CoNZealand – The Virtual WorldCon

This week has been a bit frantic.

Every summer, the science-fiction and fantasy community gathers, anywhere in the world. This year? The site was supposed to be New Zealand — going where no WorldCon has gone before.

While the slogan still works, I didn’t get to go see Hobbiton, or fly for a day and a half. Instead, I get to meet and visit with all those fans online.

As the WorldCon staff helped out that Virtual Balticon I worked on Memorial Day weekend, I wanted to pay them back for their help.

I got in a bit over my head.

I’ve been helping train the panelists with zoom, I created a Virtual Tour demo that I’ve been running daily during the convention, and since the day the convention started (at least in my timezone), I’ve trained up over 10 new zoom hosts to help with staffing.

And of course, keeping an eye on the Discord and helping where I can. There were a lot of issues logging in, so helping people get started was a Herculean task that the staff deserves a whole bag of cookies for helping everyone they could through that rather messy process.

Not to mention, before I got on staff, I’d signed up to be a panelist. For the first day of the convention, I was on two panels: What To Expect When You’re Ready To Query and How To Establish a Social Media Presence.

Only one thing — in honor of the convention hosts, everything’s in New Zealand time!

So, that first panel with 3 other lovely panelists was at 9pm EDT, with a rather frazzled Morgan moderating, and I think it went quite well. My next panel? Was at 23:00 NZT — or 7am! I don’t get up that early for WORK.

So, I went to bed shortly after midnight, and eventually wound down enough to sleep, then rolled out of bed when my alarm went off.

Only to find that all of my other panelists had had to withdraw. So? It ended up being a 30-minute monologue before I opened to questions. This was a panel I had proposed, and I think we all know I can talk for a while. Thus, I opened up my outline from my A Starter’s Guide To Establishing a Social Media Presence (For Fiction Writers). While I know I’m far from an expert, I can definitely get you started. And? It seemed to be very well received, with some great questions.

Then, I went back to bed.

Today’s been busy, but fewer fires.


How’s your week been going? How’s your writing going?

How to Self-Edit That Lousy First Draft

Welcome to Part 9 of my Virtual Balticon panel writeup.

The painful panel description was as follows: Panelists will discuss they’re favorite techniques four editing when they don’t have outside reader, or editor too help.

The panelists were: Mark Van Name (as moderator), Julayne Hughes, Margaret Riley, Beth Tanner, and James Stratton.

(I know, I just did Making Painful Edits, but I was in the editing stage when I hit this convention, so I hit more than one panel with the same theme.)

Different Approaches To The Writing Process

Before you can self-edit, you’ve got to have a draft to work with. There are several different methods people use — and just because one worked for you last time, doesn’t mean you’re stuck using the same method every time.

First drafts stink. That’s just the rule. Sure, there are exceptions, but you’re probably not it. But, it’s okay. It’s all part of the process. Ninety-nine percent of all writers are gonna have to edit their lousy first-drafts.

  • Pantsers – Draft it out and see what happens — easier for short stories, writing “by the seat of their pants.
  • Planners – Outline first, then write
  • Plantsers – Create a light outline, but sort out the details as they go, letting the story deviate organically
  • Immediately share chapters as they come out
  • Wait until it’s done before sharing
  • Wait until it’s revised to share

Things To Do To A Rough Draft

Now that you’ve got that rough draft, you’re gonna want to edit it. No, really.

