Friday, November 6, 2020


Have you thought about self-publishing a book? Maybe you've searched the web for help and discovered companies offering to help you self-publish. When I looked into this, I found a breed of publishing parasites that will eat your life savings.

These companies will tell you that you're self-publishing and that you have a publisher. "We're a hybrid publisher." Then they'll rob you blind, con you into signing a contract, and then sell your book at a price nobody will pay. They call themselves "self-publishers" and "hybrid publishers." In writer circles we call them "vanity publishers." They'll take your manuscript and your money and get your 40 page book illustrated by a sub-par artist who charges top dollar; they'll "edit" your manuscript and not fix a single grammatical error; they'll get your book selling on Amazon for $28.99. 

All this for the low, low, price of $3,400. 

Oh, and you only get 15% royalties.

Don't fall for these terrible deals. Here are four signs that you're about to get fleeced by a vanity publisher. 

1. The company is on naughty lists. 

Google "vanity press" and read through the lists of articles warning you about specific companies. Does your "publisher" show up on the naughty lists? 

Then, search for the company by name and see what people are saying. If they're a predatory publisher, you'll find ample stories from the people they ripped off. Believe those stories.

2. Their publishing "packages" are insanely expensive.

Their packages start as low as $600. For $600 you get all the free stuff you can do on your own if you have the patience, or which you could hire someone to do for a few hundred dollars at most. They'll make it sound wonderful though: Your book will be on paperback and ebook on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and in the world's largest book catalog. None of that is anything special. Find a nerd and save yourself several hundred dollars and all those royalties. 
Their "Most Popular" publishing packages usually cost between $2,000 and $4,000. The prices go up from there. These services include copy-editing and some other things. I've witnessed glaring edit errors and formatting problems in books that cost the author $4000 to publish. You get much better service by going online and searching for a writer or editor who hires themselves out for these kinds of projects. 

3.  You'll Have To Sign A Contract

Are you really self-published if you're signing over your book's publishing rights? At this point, they want to charge you thousands of dollars, and they want the exclusive right to print your book. When you self-publish, you maintain your publishing rights, and you never share royalties with anyone.

4. Their Marketing Plan Costs Thousands More

They will want you to pay another few thousand dollars for a marketing package. Think of the implications of that—They want the exclusive right to publish your book, but they won't help you sell your book if you don't pay them more money. There are ample book marketing services that cost so much less, and which will not ask you to sign a publishing contract.
If you pay for services up front, you should owe nothing afterward—All sales proceeds should be 100% yours. Or, if you're lucky enough to land a traditional contract, you should pay nothing up front, and the publisher does marketing for free (and you share the proceeds with the publisher). Any so-called publisher who wants you to pay up front and receive a portion of your royalties for the services you already paid for is most likely a scam.
Beware of predatory publishers. 

Do your research on anyone claiming they'll be your publisher for a price. Believe the horror stories you find. Predatory publishers will take your beloved book, make a mockery of it, and empty your bank accounts.

James Elliott Mitchell is the acting President of Word Addicts. He has a day job which is currently done in his basement, and then he writes and runs a small publishing company at night...also in his basement. He's an introvert who sometimes gets a ray of real sunlight.

Extra Reading...

Xlibris publishing packages

Authorhouse publishing packages

Science Fiction Writers Association Vanity/Subsidy Publishers

Writers And Artists. Self-publishing vs. Vanity Publishing.  Confused?

Friday, October 2, 2020

There are hundreds of tips and tricks to better your writing, all of which are great to implement into your repertoire, but the most repeated mantra for becoming a successful writer is this: read a lot and write a lot. And really, there's no wrong way to do this. You can read anything and write anything and it will show up in the mechanics of your manuscript, but I wanted to narrow this advice down for you. What exactly should you be reading and writing a lot of? 

If you are writing a young adult fantasy, then read young adult fantasy! Now here's the secret: Read the bestsellers, the self-published and the works-in-progress in your genre—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Why? Because you get to experience, as a reader, why something works vs. why it doesn't. Everyone knows why you should read the good examples: to see how it should be done. But, why must we read the bad examples?

Upon finishing my first ever manuscript, I thought I'd finished a freaking masterpiece. . . Until I sat down and read someone else's self-proclaimed masterpiece. I volunteered as a beta reader for another aspiring author, and just like a bug hitting a windshield, my manuscript that was perfect—the work of art I'd slaved over for months and months—hit the figurative windshield. I saw all the mistakes I'd made, made by someone else, and I no longer was blinded by the golden rays shining off of my hard work. I saw first hand why those mistakes ruined that manuscript—and mine. It is just as important to see how a book should be written as it is to see how it shouldn't.

Which brings me to the other half of the secret. Write a lot. If you're serious about writing a book, if you're serious about getting that book in the main-stream, then you'll need to write that book a lot. It might take you ten sentences before you land on the right sentence so to speak, and your book will be all the better for it!

There you go, the secret to getting the most out of the age-old writing advice. Read what you write and write what you want to be read. A lot.

Cortney Winn is one of Word Addicts marketing gurus. She is currently working on her first novel Embers of The Phoenix. Learn more about Cortney 

Thursday, October 1, 2020

If At First You Don't Succeed...

Depending on your experience as a writer, you've probably heard of anywhere from one or two to a dozen or more structural styles for story telling. Hero's Journey, Three Act Structure, Save the Cat, the Snowflake Method, the Seven Point Story Structure, a Disturbance and Two Doorways. Successful writers always seem to have a unique take on what system works for their books. The point, they often tell you, is to keep trying until you find what works for you.

In a fun twist, this same concept is guessed it...another story structure! We call it the Try-Fail Cycle. Let's look at an example from a writer's conference I attended several years back to illustrate this system. It goes something like this:

Basic Try-Fail Cycle

At first your main character has a problem. Maybe your character's wife is pregnant and desperately craving pancakes. Your character, being a good spouse, tries to get their wife some pancakes. If they have the ingredients in the house and are a good cook, they succeed at making pancakes, deliver the fluffy, syrup-covered result to their spouse, and you've just written a boring story.

