Announcements for 2017

Suzanne will no longer be offering discounts for first-time clients as of 2017. She has now been with us for two years, and has built up a solid reputation as a whipsmart, savvy, and knowledgeable editor. We are considering offering genre-themed sales for a smaller discount at points during the year (possibly in the realm of mystery and LGBT manuscripts).

Due to her more recent promotion at her day job (now the store manager of an independent bookstore in Worcester, MA), Suzanne is currently tackling one round of copy edits every two weeks and developmental edits in one month. She is working to take on only one large project and one small project a month (one large novel and one short-story novella) until she can finally come back to working for us full-time, which she hopes will be one day very soon. You can follow her on Twitter for updates and publishing news, or on her own blog, An Andro Named Sue, where she writes about mental illness, folklore and paranormal studies, gender and sexuality, and the publishing community.

We are also working to keep a regularly updated page for Convention Appearances. Suzanne loves to go to conventions all around the North East coast. She is currently planning to attend Boskone, NECON, Readercon, and Howlercon. Last year she was given a place on a small panel discussing independent publishing, and is looking forward to getting more involved this year. You can also find her at events with Writer’s Coffehouse New England, run by River City Writers, as well write-ins with Worcester Writers Collaborative.

That’s all folks! Hope everyone’s 2017 is off to a great start, and we look forward to seeing all of your marvelous stories in the months to come.

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Small House, Big Competition: the evolution of publishing as we know it

Before we begin the learning portion of today’s exercise, I would like to open with the following statements:

If you think e-readers are the downfall of civilization and the writing industry as we know it, turn back now.

If you think self-publishing is only for People Who Can’t Write, there’s the fucking door.

If you think getting published is a lot harder today, sit down, grab a cup of tea – we have a lot to discuss.

dis-gon-be-gud

For those of us new to the world of publishing, the grand scheme works something like this. You, the author, write things. You go out and find a literary agent, whose job is to help you make money from these things, because they don’t make money until you do. They try to find your book a home at a publisher. The publisher’s job is to make money, regardless of whether you do or not. The publisher then has to get a distributor to actually create your book and spread it amongst book stores, shopping centers, etc.

As a diagram, it would look something like this:

Author -> Agent -> Publisher -> Distributor -> THE WORLD (hopefully).

As with much of the world’s industry, the Powers That Be of Publishing are down to the Big Five. These guys have gobbled up most of the underdogs, including a major merger four years back of Penguin and Random House. Many of the presses you’ll see on books are imprints owned by one of these conglomerates. For example, Delacorte is a big name in young adult titles, and is part of Penguin Random House.

Due to this shift in the publishing industry and the rise of e-readers, I hear  authors complaining constantly at conventions and meet-ups that it is next to impossible to become published today.

Dylan eye roll

It is not impossible. It is harder to be published by a Big Five publisher, but Big Five is not the end all be all of traditional publishing.

What?! But in school, I was taught that there was only Big Publishing, evil Vanity Publishing run by Satan, and You’re Better Off Not Bothering Self Publishing.

I know – I was taught the very same thing. But I graduated in 2012. The world of publishing is a very different place today. Thanks in part to the challenges surrounding the Big Five of NYC, middle-sized, small-press, and independent publishing houses have risen up to take it upon themselves to change the face of publishing. These houses are unique in that they will often focus on the niche of your novel, such as sci-fi and fantasy publisher Angry Robot, or the young adult audience of Leapand of course, the godfather of independent US publishing: Kensington.

But how can a small or middle-sized house reach people like a Big Five can?

Easy – they use the same distributors as the big guys do. That means your book can still get into Barnes & Noble and everywhere else fine books are sold, without having to sacrifice a new born to get into a Big Five house. Not all major publishers have great promotional teams, and a big house does not mean a safer or better contract. (Seriously. Don’t sign the dotted line until you’ve read every square inch of it.) The key to selling a book well is not necessarily to get into a Big Five publishing house, but rather to have an excellent PR rep and a great distributor.

Now here’s the part where I ask of you, dear reader, to drink deep of this fine, indie publishing Koolaid and tell you one of two things.

First – you don’t need an agent to get into a small or mid-sized house. Many of them don’t require one. All you need to do is do the work of the agent yourself – that means going over your contract with a fine-tooth comb, and maybe contacting an author-friend or two before you sign anything.

Take a sip, and let that sink in.

Are you sitting? Have you tried the Koolaid? It’s actually herbal tea, but who needs the sugar really and all that fake coloring is just – I digress.

