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The Secrets of Subtext

Fiction is like an iceberg. Only twenty-five percent of it is visible (the words on the page). The other seventy-five percent is known as subtext. It’s the part that is tricky to convey, but when you do it right, it makes for a compelling story.

A few years ago, I had an issue with my van doors that turned out to be a design flaw that affected many of the manufacturer’s vehicles. The man at the dealership didn’t tell me he was nervous when I calmly asked if they had inspected the doors during my many service appointments, given the manufacturer knew about the issues. (I had to keep asking the question because he kept giving me a non-answer). His body language told me was nervous. I interpreted what he didn’t say and how he reacted to mean that they had neglected to examine the doors.

But maybe I was wrong. Maybe he kept shifting on his feet because his bladder was about to explode due to a super large latte he’d recently consumed. Maybe he was frequently looking at his coworkers, who were busy staring at their computer screens and pretending I wasn’t there, because he hoped someone would relieve so he could go to the bathroom.

Okay, I didn’t believe that either, but it does show you how things might not always be as they seem. That’s the beauty of subtext. It can add an element of suspense. You can have your character screw up by thinking the subtext means something else and misdirect your reader. But make sure it’s believable. If your reader can guess the truth behind the subtext, your misdirection will come off as contrived and your character will sound like an idiot.

It isn’t always necessary to spell out the subtext for your readers. Often it’s more satisfying if you let them figure it out themselves. That’s the beauty of fiction. It exercises our brains. However, if the subtext is confusing and will frustrate the reader, then definitely have a character spell it out.

One thing to avoid is the mistake director Catherine Hardwicke made in Twilight and Red Riding Hood. In Twilight, she wanted to show Edward’s eyes, which changed color depending on when he last ate blood. In Red Riding Hood, she wanted to show that the werewolf had human eyes. Fair enough. But in both movies, the close-up shots of the eyes filled the screen, and the camera stayed zoomed on them for longer than necessary. In Red Riding Hood, Catherine then focused on everyone’s eyes so we could examine them (not necessary, if you ask me). Except, I doubt Amanda Seyfried (Red Riding Hood) was leaning that close to the individuals, and for that long, to check out their eyes. At one point, my eleven-year-old said in an exasperated tone, “Yeah, yeah, we get it.”

Lesson: don’t underestimate your readers’ intelligence. They won’t appreciate it.

Do you use subtext to misguide your readers?

Stina Lindenblatt @StinaLL writes New Adult novels. In her spare time, she’s a photographer and can be found at her blog/website.  She is represented by Marisa Corvisiero, and finds it weird talking about herself in third person. Her debut New Adult contemporary romance TELL ME WHEN and LET ME KNOW (Carina Press, HQN) are now available.
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Pen Names - Should You Have One?

(This is a recycled post by Suzette Saxton from March of 2009.)

Pen name, nom de plume, pseudonym, literary double, alias. Some authors have them. Other authors don’t. In some instances, having a pen name can increase your marketability. In other instances, the opposite is true.

Some reasons for considering a pen name:
  • Your name is too common, strange, or hard to spell.
  • Someone else has an online presence with the same name.
  • Your name is not a match for the genre you write.
  • For whatever reason, you would like to remain anonymous
  • Reasons of gender; using a pen name allows females to write as males and vice versa.
  • You write in more than one genre, as discussed here.
  • For your protection, when your subject matter is inflammatory or controversial.

Author Jessica Verday shares her reasons for choosing a nom de plume:

I have a very, very, very common last name, so I kept my first name but based my last name (Verday) on a variation of my middle name. There hasn't been any problem whatsoever with my agent or my editor about it. The key is to be consistent in whatever you do. When I address my agent or my editor, I always use my pen name. 

Even among agents, there are differences in opinion. 

Kristin Nelson of the Nelson Literary Agency has a sneaky tip on how to use a pen name to sandwich your book between bestsellers.

Jessica Faust of BookEnds advises using your new name immediately and exclusively from the moment you settle on one.

The Rejecter thinks pseudonyms are "a case of 'thinking too far ahead' syndrome, along with sending in your cover ideas and your pre-written book jacket."

Miss Snark suggests listing both your real and pen names on the header of your manuscript.

Choosing to use a pen name is a decision not made lightly, which is why so many authors struggle with it.

And now, just for fun... 

There are multitudinous pen name generators online. Below is a quick list of pseudonyms these sites suggested for me, along with links to the sites for your amusement:

Emely Rainbolt -- from Chucklehound

And if you'd like some help from the U.S. Census Bureau, check out the name generator at Critique Circle.

