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The Writer's Mailbag: Installment Four

Updated on July 21, 2014

Welcome Back My Friends, to the Show That Never Ends

Well, to be precise, it will end when I’m pushing up daisies, but they will have to pry my computer from my cold, dead fingers. Thank you, Charlton Heston, for inspiring that line, and that will probably be the last time I ever use Heston as in inspiration for anything.

Welcome back indeed. This new series has met with resounding success, so we shall continue. Resounding success? There are at least ten people who have expressed interest, and our three dogs wagged their tails, so yes, I consider that resounding.

This is the series where you ask the questions and our own resident writing guru answers to the best of his ability. Call it an interactive series if you will. Call it an excuse to write an article if you will. And you can call me Johnson, or you can call me Ray, or you can call me J, or you…..

Enough silliness…..shall we begin with the questions?

My self-published book, published by Mutare Enterprises, my publishing company
My self-published book, published by Mutare Enterprises, my publishing company | Source

WHO IS THE PUBLISHER WHEN YOU SELF-PUBLISH?

This is almost a trick question, but not quite. It really is a matter of definition. Let’s first look at what it means to self-publish:

“Self-publishing is the publication of any book or other media by the author of the work, without the involvement of an established third-party publisher.”

By definition, then, the author is actually the publisher. I know, I know, some of you are saying, “But wait a minute! If we publish on Lulu or CreateSpace, aren’t they the publishing company?” And here is where it gets tricky.

According to the definition, if you do not publish through a third-party publisher, then you are the publisher. Sites like Lulu are just facilitators in the process, but because you, the writer, make all the decision regarding cover, creative content, editing, etc, you are still the publisher.

From personal experience, I can tell you that every single time I have done an ebook, I have put my company, Mutare Enterprises, down as the publishing company, and I have yet to face any problems doing that.

HOW EASY IS IT TO START A WRITING BUSINESS?

Very, very easy as a matter of fact.

I’m a big believer in any freelance writer starting a business. It not only gives your platform a professional face, but it also gives you tax benefits.

To start a writing business, get yourself a business license. The requirements for a business license will change depending on where you live, but for my particular area, it costs $75 and requires filling out a couple forms. That’s it!

Once that has been done, I go to Vista Print and have business cards made up with my business name, and then I am in business. This might seem insignificant, but I don’t believe it is at all. If you want to be taken seriously as a professional writer, then you need to act like a professional. Having your own writing business yells to the world that you should be taken seriously.

Writing groups give feedback that a writer needs
Writing groups give feedback that a writer needs | Source

HOW MANY WORDS SHOULD MY NOVEL BE?

There is no concrete answer for this question. There is an unwritten rule that novels should be between 60,000 and 100,000 words, but that is not set in stone. Anyone who has read a novel by James Michener understands that fact.

From a publishing standpoint, most traditional publishers look for books under 120,000 words, but again, and this is an important “but,” quality writing will gain attention no matter how long that quality writing is, so worry about quality and don’t worry about length. Never cut off your novel simply because of a word count. Conversely, never drag your novel out, simply because of a word count. Write the novel the way it needs to be written, and concentrate on making it the best it can be.

ARE WRITING GROUPS HELPFUL?

Do you think that critique writing groups, like the Olympia Writers Group that meets semi-monthly at Barnes & Noble, are helpful?

This question is from my good friend Brian, and the answer is a resounding YES! I am a big believer in writing groups of any kind. They are invaluable when it comes to honest critiques and suggestions.

Writers have a tendency to live in a bubble. We sit down at our computers and we type. We do not seek interaction during the process, but it is interaction that we need in order to produce our best work. I would add that it is quality interaction that we desperately need. Asking our family members for feedback is nice, but we really need feedback from other professional writers.

GRAMMATICAL RULES IN DIALOGUE

Do grammatical rules apply when writing dialogue in a novel?

This is a great question, and I’m sure it is one many of you have asked yourselves.

As a general rule, your characters should imitate real life. Having said that, the dialogue in a work of fiction should be consistent with the speech patterns of the individual characters. It is a tool we have for conveying their personalities, and it is an important tool.

