Have a Piece of Chocolate and Move On

By Ellen Leventhal

I know I’ve written about rejection before. But see, that’s the thing. It’s not something you think about once, get over, and move on to a field of daisies and puppies to write happily ever after.  Yes, after a rejection, eat chocolate, have some wine, and move on.  Definitely move on. Just don’t delude yourself into thinking that once you move on, you’ll never get that punch in the gut feeling again.

For traditionally published authors, and those attempting to be one, the rejection letter is sometimes a literary form of “It’s not you, it’s me.” It usually reads something like this: “Although you have a wonderful way of telling a story, it’s just not right for our list. We hope your manuscript finds a home.”  (That always makes me think of hundreds of poor manuscripts huddled together under a street light; homeless and cold.) Sometimes that’s true. Different agents and editors are looking for different things. And sometimes it’s timing. I once got a beautiful rejection telling me that they liked my writing, but they just published a book with a very similar theme, and they are a small press….blah, blah, blah. You know, it’s not you, it’s us. But then there are also the ones that pretty much tell you that you are a fool to have submitted because your work is way below their standards, and you might as well throw your computer away because you are a hopeless hack. OK, I may have overreacted and read that into my last rejection, but you get the idea.

So how about if you indie publish? No rejections? Right and wrong.  Although there may not be actual rejections, you still need a thick skin. Most critique groups have caring, diplomatic members who will point out issues in your manuscript without making you cringe. Critique groups are wonderful for finding things you missed because you are too close to the project. But sometimes an editor may not be as diplomatic. And what about when you pay someone to critique your work and then get a less than stellar review? You may take their criticisms as a form of rejection. Again, drink wine, eat chocolate, and fix the manuscript. You still may feel like you have been punched in the gut, but at least you have a chance to revise. So do it.

Now, what about the indie writer who doesn’t get his work critiqued or edited? Well, maybe they won’t face the same type of rejection, but most likely, their book won’t do well. But those writers are for a whole different blog post. Indie writers need to go through all the same steps as traditionally published writers. When they don’t, they make the rest of us look bad. More on that another day.

We all face some type of rejection. It’s not just about writing.  How do you handle it? I’d love to hear because I’m running low on chocolate and wine.



How to Create Your Own Anthology (without losing your mind)

by Monica Shaughnessy

FINAL Cover_no sixOn October 8th, the Space City Scribes released an anthology. In case we haven’t talked about it quite enough, here are the particulars. It’s a loose collection of stories about Houston, ranging from literary fiction to sci-fi to fantasy. The ebook sells for $2.99 at Amazon and other major etailers.

Okay? Okay.

Now on to the “how to” portion of my post…

How To Create Your Own Anthology

There are a lot of reasons to create an anthology. Chief among them is exposure. If someone already loves, say, Mandy Broughton and buys the anthology to read her story, then that same person may read my story, like it just as much, and go on to buy one of my books. It’s also a way to build excitement for local events – signings are always more fun and “busy” when you have a group of authors. Lastly, my friend Artemis Greenleaf likened the anthology to a super-deluxe business card, and she’s right. It’s a great way to get our content “sampled” by as many people possible, especially since we’re pricing it low. Visibility is an author’s greatest challenge, whether indie or trad published, and the more people who’ve heard of us, the better.

What follows below are my tips for creating a homegrown anthology with a group of friends – not the kind of anthology where you welcome submissions from strangers and pay them. Those are good, too, but outside the scope of my discussion.

Now on to the show…

1. Find Your Writers: If you’re in an author collective like me, then your circle is already formed. If not, you might be in a critique group or a professional writers’ organization. Ask around to see if anyone’s interested in putting an anthology together, but I strongly caution you to pick writers you know and trust. If you want to work with people you don’t know as well, be prepared to draft legal documents to protect yourself. Another reason to pick people you know: you can choose writers whose work you admire and whose publishing skills compliment and/or supplement your own. This becomes very important when the “easy” work of writing is done and the hard work of “book creation” begins.

