Guest Post: “A Self-Publishing Blueprint” by Bud Smith

Hi gang,

For our next installment of the Guest Blog Post, I turn to my good friend and all-around fantastic author Bud Smith. Bud’s a veteran of the self-publishing wars, and in his guest post, “A Self-Publishing Blueprint,” he imparts the knowledge and wisdom he’s gained while publishing his own collections of short fiction and poetry. With a healthy dash of humor, to boot. His guest post will surely answer any questions you might have about self-publishing, and ease your mind as well.

A little about Mr. Smith:

Bud Smith is the author of the novel, Tollbooth (Piscataway House), the short story collection, Or Something Like That (Unknown Press), and the poetry collection Everything Neon (Marginala). He edits at JMWW and Uno Kudo, and lives in New York City. 

And now, without further ado…




A Self Publishing Blueprint

by Bud Smith



Oh Jesus, this again. The debate, ‘Should I self publish my book, or should I sell it to One of the Big Five?’
Who knows what you should do. Should you be getting an agent? Should you be looking for a movie deal? Should you be finishing your book? Should you start writing your book? Should you get off the floor, you’ve been laying there curled up in a ball for three weeks, just eating crumbs that roll over.

Regardless of all that, I think it comes down to, Have I put in the time to learn how to do what I want to do great.
Okay! I saw this coming … YOU’RE GREAT! Knew you’d say that.
So then, you probably wanna talk about self publishing. There’s no time to waste, you say, I gotta self publish this book ASAP. Alright, keep reading. But also, if you are against self publishing, keep reading. I’ll talk in this article about how to use POD to print your drafts out in paperback form, for you to edit and finalize, before submitting to small presses, agents, even God. She likes a good book too.

Self Pub 101
1. There’s still a stigma against self-published books. I call it, the grime of self-publishing. But, they can be great books. And they can be just as great as books released from major publishing houses.


* Whenever I say just as good, I mean, they can actually be far better, because they can say whatever the hell whacked out thing they want.
* When I read a book, I’m reading it for the art of the writing. It doesn’t bother me if you put your book out yourself or if the biggest publishing house in the world put your book out.

* I think of small press books in the same light that I think of indie films. Some of my favorite movies are made by solitary directors who wrote, produced, and acted in their own films. There’s a handful of books on my self that are from authors who’ve pulled off that same level of commitment to their books. It can be done. It will be done again.

2. Not all self-published books are created equal.
* The problem most readers have with dedicating their time to reading a self published book, is the fact that the creators of the book, sometimes seem to give zero fucks about spell checking their work, editing their work for typos, working on the appearance of the text, considering font, sizing of page, spacing of lines and characters … in short, the readers are mad because they are looking at a sloppy/ugly book that is not pleasing on the eye or brain, regardless of the content or quality of the writing, and the purpose that writing achieves on an entertainment and educational level.

*Successful self-published books, are that way because of the level of care put into ‘building the thing from the ground up.’

*And it’s all bout the person who’s putting together the project, hence the self in the self publishing. If the self wants to take their time and do something beautiful, the self can do that. If the self wants to put it out raw, the self can do that too.
Whichever. I’m a fan of both ways.

I’m probably not the best person to ask if self publishing is cool. I’m biased, and by biased, I mean, “I don’t give a fuck what is considered cool.”

I just care about making stuff. Sometimes making stuff involves me working with a press on a book that they will publish for me, like I got to did with my novel Tollbooth (Piscataway House), and did with a collection of my poetry called Everything Neon (Marginalia Press); or other times, it’s all ‘me’, and by that I mean Unknown Press, and I’m doing all the layout of the book myself, from cover to cover  and the inside guts between. That self publishing stuff happened with my short story collection Or Something Like That, the literary anthologies, First Time, and the forthcoming anthology Too Much.
I like books, and I like making them, any way that I can.
I get all starry-eyed with the process. But, had a big trial and error period with making my own books, ie. self publishing my own books. I scoured the internet looking for people who would ‘tell me how to do it.’ And believe me, they would—there’s no shortage of long-winded advice that leads nowhere.
Just look at this fucking article. Long-winded, check. Semi-helpful, check.
But my purpose here … is to just say what I do. To give you the details. To get you set-up, so that your book looks the best it can, whatever that means for you.

Self-publishing for release.
Or using the self publishing model to generate your own ‘draft books cheaply.’


The Process Step By Step

1. Your book should be done, finished, finito.


*  By finito, I mean: you’re ready to stop writing for a little while, get it printed up as a ‘proof’, order yourself a copy, and read it. Run spell check on your draft at least.


2.  Layout


*  I make 6 X 9 books generally. 5 X 8 books will follow the same general layout and formatting tips though.

*  margins are 1 inch. All margins, Top, Bottom, Left, and Right.

*  Header and Footers, I Set at .5 inches, but generally put nothing in them but page numbers. I like a simplistic, clean book.

*  all indents are set to 0 in.

*  tabs= .25 inches. The tabs are set this way, so they create a pleasing paragraph start. A moderate bump in, at  the start. Most bad looking self published books have 2 dead giveaway layout messups. The first, is over exaggerated paragraph starts, ie. .5 inches-1 inch on a 6 X 9 book … The other mess-up I commonly see, if that the self pub author decides to put a an extra space (line break) after the conclusion of each paragraph. This always looks unnatural.

