Wednesday, July 24, 2013

My Guest: J.E. Ryder

I am aware that many aspiring writers read this blog looking for insights from those who have broken through the apparently insurmountable barriers to becoming a published author. Today's Guest provides sound advice as she recounts her own journey to seeing her superb suspense novel published by Amazon and available for readers everywhere. Ladies and gentlemen,

J.E. Ryder

Learning the Writing Craft 
- A Long Road Travelled

Since the self-publishing revolution we’ve seen an explosion in online resources for authors. Any question on the writing craft or publishing business can be answered in a mouse-click, the answers given freely by authors and writing professionals willing to share their knowledge.

Seven years ago we lived in a different landscape. There was writing advice out there, from Internet companies, individuals, how-to write books, magazines, writers’ conferences, creative writing groups and workshops, but all that closely guarded information came at a price.

Amazon Link
Fortunately, I didn’t think I’d need to spend my hard-earned money on writing advice. I’d had a good education. I had thrilling story ideas swilling around in my head, and I’d been reading books all my life. What could be simpler than dashing off a novel in my spare time?

One day I saw an advertisement for a monthly writing magazine. The banner title read: How to Land a Literary Agent. Useful, I thought; I’d need an agent when I finished my novel. The magazine arrived in the post with a free how-to-write paperback. Soon, unfamiliar terminology began to spin before my eyes: plotting, back story, POV, motivation, pace, theme, style, protagonist, antagonist, three-act-structure, character arcs, theme, turning points.

I wasn’t discouraged. After all, I was used to managing offices and organising staff. I’d edited in-house magazines and newsletters. Learning this skill known as the writing craft should be easy. That summer I booked a day at a writers’ conference. My inexperience led me to sign on for sessions that were far too advanced. Much of the teaching went way over my head. Other budding authors plodding between lectures looked as lost as I was. In the lunch break I met an author who’d just signed with a major literary agency. He said he’d been attending conferences for ten years to learn the craft. Ten years? I was stunned. The horrible realisation dawned. I was in for a long, hard slog.

I spent my free days attending creative writing groups, joined workshops, went to conferences, devoured how-to-write books. I wrestled with the dark art of synopsis writing, learned how to compose an industry standard query letter, got to grips with manuscript formatting. Two years later I had a completed novel. I started the depressing task of submitting to Agents, waiting weeks, months sometimes for rejection slips to land on the doormat (one took five months to arrive). Occasionally, a slip would carry a scribbled comment: “You can write well, but I can’t place this right now,” or, “This needs more work.” That one always bemused me. What work? How can I do more work if you don’t tell me what kind of work I should be doing? But, as an Agent said to her audience at conference: Agents are not in the business of teaching people how to write.

Over the next couple of years I had the good fortune to meet three generous people who moved my writing skills forward.

  •        In a conference hallway, I approached an Agent whom I’d heard was taking submissions for thrillers. She didn’t seem to notice my nervousness (or maybe she was used to seeing authors shaking in fear). After listening to my stumbling elevator pitch, she accepted the first chapter, synopsis and query letter. Six weeks later she asked to read the entire manuscript. I went into shock. The entire manuscript! I sent it away and spent the next ten days in a nail-biting blur. She didn’t take it up, but she did write a long email explaining how to fix the novel. For the first time I had professional feedback.
  •            At a workshop, a published author recommended a book that had helped him in his career: “Scene & Structure, How to construct fiction with scene-by-scene flow, logic and readability, by Jack M. Bickham.” The chapter on Cause and Effect was a revelation.
  •             In early 2009, I discovered a blog written by American editor and author, Anne Mini, entitled “Author! Author!” In her own words: “Part of my purpose in setting up this website is to provide as much information about the writing life and publication process as possible to aspiring writers…” Her comprehensive online advice was free, unheard of at the time. She was the only writing professional I’d come across who was willing to discuss the craft. I wish I’d found her sooner. She started posting in August 2005. Reading her blog posts I finally understood why my manuscript needed more work. Under her instruction I spent months improving my novel-editing skills, the laborious process of refining words, grammar and story structure.

Five years had passed since I’d purchased that fateful writing magazine. I was ready to take early retirement. My freedom to write full time coincided with the growth in the Internet self-publishing revolution. I was determined to join the revolution the moment I had a novel ready. I discarded my early writing efforts and started afresh. The result is my thriller, Blood Pool, published in Kindle format on Amazon. Currently, I’m working hard on my next novel, a sweeping thriller spanning the European continent, a story of tragedy, vengeance and love.

