Same, same, SAME

July 1, 2010

I don’t know what it is about summer, but it seems to bring out the same-ness in writers, and everyone’s stories seem to blend into white noise. The beagle thinks it’s the heat and recommends that everyone stop for a margarita break.  I’m good with that. But if you’re going to be walking around like the goolies from Night of the Living Dead, then don’t query. Save it for a time when your brain is firmly entrenched in your cranial cavity.

What is this same-ness I’m jabbering about? Standing out. This isn’t the time when you want to blend in by wearing the same bathing suit as everyone else. You want to stand out in that fuchsia and lime green suit that screams, “Lookie at me! I’m HOT, HOT, HOT!”

Instead, I’m seeing bland one-piece bathing suits that are as exciting as the beagle in Birkenstocks. These are the weakest efforts – stories written in heavily impacted categories – bipolar, death, divorce, alcoholism, cancer, blah, blah, blah – books that are fighting each other on the bookshelves already. So why on earth would I want your book? What makes you unique compared to what’s already in the marketplace?

Yes, my heart bleeds to hear that you lost your precious son at the tender age of four due to cancer. When I look at my strapping boys, I can’t imagine that kind of pain and the sheer guts and will required to care about even getting out of bed in the morning. But as sad as it is, there are already a ton of these kinds of books on the bookstore shelves, and the question becomes – how do I sell yours?

For crying out loud, toss me a bone!

What drove you to write the book?

Oftentimes, memoirs spring up because writers feel they have something to say. They experienced something they feel is fantastic/sad/inspirational/educational and decide to write about it. What happens is they look no further than their own experience and never check their competition to see if this is an issue that’s already been written about to ad nauseum. That’s why we have crowded categories such as divorce, cancer, etc. Many of them were unique at the time, but with the flood of samey books, the message is no longer unique. So ask yourself two questions:

Why did I write this book?
What am I saying that’s different from what’s already out there?

I’m not a fan of unnecessarily adding to the crowd unless that book has something new to say.


And speaking of something new, you have to tell me the unique qualities of YOUR book. This means you need to well read in the category in which you write. Know your competition because someone is going to ask you about it at some point in your career. I’ve had a few writers who, when they went back and actually checked out their competition, realized they didn’t have a unique product after all. Le ouch.

Convince me

Why would someone want to read your book over the other books that cover the same topic? This is a question I ask all the time, and I’m amazed at how this stumps authors. Writers need to be analytical and objective about their writing if they are going to convince an editor to ask for pages.

Something that still stands out in my mind is when Kate McLaughlin queried me about her fabulous book Mommy, I’m Still In Here. It was if she knew I was going to roll my eyes at the beagle and say, “Bipolar? Yikes, been done and done and done,” so she tossed me all the best nuclear arsenal – she convinced me why her book was different from all the other bipolar books out there. And she was dead right because I researched it like a frog on crack.

Because she convinced me, I snapped it up. Because she knew her competition and her book’s uniqueness, it remains a solid seller.

So change your bathing suit style, kiddies. Get something that expresses your unique qualities and marketability. And don’t forget to tell me what they are. Otherwise, I’ll be forced to take the beagle’s advice and have a margarita break.

“Client’s disease”

January 29, 2010

My buddy Lauren over at BiblioBuffet sent me a link to a fabulous blog post [thanks, toots!], and I could kiss her square on the lips. I said I could, I didn’t say I would.

This blog post will never be mistaken for zen.calm. It’s a kick in the pants reality check that discusses the realities of writing, which is…

No one wants to read your shit.

Now I didn’t say that, author Steven Pressfield said it. And you know what? He’s right. But he isn’t saying it the way you think. What Steven is saying is that just because you love your story doesn’t mean everyone wants to drop everything, put their lives on hold just so they can read your brilliant collections of verbs and nouns.

I encounter this a lot. I read pages and wonder if the authors ever considered that just because they love their writing others will as well.  Steven calls it Client’s Disease, and he hits the nail on the head. The marketplace, in general, doesn’t give a rat’s patootie about the new thang on the block.