3. Formatting
*  text is 11 pt. Georgia, Garamond, or Minion.

*  Line spacing is 1.1, or 1.2 (white space is your friend in book design.)

*  Alignment = Justified. Clean edges. Text like a box. Open up a pro-book by a big pub house … oh shit look at that, they are all aligned as ‘Justified’

*  Character spacing I usually leave alone, but you can add a little white space between the individual characters if you prefer. 1%-2% max is recommended for this, in the body of text for a standard novel, short story collection, book of essays.


*  First of all, when you open a book, the inside of the cover, does not count as a page. Page one, is on your right hand side when you immediately open a book. This might seem counter-intuitive to some. But, all books start on page 1. Well laid-out books will not be numbered (in header or footer) until after the title page, publisher page, any other pertinent page, before the actual text of ‘page 1’ of your novel starts

In example: there should be no ‘page numbers’ in the headers or footers of these pages, in this: section one.

*  page 1: title page

*  page 2: publisher’s page/copyright page

*  page 3: table of contents (A/)

*  alt. page 3: “for”

*  alt. alt. page 3 “quote”

*  page 4: blank, (add section break)


Section Two: begin automatic page numbering in header or footer.
*  page 5: text of book begins here.

*  page 5-whatever (body of book)

*  last page of body text (add section break)

Section Three: no page numbers here.

*  at end of book, on an even page, add acknowledgements

*  blank page

*  finish with bio page

I always like to ‘start’ a new chapter, on a new clean page. I add page breaks to the end of paragraphs that will be the finale to a chapter. This keeps things clean, and organized. You could just hit return a bunch of times, but if you add a page break, your formatting will improve dramatically, and as you edit, add/remove text in later drafts, the start and stops of paragraphs will be cemented.


You have a pleasing looking document now. I go into the Menu>File>Print, and in the print window, I convert the .doc into a PDF. A PDF is beloved by printers. What you see on the page is what you see in the book.

I use Createspace for my printer. There’s benefits to using them, especially in the price, quality, ease of upload … and my favorite thing, the ability to keep ordering cheap proof copies of your title as you see fit, before approving it (if ever) for release online and in the Amazon store.


Other benefits of PDF

*Pdfs can be uploaded to And you will get a preview of how the interior of your book will look in printed form (on screen). You will be able to flip through your book by cursor, to take a look at your layout, choice of font, sizing, spacing and page numbering …

*Upload the PDF to your printer, ie. Createspace.

*Be sure to select 6X9 book if your file is a 6X9 PDF, or however you set your pages up.


Book Cover

Of course book covers are important. If you don’t have much experience with making your own covers, it’s a good idea to get help. A bad book cover steers people away. Generally, if I see a book with a bad cover and know it’s self published, I make the assumption that it is not edited, even proofread, laid out nicely, or in general, worth my time. Remember this is all happening digitally online, mostly. People are going by a thumbnail.

So … that said, if you are going to make your own cover, and have a working knowledge of photoshop, at least, you can, and should give it a shot on your own. (Q: Do you suck now? How will you get better? A: BY DOING IT.)


*Sometimes simpler is better.

*Graphic, timeless covers do better.
*Make sure the title is clear.
*Make sure your name is clear.
*Avoid: busy
*Avoid: cheesy
*Avoid: blurry, crooked and smudged


Some of my favorite covers are from Charles Bukowski. All his press did was put the title of the book and the author’s name, with minimal fluff. See also: Ask the Dusk and Catcher in The Rye (red cover yellow letters)

Don’t like how it comes out? Fucking hire someone to fix it, maing.


Order it.


When it’s all loaded up on your printer’s site, and you finally get that email that says they are ready for you to order your proof copies, or they are ready for you to CLICK APPROVE PROOF COPIES, slap yourself in the face if you thought for a second to just approve the proof copies.


*  Order a physical copy

*  Read it.

*  Revise it.

*  Mark it up.

*  No matter what you do on your own, you will not find all the typos.

*  Again: No matter what you do on your own, you will not find all the typos.

*  Fix the original doc.

*  Make a new PDF.

*  repeat until you are happy with the result.

*  I recommend getting people to read your book, extensively proofreading it. I recommend paying them what you can. I recommend that till the cows come home. A new author will not listen. That’s fine. You will one day break. You will one day learn. Or, you can just take my fucking advice now. HAVE SOMEONE ELSE, who is not your friend or lover, proofread your book. Better yet, get two people.

*  Fix it again.

*  Make a PDF.

*  Re-upload it.

*  Look at the physical proofs.

*  Like it?




Congratulations, you just made a book. I like art and I love books, so I’m happy. Another book for me to read!

Those are some of the tips I can offer. There’s a lot more, and things always change, but  that’s what I’ve got right now. I hope it helps you make a book.

Chances are, it’ll take you a few tries before you are happy with the results. Don’t give up. And keep getting better at writing, designing, editing and making in general, by practicing it.

