Merry Jones: When is the Story Ready?


Merry Jones will be on the “genre trends” panel at the Push to Publish conference. Below, she shares her thoughts on determining when a story or poem is finished (read more of her work on her blog.)

Merry JonesRoundtable: How You know when the story’s ready?

For me, it’s not complicated. For every project, I have a deadline. The story is ready when the deadline comes. Sometimes the deadline is set by a publisher; sometimes it’s self-imposed. Either way, it’s an endpoint that I prepare for, and when I reach it, the story is done. Finished. Over. Time to move on.

My training was broadcast television. With television, the show went on when it was scheduled, whether or not the director/cast/crew liked it. The opportunity for rehearsing and being creative was finite. When the clock ticked down 3-2-1, it was show time, ready or not.

It’s been a couple of decades since I’ve worked in television, but I’ve kept that deadline philosophy with my writing.

Whenever I start a project—a story or full-length book, I estimate time for research, outline/synopsis, first draft and revision. I total it all up, add some slack, and set a reasonable deadline. Rarely have I ever tinkered beyond that date. The secret, I believe, is in seeking not to create something perfect, but simply to complete a smoothly polished product.

From the onset, I create reachable goals. I am satisfied with imperfection. For my work, perfection is not only unattainable; it’s also unnecessary. I want to write page-turners that entertain. There will always be a better phrase here, a more precise word there. The deadline gives me a chance to stop nit-picking and declare a work finished.

But let’s get more specific about the story itself. The main goal in telling a story is to tell the story. In a simple classic plot, the main character starts out with the motivation to achieve/attain some goal and confronts obstacles. The obstacles cause conflicts. The conflicts mount until they climax and ultimately get resolved.

The resolution can take many forms. Our character might succeed and overcome the obstacles and achieve her goal, or the obstacles might prevail so that our character fails. More possibilities: The character thinks she’s succeeded, but actually failed. She thinks she’s failed but actually succeeded. Or she’s partially succeeded and shares both success and failure with her obstacles. Or maybe they both walk away with the conflict unresolved.

No matter what form the resolution takes, once it’s been reached and the character’s main goal achieved or lost, the story arc is completed. It’s done. The basic story has been told. Even so, the story isn’t ready: it needs polishing and revising.

These processes are essential But they can also be pitfalls—traps that suck writers in like quicksand. As I’ve said above, there will always be room for improvement–a more nuanced phrase, a crisper detail, a superfluous clumsy adverb. Accepting that fact is, I believe, key to completing the piece. As long as the writing flows, lacks grammatical errors, is concise and gripping and well paced—As long as the character is sympathetic and believable and the voice is consistent, the work is done. Issues of structure, sequence, vocabulary and style can be examined, altered, reexamined, re-altered ad infinitum. The manuscript will never be perfect—not that there is a way to measure perfection in writing. And the process of trying to perfect it can be the obstacle to any writer’s goal of completing a work.

Hence: the deadline. It’s the best way, at least for me, to know that the manuscript is ready. Because, when it comes, the story is ready; for better or worse, it’s show time.

Meet Merry and many more agents, editors, and authors at Push to Publish on October 10, 2015.

Meet the Panelists Coming to Push to Publish


Whether you are an established writer or just getting started, this one-day workshop will provide valuable resources you can use to get your work in print and online. Meet the panelists joining us for the 2014 Push to Publish conference:

is the New York Times Bestselling creator of Victor Carl, who has been called by Booklist one of the mystery novel’s “most compelling, most morally ambiguous characters.”  He is also the author of BLOOD AND BONE, THE ACCOUNTING, and, most recently, THE BARKEEP, which was a Digital Book World Number One Best-Selling Ebook.

