#writering: Forget Coal, It’s Publishing

Photo: A group of editorial assistants strike out for lunch at Chipotle, New York City, 2018.

#writing is an occasional blog about writing, editing and publishing by Beth Wareham, co-founder and editor-in-chief of Lisa Hagan Books.

Yup, we’ve gone down the rabbit hole. No longer is a complete sentence of value to much of anyone. Shouts, blurts, name-calling and a general idiot wind are the order of the day. And everywhere, glorious coal waves as they chip away at the cilia in our lungs. (Land in Beijing and their coal dust-saturated air triggers a chest infectionin in MINUTES. Wow! That’s coal!  Let’s also celebrate what coal does to our drinking water too. Yummy!)

As coal spreads out, the “John Q Editor has left the company” email rebounds across the electrified universe at an alarming rate. Agents, writers and editors stare into space and murmur, “does ANYONE still work in publishing?”   An actual publishing company seemed to disappear overnight and everyone was left holding every kind of bag. Heck, everyone I know left except the ones that weren’t any good at it.

I feel bad for coal miners. They were made obsolete through technology. So was the steel worker. You can make a ton of steel in an hour with just one person because of automation. I feel bad for the publishing worker too; but less bad because he or she is supposed to be smart — and I’m not talking about the ability to talk about Henry James.

Technology has overrode much of publishing too. Get rid of that ridiculous office and layers of nonsensical workers and take to the machines. That’s all you need to make a book. Focus on the language, strengthening it for future generations. Focus on subjects the world NEEDS, rather than your idiotic and vague suppositions about what you think will sell. Develop GOOD and it will sell. Take the time you spent in manufacturing and join the 21st century. Make the writing as good as it can get.

That’s the hard part; great writing. “Fire and Fury” is not going to do it. Something big, meaningful, profound. Just because so many great stories have gone visual doesn’t degrade the imagination; images enhance it. Watching Netflix is not the enemy; focusing on it as the enemy is the enemy.

No, you’re not a coal miner. You’re a writer or an editor or a publisher. Work harder on your words. Delight someone. I swear, words burn hotter and longer than coal and don’t give you a lung infection.

You’ll be writing and dreaming years after the last vein has been tapped out and the last miner rips off his Davey Lamp, enters the cage and rises up. Coal will truly be over – as it should be – and publishing will still be okay because our need to learn and connect through stories will never go away.

I am hopeful that coal will pass (it’s not healthy for human or planet!) and publishing will finally ride those machines and be of interest to many.  Then, the publishing overlords (not cool ones like in Game of Thrones, believe me) might let some of these workers live. Publishing could use the extra hands.

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3 Sins of Bullshit Writing


from Charles Euchner’s KEEP IT SHORT: A Practical Guide to Writing in the 21st Century (click on title to read more)

If you don’t know what your ideas are, if you haven’t flushed out details or set your purpose clearly, you might commit one, two or all three sins of bullshit writing. And that, says Euchner, is when “things get ugly. When we try to bull our way through sentences and paragraphs.”

The 3 deadly sins of bullshit writing are:

•We repeat ourselves.

•We use vague phrasing – adjectives and generalizations – instead of clear crisp logic                and details.

•We ramble, piling words and phrases, with a hope we will discover some telling detail  or concept, but usually moving further and further away from the point.


When you feel any of this creeping in, you know you’ve lost the grip somehow. Backtrack and flush the idea, plotting, character development, background research and how you are going to tell you story. We suggest beginners start with the beginning, move on to the middle and then give us the end.

If you see any of those those 3 deadly sins popping up a lot in that book in your hand, you may want to put it down and go get another. Life’s short and there are just too many great books to read.

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A Writer’s Path: Ruth Sidransky Remembers First Meeting the Pen, 80 Years Ago



By Ruth Sidransky

Life is tumultuous, sometimes sumptuous. Life has intervened, interfered with my writing throughout the years. I have written in snatches, on backs of envelopes, on notepads I generally carry with me, and in full concentration in the journals I have kept and continue to keep.