It’s not because the marketplace is filled with creeps who live to crush authors’ hearts. Heck, that’s our job. The marketplace has a bajillion choices placed before them, and there is no reason why they should care about you. It’s your job to make them care.

Steven writes:

When you understand that nobody wants to read your shit, your mind becomes powerfully concentrated. You begin to understand that writing/reading is, above all, a transaction. The reader donates his time and attention, which are supremely valuable commodities. In return, you the writer, must give him something worthy of his gift to you.

This means that it’s the author’s job to constantly ask:

“Am I boring my reader?”

Steven, most importantly, demands that the writer jump outside of his own ego because it’s the readers who make the author successful. Not the other way around.

Go. Read. Learn.

That is all.

Rules schmoolze, readers don’t care, so why should you?

January 6, 2010

“Rules, rules, rules! Why should I care so much about POV switches and using too many adjectives and adverbs? The average reader will never notice! You’re simply too picky.”

That was an author’s reply to a critique I’d included with a rejection. She’s right –  I am indeed picky. And she’s also half-right about the fact that readers may not notice. But here is why she’s mostly wrong.

Who Is Gonna Read Your Book?

The problem with this author’s comment is her lack of vision. She assumes her readers are all pleasure readers and, therefore, don’t care about syntax and structure. Hmm. You know what they say about “ass-u-me,” right?

In truth, readers’ educational background and knowledge of the English language vary a great deal. Does this mean we write to the lowest common denominator, or do we write to a higher standard? It may be that many won’t care about the overuse of adverbs – Lucy totally, absolutely loved her fabulously yellow car [yeech] – but there are a large populace who whose eyes would glaze over at a book filled with this kind of writing. Is that a risk you’re willing to take?

What if that reader is a reviewer? They’ll pull out their razor-sharp scalpel and cut you a new orifice. What if that reader happens to be an editor who bought your book while on their way to Hawaii? They’ll throw your book to the sand crabs and go buy a copy of National Geographic just to get the bad taste out of their mouth.

What if the reader is simply Joe or Jane Reader who is put off by blocks of character description that interrupts the flow of the story? Or they care that you overuse em dashes and ellipses? Or that you use more tell vs. show in your writing? The end result with all these scenarios is that the overall opinion of your book won’t be positive.

Let’s Be Perfectly Clear

The reason you should care about the rules is for the sake of clarity. You want your readers to understand what you’ve written.

POV Switches: POV switches within the same scene, or even in the same paragraph [god forbid] can be horrendously confusing because the reader looses sight of who’s head they’re supposed to be in. Head-hopping is a newbie problem that can only be done in the hands of an fabulous writer. Author Janice Eidus [The War of the Rosens] is just such an author, and I believe it was Kirkus who paid special notice of how deftly she used her POV switches. Janice is a brilliant writer, and readers are crazy not to rush out and buy her tender, heart-warming book.

Comma usage: Improper comma usage is another small thing that can bring clarity or confusion to a sentence, forcing the reader to re-read the sentence. In my mind, that’s a sin against the Reading Gods. If you don’t know how to use them, then how are you going to effectively tell your story?

Adverbs: Yes, I lean on our friend, the adverb, quite a bit and it’s because they are so seductive. I consider them the Antonio Banderas of writing. They’re sexy, handsome, and soooo easy on the eye and, before you know it, your writing is filled with adverbs that crowd, clutter, and irritate your readers. Not that Antonio ever could…

A manuscript filled with adverbs is overkill and there are plenty of readers who get to the point where they shout, “Yes! I get it, the car is wonderful and the character loves it. No need to stick fifteen adverbs in there to say so.”

The Evil Gatekeepers

The last reason authors should give a rat’s patootie about rules is those evil gatekeepers – agents and editors. See, you can rail against the unfairness of it all and be righteously indignant, but it’s not going to amount to a hill of lima beans if you can’t get past us.

