A. Victoria Mixon, Editor
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Writer's Digest presents an excerpt from my webinar for them, 'Three Secrets of the Greats: Structure Your Story for Ultimate Reader Addiction.'

Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn, one of the Top 10 Blogs for Writers, interviews me about storytelling, writing, independent editing, and the difference between literary fiction and genre, with an impromptu exercise on her own Work-in-Progress.

Editing client Stu Wakefield, author of the Kindle #1 Best Seller Body of Water, talks about our work together on Memory of Water, the second novel of his Water trilogy.
  • By Victoria Mixon

    Hi Victoria—You have really good information on your website. After looking around, I have a question. What exactly are the differences between developmental editing and substantive editing? Jake

    Thank you for your kind words, Jake! There’s a really good reason I don’t use the term ‘substantive’ in discussing editing: it is the most confusing term used by editors to describe the different types of work we do.

    When an editor talk about ‘substantive editing’ they can mean anything from developmental editing—designing and structuring a story or book—to line editing—polishing the prose.

    Some editors mean one or the other.

    Some mean both.

    Just about the only thing they all agree on is that substantive editing is not copy editing—making the prose conform to the grammar and punctuation rules of the reader’s native language (different, for instance, in the US and UK)—or proofreading—checking for typos.

    So I use ‘developmental editing’ when I address the way a story or book is put together.

    And I use ‘line editing’ when I address the language.

    I don’t use ‘substantive editing’ at all.

    ‘Substantive’ means, really, an independent identity. I don’t honestly know how that word got tangled up with editing terminology throughout the eras in traditional publishing.

    By ‘substantive’ editors mean ‘substantial,’ in which the editor makes substantial changes and alterations. Some editors confine themselves to discussing each individual issue with the writer. Others work with the writer to arrange the story or book in the way that will convey to the reader most clearly and powerfully the writer’s vision and then polish the resulting manuscript for professional language.

    It depends entirely upon the editor’s own definition.

    The British editor Diana Athill even confesses in her marvelous memoir Stet that she was not above adding jokes.


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  • By Victoria Mixon

    I’m doing something a little different today. I was contacted by a high school student interested in becoming a freelance independent editor. She sent me a list of interview questions for a presentation she’s doing on careers, and with her permission I’m going to answer them here, for the benefit of all readers young and old:

    1. When did you realize that you want to be an editor and how did it come to be?

    I’ve been editing since I was in high school in the 1970s. I was recruited by my teacher out of her Creative Writing class and became editor of my school newspaper after, I think, the first quarter. I kept that job for the rest of my high school education. So I was taught to edit others’ copy pretty young and as a matter-of-course rather than because I went after the job.

    It was a terrific education, and I still use it today.

    2. Can you list a few obstacles that you have overcome during your career?

    I became a freelance independent editor when the telecommuting industry in Silicon Valley collapsed in 2008 during the economic crash. I lost my job, my income, my entire career.

    My husband encouraged me to start a blog on fiction, because I talked about nothing else. I gave myself a formal, very intensive education in the proper development of character and plot by analyzing hundreds of novels, studying every single night. I blogged about aspects of writing fiction that I didn’t see anyone else blogging about. (At this point, my most-viewed post has almost 100,000 views.)

    And I charged very low rates when I began freelance independent editing, always working longer hours than I billed.

    At the same time, I was working these 10-hour days five days a week, building my online presence and writing my books: The Art & Craft of Fiction: A Practitioner’s Manual and The Art & Craft of Story: 2nd Practitioner’s Manual.

    Perhaps the hardest part is that I always spend a little time with potential new clients trading emails so they can get to know me a bit before they hire me. They’re human beings, and they deserve to be treated like humans. However, I’ve been burned once or twice by despairing writers whose morale I restored, who then changed their minds about hiring me as soon as they felt better, and they simply disappeared.