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Publishing Pulse, October 10, 2014

This Week at Query Tracker
The profiles of several agents were updated this week. Please make sure you double-check every agent's website or Publisher's Marketplace page before querying.
Ready to write your own success story?
If you're a QueryTracker member (membership is free) you can view the database of more than 1200 agent and publisher profiles. Premium Members can be notified whenever an agent or publisher is added or updates their profile, in addition to receiving access to several other enviable features.
This Week in Publishing
This made me grin—and nod emphatically the entire time while reading it. A “Dear Agent” letter of a different kind.
Self-publishing or traditional publishing: know which path you want to follow before you set out, because some steps cannot be untread. Here’s an example of what agents do not want to see.

Joanna Penn shared a podcast in which she and Helen Sedwick talked about various legal issues in “Copyright, Publishing Contract Clauses, Image Use, And Avoiding Getting Sued”.
A few tips for success that all writers can use.
Writing a memoir? Here are some helpful pointers from Abigail Carter.

#WriteTip Round-Up
Try keeping a list of active verbs you can refer to when writing
Open your book with conflict. No conflict, no story
If nothing changes then the scene is either not working hard enough or could be cut.
What's worrying or annoying you right now? Write a story about it. (Change the characters, increase the danger)
Don't give two main characters names beginning with same initial and with same number of syllables (David/Derek, Rosie/Rachel)

Today in Publishing
Ever wonder what a genie would say to his therapist? I did. :)

My paranormal romance WORDS THAT BIND was released by The Wild Rose Press today. It's a bittersweet moment, really, because our dear friend and QTB legend Carolyn Kaufman isn't here to share it.

She was instrumental in the development of this book--her expertise in the field of psychology made me rethink the plot, her enthusiastic support convinced me it was a story worth writing, and her memory will forever inspire and encourage me.

This book is for her.

Have a good weekend, everyone!
I'll be at New York Comic Con, getting' my fangirl on. If you plan on attending, just yell for me when you come in. See you there!

Ash Krafton is a speculative fiction writer who, despite having a Time Turner under her couch and three different sonic screwdrivers in her purse, still encounters difficulty with time management. Visit Ash at for news on her urban fantasy series The Books of the Demimonde (Pink Narcissus Press). Her paranormal romance WORDS THAT BIND (The Wild Rose Press) comes out today.
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Writing Resources to Make Your Life Easier

We all have our favorite non-fiction books that focus on the craft of writing. These books have helped improved our writing mechanics and have helped us create stories that are page turners, come up with three-dimensional characters, write emotional stories, and write settings that make the reader feel like they’re in the story. These are the books we might refer to from time to time when we need a little reminder, or when we want to take our writing and stories to the next level. They tend not to be the books you refer to each time you write a new story.

Many of the craft books I own fit that criteria. But in addition to those books, I have five resources I can’t live without whenever I start a new book or edit a project.

Roget’s International Thesaurus

This is no normal thesaurus, and the concept behind it is brilliant. With the typical thesaurus, you look up a word and the book gives you a list of similar words (synonyms), and in theory you just plug in the word and it makes for better writing.

Or does it?

Roget’s International Thesaurus does things differently. It is divided according to categories, which helps your writing become richer compared to a regular thesaurus. You can still look up a word’s synonym, but this thesaurus enables you to do so much more. It’s also a perfect resource for creating metaphors. Once you try the book out, you’ll never go back to the old format, again.

 The Emotion Thesaurus

The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide To Character Expression (by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi) is an outstanding resource. After a brief introduction explaining the various ways you can SHOW emotion (and what to avoid), the thesaurus breaks down each of the seventy-five emotions covered into: the physical signals; internal sensations; mental responses; cues of acute or long-term use of the emotion (e.g for adoration, it might lead to obsession or stalking of the object of adoration); what the emotion might escalate to; and cues of when the emotion is suppressed. There are also seven-five tips listed throughout to help you make the most of the emotions you’re trying to convey.

The Positive Trait Thesaurus

The Positive Trait Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide To Character Attributes (by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi), along with its sister book described below, is the idea resource to help you create dimensional characters that are unique. This helps prevent your characters from sounding the same from one story to the next. We’ve all read books from authors in which the only thing that has changed from one book to their next one is the plot (marginally) and the setting. This book will help you avoid being that author.

First up is a brief intro (that I highly recommend you read first) on various related topics, including: what is a positive attribute; needs and morals and how they influence characters strengths; the different categories of positive attributes; building characters from the ground up; how to show your character’s attributes; and when readers aren’t interested (common pitfalls in character creation.

