Friday, February 14, 2020

3 Mistakes to Avoid When Writing Fiction

A few mistakes in your fiction can often make the difference between a very good manuscript and a not-so-good one that is rejected by publishers.

Below are just three of the most common mistakes in fiction that I see day after day as a writing instructor and writing coach:

1) Overuse of participle phrases to begin a sentence.

A participle phrase usually begins with a word that ends in the letters "ing."

There is nothing wrong with beginning a sentence with a participle phrase.

But when you do it too often, it begins to draw attention to itself and distract the reader from the action of the story.

Like this:

Reaching behind her, Mary grabbed her backpack and ran straight for the woods. Pushing branches and tangled vines out of her way, she was able to find the foot path. But a snake was stretched out across it. Turning around quickly and searching for another way through the forest, she suddenly heard someone call out her name.

Notice how clunky that sounds.

When you finish writing a story, go back over it and circle all the sentences that begin with a participle phrase.

If you have several of these phrases on each and every page, change most of them.

Like this:

Mary reached behind her and grabbed her backpack, then she ran straight for the woods. She pushed branches and tangled vines out of her way until she was able to find the foot path. But a snake was stretched out across it, so she turned quickly and searched for another way through the forest. Suddenly, she heard someone call out her name.

2) Dislocating or projecting body parts.

Yes, many writers actually do this in their stories.

The most common example of this is when characters' eyes leave their bodies.

Here's what I mean:

I was angry at my brother. I shot my eyes across the room at him and gave him a dirty look.


Was the poor brother left holding those eyeballs, or were they just stuck on the front of his shirt or something?

3) Dialogue that is punctuated incorrectly.

The most common example is when characters laugh words.

They simply can't do this.

Try it yourself.

Can you laugh and speak at the same time?

Not really.

Yet, when you use a comma to separate the dialogue tag from the dialogue itself, you are indicating the words were laughed.

Here's an example:

"I'd never try that in a million years," laughed Denise.

To avoid this mistake, simply use a period after the dialogue, creating two separate sentences.

Like this:

"I'd never try that in a million years." Denise laughed.

Each of these mistakes is easy to correct.

But now that you're aware of them they should be easy to avoid in the first place!

Try it!

For more writing tips and resources for writers, visit, and don't forget to get your free subscription to The Morning Nudge.

Suzanne Lieurance is a freelance writer, author, and writing coach.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Children, the Environment, and Storytelling

Children, the environment, and storytelling: a few simple words yet when combined can become a powerhouse for teaching children the importance of taking care of our planet.

I belong to a number of writing groups and was a moderator of a children’s writing critique group. What I began to notice is how we as authors are missing the mark. I began to wonder why more authors aren’t incorporating conservation tidbits into their story telling.

Writers have the perfect format for teaching and molding children, and the perfect opportunity. From picture books to young adult novels, conservation and the environment are topics that authors should be thinking of writing about, or at least weave into their stories.

The saying goes, “you are what you eat,” well children become what they learn whether through their environment, including schooling, or reading. If young children are afforded reading material that paints a picture of the benefits and consequences of conservation in simple and entertaining stories, what better way to instill a sense that they can be part of the solution and help protect our environment.

If those same children, while growing up, continue to read fiction and non-fiction stories that make mention of conservation and our environment, how much more will it have an impact on them and become a part of their lives.

While most authors may not want to devote their time to writing books about the environment, just a sentence or scene woven into a story will certainly have an affect. It can be a subtle mention. For example, if it’s a scene with a couple of friends hanging out or on their way somewhere, one or two sentences in the scene might be:

Lucas held the soda bottle in his hand, aimed carefully, and tossed it right into the trash can.

“Nice shot, Lucas, but that goes in the recycling pail,” said Thomas.

This would be the extent of the comment or mention of conservation in the story. It’s short, almost unseen, and yet it becomes a part of the reader’s experience.

Isn’t this what writers want to do, leave an imprint in the minds and hearts of their readers? And, it’s all the more gratifying if it’s a child’s mind and heart that you're helping to develop and mold.

Why not make our lasting words take root in an impressionable child.