Even the pros have to learn this stuff. Don’t let anybody tell you that they just skip it. While they make not be physically making and releasing their own titles, their publishing houses are not carrying them as far as legend would have you believe.

Writing and book making is hard work. But hugely satisfying work.
Enjoy it, party animals.

Guest Post – “5 Things I Learned Writing ‘Death By Ice Cream” by Rebecca Douglass

For the next installment in the Out Where the Buses Don’t Run Guest Blog Post Series, we now turn our attention to author and librarian Rebecca Douglass. Rebecca and I met on Goodreads a while back, and we’ve maintained our friend both there and through each others’ blogs.

She’s recently self-published another book, called “Death By Ice Cream.”


The synopsis of “Death By Ice Cream”:

Pismawallops Island is a quiet place where nothing much happens, even at the High School.  That’s why JJ MacGregor likes it.  When a high-handed new member of the PTA threatens to disrupt the even tenor of life in the middle of Puget Sound, JJ wants someone to take a firm stand against her.  But when Letitia Lemoine shows up very dead in the freezer where there should have been 30 boxes of ice cream bars, JJ worries that someone might have taken her command too seriously.  Not the sort to sit back while someone else solves her problems, JJ just can’t help asking a few questions.  But someone wants her to stop—and an acerbic sense of humor, insatiable curiosity, and carefully hidden dedication to duty lead her into more trouble than she knows how to handle.

Like any good writer, Rebecca looks back at the experience in writing “Death By Ice Cream” and recognizes there are some lessons to be learned. In her guest blog post, “5 Things I Learned Writing ‘Death By Ice Cream’,” Rebecca shares those lessons learned. I think we as writers can take a lot from what she’s learned. Not to mention she’s learned all this while retaining both a great sense of humor and some humility to boot.

Her bio:

Rebecca Douglass was raised on an Island in Puget Sound only a little bigger than Pismawallops.  She now lives and writes in the San Francisco Bay Area, and can be found on-line at and on Facebook as The Ninja Librarian.  Her books include the tall tales for all ages, The Ninja Librarian and Return to Skunk Corners.   Rebecca likes to spend her time outdoors, when not writing or working to make the schools the best they can be.  She spends her free time bicycling and running, and her vacations hiking, camping and backpacking.

rd author photo


Book purchase links of all kinds:

At any rate, here’s Rebecca’s guest post. Thanks to Rebecca for writing this and sharing!


5 things I learned writing Death By Ice Cream

  1.  It’s best not to take ten years to draft a novel.
    This is particularly true if you don’t have an outline. I should have learned this with my first, mercifully unpublished, mystery. Often months went by between times I worked on it, and I would forget what had happened, not to mention where I was going. Death By Ice Cream was also originally drafted (though somewhat faster) before I committed to writing daily. Let’s just say it took a lot of work to create the tight, coherent story I wanted. So what I’ve learned, in all seriousness, is to work every day. A writer writes.
  2. If you love something about the story, it’s worth saving.
    I learned this from my editor, Inge Lamboo. I took her a draft resurrected from the files where it had languished since I’d given up shopping it to agents, and told her I wondered if it was worth trying to salvage. I thought about just taking the characters I loved and start over. She told me that if I loved the characters, the book would be worth working on. She was completely right. It wasn’t easy, but I not only loved the main characters but also the setting, so the process was rewarding, and the end product a book to be proud of.
  3. It may not be easier to write your mystery using an outline, but it’ll be a poodle-load easier to edit.
    Actually, I haven’t really tested this, yet (only the writing part, since I’ve drafted the sequel, Death By Trombone, with an outline, mostly). But it can’t make it any worse. And honestly, it was easier to write the first draft knowing who did it and why. But an outline doesn’t have to be a bunch of Roman numerals in a cascade. My “outline” was more a series of questions: who’s dead? Who found him? Who might have done it? Who did do it? Why? And will JJ’s love life ever improve? By the time I had answered most of these questions, I had a whole lot more—and also both a substantial back-story and a good idea where the novel would go and how it would get there.
  4. Everyone’s lying.
    The best advice I ever picked up (wherever I did pick it up, and I don’t remember now) was that everyone’s lying. This is probably true in any kind of novel—everyone has their secrets, and that’s what makes them interesting and complex. It’s doubly true in a mystery, where it’s all those lies about unrelated things that make it so hard for the sleuth to find the important lie. But it was surprisingly hard for me to do. I tend to write in a straight line, and make my characters honest upstanding citizens. Well, most are, but that never stopped them from lying.
  5. Most importantly, I learned I can do it.
    I can write a mystery that completely works. I was never sure I could, up until a reader with an ARC reported back that she read the whole thing in one sitting. That only happens if you’ve done something right. I’m looking forward to doing it again. And again. Because, despite the agony of editing and the gloom of sales and marketing, writing is the best job I can think of, and I’m one lucky lady to be able to do it.

Guest Post: “Writing Cramps” by Christina Hart

Hey everyone,

Busy, busy, busy, as the good people of Bokonon would say. Yeah, it’s been a hellacious busy time here at Out Where the Buses Don’t Run. Work (real work), writing, reading, life, things have been hectic, but in a good way. Unfortunately, my blog’s taken a hit. Hence the reason why there have been no new posts lately. Some new posts will be coming soon, I promise.

