book sales, self-publishing, Writers Co-op


Who makes money self-publishing? Probably, E.L. James’ 50 Shades of Grey sold the most copies. LJ Ross’ series about Detective Chief Inspector Ryan has a total of around 4.5 million copies. Rachel Abbott has sold over four million copies. Every one of her 11 crime novels hit six figure sales in its first year.

What genres dominate? Half of the e-book bestsellers in the romance, science fiction, and fantasy genres on Amazon are self-published!

Famous authors who self-published? E.L. James, of course. Margaret Atwood self-published her poems. Beatrix Potter first self-published 250 copies of The Tale of Peter Rabbit. And, of course, successful authors from Mark Twain to Stephen King cut out the middle man.

Do many authors make money self-publishing? According to Amazon’s 2019 review of its Kindle sales, thousands of self-published authors earn over $50,000, while more than a thousand hit six-figure salaries from their book sales.
‘course, In 2020, there were over 44.2 thousand writers and authors working in the United States,
Best estimates suggest the “average” self-published, digital-only book sells about 250 copies in its lifetime. By comparison, the average traditionally published book sells 3,000 copies, but only about 250-300 of those sales happen in the first year.

So should we self-publish? Obviously, we don’t need a publisher to publish a book. To earn their cut, a publisher must promote your book or they ain’t worth feeling good about. And once you’re famous, you just don’t need them. Feel free to treat publishers the way they treat authors: make me money or go away.

DISCLAIMER: Just my opinion here, but obsessing about money misses the point that life’s memories are made from other stuff. For example: Unlike money, an author’s book is never spent.

Uncategorized, world-building

Some Notes On the Art of Description

Primary Sources 

The world is not   

a clever sequence of words 

or transfixing series

of images. 


It is not a poem  

or painting, 


film, literature, or 

sculpture made of bone 

bronze, iron 

or clay. 


Then what is the world  

I asked. 


Taste, sound, odors  

sights, textures

she said.


That is not the world 

I said 

those are perceptions of the world. 



she said.



I have my poem. 

—Carl E. Reed


One of the most difficult skills to master in the craft of fiction writing is the manufacturing of presence: the ability of the writer to put their readers thereright there, in the middle of the action—seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching—what the viewpoint character is experiencing. The evocation of sensory stimuli via text is one of the most effective, yet spooky tools (to use Norman Mailer’s term for this knock-on effect of vivid prose) that the fictioneer has in his or her bag of tricks. When done well, the reader is all but unaware that these sensory details are being fed to them in the course of the narrative’s unfolding. They enter fully into the fictional dream without being consciously aware that tiny black tick marks on a page are the software code stimulating the machinery of the brain into producing transfixing hypnagogic visions.  

Ah, but the writer must be consciously aware! He or she, in the role of spell-binding enchanter, selects and highlights the telling details that bring a story to life. And it is exactly here that many novice writers fail—with descriptions that are muddled, confusing or imprecise; primarily visual; or otherwise lacking in vividness and color. Art conceals art, and it is not until a writer deconstructs a particularly vivid or arresting passage in a favorite work of fiction that they begin to work out the mechanics of how the trick is done.  

Stephen King notes: “Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.” He advises that writers describe things “in a way that will cause your reader to prickle with recognition.” 

In On Writing, his primer of the craft, Mr. King further elaborates: “Description is what makes the reader a sensory participant in the story. Good description is a learned skill, one of the prime reasons why you cannot succeed unless you read a lot and write a lot. It’s not just a question of how-to, you see; it’s also a question of how much to . . . Thin description leaves the reader feeling bewildered and nearsighted. Overdescription buries him or her in details and images. The trick is to find a happy medium. It’s also important to know what to describe and what can be left alone while you get on with your main job, which is telling a story. . . . ” 

Master prose stylist Vladimir Nabokov wonderingly reminds us:

“We are absurdly accustomed to the miracle of a few written signs being able to contain immortal imagery, involutions of thought, new worlds with live people, speaking, weeping, laughing . . . I wish you to gasp not only at what you read but at the miracle of its being readable.” (Pale Fire)

V. N. ends his short story The Fight this way: 

Or perhaps what matters is not the human pain or joy at all but, rather, the play of shadow and light on a live body, the harmony of trifles assembled on this particular day, at this particular moment, in a unique and inimitable way. 

