If the ‘Elastic Mind’ Snaps: A Lenten Lullaby


Image - IStockphoto: nastco

Image – IStockphoto: nastco


This will be my last post until Monday, April 13,2015.

No, not me.  (You wish.)

Kathy Pooler

Kathy Pooler

No, that’s a colleague, the memoirist Kathy Pooler. She’s a good, cold-weather Catholic, mind you, so Lent means a lot more to her than it does to troppo Protestants like me.

Following a retreat with some author-colleagues, Pooler has decided to cut her exposure to social media way back for Lent. She writes:

Being away with these treasured friends got me in touch with my own need to step back—rest, refresh, renew. After five-plus years of nonstop weekly blogging and intense social media involvement, I have decided to…go on my own Lenten sabbatical.

She’ll have a few guest posts going up, and she’ll check email. But, she writes, “I will limit my time on Facebook and Twitter to automated sharing of guest posts. This will mean turning off my social media notifications on my iPhone.”

So now we can talk about her all we want. Just kidding. Pooler goes on:

I know that limiting my social media presence will be a supreme challenge as I so love connecting with others. But I also know I need to take care of myself; to step back and reflect before I can come back and be all I need and want to be. And it fits in with my mantra to “simplify.” Until we meet again, I wish you all peace and quiet moments of reflection during this Lenten season. I look forward to returning in April refreshed and renewed. I plan to share the lessons learned when I return.

Therese Walsh

Therese Walsh

Aside from the fact that Pooler turns out to be really good at benedictions (who knew?), this has reminded me of the February 3 post here from Therese Walsh, author and Writer Unboxed’s co-founder. She wrote about a search for “mono-tasking,” meaning, in essence, the ability to hunker down on one sustained project or task without feeling pulled apart by competing thoughts and stimuli.  So many of us know what she’s talking about, all too well.

Walsh and I have been in touch a bit since that post ran, comparing notes. I’ve offered a few technical responses that I find helpful to the relentless blitz — RescueTime (which I find invaluable — you’re welcome to explore it free with my link); “frequency following” sound recordings, which I find helpful while focusing on work; meditation.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what she wrote, her distress at feeling her concentration is challenged — I can relate; that bad feeling (this is my characterization, not hers) of having our livers pecked out by data transmissions.

And I’ve been thinking about what Pooler’s doing, heading off the social grid to get a grip.

In keeping with the Lenten theme, it has to do with temptation, somehow. I think this is part of what we’re talking about.

Continue Reading »


Flog a Pro: would you turn this bestselling author’s first page?


Trained by reading hundreds of submissions, editors and agents often make their read/not-read decision on the first page. In a customarily formatted book manuscript with chapters starting about 1/3 of the way down the page (double-spaced, 1-inch margins, 12-point type), there are 16 or 17 lines on the first page.

The challenge: does this narrative compel you to turn the page?

Please judge by storytelling quality, not by genre—some reject an opening page immediately because of genre, but that’s not a good enough reason when the point is to analyze for storytelling strength.

A First-page Checklist

  • It begins connecting the reader with the protagonist
  • Something is happening. On a first page, this does NOT include a character musing about whatever.
  • What happens is dramatized in an immediate scene with action and description plus, if it works, dialogue.
  • What happens moves the story forward.
  • What happens has consequences for the protagonist.
  • The protagonist desires something.
  • The protagonist does something.
  • There’s enough of a setting to orient the reader as to where things are happening.
  • It happens in the NOW of the story.
  • Backstory? What backstory? We’re in the NOW of the story.
  • Set-up? What set-up? We’re in the NOW of the story.
  • What happens raises a story question—what happens next? or why did that happen?

Caveat: a strong first-person voice with the right content can raise powerful story questions and create page turns without doing all of the above. A recent submission worked wonderfully well and didn’t deal with five of the things in the checklist.

Side note: this is Flog a Pro number 24. Hard to believe we’ve been doing this for two years! It’s been fun for me, and I hope for you.

This novel was number one on the New York Times hardcover fiction bestseller list for February 8, 2015. How strong is the opening page—would this have hooked an agent if it came in from an unpublished writer? Do you think it’s compelling? Reminder: “compelling” is much different than “interesting”—it means that you are irresistibly urged to turn the page by what you’ve read. Following are what would be the first 17 manuscript lines of chapter one.

