Building publishing credits is more common for traditionally published authors than it is for independent or hybrid authors, but it is something that is extremely important. Why? Because it helps establish and grow your brand. It puts you in front of people. Not just people that might want to buy your books, but people that might want to interview you on blogs, podcasts, or (gasp!) TV. It can help put you in front of school administrators that might decide to invite you to do a presentation. There are many reasons why building publishing credits are equally as important as building your platform (which I’ll talk about in another article).
But what are publishing credits?
An author earns publishing credits by having their work published. There are different ways you can do this. A nonfiction author can pitch to blogs, magazines, and journals that have to do with the topic they write about. A fiction author can submit to literary journals. There are different kinds of literary journals, some accept fiction, flash fiction, short stories, and poetry. Another great way to build up publishing credits is to enter writing contests. This is a simple way to build up your credits, and could help you win some neat prizes at the same time.
Some examples of magazines that accept fiction writing are Boulevard Magazine, The Sun Magazine, and SubTropics. These magazines accept fiction, poetry and essays. Boulevard Magazine pays $300 for prose of no more than 8,000 words, and $250 for poetry of no more than 200 lines. The Sun Magazine pays anywhere between $300 and $2,000 upon publication of between 500 and 7,000 words, and SubTropics pays $1,000 for stories and essays and $100 for poems upon publication. Articles written for SubTropics should be no more than 500 words, and novellas can be up to 15,000 words.
Some examples of magazines that accept non-fiction pieces are The Southern Review, Black Warrior Review, and AGNI. The Southern Review pays $200 for essays under 8,000 words. Black Warrior Review would like submissions that are less than 7,000 words. Their pay is unspecified. AGNI has no word limits for their submissions, and they pay $300 for essays upon publication.
There are several different writer’s associations you could become a member of also, such as the International Association for Professional Writers and Editors, and the Evangelical Press Association. There are roughly two-hundred different denominational newspapers, magazines and other outlets that can be found through the Evangelical Press Association that say they are welcoming new writers with thought-provoking content.
Keeping a List
One place that you can find a list of potential faith-based publications to write for is The Write Life. This book, Christian Writers Market Guide, also with its online resource, has been helpful to some looking for content writing resources.
Always review the writing guidelines for any place you submit. Here is one example of writing guidelines. Notice that these guidelines for Discipled magazine indicate that the article itself should be an end in itself not a way to promote your other books or interests.
Keep a list of what the writing guidelines require from your submission.
Keep a list of places you have submitted material.
Keep a list of these magazines, journals, association emails, and blog sites on which you have appeared as a guest or expert writer. A ready list makes it easy to include these subjects as part of your topics of presentation and build your publishing credits up.
Publishing credits are something many editors look for when reviewing your book proposals.
The more publishing credits you have, the more your brand will grow. It gets your name out there, establishes your credibility, and helps drive more traffic to your website.
So grab a pen, fill up your coffee mug, and get writing!
Two days ago, I discovered a shoe box on a shelf in my closet.
For six and a half years, I’d been caring for a parent, hence most of my stuff had been closeted away all of that time.
I brought down the shoe box intending to toss it borne on a tad of disgust for the things one keeps. To my great delight, I rediscovered all of my favorite jewelry and hair clips inside! Even my wedding ring was there, and I might have tossed it away!
As I sorted through it, I remembered, however vaguely, that I’d put it all in there and hidden it under the bed when we were selling our old house so that strangers walking through the house wouldn’t find it. Then, when we moved to my parent’s house, I’d just stuffed everything I had into closets, including this box. I never imagined that it would be almost seven years before I’d find it again.
An elastic bracelet was one of the first things I touched. I slipped it on remembering the women’s retreat in which I’d made it. The letters read, C-O-N-F-I-D-E-N-T. It was from the retreat in which a speaker helped us examine our names and the way we felt about ourselves. She had challenged us to lay our insecurities, failures, and sins at Jesus’ feet, and allow Him to do what He’d promised, to give us a new name. Then, the speaker asked us to make a piece of jewelry with the new name on it so that we would have our own landmark of His promise over us. It was a way to help us live in the new name.
