Archive for the 'L Viehl’s Posts' Category

Friday, April 17th, 2009 by LViehl
The Reality of a Times Bestseller

A few years ago I made a promise to my writer friends that if I ever had a novel hit the top twenty of the New York Times mass market bestseller list that I would share all the information I was given about the book so writers could really see what it takes to get there. Today I’m going to keep that promise and give you the stats on my sixth Darkyn novel, Twilight Fall.

We’ve all been told a lot of myths about what it takes to reach the top twenty list of the NYT BSL. What I was told: you have to have an initial print run of 100-150K, you have to go to all the writer and reader conferences to pimp the book, you can’t make it unless you go to certain bookstores during release week and have a mass signing or somehow arrange for a lot of copies to be sold there; the list is fixed, etc.

I’ve never had a 100K first print run. I don’t do book signings and I don’t order massive amounts of my own books from certain bookstores (I don’t even know which bookstores are the magic ones from whom the Times gets their sales data.) I do very little in the way of promotions for my books; for this one I gave away some ARCs, sent some author copies to readers and reviewers, and that was about it. I haven’t attended any conference since 2003. To my knowledge there was no marketing campaign for this book; I was never informed of what the publisher was going to do for it (as a high midlist author I probably don’t rate a marketing campaign yet.) I know they did some blog ads for the previous book in the series, but I never saw anything online about this particular book. No one offered to get me on the Times list, either, but then I was never told who to bribe, beg or otherwise convince to fix the list (I don’t think there is anyone who really does that, but you never know.)

Despite my lack of secret handshakes and massive first print runs, in July 2008 my novel Twilight Fall debuted on the Times mm list at #19. I’ll tell you exactly why it got there: my readers put it there. But it wasn’t until last week that I received the first royalty statement (Publishing is unbelievably slow in this department) so I just now put together all the actual figures on how well the book did.

To give you some background info, Twilight Fall had an initial print run of 88.5K, and an initial ship of 69K. Most readers, retailers and buyers that I keep in touch with e-mailed me to let me know that the book shipped late because of the July 4th holiday weekend. Another 4K was shipped out two to four weeks after the lay-down date, for a total of 73K, which means there were 15.5K held in reserve in the warehouse in July 2008.

Here is the first royalty statement for Twilight Fall, on which I’ve only blanked out Penguin Group’s address. Everything else is exactly as I’ve listed it. To give you a condensed version of what all those figures mean, for the sale period of July through November 30, 2008. my publisher reports sales of 64,925 books, for which my royalties were $40,484.00. I didn’t get credit for all those sales, as 21,140 book credits were held back as a reserve against possible future returns, for which they subtracted $13,512.69 (these are not lost sales; I’m simply not given credit for them until the publisher decides to release them, which takes anywhere from one to three years.)

My net earnings on this statement was $27,721.31, which was deducted from my advance. My actual earnings from this statement was $0.

My advance for Twilight Fall was $50,000.00, a third of which I did not get paid until the book physically hit the shelf — this is now a common practice by publishers, to withhold a portion of the advance until date of publication. Of that $50K, my agent received $7,500.00 as her 15% (which she earns, believe me) the goverment received roughly $15,000.00, and $1594.27 went to cover my expenses (office supplies, blog giveaways, shipping, promotion, etc.) After expenses and everyone else was paid, I netted about $26K of my $50K advance for this book, which is believe it or not very good — most authors are lucky if they can make 10% profit on any book. This should also shut up everyone who says all bestselling authors make millions — most of us don’t.

My next royalty statement for Twilight Fall probably won’t come until October or November 2009, but when it does I’ll post copies of it so you can see what a top twenty Times bestseller does in the first year after it’s released.

In Publishing telling the truth about earnings smashes the illusions publishers and writers want you to believe and, like breaking mirrors, it never brings you good luck. Thing is, when I was a rookie I wanted to know exactly what it took to have a top twenty Times bestselling novel, because that was such a big deal to writers. Everyone I asked gave me a different answer, told me a bunch of nonsense, or couldn’t/wouldn’t tell me at all. For that reason I want you to see the hard figures, and know the reality, and the next time someone asks you what it takes, you can tell them the truth.

