Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Writers' Groups and the New Era

I've been an active participant in one or more writers' groups for over ten years because I think the benefit on both "sides" of the roundtable is worth the time and effort involved with submitting my work for review and reviewing the work of other writers.
During that decade, the publishing industry has entered a period of upheaval in which the gatekeepers of the legacy monopoly have lost their stranglehold on printing and distribution. The eBook and advances in print-on-demand technology have altered the landscape forever as indie publishing sheds the unsavory implication of vanity and proves that quality is not the exclusive purview of legacy.
Although I was late to the party, I have an excuse. Eighteen months ago, Amanda Hocking and Barry Eisler had not yet made the publishing news headlines. But once they did, and in the same week, the rate of change in the industry accelerated out of control. It seems as if something noteworthy is occurring every day. Keeping up with it could be a full-time job, and most writers already have one of those that unfortunately doesn't involve writing.
 In April, 2011, one active member of the Novel-In-Progress (NIP) Group of Austin had begun the trek into the unknown wilds of indie publishing. As of today, six more have joined her with about 20 titles among the group, and it's obvious that the previous emphasis on submitting material to legacy publishers through literary-agent gatekeepers no longer reflects the new reality of indie publishing.
This last week I assumed NIP moderator duties, and to use an imperfect anology, the transition feels a bit like that of a new CEO facing a period of declining revenues. Attendance and roundtable submissions are both down at a time when it seems that the relevance of writers' groups should be on the rise. Indie publishing offers a realistic option to the current tumultuous environment of legacy, and for those writers who have not yet considered it, the collective experience of fellow group members is a valuable resource.
Looking ahead to the future of NIP, I fully realize that my role as moderator endows me with no more power than that of an arbitrator or mediator. The group belongs to the members and should reflect their common objectives.
How can the group best serve those who are actively submitting as well as those who are not, or those who have embraced indie and those who still seek a legacy publisher? These are questions I feel need to be addressed as the year comes to a close with the last three roundtable meetings prior to the holidays.
A bit of math illustrates the core issue, that of the time available to engage with other writers exploring the craft, and in the new era, how to think like a publisher.
NIP meets twice a month with the exception of Easter weekend and the holiday season in December. That's no more than 21 two-hour meetings, each of which at best provides 1:30 of rountable and what we call free-for-all discussion. The rest is devoted to our "icebreaker" question, announcements, passing out the submission for the next meeting and any shorter "probes." This equates to less than 32 hours per year to engage with other writers. Compared with the hours any active writer spends in the solitary world of the creative fictive dream, that's not a lot.
Time will tell whether the group is satisfied with the status quo or wants to explore ways to enhance our vitality, relevance, and possibly even our ultimate longevity.
Tosh is the author of the aviation mystery/thriller Pilot Error, the second-in-series Red Line (Fall 2012), and two non-fiction series: Book One of Wings On My Words, tales from the writer's desk, and Book One of Words On My Wings, tales from the cockpit. Visit him online at

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Lake Travis Fiction Writers

Please note that the new contact person for the Lake Travis Fiction Writers is: 

I enjoy participating in writers' groups because any opportunity to explore the craft and share with other writers the details of an individual writer's journey is worth whatever time it takes. I joined my first group over ten years ago and now belong to Novel-In-Progress (NIP) and two NIP spinoffs called Little Group (El Gee), and, of course, Austin Indie Writers.

I don't know how many writers' groups there are in the Austin area, and one reason is that they tend to lead a quiet existence. Kind of like many writers, strangely enough, wrapped in creative cocoons, toiling away in the isolation of the fictive dream.

It is therefore my pleasure to help announce the impending birth of a new group in town. Well . . . not in town, exactly, unless you live in Bee Cave, but close enough.

Here is the official announcement that appeared in the Lake Travis View, Impact News, Bee Cave Messenger, Steiner Ranch, River Place, and Lakeway Voice, City of Lakeway, two area e-blasts, and on the Facebook page for the Writers' League of Texas.


If you are writing a novel, want to write a novel, or if you are a published novelist and want the support and camaraderie of other Lake Travis-area fiction writers, come to an organizational meeting of the Lake Travis Fiction Writers, Tuesday, Oct. 16, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at The Old Bee Cave School House in Bee Cave.

Pat Evans of Lakeway is organizing the group, which is sponsored by the Bee Cave Public Library.

"There are a number of writers' groups in Austin and many are outgrowths of the huge Writers League of Texas. But I wanted a group in my neighborhood to help fiction writers share ideas, gain support and receive input from other writers. I was thrilled when Bee Cave Public Library Director Barbara Hathaway enthusiastically offered to sponsor this group," Evans said.

Plans are for the group to meet monthly on the third Tuesday, but there is an option to meet at the library Saturday afternoons.

"The Lake Travis Fiction Writers sounded like a wonderful group for our library's interests. I initially offered our beautiful Bee Cave Library as a venue, but we have limited evening hours. Should the group decide to meet Saturday afternoons, perhaps alternating with Tuesday evenings, the library will provide a venue as a courtesy," Hathaway said.

