Tag Archives: writing advice

Chasing rabbits…

The old people have a saying.

You chase one rabbit you got supper. You chase two rabbit, you’ve got sore feet.

Sometimes a writer just seems to spend their whole entire day – just  chasing rabbits.







You know how it goes. You find yourself working on a novel and that gets you to thinking about that novella you wanted to work on and the next thing you know the idea of trying to write that novel and that novella at the very same time gives you an amazing idea for a wonderfully structured sestina composed about the theme of a single man trying to ride the backs of an entire stampede of golden palominos.

Before too long you’re chasing rabbits.

You might kid yourself and say that you are just following the whimsical frolicking call of your innermost moose!







(or is that muse?).

You might even convince yourself that – by god, you must be the single-most creative writer in the universe – filled with a never-ending fount of ideas and inspiration.







Horse-puck and hogwash.

You’re just chasing rabbits.

You see, the nearer that the human spirit comes to accomplishing, the more likely it is to try and come up with some reason not to finish.


Because once you finish something, it’s over. And once it’s over, then you got to do something else.

And you got to do it right.

So rather than finishing something properly and then starting something new, properly – a fledgling writer – and even us old fart veterans – will all too often allow distraction to jump up and lead them into the time-honored pursuit of chasing rabbits.

The distraction is nothing more than a fear of commitment. Of finishing it – because once it is finished somebody else will actually read it.

And they might tell you it stinks.






As long as the project remains in that ephemeral state of incompletion you can kid yourself into believing that you’re brilliant.

Only you’re not.

A writer is a craftsman, first and foremost. Like any carpenter he needs to sink that nail into the board, cut the next board and then nail that up to. He has to finish whatever he is building – so that somebody can sell it so that he can buy more boards to keep on building.

The only real difference between a carpenter and a writer is a carpenter often has a foreman who is more than happy to kick his butt.

Oh, we writers have foremen too.

Only we call them editors, publishers and readers.

Sitting at our desk, in our comfortable chair, puts us a long way away from the foreman’s boot.

So a good writer has got to learn to boot himself in his butt.

Hard, and often.

So, here’s what I want you to do.

Sit down with one work and tell yourself that you are going to add a paragraph to it. Don’t look at any other work. You find yourself thinking about any other work give your head a good hard shake and remind yourself that you set out that day to work on one piece of work.

Let me mix a few more metaphors and see if I can muddle this out for you any clearer than I have.

Writing any story is a little like a first date. You work at that story and you don’t look at any other story while you’re working at it. You try and turn that date with a story into a long term commitment and then you try and turn that long term commitment into a marriage and then when you’ve married the heck out of that manuscript and your finally done with it – divorce the sucker and start hitting the single’s bars.

And stop chasing rabbits.

Happy Easter

Yours in storytelling,

Steve Vernon


PS: I’ve passed the 41000 word mark yesterday at Camp NaNoWriMo.

Only 9000 words to go in the next four days. Wish me luck.

Follow my progress at Camp NaNoWriMo!

Day 10 at Camp NaNoWriMo – Forget About Writer’s Block!


I was interviewed today and one of the questions asked me was “How do I find time to write?”

Well, these days I make time.

These last ten days I have been making time to get my writing done.

I intend to make this a year-long habit.

Don’t get me wrong. For the last year I haven’t written every day. In fact there were way too many days that I did not write a single word – unless you count diddling about on Facebook and the like.

It can happen.

Some folks out there probably want to ask me if I had WRITER’S BLOCK!

(Did you ever notice how some people say those two words in big loud concrete capitol letters when they say them?)

That is the condition that some people say they have when they cannot write – but I will not give that condition the benefit of an actual label. Once you name something it becomes a whole lot bigger in your mind.

So no, I did not suffer from WRITER’S BLOCK.

I was just being lazy.

There is nothing wrong with being lazy. I work a good job and I do my best to pay the bills on time. I’ve written an awful lot of words over these last ten years or so – so I am certainly entitled to a little slack time.

I mow the lawn when it needs it.

I shovel the snow when it needs it.

So I am not a LAZY man – but when it came to writing over this last year I was indulging myself for far too long.

That will change.

That has already begun to change.

So the next time you find yourself stuck at a certain point and you are tempted to drag out those big two words – WRITER’S BLOCK.

The next time you find yourself using those two big words to bang yourself together a genuine police-sized road block of creativity.

The moment you begin to wallow rather than resist – do yourself a favor, would you?

If you find yourself in that position perform a triple somersault in mid-air and kick yourself squarely in the ass.

You’ll thank me later.


I wrote the answers to an interview today – about 1000 words or so.

I edited a story and submitted it.

And I wrote 1700 words.

That brings me to 23,827 words in ten days.

That’s not too bad for a fellow who does not suffer from WRITER’S BLOCK!

Let me leave you now so that you get back to making time to write while I get ready to go and work a night shift.