I’m going to tell you about a book. A very special book for many, many reasons. It’s a book I don’t order for my little book store through MacMillan or Edelweiss, aka the long arm of Penguin RH (brownie for you if you say Edelweiss with a heavy german accent). I have to go through Bookazine to get it because it’s published through an independent house. It’s gone again in three weeks or less, and I order them all over again like clockwork. Fabulous, profit increasing, indie bookstore supporting clockwork. The title is a middle-grade to young adult series called Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. The author is Ransom Riggs. The publisher is Quirk.

You don’t mean the new Tim Burton movie that’s coming out this summer!

Oh, I do.


Because of this one book, Quirk, who primarily doth not tread in younger audiences, is now taking on middle-grade and YA titles.

So before you give up on publishing that book, before you heave that big ol’ melodramatic anti-hero sigh and decide that maybe getting published traditionally just isn’t for you, consider all of your options first.

I sense a change in the Force dear reader, and it’s bad news for Big Five and fabulous news for the writer’s market. Because if stories like Miss Peregrine become A Thing, stories where books from non-NYC based houses are given their due diligence, Big Five publishers are going to have to change the way they do things.

I see a better world for writers, one where alternative presses and small/mid-size houses actively compete in the land of publishing.

Think I’m crazy?

Keep drinking the Koolaid, and talk to me when Miss Peregrine hits theaters.

cheers McFassy

Let’s Talk About Sex! Part One: Size Matters

by Suzanne Lahna
Pitch-Perfect-Stills-and-Gifs lets talk about sex gif

It’s no secret that the last month of summer is always the hottest; that’s why Word Vagabond has chosen August to share our three-part series on how to write the hottest sex scenes. We’re going to walk you through step by step to show you what to do – and what not to do – to make the sparks really fly the next time you sit down to write an erotic scene.

First off: Yes, bigger is better. And no, I’m not talking about male genitalia, I’m talking about your sex scene.

Rule the first: thou shalt write a sex scene that is no less than one and a half pages.

If you can’t pull that off, go back to the drawing board. Sex with your characters should be about passion and desire, and occasionally emotions at varying levels of depth. If it’s all three, you will have no trouble at all making the cut. A paragraph is not a sex scene; that’s a cop-out for a ‘fade to black’ (which is fine if the sex is necessary for plot, not character development; do this to up the pacing when needed). If three to twelve minutes has been your average in the bedroom, fire your partner. If you are this partner, fire yourself immediately.

And on that note, let’s talk about foreplay!

Foreplay is a wonderful and beautiful thing that can be used to show how well your characters know one another, and should always include moments of consent when the situation calls for it (i.e., anything that would not be dub-con or non-con. Your happy PNR pairings should have A LOT of consent). If they don’t know each other very well, let it be awkward. Awkward is the new adorable, trust me on this. Humorous sex scenes are incredible on paper; they read real and true.

On the ‘science of sex’ side of foreplay, always prepare the partners if any type of penetrative sex is happening. This goes for both anal and vaginal. Sex should not be painful for a woman, even if it is her first time or if he has a wider-than-normal cock.

Let me repeat: There is no reason for sex to be painful for women.

yes water based lubricant sex scene 1

A fair amount of fingering should be involved in the proceedings, always starting at one and working your way up if it is their first time having penetrative vaginal sex, or if you’re having anal sex. If lube is required, the lube should be water-based, and never ever flavored. Always remember that the g-spot is to women what the prostate is to men, and work to include this erogenous zone in your scenes. Also, weird but cute erogenous zones work great for the awkward couples, like behind the knee or that spot by your hip.

Your foreplay should last at least five to fifteen minutes; aim for ten. Foreplay includes kissing and working up into sex, as any couple or group would.

Anal sex with any gender will require a fair amount of preparation: usually slow and methodical, and at least three fingers before a penis should enter anyone’s ass. Again, water-based lube is the best all-purpose choice, though a silicone-based is longer lasting and more suitable for anal sex.(Do not sit there and tell me you think saliva can be used as lube; it cannot. It will hurt and be harmful. And STAY AWAY FROM KY. It contains awful things which you can read about briefly here, and in detail here.) If a man is participating in anal sex, always include the prostate. And please, if you’re going to do anal, think about rimming. It’s a wonderful part of sex and really should be brought up more in anal sex scenes (thank you How To Get Away With Murder).

But of course, I cannot write this post without bringing up actual sizes, so let’s roll out a bit of science for all of us to remember the next time we’re taking our characters’ clothes off.