In the meantime, here’s a terrific guest post from Christina Hart. You may know her from her insightful and funny blog, Daily Rants with the Bitch Next Door. Christina’s been kind enough to share with us a guest post, entitled “Writing Cramps.” In her words, “it’s 463 words, and summarizes the joys and difficulties of the writing process. It explains how characters can lead you through the process, how you can teach them to stop bitching about the process, and vice versa.”

“Writing Cramps” is a great guest post, and I think all of us who are writers will take much from it. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.

About the author:

Christina Hart is a writer who has worked for several online women’s magazines and blogs, while running her own blog, Daily Rants With the Bitch Next Door. She has self-published three books, including a poetry collection, a novella and a short novel. She is currently trying to get a fantasy novel published and survive the ups and downs of life while writing her way through it all. 

So, without further ado…


Writing Cramps

By: Christina Hart

Daily Rants with the Bitch Next Door


While writing can be magical at times, it can also be almost crippling. The joy of finishing a novel, the despair of never finishing one. We all suffer from writing cramps at one point or another. So what’s the trick to enjoying it full time? Are there any tricks? Is there one trick that works for everyone?


The trick is simply to love it; whether it loves you back full time or not. You need to be in a committed, long term relationship with your writing. You need to understand it’s like any other love: there are going to be good times and bad times. There are going to be days where you don’t want to get out of bed and write anything at all. There are going to be days where you feel like your work in progress is on a train to nowhere fast. You’re going to feel like that train dropped you off in the middle of nowhere when just yesterday you were in a place full of warmth and promise.

So what’s the trick?

The trick is getting back on that god damn train whether it stops for you or not. The trick is being dedicated enough to be willing to run for it, jump for it, or risk your life for it. Okay, maybe it’s not that intense. But it certainly feels like it sometimes.

The trick is to keep on running, despite the cramps. Run through them. Write through them. The rest will come; if you’re willing to put the work in. Finishing a novel is like running a god damn marathon alone. You only have your characters to get you through this. And if they’re not helping you, poke them until they do. Get them pissed off. Put them in a situation where they have to do something.

Our characters are like our children. Or maybe we’re theirs. They either teach us what’s right or we’re going to have to put them in a corner until they learn it on their own. For me, I tend to let my characters lead the way once I’ve nurtured them to the point that I trust their decisions. Maybe it happens right away. Maybe I feel like they walked into my life and I already knew them. Maybe I have to invent them, only knowing them from their childhood. Maybe I don’t understand why they are the way they are until later in the story. Either way, it’s a process. And it can be a fun one or a troubling one. Either way, it’s an adventure.

Write the book you want to read. Introduce the characters you wish you knew, or maybe wish you were.

And don’t let that train stop even if everyone on board wants to get off.

Guest Post: “How Not to Get Duped By Editors” by Elizabeth Harvey

Hey gang!

So about the radio silence lately…the move finally took place. After weeks and weeks of packing and stress and dealing with a realtor whom we wanted to have hung, drawn, and quartered, we sold our house, and we’re trying to settle into the two-bedroom apartment we’ll live at while our new home is being build. Key word is “trying.” That was two weeks ago, and I’m still unpacking. And I’m exhausted. There are boxes everywhere. For someone as clutter-phobic as I am, this would be like me being in an episode of “Hoarders.”


Don’t even ASK me how my writing’s been so far. Just don’t. Pretend I don’t even write, okay? I’m just a writer groupie right now, until the dust settles and all the boxes finally get unpacked.

Anyway, I thought this would be the right time for a guest post. This one’s a different guest post, as it comes courtesy of Elizabeth Harvey, a freelance editor whom I met through a Linkedin blog swap. You can find Beth over at her own site, E. Harvey Editing, which I highly recommend you pay a visit to.

Because Beth’s a freelance editor, I was keen on having her submit a guest post reflecting her perspectives on editing and editing services. Her guest post, “How Not to Get Duped By Editors,” I think does exactly that.

So, have a read, and be sure to visit Beth’s site and say hello.

Now, without further ado…


How to Not Get Duped by Editors

I’ve heard this horror story a lot when I encounter writers. It was even more frequent when I was working as an Acquisitions Editor for Divertir Publishing. It usually came out when we sent out the rejection letter.

“But my manuscript was professionally edited!”

Unfortunately, whenever I hear that argument my first instinct is to tell them they got ripped off, but that isn’t the most delicate way to put it. It is, however, true. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen authors being ripped off by so-called “editors” who don’t know anything about writing or editing. They may think they do (which is almost worse than people intentionally lying), but these books end up needing so much work that they are unpublishable without literal months of editing.

So how do you avoid this trap? There are a few ways to make sure you’re working with a professional who will treat you well. The most obvious is to ask for references – if they can provide other authors that they’ve worked with that speak highly of them then that’s an obvious plus. If you’re looking at going with a company (or a self publishing group) start by putting their name into Google alongside the word “scam”. Then check out the results. If nothing comes up screaming then you’re probably in better shape than if they do. If they do I’d suggest reading what is said and see how much there is. A few angry customers do not a scam make, after all.

