Fiction Writing and Other Oddities

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

SMUGGLED ROSE Gets 4-Star Review!

After my last blog about passive voice, I had initially intended to do some more studying and wax poetic about some new point of grammar, such as the horrible comma. However, two things stopped me.

One: I don't have a grammar book published later than 1963, and I sort of think comma usage has changed since then.

Two: I got the latest issue of Romantic Times ( For those who have never seen this magazine, it is a lovely monthly publication for booklovers and has book reviews on all kinds of romance-related genres. And…in the June 2008 issue, they reviewed SMUGGLED ROSE!

I was shocked and amazed. Then I was shocked that I was amazed, because, hey, my publisher worked very hard to get my book reviewed by them (thank you very much, Cerridwen Press).

Now, I know authors are supposed to be above all that sort of thing and not pay the least attention to reviews. However. Authors should not pay attention to reviews when they are lousy. Otherwise, they should pay a great deal of attention to them and brag incessantly.

Writing is a lonely, frustrating, and often demoralizing task that frequently leads to nothing more than a series of slaps and blows about the head. If you had an ego when you started, in a few years, chances are good that you'll either have no ego left or it will be so hardened that even Superman couldn't puncture it. So many of us are pathetically grateful to get even a single nice phrase, even if it's just a whiffle-waffle: well, it doesn't totally suck.

So when you happen to walk the half-mile to the mailbox, pick up your issue of Romantic Times, flip through it and see your name… It's no wonder that you feel a little faint. You close your eyes. You take a deep breath and steel yourself for the worst. It's just a review, you tell yourself. It doesn't matter. It's just one person's opinion. Get a grip.

Then you see… FOUR STARS!

And a rather nice review beneath it! To quote just a line or two:

Corwin's wonderful story is much like the traditional Regencies that readers sorely miss. The hero and heroine are a fine match, and the secondary characters add a lot to the story. The ending is exciting and quite nicely done

There's more, too…

Then you let that breath out and start shaking. You realize this isn't just one person's opinion—your book is GOOD! And now—everyone will know—your book is GOOD!

So you go home and discover you don't exactly have any champagne to break out. And you're out of beer, too. And in fact, the only thing you have is some very old cooking sherry that's mostly dried up sludge in the bottom of the bottle. So you cook a few hamburgers to celebrate and remind yourself that next week, you can always go back to ordinary. And you might even cover the curious use of commas in your blog.

But for tonight…well…I think a little R&R is in order.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Passive Voice

Everyone knows they are supposed to use active voice—not passive—when they write, but a lot of folks have difficulties identifying passive and often confuse it with past progressive or other verb tense forms. I know for a long time, I was guilty of that. I thought I could identify passive voice entirely by searching for the word “was.”

I could not have been more wrong.

Passive voice should not be confused with verb tense.

Verb tense is action + time. What happened and when.

Passive/active voice is the subject in relation to the action. Is the subject the doer or the recipient of the action?

I am by no means Madame Grammarian or an expert in grammar by any stretch of the imagination. It wasn't until NYT Bestselling author, Sabrina Jeffries, beat me over the head with the meaning of passive voice that I really "got it". Now, I'm going to give you the benefit of my beating.

Because it is seriously important for writers to become proficient in the tools of their craft, and grammer is the most important tool. So I’ve done a little studying. What I hope to do here is explain what passive voice is—and what is not—and show lots of examples.

Note, big warning repeated: Do not confuse verb tense with passive or active voice. Passive or active are determined strictly by the doer or recipient of the action.
And, believe it or not, there are actually times when you should use passive voice.

Key to Passive Voice: Identify who or what is doing the action. If the subject of the sentence is performing the action, then it’s active, regardless of the verb tense used.
If the subject of the sentence is the recipient of the action, then it is passive.

Active: She hit him.

“She” is the subject of the sentence. She is doing the action, i.e. she’s doing the hitting, actively (and one might say, aggressively). Active.

Passive: He was hit by her.

“He” is the subject of the sentence, but he’s not the one doing the action. He’s the recipient of the action performed “by her”. So he’s passively accepting a sock to the jaw. Passive.

First Rumor to Dispel
The word “was” indicates passive voice.

No, not all the time. If you see “was” in combination with a verb ending in “ing” then it is probably not passive voice. It is probably past progressive showing a continuous action that happened in the past.

