Sunday, March 4, 2018

Writing with Focus

You have a wonderful idea for a story. Maybe it’s a mystery novel, a children’s middle grade story, or a picture book. Maybe it’s a young adult. You know what you want to say, or convey, and you start typing away. This is the beginning of every story.

But, we should backtrack a moment and go back to the idea. The idea: your protagonist has a problem or conflict. Delving a little deeper, you can see how each chapter or section will be worked out.

You are sure you can bring your idea to full fruition—without the use of an outline. Okay, that’s fine. Many writers use the by-the-seat-of-your-pants (pantser) writing method. So, off your mind and fingers fly . . . creating something from nothing . . . well, not exactly from nothing, from an idea.

This is the beginning.

You type a draft of your story. How long this process will take depends on how long your manuscript will be—whether a novel, short story, or children’s story. Take note though . . . even if your story is as short as a children’s picture book, you still need focus in your writing.

Writing Focus

Focus is the path from point A to point B. It’s the path from beginning to end that keeps the story together and wraps it neatly up.

An example might be an ice skater whose goal is to become good enough to get into the Olympics. His focus will be to train vigorously to accomplish his goal.

Another example might be that of a school bus on its route to pick up children and bring them to school. The shop is where the bus begins, point A; it will end up at the school, point B. But, between point A and point B, the bus must deviate from the direct path to pick up each child.

The same holds true for your story. There is a path the story needs to follow to accomplish its goal. If you deviate too much from this path your story becomes diluted or weak.

This is not to say you cannot have subplots, it means everything needs to be tied together moving forward on the same path toward the same end.

Using an outline can often help with maintaining focus, even with a short story. It’s kind of a writing GPS that guides you from point A to point B. It allows you to stray here and there with the comfort of knowing that you need to be at certain points throughout the manuscript. It’s a reminder to keep you focused.

This article was originally reprinted here in November 2012.

Karen Cioffi is an award-winning children’s author, children’s ghostwriter, and online platform instructor with WOW! Women on Writing. For must-know writing and marketing tips, get free access to The Writing World.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

What Editors and Publishers Hate.


         Anyone who deals with an editor (whether paid or a volunteer or an editor for a publishing house) or directly with a publisher need to know what irritates them. Keeping a publisher and/or an editor happy makes for a smoother relationship. So, what things do publishers and editors hate?

1. Submitters who do not follow guidelines irk anyone dealing with writers. More than one person has submitted to 4RV and sent material we do not publish with cover letters stating the story, writing, whatever was SOOOOO good that we would accept the manuscript any way. What arrogance. Editors and publishers hate when authors do not conduct themselves as professionals. If a manuscript, no matter how excellent, does not fit the form, style, or genre of a publishing house, it will be rejected. Even if the most well-written, wonderful material in the world, not every publisher will be interested.

         A sub-point of not following guidelines is an author shows he does not or will not follow directions. No one wants to work with anyone who won’t follow directions.

         According to Alex Field (“The Editor Behind the Curtain,” Writer’s Digest, March/April 2018), authors need to do their homework. Research the differences between fiction and nonfiction, and what is needed for submissions for each. “Every category and genre of publishing is governed by unspoken rules.” Writers must know what is needed and what isn’t.

2. Editors and publishers HATE a writer whose submission is rejected who sends a hateful attack in reply. For example, one of my imprint editors sent a very polite refusal letter to an author with suggestions for improvement. He wrote an email attacking the editor, calling her inept and blind, saying that her “vanity press” would never matter, and a few other choice words. In his email, he revealed that he had stolen the idea for his manuscript from a popular children’s book from some years ago. As I told him, the publishing community is small, and if he wanted to be accepted by any publisher he needed to 1.) Write better; 2.) Work with others better; 3.) Learn how to use rejection to become better; and 4.) Never be rude. I also informed him that we weren’t a vanity press, that we paid for everything and the authors paid for nothing, and that as the people paying the bills, we could refuse anything submitted that we didn’t like.

3. Unprofessionalism can also be found when a writer asks a writing expert to give an opinion and sends a rough draft, and, yes, writers even submit rough drafts to publishers. Anytime someone sends a manuscript to a professional, the material should be well-written and well-edited.

