Quick-Tip Tuesday: Cutting Out the Filler

David B. Coe/D.B. JacksonChildren of Amarid, by David B. CoeWe’ve recently learned that our younger daughter is gluten-intolerant. (Yes, this is relevant. I promise. Bear with me.) And in discovering this, we have learned we can’t always assume we know what’s in the food we’ve been eating. It’s not that apples suddenly have gluten in them, but rather that lots of processed foods have hidden fillers, and these fillers often include gluten-rich ingredients.

As I’ve mentioned here before, I’m in the process of editing my first series, the LonTobyn Chronicle (Children of Amarid, The Outlanders, Eagle-Sage) for reissue later this year. Children of Amarid is already in production and on schedule for a July release, and I’m most of the way through The Outlanders right now.

I’ve noticed an incredible amount of extra verbiage in my early books — filler, if you will: superfluous words that add little to the storytelling, but clutter up my prose. For the wordiness-intolerant, these words are as unwelcome as, well, Wonder Bread at a luncheon for the gluten-adverse. How much is “an incredible amount”? In Children of Amarid, book I, I cut 20,000 words without touching plot, character, or setting. Book II has been better: I’m past the mid-point and so far I’ve cut about 8,000 words. But still, that’s a lot of words.

What am I cutting? What excess verbiage should aspiring writers look for in their own prose? A few examples:

Passive and distancing constructions: This one accounts for a big chunk of what I’ve cut. Passive constructions are phrases that rely on forms of the verb “to be” (“is,” “was,” “are,” “were,” etc.) Put another way: Passive phrases rely on forms of the verb “to be” (“is,” “was,” “are,” “were,” etc.) See what I did there? Passives do more than weaken our verb constructions. They disrupt our writing and cause us to add lots of excess verbiage. To be clear, we can’t eliminate all “to be” phrases from our writing. We wouldn’t want to. Sometimes they are simply the best way to express a thought. (As in that sentence.) I’ve found in book II that I fought so hard to avoid ALL passives that I wound up with some tortured syntax. But overall, I encourage you to get rid of passives whenever possible.

Distancing constructions come in several forms. Any time we use “could” we are possibly adding extra words. And often using “saw” or “felt” or “heard” injects unnecessary words into the perceptions of your point of view character. For example:  “He could hear a horseman approaching” is wordier than “He heard a horseman approaching,” which is wordier than “A horseman approached.” And since we’re in the POV of our narrator, we KNOW that she has heard this.

I’m oversimplifying a bit, of course. Yes, it’s possible that your POV character divined this magically, or saw rising dust — perhaps we need some sensory input. “Hoofbeats shook the ground. A horseman approached.” Now we’re using more words. But we’re saying more as well. We’re showing rather than telling. My larger point stands: eliminate distancing constructions from your writing. Even if this doesn’t save you words in the long run (though trust me, it will) doing so will improve your writing.

Adverbs: I don’t subscribe to the Eliminate All Adverbs school of writing. Sometimes adverbs make our writing more evocative and help clarify matters for our readers. But more often than not, they add little or nothing; often they detract, cluttering our prose. I almost added “unnecessarily” to the end of that last sentence. But I didn’t need to, did I? Case in point.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve run across the following phrases in my early books:  “He glanced briefly.” “She tapped lightly.” “He ran quickly.” Note to younger self: A glance is, by definition, brief. A tap is always light. Running implies quickness, or at least relative quickness. Even more subtle adverbs, like the “unnecessarily” I left off above, wind up doing less for our writing than we think. Again, I wouldn’t tell you never to use adverbs, but I would encourage you to minimize your use of them. Ask yourself if they’re necessary (I almost wrote that as “really necessary”) to get your point across. If they’re not, don’t use them.

Weakening words: When I’m less certain of my plotting or my character work, I use waffling words and phases. I insert “a bit” or “somewhat” or “slightly.” I start sentences with “he found that” or “she tended to” or something of the sort. Again, on occasion we WANT to soften a statement or convey indecision or slip in a qualification. More often, though, these phrases and words weaken our prose and our storytelling.