Unfortunately, I do not suffer from JOB BLOCK either.


yours in storytelling,

Steve Vernon

The Secret Behind A Strong First Line!

“Many years later, in front of the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia would remember that distant afternoon his father took him to see ice.” –  ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE by Gabriel Garcia Marquez  

I recently was asked to answer a few questions regarding the importance of a good first line.

So naturally I decided I had to blog about this issue. It is here – in the entries of my blog – that I feel the absolute freedom to express myself as I see fit.

And also – this is a great excuse for me to avoid working on my latest novel.

So what’s a good first line?

“The bullet hit Santa Claus beneath the left eye.” – SOFT TARGET – by Stephen Hunter

That’s a good one that I just spotted the other day at the bookstore. I saw this book, SOFT TARGET, by Stephen Hunter – sitting on the shelf at a bookstore.

Now, I like Stephen Hunter’s work.

I haven’t liked every one of his books – but I liked a lot of them.

So – how do I know if I want to read this book?

Well – we could try looking at the cover.

So what does that cover tell me?

Well, it tells me that it’s a STEPHEN HUNTER novel.

And it tells me that at least ONE BULLET is going to be fired.

That’s important – if you’re a fan of Stephen Hunter novels. Stephen Hunter is one of those authors who has evolved into a NAME BRAND AUTHOR. I see “Stephen Hunter” on the cover – right off the bat I want to pick it up.

This is something all of us authors need to strive for.

I’m not there yet. There are readers out there who say – “Dang, this is a Steve Vernon novel. I’d better pick it up.”

That’s true. There are a few of them.

But most folks will see “Steve Vernon” on the cover and they’ll say – “Steve who?”

So, let’s say that “Stephen Hunter” ISN’T a brand name author yet. Let’s say he’s just a hopeful wannbe.

Let’s say he’s me.

So – the average reader is going to look at that book cover and say – okay, so a bullet is going to get shot. Probably at a soft target.

That still doesn’t mean that the reader is going to bother reaching for his wallet.

You see – that’s what a writer wants.

We want to have the reader reaching for his wallet.

Try and think of it this way. He reads that book in the bookstore – without reaching for his wallet – and you don’t see that royalty check. If you don’t see that royalty check then your bills don’t get paid. If your bills don’t get paid you wind up out in the street – and that’s the end of your writing career because it is AWFULLY hard to run a self publishing career successfully if you have to resort to plugging your computer into a fire hydrant.

It’s a little like that whole “tree falling in the forest without making a sound” koa.

“If a writer does not receive a royalty check then he didn’t write diddly-squat.”

Or at least that’s how I run my kitchen anyway.

“It was a pleasure to burn.” – FAHRENHEIT 451 by Ray Bradbury

So, if you aren’t a BRAND NAME WRITER – how do you get that reader to the whole “reaching for his wallet” stage of activity?

Well, for starters, you ought to have a REALLY good first line.

Just think about it. That is one of the first things that a potential reader will do. He’ll flip open the book and run his finger down the first page, moving his lips zubba-zubba-zubba while he does so.

Or at least I do, anyway.

That’s a critical factor for me in making my own mind up about reaching for that wallet. I read the first line or two just to get a better idea if this book is ACTUALLY something that I want to own.

“When the phone rang, Parker was in the garage, killing a man.” – FIREBREAK by Richard Stark

So, IS a first line that important?

I want you to just stop for a moment and try and imagine all of the many times that you said something stupid to a person that you were trying to impress right from the get-go. It might have been a boss that you were hoping would hire you. It might have been a hottie that you were trying to make a connection with. Just try and remember those many times that you opened your mouth and something dumb fell out of it.

A first line is a first impression.

A first line is that taste of honey that says to the reader – “My God – you have just found something worth spending time and money on.”

A first line is a well-dangled fishing lure.

A first line can be a boot to the side of the head.

An ambush.

A welcome-to-the-deep-end-bubba.

 This is the saddest story I have ever heard. — THE GOOD SOLDIER by Ford Madox Ford

So you are probably expecting me to tell you the real SECRET to creating a truly kickass first line – aren’t you?

That’s why you started reading this blog – didn’t you?

You want a paint-by-number kit that you can take on home and use on your next bit of creative scribbling.

Well – I am truly sorry – but there is nothing EASY about writing – except maybe saying that you do it.

And let me tell you – saying ain’t doing.

So – where do I find my FIRST LINE?

Well, sometimes it jumps right out at me. Sometimes I see it just as clear as a clear blue day – floating there on the top of the page – saying something along the lines of – “Well, what are you waiting for – write me down!”

I’ve got a few lines like that. Some of them I’ve already used. Some of them are sitting in a notebook – just waiting for the rest of the story to come along.

But mostly it isn’t all that EASY at all.

Sometimes I’ll find my first line about three chapters into the first draft.

That’s what writing is like sometimes.