What would happen if your character doesn't have ingredients for pancakes, or is a terrible cook? Then they fail to make pancakes, and the story continues.

Keeping Interest

The key to a good Try-Fail Cycle is complication. Your character can't simply fail to make pancakes, they must fail and have something else complicate the situation. So, your character fails to make pancakes because they don't have ingredients, and when they go outside to drive to a store, they see a strange man running from their neighbor's house covered in blood. Now we've moved from a rather simple story about making pancakes into a possible murder mystery, and your reader is likely intrigued.

This system continues in the same vein. The character tries to respond to the strange man, fails to get the response they want, and something else goes wrong. Gradually, through the story, the character will become more competent and move from try-fail-and (something bad) to try-fail-but (something good), into try-succeed-but (something bad), and finally, at the resolution, into try-suceed-and (something good).

Maintaining Coherency

Here's the thing. That opening is a pretty big narrative leap, and you probably don't want to start your murder mystery with an opening scene about someone trying to make pancakes. The opening scene of any book needs to set the tone for the story, and every twist in the plot needs to make sense and feel natural within the world of your story. This is true whether you're writing about the difficulties of finding your place in an ever-changing and ever more insular society or about the trials and tribulations of a group of wood elves who communicate over long distances using flying raccoon messengers. Be silly, or fantastical, or gritty, or inspiring. But if your story doesn't feel like a natural progression of events, your readers won't care.

Here's a nifty idea for how to use Try-Fail Cycles without derailing your story into confusing, random absurdity: Nest it inside a different structure.

I'm partial to Three-Act Structure myself, so here's how this works with that combination.

Act 1

Three Act Structure starts with an Opening Scene to establish status quo and introduce an opening conflict. This is where you'll establish what central desire the character has that will influence what types of actions they'll take during their Try-Fail Cycle. For example, is this the type of character who tells their wife to deal with no pancakes because they don't have ingredients, or the type who goes to all possible lengths and ends up chasing murderers?

The next part of Three Act Structure is the Inciting Incident which propels the character into the story by offering a potential solution to an initial conflict. So, a murderer running out of the neighbor's house is a terrible Inciting Incident because that doesn't offer a solution to the character's problem...unless the character can't buy ingredients for pancakes because they're a poor beat cop who needs a bonus from a closing a big case to afford the exorbitant brand of flour their wife demands. Now we're chasing a murderer for a reason.

After the Inciting Incident comes Plot Point 1, and here's where the Try-Fail Cycle really comes in handy. Any guide on Three Act Structure will tell you that the Inciting Incident should be in the first scene or two, maybe three, and after that “tension rises” until the character faces Plot Point 1 about a quarter of the way into the novel.

Wait...but how do I make “tension rise” effectively? By using a Try-Fail Cycle, of course! Before Plot Point 1, your character will experience try-fail-and. At Plot Point 1, the biggest, baddest and of the first act happens, throwing your character into all sorts of trouble.

Act 2

Plot Point 1 naturally leads into the Rising Action that marks the beginning of the ever dreaded and often sagging middle of your book. And here's where the Try-Fail Cycle functions beautifully once more.

Three Act Structure guides will tell you that your middle consists of rising action until you reach the Mid Point Reversal, which occurs at the middle of the novel and is where the remaining status quo is subverted. That's great. How do I write rising action again?

Well, through here, you're writing a try-fail-but sequence. In act 1, our intrepid beat cop lost track of the strange man and was forced to tell their wife they couldn't make pancakes. She, in a fit of pure pregnancy rage, threw them out. No amount of pancakes are going to solve this problem, but our beat cop can't just abandon their family. Determined to be a good spouse despite their wife's frustration, our beat cop applies for a second job as a security guard at a local distillery. At the interview, they fail to impress the manager and lose the job, but on the way out, they see the strange man from before making a delivery at a nearby warehouse.

Mid Point Reversal will add another layer of complication and often danger to the plot. Remember, in our murder mystery (which should be approximately 80,000 words long), we're only halfway through. Most Three Act Structure guides from here will simply say “The Mid Point Reversal leads directly into Plot Point 2, which happens about three fourths of the way through the book and is the break into Act 3.” Anyone else missing that other 20,000 words between Mid Point Reversal and Plot Point 2?

This is our Try-Fail Cycle's try-succeed-but sequence. Our beat cop tries to follow the strange man and does so without being noticed, but discovers that it's really the police captain! Now they know breaking this case open won't get them a bonus unless they can bring down a full crime ring with corruption all the way through the police force. They're gonna need some allies. As they begin building confidence and strength, they progress further through the try-succeed-but until they reach Plot Point 2 (sometimes referred to as the Act Two Disaster), where everything seems to fall apart. Our beat cop gets found out by his captain and accused of committing the murder he's investigating. How will he ever get free?

Act 3

The Climax and Resolution of a Three Act Structure are often very short. The formal definition says about a quarter of the novel, but this is commonly a bit shorter. This is because you want the climax to be fast and the post-climax resolution not to drag on. Also, there's only so long you can remain in a try-suceed-and sequence before your reader just wonders why they're still reading...or gets jealous of your characters.

Our beat cop goes to trial but accuses the captain while on the stand with evidence gathered by their allies to prove their point. And, their wife is there and is so impressed with their hard work that she apologizes for being unreasonable and invites them to come home, pancakes or no. Much more than that and you're just getting gushy.

Choosing Your Mix

Now, the Three Act Structure mixed with Try-Fail Cycle is the one I enjoy, probably because it's easy to apply to a vague concept without having to outline the whole story arc first.

But maybe you love outlines. Maybe you never know what to do next without an outline. Great! Try mixing the Snowflake Method with the Save the Cat beat sheets. Or put your Hero's Journey protagonist through a series of Try-Fail Cycles. Play with the structures, don't get bogged down in any one, and find the bits that work for you. Try, and fail, and keeping trying until you get into that annoyingly sappy-sweet writer's ending that we cut out because we got so annoyed (and a little jealous) with how great our beat cop's life is now that they've got their wife back and their job is secure.

