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Articles I have written on getting Published


How to Write a Book in 19 Steps
Why Writers Need Critique Groups
Should I Self-Publish or Seek a Big or Small Publisher?
Why Do I Need a Blurb?
Should I Advertise My Book on Radio?

How to Write a Book in 19 Steps:


(Authors Note: If I had been given these tips when I started my first book in 1994, I wouldn’t have spent four years writing a novel that was three times too long (226,800 words), that broke nearly every literary rule and had so many spelling and grammatical errors that it still prompts an Microsoft Word error message that says, “There are too many spelling errors in this document to correct.” No Kidding!)


Park Your ButtStep 1. Park your butt in a chair and write "something" EVERY DAY! Writers write, but we find all kinds of excuses not to, even when a story is burning a hole in our thoughts. Life gets in the way, so plan a time, any time that you can spend in front your computer and write down all of those “thoughts” you’ve had the rest of the day. I do my best “plotting” while driving in traffic. If I’m not plotting, I’m listening to audio books and improving my craft. That’s why I ‘m totally clueless as to what is popular on the radio. When I’m home, I’m either reading or marketing my writing. You simply cannot be a writer and not READ! So, read everything you can in your genre and write something, even if it is only 15 minutes or 500 words. Set a goal every day and stick to it.




Writers group from hellStep 2. Join a writers group for feedback and inspiration. Writing a book can be a lonely process, but the inspiration and critiques you will receive from a writers group is the glue that keeps you in the chair writing. Other writers can provide the critical feedback that family and friends simply can’t provide. Plus, they bring a wealth of their own experiences and help you avoid making costly mistakes. A good writers group might have members from other genres and even playwrights and screenwriters who can help with pacing, style and conflict. The comments, critiques and praise you’ll receive from a writers group is invaluable and one of the best decisions you’ll ever make if you decide to write a book. So join a local writer's group and try to attend every chance you can. But maybe not this group...


Captain CraigStep 3. The story should be about your characters, NOT the plot. Most people don’t get emotionally involved in “things.” They care about people even if the “people” are animated. Even robot characters are given personalities. But totally plot driven stories are seldom successful. For example, in nearly every one of the previous Titanic films, the screenwriters tried to focus on way too many characters and the ship, so by the time the ship sinks we didn't know any of them enough to really care what happened to them. James Cameron's film gave us two fictional characters to root for and got us emotionally involved. That's why it grossed $2.2 billion dollars* in box office sales from Dec 19, 2007 until May 15, 2008, and another $1.2 billion in video and DVD sales to date.


CraigsHeadStep 4. Start with the CONFLICT. If you have no conflict, you have no story to tell. Conflict, both internal and external is fundamental to creating a great story because if you don’t have any trouble, the story is not interesting enough to hold a readers attention.


Trouble can take many forms. Think about the bedtime stories we used to read to our kids. Little Red Riding Hood: A little girl visits her Grandmother, only to discover that she has inadvertently told a wolf where Grandma lives, and has now she has been eaten by the wolf. “What big teeth you have, Grandma.” "All the better to eat YOU with."

The Berenstain Bears, Bear’s in the Night: Seven bears sneak out of bed, through the window, and across the dark countryside to investigate the source of a noise. “Whoooo!”

Even under the veil of a lovable heroine and her friends in The Wizard of Oz, lies the conflict: A teenage girl travels to a strange land where she causes the death of the first woman she meets, then she teams up with three strangers to kill again. “There is no place like home.”

These are all examples of external conflict, but internal conflict really pulls the reader’s heart strings towards your characters and endears them as nothing else can.
Internal Conflict runs rampant in Tennessee Williams’, The Glass Menagerie, where each of the characters, Tom’s dead end job, Amanda’s fading glory and her daughter, Laura’s concern about her looks and lack of a suitable suitor, climax with a broken unicorn horn and Jim’s announcement that he’s engaged. The conflict is all internal until the end when Tom has a fight with his mother then decides to leave and venture out on his own.

Perfect protagonists and overly evil antagonist quickly become boring. They need to have internal and external issues to make them interesting. Things like: alcohol or drug addiction, abuse, weight, ageing, boredom, prejudice and handicaps are all great ways to develop conflict in your characters, and the more universal you make their problem, the more your reader will relate to them.


If you still need help on how to build conflict in your characters, I can offer no better example that Thomas Harris’, The Silence of the Lambs. In this book, we meet Hannibal Lecter, one of the greatest literary villains of modern fiction, yet we find ourselves scared to death of a little man with tiny teeth, who is already locked up that we haven’t even met yet. “Don’t touch the glass. Don’t get anywhere near the glass!”  Now that’s conflict!


Mr. Craig BennetStep 5. SHOW us. Don't TELL us. So many authors today try to tell us what their characters look like, what they are wearing, what they are eating and their entire background through the use of flashbacks and prologues. Actually, it's much more interesting to discover all of these traits, descriptions and a character's background throughout the story than to learn it in these “info dumps." Well written characters are “woven” into the plot, not thrown into story like a bucket of paint.

