Musty Writing by Michaelbrent Collings

When considering self-publishing on Kindle, there are four things you must do (“Must”y writing – get it?  Ha!).  They are like the mustard on my hot dog: a non-negotiable element.  Without it, you may as well not even try.  ‘Cause I won’t bite.

Now, before I dive into what those elements are, I should probably tell you how I know about them.  So y’all know I’ve got street cred.  And mad skillz (part of having street cred is always spelling “skillz” with a z).

I’ve been writing for most of my life.  I sold my first paying work when I was fifteen.  Going to college, I won a bunch of creative writing scholarships and awards.  Then I became a lawyer, where my job involved mostly (wait for it!) writing.

Oh, yeah, and somewhere along the way I became a produced screenwriter, member of the Writers Guild of America (which is statistically harder to do than it is to become a professional baseball player), and a published novelist.  Throughout all this, I had a book that I really liked, called RUN.  And though I had done all the above, no book publisher would touch RUN with a ten foot cattle prod.  Largely, I suspect, because it was very hard
to figure out how to market it: it was a sci-fi/suspense/horror/thriller/apocalyptic novel with romantic elements.  There is no shelf for that at Barnes & Noble.

But I believed in the book, dangit!  So I researched around, and discovered self-publishing through Amazon’s Kindle service.  I decided I didn’t have much to lose, since RUN was just sitting on a shelf anyway, so decided to try my hand at self-publishing an e-book on Kindle.

Within a few months, RUN became a bestseller, topping Amazon’s sci-fi chart, and eventually becoming the #61 item available for Kindle, out of over ten million books, games, puzzles, and blogs.  I also published a young adult fantasy called Billy: Messenger of Powers which has hovered on various genre bestseller lists on Amazon for the better part of a year now.  And followed those up with another e-book, and another, and another.  Some of the others became bestsellers, some didn’t.  But all have made money, and all have increased my fan base.

Now I don’t say this to brag, but I want you to understand I know a bit whereof I speak.  Through the process, I have learned the ins and outs of Kindle publishing (and e-publishing in general), learning as much from what didn’t work as from what did.  And that’s why I’ve come up with these four important things to do:

1)  Make a kickin’ cover

This is one place where approximately 99% of self-published authors get it wrong.  Look at most self-published books, and they look less professional.  And like it or not, a lot of people go strictly off the cover.  You have about ten seconds to wow them with your cool cover before they click the button and move on to another book.  For the Kindle edition of Billy: Messenger of Powers, I spent days upon days designing the cover.  Everything from the cover image, to the typeface, to the composition of the elements.  It was critical.  And it paid off.  Same for RUN, and another of my books, Rising Fears,
all of which have been praised for the fact that the covers are interesting enough to “hook” readers.  Some of my other covers aren’t as effective, or as professional looking, unfortunately.  And guess what? They also don’t sell as well.

2)  Market yourself

Here’s a fact of life in general: people generally don’t give you things for free.  You have to earn them.  And that includes getting people to read your work.  When I wrote Billy, I spent over a month designing a website ( that was interesting, conveyed a message about the book, and had a look and feel that I felt would intrigue people and make them want to find out more.  Same with the website for RUN (  And my own website,, took even longer.  But that was only the start.  I also had a Facebook “fan” page, a Twitter feed, and did the rounds of book and genre conventions.  Not to mention doing interviews, podcasts, guest blogs, and generally talking to anyone and everyone who would listen.  You have to do more than write a book.  You have to create an event.

3)  Have a grabby description

”What do you do when everyone you know – family, friends, everyone – is trying to kill you?  You RUN.”

That is the description on for my book RUN.  Two sentences that I spent an extremely long time writing.  Like the cover of your book, the production description is something that has to grab people, reel them in, and not let them go.  Some self-published authors think the best way to get someone to read their work is to describe every jot and tittle.  But in reality, the secret isn’t information, it’s captivation. You have to intrigue your (prospective) readers.  You have to leave them with serious questions that they want answered.  Describing what your book is about is less important than creating a specific feeling in the mind and heart of your audience: the feeling that they will be better off reading your book than not.

4)  Write something worth reading

This may seem obvious, but the fact of the matter is you have to have something pretty darn special.  I’m not saying this to depress anyone: I firmly believe that most people have great stories in them, and have the potential to learn how to tell them.  But make no mistake, it is something that takes practice, dedication, and perspiration. Writing is a skill.  It is a discipline.  Anyone can knock out a sentence or two.  But getting those sentences to grab a complete stranger to the point that he or she is willing to fork over hard-earned cash to read them is another matter.  Let alone getting them to like
the sentences enough that they want to tell their friends to spend their hard-earned cash on them.  Again, I really do believe that most people have it in them to do this.  But I also believe just as stridently that to get to that point takes practice, practice, and more practice.  I have spent thousands of hours learning how to write … and I continue to
learn.  Any author who wants to charm people into buying his or her work has to be willing to put in the effort to make it happen.  Because without the skill to back up your work, no matter how good your basic ideas are, they probably won’t sell.  There are exceptions (that’s right, Twilight), but for the most part a book has to be extraordinarily well-written in order to get people to buy it.

That’s not to say that everyone will like your book.  Some people don’t like RUN, or Billy: Messenger of Powers.  Or Harry Potter or anything by Stephen King or even the bestselling book of all time (the Bible).  But if you don’t care enough to develop your writing skills in service of your storytelling, you can bet that few (if any) will like it at all.

And so…

… there you have it, folks.  Again, I think most people have interesting stories to tell.  But without doing the four things above, the great story will probably sit quietly in a dark corner of your closet.  And that, my friends, is no fun at all.

Michaelbrent Collings is a bestselling novelist whose books RUN and Billy: Messenger of Powers have been bestsellers. He is also a produced screenwriter and member of both the Writers Guild of America and the Horror Writers of America. His blog is at, and you can follow him on Facebook at or on twitter @mbcollings.

You Have Nothing to Fear But That Big Hairy Spider Crawling Up the Back of Your Neck by Tristi Pinkston

The Top Ten Fears of Unpublished Writers:

10. What if my book doesn’t sell?

9. What if the stores won’t stock my book on their shelves?

8. What if no one will publish me?

7. What if no one likes what I’ve written?

6. What if I can’t get this ending/plot/scene right?

5. What if I used lay when it should have been lie?

4. What if the computer crashes and erases all my work?

3. What if I can’t write more than 40,000 words?

2. What if this is the stupidest story ever known to man?

1. What if I’m not really a writer?

I’d wager these fears sound familiar, if you’re an aspiring author. You might have put them in different order, and perhaps have thrown in some things like “finding time to write,” etc, but by and large, I think every new writer has these fears.

Now, let’s look at the other side of the coin.

The Top Ten Fears of Published Writers:

10. What if my book doesn’t sell?

9. What if the stores won’t stock my book on their shelves?

8. What if no one will publish me?

7. What if no one likes what I’ve written?

6. What if I can’t get this ending/plot/scene right?

5. What if I used lay when it should have been lie?

4. What if the computer crashes and erases all my work?

3. What if I can’t write more than 40,000 words?

2. What if this is the stupidest story ever known to man?

1. What if I’m not really a writer?

Notice anything? Yep—the published author has pretty much the same fears as the unpublished author. If you’re published, you may feel a little more confident over the whole lay/lie thing (I don’t) and you may feel that you’ve got a better handle on your scene structures, but deep down, we’re all the same. We all want people to like us, we all worry that our readers won’t like this new book as much as they did the last, and we wonder if our publisher will or will not accept our latest submission. A published author feels nervous while waiting for that acceptance/rejection letter, and it makes our day when we hear that someone liked our book.

I’m not telling you this to depress you — I’m telling you this so I can lead up to one simple, fundamental truth: getting published is not like waving a magic wand that will make all your problems go away and all your dreams come true. It will not make you more attractive, it will not make you an instant public speaker, and it will not ensure popularity. It will not boost your confidence. It will not make you a fabulous promoter.

You must work on all these things yourself.

You make yourself a better speaker. You make yourself good at promotion. You build your own confidence. And there is no reason on this great green earth why you should wait until you’re published to start working on these attributes.

Tristi Pinkston is the author of nine published books, including the Secret Sisters mystery series. In addition to being a prolific author, Tristi also provides a variety of author services, including editing and online writing instruction. You can visit her at or her website at

Clarity for Fun and Profit by Michaelbrent Collings

Be clear.

This is something that is both very easy sounding and extremely difficult. It is especially difficult in the realm of fantasy and science fiction, as well as other genre writing like horror or supernatural works. People read fiction to be transported to another place, to give them some experience that they would not otherwise have. The reader of a work of fiction must always and automatically “suspend disbelief” whenever reading: he must put away what he knows to be “true” in order to immerse himself in the “reality” of the story. This is why details can sink or save a book: too many things that don’t ring true, and the reader’s ability to suspend disbelief is undermined. The reader stops being an active participant in the book’s adventures, and turns instead into a critic, a scientist, an observer looking for what is wrong rather than enjoying what may be right.

And the idea of “suspension of disbelief” is nowhere more crucial than when writing fantasy, science fiction, or genre works. In addition to the first layer of suspension (the fact that the reader is not really participating in the fictional adventures of the book’s protagonists and antagonists), there is another layer of disbelief that must be dealt with: the question of magic. Of alien technologies. Of ghosts and specters. These “make believe” aspects of genre writing present a special problem, as they inherently inhibit the reader’s ability to put aside the “real” in favor of the “read.”

The best way to deal with this problem is a facet of the critical characteristic of clarity. The best genre work always takes place in fully realized “worlds” with clear, easily-understood (or at least fairly easily-understood) “rules.” The presence of such rules can mean a fantasy windfall. Their absence can mean disaster.

One example of this is the blockbuster hit The Sixth Sense, one of the top-grossing suspense/supernatural thriller movies of all time. The rules are set up very early on in the movie: the movie’s young protagonist can see ghosts. The ghosts do not know they are dead. He can help them “move on” by finding out what unfinished business it is that they are remaining to deal with. These simple rules set the scene for both an engaging ghost story and one of the greatest surprise endings in modern cinematic history. And the surprise is complete and utterly earned because it follows the rules. 

Another example of literary rule-making is in The Lord of the Rings saga. There, Tolkien draws upon a much wider palette in order to paint an epic portrait of an entire world at war. Unlike The Sixth Sense, which is an intimate, almost claustrophobic movie, The Lord of the Rings follows dozens of characters throughout the various landscapes of Middle Earth. The magic use is prolific and varied. But still, there are rules, and they are scrupulously adhered to. Elves have a natural inclination toward and protective sense over all things of nature. Dwarves prefer to be underground. Gandalf the Gray is quite a different person than Gandalf the White. Each has set characteristics, set attributes, and these are as unchanging as the DNA of any real human being.

A final example (if I may) can be found in my own work. One of my books is called Billy: Messenger of Powers. It’s a young adult fantasy about a boy who finds himself embroiled in a magical war between two groups: the Dawnwalkers, who want to protect and serve humanity; and the Darksiders, whose goal is nothing less than world domination. As with The Sixth Sense and The Lord of the Rings, clarity is key. Billy (the hero) is drawn into a world of magic and wonder. But the wizards and witches he meets can’t just run around “doing spells” willy-nilly: there are rules, and those rules must be laid out with enough clarity that the reader not only understands the world of the story, but believes in it.

Simply put, clarity is key in all fiction, but critical in sci-fi, fantasy, and other genre work.. A muddled magic system, an alien technology that is capable of some things one moment then incapable the next, these can be the genesis of confusion in the reader…and signal the death knell for an otherwise viable series.