The second part of the thesaurus breaks down each positive attribute into the following: definition, categories, similar attributes, possible causes, associated behaviors, associated thoughts, associated emotions, positive aspects, negative aspects (when the trait goes too far), examples from literature (and movies), traits in supporting characters that may cause conflict, and challenging scenarios for the adaptable character.

The third part contains various appendices with worksheets you can use to create the positive side of your character. You then use the worksheets in The Negative Trait Thesaurus to make your characters three dimensional.

The Negative Trait Thesaurus

The Negative Trait Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Flaws is another well thought out reference from Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. Its layout is similar to The Positive Trait Thesaurus, except the introduction and appendices have different information to the previously mentioned book. When both books are used together, your characters (including the villains) will be free of the clich├ęs and stereotypes that often end up in agent and editor slushpiles. Readers will want to get to know them better and will keep reading your book.


When it comes to writing, I’m an organized individual. This is why I can’t live without the writing software Scrivener. Not only does it make my life easier when it comes to planning my stories (everything is one click away), it speeds up my editing time compared to what it used to be when I did everything in Word. I’m not going to go into more details about the software because Sarah Pinneo has already done a great post on the topic.

Do you have writerly resources that you can’t live without?

Stina Lindenblatt @StinaLL writes New Adult novels. In her spare time, she’s a photographer and can be found at her blog/website.  She is represented by Marisa Corvisiero, and finds it weird talking about herself in third person. Her debut New Adult contemporary romance TELL ME WHEN and LET ME KNOW (Carina Press, HQN) are now available.

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Sitting on the Fence

It’s that time of year when I look over my balcony railing and compare my lawn, with its patchy areas of green and brown (thank you big snow storm two weeks ago) to my neighbor’s rich green grass. Yes, in this case, the grass is always greener…

But what about in publishing? When you’re querying, you long for the moment when you get The Call. You long to be on the other side of the fence. You’re positive it’s better than where you’re standing. And maybe it is.

And maybe it isn’t.

Regardless of which side of the fence you’re on, here is a list of things you can expect or should try to accomplish:

Rejections (you get them no matter which side of the fence you stand on…even if you’re a bestselling author)

Feedback/reviews that make you want to OD on chocolate and wine

Feedback/reviews that you want to plaster all over your office—for inspiration

Fans (even if they’re just your beta readers)

Waiting. Waiting. Waiting.

More waiting.

Workshops…because you should always keep learning

Try something new

Challenge yourself to do better with each project

Read books within your genre

Read books outside of your genre

Waiting. Waiting. Waiting.

Connect with new friends on various social media sites

Find a support system among writers/authors who are at a similar place to you

Compare notes to others who are in the same place as you (whether that be writing your first manuscript, querying, on submission with editors, getting ready to launch your debut book, getting ready to launch your tenth book)

Do your best not to compare your journey to someone else

Fail at not comparing your journey to someone else

Read a book and decide you should quit writing because you will never be that good

Read a book and aspire to write like that

Learn more about the realities of publishing

Remind yourself of the realities of publishing every day

Complain to your friends…just don’t complain where the whole world (i.e. agents, editors, readers) can read your complaints, especially if you’re complaining about someone specific

And finally…

No matter where you are on the journey, take time to enjoy it.

Stina Lindenblatt @StinaLL writes New Adult novels. In her spare time, she’s a photographer and can be found at her blog/website.  She is represented by Marisa Corvisiero, and finds it weird talking about herself in third person. Her debut New Adult contemporary romance TELL ME WHEN and LET ME KNOW (Carina Press, HQN) are now available.

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Publishing Pulse for September 26th, 2014

New At QueryTracker:

The QueryTracker bloggers have decided to change our Publishing Pulse schedule to the second and fourth Fridays of the month. Please update your calendars accordingly.

Check out our newest success stories, Christopher Buecheler and David Noer. Congratulations, Christopher and David!

We've added six agent profiles to our database and updated eighteen. That's a lot of motion in the industry, so please make sure you double-check every agent's website or Publisher's Marketplace page before sending your query.

If you're a QueryTracker premium member, then you can be notified whenever an agent or publisher profile is added or updated. If you're not a premium member, you can just check for yourself.

Publishing News:

Amazon is launching a new crowdsourcing program. Details to come later.

