Guest Blogger: Shari Klase!

Shari is doing a very interesting series on her blog about writers who spent their lives as recluses. I asked her if she thought it was possibe to be a recluse or an introvert today and still be a writer. I find as an introvert, social media to be very difficult, but Shari’s answer surprised me!

Enjoy! And Thank you Shari!


In olden days reclusive writers were very mysterious and romantic. Now, however, a writer who is also a recluse is viewed as a social misfit. I think we have to take into account that often the reason writers became recluses was because they were already famous and hounded by the media. If you’re a best selling writer, you can own your eccentricities with a lot more grace than we novices can afford.

Is it possible to be a reclusive writer in modern times? I’d still say yes, but with caveats. No man is an island, but with today’s social media spectrum it is easier than in former times. You can promote yourself through Facebook, Twitter, your own websites and blogs. It is possible to know people, even a great deal of them, without once meeting a person face to face. Sooner or later, though, in order to be a best selling author, there will be a need to talk to an actual person; say a book store owner or book seller, or even potential people who may buy your books at a book signing, if you’re fortunate enough to have one of those. Rude, discourteous writers seldom make sales.

Here are some ways to be a writing recluse:

1. Frequent social media. Most writers prefer a written exchange over a verbal exchange, so use that to your advantage. Write your own blog. Comment on other writers’ blogs. Promote yourself via Twitter and Facebook.

2. Submit online. In the beginning, I left a paper trail with every magazine publisher I felt inclined to submit to. I ran myself dry on copy ink and visited the post office clerks like they were family members. I wasted a lot of money and time this way. Now, I almost always submit online. Whether you want to publish a book, a nonfiction article or a story, there are many opportunities via the internet. Find your comfortable niche and start submitting frequently to the places you feel best represent your style.

3. Write under a pseudonym. If you want to be strictly anonymous, a fake name is a good way to go. The same can be said if you want to explore different avenues of writing. This can be good or bad. The good: No one knows who you are. The bad: No one knows who you are.

4. Write well, or even better write masterfully. As was stated before, you can afford your privacy if you have a few accolades, contracts and checks or Paypal money under your belt.

5. Have a second job. If you don’t depend on your writing money, you have freedom to be selective. The problem with this solution is that a job often eats into your writing time or drains you of energy to write, so you have to be a more disciplined writer. Often times this turns your craft into a hobby instead of a job. This can also be helpful because there is less pressure to make sales since you already have an income.

My final questions is, do you really want to be a reclusive writer? I suspect that most of us who claim that term are recluses for one simple reason; we are not much in demand. We are actually cocooned butterflies just waiting to spread our wings.


Guest Post: Peter M. Ball

A couple of weeks ago I did a post about Authors and TIme. Peter M. Ball, an Australian author, was kind enough to post a lengthy response to it. I asked him if he would do a guest blog about expectations authors have and he said yes! Please enjoy.


People make some weird assumptions when it comes to building a writing career. Partially this is because we’re uncomfortable talking about writing as a business, what with our cultural rhetoric treating creativity as a gift that should never be commercialized, and partially this is because the only “successful writers” most beginners hear about are the highly successful outliers like JK Rowling, Stephen King, or EL James.

Writers don’t make the news unless they’re best-sellers, so it’s kinda like trying to figure out how to start a restaurant when the only examples you have to follow are celebrity chefs and thinking well, first step, I need to get my own TV show…

I’ve spent the last four years working fora non-profit writers center in Australia, talking to writers at every level of experience. I get to talk to professional writers – people who make their living at this strange business of producing words – pretty regularly, asking them how they do what they do.

What I’ve learned after four years of conversation is this: most of us, when we’re starting out, think about writing and money the wrong way. Essentially, we want to treat it like a job, with everything a job entails. We want to have a boss – be it a publisher or an agent – and we want to get a regular paycheck immediately.

Basically, we think of “getting published” like we’ve landed a sweet new job, and because we think this way, we make all sorts of mistakes.


When you talk to experienced writers – people who have actually made their living doing this – they’ve got the mindset that what they’ve been doing is building a small business. They’re building something, piece by piece, but they’re in charge of making decisions.

Expecting to have a writing career after your first book or two is rather like kicking off a career as a plumber, say, say, and expecting to break even after the first two jobs. It takes time to build up a client base (or, in a writer’s case, a regular readership), and at the end of the day you end up doing it by word of mouth.