Michaelbrent Collings is a bestselling novelist whose books RUN and Billy: Messenger of Powers have been bestsellers. He is also a produced screenwriter and member of both the Writers Guild of America and the Horror Writers of America. His blog is at, and you can follow him on Facebook at or on twitter @mbcollings.

Creating a Character’s Backstory Part 2 by Rebecca Talley

Understanding a character’s backstory will have a dramatic impact on your novel. If you don’t understand, or take the time to investigate, your character’s backstory, your story will suffer and your characters will feel more like cardboard stereotypes than living, breathing people.

What are some ways to create the backstory?

Narrative. You can write out the major events in the character’s life in the form of a narrative. You can add different details, bits of conversation, and a description of the events that have shaped your character. Keep your narrative to 1-3 pages—more for the major characters and less for the minor ones.

Interview. You can conduct an interview with your character. Ask whatever question pops into your mind and then write down the answer. Use each answer as a springboard for the next question. You may be surprised at some of your character’s answers.

List. You can list the events chronologically with a short description of how each event affected your character. Lists are easy to scan for the details you need to form your character’s backstory.

Web. You can write your character’s name in the middle of the paper and then write events around the name. You can then connect feelings, descriptions, and/or reactions to those events so that you eventually end up with a document that resembles a spider web.

Visual. Cut out magazine photos to represent events and then write a description of how this affected your character. Use active words to describe your character’s reactions.

The purpose of creating a backstory is to help you understand what motivates your character. You want your character to react realistically to your plot events and you want readers to believe that your character acts realistically within the story.

If your character is presented with the news that her father has died how will she react? Will she breakdown into tears? Shrug? Be happy? Sink into depression? Feel guilty? It all depends on the backstory you’ve created for her. While you won’t include all the details of the character’s backstory, you will need to pepper your story with some of the details so the reader believes the reactions to the events in the plot.

It’s all about the suspension of disbelief. The more you understand your character and portray her realistically on the page, the more your readers will immerse themselves in your story.

Rebecca Talley grew up in Santa Barbara, CA. She now lives in rural CO on a small ranch with a dog, a spoiled horse, too many cats, and a herd of goats. She and her husband, Del, are the proud parents of ten multi-talented and wildly-creative children. Rebecca is the author of a children’s picture book “Grasshopper Pie” (WindRiver 2003), three novels, “Heaven Scent” (CFI 2008), “Altared Plans” (CFI 2009), and “The Upside of Down” (CFI 2011), and numerous magazine stories and articles. You can visit her blog at

Creating a Character’s Backstory Part 1 by Rebecca Talley

A character’s backstory is important to your story. You won’t use all that you create as the character’s backstory, but knowing it will help you create deeper, more interesting characters.

You can fill out a questionnaire about your character and list answers to the questions. However, this is a simplified approach and will probably not result in a complex understanding of your character.

Dig deeper to understand why your character would react a certain way in a specific situation. How would your character react to being locked in a closet? Would he freak out? Would he sit back and catch up on some sleep? Would he try to figure out how to get out and keep working at it until he escaped? Would he scream until someone came to let him out?

Each of the above situations would depend on the character’s backstory. Perhaps, as a young child he nearly suffocated under a pile of blankets and since then he’s been afraid of small enclosures. He fears that a small enclosure will mean certain death so he freaks out whenever he’s in a small place.

Maybe he’s so calm and relaxed that he’d sit back and sleep in locked closet. Maybe he faced a previous situation and decided then and there to never worry or stress out in any situation. He feels sure things will always work out for the best.

Maybe your character is extremely curious and always took things apart as a kid to figure out how they worked. Maybe he’s certain he can get out of any situation just by using his brain–he’s learned to depend on his smarts to get him out of all situations.

Or, maybe he’s a big crybaby because he was always picked on as a kid and now he thinks he’s a victim in all circumstances. He feels like his only defense is to depend on someone else to help him. He doesn’t look to himself to solve his problems, but rather looks to everyone else.

Knowing the backstory of your character will help you to understand how and why he’ll react to the situations you create in your plot. Characters must have realistic motivations and the best way to achieve that is to know and understand their backstories.

What are some ways to create a backstory? Read Part 2 tomorrow.

Rebecca Talley grew up in Santa Barbara, CA. She now lives in rural CO on a small ranch with a dog, a spoiled horse, too many cats, and a herd of goats. She and her husband, Del, are the proud parents of ten multi-talented and wildly-creative children. Rebecca is the author of a children’s picture book “Grasshopper Pie” (WindRiver 2003), three novels, “Heaven Scent” (CFI 2008), “Altared Plans” (CFI 2009), and “The Upside of Down” (CFI 2011), and numerous magazine stories and articles. You can visit her blog at

Finding God Among Witches, Ghosts and Serial Killers by Michaelbrent Collings

I am often asked how I come up with my ideas. The answers range. For my book RUN, I visited a working silver mine and decided that I had to write a book that had a chase scene set in a mine.

For my young adult novel Billy: Messenger of Powers, I got the idea when my wife told me in no uncertain terms that if I didn’t write something that did NOT involve people running away from serial killers, ghosts, or other malcontents (i.e., she wanted something she could read without having to put the police on speed-dial and turning on all the lights in the house first), she was going to divorce me. I took those words to heart, and wrote Billy: Messenger of Powers. So apparently ideas can come from a variety of places, and be fruitful and effective.

There is another question I am occasionally asked, however, that fascinates me even more than “How do you get your ideas?” That question is: “How do you write about such (at times) horrific things… and still claim that you are a religious person?”

The answer: Very easily.

I am a deeply religious person. I go to church every single week, I have held numerous ecclesiastical positions, and I even served as an unpaid, full-time missionary for my church. So it is no surprise (to me at least) that my faith colors everything I do… even when I’m writing about a serial killer.

Often, in fact, both the villains AND the heroes of my works are people “of faith.” Again, using the book RUN as an example, one of the heroes is a man named Adam (yes, the biblical name is on purpose) whose sole purpose is nothing less than securing the safety of humanity as a species. In so doing, he is constantly faced by choices that he must answer within his moral framework.

On the flip side of the coin, the antagonist of the book is a man named Malachi (again, not a coincidence), who views it as a mission from God to destroy all life on the planet. Together, these men serve as a kind of spectrum of theological thought, and allow me to treat religious questions from within the framework of (hopefully) an exciting novel.

Not that RUN is preachy. At least, I hope it isn’t. But I have found that as a writer, it is not only a fruitless quest to “divorce” myself from my spirituality, it actually makes for a much more interesting, layered book when questions of faith and belief are discussed. Most people, in the U.S. at least, still count themselves as people with some religious or spiritual belief, and so adding that dimension to my characters not only makes them more accessible, but more interesting and real.

Not only that, but using faith as a foundation for my writing allows me to draw on deep spiritual archetypes that would otherwise be unavailable to me. In Billy: Messenger of Powers, the main character is a young boy who discovers that he is the key player in a war between two sets of magical camps: the Dawnwalkers, who fight to perserve humanity’s freedom of choice; and the Darksiders, whose goal is to enslave all “normal” people. This consciously mirrors a key tenet of my own belief system: that God exists to give people freedom and allow them to discover their potential as His children, while the devil’s key aims are and always have been to bind human beings in chains of sin and misery. This belief is mirrored by many people globally, and having it in my story allows me to tap into subconscious beliefs that my reader’s have. This not only props up the plot of Billy: Messenger of Powers, but make it a better, deeper, and ultimately more thought-provoking and enjoyable read.

There are those who argue that the arts should be more secular – one only has to take a look at the average television network lineup to see how much religion has been stripped out of our daily lives when it comes to entertainment. But I think that art serves its best purposes when it reflects the purposes and values of the ultimate Creator. That is not to say that I believe everything has to be shiny and happy, or that every story can only have “good” people in it (I’m pretty sure that even the Bible has a bad guy or two in it).

But I DO think that it is our responsibility as artists and our privilege as children of God to create things that empower, edify, and enlighten. And the best way to do that is not to deny faith, but to embrace it and make it a living, breathing part of all that we do.

Michaelbrent is a bestselling novelist whose books RUN and Billy: Messenger of Powers have been bestsellers. He is also a produced screenwriter and member of both the Writers Guild of America and the Horror Writers of America. His blog is at, and you can follow him on Facebook at or on twitter @mbcollings.

Tips for the Writing Mommy by Tristi Pinkston

I’m a stay-at-home mom, a homeschooler, the owner/operator of a bath and beauty company, I write blogs for, I’m the Wolf leader in my ward, and I’m an LDS historical fiction novelist. No wonder I’m so tired – after typing all that, I think I need to go take a nap.

People ask me all the time how I manage to balance everything. Well, truth be told, I don’t always. You don’t want to drop by my house unexpectedly or you’ll never know what you’ll find. We live in organized chaos. I stay up too late at night and I admit there are days when I feel like I’m chasing my tail. But there are a few things I’ve learned that I’d like to share with you in hopes that it will help make your schedule a little more conducive to writing. Or for that matter, finding time to do any other thing you’d like.

1 – Meals and Snacks

You don’t need to prepare an all-out meal from scratch three times a day. You can do cold cereal for breakfast once in a while, you know. You can also do cheese, crackers and lunch meat for lunch. I do try to prepare “actual dinners,” as my daughter puts it, and I do make breakfast and lunch, but on days when I’m seriously writing, I let mealtimes become more casual. Some ideas:

a. Keep yogurt in your fridge for a quick snack for you or the kids. Yogurt and a banana make a great breakfast, too.

b. Take a loaf of bread and make it into a whole stack of sandwiches. Then slide the sandwiches back into the bread sack. When someone needs a sandwich, they can just grab one out of the fridge.

c. Designate one crisper in your fridge to be a “snack drawer.” Fill it up with apples, cheese sticks, yogurt, etc. When your children want a snack, tell them to go get something out of the “snack drawer.” You can do the same thing in your cupboard. Make a basket with pretzels, crackers, etc. and have that be the special “snack basket.” You can take sandwich bags and break the boxes down into serving sizes and tell them they can have one, so they don’t run off with the whole box.

d. Make meals ahead of time and stick them in the freezer.

e. When I buy a package of meat, I like to cook it all up and then freeze it, cooked. That way, when I go to use it, I just have to warm it through instead of defrosting and then cooking it.

f. Make tomorrow’s dinner while you’re making tonight’s. Especially if you’re using cooked meat, you can assemble tomorrow’s dinner, cover it and put it in the fridge. Then just throw it in the oven tomorrow night.

g. Teach your older children how to make sandwiches, warm up soup, etc. They get a sense of pride in their accomplishments when they are allowed to help make a meal.

h. If you have younger children, make some sippy cups with milk, juice and water in them. Then when the child gets thirsty, they can either grab one themselves or you can send your older child to get it for them. It’s a lot less expensive than juice boxes, that’s for sure.

These are all things you can either direct from your computer or will help you spend less time in the kitchen = more time at the computer.

2 – Entertaining the Troops

a. It’s not a sin to let your children watch TV. I don’t mean to stick them in front of it for hours on end and let them watch whatever comes on; there are definite dangers in allowing entire days in front of the TV, and with the programming that’s on, you never know what they might be subjected to. But there are some fabulous programs on that are fun and educational, as well as great DVDs. My kids have learned a lot from shows like CyberChase, Stanley, Reading Rainbow, Sesame Street, The Magic School Bus, and the like. There’s nothing wrong with turning on the TV and letting your kids watch a show while you write.

b. Get some paper and crayons and let your kids “write” a book of their own while you’re working.

c. Ask older children to read to the younger ones.

3 – Adjusting Your Sleep

This one’s hard. But consider getting up earlier than your kids or staying up late after they go to bed. It will do a number on your own sleep but you’ll have a sense of contentment that may help make up for some of that lack.

