Words for Writers: Publishing Sans Agent

I had a great email from someone asking for advice about signing a publishing deal with an indie publisher with no agent.  She was directed to me by a fellow writer because I did the same when I first published – Dragon Moon Press picked up Triptych, and I had no agent at the time.

With her permission, I’m posting my answers here because I think that it could be helpful to my readers.

First, I asked her who the publisher was and how she had submitted her manuscript. She gave me the name, and I looked them up and with some research found them to be a fairly reliable, fairly professional indie publisher of mainly ebooks.

About how and why she submitted to this publisher, she said:

“I am a member of Critique Circle, a writing workshop website and I noticed a fellow writer listed them as publishing one of her stories so I looked them up and submitted one of mine. I am a total newbie and while I am super excited I don’t want to go into this thinking rainbows and lollipops, right?! I just don’t want to do something wrong because I didn’t investigate first.”

My reply:

You’re very welcome.

From what I’ve gathered from the publisher’s site, they do what they say they’re going to do. They’ll publish your book.

Whether you want to publish with a publisher their size is entirely up to you. (I have – I published a novella with Double Dragon Books here in Toronto.) There are pros and cons to going with a publisher this size:

Pros: They’ll pay very good attention to you because there’s few of you authors to juggle, it’s a high royalty, and they probably have a loyal fan base already. They’ve got a publication schedule, they’re visible on FB, Twitter, and on their site. And they’ve probably worked with new authors a lot.

Cons: They’re small market. Now, that doesn’t mean amateur or crappy, just that they’re small and mostly online. That means that probably almost all the marketing will be up to you to do, and that your book will probably not be carried by any book store outside of special request. It will not be ordered for any libraries unless you donate a copy to your local (as I’ve done, and I recommend highly). As long as you take an extremely realistic look at this, it’s not a bad option.

[They indie publisher in question] seems forthright and honest, but I would always talk to other authors who are published with them to see if they are happy with their experience.

In the end if you read the contract and you are uncomfortable or unhappy, listen to your instincts or talk to fellow published authors about the sections you are unhappy with to see how they compare.

And as always, do your research.

As for not having an agent:  agents are great for getting you access to publishers who require submissions to come from representation. Publishers employ gatekeeping tactics like this because they just get so much stuff and they need help weeding the suitable projects out.  Agents are great for knowing the legal hoo-doo surrounding contracts and being able to get you the best deals, or being able to explain things to you that you don’t understand, or making sure your rights are upheld and protected. Agents are great for having the networking contacts and hob-nobbing skills needed to get your books to the right publishers, in the right magazines, included in the right blog tours and signing events, etc. Agents work in tandem with foreign rights and film agents, help arrange appearances and big marketing drives, etc. And most importantly, your agent will be your partner in your career, your advocate, your best and most trusted beta reader, and will help you decide what projects to focus on, will let you bounce ideas off them, and will make sure that your work is the best it can be.

If [the indie publisher in question] was a big-time super-corporate over-the-top-legalesse publisher, then I would encourage you to get an agent before agreeing to publish with them.

However, as this is indie press that is mainly online, I think you’re fine without one. The contract should be straightforward and easy to read, and as the drives around it will be smallish, you should be able to handle it all yourself.

At the same time, I would encourage you to read your contract very carefully and very thoroughly and know exactly what you’re agreeing to.  This is not meant to scare you; this is so that you are clear of the agreement you’re making and to be certain that you’re stepping into it with knowledge.

There were some questions that I had when I published indie, so I will tell you the answers in advance, in case you’re thinking of them right now:

In a small press, this is usually how Who-Does-What is divided up:


  • Provide an editor (either just copy/typos, or a full substantial editor, depending on the publisher) to work with you on polishing the book or fixing more substantive concerns if they exist.
  • Turn the manuscript into a “book” – i.e. register for the ISBN, typeset, etc.
  • Engage and work with a cover designer/artist. (You may or may not be asked for your opinion/ideas for this – usually the cover is ultimately out of the writer’s hands, so be prepared to not be involved. That said, it’s rare that they won’t ask your opinion, though.)
  • Work with you to create the back cover copy.
  • Publish the book.
  • Advertise the book on their site, in their newsletter, and through their regular channels, blogs, and sites. If they do it, they would also submit the book to their regular review channels (Publisher’s Weekly, a regular blog, etc.)
  • Make the book available for purchase at a variety of online stores, including their own. They may also put it up on Goodreads.
  • Provide books to you at the special author’s rate on your request.


  • Work with the editor to create and provide a clean and polished manuscript for the publisher to turn into a book.
  • Any and all other marketing outside of what the publisher usually does including: having a launch party (and paying for it), booking appearances at conventions (until you’re super famous and you have a PA and people are inviting you), getting any marketing materials (bookmarks, postcards, etc.) designed and printed, building and maintaining your website and social media networks, booking appearances at libraries, community centres, etc.
  • Buy boxes of books at the special author rate for resale at conventions, or to friends and family, or consignment to local book stores
  • Answering interview questions or participating in any marketing the publisher may have set up; setting up interviews with your local library, papers, schools, etc.
  • Research and submit the book for review with other bloggers or reviewers that the publisher may not have.
  • Set up Amazon author profile, make sure books are tagged properly, and maintain the book’s profile page once it’s up.
  • Possibly submit and maintain the Goodreads page as well, if the publisher hasn’t done it.

Both (together) usually:

  • Discuss and decide if the book should be submitted for awards or reviews, and where, and who will pay for what. Sometimes the publisher doesn’t have the budget to submit to awards with an entry fee (my publisher and I have each paid for roughly half of my submissions).
  • Discuss and solicit reviews from which to pull a front-cover blurb for the book.

It sounds scary, but with a checklist, it’s not so bad. As I said above, I’ve published two books sans agent.

The first was with Dragon Moon Press. I was querying small press publishers and agents simultaneously with that MS, and DMP said yes before any agents did. I talked over the contract with the acquiring editor, and also had a published friend look over it as well, and was comfortable signing it without an agent.

The editor and I both worked very hard on polishing and pushing the novel and it was rewarding for me. I enjoyed having so much control with the marketing, but decided that I wouldn’t do a second book with DMP because I was still interested in going bigger with the next project. And it is always possible that I may write another book that’s just perfect for and indie SF/F publisher like DMP and might approach them with it in the future. I’ve also stayed connected with them by publishing some short stories in their anthologies. They’re fantastic folk.