In addition to entertaining through our books and stories, we can make a difference in our future, our children’s future and the planet’s future.

This article was originally published at:

Karen Cioffi is an award-winning children’s author and successful children’s ghostwriter/rewriter. She is also the founder and editor-in-chief of Writers on the Move and as well as an author online platform instructor with WOW! Women on Writing.

You can connect with Karen at:

And, check out Karen's award-winning children's chapter book: Walking Through Walls


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Monday, February 10, 2020

7 Gifts to Give Your Writer Self for Valentine's Day

Happy Valentine's Day, Writers!

Whether you you write full time, if writing is a passion project, or both, you are constantly creating. You are driven to write: to build new worlds, bring people's stories to the forefront, explore new genres and format ... and that's a good thing.

Writers, celebrate the love you feel for the work you do. Gift yourself something special for Valentine's day this year.

Here are some ideas:

1. Time. Set a weekly appointment to work on that passion project you never seem to get around to. An hour a week adds up, and you'll never create this potentially wonderful manuscript or story unless you earmark that time.

2. Patience. This is as true for writing as it is for anything else: people work on their own timelines, not yours. So, instead of getting frustrated that you haven't heard back from that agent or editor, give yourself patience. Breathe. And work on something while you wait. You know what they say about watching pots.

3. A Fresh Start. Do you feel frustrated with everything you are working on? Are you losing motivation and excitement? It may be time to reassess your goals and reboot your projects. You can put things on the side, too.

4. Sleep. Sleep in one day this weekend. Or ... sleep in one day every weekend. You work hard. You deserve it!

5. A Break. What's the one activity you keep wanting to do, but can't seem to make the time to actually do? Are you overdue for a walk or a workout? A cooking class or seminar? A movie or book club? Stop waiting for the right day. Just do it!

6. A Clean Office. Nothing is more refreshing that a tidy work space. Take the afternoon, file things, clean up. You'll be glad you did.

7. Gold Stars. Now, these don't have to be actual gold stars, but they can be. I'm talking treats. What makes you happy? Fresh writing supplies, a book by your favorite author, a meal out with a good friend? Reward yourself whenever you hit a milestone ... or on a holiday.

As a writer, it's important to acknowledge and celebrate all accomplishments. And a holiday, like Valentine.s Day, is a wonderful reminder to do something nice for yourself!

* * *

What is the best gift you have ever given yourself? Please share in the comments.

* * *
Debra Eckerling is the author of Your Goal Guide: A Roadmap for Setting, Planning and Achieving Your Goals. A writer, editor and project catalyst, as well as founder of the D*E*B METHOD and Write On Online, Deb works with individuals and businesses to set goals and manage their projects through one-on-one coaching, workshops, and online support. She is also the author of Write On Blogging: 51 Tips to Create, Write & Promote Your Blog and Purple Pencil Adventures: Writing Prompts for Kids of All Ages, host of the #GoalChat Twitter Chat, and a speaker/moderator on the subjects of writing, networking, goal-setting, and social media.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Carol Smallwood Interviews Author, Marketer Carolyn Howard-Johnson

The Great First Impression Book Proposal: Everything You Need to Know to Sell Your Book in 30 Minutes or Less, second edition
By Carolyn Howard-Johnson
Modern History Press
97816159948, $8.95, Paperback, $2.99, Ebook, 54 pages

Carolyn Howard-Johnson is the author of the multi award-winning series of HowToDoItFrugally books for writers including USA Book News' winner for The Frugal Book Promoter now in its third edition. An instructor for UCLA Extension's renowned Writers Program for nearly a decade, she believes in entering (and winning!) contests and anthologies as an excellent way to separate our writing from the hundreds of thousands of books that get published each year. Two of her awards are Woman of the Year in Arts and Entertainment given by members of the California Legislature and Women Who Make Life Happen, given by the Pasadena Weekly newspaper. She is also an award-winning poet and novelist who shared what she's learned.

Smallwood: I can see how you might be exhausted with two books released in a month, but I am hoping you'll share a little about the second one because it's brand new to me.