      Consider Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. From the moment Elizabeth Bennet meets Mr. Darcy we are shown their feelings through the use of action, description and dialogue. Initially their mutual dislike grows apparent then expands when Darcy tries to pry apart the budding relationship between Elizabeth’s older sister, Jane and his friend Mr. Bingley. Through lies, Elizabeth’s new friend, Mr. Wickham increases her distaste for Darcy by painting an unsavory tale about their past. All the while we sense that Darcy is growing increasingly fond of Elizabeth. We are blindsided by Darcy’s sudden proposal to Elizabeth, and once rebuked, we learn the truth about Wickham through Darcy’s letter to Elizabeth. Then the author further illustrates his wickedness by having Wickham run off with Elizabeth’s youngest sister, Lydia, throwing the entire Bennet family into turmoil. Darcy eventually emerges as the hero, by finding Wickham, paying his debts and forcing him to marry Lydia, thus saving the Bennet family from shame and ruin. Darcy is also responsible for bringing Mr. Bingley and Jane back together, thus winning over Elizabeth’s heart. These are all thing we discover throughout the fabric of the story and very little of it is “told” to us.

The best way to find and eliminate info dumps is to join a writers group. They can not only identify these problems, but also offer solutions to begin showing, not telling your story. Not only will you appreciate it, so will your readers.


The Sixth Craig6. Coming up with a great plot can be a long, laborious process, but remember the basics of a three act structure as described by Aristotle.

Act 1: The beginning should always start with the Conflict (see step 2) that is otherwise known as the inciting incident. If your main character is not part of the initial conflict, then you need to introduce your protagonist immediately afterwards and certainly within the first or second chapters. Act 1 is where we start to see the main characters “issues” and how they are affecting his or her life. This is also a great time to introduce the supporting characters and the world in which their story takes place. Whatever takes place in this act it should include an event in which your protagonist chooses or makes a decision that puts him or her on the road that leads into act two.


Act 2: (or the middle act) should have some event or scene where we see the initial conflict in act one getting worse. Protagonists are not perfect. They sometimes chase the wrong goal or their goal is constantly getting thwarted. Here is where the supporting characters could help in getting the protagonist back on track. Things get more complicated, since the conflict continues to escalate which, of course, makes things much worse for the protagonist. Perhaps he or she is alone and is dealing with all of these issues and there is usually a hopeless moment, where the protagonist feels like throwing in the towel. But by the end of act two, at the time when everything seems lost, there should be a turning point, a change, some clue or light at the end of the tunnel that carries the reader into the final act.


Act 3. In this final act, where there is usually a major confrontation, a battle or revelation that signals an end or a solution to the original conflict. At this point ALL of your subplots need to begin coming together. This is where any loose ends need to start making sense and questions asked in the beginning finally get their answers. After the “great ending to the conflict” or conclusion is revealed, it’s nice to give the reader a chance to relax and celebrate with the protagonist. Without this breathing time, the story will feel chopped and may leave your readers unsatisfied. This is also the perfect time for the “Ah ha!” moment that has become so popular lately is suspense thrillers.  


For example in The Sixth Sense written by author and director, M. Night Shyamalan, child psychologist Malcom Crowe (played by Bruce Willis in the film) has an encounter with a former angry patient named Vincent, who wounds Malcom, then kills himself. Months later, Malcom is visited by a 9-year old boy named Cole (played by Haley Joel Osment). Cole claims to see dead people who do not know they are dead. By the end of the story we are convinced that Cole has been cured and Malcom goes home to try to  patch things up with his wife. That’s when we discover that things are not at as they seem, and that “Ah ha!” revelation changes the entire dynamic of the story.


In plotting, I try come up with a "great" beginning and a completely satisfying ending where the main protagonist solves the answer to the conflict in the beginning. For me that's all I need to begin. Come up with a great beginning and a fantastic ending, and the middle will usually take care of itself.


Farisstein7. I write suspense thrillers so I do a tremendous amount of research. Many authors hate research and actually hire someone to do it for them, but I think that the research is one of the best parts of writing and today it’s much easier than it used to be.


     In 1996, I was in the middle of writing my first novel and one of the plot elements was a love story that took place aboard the Titanic. (At that time I was completely unaware that James Cameron was also writing a screenplay on a similar scenario) There are countless volumes written about the Titanic, but I had chosen to base my character on a real passenger, an Irish immigrant who was born 123 years ago, on August 11, 1890. Her name was Margaret Maggie Madigan, a third class passenger, who had managed to get into a lifeboat and survive, but almost nothing else was known about her. I knew that someone somewhere knew her real story, but nothing more than her name was in the books and on the internet. So, I decided to go to the source.


     The wreck of the RMS Titanic is located about 370 miles southeast of the coast of Newfoundland, lying at a depth of about 12,500 feet, but in August 1996, I was able to join a nine-day cruise that took us to the wreck site and to the Halifax graveyard where most of the 300 recovered bodies are buried. Three of the five survivors were aboard and almost everyone else were either Titanic “experts” or enthusiasts. I considered myself one of the latter, but it was thrilling to speak with two of the passengers who were actually aboard that night. The site over Titanic’s wreck is both peaceful and very deep. While there, submersibles were recovering a piece of the hull far below. I heard that if you threw a brick overboard, it would take about two hours before it reached the bottom.


     Surprisingly, one of the first experts I met was one of the world’s foremost authorities on Titanic passengers and he quickly introduced me to Robert L. Bracken. At the time Robert had taken a keen interest in Maggie Madigan and had made contact with her family ancestors in her hometown of Askeaton in County Limerick, Ireland. Robert eventually was able to provide me with all the information I needed and his research was invaluable, even though the release of James Cameron’s film killed any chances of getting my novel published. Today, Robert’s extensive research on Madigan is published here:  Through his efforts, her life is no longer forgotten.   