Here’s the good news for writers: you’re going to make a loss some years, particularly early on, but your books and stories will always have the potential to earn you money. I’ve had people ask about reprint rights for stories I wrote five or six years ago, and while it took hours of sweat and effort to earn the cash for that first short story sale, getting the payment for the reprint takes about as much effort as typing “heck yeah” into an email and signing a contract.

It’s hard to wrap your head around it in the early stages of your career, but long-term your back catalogue is the biggest asset you’ve got. Every book you write is an advertisement for the other books you’ve written, and every new fan you make is suddenly looking at your previous work like a kid in a candy store.


And it sure as hell takes more than one or two books. In traditional publishing terms, the number where you’re assumed to have a readership hovers between five and ten books (assuming you write in the same genre and build a following there). In indie publishing terms, the number tends to be a bit higher – I’ve got a friend who just quit his day job to publish who noticed things started picking up when he hit twenty-three books or so (my experience in indie game publishing, way back when, seems to support this).

If you’re jumping around in a lot of different genres, multiply those numbers out.

A few years back, Goodreads did a report on how people found the books they were reading. Their data suggested that we need between six and twelve points of contact with a book before we make the decision to buy it, depending on how trusted the source is. A point of contact could be anything – a review, a friend mentioning they’ve read it, passing someone reading the book on a train, etc.

Obviously, not all points of contact are created equally. Trusted reviewers/book bloggers/friends opinions obviously will hold more sway than seeing your novel title mentioned in a short story bio, just as a recommendation from your best friend with similar reading taste will mean much more than someone mentioning your book in a random tweet.

The upside is that once you’ve got a reader, you’re pretty much golden – the same data suggested that 96% of people find books by following authors they’re already reading, while 79% learn about books from friends offline, and 64% via Goodreads recommendations from friends (naturally, they’re happy to promote that).

All of which is a long way of saying “writing is a long term gig.” The rewards come later – often much later – but they are there.

Peter M. Ball writes SF and Fantasy novellas, runs the Australian Writer’s Marketplace for Queensland Writers Centre, and convenes the bi-yearly GenreCon writing conference in Brisbane, Australia. 


Finding an Agent Guest Blog by Holly Jennings

Please welcome Holly Jennings back to Enchanted Spark!

If there was one thing I’ve learned from my experiences, as well as those of other writers, finding your agent never happens the way you expect. Still, everyone needs a starting point. The best place is your computer. The internet has been a godsend for writers. We no longer have to pay for copying manuscripts and mailing postage. We can research accepting short story markets with only a few clicks. And for everything cyberspace has done for us, it’s helping us find agents too.

The traditional way of finding an agent is through querying, where you send an agent your query letter and (if requested) a small sample of your writing. But how do you know who wants your letter? Which agents are accepting manuscripts? For which genres? Below are several Internet-savvy ways of honing in on your agent.

Agent Search Engines

Yes, there are actual search engines out there designed to help you comb through a database of active and acquiring agents. Sites like and are free to use and allow multiple combinations of search criteria. For example, if you write fantasy and romance, you can search for agents who represent both. Then, you can also specify agents only in the U.S. Depending on your search perimeters, this can narrow down your agent list to as little as twenty, or even less. These search engines won’t tell you much more than what genres agents are accepting at that specific time, but it is a good place to start, and leads right into the next way to find your agent.


When an agent signs a client, they aren’t looking to sign for just one book. They’re hoping for a career long partnership. This is one of the reasons agents participate in online interviews, blog posts, and forums. Read them. A quick Google search can generate a dozen or more Q&A’s with an agent of your choice. Quite often, the agent will talk about what they’re currently looking for (“more sci-fi, less fantasy”), their dream manuscript (“robot penguins, in space!”), and what is on their no-go list (“dystopian zombie vampires”).

Pitching Contests

Pitching contests are the newest highway for writers on the road to agentville, and are a personal favorite of mine. In these contests, writers typically submit a short logline or summary of their novel and their first 250 words. The hosts pick out the top entries and post them on their blogs. Agents then compete to read your manuscript. Yes, you read that right. Agents compete over you, not the other way around. Also, since you’re vying against hundreds of entries, not thousands, the chance of getting your work in front of an agent versus traditional querying is much, much higher.

