Closing the Deal on Your Terms by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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When it comes to publishing, Rusch has seen it all. She’s the former editor of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. She has published books both traditionally and indie. She’s run a small press. She’s sold short stories to magazines. So it’s fair to say she’s seen just about every kind of contract and has negotiated them from both sides of the desk.

Who better to warn you about what’s in them? Whether you’re an indie author trying to sell foreign rights, a traditionally published author asking what’s next or a newbie just starting your publishing journey, you need three things: a good IP lawyer, the ability to walk away from a bad contract, and a copy of this book.

Rusch knows what can happen when an inexperienced writer—giddy from finally being offered a book contract—signs it without negotiating it. CLOSING THE DEAL ON YOUR TERMS is no substitute for good legal advice, but it’s a great introduction to the kinds of “gotcha” clauses publishers are adding to contracts these days.

Most writers only look at money paid and when the manuscript is due. They don’t understand all the ways that they can—and will—be screwed over. For example, deep discount clauses allow publishers to make money on your books without giving any to you. Rights grabs mean that your publisher could turn your book into a movie or a game without consulting you. Options clauses can legally bind you to your publisher for many years and many books. And these are only the most obvious examples. Modern contracts are full of worse things, buried under confusing language and contradictory clauses.

An agent won’t save you from these terrible contracts. In most cases, an agent will urge you to sign them. Many agents are also presenting their own agency agreements (read: contracts) to authors, binding that author to the agent as well as the publishing house.

Because things have changed so radically in the last thirty years, Rusch discourages writers from dealing with publishers for any book-length fiction at this time. However, she understands that every career is different, and doesn’t tell writers what to do. In fact, she defends writers who want to sign any contract under the sun, as long as that writer knows exactly what she’s signing and why.

CLOSING THE DEAL ON YOUR TERMS isn’t an easy read. It’s not one of those great craft books that will energize your writing or an inspirational book that will make you feel good. Rusch herself became quite downhearted while writing it, as she realized just how bad things had gotten in publishing land. But she stuck it out and did us all a great service by writing a book that isn’t fun, but necessary.

CLOSING THE DEAL ON YOUR TERMS is probably not a book that any writer wants. However, it’s exactly the book that every writer needs.

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CLOSING THE DEAL ON YOUR TERMS can be found here.

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Rating: 5 stars

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Pie Slices: 8 slices business

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This book is best for: intermediate and advanced writers

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I recommend this book

 

Lifelong Writing Habit by Chris Fox

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Successful people don’t necessarily work longer, harder, or smarter than everyone else, but I can guarantee that successful people work more consistently than anyone else. The little things they do every day add up to huge productivity gains.

Committing to a daily writing practice not only pays off, it pays off with interest. Once that writing habit is in place it will naturally grow, and writers improve with every draft. Thinking about writing doesn’t work. Only butt-in-chair time does.

But how to cultivate that habit? How to make writing such an ingrained part of life that a writer just naturally shows up at the writing desk every day? Fox takes readers step by step into forming and maintaining a writing practice.

It starts with an honest look at how you’re already spending your time. Then Fox helps you get clear on your goals, implement a tracking system, and find writing time. (Yes, he expects you to get up early to write. It works.) Along the way, Fox helps you gather support, banish distractions, and stay inspired. Some of his advice might seem unnecessary and a little new-age, but he argues that visualizing your dream is as important as any other step in forming a lifelong habit.

As I read LIFELONG WRITING HABIT I was pleased to note that I’d already done many of Fox’s action steps. I already write every day and track my progress, but I’m very wishy-washy about when I write. More than once, I’ve written four hundred words right before bed just so I could put something on my spreadsheet for that day. Fox helped me refine my goals and figure out new ways to solidify my habit. I can imagine newer writers getting even more out of LIFELONG WRITING HABIT as they first start incorporating writing time into their lives.

I often read business books and apply their lessons to writing. It seems that Fox does the same, because he references some of my favorites. He has synthesized all the best lessons from Eat that Frog, The Power of Habit, and Switch into one neat package, along with a big helping of Getting Things Done. Fox’s book is extremely practical, packing all his lessons and inspiration into a short ebook with no repetition and no fluff. LIFELONG WRITING HABIT is ideal for any writer who wants to put their butt in the chair every single day.

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LIFELONG WRITING HABIT can be found here.

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Rating: 5 stars

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I recommend this book for all writers

Spilling Ink by Anne Mazer and Ellen Potter

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I’ve written nearly a hundred fifty reviews on the Writing Slices blog, but they’ve all been books for adults. I never considered books for kids until a friend who is becoming a teacher raved about SPILLING INK, and I knew I had to check it out. I’m glad I did. Now, when I meet a younger writer who is looking for a good how-to book, I’ll know what to recommend.

