Sunday, July 29, 2012

Break Free from the Perfectionist Prison

A blogger and freelance writer, Melissa Miller specializes in sharing education tips with readers (For instance, even in this tough economy, did you know that job seekers will still find associate degrees in demand at all kinds of companies?)  Today, Melissa shares some inspirational tips that will help get you back to the keyboard.  Remember, perfect is the enemy of really good!

“If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.” – Margaret Atwood

Perfectionists have a problem unleashing imperfect work in the world. This can be especially problematic for beginning writers who self-edit themselves into a perfectionist prison. With no editors, professors or deadlines to force an imperfect completion, how can the perfectionist ever hope to finish?
1.      Allow for uninterrupted, raw creativity.

Being a writer can sometimes feel like living life in a pressure cooker. A million different ideas, scenarios, details and characters can get housed in the same thought chamber as financial pressures and everyday obligations.
So what’s the problem with working under these conditions? Well, it’s a little like putting a sock in with the roast. Even if you take the sock out before you serve it, that roast is going to taste a little funny. In fact, it might be downright awful. The roast and all the time you spent making it could be wasted. (But socks, just like our day-to-day worries, are plentiful and easy to come by.)

Find time to isolate yourself from all other obligations. Your perfectionism could be calling you to water the garden or pay bills online; but you must establish a singular and focused time to write and create uninterrupted.
Our perfectionism can also serve as an interruption. Many people tend to write and edit at the same time.  Creating is a different process for everyone, but in essence, it is a time to generate fresh concepts, visualize scenes and imagine possibilities. Evaluating your art prematurely or too often can bring things to a halt. Those who self-edit constantly can become exhausted and discouraged with imperfection, and those who edit too soon can stunt a brainstorming session that could have led to a promising idea.

2.      Start writing with the belief that you ARE good enough.

Perfectionists, by definition, set impossibly high standards. If you are so self-critical that nothing feels good enough, chances are that you will fall in love with a project only to abandon it. Accept the fact that you won’t get it right the first time. If you have trouble beginning, set realistic goals based on quantity.
Don’t allow yourself to edit until you’ve written a substantial amount. When reviewing your work, give yourself credit for the strongest parts. Find the pages or paragraphs or sentences that embody your vision and your passion. Position these passages as the foundation of your revisions and move forward.

Each revision should bring you closer to your vision and should, in turn, build your confidence in your talent and skill. It is the process that gives us confidence as writers, not the publishing.
Remember, your final edits will not be your publisher’s final edits. It’s the same practice as when you turned in assignments in school. It’s going to come back with opportunities for improvement. This is what book editors get paid to do.

3.      Break out of your comfort zone and make something ugly.

Writer’s block can be a product of perfectionism. Ernest Hemingway, who was one tough guy, cited the blank page as the most frightening thing he had ever encountered. As writers, we are so often consumed by our craft that we can become obsessed and imprisoned by the pressures of creation.
Prolonged fixation on a scene or dialogue can bog down the creative process and dampen the spirits. The easy answer to this is to skip the scene. Move on to the next one and then write its precursor as a transition or foreshadowing. However, sometimes the fixation is too big to be skipped.

Becoming obsessed with a particular scene could mean that you’re taking it too seriously. One of my remedies for this is to draw a sketch of what I’m seeing. As a horrible artist, this usually sparks a big response from my impulses as a writer. By drawing something ugly, I can see what it truly is that I was trying to capture.
If you don’t have a clear vision, it’s okay to use the blank page as a brainstorming session. Keep track of the most basic impressions, starting with the sensory experience, and expound from there. It may be messy and unfocused, but writer’s block is often about seeking too much control in the creative process.

Once you can accept imperfections and rewriting as part of the writing process, you will find yourself more prolific and creative than ever before.

Of course we invite your comments here, but Melissa also welcomes feedback at 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Conference Planning: Location, Location, Location

 Last week I told you that we here at Intrigue Publishing will launch a new conference for writers and fans next year.  Once we decided to hold the Creatures, Crimes & Creativity (C3) conference the next decision we had to make was where to put it.