Currently, some of the biggest contests are Pitch Wars, Pitch Madness, Query Kombat, and PitchMAS. There are several others as well. In fact, there’s one nearly every month and more agents are joining in all the time. This is ultimately how I found my agent, and I hadn’t known about him before the contest. Once I did, I knew he was the right one for me.

Follow them on Twitter

Most agents have a Twitter feed, so it’s worth checking out what types of things they post. There were a few agents I outwardly decided not to query based on their Twitter feed alone. Either we had conflicting views on the literary world, or they had criticized another writer’s query submission in a way I found unprofessional. Whatever an agent decides to post, it can be a good insight for you. Ask yourself: Is this someone I’d want to work with? Is this someone I’d be proud representing my work?

Also on Twitter, there is the popular hashtag #MSWL, which stands for Manuscript Wish List. Agents use this hashtag to tweet about what they’d like to see in manuscripts. Sometimes they’ll list extremely specific things (“solarpunk airships”) which means your manuscript would have to be very on the nose and ready to submit. However, it gives you an idea of what types of genres that agent generally likes. And their requests aren’t always that specific. Sometimes it’s as simple as “sci-fi with romantic elements.”


One “non-Internet” way you can go about finding your agent is by going to conferences. This is not something I’ve done myself, but I’ve been told it can be nerve-wracking, like going on a dozen job interviews in the same day.

At a conference, you pitch directly to an agent in person. Like, you look them in the face and tell them what your book is about. Ye gods! I know. But if you have an iron stomach and live in a major city, this might be the path for you.

Many agents will turn you down, but you still get one-on-one time with them. Unlike traditional querying, you won’t get a form rejection. They will give you pointers and tell you how you can improve. Imagine if every job interview you went on the employer told you “this is how you can do better.” By the end of the year, you’d be an interviewing connoisseur, a master of the art. Pitching in person can be tough for a writer, especially those who are introverted. But agents are the gatekeepers to the publishing world, and at conferences, they’re practically handing you the keys.

There is no one way or “right way” to find your agent. The internet, and especially Twitter, is a great way for authors to connect to agents, contests, and other writers. Whether you’re a traditionalist and prefer straight querying, or like to experiment with new mediums like contests, the path to your agent will be as unique as the novel you’ve written. Enjoy the journey.

Lightning Wolves and the Importance of Setting

This summer saw the publication of my eighth novel, a western steampunk adventure called Lightning Wolves. It’s the sequel to my 2011 novel Owl Dance and continues the story of the Russian invasion of the United States in 1877. You may not remember this seminal period in history, but I can assure you it involved airships, ornithopters, lightning guns, and automata. That’s the steampunk part of the story. The adventure comes from the characters living the experience. There’s Ramon Morales, the former sheriff trying to find new direction in life. There’s Larissa Crimson, a bounty hunter with a natural talent for machines and a desire to make the world a better place. There’s Curly Bill Bresnahan, an outlaw who has stumbled on a terrible weapon he hopes to use for his own gain. Their conflict and interaction drives the story forward.

This brings us to the western aspect of the story and the importance of setting. In a very real way, Lightning Wolves was inspired by my commute to work. If that doesn’t sound very inspirational to you, I should explain that my commute to work starts in Las Cruces, New Mexico, just a couple miles from the site of Billy the Kid’s trial, to a mountain peak on the Tohono O’Odham reservation 50 miles west of Tucson, Arizona. I make this drive once a week. Along the way, I pass through several places both famous and important to the region’s history.

The end of my commute!

I grew up watching Westerns, but I often find history more fascinating than fiction. For example, John Nakayama was a Japanese farmer who settled in New Mexico’s Mesilla Valley early in the twentieth century. He and his family were instrumental in cultivating robust varieties of green chile that are so much a part of both the state’s economy and heritage. It wasn’t hard to imagine a Samurai warrior displaced by the Meiji Restoration starting down the same path a little earlier in the state’s history.

My commute to work carries me by the turnoff to Tombstone, Arizona. Although the gunfight at OK Corral put Tombstone on the map, the region had a rich history even before Wyatt Earp considered moving there. Tombstone was founded by Ed Shieffelin as a mining camp near the San Pedro River, which cuts through rolling land carpeted by chaparral. In my story, the army recruits people from Arizona to fight the Russians in California and Oregon. If this had happened, Ed and his brother Al would have faced difficulties developing their claim when the only people in the area were Apaches and a gang of cattle rustlers who called themselves the Cowboys. Taking one of the mine tours in Tombstone, inspired the idea of the Shieffelin’s working with an inventor to build a machine which could tunnel into rock.