Just a Heads up: the comments for the post will be turned off on Monday Night (April 27) Thank you so much for all the interest, information and feedback – and keep an eye out for more straight up truth on the reality of this business here at Genreality.

Friday, April 10th, 2009 by LViehl
To Belong or Not to Belong

The first time I drafted this post I had no problem writing it. I’ve been a member of two writer organizations and almost joined a third (narrow escape there); I served as treasurer for an RWA Chapter, worked on three conference committees, ran several dozen workshops and conferences, and raised over ten thousand dollars in donations and goods for my organizations. I’ve also used my influence to help fellow members in various ways, from recommending their work to editors and agents to teaching workshops and participating in critique groups.

When I decide to join something, I don’t simply show up or do the bare minimum. I get involved.

I waited a long time for the opportunity to work in this industry, and to meet other writers like me. When I was told that joining writer organizations was imperative for a successful career, I believed it, and I joined up. I went to the luncheons and the workshops and the conferences. I met other writers. I got involved, and I did my part. I was enthusiastic, generous, supportive, and outspoken. Remember that last word, that’s what really did me in.

For my efforts, which I felt were considerable, I spent thousands of dollars, sat through a lot of useless workshops, ate dozens of lousy meals, was treated with contempt and indifference, bought a lot of signed books and writer junk, made innumerable enemies, sold zero books, received no career benefits whatsoever, and ended up almost quitting the business.

Here’s how I feel about those writer organizations now: If you gave me a choice between walking into one of their conferences, or a room full of a thousand angry rattlesnakes, I’d really have to think about it for a minute.

When you’ve wasted money and been treated badly by writer organizations, it’s easy to bash them and the people responsible for them. Most days, I take great pleasure in it. But after I wrote my first draft of this post, I realized that I do belong to a writer organization, one that has no name and most people don’t know about, and — seeing that I was a very active, involved member of it — I should really talk about that instead of the usual horror stories.

If you choose, as I did five years ago, not to belong to any traditional writers’ organization, you face some challenges. If you want to win writer organization awards, you’ll have to pay extra money to enter the competitions that are open to non-members, or do without. I’ve been watching these awards for the last ten years and the majority are awarded to members, not non-members, so that may also be a consideration. Same thing with socializing with other writers – it costs extra for non-members to go to writer organization conferences, so you’ll have to pay up or not go. If you want to join a critique group of writers in your genre, you’re going to have to hunt for them yourself. Finally, if you want to network and make connections, you’ll have to be a little more creative about that, too.

Or maybe not. Maybe the answer to all your problems is sitting right in front of you.

Every writer, no matter who they are, what they write, where they live, how much money they have or what career-stage they’re in, has access to the greatest dues-free writer organization of all time: the internet.

If you want to meet other writers, attend a workshop, join a critique group, make connections and find information on practically anything, there is no better, bigger or more cost-efficient organization than the one right in front of your nose. All it requires is your participation, which you can do from the comfort of your own home, in your pajamas if you like. For nothing but the cost of your ISP (and if your local library has computer service available, you don’t even have to pay for that.)

The great thing about the internet as a vast writer organization is the enormous convenience. It’s there when you have time for it, and it waits around for you when you don’t. It provides you with countless search engines, how-to sites, blogs and chat rooms to help you find what writing- or publishing-related stuff you’re looking for. Professional author, editor and agent blogs keep you up-to-date about the biz, offer advice and instruction, and even just a place to hang out and talk shop without having to fork over dues, attendance fees, or slap on make-up and squeeze yourself into pantyhose (a benefit for which I give thanks every day.)

There are always online contests run by writers, agents, editors and other Publishing professionals that provide constant opportunities to get your work in front of someone – something you also don’t have to travel or pay for. Now, entering a contest run by an agent online isn’t the same as meeting said agent at a writer’s conference, but I think it’s better. In person, you’re selling yourself first and the work second, and if for some reason you blow the first impression, naturally it’s going to reduce your chances. Online, you’re selling only your work because the agent can’t see you. He doesn’t know you’re in a wheelchair, or you’re funny-looking, or you have a rash or allergies, or you’re having a really bad hair day. All he sees is the work, which in my opinion is the only thing he should see.

