Travel Times: A Reference

I frequently find myself having to calculate how far away things are when I'm writing. "How long would it take him to walk there? Can a horse run that far? Who would get there first?"

This is a reference for myself, but I figured you could probably use it too. The numbers here are averages. Actual speeds and endurances will vary.

HumanHorse w/ Heavy LoadHorse w/ Light Load
Walking Speed5 kph
(3 mph)
6 kph
(4 mph)
10 kph
(6 mph)
Distance Traveled in a Day (8 hours)40 km
(25 mi)
48 km
(30 mi)
80 km
(50 mi)
Hurried Speed10 kph
(6 mph)
15 kph
(9 mph)
22 kph
(14 mph)
Distance Traveled (1 hour)10 km
(6 mi)
15 km
(9 mi)
22 km
(14 mi)
Running Speed24 kph
(15 mph)
30 kph
(19 mph)
44 kph
(27 mph)
Distance Traveled (5 minutes)2 km
(1.2 mi)
2.5 km
(1.5 mi)
3.7 km
(2.3 mi)

Walking Speed: A basic, slow walk that can be maintained for hours at a time.
Hurried Speed: A jog or canter that can be maintained for about an hour.
Running Speed: A sprint or gallop that cannot be maintained for more than a few minutes.

Again, these are just averages. There are horses that can gallop at speeds of 70-80 kph (40-50 mph), people can be forced to walk for more than 8 hours a day (with consequences), and some folks couldn't maintain a jog for longer than 30 seconds (*raises hand*). But for me, these averages are useful in figuring out how far apart things are in my worlds, among other things.

Feel free to correct my numbers, if you know better, or to request other means of transport for me to add.

Blogging for Your Target Audience

Unpublished writers' blogs are a strange beast. They're part community-building, part writing practice, and part planning for a hopeful future in which we need a platform. It's that last bit I want to talk about today.

Aspiring writers who blog are sometimes told they shouldn't write for other writers. I can understand that. I mean, you want to reach your future target audience (who is interested in your books), not other writers (who may or may not be). But I wonder why my future audience (who wants to read my books, but doesn't write themselves) would be interested in my blog if I don't actually have any books (especially with all these parentheticals)?

Here's the thing. Your target audience is, in fact, a moving target.

I'm not saying there's no merit in expanding your blog topics to other things. There is, but I don't think Professional Aspiring Writers should feel like they can't blog about writing either. Because at the moment, the writing community is our target audience.

Tobias Buckell ran down his readership stats the other day, and one thing that interested me was that, early on, he lost over half his readers when he became published. He says it's because he was no longer talking to "writers trying to sell a novel (large pool), but to writers who had already sold a novel and were trying to figure out what to do (very much smaller pool)." Gradually, he shifted his blog to broader topics, tangentially related to his novels.

Could he have avoided that drop by shifting his blog sooner? Maybe. Or maybe that new audience wouldn't have been as interested in his opinion before he was a published author. Also maybe those early years of blogging to aspiring writers was needed networking for him.

I don't know. My point is that, either way, it's okay. I think the platform-building (future audience) is a good idea, both for practice and laying the groundwork. I think the community-building (current audience) is also good for networking and (in my case) general sanity.

So don't feel like you have to blog one way or another. Do think about your future audience, but don't stress about them, because if you're like me, you have an audience here right now. Maybe it'll change one day, but you can change with it. It'll be all right.

Earning a Reader's Trust


When we read something, anything, we want to know that we can trust the author. If we trust that the author knows what they're doing, we'll give them more grace when they make "mistakes" like using unnecessary adverbs or telling when they should be showing. We trust that eventually they'll explain whatever we don't understand.

If we don't trust the author, those mistakes will stick out like they were written in sparkly red ink. If we don't understand something right away, rather than say, "I'm sure that's there for a good reason," we say, "That's stupid. It doesn't make any sense."

But trust is hard to come by, and worse, it's subjective.

We trust authors whose work we've read and liked before. We trust authors sold at Barnes & Noble more than self-pubbed authors peddling their works online. We trust authors recommended by friends.

We trust authors that we know personally. This is why referrals work. This is why agents and editors are nicer if you've met them in person. This is also why it's so hard to get honest criticism of our work, and why agents don't care if your mom and ten of your best friends said the manuscript was "better than J.K. Rowling."