I know now that my writing journey will never end. Every day I learn something new from our wonderful online community. Were the years spent struggling with the craft worth it? I’d have to say, yes. They taught me not only essential skills, but also how to keep going in the face of disappointment and rejection. They were worth it.

At ten years old J.E. Ryder discovered that her elder brother's reading choices were completely different from hers, and much more exciting. She loved his fabulous Marvel Comics with their superheroes and heroines, the espionage novels, gritty adventure stories and survival epics. Her lifelong enjoyment of thrilling fiction has had a major influence on her writing. Her business career took her through all the big city industries and corporations: oil, banking, law and national government, and provided an endless cast of fascinating people and situations to draw on. Her debut thriller, Blood Pool is available from Amazon. Currently, she’s working on her next novel, a sweeping thriller that spans the European continent, a story of tragedy, vengeance and love.

Blood Pool Book Description:
How hard can it be to kill one woman?

When Sam Shelley’s husband dies she becomes the owner of his boat yard and estates. The Shelley men have inherited the land for two hundred years. Locals want it to stay that way. They’re threatening to trace the rightful male heir.

Then an old friend, an eccentric inventor, disappears in violent circumstances. Sam will do anything for him: he’s been like a father to her while she grieved. The race is on to find him. The authorities want him for murder. Government agencies want him and his world-changing invention for themselves.

Sam is determined to reach him first. Soon, she’s squeezed between murderous factions outside the boat yard and deadly rivalries within. No one is what they seem, especially those nearest to her…

J.E. Ryder’s Amazon Page:
J.E. Ryder’s Blog:

Thank you J.E. for a wonderful inspirational post. Many aspiring writers out there, perhaps losing heart at the constant obstacles that seem to separate them from having their work published, should be encouraged by your words. As Sancho Panza of Don Quijote fame once said: "Patience, and shuffle the cards!"

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

My Guest: Michael W. Sherer

My Guest this week is a force to be reckoned with in the thriller and mystery novel genre. As this post goes live, his novel NIGHT BLIND is up for an award at the ITW (International Thriller Writers), to be announced at this year's ThrillerFest (July 10-13). On behalf of all the readers of this blog I'd like to wish him all our best for success there. Today he brings us all some very sound advice. Ladies and Gentlemen:

Michael W. Sherer

For God’s Sake, Get It Right!

NOTE TO MY READERS: If you would like to hear this Guest Post read by its author, it can be found HERE (Mike's segment starts at minute 26 more or less).

Some of the worst writing advice you can get is to write what you know. It’s a huge fallacy, a myth. If we all wrote what we know, the world would be filled with boring, poorly written autobiographies. We wouldn’t have fantasy, science fiction, thrillers, regency romances… the list goes on. Did Mary Shelley reanimate a patchwork corpse and dictate her notes on the experiment? Did Poe dismember a body and hide it under his floorboards just to see if his guilt would cause him to hear a beating heart? Did Jules Verne captain a submarine or pilot a balloon? Most of us write about circumstances we’ve never personally experienced.

Amazon Link
Another homily you shouldn’t believe: “Don’t sweat the small stuff; and it’s all small stuff.” Self-publishing has opened up a world of opportunity for authors. When my first novel was published 25 years ago, about 44,000 books were published annually in the U.S. The number last year had grown to nearly 14 times that many. And, according to Bowker, 235,000 of those were self-published. Writers who never would have seen their books in print five years ago now can sell thousands, even millions, of copies of their work. But, just as some of the books traditional publishers put out are crap, so are many self-published books, perhaps a much larger percentage.

E-books have made self-publishing a no- or low-cost affair, and the tools available online make the process as easy as a few clicks of the mouse on a computer. Those two factors alone have encouraged a huge number of authors to self-publish who would otherwise endure slush piles and stacks of rejections from agents and publishers. And, yes, it’s encouraged every wannabe author to put his or her efforts out there for the world to see. Many aren’t ready for primetime. Some will never be ready. A majority, however, are what traditional publishers call “midlist” authors whose work is certainly good enough for publication, but may never find a wide audience.

