Friday, May 2, 2014

Words Are All You Have by Jessica Page Morrell

Therese & Morgan Say: We’ve said it before and now we’ll say it again: writing a GREAT STORY the best marketing you could ever do. So, we asked one of our favorite editors and writing coaches to write a blog post on this topic. Thank you Jessica Page Morrell for sharing your expertise and wisdom!

Jessica Page Morrell Says: 

As you know this is a blog about marketing, written by writers for writers. Most of us have been following the changes underway in the publishing industry and noticed that they’re happening at hurricane speed. In the new publishing world writers are required to handle more tasks that once were done by publishing firms, need an online presence, and ways to reach readers outside of traditional events. It’s a lot to juggle.

So yes, writers and authors to-be: learn all you can about marketing and create an author presence as you learn your craft.  

But some things remain the same. A writer needs to approach his career with heart, integrity, and professionalism.

First comes being a writer with standards of excellence.   

I’m talking about a real writer: someone who writes books worth reading. Books that make a difference. Not a blogger who scratches out a few skinty ‘columns’ of oft regurgitated  or trite matter, or  tweets; not someone who writes a 20-page manifesto, self publishes and calls himself an author; not someone who mostly yammers in 24-point typeface to fill a page. A real writer doesn’t buy into the shortcuts, scams, write-a-book-in-a-weekend quackery or other outlandish propositions. A real writer has nailed the basics—active voice, figurative language, character development, the underpinnings holding together scenes and stories.

A writer is a craftsman, or craftsperson if the male form irks you. Not an artiste, maybe not even the most intelligent person in the room. Now, if you point out the omnivorous reader and word nerd in the room, a person of diligence, in love with language and its heady powers, well then this person could become a real writer. He or she is aware that words, formed from 26 simple symbols, are the humblest and mightiest of tools. Because when you think of it, it’s the most potent magic imaginable that the same symbols create millions of stories, not to mention speeches and articles and amendments and sermons. It’s one of our greatest mysteries: how humankind connects life with language.

To avoid getting lost in the poetry of writing, yes, the writing life is full of tripwires. Sometimes it seems like getting the words right, the story told in the proper order and proportion, will drain you of everything you’ve got. You worry that you’re not saying something new, that your voice isn’t vivid enough, your characters freshly minted.

Just keep going. One sentence in front of the other. Your career is about searching out perfect words, about understanding who and why your story people do what they do. Keep going deeper. Write from a place that is centered and thoughtful. Writers who strike literary poses need not apply. Write when you feel savage or weepy. Write stories that haunt us—now we’re talking.  Or write stories that when the reader sets your book down, she feels a bit disoriented because her ordinary world is seen through new eyes. Because a story should feel like home. Writing is home. Keep writing and bring your craft up to fighting weight.

Write something to feed the collective hunger.

Each manuscript lives or dies in its opening sentences. Each word must be polished, precise, and weighted with meaning. Editors and agents are word people. They will assess your level of craft within the first paragraph, so keep the delivery polished, vivid and exceptional. Write to take readers on an emotional journey and introduce us to people we’ll always remember.

Readers want to occasionally pause to marvel at language or an apt metaphor. So take risks with word use and voice. As you captivate the reader, they’ll leave an ordinary world and concerns and enter a new world. We all hope to be transported by the magic of storytelling.  As readers travel through your words they want to emerge changed by the experience.

Readers also want stories that make them see or understand things in a new way. We especially want to find a viewpoint that would have never occurred to us. The most recent book that did this for me was John Green’s The Fault is in Our Stars which is told by Hazel Grace, a sixteen-year-old with terminal cancer. I just cannot forget her. Most writing is about a question, a problem, a riddle. Make sure that answers, truth, and meaning emerge as your story unfolds. Help readers feel emotions in a world that is sometimes numbing and overwhelming; believe in a time when belief sometimes seems difficult.

Jessica Page Morrell understands both sides of the editorial desk–as an editor and author. She is the author of the upcoming No Ordinary Days: The Seasons, Cycles, and Elements of the Writing Life; Thanks, But This Isn’t For Us, A (sort of) Compassionate Guide to Why Your Writing is Being Rejected; Bullies, Bastards & Bitches: How to Write the Bad Guys in Fiction; The Writer’s I Ching:Wisdom for the Creative Life; Voices from the Street; Between the Lines: master the subtle elements of fiction; and Writing Out the Storm. Morrell works as a developmental editor where she has learned how to quickly size up a story’s merits, as a writing coach, and was formerly the Writing Expert at She hosts a web site at and she’s been writing a monthly column about topics related to writing since 1998 which currently appears in The Willamette Writer, writes a newsletter, and has contributed articles to newspapers and The Writer and Writer’s Digest magazines. She also contributes to anthologies and is the founder and coordinator of three writing conferences. She lives in Portland, Oregon where she is surrounded by writers.

Be prepared! Bring a spare pen in case you run out of ink. Bring a little notepad where people can write down the spellings of their names. If the store doesn’t have a coffee shop or tea bar, bring your bottle of water or thermos of hot drink (save the booze for after the book signing, please).Speaking of pens, bring one that dries quickly. Especially if your book is printed on glossy paper, you don’t want to close the cover and have the signature smear or transfer to the previous page. If the paper is thinner, make sure your pen doesn’t bleed through.


  1. This is a great reminder! You have no books unless you write and if you write it needs to be good. So often I see authors put out a book and then spend months, or even years, trying to market it and find the one way to make it shoot onto bestseller lists. Instead, honing their craft and writing the next good book would be even more effective to making a career.

    I must admit my early books are not nearly as good as my later books, and I'm always improving and learning and improving. I doubt I will ever know enough about craft to stop learning and improving.

  2. Wonderful blog and great information! Thanks!!