4 – Housework

a. I have to get up and walk around periodically. So while I’m doing that, I’ll change out the laundry and put in a load of dishes. Usually by the time I’m done doing that, I’ll be ready to get back to work.

b. It’s not a sin to teach your children to do chores. The happiest children are the ones who feel that they are valuable in their homes and who have a sense of purpose. When you teach your children to do chores, you are helping them to feel needed. Of course, keep the chores age-appropriate. My 10-year-old can vacuum, and my 8-year-old can wipe up the bathroom mirrors and counter top. My five-year-old can unload the dishwasher. I even have my older kids stand on chairs to get the laundry out of the washer and put it in the dryer. They all love helping me make dinner. As they get older, I’ll teach them to do other things. This not only clears up five minutes of time for me here and there, but when we work together to turn a half-hour job into a ten-minute job (freeing up twenty minutes) we’re drawing closer together.

c. Reevaluate your thinking about housework. Mold is obviously not good. It’s important to have clean towels and clothes, and feeding your family is a good thing. But if you can give up something to give yourself time to write, think about doing it. Are there ways you could simplify your routines? Can you delegate more to your husbands? Can you put up with toys scattered across the floor for a little while so you can finish your chapter? Is it necessary to have all your dishes perfectly stacked all the time? When you’re on a roll with your book, it’s okay to let some things slide until you’re done.

5 – Organizing Your Time

Yeah, this tip’s not a piece of cake either. When you’ve got other people in the house and they have needs, it’s sometimes impossible to create the chunks of time you need.

a. One thing I do is to create Days. What I mean by that is, Wednesday, for instance, is Scout Day. After lunch I sit down and review what I need to do to prepare for the Scouts to come at 4:30. I’m not writing during this time, or grocery shopping, or anything else. It’s devoted to Scouts. I get ready for them to come, they come, and then after they leave, I look at next week’s meeting. I do any ahead-of-time prep work that needs doing, and if I need to buy something, I put it on my shopping list. I record what they got passed off and make notes on what they need to do next. Then, with the exception of getting whatever I might have put on the shopping list, I don’t think about it until the next Wednesday. Monday is the day I use to make the products for my business, unless I have an emergency order. When I was a Stampin’ Up! distributor, Tuesday was my prep day for that. Look at your life – are there certain tasks you can isolate to one day a week?

b. Create an errand day. I used to have the tendency to run out and do errands several times a week, and I found I was away from home a lot. Now what I do is designate an errand day. This usually coordinates with Pay Day. I’ll sit down and pay bills, and then I’ll go out and do all my grocery shopping, trip to the post office, to the bank (if needed) library, Blockbuster, etc, all at once. It makes for about a three-hour trip, but it’s better for me to get it done at once. Now, of course, in between times I still run to the library and Blockbuster (who could go for two weeks without books and movies?) and I do mail books and products as the orders come in. But I try to do it in chunks so that I’m home more often.

c. And again, with the sleep thing I already mentioned. I’m usually up until around 2 am, the main reason for this being that my husband works the night shift and so I like to stay up to see him off. But from 9:00 when all the kids are in bed (supposedly) until I wake my husband up to get ready for work, I can be at the computer, or reading a book, or watching a movie. With the book and movie reviews I write for, I need to make time for that in my schedule as well.

I think the main thing we need to do is find a way to create balance. You can write and take care of your children at the same time. I recently moved my computer into the living room (it was in my bedroom) so I could be in the thick of things. Right now, my two-year-old is five feet to my left, watching “Blue’s Clues.” I know he’s safe, I know he’s learning, and I’m writing. If you’re totally ignoring your kids in order to write, it won’t be as satisfactory to you. But if you totally ignore yourself and your own talents and ambitions, you won’t derive the kind of satisfaction from motherhood that you should. Take care of yourself so you can take care of your kids.

Tristi Pinkston is the author of eight published books, including the Secret Sisters mystery series. In addition to being a prolific author, Tristi also provides a variety of author services, including editing, coordinating blog tours, and online writing instruction. You can visit her at or her website at

Writing Fiction: Using the Senses by Rebecca Talley

When writing fiction, it’s important to utilize as many of the senses as possible.

The more you can include the senses: sight, sound, smell, touch, or taste the more your readers will “feel” your story.

As writers, we tend to use sight most frequently. We describe what our characters see more often than any other sense. We are visual and that comes out in our writing.

The next most used sense is sound. We write what our characters can hear. This adds more dimension to our stories, especially when we combine it with sight. Usually, sight and sound seem to describe enough. However, we are shortchanging our readers when we only use sight and sound.

When I was a kid, I used to go to the beach all the time. I’d stop at the snack shop and for a few pennies I’d buy green apple bubble gum and chew it while I was at the beach. To this day, whenever I smell green apple bubble gum, I think of the beach. Similarly, whenever I smell a certain perfume I always think of my mother. Coffee and burned toast remind me of spending the night at my grandmother’s house. Think about smells in your life and how they remind you of certain events. The same can be true for your writing. You can evoke a certain mood by including specific scents.

You can also pull readers further into your story by including touch. Was something rough, smooth, cold, hot, slimy, sticky, or gritty? Including touch can enhance your scene and involve your reader more fully in your writing.

The same is true for taste. Can your character taste the salt on her lips while she walks along the seashore? What about the tinny taste of blood in your character’s mouth after he’s been hit in the face? Use taste to bring your scene to life.

To develop more sensitivity to your senses try keeping a sense journal for a few days, or longer. Write down everything you see, hear, touch, smell, or taste. You’ll find that as you keep this journal, you’ll become more aware of your senses and then you’ll be able to use them more effectively in your writing.

Rebecca Talley grew up in Santa Barbara, CA. She now lives in rural CO on a small ranch with a dog, a spoiled horse, too many cats, and a herd of goats. She and her husband, Del, are the proud parents of ten multi-talented and wildly-creative children. Rebecca is the author of a children’s picture book “Grasshopper Pie” (WindRiver 2003), three novels, “Heaven Scent” (CFI 2008), “Altared Plans” (CFI 2009), and “The Upside of Down” (CFI 2011), and numerous magazine stories and articles. You can visit her blog at

Integrating Your Facebook Fanpage (Pt 3) by Michael Young

The last step in maximizing your Facebook Fanpage is to integrate that page into your website, blog and other social networking sites.

Phase 3: Integrating Your Page

1. Link to your new fanpage.
Put a link or button to your new fanpage on your regular Facebook profile, your blog, and anywhere else you can think of.

You can find some nice buttons and instructions for installing them at There are other places to get buttons too, but this is the one I use.

2. Sync your fan page.
If you like, you can sync many popular blogging platforms with your Facebook fanpage. I have my Blogger-based website to update my Facebook fanpage every time I write a new post with a link to that post on my fanpage wall.

[LDSP: A simple way to do this is using the Notes function on FB or an app like Networked Blogs. Both are quick, easy and automatic once you set them up. Fans can read your entire post without visiting your blog.

Or another option is to use a program like HootSuite. It takes a little more work, but it lets you schedule which blog posts to sync, including archived articles. HootSuite allows you to offer a teaser on your FB page, but then the reader has to click to your blog to read your actual article.

There are pros and cons to both options. Pick the one that works for you.]

There are many other aspects of a fanpage, but that should be enough to get you started. It is a great place to announce things and interact with fans.

You can take a look at what I have done at my page:, or if you have any questions about how to set up and configure your own page, feel free to shoot me an email:

Good luck!

Michael D. Young is the author of the novels The Canticle Kingdom and The Last Archangel. He is also the author of the inspirational pamphlet “Portrait of a Mother”. His work has been featured in various online and print magazines such as Mindflights, The New Era, Allegory, and Ensign. You can visit him at his website,, and his facebook fanpage,

Customizing Your Facebook Fanpage (Pt 2) by Michael Young

After you’ve created your Facebook fanpage, you need to customize it to fit your needs and to maximize exposure of your books.

Phase 2: Customize Your Page

1. Add content to your page.
Upload videos and photos of you at book signings, readings, school visits—anything that provides evidence that “hey, I’m a real author.” I have a picture of each one of my books with a comment that has information about it and a purchase link.

Photo of my book.

2. Fill out the info section.
Include more links, and a little more about yourself as an author, including what sorts of books you like to read. I also include my author biography here.

3. Get 25 fans as quickly as you can.
You will not be able to get a custom URL for your Facebook page until you have at least 25 fans. Post on your main profile about your page, send out emails, post to other social networks—do whatever you can to get 25 fans (people who “like” your page) as quickly as possible.

4. Rename your URL with a custom name.
When you first create your page, its URL with be: over which you have no control)

Not exactly something you can drop in a conversation or put on a bookmark. Once you have your 25 fans (likes), you can customize your URL.

To do this, click on “Edit Page” in the top right corner and then click on “Resources” on the left-hand menu. Finally, click on “Select a username”. You will then be able to choose a name, provided that it is not already taken.

NOTE: Think your name decision through very carefully. You with NOT be able to change it once you have set it.

I chose the name “authormichaelyoung” and now my URL reads Much easier.

5. Create Custom Tabs and Pages:
There are many free programs that will allow you to create custom tabs on your Facebook fanpage, which enhance the look and utility of the page. Here are a few I’ve used. (There are many more.)

  • The free version allows you to create a custom landing page that new visitors to your page will see. It is easy to customize and produces great results. (I have one for my page. If you haven’t “liked” it yet, you should see it when you pull it up. If you have, you can click on the “Welcome” tab to see it.)

  • This is an amazing free site that allows you to create stress-free giveaways. They have instructions on their site once you have registered about how to create a “Giveaways” tab on your Facebook page. Check out my page to see what this looks like.

  • If you search for Goodreads on Facebook, you can gain access to a free app that will display your books and reviews from Goodreads as a tab on your Facebook page. You need to register as an author as first.

Tomorrow: Phase 3: Integrating Your Page

Michael D. Young is the author of the novels The Canticle Kingdom and The Last Archangel. He is also the author of the inspirational pamphlet “Portrait of a Mother”. His work has been featured in various online and print magazines such as Mindflights, The New Era, Allegory, and Ensign. You can visit him at his website,, and his facebook fanpage,

Creating Your Own Facebook Fanpage, Part 1 by Michael Young

This is part 1 of a 3 part tutorial on creating and customizing a Facebook Fanpage—something EVERY published author should have. ~LDSP

Let’s face it. As an author, you don’t necessarily want to share everything will your fans. You probably don’t want to them all to see every picture of your kids or the invite to your family barbecue with an occasional message about your writing.

Instead, you want to use your Facebook page to build your brand as a writer with a specific message to your specific fans. Luckily, building such a page is both simple and can be completely free.

Here is a list of simple steps that will take you from square one to…a much more advanced square.

Phase 1: Create Your Page

1. From your Facebook account, click on “Pages” on the left hand menu.

2. Click on the button that says “Create a Page”.

3. Select “Artist, Band or Public Figure” and then choose “Author” from the dropdown menu.

4. Choose a name and agree to the terms.

5. Choose a profile image. (The cover of one of your books works well, or your author headshot)

6. Invite your friends and announce the creation of your page on your main profile.

7. Enter the address of your website or blog and a short description that gives visitors an idea of what you write.

8. Viola! Your page is born.

Tomorrow: Phase 2: Customize Your Page

Michael D. Young is the author of the novels The Canticle Kingdom and The Last Archangel. He is also the author of the inspirational pamphlet “Portrait of a Mother”. His work has been featured in various online and print magazines such as Mindflights, The New Era, Allegory, and Ensign. You can visit him at his website,, and his facebook fanpage,

NaNoWriMo: Plot and Conflict by Danyelle Ferguson

The count down is on. One week left before your sprint to 50K begins. Are you ready?