    Research doesn’t have to be drudgery and if your plot includes exotic locations, it can be quite fun. I have a good friend who is a nine-time New York Times bestselling author and the plot of one of her books took us on a cross-country trip. Well, of course, she had to research the trip and took her family along. The best part was her portion of the expenses were legally tax deductable. In 1999, I took a cruise to the Eastern Caribbean, which was featured prominently in my second novel, The Spectrum Conspiracy. That portion of the research was also deductable.


    Even if your story is fiction, it pays to get the “fact’s” right. Nothing throws you out of a story quicker that glairing errors like, “the submarine captain pushed the red button that made it dive.” Submarines don’t work that way. The captain commands the ship. He never “drives” it. Or, if your train robbers stop a train on a trestle, it’s good to know that most trestles don’t have any shoulder to climb or stand on.


    Sometimes if you are writing about a particular part of a city, such as Washington, it helps to actually drive down that street to see what it looks like. Today with sites like Google Maps and Google Earth, you can just click on “Street View” and get a 360° view of almost any major street in the country. This really helps if you discover that the bank heist in your novel is directly across the street from police headquarters.


    So, my advice is to research your plot elements extensively, take the time to ask experts on your subject, go see the locations if possible and if you happen to have fun along the way, all the better.


Craig Running8. Many authors feel the need to edit their books while they are working on the first draft. I tend to do this as well, but I wait until I finish an entire chapter before going back and looking at what I’ve done.  At this point, I’m really only looking for glairing errors and missing words, but what I am really trying to do is to get the story back into my mind set.


Many new authors never finish their first draft because they get so caught up in the details and trying to make it “sound” perfect. The first draft is just a “draft,” and it is all about getting the story down on paper. Remember, writing is a long process of telling a story and developing your characters and those are far more important in a first draft than having it perfect.


Another mistake new authors make is to assume that “authors write, editors edit.” That is totally wrong! A professional editor won’t even look at a first draft unless they market themselves as book doctors. An editor’s job is to prepare the “final draft” for publication. Unless you have multiple degrees in grammar and creative writing, you should be prepared to write at least three drafts before considering it ready for submission. My novel, The Spectrum Conspiracy went through about eight drafts and even after all of those we are still finding little errors that made it through to publication. But with each of those drafts, the storytelling got much better and more concise.


One of the worst mistakes new authors make is to “rush it to publication.” They can’t wait to see their book in print and if an agent or publisher won’t take it, they go online and publish it themselves. What they probably didn’t consider was there is a reason WHY the agents and editors rejected it, usually because IT WASN’T READY! If writing is something you would really like to pursue, don’t ruin your reputation by putting out a work that is full of errors. Believe me, once you have disappointed a reader, or have “thrown them out of the story” with mistakes and glairing errors, they WILL share that experience with bad reviews and hurtful comments. And those first books and bad reviews do come back to haunt you even if your next book is perfect. It’s much better to take the time to get it right the FIRST time. Remember, John Grisham’s novel, The Firm was initially rejected by 36 publishers!


Editing is mostly about removal. When you finish your first draft, print out the entire manuscript and read the book again. Then, go back and take EVERY unnecessary story line, character and confusing elements out. What’s left is the 2nd draft. You need to repeat this procedure for at least three more drafts. EDIT, EDIT, EDIT. At this point you may be tempted to send it off to an agent, but once rejected, they are NOT going to give it another chance. A better solution is to take your time and solicit help from your writers group in the form of critiques.


I too was tempted to take shortcuts and tried to rush things, only to have a drawer full of rejection letters and years of disappointment. Editing is important, and if you take your time and seek assistance, it can pay off. It took me nearly a decade to get my first novel published, but it’s paid off. Before its release in January, 2013, it won four literary awards in regional and international competitions and as of this writing, it has received over 50 five-star combined reviews on, Barnes &, and I don’t attribute that success to good storytelling. It’s ALL due to great editing.


Book Signing9. One of the best ways to “Test” your story line, characters and editing is to enter your book or story in writing contests. There are literary hundreds of writing competitions out there with prizes in the thousands of dollars. Winning or even placing in a writing competition is not only great for your ego, it can also jumpstart your path to publication. In fact, publication in their journal or anthology is often considered the grand prizes. But be careful what you wish for. Sometimes that publication prize will come back to haunt you.


In 1999, I had just completed my first novel; the 226,800 word diatribe I mentioned earlier. Once I joined a local writers group, I began to realize that my book was never going to get published without major rewrites and countless hours of editing. So, my fellow members urged me to write a short story and enter it into the South Carolina Writers Workshop anthology competition. “If you make it into the top fifteen stories, those are published in the book,” one of them said. “Then you can add published author to your resume.”


It was an exciting proposal, and I had never written a short story, so I went home that evening and began writing. The anthology word limit was only 1,750 words, which is only about six pages, so I really had to edit out every unnecessary item in order to include all the characters and plot elements. However, I found that a short word limit made my work much cleaner. I finished the story on the day of the deadline, and mailed it. Three months later, I received a call from the President of the SCWW. “Your story,” Bonnie said, “won Best of Issue in the anthology.” I was ecstatic!  So excited, in fact, that I sat down and wrote another short story for their other competition, Carrie McCray literary contest. The announcement of both competition winners would be held at the SCWW Annual Writers Conference in October and I was invited to attend.


Arriving at the conference, I discovered that most of our local critique members were attending as well and all these strangers kept coming up and shaking my hand. I felt like a celebrity and I didn’t understand until the last day of the conference when they announced the winners. Not only had my first short story won Best of Issue, my second story won First Place in the Carrie McCray. I remember that as being the first moment that I considered myself an author. That conference inspired me to begin my next novel, The Spectrum Conspiracy.