We wanted our con to draw readers and writers of the chosen genres from the entire DMV – The District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.  We also wanted it to be easily accessible for people coming in from farther away.  And we wanted to keep costs down.  The less expensive the venue, the less we would have to charge for registration.  But we had absolute minimum space requirements.  We needed enough rooms to have three panels going on at one time, plus spaces for a bookstore, registration, an author roundtable and special events.  The hunt was on.

A cost comparison quickly ruled out any venue in DC.  Several places in Northern Virginia were in contention, especially in Arlington where Malice Domestic was held for several year, in easy reach of Reagan National Airport.  Then we looked at some promising places near Baltimore Washington International Airport. 

We found what we were looking for just north of Baltimore.  The Marriott Hunt Valley had the space we were looking for at a reasonable price.  It is an easy train ride from BWI Airport.  Plus, the folks there have valuable experience.  For years they’ve hosted Balticon, one of the better known science fiction gatherings.  They know how to do this con thing, and how to handle the special kind of people we call fans.  And did I mention that they offered us a really nice discounted rate for attendee’s hotel rooms?  We met with them and ran through all the details with smiles on both sides of the table.

The next decision was about food.  At some cons the visitors are on their own for dining.  At others meals are included.  We decided to follow the Love Is Murder pattern and include as many meals as possible in the registration price.  This would prompt people to stay in the hotel and network when they weren’t watching a panel.  We arranged to have Friday’s dinner, all three meals Saturday and Sunday’s breakfast be part of the package.  And since the panelists will all be there, fans will be able to sit at a table with their favorite writers, or maybe with new authors they just met.         

Of course, there are a lot of other details involved in putting a con together.  I’ll talk about more of them next week.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Papa’s Prose: 5 Tips from Hemingway

Today's guest blogger, Mariana Ashley, writes about educational topics for  This time around she reminds us that if we're going to learn from another writer, we might as well learn from the best.  

Ernest Hemingway is one of the most admired writers of the 20th century, and though one certainly wouldn’t want to imitate his life overall, one could do a lot worse in terms of role models for writing. Here are five quotes from the master that illuminate something about what made him great.

1. “Writing, at its best, is a lonely life….For [the writer] does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day.”

This is absolutely true, and it’s something far too few writers are told when they get into the craft. Personally, I am an extrovert, meaning I find the company of others a net energy gain rather than a drain. Being alone for long periods of time is bad for me. Yet I’ve chosen a career that is inherently solitary. TV shows may be written by committee, but novels and articles rarely are. I’ve had to find ways of consciously maintaining an active social life and keeping up with professional contacts. Because even though the writing’s done alone, it’s important to be part of a community of writers.

2. “After you learn to write your whole object is to convey everything, every sensation, sight, feeling, place and emotion to the reader. To do this you have to work over what you write.”

There are a couple of important things being said here. One is that detail is key, and not meaningless detail, but the immediate sensory data in an experience that lead to a certain feeling. You must remember, or invent, the particulars in order to make that connection between a literal occurrence and its subjective effect.

The second sentence is equally crucial. It points out that real writing is rewriting. You’re rarely going to get it right on the first try, even when it seems like you have. Don’t underestimate the importance of revisiting your work with a cool head and sculpting the raw material into the final artifact.

3. “I think we should never be too pessimistic about what we know we have done well because we should have some reward and the only reward is that which is within ourselves…. Publicity, admiration, adulation, or simply being fashionable are all worthless.”

Writing must be its own reward. If it’s not, you’ll eventually give up. Real-world “success” is not only elusive, but illusory. If your end goal is to be rich and famous in this pursuit, you’re not concentrating on the right thing...and honestly, you’re astronomically unlikely to ever even get that, especially if it’s what you’ve got your eye on. Whereas if you work at it hard enough, you can write something good, whether people buy it or not. But they might, if you make it worth their while.

4. “A serious writer is not to be confounded with a solemn writer. A serious writer may be a hawk or a buzzard or even a popinjay, but a solemn writer is always a bloody owl.”

Don’t forget to have fun, and put passion into your work. At the same time, Hemingway also pointed out, “A man's got to take a lot of punishment to write a really funny book.” The same way you gotta suffer if you want to sing the blues. Humor, even when we’re laughing at someone falling down, secretly comes from a place of pain and empathy.