You can’t just sit around and wait for your first line to show up. You have to diver right in and start lining them words up and sooner or later your first line will see all that commotion and it will push past all them other lines you’ve lined up and jump right out into the lead.

So how will you know that it’s your first line?

You’ll know.

Finding a good first line is a little like finding true love.

I’m not talking love like – Gee, I really love to eat pizza with my feet stuck out on the coffee table – I am talking big true love in BIG FREAKING CAPITAL LETTERS L-O-(my god I’m going to die if she doesn’t notice me now) – V-E!!!

Accept no substitutes.

He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish. —Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea 

Damn, I really love that last one. THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA has got to be one of my favorite novellas ever.

So what about bad first lines?

What about those clunkers that start some books – usually something about Joe Nobody getting out of bed and studying his own face in the bathroom mirror – thinking deep thoughts and wondering what this day will bring before he gets to the end of the story and gets run over by a bus?

Let me tell you.

A bad first line is like hanging a men’s room sign on the ladies washroom door in the middle of an all-you-can-drink-beer-athon.

It is bound to lead to some awkward and highly uncomfortable situations.

I mean – them women’s rooms don’t have any hang-on-the-wall urinals – which is why there are usually longer line-ups to the lady’s room than to the men’s – unless it is an all-you-can-drink-beer-athon.

A bad first line is a KEEP OFF THE GRASS sign at a lawn party.

A bad first line is like telling your blind date that the doctor swore on a stack of e-pirated Bibles that your love-cooties were only directly communicable on months with an “R” in them.

A bad first line is the Gee-I was-certain-that-was-just-a-heavy-sounding-fart-before-I-unsqueezed in the dress pants of existence.

I’m not saying that it’s pretty.

So let me leave you with three more first lines.

 It was the day my grandmother exploded. —Iain M. Banks, The Crow Road

Elmer Gantry was drunk. —Sinclair Lewis, Elmer Gantry 

“Preacher Abraham Fell stared down at the witch, Thessaly Cross, breathing like he’d run for a good long stretch.” – TATTERDEMON by Steve Vernon 

Which you can order on Amazon.

or on Kobo

or on Smashwords

or – if you aren’t motivated by any sort of gratitude over the five or ten minutes of amusing blogginess to rush out and download my book – why not read the review instead.

yours in storytelling,


(call me Ishmael)


Scheduling Secrets – Or How Not To Pose Like a Wannabe Bruce Lee…

This morning, I rolled out of bed and fell into a blog post.

It happens that way sometimes. As I’ll go on to explain – I like to check my e-mail and the first e-mail I opened lead to me to a blog posting over at THE WRITER’S GUIDE TO E-PUBLISHING.

This particular post dealt with a writer’s schedule.

While I was crafting a reply-comment to that blog post it got to me thinking that I ought to use this reply-comment as the basis for my next blog entry.

That’s right. Writing that innocent little reply-comment awoke my innate writerly thieving instincts and I decided that I was going to steal that reply-comment that I was writing – which is a little like stealing from yourself, I suppose – and use it as a blog post on my own blog.

Or, to put it another way –

“Immature artists imitate. Mature artists steal.” – Lionel Trilling.

To which I might add:

“Long-past-their-stale-date artists steal from themselves.” – Steve Vernon



Because I am one of those poor goomers who must still put up with a day job – and because my day job hours are rarely predictable – (I really think they use a dart board to write up our monthly work schedules) – I find it hard to set anything that even resembles a work schedule.

In fact, when I Google “work schedule”, Wikipedia says “That ain’t you.”

However, I’m fortunate enough to be an early riser. I had three paper routes when I was a kid and I had to be up at about five am to get breakfast into me – (I’m big on eating) – and get those papers sorted and delivered before going to school. As a result I am programmed to wake up before the crows have even started scratching themselves.

First off, I’ve got to make my way to the bathroom, where I sit for a while – (it’s safer than trying to aim in the dark) – and pet our black cat Kismet, who usually wants to know why the hell I haven’t fed her yet. I don’t know what her problem is – I fed her all yesterday – but she’s just funny that way.

I just looked up “patient and reasonable” on the Google and it told me “That ain’t cats”.

And here’s a picture of Kismet, sniffing the hell out of the inside spine of one of my books.

Then I sit down at the computer. I like to futz around on the internet for an hour or so before I begin dawdling which sometimes leads to a bout of full-out procrastination. I mean, why wait to put off what needs putting off to? I’m ambitious and I like to plunge boldly into my pre-writing procrastination.

I was going to look up “organized” on Google but I couldn’t find the to-do list that I’d wrote that down on to remind myself with.

You see, I like to start with checking my e-mail – which is what lead me to this blog entry here on THE WRITER’S TO E-PUBLISHING – before I begin. I’m pretty certain that one of these mornings I’m going to find myself something important in all that spam.