Over the years, my stories improved and I went on to win several more Best of Issue’s and five of my stories won the Carrie McCray. But there was a downside. Every time one of my stories was “published,” that prevented me from entering other contests, where the rules usually say, “Manuscript must be unpublished.” Yes, it’s nice to have your work published, but it’s also nice to win competitions and as long as your piece remains unpublished, you can enter it in as many contests as you like. Now days, I almost never enter competitions where publication is part of the prize. Instead, I use contests as a way to critique my work, and if it wins a little money, all the better. Winning the contest isn’t even necessary. Your goal is to see how it places, and if it does not place, edit until it does. Once it gets into the top 25, you know that it is “almost” ready. Keep editing! That is not only the key to winning contests, it’s also the key to getting you first agent or publisher. Believe me, adding the line, “award winning, published author,” to your query helps to get it noticed.


For more information on creative writing contests and a schedule, try Be A Better Writer’s list of Short Story and Creative Writing Contests and Competitions


And remember, if your story or book wins a literary award, you can always put that on the cover, which never hurts when trying to sell it.


DaVinci Dude10. By now, you might have the book written and edited, but what about your pacing? You are probably thinking, “isn’t it a little late to discuss pacing after you’ve written the book?” Not at all. Remember, writing isn’t about getting the first draft down on paper. It’s about getting it ready for publication, and if that means rewriting and editing the entire story again, then that is what you need to do. One of the things you’ll discover from the feedback you get from contests, critiques and reviews is weather the story is considered boring or holds your attention. In novels, pacing is a key ingredient to keep your reader turning pages.


Consider a little know author, (at that time) who in 2003 published his fourth novel entitled, The Da Vinci Code. Whether you like Dan Brown’s writing or not, (Janet Maslin of The New York Times called it an “exhilaratingly brainy thriller,” while Stephen King likened Brown's work to the "intellectual equivalent of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese," you have to admit it that had an intriguing plot and good pacing. The whole book at 489 pages takes place in one twenty-four hour period, which tends to either “hurry things up,” or “slow time down time.” The novel had 102 chapters plus an epilogue, so the chapters were short, sometimes only a page or two. But to Brown’s credit, he kept the readers attention by inserting these little “cliff hangers” at the end of nearly every chapter. That had the effect of saying, “I have to read the next page before I go to sleep,” even if was already 4:00 am. By keeping the chapters short it was easy for the reader to justify, “I’ll just read one more chapter,” excuse for all 101 chapters. It worked. The novel went viral, making The Da Vinci Code one of the most popular books of all time, with 81 million copies sold.


The problem with this type of pacing is that it is the mental equivalent to running a marathon. The pacing of your book should have the same ebbs and flows that we experience in daily life. We can’t run a marathon all day and if your readers get tired of the pacing without any scenes where they can relax, they might give up and move on to the next book. You need scenes where the characters can interact with one another, scenes where we can experience their feeling and scenes that hold the readers attention in other ways.  More on that in the next step.


Hannible Craig11. There are many ways to hold a readers attention, but my favorite is the use of suspense. I define suspense as “anticipation of the unknown,” so it’s not just limited to thrillers, mysteries and horror novels. Suspense is an important element in all genres and you see it even in the cover art. Just look at the covers of any Nicholas Sparks novel. Almost all of the new covers show a couple almost kissing.  This is a subtle form of suspense and it really helps to sell his books. The same element is used in the excellent book and movie, Silver Linings Playbook, where we spend the entire time wondering when Bradley Cooper is going to finally kiss Jennifer Lawrence.


The classic suspense scene involves a long hallway, usually dimly lit with a door at the far end. The hallway can take many forms, such as the dudgeon scene in both Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs. We are forced to walk down a corridor of jail cells with occupants who grow increasingly worse near the end. 


The Silence of the Lambs is also a great example of how to build suspense in your characters. (WARNING GRUESOME SCENE) Early in the book and the movie, Clarice Starling is sent to the Baltimore Hospital for the Mentally Insane to interview the brilliant and cannibalistic serial killer, Dr. Hannibal Lecter. As she follows Warden, Dr. Frederick Chilton, deeper into the subbasement, he gives her a lecture on the rules surrounding Dr. Lecter. “Don’t touch the glass. Don’t get near the glass,” Chilton says. “If you need to pass him any papers, use the food carrier and be sure to remove all paper clips and staples from the papers first.” Then Chilton stops at a barred door and takes out a photo. We never see or get a description of the photo, only Chilton’s dialogue as he tells her about it. “We’ve taken these precautions with Dr. Lecter because of this. In 1976, Dr. Lecter complained of chest pains and was taken to the infirmary where his mouth restrains were removed to facilitate an EKG. When the nurse leaned over him, this is what he did to her.” Chilton gives Clarice the photo. “We managed to save one of her eyes. He broke her jaw to get at her tongue. He was still hooked to the monitor and his heart rate never got over eighty, even when he swallowed it.”


By the time Clarice reaches the end of that long jail corridor, we are already scared to death of Dr. Lecter, yet we’ve just met him. I remember sitting in the movie theater, when Dr. Lecter asked Clarice to step closer, so he could see her ID. Everyone in the theater yelled “Don’t get near the GLASS!” Now that is how to build character suspense!