We are your first readers. If you can’t get past us, you can’t reach those “unconcerned” readers. You may be happy in your belief that readers don’t care about our nitpicky concerns, and there are many vanity publishers who are thrilled to support you in that endeavor. But the main deal is this; ya gotta get past us. We care because it’s our $$ on the line. Agents care because they need to sell manuscripts to make $$.

So while we may be too picky for your tastes, we have a host of reasons as to why we’re that way. It’s what keeps our books on store shelves and in readers’ hands. And it’s what keeps readers saying nice things about our books.

Lastly, since when is “good enough” an excuse? If you receive a critique that points out weaknesses in your writing, your reaction shouldn’t be, “you’re too picky!” It should be a giant “thank you for pointing out some problems I wasn’t aware existed.”

Less than zero: a distasteful sub-species

November 3, 2009

In my meanderings around writers boards and the feedback I hear at writer’s conferences, I see a pattern among a sub-species of fish I call Less Than Zero who, sadly, swim in our publishing pond. LTZs are the agents and editors whose ulterior motives aren’t to the author’s benefit. They may only agree to “represent” an author if they can find an interested editor. Or maybe they make a habit of selling their clients’ books to PODs. Perhaps they’ll tell you that, “oh yes, we edit your manuscript,” and that really means they run it through Spell Check. I call them Less Than Zero because they are the gorp that gets between my toes when I go to the beach. They’re worse than navel lint because they hurt authors.

Now here’s where I channel Sigmund Fraud, so lie down on my couch and sip on one of the beagle’s margaritas. The golden thread that weaves its way through these diseased yaks is Evita Peron-ititis: “You must love me,” – meaning that their only way of getting their meathooks into authors is via flattery and kindness.

Think about it; it’s much harder to question someone you like and believe is a good guy. And they’re counting on this. It a very effective way to keep authors submissive. Sadly, I’ve seen authors defend their editors and agents clear to the death of their own books. It’s literary equivalent of Stockholm Syndrome. The minute you dare to question their abilities is when you see their true colors. They can become abusive with the flick of the switch. It’s another tool in keeping authors submissive.

While it’s true that we all try our level best to be engaging, supportive, and not scare the pants off prospective authors, we also have a job to do, and that’s to make you as successful as we can. Sometimes we don’t have time for love and kisses – especially during editing.

Less Than Zeros are slick, kiddies, and it’s all about timing. They work very hard to get authors comfortable and in love with them so they can lower the boom over their heads, which equates to, “Um no, you misunderstood. I said your book would be available to bookstores, not in the bookstores,” or “all agents charge processing fees; it goes toward editing your book, mailing and printing costs to send hard copies to publishers. You’ll get your money back when your book sells.”

By the time you hear this, you’re pliable and willing to believe them because you like them. After all, flim flam artists aren’t nice, are they? Oh, you bet your Aunt Gertie’s pumpkin pie they’re nice. It’s all they have.

And what happens when you begin to question their tactics? Out comes the abusive and rude emails. They’ll tell you you’re ungrateful or don’t know anything about the business. They will send you nastygrams about how you’re not promoting enough.

This is all about research, dear authors. If an agent has no verifiable sales to solid houses, take a step back. If a publisher only prints up 25 books and tells you, “Of course we have distribution – through Ingram and Baker and Taylor,” take a step back.

Don’t let your desire to be published color your survival instincts. There is NO WAY you can make lemonade out of lemons – not in this business. If you’re with a scank agent or editor, you will not succeed, no matter how hard you try. Cut bait and move to a new pond where the Less Than Zeros aren’t allowed to swim.

Tough advice – open letter to new writers

October 8, 2009

Whether I’m at a conference, on a writer’s board, or reading an email, the lament is always the same:

“I thought writing is tough…geez, that was a snap compared to sending my writing out for query. It’s soul-sucking to receive rejection after rejection. “

Dear New Writer:
Let me just say right now that this business isn’t a matter of slamming down few thousand words and bam, you’re ready to query. You’re up against many extremely savvy writers who understand how the business works.