         Other turn-offs for publishers and editors include the following:

4. Publishers and/or editors hate manuscripts that are not completely edited. Bad punctuation, spelling, and grammar: traits of a writer with no experience or one who hasn’t taken the time to learn or research correct needs of writing sentences, much less a manuscript. Editors hate when an author doesn’t even run spell-check or try to correct grammar and punctuation. Yes, the major part of a submission is the story, but punctuation, spelling, and grammar mistakes distract readers from understanding what the author wants to convey.

         Other editing problems include lack of coherency, cohesion, clarity, completeness, and conciseness.

         Steven James and Pam Johnson (“The 7 Deadly Sins of Editors & Novelists,” Writer’s Digest, March/April 2018) wrote a give and take between a novelist, Steven James, and editor, Pam Johnson. One point that novelists should avoid is sloppiness, not submitting one’s best work. No, it is not the editor’s job to fix an author’s typos and errors. “Never settle for sending in less than your best.”

5. Unbelievable dialogue is disliked: Dialogue should flow and not sound stilted, needs to be realistic. Also incorrect punctuation around dialogue.

6. Publishers and editors hate scenes not set. No, an author doesn’t need to give detailed descriptions, but enough information is needed so readers have an idea where or when the scene takes place – at least a general idea.

7. Cardboard characters “turn-off” editors/publishers. Characters should be 3 dimensional, and someone for the reader to care about. Don’t let characters be predictable and don’t give a character’s back story all at once. Providing a back story is not the same as creating and developing a character that comes to life. One is telling, and the other is showing. Make characters believable with motivation for actions.

8. They don’t like novels too long or too short. Over 200,000 and under 50,000 words are unacceptable for common publishing standards.

9. A poor plot: Every story needs a plot that begins with a hook and keeps the reader interested. The plot should not have inconsistencies in the story, characters, or timeline.

10. No originality or freshness. Even general ideas need to be “made” the author’s. My example earlier about the writer “stealing” the idea of another book was bad enough, and then his poor writing made it worse.

11. Publishers hate when an author figuratively sits backs and crosses his arms and does nothing to promote or market his book. Authors should have a marketing plan before submitting a manuscript, a platform. If authors such as James Patterson must promote “his” books, then the rest of us surely need to do the same.

         Alex Field says an author must be his/her book’s CMO – Chief Marketing Officer. “You are its (your book’s) first and last advocate.” No one cares more about a book’s success than its writer.

12. Editors hate when the writing is heavy and unwieldy. It includes inflated sentences, stilted language, and overuse of adjectives and adverbs.

13. They hate repetitive use of vocabulary and repetitive sentence structure and length.

14. Publishers and editors hate clich├ęs and stereotypes. Lazy writers use such devices.

15. They hate the narrative telling rather than showing. Narrative must develop the scene. “The party was loud” tells, but describing the conversations, the waiter dropping a tray, cell phones ringing shows.

16. Editors hate when dialogues turn into speeches. Dialogue shows relationships, moves the story along, creates scenes, etc. It is the interaction of two people or more, not a chance to “tell” by having someone give a speech.

17. They hate when events or a character’s behavior has no motivation, no reason.

18. A complaint from many editors, including those from 4RV, is writers do not learn, whether they can’t or won’t. An editor points out a problem in one section of a manuscript and suggests the writer check the rest of the manuscript for like problems and correct them. However, the writer doesn’t, expects the editor to find them and correct. Then a writer doesn’t learn from one project to the next. The same problems occur one project after another. An editor’s job is not to rewrite a book for an author but to help the author polish a manuscript.

19. Authors fail to realize that writing and preparing a book is a long process. The writing portion requires round and round of revisions before the book is submitted. According to Pam Johnson, “Quality takes multiple rewrites.” Steven James adds, “Anything worth publishing takes time.”

         A few other bits and pieces from publishers and editors that they hate: use of “fiction novel”; following a trend without an authentic manuscript; manuscripts too complicated to be published; manuscript is boring; shifting into a sliding point of view; a writer saying how great his book is; writing is too flowery; graphic violence, profanity, and explicit sex; writer has an unpleasant tone and attitude; book’s pacing is off.

         Of course, I can’t possibly cover every possible thing publishers and editors hate, but those are the main ones I’ve found and many of the ones I hate.

