Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Book Country's Genre Map

by Deren Hansen

I recently suggested that Genre is no more or less complicated than identifying your audience. Put another way, genre is a crude, pre-Internet way of approximating, "customers who liked this also liked these others."

The problem of categorization doesn't go away in the coming e-book utopia where we won't be limited by traditional bookstore shelving constraints. In fact, the always-on world of digital media multiplies the opportunities (or demands) to know what other books your is like.

So, how can you confidently determine the genre of the book without reading every other genre? The good folk at Book Country have produced an interactive genre map. (The example here is only an image.) Click on a genre to see a list of representative books.

One of the ways to use the map is as a guide for your reading. Once you've chosen which of the five general genre feels most like home, go through the sub-genres and make sure you've read at least one book in each list.

Still not sure where your book belongs because it's a thrilling romantic mystery set in a future where a technological society battles medievaloid magic users? Try the exhaustive, pair-wise comparison exercise: for each pair of genres, if you can only choose one, which genre best characterizes your book. Then tally up the winner for each pair. The genre with the highest score is your primary genre.

I should point out that the genres in this map are for adult fiction. Young Adult and Middle Grade books can be classified in similar terms, but were, until recently, all shelved together. Barnes & Noble now has different shelves for YA genres like paranormal. In other words, while genre boundaries aren't quite as strictly drawn in children's literature, you can't ignore the question.

Deren blogs at The Laws of Making.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Dream a little Dream

Have you ever written a book based on a dream? Scrambled to record the details of an amazing dream you had as soon as you woke up? If you have, you're not alone.

My first novel (yet unpublished) came out of a dream. First and pretty much only time that's ever happened. But for my first novel, it was a great experience to try to recreate a few single images lingering in my brain into a stand-alone work that invites the reader into the life of the dream.

The most popular "dream turned book" story has to be "Twilight." Stephanie Meyer, love her or hate her, had a dream with one image from her Twilight series. That single moment lead to the multi-billionaire franchise we all know (love or hate) now. You can't search very far-- okay, you can't get a single result, honestly-- without finding "Stephanie Meyer" at the top of the list. She has become the queen of "dream" success stories.

That got me wondering what other books were started in the unconscious minds of authors. Here's a few websites I found to answer just that.

Do you pay attention to your dreams as a source of inspiration? How do you do it? Pen & notebook on the bedside table?


Monday, November 28, 2011

Take a Deep Breath, and Revise

By Julie Daines

By now you should be wrapping up your NaNoWriMo projects. I finished my 50K over the holiday weekend. *Wipes Brow*

The next step - Revisions!

Here are a few tips on revising that work for me:

-Let it rest for a few days. A week or two is best, so the themes can percolate.

-Read the last two or three chapters first--without making any changes--and then go back to chapter one. We know our characters so much better by the end of a book--what the main conflicts are, themes that have emerged, the character arc. Keeping the ending in mind will strengthen the beginning.

-See my post on using a timeline to keep track of everything. You can do a lot of jumping around during revisions, and this helps keep things straight.

-Don't be afraid to kill your darlings. You may have written something awesome, but that doesn't mean you can't write something better. If it doesn't fit, it will only cause blisters!

-GET FEEDBACK! Critique groups, beta readers... anything. And listen. If you don't know what advice to accept and what not to, read this post on Storyfix.

-Ask yourself why? Why did my character think that? Why does this upset her? Why did he just say that? Most first drafts are lacking in interiority. Let the reader understand what motivates your character, and what it is that your character really wants.

What are some of your tips for revising?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Road to Writing for Children and Teens by VS Grenier

"It is the magic of fiction that allows the young reader to 'escape' from ordinary day-to-day doings and to live more fully in a heightened, highlighted version of life, with adventure possible at every turn of the page"
—Lee Wyndham, Author 

Every time I think everything has been said about writing, something new pops up. I don’t mind admitting I’m wrong. Heck, I think that’s one reason why I love writing for children and teens, but knowing the nuts and bolts is important before you sit down to write, especially for the children and YA market.

Writing for children and teens can be a rewarding experience—both personally and professionally. The insight you gain as a writer is un-measureable. It also means opening yourself to a child’s point of view and rediscovering what it feels like to learn something new, to experience something for the first time, to let your imagination run wild. However, children’s writing isn’t all fun and games. In many respects, it is more difficult than writing for adults because the writer has so much less in common with the reader. Or so we think, and just because your readers will be children/teens doesn’t mean you can pay any less attention to the basics.
In fact, bright, curious young readers demand realistic, compelling characters and exciting plots just as much—if not more so—than their adult counterparts. 