I’m so glad I found that little elastic bracelet. It brings me to my knees in Christ, and it raises me up in the same instant to live fully in Him.
Some people have said they stand in awe of the things I’ve tackled and accomplished in life, but that just isn’t the way I feel. Naturally, I am never very confident when my eyes are on myself, my failures, my longings, and my attempts to figure things out. I do tackle things that others don’t try out, but then, I pay the price for trying because there usually isn’t a “how-to” list or a mentor to help me get ‘er done. So, like Peter who got out of the boat and began walking toward Jesus then began to sink when he looked at the waves, I also tend to sink in despair and self-loathing.
I knew a girl in college who couldn’t find her voice. She whispered whenever she spoke. Several years later, I ran into this sweet girl who was transformed and now vivacious! I saw that she had become a leader in her church and she’d somehow found the umph of her vocal cords. She was happily married, and people had only good things to say about her. She told me she’d found her voice when she read all about the Lord and His goodness toward her particularly, and His plan for her.
Some people struggle because of the things they’ve been told by a parent or someone in authority over them, things that are lies. Some people struggle because they do not feel beautiful or mentally or physically or socially well-equipped. How did the Psalmist get to that place where He could praise God for his mind and body?
I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well.
My emotional life has honestly been a roller-coaster for good reason. However, when I take my eyes off of myself and put them firmly on the Lord, I can find the courage and confidence to keep on keeping on.
Jesus said very little about being confident. He only said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father, but by me.” John 14:6 We often skip over the first bit and go directly to the piece of evangelism, but does this verse say Jesus is the life? Does that mean He wants me to live fully and pursue the dreams in my heart and to increase my skill and to be a good steward of my relationships and things? Why YES!
The Bible is clear that He also “was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of humanity.” John 1:1-4 — Okay, that’s a WoW!
To clarify, “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” Genesis 1:26-27 This says to me, that you and I have been given relationship, assertiveness, creativity, ideas, and the abilities to articulate and to make things happen in teamwork as He did.
I can be confident to initiate and also to ask for help. The Triune God acts as one mind and spirit. Wouldn’t it be great to act in unity with each other, helping one another succeed? Confidence is about a solo act, but it does begin with an understanding of who I am in God, and beyond that, who I am hidden in Christ in God.
Those who trust in their riches will fall, but
the righteous will thrive like a green leaf. Proverbs 11:28
This is the confidence we have when approaching God:
that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 1 John 5:14
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9
In Him, and through faith in Him, we may approach God with
freedom and confidence. Ephesians 3:12
But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. Jeremiah 17:7
“[. . .] With him is only the arm of flesh, but with us is the LORD our God to help us and to fight our battles.” And the people gained confidence from what Hezekiah the king of Judah said. 2nd Chronicles 32:8
Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Hebrews 4:16
God bless you and all you accomplish as you put your faith in Him! Here is a benediction to lift up your life forever. This is what God says:
I will change your name ... You shall no longer be called Wounded, Outcast, Lonely or Afraid. I will change your name ... Your new name will be Confidence, Joyfulness, Overcoming One, Faithfulness, Friend of God, One Who Seeks My Face. - Isaiah 62-4
Maybe I’m exposing a dirty little secret known only to musicians, writers, and artists, and those who use them, but here it is. The artistic segment of the population has historically struggled with penury, personal poverty which subsequently makes them financially unstable enough to support a spouse, let alone a family. Out of this turbulence, a variety of perversions and imbalances in lives may occur.