There is a pile of clothing on the side of the train tracks. Light-blue cloth— a shirt, perhaps—jumbled up with something dirty white. It’s probably rubbish, part of a load dumped into the scrubby little wood up the bank. It could have been left behind by the engineers who work this part of the track, they’re here often enough. Or it could be something else. My mother used to tell me that I had an overactive imagination; Tom said that, too. I can’t help it, I catch sight of these discarded scraps, a dirty T-shirt or a lonesome shoe, and all I can think of is the other shoe and the feet that fitted into them.

The train jolts and scrapes and screeches back into motion, the little pile of clothes disappears from view and we trundle on towards London, moving at a brisk jogger’s pace. Someone in the seat behind me gives a sigh of helpless irritation; the 8: 04 slow train from Ashbury to Euston can test the patience of the most seasoned commuter. The journey is supposed to take fifty-four minutes , but it rarely does: this section of the track is ancient, decrepit, beset with signalling problems and never-ending engineering works.

The train crawls along; it judders past warehouses and water towers, bridges and sheds, past modest Victorian houses , their backs turned squarely to the track.

My head leaning against the carriage window, I watch these houses roll past me like a tracking shot in a film. I see them as others do not; even their owners probably don’t see them (snip)

My vote and editorial notes after the fold.
Continue Reading »


Surviving a Drought

Flickr Creative Commons: Bert Kaufmann

Flickr Creative Commons: Bert Kaufmann

I was sitting in D.C.’s Lincoln Theater about three months ago, listening to The Milk Carton Kids and Sarah Jarosz, talented folk musicians who sing some of the most gorgeous harmonies I’ve ever heard. The theater itself is a visual concert—a beautiful 1920’s-era building, with gold ceilings and crystal chandeliers and lovely arched moldings and walls covered in gold-patterned fabric. I wasn’t thinking about anything really—other than how good the music was, how lovely the theater was, how pleasant it felt to be in that particular place at that particular time.

And then I was struck by lightening.

Not literally. But the idea for a new novel came to me, all at once and fully formed, after months and months of the longest writing drought I’ve had in my life.

I’ve written before about how important it is for writers to take breaks from writing. But there’s a big difference between not writing to give yourself a break and not writing because you have no ideas and nothing to say and everything you write is dry and flat and uninspired. The first feels good. The second feels awful.

After I finished my third novel, I took a break from writing. I’d published two books in two years and been under deadline pressure for a long time and I needed a rest. And after my break I came back, ready to write better than I ever had before. I read books on how to write, everything from John Truby’s Anatomy of Story to Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat and Carolyn See’s Making a Literary Life. I underlined and took notes and wrote Wish Lists and Premises and Outlines and Character Studies. I developed Designing Principles and Themes and Heroes and Antagonists. I bought markers and index cards and sticky notes in 12 different colors and a magnetic white board. I wrote scenes on my index cards and outlined plots on my white board.

I had never been so organized and done so much preliminary thinking. But when I sat down to write, the story came slowly and involved a lot of false starts. I liked my characters, but I didn’t really know what they were doing or why. It took forever to get the main action off the ground.

Six months later I had 100+- pages, which I sent to my agent. She felt it wasn’t quite there but agreed to show it to my editor, who said she was sorry but this was not a book she was interested in. Continue Reading »


Learning to Love your Fanatic





“The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”  C. S. Lewis.

Fanatics make terrific villains, whether it’s an animal activist destroying labs where lifesaving drugs are developed, the mother who ruins her children’s lives in order to save their souls, or a terrorist blowing up civilians to trigger the holy war.  Because fanatics are obsessed with a single idea, they’re impossible to reason with.  They’ll cling to their idea regardless of evidence or argument.  They’re often blind to the damage they cause as well, continuing to destroy the lives around them with impunity because, as Lewis says, their hearts are pure.

Yet this sincerity makes them easy to humanize.  Psychopaths, by contrast, don’t feel that the people they hurt are really people, which makes them less than human themselves.  It can be frightening to watch a character fall into the hands of a serial killer, say, but in some ways it’s no more emotionally engaging than if the character is attacked by a wolf.

Fanatics, though, are generally working for what they see as the greater good.  And the ends they’re fighting for aren’t necessarily bad things.  Animal testing is often cruel.  Everyone wants the best for their children.  And as John LeCarre proved in The Little Drummer Girl, readers can even be brought to understand a terrorist’s aims.

Giving your readers a sympathetic heavy draws them more firmly into your story.  Both sides of your conflict become human.  And while readers may still want your main character to win, they’ll feel pity for your villain, giving the conflict a new emotional level.  Javert, who dogs Jean Valjean out of a fanatical devotion to the rule of law, is in the end more tragic than evil.  Readers feel sorry for him when he throws himself into the Seine.