True, the above example is all visualbut what a visual! A painterly evocation of the fall of light and shadow whilst the author dismisses transient human emotions as the raison d’être of meaning in favor of foregrounding the quotidian specificity of “a harmony of trifles” that sum to epiphany via the appreciation of beauty: that body; right here, right now.

Or this bit of exquisite, pitch-perfect verbiage (visuals + sound + metaphor) from Nabokov’s short story The Aurelian:

. . . out of the black generous night, a whitish moth had dashed in and, in an audible bob dance, was kissing its shadow all over the ceiling.

To draw upon my own writing for an illustrative sample of this technique (“Sure, sure hide behind Stephen King and Nabokov all day; let’s see some of your own stuff, bucko!” I can hear the critics snarling, knives a-sharpening) here is the opening scene in full of Samhain Eve: A Celtic Tale:


Owen Kerrigan awaited the return of a dead man. He stood outside his stone-slabbed hut, gazing across the meadow at the edge of the boggy woods, breath a chill mist in the air. A peaty tang carried to his nostrils, mixed with the fragrant wood smoke of the bon fires that had burned in the village since dawn. One hand shaded his eyes against the westering light.

Dusk of October 31st. Samhain Eve: the end the end of summer and the beginning of the new year. A time of bon fires and celebratory feasting, sacred observance and human sacrifice, daylight revels followed by night-haunted terrors and warding rituals. A portentous, carnivalesque, liminal time when the barrier between the worlds of the living and the dead thinned to nothing. It was this latter fact that was the source of Owen Kerrigan’s growing unease, as he waited for the return of the young man he’d murdered three years ago in a raid on a rival clan.

 A wooden door creaked open behind him. Owen dropped his hand from his eyes and turned to behold the perspiring face of his wife.

“Come inside, Owen. Our meal grows cold.” Tara glanced down at the candlelit, hollowed-out turnips flanking the doorway, transformed by artful carving into monstrous faces: an ancient custom meant to ward off the haints, nightgaunts and other supernatural beasties that prowled about on New Year’s Eve. “The candles will burn most of the night; let the flame guardians greet our friend.” She stepped back and closed the door.

 Mayhap Tara was satisfied that the candlelit grotesqueries would prove sufficient barrier to ward off the things of the netherworld that came a-knockin’ after dark on October 31st, but Owen was not. After all, it’d never stopped him from returning before.

 Bran. The young man’s name was Bran. A fact he’d found out only later, after a delegation of tribal elders from his village met with the murdered victim’s family and his betrothed, Deirdre, to offer iron and gold and silver-tongued apologies to avert an all-out retaliatory war.

A faint tinkling of childish laughter sounded from a hut a stone’s throw away behind him, near the edge of a stand of alder and birch bordering the southern side of the village. This was followed by the yowl of a cat and the basso-profundo cursing of his neighbor Kendrick, a roar almost immediately counter-pointed by the scolding alto of his wife.

Owen smiled a small, sad smile. He and Tara had not, as yet, produced any children.

Glancing once more at the edge of the boggy wood to the west―the direction the dead man had approached in years past―Owen said, “Come then, Bran. Return to this world if you must. But Cernunnos hear me, there’s nothing more I can do for you; no way to undo what’s been done. If I could grant you life again . . .” He trailed off, fists balled at his sides. His mouth was dry; a bitter taste of bile on the tongue.

No answer from the mire. Tendrils of fog twined amongst an acidic fenestration of scraggly shrub, withered black spruce and waxy leatherleaf.

Owen unclenched his fists. The sting in his hands abated; blood rushed back into the crescent moons dug into the flesh of his palms. He turned and went inside.