If you’re like me, then the answer is, well, not quite.

You see, I’ve been going through my story files and it’s taken forever to narrow the choices down to THE ONE. But now that I have THE ONE, I’m looking at it and all I have is a blurb about the main character and a couple of scene ideas. Which means I’m so not ready for NaNoWriMo.

What to do? What to do?

The answer: PLOT & CONFLICT

To succeed at NaNoWriMo, you need to have at least a general outline of the book’s plot. Just to know where the story is going. This outline is not set in stone. In fact, it will probably take some twists and turns you weren’t expecting as you write and get to know your characters better. But believe me, that general outline is a life saver when you’re getting ready for a word sprint, but you aren’t sure where the next scene needs to lead you.

I did some Googling and found some excellent resources to develop plots for NaNoWriMo.

NaNoWriMo Prep: Plot Development and Profile Worksheets, Visualizing Collage and More by Iconclastic Writer

  • This blog post has AWESOME worksheets you can download for free. Isn’t free such a happy word?

Tools to Help You Plot Your NaNoWriMo Novel by Jennifer Blanchard @ Procrastinating Writers

  • On this blog post, you’ll find a bunch of different plotting techniques, including using index cards & the fabulous Larry Brooks Story Structure series.

Now, on to conflict – the wonderful device that drives your story. This is when you call up your writers group and host a brainstorming session. Write down gobs of conflict ideas – both internal and external. Josi Kilpack once said (and I’m totally paraphrasing & adding some of my own words – but it’s her concept) that you need to put your character up in a tree. You start off by throwing rocks at him, then even bigger rocks, until you bring in a catapult and launch boulders at the poor sucker. Bring in the soldiers and shoot arrows at the dude. And just when you think he might surrender – set the tree on fire!

Conflict, Conflict, Conflict.

That is what you need to keep your story moving, flowing, and interesting. And if you need some inspiration, check out this sweet little puppy.

Now, I need to get moving on my plot outline and call some friends to set up a brainstorming session. How’s your plotting going? Are you ready?

Danyelle Ferguson is the author of (dis)Abilities and the Gospel: How to Bring People with Special Needs Closer to Christ. She’s also a public speaker to churches and disability groups, freelance editor and book reviewer. She lives in Kansas with her hubby and four angels-in-training. For more information, you can check out her blog ( or her website (

NaNoWriMo: What’s Your Goal? by Danyelle Ferguson

[Stepping up the NaNoWriMo posts because it starts in a week! Sign up HERE.]

I love National Novel Writing Month. It’s a great way to kick your tush into gear and challenge yourself. The traditional goal of NaNoWriMo is to write 50,000 words in 30 days.

But what if you already know life isn’t going to cooperate so you can achieve it. Does that mean you should just ditch the challenge all together?

No way!

Set a goal that works for YOU.

If something major is happening that will require the majority of your time and attention, then adjust your word count goal. Maybe it will be to hit 25K. Setting a goal and putting a word counter on your computer desktop, blog or website, will motivate you to take 30 minutes to get out a couple hundred words. If you do that four times a day, you could average 800-1,000 words a day. Multiply that by 30 and you’ve reached your goal! If that still sounds like too much, then adjust the word count.

If you don’t set a goal, then you may put your writing aside for the whole month. Give yourself the opportunity to take on the challenge.

What if you just finished another manuscript and don’t have another one plotted out yet?

Well, you have two options: 1. You’ve got about 10 days to do some plotting and brainstorming, then just jump in and see where it leads you, or 2. You can set your goal to edit, rather than write. That’s perfectly fine.

The important thing about National Novel Writing Month is to be working on your novel. Whatever stage your in, set a goal to give you a kick in the pants.

So, what’s your goal for NaNoWriMo?

Danyelle Ferguson is the author of (dis)Abilities and the Gospel: How to Bring People with Special Needs Closer to Christ. She’s also a public speaker to churches and disability groups, freelance editor and book reviewer. She lives in Kansas with her hubby and four angels-in-training. For more information, you can check out her blog ( or her website (

Writing Devices by Rebecca Talley

You can change the feeling of your writing by employing some writing devices.

For example, if you are writing a tense scene where the protagonist is being threatened, short, choppy sentences will enhance the feeling you’re trying to create. Fast-paced scenes need shorter sentences to convey that quick movement. Think of a quickened heartbeat and you get the idea of how your sentences should be constructed.

Conversely, if you’re writing a love scene you’ll want to have longer, more flowing sentences to add to the romantic feel of the passage. Draw the scene out by using more words, even flowery descriptions, to communicate a sense of love and romance.

Other writing devices include:

Alliteration: using several words with the same beginning sound/letter. Example: “Across the arid Arizona desert she argued with herself for allowing him to confuse her again.”

Onomatopoeia: the word consists of the sound it makes. Example: “I heard the whoosh of the water a moment before it hit me.”

Anaphora: using the same word or phrase to begin three or more consecutive sentences. Example: “He knew she loved him. He knew she couldn’t live without him. He knew it was only a matter of time and she’d be his.”

Asyndeton: when using a list of three or more items, omit the conjunctions. Example: “I was happy, jubilant, carefree, innocent.”

Polysyndeton: using conjunctions, such as “and” or “or,” multiple times in a sentence. Example: “She talked on and on and on.”

Epistrophe: using a key word or phrase at the end of successive sentences. Example: “She opened the front door, afraid he might be there. She tiptoed to the bedroom, afraid he might be there. She checked the basement, afraid he might be there.”

After you’ve written your first draft and it’s time to edit, you may want to include some of these writing techniques to enhance your writing.

Rebecca Talley grew up in Santa Barbara, CA. She now lives in rural CO on a small ranch with a dog, a spoiled horse, too many cats, and a herd of goats. She and her husband, Del, are the proud parents of ten multi-talented and wildly-creative children. Rebecca is the author of a children’s picture book “Grasshopper Pie” (WindRiver 2003), three novels, “Heaven Scent” (CFI 2008), “Altared Plans” (CFI 2009), and “The Upside of Down” (CFI 2011), and numerous magazine stories and articles. You can visit her blog at

NaNoWriMo: It’s Time to Step Up and Accept the Challenge by Danyelle Ferguson

It’s that time of the year when the air is crisp, roads are lined with a gorgeous flaming foliage, and writers worldwide prepare to be thrust into the hellish adrenaline rush of National Novel Writing Month, affectionately referred to as NaNoWriMo.

30 days of scraping every single spare moment to reach the NaNoWriMo goal of 50,000 words.

What? You think this doesn’t sound like that big of a deal? Did you miss my reference to hell?

My friends, we’re talking about a brand spanking new manuscript. A novel the writer has done nothing more than (hopefully) plotted out. When November 1st hits, writers everywhere glue their fingers to the keyboard and create the very first sentence that will lead them on a journey to fill over 100 typed pages. 100 pages! When was the last time you heard a student complain because he had to write a 10 page report in three weeks? They are wimps compared to the awesomeness of NaNoWriMo competitors.

But . . . but. . . . but . . .

No excuses! You CAN do this! And over the next few weeks, I’m going to blog about HOW you can reach, conquer, and surpass the NaNoWriMo 50K goal. Now, repeat after me:




Now get your mouse over here and click on this link to sign up for NaNoWriMo!

There are a few important things you need to do while you’re on the NaNoWriMo site:

  1. TIME ZONE: Under the tab “My NaNoWriMo”, go to “Edit User Settings”. It’s very important that you set your Time Zone. If you don’t set it correctly, it can totally backfire on you. Especially if you’re in the final hour of NaNoWriMo and finally hit your 50K goal, then go to verify your win on the official website . . . and you realize you put in your time zone wrong and your account is closed. I know people who’ve had this happen and it’s major, major suckage. So do it now, do it right, and then you can do the Happy Happy Dance and claim all your fabulous prizes at the end of the month.
  2. YOUR REGION: “Set My Home Region”. Here you can choose the region closest to you and join. There are a couple of reasons to do this. It’s fun to see how many writers are in your area. You can also track how many words your area has written compared to other areas. The best part is your region sets up Write Ins. These are locations where the region captains have talked with businesses, libraries, etc to set up times for NaNoWriMo participants to come together. There’s quiet writing time, a bit of socializing and – my favorite part – writing sprints! Last year, my goal was to attend two Write Ins each week – and they were totally worth it!
  3. NOTIFICATIONS: Under the tab “My NaNoWriMo”, go to “Set My Notifications”. The automatic settings have you unsubscribed to all notifications. I recommend that you subscribe to the Prep Talks, NaNo Videos, and your region emails.

There are some fun things you can do while on your NaNoWriMo account, too. You can fill out your author info, give a blurb about your book, and connect with other Writing Buddies. Towards the end of October, check out the Fun Stuff tab. There you’ll find updated badges to post on your blog or website, a word count widget, and other great stuff.

Update from NaNoWriMo website:

Drumroll please…. On October 7 at 10 AM Pacific, we are merging the user databases of the old and new websites in preparation for Monday’s launch. (Ten Ten! Fist pump!)

That is a fancy way of saying that if you update your profile, novel info, or user settings after 10 AM Pacific on Friday, your changes won’t show up when the site launches on Monday.

So, if you haven’t signed up for NaNoWriMo yet, wait until Monday morning. Be sure to put it on your phone’s calendar, sticky note attached to your monitor, or whatever works best for you to remember to get it done! =)


Danyelle Ferguson is the author of (dis)Abilities and the Gospel: How to Bring People with Special Needs Closer to Christ. She’s also a public speaker to churches and disability groups, freelance editor and book reviewer. She lives in Kansas with her hubby and four angels-in-training. For more information, you can check out her blog ( or her website (

Unique Blog Tour Tips by Danyelle Ferguson

Most authors – no matter if they are traditionally published or self published – set up their own blog tours. Some authors band together with peers who write in the same genre, then do a big blog tour together or contest together (like the Massive Romance Reader Squee Moment Ahead contest). Other authors send a “Call to Review” on their blogs or emails (See H.B. Moore’s blog post).

But what if you want to hit a broader market? Or you want to target certain niche readers? A great blog tour has reviewers with both small (100+) and big (1000+) follower counts, reviewers who have relationships with the author & reviewers who don’t know the author, and covers a variety of geographical locations.

For my book – (dis)Abilities and the Gospel – I wanted to get a wide variety of reviewers. Very few people on the tour were writer friends. My goal was to have a lot of reviewers who didn’t know me, who attended different churches, and who either had kids with cognitive disabilities or were church teachers who had someone in their class with a cognitive disability. Here’s how I found them:

First: Get Organized.
I’m a huge spreadsheet organization freak. It’s probably the only area I’m really good at keeping everything on track (Ask my hubby. I’m horrible at keeping my desk organized!) But spreadsheets – I can whip them out like crazy and keep track of gobs of things that way. And a good spreadsheet is essential when putting together a blog tour.

So, let’s get started. Create a spreadsheet with the following fields: Reviewer’s Name, Blog Title, Blog Address, Email Address, # of Followers, Target (for me this was either parent, church teacher, or book reviewer), Contacted On (date you emailed review request), Response, Scheduled Review Date and Review Copy Sent. Add blogs you are interested in to this list. Once you’ve done all your research, sort the list by number of followers and pick some of the bigger blogs and mark those lines in another color. Then sort the list by targets and see which demographics you need more of and mark those with a different color.