My review on Triptych from Publisher’s Weekly was what attracted my first agent to me. He contacted me and asked if I was seeking representation. I was very pleased with my experience with DMP, and they’re very supportive, but their marketing budget is not comparable to a larger publisher, understandably, and I had put quite a bit of my own money into making my novel visible. I am trying to make a career of writing, so I need to graduate slowly to bigger and bigger presses with their own marketing budgets, and put less of my money into marketing if this is going to be a viable income-earner.

Thus, I needed an agent. So, after a few rounds of phone calls with him and some other agents who had another of my manuscripts for consideration, I narrowed it down and accepted him as my agent.

(Since then I have switched to a different agent, simply because we work together creatively in a better capacity, and we have a better rapport than I had with the old agent).

If he hadn’t contacted me and offered, I was going to continue querying agents with my next project, explaining that I had one book out with an indie publisher that had done quite well critically, and that I was looking for an agent for my next MS to up my game.

The second sans-agent book I published – The Dark Side of the Glass – was with Double Dragon which is very similar, from what I can tell, to [the indie press in question]. That is – they published it, made it available online and in a print-on-demand store, and I email them to buy boxes of books at the author’s special rate.

Otherwise neither of us have done much more for the book – the marketing is 100% up to me with DD (beyond them just putting up on the store and making it available for purchase) , and I’ve sort of left this one to be a world of mouth book. I’m too broke to put any marketing behind it right now. It has been a satisfactory experience with DD, too (even though the first editor I was assigned and I did not get along at all); I just don’t have the resources to push the book as much as I’d like. But I do bring it with me anywhere I am going to sell my books.

I hope all this info has been helpful, instead of overwhelming or harshly realistic.

The summary is this:

If you are comfortable with reading and following the contract on your own, I don’t see why you can’t indie publish your story without an agent. However, if [the indie publisher in question] is not the size of publisher you’re hoping to land with this manuscript, then perhaps beginning to query agents or bigger indie publishers is the better option.

I can’t tell you want the first step of your career should be, but the fact that someone has offered to publish you is fantastic, and I offer my sincere congratulations!

It’s a hard choice for you, and I’m sorry I can’t do more to make it easier.

Agents, as far as I can tell, actually do like it when you can prove that you can follow through – and successfully publishing a novel with an indie publisher and being totally professional and baddass about marketing it is a great way to show that you can swing when you’re up to the plate. I think they may be much more inclined to consider your second project if your first is already out and is totally pro.

(Same way you should always mention in your query letters if you’ve completed a thesis; those things are way more complicated and difficult to finish than a book, IMHO!)

Feel free to ask any more questions.



For more posts on the business and craft of writing, search my Words for Writers tag.


JM FreyWords for Writers: Publishing Sans Agent
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Words for Writers: Protecting Your Work

Words for Writers: Protecting Your Work

More Q & A Time based on some questions I’ve gotten recently.

Before I dive into this topic, I want to clear up a pair of definitions, which are very important for you as a writer to know.

Intellectual Property – (I often refer to this as an IP below) – This is the idea that you own. It is the world, the characters, the concepts, the narrative that you created. IPs are intangible in essence, but can be written down as a Manuscript, a Screenplay, a invention design, etc.

Book – A book is the product that the publisher (either a traditional publisher or you, as your own self-publisher) creates using your Intellectual Property. A book is a physical or electronic thing that is bought and sold, and has things like a cover, images, and typesetting. The content of the book is your IP.

So for example: I own the characters Basil Grey, Gwen Pierson and Kalp, and the concepts of an Aglunate and Unit, and the particular world narrative that I wrote; and Dragon Moon Press is the publisher of the book Triptych.

 DMP does not own the IP but does have the exclusive contractual right to publish books and ebooks of Triptych, as per the agreement we signed together.

If for some reason DMP decides it doesn’t want to publish Triptych any more, or I decide to part ways from them, then the IP goes with me and they have no permission to publish Triptych any longer, in any format, including a new one. However, I have no rights to say what they do with those copies of Triptych that already exist.

Simply put: The IP is mine; the book is theirs.

Also, before we get into this topic, you might want to swing by Gabrielle Harbowy’s blog post on TRUST ISSUES, which is a great primer. Alright, ready to go? Let’s dive in!

Right, on to the frequently asked questions!

 Q: How can I copyright my work?

The Government of Canada website says this about copyright:

“The general rule is that the author/creator is the first owner of copyright, subject to any agreement between parties that states otherwise. The owner can give, assign, or license copyright in parts or in its entirety. There are special rules for works created by employees that vest copyright in the employer, and for commissioned photographs, portraits or engravings that vests copyright in the person commissioning the work as long as the creator is paid for the work.”

In short: the minute you write it down, you own it. Unless you sell the intellectual property in its entirety ad infinitum. (I can’t recommend or not recommend selling your IP – this has to be a personal choice.)

Q: Yeah, but if I want to be really sure?

  1. Registered Mail: print your manuscript, package it up, take it to the post office and mail it to yourself via registered mail. Do NOT open it when it arrives, and put it in storage until such a time that you need to produce the package before a judge/court/legal council to prove the authenticity of your draft. The date on the package and the fact that it is unsealed means that whatever is inside existed on the mailing date. They will then open the package and review the content and compare it to whatever it is that is challenging your IP’s age, authenticity, and originality.
  2. Keep sequential drafts in your hard drive and on an external drive and make sure your copy of your writing software is legally registered to your name and address, in case someone needs to verify the fingerprint details of the documents. Always back this chain of drafts up with an external hard drive or a cloud drive, or a thumb drive, etc. (I do all three because I’m a paranoid bastard and my computer has a history of garbling files).
  3. Use the Writers Guild of Canada registry bank, or any similar registry run by a creative guild or union in your country. (A word of warning: this may cost money! Be prepared to pay an archival fee, and possibly an annual fee to keep it archived on top of that.) Each archival bank will have its own rules, so read them carefully.


Q: What about registering an ISBN Number?

ISBN (definition) numbers are assigned to individual books when the books are ready to become products that a consumer can buy. Both ebooks and print books have ISBN numbers.

ISBN numbers are for books, not IPs.

If you are going the traditional publishing route, your publisher will take care of acquiring and assigning an ISBN number to your book. You don’t need to worry about that in advance.

If you are self-pubbing, you can read about getting an ISBN number here.

Q: I heard that you can get zillions of dollars just thinking up ideas and selling them.

Some people do. Usually because they have gigantic names and can command that kind of fee. If you don’t have a gigantic name, a high powered agent, and command that kind of fee, please rethink your expectations.

