Life After Rejection, or How to Pick Yourself Up Again

— June 29, 2011 (9 comments)
One of the hardest things a writer ever faces is the fact that the novel they love so, SO MUCH is not good enough and must be trunked. Maybe you've gotten to the end of your agent list, or you have an agent but the publishers aren't biting, or you self-published, but after a year of 20-or-fewer sales per month, you realize maybe that novel is never going to take off.

A lot of writers quit at this point, because they LOVE that novel, they put SO MUCH work into it, and they just don't think they could do it all over again.

I'm thinking about that right now. Not that my current query round has failed -- it hasn't by a long, long shot -- but after 100+ rejections on two previous novels, even a single form letter can make me wonder if I'll ever get past this stage.

So here's what I do (in order of increasing surety of failure):
  1. Take another step. If you got a rejection, send out another query. Another month of slow self-pubbed sales? Hit up some book bloggers, write some guest posts. Basically, as long as there's something you can do about it, get up and do it.
  2. Remind yourself what's good about the novel. Find the critiques where people told you how much they loved the humor or the dialog, or the comments on your query that said, "I would request this." Remind yourself that you DIDN'T write crap. You just haven't found the right agent/readers yet.
  3. Make a new plan. You love that novel a lot, right? So how can you revise it to be even stronger? What critiques did you ignore before that now, maybe, look like something you could do? Revise that novel you love so much, then try again.
  4. Find a new story you love. Maybe there are no more steps you can take. No more agents, no more revisions. That novel is done. This is hard to accept, but the best way through it is to find a new idea that you can love even more than the first. Believe it or not, you DO have more than one story in you. Everyone does.
  5. Take a break. Feel you have no more ideas, or the ideas you have just aren't big enough? Take a break. Remind yourself why you love your life, and why writing is NOT your life. If writing really is your passion, then the ideas will come, but don't worry about that right now. And don't write the first idea that comes knocking either. Give them time. Let them grow into something HUGE, and enjoy your life in the meantime.
How do you pick yourself up after rejection?

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Answers! (and a Selfish Request)

— June 27, 2011 (11 comments)
Before I get to the questions, I have a task for you. You remember that story I wrote, "Pawn's Gambit"? The one about the escaped convict trying to find his daughter (before the assassin he works for does)? If you haven't read it, go read it now.

Your task (assuming you like the story, of course) is to go to this thread on the BCS forums and vote for "Pawn's Gambit" to appear in their Year Two anthology. And next time you need an internet vote for something, I'll vote for you too.

(There are lots of other stories you can vote for in addition to mine (you're allowed up to 5). Beneath Ceaseless Skies is easily my favorite fantasy mag (all the more for being free), and it's worth clicking through to read the other stories.)


Jodi Meadows says: Your Q&A comes with sound effects: how much input do you have in that aspect of your videos? Can you request certain sound effects?

My sound effects team is not the easiest to work with. She only takes on projects she's interested in and rarely takes creative input. And if her mommy's around, she refuses to do any work at all.

Despite all that, she's one of the best in the business. After all, she was raised by sound effects masters:

Susan Quinn asks: When are you going to start writing for children? You have a massive built in critique group. :)

I don't know if I can trust my critique group. They still pick Garfield the Easter Bunny for bedtime reading (if I forget to hide it). I do, however, have an idea for an ABC book that includes "A is for Airship" and "Z is for Zombie." If I could illustrate it, I think they'd really like it.

Dave asks: If you could fight anyone from history, who would it be?

Man, I don't know. Why would I fight someone? Cuz it's cool? Cuz I hate them and want to beat them up? Cuz I want to learn something?

See, I'm pretty sure if I fought someone, I'd lose (unless I'm fighting a five-year-old, but then why am I beating up a five-year-old?). Does growing up in a dojo and sparring with other ninjas count? Maybe I could do that.

Deniz Bevan asks: Where or when would you vacation if money and time were no object?

My wife and I really, really, really want to go to Italy someday. And maybe Paris. I think we could pull together the money, but the real issue is the ten kids we'd be leaving behind (or worse, dragging along behind, that would be terrifying).

The funny thing is, I think both of us want to visit those places because of the food.