The second is to ask for a sample edit if they don’t already offer one. That way you can see what they will fix. After that go through and carefully look at their edits. Did they catch typos? Grammar mistakes? Granted, yes, this will change depending on what you’re asking them to do. A proofreader will not edit for content, for example, since that’s not what you’re paying for.

Also remember that you are paying them for a service. They’re (theoretically) a professional and deserve respect, but don’t be afraid to ask questions or question things they’re doing if you think something’s off. A good editor won’t be offended by that. I know I’m not. Just make sure that if you question something they’re doing do so politely. We’re people too.

If you keep your head in the game and stay aware of what the editor is doing and how much they’re doing for the price they’re charging you, you should be okay. Don’t be overly impressed by the title of “editor”. We’re skilled, and we’re professionals, but that doesn’t mean that we’re unable to make mistakes or are “better” than anyone else.

Guest Post: “My Dogs Might Have Gender Identity Disorders”

Hi gang!

Sorry for the blog silence lately. More insanity taking place outside here than I’d care to relay. Nothing bad, and nothing I can’t manage, but I won’t bore you with details.

At any rate, I’ve got another guest post for you, and it comes from Cassandra, who blogs at Her Name Was Cassandra. She runs a very honest and funny blog about herself and her writing process. As she puts it, “On Mondays, she writes about her book project, on Tuesdays, she writes about yoga, on Fridays, she writes about writing, and the rest is cynicism and hyperbole.”

Her guest post, “My Dogs Might Have Gender Identity Disorders,” is pretty funny, if you ask me. No, seriously, go ahead, ask me. As a dog owner, this guest post makes a lot of sense; I’ve seen a lot of what Cassandra is describing in detail in the flesh. My dog can’t stay away from the cat litter. Mmm, yummy snacks! I think you’ll like this piece too.

Cassandra’s short and sweet bio: “Cassandra is a 23 year-old blogger who lives in an undisclosed location in Amurika. She enjoys making fun of herself, almost as much as she enjoys making fun of others.”


My Dogs Might Have Gender Identity Disorders.


I have two dogs– Patty Mayonnaise and Dr. “Doug Funny” Pepper(mint). Patty is about a year older than Pepper- she’s approaching three. I’m a little concerned she might think that she’s a dude.

Pepper's had a decent amount of success at convincing Patty to be his pillow, too.

Pepper’s had a fair amount of success at getting Patty to be his pillow, too.

When they aren’t eating or sleeping or barking at random passersby (how DARE they walk by THIS HOUSE), my dogs spend a fair amount of their days play fighting with each other, as dogs do. They’ve always been pretty boisterous about this, and when Pepper was small, Patty used to let him “win”. However, recently I’ve noticed that Patty has been aggressively mounting and humping her baby brother, a move that Dr. Pepper never adopted. The weird part is that for the most part, Pepper is completely unfazed by this happening.

Now, I know this is going to sound cat-lady crazy, but I’m pretty sure that my dogs understand English, because I totally called Patty out for doing it like the Discovery Channel yesterday, and she made a noise that sounded like a sea lion having a temper tantrum, dismounted, and stared at me for a solid minute with her best Interview Oprah face.

Oprah is disappointed in your choice of words.

Oprah is disappointed in your choice of words.

So at that point my one dog was looking at me like a teenager who just got told she wasn’t allowed to go to prom, and the other dog was chewing on his foot (Pepper’s a little slow). And  then I started to feel guilty about telling Patty off, so I sat down with her and explained that I still loved her no matter what life choices she decided to make and that if she wanted to act like a boy dog, I would support her, and she made a loud snorty huff sound and kind of buried her head into my chest as I told her that it didn’t matter whether or not she had a wee-wa, but it was the inside that counted.

I that that was the point in our conversation when my mom walked in and asked me why I was talking to Patty about wee-was, and I started laughing because I totally got Mom to use the word wee-wa and apparently I have the mentality of a 7 year old, and then I realized I’d just had a sex and gender identity talk with my dog. 

I looked it up and I guess that dogs just use humping as a sign of dominance, whether they are male or female, but the next time she did it we totally had a moment where she looked at me like thanks for approving of my chosen identity Mom. And I may be cat-lady crazy, but man I feel like an understanding parent.

Anyhow, I guess the moral of the dog is that dogs are awesome and stupid things make them happy, and also maybe that dogs are awesome because stupid things make them happy. And if humping Pepper makes Patty happy, I guess that’s pretty okay with me.

I just wish that Pepper was more into humping things than eating cat poop out of a litter box.


Guest Post: “What Your Artistic Friend Really Thinks,” by Holly Dutch

This next guest post is a special one for me, as it’s a guest post from a dear friend of mine. I met Holly Dutch a few years ago at a Nickelback fan site Goodreads group, and we hit it off pretty quickly. It became evident quite fast that we were pretty similar in many ways. We shared common interests in books, music, and films.

We also began giving each other nicknames for one another. Truly horrible, disgusting nicknames that I can’t reprint here.