Beginnings and starts: “She started to run” is wordier than “She ran” and weaker than “She sprinted.” Most of the time, we don’t need to be told that a character “started” or “began” to do something. If the character wasn’t doing this thing a line or two before, and is doing it now, chances are, they started somewhere in the interim. It’s implied; move on.

I will close this already long Quick-Tip with a confession: As I’ve written this piece, I’ve caught myself making the exact mistakes I’m suggesting you avoid. It’s not that when I wrote my old books I did these things all the time, and now I never do them. They are habits, crutches, things I do in my writing all the time when searching for the right words. The difference is this: Now I catch myself and find another way to phrase the thought. Earlier in my career, I lacked the awareness, the inner editor, that kept me from relying on wordy constructions. Put another way: Even now, I am constantly struggling with issues of this sort. Or, even better: I struggle with these issues still.

Making Money Mondays – 4 Things Every Writer Needs to Know How to Do

I love my job. I really do. I love the freedom of working for myself. I love the fact that I’m sitting in my home office in sweatpants (shorts, actually, but there’s not a good word for those), bedroom slippers  and a t-shirt with a cat coming by to check on me once in a while. I love the fact that around lunchtime Suzy will come into the office and ask me if I’m going to come eat with her, and we’ll watch an episode of Newsroom on Amazon Prime while we have lunch together, then I’ll return to the word mines for the afternoon shift. I love the fact that if something comes up, I can drop most everything and handle it.

I don’t really love the fact that I’m doing it surrounded by hundreds of pounds of cardboard boxes, all full of books, because it’s con season and I’ve gotten my inventory in for ConCarolinas this week, HeroesCon later this month and ConGregate next month. I don’t love the fact that I tossed away $250 on a plane ticket when I had to bail on Balticon last weekend. I don’t love the fact that I’ve been up since 7AM working on the Falstaff Books website.

So yeah, there’s a lot of work. I typically do some work on either my writing or publishing endeavors at least six days of the week, at least ten hours each day. Especially now that people have entrusted me with their work, and given me the opportunity to bring it out to the world, I feel very responsible for those books having successful launches.

So I wanted to offer up a few non-traditional skills that I feel are important to the modern writer/self-publisher/publisher/whatever. These are all things that I have learned since starting my first blog way back in 2004? 2005? I don’t remember, but it’s been at least a decade ago. These aren’t things you think about when embarking on a career as a writer, but for the writer starting out in today’s market, I think most of these skills will at least be helpful, if not critical, to your success.

  1. Know how to work in Track Changes – This is critical. One the editorial side we live and die in MS Word, and we work in Track Changes mode. If you don’t have Word, get it. If you don’t think your machine can support it, it can. It’s not worth fighting over, and it will just save time in the long run. You don’t have to write in it. I don’t. But before I send anything to Melissa for proofing, or Deb for deep edits, I take the Scrivener file and make it into a Word doc. Then we work in Track Changes until it’s ready to go, then I plop it back into Scrivener to export an ebook.
  2. Have some basic familiarity with Photoshop – Book covers are expensive. I know a couple of writers who have spent up to and over a grand on their book covers. I’ve spent no more than $350 per book on covers, but that turns into a lot of cheddar when you publish frequently. I have two ninja tricks that I use. One is Rocking Book Covers – their library of $50 prebuilt covers is amazing, and most of the Harker covers have come from there. The other is my sweat and painful, painful education. Many of my short story and novella covers are things I’ve done myself. Are they brilliant? No. Are they decent, and do they convey enough of the story to get some sales? Yes. Here are a couple of my better covers.

