Posted in Backstory, Writing craft, YOuTube

Improving Your Writing…5 Tips at a Time

I started my writing career over thirty years ago. I began with a writing passion that had burned brightly since I was a teeny-bopper (does anyone use that word anymore?). I remember being twelve years old and wondered why a kid my age couldn’t write a book. Of course, anyone can write anything. As a writer matures, though, the question becomes not whether I can write but whether I should write. My answer was always a resounding yes. I had to write. What’s next, then?

For everyone who writes, there comes a time when we begin to think about getting what we write published. I started as a freelance health and medical writer because my educational background led me in that direction. But I wanted to do more. So, I wrote a book.

What did I know about writing a book? I did a lot of research. In those days, that research involved lots of writing books. There was no internet to browse, no other writers to connect with online. I was on my own. So, I read a lot of books and writing magazines, and I took a few courses. I learned a lot by trial and error. After my first book was picked up by a publisher and finally made it to trade paperback, I started teaching writing.

Along the way, I had also picked up a graduate degree in strategic health communication (like you do!). I began consulting in corporate communications alongside my writing, which led a corporate communication program at a local university to ask me to teach. I started teaching print media, essentially a writing and design course for print communication tools. That began an unexpected twenty-six-year academic career, ending up as a full Professor of Communication Studies. All along the way, I never stopped writing―both as a job requirement and for myself.

Most of my books were published by traditional publishers. Still, along the way, I took several forays into self-publishing, even publishing teaching materials that eventually became a book that I sold to a large American textbook publisher. Now, I write only for myself―women’s and historical fiction. (and the odd writing reference book when I have time_.

Over the years, I’ve learned a lot from a lot of people―readers, editors, students, book authors, YouTube video presenters, among them. Now, it’s time to give back.

I’ve also learned one more thing: time is a precious commodity. So, I thought, what if I could provide bite-sized pieces of writing advice to budding writers―and others who want a fresh perspective―in a format they could easily access?

Born from that idea is my newly launched series on YouTube. Write. Fix. Repeat. Making you a better writer, five tips at a time.

I’ve just uploaded the first episode based on a blog post I did last year on the five characteristics of great writing. I thought it might be a good way to get started.

If you’d like five tips a week, subscribe and come along with me on this journey. I guarantee we’ll all learn something―especially me!

Posted in Writing, Writing craft

When is a book too long?

big bookI just started reading a book that clocks in at over 900 pages.  900 pages!  Just imagine that.  Before I bought it I read the online reviews on Amazon.  The reviews were good but one issue kept cropping up: the book was too long.  In fact, this particular novelist is known for her long books, usually in the vicinity of 500-600 pages.  I’d read several before.  I haven’t read a book that long since I read Herman Wouk’s wonderful “Winds of War” which is over 1000 pages in pocket paperback size.

This got me thinking:  How long should a book really be?

If you are to believe Chuck Sambucino (whose work in Writer’s Digest I do admire), any book over 110,000 words is too long.[1]  This seems entirely too didactic to me unless we’re talking about specific genres such as children’s books.  That would mean that many very famous and well-loved masterpieces are “too long.”  Of course, any bad piece of writing is too long even at 60,000 words which he further suggests is too short.  It’s not that cut and dried.

Kurt Vonnegut reputedly gave this advice to writers: “Start as close to the end as possible,”[2] which suggests to me that there is likely a place in every story that is the best place to enter it.  Indeed, I believe that this applies equally to non-fiction and fiction.  Starting too far from the end means that you’ll include far too much extraneous material.

I really don’t believe that here is any ideal length. If a story sustains itself for a long session, then that’s probably right.  However, over the years I’ve challenged students to take their best 1000 words for example, and edit it ruthlessly down to half that length.  Then, I’ve said, you’ve got really tight writing.  You have to do it without losing the message of the piece and leave out every extraneous word.  They hate it because they want to keep every bon mot, every personal device and turn of phrase.

When William Faulkner said, “In writing, you must kill your darlings,” this is exactly what he meant.  (Note: This phrase has been variously attributed to Anton Chekov and Oscar Wilde, among many others. I’m going to stick with Faulkner.)

Not every word we write needs to make it to our reader.  Keeping unnecessary material suggests to me one of two things: either you are a serious narcissist who believes that every word you write is precious, or you are seriously in need of an editor.  And in that royal “you” I include myself sometimes.  We all do it.  I’ve even argued with editors about their opinions on some things to leave out. They usually win.

For beginning writers, I think that the biggest pitfall in keeping the story to the essentials is including too much backstory.  Backstory is for us – the writers – so that we can come to know and animate in our own imaginations our characters and the places they where they live and breathe.  This applies equally to fiction and non-fiction.  Knowing how to reveal and how much to reveal is the key to a tight story.  When I’m reading I can always tell when a writer wants the reader to know just how much research he or she put into a story.  And I shouldn’t be able to sense that.   Just as in our interactions with people around us, our interactions with books can have TMI: too much information.