Generally, if you are a new name, agents and publishers will only look at work that’s already complete. You need to prove that you can not only have awesome ideas, but that you can follow through and complete them, and actually write well.

Most people are so busy thinking up their own ideas that they have no time or desire to develop yours. And most people don’t buy a half-finished project. So you’d spend your time better writing your own ideas than trying to sell them with no work to show for it.

Q: What if someone options my book for a film?

This is a bit complicated. Technically speaking, if we’re going to talk nitty gritty economics of who owns what, when, it goes like this*:

i.      You write a book and therefore you own the Intellectual Property/Copyright

ii.      You lease that IP to a publisher on the agreement that they will make it into a book and sell it (this may or may not include clauses for foreign rights versions, alternate print runs and covers, audio books, merchandise, etc.)

iii.      The publisher pays for the right to lease the IP by giving you a cut of the sales (i.e. your royalties). If there’s merchandise based on your IP (example: teeshirts, posters, etc), then your agent may be able to bargain for a percentage of that, as well. But that depends on you/your agent/the publisher/etc.

iv.      Said lease may be in ad infinitum (meaning, forever) or for a set number of years, or until either of you invoke your Sunset Clause and renege on the deal (usually only done if the author is a complete harridan and bruises the publisher’s business, or if the author and agent agree that the publisher is no longer a fit for the book). There are all sorts of other clauses and subsets in here, so don’t take this as law.

v.      Right, so then you have a book out. And someone somewhere with some pull reads it (or reads about it) and decides they’d like to make a film out of it.

vi.      A production company approaches you/your agent/your publisher to obtain the permission to make a single film/TV series/radio drama/whatever.

vii.      You still own the IP.

viii.      The production company goes into talks with your agent/your publisher.

ix.      The production company leases the IP from you for the right to make an audio-visual production of your IP. Usually there’s an agreement with the publisher as well for cross promotion/optioning rights/etc. but as I’ve never seen that side of it, I’m not certain which way the money crisscrosses, or what sorts of deals the publisher and production company make with one another.

x.      You get an optioning fee from the production company for the right to lease your IP and make the production. Your agent/publisher might also work into your deal a percentage of box office/green-lighting fee/merchandise/ etc. They may also work into your contract the option to write the screenplay or work with the writer(s) as a co-writer or a consultant.

xi.      Generally, for every year that the production company holds a reserve on your IP, you get an optioning fee up until the project is green-lit. After the project is green-lit (that is, production officially begins), you will not receive another option fee. Sometimes instead of doing a yearly optioning fee, you may get a lump-sum and will sign a contract saying that you’re okay with that. As long as the production company wishes to hold the option to make the production, they can do as long as they pay you your fee. This means that they could hold it for decades and never make a production from it, and that is their choice. It’s legally allowable as long as they keep paying your optioning fee (though it can be frustrating for writers!) Sometimes there’s a times-up clause added to contracts stipulating that the option expires if a production isn’t made after a certain number of years. There is a very good reason for all this waiting – producers have to find the money to make the film and cannot be worried about you wandering away with the IP while they’re hitting up investors and granting agencies. They pay you to reserve the lease on the IP so they can have the time to get their team together.

xii.      THUS – your ownership of your IP is still forever your own, unless you sell it to the publisher/production company. HOWEVER, the production company/publisher ALSO has the right to copyright anything they make up/add to the IP. For example, J.K. Rowling owns the IP for Harry Potter, but Warner Brothers owns the visual representation of Harry Potter (i.e. pictures/videos/dolls/games/etc. of Daniel Radcliffe while he’s playing Harry Potter. I assume that Mr. Radcliffe gets a cut of those profits for leasing his image to WB).

 *This is based on what I’ve learned reading guild and union websites, my own contracts, and chatting with authors who’ve had their work optioned/producers who’ve optioned work. This may not be the exact path or reality for everyone. Always, always consult with your agent. Also, I might have misunderstood and therefore misrepresented some facts – in which case, please feel free to correct me so I can make this more accurate!


Q: Is some editor or agent going to steal my ideas or my work when I submit to them?

This is the number one question I get. Thing is, if an editor or publisher likes your idea, they’ll SIGN it, not STEAL it.

Editors and agents only make money when you, their author, makes money i.e. when your book is published and that book sells. Their job is to make their clients/authors money. They won’t ever make any money if it gets out that they’ve stolen someone’s ideas – they will be blacklisted and boycotted and will never work again.

Thus, it’d be pretty damn stupid for them to steal your ideas, wouldn’t it?  They are in the business of publishing books, not stealing them. So no, I wouldn’t worry about some editor or agent stealing your ideas or work.

That said, always faithfully and thoroughly research the publishers, editors, and agents you’re querying. If their vibe is off, don’t do it. If there are websites warning you off these people, don’t do it. If they ask for a fee up front, be wary. When in doubt, email some of their other clients and ask if they’re happy.

There are organizations that certify and verify agents/editors. You can look into them and see if your agent/editor of choice is on that list, if you so desire.

Q: What if I get plagiarized?

Take a deep breath. Contact your agent. They have solicitors on staff or are trained themselves to handle this. Be prepared to offer up proof – your drafts chain, that registered mail package, or print copies of earlier drafts that show the organic progress of your work. If you have no agent, inquire with author folks about entertainment lawyers they know and recommend.

Do NOT attack the person you think plagiarized you. Do NOT immediately contact the author you think plagiarized you, nor their editor, agent, or publisher.

Build your case of proof and follow the advice of legal counsel.

Be sure that you really HAVE been plagiarized before you ask for someone to look into it. Be aware that a zeitgeist can cause many similar novels to come out at the same time, or that someone might have just randomly had an idea like yours, or had been inspired by the same thing that inspired you, etc. It has to be quite specific for it to be plagiarism – the lifting wholesale of passages, or concepts, or characters. Read this definition of plagiarism for more details.

Also, book titles aren’t copyrightable unless they’re really super specific. For example: There were three different books named Triptych that came out the same year as mine did; there is a famous Karen Slaughter book by the same name that I was unaware already existed when I named my novel; there is a film of the same name coming out in the next few years. But we can’t sue each other because the stories, covers, genres, and narratives/plots/characters are all very different.

However, if I were to write a book about a young witch named Karry Rotter and talked about how she goes to Magic Day Care, then I’d be infringing on Rowling’s copyright as it’s clear that I’m deliberately recalling and imitating her work. Unless it’s satire.