C Ann Golden asks: If you could be any superhero who would you be and why?

That's a really tough question for someone like me. I want to spend weeks researching all the different superheroes and their powers, then write a thesis about it. (That's only partially true. I actually just want to read a lot of comic books).

He's probably on my mind because of the movie, but as a kid I always liked Green Lantern. He seemed so cool because he could do ANYTHING. Though I have to admit having your weakness be "the color yellow" is kinda lame.

David Jace asks: If you could become any animal (and turn back) what animal would it be?

A seagull. No seriously, check this out: I could fly, live near the ocean, have no natural predators, and feed on a diet of sushi and beach BBQs. IT'S THE PERFECT ANIMAL!

That's it! Thank you for your questions (seriously, one time nobody asked any questions and I cried for a week (okay, so I didn't cry)), and don't forget to vote for "Pawn's Gambit"!

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Question/Answer Time

— June 24, 2011 (8 comments)
It's been a while since I opened things up for questions, so now's your chance. Same as before: ask anything you like in the comments -- serious or silly, professional or totally inappropriate -- and next week I will answer your questions. I'll probably even tell the truth.

And because I hate leaving you with nothing on a Friday, here's a peek at what it looks like when I'm reading your comments and blogs.

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Star Wars, Gangsta Style

— June 22, 2011 (5 comments)
This has been around since before YouTube, but if you haven't seen it, you need to. Right now.

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The Future of Print Books?

— June 20, 2011 (10 comments)

We've got a new girl in our home, so posts will be lighter this week. By which I mean they're shorter, not fewer.

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Piracy FAQ

— June 17, 2011 (3 comments)
It's the end of piracy week. As you've seen, my opinions on piracy are mixed (or "balanced" or "wishy-washy," depending on your point of view). I don't like the practice, but I don't think it's worth getting upset about, but also I don't think it's something to be proud of.

Mostly, though, I don't like the justifications used to support piracy. Granted, the arguments against it aren't great either, but since they're supporting a mostly-reasonable law, I have less issue with them.

This post, then, addresses some of the more common arguments for piracy. In FAQ form.

1) Is it okay to pirate something if --
Let me stop you for a sec. "Okay" is kinda vague. I think you mean to ask whether it's legal, or maybe whether it's ethical, yeah?

2) Okay, smarty pants. Is it legal to pirate something in certain situations?
In general, no. Never. Though apparently it depends where you live. I've heard it's okay in the Netherlands. If you get caught in New Zealand, they shut off your internet. It just depends.

3) Fine. It's illegal, but isn't it ethical in some situations?
This is something of a gray area. Your sense of "ethical" might differ from mine.

I see it as a spectrum. On one end, there's the guy in Thailand who makes $7 a day selling computers. He can't afford to pay $500/copy to put Windows on each computer (and if he could, his customers couldn't afford to buy it). If he doesn't sell computers, his family doesn't eat (at $7 a day, they barely eat as it is). So for him to buy the $3 version of Windows around the corner, and install it on every machine he sells, could be considered ethical.

A little farther on the spectrum, you have the poor mountain villager who makes $1/day and has a stack of copied VCDs next to their ancient DVD player. Those VCDs aren't legal, maybe aren't ethical (since they're not necessary to survive), but I'm not going to begrudge the entertainment of a village that only eats rice and chilis most days.

Near the other end of the specturm, you've got the middle-class American with his $2,000 computer system, his "low-end" job that pays $100/day, his easy access to libraries, his unrestricted Amazon and Hulu and Pandora, and his difficult decision of whether to order pizza or to microwave burritos whenever he's hungry. Unless this guy's got some kind of medical condition in which he must read 20 hours a day or he'll die, I'm going to say his piracy is both unethical and kinda silly.

But hey, that's just me.

4) Dude, isn't that kind of harsh?
Probably, yeah. Sorry. My point is we need to take a broader worldview before we decide our lives are hard enough to justify downloading things that we can reasonably afford and don't need.