If possible, I like to warm up with something that requires some fast and creative free-range writing – such as this comment – (which I have already decided that I am going to steal on myself after I get commenting and use it in my own blog) – and to rattle some sort of a blog reply or a blog entry or to answer somebody’s question on the two or three message board forums I like to poke it.

(and I know that last sentence has most likely peeved the heck out of my Strunk and White’s Elements of Style – but me and Strunk/White haven’t been talking in years)

You see – I find that writing a blog entry or a thread reply like this – before I begin my actual work on whatever manuscript I am working on – is a really great warm-up. It’s a little like stretching yourself before a session at the gym – or shadow-boxing in the locker room before you walk into the arena and step into a boxing ring.

It isn’t anything like prancing around ten feet away from the fellow you’re supposed to be fighting – striking imaginary Bruce Lee poses and making kee-yii sounds like that blue jay outside my window is making. Striking poses like that in a fight doesn’t impress anybody – not even your Mom – and you’re most likely going to give yourself a charley-horse while trying to snap-kick a fist full of mid-air nothing.

Usually sometime around a half an hour into that hour long warm-up I’ll make my way downstairs and butter up a couple of slices of toast. I used to peanut butter and honey them but my wife says that has something to do with my belt shrinking on me so I just smear a little butter and then scoop out a bowl of cottage cheese. I pepper the cottage cheese – even though I’d much rather dump a couple of dollops of maple syrup onto the cottage cheese – but again, apparently that has something to do with my belt shrinking.

I’ll Twitter a bit and run through my e-mail and get all of my ducks lined up.

Then, I sip my coffee and get to work.

So, I guess that I have established three undeniable facts with this comment.

Number one – I like to take a poke at the social media side of things before I get to work on what really needs doing.

Number two – I really need an internal editor when commenting on other people’s blog entries.

Number three – If I worked for myself all day I’d most likely fire myself, sooner or later.

Yours in storytelling,

Steve Vernon

PS: Here’s a link to that blog where this whole thing started. Folks who are interested in learning more about the craft from successful e-book writers really ought to be following this blog – THE WRITER’S GUIDE TO E-PUBLISHING.


Stupid Writing Tricks…

See that man with the Coke cans on his head?

Why is he doing that?

What possible gain could be achieved by sucker-planting a half dozen Coke cans on your head?

Let me tell you this.

The mind is a monkey and easily tricked.

You can convince yourself to do anything that you want to do – even if you don’t want to do it. All that you have to do is fabricate a little motivation.

Trick that mind hard enough and you can cheerfully skip across a bed of smoldering coals.

In my last blog entry I cross-blogged to fellow blogger Lauren Waters site http://laurenwaters.net/ where she discussed a motivational trick that was explained in a LifeHacker article on Jerry Seinfeld.

Here’s a link to that article.


I have decided to adopt that method. I have a calender and a red marker and I have already scratched my first X for 1000 words of writing. Well, actually, I did about 1500 words today. Still not a lot for a day’s worth of work – but it is a start.

I intend to keep that red chain growing.

Now I know that there are folks out there who are reading this and saying to themselves – “Hey, this is Steve Vernon. The dude who chews up syllables and spits out chapters. The man is a born writing machine.

Well – you are right. I have, in the past, put a tremendous amount of work out there. Since 2004 I’ve written SEVEN regional books through local publisher Nimbus. I have written about a dozen e-books – and am working on another. I have written about a dozen novellas and a couple of full length horror novels. I have written umpteen blog entries and a thousand Facebook entries – not to mention poems, book reviews, articles, interviews and even a couple of recipes.

But lately I have been having a little bit of difficulty. I have got a lot on my mind. Bills to pay and a few personal issues and just the usual sort of psychic bricabrac that all of us face on a day-to-day level. Nothing huge, nothing drastic – but these last few months I have been having a hard time producting consistently.

So I’m going to use this stupid little trick to try to get myself back on the track.


Because stupid tricks work.

I’ve got another stupid trick for you.

This one involves a cooking timer. It looks like a plastic tomato. I can set it to tick for a whole hour. And that’ what I do. I set it for an hour and let that silly little plastic tomato tick on – and while it is ticking I do NOTHING but write on my manuscript.

I don’t check my e-mail.

I don’t check my Facebook.

I don’t even freaking Tweet!

When it goes “ding” I stop writing.

Oddly enough, by the time that goes ding, I usually have a thousand or so words.

I do that for two months steady and I have a book.

Still needs to be edited. Still needs to be revised.

But in two months – a thousand-freaking-words an hour and I have a fair-sized novel.

So that’s all there is folks. People wonder what it takes to write a book.

All that it takes is a red plastic tomato cooking timer, one calender, and a red Sharpee marker.

This isn’t freaking rocket science.

Stupid tricks work.