In this opening scene all of our human senses are evoked: sight, sound, smell, taste, touch.

Now look at your own writing. How many senses are evoked during the course of your narrative? I will state it bluntly and brace for blow-back: If all or most of your scenes contain only visual (or primarily visual) evocations, you are failing at the art of fiction. Your writing is sputtering along at 1/5th the power and intensity it could have. (Which is not to say that every scene must evoke all five senses; so regimented and crude an application of technique would be ham-fisted and ultimately self-defeating: the reader would tumble to what you are doing almost at once and grow annoyed.)

What is your approach to writing descriptive passages in your fiction? (Please cite some pertinent passages for example.) Are there writers you think handle descriptive passages particularly well? Particularly poorly? Would you care to cite some of those examples here? Is there anything else you’d like to say on the subject?  


Got Them “Screw this shit—what’s the use” – Submission Blues

I hit SUBMIT yesterday at noon. I am suddenly reminded of why I gave up on submissions twenty-five years ago.

The Prospect Agency tells me: You will hear nothing back unless we are interested. Do not expect a reply before three months are up and possibly longer.

Because my book is a hybrid: not a text-only novel, not a short picture book. (For picture books they want to see it art and all.) I have a tad under twenty-thousand words, just barely a noveIla. I sent (requested for a novel) three chapters. I also sent two pieces of art. They may or may not be pleased with my lengthy captions.

I may have violated their guidelines. We’ve all been told, they’re looking for any reason to reject you, to whittle down their stack of submissions.

They state on their submissions page: you will receive an email within three hours informing you that you’ve been added to the queue. It’s two days now, and I have no email. Is this a sign?

An 11×17 poster to be used for publicity. The images are high quality, it can be blown up even larger.

I am going to continue to build my print file for a self-pub. It will take me another several months. The dimension I originally set it at is not accepted by any self-publisher that I can find.

You might well ask, why didn’t you confirm the size before you started? I did. With Valor Printing, in Utah. They said fine. Slowly it dawned on me that they are not a publisher. They print, but do not connect with wholesalers, and they do not fill individual orders. You receive a bulk shipment and mail the book out yourself. That’s when I began to explore true self-publishers.

My layouts are elaborate, with many text-wraps. I have half-a-dozen major pieces of art still to create, perhaps more, this to be determined by how much the page count grows because of the restructure.

The story will contract a bit. I’m taking out sentences here and there. The paper doll will stay the same size, I refuse to have it any smaller. The Victorians made their dolls teeny-weenie. That’s not for me.

Thus, pages that hold two outfits may take only one. And I want every two-page spread to be a least twenty-five percent art, fifty-percent even better, to break up the type, so it’s not so intimidating to those who think they bought a paper doll book.

At the same time, I will resubmit once a month. At the end of six months, when my book is ready to go, it’s gonna go, probably to IngramSpark. From comments I’ve read, and I’ve read a lot of comments on a lot of impartial-pundit sites, they seem to be the best choice. On the whole. Each possibility has advantages and disadvantages. Ingram has extra fees along the road to publication that the others don’t have. They’re small, but they add up.

I’ve contacted an agent. Now I’ll look for a publisher that accepts submissions without an agent-intermediary.

We all know how many rejections Rowling got before she landed at Scholastic. Did she receive notices of rejection, or was she told, if you don’t hear from us within six months, assume you’ve been dropped from consideration? At what interval did she approach a new target?

it all comes back to me now. Abundant aggravation, until I finally gave up. This time I have a solution: IngramSpark.


Nope. Nope, change in strategy: I’ve been combing through the Agents’ Wish List site. Honestly, my thing is probably not what any of them say they want. And the closest I see to a genre for Maisie is Magical Realism.

OK, at least I have a category they’ve heard of. I’ll call it Humorous Magical Realism, pick out five more agents to approach, then look for five publishers who accept un-agented manuscripts. That may be more difficult. The publishers are narrower in the range of what they’re open to looking at.