If you are thinking of taking up writing for children and teens, first be warned it is not an easy way to make money. If you’re in the game for money…then forget about writing in this genre. True, there are always stories of beginning writers (J.K. Rowling, Brandon Mull, Stephanie Myers) who will ship out a children’s story and sell it to a publisher on the first or second try, and wind up with a very successful book. But for the rest of us…entering this profession takes years of practice, self-education (I highly stress this part) and much frustration. And that’s only the beginning.

So here is my road map for those of you who want to start down this journey. The suggest material comes from my own research as I walked down this path and now reflect back on my own personal expertise/experiences. Much of the information will also apply to other areas of writing as well. I hope this road map will help your writing and personal growth.

Road Map to Becoming a Children/YA Author:
1)      Buy books on the subject. There are many books on writing and many of them focus on different genres such as picture books, chapter books and YA novels. Some even focus on techniques for writing for young readers. You can never have too many of these books and even a few not specific to your genre but to writing in general. Here is the list of books I first started off with:
a)      The Business of Writing for Children by Aaron Shepard
b)      You Can Write Children’s Books by Tracey E. Dils
c)      Picture Writing: A New Approach to Writing for Kids and Teens by Anastasia Suen
d)     From Inspiration to Publication: How to Succeed as a Children’s Writers by the Institute of Children’s Literature
e)      The Story Factor by Annette Simmons
f)       Creating Plot by J. Madison Davis
2)      Signing up for writing workshops/ecourses. To hone your writing, you need to take writing courses at a local college, writers group/conference and/or online. I cannot stress the importance of these workshops. Some will teach you new techniques while others will share information you may not have known or heard about. Here is my list of places where you can take writing courses:
a)      The Institute of Children’s Literature (I did take their basic course)
b)      The Muse Online Conference (This is free and in the month of October)
c)      Writer’s Digest (They offer different ecourses throughout the year. Even though I have not taken one, many of my fellow writers have really enjoyed their courses.)
d)     Local colleges or continuing education workshops offered by your city or local college campus. (I teach for our continuing ed program through Dixie State College and my students here really enjoyed what I have shared with them. This is a cost effective way to learn a lot in a short period of time.)
e)      SFC Publishing online workshops (The SFC team has put together some online workshops to help those wanting or already writing for children and teens. We truly want to help you hone your skills.)
f)       The Working Writers Coach (Another program I haven’t taken, but know many who how have and say it was one of the best things they have done for their writing.)
You can also do a Google search for many other online workshops on writing. But before you sign up for any of them…first ask fellow writing buddies if they have heard about it. You don’t want to spend lots of money on a program that isn’t right for you.
3)      Join a critique group. I’m sure you have heard this one repeatedly. There is a reason for this…it works. Most critique groups have new and advanced writers meeting together, sharing their experiences and knowledge. Critique groups are not only good to help hone your writing, but also to make connections with fellow writers who may one day help you see your book in print.
4)      Sign up for writing newsletters and magazines. Make sure you don’t overdo it. You want to make sure you’re not just receiving them and not reading them. What good is it if you don’t read the articles within?
5)      Join a local and/or online writing group. There are many writing organizations out there for writers. I’m a member of a few and have been a member of others in the past. These groups are wonderful not only to help you hone your writing, but also in sharing publication information, contract advice, etc. The connections are valuable and will pay off down the road. Here are a few groups I suggest:
a)      The CBI Clubhouse (Fightin’ Bookworms)
b)      League of Utah Writers (they have local chapters throughout Utah)
c)      WriteOnOnc
e)      Verla Kay’s Writing Board
f)       Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators
g)      MuseIt Up Club

Plus check out Facebook, Yahoo Groups and Google for more online groups and writing resources.

VS Grenier is an award-winning author and editor who learned how to hone her writing skills at the Institute of Children’s Literature, and has membership in the Society of Children’s Book Writer’s and Illustrators (SCBWI), the National Association of Professional Women (NAPW), the League of Utah Writers (HWG chapter), and Musing Our Children. Her works include Babysitting SugarPaw, the Best of Stories for Children Magazine Volume 1 anthology and over 30 short stories, articles, and crafts for children along with newsletter articles for writers.