Sadly, the product many of these authors put out isn’t worth reading for one simple reason: lack of good editing. Maybe they’re too eager to get their work “out there,” and don’t take the time to make their books the best they can be. Maybe they can’t afford a good editor. Or perhaps they’re too lazy to proof their own work. In so doing, they violate their sacred trust with readers. 

As fiction authors, in particular crime fiction, we forge an unspoken, unwritten contract with readers. We promise to do our very best to entertain them, to give them characters who are lifelike despite prowess at one skill or another beyond our normal ken; to offer settings that may be both exotic and foreign, yet places we might find on a map; to carry us on a thrill ride with twists and turns, steep climbs and dramatic drops that leave our stomachs in our mouths but never jar us so hard we’re thrown off.

In short, we promise not to stretch credulity, not to give them a reason to suspend disbelief. Which means that we have to get it right. We must do our research and speak as if we’re experts on every topic even if we’re not. Because the unfortunate truth is that if we get details wrong, then we’ve quickly lost a reader’s trust. Once and they might forgive us. Twice in one book and they might reconsider finishing what we’ve written. More than that, and we’ve likely lost a buyer and potential fan of our next book.

Amazon Link
Some of us hated doing homework in school, and are loathe to fact-check absolutely every detail. And no one’s perfect, which is why so many authors, including me, often say on an acknowledgements page that they’ve done their best, but mistakes happen. We hate it when they do. There’s nothing worse than being called out by an irate reader on a detail that you overlooked, a detail you know you should have gotten right.

When I suggested earlier that you should ignore the advice to write about what you know and use your imagination to create worlds with which you’re unfamiliar, I didn’t mean you shouldn’t learn how those worlds work. Don’t know the difference between a revolver and a semi-automatic pistol (a mistake I still see often in crime fiction)? You’d better find out before you put a weapon in the hands of your character.

I recently read a book in which the author made, for me, four fatal errors that demonstrated a lack of research, lack of a good copy editor or both. The first was misspelling the name of a major defense contractor. The error easily could have been remedied by a quick look on the Internet. It wasn’t a horrible mistake, but it wasn’t a typo either, which suggested sloppy work.

The second error was the protagonist’s disappointment that DNA results hadn’t come back from the lab within 48 hours (the protagonist being a crime scene investigator). The CSI technicians I’ve spoken with all say they’re lucky to get results back in as little as two to three weeks. The mistake made me think that the author had relied on a perception propagated by television shows and not real research.

Amazon Link
The author committed a third error when a pathologist conducting an autopsy definitively declared that the victim’s killer had used a revolver with a silencer. Suppressors are rarely used on revolvers because they offer little benefit; the gap between the cylinder and barrel permits too much sound to escape. And though I haven’t yet asked an expert, I find it hard to believe the wound itself would reveal whether a silencer had been used or not.

Then, in the denouement, the struggle between protagonist and serial killer at the scene of a light plane crash, the author kept referring to the still-rotating rudder. At one point, the hero shoves the killer into the “rudder” while it was turning, causing it to bruise his shoulder but not incapacitate him. I think the author meant “propeller” not “rudder,” but by that point my credulity had been frayed to the breaking point.

The book wasn’t badly written, but mistakes like these scream “Amateur!” Worse, for me, they make me leery of reading authors I’ve not heard of, or authors whose books have not been vetted by a large numbers of readers. And I end up approaching the next few books I read with a jaundiced eye and more unforgiving of even the smallest of errors. To be fair, I find errors like these in traditionally published books by best-selling authors, which is an even more egregious crime.

Self-publishing is giving a tremendous number of authors a chance to find readers they wouldn’t otherwise. Don’t lose those readers right off the bat with errors and sloppy editing. Get it right! 

After stints as manual laborer, dishwasher, bartender, restaurant manager, commercial photographer, magazine editor and public relations executive, Michael W. Sherer decided life should imitate art and became an author and freelance writer. Mike is the Thriller Award-nominated, best-selling author of Night Blind, the first in the Seattle-based Blake Sanders thriller series. His other books include six novels in the award-winning Emerson Ward mystery series, the stand-alone suspense novel Island Life, and the Tess Barrett YA thriller series.

Please visit him at or you can find him on Facebook at and on Twitter at

Thanks for the great post, Mike. I confess that you have hit the nail on the head with one of my own pet-peeves. Researching stuff is hard work, granted, but it can also be great fun!