  • Let it age, so you can look at it with fresh eyes. 2-3 months is usually good.
  • Or? Dive back in while the world is still fresh and vivid.
  • Run spellcheck and grammar check. Use Grammarly or EditMinion or the HemingwayApp
  • Change the font and/or print it out so you can look at it with fresh eyes. Or have your device read it aloud to you.
  • Read through and clean up the sentences
  • Outline the draft AFTER you write it, check for pacing and seeing what themes emerge that you can build on
  • Declutter, declutter, declutter
    • Don’t say something 6 times in 6 different ways. Keep the best version and cut the rest
    • Remove the filler words that exist to hedge: “just”, “so”, “well”, “a bit” “feel”
  • Kill your babies, your darlings.
    • We hear this a lot, but what does it really mean?
      These are the pearls of wisdom or great moving drama. It’s not gonna be everyone’s taste. Structurally, look for descriptors — most people have fairly good imaginations. You don’t have to spell out everything about the horse the rider hopped onto. Give them as little as you can at the beginning, move up the details as you move along.
  • Don’t write like a computer programmer or a stage director, you shouldn’t be dictating every move of your character.
  • Draw out your story arches — one for the plot, one for the POV characters. See where each peaks and ebbs and make sure they complement each other. See where you can cut or combine characters, or scenes, or chapters.
  • Don’t let your reader suffer for your research. Just because you spent five hours researching canning techniques, doesn’t mean you need to spend more than one sentence talking about your characters canning fruit.

Tools used for structural work

Maybe the part of the story you’re most worried about is the pacing or plot coherency. In that case, you’re probably going to want to use some tools to inspect your story’s structure.

  • Scrivener corkboard view. Or 3×5 cards on the table.
  • To organize the changes: watch where POV shifts. Color coded by POV or type of scene, etc.
  • Murder maps can be fun if your story has conspiracies.
  • Spreadsheets to track things:
    • When do we see each person
    • Travel distance
    • POV switches.
    • Character info
  • Create your own wikipedia (archivist.com will allow this)
  • Create a sort of D&D character sheet for each character

Editorial Pet Peeves

When editing your own manuscript, you should probably keep in mind the things that professional editors see as pet peeves. They’ve seen a lot more manuscripts than just yours, and I’m sure you don’t want your writing to come across as trite or overdone.

  • “letting go of a breath that he didn’t know he was holding”
  • “walking and walking” Or whatever word you’re reusing.
  • “Continued”
  • Words with the right meaning but wrong connotation
  • Fillers like: suddenly, just, that, of
  • Having every other sentence as a fragment
  • Not using conjunctions to seem more literary
  • Going out of your way to avoid using “said” as a dialogue tag
  • Bouncing POV, without a clear break
  • Bad grammar — for no reason
  • Reusing and overusing words

When to bring in the beta

At some point, though, you’re going to reach the limits of what you can fix on your own. You’re only one person, and you know the characters and the story too well to see what might be missing.

While it’s up to you, you really should bring in outside readers at some point. Some people share a few chapters to see if they’re on the right path. Others wait until the story is polished, then share. If you’re struggling with your story, you may want to reach out sooner.

Beta-readers are usually readers of your genre, but not necessarily writers themselves. They bring a different perspective to your story.

However, a critique partner/fellow writer is going to be more useful with story issues. Be selective who you’re sharing your manuscript with.

As always, you don’t have to agree with the edits, but even if you don’t like a proposed fix, you may want to look into clarifying the scene your beta tried to edit, to make sure it was properly set up.

And? As Margaret said, “you don’t come with the book. If I have to ask you questions, you’ve left something out.” The book needs to stand on its own without explanation.

Once beta-readers have taken you as far as you can go, there’s always one more option. If you’re querying for traditional publishing, you might be able to skip this, but if you’re self-publishing, you definitely want a professional editor, to make sure your book has that professional quality you want associated with your name.

You’ll want to make your manuscript as clean as possible before you hire an editor. You can’t afford not to. You don’t want them wasting time fixing things that Word could have told you, you want them to be able to see the bigger issues.

Make sure you’re hiring the right sort of editor — or get one who can do it all.

Types of Editors: Copy vs Clarity

Content editors are concerned with the plot and characters.

Proofreaders come in after edits and check for typos.

Copy-editors watch for repetitive/missing words, bad phrasing, bad logistics [missing arms, where’d the sword come from], etc.


There are a lot of stages of editing, and I know I’ve covered this topic before in different ways, but it’s always good to get fresh advice from more writers. Especially when they agree.

Any tips or tricks you’d like to add?

Let me know and thanks, as always, for reading.


Shameless Plug: If you’re already attending WorldCon – CoNZealand July 29-Aug 2 (July 28-Aug 1st here in the states), come check me out day one on What to Expect When You’re Ready to Query and Establishing a Social Media Presence.

