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The Writer's Mailbag: Installment Five

Updated on July 30, 2014

Just like the Sun Rising in the East

Hey, I love excitement and surprises as much as the next guy, but I also love knowing that certain things are going to happen at certain times. I would probably be a bit concerned if the sun didn’t rise in the east each morning, you know what I’m saying? I like knowing that there are traffic laws that keep me from getting t-boned when I go through an intersection.

And I like knowing that there are people out there who enjoy this series, and that if I write it, they will come.

So here it is, the answer to your requests, and the answers to your questions.

In case you are new to this series, here’s how it works: you ask a writing question of the writing guru (otherwise known as billybuc) and I will include your question and an answer in the next installment. You can ask the question in the comment section below, or email me at holland1145@yahoo.com, or you can also leave it on my website comment section at www.williamdhollandauthor.com.

Now that the introduction is done, let’s get down to it.

Welcome back!
Welcome back! | Source

STARTING A BLOG

This question comes from Iowa and my good friend Deb:

“Here is a question to ponder for an upcoming installment: I am working on getting my blog up and running but I am having a difficult time setting it up. (Even choosing a theme has me a bit flummoxed.) I have a bunch of content written and ready to go, if only I had more confidence when it comes to dealing with the technical aspects of blogging. What are some good resources for the non-tech savvy writer like me? Thanks.”

I can answer this in several different ways, Deb. I can tell you how I learned about blogging, and then I can tell you some of the correct ways to learn about blogging.

I learned using the bull-in-the-china-closet technique. In other words, I just walked into it and started breaking things.

Seriously, I asked friends. I have a dear friend by the name of Liz Davis in Florida who has held my hand through all of my tech questions. There is no way I trust myself with anything technical online, so she and I correspond quite often. I don’t know how she feels about that, but I am quite satisfied with our friendship.

Actually, to give myself some credit, my first couple blogs were done on WordPress, and I managed to navigate that site quite well using their online tutorials. Honestly, Deb, it was that easy. If it wasn’t there is no way I could have done it. I also watched YouTube videos, and I found some articles in The Writer’s Digest and The Writer that were helpful.

DIALOGUE TAGS

“How often should we use dialogue tags like “he said,” or “she said?” That question is from Bobbi in Utah, and thank you so much, Bobbi, for a question that is important for any novel or short story writer.

The quick answer is not very often.

If you are doing a good job of writing your dialogue and setting your scenes, it should be fairly obvious who is speaking. There are little tricks you can use that eliminate the need to write “he said.” For instance, you can begin a line by writing this: Eli walked across the room, stood in front of Tony, and shook his hand. “Tony, it’s good to see you again.” Using this method, there is no doubt that Eli was doing the talking, and thus you don’t have to beat your readers over the head by adding “he said.”

In other words, do the work and there is no reason for the mundane.

As a general rule, I try to limit “he said” to one or two times per chapter, and I am very conscious of that when I am writing dialogue.

Can you use real people in a work of fiction?
Can you use real people in a work of fiction? | Source

WHEN FACT MEETS FICTION

“Can I use a real-life person as a character in my novel? Are there legal reasons why I would want to avoid doing this?”

What a great question from Kyle in Wales.

The quick answer is yes, you can use real people as characters in your novel. It has been done on many occasions in the past and done effectively. The only time you are risking legal action is when you defame a real person. Don’t go there. It really isn’t worth the headaches.

Having said that, I see where Scarlett Johansson recently won a defamation suit against some French author who used her as the basis of a character. She only won $4,000, but she did win. When in doubt, check with a lawyer.

“Run, Forest, Run!”

THAT DARNED QUERY LETTER

“Bill, I’m getting a lot of agent rejections and no bites. Do you think I need to change my query letter? And if I change the letter, can I re-query the same agents who rejected me?”

Thank you to Delores in California.

Without a doubt, if you are not getting even a nibble from agents or publishers, the problem is in your query letter. In many ways, the query letter is as important as your book. If you can’t write an interesting letter, what are the chances that your book will be interesting? That is the way agents and publishers think and really, who can blame them for thinking that way?

So yes, re-write that query letter and make it sparkle.