So if you're unpublished, unknown, and you don't know the reader personally, how do you get the reader to trust you? All you've got left, then, is your first impression.

Your first impression is your first sentence, first paragraph, first page, and in many cases, your query letter. This is why it's so important. It's not that the agent/editor won't read on if they suck, it's that they decide -- often subconsciously -- whether you're an amateur or professional based on the first thing they read. Everything they read afterward is colored by that.

If they see amateur mistakes straight off, then the fancy prose they see later might be seen as "trying too hard" or at best "potential." On the other hand, if they decide they're in the hands of a soon-to-be professional, then occasional sloppy prose they see later might be interpreted as "mistakes I can help them fix."

So don't tell them what your mom and ten best friends thought. Don't tell them you're the next Stephanie Meyer. Don't infodump. Don't try to describe every single character and subplot in a 250-word query.

Do find a critique group. Do read Nathan Bransford's comprehensive FAQ on publishing and getting published. Do read as many of the posts as you can at Query Shark, Evil Editor, Miss Snark, and any number of other agents' and editors' blogs around the web. Do whatever it takes to find out what first impression you're making.

Then make a better one.

Sympathetic Characters: The Struggle

One encouragement I keep hearing, regarding my querying, is that I "deserve" an agent. I like hearing that, for sure. But the last time I heard it I thought, "They haven't even read my novel. Why do they think that?"

And I think part of the reason is because you guys see me fighting for it.

Because there's something we love about a person who fights for what they want against all odds, who never gives up no matter how many times they get knocked down. This is why I love characters like Naruto and Zuko. This is why I like dancers like Twitch and Hok and Wadi, who try out for the competition two or even three years in a row.

Believe it or not, this post is about writing. You know how you want readers to root for your characters? This is one way to do it. Give them a goal, make them work hard for that goal, and make them fail.

Then make them get up and do it again.

If the reader believes in the goal and the character's attempts to achieve it, they will struggle with the character and root for them like nobody's business. And when they finally succeed, you will have a reader who stands up and shouts, "Yeah!"

And that is what you want.

Blog Schedules: Do You Even Notice?

You may have noticed that Susan's guest post went up on Tuesday -- normally an off-day for Author's Echo -- but also that there was no post on Wednesday. Or maybe you didn't notice! That's what this poll is about.

See, I've seen conflicting advice on the subject of blog schedules. Most professional bloggers say you need a schedule so your audience knows what to expect. I get that. That's one reason I blog M/W/F (usually).

But other advice says don't worry about it. E-mail subscriptions and feed services like Google Reader make blog schedules superfluous. I get that too, considering I don't actually know what anyone's schedule is. I just read whatever's in Google Reader whenever it's there.

So what about you?

Guest Post: Why My Critique Partners Are Smarter Than Me

Susan Kaye Quinn is a regular here at Author's Echo and one of my critique partners. She writes, she blogs, she mothers, and I understand she once politicked and rocket scienced (it's a word now -- shut up). Her new novel Open Minds, which I talked about yesterday, is out now, and to celebrate, Susan wrote like a billion blog posts.

Her book is awesome because it's about a world of mind readers and hidden mindjackers (who control minds). This guest post is cool because it talks about how smart I am. You should probably read both.

Oh, also, she's giving away prizes as part of her virtual book launch party. Information after Susan's post.

This title probably sounds like I'm kissing up to my critique partners. And while they are awesome and deserve all the praise I can give them (especially the ones that critiqued Open Minds), that's not quite what I mean.

Robert McKee, in his screenwriting book Story, talks about how the collective IQ of the audience goes up 25 points as the lights dim down. Every sense is tuned to the visual, verbal, and musical cues on the screen. Years of storytelling in the form of movies, books, and TV have trained the audience's intuition. They know the tropes by instinct, and while they probably couldn't tell you why, they just KNOW that the creepy character in the first act is going to come back and be the villain in the end.

Have you ever watched a movie where you "totally saw that coming"? Yeah, me too.

Writing a story that can keep that hyper-attuned audience in the dark until just the right reveal is an extremely difficult task. The writer has to plant just enough clues, but not too many. Provide just the right mood, but not sloppily slurp into cliché-land. Give just enough romance and meaning and depth to move the audience and not so much that it makes them cringe.

Critique partners are the movie-preview audience of the novel world.