When I was 12 years old my friend Julia and I bought diaries with locks. Mine had a green leather cover with faux gold lettering. Amusing, now. One of the first entries I made was of a kiss. It was my first kiss under the stairwell in the boy’s apartment building on Grant Avenue in the Bronx. He had flaming orange hair and his name was Jack. And that’s what I remember. Was it wet, was it delicate, was it embarrassing? I don’t know. It’s not important. The importance lies in the memory. Perhaps we are made of more than our DNA, perhaps it is the memory of time past and the promise of time tomorrow, and the promise of life at the moment that gives our lives substance, a legacy to be passed on to the next generation and the next, and the next.

And so into my ninth decade of life, I stop, I pause and begin reading my old journals to ask why I wanted to write, to record, to remember. As I read I discover not only my comments on writing, but the life I lived as I wrote. It is as though writing was sandwiched in with the events of my life: graduations, marriages, births, successes, illnesses, divorce, death and all the ephemera that built my life in time gone by. A lesson in me. Startling, revelatory, sad, funny, amusing, spiritual, brave, prayerful, fearful, angry, pages filled with pleasure and contentment…and if I can think of anymore human attributes and failings I shall find them in the thousands of hand written pages, and perhaps include them. If I remember. The writing, however, was me and all me. It was the time I reserved to myself, to think, to tell a story. How my deaf father loved stories. He’d wait until I lifted my hands in sign/speech.

I would create stories for him, and he would ask, with a grin on his mustached face, his hands rising into the air, “Are you telling me the truth?

In mock seriousness I would both sign the word “Yes.” And nod my head.

In return, he signed, “You lie to me. Tell me another story.”

It was a time of deep pleasure, my father and I cavorting with language and the telling of the tales I spun with my hands.

I begin to search out reasons for the gift of storytelling, the gift of witnessing an event, the gift of watching yellow tulips fold for the night and open for the day. There is gift after gift. The primary gift is the gift of language. The gift of pen to paper, the gift of hands to the keyboard and I have been so gifted. The process is mysterious. I do not have the words to describe the muse that enters my soul and the need, the absolute need to write it down, write it out. Whatever that ‘it’ is at the moment.

And so I now make an attempt at writing yet another book on writing. It may be moot, yet, like all writers, composers, painters and artists of every stripe; the process is the same, the process is different. An oxymoron, not so. It is so. I speak to my young grandson, and ask, “How do you compose?” He says, “It just comes through my fingers.” He composes at the piano, as I write, through my fingers, either on a computer keyboard or in longhand.

I prefer writing with pen and ink on a blank white page. The computer offers legibility, speed, and immediate editing, either by deletion or a rewrite, sometimes, a word, here or there. On occasion, I have regretted deleting a paragraph or a sentence; sometimes it might have served a better purpose, if I had saved all the cross-outs. The deletions may have contained a thought-germ, or a phrase I might have used.

There are no deletions of the mind. Every thought is packed somewhere in our brain cells, even those struck out. The mind is the fount of work. Some call work creativity. I shy away from that word. We are all workers who create: music, books, plays, poems, songs, homes, cars, trains, buildings, an apple pie and the list is forever. Working is the touching of another, most of the time. The farmer tills his soil and creates nourishment for our bodies. The mother creates food for her infant. The father (usually) creates income for his family. Doctors create health. Artists create entertainment, sometimes instruction for all of us.

Entertainment for the mind, for the soul, is essential, to understanding who we are, where we come from. And storytelling is my path, my journey, my musings, and this is an invitation to my writing process, to my story as a writer.

Come; join me.

To read more of this extraordinary writer, try Reparations: A Tale of War and Rebirth (click on the title to order) or the charming Woman’s Primer, a perfect gift for the graduating young woman. (Again, just click on title to buy ebook or paperback.)

A Woman's Primer Cover 2-4


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8 Ways to Create Tension in Writing or HOW TO DO THE DANGLE



/Beth Wareham

Tension in a book is often why we turn a page, that endless sense of WTF IS GONNA HAPPEN! The really good writers have an instinct for taking you to the edge, throwing you off and bringing you back up again to stand refreshed, marveling at the view. Corporate entertainment wonks call this the “twist” but it’s merely a good way to write: keep everyone on a dangle.

How to do the dangle? Below are a few simple tricks I’ve learned over the years to keep readers wanting to read onward. You’ll have to ask them if any of it worked.