For example:
He was walking.

Past progressive, active, not passive. “He” is the subject of the sentence and he was actively, continuously walking, in the past.

If you see “was” in combination with a verb ending in “ed” or “en,” etc, then it is probably passive voice.

For example:
The tray of food was dropped by the waiter. Passive. The tray of food is the recipient of the action. It was dropped by the waiter.

Not Passive Example 1: “Was” + “-ing” verb

He was walking to the store when a bus hit him.

“Was walking” indicates that he was in the act of walking—continuously walking—when he got hit by a bus. This is not passive voice. It is past progressive. You can think of this verb tense as “in the progress of doing something,” with the emphasis on progress. Hence, progressive.

Remember: verb tense is action + time--the tenses tell you what was done and when it was done.

You would not say:

He walked to the store when a bus hit him.

Not only does this sound strange, but it suffers from temporal distortion because “walked” indicates that he had finished walking when the bus hit him. Excuse me? Was he just standing there? Or maybe you mean, he walked to the store after the bus hit him.

That’s what I mean by temporal distortion. You no longer know what the correct timing is in this sequence, because you used the wrong verb tense in a misguided effort to avoid “was.”

Clearly, it is not the verb tense that indicates if a sentence is active or passive, because both of those sentences were active.

Passive Example 2: “Was” + “ed” verb

He was attacked by a bear at the corner of 5th and Main.

“Was attacked” here indicates the bear actually performed the action—not the man. This is passive voice. And it is passive voice told using past tense.

[Most stories are told in some form of third person, past tense, so most of my examples are written that way. However, you can use any verb tense and still have passive voice if your subject is the recipient of the action.]

Examples of Various Verb Tenses + Passive/Active Voice
Just to prove this point, here are examples of all the verb tenses, used in sentences constructed using first passive voice and then active voice. Some of the examples are extremely awkward—sorry about that.

Note again, it is the subject in relation to action that indicates passive or active voice. It is not the verb tense, which is action + time. (Although if you see the word “being” in the sentence, chances are good that it’s a passive construction, unless it’s future progressive.)

PRESENT - NOW Verb Forms

Present Tense

The cart is dragged by her into the woods. Present tense, passive voice
The cart is the recipient of the action.

Now, active voice:
She drags the cart into the woods. Present tense, active voice
She is taking action.

Present Perfect Tense (indefinite time/continues to present). Uses has/having with the verb's past participle, e.g. ending in -ed.

The cart has been dragged through the woods by her since 2PM.

Present tense (continues in the present), passive voice.

A better passive voice example is:
Discrimination has undergone examination for its effect on society since 1960.

Present tense (continues in the present), passive voice.

Now, active voice:
She has dragged the cart through the woods since 2PM.

Present tense (continues in the present), active voice

Present Progressive (continuous action, happening now). Uses am/is/are with verb ending in -ing.

The cart is being dragged by her through the woods.

Present progressive (continuous action, now), passive voice. Note "being".

Now, active voice:
She is dragging the cart through the woods.

Present progressive (continuous action, now), active voice.

Present Perfect Progressive (action began in the past, continues in the present, and may continue into the future). Uses has/have been + verb ending in -ing.

The cart has been being dragged by her through the forest.

Present perfect progressive (continuous action that may continue in the future), passive voice. Wow, that’s awkward. Yuch.

Maybe a different passive sentence would help:
A transfer of funds has been undergoing consideration by the committee for quite some time.

Now, active voice:
She has been dragging the cart through the woods.

Present perfect progressive (continuous action that may continue into the future), active voice.

Another example may make this clearer:
She has been considering quitting her job if her boss doesn’t ease up. Active voice.

FUTURE – in the future

Future Tense
The cart will be dragged by her through the woods. Future tense, passive voice

And active voice:
She will drag the cart through the woods. Future tense, active voice

Future Perfect Tense (Action occurs in the future before some other action). Uses "will have" + past particple of the verb.

The cart will have been dragged into the woods by the time we get there.

Future perfect tense, passive voice

And active voice:
She will have dragged the cart into the woods by the time we get there.

Future perfect tense, active voice

Future Progressive (Ongoing, continuous action in the future). Uses "will be" + verb ending in -ing.

The cart will be being dragged into the woods by her this afternoon while we are out.