Cinched Cover

Heaven Sent Cover

Scattered Cover







Like I said, none of these are winning any great cover awards, but they’re not bad, and they give an idea what the book is about. Most of these cost me about $15 on iStockPhoto and about an hour of my time. The one in the middle (which incidentally is the cover reveal for Quincy Harker #5, coming in June) cost a little more, because I couldn’t settle on a base image. I spent $25 on that one and 2-3 hours of my time.  And my Photoshop-fu is pretty weak sauce. Basically all I can do is tweak the color a little, overlay a filter and play with some fonts. But being able to do that much myself has saved me hundreds, if not thousands of dollars over the years.

3. Learn some rudimentary website construction – I spent the last two days building the new Falstaff Books website. It’s still a work in progress, but it looks a lot better than it did last week. With the number of releases we have coming out this summer, I had to step up our website game. And when the person we’d hired to do it fell through, it was easier for me to step up and knock it out than to research someone, download the feel and words that I wanted for it into their head, and then approve or revise their work. My HTML-fu is even weaker than my Photoshop-fu, but WordPress makes it crazy easy to slap a template on a page and build whatever website you want. Out of pocket cost – $10/month in hosting, which I get back as a tax deduction because I also provide web hosting space to a local theatre company. I have more server space than ten theatre and five publishers could ever use, all for the cheapest plan available, so it hurts me not at all to give away a little piece of my internet, I help out a friend, and I get a tax write-off.

4. Learn Quickbooks – at least in the most rudimentary sense. You’re going to have to file taxes, and if you haven’t worked in a field where a stack of 1099 forms is your life, you might get overwhelmed the first year. You can go to a professional, and many people do, or for about $250/year, you can have a professional accounting software system and H&R Block online. Quickbooks allows you to track inventory, create and pay invoices, write checks and tie all your bank accounts together, and to see what the break even point is on each anthology. I’m happy to say that Cinched, the first non-Hartness franchise publication from Falstaff Books, is in the black less than six months after publication. Barely, but it is in the black.

These are not things I thought I would need to know as a writer. They’re barely things I thought I’d need to know as a publisher, except Quickbooks. I knew I’d need an accounting software, and since I had to learn it for a Muggle job, I just used that software. And that’s most of my point, that you don’t know all the skills you’ll need in this wacky life, so take every opportunity along the way to learn something. The fact that I’m an expert in theatrical rigging doesn’t come up often in my books, but it does happen every once in a while. The fact that I am pretty fearless in diving into a computer network because a lighting control network is nothing more than an office network on steroids has stood me in good stead when my router shit the bed. Everything you learn has validity and purpose in this life, so take whatever you know and use it the best you can. And if you don’t know these few things, take the time to learn.

What other non-writerly skills do you think are vital to Today’s Writer? Tell me in the comments!


John G. Hartness is a teller of tales, a righter of wrong, defender of ladies’ virtues, and some people call him Maurice, for he speaks of the pompatus of love. He is also the author of the EPIC-Award-winning series The Black Knight Chronicles from Bell Bridge Books, the Bubba the Monster Hunter series of short stories and novellas, the Quincy Harker, Demon Hunter novella series, and the creator and co-editor of the Big Bad anthology series, among other projects.

In 2016, John teamed up with a pair of other publishing industry ne’er-do-wells and founded Falstaff Books, a small press dedicated to publishing the best of genre fictions “misfit toys.”

In his copious free time John enjoys long walks on the beach, rescuing kittens from trees and playing Magic: the Gathering.

For samples of John’s ridiculous sense of humor, check out these free ebooks – http://bit.ly/1U8eASF

Friday Fundamentals: Genre, Part 2

Hello and Happy Friday!

Since ConCarolinas is rapidly approaching, I’ll keep today’s post fairly short. Two weeks ago, I mentioned the BISCA in my introductory post on genre. You can find that post here. Today I’d like to give you some links and more information about this classification system.

Just as a refresher, BISAC stands for Book Industry Standards and Communications and is developed by the BISG, Book Industry Study Group. Alphabet soup, huh?

There are three parts to understanding the BISAC.

The first is the major heading; second is the subject heading; third is the code.

The major heading is for most of the readers of Magical Words would likely be fiction. You can find a list of the major headings here.

