Tag Archives: Mary Pletsch

I don’t want to know that sometimes it’s who I know.

I’m an introvert.  Growing up, I liked to believe that I could accomplish my goals via my own efforts, and I didn’t need anyone else’s help (for fear it would only come with strings attached).  So when I first started hearing about “networking,” I cringed.  I was sure that professional writers were tired of being pestered by newbies who wanted favors, and I feared that my fellow authors were “competition,” the people I would have to beat if I wanted to be published.

My experiences with networking haven’t been like that at all.

Firstly, it takes more than one writer to fill an anthology.  And more than one writer to contribute to a magazine.  And more than one writer to fill a publishing company’s needs.  Writing is not a race that will only be won by the first person past the finish line.  In fact, when you’re a writer and you need a hand, the people you’ll turn to – the people who can offer you contacts and introductions and support and advice – are your fellow writers.

one hornI’m here writing on this blog because I went to Superstars Writing Seminars in 2010.  I went to Superstars because another friend of mine, a published author, recommended it to me.  I’ve published short stories in “Game of Horns:  A Red Unicorn Anthology” and “One Horn to Rule Them All:  A Purple Unicorn Anthology,” and I still can’t believe I’m seeing my name on the list of contributors along with Peter S. Beagle, author of “The Last Unicorn,” a movie I’ve loved since childhood.

None of that would’ve happened if I hadn’t known the right people.  And I would never have known them if I hadn’t talked to my fellow writers.

“Knowing the right people” can be frustrating.  It takes more to make friends and contacts than simply the desire to have them.  You need to go out–preferably not with the mindset of “catching a contact who can do things for me.”

Put yourself out there with the intent of getting to know some people with the same interests as you.  You might not click with everyone, and that’s okay.  Everyone has some people who are close friends, some people who are casual acquaintances, some people they have little in common with — and that’s okay.  Keep going.  Keep meeting new people.  Keep reaching out.

Reaching out might not always involve face to face socializing.  The person who recommended Superstars to me was someone I’d first started chatting with on an online message board.  Face-to-face is often easier, but if health, money, or other factors make it difficult, online contacts can get you started.

Look for writers’ groups in your area.  If there aren’t any that meet your needs, consider starting one.  Go to conventions, if you can afford to do so–and affording gets a lot easier when you have friends who will let you stay and/or travel with them (thanks Marie and Kerri!)

If you’ve got a friend who’s a big-name author, remember first and foremost this person is your friend.  Not your “awesome inside source,” not a name-drop to impress people, not Santa Claus (write them a wish list and wait for them to fulfill it).  Treat your contacts as people first.

I have an exciting project that will be the focus of my writing in 2016.  I’m not yet free to talk about it (contractual obligations) but once again, it’s a project that has come to me because of who I know.  Being able to write the kind of stories I tell is important too–don’t get me wrong!  Two of my previous short stories in particular  were very helpful in proving that I’d be up to this project.  But in the end, it was the recommendation of a fellow writer that first brought me to the attention of the project lead.

Stay tuned – I’ve got big news coming in 2016 !  Have a great holiday season and a prosperous New Year.

Non-Fiction Makes Money and Sense

Non-fiction can be both fun and profitable and November 2015’s posts showed us that and more.

Writing non-fiction, as Brent Nichols noted, can reunite us with our passion to write fiction. Brent also said other cool things like “And how would I communicate that thrill to my readers? By being specific.” For all his pearls of enthusiasm, check out Writing about Writing.

Others also revealed that non-fiction can teach us to be better fiction story tellers. But more about that later…

First, you need to know that yes, you can earn a living writing non-fiction.

Non-fiction to supplement fiction? It does happen and Colette Black shared her experience with finding a subject (which she was most enthusiastic about) and selling it. Collette sums it up best in her article, My Best Sale, when she says “… the numbers add up just fine.”