For those of us who are older, handicapped, socially inept, clumsy, or simply not particularly outgoing or personable, joining any writer organization is an ordeal. The great thing about the internet is that we only have to interact where and when we feel comfortable doing so. We can talk on blogs and discussion boards by posting messages which we have time to edit and read over (try doing that in person.) We can interact privately, through e-mail, private list-servs or instant messaging, which is an additional safeguard. We do have to be more careful in some instances when we’re having public discussions for obvious reasons, but it’s a lot easier to think about what you’re saying before you hit the “Publish this comment” button versus trying to make up for a verbal slip in person.

The internet gives us access to writers all over the planet, something no single writer organization or conference can do. At any time I can chat with friends in other countries, even the ones on the other side of the planet in Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. I’ve learned so much from these writers and they’ve helped broaden my view of publishing from a national to an international perspective. I’ve met wonderful non-American writers online who have been my friends for years and have contributed so much to my writing life. Without the internet, I would never have met 99.9% of them, because very few can afford to travel to the U.S. to attend writer organization conferences.

I don’t have to limit my friendships, either; online I am friends with writers in every genre and at every stage of their careers. All of the friendships that I made during my writer organization membership days have mostly evaporated since I quit, I think because the friendship was only extended because I was part of the group. Here on the internet everyone is welcome to be part of the group (even the not yet published rabble so many writer organizations are determined to keep out of their ranks.) To join the writer organization of the internet, you don’t have to be published. You don’t have to be important. You don’t even have to be pretty. You just have to show up and join in.

There are two last benefits to choosing to belong to the writer organization of the internet: 1) no one runs it, and 2) you decide what, where and when you want to participate.

Every writer organization I’ve belonged to has a long-established pecking order, and people who are more concerned with politics, cronyism, campaigning for awards, being in charge and wielding power than in actually taking care of the membership. No one is in charge of the internet; no one makes any rules it has to follow, and no one has any control over it. No one can tell you what to do or how to think. The internet is the only writer organization where you are in charge 24/7.

If you don’t want to sit and listen a bunch of SF writers bicker about a television station changing its name (yeah, they do stuff like that) you can walk out of a conference, but you have to kiss goodbye the thousand dollars you paid to attend it. On the internet, you just close the page and go somewhere else where writers are having a discussion about plotting or characterization or something else that actually matters to you.

As to how effective the internet is as a writer organization, that’s really up to you and how much you’re willing to do with it. Everyone predicted that my low mid-list career would take a swan dive when I quit all of the writer organizations I belonged to back in the day. Since quitting and focusing on what I could do with the internet on my own, my sales have defied those predictions and have been steadily climbing every year for the last five years. I used the time I’d been wasting on writer organization conferences, luncheons and workshops to instead write books, study how to improve my work, and make friends with like-minded writers.

Everything that writer organizations never did for me, I found on the internet. And if you’re looking for a place where you do belong, I believe this is where you’ll definitely find it.

Graphic credit: © Yellowj |

Friday, April 3rd, 2009 by LViehl
Just Listen

Used to be that most people spoke candidly with each other only when they thought no one else was listening to them. That’s the reason we’ve all had those heartfelt chats over the office water cooler, at a busy, noisy restaurant or in the bedroom with the door closed. The illusion of privacy makes us feel safe.

We can say things like “The boss is being a real jackass this week” or “Your boyfriend tried to hit on me” or “Do we have any C batteries? This thing takes four” without worrying about people outside our trust circle hearing private thoughts, misconstruing them, or even using them against us.

Everything we say in private isn’t an absolute and unwavering statement, nor is it meant to be heard by anyone other than someone in the trust circle. Yes, the boss can be a jackass, but he’s not as bad as the last one, and we really need this job — thus the need to vent in private. Our friend’s boyfriend may be a dog, but he’s also vindictive as hell and a warning about him needs to be discreetly passed along. And while the bedroom toys we play with may never be something we feel comfortable discussing in front of our church group, there are some friends who understand that if God didn’t want us to be happy, why would He build us with all these interesting parts?