But here they are. Try some in your writing. See what might work for you:

1. End a sentence with a question of sorts. I don’t mean a question with a big old “?” at the end, I mean a question like “will Patty have sex with the giant hot black man standing in front of her…” That’s the moment I’d break the chapter and make the reader wait.

2. Alluding to dark pasts. I love this one. A completely random character suddenly gets full use by remarking upon a secret buried in a hero or heroine’s past. Just try and tell the reader at one point what that past was. This is why we have sticky notes.

3. Creating a scene and leave the resolution off. Say “how was she to know that _____ was in her past, but perhaps her future as well?”

4. Start a scene in mid-action (Hillary Mantel is a GENIUS at this) and the reader is entranced trying to figure out what’s happening when. Finish the action and then go back and start the beginning of it as a flash back. Page-turning catnip.

5. Paragraph breaks: Use paragraphs breaks like you are a creating a trail of crumbs and each break is a step forward to pick the next one off the ground. The first sentence of the next paragraph pulls them so ….spread it out:

“He found the receipts from Wichita Falls in the pocket of his yellow short sleeved shirt. His shoes, socks and pants appeared unsullied, but the plastic protector inside his pocket of receipts had been crumpled, clawed at even. Jean knew he was cheating on her.”

6. WORD CHOICE: Chose tense words. For instance, “Walter stood in line, hoping he’s soon get to the window.”

“Walter stood in line, sweet meandering down his spine, as he waited to get to the window and buy his ride towards freedom.”

The words “sweat” and “ride towards freedom” suggest a tension you want the reader to feel, not just that he’s trying to buy a bus ticket. Someone’s chasing him. Use every moment you have to keep the mood of the book right and that means WORD CHOICE.

7. Text reads faster when sentences are short and text reads slower when sentences are longer. Use it to your advantage and vary the lengths frequently to keep the reader’s attention. For instance:

“Peter slammed it down. For thirty years, he had kept the will secret from the family but after the chaos, the loss, the blood, the ICU, the whispered forced words of his dying mother, the will meant nothing any more, nothing in the face of eternity without the one person who loved him no matter what.”

You see, one short one, one long one. Easy!

8. Dare to dangle. If there is one thing that kills a book quickly, it is a fear of being audacious, a fear of shock and awe. Dangle your reader over a ledge, give him a ride, take her flying, let the kid go down the slide faster than he ever thought possible. Work the tension of life and death into your manuscript because that is the tension we know, that is the tension we live with ever day.

Tension is the human condition. It will feel very familiar to your reader and they will like reading it.

Now go write.

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THE NEW TOOLS: Book-making’s Newest, Most Useful Widget…or Something

/Beth Warehamimages-1


I’m a black ops publisher. I named the company Shadow Teams so that authors would understand that we come in, camouflaged faces and knives between our teeth, find that manuscript and WiFi connection and make a book. Then, we float off in search of more writers in distress. Our website gets a lot of hits from Afghanistan.

Being a black ops publisher means you need the latest tools before they hit the streets. You need to be on them, assessing their use for your client, and tossing it in the “stupid” or “useful” bin, depending. A Shadow Team is always learning the secrets of the competition – except if it’s Sony Pictures. Then we run away, vowing to never do what they did.

That is one definition of “shadow team.” Another definition of “shadow team” has to do with Silicon Valley: You hire the entire team away from a competitor and get a huge chunk of corporate knowledge. We did that too.

The most difficult aspect of this black ops publishing company is selling books. Since the highly structured, hugely anachronistic publishing industry began to fall in 2007, retail possibilities for books have all but dried up. You either place your book in that cyberspace landfill known as “amazon” or you email it to your friends so many times, they buy it and never invite you over again.

Try gumroad.com Consider it our Holiday Gift to you. Pull your book out of the amazon ghetto. Add bonus value to your core readers. Bundle books. Change your content or advertising copy. Get paid directly.

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by Beth Wareham


After a much publicized and embarrassing fight between Hachette and Amazon, Hachette today announced they would sell books directly off twitter! Let’s have a parade.

Big news! How many self-published authors and digital book companies have paved the way using http://www.aerbook.com and others to sell their content and books on twitter. http://www.gumshoe.com is great, but it is a great big comedown from wrestling amazon to the ground.