5. “It wasn't by accident that the Gettysburg address was so short. The laws of prose writing are as immutable as those of flight, of mathematics, of physics.”

Papa was most admired for clipping his prose down to the bare essentials, i.e. knowing when to shut up. On that note, I’m out. Happy scribbles!

We welcome your comments here, but you can also reach Mariana directly at

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Why We Publish What We Publish

Last week I told you about the launch of our 10 year old imprint, Intrigue Publishing, as a legitimate small press.  Until May, 2012, Intrigue Publishing was defined as my novels.  When we decided to publish others we needed to establish an identity.

It made sense to build our corporate identity around our name.  We decided that every book we published would need to truly represent “intrigue.”  Each new publication would arouse curiosity or interest by unusual, new, fascinating or compelling qualities… it would succeed by appealing to the reader’s curiosity and interest.  It would draw and capture the reader’s mind. 

With that as background, we wanted to establish a broad list, but not too broad.  We needed to choose what kind of books we knew well enough to spot a winner, and whose market we could reach.  Our name immediately led to one specific genre.  Crime fiction almost always fits the bill, and I feel I have pretty deep expertise in mystery and thriller novels, so we knew we would start there.  But what other genres might we publish? 

Sandra Bowman, writing as B. Swangin Webster, has been successful with urban drama.  Her novels are NOT street-lit which, in my personal opinion, tends to glorify the worst facets of inner city life.  Instead, her books are powerful journeys of self-discovery and tales of family or interpersonal drama.  They are rooted in the African American community but their messages and the emotions they evoke are universal.  Still, there is a specific, easily targeted market for this literature – the growing community of educated and professional African Americans.  And as this writing is filled with intrigue, it fits our focus perfectly.

Denise Camacho, Intrigue Publishing president and a lifelong romance fan, recommended sensual erotica.  She has searches for stories of interpersonal relationships that are unapologetically sexual without sinking to the level of pornography.   These books will not pretend that the lead characters are in a 1950s high school, nor will they focus on graphic physical details at the expense of the exciting emotions involved with romance.  Sensual erotica may be difficult to describe but, like pornography, you will know it when you see it, and from what we’ve been told it is what a lot of readers are looking for.

Like any business, Intrigue Publishing must consider the market to be successful.  No audience in publishing is hotter than Young Adult (YA) right now, so we knew we could not ignore it.  While we are not YA authors, we have read extensively in this area.  Between us, the three principals of the company have raised ten children to adulthood and we know exactly what we wanted those young people to be reading.  We will look for uplifting, morally positive YA books that are engaging and, yes, intriguing.

So that’s what we intend our product line to look like.  Four separate imprints for four very different markets.  I’ll share some of the company philosophy and goals next week.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

C3 – Launching of a Conference

The Love is Murder conference changed my life.  When I attended it six years ago I had already been to several writers’ conferences but this was my first experience at a gathering that welcomed readers as well as writers.  Since then I’ve enjoyed Bouchercon, Malice Domestic, Magna Cum Murder, Thrillerfest and others, but LIM is STILL different because it attracts a broader spectrum of fans and authors.  Mystery lovers mingle with thriller, horror and romantic suspense fans and share what it’s like to be a fan or a creator.

The only bad thing about LIM is that it is in Chicago in February, a long, risky flight from Maryland.  One year I spent the day in an airport never quite managing to reach the conference I had already paid for.  So from the beginning I have longed for a similar conference closer to home.

Fast forward to 2012 and the creation of Intrigue Publishing.  In conversation about things we could do I mentioned my long held dream of holding a “Love is Murder East” expanding the multi-genre concept. 

It is at this point that the Deus ex machine says, “Well… why not do it?”  In this case the Deus was my very special friend (and Intrigue VP) Sandra Bowman.

There was plenty of “why not.”  It would be a lot of work.  It would cost a lot of money.  There was no guarantee that anyone would come.

At this point Sandra and Intrigue President Denise Camacho ganged up on me.  “We’re not afraid of hard work,” they said.  “We have the money.  And we know a lot of people in the industry and in the local writing community.  We just need to commit, and give ourselves enough time to figure out all the details.”

