Writing Tips from Robert Dugoni

Writing Tips from Robert Dugoni

Not long ago I had an opportunity to attend a creative writing seminar series on getting your novel started, and it happened to be led by Seattle author Robert Dugoni.

He is the best-selling author of 13 novels and legal thrillers including the Tracy Crosswhite series and David Sloane series (both set in Seattle).

Dugoni offered a number of suggestions to budding authors. First, start with the action. This is recommended by many authors of thrillers, suspense and mystery, and you’ll hear it at every writers’ conference you attend. You’ve got to hook your reader right away.

Another of Dugoni’s recommendations was to make sure you create a question in the reader’s mind with the first paragraph, and really with every paragraph. That’s how you create a page-turner. Keep the reader eager to find out what happens next.

When telling your story, Dugoni said it’s best to avoid the use of flashback. If you need to go back in time, you’ve got to put the reader right in that time. Flashbacks stop the story.

And, a famous quote from Dugoni:

“Whether you’re an unpublished novelist or a sixteen-time New York Times bestselling author, you can always improve your craft. You can always become a better writer.”



Do I Need a Copyright?

This is a question most writers ask, whether for a short story, a poem, screen play, blog or novel. What if someone tries to use as their own the product you have just poured your skill, heart and soul into? Do you need copyright protection?

At a recent Writers by the Sea meeting in Fernandina Beach, visual artist and attorney Deborah Reid provided an overview of things writers commonly need to know about copyright. From the moment you create the work, it is your intellectual property, she said. You own it. Should someone try to claim it, you have rights. Infringement on copyright is the same as theft.

If you need to take legal measures, however, you will have extra protection if you have gone through the registration process via the U.S. Copyright Office, part of the Library of Congress. You can do it online, but Reid warns there are many copycats out there who will gladly take your money for nothing in return. Be sure you are on the right website, ending in “dot gov” as in https://www.copyright.gov. Use form TX for written works. Your date of registration is the date you register, but your submission also will include the date of creation for the work.

Copyright for your work continues for your lifetime plus 75 years, and then the work becomes available in the public domain. U.S. Government documents are almost always public domain, because they are created using tax dollars. For most other items, anything created prior to 1923 is in public domain and free to use. However, be sure to do your homework before using artwork, photography or other items, particularly on commercial items, those things you are intending to sell.

Joint projects. If you have two or more contributors to a project, there would be joint ownership of copyright. In other words, you can do whatever you want to with the work, but so can the other owners. If you want more control over who can do what with the work and under what circumstances, and who gets paid, etc., each person will need to sign a written agreement in advance of the copyright date.

A compilation, such as a poetry anthology, requires the publisher of the work to secure a license from each person who contributes a copyrightable work. Each story or poem would be considered a distinct original creation.

Works for hire relates to a person who contributes work that is within the defined scope of his or her employment. The person is paid for his/her time, but the business owns copyright. Still, you should get a signed agreement, and those employees have an “assignment” to do for your project that you copyright.

A few more notes of interest:

You can’t copyright

  • Titles, slogans or mottos; these must be registered as trademarks
  • Methods, procedures, systems (patent)
  • Utilitarian objects like a chair, or clothing
  • Plots, themes
  • Public domain items (works created prior to 1923)
  • Fonts, facts



5 Effective News Release Tips

What’s the secret to writing an effective news release, one that always gets picked up by the editor, and one that sells your product?

After 30 years of writing them, I can tell you this: if you follow the traditional guidelines, specific publication guidelines, write a dazzling story and do everything right, there is still no guarantee your release will get picked up. It may depend on the mood of the editor the day he or she sees it, the number of other stories competing with yours on the same day, the date it arrives at the business, and any number of other obstacles that can hinder your success.

On the other hand, I have had news releases picked up immediately and printed verbatim. Perhaps being effective requires a dash of Irish luck.

Whether you are sending to newspapers, magazines, radio/television, newsletter publishers or online publishers, the smartest thing you can do is present a good product and make it easy to use. Below are my five tips for success:

Follow the rules

A good press release must have contact information, a date of release, headline, body copy, and end, preferably all on one page. The first thing the editor wants to know is who the release is coming from, and if there is no date they don’t know when it came in or when it should be published. If it is messy, has typos, or any of this information is missing, it could be considered unreliable and will probably be destined for the round file (i.e. trash can).

Write a good headline

As with most things, you have to get their attention first. Keep your headline as short as possible, making it clear what your story is about. Don’t keep them guessing or, you know…round file. And, make it catchy. I know that’s a lot to ask in a few short words, but we all need a challenge now and then.

Make it easy

Use 11- or 12-point type, use spell check, and then get it proofed by someone else. If it is hard to read or has mistakes…round file. Signal the end with either the classic “-30-“ or ###. Even if it is one page, this makes you look like a professional.

The five Ws

Who, what, when, where, why, and sometimes how. These may sound “old school,” but should be covered in your lead sentence or as close to the top of the article as you can logically weave them in. News releases are about news. Something is happening. If you cover the five Ws you are providing most if not all of the essential information, and these become the building blocks to your lead sentence.

Write a compelling lead

Your first paragraph must work very hard to hook the reader and still provide the essential information. Is there a local angle? Some exciting new information? An unusual fact? If you’re writing about a book launch, is there something remarkable that distinguishes your book from any other? Is it award-winning? Is it free? My best recommendation is to write the first thing that comes into your head, write the rest of the story, then go back and rewrite the lead sentence five more times. You will know when you’ve got it right.

And don’t worry. No one said it was going to be easy, but you’ll get there.