Future progressive (continuous action in the future), passive voice.

And active voice:
She will be dragging the cart into the woods this afternoon while we are out.

Future progressive (continuous action), active voice.

Future Perfect Progressive (Ongoing, continuous action that will occur before some future time). Uses "will have been" + verb ending in -ing.

The cart will have been being dragged into the woods by her by 4:00pm.

Future perfect progressive (future continuous action that occurs before some specified time), passive voice.
A better example may be:

By next year, the decision will have been undergoing review for over three years.

Future perfect progressive, passive voice. The decision is being reviewed, so it is the recipient of the review. “We” is implied as the entity taking the action. If this was rephrased in active voice, it would be: By next year, we will have been reviewing this decision for over three years.

And active voice:
She will have been dragging the cart for over an hour by 4:00pm.

Future perfect progressive (future continuous action that occurs before some specified time), active voice.
A better example may be:

By the year 3000, doctors will have been treating cancer with radiation therapy for over 1000 years.

Future perfect progressive, active voice. The doctors are treating cancer, i.e. the doctors are taking the action against cancer.

PAST – happened in the past

Past Tense
The cart was dragged into the woods by her. Past tense, passive voice
She dragged the cart into the woods. Past tense, active voice

Past Perfect Tense (Action took place in past before another past action). Uses "had" + past participle of the verb (e.g. ends in -ed).

The cart had been dragged into the woods by her by the time we got there.

Past perfect tense, passive voice

She had dragged the cart into the woods by the time we got there.

Past perfect tense, active voice

Past Progressive (action happening when another action occured). Uses was + verb ending in -ing.

The cart was being dragged into the woods by her when she saw a bear.

Past progressive (continuous, past action), passive voice.

She was dragging the cart into the woods when she saw a bear.

Past progressive (continuous, past action), active voice.

Past Perfect Progressive (continuous action completed before some other past action). Uses "had been" + verb ending in -ing.

The cart had been being dragged into the woods by her for over an hour before we got home.

Past perfect progressive (continuous action completed before some other past action), passive voice.
Here is another example that’s still awkward, but maybe more understandable…

Before we ended the meeting at 5PM, the recommendation had been undergoing discussion for over three hours.

Past Perfect Progressive, passive voice. The recommendation is the subject, and “we” are discussing it. The action is “discussing”.

And now active:
She had been dragging the cart through the woods or over an hour before we got home.

Past perfect progressive (continuous action), active voice.

Obviously, some of these forms are exceptionally awkward—at least in the examples I selected. There are certainly less awkward examples I could have written. Maybe. Thank goodness we rarely try to write fiction with such strained, awkward language.

When is it okay to use passive?
Now comes the really interesting part—at least to me. There are some times when you have to use passive, or at least want to use passive, in order to preserve emphasis and not to change the subject.

Remember the big key: passive versus active is essentially the subject of the sentence in relation to the action. If you write everything in active voice, you can sometimes inadvertently change the subject to an entity (e.g. a cart) that is less important.

I’m going to give a lot of examples, because this is very, very important and is really the crux of this entire article.

When you write, one of the things you really have to think about is: who or what is the “focus” of attention right now? Depending upon your answer, you may need to use passive voice if you don’t want to shift the focus, even temporarily, to another subject.

In other words, if you don’t want to change the subject.

Focus Example 1

“What happened to Nancy?” he asked.
“She was hit by a bus on her way to work,” the receptionist said before breaking into tears.

“She was hit by a bus” is a passive construction. But, most people would agree, the important focus in this conversation is Nancy.

Now, if you were really, really against passive voice, you could have written this entirely in active voice:
“What happened to Nancy?” he asked.
“A bus hit her on her way to work,” the receptionist said, turning on her computer.

Yes, that does work and is entirely active voice, but it shifts the focus to the bus and away from Nancy. It distances you from Nancy and makes her less important. For some people, if they are not paying close attention, they may actually think this is a non sequitur and repeat their question, because they were expecting to hear an answer that had Nancy as the subject—not a bus.

There is nothing wrong with this, but in real conversation, we often use passive voice to keep the focus on the person we are discussing, instead shifting to a thing, like a bus.