The point is to keep trying new systems, mixing things up, and learning new ideas until you find what works for you. But there's no reason you can't write some murder mysteries about making pancakes while you're learning.

P.S. I made up the non-binary pancake-making beat cop in the middle of writing the first draft of this blog post, and they remain largely unchanged from their original form. That's what discovery writing looks like. If you sometimes find yourself designing your version of a pancake making beat cop determined to succeed against all odds despite their wife's unpalatable mood swings when you're supposed to be writing a basic outline, or a memo for work, or editing a completely different novel, then you may be a discovery writer—and structure is still your friend. But outlines don't have to be.

Chelsea Harper is a copy editor for legal opinions by day and by night is a writer, a parent, and a gamer. She has loved second-world fantasy since she was eight years old and has been writing fantasy since she was ten, although the stories from then are forever relegated to the maybe rewrite one day files on her computer. Chelsea is currently querying the novel she hopes will be her debut.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

It would be so nice if someone could just tell me the exact time I am supposed to write every day to access my most creative narratives and focused thoughts. I could set an alarm, call a sitter, silence my phone, and just write. It would be amazing. I could outline my book, write the dialogue for a specific scene, plan out chapters—I could do all the things! If only someone could just tell me when to do that...

But the truth is, I probably already know when that time of day is. Every writer, deep down, most likely knows exactly when they should be writing. Some people are early birds and feel their most creative powers come alive after just experiencing a restful night’s sleep filled with wondrous dreams. Others are night owls and feel inspiration strike when the house is quiet, their family is asleep, and a full day’s events are fresh on their mind and ready to draw ideas from.

If you’re an early bird, you’ll probably notice that your willpower is higher earlier in the day and distractions are less of a problem. You also might be aware that your creativity peaks in the morning before your analytical side of the brain takes over as the day wears on. And being able to draw on your natural good mood and motivation that are present in the early hours is definitely something to take advantage of.

As for the night owls, you might crave the feeling of being in no hurry to go anywhere or the need to move on with the day’s regular tasks. The distractions you’ve been dealing with all day are now hushed and you can focus on what is right in front of you. And all the wonderfully mundane things that happened to you that day are ready to process and stick in your story somewhere. The night is surely yours for the taking.

If by chance you don’t know whether you’re an early bird or a night owl writer, I suggest an experiment. Try a whole week where you write first thing in the morning. The next week try writing every night. After two weeks your mind (and probably even your body) will tell you when you’re putting out your best work.

While figuring out your best time to write is important and very helpful, it’s still not the most vital component when it comes to finding the perfect time to write. So when is the perfect time to write? That would be whenever you actually sit down and write! You have to be willing to take time from your day to actually put your creativity into words that someone can read. It might mean forcing yourself to write for 20 minutes even though you have no new ideas in your head. And forcing yourself to do that same thing the next day and the next. It also could mean that you drop whatever you’re doing and write out whatever inspirational thought just entered your mind. Just be willing to do it and then do it. As Jodi Picoult says, “You can’t edit a blank page.”

When are you going to commit to write? Tomorrow? Next week? That’s too far away. Do it now. Like right now. Switch your screen and start writing something amazing. Or start writing something crappy until something wonderful emerges. Don’t wait for inspiration to strike (although it’s so nice when it does) just force yourself to do it. I guarantee your future self will thank you!

Good luck everyone!

Jenna Madsen is one of the original Word Addicts. Her stories appear in the Medley of Fairy Tales Volumes I and II, as well as in Miscellany. Find these books HERE, and follow her on Instagram @sundercreekfarms

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

For NaNoWriMo in November 2019, I wrote a book, which I’ll refer to as Fire WIP. I had been querying a previous manuscript since June, which received a decent amount of requests but ultimately ended in rejections. I was crushed. But, as writers, we know we have to move on to a new project in the hopes that maybe that will be The One.

I worked on my Fire WIP well into 2020. I submitted it to Author Mentor Match, and was lucky to receive two full requests! But when both of those came back in rejections, I started realizing maybe this book wasn’t as ready for querying as I once thought. I had a few wonderful CPs take a look at it, and based off their feedback, I did another round of edits.

Around mid-March, I heard about Revise & Resubmit, AKA RevPit. With RevPit, you submit your manuscript to two professional editors. If chosen by one, you work with them from May to July, and on July 1st, there’s an agent showcase.

Right away, I saw two editors who basically asked for my exact book on their wishlist. I submitted my manuscript and held my breath. Keep in mind, this was also when COVID really hit. I was already going stir-crazy, felt incredibly bummed about the end of my senior year of undergrad getting cut short, and overall had a lot of anxiety for the world.

When I received full manuscript requests from both editors, I was floored. I eagerly sent it off, and on the day when the winners were announced, a rock was in my stomach from nerves. I scrolled through the list and screamed when I saw my name. My manuscript had been chosen by Katie McCoach.

This is when my RevPit experience truly took off. Within a week, Katie and I hopped on a Zoom call to talk about my book. She was so insightful and kind, pointing out areas of the book she loved and positively critiquing aspects she felt could be tightened up. We had two main goals: shorten the word count and up the suspense.

Another big problem point was the second chapter. My first chapter was fairly solid, but the second chapter needed work. So, Katie suggested we start with revising Act Two. I had never done that before, so with a Google Doc full of notes from Katie taken from our call, I began to revise.

And boy, it was tough. But, it was also a welcome distraction from the anxieties going on around me. Suddenly, I had a purpose again. I combed through Act Two, completely cut an entire character, added a murder, and upped the suspense tremendously. I think one of the most important things I learned from my time with Katie is there truly can never be a down moment. Every chapter has to be important to the plot somehow, even the soft, quiet ones.

I sent Act Two off to Katie and began working on Act Three, and then once both of those were approved, we tackled Act One together. Personally, I had a great experience with turnaround times. However, I will say that with any mentor-mentee competition, you have to take each story with a grain of salt. A lot depends on your mentor, sometimes things depend on external factors, and sometimes it depends on you! I have a fairly quick work ethic, which Katie was graciously receptible to.