In the grand scheme of things, who do you think an agent will more likely pay attention to; the new writer who knows next to nothing, or the savvy writer who understands where his book fits in the marketplace, his comparative titles, writes a thorough pitch that is all detail and not filled with description? My money is on the savvy writer.

It’s like the first year intern trying to perform heart surgery. He doesn’t have enough knowledge to do much more than make an incision. So why on earth would a patient ask an intern to clean out his arteries? He’s going to pick a doc who knows what he’s doing.

Take some time to learn the business, and this will cut down on your angst. Treat your writing as a business, not a hobby. There are many brick walls, and the more you know, the more likely you’ll be able to weather those tough times. It will also improve your writing.

I am the biggest fan of [insert genre here] alive, so why can’t I get noticed?

This may be the case, but it doesn’t matter one whit to an agent or editor. You have to learn how to sell your story in an effective manner so you’ll get partial or full requests. That takes understanding the business. Besides, what’s the hurry? It’s far better to know what you’re doing and be confident about it rather than scratching your head wondering why you’re piling up the rejection letters.

Overworked and Underpaid Editor

Helpful factors for success

August 14, 2009

In a discussion on another writer’s board, the subject of success came up, and writers wanted to know what factors equate success. Obviously this is a subjective thing because what works for one doesn’t necessarily work for another. However, my dear friend and talented writer, Sally Zigmond over at The Elephant in the Writing Room, wrote what I felt was the broadest and most helpful list I’ve seen in a long time.

I asked dear Sally if I could share her tomes of wisdom, and she readily agreed because she’s rather shameless that way, and I had to promise copious amounts of chocolate and a pitcher of the beagle’s margaritas. Sally, dear, both are winging their way across the pond to you.

I’ve been asked how I achieved my (small) writing successes. I like to think it’s my sheer unadulterated genius (joke) but in my case it’s many things, including:

Listening and learning

  • Listening to the experiences of others.
  • Listening out for opportunities and acting on them.
  • Learning the craft and learning by reading everything that’s humanly possible in your genre.
  • Learning the difference between those who are worth listening to and learning from and those who can safely be ignored.

Good manners

If I’m published or a win anything, I thank the editor/judge/organiser.

If someone says something that upsets you, think twice before leaping in to query their parents’ marriage certificate.

A sense of proportion

Being rejected isn’t fun but it’s no big deal. You’re still alive, aren’t you? Your children are well. Agents and editors are like the rest of us. Some are fantastic, some can be rude or even crooks, but they don’t have a secret plan to crush your dreams. They’re just doing their job. Doctors tell people bad news all the time but it’s not their fault. The same with agents and editors.

Your writing may be very special to you (And so it should be) but it’s just a collection of words to anyone else. Don’t be precious about not changing a word and try and see it through another’s eyes as well.

A sense of humour


It’s all that and a bag of potato chips. Many thanks to you for your wonderful insights.I hope all writers can look at these tips and incorporate them into their personal tackle boxes. It’ll make the path to writing a much nicer place to walk.

Oh, and Sally? Should the beagle return home wearing a Bowler hat, carrying an umbrella, and barking with a British accent, I’ll hold you personally responsible.

Grammarians of the world – untie!

August 5, 2009

Ok, make that “unite.” Today’s boggle comes after reading five submissions – all were grammatical disasters. Syntax errors, spelling mistakes, punctuation disasters, subject/verb displacement, possessive confusion, indefinite article misuse – these all serve to make me want to drown my sorrows in the beagle’s margaritas.

My distress is two-fold. The more immediate of my suffering centers on why an author would submit such a disaster in the first place. Do they not know or care that their knowledge of English would fit on the back of matchbook cover? My rhetoric isn’t meant to be insulting, but one of genuine shock. One of the most important writer’s tools is understanding grammar, so it blows out my space/time continuum to see sentences like this:

The group of drunk beagles were a sight to behold.

The proper way to write this is:

The group of drunk beagles was a sight to behold.