Kelly Simmons is a former journalist and advertising creative director. Her first novel, Standing Still, was published by Simon & Schuster in February 2008, and hailed by Publishers Weekly as “an exhilarating debut.” Her second novel, The Bird House, received a starred review from Kirkus, and they are really, really picky. Her new novel, One More Day, will be published in October, 2015. She is a founding member of The Liars Club, a group of published novelists dedicated to building community.
Beth Kephart is the author of eighteen books, including memoir, young adult literature, a corporate fairytale, and an autobiography of a river. Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir (Gotham) won the 2013 Books for a Better Life Award (Motivational Category), was featured as a top writing book by O Magazine, and was named a Best Writing Book by Poets and Writers. Small Damages (Philomel), a young adult novel that takes place in southern Spain, was named a 2013 Carolyn W. Field Honor Book and a best book of the year by many publications. Three new books are set for publication in 2015 and 2016. She is also a Radnor High Hall of Famer.
Gregory Frost is the author of novels including the Shadowbridge series (Del Rey) and Fitcher’s Brides (Tor). His short stories have appeared most recently in Asimov’s, Supernatural Noir (Ellen Datlow, ed.) and Apex Magazine. He’s director of the fiction writing workshop at Swarthmore College. To learn more, follow him on twitter (@gregory_frost).
Janice Gable Bashman is the Bram Stoker nominated author of PREDATOR, a young adult novel (Month9Books 2014), and WANTED UNDEAD OR ALIVE (with NEW YORK TIMES bestseller Jonathan Maberry) (Citadel Press 2010). She is editor of THE BIG THRILL (International Thriller Writers’ magazine). She serves on the board of directors as Vice President, Technology for the International Thriller Writers.

Alison DeLuca is the best-selling author of THE CROWN PHOENIX BOOKS, a four-book steampunk series, and CHRISTMAS O’CLOCK, a fiction collection written to help international families via the charity Water is Life. When she is not scribbling madly at her desk, she uses her twenty years of language teaching experience as an editor and monthly columnist for Girl Who Reads. Alison is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

Judi Fennell is an award-winning, best-selling author of romantic comedies, including the Manley Maids series from Berkley, the Bottled Magic series and Tritone Trilogy from Sourcebooks Casablanca, as well as erotic romance novellas writing as Raven Morris, has her feet on both sides of the publishing fence in traditional and indie publishing. Owner/operator of, a formatting/editorial/cover design/promotional & marketing firm, Judi has helped hundreds of authors bring their publishing dreams to life via independent publishing.

Donna Galanti is the author of the short story collection The Dark Inside, Joshua and The Lightning Road series (2015), and books one and two in the Element Trilogy, A Human Element and A Hidden Element.

Thomas V Hartman’s publishing experience spans 15 years and includes senior editorial roles with Elsevier and John Wiley and Sons. In addition, Hartmann has developed Websites and other digital content for clients such as Harcourt College Publishers, Pearson/Prentice Hall, and Rutgers University.

Merry Jones is the author of the Elle Harrison suspense novels, the Harper Jennings thrillers  and, this November,  the Zoe Hayes mysteries.  For a dozen years, she taught writing at Temple University; currently, she leads workshops in Suspense Writing. She is a member of the Authors Guild, Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, and the Philadelphia Liars Club.

Don Lafferty’s short fiction has appeared in NEEDLE MAGAZINE, CRIME FACTORY MAGAZINE, SHOTGUN HONEY and a number of other markets and anthologies. HDon is a regular contributor to the global conversation about marketing through the social media channel, and blogs at Don is a member of the Philly Liars Club, the social media director of the Wild River Review, and serves on the board of directors of the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference.

Karen Pokras writes adult contemporary and middle grade fiction under the names Karen Pokras and Karen Pokras Toz. Her books have won several awards including two Readers’ Favorite Book Awards, the Grand Prize in the Purple Dragonfly Book Awards, as well as placing first for two Global E-Book Awards for Pre-Teen Literature.

Catherine Stine’s novels span the range from contemporary to paranormal to science fiction. Her futuristic thriller, Fireseed One was a finalist in YA and SF in the 2013 USA News International Book Awards and an Indie Reader Approved notable. IHer YA paranormal, Dorianna launches this fall with Evernight Teen.

Push to Publish Agent Tip # 7: Entering Into Flash – Beginnings


Flash fiction is perhaps the most difficult of all prose styles. The difficulty lies in condensing an entire narrative into the required conditions of the medium, namely less than one-thousand words. With such little room to maneuver, setting the scene can be painstaking.  Lucky for you, author Kara Cochran offers some insightful guidance on how to best approach beginning a work of flash fiction.