We had at least three or four Zoom calls to brainstorm during the duration of those two months. She thankfully really liked my edits, and then all that was left was polishing the first five pages, my query letter, and my synopsis. We went back and forth with multiple drafts of those during the weekend leading up to the showcase, and then sent my materials off.

During those two months, I also was lucky enough to receive incredible support from the other RevPit winners. We’re in a group chat all together, and even with the competition now over, we still talk regularly. It’s lovely conversing with so many writers who are going through similar experiences as you.

In my opinion, one of the best parts of RevPit is the opportunity for your work to be put in front of agents. While the showcase is a quieter affair compared to bigger competitions, I still garnered about five agent requests. I put some finishing touches on my manuscript and sent the requests out with a first batch of queries about a week later.

I can’t say too much now because I’m in the midst of some exciting decisions, but after sending eighteen queries out, I so far have a 50% request rate. I truly believe that without the help of Katie and the RevPit experience, I wouldn’t have seen so many requests. I’m so excited to see what my future might hold and am so thankful for this experience. I strongly encourage anyone with a decently polished manuscript to think about submitting to RevPit or other mentor competitions in general. There’s truly nothing to lose and in the best case scenario, you might get chosen and have the experience of a lifetime. And if not, you’ll make some lovely friends along the way and can still keep working on your manuscript until it’s query-ready!

Mackenzie Reed is a writer and editorial assistant from Rochester, New York. On August 7 she announced on Twitter that she has secured a literary agent for her YA thriller, An Arsonist's Guide To High School. Find her on Twitter @mackenziemreed7

Monday, August 3, 2020

At certain stages of the writing process, getting critical feedback from critique partners, beta readers, and even professional editors can be invaluable. Often we are so absorbed in our work that it can be hard to see the forest for the trees—or at least the plot holes for the page! Here are a few tips for getting the most out of your feedback, which can be both an overwhelming and rewarding process.

Be upfront with your expectations

Knowing what kind of feedback you’re looking for is an important thing to communicate when seeking critiques. It ensures the reader isn’t wasting time on something you don’t need and that you get the perspective you’re looking for.

Some people respond best to straight criticism, while other people need a softer approach. There’s no right or wrong way but knowing what works best for you is important. If positive feedback is something that you know helps you stay motivated when doing revisions, let your reader know from the start.

This also applies to the areas you want to focus on. If you’re happy with your plot but know your
language could use some work, share that—they’ll know to mark out line edits and stay away
from the big stuff. If you’re not ready for nitpicky notes on sentence structure because you want
to focus on your character development, make sure you communicate so they can read for that.

Set a timeline

Waiting for feedback can be hard, especially if you don’t have another project to distract you.
Setting a timeline makes it so both of you are on the same page and the one providing feedback
can be sure they have the time to get it to you. If you need your chapter back by the weekend,
make that clear so they don’t plan to work on it on their next day off. If you don’t need to see
their feedback on your MS for 2 months, let them know so they can plan accordingly.

Read their notes, then sleep on it

If waiting for feedback is hard, sometimes actually receiving it is harder. Often the work being
critiqued is something you’ve put a lot of time, effort, and emotion into, and hearing that it didn’t
sit well with someone, or that there is a major issue you didn’t notice, can be hard to take. Read
through their notes, then set them aside. Have a cry if you need to. Rage about it to your cat.
Then, come back to it. Are you sure the fact that your world’s economy is based on the value of
cheese was in the text? Could there be a valid reason why your reader thought your main
character hated her sister? Often we flesh out so much of our worlds in our heads that important
worldbuilding elements don’t even make it onto the page. Taking some time to let the critiques
sink in can really help gain some perspective. It allows us to move past our immediate
(emotional) response and makes room to consider why they gave the feedback they did.

Ask questions

Sometimes what someone writes about your work doesn’t make sense, and sometimes it just
seems like they missed the point. If you’re not sure why someone wrote something—ask! The
best way to find out why your reader thought the two love interests were the same person is to
ask them. Maybe the names are just too similar (ahem, Arwen and Eowyn), or maybe you
accidentally gave them all the same character traits—not everybody can be hot-headed and quick
with a comeback! Without asking, you could be looking at two different problems with two
different solutions. The exchange of ideas doesn’t have to end just because they’ve sent their
feedback. In fact, the best person to talk about ways to fix some of the problems with your work
is often the person who noticed them in the first place.

Say thank you!

If you’ve ever agreed to read someone’s work and give them feedback on it, you know it can be
a time- and energy-consuming process. Once you’ve received their notes make sure you thank
them for their input. They took the time to give you thoughtful criticisms—take the time to shoot
them a quick email letting them know you appreciate it.

Fiona McTaggart has been writing since she was old enough to hold a pen. She studied English and Creative Writing at Concordia University and is an editorialist for Harry Potter fansite, She lives in Whitehorse, Canada where she spends her time reading, writing, and making doughnuts. Fiona is currently working on her second MG fantasy novel.

Find her on Twitter @FionaLMcTaggart and Instagram @fiona.mctaggart

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Every Moment Of Every Day Is Writing Research — Especially When Traveling

Every time I step onto an international flight, I write down snippets of conversations I hear, what the food tastes like, what my environment sounds like, and details about what I am seeing. When I am abroad I add picture-taking to my efforts. I snap pictures of interesting-looking shops, dark alleys, monuments, cityscapes, and anything else which I might want to include in a novel at some point. I also take short videos of environments where the motion of the crowds or the sounds of the environment will add to the sensory details.
          Readers crave excitement, escape, romance and thrills, but they also demand authenticity. That's why John Grisham's legal thrillers, and Marko Kloos' military science fiction novels do so well—both of those authors have lived what they write about. That, of course, leads to the cliché of write what you know. But, J.K. Rowling, despite the rumors, never attended a magical school. But she does live in the U.K. and the details of that knowledge show up in her writing. 
You don't have to be a practicing lawyer to write a thriller set in a law firm, and you don't have to have been a soldier to write military science fiction set during a war. You do, however, need to do your research, and get practiced at capturing details of the world around you. To practice that, I advise you to document your life—especially when traveling.
Let's explore this concept with two versions of the same story about an adventure I had (true story by the way) at a concert in Japan. The first version of the story will be something literally anyone could write. The second version of the story is something only I could write, using the details from my documentation and memory.