    This just happened in January, when a writer came to me from possibly the most expensive, most famous freelance independent editor out there, who had utterly discouraged this writer and left them feeling hurt and taken advantage of. I empathized with the writer, helped them understand what had happened while remaining professional about the other editor, and encouraged them to get what they’d contracted for from that previous editor—they’d paid $2,500 for a one-hour consultation, of which they’d gotten only thirty minutes. Thirty minutes!

    Two weeks later, after accepting my estimate and during the actual scheduling, the writer unexpectedly announced that they’d decided to hire another freelance independent editor “with more expertise in my genre.” It wasn’t true about the expertise. (I know what editor they went to, and I have gotten their unhappy ex-clients as well.) The writer and I had briefly discussed their genre, and they knew that I understand it and work in it. They’d just fallen for someone’s aggressive self-marketing.

    So it was a waste of my professional time—more than I should reasonably have spent, but I try to be patient with clients planning to make big investments in their work—time for which I will now never be compensated.

    I really don’t like losing my faith in people this way.

    3. What is your greatest failure and how did you deal with it?

    For many years, I was a technical writer and editor for computer companies in Silicon Valley. It was good money. . .but you have to like computer technology.

    I had majored in Computer Science in college, intending to become an engineer. But after the third year, I lost control of myself—stopped doing homework, stopped studying for exams, just spent my days sneaking into my local used-book store to open books and smell the wonderful, dry smell of old literature. I barely got out of college with an English Degree, my three years of computer study three years down the drain (and three more years’ student loans to pay back).

    I never loved working in the tech industry. I always complained. If I’d been able to reconcile myself to Silicon Valley, I’d be making a much better living today.

    But my heart is in fiction.

    4. Tell me about your proudest achievement.

    I built myself a new career in fiction as a freelance independent editor at a time when industry insiders were still telling aspiring writers, “You don’t need to hire an editor.” Now I see literary agents telling aspiring writers, “If you’ve hired an editor, tell us in your query.” It’s been a heck of a climb.

    And I’m still a contractor—there are no guarantees in contract work. I take what jobs come to me, where I can do the most good. Every day, I’m working to let potential clients know who I am and what I can do. I’m very often fighting a tide of misinformation and sometimes deliberate deceit from the lower echelons among my competition.

    However, I keep at it, in spite of the obstacles. I started this work for the love of it, and I continue for the love of it. I’ve put out a ton of my knowledge on my blog and advice column free to anyone who needs it. I’m proud of that. And now I have clients whose novels have gone on to win critical acclaim and even become bestsellers. (You can find them in my sidebar.) That is a source of great pride for me. I feel like their mother.

    5. What interests you the most about editing?

    The writers. I identify very strongly with them, you know. I was for decades an unknown aspiring writer, so stone-broke that I couldn’t afford classes or conferences, writing alone and on my own for much of that time because we didn’t yet have the Internet and the plethora of writing forums that we have today. For decades.

    So I have a deep emotional investment in seeing my clients succeed at their dreams. These people become my friends. Their novels become my own projects. As the writers learn and expand and deepen their understanding of this art and craft, I feel enormous satisfaction in their progress.

    I never tire of the wonder of this accomplishment.

    6. What would you say is your average workload?

    It varies quite a lot. Last year I worked fulltime, 40 hours a week, and still had more business than I could handle. In the years before that, I averaged around 25-30 hours a week. This year has been an odd one. My workload fluctuates wildly right now from month to month. The industry is changing—the freelance independent editing industry is changing.

    7. Do you work independently or in a group?

    I’m an independent. I always have been as a fiction editor. I have trained a junior editor to take on developmental editing jobs I don’t have time for. I love him, and he does a wonderful job.

    However, it’s my business. What you see on my blog and in my books is what you get.


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  • By Victoria Mixon

    Fanfiction. Yes, I write it. Harry Potter fanfiction, to be exact. I find it a great way to practice. I’ve heard so many arguments about copyright infringement, but honestly, I myself would be flattered. As long as others don’t sell my characters off as their own, I can see nothing wrong with it. It’s free publicity and probably brings in money for the writer. Even more than that, I love the idea that my work would be the inspiration that starts a whole new group on the path to become writers, that it could change them, that it could make them think so much and see so much in it. Isn’t that what we look for, after all?