Yours in storytelling,

Steve Vernon

PS: I should mention that I got that tomato-timer trick from an entry in Salt Lines from Nova Scotia writer Gwen Davies http://writers.ns.ca/members/profile/64

And if you want to learn more about Salt Lines – https://stevevernonstoryteller.wordpress.com/2012/06/29/seeking-inspiration-in-writing/

Rhino Hide – Dealing With Rejection

I started writing back in the mid-eighties. I sold short stories, poetry, articles and book reviews to small press magazines all across the country. Magazines with names like City Slab, The Horror Show, Flesh & Blood, Cemetery Dance, Red Scream, Lunatic Chameleon, Terror Time Again, Doppleganger, Four Stix, Gas, After Hours, Not One of Us, Midnight Zoo, Horror Garage – and a lot more that I can’t readily remember.

People are always asking me how many stories I sold. I never really kept track. Sometimes I say it was seventy-five stories, other times I say a hundred. The fact is – there are writers out there who have sold twice as many stories. Numbers don’t mean diddly-squat.

Wait a minute. I heard that back there. I heard somebody saying that if I sold that many stories I must be freaking brilliant.

Well, my Mom thinks I am but the truth of it is that I’m really just persistent, is all.

A writer needs to be if he wants to sell at all.

Okay, so I know all about indie self-publishing. I’m hip-deep in that direction myself. But there are still an awful lot of anthologies and magazines and markets that are well worth submitting too. The fact is – you get a story accepted in a certain magazine or a certain anthology and it might just draw you enough attention to sell another few hundred self-published e-books – not to mention the cheque that you’ll recieve for your story.

Don’t ever write for anyone else if there isn’t a cheque. That’s a whole other blog entry – and I’m not going to start explaining myself – but writers who want to make it ought to always be aiming at some sort of financial compensation.

Meaning money.

But I’m not here today to beat that particular wardrum. What I want to talk about today is persistence. I can’t tell you how many “writers” I’ve spoken with who have told me how they submitted a story once or twice – was badly rejected – and then tucked that story away in the cellar and only dragged it out to reread when the rum bottle was damn near bottomed out and the lonely what-if’s had become to crawl out of the empty bookshelves and niggle at their ears.

“I could not deal with the rejection,” some would tell me.

“If two editors rejected it,” another said. “Then it must stink. I just can’t fucking write.”

And then there’s those who tell me that “Publication is really over-rated. I’d much rather read my work in coffee houses and at writer critique clubs.”


If you don’t have the skin of a rhino you’d better grow it if you want to make it as a writer these days. Rejection is nothing more than a condition of creativity. I have sold stories that were rejected over two dozen times.

Rejection doesn’t mean you stink!

Think of it this way. Rejection is nothing more than one editor’s opinion on one particular day. Maybe he had a headache. Maybe he was backlogged and needed to clear his desk. Maybe his slush heap was threatening to swamp over into the cesspool. Maybe he never even read it.

All that rejection really means is that one editor said “no thanks” on one day of the week.

Or to put it another way – I don’t particularly care for the work of Stephanie Meyers. I read the first chapter of her first novel and just could not get into it. I found it boring.

Well gee – some people might say. Steve Vernon is an honest-to-freaking writer. He ought to know what he is talking about, right?


The fact is I didn’t care for the book. Thousands of readers thought differently. Doesn’t make them any more right than I was. Reading will always come down to a matter of taste. What turns one reader’s crank might totally sicken another.

The same thing goes for editors. It’s nothing more than a matter of taste.

Sometimes it comes down to timing. Say you send a story and he’s just filled his magazine for the next three issues. Chances are he is going to fire your story right back at you, just because he doesn’t need it at that point in time. It doesn’t mean your story stunk. It just means, whoops, the gods of bad timing have frowned upon you today.

That is something very few authors can control.

It might come down to luck. You send him a story on a vampiric phone booth and it turns out he’s just accepted two other vampiric phone booth stories last week. Bad luck. Bad timing.

Doesn’t mean you stink.

A writer who wants to see his work in magazines and anthologies needs to send his work out. If a story comes back, send it right back out to somewhere else. A writer is juggler – he needs to keep those balls in the air. Sitting on the ground mildew will result.

So if you want to follow the dream of of submitting and selling – then you need to grow yourself some diehard blue steel rhino hide.


yours in storytelling,

Steve Vernon

Dealing with discouragement…

Three years ago I read a message board question at a forum that I still frequent.

I have removed all identifying names to avoid possible embarassment but it read something like this.

“I just got another rejection notice. The editor said they liked the story. They said it was “highly engaging and wonderfully weird” but it lacked a punch at the end. This is the second time I’ve been told my endings stink. The first time on another story the editor raved about it and asked if I could change the ending. I didn’t know what to do, and I added some lame ending to it. That one didn’t work either. That one was also different from how I normally write. This writing stuff is so damn frustrating I want to give up. “

This fellow was a good friend of mine – one of those acquaintanceships you strike up over the internet. I’ve never met the dude in person – might not ever see him face to face – but it peeved me considerably to hear his discouragement. We have all felt this way and I have to and I wanted to reach out and give him a hand up.