Concert Culture Shock — Version 1 (Lacking Details - 1st Past Tense)

I went to Japan to visit friends and see a concert. I speak the language, but I am not native-level fluent. Thankfully Japan has a huge train network that can get me pretty much anywhere in the country if I take the right combination of trains.
As it turned out, finding the right combination of trains was harder than I thought it would be. I got lost a few times and barely made it to the concert venue on time. It turned out that the Saitama Super Arena wasn't actually in Tokyo, but instead it was in a neighboring prefecture right on the edge of Tokyo.
Walking into the venue, happy that I hadn't missed the Oribe Risa (LiSA) concert, I definitely stood out in the crowd, so much so that a Japanese news crew even wanted to speak with me. I eventually made my way to my seat following the section and row numbers on my ticket, the same as any arena in the US, and the concert started soon afterward. It was remarkable how different and yet similar going to a concert in Japan was when compared to the United States.

Concert Culture Shock — Version 2 (With Details - 1st Present)

Anyone who tells you that Japan's train system is easy is a filthy liar. Sure, it's easy enough to catch the Yurikamome line near the Ginza and ride that to the waterfront where the convention center and new tourist shopping district are located—because there are stops for it right next to the cluster of hotels in Minato-Ku sitting on the upper decks attached to hotels themselves, and it connects to zero other train lines, aside from Shimbashi station.
Even riding the subways or the JR-lines to get to Shibuya or Harajuku is easy enough with Google Maps or Navitime (Japan's version of Google Maps, for trains) on your phone to tell you which train to ride, and what platform to board from. Basically, if your travels will stay confined to inside Tokyo, usually you'll be fine with the trains. It also helps if you speak the language and can listen to the announcements of stations coming up, as sometimes you can't see the LED screens over the doors when the trains are packed. Pro-tip: in the warmer months, try not to get surrounded by the dudes. The ladies usually smell alright, the dudes tend to smell ... stale ... especially if it is an early morning train. (Japanese guys are expected to stay out late drinking with their co-workers after work, and oftentimes miss the last train home, which means they end up spending the night at the office, a bar, a bookstore, or a karaoke booth waiting for morning).
Having been in Tokyo for several days now, getting around fine, I am a little too confident of my navigational abilities. I also am not aware of the fact that the LiSA concert I plan to attend is outside the Tokyo area. Apparently that makes a big difference in planning trips, and I am an idiot. Can't stress that last point enough.
I hit the pavement roughly three hours before the doors will open at the concert venue. Yes, I obsessively pad my travel times when I am in a foreign country, yes it frequently causes me to be freakishly early when I arrive. No, I won't stop doing it. Making my way to the nearby Shimbashi station I dodge around the crowds and head for the sub-basement level, where the crowds are thinner. I've been to Shimbashi station a few times now. Granted, the first time I ended up there was because I missed my Shiodome stop on the Yurikamome line and had to get off at the end-of-the-line next stop down at Shimbashi—but hey, I was exploring.
According to my Map Apps (Mapps) the most direct route to the Saitama Super Arena is to take the Keihin-Touhoku Line from Shimbashi station to Saitama-Shintoshin station. In Tokyo all of the train lines are color coded (the Keihin-Touhoku line, for instance is a teal green) and they have a one or two-letter code and a number for each station the line stops at (Keihin-Touhoku's letter code is "JK" in case you were wondering. It's a lot more useful than it sounds, trust me). My Mapps assure me that if I get on the "express" train on that line, it will magically bypass a lot of stops the other lines have, and will simply change what line the train is calling itself as it passes from one zone to another. I really, really, like it when the trains do that, as I tend to get lost when I have to switch trains.
Tokyo Train Routes
My confidence starts to fade as I look around the upper upper deck of Shimbashi and cannot find a teal-green sign anywhere to guide me to the line I need. I head down to the next level, where the JR-lines are located, but still no luck. At this point I've burned through roughly thirty minutes of the 2-hour padding I was giving myself. The train ride itself is supposed to take about forty minutes (according to my Mapps), and I am starting to panic.
Hurrying out to the street level, I start asking random people if they know where the line I am looking for is located. The first two people I ask apologize but tell me they don't know. The third person I ask, an older woman who looks at me suspiciously as I approach her, but smiles when I speak to her in Japanese, points across the street to the entirely other section of Shimbashi station I had no idea existed.
Without any time to be embarrassed, I thank her and hustle toward the correct station entrance. I eye the bank of taxis parked nearby and seriously consider just taking a taxi. But, I took one to Haneda airport yesterday to visit Hiroshima, I know how expensive they are, and Haneda is considerably closer than Saitama.
Things go from bad to worse inside the station. I tap my Pasmo badge on the gate and charge down toward the subways. But I quickly realize none of the signs are showing the line I need. I hesitate. I can keep going deeper into the subway tunnels hunting for it, but if the line I need isn't down there then I am going to miss the concert, which was one of the main reasons I came to Japan. A quick glance at the time on my phone convinces me to give up and take a taxi. I head back out toward the gate and have a very fun (that is a lie) conversation with the gate attendant to let me out and cancel my trip off my Pasmo. Racing back out to the street, I aim for the bank of taxis I saw earlier.
They're empty.
Starting to go numb with panic I thumb open my Mapps trying to find the next nearest taxi stand, and pause. My navigation options to Saitama are now showing a new option. The train I was planning to take is long gone, but a new option has appeared. There's a JR (surface level) train on the Ginza Line that connects to a different train in Ueno which connects to Saitama. I know where the Ginza Line is!
As relief floods every pore of my body with endorphins I sprint for the Ginza Lina entrance down the street. Slipping into the last car on the train on the right platform I relax while clutching the overhead rail and watch the stations tick by on my Mapps as the kilometers between me and my destination shrink. I'm going in the right direction, I—
Why are we stopping?
The train stops at a station whose name I cannot pronounce, and something happens I haven't seen before, ever. Everyone, and I mean everyone, stands up and gets off the train. Leaving me sitting there alone and confused.
Panicking again I stumble out to the platform frantically scanning my Mapps for options. Where the hell am I? After I ask two guys nearby if the train will start moving again I am reassured for a minute when they tell me it will. I believe them for a whole thirty seconds before deciding to check my options again. There are about twenty five minutes left until the doors open at the venue.
Funny story, the train line I couldn't find at Shimbashi is showing on my Mapps as literally the next platform over. It goes directly to Saitama-Shintoshin, and it's leaving in two minutes! Hauling ass like I haven't since my first sparring classes, I crash into the nearest car on the platform and freeze. It's full of women who are now staring at me with a mixture of pity, curiosity and disgust. As the train starts moving their concentrated perfume scent closes in around me, and I realize I accidentally boarded one of the women-only commuter cars (Japan has quite a problem with gropings on crowded trains).
 A crowded Tokyo train
Thankfully, this is one of the few times that I can play the gaijin (foreigner) card and it will help me. I stammer an apology and bow a few times. The women who had been staring in pity and curiosity wave away the apology and return to reading, chatting or looking at their phones. I guess it's obvious I'm a harmless dumb-ass? The women who were staring in disgust keep their eyes on me. Slumping my shoulders I turn to face the door while keeping both my hands in plain sight (very important in situations where one is male and in a place males are not supposed to be) on the too-warm and disturbingly slippery overhead bar and wait for the next station. I swear I hear some of the women laugh as I bolt out of the car at the next station and change cars.
When the train finally arrives at Saitama-Shintoshin roughly twenty minutes later my short shallow breaths have slowed down. My stress levels are still through the roof though. I hurry up to the street level and pause.
The streets are filled, and I mean filled with people. I glance at the time, and then back at the crowds in disbelief. The doors to the venue opened a few minutes ago. While there is still an hour until the show, I figured that by the time I stood in line to get through security and to my seat (if I can even find it), that the show would be starting. The only thing my Japanese friends had told me to be sure I knew was that, unlike shows in the U.S., Japanese shows start on time.
Apparently nobody gave these people the memo? People are standing around chatting, singing, sharing music, eating and drinking, and even lying down on patches of grass and napping. Almost all of them are adorned with shirts, armbands, shoes, backpacks, and hats emblazoned with LiSA's colors and logos. An impressive number of the women (and even some of the guys) are also clutching cute plushy dolls from LiSA as well. What strikes me the most is that almost everyone has a short scarf around their neck in black and pink (LiSA's colors). It's June. The weather isn't exactly cold.
Blinking at the crowds I march toward the doors with determined strides. No way I am going to let the lack of a line stop me from getting my dumb ass into my seat. The stands of merchandise call to me as I pass them. I want swag too, and it would help to brand myself the same way as everyone else, but I don't want to risk a line forming behind me while I shop.
I brace for language issues when I approach the unsmiling venue attendants who are checking tickets at the large ramp that leads down into the actual doors of the arena. My Japanese is decent, but not argue-about-the-validity-of-my-tickets good. Thankfully the woman who checks my ticket doesn't seem to be all that interested in me or my ticket. She scans the barcode on it, and then waves me through. That's that.
In disbelief at my suddenly good luck I slow down once I am through the doors and gawk at the decorations in the hallway that leads to seats. The arena is like any other arena in the United States. There are circular hallways around the ground, middle, and upper decks which lead down to stairs for every section. My seat is on the lower deck, in a decently-close section to the stage. I am in the home stretch. As my heart rate settles back to normal I look more closely at the decorations in the hallway. Unlike in the U.S. where every square inch of floor space is taken up with some form of retail or bathroom line, broken up only grudgingly by fire-code enforced gaps, this hallway is filled with flower displays, gifts, photos, signs, and obviously child-drawn classroom projects welcoming LiSA to Saitama. It's rather breathtaking that they both trust people not to knock over or steal everything, and that so many people, radio stations, politicians, school children and fans spent so much time and money to send all of it.