5) But e-books are so expensive, and I can't even loan them out or give them away. How is that fair?
It's not fair. It's capitalism. I think it's unfair that I have to spend $1,000 to visit my parents, even though the plane flies there whether I paid for the ticket or not. I think it's unfair that the Thai goverment requires I make $16,000/year to "support my wife" and therefore stay in the country. Fairness is subjective, but fair or not, it's not okay for me to forge a plane ticket or to stay in Thailand illegally.

If you think e-book prices are unfair, don't buy them. If enough people agree with you, the publishers will eventually get the hint and lower their prices. Whether they do or not, the perceived unfairness of it does not make piracy any more ethical.

6) What if I want to pay for it, but I can't? Like if the publisher doesn't release an e-version, or they don't release it in my country?
It doesn't change the ethics of it.

7) But what if I payed for the hard copy and want an e-version, too?
It still doesn't change anything. Look, I would love it if life worked this way, but it doesn't. I owned Star Wars on VHS for years, but they didn't let me sneak into the theater for the re-release, or take home the original-release DVD edition for free. Companies release products the way they want and price them the way they want. Unless I pay for it, there is no justification that gives me a right to a similar-but-different product, no matter how much I might want it.

Companies release different versions of things for a reason. If you want the e-version, buy the e-version. If there isn't one, read something else.

8) What if I want to try it out? How else am I going to find new authors I like?
Try one or more of the following: libraries, Amazon's "Search Inside" feature, excerpts from the author's website, reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, read a few pages in a bookstore, ask your friends.

If you aren't satisfied with these, maybe don't try that author out at all. It's not like you have to.

9) What's the difference between reading for free at the library and downloading?
Libraries buy the books they loan, and loaning physical books is legal. There is no question of ethics there. They pay the authors and follow the law.

10) Are pirates bad people?
No (and I'm sorry if I made anyone feel that way). There is not a single person on this planet who doesn't do mildly unethical things, then justify it after the fact.

If you know they're only justifications, we don't really have a problem. You pirate books, I'll break the speed limit (or eat my chocolate cake), and we'll still hang out afterward. Just don't tell me piracy is a good thing.

And, uh, maybe don't pirate my books, okay?

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Piracy and Other Things that are not Theft

— June 15, 2011 (7 comments)

One of the quickest ways to get a (media) pirate angry is to equate piracy with stealing. "Piracy is not theft!" they cry. Theft removes the original, thus making it so the true owner can no longer use it. But when you pirate something, you're only making a copy. The original is untouched.

Legally and semantically, they're right. Piracy is not theft. But there's a justification implied: that because the owner still has the original, the copier didn't do anything wrong.

We talked a lot in the comments yesterday about how the negative effects of piracy are not as bad as we think, but that doesn't necessarily make it right. For example, here's a list of other things that, like piracy, are also not theft:
  1. Hacking into someone's secured wireless network.
  2. Breaking into a government facility and copying down top secret information.
  3. Sneaking into a movie theater.
  4. Forging a plane ticket (unless the plane is full, of course, then you're stealing a seat).
  5. Plagiarism.
  6. Writing a program that steals rounded-off fractions of financial calculations (yes, like Office Space).
  7. Hacking into an Air Traffic Control computer and changing the schedules.
  8. Slander.
  9. Most acts of federal treason.
  10. Kicking someone in the nuts.
So, yes, I agree that piracy is not theft. But that doesn't justify it.

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Opinions on Piracy (and Some Data)

— June 13, 2011 (9 comments)
I've decided this week is going to be piracy week here at Author's Echo. Not the cool kind of piracy where you swing from the rigging and swash and buckle and stick it to the mean, oppressive, royal navy. But the lame kind, in which copyrights are infringed and authors get all upset over lost sales.

Apparently, I have a lot to say on the topic, but I hope to contain it to three posts (so I don't have to bore you with it again for a while). First, some of my opinions on the subject, so you know where I'm coming from, and maybe where I'm going.