2. Decide on a Cost/Payment Structure: Our anthology was a no-pay structure where individual writers submitted freely without expectation of royalty or advance. This is a little harder to pull off with “strangers.” We also decided to keep overhead low by designing the cover ourselves, formatting ourselves, etc. We are lucky enough to have two educators in our group who have a meticulous command of the English language (thanks, Ellen Leventhal and Ellen Rothberg!). They did all the proofreading for the project. As for payment, we decided to funnel any profits from group signings back to Space City Scribes. We’ll use the money to sign up for festival booths, book advertisements, etc. If, however, we buy and sell the books as individuals, then the profits are ours to keep.

3. Put Someone in Charge: Things run more smoothly when you have someone keeping the schedule, checking on work, and sending update emails. For this project, I acted as editor. I won’t lie. The anthology was a lot of work. But I’m really proud of it.

4. Decide on a Theme: Since we’re a diverse group of writers, we found a common core in our hometown: Houston. Using this as a starting point, we all wrote stories set in Space City, hence the title of the anthology. If you’ve assembled a genre-based group, then you’ve got a built in theme already, say, horror or middle grade. But go further… Do you want to do a middle-grade collection of holiday stories? A science fiction anthology of space opera? There are a lot of ways to segment your content.

5. Assign the Work Fairly: Some of our members are very tech-savvy. They took the project pieces that required certain skills, like ebook formatting and paperback creation. Some members are awesome editors and proofers, so they took these pieces. Or some, like K.C. Maguire, happened to have experience with certain kinds of blogging and promotion. That’s the beauty of working with a diverse team – we all bring something to the table. When you’re choosing writers, be thinking not just about the stories you’ll need but the skills you’ll need after the words are on paper.

6. Get ready for a ton of email. Just deciding on our cover? I think we sent and replied to around fifty or more emails. No joke. And this was just one small piece of the project.

7. Remember That Friendships Come Before Business: If things get a little crazy or if there are disagreements (think there won’t be? ha!), take a step back and remember that this is supposed to be FUN or, at the very least, a good use of your time. Not the gateway to an ulcer. With so many cooks in the kitchen, the final recipe may not turn out like the one in the cookbook – do they ever? – but you’ll end up with something new and exciting if you give in to the process.

8. Enjoy the Fruits of Your Labor: When it’s all done, and your glorious new book is for sale, it will stand as a testament to your hard work and friendship. This, really, is what makes your anthology worthwhile.

You can also go a second route: assemble your friends and acquaintances, offer them exposure, do all the work yourself (ask nothing of anyone, except for a little social media at the end), and reap all the profits yourself. This would be a good choice if you have the skills you need to produce a book or if you’ve got a particular vision you want to see through (and like to be the only cook in the kitchen). But I would recommend drafting a content release form that gives you first printing rights and having your authors sign it. When money is involved, people get funny. And I don’t mean “funny ha, ha.” I mean “funny stark raving mad.”

However you decide to do it, creating an anthology is definitely time-consuming. But it’s also worthwhile. If you want to take a look at how ours turned out, visit the anthology page on this blog and read more about the book.


How about you, dear authors? Every contemplated an anthology? I’d be happy to answer questions. And readers, what’s your opinion of anthologies? Do you enjoy reading them? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Collaboration, Craziness, and Completion: Steps to an Awesome Anthology




by Ellen Leventhal

Introducing Space City 6: Houston Stories from the Weird to the Wonderful

According to Merriam-Webster, to collaborate means to work together with another person or group in order to achieve or do something. People have asked me how I can stand such a solitary endeavor as writing. The answer is that writing, and more specifically the production of a book, is not always solitary. It’s often collaborative.

Collaboration in writing takes many forms. It can mean actually writing a piece with someone else, it can mean working with an illustrator, or it can even mean taking part in critique groups where members help each other hone their stories. I’ve done it all.