Note: some people (and therefore, characters) will prefer to use active voice in the above conversation because they prefer to keep people at a distance. By changing the subject to “the bus” the speaker may be more comfortable talking about the accident because it makes Nancy’s plight more distant and therefore, more bearable.

This is one way that you can make active/passive voice work for you—and help you define your characters. A hero who is uncomfortable with emotions and likes to keep people at a distance, may prefer to say, “A bus hit Nancy.” It’s direct, impersonal, and active. Those may be your hero’s main traits.

On the other hand, a hero who is emotionally connected to Nancy and focused on her and her tragedy, may say, “Nancy was hit by a bus this morning.” It reveals his focus on Nancy and the writer can use that to show his emotional “reference.”

This “focus effect” is why many newspaper articles use more passive voice. The news articles want to maintain the emotional focus on a particular person, especially if that person is famous.

Focus Example 2

Nancy Sinatra was walking along the beach yesterday when she was attacked by a walrus. Her body was dragged into the ocean and was later found by beachcombers.

That’s a fairly typical example you might find in a newspaper or magazine, where the really important subject is Nancy Sinatra. The reporter does not want to shift focus away from her—or her body. So he slips into passive voice to retain the emotional impact and focus. Nancy (or her body) is always emphasized.

For even more impact, this may be written (still in passive voice) as:
Nancy Sinatra was walking along the beach yesterday when she was attacked by a walrus. Nancy’s body was dragged into the ocean, and she was later found by beachcombers.

Notice here, I not only kept Nancy as the "centerpiece" of the sentence, but I reinforced this by using her name (instead of just “her body”) so that you could not “objectify” her and diminish her significance. I made it “more personal.”

Let’s dissect this further, because I don’t want you to confuse exactly what is passive about that paragraph.

Nancy Sinatra was walking along the beach yesterdayActive voice, past progressive.

When she was attacked by a walrus. – Passive voice, past progressive. The walrus is doing the attacking. Nancy is the victim (or object) of this action.

Nancy’s body was dragged into the ocean, and she was later found by beachcombers. – Passive voice, past progressive. Both parts of this sentence are passive voice.

In the first part, the walrus is still doing the action, and it’s doing it to Nancy’s body. In the second half, the beachcombers are performing the action (finding a body) and Nancy’s body is the object they found.

You could rewrite this in active voice as follows, but notice the subtle difference in emotional focus and emphasis.
Nancy Sinatra was walking along the beach when a walrus attacked her. The walrus dragged her body into the ocean and beachcombers later found the mauled remains.

When you rewrite this in active voice, the second part of the first sentence shifts the focus away from Nancy to the walrus. You de-emphasize Nancy and take a step away from her, creating distance. You are now thinking about the walrus, and it’s the walrus you are visualizing and not Nancy’s poor, lifeless corpse being dragged around.

In the final clause, you shift focus yet again to the beachcombers. This makes a further shift away from Nancy, until she becomes quite distant and unimportant. You end up deemphasizing Nancy and focusing instead on the walrus and beachcombers. Her body becomes just another piece of detritus found on the beach.

So, you don’t want to switch to active voice if you will lose your focus and emotional impact. You may have to use passive to avoid creating distance between your subject and the reader.

That said, there are times, particularly in comedic writing, when you quite deliberately want to switch focus. Active voice can be just the ticket.

Focus Example 3

Nancy Sinatra was walking along the beach when a walrus attacked her. The walrus dragged her into the ocean and ate her, resulting in a massive case of indigestion. Local wildlife rehabbers managed to capture the walrus in time to save its life. The leader of the team, Ted Wilson, blamed Nancy for her irresponsible behavior in getting eaten by an endangered species and cautioned others to avoid putting their own, ridiculous health routines above the welfare of our treasured national wildlife.

In the first sentence, you end by shifting attention to the walrus.
Then you shift from the walrus to the rehabbers.
You end with the focus entirely on the rehabbers and Ted’s advice.

That’s all active voice. And we shifted quite neatly away from Nancy to the plight of the poor walrus that ate her, and finally, to the views of a bunch of rehabbers, led by Ted Wilson.

If you were writing about Nancy’s tragic death, you’ve failed.
If you were trying to make a statement about the environment and our responsibility toward endangered species, then you succeeded. (Or, you just created a bit of sarcastic humor—depending upon your view of Ted’s advice.)