Parody, satire, and transformative works (fanfic, mashups, social commentary, etc.) are protected by Fair Use laws. Read up on that if you’re uncertain what all of that means.

Some authors endorse fanworks (I do! I do!) Some choose not to comment on fanworks, and some actually ask fans to not create fanworks for personal or legal reasons – please be aware of who does and doesn’t endorse fanwork if you are choosing to do a fanwork based on their IP and be aware that you could be delivered a Cease & Desist if you disregard an author’s posted preference.

Q: Are print zines and collections more reputable than online ones?

One medium is not inherently more trustworthy than the other. It’s the people behind the publishing company you should be evaluating.

All I can say is “do your research”. Read up on them, check what some of their other published authors say about them, etc.

Q: Should I have to pay for reviews or to enter contests?

Generally speaking, money should always flow towards the writer. (Even when there are diversions in the stream to make sure your agent/editor gets their hard-earned percentage).

Some contests or review sites have fees to enter your work – this is usually just to offset admin costs, or the cost of mailing your books out. Read the fine print very, very carefully and see if it’s worth it. Ask friends or other writers who may have experience with that group to see if they think it’s legit. If you don’t know, email the contest/reviewers and ask them to please break down the fee you pay, and where the money goes.

In the end, if it gives you the wibbles, don’t do it.

 Q: How do I know who isn’t good to submit to?

Check out Preditors and Editors; read write ups on publishers/editors/agents on Absolute Write, DuoTrope (pay) and similar sitesMSFV, etc.; talk to or email clients/authors who have worked with those people before and ask if they’d recommend them; etc.

In the end, my biggest piece of advice is

do your homework.


Does anyone have any other sites they use to register their work, or research agents/editors/publishers websites or books that they’d like to share?



For more posts on the business and craft of writing, search my Words for Writers tag.


JM FreyWords for Writers: Protecting Your Work
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Words for Writers: Getting Started

Today I’m going to answer some questions. I find that I get these questions asked of me frequently, and they all sort of go together, so I figured I ought to address them all in one blog post.


1)      How did you become a writer?


I began writing fanfic when I was about eleven. Eventually started to write original stories. I did NaNoWriMo for a few years before I produced a manuscript that I thought was worth starting to shop around. My story at this point is quite traditional – I finished and polished the manuscript, wrote a query letter and beta’d/edited/polished it just as much as the novel. Then I made an Excel file of all the agents and publishers that accepted unsolicited submissions that I thought I would like to work with. Then I began querying them, one by one. As each rejection letter came back, I revised my query and the manuscript based on the advice I received from them (if any).


However, at the same time, I was networking. I went to book launches, made friends with local authors, and went to a lot of science fiction conventions. At one such convention, a literary SF/F con in Toronto, I brought copies of my pitch and query letter, just in case. Good thing I did, because I met the woman who eventually became to acquiring editor at a room party. We got to talking, she asked about my book, I was able to tell her about it and show her the pitch. (Of course, I didn’t know she was an editor when I did so or I might have been very nervous!)


She asked for me to send her the full, which I did, and after I worked on some revisions she requested, she asked to sign the book to Dragon Moon Press. I agreed, and in April 2011 the book came out.


In the end, the querying wasn’t what got me the contract. However, the querying process helped me improve my pitch and my query letter, so it was professional and persuasive when DMP saw it.


So, yes, I was in the right place at the right time, and I met the right person. But when that moment was gifted to me, I was fully prepared for it. The book was finished, I’d written my query letters, my one-page synopsis, some marketing ideas, my bio, and a pitch. I had a website, some short stories published, and a sense of what kind of writer I wanted to be.


In short, when opportunity knocked, I was able to open the door with my trousers up.


2)      Do you have any advice on how I can become a writer?


Write. A lot.

Read. A lot.

Show your writing to people. A lot.

Hone your craft. A lot.

Write more. A lot.


(I wrote, like, a bazillion words of fanfic from the age of 11 to 28, and posted most of it online. Trust me, there is no trial-by-fire like the anonymous commenters on one’s ficblog/ff.n. I began my first original novel at 19. My first novel took 8 years to complete. The second took one and I haven’t finished editing it yet. My third took about 6 months to write and 3 years to edit and sell. I was doing most of this simultaneously, along with a BA and then an MA.)


3)      Do you work with a beta reading group/writers circle/critique partner?




After I’ve finished a new manuscript, I  give it about a week to cool off. Then I do an extensive re-read and polish. Then I send the completed manuscript to at least three or four people and I collate their feedback when it comes. Once I’ve read and organized all of their feedback – paying special attention to where their comments overlap – I begin draft 2.  I also send my books to my Mum, but that’s because she’s a ruthless typo-hunter. And if something isn’t working, Mum says so. She doesn’t “that’s nice dear” me, and I love her to bits for it.


4)      Can I be in your beta reading group/writers circle/critique partner?


Sorry, but no. I’ve worked hard to find a group of people with whom I can work and on whom I can rely (and whose work I enjoy helping them polish and edit). I’m afraid I’m just not seeking to expand the group. I’ve found a balance that works for me; it’s up to you to find something that works for you.


5)      How do I find a beta reading group/writers circle/critique partner?


I found my beta group through a few avenues – when I was on the JET Programme in Japan, those of us English Speakers who were doing NaNoWriMo in my province got together once a week and we turned into a critique group after NaNo was over. I’ve become critique partners with some of my publisher-siblings, and also with some friends I made back when I was still writing fanfic, and with people I jelled with in my university playwriting and short story classes. I collected my circle quite organically.


If you want to build your own circle, check out your local NaNoWriMo regional chat rooms or forums; put an ad in the student newspaper or newsletter; talk to the fanficcers in your circle; start or join a Facebook group; join MSFV’s Critique Partner Speed Dating; attend local book launches and network with other new writers in attendance; check out the notice boards in the local book store or talk to the owner about if they know some authors looking for an addition to their group; join a local writing group (check out the activity boards at your local rec centre, library, community hall, etc.); join a continuing education writing class; take a writing class in university; go to local literary conventions and hang out in the bar/café to talk with other writers; attend critique events or matchups at conventions; go to local geek pub nights or trivia nights, or other such meet-ups and talk to other writers; apply to and attend writers retreats.


In short – be proactive and network. Eventually you’ll find the people you mesh with!


Also, don’t be disheartened if you agree to work with someone and you find you can’t. Finding a great critique partner is like finding your spouse – sometimes you have to edit with some frogs before you find your prince(ess). Just part ways amiably and burn no bridges, and things should be fine.