SPILLING INK is aimed at kids about nine to twelve years old. Mazer and Potter meet the kids where they are, rather than where the adults think they should be. There is nothing in SPILLING INK about making pretty sentences or fixing spelling or knowing the parts of speech. It’s all about finding interesting stories and getting them on the page. The examples are age-appropriate, featuring things like sleepover parties, bad camping trips, and a cousin who burps the alphabet.

Unlike authors who are writing for adults, Mazer and Potter take nothing for granted. They include tips on how to put those very first words on the page, why interesting situations are more important than fancy words, and how to convince your characters (and yourself) that they are real. Along the way, they cover everything a writer needs to know, from plot, characterization, and revision to the good habits that will help writers for a lifetime. And they do it without ever talking down to young writers.

The exercises at the end of the chapters are called “I dare you.” They are not much different from the exercises in many writing books, but thinking of them as dares makes them feel more like healthy challenges that are okay to fail, rather than a slog to get through.

SPILLING INK is a complete manual for young writers that will guide them from their very first sentence to polishing the final draft. Kids who love to write will love the sound advice and useful examples. Kids who hate to write will love the encouragement. Kids who are indifferent to writing will love the humor. In short, this is the perfect book for all young writers, and this grown-up writer loved it too.

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SPILLING INK can be found here.

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Rating: 5 stars

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Pie Slices: 5 slices craft

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This book is best for: beginning writers

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I recommend this book.

Writing Vivid Dialogue by Rayne Hall

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I have been searching for a good, basic book about writing dialogue since I started the Writing Slices blog in 2011. I’ve read some decent books and some awful ones, but it wasn’t until a friend recommended WRITING VIVID DIALOGUE that I found a truly great one.

WRITING VIVID DIALOGUE is organized well, starting with some simple tweaks to make dialogue better. By turning statements into questions and giving each character an agenda, dull dialogue becomes more vivid. Hall progresses through more subtle ways to enhance dialogue by shortening sentences, adding fun one-liners, and using body language. The final few chapters are advanced techniques, like using dialogue to show when someone is lying, informing without info-dumping, and using foreign accents respectfully.

Every chapter includes well-chosen examples, showing how small changes can make dialogue sing. Hall also quotes longer passages from her own novels to help show dialogue in a larger context. I wish she had included at least a few examples from other books, since every writer approaches dialogue differently, but this is a minor fault in an otherwise excellent book.

Hall includes writing exercises at the end of each chapter. Unlike some books where the exercises seem like an afterthought, the exercises in WRITING VIVID DIALOGUE were interesting and actually useful. Each one will only take a few minutes to do, but by completing them, a writer can instantly see improvement. Hall doesn’t just tackle the easy mistakes. She helps writers dig deep into the more nuanced flavors of dialogue, such as the ways that men and women speak differently, or the best uses of profanity, or when to start a story with dialogue.

Hall’s tone is encouraging, with good instruction that is never rigid. She knows there are numerous ways to achieve any effect, and that dialogue is only one tool in a writer’s toolbox. But when done well, the dialogue is what readers will remember.

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WRITING VIVID DIALOGUE can be found here.

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Rating: 5 stars

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Pie Slices: 8 slices craft

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This book is best for: beginning to intermediate writers

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I recommend this book.

 

 

The Storymatic by Brian Mooney

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Most books of writing prompts leave me cold. I’ve done a few I’ve enjoyed, but most of them seem to take themselves too seriously. Or maybe I take myself too seriously when I attempt them. Either way, I don’t usually find canned prompts very exciting. But then I came across THE STORYMATIC, created by writing teacher Brian Mooney. It’s just about the coolest way of doing writing exercises I can imagine.

THE STORYMATIC is a box of five hundred cards with words on them. Half are gold cards, which are the character prompts. Some are professions, like “astronaut” or “dentist.” Some are character traits, such as “follower” or “person who refuses to fit in” or “partygoer.”

Here’s the fun part. You always take two character cards. So you might end up with “librarian / caretaker of an elephant” or “zombie / mistaken for a movie star” or “musician / security guard.” I love this, because you’re sure to get an unusual protagonist with something unresolved in her life. Unlike most writing prompts where the character and situation seem one-dimensional, with THE STORYMATIC, you’re setting up internal conflict for the character before the story even gets started.

The other half of the cards are orange. They’re the situation cards with things like “UFO sighting,” or “supermarket after hours” or simply “glasses.” You could take two of these cards, too, but one should be enough for a quick writing exercise.