“Group” is the subject of the verb “was.” Many writers feel the first sentence is right because they’re looking at the plural “beagles.” Since it’s closest to the verb “was,” the assumption is that “drunk beagles” is the subject. It isn’t.

Grammar is a writer’s tool. It’s like a plumber coming to your house without his toolbox. You’d be tippy tapping your foot saying, “time is money, dude, and you’re wasting mine because you didn’t come prepared.” Guess what? A manuscript that logs a Force 5 on the Grammar-Disaster Scale is a waste of any editor or agent’s time as well because the author didn’t come prepared. Whether it’s apathy or ignorance, it’s an instant rejection because I don’t have the time to teach writers grammar. It’s assumed writers know the tools of their trade.

And this leads me to the second part of my misery: Apathy

If I had a dime for every time I heard a writer say, “I don’t need to worry about grammar; my editor will clean it up,” I’d be able to fire the beagle and hire a real secretary. For starters, this statement implies the writer – I refuse to call them “authors” – is too self-absorbed to learn his trade. And he couldn’t be more wrong. The only known cure for a grammatical disaster is a rejection letter. Period. Any writer who lives under this misconception will be perennially unpublished. Or incredibly lucky.

Moreover, I don’t understand this kind of thinking. Since when did it become acceptable to do anything less than your best? When did “good enough” replace personal pride and the satisfaction of doing a job well? This downturn in societal indifference leads to soggy results. “Hey, who cares if I can’t conjugate a verb or spell Mississippi?” Who cares? Well, I do, for one. But YOU should care. Do you want to be seen as someone who must rely on others to fix your work because you don’t care enough to be self-sufficient? What happened to personal responsibility?

If you know your Grammar ‘O Meter barely registers a single ping, then you need to spit and polish your education. Stop your writing and tend to the most important skill you’ll ever learn. If you can’t communicate effectively, how on earth do you expect to write an effective story, or be taken seriously? We aren’t going to clean up your mess for you. I give you my personal guar-an-tee on that. Writing with confidence is like drinking the perfect chocolate martini,  skiing the perfect mountain, or writing a satisfying scene. It’s knowing that you worked hard to attain a gift that will aid in your success.

After all, anyone can be the plumber who forgot his tools.

How to lose an editor in ten seconds

August 4, 2009

Number 1:

The book have been partly edited and is in descent shape, however there are parts that I have intentionally left unedited, in their raw form.

If a manuscript has only been “partially” edited, then I submit that it’s not in decent shape, as the author insists. This author lost major goodie points for sending inferior work. He made the beagle want to contact her hit team for admitting it.

Number 2:
Sending a full manuscript with your query. Major bad news beagle biting no-no. Authors should never send a manuscript – or pages – unless invited to do so. Upon opening up said manuscript [let’s not go into the reasons why I didn’t just delete it. Sometimes there is no reason behind half the things I do. I blame the beagle for this.] and see that the author failed to turn off their Track Changes feature in Word. That means I can see every weency editing change they made. Actually, it proved to be pretty entertaining.

I cannot urge this enough; before you attach a few pages, a few chapter, or your entire manuscript [and only because you’ve been invited to do so], open up those pages and take a final spin through the pages. Make sure you’re sending only your very best. And for the love of all that’s holy, turn off the darned Track Changes.

Number 3:
Sending an improperly formatted manuscript. Instead of indented paragraphs, double spacing, and TNR 12 point, the manuscript is formatted like an email – single spaced, no indentations, paragraph separations are done with an extra carriage space. And they used Comic Sans! This is instant death for me because there is no excuse for this. All a writer need do is turn on their computer and google “manuscript formatting.”

It’s like working in a fine restaurant. Your customer orders the most expensive meal on the menu and upon presenting him with the bill, the customer says, “sorry, dude, no can pay.” First thing out of your mouth would be, “what the hellcats is this?” This is not what you expected right? You’re in a fine restaurant, and you expect that your customers are well-heeled enough to pay for their meal. Well, I’m a fine little publisher, and I expect my “customers” to be equally well-heeled in the art of submitting manuscripts. This is a noob mistake, and unlike the waiter – who will probably call the cops – I will run in the opposite direction. I don’t mind new writers. I do mind noobs.