But wait, there’s more! (Cue announcer on late night infomercial.) My newest collaboration has been one of the most difficult, yet rewarding ones for me. As part of the Space City Scribes, I had the opportunity to work with five other women in order to achieve something of which we’d be proud. Although we wrote individually, it was still a team effort. Working towards producing the best anthology possible, we read, critiqued, and re-read each other’s pieces. We doled out advice that we felt would strengthen the stories without diluting the writer’s unique voice. We were each other’s cheerleaders, pushing towards a common goal. All summer long emails flew through cyberspace to places as varied as Texas, Vermont, and Vienna, Austria. Yes, it definitely got a little crazy. However, often the craziness of collaboration is the magic. People throwing out ideas, other people piggy backing on those ideas, and lots of discussion…that’s collaboration. After much revision, the stories were done. Whew. And then it got really hard. And crazier. It was time for us, as a writing collaborative, to decide on a cover, a title, and a way to sell the book. Every decision was made as a group. More emails, more discussion, more hard work, and ok, a little more crazy thrown in for good measure. But the good kind of crazy! The kind that makes you proud. The kind that you look back on and say, “We did it.”

So now here we are. We’ve reached the final C…COMPLETION. We are proud to announce that our collaborative effort, Space City 6: Houston Stories from the Weird to the Wonderful is now available on Amazon. We hope you check us out and let us know what you think. Feel free to do it alone or get a friend to look at it with you. After all, sometimes collaborations yield the best results.




Story Structure 101 – FREE CLASS on 9/13

by Monica Shaughnessy

The plot thickens...no, it's just oatmeal.

The plot thickens…no, it’s just oatmeal.

Ever wonder why some stories drag or meander and some stories suck you in from page one and take you on a thrill ride? Well, dear reader, it’s all about the plot.

Since I’m preparing a presentation on structure for an upcoming series of Houston writing workshops (read to the end of the post for more details), I’ve got a bad case of the plots. No, it’s not as disgusting as it sounds. Really. Stick with me.


If you learn the basics of the three-act structure, you’re making good progress.



(courtesy of Elements of Cinema)

But no so fast! What about genre? Each brand of fiction has its own conventions.

Science fiction and fantasy are normally plot-driven. The worlds and their complications are just as important as the people who inhabit them, and the story usually revolves around a tight structure. Yes, we want Commander Xletia to succeed, but we’re are just as invested in whether or not Planet Nebulon survives the nuclear holocaust. Oh, my!

Thrillers, too, are usually plot-driven, as are one-off mysteries. But a mystery series? That’s highly character driven. Who solves the mystery is as important as the mystery being solved. We can’t hang with a detective we don’t like, not for six books. Romance and literary fiction, too, heavily rely on their characters. This doesn’t shift the structure, but it changes the way books are plotted.

Wait! I haven’t even begun to talk about picture books!  Yes, there’s a formula for that, too.

Or how about Young Adult? Don’t even think about writing one without a romantic plot or subplot or you’ll be dead in the water. And the story’s got to move, baby, move, or so says R. L. Stine in an article last year.

And if your head isn’t spinning enough, let’s talk about novels in verse. You’re not thinking of rhyming, are you? That’s so nineteenth century. But are they plotted the same way as regular novels? In a word: yes. Just because you decided to cut your word count doesn’t mean you can skimp on setting, structure, and characterization.

These are the deep waters of novel writing, not for the casual hobbyist. Even if you’re the kind of scribe who lets the plot unravel organically, either by luck or by strong character motivation, your novel must find its way into some sort of structure (beginning, middle, end) by the final draft in order to be enjoyable by the general public (and no, your Cousin Tito’s cellmate doesn’t count).

Yes, yes, now I’ll get on to the part about FREE…

My fellow Space City Scribes and I will be presenting at Maud Marks Library in Katy, TX in a couple of weekends (9/13) and we’d love for you to come out and learn more about structuring your WIP. A few of us will also be talking about traditional publishing in October and self-publishing in November. It’s going to be a great series of workshops!

See you there! 