Both of us shared an ambition: to become a published writer. Holly’s made that ambition come true. She’s recently self-published her first novel, Doll of Dawson, and I can’t tell you how thrilled I am for her.

Her guest post, “What Your Artistic Friend Really Thinks,” follows below. It speaks for all of us who waited a little long to pursue our artistic ambitions, only to find discouragement from sources you least expected to. I think it’s a piece a lot of us can relate to.

Holly Dutch’s bio: “For over twenty years, Holly Dutch has been a writer for radio, print, and telecommunications. As a broadcaster, she’s written, voiced, and produced copy, radio plays, newsfeed, and newsletters.”

She can be found online at, and on Twitter at Holly_Dutch.



What Your Artistic Friend Really Thinks

Hi.  Remember me?  I’m that friend of yours who had a dream of doing something artistic, and told you about it hoping I’d get some encouragement.

I write, sing, make music, act, paint, photograph, do stand-up, or have some other craft that you think is great, all too happy that I had found a hobby.  Maybe when I told you that my plan was to jump in and go further with my “hobby” you felt I was making a mistake.  Were you scared that I’d foolishly quit my day job, thinking I was going have a YouTube-sensation-insta-career that usually is the kiss of death once Ellen Degeneres invites me on her show?  Did you think it seemed okay that other people—perhaps famous people—do the things I aspire to do, but didn’t think that maybe I had the chops to be as good?  What was worse—maybe you didn’t care?

You’re right.  Maybe I’m not as good.  Maybe I won’t make a million dollars.  But I want you to know about what I’ve done to get to this point and how I’ve felt.

When I first took on this project, I wasn’t looking for your acceptance or your permission.  I discovered something I loved to do and I wanted to try my hand to see if I could take it to the next level.  I began to invest in better equipment, books, and I even spent time researching with professionals.  My “hobby” was starting to take up much of my time.  I might have even missed calls, forgot to reply to text messages, or even declined offers to go out citing I was busy with my project.  I’m sorry for this, but just like you needed time to take your kids to baseball games or take those night-school cooking lessons, I too needed time to work on what I loved to do.

I became immersed in my craft.  So, naturally it was all I wanted to talk about.  Just like new parents only wanting to talk about their babies, or pet owners talking about their animals, I hoped you would understand that after all the times I was there for you when you had exciting things going on, that you would be there for me during this exciting time: my chance to make my art my new job.  If nothing else, take my art to a level where I could showcase it to the masses.

Maybe you thought it was a pipe-dream.  You offered to change the subject, or politely reminded me not to expect that success was going to be easy.  You warned me that criticism will come, and you didn’t want me to get hurt.  You thought I was taking this too seriously.  The absence of encouragement, replaced by your doubt only told me that you really didn’t believe that my dream could be coming true.  You began to think that normal nine-to-five folks don’t do interesting, creative things and expect to make a living out of it.  You continue to think that perhaps it could for others, but not me.  I’m your normal friend.  I play by the rules and don’t do crazy things like take chances.  Didn’t you think all of these worrisome things have already played out in my head as I began to doubt myself throughout this ordeal?!

No one said I was going to be rich.  I certainly didn’t.  I don’t ever recall saying I would even leave my career, and I definitely knew enough to be realistic about where my bread was buttered.  So, I began the process of marketing.  I made a Twitter account, a Facebook page, and a personal website showcasing what I can do.  Still, you had doubts.

All the blood, sweat, and tears I put in to my project—and still nothing.  You don’t “like” me on Facebook and you don’t think to retweet me.  You had no idea that the work I had put in to make my craft the best it could be.  All those nights I stayed up until three a.m. and the offerings that you would get dibs on my work when it was finished.  I.e.: the “friend fee” (which is free).

Like an obsessive fool, I’m now checking my Twitter constantly, looking for new followers.  I scan my Facebook for new likes.  I check for updates on my website hits.  I check for these things on almost a minutely-basis.  I want to be liked and want to know that what I set out to do reached the world, no matter how small the numbers are.  I worked so hard, and desperately hoped you, my friend, would be supportive and become one of my biggest cheerleaders.

Alas, I have now come full circle.  I started out something I wished to do because it was a dream.  When I worked my tail off to hone my craft, I wanted to be someone you could be proud to call a friend.

Guest Post: “Red Apples Like Baseballs” by Kathleen Donohoe

Kathleen Donohoe is up next in my guest blogger series. Kathleen runs the blog BookStory, which she describes as “…every book you read has at least two stories. There is the one the author has written, and the one about how it came to be in your hands.  This blog is about books I have read and books I am currently reading, and why.”

Her guest post, “Red Apples Like Baseballs,” isn’t about baseball, sadly. It’s a recollection of when she first realized she was a writer. But it’s more than mere recollection, it’s a conjuring of images and sights and sounds and smells that a good writer should always incorporate into their writing. For me, a native New Yorker, I could feel so much about where this story takes place, the borough of Brooklyn.

It’s an excellent story. But don’t just take my word for it.

Kathleen’s bio: Kathleen Donohoe has published short fiction in several literary journals including Washington Square, Harpur Palate, New York Stories, Web Conjunctions,SNReview and The Recorder: Journal of the American Irish Historical Society. She grew up in Brooklyn, New York and now lives there with her husband and son, Liam.