Descending into the Good Enough Mine

The area around Tombstone provided even more story inspiration. Although the Cowboys, led by the Clanton family, are famous from many western movies, not many of those movies explored how they made their living stealing cattle from Mexican ranchers and selling it to the United States Army. On the river’s banks near Tombstone is one of the few standing Spanish Presidios, dating back to the 1700s. The Presidio Santa Cruz de Terrenate seemed a wonderful place for characters to seek shelter during a sand storm.

My commute to work also carries me through the Council Rocks region of the Dragoon Mountains where Cochise met with General Howard in 1872 to sign a peace treaty. It was known Geronimo frequented this area as well. The Council Rocks are a dramatic formation of yellow rocks strewn over a several-mile area like a natural fortress. It’s easy to see why the Apaches used this area as a stronghold and I knew it had to be the setting for one of the climactic encounters in the novel.

A natural fortress

Setting, for me, is more than a simple backdrop. It can provide inspiration for plot when we pay attention to the kinds of stories that have happened in similar places. Setting can provide inspiration for characters when we look at the people who have been drawn to those places and the conflicts they had. Sometimes those conflicts are with people who want the same land. Sometimes those conflicts are with the land itself. While it’s true that the type of story we want to tell will drive the setting, sometimes it’s fun to start with a setting and see where it leads you.

Lightning Wolves is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords in print and ebook formats.

Guest Blog by Holly Jennings: The Query Letter

Please welcome our guest blogger Holly Jennings! I asked her to give up her secrets to writing an awesome query letter. I’m so grateful she agreed! Also, if you’re an indie writer, I think her description of the opening paragraph would make an excellent book blurb. Here’s Holly!

First of all, let me start off by saying I am in no way an expert on query letters. The one that landed me an agent went through roughly thirty rewrites. Yes, you read that right. Not three. Thirty. Some writers believe the query letter takes more time and effort than the entire manuscript itself. Some days, I’m inclined to agree with them. It sounds rough, I know. But as long as you’re not afraid to get your elbows dirty and your ego bruised more than once, you’re already on the right track.

The summary paragraphs of every query letter (except non-fiction) should have three parts: character, conflict, and stakes — in that order.

Section One: Character

Introduce your protagonist in the very first sentence of the query. Tell us what’s special about them. Do not make the character’s life seem boring just so what happens to them seems more exciting. This will lead the agent to believe your opening pages are dull. Would you like to read the book about the average schoolgirl with average grades and an average life? Or would you rather read about the boy sitting next to her who’s secretly a troll?

You can also make this work for characters that have no idea they’re different at the beginning of the story: “12-year-old Kaylee is meant to save her school from sorcery. Too bad she doesn’t know it yet.”

It is important to state your main character’s age for all categories other than adult, so the agent knows you understand the age range for each category (middle grade, young adult, and new adult).

Now, follow up the character introduction with one to two sentences about their life/world. Again, focus on what makes them different. Give us an idea of the book’s setting and tone. If it’s set on a different planet or in a fantasy world, give us a taste of the rules and environment of this new world. Just be sure to steer clear of the dreaded info-dump. Only give us the minimal necessary to understand this world and why it’s different.

To carry on with my previous example:

“12-year-old Kaylee is meant to save her school from sorcery. Too bad she doesn’t know it yet. Stuck across the hall from her friends, life in Ms. Henderson’s seventh grade class isn’t the only thing as bad as indoor recess. Her father is a genius, and her younger brother hot on his heels. Kaylee? She’s at the crossroads of Passed-Over and Loser-Ville. With braces. And freckles. Eww.”

Section Two: Conflict

This is the initiating incident. You’ve introduced us to the protagonist’s world. What happens to make everything change? Usually this paragraph starts with a “but when…”

– A deadly virus is unleashed.
– A mysterious new boy moves to town.
– A fellow student is kidnapped.