Hathaway will be the group's first speaker and will review the library's varied services, including computers and research technology.

"We'll also do a roundtable discussion with attendees and find out about their experiences and novels. My role is to organize, publicize and lead the sessions, but this group will be about fiction writers, whether 'wannabes' like myself or published novelists," Evans said.

At some meetings, members will submit works in advance for critique or bring works for short 'read and critique' sessions. At other meetings authors or service providers such as freelance editors or micro-publishers will speak. For the November meeting a panel of independent authors will present, 'How to Publish Your Own Novel.'"

Self-publishing is a hot topic, Evans says. She just returned from a writers conference in California where many workshops focused on self-publishing.

"The message from this conference, as well as the Writers League of Texas conference this past summer, is that fiction writers need editors, both developmental and line editors. Otherwise, their self-published fiction will not stand a chance in the highly competitive market. There is a lot of junk being put online, and buyers are becoming wary. If writers puts novels 'out there' that are not well-crafted and edited, they run the risk of ruining their brands at launch."

The Old Bee Cave School House is an updated facility with lighted parking, located in the southeast corner of the Shops at the Galleria (near Specs), between the Bee Cave police and fire stations at 13333 Texas 71.

Contact Pat Evans at if you plan to attend this meeting.
Tosh is the author of the aviation mystery/thriller Pilot Error, the second-in-series Red Line (Fall 2012), and two non-fiction series: Book One of Wings On My Words, tales from the writer's desk, and Book One of Words On My Wings, tales from the cockpit. Visit him online at

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Tools for the process

Some writers love deadlines, some hate them. Many find that they are more productive when writing under a deadline.

A traditionally published writer has a deadline imposed by someone else. Going indie means taking on all the phases of a project, from inception to release, and that includes deadlines. When you go indie, there is a temptation to throw out deadlines and take things as they come. In my humble, but accurate, opinion, that is a mistake.

I've read a lot of books on the craft of writing, but I've never seen anything on the mechanics of tracking projects and hitting targets. Back in the day when I had contracts and publisher-imposed deadlines, I developed a few tools to help me hit word-count targets and analyze a project for weak points. Now that I'm an indie author, I still use these tools.


When I'm in first draft, I keep a log of hours and word count. It looks like this.

The first column shows the number of words in that session, then the date, start and end times, total hours, words per hour, then word count and hour count per day and per week.

You can see that in this period my words-per-hour ranged from 182 (on what evidently was a particularly bad day) to over 500, which is where I like to keep it. Most serious novelists have a word count target for the finished work and a daily word-count target. The word-count journal allows you to track your progress and kick into gear if the weekly target is in danger.

I recently read a biography of P. G. Wodehouse, who wrote 90+ novels in his 90+ years. He was always very aware of word count and productivity. He did a daily 2,500 words or more during the bulk of his career, and when he was in his 80s and 90s, he still averaged 1,000 words a day. And I bet he didn't even have a spreadsheet!


In a large project like a novel it's easy to miss issues that can affect the reader experience, such as keeping multiple plot lines or points-of-view alive.

For example, in Living with Fred I had story lines for:
A. Mark's encounters with WWII veteran Vernon.
B. Mark's escalating battle with Deacon Fry.
C. Mark's ill-fated romance with Jolene.
D. The Parker-Sonia-Mac love triangle.
E. Mark's attempt to answer the question "What would Jesus do?" This theme is interwoven into the other four story lines and has other scenes of its own.

Like a juggler spinning plates, I had to touch on each one often enough to keep them all present in the mind of the reader. That means I couldn't allow one particular story line to dominate long stretches of the narrative. Otherwise, after a hundred pages or so I'd bring up Vernon and the reader would say, "Wait, what was that about? Who is this guy?"

My solution: for each scene, track what happens and the word count, color-coded to show which story line it covers.

The same technique is helpful for tracking POV. Here's the chart for the first 16 chapters of Endless Vacation, a project in progress with multiple points of view.

You can see in the sample above that the first ten chapters are told from ten different points of view. That's probably a bad idea, but I'm always willing to try something daring. I'm sure my critique partners will bludgeon some sense into me before it's published.

With this tool, it's easy to see when long sections are dominated by one or two characters. In the sample below, you can see that the rainbow we had going earlier in the book has become less variegated. For nine scenes in a 3-chapter stretch, from 29-31, we only get two points of view. That's 5,000+ words, 20 pages. If I didn't have this chart, I would have to read through the entire book to get a sense of where I might need variety. With a chart like this, I can see potential problem areas in a glance.

This may seem like a lot of work, but when I'm working on a project approaching 100,000 words, I'll take all the help I can get. The goal is to get a book completed and delivered to the reader in a timely manner and to make the reading experience as seamless as possible. Tools like these help me keep on deadline and catch and fix problems that would be hard to see otherwise.

What tools have you developed to manage your writing or publishing?

Brad Whittington is the author of the Fred trilogy, What Would Jesus Drink? and the soon-to-be released Muffin Man.