Now, without further ado…“Red Apples Like Baseballs.”


Red Apples Like Baseballs

November Before It Gets Grim

The Muppets and St. Dymphna

In our kitchen, a statue of St. Dymphna sat on a shelf rarely dusted. She kept company with a beer mug full of pennies, a little yellow dish that held nickels and dimes for the Flatbush Avenue bus, an old can of Billy Beer and a piece of Palm, grown brown at the edges. About six inches high, she wore vivid robes of red and blue and a crown. She had long, light hair. An open book lay across one palm and in her other hand she held a staff. Her contour made me want to fling her into the air with a spin, a holy baton, just to see if I could catch her. She is an Irish saint, patroness of the mentally ill, runaways and knitters. I was standing beneath her feet when I realized that I was a writer.

I was eight years old, the middle daughter, the dark-haired one between two blondes. It was a bright, chilly afternoon, early in November. Winter coats were hibernating deep inside the house. Boots were not a thought. But my father had already put the storm door in and the sun lit the scratches on the glass so that they looked like confetti, tossed in the air and stilled. We’d gone apple picking recently in an upstate New York town with enough open space to astonish girls from Brooklyn, where backyards come in slices and running is done from curb to curb. Against the wall beneath the shelf, there were three paper bags of McIntoshes, red apples the size of baseballs.

That day, I was fetching an apple and thinking about what I wanted to be. My third grade teacher had recently asked the question. Mrs. T— was feared throughout Our Lady Help of Christians. There was a rumor that she’d been a nun and I believed it. She yelled, threw books to the floor, banged boys’ heads against the blackboard. Most of the class gave the same answers: cop, fireman, teacher, nurse. Nobody, however, said priest or nun and Mrs. T— got mad. Often she interrupted her classes for tirades that grabbed her like coughing fits and we all froze like rabbits in knee socks and neckties, hoping to escape a predator. She was angry that never, ever had one student of hers had a vocation. Didn’t any of us give a thought to the church? We needed to pay attention in case God gave us a sign. He might try more than once. God is persistent.

I had lied and said nurse because my mother was a nurse. Girls weren’t firefighters in those days. And there, beneath the statue, beside the apples, I panicked. What else was there? What did you do if you didn’t become what your parents were? Then I thought, I’ll write books. There was no epiphany involved, only a certainty that still puzzles me, though I’d loved books for a long time already, and the need to write belonged to me at once, like something bequeathed. How do you write a book?

A week ago, I’d turned eight, and the new girl in my class, a blonde with a flighty voice had built up her gift to me throughout my party. Her mother picked it out, she said. She wished she was getting it. I opened it to find a packet of Muppet stationery and matching envelopes–the worst present I’d ever gotten. I did not write letters. But obviously, a book deserved better than notebook paper. The stationery became provident. I left the apples behind as I dashed from the kitchen and up the stairs to the bedroom where my birthday gifts sat in a pile beneath my bureau, as yet unassimilated into the room at large. On sheets of paper that had Muppets cavorting in the red borders, I began to write.

The story had been in my head since the second grade at least. I’d titled it The Secret Tree. I told it to myself during class, but had never thought of writing it down, something that astonished me that day. I was not prepared for it to be hard. Yet I quickly discovered that the words on paper could not live up to the images in my head. But with the crackpot optimism every writer must have, I put that book aside and began again, something new. I’ve never stopped writing.

And after that day, I read books differently too. They became textbooks that taught by example, maps that illustrated how a story unfolds from beginning to end. Writers must possess the ability to be still, an appreciation of silence, and the courage to fill it from their own imaginations. Reading is practice.

The white letters, bright against the building’s pale brick read, “Brooklyn Public Library,” or they had until the B, the P and the L were stolen one Halloween night. I would go to the gunmetal gray fiction shelves, find the place where my name would come and slip my hand between two books, creating a space, a void to fill.

Guest Post: CONTEST! Who Will Write The Next ‘Robert Langdon’ Adventure? YOU! (By Ensis)

The next guest blog is a rather unique guest post, in that it’s both really inventive and it requires reader participation. It comes to us courtesy of Ensis, who wrote this entire guest blog post based upon my takedown of Dan Brown’s writing style; Ensis put together a MadLib-style parody of a Dan Brown novel, and had so much fun doing it, he’s now turned it into a contest. And here’s where the reader participation comes in. The reader that comes up with the best Dan Brown-style MadLib wins a copy of Dan Brown’s newest paint-by-numbers epic, Inferno. More details about the contest below, but you should definitely participate. Hell, I’m definitely going to throw my hat into the ring in this contest, even if I think Dan Brown’s writing is a sign of the Apocalypse.

A little bit about Ensis, before we get started: Ensis is the author of Don’t Read, a book blog which encourages readers to avoid bad books. He is also a seven time winner of National Novel Writing month and enjoys editing his novels a little too much…

Alright, here goes. Have fun with this one, gang!

CONTEST! Who Will Write The Next ‘Robert Langdon’ Adventure? YOU!