For the ladies: the average depth of the vagina is only three to four inches. In some abnormal cases, the vagina can be five to six, but this is RARE. This is why a ten-inch penis is not only uncommon, but if encountered could be painful and would definitely not fit into a woman’s vagina (massive dildos are designed for anal sex, not vaginal!). Yes, it stretches, but it’s not a pocket universe; there’s only so much you can fit in there. Remember this when you’re writing the next part!

For the boys: the average penis is six inches long. That’s it. Also, girth. Girth is the circumference around the penis, and anything pushing five inches is going to take a lot of prep work and simply doesn’t happen often in nature. Remember – girth is circumference, not width!
For an average male: six inches long, with maybe four inches of girth (or one and a half to two inches wide).
For a very hung man: eight inches long and six inches around (no more than three inches wide) is well within the realm of possibility, while still requiring a fair amount of the previously mentioned foreplay.
(I like to keep width below three inches, because anything beyond that sounds absolutely terrifying and simply unrealistic).5.5 inch dildo from love honey sex scene 1

Obviously, you can go bigger, but as a writer and editor, I would save the ten-inch dicks for seriously out-there paranormal romance. Leave the unnaturally large genitals to the super-human characters; it will make for better writing.

Want to know more about what a penis of such-and-such measurement actually looks like in relation to the human form? I highly recommend you take a trip to the nearest sex store, check out the dildo selection, and see for yourself. If you don’t have one near you, go to lovehoney.com and check out the videos on each item to see how it stacks up against the average hand (just like the photo above, featuring a 5.5″ length or Penis of Average Size). This will give you a much better idea of what you’re actually dealing with, regardless of your sex life.

Sex scenes are like every other aspect of writing – research well and practice often!

Part 2 will post by this Friday, and Part 3 will be up next week! So stay tuned for more sex scene tips and tricks!

Camp NaNoWriMo: Getting you back on track to Finish The Damn Book

by Suzanne Lahna

Alright gang, raise your hand if you have an unfinished story lurking somewhere in your home. Be it on paper or somewhere in a sea of digital folders on your computer, those little untold tales have a way of piling up. As I’ve said in my previous post, writing is easy; the only thing easier is not writing.

Suzanne's personal Drawer of Shame

Suzanne’s personal Drawer of Shame

It is so very, very easy to come up with excuses not to write. I speak from over a decade of experience, working three jobs and putting myself through college. Even working from home through the incredible job I have today, I can still come up with a million and one ways not to write.

I have to go work out, I need to go to the store, I’m tired, I’m on deadline, I need to do more marketing, I have no plot outline — I could keep this up until I have a novel’s worth of excuses.

That’s where wonderful events like Camp NaNoWriMo come in.

Camp NaNo is a bit different than NaNoWriMo; I prefer to think of it as NaNo-lite, or NaNoWriMo Training Wheels. Unlike NaNoWriMo’s official novel writing month, Camp NaNo happens twice a year, in April and July. There are no prizes for winning, but the rules at play are also a lot easier to work with. Instead of having to write 50k in a month, you can set the goal to any amount you want!

camp nano welcome shot

Signing up for Camp NaNo is just like traditional NaNoWriMo — simply go to the site, sign in, fill out your novel info, and set a goal. You get adorable camper graphics to keep track of your work. Just like with NaNo, you get a very easy-to-use chart that will tell you how much you need to write each day in order to meet your goal. You simply put in the words you’ve written each day before midnight your time, and they get added to your total. If you like group work, you may also enjoy seeing the charts for your cabin’s totals to see how many words your group has written altogether. Huzzah, teamwork! Best of all, you get to be in charge of who you interact with and whether or not you wish to share you misery with others through the Camp NaNo Cabins network!

‘Cabins!’ you say. ‘How the heck do cabins work in an on-line writing event?’

Cabins are the Camp NaNo way of giving you a group to work with, should you want one. Once you sign up for Camp NaNo, you are given the option to either set up a private cabin, have cabin members picked via book length or a genre of your choice, or just go nuts and see which random lovely writers Camp NaNo will select for you. A private cabin can be kept exactly that — private — or you can invite friends to your cabin. You can even invite a few writing buddies you know personally, and then open your cabin to the public for others to join, giving you a bit of both worlds.

A simple word-count tracking printable for the pen & paper crowd

A simple word-count tracking printable for the pen & paper crowd

‘If there’s no prize, then whats the point of doing Camp NaNoWriMo?’ you ask.