Making Painful Edits

Welcome to Part 7 of my Virtual Balticon panel writeup.

It’s hard to cut out scenes or characters that you love, but your story may be better off without them. How do you learn to recognize when something has to go, and how do you reconnect any threads that run through the parts you’re removing?

These are my notes from the titular panel at Virtual Balticon 54. The panelists were: E.C. Ambrose (as moderator), Kim Hargan, Julayne Hughes, Nick Martell, and the writer guest of honor, Wen Spencer.

Editing can be painful. But it doesn’t just hurt the novice, even experienced, award-winning authors can suffer the pain.

Ways of Handling Painful Edits

Nick Martell once cut 100,000 words. Then, he basically rewrote the manuscript. He hated it at the time, but made it better. He doesn’t regret it for a minute.

Julayne Hughes – In her first short story published in an online magazine, there was a beautiful, long description… gorgeous writing and it felt like “just a punch in the stomach” to her when she deleted it. But it sold.

As an editor, she has told authors to cut chapters. She will justify the cut and the authors typically agree with her.

Wen Spencer usually walks around, stomps and screams when she needs to make painful edits.

One example: while on contract, Wen wrote 50k about a slave on a ship. Then, realized the character needed free will. So, turned her into a freelance translator. Then, realized she needed to go over there. So 2 boats, with the character working for the other boat. THEN. Threw that away and started with going off somewhere else. So, rewriting the opening is part of her process.

E.C. Ambrose prefers painful edit notes via email, not live or via phone. (A thought I 100% concur with.)

How to figure out what needs to change in your story

While the big picture can be easy to plan, the details are often where everything goes off the rails.

  • If you’ve gotten a rejection letter with a clear complaint? Start there.
  • If you outline, (and you can outline after your drafts are done), do you want it to be good or bad for the character? Usually, you want to escalate the conflict. You can also try checking your chapter pacing against beat sheets (see: Jami Gold’s great selection)
  • Does the story track? It has to be logical that the character does what they do. Although, there is a difference between what’s happening and what the character knows.
  • Ask your beta readers — one reader might be off the track, but if multiple beta readers are saying the same thing — you’ve got a problem.

Tips for those painful edits

  1. Let it set.
  2. Outline what you ACTUALLY wrote, not what you intended to write and see how that affects the pacing and character development. See if plot lines or side characters are dropped. Etc.
  3. Change the font
  4. Read it out loud (or use an app: naturalReader.com or apple accessibility features)
  5. Check your time-table/travel — don’t hesitate to map it out and use spreadsheets
  6. When making a change, start at the beginning of the scene and work your way through
  7. When cutting a scene, reread the previous chapter and the remaining sequel to make sure it still flows.
    • Note: Just because you cut a scene or setting, doesn’t mean you have to eradicate all mentions of it. Wen once HAD a magic school but left references in as a “we wish we could, it was back in the day”, that way the ruins, etc were still cultural touchstones.
  8. Make sure all your characters are needed and three-dimensional. A lot of times, especially if multiple characters are fulfilling the same role, you can consolidate those characters into one. The more reoccurring characters, the harder it is on the reader. And one shot characters don’t need names.
  9. Sometimes, you’ve gotta take the full draft, use it as a reference, but re-write and reorganize the whole thing from scratch.

No matter if you’re the one deciding to completely revamp your novel, or the suggestion is coming from a beta-reader or editor, it’s hard to set aside the pages and chapters that you spent so long on.

I do tend to overwrite, and from experience, I know that I like the finished product a lot better when I’ve streamlined my story by cutting about a fifth.

A final thought. One of the most nebulous complaints we try to fix as authors is: ‘I just didn’t connect’. While you don’t actually need to have a likable main character, you do need a relatable character. That, plus a clear setting can go a long way toward helping immerse the reader.


Have you struggled with knowing how to fix your writing? How did you figure out what was needed? And how did you fix it? Did it work?

Thanks for reading, and I’ll be back again next Thursday with more writing tips and writerly musings.

