Word by Word

Practical insights for writers from Jessica P Morrell


Written By: Jessica Morrell

PLEASE NOTE: This contact form is sometimes glitchy.

Please email me directly via my full name (Page without an i) at gmail.com. Thanks so much.

I am currently accepting new editing clients and work on both fiction and nonfiction manuscripts. Will be happy to provide more information about my services. However, I rarely have immediate openings available so please contact me several months before your manuscript is done.

Drop me a few lines:

Jessica Page Morrell understands both sides of the editorial desk–as an editor and author. She is the author of 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 iVillage.com.  Her newsletter The Writing Life is currently on hiatus, but will be returning in a shorter form. Besides this site you can find more inspiration and writing information at http://thewritinglifetoo.blogspot.com Morrell 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 writing conferences.  She lives near Portland, Oregon where she is surrounded by writers.


  1. Kerri Sheldon says:

    Thank you for your blog! It has been very insightful. I really like the anchor image you have on: http://jessicamorrell.com/?p=1011
    I am curious as to where you got it or is it your image?

  2. I met Jess Lowrey at an MWA University 101 workshop last June, and she has highly recommended you as an editor. I need help getting my manuscript ready for prime time. The Krakow Legacy is a 60,000-word mystery about Professor Susanna Shepherd, a Fulbright Scholar who must clear her name of a perverse suspicion of murder. The more she learns of family secrets, enmities as old as the Cold War, possible forgery and smuggling, the closer she comes to becoming a strangler’s next victim.

  3. Mike Garzillo says:

    I enjoyed your presentation at the RCRW conference this weekend, and bought your Bullies, Bastards, & Bitches book yesterday as well. Even though your presentation was thorough, I also read the book today and it was awesome. Thanks again.

    • jessicap says:

      Mike –it looks like my reply wasn’t posted here. Thanks so much for the kind words and for buying my book. Best wishes for your writing project and taking risks with your characters. Jessica

  4. Read in Willamette Writers posting that you are going to be at Old Church Tues June 3rd. Hope to be there.

  5. Barnabas.L says:

    I’m currently reading your book “Thanks, But This Isn’t For Us”, and I must say I’m learning a lot. I borrowed it from a friend, but it’s so insightful I have decided to buy a copy for my personal library!

    • jessicap says:

      Thanks! Appreciate that and hey, I need the money. I’m working on two new books for writers and possibly a third. What are you working on?
      Best, Jessica

  6. Lindy says:

    This isn’t for public, so hope this is screened first. If not, oh well. Hello, everybody.

    Ms. Morrell, I don’t know your email, so, sorry, I have to ask my burning question here. “Your Thanks, but this Isn’t for us” is my bible, but your guidance in only using “he, she, it said” for dialogue tags, instead of the other million configurations, left a couple of questions.

    Is it best to put that in front of character’s line, in the middle, if it’s long, at end, or a combo of these? I.e. Joe said, “Yada, yada, yada,” or “Yada, yada, yada,” joe said, etc. It seems like it would be most invisible at end, and breaking from consistency would draw the reader’s attention to it, but I don’t know.

    Also, which is best: Joe said, or said Joe? Petty, I know, but I’ve been racking my brain on this. It seems like naming the character first would subconsciously make it more immediate for reader since the “said” is invisible.

    One more thing. I imply the tag a lot. “Yada, yada, yada,” Joe spun the chair around. Does this make the implied “he said,” even more invisible, save words, and make it immediate, which is my goal, or am I loading down my manuscript with a variation of those “weighty” dialogue tags you refer to by doing that? I just realized after re-reading your book all the way through for the fifth time, (in the meantime, it’s a constant spot reference for me) that even if this is considered legal, I may overdo it. And overdoing anything, can’t be right.

    Thank you for your valuable time,
    (And I don’t say “valuable” as a platitude. I know from experience grandkids, writing (I’m unpublished, sore subject, ahem) and gardening (or in my case, professional weed pulling) are full time!)
    Lindy Vaughn

    • jessicap says:

      Hey Lindsey,
      Thanks so much for reading (and rereading) my book. Much appreciated. I’m always trying to cram as much as possible into every book I write so sometimes I need to be general. If possible, you avoid weird voice tags. If you really believe the reader needs to hear the sound of the speaker’s voice, then employ them once in a while. Use Joe said, instead of said Joe–it’s just less awkward. And sure, the tag can be implied. Not a problem, especially if the conversation is rolling along. I happen to like visual cues in scenes, including small movements that contain subtexual info and reactions to dialogue. Sounds like you’re on the right track. I’m weeding a whole lot these days too. Hope you’re on your way to publication. Thanks again, Jessica

  7. T.J. says:

    Ms. Morrell, you’ve said you sometimes work as a freelance developmental editor, but how does one contact you to engage your services? I’ve written an 85,000-word thriller, and would like to have it edited. Although there’s no shortage of so-called editors, I won’t settle for someone who lacks your nuanced understanding. Between the Lines is the reason I’m here, knocking at your door. Best regards, T.J.