            Vivian Zabel, from general researching, experience, and writings
            Angela Hoy, the publisher of, and the co-owner of
            Amanda Hampson The Write Workshops
            Alex Field, “The Editor Behind the Curtain,” Writer’s Digest, March/April 2018
            Steven James and Pam Johnson, “The 7 Deadly Sins of Editors & Novelists,” Writer’s Digest,
                                               March/April 2018

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Is Your Character Multi-Dimensional?

By Karen Cioffi

Between your characters and the plot, you develop a story. If the mix is right, and the characters are believable, you can create a story worthy of publication.

While there are many articles about creating believable characters, it's an important topic and reminders are always in order since your characters are a crucial aspect of your story.

So, which is your protagonist?

1. Is your protagonist flat...lacks any type of emotion and action. Like the simple and safe kiddy rides at a children's amusement park...the carousel horse that goes round and round, but does nothing else? Then you have a one- dimensional character on your hands.

2. Is your protagonist a little bumpy...he has some quirks, life and emotion, but no real depth of character or history. Like the carousel horse that goes round and round and up and down at a steady easy pace? Then you have a two-dimensional character struggling to break into the world of believability.

3. Is your protagonist a full-blown amusement park...a roller coaster, full of ups and downs, knowledge, emotion, character, and history? Now you have it—you have a believable three-dimensional character that is strong enough to bring your story through to the end.

Now the question is: how do you create a wonderful, believable life-like three-dimensional character?

There are a number of methods you can use that will help create a believable character, here are two:

1. Create a character sheet or use an index card before you begin.

On your sheet, list all the characteristics, quirks, moods, mannerisms, physical attributes, artistic get the idea. Keep this sheet handy as you're writing your story.

If you tell the reader Pete has blonde hair in the beginning of the story, and then you describe it as black, unless he dyed his hair as part of the storyline, stay true to the character. Readers pick up on errors very quickly.

The more detail you add to your character sheet the easier it will be to know what your protagonist will do in any given circumstance. This will take the element of wondering out of your writing process and save time...Pete finds a bag of money next to his neighbor's car. Hmm . . . will he keep it or try to find out if it's his neighbor's? Oh, wait a minute, on your character sheet you wrote he's an honest guy! Simple.

2. Add characteristics and attributes to your protagonist as you write your story.

Write your protagonist's characteristics, quirks, moods, mannerisms, and so on, on a character sheet as your story evolves.

The Seat of the Pants Method

There are some writers who use different methods to create a story. Maybe you're using the 'seat-of-the-pants-method' and your character evolves as your story does. With this method, you want to be sure to note each new development in your protagonist's character or being.

Let's go back to Pete again. Pete scratches a car as with his bicycle. Does he leave a note on the car he damaged? Does he quickly leave the scene? Does he just ignore the incident and goes about his business?

While he's usually honest, he could have a moment of weakness? Maybe he's worried about the consequences.

Whichever one of these actions he chooses will establish another element to his character - be sure to make note of it.

No matter what process you use, remember to add life-like qualities to your character. Readers need to develop a relationship with the protagonist. If they feel Pete is three dimensional and they are drawn to him, they'll be sure to read to the end of your book.

Karen Cioffi is an award-winning children’s author, children’s ghostwriter, and online platform instructor with WOW! Women on Writing. For must-know writing and marketing tips, get free access to The Writing World.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

From Joan Steward: Submit Your Book to Gift Guides

       The following is from Joan Steward, "The Publicity Hound," who wants followers to share with their followers and readers. Please follow Joan on

Friday, January 19, 2018

The Death of a Legend

Dusty Richards presenting Vivian Zabel with award at 2011 OWFI Conference

      Dusty Richards -- the resident OWFI, Arkansas, and national cowboy author and winner of multiple Spur awards -- died Thursday, January 18, following complications suffered in an auto accident a weeks previous.  His ever present and supportive wife Pat, with him in the accident, passed last week. 

      Dusty and Pat will be missed, but at least they are together as they always were in life. 

     I work with words everyday, whether writing or editing or reading, yet I have trouble finding the words needed to give tribute to this legend of the writing world. He mentored many authors, including me.  He attended conferences and workshops in Oklahoma, Texas, and Arkansas, sharing his wisdom and encouragement. We all lost when Dusty Richards left this life.