Number 4:

My book is literary action/adventure

The hell you say. This is another genre bender, and this is never a good idea. Especially when you try to bend literary fiction with anything remotely pretending to be action/adventure. My dear friend Sally Zigmond defines literary fiction far better than I.

Good literary fiction, whilst not intellectual and pretentious navel-gazing, isn’t meant to tell a plot-driven adventure story. It’s like mixing barbecue sauce into your chocolate mousse.

Sally, remind me to keep the barbecue sauce/choccie mousse idea away from the beagle. She’s given to trying new things in the kitche. But Sally is right. Literary fiction is about as far away from action/adventure as I am from wearing spiked heels and a beehive hairdo. Resist the temptation to add “literary fiction” to your work unless it truly is literary fiction. Many bungle the definition of literary fiction and think it means that the writer uses big words. It goes beyond big words – literary fiction is a lifestyle, so classify your work accordingly

Number 5:
Ok, this won’t lose me in ten seconds, but it does make one eyebrow yank toward the ceiling. It’s a silly thing, really, but it all goes to behaving as the consummate the professional. I’m talking about your email address. Many people share an email address with their significant other or – God forbid – the entire family.

There is nothing more Wal-Mart-ish than receiving a serious query letter addressed from or Ew. It’s even more confusing if your email address is in your hubby’s name, but you are the writer. I’ve sent countless rejections to a writer’s husband because I was in a hurry and didn’t look at the person signing the email.

Dudes. Dudettes. Get your own email account. It’s the professional thing to do. The beagle has a fire sale going on right now for cheapie email accounts.

I’m sure there are other things that can make me run for the hills, but these are the big ticket items for this week. Next week could promise a whole new set of luggage.

Drive-by verbing

June 29, 2009

I love clever writing, but I have my limits. Some of those limits are adverb-a-tosis and organizational-sepsis. There are a ton more, but what I’ve been seeing lately is a crime that leaves me begging the beagle to assemble her hit squad of German Shepherds. This is drive-by verbing – where through the magic of our imaginations we transport nouns into verbs.

Oh, I get it, all right. We have all kinds of accepted uses:

  • The beagle treed a squirrel, thinking it was the same beast that stole her beer at last weekend’s Poodle-Palooza.
  • Still hung over, she boomeranged onto the first branch.
  • I googled local AA meetings for the beagle.

These are accepted “verbs” that we all use, so I don’t mind seeing them in a manuscript, provided they are used in moderation. But I’m less sure when authors create new ones for the sake of being cute or clever. If it’s in the course of dialog, then this is fine. Heck, authors get away with murder in dialog that they can’t when it’s a part of the narrative.

See, the idea is not to make the narrative more clever than your characters, and drive-by verbing is one of those hinkey things that make for unbalanced storytelling. Great narrative, dull characters. It disturbs the space/time continuum and makes my teeth itch.

I had two manuscripts where the authors thought it would be great fun to do some drive-by verbing which resulted in my sucking down a choccie martini while grabbing a form rejection letter.

“She calendared Ella for the following week.”
“Roy dirtballed the eviction notice and spat into the ground.”
“Her emotions umbrellaed, matching the pouring rain.”

Okay, okay, I hear you screeching, “enough already! Make it go away.”

So what’s the problem with drive-by verbing? It invariably makes the author sound “ignernt.” On the face of it, I thought the offending authors were intellectually challenged. But as I continued to read, I saw a pattern of attempts to be cutting edge and clever with their narrative, while their dialog sat in sticky, uninteresting goo.

Please, for the love of all that’s holy, avoid drive-by verbing unless it’s in the dialog, AND it makes sense for your character. Otherwise, you will be held solely responsible for our painful groaning and heavy drinking. This type of thing makes the beagle margarita herself into a coma. And we don’t want that, do we?

[Mild apologies to the authors of these debacles, but, well, really…you needed a good spanking.]