Ten tries out there, next week if I can manage it. If I hear nothing back by the time my book is complete, I’ve given it a fair chance. I get no nibble on my line, my best path forward is to self-publish.

writing technique

How do you do it?

Manuscript of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary

I don’t mean creatively – we had some excellent advice on that a few weeks back. But I’m curious about the logistics. How does it get from your brain to the final text? For what it’s worth, here’s what I do myself.

Pen and paper. Many people type directly, I know, but I can’t do that. Any pen will do (though I have my favourites), any notebook too (but a preference for spiral, as it’s easy to rip out the pages). I’ve tried to keep separate notebooks for different ideas, but despite my best intentions, they always end up full of disparate notes, with arrows going back and forth from one section to the next. At some point it all gets too confusing and I type everything up. (How on earth did Flaubert and others manage without a word processor?)

For that I dictate into Google Docs. It gets a lot of words wrong, makes a hash of punctuation, and puts unwanted capitals all over the place. But it does a reasonable job, and certainly saves me time compared to typing. It’s far less accurate than Dragon, but has the advantage of being free. Here’s a comprehensive comparison of some different tools available.

Several years ago I bought Scrivener. I wrote a post comparing it to a Heath Robinson machine – an ingenious, complicated device that doesn’t do very much. Certainly I was put off by the frustrating attempts to master it. Who wades through a manual of 360 pages? Not me. Nor did I want to pay $200 for a course explaining it all. But I stuck at it enough to revise my opinion somewhat, and I use it now to organise the typed manuscript as it evolves. There are lots of buttons and bells I don’t bother with, but the basic arrangement into easily navigable chapters is a boon. I can also add notes about characters, setting etc, which I previously put in a separate Word document. So yes, even if I only use a fraction of it, it’s well worth the $40 I paid.

When a draft is finished in Scrivener, I export it to Word and print it out. Then I revise, and the arrows go all over the place again. Rinse and repeat till I’m satisfied – or rather till I decide that at some point I have to consider it’s finished.

Curiosity, as I say. I’m happy enough with the procedure as is, but I dare say there are gains of efficiency I could make. Time-saving tricks, better software options – any suggestions? How do you do it yourself?

Research, Uncategorized

Writing What You Don’t Know

  • by Peter Thomson

A standard bit of writing advice is to ‘write what you know’. Good advice, but how many of us have confronted vampires or run electricity through patchwork corpses? We create new worlds from bits and pieces of the ones we know – including the ones we know from other imaginings, fishing in the cultural deeps until we draw up the strange and new. How deep can we go?

I am not religious. I do not believe in an afterlife and have no truck with divinities of any persuasion. The closest I come to the supernatural are the feelings anyone of ordinary sensitivity has to places of great beauty or sanctity. Yet when Faithful Service and her sister Loyal Service stepped into my mind, demanding I tell their story, religion was everywhere. These were people and a society where faith was central. Theirs is a fantasy world, so I had considerable latitude. I could make up some analogue of an earthly faith (I studied medieval history; basic theology is part of the package). I could stud the story with prayers and priests. I could have a god or gods step in and out.

The story did not want these things. It wanted people who gave serious consideration to what their faith asked of them, and explored how they resolved their differences. It was about the interior of faith, not the trappings. I have religious friends and acquaintances, and one approved my remark that religion must look very different from the inside than the outside. Here I am on the outside, wanting to write about the inside. As it came out, my characters actions spoke for them, each according to their understanding.

One more thing – it’s a world where the supernatural is everywhere evident, to the point of being commonplace. People don’t believe in the gods in the same way that people here don’t believe in chairs. They are just there. So what do the sisters believe in? What is right, and where does it come from? It’s a question at least as old as Socrates – Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious? Or is it pious because it is loved by the gods? (the dialogue with Euthyphro). In The Forked Path the answer is that right is a journey, one undertaken in trust that the dilemma will be resolved in the end. So the story became one of twin journeys, to a reunion and beyond.