Let me give you a great example from “To Kill A Mockingbird,” by Harper Lee.

“You can choose your friends but you sho' can't choose your family, an' they're still kin to you no matter whether you acknowledge 'em or not, and it makes you look right silly when you don't.”

There is no way we can call that piece of dialogue grammatically correct, but it works perfectly for the situation and for that character. As writers, we want our characters to be individuals, and not all sound the same. I’m not suggesting that we break grammatical rules simply because it is fun to do so, but I am saying that breaking those rules is crucial, at times, in order for our characters to sound real.

QUOTATION MARKS FOR MULTIPLE PARAGRAPHS

When a character’s speech runs into multiple paragraphs, should each paragraph begin and end with quotation marks?

Well, I just ran into this while editing my latest novel, Resurrecting Tobias, and quite honestly I did not know the answer. I do now.

I can tell you what is the standard approach to this, and I’ve confirmed it by reading three novels since I did research on this topic. When a character’s speech carries beyond one paragraph, there should be quotation marks at the beginning of the speech and at the end, and all other paragraphs are open.

This is done to avoid confusing the reader. A closing quotation mark at the end of one paragraph may signal, to the reader, that the next paragraph consists of a different character’s speech.

Thank you for the questions and for being here
Thank you for the questions and for being here | Source

WHY SHOULD WE AVOID CLICHES? EVERYONE USES THEM, SO WHAT’S WRONG WITH USING THEM IN A NOVEL?

It’s a valid point. There is no doubt that our everyday speech is filled with clichés. I know from personal experience that I can’t get through a day without saying one, or two, or ten cliches, so why shouldn’t I use them when writing?

What I am about to tell you is just my opinion, but I have heard writing coaches say the same thing, so I know I’m not alone in this opinion. When writing a book, or for that matter a short story, we should strive for fresh and original language. We should strive to find our own way of expressing a thought. In other words, we should reject lazy and convenient, and shoot for original and unique.

There is no rule regarding this, and it is always your choice, as a writer, to use clichés or not, but from my viewpoint, writing a book should be an exercise in individuality. Instead of using over-used clichés, why not coin a phrase that others will want to use?

Do you find this series helpful?

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And That’s All for This Installment

I hope you found that helpful. Remember, if you have a question for the Mailbag, simply send me an email at holland1145@yahoo.com, ask your question in the comment section below, or ask me a question on my website at www.williamdhollandauthor.com. I’ll answer them in the next installment.

Thanks for following along. Now sit down and write your heart out.

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, thank you for sharing your experience. That kind of interchange of information helps all writers.

      blessings always

      bill

    • Jo_Goldsmith11 profile image

      Jo_Goldsmith11 3 years ago

      Bill,

      Another great installment! I agree it should be about the quality of the words and not necessarily the word count. I know, I have used a few pictures and included them in my two children's books. This does help with adding a few more pages to the novel.

      Great suggestions and advice! Shared, up and tweeted.

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

      MM, there are no easy tips for marketing. I'm afraid that is something most of us hate to do, but if we don't learn to do it we will flounder. I'll answer your question in the next mailbag or the one after that. Thank you.

    • moneymindit profile image

      Money Man 3 years ago from California

      Great Hub! Publishing has never been easier. Anyone can publish a book at Kindle Publishing. I recommend it. Now marketing? That is more difficult than publishing. Any tips on marketing?

      MM

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

      I know you are, Deb, and I appreciate it.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      There will always be room for good advice, and as you know, I am in my chair.

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

      Happy day to you, Audrey, and thank you for your kindness and friendship.

      love,

      bill

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 3 years ago from Nashville Tn.

      Your love and passion for writing shines like a beacon! Thank you for giving we writers this valuable information. Happy Days, dear Bill.

      Audrey

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

      Ann, I have no answer for your question about the English. LOL We feel the same way about those from California. :)

      I agree with you about dialect. I have read very few authors who can write a genuine dialect....I don't even try my friend.