On to the second part of your question. If you have re-written your query letter, you really should wait six months to a year before sending query letters to agents who have already rejected you, and quite frankly you probably should change the title of your manuscript at the same time. True, agents and publishers read a lot of query letters, and the chances of them remembering yours six months down the road are slim, but you really don’t want to risk it.

MEMOIRS ARE HOW LONG?

“Bill, I’m writing a memoir, and I’ve heard they are considered in the same vein as a novel. How long should a memoir be?”

Thanks Sue from Dublin, and you are exactly correct, in the publishing business a memoir falls under the novel classification. As such they should be in the 70,000 to 100,000 word range.

WHAT’S ALL THIS TALK ABOUT PLATFORMS?

“Hi! I was wondering if you thought platforms are necessary in order for a writer to succeed?”

Great question from Trevor in Mississippi.

I was going to give a quick answer and say that the only thing necessary for success is talent, but that’s not true. I have seen some published works by writers who I would not hire to write my obituary.

I can, however, safely say that talent is much more important than a platform. History is littered with examples of unknown writers who have found success without building a platform, so it is entirely possible. Do you improve your chances with a platform? Most definitely, especially in this online world we live in. Having a blog or website, having a social network presence, having bylines in your resume, all of these help you to gain a foothold in this business.

Still…and I can’t stress this enough…the most important tool you have in your writer’s toolbox, is writing talent.

Thank you for visiting the mailbag
Thank you for visiting the mailbag | Source

Until Next Week

I’ll just be sitting here waiting for the next batch of questions, so get busy writing them please.

Thanks to those who asked questions this week. I’m enjoying this series and in many cases I learn right along with you, so keep challenging me.

Have a productive week ahead, and remember to get up each morning with a smile on your face…. because….YOU ARE A WRITER!

2014 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

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    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Jo, I hope you are right...I don't have any plans on checking out in the next few years. :) Thanks for your kind words and friendship.

      blessings always

      bill

    • Jo_Goldsmith11 profile image

      Jo_Goldsmith11 3 years ago

      Many great questions asked of you. And awesome answers which make sense. I hope you have many, many years to go before you are in need of someone to write your "obituary". This kind of made my heart sink even though you were trying to explain how some writers wouldn't do well at this grim task. Love the installments! Keep them coming. :-)

      Shared, up and tweeted!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank, Deb. I'm enjoying it.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      This really is a wonderful venue to quickly get the word out, as many others could have the same questions. Nice idea, Billy, and it looks like you're having great success.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I will, Dianna, and thank you for reading it faithfully.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 3 years ago

      This series is answering lots of questions for me. Keep them coming!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Anna! I'm really enjoying this series. I already have two more hubs done in this series. The questions are pouring in.

    • Anna Haven profile image

      Anna Haven 3 years ago from Scotland

      This series is working well for you. It is great that you give different options to ask questions, including publicly here or quietly via email, something for everyone.

      It is really interesting to read the diverse questions that we all wonder about.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I'm having fun with it too, Bill, and you can bet I'll keep it going. Thank you and I hope your weekend is gangbusters.

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 3 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Bill. I really love this series. It' sort of like a Dear Bill column? People send in questions and youanswer them in your own unique and entertaining way. Please keep this going? Have a great weekend.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you vkwok! Have a great weekend.

    • vkwok profile image

      Victor W. Kwok 3 years ago from Hawaii

      Thanks for another great installment, Bill!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you, Irish...your yoda...I love it. I'll gladly be your yoda my dear.

      Work accomplished yesterday...taking it easy this weekend....I hope.

      hugs

      bill

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      Suzanne Ridgeway 3 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

      What an interesting selection of queries you answered this week Bill. Oh how the teacher in you sparkles! I love learning new things here and today some more gems of knowledge for me to store away and use. Many thanks my Yoda. Hope you have recovered from your work outside yesterday!

      Have a great weekend and plenty of chillax time with Bev xx

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Ann, as soon as you hop on that plane it will happen. :)

      bill

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Ahhh, Ann, you 'll have to wait for the answer. :) I love flummoxed too. LOL

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 3 years ago from SW England

      Glad to have conjured a smile. It would certainly be great fun sitting and chatting.