The next step is to find the specific subject term that describes your book. The terms for fiction can be found here.

As you will see, there are lots of them, so you can get pretty specific.

The last thing is the code, which is probably not something you’d need to worry about too much, but here it is anyway. The code is going to be three letters referring to the major subject, and six numbers referring the description terms.

For example, the code for urban fantasy is FIC009060. Pretty cool, huh?

That’s it for today!

As for ConCarolinas, I’ll be a little bit of everywhere, so please come see me (and all of us) if you’re there!

Here’s my schedule (as of today).

Date Time Title
Friday, June 3 7pm Tools of the Trade: What Every Writer Should Have on Their Desk
10pm Writers and Mental Illness: Depression, Addiction, and How to Survive as a Writer
Saturday, June 4 9am eCommerce and the Artist
10am Arrrgh, Pirates!
12pm The Editor’s Ten (Or More) Commandments
1pm Grammar Geeks
5:30pm Beginning Steps to Making Your Artistic Passion More Than a Hobby

(Part 2, Workshop with Tamsin Silver)

8pm The Social Butterfly (moderating)
Sunday, June 5 11am Effective Marketing for Writers (moderating)
2pm The End of It (moderating)


What Day Is It Again?


It’s con time again! ConCarolinas is looming large in my sight, and I’ve been caught up in the throes of finishing the schedule for the last week. Let me tell you, scheduling 50 writers into 56 panels so that everyone has a reasonable number and at least one or two of their “I’ll just die if I can’t be on this one” panels is not the easy task it might appear to be. I finished the schedule for the first time on Sunday. Since then, I’ve rearranged it at least four times, dropped panelists either because I screwed up or because they asked me to, and inserted new panelists into the suddenly open spots. Fortunately Sched.org is a brilliantly easy site to work within, so I didn’t have to buy another white board.  (The first one was full of names and numbers already.) Want to see what we’ve put together so far? It’s right here – https://concarolinas2016.sched.org/

In the end, however, we seem to have a pretty impressive con to present to everyone. We have famous authors and media guests, wild costuming and thrilling competitions. Belly dancers and artists and vendors of mysterious artifacts…it’s all manner of wonderful! I’m proud of what we’ve come up with, and I’m excited to see old friends and meet new ones. If you’re within reasonable driving distance and want to come join the fun, you can still buy memberships at the door. I think the con hotel is sold out *goggles* but our overflow hotel (yes, we have an overflow hotel, because we’re that awesome!) has availability, and it’s a quick walk between. For more information, go to http://www.concarolinas.org/

It’s going to be a thrilling weekend! I’d love to see you all there!  But just remember, if you talk to me and I respond like a drunken Tweety Bird, it’s not my fault. It’s just that it’s con.

Hump-Day Help: Workshops and Panels and Banners Oh My!

Today’s post isn’t so much “help” as info on when/where I’ll be doing said help IN PERSON…that’s right…I’m takin’ this show on the road! Read onward and see what I mean…


It’s that time of year again!


And as always, it begins with…

Con banner with cat

This year I’m doing something new at ConCarolinas


That’s right, I’m teaching a 2-day workshop with the ever talented and entertaining Brian Halloway called…

Beginner Steps to Making Your Artistic Passion More Than a Hobby

What is it? Well, here you go…

A two-day panel/workshop (1-hr Friday/1-hr Saturday) where the first steps are laid out for you on taking that artistic love to the next level. Day one will revolve around the concept of branding, online presence, and the importance of your resume or query letter. Day two we’ll get on our feet and attendees will present a 30 second monologue audition or book pitch for feedback. Come have fun with those in the business who want to pass on their knowledge so you can stop saying, “I’ll never make a dime doing what I love.”
Panel/Workshop is FREE. Resume and Query Letter Critique $5 (must turn in a printed copy with fee). Those turned in on Friday will be returned on Sunday. Copies turned in on Saturday might be returned via email the following week depending on number submitted.