Looking back, I think I drew on a melange of medieval mystics and devotional poetry, scraps of theology and philosophy, and both the dogmatic insistence and serenely tolerant certainty I’ve met among the devout. My readers think it works.


On and on they went, slow but never stopping. Villa walls and market gardens went by, the sun rose higher, the puddles steamed away, the earth grew harder. Faithful Service was long unused to going barefoot, and her feet grew more tender as she walked. The old couple went more and more slowly, Right Conduct’s right hand clutching at his side, Proper Support true to her name as she held his left. In one village a boy threw a handful of mud at them, then ran away at the escort’s frown. Travellers made the sign against evil, and a presbyter ostentatiously prayed that wrong-doing might fall from them. All this deepened Faithful Service’s misery, yet on she walked. She had been given nothing to eat that morning and by midday hunger added to her woes. They were permitted to drink at the roadside fountains, where water bubbled clear and cold into stone basins by grace of the Highest’s grant of craft.

Right Conduct and Proper Support kept gamely on, limping and staggering. Right Conduct had cut his foot on a stone and left blood on the ground at each step. By later afternoon Proper Support could hold him up no longer; he sagged against her, they made a few more paces and then both collapsed to the ground.

“By the Highest’s grace, we will not hold this as a falter if you rise within five breaths,” one of the escort told them in a firm tone. Proper Support lifted her head to look him in the face, then clearly made up her mind.

‘My trust has been in the Highest all my life, and I will trust Him still. My husband can go no further, and I will not leave him. If the Highest will not lend us His strength, then we must accept the fate He gives us. I will go no further on my own feet.” She put her arm around her husband’s shoulders and sat firm.

“You have faltered before the Highest. As the Highest decreed, you are not of us. By the Highest’s mercy, you leave the land with your life.” The senior member of the escort intoned the ritual words. Then one was sent to fetch a cart, while another stayed to watch Right Conduct and Proper Support. The other two motioned Faithful Service to go on. She was tempted to join Proper Support on the ground, for her legs ached, her feet were sore and her stomach a gnawing pit of hollowness. Yet she did not; she was young and strong enough to go further, and had not Graceful Deeds always insisted that she do her utmost, told her that there was always one more effort in her? She would honour his memory by going on as far as she was able. Faithful Service set herself in motion, putting one foot in front  of the other in a steady plod.

(The Forked Path is out through Amazon and also – a commercial sale! – Rambunctious Books)

How do you, as authors, feel when the work takes you into areas of ignorance?


Gone Clubbing

Recently, I joined a book club. The local listings on Meetup afforded several options for book clubs in my area. I wasn’t anticipating actually meeting in person during these times of Covid, so I suppose I could have joined a club that wasn’t close by, but I decided to stay local. Here’s the description for the book club I selected:

This group is for people interested in discussing books about challenging topics ranging from diversity and inclusion to the environment and the economy. And in the best of book club traditions, it’s mostly about getting to know our neighbors and making new friends.

We read a book a month and meet online for an hour to discuss the book and share our own stories around the book’s themes.

Part of the impetus for this decision came from outreach I have been doing to book clubs throughout the country requesting that they consider my novel as a club selection and offering to participate with their club members to discuss my novel. I realized that it might be helpful to get a feel on how a club operates with respect to selecting books and engaging in discussion. Fortunately, the club I joined has an excellent moderator who does a great job in facilitating discussion that uses topics and situations in the book to allow members a chance to share not only their thoughts, but their own experiences.

I realize that clubs are going to differ in how their meetings are conducted and the quality of the discussion will both be determined by the book and the participants. Something I didn’t realize is how stale my reading selections had become. I’ve written both a science fiction novel and a thriller and have tended towards reading books from those genres. I also have written a couple of self-help health books but have no interest in reading that genre. I also enjoy books that deal with consciousness and spirituality, but these are not light reading material. The club selections have forced me to read titles I have not only never heard of, but they are books in different genres and are nothing I would normally even consider.

The first book I read, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis gave me a fascinating perspective and insight into the culture and politics of a slice of America that I knew little about apart from pejorative stereotypes. Not only was it well written, but I found it entertaining at times and quite educational.