So what would this conference be about?  I suggested a list of fiction genres that have been overlapping of late.  Mystery.  Suspense.  Thriller.  Horror.  Science fiction.  Fantasy.  And a newcomer sub-genre called steampunk.  Each has its own conferences around the country, but how much fun it would be to throw writers and fans of these genres together.

Then we needed a name for the conference that would tie it all together.  But what did all these fictional styles have in common?  Four of the 7 could be gathered under the umbrella “crime fiction.”  Four often featured inhuman entities.  And we needed to say that we’d be as much about the craft of writing as with the writing itself.  After tossing around a few dozen possibilities, Denise finally nailed it when she suggested we call it Creatures, Crimes & Creativity.

Like that, a plan was in place.  Well, not quite a plan.  Actually we jointly decided that we would leap off this cliff together and build our wings on the way down.  

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Why Writers Should Guest Blog

Today's guest blogger, Heather Green, is a Christian mom, freelance writer, pet lover and the resident blogger for, a free informational website offering tips and advice about medical transcription degrees and informational websites.  Her article explains why you are reading her here instead of there today.

Keeping a blog is a great way to build community with your readers and to promote your writing. It gives you a platform to share your latest works, your writing process, and a bit about who you are as a writer. Not only does it help you to promote your work, but it allows your readers to get to know you and build a relationship with you.
Guest blogging -- or writing for another person's blog -- can also benefit you. Here's why writers should consider guest blogging -- even for other writers:

Increased Exposure
Every time you get your name on another site, you are getting more exposure for you and your work. if you are lucky enough to get a guest post on a popular blog, you are getting your name in front of a large audience of potential new readers. Try to write for blogs within your niche so that you can get exposure with your target audience.

Quality Backlinks
When you guest blog, you usually get a link (or two) back to your site in your author bio at the end of your post. These links help you in two ways: 1) They increase your search-engine ranking; and 2)They send quality traffic back to your site.

The more links you get to your site, the more Google thinks that your site is an authority in your niche and the higher it will place your site in search results. The next time a reader searches for keywords in your niche, your site is more likely to be among the first results, meaning that you will get more traffic to your site. More traffic=more potential readers for your work.

Builds Authority

Writing quality content for guest posts helps you to build authority. Whether you are writing about the process of writing, the publishing industry, or any related topic, you are establishing yourself as a credible authority in your niche. The more readers see your name behind quality content, the more they will see you as a trusted source and the more likely they will be to turn to your blog as a resource.

Builds Relationships

Writing guest posts for other blogs helps you build relationships with the blogger. These relationships could lead to long-term partnerships (maybe a writing collaboration) or mutual promotional efforts. You may even pick up some useful contacts (such as agents or publishers they know). Any relationships you build now could benefit you and your writing in the future.

Guest blogging offers you another way to promote your blog and your writing. Are you writing guest posts? How has it benefited you? Tell us your thoughts in the comments!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

How I Came to Have Intrigue in My House

Sometimes, things happen just because there’s no reason for them not to.

A decade ago, when I decided I could handle my own books better than the Print On Demand publisher I was working with, I did a lot of research. I learned that bookstores did not want to deal with self-published authors any more than they wanted to deal with POD publishers. The solution seemed to be to get my books published by a small press… or at least make it look that way. So I dreamed up what seemed like a good name for a press putting out mysteries: Intrigue Publishing. It was a serious publisher’s name and covered mysteries and thrillers, which is what I write.

Over the last ten years I’ve sold a lot of books and found ways to get my books into bookstores when even the small press I placed one book with could not. My lovely wife Denise has become quite an expert on small press publishing in the process of overcoming one obstacle at a time. And during those years there have been several times when she and I had dreamed about, talked about and even plotted about publishing other authors. Also, based on my success several authors have approached Denise to get published. My camouflage was so good they assumed I was with a successful small press.

Then along came our very special friend Sandra Bowman, who writes urban fiction as B. Swangin Webster. She is so canny a marketing guru that her novels seemed guaranteed to be successful for a small press. Too bad we didn’t have one. That’s when Sandra asked the obvious question.