There was a time when the law forbade marriage, even for a well-respected musician, when a musician could not account for the funds he would need to keep a wife and a family. In 1814, Schubert, an Austrian composer, met a young soprano named Therese Grob, daughter of a local silk manufacturer, and wrote several of his liturgical works (including a “Salve Regina” and a “Tantum Ergo”) for her; she was also a soloist in the premiere of his Mass No. 1 (D. 105) in September 1814. Schubert wanted to marry her but was hindered by the harsh marriage-consent law of 1815 requiring an aspiring bridegroom to show he had the means to support a family. Although this year for Schubert was most prolific in his compositions, it proved disastrous to his health because he began to womanize with a variety of women. In November 1816, after failing to gain a musical post in Laibach (now Ljubljana, Slovenia), Schubert sent Grob’s brother Heinrich a collection of songs retained by the family into the twentieth century.
You can also learn about the inability of Haydn, Schubert, Chopin, Schumann, and even Wagner to be allowed to marry.
A contemporary list of articles on the subject of the risks of marrying a musician appears in Google. Perhaps, this is why, in 1998, Rita Steblin published her research promoting the general underwriting of arts scholarships, “In Defense of Scholarship and Archival Research: Why Schubert’s Brothers Were Allowed to Marry”. Current Musicology. 62: 7–17.
Maybe it was derived from one or more of the ten commandments, i.e., the seventh commandment, “You shall not steal”, or the 5/6th commandment, “Don’t commit murder (Exodus 20:13), the Psalmist, King David believed, “Don’t make your living by oppression, extortion, or put your hope in stealing,” (Psalm 62:10a). In fact, both King David and King Solomon instituted and adhered to a sacred law whereby the priests, musicians, and gatekeepers were to be paid “in produce, firstfruits, contributions, and tithes” in Israel and Judah. This fact is encoded by connotation or application of the culture and kingdom’s commands according to the records of Nehemiah 12:44-47.
For the musicians, the reason for coding their support into law was because, “there had been directors for the musicians and for the songs of praise and thanksgiving to God.”
Following, David, and honoring his father’s intentions and walk with the Lord, King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived also provided God’s people professional musicians. “According to music historian Abraham Schwadron, ‘probably the most important musical contribution of the ancient Hebrews was the elevation of the status of liturgical music in union with ritual ceremonies.’ He notes the “high degree of musico-liturgical organization” from the descriptive accounts of King Solomon’s Temple, such as the 24 choral groups consisting of 288 musicians which took part in 21 weekly services.
There is a rich Biblical history of musicians and creatives in service to God’s people. Even musical instruments were carved and professionally designed.
Do you have a director of music in you place of worship who leads a choir or a band? Do you believe that great music takes skill, training, and practice to achieve a high result of quality praise music and songs of thanksgiving? Let’s talk about this, then.
Statistically, artists and musicians, the creatives in your church left to their creative means, are probably among the poorest of the poor, and yet it is they who provide you the highest experience of your faith connection with God? Most likely, the pastors and maintenance keepers of your church facility are paid a living.
When inventoried, it becomes clear, many musicians are asked to offer their music as a gift to the church, rather than offering them a living for the work they do for the benefit of the church’s spiritual well-being.
Often, this arrangement seems to work because:
a) the church may be a startup, and no-one is fully paid;
b) musicians feel it is an honor and are happy to use their free time to practice worship songs, after all, practicing benefits their own spiritual depth and musical skill. Practicing music can also be a bit like practicing romance. It just feels rewarding;
c) music with which to familiarize an audience is readily available on national Christian broadcasting and radio to copy making it easy to copy by ear.
Let’s Break this Down.
a) When the pastor begins to be paid in a startup, is there a leadership view to budget also for a music director, and then for the select musicians themselves? Why or why not? b) is it an inequality or abuse of the person filling a needed job in a church body to require a highly talented and skilled musician to volunteer for ministry while the pastor and the maintenance keepers are paid? c) because popular Christian musicians must tour to earn a living, when they can no longer tour or they lose a contract due to a crises or lack of new stylistic music, the best musicians often experience financial crises themselves. They must be sidelined in favor of the next upcoming styles, and the old is passed over.