THE STORYMATIC comes with a booklet that suggests ways to play with the cards, but writers already know what to do with them. Boxes full of fun words and phrases are writer catnip, and we’ll use them in ways their creators never expected.

You’re probably already familiar with the party games that rely on a similar concept. I’d say THE STORYMATIC cards are somewhere between the banality of Apples to Apples and the weird raunchiness of Cards Against Humanity. These cards are interesting, and each one suggests a story begging to be written.

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THE STORYMATIC can be found here.

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Rating: 5 stars

 

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I recommend this product.

 

 

 

Writing the Novel from Plot to Print to Pixel by Lawrence Block

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WRITING THE NOVEL FROM PLOT TO PRINT was the book that jump-started my career as a novelist and remains my favorite how-to book. In my review of the original edition, I rated it four stars, which would have been a perfect five if the book weren’t a bit outdated. (It was written in the 1970s.)

Earlier this year, I emailed Lawrence Block to ask him if he would ever update the book. He emailed back and said it was something he’d like to do. In the acknowledgements of WRITING THE NOVEL FROM PLOT TO PRINT TO PIXEL, he very generously gives me credit for giving him the idea, but I believe my email was simply the tipping point for him, since writers have been asking for a new edition for years.

WRITING THE NOVEL FROM PLOT TO PRINT TO PIXEL isn’t an update in the strictest sense. It’s an expansion. Block has reproduced his original text as-is, while adding commentary to reflect the new world of writing. In other hands, this could be clunky, but Block makes it work. It helps that he is one of the authors who has successfully made the leap from traditional to self publishing. He still has a foot in each world and is able to take a clear-eyed view of the modern writing landscape.

The section on publication is where Block did the most updating. The craft of writing novels hasn’t changed, but the way we get those novels into readers’ hands has changed tremendously. Block has added three new chapters—one each on the pros and cons of self-publishing and one on the nuts and bolts of doing it yourself. He wisely recognizes how quickly things move in today’s publishing world and points readers toward websites with up-to-date information.

The other chapters have much less commentary added to them. My beloved chapters on plotting, characters, reading like a writer, and developing solid work habits are as helpful as ever, and the commentary is sprinkled in with a light touch. Block offers a cautionary tale here, a bit of insight there, and a joke as often as he can get away with it. As I was reading, I got the delightful sensation that I was reading my own dog-eared original edition while Lawrence Block himself sat next to me offering witty asides.

WRITING THE NOVEL FROM PLOT TO PRINT TO PIXEL is like having a pocket-sized mentor you can consult any time. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy.

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WRITING THE NOVEL FROM PLOT TO PRINT TO PIXEL can be found here.

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rating: 5 stars

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pie slices: 8 slices craft

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This book is best for: beginning and intermediate writers

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I recommend this book

Dynamic Characters by Nancy Kress

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Sherlock Holmes. Scarlett O’Hara. Hannibal Lecter. Harry Potter. These are characters so fascinating and so believable, it’s as if they exist outside their books—as if they are real. Even if we never create such iconic characters, every writer can make her characters deeper, more relatable, and more interesting on the page. Doing so will also help with plotting, elevating every part of the book.

DYNAMIC CHARACTERS is divided into three parts. The first focuses on the externals. What is the character’s name? How does a character look and sound? Where does she live and what does she do?  The second part tackles the internal life of the character—her thoughts and attitudes. This is also where Kress discusses villains. The  third part is about the way character intersects with plot. Point of view comes into play here, as well as minor characters and the way character change is the strongest element of any good plot.

Kress illustrates her points with many examples from both classic and contemporary books. All her examples are positive ones, showing what works instead of what does not. She also explains why they work the way they do. After all, it’s no use having an example of a technique if the writer doesn’t know how to use it. Kress is careful to explain what is gained and what is lost by each narrative choice.

Kress also tackles touchy questions like the problem with anti-heroes, the risks of basing a character on a real person, and when the author’s assumptions about people can get him in trouble.

DYNAMIC CHARACTERS has a wealth of information, but it never feels overwhelming. Kress has broken the process of character creation into simple steps, but they are more like tools to use than a formula to follow. She explains why certain conventions exist, but isn’t dogmatic about it. She also shows us what the exceptions are and why they work.

I love all the characters I’ve created. I’m sure you do, too. We love spending time with these imaginary people who are very real to us. With DYNAMIC CHARACTERS as our guide, we can make them become real to readers, too.

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DYNAMIC CHARACTERS can be found here.

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Rating: 5 stars

 

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This book is best for: intermediate writers

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I recommend this book