The prize at the end of Camp NaNoWriMo is YOU finishing the damn book! Camp NaNo is more than just a writing event; it’s an incredible training tool that can help you get in the habit of writing each and every day in your own way, without the pressure of a 50,000-word or higher goal by the end of the month. By setting your own goal, however large or small, you can take the first step to making writing a part of your everyday routine, enabling you to FINISH THE DAMN BOOK once and for all.

The second and final Camp NanoWrimo for 2015 begins July 1st, but we recommend joining ASAP to begin planning your writing project before you get to the starting line. Just like any marathon, you should always come prepared, and at Camp NaNo you can work to do so by having a plot outline, schedule, and maybe even a new method of writing (did we mention we love Zen Writer? Because we do. A lot.) to get you started. Whether it’s stocking up on your favorite tea, or simply picking an unfinished project from the pile — get your mugs ready, computers charged, and your pens filled for Camp NaNoWriMo!

camp nano 2015 participant

(We’ll be participating, too! If you don’t want to write alone, tweet your Camp NaNoWriMo screenname to @wordvagabond, and we’ll send you a cabin invite to the Word Vagabond cabin. We’re both excellent cheerleaders, who will maybe write as much as we cheerlead. We hope.)

Scary, but Necessary: Professional Beta Reads

by Suzanne Lahna

I’m a big fan of hard truths in writing. I prefer to be terse, cut to the chase, and end stories on a note that shares very close relation to a mic drop.

Hard truth the first – writing isn’t scary. Writing is easy. It’s a private thing where you can shirk the company of anyone for as long or as little time as you need, a time when ridiculous actions and insane excuses become perfectly valid. You need this type of tea and this exact type set, and also this cat or this dog, and also to watch the sun set from a window while you work; because that’s how your muse works. The only thing easier than writing is not writing at all.

Close-up of secretary’s hands doing paperwork

Hard truth the second – sharing your writing is one of the most terrifying things on this planet, second perhaps only to oral surgery and things seen on River Monsters. But this act is as vital to the health of your story as a root canal is to the health of your teeth – the sooner the better.

In my experience, most stories fall victim to one of two problems: Either you’ve shot the gun too early and gotten too caught up in the heat of the moment to properly research the novel before you began excitedly jamming away at the keys (or penning it out, no judgment here); or you’ve had this baby percolating in your head for so long that you’ve forgotten how to properly explain it to others. Whether too late or too soon, both causes lead to the same effect; the reader is left wondering what on earth is going on here.

Ernest Hemingway quote

Fortunately, both problems can also be solved by the same person: your professional beta reader!

‘But why can’t I use my friend?’ you ask. ‘My friend reads books all the time!’

Honest friends are hard to come by. It’s no secret that those who care for us are more likely to say what we want to hear in order to make us happy, but in the world of writing this can cause more harm than good. Unless your friend has a degree in English, they’re also likely to miss a thing or two, like tone or character problems. A scene could have excellent plot, a quickening pace, perfect dialogue, and well-rounded characters, but lack atmosphere, making it impossible for the whole exchange to feel real.

A professional beta read of an early draft can save authors a great deal of grief by analyzing everything from plot, pacing, characterization, setting, and even historical and factual accuracy, to insure the core concepts of the novel are a solid foundation for the entire body of work. This allows for fewer draft rewrites, giving the author the additional guidance that writers of all ages and areas of expertise can benefit from. Beta reads are a simple and affordable service that can save your novel from being cast aside for years to come, and instead move your story closer to the finish line in record time.

Sharing your story can be terrifying, no matter how many others you’ve published in the past. But the only thing you have to fear from beta reading is change. I don’t know about you guys, but improvements to my novel are never the source of my nightmares. (I did have a really weird dream about a suspended cabin and cryptids one time, but that’s a story for another weekend.) Every book has multiple drafts, and no one is perfect – that’s what makes each of us and the stories we tell unique and incredible.

Don’t be afraid.

It’s only your plot holes that die.

Word Vagabond Summer Editing Sale!

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Suzanne Lahna

You know who loves summer sales? We do! Summer means longer days, higher temps, and more time to write!

That’s why Word Vagabond is having our huge Summer Sale for the next three months on editing services with our newest addition to the team – Editor and Marketing Monster Suzanne Lahna.

You can save on our already low prices by an additional 15% when you book with Suzanne for the months of June, July, and August! So be sure to send your manuscripts her way, and take the time to catch some sun this summer season while you leave the tedious task of editing to the affordable professionals at Word Vagabond.

Don’t worry, we’ll let Suzanne out for a few hours of needed UV rays too.

Check out our Editing Services page, and then e-mail Suzanne at suelahna@gmail.com!