Tomorrow's a little more fun.
  • Pirates are not bad people. That has to be said up front. I have lots of friends who pirate stuff (I live in Thailand, remember?), and I still like them. I still like you. And heck, even I sometimes take advantage of "gray areas." Just, uh, don't expect a high five from me because you "stuck it to the man."
  • Most arguments for piracy are empty justifications. Just like telling myself I can eat a chocolate cake because I ran a mile today, justifications don't make a bad thing okay. (Note: I don't actually tell myself this. I just eat the friggin' cake and don't run at all.)
  • Piracy is illegal. There are gray areas, and some things are legal in some countries, but for the most part, if you download something people usually pay for? Yes, that's illegal.
  • Piracy is not worth getting angry about. For one thing, there's no strong evidence that pirated downloads = lost sales. Certainly some are, but I think for the most part, if we magically figured out how to prevent piracy forever, it would result in approximately the same number of sales. Getting angry about piracy, on the other hand, is likely to lose paying customers more than it stops the illegal ones.
  • Pirates are not doing authors any favors. It's often argued that piracy leads to new readers. The data (what little there is) doesn't support this argument either. Certainly some pirates turn into paying fans, but most don't, and not enough to justify the practice.

For those last two, Tobias Buckell does a great job discussing the data here. He also sums up his opinion (and mine) thusly:
"I believe piracy [has] a neutral effect from all the studying I've done, but also that standing up to declare you didn't pay for it for whatever mental judo justification you have means you're being kind of a dick." -- Tobias Buckell
To that end:

To reiterate: pirates are not bad people and I still like you. I don't want to beat up on pirates this week, though neither do I want to imply that piracy doesn't hurt anybody. Mostly I want to be clear that the justifications for piracy are just that: justifications -- something humans are very good at composing.

Feel free to disagree with me in the comments, especially if you've got good (non-anecdotal) data to contradict anything in the links here. Of course, you can agree with me too. We love that sort of thing around here.

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Tropes vs. Cliches

— June 10, 2011 (6 comments)
A trope (in a story sense) is any plot, character, setting, device, or pattern that we recognize as such. It's kind of everything, from the unassuming farm boy to the rebellion against an oppressive government to the wise mentor to the chase scene in which the car smashes through a pane of glass being carried across the street.

Tropes are what make stories run. A story is not good or bad based on whether or not it has tropes. ALL STORIES HAVE TROPES. A story is good or bad based on how those tropes are used.

What we like about tropes is familiarity ("Yay, ninjas!"), excitement ("Oo, the hero's going to get all awesome on the badguys!"), and especially when our favorite tropes are twisted in interesting ways ("I did NOT see that coming").

What we don't like is when tropes are predictable to the point of boredom. That's when a trope becomes a cliche.

Now, cliches are subjective. What's old and tired to you may be brand new to someone else, or it might be someone's favorite trope--they don't care HOW much it's been done; they love it every time. So how do you keep your stories from slipping past trope into cliche? Here are a few ideas:
  1. Be trope-savvy. One of the things I loved about Avatar: The Last Airbender was how it was always aware of its own tropes. Sokka knew he was the comic guy, the plan guy, the boomerang guy, or "the guy in the group that was normal." They knew they were being silly (and yet a little bit serious) when they came up with a name for their group or for the bounty hunter Zuko sent after them.* It worked because they showed you they were aware of their tropes, through action and dialog.
  2. Subvert the tropes. I thought Megamind was fantastic because even though it used all the superhero tropes, it never played them straight. It took one of the oldest tropes (villain captures girl, threatens hero, hero outsmarts villain), showed they were trope savvy (girl mocks villain's threats as cliche), then twisted it (villain kills hero?!). And that was where the movie started. That sort of thing kept me guessing the whole time, even though I knew the ultimate end.
  3. Don't bother. Seriously, the subjectiveness of cliches is one of the reasons you can't please everybody. One completely viable method of dealing with this is to not even try. Use the tropes you love, put them together in ways you think are awesome, then find the people who agree with you.
What do you think? How can we use the same old tropes (there are no new ones) while avoiding cliche? When have you seen it done well?

* And the fact they never tell you his real name proves even more they know the tropes they're playing with:
Sokka: Wait, YOU sent Combustion Man after us?
Zuko: Well, that's not his name, but--
Sokka: Oh, sorry. Didn't mean to insult your friend!