If you want to shift focus to achieve some effect, then by all means do so. Just be aware you are doing it.

Oh, and don’t let me leave you with the impression that I’m saying passive is somehow better—it’s not. If at all possible, you should use active voice. Just make sure you don’t arbitrarily and blindly “follow the rule to use active voice at all times” at the expense of your story.

And don’t assume that any sentence containing the word “was” is passive.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Life Lessons

I hope you're not expecting anything mega-brilliant. Since I usually blog on what I've learned about creative writing, tonight I thought I'd list a few things I've learned over the years. Nothing earth-shattering. Some are just plain dumb. Many are things that any normal two-year-old could have figured out. Several items are shopping-related. J

(Note: I don't really want to endorse one product over another—but some things have just worked out for me, and I believe in sharing.)

So, drum-roll please, here are a few things I've picked up over my vast number of years on this planet.

Product That Just Work

  1. Crocs. I've lived a lifetime with blistered, bleeding feet—particularly when I took the advice of shoe store salesmen and got my feet measured and bought the most expensive running shoes in the place. And then, to compound my misery, lately my feet have started swelling and getting hot. Until I found Crocs. No more blisters. No more calluses. No more taking my shoes off to get through security in airports. Little happy feet.
    1. Hint: buy those gel insoles and put them in your Crocs. It's like an extra layer of, ahhhhhhhhhhhh, cushiness. It feels so good I want to cry. It also keeps your socks from getting caught on the Croc nubbies and twisting as your walk.
    2. Related hint: buy those socks especially created for people with diabetes. I don't have diabetes, but I have to tell you, socks created for people with that condition are unbelievably soft and comfortable. And if you wear them with gel insoles in your Crocs, you will bawl like a baby in relief.
    3. Final, related note: Who care what it looks like? It's comfortable.
  2. Plastic sled thingies from They are just these long, oblong sled thingies that are sort of wagon-shaped except without the wheels. They come with a nylon rope for the handle. We unhooked the nylon rope and slipped a foot-long length of old hose onto the rope, and then reattached the rope so that we would have a nice, soft, flexible handle to grip (instead of just the nylon rope). And what is this good for, you ask? GARDENING. I can't tell you how many wheel barrows and wagons I have broken over the years. Flat tires, broken axles, broken handles—not to mention the wheel barrow's complete inability to cover rough terrain (like downed trees in the woods, for example). Then we got this sled thingie and wowee! I can drag a hundred pounds of dirt around like nobody's business and it slips over fallen trees in the woods, uneven turf, over rocks, and even over those stupid brick edgings I was unwise enough to use to encircle my garden. Suddenly, I can move anything, anywhere. There is no barrier this thing can't slip over. If I can get over it, this sled can slide over it, too. I use it to haul plants, dirt, leaves, yard junk—you name it. And you can use a couple of bungee cords to hold very large stacks of branches to the sled while you drag them away, too. It's the best garden implement under $50 I've ever seen. Other places probably sell similar sleds—I just never checked out other places. So check out Cabelas. I think it's actually meant to haul dead things out of the woods, but what the heck—it's great for gardening. And it's plastic so it never rots or needs oiling or air for the tires or anything!
  3. Doggie poo for new gardens—if you have a dog that loves to dig, just scoop up some of its "little doggie by-product" and put it around any new plantings or freshly turned over garden plots. It will keep your dog from digging there or pulling up your lovely plants. While this isn't an actual, commercial product, it works.

Personal Grooming

  1. You can buy really, really expensive toner, or you can use witch hazel. The results are the same and witch hazel is cheaper.
  2. You can buy really, really expensive "spot products" for those occasional breakouts, or you can take a cotton swab, drench it in rubbing alcohol, and dab it on your blemish twice a day (or more if you wish). Your blemish will go away as fast, or faster, than it would if you used a more trendy product.
  3. Baby powder makes a great face powder if you are very fair. In fact, it does a better job of hiding pores than a lot of expensive, commercial products.