In Writing How-To’s for Fun and Profit, Guy Anthony de Marco showed us the fun in choosing non-fiction topics. As he said, everyone has something they like to do, and we all have some special knowledge to capitalize on. Guy has masterfully taken his hobbies and interests, even his grandmother’s old recipes, and has produced non-fiction books. Besides giving him a break from writing fiction, it has helped his bank account!

While Guy gave us great ideas on what kind of non-fiction books we could write, I provided some pointers on how to make sure you’ve got the perfect idea, about checking the market for what’s selling, and how to give the idea form. (See How to Write Non-Fiction Books for Profit) But the thing that Guy and I both stress, is that you’ve got to enjoy what you’re writing about. Again, that’s key in both fiction and non-fiction.

Ghost writing can be challenging, fun or frustrating. The challenge is that sometimes you’re dealing with sensitive subject matter, you need to portray the story to both the author’s and publisher’s satisfaction, and the deadlines may be tight. Yet, the results can be tremendous both for you and the person whose story is finally on the page. Evan Braun shared his ghost writing experiences with us in My Brief Career as a Ghost Writer.

In Writing for Magazines and Newspapers, Jace Killan shared a secret niche for non-fiction writing, and that’s newspapers, magazines and online articles. Oftentimes, these articles are used to supplement or give credibility to advertisements. Check it out.

Are you a mercenary or a freelance non-fiction writer? There is a difference. A mercenary writer is not a freelance writer. It involves writing for pay, no matter the subject. Do you want to be a mercenary writer or a freelancer? Check out Tereasa’s article, The Mercenary Writer, before you decide.

Get rid of fiction’s money woes! Apply for a grant.

Grants can be lucrative sources of funding and you’ll increase your chances of success if you apply the advice I provided in Grants – Money to Write. Grants are to be found on the local, regional, state/provincial and federal levels from governments, businesses or organizations. And, they can be used for research, for writing, for living, for retreats – the options are as varied as the sources. So, don’t be shy, seek them out because they’re there for both emerging and professional writers.

Of course you can write both fiction and non-fiction! You have the talent!

In Learning from Non-Fiction, Billie Milholland provided a valuable perspective on how fiction and non-fiction intermingle in her writing life and how they feed off each other. Writing non-fiction can be stimulating and rewarding and enhance a fiction career.

Still not convinced that you can write non-fiction?

Then reread Adria Laycraft’s article Fictional and Technical Writing – What’s the Difference? While fiction and non-fiction may seem to have very different goals, voice, and content, when it comes time to the actual writing, they’re really not that different. In either case, the writer must elicit the desired emotion from the reader, create a good structure of all the necessary key elements, research subjects thoroughly, and ensure proper word selection all to create the best possible content.

Rather than hiring a ghost writer to tell the family stories or to write the memoir, sometimes you just have to write the non-fiction stories. Follow Frank Morin’s advice –  interview the grandparents, write their stories and you’ll give them the best Christmas present ever! Remember also that those personal stories, or some element of them, can inspire a new fiction. Check out How to Distract Grandma from Pestering you for More Grandkids.

Non-fiction is a necessary tool to further your fiction writing career.

Those conniving cover letters! You’ve spent months, even years perfecting that novel and your success in the market place hinges on how you introduce your book and yourself in a cover letter! Fear not! In The Art of the Cover Letter, Kristin Luna demystifies the cover letter by giving us a simple yet effective way to write one.

Oh dear blurb, how shall I blurt thee out? Mary Pletsch knows how! In Blurbs: Baiting Your Hook, Mary explains that a blurb is not a summary. It’s role is to make you read more and Mary’s points make it easy. That’s it for this blurb, go check out the blog if you want to know more!

Whether we write fiction or non-fiction, there is a certain syntax, a voice, we all have that makes our writing genuine. Kim May’s blog Finding Your Voice Through Blogging, reveals her path to finding her voice. Her observation that we write a million words to find our voice makes a lot of sense. As I heard it said, if we try to emulate someone else, then we’ll only ever be second best. Be yourself and you’ll always be number one!