Research what you don’t know

June 17, 2009

There is nothing cooler than a well researched story. There is nothing more fraudulent and lazy than a poorly researched story. With that in mind, I want to address this question:

Why am I letting the research dictate the story? Do I have to back off reality and let the fiction flow, or is realism really that important to the general reader?

Obviously it depends on what needs to be researched. If we’re talking a street in Big Town USA, then who cares? Make it up; we’ll play along. But it’s a real buzzkill if the author blows ingredients for scones in the 1800s or the mating rituals of the bluebelly sapsucker. Readers will fillet an author if they get their facts wrong, and they lose all credibility.

I had an author whose main character had MS. I didn’t think anything about it, but my editor has MS and she went ballistic, saying there was no way an MS patient would behave in the manner the author had written. The author’s reply; “I didn’t bother researching MS.” Argh! Since this novel’s foundations were based on MS, the lack of research pretty much blew a hole in her entire story.

Research doesn’t just stop once you found out what you need to know. You need to “over-research” in order to know what’s important and what’s fluff.

An editor told me to never let the facts interfere with good fiction.

I see things like this and I’m forced to send the beagle out with her hit squad of unruly German Shepherds. Writers who take this advice literally risk having their readers skewer them. The first thing they’ll think is, “If they were wrong about this, then they’re probably wrong about that.” They lose faith in the writer.

As an example, I read a book that took place in the Amazon. The story had this big emotional love scene on the banks of the Amazon. I nearly fell over laughing because that would never happen. I spent 17 bug-filled days in the Peruvian Amazon (doing research for my second novel) and I can attest that the couple in question would have passed out from blood loss due to the ravenous millions of mosquitoes that come out when the sun goes down. This blatant disregard for researching her surroundings ruined the rest of the book for me.

Don’t go overboard
Now, this isn’t to say that readers will want your head on a platter if you have a scene in a made-up bar in Washington D.C. on a particular street. That is fictional license, and that isn’t what I’m talking about. Make up your bar, street, school, town, whatever. This is fine. However, if you have a Catholic ceremony, you better make darn sure you have it right or you may find yourself dodging lightening bolts.

Readers notice every little niggly detail. They don’t mind made-up things, but they do mind getting established facts wrong. Getting it wrong takes the reader right out of your story. They begin to look for other faults. That’s why Body Trauma: The Writer’s Guide to Wounds and Injuries by Dr. David Page and our upcoming release The Writers Guide to the Courtroom: Let’s Quill All the Lawyers by Donna Ballman, J.D. are so important. They offer one stop shopping research for writers so they can avoid the common problems that often accompany stories that involve these elements.

Having gone through exhaustive research myself, I can verify that research oftentimes makes writing the story easier because you’re in possession of all the facts. You are now fully immersed in your story and confident that you have a good handle on your subject. You know you’re believable. It helps round out who your MCs are, how they react, how they think, how they work.

Don’t fear the time factor:
Research takes an inordinate amount of time. I spent an entire year researching and writing my novel, and my payback was a bevy of medical people asking what kind of medicine I practice. I also heard from readers who used my book as a resource for coping or inspiration, complete with bookmarked pages and highlighted passages. Had I blown one single detail, those readers would have tossed the book down and called me a fraud, even though this is a character-driven story. The long and short of it is this; if I expect my readers to follow my MCs into the abyss, I have to make sure all aspects of the little parts are bulletproof – no matter how long it took me to get it.

I’m positive that it took me longer to write my novel because I got so engrossed in my research. There were days I’d slip into my best pair of cranky pants over what I perceived as wasting many hours that could have been spent on writing. I quickly realized that even though most of the stuff I researched wouldn’t make it into the book, it might very well be used elsewhere – like the second in the series. The research was fascinating, and I felt like I was connecting to my MCs on a much deeper level. The long and short of it is that writers have a job to tell the best story they’re capable of telling. Research is normally a part of storytelling, so why would anyone want to shortcut such a vital piece of the puzzle?

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