Cochran.jpgAs a beginner, one of the most difficult aspects of flash fiction is just that: how to begin. How to tell just enough, establish setting and get right to the story. Jason Gurley’s “Flash What? A Quick Look at Flash Fiction” describes flash beginnings as “abrupt” and endings “sudden…leav[ing] the reader breathless when finished.” But creating abruptness that is intriguing and not alienating is difficult. In my flash fiction workshop, I have discovered five tips to create abrupt beginnings.

Start mid-scene. Think of the clichéd beginning of the ringing alarm clock: unless something fascinating happens the second the character awakes, why start a story here? Why not start at the heart of the conflict? In “My Mirror,” I first drafted this description:

She was my mirror. Dark eyes, long legs, stick straight hair we would braid in thick twin ropes. Friends, family debated negligible differences, but none of it was enough.

Although I began with image (see #2), it didn’t feel abrupt enough. What’s the harm in starting where the story really begins?

“They said I have six months to a year,” my sister told me. My heart clamored up my throat. We hadn’t spoken in years.

This beginning gets us to the central conflict, but didn’t feel abrupt enough. “Six months to a year” also seemed cliché.

“It’s a tumor,” my sister tells me. My heart clamors up my throat, struggling to get out, to recover from the shock of her voice on the line.

I’m still working on it, but a few things improved here. The story is about the sister’s reaction to this news, so present tense gave it that immediacy. “It’s a tumor” seemed like a less conventional and abrupt way to break the news. Hearing her voice on the line as opposed to “we hadn’t spoken in years” also keeps the scene immediate and in action. Which brings me to number two.
Begin with dialogue, action or image. One of the ways to start mid-scene is with any of the above three. Dialogue brings us into an interaction between characters, while action and image place us visually in the scene. My story “War” opens with action:

Their calloused hands gripped and shook as they pulled, heaving from side to side. Grunts were uttered and curses were thrown. Their red faces gleamed as joints popped, calves flexed and bare feet dug into the dry earth. It was the annual family reunion. The sun was high and shadows were beginning to form, which meant it was time for Tug of War.

Instead of beginning with “this is a tug of war,” I described the action of the men pulling. I wanted to put readers directly into the scene by showing them the men. If only there were a better way to include the tug-of-war information….

Weave in expositive details throughout instead of frontloading. “Show don’t tell” is an old writer’s adage, but is most important in flash where word count is essential. Trust the reader to discover the circumstances throughout. Per the example above, I cut the description of the reunion:

Their calloused hands gripped and shook as they heaved from side to side. Grunts were uttered and curses were thrown. Their red faces gleamed as joints popped, calves flexed and bare feet dug into the dry earth. The women watched from shiny plastic lawn loungers as the men battled. “Is it always like this?” the wife of the youngest son said, smacking her gum and thumbing a magazine. “I mean, seriously. It’s just tug of war.”

Here, we get some of those details through dialogue. We also grasp that this is a family affair from the wife’s descriptor.

Use only essential words. If the description only calls for a fragment, use one. If you find needless modifiers (theandvery, etc.) remove or replace them with more useful words. Again, using the example above:

Their calloused hands shook as they heaving from side to side. Grunts were uttered, curses thrown, red faces gleamed, joints popped, calves flexed and bare feet dug in. The women lounged in lawn chairs as the men battled. “Is it always like this?” the youngest sister-in-law smacked her gum and thumbed a magazine. “It’s just tug of war.”

I went from 77 to 58 words, but maintained the gist of the story. The brief list of descriptors recreated the same action in less space. I also replaced some words with what I thought were better ones: “lounging” instead of watching, “sister-in-law” instead of wife of brother. I also cut out “I mean, seriously,” because it didn’t add much. More could be done, but this is a start.

Be epic. In longer prose, it may take just a paragraph for the reader to keep reading or stop. In flash, it might just be the first sentence. Start with something epic; don’t be afraid to make the story more outlandish than you’d originally intended. What if my sister story began from the end, where the healthy sister shaves her head in solidarity and the sick sister disapproves? What if the tug-of-warring men (which ends up being a metaphor for a feuding father and son) was actually a description of them gardening? I decided to try out the last example:

Their calloused hands shook as they heaved. Grunts were uttered, curses thrown, red faces gleamed, calves flexed and bare feet dug in. Mom had assigned me and Dad to weeding, despite that gardening was her forte. With each weed’s legs pulled violently from the earth, the silence grew.