Then start sending emails to the bloggers. I had a lot of people return my emails saying they had never done a book review or participated in a blog tour. I sent them additional information, along with expectations for the tour (I gave them the option to choose a date within the tour time frame and told them I wanted their honest opinion about the book). Don’t be afraid to choose reviewers who don’t have book blogs, but have a connection to the topic related to in your book. During my tour, one of my reviewers was a cake decorator who had a child with autism. Her review not only introduced my book to a large group I wasn’t connected with, but was also picked up by several e-magazines. (See Topsy Turvy Cakes)

Start with Your Contacts
If you’re traditionally published, shoot an email over to your marketing team and ask if they have any blog book reviewers they recommend. My publisher actually had a few and even offered to send those bloggers review copies if they agreed to be on the tour.

I also emailed out to some disability and church groups I work with to see if they had recommendations, blogs they frequently went to for information, etc. If you write YA, email out to your nieces, nephews, church youth groups, your friends’ kids, etc and ask them what blogs they go to check out cool stuff.

Twitter was actually my best resource to discover new reviewers. If you’re not on Twitter, then you should start a profile. It’s a great way to connect with others – even if you don’t post on it daily. I try to go out once a week to socialize for about an hour.

On the Twitter homepage, there’s a link at the top that says “Who to Follow”. If you click on it, it brings you to a page with a search box. You can search for anything here (book reviewers, YA Romance, etc). You can also search for books that are like yours – for example, Matched by Ally Condie. Twitter searches through status updates and profile descriptions to suggest friends for you. For my tour, I searched for autism, LDS autism, Down syndrome, special needs, and church to name a few.I went through about a hundred profiles, checked out their activity and following. I also looked at who that person followed. I often found more good leads that way. After narrowing down who I wanted to review, I contacted them through either Twitter email or an email address that was listed on the profile.

Another tip is to do geographical searches – such as Autism Canada or Fantasy Reader Arizona.
Take advantage of hashtag searches too. Check out authors who write in the same genre as you and see what they are doing on Twitter. Elana Johnson did a huge Twitter promo for her book Possession using the hashtag #tagged. You could go through the postings with that hashtag to find readers who loved her book, then contact them to review your book.

Amazon & Goodreads
The awesome thing about Amazon and Goodreads is that they link to their reviewers profiles. Some of those reviewers list their websites or blogs. So you can check out books similar to yours and do some research on readers. Find a few who you really like, then send them an email through their website or blog.

Check Out Other Authors
It’s time to go hit the websites for all the big authors who write in your genre. Especially if you know of an author who has a book coming out in the next few months. They often list all the stops on their blog tour (Check out Ashley March’s pre-publication book tour). Go check out those reviewers and their guidelines. (BTW – Keep all this info in a spreadsheet for future reference!) To find more authors: Go to, type in an author’s name and hit enter, then check out the “Related Searches” results just under the search box.

In Closing
Putting together a good blog tour involves a bit of internet stalking sleuthing. But it’s totally worth it when you put together a completed list of reviewers from all over. The goal of a blog tour isn’t just to get (hopefully) awesome reviews, but to reach reader circles you currently don’t have connections with. Go for variety! Happy book tour scheduling!

Danyelle Ferguson is the author of (dis)Abilities and the Gospel: How to Bring People with Special Needs Closer to Christ. She’s also a public speaker to churches and disability groups, freelance editor and book reviewer. She lives in Kansas with her hubby and four angels-in-training. For more information, you can check out her blog ( or her website (

Don’t forget to vote for your favorite Christmas stories!

Voting ends at midnight, September 30th

The Myth of the Perfect Book by Tristi Pinkston

I have decided there’s no such thing as writing the perfect book.

We might write books that are funny and uplifting, dramatic and thought-provoking, or spiritual and enlightening. We might write books that take us to the edges of our strength and force us to push a little harder, to transcend everything we thought we were capable of, to create a new limit to break later on. We might cry as we outline. We might tremble as we write. We can sit back at the end and heave a great sigh and feel that we truly have done what we set out to do . . . and yet, the book is still not perfect.

There will always be typos. There will always be places where we could have shown when we told. There will always be times when we confuse a character’s name or forget to hide the key under the mat, thereby making the reader wonder how the hero got in. There will always be something to criticize, regardless of how good the book is.

But that doesn’t mean we stop writing.

It means we continue to push ourselves. We continue to stretch ourselves, finding our wings, exploring, expanding, striving. We never, ever give up. But we do it with the knowledge that someone, somewhere, is going to find something wrong with our book.

And that’s okay.

It means we’re human.

And it means we’ll take what we learned from the experience and be grateful for it. We’ll grow, we’ll hone our skills, and we’ll progress. A writer who refuses to learn, who refuses to stretch, will never truly reach the heights he otherwise could. It’s the bumps we encounter along the way that knock off our rough spots.

I’ve had a lot of bumps. But I’m grateful for them.

I can fly higher now than I ever could before.

Tristi Pinkston is the author of eight published books, including the Secret Sisters mystery series. In addition to being a prolific author, Tristi also provides a variety of author services, including editing, coordinating blog tours, and online writing instruction. You can visit her at or her website at

Don’t forget to vote for your favorite Christmas stories!

Voting ends at midnight, September 30th

To Outline or Not To Outline by Rebecca Talley

Writers are not only passionate about their writing, but many are just as passionate about whether or not to outline.

There are as many reasons to outline as to not outline. And, there are as many outlining techniques as there are writers. You have to ask yourself if you are an outline writer or a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants writer. No one can tell you what kind of writer you are, you have to make that decision yourself.

Some writers feel that using an outline curtails their creativity and boxes them into writing the story a certain way. Other writers feel that an outline allows them to be more creative because they’ve already made sure the storyline fits together. Then there are the writers who do a bit of both, they have a general outline but allow themselves freedom to explore other plot lines as they write.

It doesn’t matter what kind of writer you are, only that you use a system that allows you to make the most of your creativity.

Perhaps, the word outline conjures up memories of high school or college classes that required the Roman Numeral way of outlining. While that is certainly one way to outline, it’s definitely not the only way.

One way to outline is to write a narrative synopsis of the story and then write a few sentences for each chapter. You can then see your story as a whole as well as picture what will be included in each chapter.

Another way is to outline each scene within the chapter. You can write down the scene goal, the obstacles faced in the scene, and the ending disaster for that particular scene.

You can use notecards and write a synopsis on each card for each scene. This allows you the ability to move around scenes and chapters.

Some writers use a spreadsheet program such as Microsoft’s Excel and write a sentence for each scene on each row. You can also include what characters are in that particular scene. This method allows you to not only move scenes around, but you can also save your original outline if you need to go back.

Another way to outline is to use a notebook and dedicate each page in the notebook to each chapter. You can write a few sentences to describe what happens in that chapter, which characters are involved, notes about the scenes, questions you need to answer, and specific details you want to include.

Something that’s been useful to me is writing a one-sentence description of my story. I keep that sentence close by to keep me on target as I write. I go back to that sentence over and over again.

The most important aspect is to use what works best for you. You can even combine some of these suggestions to create your own outlining system. Don’t feel like you have to stick with one system throughout your writing. Experiment to find what works best.

Rebecca Talley grew up in Santa Barbara, CA. She now lives in rural CO on a small ranch with a dog, a spoiled horse, too many cats, and a herd of goats. She and her husband, Del, are the proud parents of ten multi-talented and wildly-creative children. Rebecca is the author of a children’s picture book “Grasshopper Pie” (WindRiver 2003), three novels, “Heaven Scent” (CFI 2008), “Altared Plans” (CFI 2009), and “The Upside of Down” (CFI 2011), and numerous magazine stories and articles. You can visit her blog at

A Guide to Signing at Costco by Tristi Pinkston

I was very blessed to have my sixth novel, Dearly Departed, picked up by Costco. I signed there regularly from the end of June to the end of August, and had a fantastic time. I’d like to share with you some of the things I learned during those two months in hopes that they’ll be helpful to other authors who will also be given that opportunity. Keep in mind that these are things that worked for me, and as you go into the stores, you may find your own ways of attracting customers. There are many ways to skin a cat, as the saying goes—although I never have understood why anyone would want to skin a cat.


There are a few things you can do at home before you ever go to the store that will help ensure your success. Eat a good meal with a lot of protein. Dress in nice, but comfortable, clothing. Wear supportive shoes. Yes, ladies, it’s tempting to wear your cute new high heels, but I really advise against it—your feet, ankles, knees, and hips will pay the price. I also found that I became very warm in the store, so after my first few visits, I started wearing my hair up in a clip rather than down. That helped me not overheat. You know what your body needs—honor it and prepare to take care of it.
I recommend that you prepare a bag or a box with the following things—
  • A cute tablecloth. Costco does provide one, but sometimes they are dusty or a little bedraggled, and if you bring your own, you can be sure that it’s in good condition and goes well with your book.
  • A table decoration of some kind. I was given a cute statue of a bookworm, and I sat him on my table at every signing. Not only did he give a little more visual interest to the table, but the little kids just loved him and would often stop to pat his head, which made their parents pause for a moment, which gave me the opportunity to speak with them.
  • A water bottle. You’ll be talking a lot, you’ll get thirsty, and you will want to keep yourself hydrated. [LDSP: and breath mints]
  • A handout. This may be one of the most important things you can bring. I’ll discuss this in more detail below.
At the Store:

Try to arrive fifteen minutes early. When you let the manager know you’re there, they will ask an employee to help you set up, and that usually takes a few minutes. You want to start your signing on time to fit in as many actual sales opportunities as possible, so by showing up a little early and getting set up, you can begin when you’re supposed to.
Put plenty of books on your table. It sometimes feels easiest just to grab one small stack from the table, but you want your table to look abundant. This also gives you, and your customers, a subliminal message: “I expect to sell a lot of books today.” That will create an atmosphere that is very conducive to sales.
Have everything you need out on the table. Signing pen, bookmarks, newsletter sign-up sheet—have it all accessible so that when you need it, you don’t have to stop and dig for it.
The Actual Signing:
Now that you’re all set up and ready to go, it’s time to have some fun!
Personal interaction is the best way to bring people over to your table. Some authors have already created such a name for themselves that they can sit quietly behind their table and they will get mobbed by scores of rabid fans. Other authors, though, are still working on building up their name recognition, and they do that by interacting with the public. Stand, rather than sit. When you stand, you are many times over more likely to attract attention. Smile and say hello to everyone who passes. And … here’s where handouts come into play.
Think of something you can bring with you to give people as they go past. I did bookmarks at first, and handed out hundreds per signing. But that wasn’t the best use of marketing money. Even though I did get a number of sales, the bookmarks were around six cents each, and if I handed out two hundred at a signing, it was adding up to $12.00 per signing for bookmarks. I was also afraid that the customers would just toss the bookmark at their earliest opportunity, and that would be a waste. So I came up with an idea that was unique to my books. I made up a black-and-white flyer on a half sheet of paper that showed the cover of my book and a catchy blurb, and then at the bottom was a recipe. This tied in with my book because at the end of the Secret Sisters Mysteries series, we’re releasing a cookbook that will feature the foods mentioned in all the books.
Then, as people went past, I would say, “Hi! Would you like a free recipe?” If they said yes, I would hand it to them and say, “There’s also some information on there about my new novel.” In this way, I got my information into their hands, called their attention to the fact that there was more on the sheet than just a recipe, and opened up the door for a conversation. Coming in at two for a penny, the fliers were more cost effective, and because people love to keep recipes, I decreased the likelihood that it would just be thrown away.
When They Say No …

