Thinking your story is polished and done, when it is not.
  • Writing in a style that’s wrong for the genre.
  • Technical errors–grammar, punctuation, spelling.
  • Thinking the editor will (has time to) fix all the mistakes.
  • Failing to send mss out to qualified readers for critique.
  • Characters, plot, storyline problems.

Submission Mistakes:

  • Sending the mss to a publisher before it’s ready.
  • Sending mss to publishers who don’t publish in that genre.
  • Using the shotgun method of submission (sending out queries/submissions to every single publisher on your list without doing any research to see if your mss would be a good fit for them.)
  • Lack of research into the business side of publishing and the common how-tos for submitting.
  • Doing the research on how to submit, but ignoring the suggestions and doing it your own way because that shows you’re unique and creative. (Not.)
  • Poorly crafted query.
  • Making excuses for less than quality writing in the query; emphasizing that you’re a beginner and lack experience (I do not mean that you can’t state that this is your first novel. That’s fine. I mean going on and on about how you don’t really know what you’re doing and you hope I’ll overlook your ignorance and inexperience…)

Experienced authors, help me out. What am I forgetting?

No More Submissions

I know it’s advisable to look for the publishers instructions on how they would prefer you to follow up on a submitted manuscript. However, the publisher that currently has mine is no longer taking submissions, and has taken all that sort of info off their website. What’s the best way to follow up if you’re not sure what they would rather have you do? Thanks.

I think I know who you mean because I regularly visit the websites of all the LDS publishers and I noticed that happening very recently on one site. I haven’t heard any industry gossip so understand that what I’m about to say may be way off base.

If they’ve suddenly stopped taking submissions, they’re most likely in trouble or are going through some restructuring and need some breathing space.

Do you have an e-mail address for the submissions editor? If so, that’s the easiest and (in my opinion) least intrusive way to contact them. Send a short polite e-mail asking the status of your submission. You can mention the change in their website and express curiosity if you want, or not. Give them a couple of days to respond because if they are struggling, they may be understaffed.

You can also send a letter asking the same thing. If you write, give them two weeks to respond.

Or you could call. This is the last option I’d advise because if they’re way past the time when they should have responded, it probably means they’re swamped in the day-to-day business of staying alive.

In any case, if you e-mail, snail mail or call and you don’t get a response within 30 days, you can probably safely assume that your manuscript has been rejected.

I’m sorry I can’t be more definitive on this. As I said, this is my best guess on what is happening, but I could be completely wrong.

High Risk Manuscripts

Hi LDS Publisher,

How much impact does a first-time author’s sales from their first novel have on your decision to accept another manuscript from them? If a book sells only about 600 copies in the first year, would you be hesitant to accept their next manuscript, if that manuscript was good?


Unless I am personally committed to your cause or career, or I’m trying to impress you for some reason, sales of a previous book has a HUGE impact in whether I accept your next manuscript, because in that scenario I will have lost a ton of money.

Exceptions to this would be:

  • I made some type of marketing mistake and it’s my fault they didn’t sell (highly unlikely, and I’d never admit to it publicly, but it could be possible).
  • Your next manuscript was much better or would appeal to a different market.
  • You were published by another publisher and I thought perhaps I could do a better job at promotion and marketing than they did.
  • I can lock in 1,000 pre-sales before I go to press (and you would need to be the one creating the buzz for those pre-sales, because I will be thinking it won’t happen).
  • You’re willing to share the expense of publishing–but I would only consider this option if the manuscript was significantly better.

What Floats My Boat

What types of projects do you get the most excited to produce and

When I am reading through a manuscript and I laugh out loud (because I’m supposed to, not because it’s awful), I know I have a winner.

When I realize I’ve just read several pages and forgot to edit, I know I have a winner.

Other than that, this is a tough question to answer because I can get excited over any genre, fiction as well as non-fiction, that is really well written.

In fiction, I want something that tells a good story. I like something that touches me deeply, that speaks to common issues and core fears that most of us deal with. I like things with a positive ending–notice, I did not say happy. The book can end on a tough note, but there needs to be the promise that all will be well eventually.

In non-fiction, it has to be supportive of gospel principles and teachings. It needs to make me see something old in a new light or help me to understand something new. It needs to be a topic that a significant number of people would be interested in reading (like LDS history, marriage & family, etc.), or that a small group really, really needs or wants (like addictions, abuse, etc.).

And it always helps if the author is really pleasant and easy to work with.

Plot Traps

What are some of the common plot traps that you have noticed in LDS fiction that you wish authors would avoid?

I don’t know that I find any plot traps that are specific to LDS–except for the one where the bad guy/girl needs to turn good so they can marry the good girl/guy, and so the author throws in some lightweight spiritual experience and they are converted in a matter of days. I just don’t buy that–ever. (I know, I know–it happened to Alma and to Paul, but their experience involved angels. I don’t believe it in a romance book.)

The most common plot traps, or holes, in fiction, LDS or otherwise are:

  • an author sends a character off to do something and then we never see or hear from them again
  • the character arrives faster or does something faster than it would take in real life (like fly across the country in an hour)
  • creating a character that is too evil or too good, then having them change too quickly (as in example above)
  • painting their protagonist into a corner that is too hard to get out of, then having someone swoop in and save them for the sole purpose of getting them out of that situation
  • bringing in characters that have nothing to do with the story, but the author needs to add more people or more pages to the book
  • forgetting to tie up loose ends (example: Premonition movie with Sandra Bullock; the whole thing with her daughter’s face and when it gets cut, etc. That was never really explained.)
  • having a character really stress over something, then suddenly it doesn’t bother them anymore, with no explanation
  • having characters do things that it’s been set up they’re incapable of doing, or wouldn’t choose to do, without having some strong initiating factor or explanation
  • in fantasy, setting up the rules for the world your characters are living in, then breaking those rules

What are some of your favorite plot holes? Give specific examples if you want.

Ripples in the Market

Have you seen any ripples in the market since Deseret Book took over Seagull, or are things still pretty much the same so far?

Things are pretty much the same from my side of things.

Ordering: Still getting orders from Deseret Book at the same level as always (maybe a bit more). Still getting orders from Seagull same as always.

New Books: If I can get my books into Deseret Book stores and on their website, they sell pretty well. If I can’t, then 90% of the LDS readership doesn’t know my book exists. Getting my books into Seagull only helps the UT and surrounding market.

As for authors, I have one friend who was just rejected by Covenant, but I don’t think it was because of the change in ownership. (Nor the quality of her writing.)

What about all of you? Have you noticed any changes?

Royalties Paid on Cover vs Wholesale

I have a question regarding royalties. My publisher pays by value sales. Are there some publishers that pay a percentage of the cover price or do most of them sell according to value sales?

Value sales refers to the publisher’s receipts, or the price at which they sell the book. It will be somewhere between 40 and 80% of the retail price. In this industry, the average discount is 40%.

Cover price refers to the suggested retail price printed on the cover of the book.

Some publishers pay based on cover price, others on wholesale. Some will pay cover on some books, but wholesale on others. Sometimes this is negotiable, sometimes not. Royalty percentages based on cover price are usually lower than percentages based on value/wholesale price.