    So, my question to you is: what do you think about the controversy? I’m simply a eighteen-year-old girl about to graduate high school, yet you’re a published author with a successful writing blog. What are your thoughts, being on the other end?—Isabella

    Congratulations, Isabella, on beginning your writing career young! It sounds as though you’re committed to your craft and very thoughtful about the current writing industry.

    Copyright infringement is an entirely legal issue. Some things an author can legally copyright, and if they choose to do so then other writers break the law when they violate that copyright. This can lead to lawsuits, which the author holding the copyright will win.

    Other things an author cannot legally copyright. These things must be trademarked if the author does not want to share them.

    Copyright is designed to protect an author’s intellectual property: the effort they put into inventing characters, settings, fictional worlds. This effort is very hard work, and writing fiction traditionally pays so little that when an author has worked that hard on their material they often feel quite proprietary about their creative results.

    I can sympathize. My colleague, Roz Morris, has compared copyright infringement to being tied up while your house is burgled.

    However, is the publicity of fanfiction good for the original author? Does it promote that author’s income? Should authors take fanfiction as a compliment rather than a violation?

    This is an individual decision for each author. None of us can make that decision for another.

    Since the rise of the blogosphere and self-publishing, many professional writers have tackled the question of whether copyright contributes to or detracts from an author’s career. These people have created something called Creative Commons, which is a form of copyright that allows re-use of an author’s material so long as the author is credited as the creator.

    So, for instance, if JK Rowling uses Creative Commons as her copyright, you could publish your Harry Potter fanfiction with the written caveat that it is based upon characters and situations created by JK Rowling. Unfortunately, I suspect that Rowling and her publisher do not use Creative Commons, which would preclude you from publishing fanfiction based upon her creations. (I’m afraid Rowling really doesn’t need any of us helping her publicize her work.)

    Many other less-famous authors, though, do use Creative Commons. These are the authors you’ll want to seek out. The self-publishing industry is absolutely chock full of unknown authors who might very well be glad of any publicity they could get.

    The key is respect for the author’s legal right to their own material.

    If I were you, I’d search for self-published fiction copyrighted under Creative Commons and then contact the authors directly. Make friends with them. Compliment them on their terrific material. Show them that you understand the hard work they’ve put into creating their characters and fictional worlds and that you respect their right to own them. Chances are that you’ll very quickly acquire not only fresh material for your fanfiction but—more importantly—a network of writing friends interested in the same genres as you.

    Then you can all move forward in promoting and publicizing each other’s work through your collective creativity. . .which is the ideal solution for everyone.

    “The freshest and
    most relevant advice
    you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher,
    Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Fiction
    The Art & Craft of Story




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  • By Victoria Mixon

    For years I have been writing, but looking back on what I have written I’ve come to realize I finish very little of what I start. I want to stop that and to finish a work. I feel a big part of this is not-plotting and, despite knowing what I want for the ending, never knowing how to bridge that gap between beginning and end. Whenever I try to plot, I end up either not following it or realizing halfway through that it is something the characters would not do. Is there any advice you can give me on how to plot properly? I have been reading several writer’s websites, but I can’t seem to find any concrete steps in how to properly plot—and finish—a novel. If you have any advice or can suggest any readings, I would greatly appreciate it. Sincerely, Annie H.

    Yes, Annie, I can teach you how to plot properly. When you sometimes find yourself unable to follow a plot—when your characters simply will not do what you thought they would do—it’s because all good plotting grows out of character. So only when you entirely understand your characters and already know that they will do when their backs are against a wall can you begin plotting a story that will remain true to those characters.

    However, because a novel is such a very long work of fiction, the in-depth details of plotting an entire book can be quite complex, especially when you take into account protagonist(s), genre, and your hoped-for readership.