The advent of the mobile phone into society has forever altered conversational privacy. These handy devices allow people to hold conversations anywhere and, unfortunately, they do. I don’t know why people who talk on mobiles think no one is listening, but I’ve heard things while waiting to check out at the grocery store that would curl your hair. Being forced to listen to a one-sided conversation is usually tedious stuff, though, and most of us go out of our way to avoid people talking on their mobiles, no matter how hot the topic.

Two-sided conversations are a little harder to resist. I am a discreet but completely unabashed eavesdropper, and I collect conversations the same way other women do journey diamonds. If you’re having a private conversation, and I can listen in without disturbing or alarming you, I will. It’s not because I’m simply being nosy, either. I want to hear what you say when you think no one is listening because I’m a writer, and that is the stuff of great dialogue.

In a sense every reader is a voyeur, silently observing the events in someone else’s life. There’s no harm in it because (unless we’re reading a biography) it’s fiction. It never happened, isn’t happening, and will never happen unless HBO buys the performance rights, after which it will be acted out on the screen but still won’t really happen.

But: the reader has a more satisfying experience if they forget they’re reading four hundred pages of big fat lies. So writers try to help them out with that by crafting their stories to be as convincing and/or realistic as possible.

For me, reading great dialogue is like discreet eavesdropping – the writer offers me the opportunity to listen in on a very private conversation while I go unnoticed by the speakers. I am their unseen audience, the secretary standing around the corner from the water cooler, the gal sitting behind them in the next booth, the neighbor sitting on her porch ten feet away from that open bedroom window next door. I am included in the characters’ trust circle but they are unaware of my presence. Dialogue offers every reader the ultimate cloak of invisibility.

Writing great dialogue requires a lot of listening as well. Conversation is an art, and everyone has their own individual style. There are regional and national differences that affect sentence structure, word choices and speaking rhythms. Some people are gifted oral storytellers and can command attention with a handful of words. Other people are for whatever reason not as comfortable with speaking, and can be almost inarticulate when trying to express themselves. And, unless you’re in a bar, every conversation is unscripted and every exchange is unpredictable. You can listen your entire life to people speaking and never hear the same conversation twice.

Dialogue is at its best when it reveals something the reader doesn’t know about the characters involved – like those intimate conversation we’re not supposed to hear but love to listen to anyway. I’m not suggesting every writer go out and immediately start trying to eavesdrop on private conversations – for one thing, you’ll probably get caught – but it’s to your advantage to pay attention to what you hear whenever you’re around other people. Even in public places people forget they can be overheard. Collect the most interesting things that you hear; learn from them, let them fire your imagination, and use them to inspire and craft your dialogue to invoke the same feelings.

Sometimes even the smallest and seemingly insignificant fragment of conversation can provide you with enormous inspiration. A few years back I was sitting in a restaurant booth behind an older couple who weren’t speaking to each other at all. I got the impression they’d just had a bad argument before coming into the place. I was finishing up my salad when the woman abruptly said, “It’s high time we put an end to this.” Her companion muttered “uh-huh” and then asked the waitress for the check. They left without exchanging another word.

It fascinated me to no end, that fragment of conversation. I took it home with me, and thought about it, and turned it over and over in my mind. What did the woman want to end? The silence? An argument? Their relationship? Why was it high time? The possibilities were endless. Her admission inspired a turnkey line of dialogue in my novel Stay the Night, and provided a trigger I needed for the novel opening, the catalyst for the plot and the reason the protagonists met. It even became my personal metaphor for my decision to finish the series with that book.

Not bad for nine words I overheard while eavesdropping in a café.

Friday, March 27th, 2009 by LViehl
For the Joy

Last year I wrote, sold and published my very first dangerous book; this year I’m going to write one just for me and a small circle of friends who are not writers. I’m not submitting it anywhere; my agent will never see it, and the only people who will be able to read it are those non-writer friends of mine.

Why would I do that when I could instead spend my time writing something that would earn me another nice pile of money? For the joy of it.

It sounds selfish, and in some ways it is, but there is more to writing than publishing, and more to this writer than selling everything I create. Although I occasionally write blog posts about my restoration work or a new addition to my collection, the fifteen years I’ve been working on it simply isn’t for sale or public consumption.