As a beginner, I am grateful for having discovered some tips to tighten my flash and make my beginnings pop.


Meet Kara and 30 other agents and editors at Push to Publish on October 11, 2014. Read Kara’s complete tips here.

Kara Cochran is in her first year of the MFA program at Rosemont College. In 2011, she received her BA in Creative Writing and German Studies from Denison University in Ohio. After graduation, she worked for a nonprofit organization and attended law school for a year before coming to her senses and applying to Rosemont. At Rosemont, she is the poetry editor for the Rathalla Review and writes poetry, flash fiction and novel-length work. Kara’s work tends to be influenced by her upbringing in a Foreign Service family, and although she spent much of her childhood overseas and in various parts of the US, she has lived in Philadelphia for two years and is proud to call it home. In her free time, she likes to read, run, drink wine, go to the movies with her husband and hang out with her orange cat, Clementine.

This article originally appeared on

Push to Publish Agent Tip #6: The Things You Learn Doing Research


Creating believable characters and settings will often require extensive preparation and study. D.P. Lyle, guest writer on author Janice Bashman’s blog, offers some interesting insight into the value gleaned from doing research.

Janice Gable Bashman

Writers are constantly doing research to make the story at hand more realistic, or at least more believable. That “willing suspension of disbelief” thing. One false move can yank the reader right out of the story and that’s never good. The reader loses confidence in the author and the connection to the story becomes frayed, or worse.

So research is critical.

The thing about on line research is that you can literally stumble on the most amazing stuff. Sometimes it’s what you were looking for but not necessarily what you expected, at other times it’s far afield.

For my latest Samantha Cody thriller ORIGINAL SIN I needed to research snake-handling preachers. I grew up in the South so such sects were not necessarily foreign to me—-though I’ve never visited such a church. Snakes? Not my thing.

But as I rummaged around, I discovered that these groups are not all that rare and they aren’t confined to the South. They can be found as far away from Appalachia as Denver and Alberta and British Columbia, Canada.

Much of the rationale for these beliefs stem from certain passages in Mark 16:

Mark 16:17-18 (King James Version):

17: And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; 

 18: They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.

From these words snake-handling, speaking in tongues, and the sipping of strychnine (yes, strychnine) were ordained. The handlers often feel that no snake and no poison can harm then so when bitten, they refuse medical help and trust the Lord to save them. Sometimes He does, other times He doesn’t. More than one preacher has died at the hand, or fang, of one of his snakes. One famous case was the 1998 death of John Wayne “Punkin” Brown who died from the bite of a four-foot Timber Rattler. Accidents do happen.

More sinister things also occur.

While researching these sects, Google directed me to Amazon and a book titled, SALVATION ON SAND MOUNTAIN: SNAKE HANDLING AND REDEMPTION IN SOUTHERN APPALACHIA by Dennis Covington. Sand Mountain is maybe 40 miles from where I grew up in Huntsville, AL, so how could I not click the “Look Inside” button? I began to read, expecting a sloppy and poorly written tome. Was I surprised. The writing was strong and the story compelling. I then discovered that the book had been a National Book Award Finalist. I immediately purchased it.

It is a fascinating story of a newspaper reporter who travels to Sand Mountain to investigate the case of Glen Summerford, pastor of the Church of Jesus with Signs Following, and his attempted murder of his wife with—-what else?—-a snake. But Covington finds himself drawn to the church and only with great effort could he pull himself and his wife away.

The things you learn doing research.

Meet Janice and 30 other agents and editors at Push to Publish on October 11, 2014. Read more great advice from Janice here.

DPLHeadshot21-217x300D. P. Lyle is the Macavity and Benjamin Franklin Silver Award winning and Edgar, Agatha, Anthony, Scribe, and USA Best Book Award nominated author of both non-fiction and fiction (the Samantha Cody and Dub Walker thriller series and the Royal Pains media tie-in series). Along with Jan Burke, he is the co-host of Crime and Science Radio. He has served as story consultant to many novelists and the screenwriters of shows such as Law & Order, CSI: Miami, Diagnosis Murder, Monk, Judging Amy, Peacemakers, Cold Case, House, Medium, Women’s Murder Club, 1-800-Missing, The Glades,and Pretty Little Liars.