Customers in Costco are very busy. I know that when I shop in there, I put myself in battle mode. I have a list, I know where I’m going, and I walk fast. My mom has often complained that she doesn’t like to go there with me because I walk so fast, she can’t keep up. That’s just the mentality of the Costco shopper. We know we need to have a firm objective or we’ll get lost in the hustle and bustle.
As people pass your table, they are very often in this mindset, and they will often say “no” before they even know what you want. This isn’t an uncommon exchange:
Me: Hi there! Would you like—
Them: No!
This isn’t something to take personally. To quote the Madagascar penguins, just smile and wave. (You don’t really need to wave, though.) Just turn to the next passing person. Most customers will be very appreciative of the thing you’re giving them, and will be polite in their refusals, if they aren’t interested.
After the Hand-off:
I believe that in any book signing situation, there are three steps the author should take in feeling out the customer and introducing their product. It has a lot to do with feeling out the customer’s interest level and showing respect by not being pushy. If you offer your information in a non-pushy way, that customer is likely to remember you kindly, and they may purchase from you down the road, even if they don’t today. If you’re pushy and in their face, they will remember it, and they will tell their friends, and you’ll build a reputation opposite to what you want.
The first step is what I think of as the introductory step. At Costco, I’ll greet people with an invitation to accept a recipe. As I hand over the recipe, I tell them there’s also a blurb on there about my new book. If they take the recipe and keep walking, I leave it at that. However, if they pause, we go into the second step.
This is to give them my quickest pitch about the book. In the case of Dearly Departed, it’s: “My main characters are three little old ladies who infiltrate a nursing home to solve a murder.” If they are still engaged, I then say, “It’s a lighthearted mystery comedy, a ton of humor all the way through, without any language or graphic violence.” At this point, they generally either thank me and keep walking, or they start to ask me questions.
It’s important to break up your pitch into sections like this so you can give just the right amount of information to meet the interest level of the person. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve:
  • been at a store and had an author or salesman give me a much longer pitch than I wanted to hear
  • been at a store and wanted to know more, but the author or salesman had prepared a pitch that was so short, I was left wanting, and they didn’t seem to know what to say after that
Be respectful of your customer’s time and don’t try to make them listen to more than they want to hear, but be prepared to have long conversations as well.
When Not to Approach:
To go along with our discussion of being respectful, I’d like to suggest that you not approach the following groups of people—
  • People on the phone
  • Mothers who are currently wrestling with screaming children
  • People who are visibly upset
In each of these instances, step back and give them space. They’re dealing with something bigger than their decision whether or not to buy a book, and to intrude would be rude and thoughtless.
Taking Note of Your Target Audience:
My book is about an elderly Relief Society presidency, so generally speaking, the people who buy my books are middle-aged ladies. When I am approaching people, I tend to naturally gravitate toward those ladies in my marketing efforts, and find myself more rewarded. However, this is not to say that we should ignore everyone else—it’s just saying that we need to be aware of which demographics are more likely to buy. I had a great conversation with a guy studying film making at UVU with an emphasis on horror. That may be about as different from what I do as you can get (except erotica) but we had a great conversation. He didn’t buy a book, but he took my information, and I was able to share some things with him that he found helpful. I also sold a book each to two Goth girls wearing plastic bras. It surprised the daylights out of me that they were interested because I hadn’t pegged them as people who would want what I had to offer, but they came up to me and asked me to sign two copies. This shows the importance of smiling and greeting everyone who passes, even if you think they aren’t likely to purchase.
Sometimes It’s Not about Sales:
During my two months at Costco, I had the opportunity to meet some amazing people. Several of them were aspiring authors who needed some guidance in how to take the next step. Some of them just needed someone to talk to at that moment, like the lady who was planning her husband’s funeral. To me, a successful signing isn’t measured by books sold. It’s measured by lives touched, both me being helpful to someone else, and the things I learn from the people I talk to.
Taking Care of Yourself:

We’ve talked about standing up, but now I want to talk about sitting down. It’s important that you not push your body further than it can go. If you’re not used to standing on hard floors for long periods of time, work up to it gradually. Sit down during slow times. Stay hydrated. Make sure that you’re not hurting yourself. It’s wonderful to have this Costco opportunity—it’s something only a small percentage of authors get to do—but approach it wisely and make sure you’re not hurting yourself. Know your limits and honor them.
Bringing Helpers:
You might find it helpful to bring someone along to help you, especially if you’re in one of the larger stores. I did several signings alone, and at other times brought my mom, my son, or my husband along, and in each case, found that having a helper was a good idea. They could hand out fliers to people while I talked to prospective customers. They held down the fort while I ran to the bathroom. They could refill my water bottle. Having a helper there can increase your productivity. It’s something for you to feel out for yourself, but I found it to be a good thing. And when it came to my son, it seems no one could resist his cute little face. Nearly every person he approached took a flier.
Most Importantly …
Have fun! You’re there to celebrate this awesome accomplishment—you are a published author and you have landed a spot in one of the most coveted sales venues in the nation. Enjoy it. Enjoy the people. Enjoy the chance to share what you love to do. If you find that nothing else I’ve said strikes a chord with you, I hope this does—leave the stress behind and just appreciate the moment. Your talents are being given a showcase. Your name recognition is about to skyrocket. Your opportunity for future sales is going to increase exponentially. You are planting seeds for a bounteous harvest later on. The expression “joy in the journey” is completely applicable here—even if you have a slow day, you are paving a path for your future as your information gets into people’s hands. I did a signing at Swiss Days in Midway and was told over and over, “I saw your book in Costco.” You become recognized, and in this industry, that’s a good thing.
My book is no longer being carried in Costco—you need to hit a certain sales bracket in order to remain in the store over an extended period of time, and because my book is a little more specialized, that didn’t happen. But I know my experiences there are going to help me in a ton of other ways, and I’m so happy for the chance I had to be a Costco author.

Tristi Pinkston is the author of eight published books, including the Secret Sisters mystery series. In addition to being a prolific author, Tristi also provides a variety of author services, including editing, coordinating blog tours, and online writing instruction. You can visit her at or her website at

An LDS Publisher Decides, “If you can’t beat them, join them.” by Jeffery S. Savage

An unnamed LDS publisher recently decided that since Young Adult novels with themes like paranormal romance and post apocalypse have been so incredibly successful in the national market, maybe they could take a swing at it themselves.

And here at LDSPublisher, we are first with not only the report, but also a video clip secretly taken during the decision making process.

Enjoy, and enjoy your first day of April!

Jeffrey Savage is the author of eight published books including the Shandra Covington mystery series, The Fourth Nephite series, and the Farworld fantasy series (writing as J Scott Savage.) You can visit his personal blog at Or e-mail him at jsavage at He does school visits, firesides and book clubs.

Take a Little Piece of My Heart by Jeffrey S. Savage

Over the past few months, I’ve had conversations with several other authors regarding the freedom of being able to tell their own story without interference from an editor. To clarify, none of the authors were suggesting they didn’t want an editor, but rather they didn’t want to have to significantly change their stories because an editor told them to. It felt to them like the editor was, in the words of Janice Joplin, “Taking a little piece of their heart” and changing their story. Admittedly, quite a few of the discussions were related to self-publishing their own books in one format or another, but I do not want to make this another self-publishing vs. traditional publishing knock down drag out fight. Instead I’d like to focus on a single issue.

How do you feel about an agent/editor requesting major changes to your story that you might not completely agree with?

First of all, let’s start with a basic premise. It is the job of an editor, for sure, and often an agent, to help you make your manuscript the best it can be. We might not feel the same about what they are seeing, but I think we can all concur they are trying to help us put out a better product.

Samantha Van Walraven of Covenant Communications describes it this way:

“As an editor, I feel like I have two hats when I am working on a book: I’m a general reader because I’m looking at the manuscript with fresh eyes the first time I see it, just like anyone else picking it up in the store, and I’m also a director, someone who has experience in the field and can sometimes see mistakes others never could, so it becomes my responsibility to help and guide an author to avoid those mistakes.”

But what constitutes better? Is it just proper grammar and getting rid of typos? Is it making the story flow more smoothly and the plot more believable? What if the change is not focused so much on the storytelling as it is on making the book itself more sellable?

I think we’ve all heard the story of the editor demanding more sex scenes in a book. The knee-jerk reaction we tend to have as LDS authors is, “That’s terrible! How can anyone demand I put something in my book that I am opposed to?” (Not saying that Mormons are opposed to sex per se, but . . . okay, I’m not going there.) Is it wrong to ask for more sex in a book?

Anyone who has published an LDS romance has probably had an editor ask them to cut something out because it might be objectionable to the audience buying the book. And even if you haven’t had that experience, you know that most LDS publishers have a set of rules on what you can and can’t put into a book. If it’s okay for an LDS publisher to say their audience has certain expectations, is it wrong for a national publisher to say the same thing, but with the opposite result?

I think every author has to answer that for themselves. I would never put something into a book that I didn’t feel morally good about. But I absolutely do understand that part of an editor’s job is to create a book that will sell well by resonating with their audience. I’m not advocating we all start throwing sex scenes in our books, but I am saying that if we don’t want to write the kinds of books a publisher is looking for—whether that publisher is a Christian publisher with strict guidelines or a publisher of steamy romances—we probably shouldn’t submit to them.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s move onto something a little grayer. Should an agent or editor ask you to make changes to your manuscript purely for the reason that he or she thinks it will make the story more appealing to book buyers, publishers, executive committees, etc? And how should you as the author react to that?

I’ll try to illustrate this with a personal experience. I currently have a project out with my agent. It’s not one that I have talked about publicly at all. This particular project is aimed at younger middle grade readers. It’s kind of a fun series of books that are scary, silly, and fifth grade boy gross at the same time. After I gave my agent the first half of the first book and the full outline for the rest of the book, he came back and asked me to make the ending not quite as dark. Personally, I didn’t think the ending was all that dark. I mean come on, it involves candy corn, shooting chocolate milk (and a worm) out of your nose, and a gross out contest. I also know that kids love scary books.

So what to do? He wasn’t saying that kids wouldn’t like the book. Or even that it didn’t work. He was saying that for this particular project, he wanted the series to feel scary, but “safe scary.” And the reason he was asking for it was because he felt that is what would sell. This is exactly what I have heard other authors complaining about. You want me to change my story because “you” think it will sell better? Is that selling out? Is it giving up my integrity if I make the change? Should I go with an agent or publisher who wouldn’t ask me to make changes because they would sell better?

Again, I can’t make that call for you. Only you as a writer can decide where you draw the line. For me, personally, I hired an agent for two reasons. Yes, I want to make more money, and I hope my agent can help me do that. But even more important, I want a career as a writer. I trust that my agent understands the market well enough to know what publishers—and readers—are looking for. I put my writing life in my agent’s hands, and what he is telling me is that he believes the feel at the end of my story is too dark for the publishers he has in mind. I could have responded in a lot of ways. But at this time in my life, at this point in my writing career, I chose to accept his advice and redo the ending. I am comfortable changing my story idea to match the market he has in mind.

Of course, even then, it’s not always that easy. Let’s say you’ve written your book, the publisher has accepted it, but during the writing process you’ve hit a roadblock. Your editor is requesting a change you are not comfortable making. Kirk Shaw, also of Covenant, has this to say.

“Typically, if an author strongly disagrees with a proposed edit, I’m always fine with finding another way to solve the problem, but if the problem is important enough, I will push for solving the problem—even if the solution to the problem is one of the author’s making (which I prefer, actually).”

Samantha went into even more detail.

“So what happens when I feel like I have run into a plot or character problem as either a general reader or director (or maybe both), but the author doesn’t agree with me? I take it in steps. First, I express my concern to the author and measure their reaction. I put forth a little bit of an argument in my opinion’s favor and see if they can see where I’m coming from. Sometimes I defend by saying that maybe they didn’t notice the mistake because they’re too familiar with the writing. Sometimes I call it an outright mistake because of the rules or formula of the story. If they can see where I’m coming from, then problem solved and we move on. But if they can’t see it and they keep fighting back, I put forth just a little more effort and a little more defense for my stance. And if that second time, they still come back just as strong or stronger, I either back down then or try one last time. I never try more than three times to convince them that I am right.