But Fanatics are easy to get wrong. Continue Reading »


Navy Commander Rick Campbell Makes Waves by Penning Military Thrillers

Rick CampbellUnboxeders, I hope you’ll join me today in welcoming retired Navy Commander Rick Campbell to Writer Unboxed for a brief interview about his writing.

For more than twenty-five years, as we slept on pillow-topped queen-sized mattresses, he claimed a rack aboard one of four nuclear submarines, working to keep us safe. On his last submarine, he was one of the two men whose permission was required to launch the submarine’s nuclear warhead-tipped missiles.

He finished his career with tours in the Pentagon and in the Washington Navy Yard. Upon retirement from the Navy, Rick tried his hand at writing and was offered an initial two-book deal from Macmillan / St. Martin’s Press. (Since expanded to another two-book deal.)

His first novel, The Trident Deception, was hailed by Booklist as “The best submarine novel since Tom Clancy’s classic – The Hunt for Red October”.

Rick’s second novel, Empire Rising, is due out Feb. 24th and critical praise has been equally profuse. Publishers Weekly said of it: “Another riveting military action thriller by Rick Campbell. A MUST READ for fans of this genre.” And Booklist? “The story rockets around the globe and the pages cannot turn fast enough. Readers who miss Clancy will devour Campbell.”

Here’s the blurb for Empire Rising as described by Barnes & Noble:

Very much in the spirit of Jack Ryan, Campbell has crafted a tightly plotted and horrifyingly believable story in which China, desperate for access to oil in a near-future where supplies are running low, declares war and reveals itself to be much better prepared than anyone expected. After a military disaster that sends the United States reeling and leaves the Chinese free to act, a trio of well-written characters work to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Combining thrilling espionage-style adventures, detailed naval battles, and incredible SEAL Team missions, Campbell has created what might be the perfect military thriller.

Rick lives with his wife and three children in the greater Washington, D.C. area. You can find him at his website and on his Facebook page.

Jan: Welcome, Rick!  To begin with, shall we establish the interview ground rules? Given your background as a college wrestler and your impressive military career, if my questioning gets out of line, do I need to be concerned for my safety or ability to travel?

Rick: Only if you’re flying over the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans.  :)

The Trident Deception and Empire Rising are the first military thrillers I’ve read, and I was immediately struck by the balancing acts you’re require to perform. To begin with, civilian-readers such as myself require ongoing education about technical details, military history, and jargon so that the narrative makes sense, and so that we might appreciate the challenges facing your characters. At the same time, you don’t want readers choking on information. How do you ensure you hit the sweet spot between information and overload?

Rick: You’ve identified a critical issue I struggle with. Continue Reading »


Children’s Picture eBooks: The Newest Publishing Wave


Today, we’re excited to have Laura Backes with us. She’s the publisher of Children’s Book Insider, The Children’s Writing Monthly and co-founder of The Children’s Writing Knowledge Base, an online membership community for aspiring and published children’s authors. She is also co-creator of Write for Kids, a site about children’s books and the publishing industry, and Picture eBook Mastery, a course on how to use Amazon’s KDP Kids’ Book Creator software to create
illustrated ebooks for children.

Author Susanna Leonard Hill, author of Not Yet, Rose, and Can’t Sleep Without Sheep says,

I have been through all the modules of the course and wow!  You guys did a terrific job of covering a lot of information clearly and thoroughly and efficiently!  The videos are easy to follow, and all the extra resources, like the links to where to find illustrators and royalty-free images and photographs and cover designers, are very helpful.

A 27-year veteran of the publishing industry, Laura has worked in publicity, subsidiary rights, and as a literary agent and freelance editor. She’s the author of Best Books for Kids Who (Think They) Hate to Read (Random House), and technical editor of Writing Children’s Books for Dummies (Wiley). Her articles have been featured in The Writer and Writer’s Digest magazines, and the 2012 edition of Children’s Writer’s and Illustrators’ MarketLaura lives in Fort Collins, CO with her husband/business partner Jon, and their teenage son Matt.

Follow Laura on her website, Facebook, Twitter, and check out her  4-part free video course: Yes You Can Publish a Kindle Picture eBook!