Intro To Self-Publishing

So you have a story and you want to publish it yourself. Let’s talk about how to get started, how to get noticed, and when you should pay a professional.

The panelists for the titular panel at Virtual Balticon 54 were: Kim Hargan (as moderator), Jean Cooper, Keith Hughes, Lee Moyer, and Cerece Rennie Murphy.

Where Did Self-Publishing Come From?

Back in the olden-days, self-publishing wasn’t the do-it-yourself thing it is today. The only options used to be traditional publishing or vanity presses, where you gave them money to print your book.

Buyer-beware: vanity presses are still a thing. If you’re looking at a small-publisher, make sure they’re not asking for money upfront.

Now, especially with the advent of publish-on-demand and ebooks, self-publication has taken off.

And while the unregulated self-publish market has plenty of probably-wasn’t-ready-to-publish offerings, it’s also been a great place for quality authors as well.

Why Writers Self-Publish

Every writer’s journey is different, and when you look into it, their reasons are personal and multitude. But, some of the most common reasons writers go with self-publication are:

  1. They couldn’t find an agent or publisher — for whatever reason
  2. They write for a niche market
  3. They wanted more control over the finished product
  4. The book was already published and they’re switching formats

The 2 Most Important Tips For Self-Publishing

  1. You. Need. An. Editor.

    When you read your own work, you know so well what it’s supposed to say, that it can be easy to overlook small errors. Word, Grammerly, and The Hemmingway App can only do so much.

    If you want a professional product, pay up.

    Plus, they can do some googling and make sure that you’re not naming your character after some obscure sex act in a foreign country.
  2. You need a good cover artist

    I know, I know, you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover. But? We all do.

    A cover can let you know what genre and which subgenre you’re reading. If you misrepresent that? You’re gonna end up with 1-star reviews because you’ve attracted the wrong audience. Plus? A poorly-done photoshopped cover makes people think of the un-edited, published-too-soon works that they’ve regretted reading.

    Sure, you could save the money, but you’ll very likely need to invest just as much or more into marketing, to make up for the sales your cover has lost you.

    While you’ll have a lot of artistic control when you hire your own artist, remember this, publishing houses usually keep the writers far away from the artists because, like it or not, the writer is usually WRONG about what the art should look like.

    Sometimes it’s best to tell the artist about the book and see what they come up with.

Ways To Market Your Self-Publishing Book

You can’t get in stores as easy as a publisher, how do you get them out there? It is a LOT of work to sell books.

  1. Online
    1. Facebook
      1. Ads
      1. live readings (1 week out, diff section on launch day)
    2. twitter
    3. instagram
    4. book bub (esp, book 2&3)
    5. Email friends/colleagues/mailing list
  2. For live events
    1. Tables at conventions
    2. Readings/Autograph sessions – if paired with other people or in busy areas
    3. bookmarks/business cards
      • Different cards for different audiences/sales approaches
      • Different cards for agents/publishers vs readers
      • Nothing on the back for wealthy customers, shiny card with the cover on the back for fans
  3. Everywhere
    1. Networking.

      Be happy to make connections.

      If someone is looking for a book and yours isn’t a great fit? Suggest other people’s work if it’s a better fit for what people are looking for. Those people — both the ones you recommend to and those whose work you recommended are a lot more likely to suggest your works to friends/family who might be the right audience for you.

      If you’re an introvert at a convention? Get there early and introduce yourself to the tables around you. Let them know if you’re new — to tabling in general or that con in specific. Be open to advice. So many people in this industry are welcoming and will be happy to welcome you.

Self-publishing is a brave choice and a tough road to walk. Best of luck finding your audience to all my writer friends — no matter who publishes you and when.


Obviously, I’m not self-published. Please! Share your experiences and tips and references if you have any! I’d love to share them.


Thanks for reading. If you found this post helpful, share it with your friends, feel free to subscribe to my newsletter if you’d like to get these posts in your inbox, and I’ll be back again next week, with more writing tips and writerly musings.

Tips for Writing Combat: Where Do You Focus?

Here’s Part 4 of my VirtualBalticon panel notes.