Howard-Johnson: I can see why you might be surprised because The Great First Impression Book Proposal now has "Second Edition" in it - even on Amazon. And it is really a booklet, closer to what we poets call a chapbook than a real book. So, most authors know me by the full book in my HowToDoItFrugally Series of books for writers, not the booklets for I rarely promoted them. I was just too busy with the information most every author needs for their books to be successful. That brings me to the fact that book proposals are a tool that most writers assume are only needed by authors of nonfiction as part of the sales process to find a publisher for it or an agent to represent their book to publishers but things are different now.

Smallwood: Please tell how it is different:

Howard-Johnson: Well, I didn't know it myself until I got an agent to represent the rewrite of my first novel This Is the Place. It is out of print and is now called This Land Divided. It is already an award-winner. The first chapter won's Scintillating Starts contest, so I figured it would be easy to get an agent. But my agent, Terrie Wolf at AKA Literary wanted a book proposal! So I was the one asking, "Really?" Now that even big publishers expect their authors of about any genre to market or help market their books, most agents ask for a book proposal. It is a time-consuming process and most authors hate it. Lots of my consulting clients would rather pay me to write proposals for them than to ead the big, long, fat and utterly boring tomes that are out there as guides for the process. The trouble is, most authors can do it for themselves lots better than anyone else could. The author is the one with the voice! The author is the one with the passion!

Smallwood: Is that what lead you to write The Great First Impression Book Promoter?

Howard-Johnson: Exactly. I took the material I had written just to get the information I need to write a proposal for one of my clients and turned it into this booklet. I figured every author who must write a book proposal would rather learn how to do it in thirty minutes or so rather than read 300 plus pages! So, voila! There it is. 54 pages. Fast. I suspect the publisher at Modern History Press figured he could supply a copy of this booklet to the authors he was considering to get them to do the book proposal he needed - and they needed.

Smallwood: You say "they needed?"

Howard-Johnson: Actually, book proposals are great organizational aids. They can be a little like a story board for a film. They require all kinds of things an author and her publisher are going to need. Like a synopsis. A pitch. Nonfiction authors need a projected outline of their chapters or contents. But mostly a book proposal gets all authors thinking about their platforms and how to use them to market their books. Too many authors still believe the publishing works as it did decades ago. But we only need to be around a little while before we figure out that an author with a platform has an edge over an equally talented author who doesn't do much other than play with their friends on Facebook.

Smallwood: You're saying book proposals - for all the aches and pains - do as much for the author as they do for agents and publishers?

Howard-Johnson: Exactly. In fact all the planning and thinking they require can save them tons of time in the actual writing of their book. I remember reorganizing and rewriting the first chapter of my novel…well, lots of time. If I had an outline or storyboard or book proposal, I might have spend that time fine tuning the conflict, arc, characterization or whatever. A book proposal helps with all of that.

Smallwood: I don't remember seeing this book on your website.

Howard-Johnson: That's because Modern History Press did so much with it including a brand new cover from Doug West that blended with the new cover of the third edition of The Frugal Book Promoter. I love the typewriter. It reminds me of the one I used when I started out in journalism, which I did mostly because all of the smartest, cutest boys were on the high school journalism staff. There. Now you don't have to ask what got me into writing!

Smallwood: So, how can readers get this inexpensive, easy-to-read and use little booklet?

Howard-Johnson: "My" small press is as aware as big publisher are that a book isn't truly published without marketing. So Victor Volkman came up with the idea of using this book much like I had. It is available on Amazon as a hard cover, paperback, or e-book like all his books. (It was only available in the last two iterations when I self-published it.) And he is eager to get authors reading it because he feels as strongly as I do that it can make a huge difference to writing careers so he's also using it as a promotion. So those who the new release of my The Frugal Book Promoter, now in its third edition, directly from him at will received First Impression Book Proposal at no additional cost. We both figure that a great way to get an author off on the right foot or to give her a nudge in the right direction even if she has already made a few really big mistakes. (Use the code GO Frugal, to get this extra benefit.)

Smallwood: Is there anything else you'd like to share?