Children’s Picture eBooks: The Newest Publishing Wave

There’s a revolution taking place in children’s book publishing, and it’s changing the way illustrated stories are being created and sold. Everything we’ve always believed about picture books—that they’re incredibly expensive to produce, that you can’t write or illustrate a picture book without the backing of a large publisher, that you won’t find an audience unless you have a huge marketing budget—has been shattered. And even more important, the people who traditionally had the least amount of decision-making power in the process—the authors and illustrators themselves—now have complete control.

So what happened?

Back in September 2014, Amazon announced the release of its KDP Kids’ Book Creator, free software that allows authors and illustrators to build picture ebooks with color illustrations, using the landscape format to mimic print picture books. The ebooks are automatically formatted as MOBI files which can be uploaded to Amazon with a few clicks. And then a couple of weeks later Amazon released the Kindle Fire HD Kids Edition, a tablet designed just for kids. What this tells us is that the world’s largest book sales platform is committed to offering illustrated ebooks for kids, and it’s looking for content. Lots of content.

The smart authors and illustrators jumped on this opportunity immediately. When K-Lytics.com, a site devoted to tracking ebook trends, released its November 2014 report, they found that children’s ebooks were the fastest-growing category of any type of book on Amazon, with their average sales rankings growing 46% in one month alone. And what’s really fascinating is that children’s ebooks also had the biggest price increase of any category. So not only are people buying these books, they’re willing to pay more for them than in the past.

So are you willing to ride this wave?

Continue Reading »


Writing… Will You Be My Valentine?

By Flickr's inesplicabile

By Flickr’s inesplicabile

For this day of love, I invited other Writer Unboxed contributors to join me in writing words of love about writing: a sentiment that could fit inside a greeting card, on a school valentine, or even on a candy heart.

The instructions were simple:

“Write a love note to writing. It can be sweet, bitter, funny, serious, whatever you like in terms of tone, but it needs to be *to* writing itself.”

Love letters, poetry, and words of love poured in, as varied as a box of mixed-center chocolates. As I received each missive, I put it in a virtual Valentine box, saving them for this day of love.

Now, for your reading pleasure, I’ll open the box…

Words of Love

I once dated a prepositional phrase that had such attractive punctuation that I couldn’t even look her in the i’s. But she left me for some stupid noble clause.
- Tom Bentley

Natural as breathing, close as my heart, you haunt my nights and magic my days. With you I live an adventure like no other, and dare to dream always.
- Sophie Masson

Now that I can finally sit with you and allow my fingertips to caress the keyboard, my body fills with a warm, expansive feeling. This is love, babe, true love. And gratitude for our time together. Either that or tonight’s chili, which was heavy on the beans.
- Jan O’Hara


– Therese Walsh

My oldest friend, most loyal companion, my lover, my guide, my confessor, my heart. Without you, my writing, I would be a shadow of myself, whispering instead of shouting, skulking instead of striding. My heart, my love—be my Valentine, writing my dear.
Barbara O’Neal

I’m here for the high, Writing. Don’t let anyone tell you I’m not. I love you, I hate you, I want you, I need you. I chase the buzz when I chase the words.
John Vorhaus


Continue Reading »


Butt In Chair: A Cautionary Tale

photo by Alice Popkorn

photo by Alice Popkorn

This is not the way I planned to do this. My idea was to simply slink quietly away for a few months, then just as quietly return to my monthly posting. But the Blog Mama decided a different approach was in order, and so here I am, announcing that I will be taking a temporary leave of absence from Writer Unboxed. Talking about it like this feels a wee bit personal, like I am oversharing or burdening you with TMI. But perhaps, instead, it can be a cautionary tale that will help keep you from following down a similar path. Let’s call it that, shall we? Or else I’ll never be able to hit the post button…

The truth is, it has been an amazing three years since I first posted on WU. They have been richer and fuller and brought more exhilarating experiences than I could ever have imagined. But they have also been demanding and exhausting in ways I never anticipated. I have talked before about how, although I consider myself a prolific writer, the deadlines for the assassin trilogy have been hard for me. It has been one grueling deadline after another for the last three years. Coupled with the fact that I had been on deadline nearly continuously for the three years PRIOR to that as I juggled two middle grade series. And while all of that has been hard on my muse, it has been even harder on my physical self. The truth is, all that butt-in-chair has driven my body into the ground and I have a number of ergonomic issues that are demanding my attention. They go far beyond remembering to wear my wrist guards to bed and do a few sets of crunches each morning.

This is not something I’m proud of. It makes me feel weak and stupid—weak for my body not holding up under the demands I made of it, and stupid for not having foreseen this and headed it off.