Life in General

  1. You're better off with someone your own age after you hit 50. Yeah, I know—you don't have to tell me about all those great relationships with others of disparate ages. Here's the thing. As you get older, life just keeps getting more and more humiliating. You wake up at 2 a.m. and can't get back to sleep—but you inexorably fall asleep at 3 p.m. You have colonoscopies, things cut or burned off your face (or other areas of your body), age spots, hair loss, sagging skin, dietary issues, reading glasses—you name it. I have to tell you, if you're with someone roughly your own age with whom you can share the reading glasses, compare prescriptions, eat the same diets, and in general are going through everything you're going through, it is an unbelievable relief. It's nice just to be able to share all the discomfort, pain, trials & tribulations with someone who is experiencing the same thing. You're not alone. You don't have to hide anything. You're not becoming weird and creepy. You can grow weird and creepy right along with them.
  2. Right along with the previous item: try to look good, but be honest, 50 is not even close to being the new 40. 40 is 40 and 50 is 50. And if you're 50 and trying to pretend to the world that you're 40, well, get over it. I believe in staying fit and looking as good as you can, but I'm not trying to make people think I'm something I'm not, mostly because I don't want the embarrassment of explaining later that, no, I'm not really 40. You can't hide your age forever: and as Popeye says, "I am what I am." And there is a lot less stress when you actually realize it. Just take a deep breath and let it all out.
  3. Smile. That's almost, like, the answer to Life, the universe, and everything. Just smile—it's turning on the light switch to the soul. All of a sudden, good things start coming your way. You're more popular. People think you're nice. You'll feel better. It's shocking and amazing.

Lastly, go and read a good book with a happy ending. It'll make you feel better. Trust me.

That's it for tonight. My little list of miscellany.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Words of Wisdom

No matter where you are or what level you've attained in life or your job, there is always something new to learn, each and every day. In fact, it is rare that I don't learn something every day, even if it is only a confirmation that I don't know as much as I thought I did. Which is pretty sad considering I had a number of teachers in High School and College who tried to convince me that I knew more than I thought I did. In reality, I think I knew less than they thought I did.

In any event, in my journey as a writer, I've had many pearls of wisdom thrown at me. Some were just silly (if your heroine isn't sympathetic, give her a pet cat) and some were really important.

Make sure the reader understands the character and character's motivations from the beginning.

That's harder than it sounds because it is so drilled in to writers that they shouldn't spend pages on background info that can be "dribbled in" as needed later. Yes, sort of true, but the reader at least needs to understand the character's current situation, even if it just "superficial" and doesn't explain the deep, dark issues.

I do have to say, however, as a reader, that I actually prefer it if the author gives me one or two pages about the character to give me at least an overview of how the character got to where they are when the book starts. But then, I always like things explained to me. My favorite part of any mystery is at the end where the hero (or heroine) sums up everything and explains why the bad guy did what he did and how the hero figured it all out.

Motivate the action tags.

Another place where I figured the reader would just know and I shouldn't be explaining… Yes and no. What this means is that, if your character flushes, you need to give us at least a hint as to why. Because people can flush for any one of a number of reasons, including anger or humiliation. Most actions can be interpreted in a number of ways and the reader isn't there to see all the body language, so you have to clue them in. She touched the lace of her collar with nervous fingers. It's the word nervous that clues the reader into the fact that the heroine is nervous—her gesture reveals that. However, it is vastly different than the less-than-helpful tag: She touched the lace of her collar.

As a writer, I was trying to avoid telling the reader what the character's emotions were, I wanted the gestures and conversation to show what the character was feeling. The problem was, I wrote things like: She rubbed her palms against her skirt. This left the reader with the image, but no real notion of why the character was doing this. Was she nervous and wiping away the dampness of her palms? Was she trying to control her anger?

You see the issue.

Make sure the action and reaction is in the proper sequential order.

Thomas stood in the doorway and remarked, "It's sure cold in here." When Sylvia refused to acknowledge his presence, he crossed his legs and picked up a magazine, completely prepared to ignore her, too.

The problem in the above paragraph is not one of sequence so much as leaving out an important point. Thomas must have taken a seat at some point, but it isn't mentioned. So the reader is left with the jarring sensation if missing something, since not too many people can cross their legs while they are standing up and still keep their balance.

Thomas said, "Nice work, Alice!"

Alice fumed behind her desk, wishing she had her own office.

Now, in the above sequence, it sounds like Alice resents what Thomas said and wishes she didn't have to share an office with him. But, what if the author meant you to understand that Thomas saw Alice fuming over her lack of privacy and tried to cheer her up by saying, "Nice work, Alice!". That's a sequence problem. You would have to switch the two sentences if Thomas' statement is in reaction to Alice's foul mood. If Alice's foul mood is in reaction to Thomas' statement, then the sequence is appropriate as show above.