What you need to remember about suspense is that what is behind the door at the end of that long hallway, is NEVER as interesting as the walk down the hall. It’s the anticipation of what could happen that keeps us on the edge of our seats, not the revelation. This method is taken to the extreme in horror movies as the film makers take us from room to room until we finally see the psycho killer usually in a reflection behind the victim. You would think that audiences would get bored with these recycled story lines, but they still flock to the latest horrific film of the month.  


Suspense can be as simple as what is in a bag or presented as merely the internal imagination of your antagonist. One way to make “what’s behind the door,” as interesting as the walk down the hall, is to give your readers the LAST thing they ever expected. But this turn of events has to be well calculated to not only be a complete surprise, it also needs to explain things in a completely different way than the reader expected. These “Ah-Ha moments are not only more sophisticated than the long hallway, they can also turn a bland story into a best seller. In my short story, House of Ruth, we think we have the whole plot figured out, until we reach the very last line of the story, actually the last two words, which changes our entire perception of the story. Those are the stories that win awards. Those are the stories that can make you famous.


Finally after you think it's perfect, hire an independent editor to edit it again.


Harry and Craig12. Attend Writer’s Conferences, even if you have not finished your book or even begun your first draft. Why? Because there is absolutely no better way to learn about writing and publishing than to attend a writer’s conference. Writers are story tellers, and there is tremendous pressure to get there next story produced. They seldom have the time to share how they produce their craft when they are under contract to deliver their next book by the publisher’s deadline. But, writers love conferences. It gives them a chance to spend a weekend or a day promoting their book, meeting their fans and talking about how they write. Plus, if you are a writer, attending a conference is not only encouraged by your publisher, it’s also tax deductable. If you have always dreamed of meeting a famous author like J. K. Roland, the best chance you ever get is at a writer’s conference.


It you have finished your novel, there is no better place to get your work in front of agents, editors and publishers. Let’s face it, submitting a manuscript to a major agent or publisher can take months, and if you are an unknown first-time author, chances are the manuscript will end up in their electronic version of a slush pile, where it can sit for months, even years. At a writer conference, the agents and editors get a chance to actually put a face with your name, and as we know, that can go a long way toward getting your work read. Conferences usually offer paid critiques or “pitch sessions” where the authors are given a few minutes to sit in front of an agent or editor and present their “Blurb” or “Elevator Pitch.” If the agent or editor likes what they hear, they will probably request the first chapter with a invitation to email or send it to their office. The difference between being able to write “Request Material” in the subject line of your email is like night and day to being in the slush pile.


I’ve heard actual stories from agency assistances who were assigned to go through the slush pile that their main goal was to find anything to reject the manuscript so they could just get through the pile. That’s the last place where you want your manuscript. However, requested material, especially if you remind the agent about your session, will get an in-depth and complete review. Even if it leads a rejection, at least, you’ll know that your work received a thorough review.


Some conference administrators go to great lengths to “protect” their agents and editors from the authors and if an author is being annoying, that is a good thing, but remember THEY are there to FIND NEW WRITERS! If an agent or editor doesn’t find new authors, they don’t get their 15% commission and therefore don’t get paid. So remember, they want to meet YOU as much as you want to meet THEM!


One great place to meet faculty at a conference is to go to hotel’s bar, where perhaps they are having a relaxing drink. But this is NOT the place to pitch your book and if a group of faculty is all sitting around having a conversation, never join them unless invited. However, if they are alone, or they start a conversation with you, then there is nothing wrong with saying hi or having a chat. Remember, don’t even bring up your book unless asked. Still, it is a great way to make friends and get to know them on a personal level. My experience is, the more they know you, and hopefully like you, the more likely they will want to look at your work. Just knowing them can come in handy when your novel is finally ready for submitting and in this day and age, we need those “inside’ contacts.


If your book still gets rejected, even from these new friends, keep one thing in mind; Harry Potter was rejected NINE times, but J.K. Roland kept trying and that turned out to be a pretty good move for her.



13. Write a great query letter and a concise synopsis. Take those to writer’s conferences for a shot with major agents and editors BEFORE going the self publishing route, because you can always go that route later.


14. Learn to walk up to complete strangers and start a conversation. You CAN'T BE SHY and expect to sell books. Tell everyone you meet that you are an author and let them ask you about your book.


15. Start the next book, the day after you complete the first one.


16. Consider Small Publishers. A major publisher can get your book into every bookstore in the country, but that has a downside. If the book isn't featured in the store, after as little as four weeks, these bookstores can tear off the cover and send it back for a FULL refund. So, in as little as a month or so, your book can go out of print faster than it got into print. With a small publisher, it stays in print for as long as there are sales... any sales.


17. Be weary of large advances. If your book doesn't earn back your advance, no one will ever publish anything else you write. Its better to have a small advance that you earn back quickly and then you'll get commission checks.


18. Create a blog, a website, a facebook site, a facebook fan page, a twitter account and a book page on . Give your fans something new to learn every time they check your blog. Even your daily struggles can be interesting to other authors.


19. And my best advice: Don't attempt to write a full length book to begin with! Start with short stories, because they take as much planning as a full length book, but you can finish them in three days instead of three years. Hone your writing craft with these and your first book will be a much easier task.


Why Writers Need Critique Groups to Become Better Writers 

 Critique GroupI started writing in 1994 because I had a second shift job sending graphics files into a Raster Image Processor (RIP) typesetting system for output. Sometimes it would take hours for a single file to RIP and the only program that would run on my computer during that process was Microsoft Word. I had this idea for a story, so one night I started writing it in Word and after the first page I was hooked. It was a lot easier than painting, you could erase and the program even corrected my horrible spelling.