    I try to cover a wide variety of writing issues here on this advice column and my blog, although of course each novel is unique and requires its own unique details in the design. So please feel free to begin by browsing my website. There is years’ worth of information here. You can search for “plot” and “character” both here on my advice column and on my blog, and you should find useful advice.

    I also have two books on writing, organized according to what I consider the three fundamentals of fiction: character, plot, and prose—The Art & Craft of Fiction: A Practitioner’s Manual and The Art & Craft of Story: 2nd Practitioner’s Manual. My books are the cheapest avenue to learning the basics of what I know about plotting and character. I teach writing through the simplest concepts possible, as I worked for years in the tech sector writing simple explanations for complex computer concepts and procedures. And besides, my brain leans toward simple answers.

    Additionally, if you’re a young writer, you may want to do a search for “young” here on my advice column, as I’ve addressed specifically the issue of writing a lot of fiction without finishing it—I like to consider that work “committing random acts of literature.”

    “The freshest and
    most relevant advice
    you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher,
    Seattle P-I

    The Art & Craft of Fiction
    The Art & Craft of Story




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  • By Victoria Mixon

    Your remarks on Twitter seem to say that you love editing as much, if not more, than writing. What is it about editing that you like? For me, the alarming part about working with an editor is that my judgement as to too much sex, too much violence, too much exposition is something I’m having difficulty with. When an editor told me that a character would not act “that way” in the real world it gave me great pause. In my mind the actions of characters are based on my real life experiences, and I find that some people do act “that way.” Feminism, religion and sexual orientation are all issues I’ve discussed in editing. But I seem to be on a railroad of editors until I find the conductor that fits me.—John Johnson

    I do indeed love editing. I also love writing. And I love reading wonderful stories. Fiction and storytelling make up my entire professional and leisure worlds.

    Your experience of being on “a railroad of editors” is not at all uncommon these days. I hear of this problem frequently from new clients. This is because far too many of those marketing themselves now as ‘editors’ are not editors. They are peer critiquers who have been on forums for years and see the decline of editing in publishing houses and corresponding rise of independent editing as a lucrative cash cow.

    This is why I always caution aspiring writers to do their due diligence in selecting an editor. I do expect anybody who charges aspiring writers for editing to have the experience cited and to be able to prove it through their blog and books.

    In addition to a broad and deep knowledge of storytelling through the written word, an editor must be able to represent to the aspiring writer the reader’s sensitivity to taboo material, such as sex and violence. This is one area in which the writer must fictionalize real life in order to communicate it to the reader properly, taking into account the reader’s preconceived sensitivity to taboo material.

    Exposition is almost always summary of story better shown through scenes. Unless exposition is, in fact, essential ‘exposure’ or illumination of subtext, it should be cut or transformed into scenes. This is the basis of Henry James’ injunction: “Show, don’t tell.”

    And an editor must also be able to represent to the aspiring writer the perspective of the average reader in their target market.

    Feminism is definitely a part of modern Western society—sexism, like so many other prejudices, is a cultural dinosaur, and equality between the genders something that readers know to be perfectly normal. I mean, why wouldn’t it be? Outside of Christian fiction, the average American reader is not looking for religious bias—they expect their religious beliefs to be treated as their own business. Likewise, the average American reader has a fairly balanced perception of homosexuality and heterosexuality in our modern society. The old hysterical bigotry against anything but stereotypical love between adults has thankfully vanished, along with widespread illiteracy and belief in ghosts.

    Proper editing is never about the editor’s personal preferences. This is the underlying principle of our work. It is always about the editor’s ability to guide the aspiring writer in communicating a story to the reader effortlessly, through the myriad techniques of our art and craft.


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  • By Victoria Mixon

    Hi Victoria, I am a poet and the editor of a community journal of literature and visual art. We publish short prose and poetry, as well as the work of local artists. This is an annual, and we have just completed our twelfth journal. It is published by a not-for-profit organization, and my position as editor-in-chief is unpaid. I have also done some paid freelance editorial work for people I have met through the journal. Before the founding of the journal, I worked for ten years doing editorial functions for a publisher of law books. That position gave me a great deal of training in electronic editorial programs. I am now interested in pursuing work as an editor for self-published writers. Can you offer any suggestions for “breaking into” this business? Thank you, Judith MK Tepfer, Editor-in-Chief, East on Central

    Hi, Judith! As you must know, there are zillions of aspiring writers now seeking publication in journals like yours. The question of editing lies in both selection and the preparation of manuscripts.