Saitama Super Arena
There are signs up everywhere saying no photos or cameras. But I'm sure they mean that just for the concert itself and not the hallway, right? I pull out my phone and snap a few pictures surreptitiously of the hallway as I walk, and a few selfies of myself as well. Have to document the moment, right? What could go—
Someone taps me on my shoulder.
I stop and turn around slowly. My mind is screaming through my mental index of Japanese words looking for the phrase, “You have to believe me, my phone has a mind of its own!
A young serious-looking woman in a bright-red jacket that looks like a uniform is standing there staring up into my eyes with determination etching her expression.
I try to explain that I'm from out of town and don't know the rules. My Japanese is much worse when I'm nervous. She looks at me and tilts her head curiously, waving me to walk.
"Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?" she asks in English.
This is not going to end well for me. I say in Japanese that I don't mind (One must always be polite in Japan, even when one is screwed).
"Do you know where you're going?" she asks.
I reply in Japanese that I want to see the concert. My eyes plead with her to be merciful. How big of a crime could taking a photo in the no-photos hallway really be? Are they going to throw me out? Fine me? Jail? Kick me out of the country?
"Where are you from?"
I reply that I'm from the United States while thinking that's kind of an odd question for a security officer to be asking. I glance at her nervously and see her scribbling something into a little notepad.
"Is this your first concert?" she asks me.
Wait a minute. Is she really…I tell her in Japanese that I have been to many concerts.
A man I hadn't noticed before now leans in and tells her in Japanese to tell me to speak in English. He has a gigantic video camera slung over his shoulder. I look more closely at the woman in the red blazer and see the microphone in her far hand.
For the love of—It's a news crew!
Both relieved and annoyed at the same time, I start to relax. Now her questions make more sense. I am going to be the oddity on the local news channel. The one white guy in a sea of Japanese people at a concert in Japan. On the same level as local news coverage in the States of the guy who dances on the street corner really well with his sign for some local sandwich shop, kind of cool to see, but mostly a curiosity. I've heard that Japanese news media will sometimes want to interview foreigners when they attend primarily Japanese events (sumo, kabuki, etc.). Apparently those stories are true.
She is dancing me through the crowds with a practiced ease with her cameraman hot on her heels. I've already agreed to answer her questions, it would be rude to back out now. Plus, hey, local news star, right?
"We can't use our camera here. We'll have to take you on stage. Is that alright?" she asks, breaking into my thoughts.
I mean…I already knew about the camera rule. Is she just digging at me now? And, um, I really don't want to go up on the stage. Like, at all. I try to tell her in Japanese that I'd rather not go on the stage, but I don't think I get my message across, or she decides not to hear me. Most likely the latter option.
She asks to see my ticket, and I cannot think of a reason not to show it to her, so I do. I am mildly alarmed when she takes it out of my outstretched hand then confidently takes the lead and beckons me to follow. I glance at her cameraman, but he is studiously not looking at me. Shrugging, I follow her as she leads the way. I mean, hey, it's not like I know anyone in the crowd, and my friends will think it's wild to see me on the local news on stage at a major rock concert in Japan. I follow her down the stairs when she charges abruptly to the right, hurrying to take the stairs two at a time to keep up with her.
Unexpectedly, she stops and gestures to a row a little bit away from the ground level, and quite close to the stage. It takes every gram of my agility to avoid crashing into her.
"Your seat is there," she says, pointing down the row.
I nod, extremely confused. Did she literally just lead me to my seat? What am I, seven? What happened to—
"Can you come with me to the stage now?" she asks.
I swivel my head and stare at her for a beat. Why show me to my seat first if she wants to take me up on the stage? I open my mouth to ask her that, then close it when I realize I do not know how to ask that in Japanese, so I smile instead and shrug. Embrace the absurdity has always been my motto when traveling. I can't exactly argue with her anyway; she has my ticket, and I am not letting her keep that. I have no idea if anyone is going to challenge me to see it again.
Gamely I follow her down the stairs as she charges toward the ground floor. The eyes of the few people who have taken their seats are following our odd processional, but who can blame them?
The woman stops at the ground floor gate after showing her press badge to the white-shirt-wearing actual security staff member, who lets us through.
I'm actually starting to get kind of excited now. Are we going to go backstage? Will I be able to meet LiSA? This could end up being really cool, what if—
"Can you sit here?" she asks, gesturing toward a chair a few meters away from the gate.
"Sit?" I ask in Japanese. "I thought we were going to the stage," I say while gesturing at the main stage.
The woman shakes her head. And points to the chair again. "We cannot use our camera in the halls, but here on the stage is okay. Is here okay?" She asks me in English.
"Um, sure," I reply in Japanese, rather disappointed. Apparently her definition of stage and mine differed dramatically.
"Tell him to speak in English!" her cameraman again hisses at her in Japanese. I find that both odd and interesting. It should be clear to him at this point that I speak Japanese, so he must know I understand him, and simply does not care.
She doesn't blink, or acknowledge him. But she does lock eyes with me, and switches over to Japanese briefly. "Could you, please, answer in English?" she asks me in Japanese.
"Why?" I ask in Japanese, "I'm in Japan, right? It's okay, I can do it." I assure her. I haven't spent those years studying Japanese for nothing, right?
She seems tense but waves her cameraman to start, and he flips on a rather bright light and starts recording.
The questions come fast and seem innocent enough.
"How long was your flight?"
"When do you have to leave?"
"How long have you liked LiSA?"
"Do you like other Japanese bands?"
"How did you start listening to Japanese music?"
That one I have a hard time answering in Japanese. I am pretty good at concrete topics, but esoteric topics like when and how I got into a music scene are on a level I'm not quite ready for yet.
The cameraman lets the camera dangle from his hand, the light still on, and leans in again and tells her to tell me to answer in English. I do not understand the power dynamic between them—in the U.S. the on-air reporter is in charge: the camera operator works for them. I'm starting to get rather annoyed with him, but she looks at me imploringly so I nod. It was getting harder and harder for me to answer in Japanese anyway.
She starts asking questions again and I start answering in English. Both she and the cameraman seem happier. Japan can be…confusing.
Then they spring the trap.
"What do you think of LiSA? She's cute right?"
Oh hell no. No way am I going to say, to a TV news crew, that I (a Caucasian male) traveled half-way across the world to see a band because I think the lead singer and songwriter (an Asian female) is cute. Nope. Nope. Nope. Not that stupid.
I reply, in Japanese again, that I only like her music. I don't know anything about cuteness.
The reporter actually cracks a bit of a smile at my answer and asks me a few more questions, but camera guy looks…let's say irritated.
As soon as the interview is over we all bow to each other (because Japan) and they lead me back to my seat then they head back out to the hallway. Nobody in the area is looking at me in any way I can tell as I take my seat. But I am too busy texting my friends on Line (Japanese and Korean WhatsApp) to watch the evening local news to see if they see my interview. Unfortunately I failed to get the name of the news network they were from. Like I said earlier, I am an idiot. So, I don't have a whole lot of information to give them. I also don't have a lot of time left before the show starts. The seats are filling up around me fast.
Before I have a chance to catch my breath the house lights go down and LiSA takes the stage. The music is loud, and awesome, and I immediately find out what the scarves are for. Everyone who has one is waving them around their heads to the beat of the music while stomping their feet in time to the beat, and calling out in rhythmic call and response patterns which I do not know how to participate in. Those without scarves have hand-held lights they are shaking and waving to the same beat-pattern.
Fascinatingly, the chairs they had setup all around the stage (it's one of those stages that has a main stage, and then a deep bridge that cuts into the middle of the crowd like a fashion model catwalk) haven't moved. Everyone assigned to each of those seats is on their feet, but they are standing directly in front of their seat and they are not moving.
I have been to a number of concerts in the States, and I have been in the pit for a number of them. Trust me when I tell you that there is no honor, order or reason in there. It is every person for themselves. Even the ones with no actual pit at the floor level, with assigned chairs in that area, devolve into a seething mass of chaos once the first act takes the stage.
They don't roll that way in Japan. People are dancing. People are yelling. People are having a good time. But they are staying inside the little imaginary box in front of their assigned seat while doing it. I've never seen anything like it in my life.
Astonishingly, about 20 minutes into her set, LiSA calls for quiet in the arena of 37,000 people, and seconds (and I mean seconds) later, the entire arena is silent. You can't really appreciate that sentence if you are from a country where people aren't routinely just animals stuffed into slacks and t-shirts shuffling around pretending to have manners, like the U.S. To me, having a popular singer, on stage at a massive concert, call for quiet from the crowd and immediately getting silence is more astonishing to me than my close call with the media. Sure, crowds in the States will quiet down if the band asks them too, but that quiet will be punctuated about every half-second with someone yelling, "I love you," or worse.
LiSA then proceeds to tell us a funny story about her day that I only sorta can follow, but I get the gist of it. She then dives back into her set list, and the crowd carries right on dancing their seemingly choreographed dances to her songs. There's smoke in the air from the stage craft. LiSA is singing her heart out, and the crowd is thundering.
There is a new dance or hand wave or stomp (sometimes all three) for each song. Clearly everyone else in the arena had several meetings together to choreograph all of this—and nobody invited me to the meetings. But that's okay, because it's awesome just being here.