I’ve written a couple of quilt-making books (glorified chapbooks with pictures demonstrating techniques, to be honest) for my guild friends, but aside from some hand-written notes in my quilt diaries I’ve never written a book about my quilt collection, and I think it’s time I did before I drop dead and no one knows or remembers why the heck I owned fifty of the same pattern quilts. 

Along with being a serious quilt maker and conservator, I’ve also been a dedicated collector of double wedding ring quilts for about fifteen years.  Each of the quilts in my collection is a bit like one of my novel characters: it has a name, a personality and a backstory. Despite the fact that they’re all made with the same pattern, they’re all unique and very different from each other.  

I fell in love with the double wedding ring because my grandmother used that pattern to make the quilt I slept with every winter when I was little.  Yes, it was my security blanket, my very first wubbie, and I adored it. I would stretch out on that quilt and look all the little colorful patches and wonder what sort of clothes they had come from (Grandma never threw out any old garment she could cut up and use in a quilt.)

That first, wonderful double wedding ring quilt got very ragged over the years, and while I was off in the military, my mom threw it away (she’s not a quilt person.) And it broke my heart, so from that day on I searched for a double wedding ring quilt with a soft blue background made in the thirties. I also started making quilts myself around that time. Eventually I found one that is probably as close to my grandmother’s quilt as I’ll ever find:

Thelma's Quilt

It’s a bit too old to use on my bed now, but wherever I live, this quilt is always hanging on display somewhere in the house.

I know the stories involved with the wedding rings quilts that I’ve found, restored and collected aren’t going to set the world on fire. I imagine that unless you’re a quilter they’re pretty boring.  But I’ve always wanted to photograph my collection and put down on paper the stories that go with the quilts — not because my collection is important, but because it is important to me. 

Not all of my quilts are beautiful. I have a half-dozen in the collection that I take to shows and conferences to demonstrate just how much ugly you can make with this pattern:

Firecracker Quilt

There’s the rare antique wedding ring quilt with 72 small rings that I spent six months restoring, and that our dog chewed a hole through in fifteen minutes; that taught me that nothing is sacred to teething puppies.  I also have a great story about a rather homely-looking old gray and yellow quilt that my sixteen year old fell in love with and has me patch now about every six months so he doesn’t have to give it up.  In another five years I think it’ll be a completely new quilt.

Writing a book for the joy of it means telling stories and documenting things that have made life on this planet a little more bearable for you during your time here. Although some writers have no problem publishing that kind of personal book, to me it’s not something I can slap a price tag on and toss out to the world. I don’t believe everything we are has to be sacrificed on publishing’s altar.

Quilting is an old art, and traditional patterns and techniques will gradually be lost as the craft of making them inevitably fades from popularity.  You can buy beautiful quilts in any department store now, not that you should — the imported ones are made in sweatshops for pennies — and with the convenience of longarm quilting machines, hardly anyone hand quilts anymore.  In another fifty years quilt-making will likely be viewed something quaint but silly, like handmaking smocked dresses and tatting lace. 

I don’t think this book I’m going to write will exist much longer than my collection will, but you never know.  Maybe one of my great-great-grandkids will discover, as I did, a great love of quilts and their patterns and wonder about the people who used to make them.  Maybe they’ll dig through some old computer files and find the last e-copy of this book, and chuckle over the cheeky title I gave it:

And then I will have a chance to tell them all about the day I found our puppy under my sewing table, quietly chewing a hole through the binding I’d just hand-stitched on . . .

Friday, March 13th, 2009 by LViehl
Learn Freely

I know it’s Friday the 13th again, but I did the bad luck post last month. This month we’ll just pretend it’s the 14th.

Now that we’ve taken care of that problem, I have a question for you: would you pay $2500.00 to spend a week in workshops on literary journalism and fiction writing? How about $6500.00 for a week of filmmaking workshops? According to this month’s issue of Poets & Writers, that’s how much you’ll have to fork over to attend them in 2009 at The Norman Mailer Writers Colony (travel cost not included.)