    My work is both similar to and different from yours. Now that I have a full roster of clients, I’m forced to select only a percentage of the manuscripts with which I’m queried. However, I edit them much more deeply than I probably would if I were working unpaid for an annual journal.

    Certainly, my background in editing technical manuals helps enormously with Copy Editing, as yours in editing law books must. It means that I can throw Copy Editing in free with Line Editing because Copy Editing takes so little effort.

    However, the real work I do—Developmental Editing and Line Editing fiction and memoir—takes years to learn properly. It took me thirty years of studying storytelling, most of that while I was working professionally as a writer and editor in the tech sector.

    I know there are, right now, almost as many aspiring editors hoping to break into freelance editing as there are aspiring writers hoping to break into publication. Most of these aspiring editors have no experience in professional editing. However, some are long-time editors laid off by publishing houses, who have a great deal of experience in professional editing. And some worked briefly at publishing houses before being laid off, giving them only a modicum of experience in professional editing.

    So your competition is enormous.

    I earned my reputation in freelance independent editing through four years of intensive blogging and editing. I created an enormous ‘portfolio’ of blog posts on craft significantly different from those on other writing blogs, along with sample edits for writers to study. I worked constantly to build credibility in the online writing community through Twitter and StumbleUpon, making friends with my favorite bloggers by reading their blogs regularly and inviting them to mine as guests, while offering them unique guest posts. I worked my heinie off to create content nobody else was creating. And it wasn’t easy—there are a lot of blogs about writing out there!

    After years of this work, my reputation eventually earned me regular guest posts and a newsletter column on my favorite writing blog, Writer Unboxed, and an online webinar for Writer’s Digest. My blog was named a Top 10 Blog for Writers 2011 and Top 20 Blog for Writers 2012, as well as a Writer’s Digest 101 Best Blogs for Writers 2013. So I have great SEO. Usually, when writers Google “independent editors” I’m on that first page.

    This was all was a ton of work, easily ten or more hours a day, five days a week, for four solid years. It took all my attention from early 2009 to early 2013. And I still maintain my blog and Twitter presence, even though editing now takes up most of my time.

    While I was working to build my reputation as a freelance independent editor, I was also reading and analyzing scores of novels so that I could develop an understanding of plot structure that would work for any story brought to me by any client. And I was dissecting, word-by-word, the sentences and paragraphs and scenes that struck me most forcibly so that I could develop an ease with language that would allow me to Line Edit any writer’s prose into their own special, polished voice.

    As I was learning, I wrote two books on writing, The Art & Craft of Fiction: A Practitioner’s Manual and The Art & Craft of Story, 2nd Practitioner’s Manual, and half of a third, The Art & Craft of Prose, 3rd Practitioner’s Manual.

    And I still read, analyze, and dissect constantly, evenings and weekends, whenever I’m not editing. This work is my life.

    So that’s how I did it. It’s turned out fabulously. I have clients I love, people writing wonderful stories of deep significance with terrific power. And I even sometimes receive fan mail.

    I love my job.

    Just know that the road here was long and hard and exhausting. If you love this work with all your heart and soul, it’s absolutely worth it.


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  • By Victoria Mixon

    Hi Victoria, I’ve heard you speak in a Writer’s Digest webinar about the Fulcrum of a story and have been hooked on your blogs and advice column since. I do have a question though. If I have two protagonists, could they each have a separate Fulcrum that is ‘physically’ near each other in the book (each near the middle), or should the same event/scene be the Fulcrum for both characters? What are the pros and cons for each if either is acceptable? Thanks a million! Shaila

    Thank you for your kind words, Shaila!