Meet the Agents Coming to Push to Publish


Whether you are an established writer or just getting started, this one-day workshop will provide valuable resources you can use to get your work in print and online. Meet the agents joining us for the 2014 Push to Publish conference on October 11, 2014:

Lucinda Blumfeld: Lucinda started her own agency, Lucinda Literary, in 2011. Her specialty is forming and overseeing a strategy for all components of an author’s exposure, from online marketing and social media to publicity and events. Lucinda’s preferred specialties are: nonfiction (business, psychology, law, cultural studies) and commercial women’s fiction.

Danielle Burby: Before finding her home at HSG, Danielle interned at Writers House, Clarion Books, Faye Bender Literary Agency, Dunow Carlson and Lerner, John Wiley and Sons, and SquareOne Publishers. Her passion lies in YA, Women’s Fiction, and mysteries.

Sheree Bykofsky, AAR, represents over 100 book authors in all areas of adult nonfiction as well as literary and commercial fiction. Her nonfiction specialties include popular reference, business, health, psychology, poker, spirituality, self-help, humor, cookbooks, pop culture, biography, women’s issues, decorating & crafts, music, and more.

Adriana Dominguez works at Full Circle Literary Agency and has over 15 years of experience in publishing, most recently as Executive Editor at HarperCollins Children’s Books, where she managed the children’s division of the Latino imprint, Rayo. Adriana is interested in children’s picture books, middle grade novels, and literary young adult novels. On the adult side, she is looking for literary and women’s works of fiction. In the area of nonfiction, she seeks pop culture, and how-to titles geared toward women of all ages, written by authors with rock-solid platforms.

Leigh Huffine joined Regal Literary in 2011 where, in addition to building her client list, she handles the agency’s audio rights and marketing and publicity. Her main interests are literary fiction, narrative nonfiction, memoir, and engaging non-fiction about culture, science, history, travel, and the arts. She is drawn to magical realism, dark and surrealist fiction, multiculturalism, family sagas, stories with a strong sense of place, and tales of adventure and exploration.

Marie Lamba is an Associate Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency. She has worked as an editor, an award-winning public relations writer, and a book publicist, and belongs to The Liars Club. Marie is currently looking for young adult and middle grade fiction, along with general and women’s fiction and some memoir. She is also open to submissions from picture book authors or illustrators who are already established, or whose work she has requested through conferences.  Overall, books that are moving and/or hilarious are especially welcome.

Gina Panettieri is President of Talcott Notch Literary Services, a 5-member boutique agency representing a full range of fiction and nonfiction for adults and children. A 25-year veteran of the publishing industry, she’s placed hundreds of books with publishers such as Berkley, McGraw-Hill, Wiley, Macmillan, and Adams Media. Gina is seeking edgy, darker Young Adult and adventurous or humorous middle grade fiction, as well as all genres of adult fiction. In nonfiction, Gina will consider business/career/investing, cookbooks, crafts, self-help, memoir, travel, popular science, history, true crime and gift books.

Peter Rubie is a British expatriate, former BBC Radio and Fleet Street journalist. He is CEO of FinePrint Literary Management, where as a literary agent he represents a broad range of high-quality fiction and nonfiction. Peter specializes in narrative non-fiction such as memoirs, biographies, books on business, history, popular science and technology, parenting, music, food, health, and self-help. Fiction interests include literary fiction, crime, thrillers, SF and fantasy, middle grade and Young Adult fiction.

Katherine Sands: As a literary agent with the Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency, Katherine has worked with a varied list of authors who publish a diverse array of books. Actively building her client list, she likes books that have a clear benefit for readers’ lives in the categories of food, travel, lifestyle, home arts, beauty, wisdom, relationships, parenting, and fresh looks. When reading fiction, she wants to be compelled and propelled by urgent storytelling and hooked by characters. For memoir and femoir, she likes to be transported to a world rarely or newly observed.

Kae Tienstra: A literary publicist since 1979, Kae launched her literary agency with her husband Jon in 2007. Kae’s publicity firm, KT Public Relations, has been operating since 1993. The firm specializes in publicity and marketing campaigns for book and magazine publishers, authors, and other businesses. Kae is interested in women’s fiction, mysteries (especially cozy mysteries), nonfiction health, medical, and psychology and nature books.

For tips on how to make the most of your speed date with an editor or agent, click HERE.