Poets & Writers also has some other interesting conference listings. For example, if you’d love to attend the four-day Colrain Poetry Manuscript Conference, expect to hand over $995.00 to $1295.00 after you pay for your travel expenses. And if you can’t live without attending the two-day New York Roundtable Writers Conference, make out a check for $250.00 for one day or $350.00 for both (after you pay for your lodging, travel and meals, of course.)

If you go for the high-end ticket to all three of these events, you’ve just dropped over eight thousand dollars on writing instruction. And for that money you get room and board (sometimes), the privilege of hanging out with some Name authors, poets, agents and editors, and space to sit and listen to their speeches and workshops, and . . . well, that’s about all you get for your eight grand. Oh, and toss in another two grand for the expenses that aren’t covered, and you’re looking at spending ten thousand dollars.

I know writers who spend twice that much — more than twenty thousand dollars a year — all to attend writing conferences, weekends, workshops and retreats. They are spoken to and lectured and advised by the best in the business. These events allow them to hang with their writer friends, wallow in nonstop writer wisdom, and then they go home. They describe these experiences as inspirational and renewing and marvelous, and then they start planning to go to the next one.

What’s wrong with this picture? Nothing. It’s your ten thousand dollars, and if you want to spend it hanging out in hotels and colleges talking about writing with your pals and listening to people who are being paid a portion of your ten grand to show up and talk, it’s your money, and your business.

But what if you don’t have ten thousand dollars? What if you don’t have ten bucks to splurge on writing conferences and retreats right now? Does that mean you have to miss out on all that wonderful knowledge, instruction and writerly inspiration?

Nope. You can have it for free.

Early on in my career I would get together with anywhere from five to fifteen local area writers for an afternoon or evening. We’d have a meal or snacks, and then sit at a table and help each other plot out novel ideas. Cost: nothing but whatever I agreed to contribute to the meal or snacks. These were an offshoot of my Novel Plotting workshop, and we held them at each other’s homes.

There are online writing courses you can take that will help you with everything from preparing a synopsis to structuring a story. I wrote about some of them on my author blog here. Cost: nothing. They’re all free to whoever wants to take them.

One week every year I pack up my family and send them on a writing vacation. My writing vacation. I stow their stuff in the truck, hand the keys to their dad, and wave goodbye. They spend a week having a blast in the islands or the mountains, and I have seven days of wonderful, blissful, absolute solitude in which to write as much and as often as I like. Cost to me: nothing. My guy and the kids go off on vacation every year; I simply choose not to go with them.

There is a great writing center in our town, and I go there frequently. There are rooms where I can sit in total silence and read, research or write. There are free-access computers I’m able to use whenever I want, and thousands of books and magazines on every topic under the sun that I can take home with me. There are also audio tapes and DVDs I can borrow, too; and every couple of weeks an author comes to give a free talk about their books, writing, or their writing life. Cost to me: nothing. It’s the public library.

Every summer I attend a couple dozen writing workshops. I can go to them in my birthday suit if I want, and learn about what other writers are doing, how they do it and where I can find the resources they use. I can ask questions and get direct answers and even enter to win some giveaways. All of this is free of charge, and I happen to run it, too — they’re my annual Left Behind & Loving It virtual workshops.

Much fun is made of writers who work in coffeeshops — I’ve done it myself — but when you consider for the price of a cup of coffee or a can of soda you can sit and work uninterrupted for three or four hours in those coffeeshops, that’s a pretty cheap personal retreat.

Having local writer friends can mean more opportunities for mini no-cost retreats. A couple of stay at home mom writers could take turns watching each other’s kids for an afternoon, allowing the other mom a couple of hours to write. Writer friends with spare rooms can swap weekends staying at each other’s homes (the host writer can cook for and pamper the guest writer.) Troubleshooting writing problems or discussing career strategies during a shared lunch hour or while car pooling to work also cost nothing but the price of a burger or a couple gallons of gas.

While you may be skeptical as to how valuable any of this free stuff is, consider how much you’d expect a NYT bestselling novelist with over forty novels in print to have paid for their writing education. In my case? Nothing. I never went to a single conference, retreat or workshop before I signed my first publishing contract. Everything valuable I’ve learned about writing came from borrowing and reading free books from that amazing writing resource center. You know, the public library.