Whatever happens to turn your character’s world upside-down, show us here. To continue on with our example:

“But when Kaylee’s reflection starts disappearing from mirrors and silverware becomes gold under her touch, something special is finally happening to her. That is, until she turns the school’s coveted football trophy to dust. Now she’s the laughingstock of the whole school. Even her friends think she’s a freak. Worst of all, she can’t even tell what her hair looks like! Being special sucks the big one.”

Section Three: Stakes

The first two paragraphs should lead entirely up to this. This is where you spell out what your protagonist stands to lose. The number one complaint I’ve read from interns, agents, and others lies within this elusive third paragraph. Nearly all writers suffer from the “vague stakes” syndrome, with symptoms like:

– All hope will vanish.
– Everyone will die.
– Love will be lost.
– Humanity will meet its doom.

The problem? The above statements also describe every B-rated movie ever made, so why would an agent care about your story?

Luckily, there’s a cure: spell out what makes this important to your protagonist. It isn’t bad to have a story where “everyone will die”. You built something on an epic, world-changing scale. Awesome! But put yourself in your character’s shoes. Sure, you’d be sad about humankind losing, but you can’t picture how it would impact everyone in the world. You just can’t. But you can imagine your siblings or friends never growing up, never having a great career, or kids of their own. Making the stakes personal to your character adds a unique emotional punch.

Back to our example:

“So when the always-on-the-edge-of-suspension Trevor corners her in the gym, she’s shocked it’s not to beat her up. He’s got powers too, and they’ve been activated because the principle is dealing in dark magic. If they can’t stop him, their powers might grow out of control and the school might go with them. This is Kaylee’s chance to be someone in her genius family, win back her friends, and impress the guy she’s so not trying to impress. But really, turning things to gold? Disappearing from mirrors? If she was meant to save the school, they could have given her better powers, and a less annoying sidekick.”

Secret Bonus Section: Voice

Notice in the example above how phrases like “Eww”, “Sucks the big one”, and “As bad as indoor recess” gives the query a likable, middle-grade flavor. We get a better insight into the character and tone of the novel, and it showcases your talent as a writer. If an agent sees that your query letter has spunk, they’ll know your manuscript will be dripping with it. This, above all, can show what makes your story different. Not all plotlines will be unique, but your characters can be. No two people are alike. A story would never be told the same way through the perception of a different character. Find your protagonist’s voice and include it in your query.

I’m currently working on two novels. One is set in a noir-fantasy world. The other is set in a virtual reality video game. If each of the main characters were to talk about somebody dying, one would say “he bit the hard goodbye” and the other would quip “he got the permanent game over”. Notice how I don’t need to tell you which said which. You just know, because it matches the world they live in. Make sure you character’s voice reflects their age and their circumstances, and you’re not just golden — you’re platinum, baby.

The Facts and Credentials

Besides the summary paragraphs, you’ll also want to include the following in your query:

– Title (In all caps).
– Word Count.
– Category and genre (eg. YA Sci-fi).
– Comparable books or authors to your story.
– Your credentials, if any, including: previous publications or writing/editing experience, your online presence, or anything else relevant to the story. Include your education if it pertains to creative writing, editing, or a specific topic in the book (eg. your main character is a biologist and you have a degree in biology). Same goes for your day job. If you’re a librarian or an editor of a local newspaper, be sure to say that. If you’re an accountant and your book has nothing to do with accounting, best to leave it out.
– Personalization to the agent. Research their interviews and check out their twitter feed (most agents have one). Tell that agent why you think your book would be a good match to them.


“MAGIC, MATH, AND OTHER THINGS THAT STINK is a middle grade fantasy novel complete at 40,000 words. It will appeal to fans of [insert awesome MG fantasy authors here]. My short work has appeared in [cool magazine goes here] and I have a degree in creative writing from [epic school here]. According to your recent tweets, you are looking for middle grade fantasy with a strong, female protagonist and an unlikely team duo. I believe my book is an excellent match to your interests.”

Last Bit of Advice

Critique the crap out of your query. Send it to every writing buddy you have. Enter query contests. Get feedback from professionals in the industry. Several blogs accept queries for critique. Find them and submit. Rewrite based off their advice. Do it again. And again. Once people start to tell you “this is agent ready”, try sending out a handful of letters to agents who represent your genre. If you get a request, stick with your letter. If not, send it out into the critiquing world again. If more people tell you “it’s ready”, then it’s just a matter of finding the right agent. If not, keeping rewriting and submitting.