I know there are many, many writers who struggle with ergonomic issues and other physical hardships daily and still manage to produce lots of words and great work. But apparently I am not one of those writers. And maybe, just maybe, that’s part of this whole acquiring wisdom thing—learning where one’s own limits are and how to accept them.

I also suspect it is more than simply ergonomics at this point. Continue Reading »


Writing Truth in Reverse

Photo credit: Pierre at theunicyclist.com

Photo credit: Pierre at theunicyclist.com

Writing the truth has always been a challenge for me. In college, I started out as a journalism major, but it was strongly suggested that I transfer into the fiction department as quickly as possible. Let’s just say I have a tendency to embellish that wiser minds quickly realized would make journalism a poor career choice.

So I became a fiction writer, and I’ve never been happier. But recently I was asked by friends to write a nonfiction piece describing an incident that reflects the emotional impact of a tragedy I’ve tried hard to erase from memory. Just the thought of the project made me sweat.

Several of us are writers, with various memories of that time. Our stories will be as different as our emotional responses were, which is exactly what they wanted. The assignment seemed simple enough:  Detail the times, the event, and a random memory that is somehow connected. Something true.

They had me until those last two words: something true.

I had great ambivalence about the project. Simultaneous and contradictory emotions pulled in equal and opposite directions and kept me up at night. But, because the cause was a good one, and since it would put me back in touch with old friends, I reluctantly said yes. And then I had a full-on panic attack.

The more I tried to begin, the more ambivalence I felt about the subject matter. For me, it was the best of times, and it was the worst of times. In the end, the truth was some place in between, in the seemingly random and mundane details of memory, which were the only memories I was able to summon.

My notes are skeletal at best, but here’s what I’ve got so far:

It was the ‘80s, and I was living in LA’s Laurel Canyon. Nightlife was just down the hill on Sunset: The Whiskey, the Roxy. It was the proverbial “sex and drugs and rock and roll” lifestyle. Anything was possible. By day, I worked at a sound-stage facility where anything possible was actually happening: from MTV videos, features, sitcoms, to porn and cartoons. Every Monday night I met with Bob McKee and nine other writers in his development group to workshop our screenplays.

My housemate, Russell, had just come out of the closet and was enjoying his equivalent of the same wild and happy life. I was renting the downstairs of his canyon home, with its hazy view of the distant downtown skyline, the smell of eucalyptus, and the night howls of coyotes. We shared a kitchen and a deck. It was during that time that I met the man I would marry.  Eventually, Gary and I moved to a bungalow in the hills of Los Feliz. It was indeed the best of times.

And then something happened. Continue Reading »


The Itchy Reader

15751113410_1e904354b6_mMy daughter had a terrible first grade year. From October through June she cried, every morning and night, about going to school. She had stomachaches. She told me she wanted stay in bed and never go to school again. She clung to me in the hallway when I tried to nudge her into the classroom. When the teacher and principal were not able to do much, we had my daughter see a therapist, and we limped along until the last day of school.

With a new teacher in second grade, my daughter became herself again. She donned her signature Rainbow Couture, she literally whistled while walking to class, she was excited for school every single day, she helped me bake cookies for her teacher, and she was delighted when he promised he’d come to her violin recital. She cried on the last day of school, labeling him her most favorite teacher ever. Through third and now fourth grade, she has popped into his class on many occasions just for a visit. Quite simply, he changed her life.

But this winter, we learned that this most favorite teacher ever had been charged with a gross misdemeanor: sexual misconduct with a minor for immoral purposes.

This teacher is forty, married with two young girls; the victim, a newly sixteen-year-old girl, was a volunteer in his class. Of course he is innocent until proven guilty, but I have read the police report. The numerous texts and emails he allegedly sent this girl are disturbing and disgusting and predatory. The one-sided correspondence reveals a facet of this man that I—or anyone in our school community—never suspected.

The ambivalence is itchy. I want to plant my feet firmly in the I Despise This Man camp, but I cannot. So, I continue to scratch at the itchiness. 

I feel betrayed. I feel fear, anger and disgust. The victim trusted this man. His colleagues and students trusted this man. Our family trusted this man. Once a beloved teacher, he is now someone who will (most likely) forever be a registered sex offender. What a fall. What a disaster. What a terrible lapse in judgment. What a sickening act. But I feel more than just anger and disgust. More than sadness. My feelings are a tangled mess. Continue Reading »


Story Lessons from South Park

South Parkified Keith

my South Park selfie (with spatula)

Wait, what?