Howard-Johnson: You know I have three full books full of things your audience should know. But here is just a teaser. Most authors misuse or underuse (or don't use) their review and interviews like this one to their advantage. They need to know a whole lot more about managing everything from managing Amazon reviews to getting reviews from the big journals like Library Journal. So, I'm suggesting my How to Get Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically: the ins and outs of using free reviews to build and sustain a writing career.

Carol Smallwood, reviewer, interviewer, and recipient of the Albert Nelson Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award, received a MLS in librarianship from Western Michigan University, MA in teaching from Eastern Michigan University. She’s done several dozen anthologies for American Library Association, Rowman & Littlefield, McFarland, and others; has had over a dozen collections of poetry and essays published; hundreds of stories, essays, interviews, poems, reviews in RHINO, World Literature Today, and others. A multi-Pushcart nominee in Wikipedia, the Michigan resident has founded humane societies.


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Wednesday, February 5, 2020

How to Make Painful Edition Changes into Pure Publishing Gold

By Carolyn Howard-Johnson

I have been very busy launching two new editions with Modern History Press lately. Some of my other projects have slipped, notably my #Sharingwithwriters newsletter. I hope to get back to it by this fall, but I ran across an old issue of that newsletter . . . the feature based on the Ann Landers columns I remember from my first job in journalism. Occasionally my editor would ask me to edit what was then called the “society” page (meaning it was pretty much a women’s-only section) and I found myself having to edit parts of Landers’ column to make it fit into the space allotted to her after the paid advertising had been slotted in. They took precedence! After all, they paid the bills.

But I learned to appreciate Landers’ “Question and Answer” format. It allows communication between reader and the printed word. It lends itself to personal kind of sharing and storytelling. And, yeah. It’s easy to cut to fit space requirements when needed. So I adopted “Q and A a la Ann Landers featuring question my subscribers sent to me. This is one of my favorites because it  involves two subjects that seem to interest authors most--Amazon sales and getting reviews. Even though it was published years ago when I was publishing a new edition!

It is still useful for anyone who might be considering a second or third edition. I updated it, because I now have third edition of my The Frugal Book Promoter—yes the same one mentioned at the beginning of this paragraph! Ta da!

A a La Ann Landers


Do you lose your Amazon reviews when you publish a second edition of your book?


As difficult as second edition challenges feel, you’ll find the advantages far outweigh the challenges that seem so grim. You mentioned reviews. Yes, in spite of what you may have heard, you can get Amazon to post reviews from the first edition to the next edition and the next through Author Connect (now called Author Central). Amazon will put a referral widget from the first edition to the second, or—I’ve learned—third or beyond. They tend to move this widget around, but it's always been near the top of the first edition buy page (though not as prominent as I'd like to see it!).
You can see what it looks like on the buy page of he Frugal Book Promoter (first published in 2004) at Scroll down just a bit to see it. But please don't buy this edition! The new edition is expanded, updated and, if I do say so, lots prettier! and thisxthird edition is updated in still more important ways, like new advice on copyright and some useful backmatter with new recommendations, etc.

After you have asked for your forwarding widget at either in person or by email you can then ask the amazing Amazon elves to forward your old reviews. However, Amazon transfers all the reviews; you can not pick and choose. So if something in the first edition has been criticized and you fixed it in the second edition, they won’t discard that earlier review.

Luckily, you can still do a couple things that fit Amazon’s requirements and your concern that your readers get new, updated, more complete information or whatever else you added to or changed in your next edition.

- First, you can unpublish your ebook edition or have your publisher unpublish it. Amazon won’t let you unpublish the paperback and hardcover edition because they may still be available on Amazon’s new and used feature and that is a valuable income stream for Amazon. Unpublishing the ebook, though, makes it impossible for your reader to mistakenly get the wrong edition for their reader.

- You can also use the comment feature that is found at the end of each review on your buy page to dispute the inaccurate (or now-inaccurate) claim made by the reviewer. You might include —a thank you to the reviewer for helping you correct that in their review of the earlier edition.