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Dr. Bananas

— June 08, 2011 (5 comments)
K. Marie Criddle is challenging herself to draw something every day for a year. It has inspired me--no, not to draw every day, are you INSANE? It inspired me to draw for the first time in 6 weeks (gosh, every time I put a sketch up here, it's been months since my last one...maybe I SHOULD draw something every day *slap* *slap* NO! What, are you INSANE???).

(Yeah, okay, maybe a little).

Her first sketch also inspired me to draw something with a gun for an arm, so I'm not being very original here. But then this is what was in my head. You HAVE TO draw what's in your head, right?

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How to Get Me to Unfollow your Twitter Feed

— June 06, 2011 (9 comments)
I know this is going to cause a swath of readers freaking out wondering, "Am I good enough? Will Adam unfollow me too?!" Because, of course, you're ALL worried about what I think of you. (That's how it is in my head, at least. Maybe I should see someone about that...).

Okay, so nobody's worried about my follow. But to avoid hurt feelings, I want to lay this disclaimer: I unfollow people rarely, and only when they define themselves by tweets like the ones below. If you do some of these sometimes, but other times post something witty or interesting, or converse with me like a human being (as opposed to a marketeer), then chances are very good you're safe.

But if these are the ONLY things you Tweet, then you might rethink your social media strategy:
  • Follow Friday (#FF) lists of random Twitter handles, with no explanation as to why I should follow all these people you crammed into 140 characters.
  • Publicly thanking a list of random Twitter handles for the #FF mention.
  • Tweeting "Good morning" every time you get on and nothing else.*
  • Links to your blog, your book, you, you, YOU.
  • Tweet 20 times within a couple of minutes, thus filling my entire timeline with you.

Again, if you sometimes tweet things like this, don't worry. I link to my blog post too (a lot of my traffic comes from Twitter), but I try to keep that from being the only thing I say. The people I drop are the ones who followed me just for the follow-back, who just want to up their numbers even though nobody's actually listening to them, who don't intend to interact or read anyone's tweets but their own.

What behavior on Twitter (or any social media) bugs you the most? What do you LIKE people to do?

* I realize some people use Twitter only for conversation, and "Good morning" is a way to let their followers know they're on and ready to talk, but if I don't converse with you, it's all I see. Besides, we can talk without me following you.

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How This Blog Works

— June 03, 2011 (11 comments)
At the risk of spoiling the magic, I thought some of you might benefit from knowing how I do things around here. Here goes.

A long time ago, I wrote posts whenever I thought of them, trying for a vague "once or twice a week." Now I post every Monday, Wednesday, Friday. I don't know if you guys care (because of Google Reader, and living 11-15 hours ahead of the US, I never know when people post), but it makes it easier for me to plan and to know I'm being consistent.

There is no way I could come up with a blog post idea on the spot three days a week. Shortly after I began a schedule, I started a list of blog post ideas. This takes off tons of pressure, and also allows me to cherry-pick the best ideas. They come in waves: one week I'll have a dozen ideas, the next couple of weeks I'll have none.

I've taken to writing my posts a week ahead of time (right now, it's May 23rd). I usually have all three posts written by Wednesday or Thursday the week before, scheduled to go up between 7-8 PM, my time, on their respective days. Occasionally real world news will inspire a real time post, but not as often as you'd think. As with the idea list, this takes a lot of pressure off me.

When I choose a post topic, my general rule (that I made up just for this post) is each post must attempt to be one or more of the following: helpful, funny, interesting (in that order of preference). I try to avoid "housekeeping" posts, which is why you usually don't see blog awards and why I've never mentioned the change in my background picture (um, until now). I also try to avoid rants, albeit with limited success.