When I started out, I didn’t know how to type or even write for that matter, but after four years and 226,800 words, I finished my first novel. That experience was a great example of the WRONG way to learn how to write. After receiving over 30 rejection letters, I decided to join a writers group; The South Carolina Writers Workshop (SCWW). At the first meeting, I immediately discovered that I still had no idea what I was doing. My first novel was massive, really three books in one, and probably unfix-able. Every time I tried to fix the errors, MS Word would flash a warning message (all kidding aside) that said, “There are too many spelling errors in this document to correct.” Eventually I concluded that if the computer was giving up on my writing and spelling, so should I. I sat that book, The Speed of Light, aside and now refer to it as my Masters Degree in the Wrong Way to Get Published. It now resides, where it belongs, in my attic.


The year was 1999 and the core members of the Rock Hill SCWW chapter were Gwen Hunter, Misty Massey, Robin Breeden, Biffy Hinnant, Norman Froscher, myself and a new girl, Dawn Cook.** Later we were joined by Grace Looper, Betty Beamguard, Martha Robinson, Donna Wylie, Connie Miller and Charlie Burnette among others. I mention their names because many of them are now published authors.


Our SCWW chapter met every week and I soon learned wonderful new things like: “showing not telling,” “grammar,” “point of view,” “info dumps,” “flash backs,” “dialogue,” “suspense,” and “typing.” After quick lessons in “when to” and “when not” to use each of those, they suggested that I try writing a short story and enter it into the SCWW Horizon’s Anthology competition. I was told that if my story made the “cut” into the top 15, I could honestly say I was “a published author” and that would go a long way towards helping me sell that first novel. ("IF", they added, I cut 150,000 words from it, applied all the above lessons and re-wrote it ten more times. So, now you know why it remains in my attic.)


Short stories are a wonderful creation, because if written correctly, they contain all the elements of a full-length novel, but they can be completed in three days, rather than the four years it took to write my first novel. That spring, I wrote my first short story called, Echoes from the Ether and mailed it off the SCWW Anthology. Three months later, my wife told me that the President of the SCWW had called to announce that my story had not only made the cut, but that it had won Best of Issue for 1999. I was so thrilled, that I immediately wrote a second short story called, Silent Assault, and entered it in the Carrie McCray Literary Competition. In October of that year, I attended the SCWW Writers Conference where I discovered that Silent Assault had won the Carrie McCray literary award for best short fiction. For the first time in my life, I was a “Published Author,” and I was hooked. I returned home, packed away the 970 pages of The Speed of Light in a box and started a new novel which I called “Spectrum.” After 13 years of setbacks, rejections, wonderful critiques, more rejections, and seeing two of my key plots elements and the perfect ending STOLEN and published in someone else’s novel, the result has now been published as The Spectrum Conspiracy, by Bella Rosa Books, LLC.


When I attended the 1999 SCWW writer’s conference, I realized that there was absolutely no better or easier way to meet major authors, literary agents and editors. I join the SCWW board of directors in 2000 and served until 2006, when I served as co-chair of the annual SCWW conference. Over the years since, I have been published in short fiction and plays sixteen times. I’ve also been honored with twenty-five literary awards, but now, the big prize, publishing my novel, has finally arrived. Why?  Because I kept at it and after every rewrite, it got better and better.


The key is not giving up. If you put your book in a drawer and don't write another, then that's the biggest mistake you'll ever make. You learn by making mistakes. My stories today are much better than those early ones. Our SCWW critiques offered all the advice I needed, but if I didn’t attend, I couldn't soak up all of nourishment that writers need to keep writing. That’s why having a critique group is so important. When I attend the meetings, I write. When I don’t attend, I’m not inspired and thus I don’t write. It’s that simple!


I also cannot stress the importance of attending writers conferences and entering contests. I know they are expensive, but if you are smart you will get ten times your return on investment. At the last conference I attended, I had two agents and two editors request my novel and stories. One wanted me to email the stories to him “right then.” And he read my work within an hour and said, “I’m intrigued. Now send me the entire novel.” I achieved this goal without attending a single paid critique session, without any blurb sessions or any other gimmicks. All I did was try to be myself, polite, honest and most of all, I wasn’t afraid to walk up and introduce myself. By the time I left the conference that Sunday, I had spoken to and knew the names of almost every member of the faculty. But what was MOST important, they knew who I was as well.


That’s the secret to getting published. Write well, and market yourself at every opportunity. We can find the opportunities. All we have to do is use them.


Best wishes to all of my wonderful fans and all of my fellow writers;


Craig Faris


**{Dawn Cook, met her literary agent, Richard Curtis in 2001 and went on to sell 6 novels to a New York publisher and currently writes under the name Kim Harrison with Nine NY Times bestsellers, the last three ranking at # 3 on the list. Gwen Hunter was already a published author when we met, and now writes a fantasy series under the pen name, Faith Hunter. Misty Massey sold her Pirate novel, Mad Kestrel to Tor in 2008. Other members of my original SCWW chapter have gone on to publish their books and short fiction, including, Grace Looper, Connie Miller, Donna Wylie, Betty Beamguard and Charlie Burnette}

 Posted Jan 30, 2012



Things to Consider When Choosing Between a Big Publisher,
a Small Press or Self Publishing


Thumbs UpI attended a literary luncheon recently with members from several local writers groups in our area. We had a great time... Everyone read something and stated their "goals" for the year.