6)      Can you read my story and give me feedback?


Again, sadly no. I used to be able to say yes, but I’m afraid the constraints and demands on my writing time have grown such that I cannot take on extra responsibilities. I wish I could, but if I have to choose between getting my work done and reading yours, I have to work on mine. I hope you find a great critique partner of your own to work with!


7)      How do I get published?


When people ask this, they are usually really asking for me to share the Secret Magic Trick of Becoming a Published Author.


I’m afraid there isn’t a Secret Magic Trick of Becoming a Published Author.


There is one way and one way only to Become a Published Author, and it is this:


  • Write a book.
  • Polish the ever loving crap out of it
  • Send it out to beta readers / critique partners and get their advice.
  • Edit your book based on said advice.
  • Polish the ever loving crap out of it
  • Send it back out to your betas/critique partners.
  • Edit your book based on said advice.
  • Polish the ever loving crap out of it.
  • Write an incredible query letter. Polish the ever loving crap out of it.
  • Decide if you want to go the a)big-pub route, the b)small-pub route, or the c)self-pub route.
    • If A:
      • Research agents in writing guides and on sites like DuoTrope, Absolute Write, or by figuring out the agents of authors that you admite/whose work resembles yours.
      • Very politely and very professionally query said agents based on their individual and specific submission guidelines.
      • Make any revisions and polishes they recommend in their rejection letters/requests for revisions.
      • Continue with the above until one of them agrees to represent you, or until you’ve run out of options and nobody has agreed to represent you or your manuscript
      • Start a new manuscript and start from point 1.
  • If B:
    • Research small press publishers in published writing guides, on sites like DuoTrope, Absolute Write, etc. or by figuring out the publishers of authors that you admire/whose work resembles yours.
    • Very politely and very professionally query said publishers based on their individual and specific submission guidelines.
    • Make any revisions and polishes they recommend in their rejection letters/requests for revisions.
    • Continue with the above until one of them agrees to publish your manuscript, or until you’ve run out of options and nobody has agreed to take manuscript
    • Start a new manuscript and start from point 1.

If C:

  • Research self-pub options and companies and go with the one that you feel is safest, most reliable, and most suitable for your needs.
  • Work with an excellent and professional editor to polish the manuscript again; preferably someone with a good CV. Be prepared to pay for this. It’s totally worth it.
  • Design or hire a designer to do your marketing/cover/etc.


  • Work with your acquiring editor / professionally hired editor to get the book ready for the typesetter/publication.
  • Sign and adhere to your contract.
  • Do all the stuff you need to do for marketing, wait an agonizing bunch of time for the book’s release date.
  • Ta da! Published!*


*Expect this to be a 2-20 year process.


Okay, so I apologize for being a bit blunt and glib there, but that’s really the truth of it. You write a great book, you find someone to publish it, and it gets published. There’s no secret, no back door, no short cut. You have to write a great book and someone has to agree to publish it, or you choose to publish it yourself. Either is fine – it’s just what you choose.


And if the book you write isn’t great, then you write a new book, start all over again, and see if people want that one.  And if that one doesn’t sell, you do it again.


This is a process that you might have to do over and over until something sticks – like an Olympic diver learning how to enter the water without a splash, it takes dozens, perhaps hundreds of attempts to get it right.


Also – bribing agents/publishers will not work. If anything, sending a box of cookies with your manuscript will just make the agent/publisher wig out and think you’re a weirdo, or a pain in the arse who can’t read the query submission rules and therefore is not worth working with. Gifts are not appropriate until such a time that you HAVE a relationship with that agent/publisher/editor. Neither are extras. Neither are bribes. Neither is begging for special compensation or special treatment. Neither is ignoring the submission/query guidelines.


YOU ARE NOT SPECIAL. If your book isn’t good enough to stand on its own merit, then it’s not good enough to publish. Period.


If it helps: Triptych was the third book I’d written. The first two I shopped a little bit and then put in the morgue when it was clear they weren’t going to get any bites and that I wasn’t on the level of writing that I wanted to be at yet. Triptych accumulated thirty-four rejections (with very few requests to read the full manuscript) before Dragon Moon Press decided to read it. Even then it was rejected conditionally; there were lots of edits the editor wanted me to do before I was to resubmit. So, even my first victory wasn’t effortless or like some magical fairy tale. It took lots of hard work and sixty-four drafts before the book was ready to be seen by the public. And I wouldn’t trade in a second of it.


I hope this blog post has been helpful for you, and not too harsh!



For more posts on the business and craft of writing, search my Words for Writers tag.

JM FreyWords for Writers: Getting Started
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Gadgets, Goggles, and The Doctor

Elightenment, the Doctor Who Information Network FanZine, has an article by me on Doctor Who and Steampunk in issue 168! Order your copy here.

Sneak Preview:

The Gadgets, The Goggles, and The TARDIS


Why Doctor Who is Steampunk

            There have been arguments back and forth – especially since the Moffat-era TARDIS desktop theme change – about whether or not Doctor Who qualifies as Steampunk. To my mind, it does… ish.

I don’t think of Steampunk as a genre (as genres require tropes and recognizable narrative patterns), but rather as an aesthetic. And as such, Doctor Who is Steampunk. But only as much as it is sometimes Western, and sometimes Soap Opera, and sometimes Psychological Thriller, and sometimes Fantasy. The appeal of Doctor Who is that from week to week, the style and the type of stories being told vary in tone and narrative arc.  It is never just one kind of programme, and is instead a glorious mishmash. Which is in and of itself, very Steampunk.

But what is the Steampunk Aesthetic and why do I think Doctor Who is one of the best examples of Steampunk on television? Pithily called “yesterday’s future, today!”, Steampunk art (literature, music, visual, textile, etc) envisions a future that has collapsed onto a re-imagined Victorian past, or an alternate world where the Victorian era technology and society has held on.  Sometimes these contain alternate history, or “path not taken” moments: Revisionist, or Fictionalized history.  Steampunk allows for technology and historical events to be shuffled together and bent like a deck of playing cards.

Jules Verne and H.G. Wells are oftimes cited when discussing early Steampunk (which is inaccurate, as they are of the era, not writing about it nostalgically), but a quick way to get a grasp on Steampunk is to think of three films: Wild Wild West, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and Suckerpunch. (Leaving aside the quality of said films). Current popular Steampunk novels include The Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger, the Leviathan trilogy by Scott Westerfield, the Clockwork Century series by Cherie Priest, and The Friday Society by Adrienne Kress.