Friday, March 6th, 2009 by LViehl
Quilting a Story

This week I was supposed to spend two days at a county quilt show that I faithfully attend every year (this is what I promised my quilter friends, anyway.) Then my daughter got the flu, my guy got stuck working late every night, my puppy sitter bailed on me, and NY decided to send me a RUSH!!-marked copy job. I was able to make it to the show for about an hour today, and I might get an hour tomorrow. Maybe. If no one throws up or works overtime or needs me to think up new and exciting ways to convince a casual browser that they simply must buy this freaking book.

Wouldn’t it be so much easier if we could just put that on the back of novels? HEY, BUY MY FREAKING BOOK.

But onto talking about writing them instead of selling them. Since I can’t be with my quilter friends today, you guys can fill in. While I write, I’ll show you some of the photos I took at the quilt show while I was running through it this morning.

Most writers don’t quilt, so they don’t realize that writing stories is just like making quilts. (Go ahead, laugh. My quilter friends do, too.)

Consider the similarities:

A quilt is made one piece at a time, just as a story is written one page at a time. Like stories, all quilts have a beginning (preparing and cutting the fabric), middle (piecing, batting and binding) and end (quilting it all together.)

Quilts are usually made according to an established pattern or technique (just as stories are written in some type of category or genre.) Sometimes quilts are combinations of patterns (like cross-genre stories) or are made with a newly-designed original pattern (like ground-breaker stories.) Sometimes quilts are so, um, unusual that we don’t know what the heck to call them — and who hasn’t run into a story like that?

Making a quilt can be an extremely time-intensive project for which the maker gets little or no respect until they sell their quilts, win awards for them, or become known as a famous quilt maker. If you don’t and your finished quilts start piling up around the house, your family starts asking why you keep making them. Sound familiar?

Quilts are sewn together with continuous threads that have the same purpose as running threads of stories and, like a plot, follow a specific design. Some of these quilting patterns can be amazingly intricate, and some are beautifully simple. Some quilts are just loosely tied together with strategically-placed knotted threads. But no matter how it’s quilted, if there’s a break in the thread, or you leave some part of the quilt unsewn, you end up with a visible bulge or sag in the material.

The middle of a story is often the most challenging to write because often it’s not as exciting as the beginning or the end. The batting, which is the middle of a quilt, is definitely not as beautiful as the top or the backing. However, if it’s made of poor quality material, or it’s lumpy, or it shrinks, or it doesn’t support the piece, it can ruin the entire quilt. Just as a lousy middle can collapse a story.

The best quilters stay on top of what the latest trends are in their art. They can also recognize a knock-off quilt a mile away, and are just as hostile as writers when their patterns and styles are lifted by other quilters. You think RWA members get nasty with each other? Try watching two quilters square off over a copycat quilt. These women are armed with tote bags filled with razor-sharp scissors, razor-sharp rotary cutters, or they carry at least a packet of sharp needles in their pocket. We know how to use them, too, so never mess with a quilter.

Like story structure, quilt binding is very straightforward: a continuous strip of bias fabric that is sewn around the entire piece, and holds all the parts of the quilt together as well as gives it a cohesive, completed look. Although some trendy quilters disdain binding, to me no binding = unfinished. A story that has no structure = bunch of words thrown together.

Quilters play with color, texture and composition in the same way writers play with setting, characters and plot — and quilters are just as obsessive about quality, values, originality and every other little nit-picky detail that writers are. If we really don’t like something, we have been known to throw out an entire piece and start over from scratch (okay, we save the fabric. But still.)

If you make an error with your quilt’s seams (like any element of a story), you have to undo them and start over. You can try to cover up your mistakes with some quick repair work, but it usually shows.

Some quilts are made to be hung on the wall and admired from a distance, but to me the best quilts — like great stories — are the kind you can snuggle up with on a cold night.

Sunday, March 1st, 2009 by LViehl
Sample Me Please Winner

I borrowed the magic hat from my author blog and put it to work tonight, and the winner of the Genreality Sample Me Please giveaway is:

Jennifer, whose comment began with Well that’s easy — Incarnatio!

Jennifer, when you have a chance please send your full name and ship-to information to, and I’ll get this box out to you.

Thanks to everyone for joining in.