The next book, Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family represents a type of writing I have regularly been exposed to in articles but have not read in book-length in a long time–narrative journalism. Quoting from the book listing, it details: “The heartrending story of a midcentury American family with twelve children, six of them diagnosed with schizophrenia, that became science’s great hope in the quest to understand the disease.”

This second selection reminded me of watching a documentary instead of a drama, but it isn’t dry at all. In fact, the story had additional relevance for me since the genetics of schizophrenia, discussed in this book, was a topic I researched heavily when writing my science fiction novel in which one of the main characters suffered from this disorder. It turns out that the author began his research the same year my book was published.

I never would have considered reading either one of these nonfiction titles, but both provided excellent reads and an opportunity to participate in excellent discussion. I don’t consider myself to be well read, and I have a pile of books just waiting, but I may decide not to read many of them. There is a limited amount of time to read. Now that I have sampled some different types of books, my palate has changed. New tastes in literature beckon to be sampled. I’ve been subsisting on the same literary diet and had simply forgotten how enjoyable it is to try something new and the importance of keeping it fresh.

I tend to be an introvert and I don’t go out much, especially during this epidemic. Now that I’ve gone clubbing, I’ve met some interesting people, read some interesting books, and developed a better understanding of book clubs and of myself.


The 10 Deadly Sins of Bad Editors

There is no end of articles, videos and books advising the submitting writer how to put their best foot forward when interacting with that most feared and terrorizing member of the literary species: the editor. Writers have good reason for wariness and trepidation: Editors hold your professional life and death in their hands. Most of the advice regarding author-to-editor interaction can be summed up as: Be professional. That is to say, submit polished copy. Be courteous. Read the magazine and understand what the editors are looking for. Submit copy in the requested format. Do not resubmit revised copy while the original sub is under consideration. Do not argue rejections or ask for detailed feedback on rejected manuscripts. Do not hound or harry over-worked, underpaid editors for favors outside the scope of their normal work duties. 

Fair enough. All very sensible, pertinent advice.   

But that is not what this blog post is about. No, this blog post is a writer’s critique/feedback/bitch session-rant concerning some of my problematic experiences with themAnd believe-you-me, some of this ilk need a bracing bucket of cold water dumped over their heads to snap them back to some semblance of reality/empathy for the word slaves they task with grinding out endless reams of copy written on spec for sniff-nosed rejections or equally frigid, curt acceptances. Below, please find my 10-point checklist of grievances with editors.  

Before we get into the list, however, I would like to single out two editors who have been absolute paragons of professional conduct: John O’Neil (of Black Gate magazine fame) and S. T. Joshi (scholar, editor, weird tales writer). Mr. O’Neil and Mr. Joshi are talented, courteous and direct. Talented: their advice and suggestions improved my work.  Both are unfailingly courteous in their interactions with writers, regardless of their status within the industry. (I expected S. T. Joshi—“the nastiest reviewer in the business”—Ellen Datlow—to be an absolute excoriating monster of vituperative contempt and snarling arrogance. In point of fact, I was shocked and mildly disappointed to discover that he is an exemplar of old-world courtesy and correctness in his behind-the-scenes dealings with writers: inexhaustibly polite, wryly funny and self-deprecating, offering the gentlest of gentlemanly criticism. When he puts his finger on a weakness in your work, he lets you solve it without being harshly proscriptive or prescriptive.) Direct: they do not mince words, but neither do they “erupt” at writers, issue vague or confusing communications, or retreat into sullen silence when questioned.  I confess to having been spoiled by these two venerable gentlemen. I now expect all editors worth the title to model the O’Neil/Joshi criterions of excellence: succinctness and directness in communication (without being rude or abrupt), genuine talent and demonstrated ability for giving constructive criticism, respect and appreciation for a writer’s voice, fast follow-up and follow-through. 

Some others, however. . . . Let’s just say that not all the (censored bleeps) of the literary world inhabit the writers’ camp. 