There are some other ways to help fix the problem listed in the newest of the #HowToDoItFrugally Series of books for writers, How to Get Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically ( Since my first edition was published, Amazon has added many benefits on books’ buy pages that authors and publishers are very nearly in complete control of. They include the ability to add your own most prestigious reviews (several of them!) yourself as long as you have permission from the reviewer to use them. You can also add back cover copy, author bio, and even a message from the author. I kid you not. You access that through your page. If you don’t have a list there, you definitely should have one! In one of the sections of this feature, you or your reviewers may suggest that readers will benefit from your newest edition.

Just an extra here: If you just update your old edition rather than publish a new one, you may be losing more marketing opportunities than you ever dreamed of.  Of course, a second edition should have something new about the cover (like the words “second edition” or a whole new cover and at least 10% new content).


Carolyn Howard-Johnson, is the author of how to books for writers including the award-winning The Frugal Book Promoter: How to get nearly free publicity on your own or by partnering with your publisher; now in its third edition. Don’t miss the multi award-winning second edition of The Frugal Editor; and Great Little Last Minute Editing Tips for Writers . The booklet, The Great First Impression Book Proposal is now in its second edition.  How to Get Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically helps you take full advantage of magical book reviews to keep your writing career move faster than you have imagined. Carolyn also offers free review services at Explore the opportunities for your book in the tabs at the top of the home page. She also blogs at all things editing, grammar, formatting and more at The Frugal, Smart and Tuned-In Editor .

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Building a Writing Career Takes Practice and Focus

A few years ago, my grandson, 10 at the time, was trying out for the All County Band in his area. He told me the piece he had to play was difficult. I told him that practice is a powerful tool. Just 10-15 minutes a day will help tremendously.

Obviously, the more practice the better, but my grandson, like so many kids today, has ADHD. Reducing the amount of time on practicing doesn’t make it seem overwhelming – it’s doable.

This philosophy will work for anything, including writing.

What does it take to have a flourishing writing career?

1. Learn the craft and practice it.

To be a ‘good’ writer, an effective writer, a working writer, you need to know your craft. The only way to do this is to study it.

If you’re starting out, take some courses online or offline or both. You should also read a lot of books on the craft of writing. Get a strong grasp of the basics.

We’re all familiar with “practice makes perfect.”

There’s a reason that saying has lasted. It’s true.

Writing coach Suzanne Lieurance says, “Writing is a lot like gardening because it takes constant pruning and weeding.”

You need to keep up with your craft. Even as your get better at it, keep honing your craft. Keep learning more and more and practice, practice, practice

So, what does it mean to practice?

Simple. Write. Write. Write.

An excellent way to improve your writing skills is to copy (type and/or handwrite) content of a master in the niche you want to specialize in.

This is a copywriting trick. You actually write the master’s words and how to write professionally mentally sinks in.

Now, we all know that this is just a practice tool. We should never ever use someone else’s content as our own.

A second way to improve your writing skills is to read, read, and read some more. Read books in the genre you want to write in particular. Study the books.

2. Focus in on a niche.
Have you heard the adage: A jack of all trades and master of none?

This is the reason you need to specialize.

You don’t want to be known as simply okay or good in a number of different niches. You want to be known as an expert in one or two niches.

This way, when someone is looking for a writer who specializes in, say, memoirs and autobiographies, you’re at the top of the list.

I would recommend that your niches are related, like memoirs and autobiographies or being an author and book marketing.

Along with this, focus produces results.

According to an article in Psychology Today on focus and results, Dan Goleman Ph.D. says, “The more focused we are, the more successful we can be at whatever we do. And, conversely, the more distracted, the less well we do. This applies across the board: sports, school, career.”

So, practice and focus your way to a successful writing career.

This article was originally published at: 

Karen Cioffi is an award-winning children’s author and successful children’s ghostwriter/ rewriter. She is also the founder and editor-in-chief of Writers on the Move and an author online platform instructor with WOW! Women on Writing.

If you’d like more writing tips or help with your children’s story, check out: Writing for Children with Karen Cioffi.

You can connect with Karen at LinkedIn:


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A few mistakes in your fiction can often make the difference between a very good manuscript and a not-so-good one that is rejected by publis...