Equipping These Saints
I’d like to delve a bit deeper into the extensive problems of passing over spiritually skilled and gifted musicians according to fads rather than choosing to equip these saints:
1) if the national church is sidelining nationally touring ministers of the gospel without providing for a retirement as anyone else is provided for in any other occupation in society. How are they supposed to survive? Do they get bitter at the church? Are they able to teach or train others after their popularity has waned? Are they able to play their songs in smaller venues or in missions or camps? Do they get jobs in circuses and entertainment establishments or bars? (You would be surprised at which of your heroic troubadours have ended their ministry careers this way).
2) if local churches have local cultures and local musical styles and local spiritual needs, these may be wasted or obviated in favor of nationally acclaimed styles and songs. But, nationally acclaimed stylistic musicians do not always meet these needs. Local churches may want to keep hymns, or psalm singing, eventide and morning song, and chants as part of their worship services. Others prefer city jazz, hard rock, early singspiration songs, cowboy songs, soul or rap singing in their worship experience. Some churches seek out lyrics for lament and others for complementing the sermons which the pastor or elder team deem particularly in need for their congregation’s benefit. There are those who also pick music based on what will build an audience most efficiently.
3) if there is a talented and skilled local musician who loves the Lord who writes lyrics like a nationally acclaimed musician, does he or she have to go to Nashville or California to become famous before a church will take them seriously? Maybe there is a musician locally who can notate cantata arrangements, even a new wave of Haydn, Scarlotti, Rossi oratorios, or new classics such as the roles Handel played as the director of music to the Duke of Chandosor, or Bach played in their local societies. Please pardon my escape into actual local phenomenons in musical history below for examples.
Bach “wrote many church cantatas and some of his best compositions for the organ while working for the Duke Johann Ernst III in Weimar. During his time at Weimar, Bach wrote ‘Toccata and Fugue in D Minor,’ one of his most popular pieces for the organ. He also composed the cantata “Herz und Mund und Tat,” or Heart and Mouth and Deed.”
I am reminded of the 2nd Chapter of Acts sibling trio, Annie Herring, Nelly Greisen, and Matthew Ward, in this statement about Johann Sabastian Bach. After being orphaned at age 10, Bach lived for five years with his eldest brother Johann Christoph.
“Bach was appointed court musician in the chapel of Duke Johann Ernst III in Weimar. His role there is unclear, but it probably also included menial, non-musical duties. During his seven-month tenure at Weimar, his reputation as a keyboardist spread so much that he was invited to inspect the new organ and give the inaugural recital at the New Church (now Bach Church) in Arnstadt, located about 30 kilometres (19 mi) southwest of Weimar. In August 1703, he became the organist at the New Church, with light duties, a relatively generous salary, and a new organ tuned in a temperament that allowed music written in a wider range of keys to be played.” From 1723 Bach was employed as Thomaskantor (cantor at St. Thomas) in Leipzig. He composed music for the principal Lutheran churches of the city, and for its university’s student ensemble Collegium Musicum. From 1726 he published some of his keyboard and organ music. In Leipzig, as had happened during some of his earlier positions, he had difficult relations with his employer, a situation that was little remedied when he was granted the title of court composer by his sovereign, Augustus, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, in 1736.
4) Teamwork, as the members of the 2nd Chapter of Acts in the Jesus Music era also discovered, is worth the value in developing for ongoing ministerial success. Wikipedia records that Handel’s Messiah was a phenomenon rooted in teamwork, that,
In 1735 Handel received the text for a new oratorio named Saul from its (vocal musician and lyricist) librettist Charles Jennens, a wealthy landowner with musical and literary interests.” The text also came in part from the English Book of Common Prayer taken from the Psalms. “Because Handel’s main creative concern was still with opera, he did not write the music for Saul until 1738, in preparation for his 1738–39 theatrical season. […] “Handel’s reputation in England, where he had lived since 1712, had been established through his compositions of Italian opera. He turned to English oratorio in the 1730s in response to changes in public taste; Messiah was his sixth work in this genre. Although its structure resembles that of opera, it is not in dramatic (theatrical) form; there are no impersonations of characters and no direct speech. Instead, Jennens’s text is an extended reflection on Jesus as the Messiah called Christ. The text begins in Part I with prophecies by Isaiah and others, and moves to the annunciation to the shepherds, the only “scene” taken from the Gospels. In Part II, Handel concentrates on the Passion and ends with the “Hallelujah” chorus. In Part III he covers the resurrection of the dead and Christ’s glorification in heaven. […] In July 1741 Jennens sent him a new libretto for an oratorio; in a letter dated 10 July to his friend Edward Holdsworth, Jennens wrote: “I hope [Handel] will lay out his whole Genius & Skill upon it, that the Composition may excell all his former Compositions, as the Subject excells every other subject. The Subject is Messiah“.”