    • jessicap says:

      Thanks for reading my blog.Yes, I work as a developmental editor. You can write to me at jessicapage (at)spiritone(dot)com.

  8. Ericson says:

    I would submit to you, as literary agent, the original (or synopsis) of my book that is presented on my website (kgericson.com).
    I hope your answer.

  9. Hi Jessica,
    I’m getting ready to launch another round of agent hunting to place my completed memoir, Thursday’s Child. A query I posted on Facebook about writer/editors who review query letters professionally brought up your name. I have written and revised the query letter many times, have had several friends who are writers offer suggestions, have looked at books and websites about how to write a query letter. I would like a professional review of it. If you do review query letters, I’d love to hear from you. I live in Portland.

  10. Joseph M Gaffney says:

    I’m writing to let you know that I bought “Between the Lines” for a grad short-story writing course and have benefited greatly from it.

    I also wanted to let you know that it contains an embarrassing typo. On page 168 under the “Crafting Your Own Setting” section, you wrote “Hone in on a few details that paint a larger picture.” Of course, it should have been “Home in on . . . ,” as in “homing pigeons.” I thought you’d like to know about the error so that you can correct it for subsequent editions.

    Best wishes.

    • jessicap says:

      Thanks so much for reading my book and glad to hear it was helpful. Any typos are joint mistakes I share with the copy editor. Alas, there is nothing I can do about typos at this stage. Good writing to you, Jessica

  11. Hi Jessica I am finding the marketing of my new book The Opal Dragon extremely daunting. I have evidently been put in Twitter jail. I have sent many emails anfhave used Fiverr.com to get more messages out. Do i need some earth shattering gimmick to get this book to the public. Do i run down the street naked with a placard with the book name on it? Over weight and 70, it may make the news Yuk James

    • jessicap says:

      Sorry I missed your comment. And what do you mean by Twitter jail? I believe that it only works for books if you’re a big brand or have a huge following. Cheryl Strayed would be a good example of this. Do you have an online community such as on Facebook? A mailing list? Have you gone around to independent bookstores and asked them to stock your book? Sent out media kits and review copies? Done a blog tour? There are lots of steps to bookselling and I’m no expert, but you need to use both traditional means and social media. Good luck and thanks for stopping by. Jessica (P.S. LOVE paleleggsoffire as handle)

  12. Jessica says:

    Hi, Jessica
    I was hoping you could give me a few tips on writing a query letter. I have finished my novel after lots of rewrites, and now I have chosen several agents to send it too. I am unsure on the query letter. My author profile is still very small, and I want to make sure I include the most important things.

    Jessica Owen

    • jessicap says:

      There’s loads of information online about writing query letters. All I can add is that the first line should be a hook–about your story, not you. And it’s okay if your author profile is small as long as you can be found when googled. Good luck! Jessica

  13. Don M. King says:

    I picked up your book Thanks, But This Isn’t For Us, and I am thoroughly enjoying it. Sorry about that adverb. You have a knack for explaining exactly what I’ve been complaining about in some of the latest novels to hit the shelves. I won’t pick on any specific writers, but some of them get away with doing exactly what you deem “deal breakers.” I know they already have a platform, but as a writer trying to get published and avoid many of these things, it gets frustrating. As I finish each chapter, I go back through my current novel and re-examine it seeking out the points you made. I either see that I haven’t done those things or maybe I have. Either way, I know it’s helping me become a better writer.

    I love the idea of highlighting in different colors to see what a page looks like, good or bad. I have my 8th grade students do this all the time, choosing active verbs instead of state of being ones. I am convinced that even with a manuscript free of many of these deal breakers, hooking an agent still boils down to timing and market trends. What agent is going to accept a great manuscript with a concept that just isn’t selling at the moment? I know some will because it takes so long to get a book to the shelf anyhow, but many will not. I have learned some valuable lessons so far and just wanted to thank you for writing just what I needed to read at this point in my career. 🙂

    • jessicap says:

      Thanks so much for your kind remarks. You just made my day. And I so agree about finding an agent–sometimes it feels like waiting for lightning to strike. Wishing you the best, Jessica

  14. Hello Jessica.
    You write well, an attribute all too often missing from the work of putative experts, coaches, gurus, etc. I assumed the “contact” button would allow me to, well, contact you regarding your work with authors as a developmental editor. I have published one book commercially (The Dating Service, Berkley), and three as an indie writer. Although I’ve worked with a young, capable editor on one of my books (The Anything Goes Girl), and with a seasoned veteran on my most recent one (Deep North), I would like to know more about the services you offer, pricing, etc. A third book in my suspense series should be ready for editorial review some time in September. Please advise.

    • jessicap says:

      Thanks so much –I have not received an email from you and would love to discuss working together. Please contact me at jessicapagemorrell (at)gmail(dot)com. Apologies that the contact button isn’t working. Will try to remedy this. Best, Jessica

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