For almost a decade, my goal was to get my novel published, but as the latest "published" author in this group, I was asked several times why I chose a small publisher over self-publishing or taking the traditional route with a big New York publisher. Well, the answer is that I considered all of those, and over the years I made some extraordinary contacts in the New York publishing world. I'm friends with Richard Curtis, one of the biggest literary agents in NY and I was on a first name basis with the former CEO of Time Warner books. But that makes little difference because publishing has changed so much in the past decade.


Now days a book from an unpublished author is a huge risk for a big publishing house, even if it's a great story. A big publisher can get your book into every book store in America, but if they don't put any money behind marketing, it can quickly die on the vine. In addition, if your book sits on the shelf for over 30 days (it used to be 3 months), the bookstore can rip off the cover and send it back to the publisher for a full refund. They simply don't have room to keep it on the shelf. Therefore your book can go out of print quicker than it took to get it there. Adding insult to injury, if you don't make back that large advance they gave you, NO ONE will touch your next book.


Self-publishing is a great option for new writers, but marketing and distribution is totally up to you. Yes, SmashWords can get your books listed on Internet book sites and you can make up to 70% on each book. But, the downside is you have to hire the editors to correct mistakes, you have hire someone to design the cover art, you have to carry your books to bookstore signings IF they are willing to sell it on consignment, and you are totally responsible for marketing and promoting. It's a lot of work that leaves little time to write the next one.


I chose to use a small publisher, BellaRosaBooks, for several reasons. They edit the book before it goes to print, and although we are still finding tiny mistakes, those are corrected on subsequent printings. They hire professional designers to create the cover with your approval. You decide the name of your book and you get to approve the layout, fonts and format. They also hire professionals to create and format your e-books, which can be a real nightmare to handle yourself with all the different formats out there. Plus, you don't have to pay for the editing and they pay you an advance against sales. Granted, it's a small advance, but that means you have a much better chance of earning it back and getting royalty checks. The percentages are smaller, but they take the risks, not you.


The ultimate goal is to sell enough books to where the big publishers will start taking notice... and hopefully buy the rights. In order to do that, the book has to be really good, even extraordinary. You have to have great reviews on Amazon, or in the case of 50 Shades of Gray, a controversial subject and tremendous word of mouth. In short, it has to have WIDE market appeal.


You can't be shy, and sell a book. You have to tell everyone you know about it. You have to share any news you have about it. And even if it feels like you are patting yourself on the back, that's what you have to do, because ultimately the book is for THEM, it's for THEIR enjoyment. And no one else can tell them about it better than you, the author. That's marketing. That's networking.
Posted Jan 20, 2013


What’s the Deal With Blurbs? 


By Craig Faris


  It’s been a long hard day at the writer’s conference, attending seminars, workshops and book signings. Plus you stood in line for over an hour to meet the perfect literary agent, only to have him break for dinner right before it was your turn. You’ve just come back from dinner, your feet ache, your arms clutching your finished manuscript, and you’re ready to head up to your room for a long hot shower and good night’s sleep.

The up arrow beside the elevator door has been lit for at least a minute, and you think it will never open. Finally the bell within dings and the door opens. You step into the empty car and as you punch in the number for the fourth floor, in steps none other than the CEO of Random House along with an agent from Janklow & Nesbit Associates, possibly the biggest literary agency in all of New York.

Your heart is suddenly racing.

“Good evening,” they say politely as they punch the elevator button for the thirty-fourth floor.

You smile broadly and hold your breath as you ignore the lit button indicating your own floor and punch the button for thirty-fifth floor.

“Good evening,” you reply, extending a trembling hand. “My name is Anita Break, and I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed both of your sessions today.”

Their smiles widen. “So, you’re a writer?” the agent says.

“Yes,” you reply, “and I’ve just finished a mystery that’s right up your alley!”

“Oh really?” the CEO replies. “What’s it about?”

Don’t blow it, you say to yourself. This is your big chance. Thirty seconds alone with two people who could change your life forever…now if you can only remember that 30 second blurb.

          •            •

Sound familiar? Who hasn’t dreamed of having that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity? But the truth is, these scenarios happen all the time. The real question is, when it happens to you, will you be prepared, or will you blow it?

If you thought reducing your novel down to a two-page synopsis was tough, just wait until you tackle your first blurb. What’s a blurb? Well, it’s a lot like the summary printed on the inside of dust jackets or on the back of a mass-market paperback, only shorter.

Screenwriters call them loglines, with longer versions sometimes refer to as a pitch on paper, or the elevator pitch (for just such a scenario). But I, along with most writers of prose, usually call it a blurb.

Think of a blurb as your own personal billboard, and in many ways that is exactly what it is. Billboard companies estimate that they only have between 8 to 10 seconds to sell their product before the customer speeds past. In much the same way, you can’t depend on that two-page synopsis to interest an agent if the elevator is already passing the tenth floor. That’s why you need to have a blurb.

Pitching your story can be a formable task especially since you only have a few lines in which to pitch. But be warned, if you’re not careful your blurb can sometimes give off the wrong impression. As an example, let me share an actual logline I once read in a TV guide:

“A young girl travels to a strange land, where she causes the death of the first woman she encounters. She then teams up with three strangers to kill again, and steal the device that will take her home.” 