Tricky, right?

Just a few things to think about as you write your way into the New York Times Bestseller list!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Creating a Press Sheet

For once, I'm blogging on Tuesday night according to schedule—will wonders never cease?

Maybe it's just because I actually know what I want to write about this week. It's how to create a press sheet for your book. A press sheet is a one page "everything you need to know" bulletin that you can use when promoting your book. You can use it when you talk to booksellers and librarians, and more importantly, when you give information to the press. It is a critical component of your media or press kit and may be the only thing a lot of people read.

For librarians and booksellers, it gives them all the information they need to order your book. And if you include the right information, it may spark them to decide to buy your book.

This is sometimes called a fact sheet. For those of you with a business background, you can think of it as sort of an Executive Summary.

And it's ridiculously simple to create.

I created a press sheet for my book, SMUGGLED ROSE, so I'll use that as a sample template.

Top Section: Just the facts, Ma'am, just the facts…

The top section is everything a buyer needs to know about your book. It should include title, date of publication, ISBN, publisher information, distributor information, and the list price. Here is the top section for SMUGGLED ROSE.

Smuggled Rose | Amy Corwin



Smuggled Rose


Baker & Taylor


Amy Corwin



Date of publication:

May 3, 2007






Cerridwen Press




Ellora's Cave Publishing

Intended Audience:



1056 Home Avenue

Akron OH, 44310


Trade Paperback




Traditional Regency







Middle Section: Tease me, tempt me…

The middle section includes a pretty picture of your front cover and the blurb from the back cover. Hopefully, your blurb will be so fascinating that whoever is looking at your press sheet (or reading the back of your book) will immediately have
to buy your book. So, here is the middle section for SMUGGLED ROSE.



A cynical earl and a rose smuggler are an unlikely pair, particularly when the smuggler is a supposedly fallen woman the earl owes for saving his brother's life.

Nonetheless, Michael, the earl of Ramsgate, is determined to repay his family's debt by presenting Margaret at Court—an action calculated to repair even the worst reputation. But Margaret has been burned before and is suspicious that Michael's intentions aren't entirely honorable…despite the certainty in her heart that she can trust him.

As the tension between them flares and Michael's feelings for Margaret strain his self-control, an old enemy bent on revenge returns to challenge Michael's iron determination…and threatens to take Margaret away from him forever.





Final Section: Wonderful me…

The final section includes a very, very brief biography and one or two reviews. Remember, all of this must fit on one sheet of paper, and visually, the more white space, the more appealing. So if you must err, err on the side of brevity and succinctness. This is not the time to drone on and on and on… But you do want to catch your audience's attention and leave them with the sense that they would like to meet you and that you are a successful author. Here is the final section for the SMUGGLED ROSE press sheet.


About the author:

Amy Padgett has been writing award winning Regency romances and romantic mysteries for nearly a decade. Smuggled Rose, her first Traditional Regency, was also the first of her titles to be published by Cerridwen Press for their Cotillion line. She worked as the editor and contributor for the Wilmington Cape Fear Rose Society Newsletter for three years and currently grows over 100 old garden roses.

From the reviewers:

"With precise attention to not only societal rules but also characterization, Amy Corwin has authored a riveting traditional Regency romance that packs a lot of punch. Rich with the romanticism of the era that appeals to this reader, SMUGGLED ROSE is a sumptuous tale of love and learning to trust." —Romance Review Today


To give you a feel for how this looks "in toto" here is an image of the SMUGGLED ROSE press sheet. The page is obviously "shrunken" and included merely to give you a visual of white space and layout, rather than read the text. In reality, of course, this is perfectly legible and prints out on standard 8.5 x 11" paper.

That's pretty much all there is to it.

And after you create this, you can have the fun of putting together the rest of your media kit, including such items as a cover letter, any news clippings/articles about you, additional reviews, a longer bio sheet, sample questions & answers (e.g. if you are requesting an interview), public appearance schedule, a publicity photo of you, and so on.

Media/press kits can be as elaborate or simple as the need (and your budget) dictates, but in all cases, you should always include your press sheet.

That's it!

Good luck.