Steampunk doesn’t really have any hard and fast rules (hence my argument that it is not a genre), but Dr. Mike “The Steampunk Scholar” Perschon posits that to be Steampunk, an art piece must include:  technofantasy (or technology that requires an element of the impossible to function), neo-Victorianism (a celebration of the Victorian era, and Empire, though this time with an awareness of the problematics of the era), and Retrofuturism (the way the past viewed the future, or more important in Steampunk, how we think the past viewed the future.)  These three features, in any combination and amount, is what Perschon says “constitutes the Steampunk aesthetic … Steampunk is the glass – and while some might not like the analogue of an empty vessel for their ostensible subculture or lifestyle, keep in mind that you can put whatever you like in that glass – art, film, or lifestyle – and Steampunk it.”

And Doctor Who does this inexplicably well.


To read the rest, order your copy of issue 168 of Enlightenment here.


JM FreyGadgets, Goggles, and The Doctor
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Words for Writers: World-Building, Culture-Building, Character-Building, and Finding The Story

When people come to me for story-telling advice, I often ask them to narrate to me the story they’re trying to tell. I find it helps, for me at least, to narrate the whole story out loud for a friend so that I can see what parts I gravitate to, which scenes I find important enough to linger on and which ones I skip, and which moments make my audiences’ eyes widen or makes them frown, or makes them tune out.

However, when I ask this of others, especially those really struggling with their novels, I often find myself at the receiving end of world-building info dumps:

“See, there’s this world where plants are alive, and some of them can even talk. Like, roses sing everything they say and nobody likes roses because even though they smell sweet they’re real assholes and they’re kinda shrill. And then oak trees…” etc.

This isn’t a bad thing, per se. I listen to everything they have to say about the world, but I usually have to follow up with something like:

“Well that sounds like a fascinating reality you’re constructing, but where’s the story? Who is the protagonist? Who is the antagonist? Who are we following and why? And why should I, the reader, care? You have to make me care about the character I’m following.”

Many writers are so stuck on the world their creating that they forget that a story is supposed to be about a protagonist who goes on a journey to get something they want and grows or changes along the way. This usually also includes an antagonist whose desires or motivations get in the way of the protagonist achieving their own. That is the basic plot of any novel, and if you don’t have a person you’re following, then you don’t have a story, no matter how awesome or detailed the world you’ve created is.

(I’m going to assume you know that I mean that there is no one right way to do the above: the protagonist can be a flower, an elf, a toy, a human, etc. The journey can be emotional, physical, metaphorical, etc. You get what I mean.)

So what does that mean? This means that, while you are world-building, you also have to character-build – you need to focus on one or a group of people and tell the story about them and not about the world itself.

How do you do that? Some people find it easier to start with the character and build the world based on what you need that character to be like, and to do, the nature and the nurture of the character’s history. Some people find it easier to build the world and then pick one of the people out of their world to focus on.

There is no right and wrong way to do it, but don’t forget to do it. The character is the one that the story is about, not the world.

(Remember: The protagonist is Harry Potter, not Hogwarts and the Wizarding World.)

But I can’t tell you how to do that; that’s something you have to do for yourself, for your own book. All I can tell you to do is to remember it.

I can, however, tell you how I do it.  Usually I start with the character.

What gender is this character? What sex? What age? What class? What race? What ethnicity? What kind of story do I want to tell? A high-fantasy quest narrative? An emotional literary fiction tale about love and loss? A science fiction action adventure?  What sort of person do they have to be to fit that kind of story? What is it that the character wants and how is the character going to work to get it? Who or what is going to get in their way and how will they deal with being denied what they want? How will they overcome this obstacle? What do they fear most, above all else, and what would happen if they were to be forced to endure the thing they fear? Why do they fear that thing, what’s the socio-economic reason? Why does this person need to be my protagonist, the person the novel follows, and not say, his or her sibling, or neighbour, or oppressor, or slave, or pet cat?

In answering these questions, I usually begin to have to world-build alongside this. I have to know why my character fears X instead of Y, and what that means in the scope of their culture and upbringing. For example, in the novel my agent is currently shopping, my heroine fears confinement most – she’s claustrophobic, hates cages and the dark. Why? Because she loves the sky, open spaces, flight, and travel. She’s from a nomad culture and to her home is where she has room to breathe among nature and the gods they worship, not in a choked up, sterile, technology-crammed city.

Oops – look what I just did there: world-building. Actually, what I really was doing is culture-building.

Nomad culture, believe in a pantheon of gods who need free air to travel about, love light and fear the dark.  Why? What’s the history of that? What  myths and stories did she learn at her grandmother’s knee? And what sorts of foods does this mean her people eat? What are their staples? What sorts of clothes does being a nomad mean she needs to wear – what does her clothing need to protect her against?  Where do they travel and what’s the climate like in those places?

And, if this is two hundred years on from when her people were last nomads and have settled into cities (which they have), then what traditions did they preserve and which ones did they chuck? What part of her life harkens back to that nomad lifestyle?

In telling the story of a character, you are automatically telling the story of the world they live in. If it is a world rich in tradition, stories, and understanding, then you can learn about the world at large by spending time in your character’s smaller world. Macrocosim via microcosim.

Who a person is and what they want are very much imbedded in the hegemony of the culture in which they were raised. That means, you, as the writer, should probably have some idea of that culture not only on a grand worldbuilding scale, but how it directly affected the growth and values of your character.  Yes, know the mechanics and the principals of the world at large, but also those of the neighbourhood that your character grew up in.

I find that when a writer has considered all of this, it shines through on the page, and the characters are more compelling, more in-depth, and more interesting to spend time with. Think of your favourite characters, and then think of what you know of their childhoods, their parents, the food they prefer and the entertainment they like. This makes them accessible, because we all have preferences and things we fear and like, too. This makes for an attractive character that people want to spend time with (even if they’re an anti-hero), and with whom the reader grows comfortable.

Then it’s easy to want to spend time with them, to want to invest 400 pages worth of reading about this character and their journey.

Usually when I begin to worldbuild-via-characterbuilding, I decide three things:

 1)      What sorts of things does my protagonist wear? What do the people around him/her wear and the people below and above him/her in class/station/career/etc. wear? What do they wear lounging around at home, and what do they wear at their most fancy? What kind of fabrics are most clothes made of? Are there some colours or fabrics that certain people cannot or do not wear? Why? How much does it cost to buy premade clothing? To make your own? What’s more expensive, bespoke or off the rack? What part of the body is it considered lewed not to cover? What part of the body does everyone display with no thought? Why that part and not another?