The first version of that story is something literally anyone could write. It has enough details to be accurate. It shows a level of experience or research that rings as authentic to someone who has been to Japan, or has at least seen a few travel shows about the country.
The second version of that story is something only I could write—it is also chapter-length, whereas the first story could easily just be a setting paragraph to set the stage for something else. Length is also important, gauge and use appropriately.
For my detailed version I pulled in specific details about places I've been (and I have the pictures I risked going to jail over to prove it!), sensory details about those places, along with my own personal narrative about the event. I punched up some details which weren't as interesting (the women's only train car part of the story actually happened to me on a different day), and I cut out parts of the story which weren't as interesting (I spent an embarrassingly longer time in real life trying to find that damn train than I did in the story), but the core of the story is based on my real experience. I also told it in 1st-present, instead of 1st-past to ratchet up the immediacy of the story, which places the reader more solidly in the moment. That's not necessary, of course, but it is a handy trick if you want to write more of a thriller-type of a story.
The same core of my detailed story could easily be lifted out and put into a sci-fi story set on a space station. It could also be altered to fit into a Western or Romance. All I would have to change are some of the time period details and/or my motivations. Maybe I'm not rushing to get to a concert. Maybe I'm trying to catch my one true love before she leaves on the next train. Maybe I'm trying to escape the corrupt sheriff in a lawless western town. Maybe there's a bomb on my space station and only I can get to it in time.
It doesn't matter what the story is. I could take that little train-to-destination story and alter it to fit into damn near anything (okay, well maybe not a Kafkaesque noir drama about existentialism), and you can do the same thing with your own experiences.
Those details from your real life will add authenticity to your writing and they will ring true with your audience. Details sell your story. Con artists figured that out centuries ago. Story tellers are simply con-artists with nothing to sell (aside from our books!), but that doesn't make the need for a convincing story any less real.
Write down and record the details from your life -- especially when you travel. Traveling in foreign countries is a great way to evoke your story telling instincts. You will naturally engage an analyzing and detail gathering mode when you are in a foreign country. Because you aren’t familiar with anything you won't be able to operate on auto-pilot at all. (That's why you feel so tired when you travel, it stresses your body to be at that level of attention for that long.) In that state you will notice a lot more about your surroundings than you normally will. Use that. Embrace it. Make it your own.