If by the third time they are still holding strong, I let them have it. They win. I do that because no matter how wrong or dumb I think they are at the time, it’s still their book; it’s still their brainchild—not mine. I’m just the helper in making their idea come to life. They’re the real intelligence behind it. And besides that, as long as it doesn’t go against our policies, I’m okay with leaving something I think is silly or wrong in a book because it’s not my name on the cover; it’s the authors. So if they want their name on whatever mistake I feel is in there, that’s up to them, and I’ve warned them.

More than anything, I feel like I have to respect the author’s opinion as the real owner of the story. I’m just one reader among thousands. Somebody else might be right in line with the author’s thinking, while I’m not, and I don’t want to ruin that for them if I don’t have to. So I will only point out problems that are really, really problems. I’m not the type of editor who asks the author to change the character’s shirt color because I feel strongly that it should be a different color. I point out changes that really impact the story. So if they don’t agree with me, I just have to remember that sometimes editing takes a lot of swallowing my pride and just accepting that I won’t always get what I want—no matter how important I think it is for the book—and it’s the same with authors. As long as we are both willing to budge on some things, it’s okay. We’ll win some, and we’ll lose some—some bigger wins and losses than others—but the important thing is that we ultimately put something out that sells well, no matter how we feel about every word or idea within its pages.”

I really liked that both of these editors are looking for ways to address the issue while also recognizing that they may not have the right answer, at least on the first try. I especially liked Samantha’s comment, it’s still their book; it’s still their brainchild—not mine. The bottom line is that the story is ours. If we are being asked to make a change so big that we feel it ruins the story, sometimes we may have to say no.

Let me counterbalance that though by mentioning a movie I saw a few years back. It was a smaller independent film. Possibly because of budget—or maybe ego—the same person wrote, produced, and directed the film, as well as doing most of the editing. It was a good film. I liked the story. I liked the acting. And yet, I just didn’t like the movie as a whole. It took me a day or two to decide why, but I finally came to the conclusion that the movie felt unbalanced to me. It felt like I was listening to someone recount a movie they had seen. It all had the same voice.

When I buy a DVD of a movie, I almost always watch the extras. I’m intrigued by the guy whose job it is to figure out lighting. Do you realize they actually film different actors with different types of lighting depending on what looks better for their face type? Next time you watch a TV show or a movie, notice how one actor will almost always have full lighting on his face, while another will almost always have one side of his face slightly shadowed. Then there are the deleted scenes. Scenes that made it from the writer to the director, but got chopped in the editing process because they slowed down or sidetracked the story. A great film has professionals doing what they do best, while the other people back off a little.

For me, writing is the same kind of process. I take my hack at it. My beta readers take their shot. My agent steps in. My editor steps in. And when all is said and done, we’ve hopefully created the best product possible. One that will not only sell well, but will be satisfying to the people who read it.

Is it still my story? Of course. It never would have come into being if I hadn’t dreamed it up. But it’s also partially my agent’s story, my editor’s story, and, ultimately, my reader’s story. I put it on paper, but my readers make it come alive. I do give up a little piece of ownership when I let others shape my work, but if that means it’s going to end up better, I’m more than willing to make the sacrifice.

How about you? How do you feel about making major changes to your story? Have you had good or bad experiences with agents or editors? With the growth of e-books, you can have ultimate control on everything from the cover to the language. Does that excite you or scare you?

Jeffrey Savage is the author of eight published books including the Shandra Covington mystery series, The Fourth Nephite series, and the Farworld fantasy series (writing as J Scott Savage.) You can visit his personal blog at Or e-mail him at jsavage at He does school visits, firesides and book clubs.

Book Signings. Manna From Heaven or Publisher’s Curse on Authorkind? by Jeffrey S. Savage

It was almost ten years ago, but I can still remember it clearly. (Okay, I know that is a total cliché, but that’s how it is, so live with it!) My first book had just come out, and I was attending the LDSBA (LDS Booksellers Association) annual conference—the equivalent of Book Expo America for the LDS crowd. My publisher, Covenant, was doing a big bookseller breakfast at the Mayan restaurant. One of the bookstore employees at my table handed me a napkin and asked, “Would you sign this?”

I don’t know if hosts of heavenly angels actually did appear above my head, singing and rejoicing with me, or if it was just in my head. But it was one of the coolest moments ever. A person was actually asking me to sign something that wasn’t designed to remove money from my bank account. I looked at my wife and we both beamed at each other. Since that time, I would conservatively estimate that I have signed over 20,000 books, posters, pieces of paper, shoes (lots of elementary kids’ shoes have my name on them), hats, jackets, flyers, binders, and even an arm. (The last one was actually breaking my rule of not signing body parts in permanent ink, but it was Julie Bellon’s daughter and her mom was right there and gave her permission.)

Has the thrill worn off? Yes, and no. I still absolutely love to sign whatever I am asked to. I’ll admit that at least part of that is the implied notion that whoever is asking you to sign their book or paper or whatever believes you are someone worthy of giving a signature in the first place. (You like me, you really like me.) To me at least, the more important part is that it’s a kind of way I can say thanks for following me. You are spending the time and money to read my books, the least I can do is to give you something back—even if it’s just an autograph. That part is great. And based on how much most authors light up when you ask if they’ll sign your book, I think the joy never really fades.

Book signings themselves have become kind of a mixed bag.

I’ve had great ones. Three and a half hours at the American Fork library, where a mom very politely asked if she could skip the line because her son had broken his arm, but they came straight from the hospital, because her son wouldn’t go home without getting a signed book. The Barnes and Noble in California where they told me the only bigger lines they’d ever had were for Stephanie Meyers and Janet Evanovich. The tons of great times I’ve sat next to other authors laughing and talking the whole time. Great times.

But I’ve also had the bad ones. Ask any author and they will recount horror stories. The store isn’t even expecting you or seems less than enthused that you are there. The stores that are out of your books (or never ordered them in the first place.) The times you sat alone for two hours watching every second tick off the clock. The customers who come through the door, see you, and instantly head in the other direction.

And, trust me, the big authors have the same experiences. I walked through a Barnes and Noble door one day to see two authors sitting side by side just inside the front door with a huge pile of books and not a single person waiting to talk to them despite the fact that it was nearly Christmas. The two authors? Brandon Mull and Brandon Sanderson.

So yeah, signings can be exciting and they can be really, really depressing. Last week two great authors, Julie Wright and Frank Cole, had signings for their launch parties. Both went really well. So what is the trick to a good signing and what should you avoid? Let’s go to some experts and see what they have to say.

Michael Knudsen of Writing Fortress (a blog of Cedar Fort Publishing authors) has some excellent advice. I like his quote on being prepared to pitch your book.

Are your prepared to answer the question “What’s it about?” in a compelling way? This should be the shortest and strongest of pitches. If you hit those who approach your table with “It’s YA dystopian fantasy about monsters that eat kids for lunch,” you might get some blank looks. On the other hand, “It’s an exciting and scary story about a world where a small group of brave kids discover that they are being raised as food for giant alien invaders!” might grab more interest, especially if you say it with enthusiasm.”

As an author it can be daunting to “sell” your book to a stranger. But if you have a great pitch and you’re excited to tell it, that takes away some of the “car salesman” feel. (No offense to those of you who might sell cars.)”

Janette Rallison doesn’t give advice about book signings, but she does capture the feeling of thinking about a signing on her post from a couple of years ago.

“Do you remember getting ready for dances in junior high? The anticipation . . . the dread? You never knew whether it was going to be a really fun night where lots of guys asked you to dance, or a really humiliating experience where you felt invisible.”

Also, a couple of years ago, Tristi did a great post on self promotion, where she talks about creating displays.

“If you feel uncomfortable approaching people, you can make them come to you with a cute table display. Kerry Blair has to be the queen of this – when “Mummy’s the Word” came out, she even had a stuffed crow on her table. I went to Michele Paige Holmes’ booksigning just this last Saturday, and she had created a darling display with star-shaped magnets on a metal board. If you picked the right star, you won a free book.”

For me, I think book signings, like almost all marketing you do, come down to a few key points.

  1. Know why you are doing it and what you hope to get out of it. Most book signings do not pay for themselves on books sold in the couple of hours you are there. There are exceptions: big launch parties, signings tied to specific events, Costco, etc. But an average signing will not earn you enough in royalties to offset the cost of gas, time spent, possibly a meal, and so forth. If meeting store employees is the goal, take time to talk to each one of them, tell them about both your book and yourself. If they like to write, give them some advice and maybe a pep talk. If you are doing the event because your publisher asked you to, great. Goodwill with your publisher can go a long way. If you are going there to sell books, don’t spend your time sitting. Get up and talk to everyone who comes in the door.
  2. Consider your time use wisely. If you went back and read my blogs from six or seven years ago, I was the marketing king. I tried everything I could imagine to get my name out, make connections, sell books, etc. Did it work? Maybe. I really can’t quantify it. For me personally it felt like I was doing everything I could to help make my books successful. Now I do a lot less formal “Marketing.” I blog, I tweet occasionally. I have websites. I do school visits. But I’ve stopped doing a book signing every weekend. And from what I can see, most LDS publishers feel the same way. They are still scheduling signings. But I don’t see as many of them as I used to, and more of them are tied to specific events.
  3. Book signings are one of many marketing tools in your arsenal. I often hear from LDS authors who live outside of the “Jell-O Belt” worrying that because they aren’t here, they can’t market as effectively as those of us in Utah, Idaho, Arizona, etc. To a small extent that is true. But there are so many other things you can do to market your books. Consider the authors who are selling tons of e-books. They’ve never done a signing, because there is nothing to sign. Bookstore visits are pointless because there is no tangible book to carry.

Finally, and this is going to seem totally contrary to what you will hear in other places, do what feels right for you. If you can’t stand going out in public, that might hurt you some. But it doesn’t mean you can’t blog, Tweet, Facebook, etc. If the whole social media thing makes your stomach churn, don’t do it. Will it hurt you? Yes. Can you succeed without it? JK Rowling doesn’t have a Facebook page and never has to the best of my knowledge.

Life’s too short to spend your time doing something you absolutely despise. (Exhibit A, the weeds that are already sprouting up in my flowerbed.) If all you want to do is write, write the best books you can. Then maybe you can hire someone to do all the marketing for you.

Jeffrey Savage is the author of eight published books including the Shandra Covington mystery series, The Fourth Nephite series, and the Farworld fantasy series (writing as J Scott Savage.) You can visit his personal blog at Or e-mail him at jsavage at He does school visits, firesides and book clubs.

Following the Path of Misdirection by Jeffrey S. Savage

Wow, here I am, even later than usual (Does posting two to three days late still fall under the cloak of Mormon Standard Time?) and I don’t even have the excuse of another bizarre airplane escapade. The truth of the matter is that I was in head-down writing mode on a project that I had absolutely no idea I would be working on a year or two ago. With that as a jumping off point, I’d like to write about something I usually consider a writing tool—misdirection.

First off, misdirection should not be confused with Miss Direction, the cranky little woman inside your GPS who starts going crazy if you don’t take the freeway onramp she told you to take. It’s also not the concept of getting your reader to look one way right before you hit them from the opposite direction. (Okay, well actually it is, but not in this particular post, in which I’m going to talk about misdirection in your writing life, not misdirection in your actual writing, and again, not Miss Direction in your GPS) Clear? Great. Let’s move on.

The first book I ever wrote was a high tech thriller, called Cutting Edge. It was a mystery/thriller that took place in a world I knew very well at the time. The tumultuous world of Silicon Valley (not Silicone Valley which is located quite a bit further to the south). Having never published a book, gone to a writers conference, or met an actual editor/agent, I had no clue what I was doing. But I liked the story, managed to find a publisher for it and went on my merry way. Had you asked me at the time where my writing career would take me, I would probably have suggested that I would stay writing adult thrillers and mysteries, while possibly edging toward horror.