  1. Competence. You would think—at a bare-minimum—all editors could improve a writer’s work. You would be wrong. I have had editors who mangled my grammar and syntax, reversed the very meaning of what I was trying to say, punched holes in a narrative’s pace and intelligibility (“We couldn’t fit those two paragraphs on the page so we cut them out”), and in one recent head-scratching instance published an entire short story with all italics removed. (No explanation ever given.) And then there is the editor who published my story under another’s name
  1. Imperious Behavior/Commandments. “Give us your best work.” I’m not intentionally sending you my worst, pal. I’m actually delusional enough to think that any poem or short story I finish and send out after extensive revision might be worthy of passing note. So what are you paying? “Payment is 2 contributor copies”. Rights? “Acceptance of publication means you sign away all rights . . .” Next! 
  1. Curt Acceptances. Look, I understand curt rejections—but acceptances? The gold needle in the towering shit-stack of a writer’s life of rejection? “Acceptance of the work is your reward.” Of course! But can’t you be a little . . . warmer in conveying that news? “No time.” Nonsense! A simple “congrats!” or “well done!” preceding the “accepted for publication in . . .” would do. 
  1. Confusing/Impossible-to-Follow Directions Upon Acceptance. “Enclosed find attached contract. Sign and return.” Which I can’t do. Because the version you sent does not allow it to be opened and modified by the receiver. Adobe Acrobat, anyone? 
  1. Ghosting/No Response. I ask you a direct question. You refuse to answer. WTF?! Am I supposed to somehow divine the answer, perhaps through a throw of yarrow stalks or the shaking of a Magic 8-ball? Surmise your response through subtext? Re: subs: Your site says: “Follow up in 6 – 8 weeks if no reply to submission received.” Which I do. At eight weeks. Again—one week later. And again . . . one week after that. Yet one more time . . . And then I regretfully (though confusedly—what happened?) pull the story from your slush pile/in-box. Did you never get to it? Plan on going out of business? Feel the story and/or author beneath your contempt? Are simply unprofessional? (Yes, I checked my spam filter.) And don’t give me that crap about “we don’t have time to reply to submissions”. Penetrative-act you! If you have the time to solicit submissions—and publish a magazine/online site/book—you better make time to respond to writers who devote time and energy from their harried, frequently under-paid and over-worked lives (just like you, see?) to create something they feel might serve your needs. 
  1. Broken Promises.  “Pays 2 contributor copies.” Never received. “Queries answered.” Not. “Please follow up in . . .” See point #5 above. “Will be published . . .” Out of business; story never formally returned. 
  1. Changing Submitted Copy Without Notifying the Writer. Yes, maybe your suggested revision is better. Maybe it isn’t. Let’s look at it—together—before one or both of us face-plants in public. 
  1. Editors Who Treat Their Magazines as Their Very Own Vanity Press. It’s impressive that you’ve published 5,000 stories. It is! Really. Somewhat less impressive that half of them were published in your own magazine. Who edits the editor? 
  1. Editors Who Publish Commonplace Dreck Whilst Rejecting Your Literary Gems. Just kidding! That’s frustration speaking, not sober judgement or fair criticism. So okay; this should be a 9-point list! No one reads 9-point lists. . . .   
  1. Endless Whining, Moaning & Groaning, Bitchy Kvetching About Writers. I’m sure all of it is, at times, merited. More than merited—richly deserved. There are madmen and madwomen and genderless mad people (everyone in the pool!) perpetrating all manner of wrong actions upon long-suffering editors. But once in a while—please—pause to consider the sins committed upon writers by your colleagues. (Not you, of course! You’ve never committed any of “The Ten—well, Nine—Deadly Editorial Sins” enumerated above, I’m sure. Never! My goodness. Why, the very thought!)    

And now, the bonus round: 10 favorite quotes about editors and/or the process of revision. 