The more I observe, the more I see big publishing taking it’s cues from us on the ground. They fail at huge negotiations and cry in their saucer of milk, then turn to see what the working folk have been up to. We’ve been selling books.

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Stuck? Walk Away. #amwriting



/Beth Wareham

I have heard and read so many discussions about writer’s block, it feels like the commercial about “Going and Going” that air on all three network news broadcasts each night.

Creativity, being a function of your brain, is mysterious. Maybe it’s best to have the same respect (or nearly) for it as you do for love.  I’ve read so many books about creativity that I’ve come to the conclusion that no one else understands it either.  Without it, life is grim.

Science, however, has an explanation. In Dr. Herbert Benson’s The Breakout Principle, he talks about how creativity can be triggered by repetitive movement such as jogging, knitting, yoga, sewing, meditation, golf.  The repetitive motion releases chemicals in the brain.  These are the chemicals that allow different parts of the brain to communicate and make creative leaps and comparisons. It’s on.

The worst thing you can do, in other words, is to sit at the computer watching cat videos or go to dinner parties and bray at your friends that you have writer’s block.

Go fold laundry, run, sit in the bathtub, read to a kid. Release your mind from the struggle at the machine and let it solve the creative problem in its own mysterious way. It just might fall into you brain fully-formed and seemingly from nowhere.

Feed your creativity. It goes with you everywhere. Like a blue stool.


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5 Tips on Revenge in Writing



/beth wareham

Here are simple ideas for taking revenge into your writing, always a satisfying event, even if no one else reads it. Here are 5 easy ways to get back at people who have wronged you AND have some fun as you sweat and swear over your keyboard:

1. Base odious characters on odious people you know. Give them the same names.

2. Have these odious characters have sex. In unusual ways. A sense of place is good here too.

3. When the book is published, yell “you’re in my book!” as you run past everyone you meet, smiling and waving. You’ll make a lot of sales, I’m sure.

4. Tell your family they cannot read the book before it is published. Do not tell them it is a history of Napoleon’s most successful military campaigns. Watch their faces fall on publication day.

5. Give your book to people at public moments to make them look awkward. If we learned anything from the late Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela, it’s that. Remember when he slipped Obama his book during a conga line of handshakes at a G-13 summit? Hilarious.

The next time I publish a book, I want a special laminated bookmark of me, naked, as the promotional piece. It’s just what so many deserve.

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Amazon Bashing: Zzzzzzzzzzzz


I couldn’t be any more sick of this amazon-publishing theater than I am of , say, Olivia Pope’s overly large handbags.

Now, writers are even doing it at the National Book Awards? From the podium? Come on. This kid has more dignity.  Of course you’re a writer in a room of publishing executives and you want to tell them what they want to hear because that is who you are. But you shouldn’t.

To indulge in any kind bashing on a night celebrating art is just not the right thing to do. Many have been hurt by some of amazon’s tactics. They still love to read: the art and the business are not the same thing.

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Don’t Wear T-Shirts about Fonts. Ever.


I thought I’d hit the edge when I saw a young man from the Subcontinent, an NYU student no doubt, walking down my block in a a purple tshirt with a yellow silhouette of a pole dancer. Beneath this image were the words “I WAS OUT ALL NIGHT LAST NIGHT.”

Inside, I thought, “THAT’S IT.” I stepped in front of the young man, raised myself up to all 6 feet 2 inches, and said “I am a child of the 1970s and IN WHAT WORLD would a guy like you get to do that all night?” He ran.

I stopped paying as much attention to stupid t-shirts after that. I had hit rock bottom. No more “I heart my boyfriend” to send me into a spin. I mean really, girl, why not a ring in your nose? Oh, ummm, sorry. She had one of those too.

Then I started noticing stuff like this:
images-4 and more odious, embarrassing shirts like this images-6-1

And this guy? Who is ever going to talk to him at a party? He’s gonna tell anyone who will listen all about his plot. Then he’s going to either ask if you know any agents or brag about his self-publishing numbers. Either way, it’s bad. images-5 I’ve even picked him out a shoe.


Enough is enough. Wear something with Woodstock or Hawaii on it. Writing demands humility and degrading it to a t-shirt line will not please the Muses. In fact, those Muses might find the bragging untoward and leave forever.