Yes, I’m serious. My post today is about the storytelling lessons we can learn from possibly the most tasteless and offensive TV show of all time: South Park.

Full disclosure: I haven’t actually watched an episode of South Park in quite a long time. But I’ve seen many episodes over the years, and I am embarrassingly fond of the movie Team America (one of the most tasteless and offensive movies I’ve ever seen, as well as one of the funniest), which was also written and directed by the creators of South Park: Matt Stone and Trey Parker. So I feel confident that they continue to be tasteless, offensive and funny – and damn good storytellers.

I recently stumbled onto a very brief video clip of Stone and Parker making a guest appearance at what appears to be a film class at NYU, and I was struck by the simple but powerful lesson they shared.

That’s the curse of funny people: it’s easy to forget that part of the reason they are so funny is because they take the craft so seriously.

I’ll admit, I was a little surprised by how seriously these two took the concept of storytelling when talking to a group of students. But that’s the curse of funny people: it’s easy to forget that part of the reason they are so funny is because they take the craft so seriously.

It’s not hard to imagine Stone and Parker just sitting in a writers’ room making fart jokes all day long, but you don’t keep a show running for 18 seasons as one of the highest-rated series on Comedy Central by accident. No, there’s some brainpower at work here, which became clear as Matt and Trey addressed their audience.

Cause and effect

In discussing how their writers’ room worked, they revealed that although they brainstorm and develop individual funny scenes, the key to turning those scenes into an actual story is in making sure that each scene causes the next scene to occur.

Why is this important? Because if there’s no relationship of cause and effect between scenes, you end up with simply a list of events or plot points, without anything driving the story forward. Parker pointed out how this is a common problem in the work of inexperienced writers, but Stone noted that he sees similar problems even in some current films, leaving him wondering, “What the @#$% am I watching this movie for?”

To avoid this pitfall in their own work, the South Park writers developed a very simple litmus test for determining whether they had achieved the desired causation between scenes, by seeing whether one of two words could be inserted between each scene: Continue Reading »


Simple Promo Tip: Call Your Book By its Name

namelessIt’s a funny thing, being both the creator of such an intimate and personal product as a book and the one who has to do most of its peddling.  This contradiction — asking authors to throw what’s often deeply private smack into the public realm for commercial purposes — can have strange effects on behavior.

Some of us may find ourselves at a loss for words when we’re asked what our book is about, even if we’ve recited our elevator pitch one-line description a thousand times.  Others may blush, or lower our gazes and voices when speaking about our WIPs.

None of which helps us put our best foot forward — especially from a publicity perspective.

Then there’s the title.  Time and again I’ve seen even the most experienced authors make what I consider to be a big publicity faux pas.  It happens at readings, on conference panels and in casual conversation.

It can be summed up with these two simple words. “My book.”

That is, referring to the book they’re talking about, amorphously, as “my book.”

Each time, I cringe.  “Doesn’t it have a name?” I wonder, “A title?  Something to give it an identity beyond: ‘a very personal endeavor I’ve slaved over for years that’s become inseparable my very existence?’”

Which leads me to this quick, ridiculously simple promo tip for every writer out there (bonus: using it is cost-free!):

Always refer to your book by its title.

Or by an abbreviation of the title if it’s long.  Especially when addressing a group.


  • Using a book’s title helps your audience recall it.  Even if they know you and know what you’ve written, chances are they know plenty of other authors and book titles, too.  Make yours stick.
  • The subliminal message conveyed by the phrase “my book” is that it’s yours and only yours, not something you’re turning over to the world.  And even though readers enjoy meeting authors, when they buy a book they want it — and the reading experience — to be their own.
  • “My book” sounds awkward and intimate.  Squishy.  It insinuates a private relationship between you and said work of fact or fiction.  This can make it hard for an audience to feel a connection with it — especially if you’re not speaking about the book itself, but about a broader topic such as querying or craft.
  • “My book” smacks of the ugly “me me me me!”  An audience finds value in hearing things relevant to itself, not to you.  Losing the possessive pronoun helps bridge this gap.
  • My book” suggests “my ONLY book.”  Even if it’s your first book and the only one in print so far, you’ll have others.  (Right?) Don’t let your audience imagine even for a second that you won’t.
  • Using the title sounds professional.  A polished author can state the title of his or her work with poise and a tone of certainty that implies, “I know you’ve heard of it.”  Without feeling awkward or self-conscious.

Continue Reading »