    When you work with two protagonists, you must design a separate mini-novel for each, which you will then layer into each other, rather like braiding a braid.

    However, you want the climax of each episode—Hook, each Conflict, Faux Resolution, and Climax—to be a striking of sparks as the two protagonists’ storylines bounce off each other.

    So that means, yes, you really want the same scene to be the Fulcrum for both characters.

    The story of two (or more) protagonists is the story of how those protagonists influence, interfere with, and ultimately cause each other’s Climax. And that 100% dependence upon cause-&-effect is what makes your Climax feel so deliciously inevitable to the reader.

    When all is said and done, this braiding of storylines together in meticulously-designed conflicts creates such a tightly-woven plot that there could be simply no other Climax to your story.


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  • By Victoria Mixon

    I have a question and I’ll just get to the point. Today, I emailed an article to my unit adviser to be inserted into the June newsletter of New Directions Clubhouse. If I decide to submit the same article elsewhere for publication, do I mention that the article first appeared in my barely-there little clubhouse newsletter? Only most mental health communities in Michigan and a few out-of-state places know about us. Thanks so much—Rosa

    This kind of depends upon where else you want to submit it, but if your newsletter is known in professional circles, then that publication probably counts as first North American publication—which is what periodicals in North America are interested in.

    Professional freelance journalists deal with this issue all the time.

    Once you’ve done a lot of research on a topic, it’s not really economically-viable to only use it in only one place. So freelance journalists use their research to write a number of similar articles on a given topic for a variety of publications. They query the editors of those publications with their topic before writing each version of the article. Each editor knows exactly what their publication needs and, if they’re interested in the topic, will give the writer a specific slant to write.

    There are some very experienced and helpful freelance journalists out there blogging about such issues, as well as others you might want explore.

    I recommend you do a “Search” for this issue on the blogs of:

    Laverne Daley: Words into Print

    Linda Formacelli: The Renegade Writer

    Susan Johnson: Urban Muse

    “The freshest and
    most relevant advice
    you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher,
    Seattle P-I

    The Art & Craft of Fiction
    The Art & Craft of Story




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  • By Victoria Mixon

    I have two questions regarding publishing and platform. I’m hoping you can answer. Is it possible to be a highly successful published author, even best-selling author if the author wishes to remain reclusive, not wishing to do interviews or book tours, and writing under a pseudonym, hoping to keep themselves unknown and private? Is it possible to only have a blog as a platform, answering questions and updating readers through this route, rather than public engagements? Thank you for your time. I sincerely appreciate it. C. S.

    Wow, C.S., you’re definitely asking what’s on everybody’s minds these days!

    The most succinct answer anyone could give is: in this world, anything’s possible.

    However, in today’s publishing industry, publication depends more and more upon whom you know, not what you write. So those of us who are not best friends with the buyer for Barnes & Noble or the CEO of Bertelsmann or some agent married to the Executive Director of a major fiction publisher—even with the best-written books in the world—have a very steep hill to climb.

    This is why everyone in the industry tells us to sell ourselves as incessantly and enthusiastically as humanly possible. Because it’s just so incredibly easy to fall off the radar of the Powers That Be.

    And they sure don’t miss us when we’re gone.

    So, given that anyone can write under a pseudonym, and that’s perfectly fine. . .

    • If you’re Stephen King—

      so that you have a name that will sell books even if you write them backward with your left foot in the dark, which name you made decades ago when the publishing industry was a very different place—

      then, yes, you can be a recluse and simply hide away in your multiple mansions living your own personal life.

      You will notice, if you experiment (and King did), that writing under a pseudonym instantly demotes you to the realm of the Little People Like Us.

      So you probably won’t write a lot under pseudonyms. . .unless perhaps Stephen King is your pseudonym.

    • Or if you’re Annie Dillard or Anne Lamott—

      so that, again, you have a recognizable nonfiction name, which again was made decades ago when the publishing industry was a very different place, and you teach writing for a living, even though your name is not particularly recognizable in the fiction field—

      then, again, yes, you can refuse to sell yourself and simply concentrate upon teaching. And your nonfiction will sell, even though your fiction may fall a little flat.