By Ensis

Do you want to be as successful a writer as Dan Brown? How about a free copy of his new book, Inferno, with some neat amateur art? Well now you can!
Everybody knows Dan Brown uses a formula to write his books, and who can blame him? Everybody loves Mad Libs! Fill in the blanks of the Mad Lib form below with your funniest Robert Langdon Adventure and post it as a comment or email it to me! The funniest story wins!
The prize is a brand new hardbound copy of Inferno by Dan Brown. And, to sweeten the deal, I will draw a doodle of your choosing on a blank page inside. Once the winner is chosen and the prize claimed, I will buy the book, draw in it, then ship it. The winning story will also be featured in a blog post and have their site linked to, if applicable.
I will add some samples of my art later so the winner can get a feel for my style. I’m best at dinosaurs, but I can also do birds and dragons.
Now some rules!
1. Standard MadLib Rules apply.
2. Deadline is June 30th. Judging period is one week.
3. One entry per person, please!
4. I will draw whatever you ask. ANYTHING.
5. Winner has one week to claim the prize.
6. You must follow my blog. Because seriously, why would you not want to?
Hit the jump to find everything you need to enter the contest. 
Now get writing!

Choose words using this guide:
Robert Langdon awoke in (CITY NAME) and began (INSIPID ACTIVITY). He then met (FEMALE PROTAGONIST), and he could tell by her (VAGUE DESCRIPTION) she was (ADJECTIVE1). 
“Oh, no!” she exclaimed. “Here comes The (SECRET SOCIETY)! They’re out to get (MACGUFFIN) and have us killed by (MYSTERY ASSASSIN WHO IS A CHARACTER WE’VE KNOWN ALL ALONG)! Let’s hurry into that nearby (HISTORIC LANDMARK)!” As Langdon ran with (AFOREMENTIONED FEMALE CHARACTER) he checked the face of his Mickey Mouse [TM] watch. 
“Crap! Is it (TIME OF DAY) already? We’ve only got (NUMBER OF PAGES REMAINING IN BOOK) hours until the (MACGUFFIN) is triggered and (INTRANSITIVE, PRESENT TENSE VERB)!” At last they reached the (AFOREMENTIONED LANDMARK) and hid beneath a (HISTORIC OBJECT) where there was a secret passage. Leaving the (AFOREMENTIONED ASSASSIN) outside the convenient passage, Langdon and his sex object waddled along the passage. Admiring her (PORTION OF FEMALE ANATOMY), Langdon reflected on how much he’d like to (VERB1) his new sidekick, but then remembered his life of bachelorhood, which he keeps telling everyone is his choice. 
When they’d reached the other end of the tunnel, Langdon’s cell phone rang. It was (ESTABLISHMENT FIGURE WHO MIGHT ACTUALLY BE THE BAD GUY BUT MIGHT NOT). 
“Yello?” Langdon answered.
“Langdon! It’s me,” he (NEEDLESS SYNONYM FOR ‘SAID’1). “It turns out, based on my calculations in (BULLSHIT PSEUDOSCIENCE) that the (MACGUFFIN) will (VERB2) us all unless you can figure out the secret code to unlock it, which was engraved on the (LANDMARK).” 

“I’ve got it!” Langdon (NEEDLESS SYNONYM FOR ‘SAID’2). “That (NOUN1) carving on the front of the (AFOREMENTIONED LANDMARK)!”
“What about it?” (FEMALE PROTAGONIST) asked.
“Everybody thinks it’s the unversal symbol for (ACTIVITY). But according to ancient (EXTINCT CULTURE)’s belief from which this symbol originated, it’s actually the universal symbol of (ESOTERIC CONCEPT)!”
“(EXCLAMATION)!” shouted (FEMALE PROTAGONIST). Langdon turned to see she was now pinned by (AFOREMENTIONED ASSASSIN), who was pointing a (NOUN2) at her neck, as though threatening to spill her (CLUMSY METAPHOR FOR BLOOD) all over the pavement of (AFOREMENTIONED CITY NAME).
“Thanks for solving the puzzle, (DEROGATORY EPITHET)!” (ASSASSIN) said. “But you fell right into my (ADJECTIVE2) trap!” He pointed the (AFOREMENTIONED NOUN HE WAS HOLDING) at Langdon. In an Instant Langdon fell on the ground, apparently dead. Then (ASSASSIN) took off his (DISGUISE). 
“It’s (CHARACTER NAME WE MAY OR MAY NOT RECOGNIZE)! Why didn’t I realize it sooner?!” Then she used her (MARTIAL SKILL SHE SHOULD HAVE USED EARLIER) to incapacitate (ASSASSIN) while he was distracted. 
Langdon got up, dusted himself off, and said, “Good thing I only pretended to be dead!” Together he and (FEMALE) seized the (MACGUFFIN) and disarmed it. 
“I would have gotten away with it, too,” said (ASSASSIN), “If it wasn’t for you meddling (PLURAL AGE GROUP)!”
“Well now that’s over, let’s (METAPHOR FOR SEX),” said (FEMALE). 
“Okay!” Langdon (NEEDLESS SYNONYM FOR ‘SAID’3). And they (PAST TENSE VERB) back to (LANDMARK).