Every post is unique to its own topic, but there are a few things that seem to occur often:
  1. I make lists and/or embolden key sentences. That's cuz I know how lazy a reader I am, and I figure other people are the same. It's also because I like lists.
  2. I link to myself a lot. I link to other places too, but basically I'm self-centered. Partially because I hate to think those posts are forgotten. Partially because linking to an old post feels better than repeating myself. I know you can't follow all of them, but I hope you click on one every once in a while.
  3. I add images. I used to do it only where I needed one, but a lot of feed aggregators (like Blogger's blogroll widget, or the blog apps on Facebook) grab a thumbnail from the post. So lately, if I can think of/find a good image, I'll throw it in to help the post stand out.
  4. I try to ask you guys a question at the end. Because unpublished-author blogging is more about getting to know people than anything else. And because when you comment, it makes me all happy inside.
Though I read them all, I'm a little sporadic with replying to comments. It depends how many comments I have to respond to and how late the girls are to school and how many boys hit how many other boys that morning. Besides, I'm pretty sure my lame replies aren't why you come here. I've been experimenting with replying to comments via e-mail (for those of you who allow that in your Blogger profile), and I have to admit, it's a lot easier and feels more personal. If I learn anything else useful, I'll let you know.
I try to save funny pictures, question/answer times, and short posts for those weeks I need something quick, or when I just want a bit of a break. Once or twice a month I'll remix a post for my sanity (I like "remix" better than "repost," especially since I usually update them before reposting), but never one younger than a couple of years. If I need a longer vacation, I'll go with guest posts or in extreme cases, a 1-2 week hiatus.

There. Now you know what goes on behind the bamboo curtain. Hopefully you can forget you know all that now, so you can still pretend I'm cool.

How do you blog?

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When (and When Not) to Prologue

— June 01, 2011 (11 comments)

There are three things that make something a prologue:
  1. It comes before the first chapter.
  2. It is a part of the story (as opposed to an introduction, preface, or forward, which are about the story, but not part of it).
  3. It says "Prologue" at the top.

Simple, right? That's what makes something a prologue instead of, say, "Chapter One," but it doesn't explain what makes a good prologue. That's what this post is about.

A lot of writers use prologues as a band-aid for a bad beginning. This doesn't work (I'll explain why in a second). It actually has the opposite effect, to the point where some people skip prologues entirely. TIP #1: Don't use a prologue because you need a better beginning. Fix your beginning.

There are generally two kinds of band-aid prologues. The first is the FALSE ACTION SCENE, in which the writer is told he should start with action, so he inserts a scene that has nothing to do with the inciting incident. Sometimes the writer will use a flash-forward, inserting a tense scene from the climax and letting that be the tension that drives the reader through their boring beginning.

The reason this doesn't work is because starting a story is hard, and when you add a prologue, you require the reader to start your story twice. TIP #2: Don't use a prologue just to suck the reader in. You'll only have to suck them in a second time when the prologue's over.

The second band-aid prologue is the BACKSTORY INFODUMP. This happens when the writer is afraid the reader will become lost without all the background. Sci-fi and fantasy are notorious for this. A good genre writer, though, is able to mix telling details into the story so they don't have to put it all up front in one big exposition. TIP #3: Don't use a prologue to explain the world or backstory or any other kind of telling exposition. 

 Once again, George Lucas shows us what not to do.

Despite their downsides, I like prologues. Used wisely, they can be very effective. Here are some situations in which a prologue can be useful.
  1. To show a point of view that doesn't appear anywhere else, or doesn't appear until the end. For example, if you need to dramatize some event the protagonist never witnesses, like, say, the mysterious circumstances of their birth.
  2. To create tension that the protagonist is not immediately aware of. This can be especially effective in mysteries and thrillers, where the real tension (e.g. When will the killer strike next? Will the protagonist learn the truth before the killer comes for him?) is behind the scenes. Then the opening scene, in which the protagonist is going through their daily life, is flavored by the tension that the reader knows something is wrong.
  3. To manage the reader's expectations about your story. Have you ever read a story that was all dragons and swords and magic, only to discover the evil villain is a space alien with his own spaceship? Genre blending like this can be done well, but if it's done poorly you end up sucker-punching the reader. A prologue establishing that your fantasy world is a forgotten Earth colony, or that "God" in your story is an intelligent super-computer orbiting the planet, can sometimes go a long way towards easing the reader into the weirdness.
Keep in mind, though, that these are all guidelines. There are no rules in this business. That's why the best tip is this one, from the illustrious Nathan Bransford:
Take out the prologue and see if your book still makes sense. If it does, you didn't need it.
    What do you think about prologues? Love 'em? Hate 'em? To the comments!

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