Theatre Seats

How did this come about, you might ask. Well, last year I asked to be on some of the Acting panels at the convention because of that nifty Theatre degree and Secondary Education degree I have collecting dust in a pretty frame on my wall at home. The response I got from some of the kids was great…and they wanted to know more about the beginning steps of it all. So I began to write up a proposal…and THAT is when I was like, “These are almost the same things that writers have to do too!” So I pitched the idea as a cross-track workshop.

Lights on a book

SO…if you are attending ConCarolinas, PLEASE come hang out with Brian and I for an hour each day OR just come ONE of the two days…either way is fine. Day one will be more about the business aspect while day two will be getting up on your feet and doing your craft for feedback.

OH…and though not listed (yet), Melissa Gilbert will be joining us on the 2nd day. She is an Editor (she’s my editor, actually, woot!) at Clicking Keys and she’ll be there to give feedback on story pitches for writers with me…as I’ll also be working with Brian that day on giving feedback on monologues. And, if God smiles down on me, my friend and ex-student, Phaicia McBride, from when I taught drama at Northwestern High School in Rock Hill, SC, will be coming to assist me/us as well. So…it is shaping up to be a good time both days!

That said…here’s my new banner for the convention! This bad boy is 6 feet tall (yes, taller than me, but really now, what isn’t?) and 2.5 feet wide and it shows all my works out there at the moment (save for one short story) and has some artwork in there as a hint to the next book that I’ll be putting out (Moon Over Manhattan).

New Vertical Collage BannerMy other panels, in case anyone in curious are HERE…or below…


4pm – Research for Dummies

5pm – Beginner Steps to Making Your Artistic Passion More Than a Hobby – Part I

7pm – Tools of the Trade: What Every Writer Should Have on Their Desk

10pm – Writers and Mental Illness – Depression, Addiction, and how to survive as a writer.


9am – Don’t You Wish You Started Ten Years Ago? The Realities of Self-Publishing

12pm – Spellslingers and Showdowns

5pm – Beginner Steps to Making Your Artistic Passion More Than a Hobby – Part II

*9pm – Skeletons In The Closet: Handling the Ugly Truths in Alternate History


10am – Using Real People, Places, and History in Your Fiction

*Special note: I’m not only on that 9pm panel on Saturday, but I’m moderating  it too…so wish me luck…cause I’ve got some heavy hitters on that panel with me.

That’s it for me this time around…until next time, write hard, bathe in imagination, and I hope to see you at a convention this year! I have only three, all are about 6 weeks apart. I’d have more but financially I cannot due to other things in my world at the moment. But I’ll be at Congregate in July and Dragon Con in September…so if you miss ConCarolinas this year…you can catch me at one of the others. But, the workshop is ONLY at ConCarolinas…so come watch me dust off my degree…I promise, it’ll be fun…or funny…or both, ya never know!

Tamsin :)


Originally from Michigan, Tamsin L. Silver is the creator/writer of two YA Urban Fantasy Series, Windfire and The Sabrina Grayson Novels, as well as the Web Series, Skye of the Damned. She graduated from Winthrop University with a BA in Theatre/Secondary Education and a minor in Creative Writing/Shakespeare. She has taught both middle school and high school theatre and run two successful theater companies, one of which in the place she currently lives: New York City. You can learn more about her and find links to all her things at www.tamsinsilver.com





Colorful Language

Quick Tip Tuesday

Hi, everybody! This is again a short and sweet post, due to me being it the home stretch of finishing and editing my third Golgotha novel, The Queen of Swords.

I read a post by the lovely, and amazingly talented, Tamsin Silver a while back with some very handy links to various goodies to help any writer in a bind to find the right word. Well, I found an addition to that archive that was very helpful to me in a few spots in the novel.

The link: http://digitalsynopsis.com/design/color-thesaurus-correct-names-of-shades/ Provides names and examples of all kinds of colors you might have need for when you really don’t want to say “red” for the fifteenth time. Of course use this sparingly or else you may end up sounding a bit eggplant…er, I mean purple.