Writing Under a Pseudonym

by K.C. Maguire

pseudonymIn the September issue of The Writer’s Chronicle, Ronald Goldfarb contributed an interesting article (at pp 67-68) about whether, and when, it’s appropriate to use pseudonyms for different kinds of writing: non-fiction, memoir, fiction based on true stories, pure fiction etc. This is a timely piece in light of criticisms that have been launched at authors like J.K. Rowling as they have tried to escape from their existing author-identities to change genres or to attempt to appeal to different audiences, or if they simply want their writing to be judged on its own merits without all the baggage their name entails.

An attorney, author, and literary agent who himself writes under a pseudonym when he writes fiction (R.L. Sommer), Goldfarb shares some interesting thoughts on the ethics of using false names when writing for commercial publication. I was particularly interested in a quote he shared from the New York Times Ethics column which stated that:

If the goal of using a pseudonym is to stop the reader from prejudging fictional material based on who the author is (or what the author might represent), there is no problem. That’s an attempt to remove baggage. But if the pseudonym’s goal is to actively push the reader into thinking something fallacious about the writer or the material – solely for commercial or critical benefit – the act is mildly immoral. That’s adding baggage on purpose.”

Goldfarb summarizes the ethics formula as follows: “it’s OK to use a pseudonym if it stops readers from unintentionally altering their reading experience, but if it alters a readers’ reading experience, don’t.”

The devil, of course, is in the details. How does a writer know when the use of a pseuondym will alter a reader’s reading experience? For example, if J K Rowling had written her detective stories under her own name, rather than under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, would this have altered the reading experience or not? And isn’t it completely subjective whether and when a reading experience is affected by the identity of the author?

This is not to criticize Goldfarb or the New York Times ethics column. This question is notoriously difficult to answer. Writers like Goldfarb and indeed R J  Palacio who wrote the best-selling Middle Grade novel “Wonder” are involved in the writing industry in their day jobs, and didn’t want their associations with the industry to impact on the acceptance or rejection of their fictional work by agents and editors who knew them personally by their real names. I actually write under a pseudonym myself (big confession time!) when I write fiction because I write academic texts under my real name and I want to keep the identities separate.

I’ve always been fascinated as to when the use of a pseudonym is regarded as acceptable versus as some kind of fraud on the reading public. I’d love to hear others’ thoughts on the issue …

You Might Need an Editor If…

by Monica Shaughnessy

I love Jeff Foxworthy. Since I grew up redneck, I always find his humor to be spot-on and terribly funny:

So when it came time for me to do this post, I just had to use a writerly version of his now-famous routine. Without further delay, I give you my list. If you see yourself on it, don’t cringe (okay, cringe a little), seek help instead. 🙂 If you see one of your friends on this list, send them a link to my post (if you dare).

You Might Need an Editor If…

  1. your picture book has nude scenes.
  2. your middle grade novel has more chapters than the bible
  3. you don’t get the whole apostrophe thing
  4. your critique group spends more time correcting your story than you did writing it
  5. the main character in your YA novel is a thirty-eight year old man with shingles
  6.  your historical novel takes place on a spaceship in the Kxplexnk Galaxy
  7. you think picking a POV is so last century
  8. your main character wants to kill YOU by the end of the book
  9. anyone has ever used your title and the words “steaming pile” in the same sentence
  10. you have a small problem with run-on sentences and by run-on I mean sentences that seem to have no end and make no sense and cause the reader to wonder when they are going to stop because the reader needs to go to the bathroom and waiting for that question mark has just become an exercise in bladder control…

Okay, apart from thinking this would be a funny blog post, I DO have an agenda. Of course I have an agenda!

Just last week, I opened a developmental editing business and am currently taking on clients. Because I’m new, I’m offering OBSCENELY low rates. As of this writing, I’m pricing my services at .005 per word for longer projects and $20 an hour for shorter projects / outline coaching. However, please be aware that my prices will rise as my client list grows. So check back with me to make sure what I’ve quoted is still valid.

My last middle grade client had this to say: “You have helped me see the novel in a whole new way. I LOVED that you broke the story line down for me, helping me to form a firm arc.” I’m hoping she’ll comment below about her experience with me. I also just finished a picture book project for another writer (review yet to come, but I know it’s positive!) and have another couple of middle grade projects lined up this summer. But I can still make time for YOUR project, dear reader.