So this is how I answered.

“I was talking to a local YA writer the other day – a fellow who has sold books right across Canada, a fellow who has been writing for years with dozens of books and stories and story collections sold – and he still gets manuscripts rejected at a regular rate.

Listen, I’m fifty, and I’ve been writing for about twenty years and I get rejections as often as not. The fact is, it’s only been these last few years that I’ve really felt like I was beginning to get the hang of this writing business – and I still expect many more rejections.

Don’t let it get you down. Keep writing. Get more stories out there. The best way, I’ve found, to deal with rejections is numbers. When I was actively marketing my short stories I made it a point to try and get at least two dozen to thirty stories out there, at any given time.

So, if (when) a story came back with a rejection slip – I wasn’t crushed. I’d just look at it and say – well what the hell I am really counting on those other two dozen stories – and then fire it off to somebody else.

Writing is fishing. You throw a line in, nothing bites, throw it back in. You sit there all day, casting and enjoying the process and maybe you catch something and maybe you don’t, but if you’re doing it properly you learn from your experience and enjoy a good day of fishing.

Send the story off to someone else. Write another story. Send that one out. Get as many goddamn lines into the water as you can manage, and then get a few more.

Writing is training. Like every fighter – you’ve got to work the speed bag, the heavy bag, the crazy bag – you’ve got to keep punching.

As for endings – well, like I always say – I don’t like to start a story until I know where I’m ending it. A story is a process that your protagonist must endure and enjoy. The ending must be inevitable, unexpected and satisfying. A proper beginning asks a question. A proper ending answers the question. Endings are as tricky as carving proper Santa feet. Endings are the feet that your story stand upon.

Endings are tricky. Practice will get you there. Take a look at some of your favorite stories, shit that other writers have written and you’ve enjoyed and returned to – novel, short story, poem – doesn’t matter. Draw yourself a story-map and figure out how that author got there.

Above all else, have fun. The rejection is part of the game. Learn from it, don’t let it get you down.

Read more stories. Write more. Submit more.

Nobody starts out good. Everybody can get better. Best is nothing more than a point you’re trying to make with your gods.

This shit takes time.”

Goddamn, I can be an articulate fellow at times. So can all of us. There will come a time in your life – if you feel strongly enough about anything – that you will put your feelings into words and just reel them out. The only difference between me and thee is that I have trained myself to write them down as I reel them out.

If you want to write something worth reading find something that your passionate about and let your feelings out in words. Try to express how you feel through the mouths of character – let your heart and your passion and your feelings articulate themselves into the framework of a story. One of the key ingredients to any piece of fictional writing – and even a lot of nonfiction – is passion, intense feeling and strongly built character. You write about something you care about and your passion and feeling will show.

But sometimes that isn’t enough to carry the day.

Sometimes an editor will take a dump upon your heart from a very great height.

They won’t mean it personally but it will hit you like they did.

You’ll want to lay down and cry a little, hold your knees and rock in a fetal position, bemoan your lack of talent and cry out to the gods of creativity – “Why me, Lord, why me?”

Take my advice and stop and think about all of those countless dayjobs that we as human beings must endure. Think about all of those folks in call centres and factories and sweat shops and restaurant kitchens who deal regularly with seniors and authority-figures and bosses of all shapes and sizes crapping upon their self-esteem.

Odds are these labourers, these tradesmen, these workers will shrug off the crap and the carping and get back to the job because hell, it’s just another day at work.

So when an editor takes a dump on your self esteem don’t let it get to you. It is just another day at work. Shrug it off, shake it off, laugh at the cat or yell at the dog and then get back to it. It’s just another day at work. Just another day stringing words across paper or a computer screen.

Don’t let rejection or poor sales or a bad track record get you down.

Remember – this shit takes time.

yours in storytelling,

Steve Vernon


Titles are everything…

I was just talking about my friend Jim Mcleod. He runs a blog that specializes in horror. He’s been working on it for nearly three years now and he enjoys recieving anywhere from 200 to 1000 hits a day on that blog. Just last month – (January) – he recieved a total of 6783 hits – and he tells me that he was somewhat disappointed in those numbers.

What’s his secret?

Well, for one thing he has been working on it for three years. Consistency is important in this business. If you doubt it, just scroll back and read the blog I wrote on just that subject.

For another, Jim lives in Edinburgh – and everyone knows that people with Edinburgh accents just naturally go further in this world.

Finally, though – I believe it’s the name of his blog.

He calls it “The Ginger Nuts of Horror”.

If you don’t believe me you can take a look at his site to prove it to yourself. http://thegingernutcase.blogspot.com/

I remember when Jim first told me he was calling his blog site “The Ginger Nuts of Horror” I informed that he was a few crackers short of soup. I mean, you would have to be absolutely foolish to name a blog something as numb-nutsian – (pronounced so it rhymes with run-putts-CN) as “The Ginger Nuts of Horror”.