Did you know, “the music for Messiah was completed in 24 days of swift composition?
Having received Jennens’s text some time after 10 July 1741, Handel began work on it on 22 August. His records show that he had completed Part I in outline by 28 August, Part II by 6 September and Part III by 12 September, followed by two days of “filling up” to produce the finished work on 14 September. This rapid pace was seen by Jennens not as a sign of ecstatic energy but rather as “careless neglicence”, and the relations between the two men would remain strained, since Jennens “urged Handel to make improvements” while the composer stubbornly refused. The autograph score’s 259 pages show some signs of haste such as blots, scratchings-out, unfilled bars and other uncorrected errors, but according to the music scholar Richard Luckett the number of errors is remarkably small in a document of this length. The original manuscript for Messiah is now held in the British Library’s music collection. It is scored for 2 trumpets, timpani, 2 oboes, 2 violins, viola, and basso continuo.
At the end of his manuscript Handel wrote the letters “SDG”—Soli Deo Gloria, “To God alone the glory”. This inscription, taken with the speed of composition, has encouraged belief in the apocryphal story that Handel wrote the music in a fervour of divine inspiration in which, as he wrote the “Hallelujah” chorus, “he saw all heaven before him”.
While in Lüneburg, Bach had access to St. John’s Church and possibly used the church’s famous organ from 1553, since it was played by his organ teacher Georg Böhm. Because of his musical talent, Bach had significant contact with Böhm while a student in Lüneburg, and he also took trips to nearby Hamburg where he observed “the great North German organist Johann Adam Reincken”. Stauffer reports the discovery in 2005 of the organ tablatures that Bach wrote, while still in his teens, of works by Reincken and Dieterich Buxtehude, showing “a disciplined, methodical, well-trained teenager deeply committed to learning his craft”.
Does knowing this change your perspective on how your own church musicians or nationally acclaimed musicians should be provided for? What particularly became real for you reading this article? Will you share it or assert an opinion on this where it might matter?
Continue reading more about this subject in the book, Welcome to the Shivoo: Creatives Mimicking the Creator by Laura Bartnick (Amazon Prime).
“Improvisation. That’s why we call creativity art, isn’t it?
I’m an author and also an author coach. Part of what I do is help an author grow personally in order to deepen the author’s storyline or character drawn inside the pages of their manuscript.
We writers embrace imperfections in our written characters’ thought patterns or behaviors so that the story can twist and turn just as much as real life does.
Like jazz, the development of a good story means the endings are kept strategically hidden in misunderstandings, physical barriers, or something in the past. I’ve discovered a group, Teaching Tolerance, which has developed a test for discovering anyone’s own historical or cultural bias, implicit bias. You can see here how you might use a character’s natural bias to direct his or her communications or meditation or self-talk.
Proverbs 20:5 alludes that the purposes of a heart run like deep waters, but someone with insight can draw them out. What is your character’s point of view?
Can a writer love the antagonist?A writer should learn to love the enemy of the protagonist. Did Jesus love Judas Iscariot? How could He?
Learning about your antagonist’s unique place of belonging or setting helps you shape his or her believable thoughts, recognizable appearances or dialogue with the accompanying accents and activities that would be true to the character.