So what can a developmental editor help you with?

  • a sagging middle
  • an uncertain beginning
  • an ending that lacks emotional punch
  • flat character arcs
  • missing or meandering subplots
  • a “messy” storyline

What can’t a developmental editor help you with?

  • grammatical errors
  • typos
  • sentence structure
  • word choice

If you’re thinking about getting help for your novel or picture book (I work on adult and children’s works–no erotica), then give me a shout in the comments below or email me at: contact@my first and last name.com (Use my actual first and last name! I never write my email address out, otherwise I get spammed too much by bots.) Even if you just want to ask a question about editing, fire away!

In Praise of Mistakes: Confessions of Recovering Perfectionist

by Monica Shaughnessy

pink-eraser-174736-mAs my daughter flipped through my sketch book the other day, she chided me for having so many “mess-ups.” “I’m not putting any scratchy doodles in my book,” she said. “I’m only putting in the stuff that’s perfect. The stuff you could frame.” I got all Yoda on her, and (gently) told her that it’s okay to make mistakes every now and then, because if you don’t, how will you ever arrive at the perfect stuff?

As a recovering perfectionist, that was an extremely hard thing for me to say, much less believe. But it’s advice that holds true for just about everyone but surgeons, nuclear engineers, and brake repairmen. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that anyone undertaking a creative endeavor, be it painting, composing music, or writing a book, should make mistakes. If you don’t, you’re not leaving the door open to true genius. But creative wisdom comes from knowing when your crazy, messy projects are ready for public consumptions and when they should be locked away.

During my years as a writer, I’ve seen two extremes: people who rush to show the world something that’s not ready and people who hang on to their projects for way too long. Usually, the dabblers and the hobbyists can’t wait to show everyone what they’ve done. (Look! Look! I just wrote a book on how to dye Easter eggs with onion skins and antifreeze! It’s three pages long and only $5.99!) One cursory glance at Smashwords* will tell you that. But the writers who are in it for the long-haul are the ones that tend to wait for perfection. Why? Because they care about the words and the story more than the fleeting thrill of the upload or submission. Yet perfectionism is counterproductive to growth.

I have a book in my published collection (I won’t tell you which one), that I rewrote for FIVE years. I added characters. I took them out. I revised the plot at least three times. I upped the age of the protagonist. I lowered it. Everyone I asked had an opinion, and they all got incorporated into my story. It never got published. Finally, I called B.S. on everything, got a clear vision of how the story should really go, and rewrote the darn thing one. last. time. I learned and re-learned on that manuscript. But it was only when I stopped intellectualizing the story and approached it with a gut feel that I arrived at that confident conclusion: I’m done. Had I not finished it–and I mean really finished it–I might still be stuck in neutral, chasing that unattainable goal of perfection.

If, like me, you struggle occasionally with perfectionism, here’s a checklist for how to know when to stop working on your project:

1. Each successive round of feedback doesn’t make your project better, it just makes it different.

2. Your peers are absolutely sick of this particular story/song/work of art and can no longer tell you what to change. (hint: because nothing needs to change)

3. When you look at your work, your gut reaction is pride or, at a minimum, a sense of completion. (I didn’t say your intellectual reaction)

4. Your mind has begun to drift to other things you could be working on because your subconscious has already worked out all the issues it could on your current WIP.

You’ll notice I didn’t say that your work is ready to sell or display. Because at the end of the creative process, you may still have something that’s altogether “messy” and unacceptable. And you may need to set it aside and work on something else. But understand that your effort was not wasted. The next project you undertake will be with a better sense of what works and what doesn’t, of which skills and competencies you possess and which ones you don’t. That’s growth.

Now go out there and make a huge mess of things. You’ll be doing yourself a favor.

*I love Smashwords, okay? I think it’s a great platform and its publishing tools are superior, in many ways, to Amazon. And scads of serious writers use them as a sales outlet. But have you seen some of the stuff for sale on that site? I mean, come on.