If you’re like me you’re probably thinking that the movie was some B-rated film about gang violence, so imagine my surprise when I read that the title of the movie was, The Wizard of Oz! That’s right, and that description is basically correct, but instead of describing the film as lovable fantasy, we see only a dark murky side with no clue that this is a lighthearted film for children. A much better blurb might have read something like this:

“In this lovable fantasy, our young heroine, Dorothy, is swept into a strange land where she accidentally causes the death of an evil witch. The witch’s sister vows revenge and the heroine teams up with three endearing characters who help her defeat the witch. Along the way she gains the knowledge that will not only help her friends achieve their goals, but take her home as well.” (The Wizard of Oz)


There are two rules to remember when writing a blurb. The first is to always start with your main character, and the second is to make the genre clear. Keep it simple. Stick to the major plot points and hint at how the hero solves the problem. In Kathie Fong Yoneda’s book, The Script-Selling Game, she devotes an entire chapter to pitching your story. Here are a few examples she uses:

“A young boy’s call to a radio psychologist sets into motion a series of events which could unite his widowed father with a magazine writer. Only a couple of things stand in the way: The boy and his father live in Seattle, and the writer is already engaged and lives in Baltimore.” (Sleepless In Seattle)

That’s the whole story in a fifteen second nutshell. It’s handy to have a longer version of perhaps 25 seconds, along with a short version of less than 10 seconds, as you never know which floor that agent or editor will get off at. For example:

“A Puerto Rican Barrio in New York serves as the backdrop for a star-crossed romance à la Romeo and Juliet.” (West Side Story)

“Alex Foley, 20s, is a get-it-done Detroit cop who never quite follows the book. When a trip to Beverly Hills ends up getting him thrown out of an office building, Alex is ready to declare War.” (Beverly Hills Cop)

Above all make sure your blurb grabs the listener’s attention, like a billboard. Commit it to memory and practice it every time you pull up to a stop light or step into an elevator. If it doesn’t work, revise, revise, revise. The blurb for my latest novel has gone through several rewrites, and I’m still rewriting it. Here is the latest 30 floor version:


“Devrin Crosby, F.B.I., is pulled off of suspension to investigate the assassination of the President in the White House Briefing Room. Everyone saw who did it on live TV, but Crosby uncovers a far more sinister plot, one where a highly unstable thermo-nuclear bomb would be sold on the black market to a terrorist state.
  Why? Because the terrorist would store it at their most secure weapons facility; probably the same facility where they develop other weapons of mass destruction. What they don't know is there is no way to disarm the bomb or make it stable. But the scheme backfires when the weapon is stolen.
  Crosby is thrown into a race to save our nation’s capitol from not only the bomb but also Governmnet thugs who are bent on protecting their ultimate anti-terrorist weapon. 
The clock is ticking.
 No one is listening.” (The Spectrum Conspiracy)


Or the shorter “Blurb”  version


“What if Angels and Demons was written like a Clear and Present Danger?” (The Spectrum Conspiracy) 


 So what’s the deal with blurbs? A good friend of mine, Dawn Cook, pitched her first blurb at a writer’s conference cocktail party in 2000. The agent was Richard Curtis and he took on her first manuscript as a result of that pitch. He has since sold six novels under her real name and eight New York Times Best Sellers under her pen name, Kim Harrison. She was prepared, and without her blurb it might have never happened.

          •            •


Your heart pounds as you deliver the last line. The Agent and the CEO glance at each other as the elevator doors open on the 34th floor. The agent steps out of the car but the CEO lingers behind a moment.

“May I see about ten pages of that?” he says.

“Certainly,” you say, peeling off the first chapter and giving it to him.

The CEO steps through the door and hands the pages to the agent. “If the first ten pages are half as good as her pitch, you’d be crazy not to take her on,” he says as the doors close.

You throw your fist into the air and yell, “YES!” Excitement runs through your veins. You can’t wait to tell all of your friends. But as the doors open to your floor, you remember that your business cards are still in your pocket and your title page didn’t have your phone number.

Mine does.
Posted Jan 2, 2013



On Radio Advertising


My best advice is to start small with a local station that is always hungry to have someone new on air. It's a great way to practice and those small stations have a dedicated local following, so it still serves your purpose well. Send them a list of suggested questions, a brief bio, a two page synopsis of your book and either a copy of your book (or e-book), or some sample chapters. That makes their job easier and if they read the book and like it, they will become an advocate of your writing. Try to schedule an interview a day or so before a book signing in that town and request a copy of the tape so you can send it to other stations in the next town. Maybe they will request an interview as well. The more you do this, the easier it gets. Use radio and television (local cable companies for interviews and always request a copy to use later) to support your social networking and website. Be sure to set up your webpage (and a fan page for your book on Facebook) where your listeners can find you and order your books.

The MOST IMPORTANT thing is to remember this: In this business, NETWORKING is everything! You can't sell books by being shy and the BEST way to sell them is through "relationships." Talk about yourself, NOT the book. It they start liking you, THEY will ask about the book... and tell their friends.


Best of Luck, Craig Posted 12/17/2012



" Here, in this literary forsaken den, we had gathered, spilling out our hearts and emotions onto twenty pound bond in double-spaced black ink, always in an attempt to move closer to the edge of the publishing abyss. Those of us who made it worked our poems and prose onto a hook as one might an earthworm and flung it as far as we could into the swirling maelstrom of unpublished manuscripts. Some only got a nibble; some a bite, but in landing our catch, each of us was careful that the literary trophy bass we longed for wasn’t a bottom feeding carp."

Excerpt from Den of Rhyme
Craig Faris
, © 2011


Author: Craig Faris
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