Remember when we wrote about diversity in publishing? It's not just diverse books we need, nor just diverse authors.
...of the 630 respondents who identified their race, 89% described themselves as white/Caucasian, with 3% selecting Asian and another 3% indicating Hispanic. Only 1% said they are African-American.
Clearly we need more diverse publishing personnel too. Read more. 

More about Big 5 Publishing vs Amazon:
To criticize Amazon, the publishers and their defenders must simultaneously insist that literature is essential for society, and that a sudden increase in its availability would be a catastrophe.

If Amazon vs Hachette is looking bad, just wait for the audiobook wars.

Around the Blogosphere:

How not to get your book into Barnes & Noble:
Going through corporate headquarters is one of my favorite things to do because it always works out well for me and is not frustrating or time-consuming at all.

The care and keeping of your writer friend:
Then, she did a brave and admirable thing. She said to me, “How can I love you, as a writer? How can I talk to you about your work?”

Writers as casualties of commerce

Have you ever wondered what would happen if your book changed a reader's life for the worse?

An analysis of the profit margins in publishing. (Hint: it's not very upbeat.)

Literary Quote of the Week:

Thanks for stopping by, and keep sending those queries!


Jane Lebak is the author of Seven Archangels: Annihilation. She has four kids,  three books in print, two cats, and one husband. She lives in the Swamp and tries to do one scary thing every day. You can like her on Facebook, but if you want to make her rich and famous, please contact Roseanne Wells of the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency. 
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The Challenges of Writing a Sequel

When I first set out to write my debut novel, I hadn’t planned for there to be a sequel. I wanted to write a standalone book. But as I plotted it, I realized I wouldn’t do the story justice if I threw in the big court trial at the end. It wasn’t part of the character arc at that point, and I wanted to make the most of the trial. The only problem was I had no idea how I was going to do that. But I didn’t care. I only had to worry about writing the first book. I’d worry about the sequel later if the book was ever published.

Not a problem. At least it wasn’t one until after I’d had written the book and had no idea what was going to happen in the sequel. I knew there had to be one. There were a few unfinished threads left hanging that called for a sequel (and my publisher agreed). Fortunately, I found the idea for a story from watching the news while on vacation. TIP: If you’re going to write a book with a possible sequel, figure out where book two will go while you’re still writing the first book. It will make your life simpler later on, especially if you need to introduce a few threads in the first book.

I learned a few things other things while writing the sequel. Or rather, I hit a few problems with my sequel. By the time I was editing the second book, the first one had already gone to production. I realized the trial date I had identified in the first book would no longer work in book two, and it was too late to have it changed in the first book. Let’s just say there was some creative reworking of the sequel to work around the issue. TIP: If you’re planning to write a sequel, before you publish or query the book, make sure you have a loose outline planned so that you know if you will have to change the dates in the first book. It’s a lot easier to do that before the book is published. And figure out the sequence of events on a calendar. That would have saved me a lot of work. I would have seen that I was trying to squeeze in too much in a short period.

Another challenge of writing a sequel comes from forgetting minor details in the first book and turning them on their head in the sequel. I realized after book two had gone to production that I had messed up a small detail, but fortunately the sentence was able to be reworked. I wasn’t worried, though, if it hadn’t been fixed. I had a plan B if I wrote a third book to the series. It wasn’t until the ARCs had already gone out that I remember another place in the book where I had made the same mistake. Fortunately this mistake, as it turns out, is going to work to my advantage in the next book in the series. I couldn’t have asked for a better mistake. But yes, it would have made things easier if I had reviewed my secondary character’s backstory while writing the second book. TIP: Keep detailed notes about everything, including things pertaining to your secondary characters, and review them frequently.

A final challenge you have to worry about deals with readers remembering who the characters are and their role in the story. Some readers will have recently read the previous book. Others read it when the book came out and don’t have time to re-read it. You have to be careful not the bore the first group of readers by rehashing everything that they’ve just read. But you also have to give the other group enough to go on so that they don’t get frustrated and abandon the book. TIP: Have beta readers who recently read the first book read book two, as well as the betas who haven’t read the first book in a while. This way you can get both perspectives.

When reading a sequel, what kinds of things frustrate you that you wish the author had considered when writing the book? If you’ve written a sequel, what kinds of challenges have you faced?

Stina Lindenblatt @StinaLL writes New Adult novels. In her spare time, she’s a photographer and can be found at her blog/website. She is represented by Marisa Corvisiero, and finds it weird talking about herself in third person. Her debut New Adult contemporary romance TELL ME WHEN and LET ME KNOW (Carina Press, HQN) are now available.

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