Your turn. Are you a perfectionist? Do you have any trusted methods for figuring out when to stop working on a project? Do you go with your head? Or your gut?



Meet the Space City Scribes!

by Monica Shaughnessy

Hello and welcome to our new author collective, Space City Scribes. We’re six Houston area writers who’ve banded together to navigate the indie/small press publishing waters. Through this blog, we’ll be sharing marketing and promotion tips for writers, fiction posts for readers, information about upcoming appearances, and probably a few ridiculous posts that don’t mean much of anything but will make you laugh or give you something to think about. We’re a varied group, so you never know what you might find here, but it will always be interesting and informative – unless I’m writing it without benefit of a second cup of coffee. Then all bets are off.

Since this is our very first post, I’d like to unashamedly brag on each of our members and talk about what they bring to our collective. It’s also a way for you to get to know six really cool authors.

Mandy Broughton, AKA “The Risk Taker” – If there’s some aspect of indie publishing or promotion you want to know about, Mandy has probably tried it. Or has thought about trying it. Or has looked into it enough to know she doesn’t want to try it. In other words, she’s not afraid to experiment, and this is Mandy’s greatest strength. I shouldn’t be surprised by this. She is a Girl Scout, after all. She started her indie journey with a trio of kids’ mysteries, but has since moved into the adult mystery market. Her latest challenge was running the Ingram Spark gauntlet to get her kid mystery in hard copy.

Ellen Leventhal, AKA “The Entertainer” – Ellen has done more school presentations than I can count. And she’s given them for YEARS to audiences who are still learning how to read! If you want to know how to present your book in person and entertain at the same time, she’s your gal. She’s been on TV, radio programs…you name it. She and co-author, Ellen Rothberg, have three darling books in the “South Pasture” series through E(2) Books. They sell consistently well, year after year, because 1) they’re great and 2) Ellen is a pretty darn good speaker. She also participates in Writers in the Schools (WITS).

Ellen Rothberg, AKA “The Level Head” – Mild mannered school counselor by day, the other half of the E(2) dynamic duo by night, Ellen provides us with the guidance to see our projects through. Whether it’s helping someone decide whether to pursue an MFA or getting them to assess their personal goals, she stands at the ready, shovel in hand, to dig deep into the problem. One utterance of her catchphrase, “But is that really what you want?”, usually sends us in the right direction. These sensibilities are apparent in her many books.

Artemis Greenleaf, AKA “The Guru” – Artemis was Indie before Indie was cool, and she’s got the stripes to prove it. She “been there, done that,” with print books, audio (yes, audio!), tax IDs, DBAs, ISBNs, and other alphabet soup problems indies face every day. Chance are, if you can’t figure out your print margins or you’re having a hard time with file conversion, she’ll know what to do. She’s got a slew of books out and specializes in paranormal fiction. But unlike the ghosts in her books, she’s physically there to lend a hand.

K C Maguire, AKA “The Artist” – When the rest of us are run through with the minutia of self-promotion, K C is there to remind us that it’s all about the writing. And isn’t it? She’s probably one of the most well-read members of Space City Scribes, has several shorts published through a small press, and will soon begin work on an MFA. It’s easy to lose sight of why we started writing in the first place–because we enjoyed it–and K C helps remind us of this by bringing the soul of the artist to every meeting.

And then there’s me. I’m not really sure what to say about myself. I thought about several aliases, including: “The Glue” – the one who holds everything together; “The Big Idea” – the one who consistently comes up with the most hair-brained ideas; and “The Coffee Swiller” – the one who drinks the most coffee at our monthly meetings. All of them are right and somehow not right at the same time. So for now, I’m just me, a hair-brained, coffee-swilling scribe who’s desperately trying to hold things together. In other words, I’m your typical indie writer.


If you want to know more about any of my fellow authors (or me), click on our individual links in the header.

If you want to talk more about Marketing Collectives, I’ll be posting something on my personal blog this week. Stay tuned.

Your turn. Anyone else form a marketing/writing collective? If so, what are kinds of things are you doing together? Any tips? Hints? We’d love the feedback!