What the hell do I know anyway?


I do know about titles.

I put a lot of thought into the titles of my stories, novellas and novels. I mean – just take a look at the title “Long Horn, Big Shaggy: A Tale of Wild West Terror and Reanimated Buffalo”. It just sort of rolls off your tongue, doesn’t it?

Or what about my story “Nailgun Glissando” – a story that was written from the title out?

I stumbled across the word “glissando”. I had to look in a dictionary to find out what it meant. I loved the sound of the word “glissando”. And then, when I added “nailgun” to the front of it I came up with a title that stood up off of the page and grabbed me by my throat and shook me hard until a suitable story fell out.

That story sold to Dark Discoveries magazine. Then it was reprinted in my collection Do-Overs and Detours (Dark Regions Press). And I’ve just found out that it has been selected for an upcoming Best of Dark Discoveries collection – due out sometime further down the road.

All of that mileage, all of that money earned – from that two word title.

Don’t believe that titles are important?

Well, let me tell you about my first ghost story collection.

When I pitched it my working title was A CHOWDER OF GHOSTS.

How numbnutsian can you get?

Thank god my editor, Sandra McIntyre had the foresight to kick me upside the head several times until I saw the light.

In fact, she asked me “How numbnutsian do you have to be to think that naming your ghost story collection after soup is going to get you readers?”

So we batted around about sixteen or twenty different titles before finally settling on one particular title. I wish that I had kept all those titles but they are locked up in an old crashed computer that is undoubtedly been recycled to death some time ago.

We called the collection Haunted Harbours.

As a result this book has sold about 8000 or more copies since its release in 2006. That is huge for a Canadian book and it is FREAKING huge for a regional ghost story collection.

And you know what? The book is still selling. When I sit outside a bookstore for a signing – and you really ought to scroll back to my blog entry on book signing techniques if you want to learn something – I always make sure that I have a supply of Haunted Harbours on hand.


Because if I’ve got all of my collections on that table and the person has to choose between them and doesn’t know me or my books from a hole in Blackburn, Lancashire – they will most likely choose Haunted Harbours.

Partly because of the cover – which is brilliant – and someday I will really have to post one of the original designs for the cover – which wasn’t brilliant.

And partly because of that name.

It sings.

I’ve heard so many people whisper that title to themselves as they stood there in front of my signing table – while I gestured hypnotically and whispered that all-powerful mantra “buy-my-book-buy-my-book” over and over and over to myself – right before they picked up Haunted Harbours and said “This title sounds cool and absolutely un-numbnutsian.”

Right before they bought it.

yours in storytelling,

Steve Vernon

Let’s review the art of getting a review…

Okay, so I’ve got a new book out – BAD VALENTINES.


And I’ve got another book out – DEVIL TREE.


And I’ve got a whole mittful of other e-books but I’m not going to belabor the point. The problem is – nobody has heard of them. Nobody, aside from my cat, even knows they exist.

Let alone if they’re good or not.

So how do we writers get the word out?

Well, one way is to solicit reviews.

I love that word, solicit. It brings this writing gig right down to where it truly ought to be. In the gutter. I am soliciting clients. Hey baby – how’d you like to get lucky? Show you a good time. Hook you up with a novel – jiggedy-jig.

So how does a writer go about propositioning a reviewer?

Reviewers get pummeled with review requests and/or review copies. Waiting for a reviewer to “stumble” across your work and ask you for a review copy might make for an AWFULLY long wait.

Your best bet is to start checking out the review market. Depending on your chosen genre you might find yourself with an awfully large group of reviewers to choose from. That’s good. That will work in your favour.  Somebody like myself, working in horror, has a lot fewer reviewers to find. Folks in romance, YA or paranormal romance have an abundance of reviewers to choose from.

Once you begin finding reviewers you need to start researching them. Have they written a lot of reviews. Does their blog site look professional. Do their reviews read like good professional reviews or do you see a lot of “Ya, I thought this book was kuul.”?

If the review site mentions anything about a cash payment up front – run away. Don’t even stop to think about it. Writers should not pay for reviews. We give a free book, that’s what a reviewer is owed and nothing more. I wrote reviews professionally for Cemetery Dance, Fearzone, Hellnotes and several other markets – and I usually recieved a small payment – maybe ten or fifteen dollars – from the publisher of the magazine/market that I was writing for – but nothing from the writer but a free book.

What else could I ask for?

Certain sites maybe worth making an exception for. Sites like Kindle Daily Nation http://kindlenationdaily.com/ has a sponsorship plan for $139 and up that will advertise your book. I haven’t tried any of that sort of thing – nor do I intend to – but it is out there. What I would mostly warn about is sites that offer you reviews at five or ten dollars a pop. You have to ask yourself what kind of a review are you going to get when you shell out ten dollars. That is a lot different than how I operated, getting ten dollars from the owner of the review column/site that I wrote for. He was just paying me the same way you would pay anybody who provided your column/site/magazine with a certain amount of words for your readers to read.