Querying and query writing can be a long, painful process. But if you can work, and rework (and rework a dozen more times) the prize at the end is even better than a pot of gold…

An agent.

Commitment: Writing Brass Stars

Please welcome A.G. Carpenter to Enchanted Spark. She has a great insight about judging what a character really needs to make the story work. Enjoy:

Firstly, thank you to Melinda for hosting my guest post. If you haven’t read her post on my blog yet, you can check it out here: Lessons Learned Writing A Sunset Finish

Several years ago I made a promise to myself not to censor my ideas when it came to fiction. At least, not during the writing stage. If something was too extreme, I would tone it down during the editing process.

Like so many things involved in writing, it was easier said than done.

Brass Stars started out as an idea for a secondary world fantasy involving a samurai-like MC who ends the tyrannical reign of a war-lord and is then chased off by the villagers she just saved. Because they’re afraid she’ll be as bad as the fellow she’s replacing.

It was a fun little idea, but I kept turning it around and eventually realized the setting was wrong and maybe a Western (in space!) was the better way to go. I wrote a good sized chunk of the story leading up to that final scene and ran it by a few beta-readers. They liked the story. They liked the setting. But they didn’t like Tashn’delu. She was too cold.

I wasn’t sure what to do. I put the draft back on the virtual shelf and let the whole thing sit. When I went back and read it again, I realized I did have a problem. But it wasn’t that Tashn needed a softer side or a larger love interest (or any love interest). The problem was not that Tashn was too cold.

She wasn’t cold enough.

It was a tough call to make. My first readers had all told me to make her softer. They said “more rounded”, but I think what they really meant was “more feminine”. A woman who cried after she shot a man. A woman didn’t want to pick up her gun in the first place. A woman who needed the support of a someone who loved her to accomplish her goals.

Let me be clear. There is nothing wrong with any of those things. I even have a few characters who might embody one or more of those statements. But Tashn did not and, in order for her story to work, I had to stop trying to make her nice or remorseful or romantic.

I went back through and revised all the points where I’d tried to make her more likable. It was difficult, because I’d had those beta-readers tell me I needed to do the opposite. But I had made a promise to myself not to censor the story and I was committed to the character.

When I finished I had a story about a young woman is driven, who likes men but doesn’t have time for love, who will do whatever it takes to punish the men who took her mother away. She was cold. Obsessed. And somehow she had become more likable. Not because she showed a softer side, but because she was the character the story demanded.

It was a lesson I carried on to the revisions of a longer novel and to the writing of a new one. You have to commit to the character. Even when it seems like those emotional flaws will be unlikeable or the body count will be too high or your aunt will blush at the words coming out of the MC’s mouth. Because committing to the character is a part of committing to the story and that love of the story and character will get through to your readers.


Brass Stars is available via Amazon – Brass Stars for Kindle – or from the Eggplant Literary Productions website – Brass Stars for everything else.

Openings Follow Up

Thanks for the great conversation on Openings! Diane Carlisle did a post on her site called 10 Lousy Story Starts. Please check out!

I wanted to put Holly’s comments on the front page for everyone to see because it was like a mini-blog. Thank you Holly! Please enjoy her thoughts on Openings:

My first piece of advice: check out the site I’ve linked below. It contains interviews from several agents regarding opening scenes, opening lines, and what to avoid. It has been a personal goldmine.

Yes, there are standard openings to steer clear of (dreams, waking, eating breakfast, riding in a car), but like others mentioned above, they can work well if done correctly. As far as I understand, most ‘waking up’ openings or others like it don’t work because they’re boring. We see the MC being all: ‘Oh, hum. My life is so dull. Now I get ready. Now I eat breakfast. Now I go to work/school.’

Mind-numbing, eh? You bet.

But imagine an MC waking up to find her stalker standing at the foot of her bed. Still boring? Hardly. I can feel my own stomach churning.

One time someone told me to revise meaning of “in media res” from ‘in action’ to ‘with tension’. Basically, start with tension and mystery and intrigue and uniqueness and voice all in the very first line. Don’t be boring. Showcase the most exceptional thing about your character and their situation right at the beginning. Even if that character isn’t aware of what’s special about them or their story, you can still hint at it in the first lines. “Three weeks ago, I never realized things would turn out like this, but then again, I never realized a lot of things about myself.”