I look forward to seeing it in your writings.

Robert D. McAdams

P.S. I found out later from my friends that the local news didn't run my interview. Several of my friends watched the various local news broadcasts that night, and told me they didn't see my interview, despite all of the channels at least mentioning the concert. When I told them the question the reporter asked me, they weren't surprised. They (in between laughing at me) told me it was a common narrative some of the news crews run where they try to play off the foreigners just liking how the women look in Japanese music scene, and they weren't in the country for honorable reasons, etc… Weirdly, Japan kind of encourages that whole thing, look up Japanese "Idols" sometime if you want to know more about it. But I didn't fit the format they were looking for, as they tend to do the interviews in English, then either dub over them in Japanese, or sub-title them for the news broadcast. Because I was answering in Japanese, and because I didn't fall for the trap question, I wasn't any fun :P

P.P.S. I rode the Keihin-Touhoku line back to Shimbashi, and it was indeed down there. About seven levels deep. No exaggeration. If I'd had a map, and some of the dwarves out of the mines of Moria to guide me, I might have found it on my way out. But in my panicked state, in retrospect, I am glad I decided to give up on initially trying to find it. Until that day I hadn't even known Japanese subways could go as deep as seven levels below street level. I swear, I think I spend about half of my waking hours in Japan underground :)

Robert D. McAdams was born in Montana and raised in California. He holds a degree in Computer Science and is a senior computer programmer for Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and a Girls Who Code Instructor by day. By night he writes novels, plays guitar, and practices martial arts. He speaks English, Japanese and Spanish. He loves to travel to Japan to see his favorite Japanese rock bands in concert. If he isn't working or traveling to Japan, he is either in Canada skiing on Whistler Blackcomb, or up at Squaw Valley in California's Sierra Nevada mountains.

He has been writing stories since he was in high school, and plans to release his first full length novel (Disobedient Intelligence) soon. Robert is keenly interested in exploring topics of love on the battlefield, LGBTQ characters, women in leading roles (especially the sciences), and why Artificial Intelligence (AI) may not be the gift we think it is. All of his stories contain humor. Science fiction is great, and it's the genre he loves most, but he feels that every story needs humor.

Find him at
Twitter: @McAdamsRobertD
Instagram: @mcadamsrobertd

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