2)      What sorts of things does my protagonist eat? Does (s)he grow their own food? Where do they buy it and does it cost a lot? Are there foods that are imported or exported? What sort of climate do they live in and what kind of agriculture does that allow them to have? Can they afford to buy exotic foods? What is their staple grain? What was their childhood treat? Is the water safe to drink? If not, what do they drink instead?

3)      What sorts of swear words and jargon does my protagonist use? Swear words are an important gateway to worldbuiding because they are usually, in most cultures, blasphemies or oaths. In English we say, “Goddamn it!” or “Jesus Christ!” or, in Quebec we say, “Tabernac!”, which each originate in Christianity. So what kind of religion does your world have and how can someone blaspheme? Or, if no religion, what is considered sacred, holy, and virtuous? In Harry Potter they say, “Merlin’s shorts!”, which means that Merlin himself was revered. Jargon comes from shortcuts in speech, metaphors and similes that have been reduced to just a few words. In my novel The Skylark’s Song, my protagonists’ people, the Sealies, are considered a burden on the society that they live among, the Benne. The Benne call Sealies “ticks” or “leeches”, blood-drinking insects better for squishing than spending time with. The Sealies call the Benne “scrubbed up cows”, docile farm animals that are led around by their nose rings like cleaned-up cattle at an auction house, useless and stupid. What sorts of sayings might have come about in your world, and why? How and when are they used? Are there certain segments of the population that use different idioms and jargon than others?

Once I have these three things in place, I feel like I have enough of a basis for my culture to begin the story. My protagonists’ habits and preferences will fill out the rest of the world for me as I go, and I can use what I’ve decided about his/her world to explain why he or she does some of the things they do.  For example, in The Skylark’s Song, my protagonist takes her tea clear with honey. This is because she is a Sealie, and most Sealies keep hives in their back gardens because they cannot afford to buy refined sugar. I don’t go into huge detail in the book about the socio-economic background of why the Sealies can’t, and why they moved to honey (mostly because before they settled in Saskwyia they were a nomad culture and it was easy to put a hive on a wagon and have the bees follow along after you), or any of that. But I do make the honey a bone of ethnic contention between my protagonist and her sugar-preferring coworkers.

While worldbuilding, don’t forget that you must also culture-build. To help, ask yourself these questions:

–          Who is the least priviledged, most oppressed, most agency-denied peoples in your world? Why are they so? Can you tell a story from the point of view of these people?

–          Who is the most priviedged, the least oppressed or the ones doign the oppressing? Why are they doing it, why are they where they are? Can you tell a story from the point of view of these people?

–          Where are the class/race/religion/ethnic tensions? Can you tell a story set firmly in the middle of that mire?

–          How does courtship play out? Who chases and who is chased? How many people are involved in a marriage, and what is the legal definition of a marriage?  Are they arranged? By whom, and when, and why? If not, why not?

–          What is the explanation for love? Does your culture have love? Why? Why not? Do they let love dictate their relationships or hierarchies?

–          How are children conceived? Sex, magic, medicine? How are children reared? What is the tradition around birthing children? Who is present, and who is excluded? What is the medical explanation for pregnancies happen? The mystical? To whom do children belong? Whose responsibility is it to raise them and educate them? At what age are they considered adults? Do they have to perform some task or reach some milestone to be considered independent and in charge of their own agency? Does it differ between sexes or genders or ethnicities?

–          Can people own other people? Is there slavery? Are a specific group of people considered non-persons? What does the law have to say about this versus tradition? Can people become un-owned by another? By what method?

–          How many genders and biological sexes does your culture acknowledge? What is the traditional explanation for this? The medical? Is there a taboo surrounding some of these, either individually or in combination?

–          What do these people do for fun? Do they consume intoxicants or hallucinigenics? Do they partake in sex for fun instead of just procreation?  Do they enjoy music, or theatre, or literature? Do they have sporting events? Is the entertainment government sanctioned? Is it illegal? Is it underground? Is it just free?

–          How is their society ruled? Who makes the laws and who upholds them? How are they decided? Is it a monarchy? A democracy? A dictatorship? How is the one or ones who ruled addressed? Thought of? Are their feared or loved and why? Does it matter? Is there a revolution or a war happening or on the horizon? Who is fighting it and what are their aims?

–          What happens to people who break the rules? Are they punished? How? When? Why?

–          How are people rewarded? What sorts of things are they rewarded for, and what do they gain? Money? Fame? Things? A title?

–          What do people think of property and possessions? Who owns what? Does anyone own anything? Is money used, or a barter system? What things are precious, and can be exchanged for other things? Is it metals, or stones, or paper representations of wealth? Is it animals, or land, or in trading boy-children?

–          What do people think of animals? Do they have souls? Are they reared for labour and food, or is their no animal husbandry? Are people vegetarian? Are they vegan? Why or why not? Do they use animal skins and things like milk and honey? Do they wait for animals to die naturally and then use their carcasses?  Do they not use animals for anything at all? Why do they think animals exist? Do they believe animals have souls?

–          Do they believe in souls, gods, or some sort of higher power? What do they believe happens to them when they die? Is there some part of them that lives on in some fashion or does the meat of their bodies just die and go rotten?

–          Are they hunted by anyone? Are your people livestock themselves? Or outcasts?


Another great way to worldbuild is by talking about things the protagonist doesn’t understand. Much of the protagonist’s beliefs and way of life can be exposed by having them stuck in a place where their beliefs and way of life don’t match those of the people around them. What confuses your protagonist. What offends them? What shocks or startles them? What happens that makes them think, “Oh, that’s a much better way of doing it than the way my people do it!” What new food delights them, and which disgusts them? What fashion seems indecent or prudish?

Consider: in Triptych, Kalp teaches the reader a lot about the life he lived and the world he came from by describing the things about modern western culture on Earth that he doesn’t understand.  He doesn’t understand why he can’t enjoy cooking if he aligns male, or why he must take up a sporting team to support. He doesn’t like shoes, doesn’t understand “cheers!” and the bedroom furniture we use hurts his back.  What does that tell you about gender roles, clothing, language, and dwellings on his world? In Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonflight, we learn a lot about Lessa’s home life by how she reacts to the strangeness of the Dragonriders and the Weyr in which she is taken to live. McCaffrey also gives us snatches of a folksong, which tells a history of the Weyrs and the Dragonriders without pummeling us with the facts.