    • Ann1Az2 profile image

      Ann1Az2 3 years ago from Orange, Texas

      flummoxed? What a great word. That will be my word of the day, for sure. Just out of curiosity, here's a question for you:

      What's the difference between a memoir and an autobiography?

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I'm glad to hear it, mathira. Thank you.

    • mathira profile image

      mathira 3 years ago from chennai

      These questions often arise in my mind while writing, especially about the dialogue tags. As usual you gave clarity to my doubts.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Ann, you do make me laugh. We would have so much fun sitting and chatting as friends do.

      Just one of my many daydreams. :)

      bill

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 3 years ago from SW England

      That's an interesting fact about the length of a memoir. I'd never really considered that as I haven't got far but I am going down that path. It ties in with writing the diaries for my grandchildren. Trouble is it started with one and rapidly increased to four!

      Hope my daughters realise that it needs time and stamina to write and they limit their contribution to the population! No, I don't mean it - I'll love as many grandchildren as they give me.

      Lovely to be back home and, yes, it's raining (but only between the hot sunshine). The holidays were great but home is always better. Hope you're enjoying yours, bill. Have a wonderful evening!

      Ann

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      It surely is, Michelle! Thank you!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Graham! It's always good to see you.

      bill

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks Frank. Hopefully I'll answer some questions in the future that you need.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Poolman, I love your optimism. We'll talk my friend. Email me at holland1145@yahoo.com if you have time.

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 3 years ago from Singapore

      Wow. believe me, asking friends and finding platforms is most necessary!

    • old albion profile image

      Graham Lee 3 years ago from Lancashire. England.

      Hi Bill. Great stuff Bill. Tip Top Video's

      Graham.

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 3 years ago from Shelton

      I am now looking forward to future mailbag hub.. although I haven't the need for the answers you provided for some of the questions they will be helpful in the future in that I have no doubt...:)

    • profile image

      Old Poolman 3 years ago

      Bill - We need to talk. This can be started on a shoestring and I will send you one of mine.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Poolman, you are too kind. Actually, one of my dreams is to have a small creative writing school...but....money is always an issue. I'll keep working at it, and in the meantime, thank you for your friendship.

    • profile image

      Old Poolman 3 years ago

      Bill - We need to talk again about you getting the writers school up and running. Talent like yours was meant to be shared with all of those who have that desire to write. Your training on hub pages is fantastic, but a 3 day live workshop would be unbelievable.

      This could even be accomplished with a free Skype account using their conference capability. I have taken courses in options trading using this method and they were almost as good as everyone being in the same room.

      Give it a thought my friend, and when you roll out the first training session I want to be included.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Sheila, I mentioned a real person in my last novel, although they were dead. As long as I don't defame a dead person, all is well and they are fair game in the world of fiction. Thanks for your thoughts.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      You actually do, Ruby, and I am very grateful for your kind words.

    • profile image

      sheilamyers 3 years ago

      I enjoyed reading all of the answers. I'm glad someone asked the question about using real people in novels. I've never done that, although I have mentioned one. I may want to include a real person (mayor, governor, etc) and your advice will stick in my mind.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 3 years ago from Southern Illinois

      I have learned so much from reading your hubs. I don't think i tell you that fact enough. Thank you again...

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      All is well with me, Jo, and thank you for stopping by. As long as others enjoy this series I'll keep writing it. I hope you are enjoying your summer my friend.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Bill, whatever works for you, and that's the bottom line. I hate technology, and I struggle almost daily with online stuff that seems like I'm reading Ancient Greek...so I'm with you on that simpler life.

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 3 years ago from Bedfordshire, U.K

      Bill, I'm really loving your "Writers mailbag", my.. my, how you shine! :) Very useful questions and answers. It's good to see that others are having the same difficulties as I am. Nice work.

      I hope all is well with you, my best always.

    • DrBill-WmL-Smith profile image

      William Leverne Smith 3 years ago from Hollister, MO

      I found Blogger to be so much easier to use than WordPress... I continue to be amazed at folks saying WordPress is easy. It is much more complex, but you can do more with it, of course. I like the simpler life. Thanks for another great installment. ;-)

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I'm so happy to hear that, Genna. Thank you!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks Rachael. I'm enjoying it as well.