     Everyone who knew Dusty has stories to tell. My favorite memories of him are of his handing out awards during the Saturday banquet at Oklahoma Writers Federation Inc. (OWFI) conferences. He enjoyed participating as much as those who received honors did.

     A talented western writer, Dusty won many awards and got to see one of his novels made into a movie. He gave the cowboy stamp to everything he wrote, bringing the words to life and giving readers a glimpse into yesteryear. 

   Although Dusty wasn't connected to 4RV Publishing, he connected to many of us associated with the company. His death leaves a hole in our lives and in our hearts. Using the words of another well-known and beloved cowboy, Happy trails to you, Dusty Richards from all of us at 4RV.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

5 Ways for Authors to Promote Themselves and Their Book(s)

5 Ways for Authors to Promote Themselves and Their Book(s)
 by Vivian Zabel

            Whether an author has a book released through a traditional publisher or goes the self-publishing route, he/she must promote that book. Publishers may point the way, but the author does the work. Promotion may appear overwhelming, but many ways to help a writer promote exist. Now, an author does not try all the methods and tips at once, but one at a time to find what works.
            One tip all promoters suggest is writers must begin promoting themselves before they ever mention a book. Possible readers must know the author and be familiar with the name before they will be interested in any book. In fact, many tips are repeated from source to source.
            This article will cover only five suggestions, but the sources are listed at the bottom of the text. Writers can and should do research to discover their “perfect” way or ways to promote themselves and their book or books.

Promotional Tips and Suggestions

 1. Start early, not too late: Promote yourself by becoming an interesting person, one who shows interest in others. Cathy Presland states, “Comment on threads in Facebook groups or on other people’s threads to build your reputation as an expert.” Using material researched, for background or facts used for a book, to build a reputation as an expert allows an author to “double-dip” with one’s work.
            According to Tony Levelle, a writer should begin as much as three years, or as soon as possible, before any book is released: “… start building a network of supporters and reviewers. Keep track of everyone you meet as you research and write the book. Pay special attention to, and make notes about, those who demonstrate a genuine enthusiasm for you and your project.”
            One problem many authors have, says Brian Feinblum, is they “don’t think about marketing until the book is already written.”

2. Start a blog and a website: Every writer needs a blog and website, before any book is released.
A blog should help build the reputation of the author as an expert in one or more fields. A blog shouldn’t be used to “pound” readers with the book. It shouldn’t be “buy, buy, buy.” It should be somewhere for readers to want to read and learn more about the author and what the author knows and shares. For example, an author could write in-depth posts on a topic researched for his/her book, referencing the book and linking to it at the end of the post. If the book is not finished or even written yet, the author can still post information about the research, creating a useful amount of knowledge over time           
All authors need a website dedicated to themselves and their book or books, which they update regularly. All information should be correct and complete. Tonly Levelle gives a list of what such a website should include:
* A book blog with updates and corrections concerning the book. It should include responces to reader comments and suggestions.
* Sample chapters from the book (I disagree with this one. I suggest using short stories or articles linked to the book).
* A link to where the book could be ordered online.
* The authors media kit.
* Book reviews and blurbs.
* The author’s schedule of appearances, such as at bookstores, speaking engagements, and conferences.
* Contact information.

3. Write an outstanding, well-written book: All the preparation, all the promotion, all the planning in the world means nothing if the book isn’t the best it can be. An exceptional book will create word-of-mouth publicity.

4. Create a Media Kit: According to Levelle, a media kit should include the following information –
·       Professional business cards that include the author’s contact information.
·       A head shot by a professional photographer or talented amateur.
·       A short biography, 100-150 words, to tell readers why the author is qualified to write this book.
·       A “one sheet” with a glassy print of the book cover and a description of the book (think back cover blurb) as well as a few short reviews and recommendations from others.
5. Prepare to do a heavy load of work: Since even well-known, famous authors must promote their book, ALL authors must be prepared to do the major portion of promotion and marketing for their books. Authors should find as much help as possible from anyone and everyone, but authors must realize that the hard work is theirs. [Brian Feinblum]
            Authors can find hundreds of suggestions and tips for promoting and marketing their books. Each should find and use those which work for him/her, trying, and ignoring unusable ones, keeping those that do work.
            A book means the most to the author, and, therefore, the author needs to promote and market his/her book.