Here’s the opening line to one of my favorites and my opinion on why it works:

Fight Club (the novel): “Tyler gets me a job as a waiter, after that Tyler’s pushing a gun in my mouth and saying, the first step to eternal life is you have to die.”

The first half of the sentence is boring, but it’s so short and simple that we go straight to the second part of the sentence, about the gun and dying, and now it’s anything but dull. In a single sentence, the author has set up the following: the tone (dark and gritty), the theme (order vs. chaos), the relationship between Tyler and the MC (dominant and submissive), the POV (first person observer), the voice. Masterful!

The first half of the sentence is mundane and something we can relate to. Everyone knows someone who’s been a waiter. But the second half turns the mundane on its head. ‘Whoa, how did this guy go from being a waiter to having a gun shoved in his mouth?’ I’m intrigued, and eager to read on.

One last piece of advice: I’ve also learned that a unique reference to one of the underused senses helps to ground the reader inside the story. (It smelled like someone had sprayed my grandmother’s perfume over a puddle of cat piss). Yummy. Balance helps too. Too much description, action, dialogue or narration right at the beginning of the story can be a turnoff.

So You’ve Finally Finished Your Manuscript: Steps to Take when Finalizing Your Work

Phew! You did it! You finally completed that manuscript that’s been haunting you for over a year. Now what? Should you send it off to an agent? Try to self-publish? Have all your friends and family read it and get their input? Submit it to a writing contest? Try to get it published in a magazine? Before jumping off the deep end, make sure you’ve done some clean up first. Proofreading, checking for grammar mistakes, looking for holes in the story, cleaning up continuity, and verifying themes amongst several other items are crucial steps that need to be taken in order to provide a professional, error-free version of your story to the world. A lot of the initial clean-up is doting over your story day and night looking for possible mistakes. Editors will not spend their time putting periods at the ends of sentences that you missed and some, if you’re not a well-known name, will simply throw you work in the trash. Do you really want your hard work, the baby that took you one year to create, to end up in the garbage? Taking the time to edit properly before sending your manuscript anywhere, even in an email to your Grandma, will prove quite a lot when it comes to credibility, quality of writing, and skill.

One of the first steps to take is proofreading. When you’ve finished your work, even if you’re a writer who loves to proof and simultaneously edit while writing, proofreading is an essential step. There are tons of errors to be had: Missed periods at the ends of sentences, forgotten commas, misuse of a semi-colon, a character randomly who goes missing halfway through, the dog’s name that changes from one chapter to another. One of the websites that has always helped me proofread is Grammarly. In the past, I’ve been extremely frustrated with Microsoft Word for missing errors or improperly marking errors on the page, and I end up with mistakes in my work. Grammarly has been able to find errors that Microsoft Word can’t. It is excellent as a free proofreading tool and its grammar checker identifies not only my errors in the current text but my most common errors throughout all my writing. It also contains a context-optimized synonym generator that helps to diversify my vocabulary within my work. Online tools can be a huge help when it comes to proofreading your material. They also save time and money, which are a huge help when you’re starting a writing career.

Another step to take is having someone you trust, writing-wise (an old professor, a close editor or writer friend, or someone who knows what to look for in your work), take a crack at reading it. Some of the best writers have their husbands or wives read their material right after they have finished proofreading it. They’re an outside opinion that could be vital to realizing that one of your characters doesn’t belong in the story or that you don’t need to have the theme of wrath throughout your book. A fresh pair of eyes can also catch grammar, punctuation, or spelling mistakes. I know after I’ve stared at the same piece of work even for a few weeks, I glaze over parts of it that really need to have more work. Included within this step is having a professional editor take a look at it. An old English professor or maybe an old boss that understands your work would be perfect. They understand what type of errors to look for, and they have your best interest at heart.

Finishing a manuscript is a huge accomplishment that should not be taken lightly. Although finishing the manuscript is a large part of getting a book published, there’s a lot more to be done than merely slathering words on the page. Proofreading and enthusiastic editing are necessary not only for publishing but credibility. If you self-publish a short story riddled with errors, it could become vastly more difficult to break into the publishing world. No reader enjoys stopping every few sentences to correct jumbled English. It breaks them out of the setting of your story. Spend almost as much time proofreading as you did writing, and you’ll be far better off when submitting work for publication.