From an unlikely source or through an accident that turns out well, insight emerges. Imperfections make your characters relatable. They string you along. When you love them through their story, you emulate God’s love for our imperfect selves born into an imperfect world.
Even settings can wrestle for hope.
Developing a setting can help hide or reveal your plot or your characters. The light we cast onto the flaws of our story characters is an act of kindness, though sometimes it is severe mercy.
Did Hagar run to the desert to escape, only to be visited by the God of her hated mistress, Sarah? “I see you,” God said. “Eat. Drink,” and, “Go back to your hated mistress. I have a plan for you. Your own son will make a great nation because I have ordained it.” “Me?” Hagar said. “Yes, Hagar, I see your need and your mistreatment. Yes, you,” God said. So, Hagar dragged herself back to Abraham and Sarah. In faith. And, God blessed her walk of faith.
When you draw on your own experience with fear or temptations, or from experiences of those close to you, you will understand that it is not impossible for the antagonist to be redeemed. If you determine to defeat the antagonist when thwarting the antagonist’s purposes, you must feel that grief. It was written that Jesus loved the rich, young ruler who turned away.
Imagine a master chef who creates a gourmet menu for a special entourage. She selects the best cuts of meat, the freshest organic grains to grind, the salad and herbs from her garden, and the cream from her cow. Someone sells her a tropical fruit, unknown to her, promising it will provide the hit. She shreds the fruit and tops the salad with it, only to discover that the fruit is poison.
“But everything I used was of the finest quality,” she argues to the police.
“Everything except that shred of poison you added.”
Use a shock point to hook the reader into how or why the poison was added, and by whom.
Empathetically draw the audience into the truth but do not dilute consequences. Make them meaningful.
A writer can find the image of God originally shaped in the arch-type enemy. This, a starting point for where a character departs, helps the writer make choices for the character. A writer can have the character diverge from her image of origin and from her calling by refusing to be rescued. When you know your bad character’s history and psyche, you will draw her story accurately.”
There’s nothing like a good mystery to give some excitement to your day, make you forget your troubles, and stimulate your brain cells.
I like a mystery that will keep you reading into the night.
When I write a mystery, I want to be sure that it’s entertaining, that it doesn’t waste the reader’s time, and that it doesn’t cheat the reader. I want the people who read my books to go away feeling satisfied, the way you feel when you’ve placed that last piece into a jigsaw puzzle or filled in the last clue in a crossword. Learning that I’d disappointed a reader would be the worst feeling I could experience as a writer.
When I write a mystery, I first visualize a plotline that I think will hold high interest to a great many mystery fans. I want the story to take place in a world that most people can identify with, or that they have a curiosity about:
• A young woman moves into her murdered aunt’s house and begins to suspect her neighbors
• Ungrateful children learn their mother is donating her wealth to charity • A teenage girl is found dead at an exclusive country club • A tourist is killed after a famous author’s book signing • A new bride must live with an intimidating mother-in-law
I’m sure every mystery author approaches writing differently, but I know from the start who the victim is, who the killer is, and the all-important “why.” I don’t outline as many writers do. I just start writing and let the characters develop their own personalities, and then guide the plot through twists and turns as the storyline evolves. Along the way, I like to have six or seven suspects, each with a plausible motive for why they might want the victim dead. I try to hide the real motive of the actual killer but drop a few subtle clues along the way that a close reader might pick up on.
Having read and watched so many mysteries during my life—my favorite way to relax—I’ve determined there are about a half-dozen reasons someone might decide to commit murder. Greed. Jealousy. Anger. Revenge. Hatred. Or, often, to keep an indiscretion or criminal act from coming to light. Accidental death is also a possibility. I’ve used most of these as a motive in my mysteries and others as red herrings for potential motivations of other suspects.