Here I am roughly ten years later, spending most of my time writing YA and middle grade novels ranging from dark wizards that turn into snakes to church history time travel to teenage demons to fifth grade zombies. How exactly did I end up here? It’s what I call misdirection. The concept of the path you started out on leading somewhere other than where it ended up going.

As an example of this, let me take you back to a time shortly after my first book had been published and I was introduced to my critique group. I’ll describe some of the authors and what they were writing and you see if you can guess who they are before I tell you.

Author Number One was writing a middle grade fantasy. Lots of battles, quests, magical items, and cool fantastical settings and creatures.

Author Number Two was writing a New England-based mystery with lighthouses, mysterious relatives, secret diaries, etc.

Author Number Three was writing middle grade coming of age stories.

Author Number Four was writing Scottish romance novels of incredible length and depth, and swore—swore, I tell you—that she would never, ever, ever write LDS romances.

Ready for the big reveal?

Author Number One is Annette Lyon, best known for her women’s fiction focusing on temples and military wives.

Author Number Two is Heather (HB) Moore, best known for her Book of Mormon fiction and nonfiction.

Author Number Three is Lu Ann Staheli, best known for her celebrity memoirs.

Author Number Four is Michele Holmes, winner of a Whitney award for . . . LDS romance.

Five authors, including me, who are all writing something completely different from what they thought they would be ten years ago. All of them successfully published and publishing, but not what they intended to be publishing. How did that happen? Is it an aberration or is it the norm?

I tend to think it is a little from column A and column B. First of all, each of these authors has one thing in common: an intense desire to succeed. They all wanted to be successful writers and they were willing to follow whatever path that took them down. Not once did they say, “If I can’t do it my way, I won’t do it at all.”

Another thing they all have in common is that none of them has given up on their original dreams. Annette recently completed another excellent YA fantasy based on a Finnish myth. Heather has an excellent thriller out with a national agent. Lu Ann has written several more coming of age novels set in different locations and times, and hopefully will see some of them released in the e-book market. Michele has written several other non-LDS books including romance and a middle grade fantasy. And me? I still have a mystery series, and a horror novel coming out soon.

Of course, there are authors who started writing one genre, succeeded with that, and have stuck with it. But even they have often reached their destinations by paths they might not have expected. Brandon Mull had his first novel with Shadow Mountain rejected, but they liked his writing enough that they encouraged him to write Fablehaven. Aprilynne Pike was devastated when her first book with the incredible agent Jodi Reamer didn’t sell. But that led to her great success with the YA fantasy series, Wings.

I tend to think that many authors best known for one genre might very well have succeeded in another genre if things went differently. Obviously JK Rowling’s career took off with middle grade fantasy. But I found it interesting that when she talked about writing something post HP, the direction she mentioned most often was an adult novel. Most people think of Stephen King as the master of horror. And he is. But some of his greatest stories: The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, The Gunslinger Series, and Stand by Me, are not horror novels at all. He even wrote a pretty nifty children’s fantasy novel called The Eyes of the Dragon. He wrote horror because he loved it, but also I think because to some extent that’s what sold for him.

For me personally, my writing life has been filled with twists and turns I didn’t expect. When I sat down to have lunch with Chris Schoebinger of Shadow Mountain, I was expecting to discuss a couple more fantasy ideas I had. Instead I ended up walking out the door with an idea for a Church time travel series. Many of you know I wrote a novel called Demon Spawn that is currently on submission with my agent. That has recently taken some twists and turns I didn’t expect. But over the course of several conversations I ended up mentioning a series about a group of elementary school kids who love monsters. I didn’t think that would be his kind of thing, but he loved it. When I wrote my first Farworld book, it was to prove to myself that I could NOT write fantasy or middle grade. I was trying to get the idea out of my system.

So what does that mean to the author who hasn’t published her first book or has published a few novels that haven’t been quite as successful as she might have hoped? Scott Card wrote a column one time about college. It was his assertion that for most young men and women, college is not a case of knowing exactly what you want to do, doing it as quickly as possible, and getting out. But rather it is a journey of discovering who you are, who you are becoming, and where you ultimately will end up. As I recall—and I don’t have the exact article in front of me—he went so far as to suggest, that if a student doesn’t change their plans at least once during their college education, the experience was not a success.

There may be writers out there who can only write in one genre. They may be hardwired to medical mysteries or YA romance. But I think most of us just want to tell a great story in a great way to as many people as possible. We want a chance to do what we love, see some success, and maybe even make a little money along the way. If that describes you, I highly suggest that you take Mr. Card’s advice and use your writing as a chance to discover not only who you are now, but who you might become. Consider writing something completely different from what you’ve done in the past. Keep your eye out for new opportunities. Read agent and editor blogs looking for what they would really like to have submitted to them and ask yourself, “Could I do that?” Most of us are readers. Consider the area you love to read most and ask yourself what is missing.

In my first Farworld book, the wizard is talking to a girl who has no magic in a world filled with magic. He tells her, “The most powerful magic is not spells, wands, and potions. It’s what’s inside you. Who you are. What you do. And most importantly, what you may become.” The same goes for you. Give yourself permission to find your magic. Even if it ends up coming from a completely different direction than you expected.

To Rip or Not to Rip by Jeffrey S. Savage

No, I’m not talking about tearing up those rejection letters. (Which I am totally fine with, BTW.) Or the latest cute baby video making the rounds. (And this is definitely not me engaging in a chance to slip some potty humor by LDSPublisher.)

What I’m talking about is whether or not you feel it is appropriate as an author to post negative reviews of other authors’ books. Most people have a knee jerk reaction to this one way or the other. “I would never post a negative review of another author’s book. What If they read it?” Or “Wait, are you suggesting that I should say I like a book when I really don’t, just because I’m an author too?

It would be nice if it was that black and white. You read a book, you like it, you tell people. You read a book, you hate it, you tell people. That’s the way it works in real life. And it’s actually a pretty good process. Regardless of whether we’re talking about e-book, hardbacks, traditionally pubbed, or self-pubbed works, I still believe that word of mouth is what turns a good book into a bestseller.

Why shouldn’t that translate to the internet?

Becca Fitzpatrick, author of Hush Hush, wrote an interesting post about a situation where an up and coming author wrote a scathing review not only of Hush Hush, but of many other YA books. Later when this author was looking for cover blurbs, her editor approached Becca and asked for a blurb. Hmmm. Awkward to say the least. I liked this comment by Becca.

“You might think I turned down reading the manuscript out of revenge or to give the author the finger, so to speak. I hope I’m not that petty. The reason I decided not to read the manuscript was because I wondered what would happen if I did read it…and loved it. What if I sent the editor a handful of glowing words, and she decided to stick them on the front cover of her author’s book? Would the author love having my praise splashed on her cover? Probably not. In the end, I decided to take the higher road and let the author breathe easy. (It didn’t slip my mind that the ultimate revenge would have been making sure my name got on the cover of her book. But again. Higher road. Always the better path.)”

The ultimate revenge line totally cracked me up. That would be the ultimate revenge.

I’ve had a similar experience, where a would-be author savaged (pun semi-intentional) my first Farworld novel. He didn’t just dislike it. He loathed it. It was horrible writing combined with a complete rip off of Harry Potter. Normally I ignore bad reviews. But this guy just seemed to hate me personally. Enough so, that I did some research and discovered that he was an attendee at a conference I was speaking at. I seriously wanted to trash the guy. Instead, I introduced myself, explained that I’d read his review and wanted to know what he hated so much. It turned out that we had a pretty good discussion and we’ve since become friends.

But the truth of the matter, as Becca explained, is that the writing world is so small. If you’re going to become part of it, there is every chance that you’ll eventually run into authors you have read before. And the thing that makes the internet different from talking to a friend is that your words to your friend don’t pop up on the author’s Google Alerts. More than likely within an hour of this blog post going up, Becca will get an e-mail. It will be a direct link to what I have written. Becca will go, “Hmm, wonder what this dude is saying about me and she will come read this.” (Hi Becca!!) A lot of people don’t consider the fact that authors are real people. Who have heard of the internet. And most of us read our reviews.

In addition, even if I decide I don’t like what I wrote and delete it down the road, the internet is a tricky beast. It stores caches of things. You think your words are gone, but they really aren’t. So down the road when you are looking for help from another author, that author can Google and see all the snarky things you said about them.

So, am I saying you should only write good things about other authors, even if you didn’t like their work? Should you say wonderful things and hope they remember you down the road? Unlike a lot of authors, I LOVE Goodreads. If someone hates my book, I really want to know what didn’t work for them. If they liked it, I want to know that too. I hate looking at a book on Amazon that only has six reviews. All of them are five stars, and none of the reviewers have posted another review. It tells me this author got a bunch of his friends together and begged them to give him good reviews. I personally would rather have no reviews than people giving me five stars because they were my friends.

And as authors we should be the most discriminating readers there are. Because we can look behind the curtain at what the author did and didn’t do to make his or her book work. I’ll admit that when I finished reading Hush Hush, I had mixed emotions. (You’ve stopped reading now Becca, right?) Her prose was excellent—especially for a first book. Really well done. Her plot was gripping. Now maybe this is just the dad in me, but some parts of the story made me really uncomfortable. Becca did a great job of walking the fine line between sexual tension and having her main character courting death, rape, and a lot of other bad stuff. If my daughter acted like that, I would lock her in her room until she was forty. So it wasn’t necessarily a perfect read for me.

But here’s the thing. As a forty-eight year old guy, I am not Becca’s target audience. If I go out and rip this book, I’m ignoring the fact that it probably wasn’t intended for me to like. And while I don’t know Becca personally, my guess is that she wouldn’t have a problem with me saying that this isn’t the greatest book for dads of teenage girls. Lu Ann, a Junior High English teacher and fellow writer, loved the book. (She has no daughters by the way.)

Shannon Hale, another LDS writer who I do happen to know personally wrote a good blog post about reading as a writer.

She says, “Reading as a writer changed me completely as a reader. I find I can still appreciate books I dislike because I am learning through them how to write stories I do like.”

That’s pretty close to where I stand. It’s easy to say, “This book stinks!” And maybe to you it does. But if you have aspirations of becoming a published author yourself, you are a lot better off to ask yourself, “What was it about this book—which I may not have liked—that got it past an agent, an editor, a publishing committee, and ultimately into the hands of a lot of readers that did like it?”

I’m not saying don’t write negative reviews. Speaking only for myself, I want to hear what people did and didn’t like about my books. I’m willing to live with some pain to improve my writing. What I hate is one star reviews with no comment at all. Or something like, “Blech.” Blech? Really? You just spent ten hours reading my novel and all you have to offer is Blech? Grrr. But I will say that before you write a less than glowing review, think about what worked and didn’t work for you and why it did and didn’t. A while back, a very nice woman blogged about how Water Keep didn’t have the same character depth as Elantris. Of course it didn’t. One is a middle grade novel aimed at nine-year-olds and the other is epic fantasy aimed at adults who read 800 page tomes.

She was right. But my point is that if you’re going to complain about how a middle grade book doesn’t have the depth of an epic fantasy, consider who the audience is. Consider what the author was going for. Then when you do write a review, you can write a fair review that explains what you liked, what you didn’t like, and why that might have been. I think most authors appreciate an honest review. And if you really hate the book that a lot of people like, maybe you aren’t the best judge of it at after all.

How do you feel? As an author would you be offended if another author ripped your book? If you hate a book by an author you might meet one day, how do you handle it?