    • Or if you’re any one of the scores of midlist authors who publish for sheer joy—

      while you work a regular job for your living—

      then, yes, you can probably be picky about your appearances and book tours, so long as you don’t expect to continue publishing if your lack of exposure eventually results in your sales falling so far that you get bumped right off the Publication Train.

      After all, you were never relying on publication to keep you alive anyway.

    • Or if you’re me, and you don’t care whether or not you publish your fiction—

      you just happen to have decades of professional writing experience under your belt, an overwhelming lifelong passion for the art and craft, and enough things to say about it that maybe aren’t being said by others out there (and there are a heck of a lot of others these days, boy, howdy, not all of them hesitant to re-hash your original ideas as their own), as well as a living partner with a really good income—

      then, yes, it’s true, you can stay home in your rocking chair by the fire all day every day, paying your mortgage through your partner’s income.


    • If you’re hoping to break into the midlist, and

    • your name is not already known to tens of thousands of potential readers, and

    • your online persona is not already a unique, major presence in the online fiction community (I’m afraid I wouldn’t try to sell my fiction through my blog, and I get around 12,000 between 12,000 and 22,000 views every month), and

    • you’re one of those talented, committed, experienced, and simply fortunate enough to have both an agent and a publishing contract, and your publisher offers to pay for a book tour. . .

    then you should probably count your lucky stars and get yourself out there on the road making your name known to tens of thousands of potential readers.

    It would also not be a bad idea to encourage them to remember that name by reading your blog and Twitter and Facebook and Google+, putting you onto StumbleUpon and Reddit and Digg, etc, etc, etc.

    Also, you’ll need to have things to say about this work that aren’t already being said by others on their blogs. If it’s not both fascinating and unique, and you’re not a full-bore death-ray-focused take-no-prisoners self-marketer, you’ll be instantly washed away in the raging torrent that is the online fiction community.

    There really are that many aspiring writers out there. All those tens of thousands you see online and in the forums and on Amazon, working and struggling desperately with all their hearts to break into the industry?

    They’re your competition.

    For example:

    Jenny Lawson, aka The Bloggess, spent six years building her audience, working like a fiend night and day and sometimes even days on end without sleep until she made herself physically ill and wound up in the hospital, running ad-hoc charities through her blog and finding ways to make friends with celebrities, until she had a horde of literally hundreds of thousands willing to follow her anywhere, including off a cliff.

    And even Jenny has spent most of the past year on book tour, taking her face and name constantly all around the country while her husband stays home with their daughter, in order to get her book on the best-seller list and keep it there.

    Now—is this situation fair to writers?

    Of course not.

    Is this a reasonable way to run an industry: by forcing those whose greatest talents lie in the creative arts to run for miles in the tight shoes of marketers and salespeople?

    Of course not.

    But is this simply what we have to deal with at this particular time in the history of publishing?


    Sadly, I’m afraid it is.

    “The freshest and
    most relevant advice
    you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher,
    Seattle P-I

    The Art & Craft of Fiction
    The Art & Craft of Story




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  • By Victoria Mixon

    Victoria—A question for your advice column: is it true that opening a story with the character coming out of a dream is a cliche and should be avoided?—Mark Salter

    Short answer? Yes. Lewis Carroll really ruined the whole dream thing for everyone.

    However. . .Somerset Maugham did say there are only four rules to fiction, and nobody knows what those are. So I ought to add a caveat:

    • if you could encapsulate the whole point of your story in that dream without saying so, and

    • if you were able to shape your story as a mystery in which the dream—like a crime—is never really shown, and

    • if you built your story around the clues to create in the reader’s mind an experience of that dream that you never actually gave them, then. . .

    I think you could do it.

    As Flannery O’Connor said, “You can do anything in fiction you can get away with. It’s just that nobody’s ever gotten away with much.”