1.) “Some editors are failed writers, but so are most writers.”  (Okay, that’s one for your side!) ― T.S. Eliot 

2.) “The first draft reveals the art; revision reveals the artist.”   ― Michael Lee 

3.) “An editor is like a priest or a psychiatrist; if you get the wrong one then you are better off alone.” 
― Toni Morrison 

4.) “Just get it down on paper, and then we’ll see what to do with it.”   ― Maxwell Perkins 

5.) “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”   ― Stephen King 

6.) “Remove the comma, replace the comma, remove the comma, replace the comma…” 
― R.D. Ronald 

7.) “Editors can be stupid at times. They just ignore that author’s intention. I always try to read unabridged editions, so much is lost with cut versions of classic literature, even movies don’t make sense when they are edited too much. I love the longueurs of a book even if they seem pointless because you can get a peek into the author’s mind, a glimpse of their creative soul. I mean, how would people like it if editors came along and said to an artist, ‘Whoops, you left just a tad too much space around that lily pad there, lets crop that a bit, shall we?’. Monet would be ripping his hair out.” 
― E.A. Bucchianeri 

8.) “Writing well is more than mechanics, but it is not less.”   ― Douglas Wilson 

9.) “Be a good editor. The Universe needs more good editors, God knows.”   ― Kurt Vonnegut  

10.) “Most of these editors, as they call themselves, couldn’t even effectively edit a haiku.”― Frank Black 


Creative Writing Advice?

Googling the title returned about 420,000,000 results in 0.57 seconds. I don’t have the time in this life to read it all, but what I did read was boring. “Advice for creative writing” strikes me as an oxymoron. “Advice” and “creative” are opposites. “Advice” suggests tried and true while “creative” means untested, new. Fresh.

The Google results clearly claim I’m wrong about this. But to paraphrase Anatole France, “If 420 million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing.” And despite my skepticism, I enjoy thinking about insights from respected writers. Such as these two from Kurt Vonnegut.

“Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.”

“Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.”

Both quotes help me to focus but creativity is the use of the imagination to form something new. Strictly speaking, no one can give you that. So, my advice to new creative writers is, “Think for yourself.”

But what do you think? What would your best, or favorite, advice be to a new creative writer?


A Golden Age for the Writing Life

Is social media necessary, to be a writer these days? I’m referring to all the sites on the Internet where people in the writing life communicate with one another. “Necessary” is too strong a word, of course, but I see social media as a place where writers and illustrators and editors and publishers flourish.

I started on Penguin’s Book Country website for new writers because there I found others enjoying the struggle. We happily traded ideas and criticisms. The latter of which grew into a long list for my first novel, and without which I would have learned very little in the writing of it.

The Writers Co-op itself originated on Book Country and is a “social” and “media” support for members. From here, people have floated ideas for new books, aired the progress of their current projects, put out anthologies and publicized the release of their latest works.

Obviously, all these things were accomplished before the Internet but, I submit, never by so many. Thanks to social media, we are living in a Golden Age for the Writing Life.



According to Publishers Weekly, the pandemic changed book-buying patterns. One obvious change: The travel book subcategory had a severe decline last year, with units plunging 40.3% compared to 2019.

Overall, sales were up in 2020. BookScan said the 8.2% gain was the largest annual increase since 2010. When schools shut, parents’ demand for hard copy juvenile nonfiction titles jumped 23.1% Big Preschool Work sold nearly 790,000 copies, while Crystal Radke’s My First Learn-to-Write Workbook sold more than 703,000 copies.

In YA nonfiction, anti-racism books helped drive gains. Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You by Jason Reynolds was #1 on the category list, selling more than 317,000 copies, while This Book Is Anti-racist by Tiffany Jewell sold more than 76,000 copies.

Adult fiction sales rose 6% over 2019. The hottest subcategory was graphic novels, where sales rose 29%. (The action/adventure subcategory had the toughest year, with units down 14.9%.)

Political books -not the spin or puff pieces- but books tied to social justice topics, helped lift sales in adult nonfiction 4.8% over 2019.

Our industry is alive and well despite the troubled times.