Why not?

Well, the truth was there was no good reason. We had the skills. We had the experience. We just didn’t seem to have the drive to move forward. However, Sandra brought tons of drive to the party, so three partners seemed to be the right formula. We decided to officially launch the ten-year-old Intrigue Publishing as a brand new small press.

To start a small business in the state of Maryland all that is really required is to apply for a license. We did so and established our partnership officially. The next question for us was, what shall we publish? Our name implied a certain identity so we were not going to publish just any kind of books.

The decision making process was long but not really complex. I’ll tell you about that part of our journey next week.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Newsletters II

Last time I told you a bit about putting out an author’s newsletter.  Today I’ll share a few more tips on the same subject.

Try to keep your newsletter simple and easy to read.  Sure you can get all sorts of color and pictures on there, but that can make it harder to read your message if your reader is using his or her phone.  The system I use offers a full color fancy email, but it also goes out in a words-only version.

Readers today like to scan pages more often than they read deeply.  Make sure you appeal to people who just want to hit the high points by writing strong headlines.  You might want to make good use of bullet points.  At the very least, write short paragraphs and leave plenty of white space on the page.  Make it easy to get your messages without sifting through big blocks of copy.

How often should a newsletter go out?  Well, that depends on how often you have news.  In general I think that anything more than once a week will be regarded as spam.  Longer than monthly and you risk being forgotten.

Remember that people are judging you as a writer by your newsletter so edit it carefully.  Typos or bad spelling send the message that you don’t care about your writing.  And by the way, that same reasoning applies to emails, blog posts, and everything else you write.  If you can’t get a newsletter right, why should people think you can handle a short story or novel?

They’re also judging you as a person, so don’t overdo the promotion.  A newsletter filled with self-praise, special offers and blatant sales copy will lose you readership quickly.   Of course the newsletter is meant to promote your books, but you need to balance that kind of content with useful information.  You’ll want to tell readers what you’re doing and give them the latest news about your writing, but some sort of value-added content keeps people coming back. 

A good newsletter can be a lot of work and requires consistent effort.  But it’s worth it to have a consistent and welcome way to stay in touch with your readers.  Give it a try.

Next time I'll talk about the process of putting together a publishing company from scratch.  Meanwhile, as always I'm open to guest bloggers who want to talk about a slice of THEIR writer's lives.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

New roles and newsletters

Friends, I may have overextended myself with three major projects.  First, I’m one of the principals of a newly-launched small press called Intrigue Publishing.  That new company is putting a new literary conference together for next year.  And, as one of the author mentors of this new press, I’m rewriting my fiction marketing manual.  I know I need to get back to regular blogging so I’ll be sharing all three adventures with you here but I won’t change the title because, despite all these hats I’m wearing, I’m still just Another Writer! 

Today I’ll share a slice I’m adding to the marketing book, part of a new section on newsletters.

Each time I prepare my electronic newsletter for release I consider how few authors I know send one out.  That’s too bad, because a newsletter is an easy and inexpensive way to stay in contact with your readers.

The physical part is easy.  I use Vertical Response but there are a couple other equally good companies like Constant Contact that will supply a template for you to write into, and then distribute your newsletter to the mailing list you designate.

But just having one won’t get you far.  Your newsletter needs to be interesting, useful and fun or no one will read it.  To get the idea, I suggest you take a good look at what other writers are sending out.  Mystery author Brad Parks produces my favorite writer’s newsletter.  Rick Robinson also sends out a good example to follow.  And naturally you can sign up for mine at my web site.

When you’re sending out a newsletter you need to know your audience.  Remember you’re writing for them, not your own ego.  If you know who your readers are you can write what they’re curious about and interested in.

And remember that less is more!  Most people prefer short emails and the same goes for newsletters.  Follow the example of other writers, but however long your newsletter is, make sure it’s packed with interesting and useful content.  That “value added” content is what will hold your readers.

I’ll talk a little more about writer’s newsletters later in the week.  Meanwhile, with all that's going on I'm always open to guest bloggers who want to talk about THEIR writer's lives.