    “The freshest and
    most relevant advice
    you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher,
    Seattle P-I

    The Art & Craft of Fiction
    The Art & Craft of Story




    Comments Off on Beginning a story with a dream—is it a cliche?

My Class/Panel/'Breakout'
To Be Announced


MILLLICENT G. DILLON, represented by Harold Ober Associates, is the world's expert on authors Jane and Paul Bowles. She has won five O. Henry Awards and been nominated for the PEN/Faulkner. I worked with Dillon on her memoir, The Absolute Elsewhere, in which she describes in luminous prose her private meeting with Albert Einstein to discuss the ethics of the atomic bomb. Read more. . .

BHAICHAND PATEL, retired after an illustrious career with the United Nations, is now a journalist based out of New Dehli and Bombay, an expert on Bollywood, and author of three non-fiction books published by Penguin. I edited Patel’s best-selling debut novel, Mothers, Lovers, and Other Strangers, published by PanMacmillan. Read more. . .

LUCIA ORTH is the author of the debut novel, Baby Jesus Pawn Shop, which received critical acclaim from Publisher’s Weekly, NPR, Booklist, Library Journal and Small Press Reviews. I have edited a number of essays and articles for Orth. Read more. . .

SCOTT WARRENDER is a professional musician and Annie Award-nominated lyricist specializing in musical theater. I work with Warrender regularly on his short stories and debut novel, Putaway. Read more. . .

STUART WAKEFIELD is the #1 Kindle Best Selling author of Body of Water, the first novel in his Orcadian Trilogy. Body of Water was 1 of 10 books long-listed for the Polari First Book Prize. I edited Wakefield's second novel, Memory of Water, and look forward to editing the final novel of his Orcadian Trilogy, Spirit of Water. Read more. . .

ANIA VESENNY, represented by Beverly Slopen Literary Agency, is a recipient of the Evelyn Sullivan Gilbertson Award for Emerging Artist in Literature and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. I edited Vesenny's debut novel, Swearing in Russian at the Northern Lights, and her second novel, Sandara. Read more. . .

TERISA GREEN, represented by Dystel and Goderich Literary Management, is widely considered the foremost American authority on tattooing through her tattoo books published by Simon & Schuster, which have sold over 45,000 copies. Under the name M. TERRY GREEN, she writes her techno-shaman sci-fi/fantasy series. I am working with Green to develop a new speculative fiction series. Read more. . .

GERALDINE EVANS is a best-selling British author. Her historical novel, Reluctant Queen, is a Category No 1 Best Seller on Amazon UK. I edited Death Dues, #11 in Evans' fifteen popular Rafferty and Llewellyn cozy police procedurals, which received a glowing review from the Midwest Book Review. Read more. . .

SCOTT WILBANKS, represented by Barbara Poelle of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency, is the author of the debut novel, The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster, forthcoming from Sourcebooks in August, 2015. I'm working with Wilbanks on his sophomore novel, Easy Pickens, the story of the world’s only medically-diagnosed case of chronic naiveté. Read more. . .

LISA MERCADO-FERNANDEZ writes literary novels of love, loss, and friendship set in the small coastal towns of New England. I edited Mercado-Fernandez' debut novel, The Shoebox, and her up-coming The Eighth Summer. Read more. . .

JUDY LEE DUNN is an award-winning marketing blogger. I am working with Dunn to develop and line edit her memoir of reconciling liberal activism with her emotional difficulty accepting the lesbianism of her beloved daughter, Tonight Show comedienne Kellye Rowland. Read more. . .

LEN JOY is the author of the debut novel, American Past Time. I worked with Len to develop his novel from its core: a short story about the self-destructive ambitions of a Minor League baseball star, which agents had told him to throw away. Read more. . .

JEFF RUSSELL is the author of the debut novel, The Rules of Love and Law, based upon Jeff's abiding passions for legal history and justice. Read more. . .

In addition, I work with dozens of aspiring writers in their apprenticeship to this literary art and craft.