By Nikolas Baron



Nikolas discovered his love for the written word in Elementary School, where he started spending his afternoons sprawled across the living room floor devouring one Marc Brown childrens’ novel after the other and writing short stories about daring pirate adventures. After acquiring some experience in various marketing, business development, and hiring roles at internet startups in a few different countries, he decided to re-unite his professional life with his childhood passions by joining Grammarly’s marketing team in San Francisco. He has the pleasure of being tasked with talking to writers, bloggers, teachers, and others about how they use Grammarly’s online proofreading application to improve their writing. His free time is spent biking, travelling, and reading.

Guest Blog by Alex Shvartsman Creator of Unidentified Funny Objects

Welcome to Alex Shvartsman, creator of the Unidentified Funny Objects anthology. Please enjoy reading about his journey from the spark of inspiration to the third year of production.

It was almost by accident that I began to write funny stories.

When I got into the business of writing science fiction, I sort of imagined myself writing your typical fare – a little bit of future tech, a little bit of high adventure, maybe some snappy dialog. Humor was something I always enjoyed reading, but never pictured myself as producing.

Then, one day, I threw caution to the wind and started clowning around. I was stunned to discover that writing humorous stories came easier to me, and was a heck of a lot more fun, than writing the “serious” stuff. So I kept doing it.

I’ve had quite a bit of success publishing my humor stories. They appeared in places like Galaxy’s Edge, InterGalactic Medicine Show, Daily Science Fiction, and even the journal of Nature. Even so, I also discovered that selling humorous short fiction is not nearly as easy as selling darker fare.

True, most prestigious SF/F magazines will occasionally run a humor story or two. But those lighthearted pieces are balanced out with far too many serious ones. There exist entire markets – magazines like Nightmare and Apex and Shock Totem – dedicated to dark fiction. But there wasn’t a dedicated humor market.


I’d always wanted to try my hand at editing an anthology, and this was a perfect opportunity. It may not help me sell my humorous stories, but wouldn’t it be cool to provide a pro-paying, quality outlet for other writers to do so? And also, this was exactly the kind of book I’d buy in a second. Surely there were plenty of other fans of humorous SF/F out there, feeling the same way?

I researched online and found that nothing quite like this has been done recently. Sure, there have been plenty of themed humor anthologies over the years, such as Chicks in Chainmail or Deals with the Devil. But there was no book that attempted to collect a great variety of humorous stories across both science fiction and fantasy, and featuring everything from sarcasm to slapstick to parody.

At the time, few people had heard of me at all, and I certainly had no editorial experience to speak of. So it really was the concept itself that garnered the support I needed for the book to go forward. Awesome writers, whose books I’ve enjoyed for years, were actually willing to entrust me with some of their words! Mike Resnick was one of the early supporters. I owe him quite a debt as I am sure his name being attached to the project had convinced many others to give me a chance as well.

And then there were submissions. I read over 600 stories in order to select the 29 that appeared in the book!

The project raised over $6000 on Kickstarter and, after the book was released, received great reviews from critics and readers alike. As I write this, nearly two years later, the first UFO volume remains one of the top 50 science fiction anthologies on Amazon!

I also had a lot of fun with it, and was definitely interested in doing it again. My ambition grew to developing Unidentified Funny Objects as an annual series. I’d like for it continue to grow and to become a genre staple with loyal readership, much like Sword and Sorceress (which has released 28 volumes to date).

UFO2 came out in October of 2013, and I am now hard at work on UFO3. The fanboy in me is still thrilled to be working on this series. I got to interact and work with iconic authors like Mike Resnick, Bob Silverberg, Esther Friesner, Piers Anthony, Jody Lynn Nye, and many others.

At the moment, I’m running a Kickstarter campaign to help me fund UFO3. I have a lot of really fun things planned, but they all cost money, and the crowd-funding model allows me to buy more stories, get more illustrations, and do cool promotions such as publish free fiction on our web site and run giveaways.

If this anthology series sounds like something you might enjoy, please check out our page. You can get any of the existing books as rewards, as well as the upcoming volume, of course. And if you’re a writer like me, who enjoys coming up with humorous stories, please consider sending me your work – the submissions page is linked from the Kickstarter campaign, and submissions will open on March 1st.