Even veterans and long-time practitioners can have problems writing fights that are both compelling and realistic; how is someone new supposed to keep up? We’ll discuss getting experience with the weapons you’re writing about, how to handle pacing in brawls, skirmishes, and battles, and how to keep the tension high when your protagonists have to survive.

These are my notes from the titular panel at Virtual Balticon 54. The panelists were: James Mendez Hodes (as moderator), Jeanne Adams, Ken Schrader, and Ryan Van Loan.

Ways to decide which details to focus on

Who is the character?

  • A new fighter
    • Focuses on scary things: the knife, the big guy, the gun
    • Is surprised by combat: how much their hand hurts after throwing a punch, how loud the gunshot is, the feel of the other person’s gut
  • A trained fighter
    • Notices small details
    • Can analyze their opponent, at least, before they get into things
    • Sometimes, time kinda slows for them

What type of scene are you showing?

  • In Hollywood:
    • Every move works (for the main character), every punch hits, every dodge works. Unless the plot needs it not to.
  • In real life
    • People don’t move as expected, and you’re mostly left just trying to react as the situation keeps changing

What’s the character’s flaw?

  • When the character is in combat, they’re usually dealing with a weakness
    • Are they in the fight because they won’t back down or have to instigate?
    • Is the weakness going to cause them to lose?
    • Do they overcome their weakness to win the fight?

What is the scene’s purpose?

The scene needs to either:

  • reveal something new about the character
  • move the plot forward
  • raise the stakes

The best scenes do all of these things.

[Note from other panels: Don’t have the bad-guy hurting babies/women just to show they’re bad. It’s cliche, overdone, and could be done far more subtly, with just as much impact.]

Tips for Writing Combat

  1. Use visceral details
    • You can keeping them to what the main
      character is feeling, they don’t even need to be graphic, just their physical/emotional reactions to the fight
    • Focus on the sensory details
      • Emotions – anger, fear, panic
      • Smells and Sounds
      • Feelings – texture, pain, loss of sensation
  2. Walk it through
    • Sit down with a friend/family member to make sure it tracks or just plain act it out.
  3. Make sure they’re hurting after the fight
    • If you get in a hand-to-hand fight, you’re going to be hurting the next day. You’re going to be tired after 30 seconds, exhausted after 3 minutes, and your adrenaline is gonna crash hard when you’re safe.
    • Note: The Indiana jones movie got a shout out for actually SHOWING him bruised and battered after a fist fight.
  4. Being in the military doesn’t make you an expert at every fighting style
    • Basic is more intro to what you will have to train
    • Most military is only taught some hand-to-hand basics, the rest is personal choice.
  5. Fighters have limits — especially during war
    • To paraphrase Ryan Van Loan, “Everyone has a cup, and if it overflows, you break. If someone can help or give you a break, you can recover.
    • In other words, this is why we give soldiers respite, why we rotate them off the front lines. And why so many have trouble transferring back to civilian life.

Researching and Writing What You Don’t Know

I write fantasy, so I’m not a proponent of ‘write what you know.’ But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do your research.

War (throughout the ages) in media:

  • Restrepo – an Iraqi war documentary
  • Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War – by Karl Marlantes
    • An in-depth look at what it’s like to go to war
  • The History Channel – some of their stuff
  • Legion Versus Phalanx: The Epic Struggle for Infantry Supremacy in the Ancient World – by Myke Cole
  • Shadiversary on Youtube
  • “‘We Have Always Fought‘: Challenging the ‘WomenCattle and Slaves‘ Narrative” – essay by Kameron Hurley

Other Ways To Research Fight Scenes

  • Beta-readers
  • Ask people who fight in the style you’re writing
  • Read fight scenes — study the pacing

Some of the panelists favorite books for fight scenes

  • Dune – by Frank Herbert, especially the ending
  • Wheel of Time: The Dragon Reborn – by Robert Jordan

Remember, when writing combat, it’s not about the guts and glory, it’s about the story and the characters.

Any tips or tricks you like to use? Anything I missed? Let me know in the comments below.