When I was writing Open Minds, I went through round after round of critiques from different sets of writer friends who were generous enough to add their expertise to help make the story better. If you read the acknowledgements page, you'll see what I mean. A LOT of writers helped craft this story into its final form and each contributed an important insight into the story. Any reader can give feedback about whether a story "works" for them, but writer-readers are extra helpful in that they can help pinpoint how to fix it as well.

When I return the favor of a critique, I try to give feedback to my writer friend about how the story would be received by a hyper-tuned reader. But I also try to make suggestions for improvements. Sometimes I leave it vague ("more emotional connection needed here" or "I'm not really liking this character—is that the reaction you want me to have?"); sometimes I get more specific ("Reorder this scene to put the high impact point last" or "We need a kiss here"). When I'm very lucky, a crit partner will ask me to help show how to reword or rewrite a small scene. Somehow these scenes always seem to be kissing related, and I joked with a critique friend that I was changing my business card from "Author and Rocket Scientist" to "Author, Rocket Scientist, and Kissing Consultant." (Note: Yes, there are kisses in Open Minds, but nowhere as many as Life, Liberty, and Pursuit—that was a love story after all.)

I relish these times that I can pay back a small bit of the help I get from my brilliant critique partners.

When my critique partners read my MS, they are hyper-attuned like the readers that I hope will someday read the book. Those readers, as soon as they crack open my book or switch on their e-readers, will become savvy, impossibly smart story consumers. Don't underestimate them. They will see your plot twists coming. They will want to be surprised, moved to tears, made to laugh out loud. If you want to deliver a great reading experience for them, if you want to light up their imagination in a way that will rival two hours in a dark theatre, make sure you pretest your novel with critique partners. They will help you find the sluggish plot points, the stereotyped characters, and implausible action sequences before your readers do.

And if they suggest a kiss, let me know if you need a consultant. :)


When everyone reads minds, a secret is a dangerous thing to keep.

Sixteen-year-old Kira Moore is a zero, someone who can’t read thoughts or be read by others. Zeros are outcasts who can’t be trusted, leaving her no chance with Raf, a regular mindreader and the best friend she secretly loves. When she accidentally controls Raf’s mind and nearly kills him, Kira tries to hide her frightening new ability from her family and an increasingly suspicious Raf. But lies tangle around her, and she’s dragged deep into a hidden world of mindjackers, where having to mind control everyone she loves is just the beginning of the deadly choices before her.

Open Minds (Book One of the Mindjack Trilogy) by Susan Kaye Quinn is available in e-book (Amazon US (also UK, France and Germany), Barnes & Noble, Smashwords) and print (Amazon, Createspace, also autographed copies available from the author).

The Story of Open Minds (linked posts)
Ch 1: Where Ideas Come From: A Mind Reading World
Ch 2: A Study in Voice, or Silencing Your Inner Critic
Ch 3: I'm finished! Oh wait. Maybe not.
Ch 4: Write First, Then Outline - Wait, That's Backwards?
Ch 5: Why My Critique Partners Are Smarter Than Me
Ch 6: Facing Revisions When It Feels Like Being on the Rack
Ch 7: How to Know When to Query
Ch 8: A Writer’s Journey - Deciding to Self-Publish Open Minds (Part One)
Ch 9: Owning the Writerly Path - Deciding to Self-Publish Open Minds (Part Two)
Epilogue: Finding Time to Write the Sequel



Susan Kaye Quinn is giving away an Open Books/Open Minds t-shirt, mug, and some fun wristbands to celebrate the Virtual Launch Party of Open Minds (Book One of the Mindjack Trilogy)! (Check out the prizes here.)

Three ways to enter (you can have multiple entries):

1) Leave a comment here or at the Virtual Launch Party post

2) Tweet (with tag #keepingOPENMINDS)
  • Example: When everyone reads minds, a secret is a dangerous thing to keep. #keepingOPENMINDS @susankayequinn #SF #YA avail NOW
  • Example: Celebrate the launch of OPEN MINDS by @susankayequinn #keepingOPENMINDS #SciFi #paranormal #YA avail NOW
3) Facebook (tag @AuthorSusanKayeQuinn)
  • Example: Celebrate the launch of paranormal/SF novel OPEN MINDS by @AuthorSusanKayeQuinn for a chance to win Open Books/Open Minds prizes!