The first key to writing a good mystery is to have a good beginning, to grab the reader’s attention immediately and then hold on to it. How many books are put down because the first page isn’t interesting? Being a former journalist, I’ve always gone by the mantra that the lead is everything. If not the first sentence, then at least the first page. My favorite beginning to one of my mysteries is from Murder in Vail: “It was Christmas, so Sally had to see her children. And worse, their dreadful spouses.”
Personally, I like to build up to the murder, to really get into the relationships and motivations of the characters before the actual death occurs. I think it makes the reader care more about the victim, as well as the potential suspects. Nowadays, though, some readers can be so antsy. They want that murder right away. So, sometimes, at or near the beginning, mystery writers will make some kind of allusion to or foreshadowing of the havoc to come to keep impatient readers reading as the story is developed.
It’s best to stay focused on the mystery plotline to keep that attention you grabbed hold of on your first page. Not everyone agrees, but I like to end each chapter with a question or a little mystery of its own to keep the reader from putting the book down. It’s tempting to veer off at times into too much description of settings or landscapes, but today’s reader doesn’t have a whole lot of patience for long-winded descriptions that bog down the plot. Another maxim I learned in journalism school that I follow, though some don’t agree, is “Write for the reader, not for yourself.” To me, that means not trying to impress readers with the depth of your vocabulary or the lilt of your phrasing. Big words and too many adjectives have lost many a reader.
Most of my books are set in Florida, where I’ve always lived.
Sometimes, I just can’t resist writing about the beauty of the ocean, the texture of the sand, or the loggerhead turtles, manatees, egrets, and other wildlife in the state. While creating a world for the reader to picture is essential, it can be done as part of the plotline, while moving characters from place to place, rather than paragraph after paragraph of description.
Each character should have definite personality characteristics that aren’t stereotyped. They each should be realistic individuals with some positive and some negative traits. You don’t want characters who are all good or all bad—even the killer might have a good trait or two. Quirky characters are always fun, and I try to include at least one in every book I write. They can be a good source of humor to balance darker content.
When characters speak, it’s essential that what they say reflect their individual personalities. What they say has to be completely natural. I put myself in the character’s head and ask, “What would this person really say?” Quotes shouldn’t be used only to advance the plot, though, of course, some quotes do. There’s nothing worse than long paragraphs of quoted material that could be spoken by anyone and are obviously just pushing along the plot. Another journalistic truism, “Only use quotes if you can’t say it better yourself.” Quotes should be succinct and interesting. What each person says should bounce off what another character says. Conversations need to snap. Boring conversation is a major yawn and will quickly sink a book.
In a mystery, the key to moving the plot forward is to maneuver the reader away from the actual villain by placing suspicion on other characters and throwing in a red herring or two. This is the most challenging part of writing a mystery, and it has to be handled delicately. You don’t want someone who’s not guilty to look too guilty early on, or a seasoned mystery fan will immediately throw that suspect out of contention. You also don’t want to cheat the reader. The murder and the murderer have to make sense when all is said and done. The killer can’t just be pulled out of thin air.
To keep interest high as the sleuth or the police work to solve the crime, it’s not a bad idea to have another murder or attempted murder. Near the end, another possibility is to start heaping suspicion on one likely suspect and then to pull the rug out from under the reader to reveal the real killer.
I like to have a big climactic scene in my mysteries with the killer chasing or attacking the protagonist. I like my stories to end with a bang, not a fizzle, so my readers won’t feel let down. The killer doesn’t always have to be caught, and the leading characters don’t always have to survive. I have to admit, though, in one of my books I really wanted the evil-doer to get away with it and the innocent protagonist to go to jail. But I changed the ending when a picture entered my mind of an angry reader throwing the book against the wall. I think there would have been a lot of book throwing had I gone with that ending.
And, although many writers wouldn’t agree, I like to end my stories with a nice bow on top, wrapping up each of the characters’ storylines. Some of that wrapping might be black and funereal, but I like to answer all the unanswered questions a reader might have about the future of the characters.
I really do want the people who read my books to be happy and satisfied. But first and foremost, I want them to be challenged—and hopefully fooled.