               Brian Feinblum, “Promotional Pitfalls,” The Writer, September, 2018 page 16
               Tony Levelle, “15 DIY Book Promotion Tools You Need to Know,”
               Cathy Presland, “50 (and more) Ways to Promote Your Book,”

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Book Marketing – 6 Tips to Give Your Author Platform a Boost

By Karen Cioffi

So, you’re an author. That’s great. But, just writing books isn’t enough – you’ve got to promote you and your books.

The first step to doing this is to have yearly, monthly, and weekly book marketing goals. With goals, you know where you’re heading and can work toward that end.
Marketing goals can be considered a marketing plan and it will have a number of steps or objectives that must be set in motion and accomplished.

To market your book. You need to generate visibility for you and your platform. Six of the bare basic online marketing strategies to increase you visibility are:

1. Create a presence and platform

Creating an online presence and platform is initiated by creating a website. First though, you’ll need to be sure of your niche because the domain name, site title, and content should reflect your niche and/or your area of expertise.

Remember, plan first. Choose a domain name and title that will grow with you. As an example, if you choose a site name, Picture Books with [Your Name], you’ve limited yourself. What if your next book is a chapter book or young adult, or other?

As part of your book marketing strategy, you should also create a ‘hub’ site that will act as the center to your offshoot sites, such as the individual sites for each of your books.

Leave room to grow; it’s always advisable to use your name as the hub site’s title, or part of it.

In addition, with today’s gone-in-a-second attention span, it’s a good idea to keep your site simple. Marketing expert Mike Volpe of points out that it’s more important to spend time, and money if necessary, on content rather than a flashy website design; simple works.

Google verifies this ‘simple is better’ strategy and notes that milliseconds count in regard to your page load time. In fact, Google gives a ‘poorer’ score to pages that are slow to load.

Sites that take a few seconds or more to load may also cause you to lose potential subscribers and buyers.

TIP: You should have an author website up and running before you start submitting you manuscript to publishers or before you self-publish.

2. Increase visibility

Writing content, blog posts, for your readers/visitors is the way to increase visibility – content is definitely still King. Provide interesting, informative, and/or entertaining content that will prompt the reader to come back and, just as important, to share your article.

Also, be sure your content is pertinent to your site, and keep your site and content focused on your platform.

3. Draw traffic to your site with blogging

To draw traffic to your site, promote your posts by using social media. You should also include guest blogging. This will increase your visibility reach.

This is considered organic marketing; it funnels traffic back to your site with valuable content and free offers.

TIP: When using social media, choose two or three networks and ‘work’ them. It’s important to be active on the networks you promote your books on.

You can learn more about using social media at:
The Social Media Marketing Smorgasbord

4. Have effective call-to-actions

Your site must have call-to-action keywords that will motivate readers to visit and click on your links. Keywords and phrases to use include:

- Get your Free gift now for subscribing
- Free e-book to offer on your own site
- Buy Now
- Get Access Now
- Get Started Today
- Join for Free
- Don’t hesitate, take advantage of our expert services
- Be sure to Bookmark this site
- Become a better writer – tips right to your inbox
- Are you blogging wrong? Find out how to do it right!
- Know what email marketing is? Find out here!

You get the idea, motivate the reader to want what you’re offering and give him/her a CLEAR and VISIBLE call-to-action. Make it as simple as possible for the visitor to buy what you’re offering.

You can also check out this article from Hubspot for more ideas on CTAs:
Great Call-to-Action Examples

5. Develop a relationship with your readers
It’s been noted that only 1% of first time visitors will buy a product. Usually, only after developing a relationship through your newsletter, information, and offers will your potential customer or client click on the BUY NOW button or other call-to-action you have in place.

While it will take some time and effort to implement and maintain these strategies, it will be worth it in the long run. Think of it as a long-term investment.

6. Create an ebook for increased visibility and opt-in enticement

Another strategy is to offer your readers an ebook relevant to your niche. This will help to increase your usefulness to the reader and help establish your authority.

As an author, you might offer a chapter or an excerpt of your book in ebook format.

So, there you have it - six tips on boosting your book marketing results.

This is a revised reprint from 2013.

Karen Cioffi is an award-winning children’s author, children’s ghostwriter, and online platform instructor with WOW! Women on Writing. For must-know writing and marketing tips, get free access to The Writing World.


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