She is the Founder & Owner of Stories for Children Publishing LLC, and also is chief editor for Halo Publishing; in addition, to running her own editorial and critique services. Learn more about her at

Friday, November 25, 2011


I am thankful for being a writer. Writing helps me keep my imagination active, provides endless entertainment, and allows me to explore worlds and ideas in ways reading alone doesn't. Best of all, writing has given me access to some great communities of writers, like Utah Children's Writers and, especially, Sharks & Pebbles. Thanks to all of you for your part!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Text Metrics

by Deren Hansen

Motivational business rhetoric is full of old saws like, "if you can't measure it, you can't improve it." While true in straightforward situations, like how many widgets per hour come off an assembly line, as we stray from the well-ordered fields of the purely quantitative realm into the qualitative wild lands, metrics become more nebulous--and in some cases do more harm than good.

So, in full knowledge of their debatable benefits, let's look at some of the text metric tools you can use to improve your understanding of your manuscript.

Word count is the most important metric for queries. Microsoft Word 2010 has a running word count in the status bar. With earlier versions, File|Info (Alt-F, I) brings up the Document Properties dialog where you can view the Statistics tab. (The same dialog is available in Word 2010 via File|Info|Properties|Advanced Properties.) OpenOffice/LibreOffice has a Word Count item in the Tools menu.

Metrics are most useful for comparison. You can use the tools at Renaissance Learning to look up the word counts of published books like yours to see if your manuscript is in the right ball park.

There are a number of other web-based tools like the word frequency and phrase frequency counters at

The good folks at have an advanced text analyzer for members in the Tools area. They offer everything from overall readability to word and phrase frequency.* It's a rich resource geared toward educators. There is no charge to register and by doing so you can store and compare up to twenty texts. is a simpler site that offers a similar set of metrics and doesn't require registration.

And if that's not enough, you can have the Gender Genie predict the gender of the author implied by your text.

While none of these tools will guarantee publication, it's worth your while to see what insights you can glean. At very least, run some representative chapters through the tools that show word and phrase frequency and see if you have a problem with pet words.

One final caution: while it's highly unlikely that anyone will appropriate your manuscript if you enter it in one of the web-based tools, there's no need to analyze more than a few chapters to get a good sense of what's going on with your text.

* UsingEnglish lists the following features for their advanced text analyzer: "General Statistics, Readability Ststistics, Word Analysis (Distribution, Length, Frequency, Word Cloud, Hard Words), Phrase Analysis, Lexicon Analysis, and Graded Text Analysis."

Deren blogs at The Laws of Making.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Anne McCaffrey

R.I.P. Anne McCaffrey, age 85. I read her Dragonriders of Pern trilogy way back in college and loved it. Always sad to see the great ones go.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Two Favorite Phrases

by Scott Rhoades

Today, I thought I'd write about two of my favorite phrases.

What If...?

"What if...?" is the phrase that leads to story ideas. To generate a basic story concept, ask yourself a few what-if questions. They can be easy or outlandish or whatever. What if aliens landed in Saint George and discovered they were allergic to spaghetti? What if dogs could talk? What if Murray High School was really a secret training ground for the CIA?

Write your questions down, and maybe combine some of them. What if giant mushrooms took over Provo and what if Utah banned disco music, but what if Donna Summer's disco music was the only thing that could kill the mushrooms, but what if the Bee Gees made them more deadly? And what if all Donna Summer records were destroyed during the Great Disco Purge of 2116?

Let's Pretend...

I've always loved sentences that start with these two words. It's related to "What if?" but involves some action. You're not only asking a question, you're acting it out. It's a playful phrase that can lead to almost anything.

Writing is all about pretending, about bringing ideas to life and exploring what could happen if they were real. That playful aspect is perhaps my favorite thing about writing.

How about you? What words or phrases get your creative juices flowing?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

NaNoWriMo check in~Inquiring minds want to know

How many of you are furiously working on your NaNo goals?
How's it going?
Did you set daily word goals?
Are you working on a brand new story or one that's been waiting to be written?
Did you do an outline or are you winging it?
Computer or pen and paper?
Edit as you go or after November 30?

