On Chapters, and When to Break Them

Many authors I know write books with chapters. I don’t. Before the people who read my books start pointing fingers and calling me a liar (pants on fire), allow me to explain. I outline my books before I write, often in great detail. (That is, I thought it was great detail until I heard Jeffery Deaver at last September’s Colorado Gold–his fifty-page outlines put my ten-pagers to shame, but I digress…)  When the outline is finished, I write the entire manuscript from start to finish without any breaks–except for the kind that involve removing my fingers from the keys. The result is one file, in

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The Luck We Leave Behind

At many Shinto shrines in Japan, visitors can leave a donation and receive a written fortune on a strip of paper. Often, the strips are encased in small clay statues or “selected” by drawing a piece of marked bamboo (or, more rarely, the fortune itself) from a box. Near the place where the fortunes are, there’s usually a rack or display of paper strips, like this one (located at the base of the mountain at Fushimi Inari).  These strips are fortunes people drew but did not want to receive. By tradition and Shinto belief, if you leave your fortune at the shrine where you drew it, the deities will

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Why Seahorses?

Most people are startled to discover that I keep seahorses.     The reaction doesn’t surprise me. For most of us, seahorses inhabit a mental space somewhere between sharks and dragons–real, but almost mythological, and exotic enough that we see them in public aquariums, if at all.   Even then, it’s sometimes difficult to catch a glimpse, between the crowds in front of the tank and the seahorses’ expert skills at camouflage. I’ve adored seahorses all my life, but decided to start keeping them in 2010–eighteen months after my father died. After doing “responsible things” with most of the money I inherited from him, my husband suggested

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He Wobbles…But He Won’t Fall Down–and We Won’t, Either.

During my keynote at last weekend’s Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Colorado Gold Conference, I told the story of one of my special needs seahorses…little Weeble. He’s now a healthy, happy seahorse, “one of the gang”–and has no idea he’s different from the others in any way. Wherein lies a lesson (actually, many, but only one I’m going to highlight here today): When I discovered my writing herd at Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, my dreams of a writing career were lying, curled and broken-tailed, on the bottom of my own proverbial tank. I’d worked and written for over a decade, churning out

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Avoiding Writing Contest Scams

Writing contests can offer great opportunities for published and unpublished authors alike. Good contests can provide valuable feedback and even a chance at publication. However, not all contests are created equal, and authors need to be on the lookout for some important traps and pitfalls when evaluating writing contests. Fortunately, savvy writers can learn to identify–and avoid–the common contest traps. Let’s take a look at some of them today: Legitimate writing contests don’t require entrants to transfer copyright ownership to the contest or its organizers.  Here, as everywhere else in publishing (except for clearly identified work for hire situations), authors should retain full copyright

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Quit Worrying: It’s Cheaper for Agents to Sign You Than to Steal Your Works

Today’s publishing legal post answers a question I received last week by email. Here’s the relevant portion: “I’m following your posts, and worried about my copyright in my [unpublished] novel. I’m going to several conferences this summer, and wonder if I should register copyright in the manuscript before I pitch it to agents, in order to protect my rights?” I answered the email directly, but here’s the answer for the rest of the world as well: No. You do not register copyright in unpublished manuscripts if you intend to seek an agent and pursue traditional publication. Under U.S. law, copyright protection attaches automatically to

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Unfurling the Spirit

Last Sunday I flew to Ireland to teach at a writing retreat in Hedford, County Galway, with Ireland Writer Tours. I flew in a couple of days before the retreat officially started (that was yesterday) in order to make sure my lecture notes and–more importantly–my psyche were prepared. I’ve spent the last two days roaming the shores of Lough Corrib, the largest freshwater lake  in the Republic of Ireland, enjoying the sights, sounds, and smells. The wildflowers are lovely, Stepping away from the usual crush and stress of daily life never fails to remind me how important it is to take

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How to Find the Perfect Agent (Or, at Least, the One Who Matches You)

Authors often hear agents saying “do your homework before you query” but many authors struggle with understanding that assignment.  Tailoring queries properly–both in content and in recipient scope–actually increases an author’s chances of success. The content aspect of querying is covered widely (and well) in other places–Janet Reid’s blog, and her QueryShark archive are fantastic sources of information. (Many other good resources exist, but those two are reliable and more than enough to get  you started.) However, today’s post focuses on the “how to know who to query” aspect of the process. Let’s look at some useful tips for figuring out which agents (or mentors, etc)

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