I hope you enjoy and find them useful, or at least diverting. See you in a few weeks, when this book, hopefully, stops eating my life, and brain.

R. S. (Rod) Belcher is an award-winning newspaper and magazine editor and reporter.
Rod has been a private investigator, a DJ, a comic book store owner and has degrees in criminal law, psychology and justice, and risk administration, from Virginia Commonwealth University. He’s done Masters work in Forensic Science at The George Washington University, and worked with the Occult Crime Taskforce for the Virginia General Assembly.
The Grand Prize winner of the Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Anthology contest, Rod’s short story “Orphans” was published in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds 9 published by Simon and Schuster in 2006. It was his first professional fiction sale.
Rod’s first novel, The Six-Gun Tarot, was published by Tor Books in 2013. The sequel, The Shotgun Arcana, was published in 2014 and the third book in the Golgotha series—The Queen of Swords is currently in production. His novel, Nightwise, was released in August 2015, and his latest book, The Brotherhood of the Wheel was published by Tor in March 2016. Sequels to both books are forthcoming.
He lives in Roanoke Virginia with his children, Jonathan, and Emily.

Contact Rod at:

Website: http://www.rsbelcher.net

Facebook: Author RS Belcher

Twitter: @AuthorRsBelcher 

Making Money Mondays — Patron and Kickstarter

The Patron and Kickstarter method of funding life and projects.

More and more we are seeing writers and others in arts and science go to the public for assistance for everything from funding a film, to producing an anthology, to creating a comic book, to producing a new battery to run cars, to making a watch, which surely must contain a genie who has magical flatulence to support the cost required by the startup money needed. Some projects are so successful that they fund hundreds to millions of dollars over the startup capital needed to produce the … whatever it is.

I’ve used this method myself, using Kickstarter to fund the Rogue Mage Role Playing Game. We were successful. We finished the project. It was grueling and I’ll never do it again because it was the “Project from Hell,” which I’ve written about here and won’t bore you with it again except to say it was cursed. I’m quite certain.

The sheer numbers of financially burdened people who are looking to use this “public funding method” for personal things is growing so fast that it is mind boggling. People are using it for everything from getting a surgical procedure for a beloved 15 year cat, to paying for funeral expenses for a loved one, to paying for tuition, to opening a food truck business, to fighting racism.  If you haven’t visited GoFundMe. com, do it now. It’s amazing. And what it says about our population explosion and the huge divide between the haves and the have-nots is beyond sad.

On the business end, writers who once supported themselves through full time traditional publishing / writing income are now going to the patron method to support their lifestyle. (And I’m talking about a bare-minimum, rock-bottom lifestyle, not champagne and bonbon lifestyle.)

Everything about the publishing industry has changed. Recently dozens of full-time writers have been dumped by their pubs because their numbers are not good enough, even though many of them hit lists, won awards, sold through advances, and made the publishing companies money. Are you wanting to be a writer? Pay attention. Money in the industry is scarce and growing scarcer. That doesn’t mean I’m telling you to give up your dream. Just that your dream is going to be a lot harder than you expect.

I do understand the cost-cutting criteria that causes companies to cut and slow and concentrate on specific writers. I get it. But I grieve for the loss of the midlist and first-time writer who will get no help from a New York press to get the word out there. Even though that help was minuscule. But just getting books on bookstore shelves was a way to keep writers making money …  selling books on shelves in bookstores that no longer exist. See? I get it. I just hate the way the world is changing to the detriment of the artist and the writer.

So how do I feel about crowdfunding for writers? I hate it. AND I’m all for it. Fence sitter, much?

Some writers are using the patron / crowd-funding method successfully. Others are crashing and burning.

I fear that soon there will be so many writers funding careers this way that the really good ones will, first, see a decrease in the professionalism of their own work and, second, be lost in the crush. Which is why I’m still supporting the small press. All the way. Just to have that edge.

Oh — and here’s my next book, out in August.BOTE-Cover

See? PR everywhere.