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 3 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      My thoughts and comments echo Martie's. I've learned so much from your articles, Bill. Thank you! :-)

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you, Eric. I saw that yesterday but forgot to read it. I'll do that now.

    • RachaelOhalloran profile image

      Rachael O'Halloran 3 years ago from United States

      I love this format and have used it myself. I think it is great especially for those who are either too shy to write in with a question or don't know quite how to word it. Q & A's are great go to places. Thanks for keeping up with the installments :)

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 3 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      On the issue of real people as characters the latest on the Ventura case is illustrative: http://legalnews.findlaw.com/article/2b712f9c4eac2...

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Martie, what a lovely thing for you to say. Thank you my friend and yes indeed, I am proud to be your friend.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Well I'm glad to hear that, Ms. Davis. :) And thanks for the heads up about the release forms....good to know.

    • MartieCoetser profile image

      Martie Coetser 3 years ago from South Africa

      Advice from the horse's mouth. Excellent, billybuc! Your willingness to lead by example, sharing the knowledge you have obtained by trial and error, makes you a very special person. I am proud to call you my friend :)

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      Liz Davis 3 years ago from Hudson, FL

      Aaahahahahahaha! I'm quite satisfied with our friendship as well, Mr. Holland. That was good advice you gave about going to YouTube for answers on blogging, They're far easier to follow than step by step written instructions. As far as real-life stories go, a publisher will probably require signed release forms. I just read about that.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Flourish, it is great. I love the community feeling of this series. Thank you.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Suzette...I like it when others do half my work for me. :)

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks breakfastpop...I'm glad you are finding it so.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you DreamerMeg...good to have you here.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

      It's great that people are getting involved and asking such a variety of questions. I'm sure you have plenty of fans to keep you hopping for awhile, Bill.

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      Suzette Walker 3 years ago from Taos, NM

      Hi Bill, I enjoyed reading this and I learned a thing or two also. These were really good questions and your answers good also. Thanks so much for creating this series and it was fun to read.

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      breakfastpop 3 years ago

      This series is always enlightening and useful. Thanks, billy. Up, useful, interesting and awesome.

    • DreamerMeg profile image

      DreamerMeg 3 years ago from Northern Ireland

      Useful. Always good to read tips from someone who has been there, done that

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you DDE!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Kim, and I wish you a fabulous day as well.

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      Devika Primić 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Thank you for a well-informed hub.

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      ocfireflies 3 years ago from North Carolina

      Once again great answers to great questions.

      I am especially grateful for the blog advice.

      Wishing you a wonderful day.

      Kim

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I appreciate that, Dora. As long as people are enjoying this series, I'll keep writing it.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Sha, there is no easy answer to that question, and it's been tossed around in courts of late...thanks for the question and I'll have the answer for you next week.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Lifegate, I'm glad to be of assistance. Thank you for your loyal following.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Janine, and I hope your day is filled with wonderful moments.

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      Dora Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

      I actually like these questions-answers articles. You do such a good job, Bill. So far, other people have asked some of my questions, so I'll just keep reading the answers. Thanks!

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      Shauna L Bowling 3 years ago from Central Florida

      All great questions, Bill. As far as basing a character on someone you know, don't you have to get permission from them first? And preferably in writing?Should their name be changed "to protect the innocent"?

      I look forward to your answer in an upcoming installment. Thanx!

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      William Kovacic 3 years ago from Pleasant Gap, PA

      Bill, these are great questions! Equally good are the answers. You really break things down for us, and help us to make practical changes in our writing. Thanks for your hard work on our behalf.

    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 3 years ago from New York, New York

      Loved all the questions here and always love getting your take on so much in the writing world by this series. Keep up the good work, Bill! Have a wonderful day now :)

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks, Deb. I wanted to be more specific, but it was kind of a wide-open question with tons of answers. :)

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      Deborah Neyens 3 years ago from Iowa

      Thanks for answering my question, Bill. I never thought to look to YouTube for technical advice. Great tip!