As writers we live and die by the book review. How to tell a good review from a bad one? How to give a good one? A reader and receiver of book reviews, author Jeff Campbell shared what works and doesn’t when it comes to writing book reviews. Sometimes we have to give it and sometimes we have to take it – Batman style. For more on Batman read Batman, Boldness and Book Reviews.

Then, there’s the dreaded interview.

You’ll be interviewed, either in person or by phone or by email. You may even have to conduct one. Understanding the craft of the interview is an important but often over looked form of non-fiction so read An Interview on Interviewing where I interviewed Celeste A. Peters.

Interviewing someone who has conducted countless interviews was daunting but fun! Celeste’s and my greatest challenge was making sure we were on the same page. I had a goal and Celeste had a goal along with a wealth of information to share. That meant I had to do what all interviewers must: understand the subject matter to some degree: know something about Celeste’s work and trust that she’d do a smash up job (and she did); and ask questions that would be fun for her and interesting to readers.

And finally, we had a great example of using non-fiction to promote our fiction when Gregory D. Little, rocket scientist by day and author by night, launched his book Unwilling Souls. This book sounds good – I’ll have to check it out.

I hope you enjoyed non-fiction month and found our posts not only interesting but useful. Happy writing!

Blurbs: Baiting Your Hooks

Have you ever seen an interesting-looking book cover and turned the book over to read the bit on the back? Or have you ever been browsing online and scrolled down to the paragraph that tells you what the book’s about? Those short paragraphs are called “blurbs,” and they’re almost as important as the story itself. Readers check them out to decide if your book is the sort of story they’d be interested in reading.

If you’re self-publishing, you’ll definitely need to learn how to write an enticing blurb. But even if you’re hoping to be traditionally published, it’s a useful skill to have. When I made my most recent novel pitch, I was asked to provide a blurb that would introduce the main characters, the principal conflict, and a “hook” that would make my audience want to read more. If I couldn’t get the publisher (agent, editor, etc) interested in my story, how could I convince them that readers would be interested?

I want to emphasize that a blurb and a summary are not the same thing. If you’re asked to provide a summary, the publisher/agent/editor wants to know your entire story, including how the plot will be resolved at the end. Unanswered “hook” questions (“how will Ali save the kingdom now?”) are frustrating and unprofessional in a summary.

Blurbs, directed to your potential readers, are different.  If the blurb explains how the story ends, it will be the opposite of enticing–why bother reading the book if the back spoils the surprise? The point of the blurb is to give the reader some basic information about the start of the story you’re telling, let them know what kind of story it is, and make them eager to find out what happens next. Blurbs and summaries serve different functions, even though both describe “what the story is about.”

SteamedUp_FBThumbI learned to write blurbs thanks to the folks at Dreamspinner Press, who published my short story “Ace of Hearts” in their steampunk romance anthology, “Steamed Up.” Dreamspinner requests that authors provide blurbs for short stories as well as novels and novellas. Even though the blurbs aren’t used “on the back of the book,” they do provide the company with material they can use to market the story and the anthology.

Blurbs need to be tightly focused. Dreamspinner suggests approximately five sentences: long enough to give an idea of the story’s flavour, short enough to skim. Blurbs aren’t a place for world building, minor characters, or other small details. Keep your focus on the most important factors:

Who is/are your main characters?
What is their primary goal?  What major challenges do they face in achieving that goal?
Where is the story set? Sometimes the setting hints at the genre (a spaceship might be science fiction, for example, and a magical kingdom is definitely fantasy). If it doesn’t, be sure the blurb gives some clue as to the genre.
What kind of story is this (action, romance, horror, mystery, etc)?  This may be different then genre. It’s possible to have a romance about werewolves,  or a fantasy story where the plot revolves around a murder mystery.
What will the reader feel:  Fear? Romance? Excitement? Curiosity?

If your book has a specialty theme, let your readers know! (ie, if it’s a historical romance but also a pirate story, the blurb should make that clear. You want readers looking for pirate stories to know that your book qualifies!)