Prepare a proper review request. Take a half an hour or so and put one together. You’ll want a short letter-sized document that tells the potential reviewer what the book is about, who you are, how many books you’ve written, whether you are new to this business.

Here’s a review request that I wrote for my novel DEVIL TREE.



I have taken a look at your review column I LIKE COOL COOL BOOKS and enjoyed the heck out of it. You have a keen eye and I believe I might have a book that you’d be interested in reading/reviewing.

The book is called DEVIL TREE – and it is the story of Lucas Sawyer and his wife Tamsen who find themselves marooned in the heart of a mid-nineteenth century wilderness. They’re rescued by Jonah Duvall, a mysterious woodsman who abides in this wilderness with his wife Jezebel and son Cord. Brooding over all stands the Devil Tree – a huge and evil jack pine that has summoned them to this valley to feed upon their collective emotions and guilt and to breed unnatural offspring. Part earth spirit, part elder demon – the tree is farming them. The characters are bound into a tightening noose of blind undeniable fate. As winter sets in they must face the tree’s unholy fury in an utterly horrific finale.

Devil Tree is a 60,000 word novel that will take you into the heart of pure unimaginable horror. We are not talking gore or graphic blood-spree. This is NOT one of those OH-MY-GOD-GRAB-THE-CHAINSAW-AND-CLEAVER blood soaked yarns, but rather this is a work that I guarantee will horrify and haunt you for a long time after you turn the last page.

“A mesmerizing journey into unimaginable darkness, DEVIL TREE showcases Steve Vernon at the height of his power and results in a provocative, profoundly unsettling novel you will never forget.” – Greg F. Gifune

Have I overkilled this? I hope not. I surely would appreciate you reading my book. I can provide you with a Kindle copy or a pdf or an epub – whatever your pleasure is.

yours in storytelling,

Steve Vernon


That’s one way of doing it.

Notice how I started by introducing myself. I made sure that I knew the reviewer’s name and the name of their column. You don’t want to come off sounding like you’ve just cut-and-pasted a hundred review requests to a hundred random review sites – even if you have. I told a little bit about the novel, without spoiling too much of the reading experience. I gave them an idea of how long the novel was – so they could judge for themselves how much eyestrain they might actually have to invest in the process. I included a picture of the cover, which is also a key selling point to any book in the world – including e-books.

I probably should have talked a bit about myself and my history as a writer – but in this case I was submitting to a reviewer who already knew my stuff. Usually you won’t have that benefit. I’ve been writing genre since the mid-80’s, so a few people have heard my name. Some of them even don’t run away when they hear it.

Think of it as being the same as pitching a publisher a new book idea. Remember, these reviewers are READERS first. They want to read something that will get them excited enough to write a good review. They don’t do this sort of work to bore themselves to sleep at night. They review books because they have a passion for it.

Do your homework, and send out a few review requests. In the long run they are worth it. You may get a good review, you may get a bad one – but it will improve your visibility and (hopefully) improve your sales for the next ten books that you write. Each step forward in your writing career will take you further down the road – so by god, make it a good step.

How do you find reviewers? Well, for starters, watch your message boards and Facebook pages for like-minded writers who are advertising their own books. If Jack writes the same sort of genre as you do and has just recieved a glowing review from Fester over at the WE REVIEW COOL COOL BOOKS site, well you want to do swing on over to that site and check out their review policy.

ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS spend the time necessary to check out that review policy. Odds are, if the reviewer is so booked up with books to review they’ll mention that in their review policy – something along the lines of “Oh my good gosh golly, I am so swamped with books that I won’t be taking any more books until next year.”

You read that in a review policy, honor it. Don’t figure that your book is so gosh golly good that the reviewer will make an exception for it. All that you will accomplish by sending an unwanted book to a reviewer is pissing him off.


Finally, a few words on response time. Nine out of ten reviewers aren’t even going to respond. Get used to it. Send more review requests out to more reviewers. Pick a day each week and spend an hour that day researching new review sites and sending out review requests. Sooner or later somebody will take the bait and ask you to look at your book – unless your book sucks so badly that even your mother is shaking her head no when you ask her to read it.

Lastly, when you do get that review don’t get all upset if it isn’t a good one. You can’t control that. All you can do is do your research ahead of time and try to send it out to somebody who likes the sort of thing you write. DON’T send an angry e-mail back to the reviewer arguing with them about thier opinion on your book. You will just piss them off.

Double royally.

Last off all – here’s a good site to get started on your hunt.


But don’t stop there. If you write Rock and Roll Romances, then Google Rock and Roll Romance Book Reviews and commence hunting.

Good luck and have fun.

Yours in storytelling,

Steve Vernon