Lastly, my advice for you is to keep all these musings and thoughts, reasons and descriptions somewhere that is outside of the Manuscript. I put mine on a giant chalkboard that hangs in my living room, in plain view of the sofa that I prefer to write on. That way it’s out there and I don’t feel the need to infodump in the book.

This way I have it all in one place, easy to read at a glance, and ready to remind me what I’ve decided. It’s also easily added to or changed.

And above all, don’t info dump. It is the story that is paramount when writing a novel, not the world. No matter how cool a thing you invented for your world may be, if it doesn’t serve the story, don’t waste pages describing it. It’s boring. It slows down the plot. It gets in the way.

I mean, we all love Lord of the Rings, but the history gets in the way of the story a lot. Tolkien wrote a history text book with a plot, instead of a novel. I can appreciate what he did, the academic exercise of it, the characters he created, but it wasn’t until Peter Jackson excised a lot of the history in the book and just told the story of the Fellowship and Frodo that I actually had my imagination grasped by Tolkien’s creation.

Think of it this way: good world/culture-building serves the plot. If something has to stop – some action, some conversation, so journey – so that someone has to explain something (even if that someone is you, the narrator/writer) then it is probably not necessary and can be cut. You can tell us that information, but find an engaging, active way to do so that keeps the story rolling.

I do this because a) I believe my audience is intelligent enough to infer the latter without me having to beat them around the head with the facts, and b) putting it the latter was is boring. It’s simply not good storytelling.

To close, let me sum up:

Don’t write a text book. Write a novel about a person and let that person’s life give all the clues about their culture the reader needs to understand the world in which they live.


And now, I’ll leave you with some great worldbuilding:


The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.


What have we learned? That our protagonist is a hobbit. We don’t know what hobbits are yet, but they live underground and they like comfort, and probably, based on what was said about the sandy holes, plush furniture and good meals. I can also infer, because I assume he’s going to be the protagonist, this hobbit is human-esque, as readers prefer to read about creatures that resemble them.

So the world: Some sort of fantasy land, with creatures that we don’t know, but who greatly resemble us in that they want comfort, safety, and good meals.


Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

It is a truth universally acknowledge that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.

However little known the feelings or  views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families that he is considered as the rightful property of someone one or other of their daughters.

“My dear Mr. Bennet,” said his lady to him one day, “Have you heard that Netherfield Park is let at last?”


What have we learned? That this is going to be a book about marriage, and potentially comical. That we are in a neighbourhood with grand estates that are up for rent, and that a woman named Mrs. Bennet – potentially the wife of landed gentry, as she is called a “lady” – must have some daughters that need marrying off.

So the World: Classist England, and probably in the past when wives addressed their husbands with their family names. Most likely going to focus on a country neighbourhood with families of unwed girls, and a rich neighbour in a good estate for rent.


The Bogart by Susan Cooper

The little boat crept closer, over the grey-green water of the loch. Tommy could hear the slow creaking of the oarlocks, and see the white hair of the lean old man bent over the oars. His father said the MacDevon was one hundred years old, but Tommy had never had the courage to ask if it were true. The MacDevon was a clan chief, the last of his line, and you didn’t ask a clan cheif a question like that.

“Good Day, Mr. MacDevon.” He caught the bow of the dinghy as it crunched into the small stones of the beach. This was a weekly ritual: the old man’s shopping trip from the island of Castle Keep.


What have learned? That there is an old man who lives in a castle on an island in a loch; we are probably in Scotland, and that there is a young boy who helps the old man. We know that it must be closer to modern times, if the clan is died out and The MacDevon is the last of his line. We also know that the old man mustn’t be wealthy, because he only owns an old dinghy that he has to row himself, and he has no one to send on his shopping errands.

So the World: Run down castle in modern Scotland where the clan chief is old but respected by the locals, and is possibly thought of as a quaint relic.


Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips

One morning, when Artemis was out walking the dogs, she saw a tree where no tree should be.

The tree was standing alone in a sheltered part of the slope. To the untrained eye, the casual passer-by, it probably just looked like a normal tree. But Artemis’ eye was far from untrained, and she ran through this part of the Hampsted Heath every day. This tree was a newcomer: it had not been there yesterday.


“Hello,” she said.

There was a long silence.

“Hello,” said Artemis again.

“Are you talking to me?” said the tree. It had a faint Australian accent.

“Yes,” said Artemis. “I am Artemis.” IF the tree experienced any recognition, it didn’t show it. “I’m the goddess of hunting and chastity,” said Artemis.

Another silence. Then the tree said, “I’m Kate. I work in mergers and acquisitions for Goldman Sachs.”


“So,” said the tree in a more conversational tone. “You’re the goddess of hunting and chastity, then?”

“Yes,” said Artemis. “And of the moon, and several other things. Artemis.” She put a little emphasis on her name. It still hurt when mortals didn’t know it.

“I didn’t know where was a goddess of hunting and chastity and the moon,” confessed the tree. “I thought there was just the on God. Of everything. Or, actually, to be honest, I thought there was no God at all. No offence.”

“None taken,” said Artemis. Unbelievers were always preferable to heritics.

“I have to say, you don’t look much like a goddess, though,” added the tree.

“And what does a goddess look like, exactly, said Artemis, a sharpness entering her voice.

“I don’t know,” said the tree, a little nervously. “Shouldn’t you be wearing a toga or something? Or a laurel wreath?”

“You mean, not a tracksuit,” said Artemis.

“Pretty much,” admitted the tree.

“Times change,” said Artemis.


What have we learned? Whew, lots to unpack in this one. Artemis the goddess is a character, possibly the protagonist, and she’s real. It’s modern London, because of Hamsted Heath, Goldman Sachs, and the tracksuit. But the girl was turned into a tree, in the same manner that Laurel was turned into a tree when she fled Apollo in the ancient Greek myths. Also, the tree didn’t know Artemis, so this isn’t a world where the gods are known as anything beyond the stuff of stories.

So the World: Modern London, filled with ancient Gods who live and work and play in the city, but aren’t worshipped or known to the populace in general. The rules of ancient Myths still apply, but this isn’t generally known. The gods are a bit perturbed to be forgotten, but have modernized themselves along with the rest of the world.


For more posts on the business and craft of writing, search my Words for Writers tag.


JM FreyWords for Writers: World-Building, Culture-Building, Character-Building, and Finding The Story
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