When you edit your blurb, ask yourself:

Do I have a feel for who the main character(s) are – not just names, but who they are as a person?
Do I know where these characters are “starting out from” and what they hope to accomplish?
Do I know what obstacles are in their way?
Do I know what sort of story I’m about to read – not just genre, but tone (rollicking adventure? Dark and gritty? Scary and creepy? Humorous? Tragic?)

Most importantly: does this blurb make me want to read more?

Here’s my blurb for “Ace of Hearts.” “Ace” is a romance between a pilot and a mechanic, told in the tradition of the old British boys’ adventure stories. The story’s set in a steampunk alternate universe during the time of the First World War.

Barred from serving as a professional pilot due to a childhood injury, aircraft mechanic William Pettigrew nevertheless finds himself caught up in the political conflict between his home nation of Albion and the enemy Boche.  When he meets dirigible ace Captain James Hinson, William can’t quite muster the courage to confess his attraction, nor does he have the self-confidence to interpret James’ advances as anything more than friendliness.  Then James is shot down over enemy territory, and squadron command seems reluctant to go to his rescue.  William finds his courage put to the test as he is forced to decide between loyalty to his chain of command, or taking a gamble on love.

The Semi-True Story

I gave a copy of Fossil Lake:  An Anthology of the Aberrant to my parents with a proviso attached:  it’s not autobiographical.

fossilThe assumption would be easy enough to make.  My contribution to Fossil Lake, the short story “Mishipishu:  The Ghost Story of Penny Jaye Prufrock,” is set at a summer camp for kids.  The name of the camp in the story, Camp Zaagaigan (the Algonquin word for “lake”) is fictional; so is Lake Mishipishu (I actually checked on the maps and found a Mishibishu Lake…)  My parents, however, would be able to name the real camp and the real lake after they read the story:  from the cabin line to that infamous H-dock, the layout of Camp Zaagaigan mirrors its real-world counterpart, and they drove me there often enough to recognize it.

From there it’s just one step further to wondering how much more of the story is real.

I’m often asked whether the characters in my story are “me,” or whether the events are “real,” and all I can ever say is that I write semi-true stories.  Semi-true in that I’ve never been able to take a person, event, or revelation and transcribe it into fiction word-for-word.  As a writer friend of mine says, real life doesn’t have to make sense, but fiction does.  Even if I’m starting with something “inspired by a true story,” in order to make event or character coherent, I have to add things here, or take things away that might have happened in real life, but don’t add anything useful to the tale I’m telling.  Sometimes changes to the story make it more dramatic, more compelling, or more satisfying; and so the events “inspired by a true story” move ever farther away from a faithful reflection of reality.  After all, I’m writing fiction—I’m not required to report on reality.  I’m required to tell an engaging and powerful tale.

And semi-true in that I do my best to write characters who feel real:  who behave in realistic ways, who are recognizable and relatable, who are emotionally honest.  When I write them, I put myself in their position and see the world through their eyes; and yes, to an extent, I feel what they feel, and try to express that emotion in the words I’m writing.  Often this emotional connection is informed by my own real-world experiences.  I do know what being bullied feels like.  I do know what doing something I know is against the rules feels like.  I don’t know what it feels like to drown, but I do know what it feels like to not be able to breathe, so I write about that…and imagine one step farther, based on research and my own ideas.  These characters aren’t me, but they have pieces of my emotions inside them.

So no, I was never bullied at that summer camp you sent me to,  Mom and Dad.  No, I never snuck out of the cabin after hours.  No, I was never a suicidal twelve-year-old, and no, I’ve never lost sight of the line between reality and imagination.

…or at least, I’ve always found it again in time.

About Mary: 

Mary Pletsch is a glider pilot, toy collector and graduate of the University of Huron College, the Royal Military College of Canada and Dalhousie University. She is the author of several previously published short stories in a variety of genres, including science fiction, steampunk, fantasy and horror. She currently lives in New Brunswick with Dylan Blacquiere and their four cats.