      The Mutare is a Latin word I believe....it means "to change." :)

      Thank you, Ann!

      bill

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 3 years ago from SW England

      I love this series, bill. It reminds me of lots of things I tend to forget. The dialogue v grammar argument is an interesting one; I agree entirely with you. I would go further to say that when trying to write dialect within dialogue, it's really difficult to come over realistically. I prefer to throw in a few random examples, suggest the general drawl or intonation of someone's voice and let the reader give the character the accent/dialect. Otherwise the reader falls over his tongue trying to get it right and you've lost him. What do you think about this aspect?

      A trivial question - is the 'Mutare' in your business name an anagram of 'Mature'?!!

      Still REALLY hot here in France! Had a great evening of music and conviviality on the camp site last night; a little wine, a little 'egg flan'. Too many English here though but you can't have it all! Really, why do they allow so many in Brittany?

      Keep answering the questions and dishing out all that energy and inspiration, bill!

      Ann

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

      Graham, thank you. I enjoy Weir as well, and most definitely I used my favorite book. I'll probably still be using it five years from now. :)

      bill

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      Graham Lee 3 years ago from Lancashire. England.

      Hi Bill. I enjoyed this one as usual also the videos. I particularly liked George Weir. On taking the vote we have a one hundred per cent 'yes'. I notice you have used your favourite book again to make a point. Keep it up Bill.

      Graham.

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

      Aww, Jo, I'm so sorry you lost all that writing. Truly, I feel your pain on that one, as any writer would. Well, I hope you enjoyedd the holiday at least. Good to have you back my friend.

    • tobusiness profile image

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

      Bill, this is massively helpful, you've answered some of the questions I'm currently struggling with. I'm pretty mad at myself at the moment, While away on a walking holiday in Cumbria, my computer crashed and I lost all of 10,000 words. As hard as I tried, just couldn't retrieve the file, and of course, I didn't back the accursed thing up, an expensive lesson learned. This series of articles are really enlightening, Nicely done as always.

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

      I'm glad you are, Dianna. I think you'll find it beneficial. Best wishes my friend and thank you.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 3 years ago

      I am glad to see your approval of writing groups. I have been debating whether or not to join one recently formed at the local library. Looks like I am going to have to see what its all about.

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

      Ann, I know, it took me long enough. Bev says the same thing.

    • Ann1Az2 profile image

      Ann1Az2 3 years ago from Orange, Texas

      Thanks! Compliment fished for and caught!

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

      But of course you are, Ann. All silliness aside. :)

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

      I'm learning, Ann, slowly but surely. :)

    • Ann1Az2 profile image

      Ann1Az2 3 years ago from Orange, Texas

      That's probably a wise decision, Bill. Especially when us women have a tendency to fish for compliments! lol

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

      It's always my pleasure, vkwok...thank you.

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

      Ann, I'm not saying anything. :)

    • vkwok profile image

      Victor W. Kwok 3 years ago from Hawaii

      Thanks for sharing more awesome, useful tips, Bill!

    • Ann1Az2 profile image

      Ann1Az2 3 years ago from Orange, Texas

      Of which I'm sure I are one, right? lol

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

      Thank you, Ann. I've got some very smart friends. :)

    • Ann1Az2 profile image

      Ann1Az2 3 years ago from Orange, Texas

      Love the way you answered all of the questions, Bill. People are really thinking, aren't they? Another great installment.

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

      Thank you Mathira! I appreciate you stopping by.

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

      Flourish, it is the wise thing to do....why pass up those tax benefits? Thanks for reading.

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

      Faith, it is always good to see you my friend. Thank you for sharing part of your Monday with me. Blessings to you always.

    • mathira profile image

      mathira 3 years ago from chennai

      Billy, yet another installment of useful tips for aspiring writers. Though I cannot write a book I found certain valid points which I could use in my blog posts also.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

      A business savvy uncle has suggested to me the same thing you do -- to take advantage of tax benefits and get a business license.

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 3 years ago from southern USA

      Wow, Bill, your mailbag is overflowing with vital questions! And you have certainly provided useful answers to all of the questions posed here to the benefit of many.