Wait, what are you doing here? You don't have time to read blog posts! Get back to work AND good luck!!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

"Green Screen" Distraction-free Text Editors

by Deren Hansen

I started playing with computers when green screen, character-mode displays were state-of-the art (I preferred amber over green, but that's another story). Then the original Macintosh (yes, that's what they were before they became hip enough to afford a three-letter name), splashed onto the scene with a full-time graphical user interface (GUI).

A few years later, folks from the English department at the University of Delaware published a study in which they argued that the quality of freshman papers written on a Macintosh was lower than those written on PC-class computers with character-mode displays. Oh, the papers produced on Macs looked better with well-laid-out text and proportional fonts, but (so the authors of the study claimed) the content of those papers was less well-thought-out than the papers composed without graphical blandishments.* They suggested that this was because the students tended to believe that their papers were good (and more importantly finished) because they looked good.

The study and its claims were controversial. But I think there was a kernel of truth in the observation that there's value in a writing system that gets out from between you and your words: that removes even the little distractions like formatting.

Of course, now that we all use graphical interfaces the point may seem moot or at best hopelessly retro. Perhaps, but there are several applications for various platforms that give you a full screen with nothing there but your words in a console font.

I use a package called WriteMonkey on my Windows systems.

Having an editor in which I can focus entirely on my words helps me use my limited writing time well.

You can, of course, achieve a similar effect with the Full Screen mode in your standard word processor. Perhaps it's the retro angle, but I enjoy the Matrix-like way in which the black background fades away and the glowing words float in prose-space.

Of course, life is never as simple as it should be and WriteMonkey has its drawbacks, most of which come back to the fact that it is a text editor, not a word processor. This means that you get plain double quotes instead of the nice opening and closing quotes that Word supplies as you type. Also, Write Monkey doesn't convert a pair of dashes into an em-dash (again, like Word).

I turned this liability into a feature: after writing about a chapter with WriteMonkey, I import the text into Word and use the fact that I need to correct the quotes and em-dashes as an excuse to edit the new material.

For those of you who prefer Macs, I understand that Writeroom provides similar functionality. There's also JDarkRoom, which is written in Java and should run on your platform of choice.

Deren blogs at The Laws of Making.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Teen Voice: Vocabulary

By Julie Daines

"I hate you!"
"This is why I'm moving out when I'm eighteen!"
"I have no control over my life!"

Yes, those are all phrases I have heard from my own teen-age sons. Frequently. I have three.

So, I thought I'd do some posts on capturing that teen voice, starting with vocabulary. Here are a few do's and don'ts.

Be Extremely Careful of Overusing Slang
According to Agent George Nicholson, "Slang dates good fiction more easily than any other single thing." 

Slang varies by region, so too much slang makes your book non-universal. If you do use a lot of slang, make sure it reflects something about the character and adds to the depth of the story. Don't just use it to sound teen, teens are expert at picking out phony voice.

The best writing has a richness of language, not just a scramble of slang. Use vocabulary that reflects the time and place you're writing about.

Don't Dumb it Down
But at the same time, it has to sound like something a teen (specifically the one in your book) would actually say. Teens, in some ways, are smarter than we give them credit for. As long as the voice is authentic and rings true, teen readers are open to a wide range of voicing styles.

Mix it Up
Don't give all your characters a similar sounding voice. Vary vocabulary and rhythm to create contrast and interest. Some teens never stop talking, some are only one word anwerers. Some rely on humor, some on emotional extremes. (See examples above.)

Keep the Narrative in Voice
Make sure the narrative parts are in the voice of the POV character and not the author's. Maintain continuity.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Anything Goes Day: Odd 'n' Ends

I don't have a lot of time today, so I thought I'd just toss out some odds and ends I have in notes. Feel free to put in your own odds and ends and interesting little notes in the comments.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Receiving Critical Input

I had to interrupt my regularly scheduled NaNo to post a link to this fantastic article on the StoryFix blog. Every author or writer needs to read this great advice on accepting criticism, and choosing which criticisms to accept. 

Do it now.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Dropbox for File Synchronization and Evergreen Backup

by Deren Hansen

Since the advent of personal computers, one of the perennial issues is backups. Elsa Neal at The Blood-Red Pencil, for example, discusses some quick and easy techniques for backing up your work, among which her favorite is to email your files to another account.