I think that it’s wise to understand that your notebook s and the material contained in them are first and foremost for you, the writer.  Making a decision about how much of that you need to share with your readers is one of the keys to good writing.

I’ll let you know how I feel about the 900-word book – if I ever get through it!

[1] Chuck Sambucino. Word Count for Novels and Children’s Books: The Definitive Post. Writers’ Digest online.

[2] Kurt Vonnegut: 8 Basics of Creative Writing.

Posted in Book publishers, Publishing, Self-Publishing

The hunt for a new publisher begins…again

And so it has started again: I’m on the hunt for yet another publisher. Why, oh why, can I not be like other writers?  Why can’t I just publish in one genre, find myself a good old publisher who actually publishes these books, and happily continue that relationship until death do us part?  Or why can I not simply throw up my hands as so many writers have done and turn my back, once and for all, on the legacy publishers in favor of going the self-publishing route from here on in?

There is no simple answer, but I’m committed to figuring it out – even if it doesn’t solve my current problem.

There are really quite a few reasons why I can’t commit to one publisher, or even one route to publication. As I wade through the mire of my own writing/publishing mess, perhaps sorting myself out might help others who have the same issues.

Why can’t I simply commit to traditional publishing? I’ve already journeyed down this route to the very end ten times.  Ten books submitted, re-submitted, re-worked, accepted, published.  TEN TIEMES!  Surely I have the issue of approaching and procuring a publisher licked.  But here’s the thing: If you’re not a best-selling author delivering books in the same genre time after time, it can be very difficult to maintain a relationship with a single publisher since they all have their own specialities, and they rarely publish outside their guidelines.  The lesson here, of course is, don’t even try to approach a publisher with a query about a book unless it falls clearly within their publishing mandate.

This is plainly illustrated by my own experience: although I’ve been through the traditional publishing route ten times, I’ve worked with eight different publishers. Yup, that’s right.  Eight new routes to navigate and even more than eight editors to develop relationships with since at one of the publishing houses, I went through three editors enroute to publishing ne book (editors do leave mid-project for greener pastures). The bottom line truth this time around is that this new book isn’t at all like any of my previous books.  I’m a hybrid author in more ways than one!

These days the term hybrid author seems to refer to those of us who publish both via the traditional route and the indie route depending on the project. It can also refer to people like me who write in a number of genres – fiction & non-fiction and different types with those broad categories.  So that makes the traditional route difficult and time-consuming.  So, why don’t I just self-publish?  Again.

I’ve gone down the self-publishing route three times at this point, but only for fiction, and this book is non-fiction – a combination of narrative and prescriptive. The conventional wisdom holds that it is easier to have non-fiction acquired by a traditional publisher than it is fiction.  My own experience would seem to bear that out, but my personal anecdotal evidence isn’t really enough to use as a basis for such a conclusion.  I suspect that I’m a more talented non-fiction writer than a fiction writer, although I’m working to change that!

If you knew how much work I’ve already done on the marketing for this as-yet-unpublished book you’d think that I was planning to publish independently. I’ve written marketing copy; I’ve had a cover designed; I’ve created an unpublished web site for it; I’ve even begun to develop a series of podcasts.  I’m also story-boarding a book trailer.  The truth is that you almost need to do this in advance of being taken on by a traditional publisher these days anyway.

I’m still a traditionalist at heart, believing in the value of the third-party advocacy provided by legacy publishers. I’m not willing, however, to spend another year searching for that publisher. I’m aghast at the notion of submission-rejection-submission etc. once again on the route to acceptance.  So, maybe my loyal blog readers could help me decide.

What should I do with the following book! (Let me know what you think – and ask your fellow writers what they think if you like.)


Who Will Read Your Book?

The Unknown Writer’s Guide to the Realities of Writing & Publishing

WWRYB CoverThere are lots of books about how to write a book. This isn’t one of them.  This book is about how to navigate the increasingly confusing world of twenty-first century book publishing.  Whether you are an academic with a dissertation you’d like to turn into a book, a mom with a memoir or a newbie with a novel, if you want to get it published there is probably a lot you don’t know about what you don’t know. Who Will Read Your Book? The Unknown Writer’s Guide to the Realities of Writing & Publishing starts with this seminal question then moves in to fill in the gaps.

Patricia Parsons knows a thing or two about the wild world of publishing. A communication professor with numerous professional books placed with traditional publishers, she is a closet fiction writer, has vanity published, self-published, sold a self-published book to a traditional publisher, and has scads of finished and half-finished manuscripts on her computer. 

A few of my past publisher adventures…