      Up and more and away

      Blessings always

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

      Grammatically incorrect, Heidi, but effective. :) Always good to see you my friend.

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 3 years ago from Chicago Area

      Yes, indeed, writers ARE the publishers when they use services such as Lulu or Createspace. All these folks do is print, distribute and deliver.

      And, yes, get them business cards if you plan to be a writer! (Okay, I know that was grammatically incorrect.)

      Happy Monday!

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

      Donna, hooray for you. I hope you write an article about that experience. Best wishes and thank you for letting me know.

    • DonnaCaprio profile image

      Donna Caprio Quinlan 3 years ago from Newburyport, MA

      Bill - I love your writers mailbag! So many great tips. I will be attending my first writers group in a couple of weeks. I'm a little nervous since I don't get "feel" like a real writer, but I'm going to give it a try.

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

      Thanks Sheila! I love VistaPrint and use them quite often, and would recommend them to anyone on a budget.

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

      Lifegate, that's progress my friend. Glad they allowed you to enter the front door today. LOL Thank you!

    • profile image

      sheilamyers 3 years ago

      Thanks for all of the info. I was going to mention the same thing Cygnet did. I use CreateSpace and, since I utilize their free ISBN, they list CreateSpace as the publisher. But if anyone self-publishes there, they have the choice to buy an ISBN and that's necessary if they want to list their own name or have created a name for their "publishing company".

      VistaPrint has very nice products and I was impressed by both the quality and the price. I finally got some business cards so when it comes up in conversation that I'm an author, I can hand the person a card so they can look me up on Amazon. What's neat about VistaPrint is the service is easy to use and they have a whole array of products you can get to match your business card design.

    • lifegate profile image

      William Kovacic 3 years ago from Pleasant Gap, PA

      Wow, Bill! I didn't have to hunt this one up. I actually got a notification. More good stuff to help grow. Keep the series going! looking forward to more.

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

      Ruby, now that song will be stuck in my head all day...who the heck sang that originally? See what you do to me? LOL Thanks, Ruby.

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

      Thanks for your input, Donna, and you better bring a crowbar to pry that computer from my hands. LOL

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 3 years ago from Southern Illinois

      I continue to enjoy this series and each time i learn something new. Thank you. As i was reading this the lyric kept bugging me, " I'm gonna sit down and write myself a letter. " I know, nutty! Woo Hoo!

    • cygnetbrown profile image

      Donna Brown 3 years ago from Alton, Missouri

      Hi Bill,

      I can almost picture you sitting stone cold, rigamortis setting in, and seeing the coroner prying your fingers off the computer! (sorry, I had to say it).

      Related to what you said as about who's the publisher when you self-publish, I use my pseudonym "Cygnet Brown" as my author name and then use my real name Donna Brown as the publisher. if you don't buy the ISBN numbers and use a furnished ISBN number, the publishing company is whoever you have used to promote the book for instance, if you publish on amazon and use their ISBN number, they become the publisher if you use Lulu and their ISBN number, they become the publisher of that edition. You do however retain all rights, they just get to add their name to it.

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

      I'm glad to hear it, Melissa. I really appreciate you being here. Have a great week.

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      Melissa Propp 3 years ago from Minnesota

      Good questions, great answers! I am really enjoying this series. I learn something new every time.

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

      Kim...user-friendly answers...I love that line. Thank you!

      bill

    • ocfireflies profile image

      ocfireflies 3 years ago from North Carolina

      Bill,

      Valid questions and user-friendly answers = Successful Mail bag format.

      You sir, are a guru of the finest kind.

      Here's to writing and Here's to you,

      Kim

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

      Brian, you should be writing this mailbag. I always look forward to your comments. They are right on and filled with practical wisdom. Thank you sir!

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

      Lizzy, I had fun writing it, so I'm glad someone laughed at it. Thanks, hon.

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      Liz Davis 3 years ago from Hudson, FL

      Omg, that first paragraph had me cracking up laughing.