Backup is one of the few areas where more really is better, both in terms of frequency and techniques. As Elsa mentions, you can back up to another folder on your hard drive, to an external hard drive, to a thumb drive, to a shared location on a local network, and to a web service. If you want a more permanent record, back up to write-once media like CD/DVD ROM. The best practice is to use several different devices and methods instead of relying on a single kind of backup.

So far, so good. There's nothing revolutionary here. It's good advice that we'll likely honor more in the breach than the observance.

But all of that was simply to pave the way to telling you about a web service with which I'm quite taken called DropBox.

You see, I have a problem. I like to write on several different computers. I've dealt with this problem by using a thumb drive to move files among the various computers. That works well when I'm in the middle of drafting a manuscript and have only a few files to manage. But it becomes burdensome when I'm working with a larger number of files.

Enter DropBox. It's a folder that stays synchronized across a set of computers and a password-protected web service. Change a file on one system and you'll find the new version of the file ready for you on the second system.

DropBox is primarily a synchronization service, not a strict backup. It does offer a 30-day history of file changes, but it won't help if you need to keep older versions of the files for the long term. That said, if you chronically fail to keep your resolution to backup your work, DropBox is a good way to guarantee you have the latest copy of your files in more than one place.

Oh, and best of all, DropBox is free for the first 2 GB.

Deren blogs at The Laws of Making.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Free Writing EBooks From Writer's Digest

In honor of NaNoWriMo, Writer's Digest is giving away seven ebooks about writing, including one of my favorite writing books, Hooked by Les Edgerton. Head over to now and download these books in the format you prefer.

And if you're doing NaNoWriMo, try not to let these books distract you. It'll be tough.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Create an eBook in 5 Simple Steps -Guest Post By Karen Cioffi

You know . . . an easy way to turn your knowledge into possible income is to create a booklet or e-book. And, with an e-book, if you use sources such as Kindle, and, it doesn’t have to cost a penny. It’s as easy as putting the pieces of a puzzle together.

5 Simple Steps to Creating an eBook

1. Create content

Create content in a simple word document. The content can be anything you think your readers or target market want or need. In addition, it can be any length you decide upon. You can create a simple 10 page e-book, or a 100+ page e-book. You can also create a compilation of articles you’ve already written on a particular topic.

Tip: It’s wise to include an accuracy disclaimer and a copyright reference.

2. Organize Your Content

Whether your product is a few pages or 100 pages, having it organized is important. The e-book needs to offer easy reading and clarity, along with value. If you are creating a longer product, divide the content or articles into parts chapters, and provide a Table of Contents (TOC) page.

Be sure to use a large and bold font for section headings and it’s advisable to include page breaks for each section.

TIP: have plenty of white space and include an About the Author page.

3. Include Images and Tweak Your Content

You can add an image at the beginning of each section or where ever you see fit. This is another trick to make the e-book more interesting to read.

Check out free clipart or images if you’re giving the e-book away for free. If you’ll be selling the e-book, find images on ‘paying’ sites.

Tip: the images will help break up the monotony of straight content.

4. Create a Cover

Every book needs a cover, so you will need to create one, and after it’s done, be sure to click Page Break.

5. Turning Your Word Doc into a PDF

Now it’s time to magically turn your word document into an e-book. There are a number of free PDF creator software applications to do this.

If you don’t already have a PDF converter, it’s time to do an online search for “free pdf creator.” Just be sure the one you choose is Adobe compatible.

It’s that simple!

Karen Cioffi is a published author, ghostwriter, and editor. You can find out more about Karen and her books at: (writing and marketing information and services) (Day’s End Lullaby information and reviews) (middle-grade fantasy adventure, Walking Through Walls)

Karen’s newsletter, A Writer’s World, offers useful writing and book marketing information and strategies. Subscribe today and get two e-books on writing and/or marketing.

You can find out more about Karen Cioffi’s current World of Ink Author/Book Tour schedule at There will be giveaways, reviews, interviews, guest posts and more. Make sure to stop by and interact with Karen and the hosts at the different stops by leaving comments and/or questions.

In addition, come listen to Blog Talk Radio’s World of Ink Network show: Stories for Children at The hosts VS Grenier, Kris Quinn Chirstopherson and Irene Roth will be chatting with Karen Cioffi about her books, writing, the publishing industry and experiences with virtual tours. Karen will also be sharing writing tips and trials, and tribulations of the writer’s life. The show will be live November 21, 2011 at 2pm EST.