    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 3 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

      Up, Useful, Interesting, and shared with followers. Good questions and good answers.

      I look for a critique writing group to join wherever I live. They have been very helpful. The best are modeled on the University of Iowa Writing Workshop. Over and over I'll go into a workshop expecting that the group will affirm my opinion that my story draft being critiqued is ready for publication and sure to get popular and critical acclaim and I'll leave very aware that the story still needs a lot of work.

      But I've learned to get feedback wherever I can. One of my stories had been critiqued and revised a number of times, including by my siblings (a school teacher, a professor of law and philosophy, and a professional screenwriter) and by a writing group consisting mainly of alumni of a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program when I showed it to a waitress with no writing experience and little education. She asked a "Why is the emperor naked?" sort of question that spotlighted a plot hole and logical inconsistency so huge and so obvious that everyone else, me included, had missed it.

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

      Glad you like it, DJ, and I love that I inadvertently answered one of your questions. Thanks my friend.

      bill

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      DJ Anderson 3 years ago

      Hey, Bill,

      You answered one of my questions concerning quotation marks.

      Thanks!

      This mail bag is a great idea.

      DJ.

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

      LOL...good morning Brie...I don't know why that popped into my brain, but I'm glad it did.

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

      Thank you breakfastpop...the added bonus is that I enjoy writing them.

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

      Thanks John. The quotation marks question pops up quite often...it's one of those things we see daily but never notice.

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      Brie Hoffman 3 years ago from Manhattan

      Very informative and I'm kinda jealous that I didn't think of the Charlton Heston line first.

    • breakfastpop profile image

      breakfastpop 3 years ago

      I consider these pieces to be a writer's encyclopedia. These installments are spot on. Voted up, useful, interesting and always awesome.

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      John Hansen 3 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Another helpful and easy to read hub Bill. Thanks for the tips on starting your own writing business to be more professional, also "quotations marks for multiple paragraphs." I thought that was the case, but wasn't 100% sure.

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

      Thanks, Greg! Heck, buddy, I have used cliches in my writing. I just don't want it to become a habit. I think I'm a good enough writer that I can coin a phrase now and then, and I know you are as well.

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      Greg Boudonck 3 years ago from On A Mountain In Puerto Rico

      Good job. This quote Bill is tremendous: "Instead of using over-used clichés, why not coin a phrase that others will want to use?"

      We are in the wordsmith business. It is our duty to develop words as well as write them. I will say, there are moments when a cliché is called for, but those moments are few.

      Thanks for the great work Mr Dear Abbey of the writer's world.

      Keep 'em comin.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Sha. The ending...heck, the entire novel, had several transformations before I settled on the final product...I'm glad you enjoyed it, and thank you so much for reading it. Have a great Monday.

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

      Thank you Deb, and I promise I'll have an answer for you in the next installment. Great question and one many people can relate to.

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      Shauna L Bowling 3 years ago from Central Florida

      I forgot today was mailbag day. What a nice surprise!

      I finished Resurrecting Tobias Saturday. Loved it. I really liked the ending. It turned out differently - and much better- than I expected. Without giving anything away, I was thinking Pete and Maria's paths may have taken a twisty turn. There were several surprises in the novel. I love it when I can't see what's coming until it slaps me in the face!

      Oh yeah - great mailbag this week, Bill!

    • DeborahNeyens profile image

      Deborah Neyens 3 years ago from Iowa

      Hi Bill. Good advice as always. 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!

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

      Thank you Janine! It is a subtle way of self-promotion that I approve of. Happy Monday to you my friend.

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

      Thank you Frank. I enjoy writing this series and I'm glad others enjoy it as well.

    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 3 years ago from New York, New York

      Another wonderful installment Bill and will say I like that you use your company name when self publishing instead of your author name and makes sense why you do so. Thanks again and have a wonderful Monday ahead now!

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 3 years ago from Shelton

      Billy your mailbag installments cover a lot of ground.. some questions I had wanted to ask has already come and gone.. the answers are logical, and to the point.. a direct hit...:)